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.
*Note: We do not cover the teams where things went according to expectation.
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)
- Baltimore Ravens: Unfortunately for the Ravens, Lamar Jackson will be sidelined for one to three weeks with a knee injury, meaning Tyler Huntley will be the next man up. Huntley plays a Lamar Jackson-brand of football but is obviously not in the same area code of talent. Expect plenty of designed runs and short passes. Huntley has been serviceable as a Jackson replacement in previous seasons and was 27/32 passing for 187 yards (0 TD; 1 INT) last week. Gus Edwards, however, went missing as Kenyan Drake led the backfield in snaps, rush attempts, routes, and targets.
- Buffalo Bills: The Buffalo Bills unveiled a new package in their backfield in week 13. James Cook was the primary beneficiary. Cook and Nyheim Hines were on the field together quite a lot which led to season highs for both players on this team. Cook surpassed Devin Singletary for more rush attempts, routes, and targets, while Nyheim Hines carved out a role with 27% routes run. Perhaps the Bills coaches saw an edge to exploit in this opponent, or perhaps they want to get these electric backs on the field. Either way, the arrow is pointing up for James Cook and down for Devin Singletary.
- Chicago Bears: Justin Fields returned to action following a shoulder injury suffered in Week 11 and immediately housed a 50+ yard rushing touchdown. His rushing utilization overall was significantly down compared to prior weeks (24% RMS in week 13). Chase Claypool took the reigns as the team's new lead wide receiver with a team-high 82% RR and 24% TMS.
- Cincinnati Bengals: Ja'Marr Chase returned from his multi-week injury and quickly silenced fears about his potential workload. Chase handled a team-high 26% TMS on 92% RR. He is back and looks healthy for the stretch run. Hayden Hurst, however, looks likely to miss a week or more following a calf injury against the Chiefs. Mitchell Wilcox handled a 64% RR rate in this game and is the next man up at tight end for Joe Burrow.
- Cleveland Browns: Demetric Felton saw a significant boost in playing time after David Bell (hand) went down early. Bell had become Cleveland's third wide receiver, and it looks like Felton could fill that role while Bell is out. Felton is a running back/wide receiver hybrid player and saw a season-high 67% RR on the day.
- Detroit Lions: After months of being buried on the depth chart, D'Andre Swift once again led this backfield in snaps, rushes, targets, and routes. Perhaps this usage was fluky, but given how talented Swift is, I'm inclined to think he may have earned the starting role again while Jamaal Williams comes in for short yardage. Kalif Raymond and Josh Reynolds flipped roles from week 12 to week 13. Raymond's routes fell from 82% to 21%, while Reynolds' routes rose from 8% to 77%. Amon-Ra St. Brown and D.J. Chark Jr are cemented as the team's top two receivers.
- Green Bay Packers: Aaron Jones suffered a shin injury, and A.J. Dillon seized an opportunity for more work. Dillon reminded viewers of his strength as a runner, while Jones missed large chunks of this game. For now, I'd expect that Jones will not miss time, but Dillon may have earned the right to make this backfield a bit more of an even split.
- Los Angeles Rams: Cam Akers bounced back in a big way in this John Wolford offense, featuring a two-touchdown performance on the ground. The Rams moved the ball adequately with Wolford as Akers handled 72% of the team's snaps, his highest mark of the season.
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