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
If you got anything out of our team previews, please consider following the THfantaC podcast, and please consider donating to the GoFundMe for the Minneapolis DIY house Nudieland, who were targeted in a hate-crime-motivated shooting.
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Right off the top, the Bears were bad by design last year. Ryan Poles came in and ripped the bandaid off and said “We’re going to strip this down to the bare bones, so bare witness and we’ll start over”. The defense was atrocious and the offensive line left Justin Fields fighting for his life on every play last year.
Outside of his rushing stats, Fields was not good for fantasy. He successfully threw for 34 passes in 4 games, granted 1 of those games was in a typhoon, but an average of 16.75 pass attempts per game (even in one with terrible weather) is a big red flag that faded as the season progressed. By week 8, Fields was throwing on average about 22 times per game, which again isn’t super high volume but with increased efficiency/accuracy and rushing 8+ times per game, we’re okay with that in fantasy. Eberflus realized that the only way to prevent Fields from getting absolutely murdered by defenses from the sieve of an offensive line and garbage receivers not getting open was to let Fields just hold onto the ball and run for his life, but forward.
The Bears ranked bottom 5 in pass attempts, red zone attempts, team pass per game, and protection rate as they were the team that ran the ball the most amount of times because the coaching staff knew they had an assortment of crumbs to catch balls.
Fields had 2200 passing yards, ranked 23rd in pressured throws (big number, bad), 11th in danger plays, 12th in interceptable passes, 25th in accuracy, and low 20s in completion percentage, play action completions, and clean pocket completions.
While these stats are gross, the context that I’ve reiterated is that the offensive line was atrocious: the catalyst to why those stats above occurred. We’ll spin it to the positive for right now to shine a light on the bright spot of why the Bears chose to use their #1 overall pick and most cap space in the league to build their team around Justin Fields.
Fields ranked 4th in red zone accuracy, 8th in air yards per attempt (he was just chucking that shit down there hoping someone would catch it), with an above-average completion percentage against zone coverage, which we are seeing more and more within the NFL so that’s a good skill to have.
As I mentioned before, the Bears had a massive churn in talent, shedding old regime contracts and a move to solidify the team as a whole through acquisitions and using their haul from the Panthers.
The Bears re-signed one lineman while shedding three. One lineman was signed in FA, with Travis Homer also being picked up as he is great in pass protection.
The next obvious talking point is the acquisition of DJ Moore, and how the elevation of young QBs improves with the addition of top-tier WR talent.
We all saw how Poles had DJM as the non-negotiable in the trade even with other offers as that was one of the biggest holes that Bears had, and not having to spend a top-end pick allowed for the team to fill out the depth at a better rate, rather than having to chase a Hopkins or spend the 10th pick on JSN. This is just some quick bullshit correlation data so bare with me here on recent examples of QBs acquiring top 15 WRs and their output:
Josh Allen before Diggs:
3089 yards, 6.7 passing yards per attempt, with a 58.8% completion percentage
4,411.33 yards, 7.43 passing yards per attempt, with a 65% completion percentage average
Jalen Hurts before AJB:
3144 yards, 6.3 y/a 61.3%
3701 yards 8.0 y/a 66.5%
Joe Burrow before Chase (I extrapolated the data to take out the injury based on pace):
3,853.8 yards, 6.7 y/a 65.3%
4,543 yards, 8.15 y/a 69.35%
Tua before Tyreek
2653 yards, 6.8 y/a, 67.8%
3548 yards, 8.9 y/a, 64.8%
Outside of Tua, every single QB in this sample set saw an increase in all general metrics we want to see in our QBs, more yards, better accuracy, and longer throws. Strangely enough, Allen, Hurts and Burrow had an increase in designed run plays. My assumption is an offensive scheme saying hey they can’t cover these guys so they’re going to play zone, let’s exploit that.
Now I don’t want to say that these are all a 1:1 of what we’ll see with DJM and Fields as I feel DJM is the lower quality WR out of those 4 examples, but he still is a top 15 skill ceiling WR that will provide enough jump in Fields to provide a more valuable assumption of what we can expect from Fields in 2023. Now the big caveat to me is Chicago doesn’t have the #2 that those teams generally have with Smitty, Higgins, and Waddle, but Allen has shown you can be a 1 weapon offense and still get a leap.
I’m going to do a very generous average across these 4 guys to get a fun projected number we can try to pinpoint on a ceiling expectation of fields going into the year.
870.83 more yards, 1.3 Y/A, 5.1% increase in accuracy from Fields, which would put him at:
3,112, 8.4 Y/a 65.4 completion percentage. This would put us right in the elite territory on stats, granted as passing volume increases we will see a decrease in rushing attempts, but if we see a more designed run scheme as we saw from Hurts, Burrow, and Allen, the efficiency can increase which will still give us roughly the same expectations within a range of rushing attempts per year.
Fields had 160 attempts last year, and almost 50% were scrambles, but if we see that number drop down to 140 attempts but an increase of 90 designed rushing plays, we can still potentially see an 800+yard rushing season. I’m not saying that will happen, but we have seen it before with the examples provided above.
Fields is going to throw the ball more than 318 times this year, my estimate is that number hits about 375 which averages out to 23 attempts per game, which isn’t out of the realm of what he can do. He had 5 games over 23 and a lot right below that number so 2 more attempts per game doesn’t seem like a supreme ask to me.
Now onto the king maker himself, DJ Moore. Now, we all know DJ Moore as the G.O.A.T. of getting 1,100 yards and four touchdowns. But, in the time DJM has been in the NFL he’s had the following QBs throwing him the ball
- The corpse of Cam Newton
- Taylor Heinicke
- Kyle Allen
- Will Grier
- Teddy 2 Gloves
- PJ Walker
- Sam Darnold
- The reanimated corpse of Cam Newton
- Baker Mayfield
So saying Fields is the best quarterback he’s had is pretty on-brand. In those 5 years in CAR, he had an average of 116 targets per year with a 14.3 Y/R, which even with a bum room is extremely good.
DJM primarily lines up out wide, which is going to translate to CHI as he’s the best receiver they have by a wide margin, especially with his 5.1 yards after the catch.
DJM’s average depth of target is 12, while fields currently is 9.8, but when your targets at a point in the season are Kmet, N’Keal Harry and Velus Jones, you can’t throw the ball that far, so I anticipate that number to increase and we’ll get that sweet, sweet overlap with aDOT we saw with ARSB and Goff and AJB and Hurts.
There were roughly 140 targets to the outside position for WR so the probability of DJM getting 116 targets seems like a floor for him right now, especially after listening to the RPO episode of the Late Round Podcast from JJ Zachariason, which I won’t spend paragraphs and paragraphs breaking down. Basically in RPO systems with mobile QBs, there is a hyper-targeting of one receiver so our initial response of being down on DJM compared to consensus seems like there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Now I’m not going to sit here and say DJM finishes as WR1 or WR10 as the volume just isn’t there for me to believe in that sort of massive league-winning play, but I do believe that he can return on his WR26 ranking to something I’d be comfortable of WR20, so your 1st flex if you’re WR heavy or WR2 on a different setup.
Darnell Mooney is sort of the dark horse here for me as he’s been cast aside from WR1 to WR2 best case. Before he got hurt he was averaging 5.3 targets per game, now one of those was the typhoon game so that’s lowering the value but Mooney is the primary non-DJ Moore receiver on this team who was commanding around 85 targets per year if his pace continued before his injury. That’s a value I think he can hover around with the projected number of increased passing volume to ~375 attempts. I’d pin Mooney for around 90 targets this year.
Chase Claypool is either in the doghouse in the organization or progressing nicely, depending on who you ask. I know his numbers weren’t great for fantasy last year after joining the Bears, but I noticed some things that perked up my ears a little bit. He played in seven games for Chicago and had 29 targets. Now, since I hate my life (am a lifelong Bears fan), I noticed that outside of a few targeted jump balls, Claypool was used as the slot possession guy, which is where he was in Pittsburgh. If we’ve established that the two boundary WRs are the longer YPA guys, does this give Claypool a clear path to 75 targets? I kinda think so. I don’t think those numbers plus his YPA make him a fantasy-relevant player on a weekly basis, but I do think he will have the second most catches on this team in 2023, and could probably be the guy of the two to get a contract extension over Mooney.
Alright, here comes the “spin the wheel on who you want” test:
The Bears had 369 rush attempts and 58 passes to the running back room last year, and there are three running backs on the Bears worth looking at with David Montgomery gone: Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman, and Roschon Johnson. I guess they brought in Travis Homer but he’s the pass blocker
So while most fantasy analysts are quiet on Herbert, last season was pretty decent, splitting the backfield opportunity with Monty. 129 rushes for 749 yards averaging 5.7 yards per carry and 4tds, but Monty was the pass catcher.
While only 7 rushes accounted for 228 yards, he still had the #5th overall true yards per carry rate per Player Profiler, so he can be efficient when called upon, especially last season when he saw his career high in snap share.
Now solving a two-headed monster is hard, but solving 3 heads gets near impossible to project when Fields is taking a majority of the rushing pie and a majority of the red zone opportunities.
Herbert has been notorious for needing to improve on his pass blocking and the Bears bringing in 3 other RBs has me down on Herbert in comparison to his metrics.
Foreman and Herbert have essentially the same metrics with Herbert having a slight edge in efficiency so they’re realistically the same player to me this year, one is just RB40 and one is RB51 and I’ll go with the guy who is cheaper even if he only sees 1/3rd of the snap share as I’m not realistically starting someone unless its a bye week fill in or I have an injury fill in.
Now the unknown hype is on Roschon, who we all love here. We said it here, everyone said it, if Roschon wasn’t following Bijan, he’d have had much higher draft capital and even so, the 4th round is pretty good. He doesn’t land in the best situation in comparison to others in his draft class but there is a nice little place he can carve for himself as the lead back.
He’s a dawg, he catches passes and he’s great in pass protection. Sure he doesn’t have elite athleticism, but you don’t need that when you’re running inside zone schemes and you’re also behind Fields, he’s a chunk play guy and he has the probability to catch the most passes out of this backfield. For my money, he’s the best bet on ADP Return of investment for anyone in this backfield and he’s free right now in drafts. If the ceiling expectation is David Montgomery, I don’t see how that isn’t possible for the talent that Roschon possesses and if Fields goes down, he can also play QB so it’s just a win-win for the Bears.
In our opinion, Cole Kmet is a sell and a smoke screen this year. His 5.2 average targets per game when Mooney was out will come down even with a projected increase of volume especially with DJM coming in. I have him for ~65 targets which isn’t terrible but still a fade from me in redraft unless you’re in a 14-teamer.
I’m in on Fields, he can return a top 5 finish and the expectation I have for him doesn’t place him in the unicorn tier, but he still will take a jump and is worth his price of entry if you miss out on the top 5 guys.
Initially, I felt DJM was going to be a colossal disappointment at ADP, but he’s appropriately priced right now and if he’s your Flex, I’m not upset at all about it.
Don’t draft a TE
I’ll take Roschon at cost over anyone else this year on Da Bears.
The Lions last year were explosive and shitty all at once. They were 4th in EPA per play (passing offense), 5th in the league in points scored, but had the 3rd most points allowed. The offensive line ranked 2, 5, and 2 across my sources. After last year’s face turn on Hard Knocks, it sure seems like most football fans are investing emotionally in Detroit winning the division, lifelong Lions fans are drinking the Kool-Aid, and they are a hot fantasy commodity as we approach the 2023 fantasy season.
Jared Goff had a solid season last year, easily his best since 2018. He had 29 touchdowns and went back to an over 7.5 YPC for the first time in years. Along the way he was also 26th in air yards, 25th in ADOT (7.6), 23rd in big-time throw percentage, and 5th in the league (8.1) yards per attempt (due to accuracy and efficiency). Had the most passes dropped in the league last year (38). Goff was QB14 in FPPG, and QB10 in total fantasy points. The Lions seem to go as Goff goes, winning at a high percentage when Goff keeps it clean, and losing when Goff is intercepted. The late-season surge for the Lions coincided with a game plan that asked Goff to throw more than 12 yards downfield on 24% of his throws, compared to 40% early on. Most of his interceptions came early in the season on downfield throws, so they asked him to do it less and he did better and the team ended the year hot. He had an improvement in his PlayerProfiler accuracy rating, which was 4th best in the league last year.
He once again remains a clean pocket assassin: when kept clean he completes passes at a 73% clip, much better than his 65% overall completion rate. Ironically, the Lions, with such a great line, struggled to keep Goff clean at times. Penei Sewell, Frank Ragnow, and Taylor Decker are all studs, and the Lions need Jonah Jackson to play better this year and are banking on the health of Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who has been placed on IR in back-to-back seasons. If the guards play well, this whole offense shines. Goff’s protection rate (a Playerprofiler stat that identifies how often a QB is hurried and has to throw the ball away in less than 3 seconds, Goff ranked 28th.
Goff’s end-of-season hot streak (4 of his last 6 games were QB7 or better) covered up for a streak earlier in the season that was downright terrible. From weeks 5-12, his best finishes were QB14 and QB15, with 4 weeks below QB22. The offensive line is elite, and I think the assumption is going to be that with the new consistent shorter pass game being the focus, Goff can be efficient, but don’t expect much to be different. He’s going to peak and valley, ebb and flow. I think Goff is going to have a season that puts him right around that late QB1 territory with occasional boom weeks.
The Lions run Power at the 5th highest rate in the NFL, 6th in Counter. Middle of the pack in zone running, both inside and outside. Brett Kollman is insistent that Jahmyr Gibbs will be more of a receiver that plays RB than an RB that catches passes, and that David Montgomery will be the primary 1st and 2nd down back, and he’s an optimal scheme fit.
Last year’s backfield looked like this:
- Jamaal Williams: 262 carries/16 targets
- D’Andre Swift: 99 carries/63 targets
- Justin Jackson: 42 carries/17 targets
- Craig Reynolds: 23 carries/10 targets
Montgomery is historically a volume play, and there’s an argument that his value stays similar in Detroit, but I think there’s also some extra value built-in on the backs of one of the best offensive lines in the league. It’s impossible to project Monty getting the same type of goal-to-go work that Jamaal Williams had last year (38 goal-to-go carries last year, 2nd place was 22). He’s broken 1,000 yards in his career once, but he’s reliably had about 225 carries for 850 yards, with 5-7 touchdowns, with an additional 30-40 catches. Montgomery’s 12 carries per game was lower than his usual 17-19 that he’s had in the past, and though he should get the dominant share of those inside zone plays that the Lions run, isn’t going to turn into Atlanta and start running the ball at a high enough percentage that both Monty and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs can comfortably get enough rushes. Monty can make limited touches work, as he was 9th in juke rate (evaded tackles per touch), and 8th in overall evaded tackles. This is the best offensive line he’s ever run behind, which should help him on a per-touch efficiency basis.
Something that bodes well for Gibbs this year (per Sharp): after the TJ Hockenson trade, this offense made a complete turnaround. With Hock, the Lions played 2TE on early downs at the 11th-highest rate in the league and were 26th in EPA. After the Hock trade, the Lions used 2 TE sets at the second-lowest rate. Instead, they brought in the second RB. They used 2RB sets at the 8th highest rate in the league, and their overall EPA per attempt took a huge jump, up to 3rd in the league. However, like several of the rookie RBs in this class, Gibbs faced a light defensive box on a lot of his runs, with less than 30% coming against 7 or more defenders in the box, while Lions RBs faced the heavy defensive front on over 70% of their runs, per Sharp.
Swift averaged 10.5 touches per game, and I think that’s a fair expectation for Gibbs in his rookie season, in spite of the huge draft capital, he’s still more of an offensive weapon than a traditional running back. I think there’s probably a reasonable expectation that he can get 6-8 carries a game, with 6-7 targets a game. They didn’t draft him so highly to not use him and get him the ball, but getting him into space will require manufactured targets on the edges. If the Lions use two backs often (as they did last year), his snap share could be great. Gibbs gives Goff another threat in the short and intermediate areas of the field, where he’s established is going to be his most effective area to throw the ball. I know Swift and Gibbs are different players, but we see this pattern not just in his numbers but in the numbers of a number of different backs that should be sharing a workload: with increased usage comes decreased efficiency. Amon-Ra St. Brown was in the slot on 60% of his routes, but they did a good job of moving him all around the field to get better looks. Detroit now has two of those weapons on this offense.
Drafting Gibbs at Swift’s prior year ADP (around the 3rd or 4th) is about where we’re at. The talent is there, but the role is almost impossible to project, and if you’re like me and want to take the easy way out and superimpose Swift’s usage onto Gibbs, the hope is180 touches gets him to RB13 and a return on value. RB13, for example, put up 229 fantasy points last year, or 14.1 FPPG in full PPR. Swift was RB15 in FPPG (with 14 games played) with 99 carries for 542 yards, and going 48/389 and 8 total TDs. The pedigree is great, and Gibbs is a major upside rookie pick in drafts. Just take him and move on.
The Sun God’s sophomore season was essentially him picking up right where he left off at the end of his rookie year. Amon-Ra St. Brown was 2nd in the NFL in targets per route run, at over 30%. He finished WR10 in FPPG by going 106/146 with 1161 and 6 TDs. He also had a terrible tendency to get stopped inside the 5 before scoring, several times ending up just one yard short. It’s scary to think he could’ve ended up even higher. He ended up 8th in total targets (averaging 9 a game), 8th in red zone targets, 5th in catches, 4th in yards after the catch, 7th in evaded tackles per attempt, and had the second-highest route win rate in the NFL. The dude absolutely smoked man coverage last year and took his place among the best pure route runners in the league. According to Reception Perception, Amon-Ra’s ability to beat coverage took a big step forward in 2022, and though his success against man and press got better from years 1 to 2, he was always great at finding the whole in the zone.
Seems to me like every game he played last year and had over 70% of the offensive snaps found him getting 8 targets minimum, but usually somewhere between 10-12. The only downside with Amon-Ra’s profile is going to be the low ADOT and potential for red zone shortcomings, should his bad TD luck continue. Not many WRs could have reason to complain with 6 TDs in a season, but he should have had at least 9. I don’t think that’s a reason to fade him at all. His price at WR8 is about right and should align with his production. Goff will have more targets to look at, but at the same time drawing coverage away from Amon-Ra and letting him beat a dude one on one is going to do wonders for the looks he gets. As much as the ADOT worries me, I’ve got a vibe prediction: ARSB’s YAC ability will overcome the number of targets he will invariably lose when Gibbs and Jameson are back in with the offense. I like ARSB a whole lot this year, but in HPPR I am giving him a downgrade since 9 catches for 73 yards is wonderful in PPR but not as big a boost when the catches are only worth half.
The Lions weren’t even fucking around with Jameson Williams when they got him on the field last year. His final stats were 1 catch on 9 targets for 41 yards and a touchdown and a 40-yard run. However, that’s not the entire story here. Jamo had a long TD called back against Green Bay, and another one where he absolutely SMOKED Sauce Gardner that was so underthrown it hit Sauce in the back while he was trying to catch up, along with a crossing route against Chicago that could’ve gone the distance. Goff is not a great downfield passer, which means that Jameson will not get the volume he needs to be a huge payoff this season when he comes back from suspension. He’s now over a year and a half through the ACL tear, and I think when he comes back this Lions offense gets stupid good. As a standalone asset, I don’t think Jameson hits in a way that makes him a return on value, but good god he might be the most electric guy I’ve watched in a long time, and that translated over to the league, based on the small sample size we saw last year.
Josh Reynolds is just the store-brand version of Aaron Rodgers’ Allen Lazard and he’s just around to annoy us with 3 TDs this year. Marvin Jones Jr is also just a placeholder until Jameson Williams comes back.
Sam LaPorta ruled in college, as a slightly less athletic but great YAC TE like Iowa always seems to crank out with disturbing regularity. He seemed to have popped during rookie minicamps, but as always, be weary with a rookie TE, especially one that plays on an offense that doesn’t seem to give tight ends the level of volume you’d need to be consistently successful in fantasy football. TJ Hockenson was getting 6 targets a game before getting traded, and after that, Lions TEs went like this, in terms of targets:
19 for Brock Wright
15 for Shane Zylstra
10 for James Mitchell
That’s 44 in 10 games, for a 4.4 average. If Sam LaPorta comes in and gets 4.4 targets per game, that’s pretty good for a rookie. He’s less of an accomplished blocker than Brock Wright, and I wonder if that ends up costing him snaps when the Lions go to 11 personnel and don’t want to sell the pass. However, they didn’t take him early to let him sit on the bench, so I expect him to play fairly often in his first season; I’m just not sure the role is big enough for me to care.
Green Bay Packers
Off the top, and something that will color my impressions of the entire Packers offense. My sites were all high on Green Bay’s offensive line, ranking them 5, 6, and 7 respectively.
The development and unveiling of Jordan Love in 2023 is one of the more interesting subplots of the season. The dude has been sitting behind Rodgers for what seems like forever, and it took so long for Green Bay to give him the reins that they had to give him a new contract instead of deciding if he was worth the 5th year option. So, let’s go over what we know.
He’s only started one full game in his career, covering for Aaron Rodgers and his Covid toe in 2020 versus Kansas City. He went 19/34 for 190 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He’s appeared in 8 other games over the past 3 years, mostly when Green Bay is way ahead or way behind, so I don’t necessarily think it’s useful to use too much of his past production to try and project what it might look like. HOWEVER, there are a few things worth noting:
- He’s got the dreaded short ADOT of under 8 yards per throw
- He’s had 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in his career
- Of his 80 career attempts, here’s how many throws he’s made to each level:
- 9 attempts 20+ yards downfield
- 19 attempts 10-19 yards downfield
- 40 attempts 0-9 yards downfield
- 12 attempts behind the line of scrimmage
So, let’s acknowledge two things: first, that Love is not a short area pass guy, akin more to a Jared Goff ball control type player. He’s not a deep-ball passer, based on what we’ve seen so far. His accuracy is going to be strongest in those shortest two levels, behind the line on screens and up to 9 yards from the LOS. I believe what we see from Green Bay and Jordan Love is a more extreme version of where they’re at already. Last year, Green Bay called a pass on 56% of their plays, the 18th most in the league. This is right around LaFleur’s sweet spot, but I believe we see the Pack take it closer to a 60/40 run-to-pass ratio and allow Love to be more of a game manager. Love has some minor utility as a runner, which may boost his stock in the tiniest little way. They’re going to let him go out there and start all season I’d guess, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Green Bay is looking to draft a QB at the start of next year.
This was a top 10 offense in EPA added in the run game. They ran the outside zone on 36% of their runs, which was 5th in the league. This is Aaron Jones’ game. They ran inside zone 23% of the time (13th in the league), which is the AJ Dillon game. Brett Kollman, on his Bootleg Podcast, is insistent that Green Bay will have a top 5 offense in terms of rushing percentage, and the more I look at what they have, the more I agree.
Jones and Dillon have nearly identical splits in the one game Love played compared to their usual workloads with Rodgers. One curious note: AJ Dillion had twice the amount of targets in that game than usual, and 2 more than Jones had.
Aaron Jones was one of the biggest buys for me last offseason, and he did okay, returning a PPR RB9 overall finish, but so much of that came from his work as a pass-catching back. Thank god, because even though he ended up with 1125 rushing yards on 215 carries, he only had two touchdowns. The issue was his red zone work, because he did have the 8th most RB targets in the league at 72, and the 6th most catches. He had 38 red zone touches, which ranks 15th, but JUST ONE goal-line touch last year and 3 inside the 5 overall.
I believe that Aaron Jones is a candidate to surprise this year, for a handful of reasons. People are going to be down on his age (since he turns 29 in December), there’s always the chance AJ Dillion takes over more of the snaps, and the offense as a whole takes a step back even from bad Rodgers with Love’s takeover. However, let me make the case for you that Jones still returns on value as 4for4’s RB16:
- Positive touchdown regression
- A more ball-control-oriented offense allows for Jones to maintain at least a top 15 level of target share (though I expect his routes run from the slot or wide to go down from the 24.5% he had last year)
- He’s still incredibly efficient on a per-touch basis.
Last year was supposed to be the AJ Dillion takes over the backfield season, and that certainly did not happen. It’s not like he didn’t get a ton of opportunity: Aaron Jones only had 29 more carries than Dillon, but 356 more yards. Dillon had 10 fewer red zone opportunities, but 6 more goal-line touches and 7 more touchdowns. Those TDs saved Dillon from being a league loser, but he certainly didn’t take a step forward. Dillon had more carries than Jones in 2021 and then lost favor when it became clear his efficiency was not carrying over. He’s ended his seasons right around RB29, and I don’t think that changes much this year.
As of right now, I’m agreeing with Kollman, and projecting the offense to rush more than their usual LaFleur average, which is about 420. Let’s boost it up to 450 and shake out the carries.
I’d assume between Love rushes, jet sweeps to Christian Watson, and other role players you can probably take 60 carries out, which leaves us at 390. Dillon’s usage might rely on his reliability, but we can probably lock Aaron Jones into 220 rushes, a slight bump from last year. If he stays at his 5 YPC, that’s another 1100-yard season, with TD progression and a similar pass-catching profile (50 or so catches for 320 yards).
Dillon should probably end up around his average of 180 rushes and maybe get a boost to 40 catches. He will continue to get the goal line work and I expect his TD numbers to hover around 8. These projections would put Jones near the end of the first tier of RBs, and if Dillon’s efficiency gets better he could flirt with being a solid flex play.
This was the worst team in the league last year at yards after the catch, so let’s get messy. Aaron Rodgers taking Lazard and the ghost of Randall Cobb to New York means 180 WR targets have opened up for this offense. Even with the assumption that the pass rate goes down, we should be trying to find out where the 150 or so targets go to, for fantasy purposes.
After a rough start against Minnesota, Christian Watson started extremely slow. However, once week 10 hit, Watson was on the field for over 80% of offensive snaps for every game except two. He had insane efficiency, with 7 of his 41 catches going for touchdowns. He had a streak of 8TDs over 4 games last season. Make no mistake about it, Watson being a raw talent limited his opportunities, but when they went to him they wanted the big play. He had a 13.8 ADOT, and the 22nd most red zone targets in the league. Think about that. A dude with 65 total targets had the 22nd most red zone targets in the NFL last year. He had an 18.8% TD rate on his catches, which will inevitably go down.
Here’s the good: Watson is a beast after the catch, where he averaged 6.4 yards. Sick. Get him the ball on slants and he can turn a 7-yard grab into a long touchdown. If his red zone and end zone targets stay up, he’s proven to be an incredibly valuable asset in that area. His target numbers will go up, and it’s reasonable to expect that he’d see along the lines of 100 targets this season.
Here’s the bad: his aDOT does not correlate with Jordan Love’s. Love throws short twice as much as he throws long. He’s still going to get those deep sideline go balls, because otherwise why did they draft him, but the question is how frequently he gets those targets, compared to those close-to-the-line routes. Watson was targeted in that 0-9 range 21 times last year, and he caught 16 for 164. 63 of those yards came on a breakaway against Philadelphia. So, outside of that, he had 15 catches, 101 yards. This isn’t inspiring. Christian Watson is WR28 on 4for4, and I don’t know if I like him in any format that isn’t best ball unless suddenly Jordan Love develops a deep ball.
I talked about Watson’s snap shares and how they went up, this happened at the expense of Romeo Doubs. Doubs left in week 9 with an injury, and by the time he came back in week 15, the offense had changed. He only saw more than half of his team’s snaps once over the final four games. In those 13 games, he put up a respectable 42/425/3. Doubs and Watson will be the boundary WRs, and Lazard’s departure opens up about 100 boundary targets this year. You’d have to assume he also gets an increase in targets, but they most likely won’t be quality fantasy targets. Watson is the Red Zone guy and Reed is the slot guy, so I believe Romeo Doubs is not a huge fantasy play for me, though he will be on the field quite a bit.
Jayden Reed is a dude I loved in the pre-draft process, and to my surprise, he was taken at pick 50 by Green Bay to assumedly take over the slot role. The departed Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb have vacated almost 400 slot snaps, and you’d assume those go to a combination of Reed, Samori Toure, and Luke Musgrave. If you believe in the talent, which I do, you should’ve been like me and made all the attempts possible to get him in rookie dynasty drafts. I don’t necessarily think he’s going to be a big volume play this year, but there’s a chance he comes in and crushes. I want him over Doubs at the back of my bench in redraft because he will start the year in 3WR sets, and I believe the cream rises to the top. I’m targeting Jayden Reed in redraft leagues as my last-round pick, and he’s a late-round priority in any league with keeper settings.
Bobby Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis are both gone, meaning the Packers have about 70 TE targets available going into this season, and with Tonyan lining up in the slot almost 40% of the time, that means Luke Musgrave is a guy that we could see a lot of going forward. Musgrave is a guy we all liked early on since his athletic abilities are possibly the best in the class, but he has a bad injury history and lacks a lot of the refinement you’d want for a guy taken in the 2nd round. However, we’ve seen guys with a similar lack of tape come out and wreck shit in the NFL. I think I can echo you guys when I say I love Musgrave’s landing spot and the possibility that he’s a solid pass-catching NFL TE, but I hope you echo me when I say I don’t think it’s this year. He is going to be the week 1 starter, which should help him develop quicker than those who might start in rotations, but he probably shouldn’t be drafted.
I can see him catching 30 passes, maybe 2-3 touchdowns, but I’m not putting any redraft capital on him this year as a guy that will need time to acclimate to the NFL game, and run in an offense that historically doesn’t feed TEs consistently, even with a much better QB. Should he develop rapport with Love and the coaching staff, next season could be amazing, but this year should have incredibly tempered expectations.
Kirk Cousins is the most boring yet stable fantasy asset in the game. He had 9 weeks of QB1 play, which is actually less than you’d want when you think about his pass rate: Minnesota passed at the 3rd highest rate in the league last year, up 5% from the last year under Mike Zimmer. Kevin O’Connell is in year two of his scheme, taken from the Super Bowl-winning Rams offense of 2021. That Super Bowl team was in year two of his scheme, so past performance indicates the offense could take another jump this year. The similarities are uncanny: aging, immobile QB, superstar WR, TE with chemistry with the QB, it’s all there. In fact, even the deficiencies are similar. The Vikings’ offensive line is weak at both offensive guard spots when it comes to protecting the passer. Minnesota, like the 2021 Rams, has studs at both tackle positions. Also, Minnesota, like the Rams, has bad pass-blocking interior linemen. Seriously, it was uncanny.
Here’s the PFF pass block grade for the 2021 Rams, from left to right:
89.5, 59.3, 50.4, 49.5, 70.2.
Here’s the PFF pass block grade for the 2022 Minnesota Vikings, left to right:
77.4, 43.2, 59.2, 29.6, 74.4.
The line is still ranked fairly high across all three of the places I pool data from 11, 15, and 9. Above average to good is about what that says to me.
O’Connell knows that his scheme isn’t dependent on the interior running game, so he’s just got replacement-level guys on the inside. It’s a quick-release west coast offense that gets the ball to playmakers in space quickly. Let it be said, if Cousins gets time to throw, he’s great, he had the 3rd most catchable deep balls in the league last season with the best accuracy. When he gets time to stretch the defense, good things happen. He just needs to beat man coverage when blitzed: last year he was in the top 10 for EPA when not facing a man blitz, and the bottom 10 when facing a man blitz.
If the offense jumps forward, it’ll be on the back of Kirk. Ironically, as the pass numbers grew, Kirk quietly had his worst year in Minnesota, finishing with team-low numbers in completion and TD percentage, as well as yards per attempt. He threw the second most passes in the red zone last year, was 4th in passing yards, 5th in passing TDs, and had the second most catchable red zone throws, only behind Mahomes. Instead of drafting a cornerback in the first round to assist the 2nd worst defense in the league, they went and got Jordan Addison. This offense is ready to FUCK, my friends.
Cousins has been at the very end of QB1 ranks at the end of the season for his last three years, and if there’s a year for him to take his Rams Matt Stafford next level final leap, it’s this year. He’s not going to throw a ton of downfield strikes, but he’s going to load up in the short and intermediate zones and deliver a ton of volume. When he does get to go deep, it’ll be good. Not even the 2021 Rams passed as often as the 2022 Vikings, and I think we can pin that on the fact that Minnesota played almost exclusively from behind in the 4th quarter last year. Across all 17 games, Minnesota was -87 going into the 4th quarter and ended up going 13-4. The good thing for us in terms of fantasy is it looks like Minnesota’s offense has three things going for it: stud playmakers, a scheme that prioritizes talent, and a defense that can’t stop shit. Can I also say that not only did the Vikings pass a ton because they were losing, but they were 4th in the league in passing in neutral game script. They’re just gonna be hucking shit constantly.
Kirk Cousins is a guy that will get you 275 yards and 2TDs every week as a baseline, and while he will play like shit (5 games as a QB2), he will have breakout games that win you weeks (7 games as a top 10 QB). His lack of running means he has little QB1 upside, but if you want a guy that’s going to be consistent, Kirk is the move.
I was low on the Vikings’ run game, and then Warren Sharp released his season preview. Listen to this nightmare: the Vikings faced a light defensive box at the 5th highest rate in the NFL, and they were 25th in EPA on rushing plays. They were 29th in yards before contact, even though they had such light boxes.
Dalvin Cook is finally gone, a domino I was waiting to fall before exploring what it would mean for the Vikings’ RB room. I’m here to deflate those jumping on Alexander Mattison as an early league winner, and here’s why: we’re projecting based on what he did to spell Cook when Mike Zimmer was running the offense and running the ball out of two tight end sets and prioritizing a bell cow RB, which is a role that Cook is no longer there for.
While Cook had 265 rushing attempts, compared to Mattison’s 74, I can’t help but wonder how much of this we’re projecting on a guy that’s never had more than 135 rushes in a season. If there’s one thing he has going for him, it’s that even though he had 74 carries last year, 19 of them occurred in the red zone. Clearly, O’Connell likes using Mattison near the end zone. The question is going to be what the split looks like. So, I split it up!
2020 Rams: Akers (145 rush,14 targets), Henderson (145 rush, 22 targets), Malcolm Brown (101 rush, 32 targets) = 391 rushes, 68 targets
2021 Rams: Michel (208 rush, 31 targets), Henderson (149 rush, 41 targets), no other player had more than 8 carries = 357 rushes, 72 targets
2022 Vikings: Cook (265 rush, 51 targets), Mattison (74 rush, 18 targets) = 339 rush, 69 targets
Averaged out, that’s 362 RB rushes, and 70 targets. Now, who plays where? Well, let’s look at the pass-blocking and receiving numbers. 7th-round rookie DeWayne McBride had 5 combined catches for 29 yards in his three-year college career, so he profiles as more of an early down back that could give people nightmares by splitting reps with Mattison on first and second down. Out of 74 RBs with 100 or more rushing attempts over the last two seasons, Mattison is 68th in yards per carry, 43rd in explosive run rate, and 42nd in yards after contact per carry. Ty Chandler and McBride are both guys brought in by the current regime, so they will both sniff the field. Chandler had the best pass-blocking grade on the roster at RB, and profiles to be on the field more often for 3rd downs and in obvious pass situations. Mattison will catch passes but doesn’t have the profile for the primary receiving back. Give me the guys drafted by this coaching staff and this management team that runs a 4.38 40-yard dash and pass blocks. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but as I write this in June I fear the dreaded COMMITTEE BACKFIELD has arrived in Minnesota. Give Mattison 65% of the early down work and 50% of the pass game work, and then split the rest between Chandler and McBride. It might be worth taking shots on some of the rotation guys in late rounds, because of all RBs last year, Dalvin Cook had the most Red Zone snaps in the NFL (147), so there’s a ton of value on the table if you can hit.
Kirk was the most accurate QB in the NFL against zone coverage. Now, I’m a huge Brett Kollman fan, in case you haven’t noticed yet. In his video titled “The Tampa-2 is a Lie,” he explains a defensive alignment called 3 Buzz Mable, which is a staple of modern defense. Most teams call it a ton, and to make it short: the receiver on the weak side, usually the only guy out there, will get almost a man-to-man coverage look, with potential safety help over the top. The strong side gets hybrid zone coverage. This is my way of screaming at you to overvalue the WRs/TEs that play on the strong side for Minnesota, AKA Justin Jefferson, TJ Hockenson, and Jordan Addison. They will be schemed to face zone coverage as much as possible. This also hides one of Kirk’s biggest weaknesses, throwing into man coverage while blitzed (which is why he lost to the Giants twice).
Justin Jefferson doesn’t need a recap or a projection. He’s the best-skill position player in football, and he should go 1.01 in redraft over everyone. Over CMC, over Kelce, over any RB/WR/TE/QB. Don’t care. I think there’s a chance he’s the next WR triple-crown winner and should have his Cooper Kupp year where he is a legit contender for league MVP. Not gonna waste any time here. He’s gonna come in and catch 130 passes for 1900 yards and have 12 touchdowns and just be better than God. He was double-teamed on over 20% of his routes, and it didn’t fucking matter. The rate he was doubled was the second highest rate in Reception Perception’s history, only behind Devante Adams’ 2021 campaign. While we’re on the stuff I learned from Reception Perception: his 2.1 drop percentage was comically good and won 77% of his contested catches. Jesus fucking Christ.
Jordan Addison is a dude that comes in with a major fucking pedigree. There’s no reason to expect he doesn’t immediately step in and take over the Adam Theilen role, which was about 100 targets last year (15 of which were end zone throws). Hilariously, the only player with more end zone targets last year was, you guessed it, Justin Jefferson. Addison’s strength is in his versatility since he can line up both inside and out and make plays at all 3 levels. He’s a deep ball terror, which is good given Cousins’ accuracy, he’s a beast on the WR screen (52 of Theilen’s targets last year came from behind the line or in the short area), and he’s going to be running against defensive backfields worried about Justin Jefferson and TJ Hockenson. His target numbers might not be gaudy, but he’s going to be lining up against nickel CBs or the second-best CB on a given team. I don’t want to go crazy and suggest he’s going to get 100 targets this year, but a solid 80 is reasonable. I said in the draft guide that he’s got the potential to be up there in the discussion with Tee Higgins, Jaylen Waddle, and Devonta Smith as the best WR2 on their team, and so I’m trying to grab him in as many dynasty/keeper leagues as I can. Addison not being a solid fantasy producer this year would be a major disappointment given the draft capital, scheme, and supporting cast.
TJ Hockenson’s trade in week 8 to Minnesota was a huge game breaker for him, as he went from an offense that only sporadically featured the tight end to a team that schemed plays for the guy. His lowest target count as a Viking was 6, and in most games, he was between 9-13 targets. That’s Travis Kelce-level volume, and Hock was efficient with those touches: 3rd in air yards, 3rd in red zone targets, 4th in yards after the catch. I don’t think any of this changes, even with Jordan Addison in the mix. Hockenson is taken off the board as TE2, and there’s nobody even around him. I think he’s in a tier of his own under Kelce. His yearly finish in Detroit was TE7, and that’s with the scheme working against him. He was TE4 in FPPG last year, and the offense passing more will continue to boost those numbers up. He will be the main target in Kirk’s most effective distance and direction (short middle) and will rack up a ton of 8 for 74-yard games. It’s just going to happen. In leagues where I don’t get Kelce, I’m willing to reach for Hockenson because his floor is going to be TE3, behind Kelce, and whatever TE booms in a given week.