In this Week 5 edition of 10 Thoughts, we cover the lack of passing volume in Dallas, Lamar Jackson’s under-the-radar development as a passer, Chris Carson’s tough road ahead, and much more.
1) The Dallas Cowboys defense has flipped the script… for the offense.
After Week 1 it looked like the Cowboys passing game was going to be humming at unheard of rates like it was for the first four games in 2020. The Cowboys passed at a 76.6% rate in Week 1 (second-highest). Since then, they’ve passed at a 43.3% rate (lowest in the NFL). The Cowboys have a potent rushing attack, but the drop-off has been so drastic because Dallas has allowed just 22 points per game (13th in the NFL) in Weeks 2-4. The team no longer needs to air it out and play catch-up all game long. What does all of this mean for Cowboys fantasy value? It means that Dak Prescott is a mid to low-end QB1, not a high-end QB1. It means that Ezekiel Elliott is a top-five RB1, not a fringy RB1. It means that Tony Pollard will have flex value most weeks. And, it also means that Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb are WR2’s, not WR1’s. This offense is going to be balanced if not run-heavy all year long, and fantasy managers have to understand that when assigning value to Cowboys players.
2) Lamar Jackson is a better and more voluminous passer in 2021.
Despite his receivers dropping more than a few easy touchdowns throughout this season, Lamar Jackson’s 8.7 yards per attempt mark would be a career-high by a good margin (his previous best was 7.8 in 2019). Jackson is more accurate and he’s taking shots down the field confidently while leading the league in aDOT (12.5), which has led to the efficient YPA mark. Efficiency is great, but what about volume? Well, the Ravens are throwing at a 51.3% rate in 2021 after they threw at just a 45 percent rate in 2020. All told, Lamar is on pace to throw the ball 527 times in 2021, which would smash his career-high of 401 attempts set back in 2019. Oh, and Lamar is still on pace to rush for about 1186 yards… I’m not sure why this has flown under the radar, but Lamar is finally transforming into a true dual-threat quarterback, and he could be unstoppable if he continues to progress as a passer throughout the year.
3) Chris Carson’s fantasy value is diminishing.
Carson has only cleared the 20 touch mark twice in his last 16 games, as Seattle is committed to managing his workload. He’s also dealing with a chronic neck injury that might keep him out this week after Alex Collins had only two fewer touches than him in Week 4. To make matters worse, Carson’s passing game role is going by the wayside, as he’s mustered just six targets in four games this season. If not for an unsustainable touchdown pace (six in four games), the perception around Carson would be decidedly negative. I wouldn’t say Carson is a “sell high” due to his current neck injury, but it’s not expected to keep him out beyond Week 5 if it does at all… so now is the time to get off of the sinking ship before your league mates catch on.
4) The Atlanta Falcons passing game could be back in a big way.
Despite having two uber-talented pass catchers and passing-friendly game scripts due to their poor defense, the Falcons passing game had massively underachieved until last week. The problem was obvious — Matt Ryan’s league-worst 4.9 aDOT was killing everyone’s value. Consistent fantasy value simply can’t be found in a passing game that is limiting upside to that degree. Thankfully, Ryan posted a 10.2 aDOT in Week 4 while throwing for 283 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Calvin Ridley (7/80/0, 33 percent target share) didn’t go off and neither did Kyle Pitts (4/50/0, 23 percent target share), but they will explode in the coming weeks if the aDOT stays up. This was a one-week sample against a Washington Football Team Defense that has been shredded all year, but it’s important to be ahead of the market in regards to this sort of development just in case it sticks.
5) Dawson Knox has entered TE1 territory.
Knox is this year’s Robert Tonyan, an athletic tight end thrust into a prominent role within a prolific passing offense. In his last three games, Knox’s snap counts are 83 percent, 78 percent, and 81 percent. His line across those games is a combined 11/104/4 and he’s currently the TE6 overall in 2021. It’s been three weeks in a row now, so it’s clear that the Bills are committed to ditching four wideout sets in order to get Knox on the field… don’t write this off as a fluke.
6) Leonard Fournette has earned RB2 status, for now.
Fournette has had steady workloads all season long, but things culminated last week when he scored 16.8 PPR points and played 82.1% of snaps while touching the ball 23 times (five targets). There aren’t five backs in the NFL who consistently see that kind of three-down usage. With Ronald Jones (16.7% snaps) out of the picture and Giovani Bernard (MCL) hobbled, Fournette has evolved into a bell cow for the time being. If Fournette was a better player he could produce like an RB1 with that sort of utilization, but he is in a great offense, so I’m valuing him like a rock-solid RB2 for the time being. Giovani Bernard will likely get healthy and take some of the passing game work eventually, but right now it’s the Uncle Lenny show.
7) Be early on Amon-Ra St. Brown.
It’s no secret that the Lions have the worst wide receiver room in the league. At any moment one of Detroit’s wideouts could step up and separate themselves because the competition is lacking to a degree rarely seen in the NFL. The most talented and likeliest player to do so is Amon-Ra St. Brown, the team’s 2021 fourth-round pick. St. Brown had his first good game as a pro last Sunday, totaling 6 catches for 70 yards. The USC product isn’t an explosive athlete, but he operates like a technician in the slot, utilizing his route-running ability and subtle twitch to get in and out of breaks quicker than defenders. Prior to last week he wasn’t playing enough to be fantasy-relevant, but his snap share jumped up to 70.1% in Week 4, so he as the playing time component of opportunity on his side in addition to the lack of target competition. It’s no secret that Jared Goff likes to target the slot, and St. Brown might just be Cooper Kupp -lite in Detroit’s offense where there are targets and fantasy points for the taking. There’s no guarantee that St. Brown continues on an upward trajectory, but at little to no cost, he’s absolutely worth picking up.
8) Josh Jacobs is an enigma.
On one hand, Josh Jacobs handled 18 touches and was about as involved in the passing game as he ever has been in the NFL (five receptions) last week, but on the other hand, he lacked any semblance of explosiveness and created nothing. Talent is nice, but it accounts for only about a third of a running back’s fantasy value in PPR leagues. The other two-thirds comes down to volume, and more specifically, three-down volume. If Jacobs is going to catch 3-5 balls a week while carrying the ball 12-15 times he would have to suffer from terrible touchdown luck to fall outside of the weekly RB2 range. The issue is that we don’t know whether this passing game role is going to stick, and if it doesn’t, Jacobs is in big trouble. Personally, I have a hard time thinking that Kenyan Drake won’t be the passing down back after they paid him this offseason, but at the same time, Drake was healthy and that wasn’t the case last week. Who knows where we go from here, but if you want to buy low and bet on Jacobs maintaining the role from last week, now is the time.
9) Robert Tonyan is an elite buy-low candidate.
You’re probably wondering why I’m advocating for a player who has done absolutely nothing lately and caught just two balls for eight yards in Week 4. That’s understandable, but Tonyan’s underlying usage has remained extremely strong early in the year amidst poor results. Last week Tonyan caught just two balls for eight yards, but he set a season-high in snap rate (78 percent) and routes run (33). Tonyan’s quarterback is still Aaron Rodgers, i.e. the most efficient quarterback in NFL history, so that type of utilization is going to pay off in a big way very soon. I’m still valuing Tonyan as a borderline TE1/2 despite a rough beginning to the season.
10) Let’s check in on some dead zone running backs.
Draft season is over, but there are always lessons we can learn and keep with us the following year. Chief among them this season is the idea that the running back dead zone was a real thing. I talked about this in this column during draft season, but for those who don’t know the RB “dead zone” refers to running backs with an ADP in rounds 3-7 in fantasy football. The bust rate among dead zone running backs is extremely high, that’s the reason for the moniker. Chris Carson, Miles Sanders, Mike Davis, Myles Gaskin, and Trey Sermon were all drafted in the dead zone and all of them look as though they’ll have a very hard time providing value the rest of the way given their ADPs. The dead zone isn’t a death sentence as D’Andre Swift and Kareem Hunt have proved thus far, but it’s a real thing, and drafters should think twice about drafting running backs over QBs/WRs/TEs in that range in the future.