Riley Cooper doesn't respect my fantasy analysis.
Days after I adamantly argued that Cooper's recent success was due to a few lucky breaks, he promptly went off for two more touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers. While I did mention that he had a good rapport with Nick Foles, I stopped short of elaborating on it as a boon for Cooper's future prospects. Lesson learned.
After the Packers game, LeSean McCoy summed up Foles' recent performance rather eloquently:
"If I had to define it, I’d say he’s playing with tons of swag."
Note before you get started: For a description of Net Expected Points (NEP), check out our glossary.
Nick Foles (0.41 NEP/Pass, Ranked 2nd of 40 Qualifying Quarterbacks)
By now I'm sure you know the swagged-out statistics (16 touchdowns, zero interceptions), so lets cut to the chase: is Foles a QB1 for the rest of the season?
Since we have a relatively small sample size of Foles in 2013, let's take a look at how well he performed in 2012 as well.
|Year||Att||Comp %||Yds/Att||TD:Int||NEP/Pass||Rank||Success Rate||Rank|
|2012||265||60.8 %||6.4||6:5||-0.05||30/39||40.70 %||34/39|
|2013||136||63.2 %||9.2||16:0||0.41||2/40||47.26 %||12/40|
Foles was a slightly below-average quarterback in 2012, so what has changed in 2013?
Both McCoy and the offensive line are healthier, for one. But the biggest difference by far has been the arrival head coach Chip Kelly, who draws up game plans that have put Foles in a great position to succeed.
Kelly has Foles in command of an up-tempo offense that throws a lot of high-percentage passes, allowing him to get in rhythm. The receivers do a lot of work after the catch, forcing the defense to defend the area of the field close to the line of scrimmage. Because of this, Foles is able to get favorable situations to take deep shots.
He's currently third in the NFL with a 56.5 deep completion percentage, having connected on 13 of his 23 attempts. The remarkable part is that 11 of those 13 completions have gone for touchdowns! While these numbers are prime candidates for a regression to the mean, the efficiency cannot be ignored.
Foles has also exhibited excellent decision-making skills throughout 2013, frequently pulling the ball down and running if nothing is open. He has already run 20 times for 80 yards this season, including an eight-carry, 38-yard outing last week against the Packers.
One of the main concerns about Foles is a lack of a high-volume games. In his four starts, he has thrown 31, 29, 28, and 18 passes. However, his 12th-ranked Success Rate (the percentage of his attempts that resulted in positive Net Expected Points) is very solid, which is a big reason why I think he can continue to play at a high level. Even if he sees a drop-off in deep passing efficiency, he has shown that he can move the ball down the field in smaller chunks as well.
Another potential concern for any quarterback that we don't have a large sample size for is that defenses will start adjusting, possibly blitzing more and forcing him into mistakes. Nevertheless, Foles has been able to beat the blitz so far in 2013, completing 63 percent of his passes with five touchdowns, no interceptions, and only two sacks in 39 dropbacks while under pressure.
One could point to the fact that Foles has somewhat of an underwhelming group of receivers around him as another possible reason for him to fall back to Earth. McCoy is obviously a stud catching passes out of the backfield, but beyond him, there's DeSean Jackson, who is an excellent deep threat, but lacks the size and physicality of a prototypical WR1. Cooper, despite his recent success, still has talent limitations. Slot receiver Jason Avant is reliable and has great hands, but isn't a true difference-maker. The same can be said for tight end Brent Celek.
You could counter the previous argument by stating that Foles' high level of play with his current receiving corps may be an indication of great things to come for him in Kelly's system. Great quarterbacks do elevate the play of those around them, after all. It is something to keep an eye on, but I would not call his receivers a reason to downgrade him just yet. Cooper may in fact be improving and rookie tight end Zach Ertz may soon emerge as another weapon.
What will Foles be dealing with down the stretch? Here are the Net Expected Points Allowed Per Pass (adjusted for strength of schedule) rankings for the remaining opponents on Foles' schedule: Redskins (18th), Cardinals (6th), Lions (19th), Vikings (31st), Bears (8th), Cowboys (7th).
The Cardinals stick out as the toughest defense Foles has yet to face. They can shadow Jackson with cornerback Patrick Peterson, and are also stingy against the run. The Cowboys' and Bears' rankings are deceiving because they have both suffered significant injuries recently and are not playing nearly as well as their rankings might suggest.
Foles has had one bad game so far, an 11-for-29, 80-yard clunker in which a concussion may have played a part in his ineffectiveness. Besides that, he has done nothing but play great football under Kelly in 2013. I am admittedly always wary of drawing conclusions from small sample sizes, but sometimes it is necessary to do so in order to take advantage of value and/or upside when it presents itself.
Our projections expect a regression in Foles' touchdown-to-interception ratio, and peg him as a QB14 for the rest of the season. However, with an excellent play-caller and a running game that defenses can't ignore, his upside is high enough to start him as a QB1 until he gives us reason not to.
Jordan Reed (0.95 Reception NEP/Target, Ranked 4th of 28 Qualifying Tight Ends)
Rob Gronkowski. Jimmy Graham. Julius Thomas. Vernon Davis (assuming he's over last week's concussion). Those are the only tight ends I would want to own more than Jordan Reed right now.
Jordan Cameron may not replicate his first-half pace with Jason Campbell at the helm. Tony Gonzalez has a toe injury. Antonio Gates has been running a lot of check down routes. Jason Witten has been inconsistent. Greg Olsen has seen only 4.3 targets per game over his last six.
Meanwhile, Reed is fourth in tight end fantasy points per game over the past five weeks of the season. He has become a favorite target of Robert Griffin III, and is the only other receiver he consistently looks for besides Pierre Garcon.
In fact, after being targeted only nine times in his first two games combined, Reed has averaged 8.2 targets per game over his last six. He reels in most of his targets, too, ranking first amongst qualified tight ends with a 75.9 percent catch rate.
Although he is not as huge (6'2", 236) as some of the more successful pass-catching tight ends today, Reed has good athleticism and agility which he uses to get open effectively and gain additional yards after catch.
Coming out of college at Florida, Reed drew comparisons to Aaron Hernandez from some scouts. Remember, Reed is a rookie, so further improvement in his game isn't out of the question. In addition, RG3 is just starting to hit his stride. All this adds up to a tight end with some major upside.
As numberFire's own Drew Angel pointed out, Reed faces a handful of favorable match-ups down the stretch, with the Chiefs as the only truly daunting one. However, they have not been tested by many good tight ends yet. They did hold Witten to only 12 yards on three catches back in Week 2, but gave up 81 yards to Cameron in Week 8. I would not be surprised if Reed had success against the Chiefs.
Start Reed as a matchup proof, mid-tier TE1 with top-four upside, and buy him if owners are selling for a reasonable price.
Cecil Shorts (0.49 Reception NEP/Target, Ranked 61st of 75 Qualifying Wide Receivers)
Cecil Shorts has had a disappointing 2013, averaging only 7.4 standard fantasy points per game after averaging 10.0 last season. This is all despite seeing 10 targets per contest, which ranks eighth in the league. His Reception Net Expected Points Per Target is down over 40 percent from last season's 0.83 figure.
The main culprit for Shorts' sub-par production has been lack of touchdowns, as he only has one so far this year. This comes as no surprise, as the Jaguars are far and away the worst offense in the NFL. They rank last in both Net Expected Points per Pass and Net Expected Points per Rush. There just aren't many touchdowns to go around in Jacksonville.
Because he is a target monster, Shorts still has a high fantasy floor, especially in PPR formats. He also has shown a penchant for big plays in the past. Last season, he had five plays of 40 yards or more, but this year he only has one. Just because the big plays have not happened yet does not mean that Shorts isn't a threat to break one every time he touches the football though. Combine Shorts' massive amount of targets - especially now that Justin Blackmon is suspended - with his big-play ability, and the potential does exist for monster games.
However, capping Shorts' upside is his tough remaining schedule. He does face the Texans, who rank 29th in Net Expected Points Allowed per pass, twice. However, they cover outside wide receivers well, struggling more with tight ends and slot receivers. Shorts only lines up in the slot 15.7 percent of the time. He'll also square off against the Cardinals (6th), Browns (15th), Bills (13th), Titans (17th), and Colts (26th).
The Cardinals, Browns, and Titans all project as slight downgrades for Shorts, because he will likely face off with potential shutdown cornerbacks Peterson, Joe Haden, and Alterraun Verner, respectively.
We have Shorts projected as the 25th-best wide receiver for the rest of the season. While he has a high floor in PPR, he has a larger potential range of outcomes in standard leagues. It would be impossible to tell whether he will, once again, exhibit the big-play ability that he flashed last season and give you high-end WR2 production, or get stymied by tough matchups and his team's anemic offense. Ideally, you would want him as your WR3 or your flex, and have someone who has been scoring touchdowns more consistently in your WR2 slot.
Steve Smith (0.57 Reception NEP/Target, Ranked 55th of 75 Qualifying Wide Receivers)
With an aging wide receiver, we always have to be cognizant of a decline. Check out how Steve Smith's numbers have been decreasing across the board in each of the past two seasons:
Smith's average depth of target (aDOT, courtesy of Pro Football Focus) is down nearly three yards from 2011, the year when he experienced a career renaissance with then-rookie quarterback Cam Newton. The duo frequently connected for explosive plays down field, putting Smith's speed, quickness, and ferocious ball skills on full display. Smith came back down to earth a bit last season, but was still a solid WR2.
This season, Smith is simply not being used as the field stretcher he once was, and it's cutting into his fantasy value. In fact, he has been outscored by the Panthers' number two wideout, Brandon LaFell, on a points-per-game basis.
The chart below shows how the deep ball (defined as passes complete 20-plus yards downfield) is no longer a significant part of Smith's arsenal, and how it is costing him fantasy points:
|Year||Total Targets||Deep Targets||%||Deep Rec-Deep Yards||Standard Fantasy Points/G|
As Smith's usage on deep passes has plummeted, so has his fantasy output. He led the Panthers by a significant margin in deep targets in both 2011 and 2012, but this season the newly-acquired Ted Ginn has one more than him while LaFell has only one less than him.
Five of Smith's next six opponents rank in the top 16 in Net Expected Points Allowed Per Pass (adjusted for SOS), and the one team that doesn't is Tampa Bay. You already know what that means: Revis island. Revis held Smith to a paltry 4-reception, 42-yard stat line in their last meeting. Smith does face the Falcons' 32nd-ranked defense in Week 17, but most fantasy seasons will be done by then.
We have to accept that Smith is now being used as a possession receiver and lacks the upside that he once possessed. He will continue to lead the Panthers in targets, and is a solid WR3 in PPR. In standard leagues, he lacks the upside to be more than a low-end WR3. He is not likely to win you a week with explosive plays and long touchdowns anymore, so owners with their eyes on the playoffs should attempt to upgrade to a more explosive option for their WR3 slot if at all possible.