Written by Timothy Lewis (@TrendsAndTakes) — November 12th, 2020

Week nine of the 2020 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 four 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.

Zack Moss

The Trends:

  • 59.6% snap share last game (consistent increase over past 4)
  • 1.8 yards created per touch (7th in NFL)

The Takes:

If I told you I was always a believer in Zack Moss, you’d be looking at a liar. In fact, my home league calls Moss “Mud Hips” because of the strange stiffness when he runs. It’s a fact that I like my running backs fast, and fast is something the Utah product will never be.

Coming into the season, I looked at him as the sequel to David Montomery: A versatile, forced-missed-tackles monster at the collegiate level, who lacks the acceleration to capitalize on his elusiveness in the NFL. That may still be true. Team context matters, and the offensive competency in Chicago is far from a given. Moss, meanwhile, finds himself in the comfy fines of an intelligent Buffalo organization.

While Chicago relies a lot on pre-snap motion and deception, the Bills are very much a spread-em-and-shred-em offense. By running packages with three to four receivers, the Bills force opposing defenses to compensate by mirroring the receivers and bringing in smaller, faster players. As a result, Moss has room to operate, and his bowling ball physique compensates for the lack of forward burst.

The most significant issue with Buffalo is determining the landscape of the running back position. There’s three backs in this offense, and the third ain’t T.J. Yeldon. Josh Allen occupies his share of high-leverage touches, and isn’t afraid to keep the rock on the read option. For Moss, the good news comes with the dwindling usage of Devin Singletary. This situation is reminiscent of last season, when then-rookie Singletary phased out the ancient Frank Gore.

What’s odd about Moss eating into Singletary’s workload is that the two are very similar in their efficiency. Singletary breaks more explosive runs, while Moss has been moderately more elusive. The increase in usage for Moss could be an indication of preference, or curiosity. I’m tentative to project the snap share increase compounding.

Verdict. 2020 has been a tale of two Bills’ offenses. Josh Allen is an MVP candidate one half and a dumpster fire the next. I see this team continuing to keep their running backs fresh by maintaining a rotation. Moss will get goal line work ahead of Singletary, but Allen will remain a perennial threat to launch himself into paydirt. Anytime you have a chance to SELL a slow running back in a convoluted timeshare, save yourself the headache and do it.

Antonio Gibson

The Trends:

  • 3.2 targets per game
  • 5.1 yards per touch
  • 48.7% opportunity share
  • 34 evaded tackles (11th in NFL)

The Takes:

With the new coaching administration in Washington, it was anyone’s guess as to whether the team would continue to stink, or if they’d turn the page. Head Coach Ron Rivera is massively respected around the league, and many believed he’d bring a semblance of order to one of the leagues most beleaguered franchises.

The Football Team still stinks, but key developments are coming to fruition. Terry McLauren has sustained his breakout, asserting himself as one of the league’s go-to receivers. The defensive line is looking like it will be wreaking havoc on the NFC East for years to come. Dan Snyder, long-looming as a cancerous shadow, is facing rebellion among minority owners.

In the midst of it all is the curious case of Antonio Gibson, the NFL’s latest running back project. At Memphis, Gibson was more a gadget player He could catch, he could run, coaches just had to get the ball in his hands. However, unlike Taylor Gabriel or Tarik Cohen, Gibson possesses a 6’, 228 lb. frame suited for the physicality of the game.

Loose comparisons to Christian McCaffrey made by Rivera had fantasy drafters salivating. As time went along, Gibson’s backfield competition fell by the wayside. While early projections had him as a pass-catching specialist, an expanded role as a rusher became available.

Somewhere along the line, the script got absolutely flipped. Lauded for his pass catching and open-field explosiveness, Gibson has ceded the lionshare of receiving and third down work to fifth-year veteran satellite back, J.D. McKissic. On the season, Gibson is averaging a little over half of McKissic’s targets per game, and has dropped 3 passes to McKissic’s 0.

Despite most predicting his relevance to come as a receiver, Gibson has been buoyed by his comfort as a rusher. While Washington’s offensive line has not done him favors, Gibson has excelled in measures of efficiency and elusiveness. His substantial frame has him handling goal line duties, and the early-down work has been his to leverage. Furthermore, he’s still chipping in nearly three receptions per game, achieving top-seven status in yards per reception and yards per route run, demonstrating his capacity as more than a checkdown option.

Verdict: The path to backfield domination looks bleak for Gibson. However, his team has so little to lose, it’s possible they cut him loose down the stretch to see what they have with expanded opportunity. I view Gibson’s likelihood of obtaining a workhorse role in 2020 as higher than J.K. Dobbins, Jonathan Taylor, and Cam Akers. HOLD as an RB 2 with upside down the stretch.

Lamar Jackson

The Trends:

  • 469 rushing yards (2nd in NFL)
  • 79 carries (1st in NFL)
  • Averaging 20 less passing yards per game than 2019
  • 71.8% catchable pass rate (31st in NFL)

The Takes:

When writing about Marquise Brown last week, I alluded to my Lamar Jackson misgivings. Last season was likely unsustainable. We had never seen a player offer that type of rushing production and passing efficiency. Something had to give.

Season-ending injuries to Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley forecasted a drop in offensive potency. Still, there was still room for Jackson to make a leap as a quarterback, particularly as a passer. Coming into the 2019 season, there was much ado about his time spent solidifying his mechanics.

Whatever improvements were made, have been short-lived. The Louisville product has regressed sharply, both in efficiency and raw production.

The sad truth is that Lamar is one of the worst throwers in the NFL. If he were to be judged on his ability as a passer only, he’d be starting games with a clipboard instead wearing a helmet. What’s most troubling isn’t the drop in passing yardage or touchdown rate, but his 57 rushing yards per game, a massive decline from 81 per game a season ago.

Perhaps it’s not the deterioration of the offensive line, or the regression of Jackson, but the adaptation of opposing defenses. Lamar would suggest as much. Last year, the Ravens did a lot of unique things. With a full season of tape to review, Greg Roman’s offense lacks the feeling of limitless imagination from the season prior.

To make matters more challenging for fantasy purposes, the Ravens defense is phenomenal, leading to gamescripts that don’t call for Lamar’s daring play style.

The question becomes can Baltimore return to their 2019 lethality? While that version of the team is gone, there is upside for the remainder of 2020. A collection of softball matchups remain on the schedule, featuring the Titans’, Cowboys’, and Jaguars’ floundering defensive units. If there’s going to be a stretch of games Jackson reminds us what he’s capable of, it will happen during this final stretch.

Verdict: The scrambling Ravens quarterback has been a massive disappointment, considering what was spent on draft day to acquire him. I still like Jackson to see a little positive regression toward the 2019 marks, especially in terms of deep ball completions, rushing yards per game, and rushing touchdowns. Currently outside the QB1 ranks, many owners would love to have someone come knocking. It takes one 50 yard touchdown run before he’s untouchable again. BUY.

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