5 guys who would be first-rounders if we re-drafted today
We had a fun episode of The Fantasy Football Survival Kit video series this week. It comes out on Thursday morning but as a spoiler, we asked the people who they’d take in Round 1 if we re-drafted fantasy leagues right now, someone who was not a consensus first-round pick in August. I decided it would be fun to go over some of the best submissions with an advanced metrics note as to why the following names make sense.
DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
The breakout for Metcalf has exceeded all expectations to the point he may finish as a top-five receiver. Metcalf ranks third in the NFL with a 42 percent share of the Seahawks air yards. He has been Russell Wilson’s go-to guy in scoring position with 14 red-zone targets and six inside the end zone.
Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
You can’t have one without the other. Lockett single-handedly would have won you two weeks this year and that’s pretty valuable. If you couldn’t have made it work around his two slow games, your team probably isn’t good in the first place. Lockett is ninth in the NFL with 23 slot routes per game. He’s averaging 10 air yards per target on those throws. Despite Metcalf’s rise, Lockett still leads the team with a 28 percent target share.
Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
The rare player who was roundly hyped in fantasy circles and still somehow exceeded expectations. The reason is that he has been used as an alpha receiver in scoring areas. Ridley leads the NFL with 19 red-zone targets, with seven coming in the end zone.
A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
Sure, you’d have been annoyed with some of his missed games but when he’s been active it’s been more than worth it. If you could get over it with Davante Adams, you can get over it with Brown. That’s how good he’s been. When Ryan Tannehill throws to A.J. Brown, he has a 153.7 passer rating, second-best among receivers with 20-plus targets. So far, there has been no drop-off with his yards-after-catch numbers, as he averages 2.7 YAC/reception over expectation, per Next Gen Stats.
James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Shoutout to J.J. Zachariason for this stat:
Robinson has been an absolute workhorse. The fact that he plays on an offense and team mostly lost at sea hasn’t really mattered. In fact, he’s mostly been the offense. Robinson has accounted for 28 percent of the Jaguars yards from scrimmage, a mark bested by only Alvin Kamara and Derrick Henry. In a year when there were so many early round running back landmines, many managers are looking at this UDFA runner with envy.
If we re-racked August drafts to start here heading into Week 8, no one should bat an eye if those five players went toward that Round 1-2 turn.
Did I miss someone? Watch the full video on Thursday and hit me up on Twitter to let me know.
Baker Mayfield minus Odell Beckham Jr.
Baker Mayfield called the narrative that’s he’s better without Odell Beckham Jr. “insensitive” to his teammate who just got hit with devastating injury news. He didn’t dignify the discussion much further. But let’s go over why this narrative is even a thing:
Breaks rookie TD record with 27
With Beckham 2019:
Is real bad
Ranks 31st in completion percentage (59.4 percent) and passer rating (78.8)
With Beckham 2020:
Pretty up and down
Three games with a 100-plus passer rating, three games below 73.
Without Beckham 2020:
Carves up Bengals after Beckham gets hurt
22/27, 297 yards, five touchdowns after Beckham leaves the game
So, because of these results and the constant weirdness that is always present whenever some in the media want to obsess over anything negative regarding Beckham, we’re here having this discussion ... even if Mayfield doesn’t want to do it.
As always, the truth is a little more complicated and requires more nuance than raw stats allow.
Here’s one thing that I believe with absolute certainty: If your team isn’t better because of the presence of a superstar player, then something is wrong with you, not the superstar. And let’s not mince words, Beckham is indeed a superstar. The first three years of his career he maintained what looked like a future Hall of Fame pace with 288 catches, 4,122 yards, and 35 touchdowns. In the two years following he struggled with injuries and missed time but on an individual level he still played like a superstar.
It’s true that none of that was ever replicated in Cleveland. But if Baker Mayfield is better off without a superstar player, I don’t think that’s an OBJ problem.
One thing I’ve learned from studying wide receivers so closely over the last six to seven years through Reception Perception is what type of pass-catchers a quarterback works best with says a lot about them. And because I’m spending so much time on receivers, I’m inherently spending a lot of time with the guys throwing them the ball.
With Mayfield, he’s always been a bit of a “See it, throw it” quarterback. There’s not much anticipation to his game and he’s not the type of quarterback who’s going to drop back, scan the defense and go through his reads. Timing and rhythm aren’t his things. Read into that what you will.
In hindsight, now that we know this about Mayfield 36 starts into his career, it makes sense that someone like that would not fit in well with Odell Beckham. We think of Beckham first and foremost for his insane ability as a playmaker but the baseline of his game has always been built around his prolific precision as a timing route-runner.
So it makes sense that Mayfield has jived well with someone like Jarvis Landry, who runs a lot of layup slants, drags, and curl routes and wins more so on contested passes than timing separation. Additionally, he’s always enjoyed throwing to Rashard Higgins, who sustains separation on intermediate and deep in-breaking patterns but doesn’t run the same timing-based routes of Beckham. Higgins should do well in Beckham’s spot and has caught 74 percent of Mayfield’s throws to him since the two paired up.
It’s not always as simple as good plus great equals fireworks in football. Style of play does matter and in that sense, the player Mayfield became was something of an oil/water dilemma for Beckham. The Browns and Mayfield aren’t better off without him but it isn’t surprising that Baker might find a better comfort level in an extremely well-designed offense with Landry and Higgins as the primary wide receivers.
Joe Burrow leads the NFL with 321 dropbacks
Sunday’s Week 7 box score was just about exactly what anyone could have hoped for from the Joe Burrow-Bengals marriage. You know, except for the fact that they lost.
Burrow was in complete control of the offense in this shootout. He threw 47 passes, completing 75 percent for 406 yards, and ran the ball six times for 34 yards and a score. The team dolled out just 14 rush attempts to their running backs (and one carry to Tee Higgins).
The key here in Cincinnati’s offense — and what appears to be a carryover from Burrow’s LSU days — was just how well he distributed the ball across the depth chart. Top receivers Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green combined for 26 targets (13 apiece), good for over half of Burrow’s attempts. However, he was efficient in getting everyone else the ball. Six players cleared 50 receiving yards with Higgins, Giovani Bernard, Mike Thomas, and Drew Sample joining Boyd and Green.
This is all great news for a Bengals offense that’s bound for some positive regression.
Despite ranking sixth in passing yards per game (289) Burrow sits at 29th in touchdown rate (3.1 percent) among quarterbacks with 80-plus dropbacks on the season. That’s all while leading the NFL in end-zone targets with 21.
When that does normalize, all of these receivers could see an immediate upswing. Burrow has thrown 66.6 percent of his passes to wide receivers this year, a mark bested only by three other quarterbacks. Even Green is back into the mix after being largely left for dead by fake footballers. Green has caught 15 of 24 targets the last two weeks for 178 yards following a zero-catch outing in Week 5.
Panthers pass defense might (keyword “might”) be underrated
Yards per completion allowed - 9.3 (1st)
Average depth of target against - 6.6 (1st)
Touchdown rate allowed - 3.5 (5th)
We came into the season with the expectation that Carolina’s defense would be a pushover. They were breaking in new pieces and had just a handful of proven plus starters like Shaq Thompson, Brian Burns, and K.K. Short (who’s now on IR). So far, that’s been about half right.
The run defense has been problematic, giving up the fifth-highest yards per carry (4.9) in the NFL while ranking 28th in Football Outsiders run defense DVOA. However, the pass defense looks like it made legitimate strides towards being solid.
From a metrics standpoint, the team isn’t allowing much passing production. They’ve been especially good about limiting big plays and touchdowns, as shown above. That’s all while playing a pretty reasonable schedule of good quarterbacks, with Nick Foles being the lone below-average starter they’ve faced.
One reality that does seem to stand in contrast with another is that while Carolina is forcing the ball out of opponents’ hands faster than any other team, they for sure don’t have a consistent pass rush. The Panthers rank dead last in both sack (2.3 percent) and pressure rate (17 percent). One answer could be that the Panthers are the most zone-heavy team in the NFL and simply invite quick throws into open holes in the shallow end of the field. Drew Brees did this to great effect in Week 7.
While that would limit big plays it could artificially inflate some of their yards per completion figures. That would mean that they’re a bit of a mirage. The next three weeks will be a big test. Carolina draws Atlanta on Thursday night this week — with Julio Jones in the fold this time — then Kansas City and Tampa Bay. If you can be ahead of the market fading players against Carolina (if you believe their defense has improved) or deploying guys against them (if you believe it’s a mirage), you’ll get an edge on the field.
The Chiefs rank first in passing offense DVOA
From a raw yardage perspective, the Chiefs offense isn’t up to the standards of what it was in the prior two seasons. Patrick Mahomes ranks 12th in passing yards per game with 271.3.
So what? Don’t let anyone draw you into a “What’s wrong with the Chiefs passing game?” type of bad-faith debate.
From an efficiency standpoint, the Kansas City offense is as dangerous as ever before. This is demonstrated by their rankings in Football Outsiders’ efficiency metrics. Patrick Mahomes also leads the NFL with a 16:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The Chiefs aren’t really having any issues; if there’s one problem for fantasy managers, it’s that they’re actually too good overall.
Patrick Mahomes has gone over 300 yards in three games but in all the others, he’s thrown for fewer than 240.
In the former three games, the Chiefs went 2-1 with a +9 point differential. In the latter four games where Mahomes threw for fewer than 240 yards, they went 4-0 with a +66 point differential. They outscored the Texans, Patriots, Bills, and Broncos by an average of 16.5 points per game. When the Chiefs have been in these extremely positive game scripts, they’ve been more than content to run the ball. Kansas City has a 57 percent rushing play rate when leading by 10-plus points.
And honestly, I get it. Why unveil everything in your arsenal now when you’re a team like Kansas City? You’re trying to run back a Super Bowl win. You don’t care about being your best in September/October. Your sights are set further ahead. We saw this play out with the Patriots for years, where they continued to win games while not truly hitting their stride until the second half of the season.
We might need to start adjusting expectations for fantasy players tethered to teams with nothing to prove in the short term and their eyes trained on December and beyond.
The Ravens are another team in this fashion (but more on them in Friday’s column).