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10 Thoughts: Week 11 Edition

An offensive coordinator squandering a wealth of talent, two struggling offenses returning to form, young stars primed to explode, and much more.

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Fantasy Football - Justin Herbert

1) Joe Lombardi is holding back Justin Herbert and the San Diego Chargers offense.
If there’s one thing I hate to see in the NFL, it’s elite talent being wasted, and Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is wasting the talent at his disposal in LA. Lombardi has Justin Herbert, who may have more arm talent than any current NFL QB, a solid offensive line, one of the NFL’s best route runners in Keenan Allen, a top-five contested-catch receiver in Mike Williams, two athletic tight ends who thrive splitting the seams deep down the field in Jared Cook and Donald Parham, and a 4.39 burner in Jaylon Guyton. That’s a whole lot of talent, and yet, the Bolts have managed just 19.2 points per game during their recent 1-3 stretch. The problem is that Lombardi seems to be unable to adapt to his personnel. The former Saints OC is coaching like he never left Drew Brees and the Saints, and it’s been to his new team’s detriment. Despite having one of the strongest arms in NFL history, Justin Herbert’s 7.2 aDOT is reminiscent of Drew Brees’ end-of-career marks when his arm was shot. Among all NFL QB’s with at least 95 attempts, Herbert’s 7.2 aDOT ranks seventh to last, and it’s criminal to see names like Jimmy Garappolo, Davis Mills, and Sam Darnold ahead of him in that category. Herbert and his playmakers are so talented that they’ve still had some success, and on the bright side the team is well above average in pass rate and pace, but the incessant check-downs need to stop. I’ll throw in one last stat, and let me tell you — this is the one that pushed me over the edge. Guess who the number one PFF-graded NFL quarterback on 20+ yards throws is in 2021? It’s Justin Herbert. We’ll find out sooner rather than later whether or not Joe Lombardi is just a Sean Payton puppet or a quality NFL offensive coordinator. For fantasy purposes, I sure hope he’s the latter, but Lombardi hasn’t given us any reason to believe that through 10 weeks.

2) CeeDee Lamb’s electric Week 10 performance is just the beginning.
If you didn’t catch the game or check the box score, CeeDee Lamb roasted the Atlanta Falcons for a 7/106/2 receiving line last week. It’s no coincidence that Lamb went off in Michael Gallup’s return from a severe calf injury that sidelined him for eight weeks. Gallup’s return means that Lamb is back to playing in the slot where he’s virtually unstoppable. Lamb has played at least 19 snaps in the slot three times this season in Weeks 1,6, and 10. In Week 1 he hung 7/104/1 on Tampa Bay, in Week 6 he diced up New England for 9/146/2, and you already know how Week 10 went. Now that he’s back in his optimal position, nothing is stopping Lamb from being a dominant WR1 the rest of the way.

3) Are the Chiefs back?
In my mind, the answer to this question is yes and no. Allow me to explain — I don’t think that we saw the beginning of the Chiefs of old returning this season in Sunday night’s dominant 41-14 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. Rather, I think we saw a team potentially forming a new identity in response to how teams have decided to defend them. It’s no secret that defenses have dared Kansas City to run while taking away big plays, but for the first time in a while, it didn’t work in Week 10. The Chiefs didn’t give in to the run-game ploy though, instead, they passed at a very high 67.1% rate while taking what was there. Outside of one lucky touchdown pass on a bad throw, Patrick Mahomes (35-for-50, 406 yards, 5:0 TD/INT) shredded the Raiders in the intermediate passing game (8.1 aDOT) and didn’t take ill-advised deep shots into double coverage. Andy Reid knows that his team is built to win via the pass, and he also knows that the deep ball game has been taken away and that dinking and dunking short is too inefficient long-term, so this is his solution. While the explosiveness may never be the same in terms of big plays, Mahomes, Kelce (8/119/0), and Hill (7/83/2) all thrived with the way Kansas City operated in Week 10, and I believe that the fantasy points will continue coming in bunches now that this team has cracked the code.

4) There’s a surprising “running back to own” in Tennessee’s disappointing new backfield.

In a fantasy football environment starved for quality running back production, it’s no surprise that Tennessee running backs were in high demand following Derrick Henry’s season-ending foot injury, but it hasn’t exactly panned out. I for one was high on Jeremy McNichols as a back who knew the system and figured to dominate passing game work while mixing in for some carries. Through two weeks, McNichols has run only 46 percent of the running back routes for the Titans while getting the least carries (11) of the group. I think it’s completely insane that McNichols isn’t dominating passing game work, but rational coaching is far from a given in the NFL, so I’m willing to admit that McNichols looks like just a fringy PPR-specific RB4 in the Nyheim Hines mold. I was right about Adrian Peterson, however, as he’s clearly about as washed as a running back can be having rushed for a putrid 18/42/1 line (2.3 YPC) through two weeks. I’ll be nice and just say that the eye test matches up with the stats in regards to the future Hall of Famer’s performance as of late. The most interesting back of the bunch is D’Onta Foreman, who surprisingly emerged as the leader of the committee last week when he racked up 11 carries (11/30/0) and two catches (2/48/0). Foreman is hardly an above-average NFL running back, but he’s the most versatile back on the roster and at least appears to have some sort of burst. This committee is pretty ugly, but Foreman appears to be the only back with a shot of being a legit contributor on all three downs as he continues to learn the system — I’m valuing him like a low-end RB3 with low-end RB2 upside in a best-case scenario.

5) Jerry Jeudy and Albert Okwuegbunam’s returns have shaken things up in Denver.
With Jerry Jeudy, Albert Okwuegbunam, and Noah Fant all back in the lineup for Week 10, the Broncos target distribution looked like this — Jeudy (9), Tim Patrick (6), Fant (6), Courtland Sutton (3), Okwuegbunam (3). Needless to say, it’s quite crowded, and two players, in particular, are going to suffer. The first player is Noah Fant. Though he had six targets in the game, Denver was facing a Philadelphia Eagles defense that funnels targets to tight ends, and there are broader issues. Albert Okwuegbunam is on the field about 45 percent of the time and he’s always demanded red zone targets, which is a major problem for Fant, as he relies on touchdowns heavily. Fant has consistently posted very low aDOTs this season that limit his yardage upside, and with his touchdown equity now compromised while Jerry Jeudy is also vacuuming up targets alongside him, he’s just a middling TE2. The second player is Courtland Sutton, and his downturn is easier to analyze. Since Jerry Jeudy returned and assumed the target dominator role, Sutton hasn’t come close to replicating his early-season market share, and it makes sense. Sutton’s bread and butter is the deep ball game and Teddy Bridgewater’s is decidedly not. Instead, Teddy loves to direct passes into the intermediate middle portion of the field where Jeudy and the tight ends thrive. I’m valuing Sutton like a boom/bust high-end WR4 from here on out.

6) Be careful with New England’s running back room.
With Damien Harris (concussion) out in Week 10, Rhamondre Stevenson hung a 20/100/2 line on a tough Cleveland run defense last week, but that doesn’t carry the weight that it should because he’s a rookie running back on the Patriots. Stevenson is clearly the most talented back on the roster, but with Damien Harris back in the fold for Week 11 and Brandon Bolden still lurking on third downs, the most likely scenario going forward is a volatile committee. I’m sure some out there are pushing their chips in on Stevenson, while others are assuming that Damien Harris will step right back into the lead early-down role, but they’ll probably both be wrong. Bill Belichick’s backfields are tough to predict over large sample sizes, let alone on a week-to-week basis, so I wouldn’t plan on depending on any New England back for consistent production going forward until we see how things shake out.

7) Are the Bills back?
I think the Bills are indeed back. Everything about their dominant offensive performance in Week 10’s 45-17 win over the Jets reminded me of how their offense operated in 2020, and that’s a good thing. Brian Daboll strategized a game plan that included play-action on more than half of the team’s pass attempts in addition to Week 10’s highest team aDOT (12.9) and it worked to perfection, as Josh Allen posted a ridiculous 13.1 YPA mark while needing just 28 attempts to throw for 366 yards and a 2:1 TD/INT. Additionally, Stefon Diggs finally erupted for a monster game, totaling 8 catches, 162 yards, and a touchdown. While the Jets are a bad team overall, they’ve actually held opposing passing offenses in check for the most part, so this wasn’t just a case of a good team taking advantage of a bad team. The Bills still have to prove it against two solid teams in the Colts and the New Orleans Saints over the next couple of weeks, but I feel really good about things going forward.

8) Gerald Everett is just getting started.
I’ve been high on Gerald Everett all year long for three reasons. 1) He’s a great athlete, 2) He’s a near full-time player in Seattle’s offense, and 3) His quarterback goes by the name of Russell Wilson. Things hadn’t exactly clicked for Everett this year before Week 10 due to games missed with Covid and Russell Wilson’s finger injury, but both players are healthy now, and things are looking up. In his first game with Russell Wilson in quite some time Everett was the top fantasy performer for Seattle, racking up eight catches for 63 yards against Green Bay. He also ran a whopping 38 routes (second on the team) while playing 75 percent of the snaps. None of that is new — Everett has been very involved all year long, and it’s about time that things clicked. I’m valuing Everett like a strong TE2, and the market is still far too low on him.

9) A.J. Dillon is about to show everyone that he was worth an eighth-round pick.
During draft season sharp minds in the industry and sharp drafters everywhere advocated for A.J. Dillon and flocked to draft him in the single-digit rounds while others questioned drafting a backup running back so early on. Dillon was a clear value even in the eighth round as a very talented back with a not insignificant standalone role and massive conditional upside if Aaron Jones were to miss time. Dillon has already contributed while averaging 9.4 PPR points per game to date, and now that sweet sweet conditional upside is going to kick in. We’re about to find out what happens when a 6-foot 247 pound back who runs a 4.53 40-yard dash (98th percentile speed score), has the NFL’s sixth-best PFF rushing grade, and has averaged 5.5 yards per touch gets a bell-cow role. I’m confident that Dillon is going to absolutely smash as an elite RB1 for at least a couple of weeks while Aaron Jones recovers from an MCL sprain, and those who passed on him will be kicking themselves.

10) Tre’Quan Smith is establishing himself as the go-to-guy in New Orleans
Smith had been very quiet in 2021 prior to the last two weeks due primarily to injury issues, but he also struggled to earn playing time for some time after returning to play in Weeks 7-8. In Week 9, Smith played 80% of the snaps, led the team in routes run, and put together a 3/53/0 receiving game. In Week 10, he played on 91 percent of the snaps, again led the team in routes, and managed a 4/44/1 receiving performance. Smith hasn’t lit the world on fire by any means, but he’s establishing crucial rapport with Trevor Siemian that should continue to pay dividends as the season progresses. For now, Smith is a solid low-end WR4, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him creep closer to the WR3 range as he continues to lead this pass-catching group. 

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