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I'm a projections guy. Every offseason, I build out projections for the upcoming season to see who has an immediate path to fantasy upside. It can be an extremely helpful exercise, not just for the results but for the process that it forces the projector to follow. The act of building projections can lead you to identify players and situations with ambiguous upside or clear pathways to volume.
Fortunately, I get to build projections during the season too! While I've added some shortcuts to speed up my process, I basically have to tear down last week's projections and rebuild them with the news and notes from the current week. While this can be a bit tedious, it forces me to go back through every data point from every team across the league to identify emerging trends. This article looks at some of the most interesting developments around the NFL.
Routes run and dropback data in this article is from Pro Football Focus. I prefer to focus on the percentage of routes run which is simply a player's routes divided by the team's total dropbacks. Terms: RMS = Rushing Market Share, TMS = Target Market Share, RR% = Routes Run percentage (of dropbacks)
Running Back Rotations
- Carolina Panthers - Suffering a rolled ankle in the first half of Week 12's contest vs the Dolphins, Christian McCaffrey was placed on season-ending injured reserve Monday. This creates an opportunity for Chuba Hubbard and Ameer Abdullah to form a thunder-lightning committee respectively. Abdullah debuted for the Panthers in Week 8 as the team struggled to find depth at the position. The Week 8 snaps were split 55% for Hubbard, 30% for Abdullah, and 15% for the now departed Royce Freeman. Yet once Christian McCaffrey was worked back into the offense, it was Abdullah who began out-snapping Hubbard, having matched or exceeded Hubbard's snaps in each of the past four weeks. As the Panthers attempt to fill McCaffrey's shoes, Abdullah looks closest to being a McCaffrey facsimile.
- Detroit Lions - Another injury at the position, this time to D'Andre Swift, creates an opportunity for Jamaal Williams (63% snaps in Week 12), Jermar Jefferson (10%), and Godwin Igwebuike (8%). Williams has of course operated as the primary complement to Swift so far, but neither Igwebuike nor Jefferson played a single offensive snap until Week 7 (the first game missed by Jamaal Williams). Small sample size warning but Igwebuike has been unbelievably explosive so far with 85 yards and a touchdown on just six carries (14.2 YPC). Jefferson has five carries for 47 yards for a paltry 9.4 YPC (I joke, I joke, I kid, I kid). For now, Williams looks like he is in line for feature back duties should Swift miss time while the other two remain complementary pieces.
- Green Bay Packers - Aaron Jones returned from his knee injury but was extremely limited in Week 12, seeing only 31% of the team's snaps while A.J. Dillon led the way with 63%. Dillon has looked great over the past two weeks and even shows extremely efficient passing game usage for a big man. It will be wise for the Packers to keep both backs in good health as they make their run down the home stretch and into the playoffs. We could see Aaron Jones morph more into a pass-catching specialist on this team that needs some explosion down the seams.
- Minnesota Vikings - A shoulder injury to Dalvin Cook likely means an extended look once again at Alexander Mattison. We have seen this movie before from Minnesota, including Week 3 and Week 5 when Cook sat. In those games, Mattison averaged 83% RMS and split some of the passing game work with now-Panther Ameer Abdullah. With Abdullah now in Charlotte, rookie speedster Kene Nwangwu will serve as Mattison's backup but Nwangwu does not have the reliable track record of Abdullah. Look for Mattison to have a workload at or above Dalvin Cook's former workload for the remainder of his stint as a starter.
- New York Giants - This box score will not show much production but Saquon Barkley took an encouraging step forward in his recovery in Week 12, playing 87% of the team's snaps, up from 62% the week before. With Barkley shifting back into a near-full-time role, look for his counting stats to increase quickly.
- San Francisco 49ers - How limited would Elijah Mitchell be after missing Week 11 with a finger injury? Turns out - not very limited at all, playing a season-high 70% of the team's snaps, leaving next to nothing for Jeff Wilson. The big opportunity for additional volume, however, comes with Deebo Samuel now banged up for San Francisco. Samuel had seen north of 10% RMS in three straight contests, basically serving as the team's RB2 in addition to its WR1. More opportunity is on the horizon for Elijah Mitchell.
- Tennessee Titans - With Adrian Peterson released and Jeremy McNichols out with a concussion, Dontrell Hilliard (51%) and D'Onta Foreman (49%) formed a true old-fashioned two-man committee with their snaps. Foreman saw the edge on the ground with 49% RMS compared to Hilliard's 31%. However, Hilliard's passing game role was highlighted with 58% RR vs 35%. Jeremy McNichols' possible return could be bad news, however, for Hilliard.
- Jacksonville Jaguars - Jamal Agnew was placed on IR following Week 11. Dan Arnold went down early in Week 12. The outcome has been huge new roles for Laquon Treadwell (who is playing more snaps than even Laviska Shenault Jr) and James O'Shaughnessy. O'Shaughnessy looked poised for a huge workload in this offense with 16% TMS in Week 1. However, an injury has sidelined him since early in Week 2. Look for O'Shaughnessy to return to the "Dan Arnold role" for as long as Arnold misses time.
- Los Angeles Rams - The bye came at just the right time for the LA Rams who needed to integrate Odell Beckham Jr into their offense. And with Ben Skowronek out with an injury, Beckham was a true full-time player (98% snaps) along with Van Jefferson (98%) and Cooper Kupp (100%). Beckham saw a whopping 26% target share, his second-highest mark of the season. The Rams look locked into 11 personnel with a very tight three-wide set for the remainder of the season due to their lack of depth elsewhere.
- Washington Football Team - Welcome back Logan Thomas and Curtis Samuel - two much-needed playmakers for the Football Team. Thomas played 79% of the team's snaps despite a warning from head coach Ron Rivera that Thomas would be on a pitch count. Curtis Samuel was used much less frequently though with just a 24% snap rate. Look for Thomas to return to his old 100% snap rate form in Week 13 while Samuel may be used a bit more intentionally. John Bates has played well enough to give Washington some versatility to go with larger sets to run the football with both he and Thomas on the field together. DeAndre Carter looks locked into the WR2 role until Samuel gets up to speed.