5 Things I care about
Worrying about "what if" for the Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers are a good football team. They have fantasy assets. However, the last few weeks have been an exercise in slowly letting go of exactly the team I thought the Chargers were going to be this year.
This version of the Chargers is just too banged up to be what we hoped.
The cluster injuries are such a weight on the team. We know the issues at wide receiver. Not having one of Keenan Allen or Mike Williams is an issue. Playing without both ... forget about it. The Chargers offense already has issues when their top receivers are on the field, given their lack of speed and Joe Lombardi's over-reliance on short hitch and quick-out routes. Playing with wide receivers who shouldn't be starters leaves Justin Herbert operating on hard-mode every snap. The Chargers even lost Gerald Everett for a stretch on Sunday.
In that scenario, it is quite literally just Austin Ekeler and no other needle-movers.
We obviously focus on the offensive side but cluster injuries exist on their defense too, especially up front. A stop unit that was already operating without Joey Bosa continued to take hits. Multiple interior defensive linemen went down against San Francisco.
At some points in this Week 10 contest, it looked like Los Angeles might keep Christian McCaffrey and the 49ers run game at bay. As injuries mounted, the dam broke. Elijah Mitchell and CMC maintained 77 percent and 67 percent rushing success rates, respectively.
The Chargers will still be a factor in the AFC. They very well might make the playoffs. Nevertheless, I can't shake the feeling we'll always wonder "What could have been" with the 2022 Chargers.
The Packers have been starving for juice in their passing game. Aaron Rodgers must wear some of the blame for the state of this offense but we know the receiver room has been a huge question mark.
Did they finally find something in rookie Christian Watson? There’s a chance they did.
Watson had his breakout game against Dallas, scoring three touchdowns and clearing 100 yards. It came out of nowhere. Watson is a guy who has struggled with injuries that have kept him from building any momentum to climb the depth chart.
With fellow rookie Romeo Doubs out of the lineup, the Packers didn’t have any choice. It was sink-or-swim time for Watson — and he paddled the distance.
Aaron Rodgers finds Christian Watson for a 39-yard TD (against Cover 1), the duo's 2nd deep TD of the game.
The Cowboys have played Cover 1 on 14 of 16 pass plays today (88%), the highest rate in a game since 2018.#DALvsGB | #GoPackGo pic.twitter.com/RXhnm7PdM0
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 14, 2022
The Cowboys went man-coverage-heavy against the Packers, and with this receiver corps, we can understand why that was the choice. Watson made them pay. He hit on crossing, go and deep over routes. Watson still has a way to go as a technician but if he can beat man coverage on that small handful of patterns, he’ll be a difference-maker for the Packers with his athleticism.
My pre-draft comparison for Watson was Martavis Bryant. The old Steelers wideout was a highly gifted yet raw receiver who could be a bit streaky but could break a game wide open. Watson was that guy on Sunday. If he can keep that up, the whole malaise around the Packers offense could wash away.
Rachaad White, and stashing
Andy Behrens and I have brought up Rachaad White on the waiver wire podcast just about every episode as a “getting in early” recommendation. It gets old but high-upside backup running backs can be season-changers.
It bears repeating now.
White started carving out a significant role in the Tampa backfield in the last two weeks. He drew the start Sunday morning and replaced Leonard Fournette late in the Thursday night win in Week 9. He was earning more work on a veteran-laden team.
The rookie brings juice to the table. He’s collected 132 yards on the ground over the last two weeks. White gained 10-plus yards on 13.3% of his carries in Weeks 9-10. Fournette checks in at 4.3% in that same span and just 8.1% on the year.
With Fournette now nursing a hip injury, White has a chance to really make a splash in the lead role. Fournette has been a top-12 fantasy back on the season even though he hasn’t been terribly efficient as a runner. As long as Tom Brady is the quarterback, the running back position will always be crucial in the passing game. If White brings an explosive element to the ground game then we’re talking about an offense ready to push toward new heights.
White’s one of the first examples of why it’s important for fantasy managers to stash high-upside backs in the second half of the season. Unfortunately, because of the nature of that position, he won’t be the last to get a chance to show out.
Josh Allen’s turnovers
It’s time to have this conversation: Josh Allen has made too many mistakes over the last few weeks.
The second-half picks against the Packers a few weeks back were where the conversation started. The Bills had that game under control in the first half. It looked like they’d cruise to an easy win. The Packers were just simply running the ball in the third quarter, looking woefully unprepared to push the ball down the field. Then Allen threw two interceptions and Green Bay got within 10 points.
That moment felt like a white-hot Bills offense was simply “testing the fences,” seeing what they could get away with. It hasn’t felt like that in the last two losses. Allen has one touchdown to four interceptions and has taken seven sacks in the last two weeks. He ranks outside the top-12 quarterbacks in EPA per dropback. His mistakes against the Vikings came at untimely moments.
Sometimes, things just happen. Great players have small little funks. There’s an injury question hanging over Allen right now but to me, his turnovers of late have mostly just been mistakes. And they started before the elbow was a known issue.
Allen is a superstar. One of the best players in the league. He can get right back on track at any moment. But we just can’t hide from the truth; these mistakes have been one of the biggest issues for the Super Bowl-hopeful Bills in their last two losses.
Kadarius Toney jumps into the mix
Injuries have run through the Chiefs' wide receiver room. Mecole Hardman missed Week 10 with an abdomen injury. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling both left the game against Jacksonville after getting banged up.
With the main guys down, new acquisition Kadarius Toney stepped up. Toney ran a route on 42.5% of the dropbacks and handled 14% of the team targets. He averaged just 7.0 air yards per target but averaged 7.8 yards after the catch per reception. His open-field skills were on display.
Toney took 71% of his snaps outside. The slot was mostly a rotational spot with Hardman out of the mix. Only MVS took more than 36% of his snaps inside. That gives us a bit more clarity on the roles for this receiver room. It’s worth noting that Justin Watson ran the second-most routes among the receiver group beyond MVS. He caught just one pass but Andy Reid and co. have paved the way to get him on the field all year.
Toney might not be ready to be a high-volume receiver just yet but his playmaking skills are going to be a nice bump for what’s already the best offense in the NFL.
5 Things I don’t care about
Brandon Aiyuk’s mistakes
If I was making an All-Star team of “better than the box score” wide receivers, Brandon Aiyuk would get a few first-team votes.
Aiyuk missed a touchdown grab and lost a fumble in the first half but left those negative moments in the dust. He ripped off a 24-yarder to bring the team inside the five-yard line before the go-ahead touchdown and snagged a tough catch on a comeback route as the 49ers looked to ice the game.
Aiyuk was the team’s leading receiver on Sunday and he’s not so quietly been the top pass catcher for quite some time. He’s cleared 80 yards in four-straight games. Of course, he’s been the healthiest pass-catcher on the team this year but he still has 150 more yards than anyone else on the team with a team-high four scores through the air.
People always seem to put Aiyuk fourth when listing the 49ers' playmakers. Some “big media” outlets don’t even mention him at all. They’re simply not paying attention if that’s the case. Aiyuk is just as good, if not straight-up better, than some of his big-name teammates.
Doubting the Vikings
The smartest guy in the room was dying to tell you that the Vikings’ record was fraudulent. Despite the wins, they weren’t actually that good. Well, that’s enough of that.
The Vikings just upset one of the three best teams in the NFL in their home stadium. How much longer can we question the results? I’d argue it's past time we accept this is just a good football team.
Minnesota’s defense was opportunistic and got a vintage performance from Patrick Peterson. The veteran corner snagged two picks off Josh Allen and a pair of pass defenses. Peterson is certainly not the all-star he once was but he’s had some highlight-reel moments for this defense.
On the offense, the stars shined bright. Dalvin Cook ripped off an 81-yard run. We haven’t seen him pop a big run in this year’s offense. We got it on Sunday.
But Justin Jefferson truly stole the show. He handled 16 targets and came away with 193 yards and a touchdown. The box score is awesome but still doesn’t do it justice. He had a catch in this game that might go down as one of the best in NFL history. That is not hyperbole. Given the time of the game, the degree of difficulty in a contested situation and the way it launched the team to a huge win, it’s tough to imagine a better grab.
Jefferson’s performance in Week 10 was an “I’m the best receiver in the league” type of statement game.
Honestly, the one big question about the Vikings was the play of their quarterback. Coming into Week 10 Kirk Cousins had the lowest touchdown rate and adjusted yards per attempt mark of his Vikings career. He didn’t exactly enjoy his best game against Buffalo, even as his team won and top receiver shined. At some point, Cousins can stabilize in this offense the longer he plays. When he does, this team is going to be a real problem in the NFC.
CeeDee Lamb’s perceived lack of ceiling
I’ve been saying all year that I think CeeDee Lamb is a legitimate alpha receiver; open and shut case. I don’t need to see one more snap to know it is true.
However, his own individual ceiling as a receiver hasn’t been apparent in the box score this year.
CeeDee Lamb hasn't posted a 25-point DraftKings game (full-PPR with 100-yard bonus) since Week 10 of the 2021 season.
A span of 17 games, including playoffs.
— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) October 31, 2022
Well, it’s almost as if traditional stats don’t even come close to telling the story about how a wide receiver is playing on an individual basis. That’s a refrain you’ve certainly heard from me many times over the years.
Lamb finally had one of those eruption games where the stats caught up with what he’s been putting on film.
He handled 48.1% of the team’s air yards and caught 11 balls for 150 yards and a pair of scores. Lamb was a first-down machine, moving the chains on 73% of his receptions. He won as a route runner, in tight coverage and in the open field.
It was a day to remember for Lamb, even if his team’s defense let it slip away. But this game isn’t an outlier based on how he’s looked on film for the better part of the last year and a half. This is the player he’s always been. The environment — both the health of his starting quarterback and the increase of talent around him — is just finally catching up.
Picking one Dolphins running back
I’ll mention the caveat that this came against the Cleveland rush defense. Few units have been as problematic. However, in a season where the Dolphins passing game has dominated the headlines and their run game has lagged behind, Miami flipped the switch in Week 10.
Jeff Wilson remains a huge winner in the wake of his move at the trade deadline. He jumped right into the pool and swam in Week 9. Against Cleveland, he gained more distance, handling 56.7% of the team rush attempts and running a route on 50% of the dropbacks. Wilson has given the Dolphins a tough dimension to their ground game that Chase Edmonds absolutely was not this season.
Despite the Wilson trade, Raheem Mostert has remained a big factor. He handled 12 touches to 19 for Wilson but was extremely efficient. He had a slightly higher success rate, EPA per rush and rate of five-plus yards runs.
These two backs combined averaged 7.6 yards per carry. They are both playable in fantasy with Wilson checking in as a solid RB2 and Mostert an upside dart throw flex. And in real life, if Miami suddenly fields an excellent run game in addition to the NFL’s most dangerous vertical pass offense … look out, AFC.
The Rams without Cooper Kupp
I can’t think of another team better fit for the “no-fly zone” than the Rams without Cooper Kupp. That is a reality we’re all facing now after Kupp suffered a serious ankle injury against Arizona.
If we are being honest with ourselves, 2022 has felt like a lost season for the Rams since the very beginning. The moment you saw that offensive line in the season opener against Buffalo, your stomach had to drop. No team could survive and function with a front line like that and it only got worse as the season has gone on.
Even if Kupp avoided the worst-case scenario with his ankle injury, do the Rams have any incentive to rush him back? The team is going nowhere fast.
They’re going to reach a point where they need to think about 2023. It’s weird to say that for a team that’s so often existed in the moment to start living for the future, but here we are.