Fantasy Football: 5 Bold Predictions for Week 4
One of the things that makes fantasy football so captivating is the variance. Derrick Henry was the RB1 in all of fantasy in 0.5 PPR in 2020, but Henry himself only had three weeks as the top fantasy scorer. That means, on individual weeks, some very strange players may lead the league in fantasy points at their positions.
That opens the door for some room to be "spicy" and make some fun predictions. In a landscape increasingly set ablaze by "hot takes," it can be difficult to understand the difference between a bold prediction -- based on a particularly strong spot for a team or player -- and a senseless take with the prayer of becoming correct based on variance.
Let's shoot for the former with five interesting spots to target during this weekend's NFL games.
(All predictions are for half-PPR and FanDuel scoring for quarterbacks.)
1. Allen Robinson Finishes as a Top-20 Wide Reciever
The theme of this week's bold predictions mostly revolves around the same concept. Many players have had a brutal start to the season through matchups, but as we get more data, they now see easier matchups with tremendous roles.
There is no possible way to buy lower this week than the Chicago Bears. They were embarrassed to the point where the forward pass looked unnatural against Cleveland, but the Browns have Myles Garrett and other elite pass-rushing options that do likely overwhelm offensive lines multiple times in 2021. The Detroit Lions haven't made anyone that uncomfortable all season.
Detroit has allowed 0.49 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back to opposing quarterbacks this year, which is the most in the entire league. That number is even more perilous when considering a majority of the sample has come against two quarterbacks not known for their volume passing skills (Jimmy Garoppolo and Lamar Jackson) sandwiched around Aaron Rodgers.
Therefore, the question becomes which side wins between the unstoppable force and immovable object. Chicago's dreadful passing performance in Week 3 should not have fantasy players abandoning ship on the prior evaluations of this offense. Based on the preseason, Justin Fields appeared capable, and Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, and David Montgomery were not a bad weapon corps.
Robinson, particularly, stands way out as someone too heavily penalized for the bad day at the office. Robinson is numberFire's WR27 in projections this week in a dream matchup, and his role is that of a top-20 receiver with just above-average efficiency. Robinson has a solid 25.3% target share on the season -- 22nd in the NFL overall. He's also 22nd in the NFL with 1.3 red-zone targets per game, and he is 26th in air yards share (33.7%) as well. Keep in mind, these averages contain a Week 3 performance that produced triple option-like passing results for the Bears.
Assuming their matchup breathes life into Fields -- or even potentially Nick Foles, whom Robinson caught 48 passes and 3 touchdowns from in 2020 -- Robinson should have a much better week with his usually tremendous market shares.
2. Jalen Hurts, Miles Sanders, and DeVonta Smith Return to the Top-15 at Their Respective Positions
There truly is no way to feel better in the NFL as a struggling offense these days than a date with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs have a league-worst allowed 0.27 Adjusted Defensive NEP per play this season, but you did not need me to tell you Kansas City's defense stinks. Somehow, Patrick Mahomes is below .500 in the NFL, and that should have been evidence enough that his defense is not playing up to par.
Kansas City will likely get on track against Philadelphia, as they are 7.5-point favorites, but the Eagles' fantasy stars are in desperate need of a bounceback after a dud in primetime against Dallas. Given that every notable fantasy star has blown up against the Chiefs -- including four Chargers last week -- there should be optimism that Jalen Hurts (projected by numberFire as QB5), Miles Sanders (RB18), and DeVonta Smith (WR22) can all outperform their projections.
Hurts and Sanders should largely thrive on the ground. Kansas City's 0.32 Adjusted Rushing Defensive NEP per play is the worst in the league. Hurts' 35 yards rushing against Dallas was the second-lowest of his career, and he will look to bounce back toward his norm against a team that ceded 107 yards to Lamar Jackson.
Despite just five touches on a dismal night for their offense in Week 3, Miles Sanders eclipsed 60% of the snaps for the third time this season, and his 3.7 targets per contest imply that Sanders does have the pass-catching work that should lead to better fantasy days ahead.
Smith is the toughest case of the three to label as "top-15", but his underlying usage has the framework there. Smith has run at least 90% of his team's routes in each of the first three games with at least six targets per game. In Week 1 against Atlanta, Smith had 62.7% of the Eagles' air yards. In a generally mediocre passing offense (+0.02 Passing NEP per drop back), high-total contests like this one against Kansas City -- 54.5 for this game -- are the ones where the team is forced to get slightly more aggressive, and therefore Smith is worth starting.
3. Zach Wilson and Corey Davis Both Post Top-20 Weeks
The New York Jets have been piled on for their 0-3 start, but with a rookie quarterback, there has been way too much working against them to have won any of their first three contests.
These marks are obviously inflated some by getting to play Zach Wilson and the Jets, but New York's first three opponents this season still rank 2nd, 4th, and 1st in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play through three weeks. Translation -- the Broncos, Panthers, and Patriots have good pass defenses, and that should come as no surprise given the track records and draft capital inside of them.
In some ways, Week 4 is Wilson's most important game yet. The Tennessee Titans' pass defense is -- at the very least -- beatable. The Titans are 17th in the NFL in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play (0.18) after struggling against Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson, but rather easily, they dispensed of a hobbled Carson Wentz.
If Zach Wilson struggles to post a positive Passing NEP per drop back for the fourth consecutive week in his easiest matchup, New York has far larger issues than their 2021 schedule. He, in a positive matchup, needs to at least match his Week 1 effort against Carolina that resulted in 19.8 FanDuel points in a negative game script. That should place him solidly amongst this week's top-20 quarterbacks as others ranked above him (Daniel Jones vs. NO; Teddy Bridgewater vs. BAL) have other stiffer tests.
While no one needs to start Wilson in most traditional leagues, Corey Davis is a different story. Davis looked like a draft-day steal after 5 catches, 97 yards, and 2 scores in Week 1, but he has fallen off the same cliff Wilson has.
Things should improve.
Beyond the more favorable matchup, Davis's workload is still elite. He led the Jets' pass-catchers in Week 3 in snap rate (94%), percentage of routes run (90%), and targets (10). Davis also has New York's only two endzone targets this year, and yes, they both came in Week 1.
In addition to a revenge game narrative against his old squad, Davis could see double-digit targets against his easiest opponent yet. That, plus banking on a resurgence from his quarterback with some natural talent, is enough to pull the trigger on predicting a top-20 pop week for Davis at wide receiver.
4. Kyle Pitts Outscores Logan Thomas
Thomas is averaging 9.9 FanDuel points per game due to two touchdowns this year, and Pitts has only posted 6.5 per contest with no scores. However, Pitts is seeing 80.2% of his team's routes compared to Thomas at 89.4%, and Pitts actually has seen more targets per game (5.7) than Thomas (4.7).
It's all about the touchdowns at tight end, and even though last week's bold prediction of Kyle Pitts scoring did not come to fruition -- curse you, Lee Smith -- it only is a matter of time for the highly-touted Gators alum.
Both Washington and Atlanta are bottom-ten teams in terms of Adjusted Passing Defensive NEP per play, so there are points and yards to be had in this contest. The key difference of why I prefer Pitts (but like both) is that he is clearly the second option behind Calvin Ridley. Thomas has to compete with both Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson for red-zone work given that Washington has a featured running back with their star wideout.
Hopefully, that allows Pitts' production to match his market shares for the first time all season.
5. The Bengals Will Be a Top-5 D/ST This Week
At -0.06 Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, the Bengals are currently the fourth-best defense in the NFL. Playing Pittsburgh certainly helped, but teams have had easier roads than the Steelers in conjunction with the Bears and Vikings. There appears to be a legitimate reason for optimism given that PFF also has graded them out as the ninth-best defense as well.
Now as -- at the very least -- a potential option, the Bengals are a priority target this week against the lowly Jaguars and struggling rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence leads the NFL with nine turnover-worthy plays, and that has resulted in seven actual interceptions.
The Jaguars' offense is also just struggling to move the ball as well. Their -0.02 Adjusted NEP per play overall is sixth-worst in the NFL. On a short week, an improved Cincinnati defense as a home favorite should have a high floor in this matchup, and the upside may come from the turnover-prone Jacksonville quarterback.