Written by Timothy Lewis (@TrendsAndTakes) — November 7th, 2019
The ninth week of the 2019 NFL season has come and gone! In other words, we have a nine-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, Player Profiler, and trusty dusty Pro-Football-Reference.
72.9% opportunity share
21 evaded tackles (32nd)
1 goal-line carry
Let me start by saying those who selected Devonta Freeman are smarter than I gave them credit for on draft day. The six-season veteran has amassed workhorse usage after leading an amicable committee in recent campaigns. With 72.9% of the opportunity share, Freeman ranks 10th among all running backs in the dominance of his respective backfield. However, while Freeman shareholders are happy with the volume, the wiser among them acknowledge his troubling inefficiency. Despite being 22nd in carries, the FSU alumnus is 32nd in rushing yards. Despite being 6th in receptions among running backs, he’s 11th in receiving yards.
Why has Freeman floundered? He lacks the agility that characterized his previous success. Averaging 2.6 evaded tackles per game doesn’t cut it for a workhorse back in a high-powered offense. Furthermore, Freeman’s extensive volume has not yielded goal-line opportunities, where he’s been out-touched 3–1 by a similarly-sized Ito Smith. This might not be much of a take at this point: Freeman is washed.
The Verdict: Devonta Freeman has started a full 16 game season just once in his career. Dan Quinn is going to get fired. There’s going to be a shakeup at the running back position as a distraught team seeks value in the ranks of its roster. Backup Brian Hill makes for an interesting acquisition. If you can, SELL Devonta Freeman.
6.7 yards per carry
15% breakaway run rate
3 drops on 16 targets
I’m going to say some stuff a lot of people don’t want to hear but bare with me and keep an open mind. While Devin Singletary has enjoyed an uptick in snap share recently, we have to put it in perspective. Frank Gore doesn’t go away. He never will. And even in the best game of Singletary’s fledgling career, Gore managed 11 carries. What concerns me most about Singletary isn’t his diminutive size, his terrible athletic measurables, or his overstated receiving ability. It’s his lack of touchdown upside. Frank Gore has 9 goal-line carries in 8 games played. Perhaps that changes to favor the emerging 5’7”, 206 lb. back out of Florida Atlantic. In such an event, Josh Allen is still 4th among QBs with 10 red-zone carries, totaling 4 rushing touchdowns to lead all Bills’ players on the season.
The Verdict: What Singletary lacks in size and combine numbers he more than makes up for by being a good running back. He combines excellent vision with an advantageously low center of gravity to shed would-be tacklers. His feet are remarkably deceptive in the open field, demonstrated by his league-leading elusiveness. Against Washington, I saw shades of vintage Devonta Freeman. For me, Singletary is a HOLD. However, there are diehard believers out there that the cunning among you may take advantage of.
Vikings run 29.9 pass plays per game (31st)
13.4 yards per target (1st)
10.5% TD rate
71.7% catch rate
Adam Thielen’s wonky hammy has been a revelation for Diggs investors. He went from being one of fantasy football’s biggest busts to NFC assassin in the blink of an eye. With Diggs, talent has never been the issue. Rather, he’s suffered from a mix of soft tissue injuries and a perplexing lack of volume. And now that Thielen has aggravated his hamstring, the former Terp figures to see a massive target share in the interim.
Having a formidable rushing attack helmed by Dalvin Cook’s brilliance and Gary Kubiak’s ever-successful scheme is a dream scenario for a wideout like Diggs, whose potent footwork sets up double moves on play-action strikes downfield. It explains his league-leading yards per target. What’s particularly astounding is the former 5th round pick’s ability to convert these deep targets efficiently. It makes me wish he didn’t have to contend with an always-open target hog like Adam Thielen. Diggs is special.
The Verdict. So special he’s averaging just 6 targets per game. Incomprehensibly, that equates to a 22.2% target share on this pass-allergic offense, and therein lies the problem. Diggs can be absolutely fantastic with guaranteed volume during Thielen’s rehabilitation, but it doesn’t matter. This efficiency is unsustainable. He’s scoring a touchdown on 10.5% of his receptions. While it’s comfortable rolling Diggs out as your weekly WR2, his value is at a high point right now, making this a SELL opportunity should you have the depth.
10 targets per game (2nd)
30.5% red zone target share
13 red zone receptions (1st)
So far this season, The Patriots offense has featured a number of questionable names and unfamiliar faces. That’s a luxury Belichick could afford against the league’s most pathetic assortment of teams. As competition intensifies, I suspect this offense will become a narrow funnel to trusted playmakers. Throughout 2019, Julian Edelman has been an absolute target magnet. That’s before Josh Gordon was waived, opening an additional 6 targets per game. An unexpected fact: The Patriots are 4th in pass attempts per game. They are also 11th in rush attempts per game, meaning this offense sustains drives but lacks explosive plays downfield. While we can expect some of Josh Gordon’s usage to be distributed to other receivers, namely rookie N’Keal Harry and newcomer Mohammad Sanu, his release further punctuates New England’s lack of established pass catchers. Nobody outside of Edelman and James White fit that description.
What I intended to highlight in The Trends is Edelman’s ridiculous usage in the red zone. It’s actually climbed as the season has progressed. As Brady’s only trusted wide receiver, I predict touchdowns in the future of the utilitarian pass catcher.
Verdict: Obtain target hogs on teams that attempt a lot of passes. Simple, right? Edelman might not be winning downfield, but he’s got his quarterback’s eye and possesses one of the position’s safest floors. In the context of his current usage, there’s a good chance Edelman ends the season with double-digit touchdowns. BUY.