Written by Timothy Lewis (@TrendsAndTakes) — Halloween, 2019
The eighth week of the 2019 NFL season has come and gone! In other words, we have an eight-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.
7.4 targets per game
6.5 yards per touch (8th)
+11.33 game script (average point differential)
This might sound a bit strange, as they are very different players who occupy different positions, but James White has been the John Brown of running backs, amassing consistent volume and providing a safe floor each week. PPR players are likely satisfied with White’s stable production thus far, if not slightly underwhelmed. The Patriots’ defensive prowess is well-documented, as is their pathetic lineup of opponents. Together, these factors have allowed New England to operate with a two-score league for the majority of their 2019 season. We can throw that figure into the “unsustainable” basket. Sony Michel continues to be one of the least efficient, least elusive, and least determined runners of the football.Additionally, Tom Brady has recently lost Josh Gordon and now has a scattering of unfamiliar receivers at his disposal outside of Julian Edelman. It’s no secret that this offense is less threatening than it has been in recent years, and this detail will come to light as the strength of competition increases.
The Verdict: The game plan all year has been to control the ball and let the defense do its thing. Weeks 9–14 New England faces Baltimore, Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston, and Kansas City. These teams will force a less conservative gameplan that requires a back with pass-catching chops and Brady’s confidence. BUY.
48% Snap share week 8
Doubt-digit touches in back to back weeks
Averaging 2.3 yards created and a 51.5% juke rate (small sample but damn!!)
This is about Todd Gurley as much as it’s about Darrell Henderson. The biggest story of the off-season surrounded Gurley’s arthritic knee and how his workload would be impacted. It turns out, the Rams were just as clueless handling the situation as we were perceiving it. Initially, Malcolm Brown alleviated some of the heavy lifting. After a couple of games, Gurley was elevated back to his status as the undisputed dominator of the Rams’ backfield touches. Regardless of the touch distribution, he’s failed to match the efficiency he posted in his first two seasons in McVay’s offense. Following his highest usage game of the season, playing over 90% of snaps, the all-star back was forced to miss a game with a thigh injury. And ever since that point, things have been different.
Malcolm Brown took over the majority of touches in Gurley’s absence but was outperformed by rookie Darrell Henderson. As savvy fantasy players know, Henderson was a darling of the off-season, with ambitious drafters taking him as high as the middle rounds. Since Gurley’s return, he’s proven to have made an impression on the coaching staff, carving out a legitimate change-of-pace role, and also dominating the workload once Gurley left the game in week 8 to have his knee examined.
The Verdict: Henderson is going to have a heck of a time taking over this job, but Gurley’s knee issues are no mirage. So long as Gurley plays, red zone work will be hard to come by, but this Rams offense needs an explosive playmaker who can create beyond what is blocked and excel when called upon as a receiver. I believe L.A.’s week 9 bye will focus on further integrating their explosive rookie should problems with Gurley persist. At worst, Henderson has a defined role in an above-average offense. If Gurley misses time with chronic knee issues, he could be one of the most important players for the second half of fantasy seasons. BUY.
0.67 yards created per carry
Faces 6 or fewer defenders in the box 66% of the time
3.7 yards per carry
I’ve never quite understood the Kenyan Drake hype. Every couple of years there is a new sensation in Miami. A few years ago it was Lamar Miller. He went to Houston with unspectacular results. Then came Jay Ajayi who lit up the league only to be traded to the Eagles midway through a subpar follow-up campaign. He’s currently looking for work. Now we have a spotty-resumed Kenyan Drake functioning as the latest Maimi running back shipped out of town. Last year he had the world’s quietest 1000 yard, 8 touchdown season while occupying his normal role as a committee back. In fact, he managed just a 45.7% opportunity share in 2018. In 2019, Drake has been even quieter. Some will rush to blame his situation with the dreadful Dolphins, and I will give credence to that argument. However, the usage hasn’t been all bad. The coaching staff has chosen to utilize Drake as a change of pace and receiving back, similar to his role at Alabama. He’s seen light boxes on the majority of his attempts and has still struggled to create extra yardage. He’s been charged with 4 drops and is being given just 1.2 red zone touches per game. Traded to the Cardinals before the deadline, Drake figures to be little more than a spot-start as the team deals with injuries at the running back position. He does not profile to the talent level of David Johnson or Chase Edmonds.
The Verdict: How good is Kenyan Drake? It’s hard to tell. He has juice and has performed on an NFL field, but he’s also struggled to seize a featured role. It’s unlikely he becomes more than the third back on his new team ROS. SELL, especially if he has a nice game on Thursday night.
1 goal-line carry
9 red zone touches
1 carry of 15 or more yards
Packers run 25.6 running plays per game (18th)
This guy Jamaal Williams keeps on keeping on. Everybody knows Aaron Jones is better, yet the BYU product continues to produce when given the opportunity. Despite this, I’m here to argue that his current rate of production cannot be trusted due to unsustainable touchdown production. Williams has scored 5 touchdowns on the season while averaging just 10 touches per game. When we look at his extremely limited usage in the red zone and almost non-existant goal-line work, the 5 touchdowns are even more of an anomaly. Aaron Jones has dominated opportunities inside the 20s and his success makes that usage unlikely to change. Nails are further driven into the coffin when we consider the physical ability of Williams. He is not particularly fast or shifty. He is not going to break off splash plays or operate as a receiving specialist, unlike an Austin Ekeler type, whose incredible efficiency sustains value even with a limited workload. On the flip side, what we do have is 10 touches of debatable value in an offense that is trending up.
Verdict: What we ultimately have in Jamaal Williams is a jack-of-all-trades replacement-level back who has benefits from being in a good situation. While it makes sense to chase running backs attached to good offenses, the unsustainability of William’s touchdown production insists he’s a SELL candidate, perhaps to an Aaron Jones owner clutching their beads after Sunday’s shoulder scare.
Played 80%+ of snaps in the two games before his week 5 injury
23.6% target share
12 deep targets (8th) despite appearing in just 5 games
The speedster target hog is quickly becoming my favorite wide receiver archetype. Receivers that take the top off a defense get a bad wrap as “boom/bust” players but that is not necessarily true. Sure, there are plenty of receivers with top-end speed who are implemented as decoys and it’s important to know you have a Tyreek Hill or T.Y. Hilton rather than a Ted Ginn or Taylor Gabriel. We can determine the difference by observing target share and Marquise Brown is absorbing 23.6% of his team’s and taking it up a notch to 24% in the red-zone.
Hollywood lived up to the hype before sputtering with injuries. Having him back will give Lamar Jackson an X-factor to reward his playmaking outside the pocket. However, we do need to take a realistic look at these lower-body ailments for Brown. At 5’9” and just 170 lbs., he’s always going to be the smallest man on the field. He missed pre-season and now multiple regular-season games. With some optimism and last week’s bye, he should be good to go for week 9 and hopefully the remainder of the season.
Verdict: Brown is an electric talent. If he plays, he should be owned. But with his prolonged time on the pine along with a couple of underwhelming performances the price tag is likely marked down. While you may want to wait another week considering his upcoming matchup with the Patriots, I recommend Marquise Brown as a BUY.