Between the Lines: Week 2 Snap Count Analysis
Week 1 gave us our first sense of offensive pecking orders around the league, but then a lot of that changed in Week 2. Rookies are starting to gain ground on veterans, injuries are providing opportunities to players lower on the depth chart, and some dudes are just balling out and getting more burn.
Based on snap count data, here are 16 storylines to monitor and act on as we head into Week 3 of the 2018 season.
O.J. Howard Is Here to Stay
Cameron Brate was relegated to TE3 usage in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week 2 tilt against the Philadelphia Eagles. And second-year sensation O.J. Howard is completely taking over the every-down job. After Howard and Brate played 65% and 36% of snaps in Week 1, respectively, the gap widened to 79% and 24% in Week 2. The Bucs are using Howard as their alpha tight end, and we should be rostering Howard as a low-end TE1 with major upside in an offense that is firing on all cylinders behind the arm of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
James Washington Picks Up a Productive Role
Justin Hunter drew 61% of snaps in Week 1, operating as the Pittsburgh Steelers' clear number-three receiver. However, Hunter was a healthy scratch in Week 2 and was replaced by second-round rookie James Washington. And in a game that saw the Steelers trail the Kansas City Chiefs throughout, Washington rarely left the field, logging 80% of the team's offensive snaps. He was always going to be the Steelers' third receiver --the only question was when, the answer is now. We've seen this role create very viable production in the past -- most recently six- and eight-touchdown seasons from Martavis Bryant. Try to find a way to get Washington on your roster.
Frank Gore Won't Go Down Quietly
Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake opened the season with a 29%/74% split in Week 1, seeing Gore get nine carries. Well, it appears Gore isn't going anywhere, as he improved that snap split to 40%/60% in Week 2. Gore is likely to be featured more prominently in games with a positive game script. But this is a reminder to Drake managers in that Gore will likely be a pain in your side all season long.
Can't Keep D-Jax Off the Field
I simply don't know whose career resurrection is more improbable -- Fitzpatrick's or DeSean Jackson's. A couple old-timers left for dead have suddenly found new life, and they have enough swag in their post-game pressers to melt the microphone. Jackson battled through an injury in Week 1 and logged only 30% of snaps in doing so, but he rebounded to a 59% snap share in Week 2, much to Chris Godwin's dismay. If you had asked me a week ago, I'd say leave D-Jax on your waiver wire. Now, he seems pointed in the right direction. The Bucs simply cannot keep him on the sideline for long. Grab him and play him while you can.
Will Fuller Is Back and Without Limits
The Houston Texans got their own big-play threat and number-two wide receiver back in Week 2, and Will Fuller was back in full swing from the start. Logging 82% of the Texans' snaps, Fuller is primed for a large role in a potentially explosive offense. While the Texans haven't lived up to expectations through two weeks, having Fuller back in the lineup opens up the field for Deshaun Watson and the passing attack.
Sony Michel Arrives at Rex Burkhead's Expense
This was a weird game for the New England Patriots. The Pats rarely find themselves down in contests from wire to wire. So, some of the conclusions from this contest should be tempered. But in Sony Michel's first game as a rookie, he immediately took work from the presumed Swiss Army knife role of Rex Burkhead. Burkhead's snaps fell from 51% in Week 1 to 25% in Week 2. Meanwhile, Michel grabbed 21% in his debut. As the season progresses and the Patriots, for the majority of games, find themselves in the driver's seat, look for Burkhead and Michel to see additional work over James White, who has seen 48% and 56% of snaps in Week 1 and 2, respectively, as the proven passing down and hurry-up specialist.
Marlon Mack Starts and Steals From Jordan Wilkins
Marlon Mack's season debut appears to have come at the expense of Jordan Wilkins. Mack logged only 30% of snaps in this contest, which should rise throughout the season. Meanwhile, Wilkins' share dropped from 56% to 39% in a game where the Indianapolis Colts held the lead over the Washington Redskins for the majority of the contest. All-purpose back Nyheim Hines scored a touchdown and saw a minimal effect on his snap usage.
Eric Ebron Is Fool's Gold, Jack Doyle a Great Value
Despite opening the season with a pair of touchdowns in as many games, Eric Ebron should not be on any fantasy rosters. The real steal here is Indianapolis Colts teammate Jack Doyle. Ebron has seen 45% and 28% of team snaps in these first two weeks, while Doyle has seen 94% and 97% in consecutive games. On top of that, Doyle is out-targeting Ebron 15 to 9. Doyle is the clear and obvious play here. Good times are coming.
Malcolm Brown Is Todd Gurley's Handcuff
The only actionable takeaway here is to remind you that if you're rostering Todd Gurley and want to also roster his backup, you should have Malcolm Brown, not John Kelly. Kelly was a popular name in the preseason and has been picked up throughout leagues as the handcuff to Gurley. But in a game the Los Angeles Rams dominated over the Arizona Cardinals, it was Brown who spelled Gurley for 36% of the snaps. Gurley and Brown are the only Rams backs to log a snap all season.
Game Script Swings Three Backfields
The Redskins, Oakland Raiders, and Detroit Lions all saw different backs lead the team in snaps in Week 2 due to game script. Washington dominated the Cardinals in Week 1, and Adrian Peterson led Chris Thompson in snaps 53% to 42%. In Week 2, the 'Skins found themselves trailing, so Thompson outpaced Peterson 68% to 34%. This is here to simply remind you the preferred option in this backfield will be highly contingent on the scoreboard.
Similarly in Oakland, Marshawn Lynch (34%, 63%) got back in the driver's seat after Jalen Richard (53%, 12%) led the running backs in Week 1 snaps. As in Washington, the scoreboard dictated this usage. Lynch is the much more stable option here.
In the Lions' backfield, they saw an improved game script in Week 2 compared to their Week 1 meltdown versus the New York Jets, and it was Kerryon Johnson (23%, 47%) who took the reigns. Theo Riddick (59%, 36%) should be less involved when the score is within reach.
Injuries Open the Door in Philadelphia
Darren Sproles did not play in Week 2 and Jay Ajayi left the game temporarily with a back injury. That opened the door for Corey Clement's usage to surge from 18% in Week 1 to 42% in Week 2. Even Wendell Smallwood saw a nice boost in this game with 30% of snaps. Operating as the key backup for Ajayi could be a valuable role for Clement, but there are currently plenty of obstacles in his way.
Meanwhile, an injury to Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Mike Wallace opened the door for Kamar Aiken. Aiken did not play a single snap in Week 1, but he checked in for 78% of snaps in Week 2. Aiken could be a sneaky DFS play in Week 3 in a home game against the Indianapolis Colts' leaky secondary.
Gio Bernard to Shine in Joe Mixon's Absence?
Reports surrounding Joe Mixon's recent knee injury indicate that the lead back could miss two-to-four weeks. The next man up is Giovani Bernard, whose usage rose from 21% in Week 1 to 51% in Week 2. The coming weeks should feature Bernard in the offense. Tra Carson is the only other back to log a snap on the roster, but he has yet to top 5%. Gio has legitimate RB1 upside as long as Mixon's sidelined.
What Does Cleveland Do in the Post-Josh Gordon era?
Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins stepped up for Cleveland after it was announced that Gordon's tenure with with Cleveland Browns had reached its end. After a 17% snap rate in Week 1, Callaway logged 81% of snaps in Week 2. Higgins saw his usage increase from 60% to 74%, as well, but Callaway looks the part of a dynamic field-stretcher, filling in for Gordon. A highly-touted draft prospect who slid due to character concerns, Callaway could continue to make splash plays like he did in Week 2 (3 catches for 81 yards and a touchdown).
Jonnu Smith Gets a Full Workload Without Delanie Walker
Unfortunately, Delanie Walker went down for the season in Week 1. The anticipated replacement, Jonnu Smith, took the Tennessee Titans' starting tight end job and never looked back. Logging 100% of snaps in Week 2, Smith joins some fairly elite company. Only Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce have seen 100% of their team's snaps in a given week this season. Though the Titans offense has looked anemic at times, Smith stands to see viable volume.
Corey Grant and Ito Smith Find Work as Secondary Backups
While injuries to Leonard Fournette and Devonta Freeman raised the usage of both T.J. Yeldon and Tevin Coleman, it was two new names that saw the biggest rise in snap rates. The Jacksonville Jaguars' Corey Grant (42%) and the Atlanta Falcons' Ito Smith (29%) saw meaningful snaps. While Fournette is likely to suit up in Week 3, Grant is an interesting name to keep in mind if the lead back were to suffer a setback. For now, Smith has a little more ground to cover to be viable.
Keep an Eye on Latavius Murray
The usage to Latavius Murray increased from 20% in Week 1 to 32% in Week 2 thanks in part to a hamstring injury to lead back Dalvin Cook. Cook insists that the injury is no big deal and he should not miss any time, but we've heard optimism from players before. Murray has proven himself as more than capable of handling a feature role in this offense. If Cook does indeed miss time, Murray would likely command north of 80% of snaps and becomes a must-start in most leagues.