Fantasy Football: 3 Things We Learned in Week 7
Perhaps more than anything, fantasy football is a game of adjustments. Season-long fantasy doesn't end at the draft, and smart owners learn to take the trends and data that each week of games offers and apply it to their roster decisions moving forward.
This weekly piece will look at trends from the previous slate of games and determine which trends in snaps, usage, and matchups are actionable moving forward.
Kyler Is The Best Fantasy Quarterback. And It's Not Close
With regression hitting Lamar Jackson through his first six games and the Kansas City Chiefs devoting more play-calling to running the ball (47% rushing plays the last three games), the debate for fantasy's top quarterback this year really comes down to Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson. And the debate over these two is almost as fun as watching them go head to head like we saw in Week 7.
For the rest of the season, give me Murray.
As the only quarterback to rank in the top 10 for fantasy scoring each of the first seven weeks, Murray's stats have been simply unbelievable. He has 20 total touchdowns through seven games (13 passing and seven rushing), and for those fantasy leagues with just four points per touchdown pass, those rushing scores are pure gold.
In fact, according to Pro Football Reference, no other quarterback in the last 20 years can equal Murray's totals of 13 passing touchdowns and seven rushing scores through a team's first seven games.
It's the rushing that sets him apart from Wilson and the rest of the quarterbacks. Since 2000 there are only 43 regular season games where a quarterback rushed at least 13 times. Kyler has two such games just this season. Murray's 437 rushing yards are the fourth most through seven games for any quarterback since at least the 2000 season.
In real football terms, Murray's ability to escape the pocket is helping his team in ways beyond the fantasy box score.
Kyler Murray was pressured 9 times last night on 52 passing snaps.
0 turned into sacks. pic.twitter.com/wetwZNJHce
— PFF (@PFF) October 26, 2020
What this tells me is Arizona is going to let Kyler keep doing what he's doing been doing, because it is helping the Cardinals extend drives, keeps defensive backs honest, and -- most importantly -- win games.
What Can Browns Do For You?
It is time to familiarize ourselves with players like Rashard Higgins, Harrison Bryant, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Taywan Taylor. With Odell Beckham now out for the season, the Cleveland Browns are now arguably without their two best skill position players (plus Austin Hooper for at least another week) and will need to rely on a motley crew of unheralded players to produce on offense.
Beckham leaves behind 22% of the target share to be spread out among the offense, although that number is weighed down by the 11% he accumulated before injury in Week 7. He started the year with five straight weeks of at least 24% of his team's targets.
There are, of course, plenty of pundits out there who have this type of take:
"If the Browns win 10 or 11 games and make the playoffs without Odell — and he rehabs well and Baker looks better the 2nd half of the season — there will be a question of if they'd be better served getting a different player or pick for him." — @getnickwright pic.twitter.com/6OO3XUaMww
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) October 27, 2020
It's a long limb to climb out on to say a team is better after they lose their best player, but the potential benefit to the offense is now Baker Mayfield can go in with a "take what the defense gives me" attitude and not force 10 to 12 weekly targets to Beckham. What does that look like in reality?
Baker Mayfield's stats WITH OBJ in the lineup:
4,922 yards (223.7 YPG)
Mayfield's stats WITHOUT OBJ in the lineup:
4,022 yards (268.1 YPG)
— Brent Sobleski (@brentsobleski) October 26, 2020
This past Sunday, five players got at least three targets after Beckham left the game, with none getting more than six. While we wait to see how this shakes out, it opens up a buying opportunity for players like Kareem Hunt and Hooper -- guys we know will be involved the rest of the season.
After two meh games from Hunt and an absence due to an appendectomy for Hooper, look to buy low on the all-of-a-sudden top pieces of an offense that now ranks in the top 10 in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play.
Speaking of Brown...
This signing -- rumored to have been masterminded by Tom Brady -- throws a pretty big wrench into an already complicated machine. Fantasy managers who roster Chris Godwin and Mike Evans are already tilting their faces off when players like Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller get touchdowns, when Miller leads the team in receiving yards, or when Leonard Fournette is third on the team in targets; all of which happened on Sunday
And this was a was a week where all of Godwin, Evans, and Rob Gronkowski came into the game healthy.
Brown averages 10 targets per game and 13.4 yards per reception for his career, so this is not a signing just to satisfy Brady's whims. The Bucs clearly think Brown can be a productive receiver, but the price fantasy managers have to pay will be a target share pie with even more mouths to feed.
Through Tampa's first seven games, here is the target distribution for their top six receivers.
When you compare this pie to a similar analysis for a team like the Minnesota Vikings, for example, there are a couple immediate things that stand out.
Almost two-thirds of Minnesota's targets are distributed to two players. Tampa's are evenly distributed over the six players. And while injuries have played a role in this, consider a player like Evans -- who leads the team in targets with 40 -- has four total targets in his last two games for 6% of the target share. As Chris Allen points out, he is dangerously close to the cut line in shallow fantasy leagues.
Clearly there are teams that fall on either side of this target share spectrum, but perhaps none more evenly allocated than the Bucs.
Add another alpha-level, Hall of Fame receiver to that mix, and where are the targets coming from? Likely some from Godwin, some from Miller, some from Gronk, some from the rest. While this might be a boost for the Buccaneers' Super Bowl hopes, it is a recipe for disaster for fantasy managers counting on any piece of the Tampa passing attack outside of Brady.
Both of the New England Patriots/ last two Super Bowl victories (2018, 2016) came when the team had at least five players with at least 55 targets on the season. It seems Brady is preparing the Tampa offense for that type of distribution with as many playmakers as he can accumulate.