I'm a film guy at heart, I'll admit. Watching tape can reveal unique talent and truths about the game before they become apparent in the stat sheet. However, there's a ton to learn from the numbers as well. There's a tremendous amount of resources out there, and spreadsheets to compile. Here are some of my favorite notes from my stats research for Week 4.
Teddy Bridgewater ranks 21st in fantasy points per pass attempt (.405), 32nd in air passing yards (243), and has a 66.0 passer rating when there are 6-10 yards to go
The Vikings second-year quarterback has a cult-like following on Twitter, and earned the affection of many after he was seemingly unfairly maligned during his pre-draft process. I consider myself to be a big fan of his game, as well. However, he's been brutal to start this season. The Vikings passing offense has been one of the worst in the NFL, as the above statistics show. Bridgewater has looked unable to push the ball downfield, or create chunk plays through the air.
Of course, Minnesota's current compilation of weapons has done their quarterback no favors. Mike Wallace is no more nuanced a receiver than he has been in year's prior, and this coaching staff is not using him on the routes he succeeded on back in Pittsburgh either. Charles Johnson has regressed from the player we saw click with Bridgewater late last season. He can't separate from good cornerbacks, and hasn't gone over 30 yards yet this season. Kyle Rudolph is a fine asset, but not one capable of carrying a passing game. Currently, Bridgewater plays behind a bad offensive line for the second consecutive season, as well.
All those excuses aside, the Vikings passing offense and its quarterback, are floundering. Bridgewater was billed as a potentially transcendent and elevating talent coming into the NFL by his biggest supporters. He's been anything but in his second season. Some fantasy analysts were bullish enough to rank Bridgewater as a top 12 quarterback coming into this season, and he was near a universal projected top 15 fantasy passer. The early season returns have been a stark contrast, with him scoring as the QB28.
Again, I believe in this player's talent and gamesmanship to enough of a degree where this boat could get right at any moment. However, we must be realistic about what's taken place on the field, and it's been bad so far. 2015 is looking like a sophomore slump by Bridgewater, at best. Some of his limitations can clearly be seen on the field, and through a deep dive into the analytics. The Vikings offense is rightly out of his hands, and will go as far as Peterson takes them.
For now, you can safely drop Teddy Bridgewater. He's too far behind players nowhere near his preseason hype level in Andy Dalton and Tyrod Taylor. We'll hope things turn around for an easy to root for young quarterback, but this season is shaping up to be a lost one for his fantasy prospects. This Sunday, against the stifling Broncos pass defense, could be a true bloodbath.
Karlos Williams averages 1.46 fantasy points per touch, the most of any running back with at least 20 touches
If you've done any research this week, then you've already heard the name Karlos Williams. After NFL Media's own Rand Getlin reported Monday night that LeSean McCoy would miss Week 4's contest with the Giants, Williams became the hottest name in fantasy football. Not only is Williams a newfound starter on a run-heavy team, he's been the most efficient running back through the first three weeks of the season.
When the Bills called number 29 through the first three weeks, Williams answered with authority. He's averaging more fantasy points per touch than the rest of his running back peers, and more than doubles the rate of McCoy. Williams is the only player to score a rushing touchdown in every game through the first three weeks. Williams was one of the more athletic running backs from this most recent draft, weighing 230 pounds and running a 4.48 40-yard dash. When he gets going in a straight line, his speed mixed with the physical mindset he brings as a former college safety makes him near impossible to bring down.
Joseph Randle's yards gained on each of his 14 carries from last Sunday: 28, 37, 20, 1, -1, 1, 4, 1, 0, 1, -1, -4, 2, -2
A cursory glimpse at the box score would cause some analysts to declare Joseph Randle's 87 yard, three touchdown game his breakout. If you want that sort surface level analysis, it's out there. Good luck in finding actionable information with that, but we'll actually turn over every stone to find the truth here.
After earning 85 yards on his first three carries, Randle's next 11 went for a combined two yards. Of course, two were red zone carries which will naturally go for less yards, and the Falcons defense did stiffen up, but that's just it. Randle has yet to prove that when the space gets tighter, or that he has the type of wiggle or nuance to his game to get more than just what's blocked. He's a competent running back, who can take advantage of favorable looks, but isn't the type to create on his own.
Jonathan Stewart is averaging .35 fantasy points per touch, good for 64th in the NFL among running backs with at least 10 touches
No three-down running back has disappointed fantasy owners quite like Jonathan Stewart. It's been a dismal ride, and there's not many excuses to write this one off with. Now that DeAngelo Williams is gone, Stewart has seen 89 percent of the team's running back carries, and has played 67 percent of the offensive snaps. The volume is there and he's been healthy; formerly the only two impediments to near-elite running back play from Stewart.
Yet, despite all the recipes being on the table, Stewart is turning in one of the NFL's most inefficient seasons through two weeks. Not to mention his three games have been against average to below average defenses, and in positive game scripts for running back success. This Week 4 contest against Tampa Bay qualifies in the same vein, but if you have a better option it's impossible to trust Stewart with a start.
You can view this as Stewart's last stand. If he doesn't at least post a usable fantasy game, we're not sure what you're waiting for. This game will make it clear whether this offense as currently constructed can support a viable running game, or if the lack of passing weapons and top-shelf offensive line are slamming lanes shut.
After Freeman's blowup game against the Cowboys, the Falcons immediately bumped him ahead of Tevin Coleman at the top spot of the depth chart. Now, that could be nothing, or it could be a sign of things to come. Even before Coleman's injury, Freeman was getting high value touches in the red zone and on passing downs.
The Falcons will certainly feed Coleman when he's healthy enough to get back on the field. However, we could quickly see this situation develop into something akin to the San Diego backfield, as currently constructed. The team wants to get the rookie running back with big play ability involved and going early (Gordon/Coleman) but game flow and necessity dictates more use for the more versatile veteran (Woodhead/Freeman) in higher value situations. These are frustrating for owners of the former, and those asset struggle to carry weekly predictable value.
I was wrong about Latavius Murray's fantasy outlook coming into this season. I thought they would dole out passing game work to Roy Helu and fall behind too often for him to be game script proof, but the Raiders are deploying Murray as their featured back. Murray has the fourth most touches among NFL running backs, and plays on 69 percent of the team's snaps. He averages .7 points per touch, and is one of the league's most involved and efficient red zone running backs. On film, he looks just as good as the numbers indicate. He's mixing in noticeable nuance with his obvious physical gifts.
The Bears are bleeding 4.7 yards per carry to a less than murderer's row of running backs that included Thomas Rawls and Chris Johnson the last two weeks. Murray had his first explosive fantasy day last week against Cleveland. However, this game against Chicago could be the first time this season Murray introduces himself as a week winner.
Zach Ertz ranks 42nd among tight ends with at least five targets in fantasy points per target with .53
You couldn't speak an ill-word about Zach Ertz last year, or even just a few short months ago, without heavy pushback. Now, it's pretty clear his situation isn't good enough for him to be fantasy relevant. Snaps were supposed to be the big concern, but Ertz owns a 62 percent share of the team's offensive plays. He's been on the field with more regularity than in season's past. Even with a quarterback unwilling to take shots to open receivers down the field, Ertz still leaves plenty to be desired in the stat sheet.
The Falcons have improved on defense to the point where they're closer to a league average unit, than the bottom dweller they were last season. However, their swarming mentality combined with still inferior talent leaves room for big plays allowed. They are the worst team at allowing yards after the catch, and have been particularly generous to running backs out of the backfield.
This brings us to their Week 4 opponent, Arian Foster. Current speculation has Foster playing on Sunday, but being limited to a "pitch count". That would be out of his usual nature, but even if it comes to pass, Foster is still a must-play in fantasy. He's one of the league's most dynamic running backs, and always plays a big role in the passing game. With the way Atlanta is bleeding yards after the catch to backfield players, it may only take one or two catches for Foster to return value to your lineup.
The 49ers are giving out big plays in bunches on defense, and failing to produce them on offense. Their defense is a unit to attack, as demonstrated by Pittsburgh and Arizona in back-to-back weeks. Facing Green Bay this weekend, San Francisco will have trouble stopping the flood of explosive plays allowed.
We're running out of reasons to be invested in this 49ers offense. Carlos Hyde destroyed Week 1 when the team was on schedule, but was phased out due to game flow far too quickly in the weeks following. His transcending the bad situation is about the only hope fantasy owners have in getting value out of Hyde, or the 49ers in creating explosive plays.
There's been some talk in the DFS community that Colin Kaepernick is a good contrarian play this week after a disaster Week 3. The 49ers should be forced to the air to keep pace with the Packers, and this formula created a successful day for Kaepernick and Torrey Smith against Pittsburgh in Week 2. However, the Packers have a much better secondary than the Steelers; 6.3 YPA and a 57.5 completion percentage allowed by Green Bay compared 7.2 and 72 percent by Pittsburgh. The move could work out in a big way for those contrarians, but the San Francisco offense has been so anemic and non-explosive it's quite a wormhole to chase.
Matt Stafford has thrown four interception on third down and has attempted just 12 passes of 15 yards or more (hat tip to Rotoworld's Rich Hribar)
If you haven't moved on from the stance that Matt Stafford is a good NFL or fantasy quarterback, you're overdue for correction. He's more of a hindrance than a help to Detroit, and it's been that way for multiple years now. Fantasy owners still chasing that 2011 season must feel a twinge of regret almost every week when checking his box score. At this point, he's a replacement level quarterback, and a droppable asset.
While Stafford isn't getting it done, the way the current Lions' coaching staff has him neutered is compounding the issues. Detroit over-corrected by hiring a painfully conservative set of coaches to reel in the wild Stafford cultivated by the Jim Schwartz regime. Fantasy owners are less than thrilled. Stafford's new directives to not push the ball down the field has lowered the ceiling of Calvin Johnson, hamstrung the offense to an unsuccessful power running game, and made production to ancillary players more sporadic an unpredictable than ever. It's also not helping the team win.
We need to readjust any lofty expectations placed on Detroit's passing game players. As long as Stafford is handcuffed in this current manner, he's not going to facilitate a high-level aerial attack. Going to an up-tempo, aggressive approach will cause mistakes by Stafford, but will also allow the team to get more touches for Ameer Abduallah and Theo Riddick, while increasing opportunities for Calvin Johnson to thrive. So far, there's been no inclination to explore that.