Rookie running backs typically start putting some gaps between themselves and their teammates in the middle to back half of their first seasons. Breece Hall is a good candidate to do that. There is some concern in the fantasy space about Zach Wilson’s return to the lineup removing check-downs from the Jets passing tree.
That might be true. Wilson didn’t dump the ball off to backs much as a rookie. However, Hall’s receiving usage isn’t like that of a typical running back.
Hall leads all players — not just running backs — in targets per route run (35 percent) and averages 4.24 air yards per target.
I know that 4.2 number might not jump off the page but it’s crazy impressive for a running back. For context, only one other rusher is north of 2.0 among backs with 13-plus targets so far this year. Those 14 running backs average a collective 0.53 air yards per target.
Remove Hall from the mix and the average drops to 0.22.
What that shows is that Hall isn’t getting traditional little check-down RB targets. He’s actually being asked to work and winning downfield. This isn’t boosted by one big play considering he’s handled such a high target rate.
Hall’s 4.24 air yards per target is the highest for any running back since 2015. The only player who is even close is David Johnson at 3.35. That’s actually a decent player comparison for Hall — and a possible rookie season arc.
The 2015 Cardinals were insistent on playing a rapidly declining Chris Johnson early in DJ’s rookie season because he was a better fit for reading out the blocking scheme. Johnson was a rookie; that’s to be expected.
Hall has ceded a good bit of work to Michael Carter early in his career. Carter is good; that’s not a big negative for Hall.
However, Johnson’s explosiveness, especially as a receiver, eventually won out and added a whole new dimension to a fun Cardinals offense. Hall could potentially go down the same path in his rookie season.
That 4.2 air yards per target result shows that Hall has some “real receiver” traits for a player at his position. He’s not a dumpoff guy. Carter is a good asset in the passing game but is a true outlet option and is averaging -0.69 air yards per target.
If any back is going to suffer in the receiving game with Wilson under center, it’ll be Carter, not Hall, given their current usage profiles.
The Jets offense has many questions to answer with their young quarterback back under center. Hall’s explosiveness and ability to win out routes further down the field can be a big part of finding solutions. I’d want him on my fantasy teams before any big receiving eruption games occur.
Pace of play notes
The Panthers rank first in neutral situation pace and 31st in plays run
It doesn’t end here but this is where we have to start when discussing what’s wrong with fantasy players in the Panthers offense. This team is running fast — but in a race to get off the field.
A guy like DJ Moore might have a fine target share within this offense (23.4%) but the context of the unit is the problem. This team isn’t mounting drives. Even in a good spot against a suffering Cardinals pass defense it’s tough to be optimistic about this aerial attack until we see some even passable play under center.
The Chiefs rank 16th in neutral situation pace and 24th in plays run
That is a far cry from the fast-break Kansas City offenses we typically see under Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid. We knew this attack would look different without Tyreek Hill but the pace being brought down wasn’t expected.
I’m willing to write this up to a three-game blip but it’s worth wondering if this is a slightly “zig while others zag” philosophical switch. I’m not sure the Chiefs have the type of imposing running game to make that type of identity shift.
The receivers have been a problem, too. They're playing Marquez Valdes-Scantling way too much and they probably need to flip the slot rates for JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman. Either way, while Mahomes is one of the best quarterbacks on the planet we might need to adjust expectations for this ecosystem overall.
Raiders are 17th in neutral situation pace, 22nd in plays run
If Derek Carr was going to hit the top end of his range of outcomes and drag Davante Adams, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow to beating their respective ADPs we needed to see Josh McDaniels running the type of fast-paced offenses we saw early in his New England tenure. We couldn’t have much of what we got with Cam Newton and Mac Jones under center.
The early returns are not promising. The Raiders are the only 0-3 team in the NFL right now and are in the back half of the NFL in pace stats.
Jags are seventh in neutral situation pace, ninth in plays run
On the other end, Doug Pederson’s offenses in Philadelphia were always pass-heavy and ran fast. He’s brought that to Jacksonville. Trevor Lawrence looks better every week and he’s starting to elevate middling-career players like Zay Jones and Evan Engram along with talented young front liners like Christian Kirk and James Robinson. This coaching hire looks like a home run and it’s created an extremely viable offense.
Three RBs have played at least 80% of their team snaps
1 - Saquon Barkley 86.7%
2 - Leonard Fournette 84.4%
3 - Christian McCaffrey 84%
We’re getting to a point where Barkley might be the best running back in fantasy football. The Giants' offense remains a concern as injuries mount at the receiver position but he’s run so well this year.
Fournette’s role is about as good as you could ask for in fantasy football. He’s played well this year, too. Much like his quarterback, Fournette will become more statistically efficient when he’s not playing alongside the JV wide receiver unit. He’s a buy.
Dameon Pierce has four goal-line rushes
The rookie has played 49% of snaps and has run 29 routes (60 for Rex Burkhead). Pierce looks good too, averaging 3.5 yards after contact per rush.
There are some concerns about ball security, which is always troubling with rookie backs, but Pierce is passing most of the tests so far. I’ve seen him suggested as a sell-high but I think, if you have Pierce on your team, you should be pretty happy about it.
The Texans schedule the next six games includes games against the Chargers, Jags, Raiders, Titans, Eagles and Giants. Oddly enough the Jaguars and perhaps the Titans are the only intimidating run defenses in that mix. Pierce should have a strong run here over the next month-plus.
Khalil Herbert leads all RBs in yards after contact per rush (4.8)
Herbert certainly has a chance to earn more work through the duration of the season if he’s productive as the fill-in starter. It’s unlikely he ever totally displaces Montgomery because the elder back is superior in the passing game. However, even if Herbert gets a 45-55% share of the rushing work, that’s acceptable in an offense that’s dropped back to pass just 66 times through three weeks (that is wild).
Mark Andrews is second in the NFL in air yards (376)
Tight end Mark Andrews — aka, MANdrews — is trailing only rookie deep-threat wideout Chris Olave in air yards heading into Week 3. What an impressive note for someone at Andrews' position.
Dalton Del Don believes he would be a top-five pick if we re-drafted today. Given the dearth of talent at the tight end spot, he’s providing a unique advantage.
Darnell Mooney totaled 271 yards and a TD on 31 targets in Weeks 11-13 last year
That’s significant for Chris Olave this week. Mooney had a three-game stretch last year primarily with Andy Dalton — he took most of the snaps in Week 11 after Justin Fields got hurt and started Weeks 12/13 — and Allen Robinson didn't play. Mooney was extremely productive in that period.
Mooney also went 19-195-TD on 29 targets in Dalton's final two starts last year. Robinson played in those games, too.
Olave is a speed-based receiver but is a true full-field route runner who projects as a legitimate No. 1 target. He’s essential a 10x version of Mooney. Despite the air yards being the main driver of his production with the aggressive Jameis Winston under center, the rookie can still get it done with Dalton and make plays down the field. Mooney’s 2021 stretch helps prove that.
I know the Bears turned Dalton into a meme with the nonsense QB1 tweets last year but just keep in mind it could be much worse. He’s a legitimate backup quarterback in this league and let’s not pretend that Winston doesn’t essentially fall into the same group.