Each week, NFL fantasy researcher Joel Smyth will identify important stats and trends to inform fantasy decisions ahead of your next matchup. These won't be your basic, elementary stats, but rather deep and unique insights to give you an edge over your friends (and enemies).
Here are nine notable nuggets ahead of Week 3 of the 2023 NFL season.
1) 24 Karat ... or fool's gold?
Spoiler: Kyren Williams is not prime Todd Gurley. But he might not have to be, as he is the clear-cut lead back for the Rams right now. Last week, Williams tied for last in the entire NFL in rushing yards over expected, per Next Gen Stats -- a metric that evaluates how efficient and productive a player is with his rushing opportunities. Moreover, he’s scored 80 percent of the Rams touchdowns so far, a number that is guaranteed to regress moving forward. But there is good news! Williams has received more passing-game volume than any running back in the league this season. He’s drawn 12 targets on 69 routes -- most among RBs by 13 routes -- resulting in the third-most receiving fantasy points at the position. Last season, the average target was worth 2.45 times more fantasy points than the average carry. The receiving volume alone makes Williams a weekly start until further notice.
2) More (injured) calf than bull
One stat clearly highlights the debilitating effect of Burrow’s lingering calf injury. Over the previous two years, the Bengals quarterback led the NFL in fantasy points and touchdowns on throws of 15-plus air yards -- a.k.a., deeper passes. That elite downfield thrower is now missing from Cincy. After having at least one completion of 15-plus air yards in every game last season, Burrow has started the year 0-for-12 in this area, resulting in negative-two fantasy points on those passes. Until Burrow is fully healthy, a necessarily more conservative approach will likely lower the fantasy ceilings for all Bengals players.
3) Puka Troopa
Puka has already joined a group of legends ... and established a class of his own. Not only was his 20-target game last week the NFL's first since teammate Cooper Kupp in 2020, but his 35 targets total are the most ever through two career games, and it’s not close. Anquan Boldin held the record for 15 years at a mere 27 targets. Interestingly, the two receivers are nearly the same size -- checking in at 6-foot-1 and 200-plus pounds -- and both were heavily criticized for slow 40-yard dashes at pre-draft workouts. That didn’t stop Boldin from finishing his rookie season with 17.5 fantasy points per game (good for the WR5 in 2003). And so far, Nacua is ahead there as well (by a lot), averaging 26.0 PPG through two weeks.
4) The QB1 is ... Russell Wilson?
Have an open mind for a minute. Mr. Unlimited averaged fewer than 14 points through most of the 2022 season. I get it. We all watched it. But he was also the overall QB1 for the five-season stretch from 2017 through 2021. A fantasy stud, year after year, swiftly written off. How certain are we that Wilson was to blame for last year? Since former head coach Nathaniel Hackett was fired by Denver after Week 16, Russ has been back to his QB1 ways. In the past four weeks of regular-season football, dating back to last season, Russell Wilson -- that man fantasy managers love to hate -- is the overall QB1. More than 87 fantasy points. Coaching matters in the NFL. And in this case, maybe it matters for fantasy.
5) Sneak peek at the future of Indy
Usually, when a player has two rushing touchdowns in a quarter, I’d be cautious of regression, especially at the quarterback position. But Richardson isn’t just any quarterback -- and Shane Steichen isn’t just any coach. A reminder: Steichen came from Philadelphia, where Jalen Hurts has scored eight “layup” rushing touchdowns from the 1-yard line since 2022, thanks to the now-infamous Philly sneak. Hurts doubled up every other quarterback in 1-yard TD runs last season, but you can expect Richardson to challenge for that throne as opportunities arise. Three rushing touchdowns already for the Colts rookie, but zero from Steichen’s go-to goal-line play … for now.
P.S. Richardson is averaging the most fantasy points per snap by a rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era. Yes, he’s only played in five quarters -- and now he's questionable for this week's game -- but the gimme rushing touchdowns to come will help maintain that pace. A true fantasy cheat code.
6) Pierced through the line
Fantasy managers are upset, to say the least, with the Texans’ 2022 breakout back through two weeks. Rightfully so. Good news: It’s not his fault! Bad news: Nothing is going to change. After ranking fifth in carries per game last season, Pierce has fallen to 25th among running backs. Quarterback C.J. Stroud has been forced to throw 91 passes in his first two career starts, leaving little work for the Texans' rushing attack. And to make matters worse, Pierce has more rushing yards after contact than actual box score rushing yards. Yes, that is possible. With defensive lines living in the Houston backfield, Pierce has managed just 69 total rushing yards despite logging 78 yards after initial contact by a defender. It’s a mess. Try to trade him off a big week soon.
7) Déjà vu in Seattle
Remember when Seattle’s stud running back took a fantasy-value gut shot in the offseason after the team drafted a new stud early in the draft? No, no -- I’m not talking about Kenneth Walker III (yet). I’m talking about Chris Carson back in 2018. The Seahawks scooped up Rashaad Penny in the first round … and Carson went from averaging 14 touches and 10 fantasy points in 2017 to 19 touches and 14 points with Penny in town. Carson’s output was good for RB15, an improvement on the year prior. OK, now fast-forward to 2023. Walker is on the same path. He had 17 touches and 14 fantasy points per game last year, before the ‘Hawks spent the No. 52 overall pick on Zach Charbonnet. Through two games, Walker is averaging 17 touches and 15 points, on pace to be the RB12. Meanwhile, Charbonnet is sitting at RB60, in the same neighborhood as Penny (the RB67 in his rookie year). History repeats itself. And Walker is good.
8) Love springs anew
Love is off and running, giving the Packers' fan base a sequel of new-starter success. Rewind to 2008. Aaron Rodgers begins the year as Green Bay’s new starting QB after waiting behind Brett Favre for multiple years. Two games later, Rodgers was already averaging 23 fantasy points per game and was tied for third in passing touchdowns. The future MVP was the QB20 off the board in drafts that year, a few spots higher than Love’s 2023 ADP of QB26. Different year, same story. Love is currently the QB2 in fantasy and tied for the NFL lead in passing touchdowns. Rodgers finished as the QB2 in 2008. Should we have learned our lesson? Is this Love for real? Only time will tell.
9) Dak's new bestie
If you had to guess who’s leading the NFL in red zone targets, Tyreek Hill or maybe DK Metcalf would be logical answers. Not many would guess Jake Ferguson -- especially considering many might not even know the name yet. The Cowboys tight end has been targeted seven times in the red area this season, two more than the next-closest player. Ferguson could be a potential add or buy-low candidate, as he’s heavily involved in a productive offense and seems to have taken on Dalton Schultz’s old role in Dallas. Last season with Dak Prescott as his quarterback, Schultz was fourth in targets and sixth in fantasy points among tight ends. Ferguson has had a slower start in the fantasy box score, but Prescott and the Cowboys haven’t needed to lean on the pass in a pair of blowouts over the Giants (40-0) and Jets (30-10). Prescott won’t average less than 200 passing yards per game all year (as he is now) -- that number will climb toward the 287 per-game mark from his previous four seasons. And Ferguson could benefit.