- Changing snap rates, specifically in Washington and Green Bay, are chaning the fantasy football landscape.
The SI.com Target and Snap Report began a few seasons ago, aiming to bring readers and fantasy football owners alike exactly what it said in the title. It was initially designed to strip out conventional stats and be a report on target and snap data, highlighting players that were getting a ton of opportunity, and those that weren’t, regardless of the numbers they posted. The column has strayed a bit from that over the last year or so, bringing in more and more advanced stats. We’ve always gone beyond the box score, but targets and snaps haven’t always been at the heart of this column, especially this season.
This week, we’re going back to our roots. Get ready for a Target and Snap Report that is heavy on both targets and snaps. To get things started, we’ll focus on a surprising development with the latter in D.C.
When the Redskins offense took the field for its first play in the team’s Week 7 game against the Eagles it was in 12 personnel, which includes a single back, two receivers and two tight ends. Those receivers were Jamison Crowder—no surprise—and Josh Doctson—big surprise. The personnel didn’t change on the next play, though this time Jordan Reed lined up in the slot, with Vernon Davis in a traditional three-point stance on one side of the line. The team’s third play from scrimmage featured three receivers for the first time on the night. The receiver who joined the fray? Ryan Grant.
One player should be conspicuous by his absence. Terrelle Pryor was on the sidelines for Washington’s first play from scrimmage for the first time this season. He was on the sidelines for the team’s entire first possession. Pryor, the splashy offseason acquisition who was supposed to be Kirk Cousins’s top receiver, played exactly one snap in the first half. He played about half of the team’s snaps in the second half, though many of those came with the Redskins chasing a two-score deficit.
Meanwhile, Doctson played 54 of Washington’s 64 snaps on the night, good for a season-high 84.4%. Doctson played 24 more snaps than Pryor, and was on the field more than every other skill player on the team, except for Crowder. If that’s not a strong enough message, the two most important decision-makers for Washington’s offense drove home the point after the game.
First, it was the quarterback. Cousins mentioned six skill players by name in response to a question about “outside receivers” in his post-game press conference. Two of those players were Reed and Davis. One was Chris Thompson. None were Pryor, who, unlike those other three, actually is an outside receiver.
Then, it was the head coach. Jay Gruden reminded everyone in his presser after the game that the Redskins drafted Doctson “to be the No. 1 guy.” That’s typically true of any receiver taken with the 22nd overall pick, which is where the Redskins snagged the TCU product in the 2016 draft. Doctson, finally with a clean bill of health for weeks in a row, is getting his chance.
Whether this is a motivational tactic for Pryor remains to be seen, but anyone who used a premium pick on him, which is to say anyone who drafted him back in the summer, has to be concerned that he won’t even get a chance to turn his season around.
With that, let’s get to the rest of the Week 7 Target and Snap Report. Remember, you can get all the target, snap, touches and red-zone data you need to get an edge on your league from our partners at 4for4.
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Green Bay’s backfield is changing hands
Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery have split the backfield duties in Green Bay for two weeks now, at least insofar as you could call their Week 7 breakdown a split. Two weeks ago, which was one week after Jones broke out while Montgomery nursed his broken ribs, the former played 65% of the snaps, while the latter was on the field for 30% of them. That followed a mostly predictable script, with Jones getting more carries and Montgomery handling the passing-down work. Jones, the thinking went, also played more snaps since Montgomery was still recovering from broken ribs, evidenced most notably by his flak jacket.
Last week was an entirely different story. Jones played 44 of the team’s 55 snaps in its 26-17 loss to the Saints. Montgomery played just seven snaps. Jones got 17 carries and five targets, turning all that opportunity into 138 total yards and a touchdown. Montgomery, meanwhile, got four carries and two targets. His touch-per-snap rate was nice and high, but that doesn’t much matter when you only play seven snaps. It matters even less when the guy who plays 44 snaps does so in particularly effective fashion. It’s safe to say that Jones has moved ahead of Montgomery on the Green Bay depth chart.
Remember, too, that last week was the Packers first game in their new reality. Aaron Rodgers will miss at least seven more games, if not the rest of the season. If Jones is the more effective runner, and Montgomery the more dangerous receiver, it would make sense that Jones would move into a leading role with Brett Hundley under center. The Packers must tailor their offense to their new quarterback, and a large part of that effort will be taking the ball out of his hands. That was never the case with Rodgers, and that always played to the favor of a running back who spent his entire college career, and began his NFL career, as a wide receiver. The Hundley-led offense is better served by Jones, who is the No. 21 running back in standard-scoring leagues, despite not playing at all the first three weeks.
That's not the only change in Green Bay
The Packers are always going to be a pass-happy and pass-friendly offense with Rodgers under center. That obviously wasn’t going to be the case with Hundley at the helm. We got our first look into what that means from a practical standpoint last week, and it’s bad news for Randall Cobb.
Over the first three weeks of the season, the top-three receivers by snap rate in the Packers offense all played at least two-thirds of the team’s snaps. Cobb’s snap rate dipped to 60% in Week 4, but that was largely driven by circumstance. He had just returned after missing the Week 3 game with a chest injury, and the Packers cruised to a 35–14 win over the Bears. Week 5 was more of the same, with Cobb the low man at a 78% snap rate. In Week 6, the game during which Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone, Cobb played 80% of the snaps.
Week 7 was the first game of the season in which Cobb was fully healthy, and the Packers had a full week of practice to gameplan without Rodgers. The week culminated in the team’s loss to the Saints, a game in which Cobb played 67% of the snaps, a low mark for him in a game where he wasn’t on the injury report during the week. This section isn’t ending yet, Cobb owners. Things are about to go from bad to worse.
Remember those 17 carries Jones got that we just talked about? Those were tied for the 11th most by a Packers running back in a loss during the Rodgers era. Of the 10 in front of it, only three were two-score games, as was last week’s 26-17 loss to the Saints. In other words, the Packers played things awfully conservatively, despite the fact that they were chasing for most of the fourth quarter. If that’s an indication of how they’ll play with Rodgers on the shelf, Cobb is going to have a hard time maintaining fantasy relevance.
A surprise name among the red-zone target leaders
Follow the 4for4 red-zone statistics link below the introductory story to the column, and the first thing you’ll see is red-zone receiving numbers. Click the third column in that table, and it will sort by targets inside the 20-yard line. Without doing it, you can probably guess some of the players at the top of the leaderboard. Davante Adams, Dez Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald lead the way with 20. Chris Hogan checks in with 10. Mike Evans and Keenan Allen sit at nine, as do red-zone monsters Rob Gronkowski, Zach Ertz and Cameron Brate. There aren’t any surprises in that group.
Sandwiched between the trio of receivers with 12 red-zone targets, and Hogan of the high-scoring, Tom Brady-driven Patriots at 10, is one receiver with 11 red-zone targets: Rookie Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles Rams.
Kupp has caught six of those 11 targets, turning three of his receptions into touchdowns. He has been on the opposite end of one-third of Jared Goff’s pass attempts inside the red zone, and four of his nine attempts inside the 10-yard line. Given the data, we have no choice but to call Kupp Jared Goff’s favorite receiver in scoring range. Not only is he reliable, but the Rams are scheming different ways to get him open. In fact, his three red-zone touchdowns have come on totally different formations and routes.
Here’s the first one, from the Rams Week 1 shellacking of the Colts.
Three weeks later, he used the help of a deftly run screen to burn an overmatched defensive back on an out route in the Rams surprise win in Dallas.
Last week, Sean McVay called Kupp’s number on a screen, and the rookie out of Eastern Washington did a lot of the rest, with the help of some great downfield blocking.
That last one should really jump out at you. The fact that the team went to Kupp on the wide receiver screen, and not someone like Tavon Austin, who was seemingly built for screens, or Sammy Watkins, should tell you want McVay thinks of his versatility. Kupp can do a lot for this Rams offense, and he’s showing that off when the team gets into the money-making territory of the field.
Oh, look, something else Deshaun Watson is good at
Being a rookie quarterback is hard. You’re young and working a new job in a new city, and often, the people of that city are expecting you to save their team. The only way you can live up to that pressure is by learning a playbook that’s probably a little too complex for its own good, and then turning that knowledge into actual, honest-to-goodness, on-field production. What’s more, that production needs to translate into wins, and much of what goes into winning and losing football games is out of your control. And if you don’t get the wins then you don’t save the team, and you’re a bum, and people on the radio treat you very poorly, and all this ignores the fact that you’re just a 22- or 23-year-old kid trying to make it in the world.
Luckily for Watson, it doesn’t seem he’ll have to worry about any of that. By now, you know his gaudy numbers: 1,297 yards, 15 touchdowns, 202 rushing yards, two scores on the ground and a 101.1 quarterback rating. What you might not know is that there’s something else Watson at which Watson is already excelling. Unsurprisingly, it’s something the typical rookie quarterback doesn’t count as a strength. We know, however, that Watson is anything but typical.
One of the surest ways to be a losing team is to regularly turn the ball over in the red zone. That much is obvious. Another way teams come up short in the red zone by leaving too many points on the field when they’re forced to settle for field goals. Once a team gets inside the 10-yard line, anything other than a trip to the end zone feels like a letdown. Watson has helped keep those shoulder-slumping possessions to a minimum for the Texans.
Watson has attempted 10 passes inside the 10-yard line this season. Despite ranking just 16th I that stat, he’s second in completions inside the 10 with eight. All eight of Watson’s completions inside the 10-yard line have resulted in touchdowns. Push it back to the 20-yard line, and Watson adds three more touchdowns, though one of his five interceptions has come in the red zone. Still, we can safely call the Watson red-zone experience this year a net positive.
Committee of the whole
Mining the 4for4 Running Back by Committee Report for interesting backfield data.
Baltimore: I can’t do the details this week. It’s too boring. You know what the deal is with Javorius Allen and Alex Collins.
Chicago: Jordan Howard got all 21 of the team’s rushing attempts in its 17-3 win over the Panthers last week. Tarik Cohen is too much of a playmaker to not be involved in the offense, but it will be largely as a receiver.
Cincinnati: The song remains the same for the Bengals. Joe Mixon led the team in carries, targets and touches. He posted solid per-touch numbers this week, totaling 68 yards on 10 touches. Of course, now that the efficiency was finally good, the volume left something to be desired.
Indianapolis: Marlon Mack led the Colts in snaps last week, largely because of the game script created by a 27-0 loss to the Jaguars. He got all six of the backfield targets, too. In games that go this way, Mack will dominate the workload.
Minnesota: As we discussed in this week’s waiver wire column, Latavius Murray led the Vikings in carries, running 18 times to Jerick McKinnon’s 14. Even more importantly, he looked great on those 18 carries, totaling 113 yards and a touchdown. McKinnon isn’t going anywhere, nor should he be, but when the game script unfolds as it did in the team’s win over the Ravens, Murray is going to get plenty of work.
New England: Dion Lewis was at it again last week, running for 76 yards on 13 carries. He led the team in both of those categories, as well as snaps. He’ll be in the RB2 mix for the rest of the season.
New Orleans: Mark Ingram last week: 22 carries, five targets, four receptions, 110 total yards, one touchdown. Alvin Kamara last week: nine carries, seven targets, five receptions, 107 total yards. It’s a thing of beauty.
New York Giants: Orleans Darkwa led the team with nine carries, but Wayne Gallman played one more snap. With the offense looking like a mess, though, you’ll have to pick your spots with either of these backs.
New York Jets: Matt Forte led the way with 12 touches and 28 snaps played. Bilal Powell got one fewer touch on 21 snaps. Both were effective, with Forte racking up 82 total yards, and Powell 83. Expect a relatively even timeshare going forward.
Oakland: Looking for a window into Jack Del Rio’s and Bill Musgrave’s thinking with Marshawn Lynch suspended this week? Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington split the duties right down the middle in Week 7. I literally mean right down the middle. Both got nine carries. Both got four targets. Richard played 26 snaps, and Washington played 25. The equality ended in production, where Richard racked up 76 total yards, thanks in large part of his efforts as a receiver (45 yards on four catches). Washington, meanwhile, totaled 40 yards.
Philadelphia: Wendell Smallwood got the start, but it was LeGarrette Blount leading the team in carries. That shouldn’t be a surprise, especially with the Eagles nursing a lead for most of the second half.
Seattle: Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls tied for the team lead in carries, but neither did much with the opportunity. If you aren’t invested in Seattle’s passing game, then there’s no reason to invest in Seattle at all.
Tennessee: Once again, it was DeMarco Murray leading the Titans in everything, from carries and snaps, to rushing yards and yards per carry. Stop believing that Derrick Henry is going to wrest this job from Murray. It will not happen.
Washington: Chris Thompson got the same number of carries as did Rob Kelley in the latter’s return, seven, and outrushed him 38 yards to 16. Thompson also caught five passes for 26 yards and a touchdown. If the Redskins are over their fears of using Thompson for seven or so carries per game, he could be an easy starter in all formats.