Written by Timothy Lewis (@TrendsAndTakes) — October 24th, 2019
The seventh week of the 2019 NFL season has come and gone! In other words, we have a seven-game sample size to spot trends and develop takeaways. Welcome to season three of this column! If you’re not familiar, I use this time to look at numbers and tell you what I make of them. This year, I will be offering additional Buy/Sell/Drop/hold criteria. Statistics are courtesy of advanced analytics goldmine, PlayerProfiler, and trusty dusty Pro-Football-Reference.
8.2 targets per game.
80% contested catch rate (10 targets)
16.7% red-zone target share
It’s been a rough year for quarterbacks. Andrew Luck, Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, and Cam Newton top the list of acclaimed signal-callers to miss time (or retire). As can be expected, there has been a corresponding drop off in scoring opportunities for their teams’ respective offenses. While there has been some drama surrounding a quarterback controversy in North Carolina, make no mistake, Cam will be back. So far, D.J. Moore has assumed the role of lead receiver. And no, I haven’t forgotten the talent that is Curtis Samuel. He’s been quite good in his own right, but the volume and ability to win in difficult situations is what I look for in breakout pass catchers. Investors might believe Moore has underwhelmed in production, but he ranks 16th in the NFL, averaging 71 receiving yards per game. While Samuel has dominated his fellow wideout in red-zone targets, amassing a stunning 27.8%, that’s likely a sample size trap. Samuel is smaller and ranks just average in contested catch situations, which theoretically better qualifies Moore for the job. As stated previously, with less scoring opportunities due to a lesser quarterback, red zone usage numbers are not at sticky.
The Verdict: Moore has been a solid option at short and intermediate distances. His YAC has not been as prolific as last season, and we may see improvement in that area. Additionally, the volume indicates positive regression in the form of TDs. BUY.
Cardinals throw the ball 43.2 times per game (3rd)
Kirk is averaging 9.2 targets per game
99.2% snap share (73.6% from the slot)
It’s unfortunate for Kirk’s investors that his injury directly coincides with the ascension of Kyler Murray. Pre-injury, Kirk was being used in situations that required him to use his after-the-catch ability, as coach Kliff Kingsburry tried to alleviate pressure for his rookie quarterback by utilizing quick passes. In the time since, Murray’s rushing totals and completion percentage have climbed and this offense has looked far more competent. The one thing holding Kirk back was his lack of utilization downfield, with a worrisome 6.5 yards per target. It doesn’t take a grand leap of imagination to see that number rise as his mobile quarterback gains comfort and allows more plays to develop. We’ve seen Kirk win on the long ball his rookie year, and it should be no surprise to observe more diverse usage in the coming weeks. Everyone should want to roster the per-game target leader on one of the league’s most pass-heavy offenses.
The Verdict: Kirk’s versatility as a receiver and his comfort in the system bode well going forward. As he nears a return, fantasy players should take note that no receiver has stepped up to infringe on the sophomore’s role. BUY.
2.3 yards per carry
0.38 yards created per carry (88th)
0 runs of 15 yards or more
It struck many as a time to rejoice, that Melvin Gordon would end his holdout before the deadline, ultimately returning to action week 5. However, Melvin Gordon has stunk. Badly. After Austin Ekeler spent the first four weeks looking like one of the more dynamic dual threats in the league, his stablemate returned and yanked the rug out from under. Many will say this is unfair, that Ekeler has earned a featured role, and that segment of the population may be correct. Nonetheless, Gordon is the lead dog who will see the majority of early-down work and goal-line opportunities, even with the recent fumble. There’s a chance the Chargers get desperate and turn back to Ekeler, as each passing loss brings a team with lofty aspirations closer to missing the playoffs. Alternatively, there’s a strong chance the Chargers know the best version of their team successfully implements their All-Star running back. It’s only a season ago that Gordon was one of the most elusive, efficient, and versatile backs in the league, averaging over 18 touches per game.
The Take: We have a much larger sample size of Gordon being good than we do of him sucking. The Chargers line is banged up and he’s clearly rusty after his holdout. After week 7, it’s unlikely the price will get lower or that Gordan can perform any worse. It’s not often we have the chance to BUY a skilled, high-usage back from the clearance rack. If you own Gordon, you’ve made your bed and should stay put.
6.1 targets per game
63rd in yards per reception (12.2)
43rd in yards after catch (2.4 per reception)
Emmanuel Sanders has been a feel-good story. Nobody comes back the same from an Achilles injury, especially not a 32-year-old receiver. Yet, Sanders managed to score twice and top 80 yards in three of his first four games. All that with a dilapidated Joe Flacco. Now that he’s been traded to San Francisco, these forgettable showings can be chalked up to being on a bad team and the emergence of Courtland Sutton. He will benefit from an elite offensive mind calling plays in Kyle Shanahan and a better (looking) quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo. But things might not be as rosy as we’d like to think. Garoppolo has thrown for just 7 touchdowns on the season and this offense uses a totally different scheme and terminology from the one utilized by the Denver Broncos. There will be a buffer period as Sanders adjusts. And should he manage to do so, there are still clear limitations. The passing volume isn’t there, with the 49ers averaging 7 fewer attempts per game compared to the Broncos. Couple that with the fact that Sanders was seeing just 6 targets per game before the trade and the situation appears bleaker.
The Verdict: Sanders is not breaking big plays, he’s not getting valuable downfield targets, and he’s not walking into a better situation. There’s a story to be sold here, however: He’s moving to a team engineered by an elite offensive mind and has a chance to become that offense’s lead receiver. While the numbers don’t add up, they don’t always have to for a good pitch. SELL.