Fantasy Football: 3 Things We Learned in Week 9
Perhaps more than anything, fantasy football is a game of adjustments. Season-long fantasy doesn't end at the draft, and smart managers 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. Let's dive in and look at some interesting pieces of information from an exciting Week 9.
D'Andre Swift's Injuries are Masking an Elite Season
Fantasy managers who used an early-round draft selection on D'Andre Swift this season were recently treated with a Swift kick in the junk. Just when it looked like the Detroit Lions' running back would come back from his bye week fully healed from various nagging injuries, the team and Swift admitted that he still is not 100% and may be playing injured for the rest of the season.
The #Lions plan to make RB D'Andre Swift (shoulder, ankle) active today, source said, but he'll likely be used sparingly. They'll be careful with his playing time.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 6, 2022
It's a shame that Swift has been reduced to a part-time player as of late (just 43 snaps total in his last two games), because he is putting up astounding efficiency numbers.
At numberFire, we use metric known as Net Expected Points (NEP), which is essentially the expected points added for every play out on the field. It measures how much a player adds to his team's expected point total over the course of a game and a season. Among running backs with at least 30 carries and 10 targets this year (46 total running backs), Swift ranks first in both Reception NEP per target and Rushing NEP per carry.
On targets, Swift averages 0.85 Reception NEP each time Jared Goff throws him the ball. He has been such an electric pass-catcher that he is adding almost an expected point to his team's total every time Goff looks his way. On runs, Swift's 0.29 Rushing NEP per carry is better than some of the game's most efficient runners such as Nick Chubb, Tony Pollard, and Aaron Jones. Swift's teammate, Jamaal Williams, has been very good in short-yardage and goal-line situations, but Williams' 0.02 NEP per carry lags far behind Swift's.
We may not see Swift play more than 65% of snaps again this season, but with his efficiency and use in the passing game, he is still flex-worthy every game the Lions play.
Mecole Hardman Is Ascending
When Tyreek Hill left the Kansas City Chiefs, there was rampant discussion about who would fill Hill's role and provide the offensive spark that only Hill could bring. Travis Kelce was still around to do Travis Kelce things. The run game is still in shambles. But how would the wide receiver targets get distributed?
JuJu Smith-Schuster was the early-season hotness, getting a lot of love as a slot guy who used to be the number-one dynasty asset until Ben Roethlisberger met up with Father Time. He has had five games with eight or more targets but also four games with fewer than 50 receiving yards. Some thought bringing in Marquez Valdes-Scantling to play the role of downfield burner would give him a fantasy boost. But MVS has as many games with fewer than 15 receiving yards as he does games with more than 60. Kadarius Toney is the new kid on the block, magically healed after his trade from the New York Giants. But he saw just two targets in his first game, and it remains to be seen how he will be utilized. Skyy Moore? Forget about it.
That leaves Mecole Hardman.
And for as much heartache as Hardman has caused fantasy managers over the years, it's becoming clear that he might be the most consistent KC wide receiver over the second half of the season. Hardman was sixth among wide receivers in PPR leagues in Week 9, hauling in six of nine targets for 70 yards and a score. That was his fourth straight game with more than an 11% target share and his third straight game with a touchdown. He hasn't seen fewer than four targets since Week 4 and is becoming quite the red zone threat along the way.
On the season, Hardman is now a top-25 wide receiver in red zone targets (six), and he is top-11 in targets from within the 10-yard line (five). Patrick Mahomes has certainly shown he doesn't mind taking a socialist approach to his wide receiver production, but he looks to be favoring Hardman just as we are beginning to make the push for the fantasy playoffs.
As of Tuesday morning, Hardman was available in 52% of Yahoo fantasy leagues.
Cade Otten Is Tom Brady's New Favorite Target
There are a lot of things we know about Tom Brady. In fact, after the last several weeks, there is probably too much we know about Brady and his life outside of football. But one undeniable truth about his offensive approach is that he loves to throw to tight ends. Whether that was Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Martellus Bennett, or various guys he has had on the Buccaneers, Brady's production with the position has always been elite.
Lately, it seems that rookie Cade Otton has taken Gisele's place as the new love of Brady's life. He has seen at least five targets in four of his last five games and got on the touchdown board in Week 9 with a game-winning score against the Los Angeles Rams. That performance of five catches, 69 yards and a score earned him a top-five finish at the position for the week, and Otton may just be getting started.
In fact, only eight tight ends have received at least five targets in their last three games. There are many names on that you might expect -- like Kelce, Kittle, Goedert, Ertz, and Pitts. But Otton is a part of that group now, and even when Cameron Brate comes back from injury, I just can't see him or Kyle Rudolph supplanting the connection Otton and Brady have developed.
Otten is 10th among all tight ends in fantasy points across the last three weeks, and with how dire the whole position has been this year, he is certainly worth adding. He is currently available in 89% of Yahoo leagues.