In this Week 7 edition of 10 Thoughts, we cover DeAndre Hopkins’ troubling outlook, hidden gems at the running back position, game script influence, and much more.
1) DeAndre Hopkins is in trouble.
On the surface, everything appears fine with Hopkins. The long-time superstar’s production is down slightly, but he’s still averaging 16.4 PPR points per game, and he caught two touchdown passes last week. However, below the surface, there are serious issues that threaten Hopkins’ ability to remain the WR1 that he’s been for so long. The first problem is team passing volume. Arizona’s defense has improved to the point where they’re only throwing the ball 32.5 times per game (24th) in 2021 compared to 35.9 times per game (14th) in 2020. The next issue inolves targets, as Hopkins is averaging only 6.3 targets per game this season while ranking 46th in the NFL in total targets. Last season he averaged 10 targets per game while finishing second in the entire league in total targets. Kyler Murray has plenty of weapons, and he’s fine spreading the ball around. It also doesn’t help that Kliff Kingsbury refuses to move Hopkins around the formation or expand his route tree. I’m getting ahead of the impending regression and am valuing Hopkins as a WR2 going forward.
2) Dallas Goedert is primed to explode with Zach Ertz out of his way.
It’s no secret that Dallas Goedert is an elite talent at the tight end position. He was drafted in the second round, he’s an all-around plus athlete, he ranks sixth in yards per route run (1.92) among NFL tight ends, and he ranks second in yards per reception among NFL tight ends (15.6). The only thing standing in his way was Zach Ertz, as both players were playing on more than half of the snaps while cannibalizing one another’s production. With Ertz out of the way after his trade to Arizona, Goedert is primed to augment his efficiency with volume, and he has a massive ceiling. I’ll leave you with this — Goedert is averaging 11.4 yards per target thus far, and he’s averaging a little less than four targets per game. With Ertz out of the picture, Goedert can realistically command at least six targets per game, which would translate into roughly 68.4 receiving yards per game if his yards per target remains stable. If that comes to fruition, only Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews are averaging more yards per game. Goedert has a very real chance to become an elite fantasy tight end.
3) Travis Kelce is finally showing signs of aging.
Age comes for everyone except Tom Brady, although having the greatest supporting cast of all time sure helps. Kelce turned 32 years old this season, and while he’s still the clear top fantasy tight end in the game, he’s showing signs of regression. First off, Kelce has been banged up with minor injuries all year long, including neck, ankle, and arm issues that have caused him to miss snaps in most games, though he’s yet to actually miss a contest. Players get injured more as they age, it’s just a fact. Statistically, Kelce is also falling far behind where he was last year underneath the surface. In 2020 Kelce’s 2.50 yards per route run ranked ninth among all NFL pass catchers. This season that number is down to 1.98 yards per route run, good for 30th among all NFL pass catchers. Don’t get it twisted — that number is still excellent, but it’s a far cry from where he was in 2020. Additionally, Kelce’s red zone targets are down to 0.83 per game in 2021 after he got 1.33 red zone targets per game in 2020. All of this secondary regression had resulted in 18.1 PPR points per game compared to 20.9 points per game last year, so Kelce is still doing just fine, but it’s clear that he’ll likely never approach 2020 levels again.
4) James Robinson is quietly having one of the best seasons of any NFL running back.
Robinson started out the year with his coaching staff moronically underutilizing him while placing him into a timeshare with Carlos Hyde, and naturally, the market soured on him. However, Robinson played so well early on that the coaching staff was forced to start feeding him, and he’s now seen 19 or more touches in four straight games, but it’s what Robinson is doing with those touches that’s so special. The former UDFA sensation is averaging a ridiculous 5.5 yards per carry this season, and he ranks top five in yards per carry, forced missed tackles, and yards after contact. Essentially, Robinson has been elite in every statistical facet, and the eye test matches when you turn on the tape. All in all, Robinson is averaging 21.7 PPR points per game since earning the bell-cow role, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down as a stud high-end RB2 despite not getting enough attention.
5) Don’t sleep on Rhamondre Stevenson.
I know I know, Stevenson is a rookie running back on the Patriots. Bill Belichick typically treats rookie running backs like interns whose job is to get coffee and watch film, but Stevenson is slowly earning trust, and he has real talent. Stevenson was good enough to supersede Trey Sermon as Oklahoma’s lead back in college, forcing Sermon to transfer to Ohio State, and he also dominated preseason action like no other player. In the last two weeks Stevenson has seen eight and 11 touches, and last week he was the team’s lead receiving back, racking up three catches. Belichick has made it clear that he doesn’t trust Damien Harris as a receiver, and Brandon Bolden is painfully washed, so there’s a real opportunity there. Stevenson is also the team’s biggest running back at 5-foot-11 231 pounds, so a goal-line role isn’t out of the question as he continues to build trust. Overall, the Oklahoma product is one more Damien Harris fumble away from breaking out, but even if Harris remains ahead on the depth chart, Stevenson can carve out a flex-worthy role if he continues to catch passes while mixing in for 5-10 carries per game.
6) Tyler Boyd is no longer an every-week starter, but he can still be a useful fantasy asset.
Tyler Boyd has underwhelmed to date this season, averaging just 10.5 PPR points per game. Drafters expected Boyd to be a rock-solid WR3, but they understandably didn’t expect Ja’Marr Chase to command a 24 percent target share, or the Bengals to throw at a very low 54.1% rate (25th). Boyd has descended into the bucket of players that have to be started carefully. Specifically, he should only be started in games where Cincinnati is an underdog. In those games, Cincinnati is projected to experience negative game script, which will lead to them throwing at a higher rate. Boyd needs the team to throw at around a 60 percent or higher rate to experience success because his target competition in Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins is too stiff for him to thrive when the overall passing volume is low. Boyd should be started this week against Baltimore with the Bengals being a 6.5 point underdog against the Baltimore Ravens.
7) Keep an eye on unheralded running backs with potential opportunities.
Jarret Patterson, Marlon Mack, Rashaad Penny, and Ty’Son Williams are all worth keeping an eye on even though they haven’t been the least bit relevant thus far. Patterson is next in line for early-down work if Antonio Gibson, who aggravated an already present stress fracture in his shin last week, misses time. Mack is almost surely going to be traded somewhere where he can play more before long, possibly even to the Kansas City Chiefs, who are in dire need of a competent rusher. Penny is a talented former first-round pick who has a chance to establish himself as the lead runner for the Seattle Seahawks this week as he returns from IR due to injuries to Chris Carson and Alex Collins. Ty’Son Williams is Baltimore’s most explosive running back by a mile, but he’s been foolishly shunned by the coaching staff in favor of inferior veteran Latavius Murray to date. Murray is highly questionable to play this week, so this could be Williams’ biggest chance yet to stake his claim for touches. With the running back carousel in full swing, don’t be behind the market on these unheralded, but potentially important backs.
8) The gap between Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods is much larger than most think.
I believe that the market has been far too forgiving in regards to Robert Woods’ early-season performance, perhaps because he had been so good and so dependable for so long prior to 2021. The first thing to consider is just how big of a factor Cooper Kupp is within this offense. Kupp is soaking up Davante Adams levels of targets on a weekly basis, and he leads the NFL with 68 targets (34 percent share). In contrast, Woods has totaled just 44 targets (22 percent share). While Woods’ target share percentage is still quite good, the Rams don’t throw enough (56.2%, 22nd in the NFL) for him to excel with Kupp dominating like he is. As a result, Woods has only scored more than 12.4 PPR points twice in six games this season… does that sound like a WR2 to you? I’m viewing Woods below the market as a solid WR3, and his WR2 hopes hinge on either a jump in passing volume or defenses forgetting about him while doubling Cooper Kupp, neither of which is very likely to happen on a consistent basis.
9) Miles Sanders has quietly assumed a bell-cow role over the last two weeks.
In Weeks 1-4 Miles Sanders played on 64.4% of snaps and out-touched Kenneth Gainwell 49-33. In Weeks 5-6 he played on 78.2% of snaps and out-touched Gainwell 27-4. The trend is clear — Nick Sirianni is attempting to feature Sanders as the bell-cow. It hasn’t led to big results yet, as Philadelphia’s matchups have dictated low running back volume, but starting this week against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sanders could start to take off. Playing on 78.2% of snaps and getting 87 percent of the touches is elite, and if the team running back touches normalize to say 25-30 per game… Sanders has serious high-end RB2 potential. The best part is that the lack of recent results has suppressed the Penn State product’s value, so now is the perfect time to go get him.
10) J.D. McKissic is in a position to provide borderline RB2/3 value in PPR formats the rest of the way.
McKissic is a pass-catching specialist out of the backfield, and few backs excel the way he does on passing downs. He also plays for the Washington Football Team, and the Football Team’s defense is allowing a whopping 31.0 PPG (worst in the NFL). This means that McKissic is going to continue getting plenty of opportunities in the passing game while his team attempts to catch up. Additionally, Antonio Gibson is really banged up as he continues to manage a stress fracture in his shin, so McKissic is likely to get a few more carries each week. It’s not sexy, but McKissic received 31 touches in his last three games including 14 receptions… that gets it done in PPR.