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  • The numbers so far this season show that Ryan Fitzpatrick is much better for the Buccaneers' pass-catchers than Jameis Winston. Plus more trends from around the league.
By Michael Beller
October 31, 2018

Typically, when a quarterback change is made in-game and the writing is on the wall as to who will start going forward, the coach in question still goes through the motions of saying he “isn’t ready to name a starter for next week yet,” even though everyone knows that’s nonsense. We’ve seen that charade this year in Cleveland, Arizona and Tampa, where Dirk Koetter at least had the cover of an impending bye to shield him from immediately reinstating the previously suspended Jameis Winston as his starter once the Fitzmagic wore off.

Koetter found himself in this spot again in Week 8, this time with his quarterbacks in opposite roles. Winston piled up four interceptions against the Bengals, each one uglier than the one before it, and then Ryan Fitzpatrick erased an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit before the Bengals’ game-winning field goal drive.

It appeared Koetter would again have to lie his way through a few early-week press conferences about his quarterback situation. Instead, he wasted no time, naming Fitzpatrick the starter on Monday. It should be welcome news for anyone invested in the Buccaneers passing game—outside of Winston, of course. Tampa Bay may be a last-place team heading nowhere, but that aerial attack is truly dangerous. It’s also much better with Fitzpatrick at the helm.

Fitzpatrick started the first four games of the year, getting benched at halftime of the team’s 48-10 loss to the Bears in Week 4. In case you’ve forgotten, Fitzpatrick was keeping pace with Patrick Mahomes through the first three games of the season, throwing for 1,230 yards, 11.08 yards per attempt, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. He racked up 89.2 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues in those three games, scoring no fewer than 25.44 points in any of them. For sake of comparison, Mahomes is averaging 27.86 points per game, while the No. 2 quarterback on per-game basis, Cam Newton, has put up 24.1 points per contest.

Fitzpatrick was a mess in the first half against the Bears, but he’s not the only quarterback to struggle against them this season. Chicago ranks 13th against quarterbacks in 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric (aFPA). He then rushed to the rescue against the Bengals, completing 11 of 15 passes for 194 yards, 12.93 YPA, two scores and zero picks. In other words, Fitzpatrick’s only struggles this year where in first halves against the Bears and Steelers, and in the latter game he made up for it by finishing with 411 yards, 8.22 YPA and three touchdowns. On the season, he has completed 68.1% of his passes for 1,550 yards, 10.76 YPA and 13 scores against five interceptions.

That yawning gap in production between Fitzpatrick and Winston has trickled down to the pass catchers. With Fitzpatrick under center, Mike Evans has caught 27 passes for 483 yards and four touchdowns. DeSean Jackson is at 18-427-3 (receptions, yards, touchdowns), Chris Godwin is at 14-191-3, while O.J. Howard has a 12-240-2 line. Meanwhile, with Winston on the field, their lines are as follows.

Evans: 19-287-0

Jackson: 8-167-1

Godwin: 14-149-1

Howard: 12-179-1

That’s not simply a reflection of Fitzpatrick spending more time running the offense this season, either. Break it down by per-target, per-possession and per-quarter numbers, and all four of the team’s primary pass-catchers have been better with Fitzpatrick.

Evans we know is a WR1, and Howard is locked in as a regular starter at tight end. As for Jackson and Godwin, their status is more dependent on roster composition and matchup than the other two, but both carry WR2 upside for the rest of the season. Considering how well Jackson played with Fitzpatrick to start the season, he gains the most fantasy value with the Buccaneers making another change under center.

As for the guy who makes it all happen, we've already seen how fleeting Fitzpatrick's fantasy value can be. His bottom-line production has been huge, but to pretend there's no risk associated with banking on him as your starter is foolish. And yet, Dirk Koetter is likely coaching for his job, and racking up wins is the only way he can ensure he he's still the coach in Tampa next season. Fitzpatrick gives him the best chance to do that. Assuming he remains the starter, he'll, at the very least, be on the stream radar every week. He has also proved what his ceiling can be in this offense, giving him QB1 upside the rest of the season. If you grabbed him off the waiver wire this week, or held onto him while Winston was starting, you should fire him up with confidence against the Panthers.

With that, let’s get to the rest of the Week 9 Target and Snap Report. As always, we’ll use target, snap, touch and red-zone data from our friends at 4for4 Football, and the publicly accessible Next Gen stats from NFL.com, to try to explain what is going on underneath the surface level of the box score.

EAKINS: Fantasy Football Trade Targets, Candidates in Week 9 Buy, Sell, or Hold

Did Byron Leftwich resuscitate Larry Fitzgerald?

Through seven games, the incompetence of the Cardinals offense was finally forcing Larry Fitzgerald to play down to his age. In those seven games, the 35-year-old receiver had 26 catches for 255 yards and one touchdown, which came in game number seven. After that seventh game, the Cardinals mercifully fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, handing the keys of the offense over to Byron Leftwich. In the first game with Leftwich running the show, Fitzgerald set season-highs across the board, catching eight of 12 targets for 102 yards and a touchdown.

It’s entirely possible this was just a coincidence, that Fitzgerald was bound to have a good game sooner or later, and it just happened to come in Leftwich’s first game as the team’s offensive coordinator. Of course, it’s more than a little interesting that Fitzgerald, who couldn’t get anything going for nearly half a season, instantly looked like his old self after the change in coaching personnel. That warrants a deeper look.

Through seven games, Fitzgerald had an average depth of target of 9.1 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. That ranked 45th of the 59 receivers who had played at least 60% of their team’s snaps. PFF had Fitzgerald at an average depth of target of 12.8 yards last week, which raised his season-long aDOT nearly a full yard. Fitzgerald was kept mostly quiet until the fourth quarter, but, in watching all 12 of his targets, it was clear to see that giving him opportunities to make more plays down the field was an emphasis, not just happenstance.

The following play was Fitzgerald’s second target of the game, and Arizona’s first play from scrimmage on its second possession. Fitzgerald started out wide on the left side of the formation, but motioned into the slot before the snap. He’s the receiver nearest the end of line at the snap.

Sure, it was incomplete, but it was an aggressive shot deep down field, something Fitzgerald saw little of in the first seven games of the season. Keep that play in mind. It’s not the last time we’ll see something like it.

Fitzgerald did a ton of his damage in the fourth quarter, playing a big role on both of the Cardinals’ touchdown drives in the final period. The following two plays came within three snaps of one another. The first set up the Cardinals in scoring range, and the second gave them their first touchdown of the game. There’s nothing special schematically about the first play. It’s simply Fitzgerald winning in man coverage. What is special about it, though, is that Leftwich and Josh Rosen gave him a chance to win. That wasn’t happening much in Weeks 1 through 7. He starts this play as the outside receiver to the right of the formation.

Two plays later, Fitzgerald was in the end zone for the second time this season. Watch the GIF below and consider if the play looks familiar. Fitzgerald is the middle receiver to the left of the formation.

Looks pretty familiar right? Well, guess what? When the Cardinals needed another big play after giving up the lead later in the fourth quarter, they went right back to it.

This was just one game against a bad 49ers team, but the opportunities Fitzgerald got in the game were just as important as the results. If this is how he’s going to be used the rest of the season, there’s still hope for him to put up WR3 or better numbers.

BELLER: 2018 NFL Trade Deadline: Fantasy Football Impact

Kenny Golladay is back

The Lions traded Golden Tate to the Eagles on Tuesday, making both Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones likely WR2s in fantasy leagues. Golladay, however, slowed down considerably in October. In his last four games, he has 11 receptions for 221 yards and one score, and just three targets total in the last two weeks. Still, there was good reason to believe in a Golladay resurgence even before the Tate trade.

Over the first three games of the season, Golladay caught 19 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns. That was bound to garner him more attention from defenses, even with Tate and Jones on the field. During his lull, the two factors underpinning targets—snap rate and routes run—were in line with season norms. He remained second among receivers in snap rate, behind Jones but ahead of Tate, playing more than three-quarters of the team’s snaps every game. In Weeks 1 through 4, Golladay ran 174 routes on 254 snaps, and Stafford attempted 165 passes in those games. In Detroit’s last three games, Golladay ran 90 routes on 152 snaps, and Stafford attempted 88 passes. In other words, if Stafford is dropping back to pass, Golladay is on the field.

Let’s take a look at a couple of plays on which Golladay did his job, but didn’t get rewarded in the end. On the first one, he’s the outside receiver to the left of the formation. He beats his man on a comeback route that would have netted the Lions as least 10 yards had Stafford looked in his direction. The quarterback went another way with the pass, but Golladay was wide open on this one.

On the second play, Golladay had a touchdown wiped off the board after a dubious illegal hands to face call on Frank Ragnow. This is an excellent route, Stafford puts it where only Gollday and catch it, and the receiver shows off his ability to go up and get it.

Golladay’s fantasy stock is headed in the right direction of Tuesday’s trade, but the even better news is that it wasn’t trending in the wrong way to begin with, despite what his recent numbers might suggest. Every player this side of Adam Thielen is going to have a couple slow games this season, and that’s the spell Golladay was in. With the down times behind him and Tate gone, Golladay has top-15 upside the rest of the year.

What we know about the Browns’ new OC

The Browns cleaned house on Monday, firing head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams takes over as the interim head coach, but in the fantasy world we’re more concerned with the offensive side of the ball. Freddie Kitchens, who had been the team’s running back coach, takes over for Haley on an interim basis. The long-time coach but first-time coordinator will get to run an offense with no shortage of weapons.

Kitchens spent 2007 through last year, 11 of his 13 seasons in the NFL, on the Cardinals staff, first under Ken Whisenhunt and then Bruce Arians. Kitchens was the tight ends coach while Whisenhunt was at the helm, but Arians moved him to quarterbacks coach when he took over in 2013, which also happened to be Carson Palmer’s debut season with the Cardinals. After two dreadful years in Oakland, Palmer bounced back in his first year in the desert, throwing for 4,274 yards, 7.47 yards per attempt and 24 touchdowns. A torn ACL ended his 2014 season after six games, but he came back the next year and put together an MVP-quality season. Under the tutelage of Arians and Kitchens, Palmer threw for 4,671 yards, 8.7 YPA and 35 touchdowns against 11 picks in 2015, leading the Cardinals to a 13-3 record and the NFC Championship Game.

In 2017, Arians moved Kitchens to running backs coach, promoting Byron Leftwich to quarterbacks coach, a position he held until last week. That could be seen as a demotion for Kitchens, but, according to Arians, that was not the case. At the time, Arians said that he wanted Kitchens to coach another position because he was a “coordinator-in-waiting.” He is not waiting any longer.

The fact that Kitchens spent five years on Arians’s staff should have fantasy owners excited. The Cardinals had one of the most dynamic, innovative offenses while Arians was there, reviving the careers of Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald, while turning David Johnson into a legitimate star. John Brown also had one big year under Arians before injuries robbed him of a chance of developing any consistency, catching 65 passes for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015. Kitchens has plenty to work with in Cleveland, with Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, Antonio Callaway and Duke Johnson. If he can bring an Arians-style attack to the Browns’ offense for the second half of the season, every fantasy-relevant player on the team will benefit.

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