Disclaimer: we are not researchers, just compilers and writers. A majority of these numbers can be found in a myriad of places. For simplicity’s sake, and to prevent you from having to read extensive in-text citations, the list of places we got our data (and what we used) is here:
- JJ Zachariason’s Late Round Rookie Guide (rookie + sophomore projections)
- Warren Sharp’s 2023 Football Preview (EPA, trends, red zone data, a lot of stuff tbh)
- Pro Football Focus’ advanced statistics for snap share, quarterback metrics & offensive line rankings
- Player Profiler pages and data sheets for rankings and stats
- The 33rd Team’s The Edge for stats and rankings
- –4for4’s redraft average draft position
- FTN Fantasy’s Offensive Line Rankings
- Over The Cap’s Free Agency Hub
- DLF’s Player Splits Tool
- Pro Football Reference for historical data and box scores
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The Pittsburgh Steelers
PFF is all in on Kenny Pickett as a year two breakout candidate, based on his strong last 7 weeks of the season. I’ve seen a lot of hype expecting Pickett to take that next step, even though those last 7 weeks he never finished above QB15 in fantasy rankings and never threw multiple TDs in a single game last season with per-game averages were 18/29 for 184 yards and 0TDs. From a purely statistical and fantasy standpoint, that put him around Zach Wilson, and 1.4 FPPG below Shane’s personal hero, Taylor Heinecke. Credit where credit is due, he has a minimal boost to his fantasy output with his rushing, where he can score you 2-3 extra points a week and will get the occasional touchdown, but don’t bank on it being a weekly thing. For every New Orleans game (8/51/1), there are six Atlanta games (7/14/0). Year two in Matt Canada’s terrible system will give him a boost, but the fantasy utility just isn’t there unless he takes a Trevor Lawrence-type leap in his second year. His low ADOT, ranking 32/33 QBs in yards per pass attempt, and NFL-low 1.8% TD rate all hold me back from giving a shit.
Pickett’s value in a real sense is that he doesn’t turn the ball over. I took a deeper look and it’s a miracle that this is the case, since he was second in the NFL last year in “Danger Plays”, which Player Profiler labels as plays where the QB took an unnecessary risk that could’ve led to a turnover. After a nightmare game against Miami where he was picked off 3 times, he only threw 2 more interceptions over the remaining 9 games. With that said, for fantasy, he’s just not a sexy play. I went ahead and looked to see how the Steelers wanted to help Pickett, by adding offensive tackle Broderick Jones in the first round, as well as the unofficial 6th offensive lineman Darnell Washington, along with signing Isaac Seumalo from Philly to completely revamp the left side of their offensive line. So, I looked into it: was Kenny Pickett pressured more than other QBs? The answer is no. He saw the 19th most hurries per game among starting QBs last year, 15th in pressures per game, and 20th in sacks taken. He even had the second-lowest percentage of pass attempts where he was hurried in the first 3 seconds of his dropbacks.
He will have a ton more time to pass, but this offense is built to run. Don’t draft Kenny Pickett, because even if he is good, the level of good he can be is marginal and not really worth it. He’s a QB2 or a cheap Superflex option.
We can’t start this next section any other way than praising Najee Harris as a dude that not only had a heroic workload his rookie year but managed to play all 17 games in 2022 with a Lisfranc sprain, as well as oblique and hip injuries. I know he wasn’t super exciting with the ball and looked more like Zeke Elliot at times, but he still gritted out 1,038 yards on 272 carries, as well as 41 catches on 53 targets. Imagine doing all this while facing a 7+ man defensive box on 78% of your runs. You can’t argue against that kind of work rate, and this year the Steelers have three dramatic upgrades on the offensive line, with Jones being most people’s second ranked run blocker in the class and Seumalo being an upgrade as well. Pittsburgh ran for under 4 yards a carry on the left side in both of their interior gaps, so this should be a clear improvement since Philly was averaging almost 4.5 YPC in the two gaps that Seumalo manned last season. After their bye, Pittsburgh actually became the 9th best rushing attack in the NFL, and I think this bodes well for Najee. He was 5th in the league in carries last year, and 6th amongst RBs with 46 red zone touches, and with the offense trending towards improving blocking, I think Najee has a chance to repeat even with slightly diminished projected volume.
I can’t really finish on Najee without introducing Jaylen Warren, so let’s talk. The rookie last year flashed near the end of the season both as a spell back for Harris and looked decent with extended work. He’s a hot name all offseason, and picking up buzz in fantasy circles. A recent article in the Athletic talked about how the Steelers were looking for ways to have them both on the field at the same time, which is kind of confusing for me since they have such similar skill sets. Tomlin is a bell-cow-back type of guy, we know this, but I think the carry distribution continues to change sneakily since Tomlin is changing slowly. James Conner was the bell-cow when healthy before, and in Najee’s rookie season, he had 307 carries to Benny Snell’s 36. Last year he had 272 rushes and Warren had 77. I can easily see a world where Najee ends up around 250 and Warren ends up around 100-110. 250 is still a top 10 RB work rate going off last year’s numbers, by the way. Warren could also be a sneaky stash in redraft this year since last season found him 12th in true yards per carry (all runs minus breakaway run production) and 11th in yards per touch with 5.6.
With games against last year’s worst run defense (Houston), 3rd worst (Arizona), 4th worst (Seattle), 5th worst (Las Vegas), and 2 games against the 6th worst (Cleveland), even if those defenses take a step forward it’s still a mighty favorable schedule. I’m in on Najee Harris, and I think Jaylen Warren could have weekly viability as a deep, deep flex play and he’s for sure one of the premium handcuffs in the league this year.
This Wide Receiver room is a fucking mess. Diontae Johnson struggled in the drop-off between Trubisky and Pickett, averaging almost 3 fewer targets, 3 and a half fewer catches, and 28 fewer yards a game when tiny hands Kenny was at QB. This isn’t a knock on Diontae in any way, since he’s still an alpha-level WR in terms of pure talent. The dude is one of the best route runners in the league, and to be honest his “down season” was only with regards to touchdowns: his breakout in 2020 was 88/923, and last year he still managed to go 86/882, with no scores. Diontae is due for positive TD progression, but I don’t think he ends up a weekly starter this year unless Mitch comes back in and he can go back to double-digit target games (all 3 of the full games they played together last year). I hate this, I fucking hate saying this but avoid Diontae Johnson at cost. Even at WR29, I just can’t. This offense is going to be run-run-pass, and I don’t think you’ll see a lot more than 5/55 and the occasional TD this year. Diontae is outside on the boundary and has killer efficiency at his ADOT of 10.7, but unfortunately, the pass breakdown on Pickett’s first year shows that not only is he most effective in the middle of the field, he almost has tunnel vision at the rates he throws between the hash marks, so Diontae on the boundary has less opportunity to find himself in Pickett’s preferred vision window. On passes to Diontae more than 10 yards down the field, 35 targets turned into only 9 receptions, and 31% of those throws were charted as uncatchable. Diontae has some numbers you’d love: 6th in targets, 13th in target share, 10th in red zone targets, and 14th in air yards. The problem is that he was second in the league with 875 unrealized air yards. He’s getting looks, but with a 6.0 yard per target and a below-50 ranking in target accuracy, he needs Pickett to make a jump to continue to produce at cost. Diontae also has a tendency to get cute after the catch, Reception Perception charted him as catching the ball “in space” on almost 9% of his routes but went down on first contact on 72% of those catches.
George Pickens had a respectable 82 targets last year and turned them into 52 catches, 801 yards, and 4 touchdowns. He had a bougie 14.5 ADOT (top 3 in the league), and 30 of those 82 targets were charted by PFF as 20 or more yards down the field. Pickett loves the deep ball, and Pickens thrives there. He was 7th in the league in deep targets, and if he keeps it up you can expect him to take the leap to the next level. He caught 16 of those 30 targets and had over 450 yards via those long bombs, and you know what sets up long bombs? The play-action pass, baby. Pickett has a higher completion percentage off play-action, and this lends itself to some big plays. With the flexibility Darnell Washington gives you as a blocker, Pittsburgh might have the most dangerous play-action offense in the league, and brother, those passes aren’t going 10 yards downfield to Diontae Johnson, they’re going 15 to Pickens. Remember when I told you that Pickett threw 35 times to Diontae last year more than 10 yards down the field and he caught 9 of them? He threw 34 of those passes to Pickens last year and 18 of them were catches. Reception Perception, when looking into his success rates, highlights an important point: he was slightly below average at beating man coverage and was outstanding at beating the press, but curiously also bad at beating zone. He ran a go or corner route on over 40% of his routes, and this lack of diversity will hurt his potential production (and development as a WR with all the tools). I think he’s a guy that you could draft and start based on the matchup, but my guess is that before the season is over, Pickens will bloom into the alpha WR on this roster. He’s still not an elite separator and won’t get volume, but he has the potential to really break out in year two.
Diontae is a boundary guy, Pickens is a boundary guy, where the hell does this leave Allen Robinson? He’s historically run somewhere between 28-36% of his routes from the slot, but, uh, my math seems to indicate there are only 2 boundary spots on the field at a given time. I think Robinson is dust. He’s an aging WR coming off a Lisfranc fracture and two consecutive down seasons. I hope he’s still good because I love ARob, but I think Pittsburgh would probably be better off giving slot work to the electric Calvin Austin. Since Mike Tomlin hates fun I can probably just assume Allen Robinson fits into the Chase Claypool role, with like no pop or excitement. Yuck.
Ok, the tight end room is where it gets interesting. Darnell Washington is a 6th offensive lineman who will pop once or twice a year, but as we said in the rookie guide, will be a much better real-life football player due to positional versatility than a viable fantasy asset. I’m entering the research portion on Pat Freiermuth looking for any reason to not love what I see, so here goes.
Well, it sure looks like Pat Freiermuth’s strengths are in the aforementioned middle of the field, anywhere from 0-10 yards from the line of scrimmage. Hm. Seems to me that’s also where the highest concentration of Kenny Pickett passes seem to go. Seems to me he’s caught 45 of the 60 passes in that window. Strength meets strength. The simplification of the shifting nature of Pittsburgh under Pickett is how splits show almost a dead correlation between Diontae’s target loss and Freiermuth’s increase in almost every statistical category. He’s got a minuscule 8.3 ADOT, but to be honest that seems to be Pickett in a nutshell, either it’s a short route or he’s going deep to Pickens. I don’t think Freiermuth becomes a top 3 TE this year, but I think he’s a top-tier Tight End Blob guy that should get you 4-5 catches for 50 yards and the occasional TD. Essentially what Diontae would get you, maybe even a tiny bit more consistency. I’m giving him a boost over his yearly averages since I think the run-first and play-action bootleg nature of this offense leans more closely toward Freiermuth this year, so I’m penciling him in at 70 catches for 775 yards and 5 TDs, putting him around TE6.
Todd Monken is the new OC in Baltimore, replacing Greg Roman. I think there’s an expectation that this offense is going to look more high flying, and it will (Baltimore was first in the league in 22 personnel which only has 1 receiver on the field, and 32nd in 11 personnel, which is one back, one TE, and 3 WRs- they were at 12% and the NFL average was 61%). Also, per Warren Sharp, keep in your back pocket that both Cleveland and Cincy were bottom 10 defenses overall against 11 personnel, and Pittsburgh was bottom 10 vs the pass from 11 personnel. They quietly started being a top 10 passing rate team in neutral situations the last two seasons, but their spending at WR has been so fucking abysmal while Lamar was on his rookie contract that it doesn’t necessarily matter who is throwing the ball (save Mahomes) when the WRs are Tylan Wallace, Devin Duvernay, and James Proche. The offensive line is also a top 5 unit going into the season, the three sources I use have them ranked 4, 4, and 3.
Here’s something I think really matters: according to reports, this is going to be the first time in his career that Lamar Jackson is given the reins to call audibles. It is, as Warren Sharp said, coaching malpractice to not allow your QB to make adjustments at the line when he gets there. I think this offense takes a step forward with the slight increase in pass volume and Lamar’s dramatically increased options.
Outside of his rookie year, Lamar Jackson has never finished below QB8 in FPPG. He’s also missed 11 games, and while I’m so sick of the “running QBs get hurt” narrative, it would be foolish to pretend it doesn’t exist. When I was writing my Bills write-up, I made a whole to do about Josh Allen’s rushing production, but it needs to be locked in right now that I’ll stump for Lamar the same way: dude reliably puts up 750 on the low end to over 1000 on the high end each year as a runner, though his 3 rush TDs is much smaller than Allen’s 7.
An argument could be made that Lamar’s rushing productivity could take a hit since most of his rushing comes off designed plays instead of scrambles, but a less run-oriented offense means the defensive boxes he runs against won’t be overloaded to stop the QB keeper. The Ravens aren’t stupid, they know using Lamar as a back is the best thing their offense does, so I would still expect Lamar to get a ton of rushing work this year. Under Monken in Georgia, Stetson Bennett had over 55 carries in back-to-back years, so we know Monken values it.
The upgrade in the receiving room is real and will help Lamar return stronger value as a drop-back passer, something that he is about league average in. However, now he has guys that can make plays at all three levels of the defense, something you could argue he never really had before to this degree. Looking at his receiving room last year should tell you exactly why Lamar’s passing game will take a step forward this year. He’s much less risk-averse than you’d expect, 43rd in the NFL in interceptable passes last season, and if all his targets were condensed into a single player, that player would’ve ranked 78th in the NFL in separation generated from their defender. This is gonna change dramatically, I’d reckon.
Nobody is doubting Lamar will return a top-10 season in FPPG, but I think the perceived injury risk and unknown nature of the offense is baked into his price. I’m glad to take Lamar and expect a top 5 finish this year because any dip on him is foolish and should be exploited.
Kenyan Drake led this team with 20 red zone carries last year, which is (checks notes), bad.
Crazy how people undersell Lamar due to injury risk, while J.K. Dobbins is a screaming buy everywhere, eh? He’s missed 27 of the 50 games Baltimore has played since he was drafted, and this is the final year of his rookie deal. There’s reason to believe that he could return to the form he showed in the last four games of last year, where he carried the ball 57 times and picked up 397 yards. It’s hard to truly project the splits Dobbins had with and without Lamar since both were injured, but it’s drastic. In games where Huntley started, Dobbins had 6 more carries and 70 more yards per game. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle, right? Dobbins was top 2 in the league for runs where he was going against a defensive box aligned specifically to stop the run, so hopefully he can get some burn while facing lighter defensive fronts which will help. Dobbins had a handful of top finishes last year, and they all revolve around getting into the end zone. The offense taking a step forward really opens up that opportunity, but he needs everyone to stay healthy and he needs to have a higher snap share. He broke 50% of snaps once last year, so if he is on the field more it’s reasonable to see him have a strong year. He’s an RB blob guy in that 4-7 round dead zone, but he’s got upside. An improved offense could really help Dobbins earn that next contract and be the focal point of a strong backfield. Dobbins is limited for fantasy because he is part of a 3 headed monster in the red zone.
Gus Edwards was also beaten up last year, and I believe both backs will be used to help keep this backfield healthy late into the season. I think Gus is a fine complimentary back, but I don’t think he has any fantasy football value, barring an injury.
Only Mark Andrews, Devin Duvernay, and Demarcus Robinson had over 400 receiving yards for this team last year. With a new room full of pass catchers, the best Lamar has ever had, the hope is for them to take the next step in a passing game that has always always been shit and neglected at the expense of Lamar. The WRs had the 5th highest drop rate and were 5th worst in generating yards after the catch. The WRs on this team were 32nd in the league when it comes to how often they were targeted on early downs. It’s also buck wild to talk about how much is being vacated by Demarcus Robinson, but he did have the most snaps of any Baltimore WR. So, uh, who gets the Demarcus Robinson targets? Lmao
Odell Beckham, Jr. took all of 2022 off, recovering from his ACL tear in the Super Bowl. You can take that one of two ways, in my mind: either he’s rested and ready to come back, or the market for a 30-year-old wide receiver that hasn’t been an alpha since 2019 is diminished. We’ve spent time this offseason predicting that he won’t finish out the season, and since he’s only played every game in a year twice in his career, that’s probably a good bet. Look, Odell Beckham is still an NFL wide receiver. His playoff run in 2021 speaks for itself, where he went ballistic and was instrumental in that Rams title. I just think putting eggs in this basket to ask Beckham to be the top guy on an offense is short-sighted. 4for4 has him at WR45, and I don’t even care to ask if you’d put him over anyone because the rest of this room is much more interesting.
Rashod Bateman is yet another (stop me if you’ve heard this before) key Baltimore offensive skill position player that can’t seem to stay on the field. When he’s on, he’s the intermediate to deep threat guy, averaging 11 yards per catch in 2021 and 19 yards per catch last year. He’s going to be the boundary guy since over 85% of his snaps came as the outside WR last year. He’s a strong separator, wins with speed and route running, and is the type of guy that can turn 4-5 targets into 2-3 catches for 50 yards. If he becomes the alpha WR and can get 80-100 targets, I think we’re flirting with a low WR2 finish because he can also turn the short pass into a long run, and if the offense is more focused on giving receivers the opportunity to get YAC, Bateman should feast. I’m bullish on Bateman because I do believe Lamar Jackson loves the deep ball, throws an accurate one, and Bateman can make all his catches count. Last year, he was touchdown dependent. This year, I don’t think he will be.
Zay Flowers was my (Tony’s) WR2 before the draft, and I think he’s still my WR2 for dynasty sake. It’s a crowded room in Baltimore, and he is most likely competing with Mark Andrews for short-range target share, but there’s no reason why he couldn’t come in and immediately demand targets in this offense. Zay is one of the best, if not the best, route runners in this rookie class, and his entire college tape is filled with him beating the ass of a CB, only to have a poorly delivered ball fly above his head. He’s going to get open quickly, and if Lamar’s pass pro can’t hold up, he has a ton of quick options to get the ball off in a hurry. I think he’s being undervalued and should have some solid weeks. He might not score much which means his ceiling is low, but in deeper leagues, you could do worse at the end of your bench. Also, as we’ve seen before, you never know with this team.
Mark Andrews is most certainly the second biggest beneficiary of this Ravens offseason, since Lamar came back, there’s a new OC in town, and new WRs mean he isn’t going to be consistently triple-teamed. Look, he’s going to be a top 3 TE in FPPG, but is he worth taking over TJ Hockenson? Here’s why I might be inclined to say yes: an offense that generates more points will always boost the value of its players, and while TJ Hockenson is the #2 target in a high-volume pass offense, Andrews is the undisputed #1 in a lower volume one. To me, it’s a toss-up. He won’t be first in the league in target share like he was last year, but his quality of target will continue to go up, and he is one of two TEs with over 500 yards in unrealized air yards, so there’s still meat on the bone. His 5 touchdowns should also increase, hopefully to around somewhere between 8-10 TDs. I mean, the guy did have 7 more red-zone targets than anyone else on the team. Andrews had 73 catches on 113 targets last year, but so much of them came from Tyler Huntley that if we boost up his target numbers it would ideally look more like his monster 2021 with Lamar where he had 154 targets, 107 catches, 1300 yards, and finished as TE1 in FPPG. I don’t want to project those numbers, but I believe 75-80% of that is reasonable. That’s 123 targets, 86 catches, 1,045 yards, and 8 TDs. Those are TE2 numbers. If you bet on the Ravens to do well this year, it’s gonna start with Lamar to Andrews. Same as it ever was.
As I mentioned earlier, the Ravens going from 2TE personnel packages at the highest rate in the league to any other system is going to actually probably help Andrews get open against secondaries that can’t just load up against him. RIP Isaiah Likely’s snap count. Ain’t no way he has 300 pass snaps this season, not with the money Baltimore put into the WR room. Put it this way, if Likely is fantasy relevant, either Andrews is hurt, or the WR room has been fucking decimated.
Let’s do a fun activity and try a Ravens’ target breakdown for next year. If they had 448 targets last year in one of the heaviest run offenses in the league, let’s boost it up to 500.
- Mark Andrews is going to get 135, like his tremendous 2021 year.
- Rashod Bateman as the main boundary guy should get 95
- Odell Beckham should get 75
- Zay Flowers could easily get 50
- Various jagoff WRs (Ahogolor, Devin Duvernay, LaQuon Tredwell) will get 65.
- Pencil in Isaiah Likely for about 25
- RBs should get about 55, like they did last year.
This balance would be ideal for fantasy. For a team that was 19th in points scored last year, if they get to the top 15 that should help split the difference and push one of these skill-position guys up to become a massive value.
Let’s get this out of the way first, head coach Kevin Stefanski calls the plays. However, now that Deshaun Watson is back for offseason activities and having a training camp for the first time in a couple of years, Stefanski is changing his offense around to accommodate Watson, following a pattern that NFL executives have been doing for a couple of years now. I’m going to try to be subjective about all this and provide unbiased insight about Deshaun Watson, but let me just speak my peace first, and I’ll drop it. Fuck this guy. Fuck this serial rapist, fuck everyone that holds water for him, and fuck everyone that enabled him in the past, in the present, and in the future. I don’t want him on my pretend football team, even if he’s free. If you find yourself on the same side as Deshaun Watson, something is deeply, deeply wrong with you.
Anyway, let’s take a look at Watson’s shortened season, limited to only 6 games on account of the whole “being a serial rapist.” His splits showed a ton of rust, since he was still in the back half of the league in FPPG, passing yards per game, and passing TDs. His yards per attempt came down almost 2 more yards in his 6 games compared to his career numbers, and his touchdown rate which was 5.8% across his career went to 4.1%. Yikes. The new Stefanski offense will be a more wide-open one, focusing on funneling production through a more even split between run and pass, since last year they ran at the 9th highest rate. That will change, and it provides a lot of incentive to load up on Cleveland pass catchers going into this season.
Watson showed glimpses of the guy we knew before the world found out he was a fucking monster in the last two weeks of the season, throwing 5TDs to 2INTs, and picking up his rushing production. The talent is undeniable, one of the few things about Watson that he doesn’t spend a ton of time having to deny. He’s going to do really well this year if he even takes a minor step forward in the new offense, where you can comfortably project 250, 2 TDs, and 40 rushing yards each week. The question is, do you want to win at fantasy while knowing it’s because of this guy?
Outside of his rookie season, Nick Chubb has never finished lower than RB10 on the season in FPPG. We’ve also seen him do it with less than 230 carries, and after his 302-carry season last year, I think he’s going to have to do it on fewer carries. That said, Cleveland has a lot of room to improve as an offense: they were middle of the pack in points scored, and you’d assume an offense not run by Jacoby Brissett could get them the extra 40 points on the season that would get them closer to the Jacksonville/Miami/Seattle range that makes the lead RB on that team look great no matter what. For a guy that’s only missed 6 games in his career, the hope is that Chubb can stay healthy even with a historically Derrick Henry-level workload. He should, as he’s done for more than half his years in the league, get double-digit touchdowns. The loss of Kareem Hunt is great for Jerome Ford, but it’s also great for Nick Chubb. The offense will pass more, but they will also be in the red zone more, where Chubb had 42 touches last year, 9 on the goal line. One tiny thing to consider: Chubb was second in the NFL last year in runs stuffed at or behind the line, with 19% of his runs getting jammed up. At the same time, he led the league in runs charted as “breakaway” runs, with 23, 5 more than anyone else. He was one of three RBs in the league to get over 300 carries last year, with only Derrick Henry and Josh Jacobs behind him.
The hope is new Center Ethan Pocic can help, and so could the two Ohio State linemen Cleveland drafted as depth, Tackle Dawand Jones, and Center/Guard Luke Wypler. PFF has them charted as the second-best line, while FTN and Sharp have them at 5, so that bodes well. We’re watching this team shift from a 12-personnel team (1 back, 2 TE) to an 11-team (1 back, 1 TE), so Chubb will be running into lighter boxes this year which is pretty nice (he wasn’t super great in this last year, so let’s hope it was an outlier and not a bad omen).
Chubb will have another solid season, and what he loses in carries he could just as easily gain in red zone opportunities. Nick Chubb should be considered in the 2nd round of drafts.
We’ve entered and eventually passed through the “Jerome Ford is a sneaky handcuff/potential role player” era of offseason Twitter. That’s fine by me since he didn’t give anyone anything last year to indicate his potential. He had 8 rushes for 12 yards and no catches. Let me just go ahead and quote my 2022 pre-draft write-up on Ford: “I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up a premium handcuff to a great running back in a zone scheme after preseason is over.” Well, here we are. He’s a guy I compared to Raheem Mostert, with better functional speed than play speed, but I have bad news for those who think he’s just going to hop into the Kareem Hunt role in Cleveland: have you ever seen this dude pass block? No? Neither did Cincinnati when he played there in college, and that was by choice. I think he’s actually closer to a spell back for Chubb than a replacement for the Hunt role, which means Hunt’s spot: part-time spell back for Nick Chubb, and the lead passing back gets split between Ford and Demetric Felton. Hunt vacated over 120 carries when he left, but I only think 50-75 of those make their way to the backfield, the rest will most likely go to the passing game. Ford is a handcuff, nothing more. Let people draft him and expect Kareem Hunt’s production, I’m good.
The best-kept secret of this entire team’s fantasy projections? Amari Cooper was a better receiver with Jacoby Brissett last year than he was with The Bad Man. 4.5 more FPPG, almost 2 more targets and catches per game, and 12 more yards. Amari Cooper was WR10 overall last year, but in terms of FPPG, he was WR17. Oddly enough, last year was his best NFL season in targets and TDs, and top 2 in yards and catches. There are some stats that indicate this next season could be better since he was 3rd in the NFL in unrealized air yards last year, the offense will pass more, he had 4 top 10 weekly finishes last year, and he had almost a 40% dominator rating. Things against him: for him to return on value at his ADP, he’s going to need to have one of his better career years.
I think Cooper is a guy I’d like on my fantasy team at the right price because his route success chart syncs up almost perfectly with Watson’s passer success chart. They will connect on a ton of intermediate routes, he’s going to end up getting in the range of 7-9 targets a game, and he will score a high single-digit number of touchdowns. Returning a fantasy finish between WR15-WR24 is pretty much what Amari Cooper does regardless of QB, offensive scheme, and target competition. He’s unsexy but picks like that are the reliable ones that win fantasy championships.
The Jets using Elijah Moore the way they have over the last two years is like keeping a luxury car in storage, and his advanced numbers show us what they’ve been missing. In weeks 8-13 in his rookie season he had a line of 51 targets, 34 catches, 459 yards, and 5 touchdowns. In those 6 games, we saw what he could do. He got hurt, came back in 2022, and was so neglected we recorded a true crime podcast for this show about his disappearance. He was 84th in the league in target share, 98th in catchable target rate, and had the 93rd-worst accurate target rate. However, let’s look at the case for optimism: his numbers DOUBLED in games where Joe Flacco was the QB. He still managed to be 12th in the league in target separation, 25th in route win rate, and 5th in the league in True Catch Rate, which is receptions divided by total catchable targets. He was at 102.8% which means he was catching everything he should have, and even some he shouldn’t have.
Reception Perception loves Elijah and has since his rookie season, since he breaks both their thresholds for success versus both zone and man coverage, and gets open in the intermediate on some of the more difficult routes to be successful on, and he was even better against press coverage last season than in his rookie season.
I think Moore is the day 1 slot WR, he gets targets and takes targets away from DPJ, and David Njoku, who–let’s be real–was the real slot WR in Cleveland last year. Not only do I think that he can be the slot guy, but I also think hearing reports of him motioning into the backfield on pass plays in OTAs could have him seeing some of Kareem Hunt’s vacated looks. Moore has an easy path to 80-100 targets this year and could be a huge value in drafts. I honestly think he has the second-most targets on this team, which means he could be in line for triple figures in targets.
Donovan Peoples-Jones was the other boundary WR last year opposite Amari Cooper, running about 70% of his routes out there. He was used as a deep threat, and I can’t see that changing. Watson as a strong deep ball passer makes him appealing in best ball formats, but otherwise, I think DPJ is doing a ton of cardio out there this year and shouldn’t be on a roster unless it’s insanely deep and only best ball. DPJ ended up in the top 30 last season, and if he ends up there again this year either the Browns turned into the 2020 Kansas City Chiefs, or everyone got hurt. I’m not banking on either of those happening.
Cedric Tillman is more of a rotational guy this year at the least (he was brought in to replace DPJ, I’d assume), and David Bell is dust.
Last year’s TE8 finish was David Njoku delivering the fantasy football promise he’s shown since he was drafted. He lined up all over the field, and my fear is his 36% slot snap share goes down with Elijah Moore, and when that falls, so does his production. His fantasy production as TE8 was above almost all of his metrics, which put him around TE11 or so, and his splits went down after Watson took over last season. The best thing he had going for him last year: he was second among all tight ends with TWENTY red zone targets. He was their go to guy last year in those situations, and it benefitted him even though he hilariously only had 4TDs on those catches.
The Bengals’ offensive line was a big point of spending in the 2022 free agency class, and this year they struck again by signing Orlando Brown from KC to play LT for them. This move should kick Jonah Williams to RT, and as of now, my sources have them ranked 15, 17, and 13. ESPN listed their pass block win rate as 30th in win rate, and the fact that the line stayed healthy all season (only used 6 different players to start a game) makes that number look even worse. If Brown’s signing improves both LT and RT (with the Williams move), then really all the team should be worried about is LG, but means 4 of the 5 spots are solid, which is pretty damn good for the team as a whole.
With running QBs that provide fantasy value with their legs being the league-winning QBs on so many rosters, the number of traditional pocket passers that have top-tier (top 3) fantasy utility has dwindled essentially down to Mahomes, Burrow, Herbert, and Lawrence (maybe). So, what do these guys need to do in order to finish top 1, top 3, or top 5, and who can do it?
Season-Ending Fantasy Point Totals for QBs:
2020: QB5: 434, QB4: 439, QB3: 449, QB2: 468, QB1: 477
2021: QB5: 346, QB4: 374, QB3: 386, QB2: 395, QB1: 417
2022: QB5: 314, QB4: 362, QB3: 384, QB2: 411, QB1: 429
Joe Burrow was QB4 (362) in total fantasy points last year. To get there, he threw for 4527 yards on a heroic 610 attempts (90 more than his previous career high). I was laughing to myself because that seems like so much, but at the same time, Brady, Herbert, Mahomes, and Cousins all had more. It’s an average of 35.8 a game, and he only threw less than that 5 times on the season. He’s going to have the opportunity to throw to the same degree as he did last year. So let’s play The Chase for 400 Fantasy Points: Joe Burrow Edition
As the Bengals shift towards what looks on paper like a more run-and-shoot style offense, letting Burrow and his receivers win with talent is pretty much the name of the scheme. I will always believe Zac Taylor holds this team back with his playcalling, but they don’t seem to be parting ways with him anytime soon. Of all the QBs that I’ve looked at Burrow has one of the most interesting splits in terms of production when under pressure and when kept clean. His PFF grades are 30% higher, his completion percentage is almost 17% higher, and his yards per attempt goes up by 1.6 yards. After week 5 it feels like the Bengals coaches figured it out, and per Warren Sharp, after initial struggles against 2 deep shell defenses, Burrow’s percentage of dropbacks where he held the ball longer than 2.5 seconds went from 25% to 16%.
Despite early season struggles, when Burrow got hot he was on. Keep in mind Cincinnati only played 16.25 games this season, but Joe Cool still ended up as QB4 in FPPG. He threw 36 pass TDs and also had sneaky goal-line rushing ability, with 5TDs and 259 yards to add to the pile. He had PlayerProfiler’s best QB Accuracy, was 5th in pass yards, 2nd in pass TDs, 5th in rush TDs, shredded both man and zone coverage, and while he threw 12 regular season interceptions, he threw 4 of those in week one. He had multiple TD passes in every game except 6, and 6 games with over 2 TD throws. You’re just as likely to get a 3TD performance as a 1 TD performance, on 35 passes a game. You can’t argue with those numbers, the efficiency, and the consistency.
So, now we’ve established that his sack rate will continue to go down as they focus on the quick pass, the run game is useless (see below), and Burrow will throw multiple TDs a game, let’s do the Chase for 400:
- Burrow has thrown for over 4500 yards in back-to-back years, so let’s start with that as a baseline.
- He’s thrown for 36 and 34 TDs, so 35 is our baseline there.
- Rushing yards averaged out to 173 a year and he gets 3.3 rush TDs a year.
With his passing yards, he’s at 180 points, and 140 points from pass TDs. Add an extra 17 points from rushing and 18 from rush touchdowns. That’s 355 points, good to just barely get into the top 5. So, what does he need to get to 400 points? If Burrow can hit 40 pass touchdowns, he gets up to 385. He had 9 rushes inside the 5 last year, so we can bump those rush TDs back up to 4, bringing him to 391 points. If he approaches career highs in passing yards or rushing yards, he’s at 400 easily.
His numbers seem to climb year over year, and I believe Burrow and Herbert are going to be the best 2 non-Mahomes/Allen/Hurts QBs with the best chance to crack the top 3.
Joe Mixon had an incredibly inefficient and rough year last year- running for under 4.0 YPC and having 2.61 yards after contact (30th out of 32). He also only broke 100 yards rushing twice. Holy shit Warren Sharp coming with the fire:
The Bengals’ high rates of 3+ WR sets forced defenses to play light boxes. As a result, Joe Mixon led the NFL in the percentage of runs against light boxes. But of 41 RBs, he only ranked:
36th in YPC
39th in yards after contact
34th in explosive run rate
On the plus side, the shorter passing nature of the Bengals’ offense showed up in targets to Mixon: 7th in targets, with 74. He was 6th in receiving yards (441), and 5th in catches (60). He had 814 rush yards and 7 rush TDs, which is 123 fantasy points. He caught 60 passes for 441 yards and 2 touchdowns, which is 116 points. Almost half his points came from checkdowns last year, which is wild for an RB that had over 210 rushes and ended up as RB7 in FPPG. Mixon isn’t the workhorse he used to be, he only averaged 14 carries a game last season, and last year found the Bengals using a second back more than they had done in Mixon’s tenure with the team.
Mixon’s first 5 weeks: 19.2 carries, 5.4 targets
Mixon’s rest of season (not counting Buffalo or Pittsburgh that he left early): 13.3 carries, 5.4 targets
The pass work is going to be what saves Joe Mixon because he has shown that he is an incredibly inefficient runner. He was 54th in juke rate, 49th in evaded tackles, and AVERAGED 1 YARD PER CARRY on runs from under center. My god, hideous.
Mixon is cheap at the moment due to lingering bias due to no longer relevant legal charges and no longer relevant cap hit. This backfield managed to make Joe Mixon look like a fantasy-relevant RB, when everything we see seems to indicate he’s cooked and is really just Ezekiel Elliott with pass-game chops. The role is just too good, no matter who fills it. Buy Mixon for cheap.
Ja’Marr Chase finished his second year proving that his first-year explosion wasn’t a fluke, finishing WR4 in FPPG, despite only playing in 12 games. Despite missing those 5 games, he managed to be an elite short or medium area separator and threat, as the Bengals’ counter-adjustment to the 2 deep shells they were facing led to Chase being featured downfield less frequently, and his ADOT dropped from 12.6 to 9.9. As a result of the shorter target distance, his raw number of per-game targets jumped from 7.5 in his first season to 11.2 last year, per Warren Sharp. In 12 games, Chase went 87/127 for 1046 and 9 TDs. Compare that to his rookie year where he went 81/123 for 1455 and 13. Hilariously, averaging 11.2 targets per game means if he played a full season, he would’ve ended up leading the NFL, beating both Justin Jefferson and Davante Adams. As it is, Chase led the league in average targets per game.
He had a 33% end zone target share, with the second most end zone targets in the league (tied with Adam Theilen). He only had 3 games with less than seven receptions. He was 6th in juke rate, so he’s elite after the catch (but you already knew that). He had half the amount of deep targets in 2022 as he had in 2021 (34 to 16), and Burrow hit him perfectly (over 100 catchable targets).
With the way defenses have changed to play the Bengals, Chase is going to win regardless. If they continue to play 2 deep shells, Chase continues to get 11 targets a game between 0-19 yards from the line of scrimmage and kill people after the catch, or defenses go back to playing cover 3 and Chase goes back to torching people deep. Arguing who it is between Jefferson, Chase, and Kupp is pointless, they’re all gonna crush. Take your favorite and move along.
Where does that leave us, with regard to Tee Higgins? Tee had some ups and downs last year, with his totals looking thusly: 75/111 for 1042 yards and 7TDs. In FPPG, he was WR26, a step back from his WR12 finish in 2021. He put up almost identical numbers as he did in 2021, but did it in 16.25 games, while he did it in 14 in 2021. Why the regression? Well, the ADOT of 11.6 compared to Chase’s much shorter 9.9 meant that Tee was often being targeted less frequently and further down the field. His 6.5 targets per game were dwarfed by Chase’s production. He has several boom weeks a year, and for a guy drafted to be a WR1, he only had 4 such games during the season.
I’m not going to get worked up about the games he left early, or played one snap and left, because who cares, if I had even a shade of the pain these dudes had to play with, I’d be on the ground crying. We can look at it one of two ways: Higgins is unreliable, or the dude managed to be WR26 in FPPG even with games where he had snap shares of 26.6%, 18.6%, and 1.6%. He’s a lock for 110 targets with one of the top 3 best pure passers in the game. Check this shit out: Tee had 6.5 targets per game, but that includes those games where he left early. If you subtract those games and targets, in all games Tee Higgins played over 27% of his snaps, he averaged 8.3 targets, 5.5 catches, 77 yards, and 0.53 touchdowns. Really, he should’ve ended up even higher with those games not counting, and I feel like anyone fading Tee after last year just isn’t looking at the numbers hard enough.
Aaah, Tyler Boyd. Ol’ reliable. Everyone grabs Tyler Boyd in the middle rounds of redraft leagues (myself included) because the assumption is the floor makes him a great bye week filler or injury fill-in. At WR45 last year, he returned a bit less than what I’m assuming people expected he would give. This isn’t the fault of Boyd, but the offense tends to run through the big two when all three are healthy. Boyd’s production improves when either of these guys is out, but it’s much more improved when Tee is not playing.
As the team has continued to add weapons, Boyd’s role has diminished:
2020 (Burrow + Tee): 79/110, 841, 4
2021 (Burrow + Tee + Chase): 67/94, 828, 5
2022 (Burrow + Tee + Chase): 59/83, 776, 6
Boyd is still productive when he catches the ball, turning his targets into the 8th-highest overall fantasy points per target (2.11). However, as his target totals continue to drop with the new shorter pass game, Boyd has less utility as a week-to-week play in fantasy football. His contract is up after this season, and I think the team drafted Charlie Jones to fill his spot next year. I think the role itself is fillable by any regular slot WR, and I really like Charlie Jones next year, but until then I just think I’m whatever on Boyd.
Irv Smith, Jr. went off in week 16 of 2020 against the Saints, going 6/9 for 53 and 2 TDs. Since then, he missed an entire season and managed 36 targets in 8 games in 2022, which is pretty cool actually. He also had my favorite stat line of last year: 4 targets, 4 catches, 7 yards, 1 TD. In 2022 the Bengals targeted TEs 89 times. In 2021, it was 81 times. In 2020, it was 71.
Those numbers look pretty nice, but Cincinnati TEs in 2022 were: 28th in yards per attempt, 30th in air yards, 27th in total attempts, and 26th in TDs. The role is there, and the targets are decent, but the aDOT and lack of red zone utility hurts their fantasy ceiling.
Since Joe Burrow became the Bengals QB, in 3 years, Bengals TEs have had 6 games where their TE finished in the top 12 for that week. Irv is a guy I’ve been rooting for for a couple of years, but I don’t think Cincy is the best place for him to be (from a fantasy perspective- for Irv Smith the human being this is great).