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
- Arizona Cardinals - With Chase Edmonds returning to action, there were a variety of opinions throughout the industry as to how the backfield work would be split between him and James Conner (who was nursing a recent ankle injury of his own) in a juicy matchup against the Lions. Who knew the Cardinals would get boat-raced in a game that reminds us of the age-old cliche.. "any given Sunday." From what little we can glean, Conner maintained a slight lead role in Edmonds' first game back, out-snapping him 44% to 39% (with some Jonathan Ward mixing in late as the game got out of reach). Conner also had more carries, targets, and routes than Edmonds. Conner has showcased his passing game chops in Edmonds' absence and I think the team would be wise to feature him down the stretch as more than an early-down grinder.
- Baltimore Ravens - The rug was pulled from Devonta Freeman in Week 15 as Latavius Murray went full Undertaker.gif with more rush attempts and targets than Freeman in a game paired with backup quarterback Tyler Huntley. The more discouraging part of this synopsis is that it simply makes both Freeman and Murray nearly unusable in either season-long or DFS formats. Freeman had only become a flex-worthy asset because he had seized a clear number one role in an offense led by a mobile quarterback. With multiple mouths to feed, neither has much upside.
- Detroit Lions - Craig Reynolds was not a fluke! A week after earning "huh? who?" status with fantasy managers across the world, Reynolds repeated with a 100-yard rushing day on an enviable 76% RMS. It should not be a surprise if D'Andre Swift is shut down for the season but Jamaal Williams should return in Week 16. Reynolds has been signed to the active roster and may likely be the 1a option with Jamaal Williams serving as the 1b.
- Miami Dolphins - Don't forget about Duke! All eyes turned to Myles Gaskin in an awesome matchup against the porous Jets but Duke Johnson Jr stole the show with the best rushing game of his career. It looked like Johnson would be the starter for most of the week with both Gaskin and Ahmed tied up in the COVID protocol. However, once Gaskin and Ahmed were cleared to return, everyone assumed Duke Johnson Jr would be an afterthought. Johnson seized his opportunity and led the team with a 54% RMS and earned a promotion to the active roster. We will have a true competition on our hands in Miami.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers - It looks like Leonard Fournette will be sidelined for one to two weeks with an injury meaning Ronald Jones II is the next man up in Tampa. Jones could find some competition though with Ke'Shawn Vaughn operating as the passing-down specialist. Jones has long been known as a great straight-line runner with anvils for hands. So his role moving forward will not be as desirable as Fournette's has been. But he should still mix in plenty in the league's best offense.
- Buffalo Bills - With Emmanuel Sanders unavailable, we knew Gabriel Davis would be a key part of the Bills' game plan. What we did not know is that he would log nearly double the snaps of Cole Beasley (90% to 46%). Beasley missed a brief period due to injury and perhaps that explains his unusual playing time, but he also led the team in targets with a 26% TMS. With Sanders continuing to deal with a knee injury, it looks like Gabriel Davis may be a full-time player in the making for Buffalo in an attractive offense.
- Pittsburgh Steelers - Mike Tomlin desperately needs another playmaker to emerge beside Diontae Johnson and it appears that faith has been lost with Chase Claypool. Claypool has not topped 70% RR in three straight weeks. Ray-Ray McCloud III has been getting more run. McCloud has run 69%, 89%, and 79% of the Steelers routes these past three weeks. With Pat Freiermuth dealing with an injury also, the Steelers really need someone to step up. For now, James Washington seems to be making the most of his limited playing time, notching a 20% TMS last week on just 39% RR.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Who didn't get banged up last week for Tampa? Chris Godwin is done for the season, Leonard Fournette will miss multiple games, and Mike Evans is expected to be dealing with a "minor" injury himself. The good news? Antonio Brown is set to return from his 3-game suspension in Week 16 - relatively good timing given the lack of weaponry. If Mike Evans misses time, Brown becomes arguably a top-five wide receiver over the rest of the season. If Evans suits up, Brown is still a low-end WR1. Rob Gronkowski should also see more targets as well, given how much target volume Godwin has been seeing lately. Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller stepped up after Godwin went down in Week 15 and Breshad Perriman should return from the COVID list soon. The Perriman vs Johnson vs Miller battle could be a big deal in the fantasy playoffs.