So much can happen during the NFL season that trying to predict
the future may seem pointless. With that said, it is our job as
analysts and fantasy managers to attempt the impossible.
For better or worse, this industry seems more fixated on the
macro than the micro. As such, I decided I wanted to give the
fantasy football world a look at what each player's year-end statistics
would look like if they simply maintained their current per-game
production. While we know roughly 99 percent of these averages
will change between now and the fantasy playoffs, my hope is this
information will shed some light on who is due for a positive
or negative market correction.
My hope for this week is to highlight some of the notable outliers
at wide receiver and tight end. Maybe in doing so, I will be able
to point out the potential buying and selling opportunities that
Below you will find the statistical totals for every receiver
and tight end of note if they maintain their current pace over
17 games. I have adjusted the totals for the players who have
either missed time or are expected to because of injury. (For
example, Travis Kelce missed the opener, so his total is for 16
games.) I did the best I could in terms of projecting a realistic
timeline for cases such as Deebo Samuel, whose projected return
to action is a bit open-ended right now.
I understand this is not a one-size-fits-all exercise. For example,
Chris Olave seems highly unlikely to score only on two of his
projected 95 catches. The point of this exercise is to see how
certain hot/cold starts might look in December if they continue.
Part of the fun of this exercise is to ask yourself which of these
starts are likely to continue and which ones will be difficult
Year-End Totals for WRs At Their
Current Per-Game Pace
Note 1: Tyreek Hill … wow. Hill and A.J. Brown are
both on pace to break Calvin Johnson's single-season receiving
yardage record (1,964).
Note 2: A stunning 41 receivers are on pace for over 100
targets this season. Ja'Marr
Chase is on pace for 207 - one shy of the league record since
they started tracking the stat in 1992! Six others are on pace
for at least 180.
Note 3: While this exercise did not reveal too many crazy
outliers last week,
the table above reveals a bunch of players who are probably due
for some negative regression in the coming weeks. I will touch
on some of the more notable ones, but not everyone I write about
below will be players due for negative regression.
- Although he continues to lead the league in targets
(82) and catches (58), just about everything with his 17-game
projection is unsustainable. He will probably not become the first
player since Julio Jones in his prime to eclipse 200 targets in
a season or threaten Cooper Kupp's single-season catch record.
He will probably also fall well short of Calvin Johnson's single-season
receiving yardage mark as well (1,964). The one positive is that
touchdown regression should start working in his favor relatively
soon, as five scores for someone with his level of involvement
in the offense would be hard to comprehend (although it is the
same number Megatron had during his record-setting season).
It makes more sense to extrapolate Nacua's numbers since Kupp
returned three games ago and use those averages to project what
he could do over the final 10 games. Here is that 10-game projection:
63 catches for 837 yards and three touchdowns.
If he does that, his final line would look something like 121
catches for 1,589 yards and five touchdowns.
If fantasy managers are fine with an average of 14-15 PPR fantasy
points each week with an occasional touchdown (he surprisingly
has not been involved in the red zone very often), then sit back
and enjoy the high-level WR2 production you are about to receive
from your savvy late-round draft pick or expensive post-Week 1
Thielen - Thielen appears to be
a safe bet to be another player who will not come anywhere close
to maintaining his current pace. Maybe OC (and new play-caller)
Thomas Brown - formerly of the Rams - can tap into all of the
things he learned under Sean McVay. Maybe he can weaponize Thielen
in the same way McVay does Cooper Kupp. The problem is HC Frank
Reich - the former play-caller - was already doing that to a large
degree. Thielen is already performing at his ceiling in what is
a bad offense and probably cannot be expected to score one of
every two passing touchdowns Carolina quarterbacks throw - as
is currently the case. Regression is not the main concern here,
however. Age and Thielen's history of durability are.
Prior to 2022, the last time he played a full season was 2018.
He is 33 years old and highly unlikely to continue catching 83
percent of his targets. He has done the bulk of his considerable
damage against four of the 12 most forgiving defenses against
wide receivers. There is definitely potential for more spike weeks
along the way, but the Panthers are going to want to see what
they have in a player like Jonathan Mingo at some point. We have
seen Thielen produce at a level similar to this during his career
year in 2018 (113-1,373-9), so there is history of him catching
fire and staying hot. The better bet is that his 13- and 14-target
games drop to eight- and nine-target games, which is more consistent
with what a high-end WR2 typically gets.
Jefferson and Cooper
Kupp - There is not much to say here other than it
is not hard to be amazed that Jefferson's 13-game projection looks
better than the majority of his contemporaries' 17-game projections.
His recovery is reportedly going well, and the expectation is
that he will be ready to return the moment he is eligible to come
off IR following the completion of Week 9.
Kupp's projection is every bit as impressive. Potentially posting
1,278 yards despite missing four games is insane for most mortals,
at least those not named Justin Jefferson. The 30-year-old seems
likely to score more than four touchdowns, as he already has nearly
as many red zone targets (4-3) as Nacua in four fewer games.
Lamb - Here is another major positive
regression candidate. Especially with Tony Pollard's effectiveness
already taking a turn for the worse, the Cowboys probably (maybe
hopefully) used the bye week to re-evaluate their offensive issues
- especially in the red zone. Lamb has been targeted only five
times inside the 20 and four times inside the 10. His only touchdown
of the season came from 20 yards out.
Rookie receivers - Except for Michael
Smith-Njigba and Rashee
Rice, I am not confident there is another rookie receiver
above who is going to maintain their current pace. We already
discussed Nacua, although any regression he suffers was bound
to happen playing in the same offense as a healthy Cooper Kupp.
probably will not score 15 touchdowns, which would leave him in
sole possession of second place all-time for a rookie receiver
(Randy Moss had 17 in 1998). Zay
Flowers seems highly unlikely to reach 95 catches, which would
leave him in sole possession of third place all-time for a rookie
wideout. I am not sure I can see Downs topping 80 catches, but
I also do not think it is out of the realm of possibility either
as Gardner Minshew directs what should be a more pass-heavy offense
than the one we anticipated for Anthony Richardson. Jayden
Reed scoring nine times also seems unlikely.
Wilson - Are you kidding me? How
great is Wilson going to be if he ever gets to play a full season
with Aaron Rodgers? While Zach Wilson is a far more competent
quarterback this year, Garrett Wilson deserves major kudos if
he can finish with a line that looks like the one above (91-1,046-6).
Garrett Wilson's projection not only seems sustainable because
he did something similar as a rookie (83-1,103-4) with sub-par
quarterback play but also because so much of the passing game
revolves around him (30 percent target share).
It may not be the WR1 season we were hoping for, but he may still
be able to salvage a high-end WR2 finish. The most encouraging
bit for his managers is 33 targets over the last three contests.
He should have ample opportunity to pad his stats in the coming
weeks, especially with New York's next three games coming against
the Giants, Chargers and Raiders. While the touchdowns figure
to be lacking for the rest of the season, the only daunting matchup
he has left is in Week 17 against the Browns.
Godwin - Let this serve as a reminder
that Godwin's disappointing season to this point is only disappointing
because he has yet to find the end zone. Godwin is among the league
leaders in red zone targets (nine) and targets inside the 10 (five)
- both of which are higher than Mike Evans' totals (five and two,
respectively). He is the only receiver with at least 28 catches
who has yet to score. It will happen. Any manager who selected
Godwin on draft day would have been thrilled to know that 94 catches
were even in the realm of possibility with Baker Mayfield as his
Ridley - One of my goals this week
was to gain a better understanding as to how Ridley can be so
good at his job, yet be so uninvolved in the Jacksonville offense
some weeks. I stumbled upon this
post, which confirmed what I have been seeing when I watch
the Jags. More research has allowed me to settle on a conclusion
- one that may allow fantasy managers to breathe a sigh of relief
Ask yourself what the most obvious thing that Ridley's two big
games as a Jaguar had in common. One of the first answers is that
Zay Jones played the majority of snaps in them (Weeks 1 and 5).
Interestingly enough, in the three games Jones played, Ridley
saw at least eight targets in all of them. In the four games Jones
has missed, Ridley's target totals are 7, 2, 8 and 4. His catch
rate in the former games is 63 percent. His catch rate in the
latter games is 47.6. These differences caused me to look at his
average depth of target (aDOT) in each game. It confirmed what
is the likely root cause of Ridley's "demise." In Jones'
healthy games, Ridley's aDOT marks were 9.6, 12.4 and 16.4. In
the other four games, they are 15.4, 21.5, 12.4 and 17.5.
What does all that mean? Every receiver benefits from having
a healthy aDOT, but there is a point of diminishing returns. In
my experience, that number is usually somewhere around 16. It
is rare for receivers with aDOTs much larger than that to be consistent
because deep routes are the hardest to complete and take the most
time to execute. Some offenses (and quarterbacks) have no desire
to wait an extra half-second in hopes that the deep guy gets open,
assuming he is even a part of the progression on a given play.
For the most part, what those high aDOTs reflect is that Ridley
is running a higher number of clear-out routes to open things
up for Christian Kirk and Evan Engram when Jones is not available.
Jones also forces defenses to play Ridley more honestly, which
has not been happening a lot lately. In at least two of Ridley's
down games, he saw safety help on occasion in addition to drawing
the other team's top corner. Ridley is also running a large number
of routes outside the hashes (such as out routes), whereas Trevor
Lawrence is throwing a lot inside the numbers.
Ridley bouncing back may not be as simple as Jones getting healthy,
but it is a good bet that he will perform at a significantly higher
level once it happens. For managers looking for a reason to start
him again this week - even if Jones is not ready to return yet
- consider this
nugget from one of my former King's Classic opponents. Patrick
Peterson and Levi Wallace have both struggled on the perimeter
this season for Pittsburgh, so the combination of facing those
two cornerbacks and Ridley's success against single-high coverage
may just be enough to get things going back in the right direction
in Week 8.
Year-End Totals for TEs At Their
Current Per-Game Pace
Note 1: Travis Kelce missed the opener with a knee injury
and still has a decent chance at setting career highs in catches,
receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
Note 2: Mark Andrews is not going to challenge Kelce for
overall TE1 honors in all likelihood, but he is very much on track
to live up to his third-round cost on draft day.
Waller - The Giants had a lot of
things go wrong for them at the beginning of the season, but the
lack of involvement for Waller in the first month was still inexcusable.
New York is not out of the woods yet as it relates to the health
of its offensive line, but the team is getting healthier. The
Giants are also giving more playing time to vertical threats Darius
Slayton and Jalin Hyatt, which opens up the middle of the field.
Saquon Barkley and Wan'Dale Robinson are healthy now as well.
Lo and behold, Waller appears to be back now as well. Perhaps
it is a function of the improved health in New York AND a realization
by HC Brian Daboll and/or OC Mike Kafka after the first month
of the season that it was wasting its best weapon in the passing
game, but October has brought about a noticeable change. Per Fantasy
Points Data, Waller has been the first read in the progression
at least 28.6 percent of the time in each of the last three games
(41.7, 28.6 and 33 percent for those who care not to click on
It is hard to understand why it took New York four games to realize
what should have been painfully obvious after two games, but there
is a decent chance all of the above factors forced Daboll and
Kafka to go into an ultra-conservative mode to keep Daniel Jones
from getting hit more than he already was. While it is too early
to say for sure that Waller is a top-five lock for the rest of
the season, there is much more reason to feel that way now than
there was a month ago.
Engram - From the Chris Godwin class
of ridiculousness, Engram is on pace for 100 catches and no touchdowns.
An even more ridiculous stat: Engram has yet to be targeted in
the red zone. Do with that information what you will, but it seems
like a bad idea to ignore a 6-3, 240-pound former college receiver
in scoring territory.
Atlanta TEs - Public Enemy No. 1 Arthur Smith's
love for tight ends (or upsetting fantasy managers, as appears
to be the case) may know no bounds. He has two of them on pace
for 60-plus catches apiece and may end up feeding them 200 targets.
Yet, the one who would seem the most obvious candidate to lead
the position group in every receiving category (Kyle
Pitts) is not leading in any of them. Unlike the case I laid
out for Waller, there is no way to know if this is the offense
Smith wants to run or if it is the offense that Desmond Ridder
allows him to run. (Considering his deployment of the running
back position, most readers probably feel as though they know
Ferguson - Keep the faith on Ferguson.
is reason to believe his breakout is coming. As I alluded
to earlier with CeeDee Lamb, however, this is the team that might
be running a complementary back into the ground (Tony Pollard)
and has failed to find a way to get its best receiver more than
seven targets in five of six games (Lamb). Even worse, Dallas
has ramped up Ferguson's snaps, routes and slot use over the last
two games, only to throw to him less often than it had been. If
the Cowboys cannot make Ferguson a more featured part of the offense
in what appears to be favorable matchups for him over the next
two weeks (Rams and Eagles), then it might be time to give up
the dream of him breaking out this season. The problem with doing
that is that Ferguson's underlying metrics scream (at worst) low-end
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.