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10 Thoughts: Week 9 Edition

Analyzing the aftermath of a major injury, examining quarterback struggles, staying patient with stud receivers, and much more.

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Fantasy Football - Chase Claypool

1) Jeremy McNichols, not Adrian Peterson, is the Titans running back to own in PPR formats.
Peterson has the name value, the nostalgic allure, and a likely early-down role, but Jeremy McNichols is the better pickup. The Titans aren’t stupid, and they know that they can’t keep running the same offense without Derrick Henry, so they’re going to lean pass-heavy in wake of his season-ending foot fracture. For Jeremy McNichols, that means that in addition to around 5-10 carries per game, he’s primed to rack up five-plus targets per game. In PPR formats, give me the guy who is going to catch three or four balls a week over the washed-up veteran with no hope for passing game work. Peterson isn’t a bad pickup, but he’s going to be an inefficient early-down grinder who relies on touchdowns. The cherry on top for McNichols is that he already knows Tennessee’s system very well, and the team trusts him implicitly… don’t underestimate his three-down upside.

2) Kyler Murray and Patrick Mahomes are in unthinkable danger.
If I told you before the season that Kyler Murray and Patrick Mahomes would be in danger of falling out of the QB1 range by Week 9, would you have believed me? Of course not, but here we are. Kyler has almost totally abandoned the rushing game, rushing for just 9.5 yards per game in his last four starts. On a team that ranks 28th in the NFL in pass rate, that’s really bad news. Murray has averaged just 17 fantasy points per game in those four games, and in two of those games, he threw for an unsustainable three and four touchdowns respectively. If Kyler doesn’t start running again, there’s nothing keeping him from falling out of QB1 range. In Kansas City, the Chiefs entire offense has collapsed as of late while scouts are saying that Patrick Mahomes has been figured out and that he’s abandoning structure too often while lacking fundamentals. Mahomes has averaged just 15 fantasy points per game in his last two contests despite facing two swiss cheese secondaries in the Tennessee Titans and the New York Giants. In those two games, he’s posted a combined 5.8 yards per attempt mark that is almost hard to believe. For reference, Mahomes’ career YPA is 8.8, and anything below 6.5 is awful. Obviously, both of these quarterbacks are superb talents, and betting on talent is always the way to go, but there is legitimate concern now. I’ll be watching both signal-callers very closely in the coming weeks.

3) Sam Darnold is being handled like a toddler, and the Panthers offense is in shambles.
Matt Rhule has come to the startling realization that his quarterback is awful, and he’s resorted to making Sam Darnold as much of a non-factor as possible. The struggling QB attempted just 24 passes with a 4.9 aDOT in Sunday’s game against the division rival Atlanta Falcons… it doesn’t get any sadder than that. The coaching staff is essentially building their entire game plan around not giving Sam Darnold chances to hand the ball to the other team. The extremely low amount of attempts and pathetic aDOT are one thing, but handing the ball to the ever inefficient Chuba Hubbard 24 times to have him only rush for yards 84 (3.4 YPC) is just sad. Carolina still won because Matt Ryan was almost impossibly bad on the other side of things, but everyone here is in trouble. D.J. Moore has moved down into the WR2 range, Robby Anderson is barely rosterable, and of course, Sam Darnold is as far off of the fantasy radar as one can be. Expect this to be the “get Christian McCaffery the ball” show immediately upon his return, which should arrive in the next couple of weeks.

4) Van Jefferson IS making the leap.
I wrote about Jefferson’s value possibly surging last week, and now we have confirmation — he’s in for a big second-half. The team has moved on from DeSean Jackson, and Jefferson has benefited more than anyone since Jackson was shelved starting in Week 7. In his last two games, Jefferson has played 94 and 84 percent of the snaps respectively while racking up a combined 7/131/1 receiving line. The speedster is going to be somewhat volatile, as he usually finds himself operating in the 13-18 aDOT range somewhat deep down the field, but his playing time guarantees a decent floor to go along with a very intriguing ceiling. Overall, I’m aggressively valuing Jefferson like a high-end WR4, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he cracks the WR3 range before long.

5) Don’t lose patience with Chase Claypool.
I get it, Claypool was supposed to take a leap after Juju Smith-Schuster’s season-ending injury, and he hasn’t, but now isn’t the time to quit on him. Claypool is one of the 10 best athletes in the National Football League, sporting a 99th percentile speed score due to his unreal 4.42 40-yard dash at 6-foot-4 238 pounds. The former Notre Dame standout has also been extremely efficient (1.92 yards per route run) despite catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger who is… we’ll just say… past his prime. Essentially, Claypool just needs targets to produce, and though he’s been targeted “just” 12 times over the last two weeks, he’s led the team in routes during that time while also receiving manufactured touches in the rushing game. It’s also worth noting that the Steelers faced off against the Geno Smith-led Seahawks (snail pace) and the Browns (heavy winds) during that time… the Claypool WR2 era will be here before long.

6) It’s finally time to embrace the pass in Tennessee.
The Titans brought in Julio Jones to team up with A.J. Brown in the offseason, but it was still Derrick Henry time for the most part before his season-ending injury in Week 8. Now, the Titans will have no choice but to embrace the pass, and the fantasy implications should be glorious for Ryan Tannehill, A.J. Brown, and Julio Jones, if he can stay healthy. Brown looks to be back to 100 percent after battling Chipotle-induced food poisoning and soft tissue injuries, as he proved last week when he hung 10/155/1 on the Indianapolis Colts. Brown’s outlook as a surefire WR1 can only be stopped by injury at this point. Ryan Tannehill has been a very efficient passer throughout his career, and now he’ll have a chance to marry that efficiency with volume that could make him a QB1. If Julio Jones can finally put his pesky hamstring injury to bed, there’s no reason why he can’t vie for high-end WR2 status, but the injury has really slowed him this season, so that’s far from guaranteed. We’re entering uncharted territory here, but I like betting big on Tennessee’s passing game.

7) The Michael Thomas situation teaches a painful, but valuable lesson.
We’ve all been there — you’re in the ninth round of your fantasy football draft — the names on the board are growing less exciting with each passing pick — and then you see it — a superstar player dealing with a major injury is still on the board. In your head, you start justifying the pick… “I can stash him and get by just fine, and oh boy, when he comes back my team is going to be unstoppable.” Except, most of the time these players don’t come back. Thomas is just one example, but off the top of my head, A.J. Green and Doug Baldwin in past years also come to mind, though I’m positive there are a few more. It’s fine to draft a player at a discount who is dealing with something minor injury-wise. For example, if the player is projected to return by Week 2 or 3, that’s fine, but drafting players who are already severely injured is a bad way to waste a draft pick.

8) Kellen Moore should be the first offensive coordinator to ever win coach of the year.
Every week the Dallas Cowboys offense ruthlessly dissects its opponent’s weaknesses. The offense doesn’t lean on the run or the pass, it’s not predictable, there’s no one “go-to-guy,” and yet, they seemingly put up 30+ points every single week because of one man — Kellen Moore. Moore’s brilliance has been on display all season long, but his star shined brighter than ever last Sunday night in primetime. The Cowboys, without their star quarterback Dak Prescott, still came away with a 20-16 road win against a solid Minnesota Vikings team. Perhaps even more importantly, Cooper Rush, who has never accomplished anything at the NFL level, threw for 325 yards and a 2:1 TD/INT, making it abundantly clear that this system is truly superior. There’s no offense I trust Moore (sorry) than the Dallas Cowboys, and the fantasy production from this offense will be astronomical the rest of the way with Kellen Moore pulling the strings.

9) Mike Williams is still a WR1.
Yes, that Mike Williams, the guy who has failed to clear 27 receiving yards in three of his last four games. Let’s go through those four games and examine what’s behind the struggles. 

  • Week 4 vs LVR (1/11/0, four targets) : The Raiders have allowed the third-fewest wide receiver fantasy points in the NFL, and they bracketed Williams relentlessly while allowing underneath completions to tight ends and running backs. Only five receivers all season long have caught more than five passes against Las Vegas, and only one has gone over 100 yards.
  • Week 5 vs CLE: (8/165/2, 16 targets) : Yeah… this one speaks itself, what a dominant performance that was.
  • Week 6 @ BAL: (2/27/0, five targets) : The Ravens rank eighth in fantasy points allowed to opposing wideouts, and Williams played just 36 percent of snaps while hobbling around on a severely injured quad.
  • Week 8 vs NE (2/19/0, five targets) : Bill Belichick always goes out of his way to completely shut down and bracket/give safety help on the opposing team’s biggest downfield threat. CeeDee Lamb and Mike Evans are the only star/big-play specialist receivers to thrive against New England this season.

It’s been a rough road as of late, but there are legitimate contextual reasons as to why Big Mike has struggled. At the end of the day, Williams is an elite talent in a prolific offense who is now healthy… don’t let a stretch of games with injury issues and tough matchups make you forget that.

10) We’re about to find out whether or not the quirky Jets offense is for real.
The Jets, coming off of a miraculous upset win over the Cincinnati Bengals, will face off against the Colts on Thursday night in the Week 9 opener. By now the book is out — Mike White is going to try and pepper his skilled receiving backs with targets. Over the last two weeks, Jets running backs have combined to post a 28/298/1 receiving line, and no, that’s not a typo. Almost 50 percent of White’s completions have gone to Michael Carter and Ty Johnson, which is simply unheard of. While White and this offense was the story of the week last week, I think we’re about to find out what they’re really made of. The Colts’ Matt Eberflus is one of the sharper defensive coordinators in the NFL, and I predict that he’s going to force White to throw the ball past the sticks. What happens then? Nobody knows, but we should have a great idea of how sustainable Gang Green’s recent offensive success is going to be after this game.

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