- Leonard Fournette has been fine thus far, but can he continue to thrive without the help of a passing game? Plus, Carson Wentz loves going deep, Christian McCaffrey owners should not panic, and Amari Cooper may finally solve his touchdown woes.
Last season laid bare the harsh realities of investing in offenses helmed by bad quarterbacks. The struggles of many high-priced fantasy picks tied to substandard quarterbacks—most notably Todd Gurley, Allen Robinson and DeAndre Hopkins—were offered this season as a warning. Trust bad quarterbacks at your own risk. Through two weeks, one of the quarterbacks who offered that lesson is at it again.
Blake Bortles made it hard to believe in any of the skill players on the Jaguars at their average draft positions. The most popular of those was Leonard Fournette, the rookie running back out of LSU. Fournette’s talent is undeniable, and with little competition in the Jacksonville backfield, he ended up climbing into the second and third rounds of all fantasy drafts this summer. Thus far, the inefficiency is outweighing the volume.
Fournette has found the end zone in both of Jacksonville’s games this season, and that has helped him land among the top-10 scoring backs in standard and PPR formats across the first two weeks. It also masks the fact that Bortles’s presence is hampering his production. Fournette has racked up 40 carries in the first two games of his career. He has just 140 rushing yards, which translates to 3.5 yards per carry. A running back can overwhelm inefficiency with volume in the short term, but in the long term it will eventually swing the other way. Fournette won’t be able to volume his way to meaningful fantasy production in the face of inefficiency every week, especially in weeks where he fails to hit paydirt. The only way his efficiency will turn around is if Bortles forces defenses to respect Jacksonville’s passing game.
Fournette has faced a stacked box, defined as containing at least eight defenders, on 52.5% of his 40 carries, according to NFL.com’s Next Gen stats. Among backs with at least 25 carries this season, only Mike Gillislee’s 60.6% rate is higher. Fournette has done well in those situations, picking up 2.48 yards after contact per carry, good for 11th in the league. That number moves the needle a whole lot less when first contact comes at or near the line of scrimmage, though. Just as Bortles crushed Robinson last year, he is doing the same to Fournette this year. It just hasn’t shown up yet in the back’s surface stats.
Thanks to volume and touchdown upside, Fournette can better weather the Bortles storm than Robinson could last season. Still, now wouldn’t be a bad time to field offers for him. With Bortles at the helm, there are going to be more ugly performances for the Jacksonville offense this season. Fournette isn’t going to be able to sidestep all of them.
With that, let’s get to the rest of the Week 2 Target and Snap Report. Remember, you can get all the target, snap, touch and red-zone data you need to get an edge on your league from our partners at 4for4.
Carson Wentz and the deep ball
Through two games, no quarterback in the league is pushing the ball down the field as far or as frequently as Wentz. His 15 deep attempts—defined by Pro Football Focus as passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air—lead the league. Next Gen stats measure his average intended air yards, the average length a pass travels in the air, at a league-leading 12.8 yards. Tied for second in deep attempts with 14 are a couple of quarterbacks you’d expect, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, and one you likely wouldn’t, DeShone Kizer.
The results of Wentz’s deep passing have been mixed. He has completed four of his 15 attempts for 157 yards and one touchdown. The score came in Week 1 on a broken play where he found Nelson Agholor, who had gotten himself lost in the Washington secondary. Add in a drop that clanked off Torrey Smith’s hands, and Wentz has an accuracy rate of 33.3% on deep balls. That has him tied for 19th in the league, and while he’s keeping good company toward the bottom of the ratings—Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson are also at 33.3%, and the trio is ahead of Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Kirk Cousins—it’s a number that must improve.
Wentz may be a bit too off-target on his deep balls thus far, but there’s more good than bad here. First of all, the fact that he’s attempting so many deep passes should have anyone invested in the Eagles passing game excited. Torrey Smith is tied for first with six deep targets, while Alshon Jeffery is tied for third with five. Smith and Jeffery rank first and fifth, respectively, in average target length, while Zach Ertz ranks sixth among tight ends. If Wentz can improve his accuracy on these passes, everyone in Philadelphia will benefit.
The game is pretty simple for wide receivers. Get open, and you’ll get the ball. The best way to get open is to create separation. Sure, the process of creating separation to get open is incredibly hard and technical, but the goal is simple enough to understand. Separate from your primary defender, show yourself open to the quarterback, catch passes, move the chains, get in the end zone.
Every week in the Target and Snap Report, we’ll take a look at a few receivers doing a great job of creating separation for themselves, and anxiety in the heads of opposing defensive backs. First up this week is Jarvis Landry. Among receivers with at least 10 targets this season, Landry is first in average separation per target at 4.2 yards. A precise route runner, Landry has always excelled at finding space on short and intermediate routes. It was no different in the Dolphins' season opener last week.
Landry had a typical Landry game in Week 2, catching 13 of 15 targets for 78 yards. Here he is doing his thing on a 3rd-and-3 in the second quarter. Landry is the receiver nearest the line on this trips formation. Watch as he dekes the defensive back into believing he’s heading for the sideline before quickly turning it upfield and finding a soft spot in the coverage for an easy pass for Jay Cutler and a first down.
This next play is the Dolphins' first snap of the second half. Landry is in motion to the bottom of the picture. Cutler takes the snap and the line immediately moves the pocket to the right, a sign that Landry is the first read on this play. He does a great job selling the defensive back on the double move, breaking his route back toward the sideline after getting his man turned around toward the middle of the field. At that point, all Cutler has to do is make a relatively easy throw on time and on target, which he does. Landry did the heavy lifting on this one.
Seattle’s passing game has left a lot to be desired through two weeks, thanks largely to the failings of the offensive line. If you’ve invested in either Russell Wilson or Doug Baldwin, the good news is that the latter is getting open. His 3.5 yards of separation per target ranks third among receivers with at least 10 targets. Here are two great examples of him beating man coverage and creating a ton of separation in the Seahawks' Week 2 win over the 49ers. The first one goes for an 18-yard completion, while the second one results in an uncharacteristic misfire from his quarterback.
Baldwin motions to the top of the picture on the first play, which is a 1st-and-10 for the Seahawks. Baldwin sells the post before breaking his route off into a deep out. Wilson delivers a strike to start the possession on the right foot.
The second play is very similar, though it comes out of a different formation. Again, Baldwin scares the defender into believing he’s going deep before breaking the route to the sideline.
Wilson misses the throw wide to the right, taking what should have been a big play off the board. Still, Baldwin is doing all that he can in Seattle’s sputtering offense to create the separation necessary for big plays down the field.
Finally for this week is Geronimo Allison, who could be an intriguing fantasy player in the short term. With Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb nursing quad and shoulder injuries, respectively, Allison could step into a larger role in the Green Bay offense over the next week or two. He has had limited duty this season, but has created 3.6 yards of separation on average on his five targets. Watch the top of your screen for how he sells the defensive back on a deeper route before breaking it off to the sideline here.
Opportunity knocks, knocks and knocks again
Running backs who stay on the field for the majority of their team’s pass plays can’t help but rack up opportunities for yardage and touchdowns. That’s why knowing how many pass routes a back has run can help you find undervalued backs and determine whether a back who has been prolific in the passing game can keep it going. One back who falls into both of those categories is evident after Week 2.
First is Christian McCaffrey. He’s off to a slow start in his rookie year, but the Panthers are using him exactly as expected. He has run 52 pass routes this season according to Pro Football Focus, good for fifth among running backs. He has turned those 52 routes into nine receptions and 11 targets for 72 yards, all of which are on schedule for a rookie in an offense that hasn’t exactly set the league on fire in its first two games. On top of that, McCaffrey has 21 carries in the Panthers' first two games. If he continues averaging 15 touches per game, the big plays will come. He’s too good and too explosive to be held in check for long with that many opportunities. It has been a frustrating couple of weeks, but 52 snaps in route is a great foundation for a player with his skill set.
The player in the other category is Ty Montgomery. The Packers workhorse pack has already piled up 75 snaps in route this season, second in the league behind Ezekiel Elliott. What’s more, Montgomery has racked up 1.52 receiving yards per route run. For sake of comparison, Le’Veon Bell got 1.57 yards per route run on his way to 616 receiving yards last year. Montgomery is going to be a fantasy star all season.
They haven’t done much yet, but…
Amari Cooper and Eric Decker entered this season at opposite ends of the touchdown-scoring spectrum. As productive as Cooper had been in the first two years of his career, he couldn’t seem to buy a touchdown. Despite 155 receptions, 262 targets and 2,223 yards, Cooper had just 11 scores in his first two seasons. Decker, meanwhile, seemingly found the end zone every time he stepped on the field. Before the 2017 season, his first with the Titans, and not counting his rookie year in which he had a minor role with the Broncos, Decker had 52 touchdowns in 81 career games, a 16-game average of 10.27 scores.
Neither receiver has done much in 2017. Cooper has nine catches for 95 yards and one touchdown, while Decker has just six grabs for 42 yards. Both, however, are getting looks where it counts. Cooper already has four targets inside the 10-yard line, three of which came from inside the 5-yard line. Decker has three red-zone targets from Marcus Mariota, two of which were on plays that started inside the 10. They’re two of only five receivers in the league with multiple targets inside the 10-yard line in the season’s first two weeks. The other three are Dez Bryant, Stefon Diggs and Bennie Fowler. Cue that “one of these things is not like the other” song from Sesame Street.
I understand that it has been a frustrating start, Cooper and Decker owners. This goes doubly for those of you who took Cooper, given that he leads the league with five drops, which is only two more drops than Michael Crabtree had touchdowns in Week 2. Still, so long as Cooper and Decker keep getting those lucrative opportunities near the goal line, the touchdowns will follow.
Betting on a breakout in Miami
DeVante Parker played in 63 out of the Dolphins' 68 snaps last week, according to 4for4’s Snap App tool, good for a snap rate of 92.6%. He played at least 90% of the team’s snaps in just four of his 15 games last season, and reached 92.6% or more only twice. Opportunity is a necessary ingredient for any breakout to happen, and it appears Parker will have plenty of that this season.
It isn’t just raw opportunity that matters, though. The type of opportunities a player gets can significantly impact what type of season he has. The Dolphins selected Parker with the No. 14 overall pick in the 2015 draft thanks in large part to the deep-ball skills he showed during his time at Louisville. Injuries, inconsistency and the lack of a bankable role in the offense all played a part in the Dolphins not deploying him enough on deep passes over the first two years of his career. It doesn’t look like that mistake will drag into his third season.
Parker got nine targets from Jay Cutler last week. Five of them traveled at least 20 yards in the air. Parker caught both of the deep balls that were on target for a total of 62 yards, and finished his day with four receptions for 85 yards. Parker’s draft-day stock shot up when the Dolphins signed Cutler, with fantasy owners theorizing that the quarterback’s big arm would be a perfect match for Parker’s skill set. After one game, that is looking like a good bet.