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Week 11 fantasy football metrics notebook: Michael Pittman is the next breakout rookie WR

Matt Harmon
·10-min read

The next breakout rookie WR is in Indianapolis

Michael Pittman in Week 10 (Colts ranks):

  • 29% of the air yards (1st)

  • 22% of the targets (1st)

  • 37 routes run (1st)

  • 30% of red-zone targets (1st)

  • 81.4% of offensive snaps (1st)

Michael Pittman Jr. is perfectly set up to be the latest breakout option in what’s been a stud-packed 2020 rookie wide receiver class.

The Colts have been starved for someone to make big plays in this passing game all season. By the time Week 3 was over, Parris Campbell was on IR, Pittman himself was out multiple weeks, and it became clear T.Y. Hilton wasn’t returning to his old form. The rookie being healthy is a huge difference.

After playing just 58 percent of the Colts’ snaps in Week 8 return from IR, Pittman jumped to 87 percent of the snaps against Baltimore in Week 9, totaling 4-56 on seven targets. It was the precursor to his breakout game last Thursday night when he operated as the clear No. 1 receiver for the Colts and racked up 122 total yards on seven catches and one rush attempt.

It’s hard to imagine why Frank Reich and the Indianapolis brain trust would go away from Pittman as the No. 1 receiver given his impressive performance, how highly they thought of him coming into the league, and his tremendous fit with Philip Rivers at this stage of his career. And let’s be clear: Rivers is still a quarterback that can help a receiver. The Colts’ starter ranks 12th in EPA per play this year — he just needs a little help. Pittman is the answer.

After Green Bay this week the Colts get Tennessee, Houston (twice), Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, and Jacksonville. Outside of the Steelers, you couldn’t ask for better receiver matchups.

The Dolphins have a cakewalk of a schedule

Strength of schedule ease vs. remaining opponents

Opposing pass defense efficiency - 1st

Opposing rushing defense efficiency - 1st

The Miami Dolphins are already surging at this point of the season and now they’ll go to work against the easiest slate of both opposing rush and pass defenses from Weeks 11 to 17.

Already sporting a 6-3 record and all three team units hitting their stride, Brian Flores’ rapidly rebuilt Dolphins should moonwalk into at least a Wild Card spot, especially with that upcoming slate of opponents. According to Football Outsiders, the Dolphins have the best special teams in the league, the eighth-best pass defense, and a rookie quarterback playing like a top-half passer through his first few starts.

The question for fantasy gamers is, who will benefit from Tua Tagovailoa’s rise and that easy schedule? No one has been a consistent player from this offense throughout the balance of 2020 and there aren’t many options to consider.

Let’s run through the three obvious non-Tua options.

[Week 11 Fantasy Rankings: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | FLEX | DST | Kickers]

DeVante Parker: With Preston Williams on IR and a murky receiver depth chart behind him, you’d think Parker would be a funnel target for this passing game. Yet, he has just a 22 percent share of the team targets in the rookie’s three starts. Parker is a good late-season bet based on the schedule alone, but he might be volatile.

Mike Gesicki: The hopeful breakout tight end has been mostly bust with just two boom weeks all year. It’s frustrating but there may be some hope here. He’s run the second-most routes per game (18.7) among the pass-catchers in Tua’s starts, averaging a healthy 14.5 air yards per target, and is essentially their slot receiver. He’s worth hanging on to for now.

Salvon Ahmed: The surprising back burst onto the scene last week as Miami shook up their running back room amid injuries. Ahmed handled 21 carries and produced. He could keep Myles Gaskin out of a job when the latter returns and be the one to feast on this schedule. The only hesitation is his passing-down role. Ahmed ran just 10 routes last week, second among running backs behind Malcolm Perry. That’s an area where they really liked Gaskin.

We should also be open to the idea that the answer is “no one” when it comes to a skill-position beneficiary. Miami has emerged as a win-on-the-margins type of team under Flores with an efficient but not necessarily high-powered offense. Frankly, it’s not unlike the early years of the Tom Brady era in New England.

In those days, Brady was an accurate passer who picked the right spots and distributed the ball on time to a variety of different under-the-radar players. He didn’t really start flinging footballs to a select few fantasy studs until the days of Randy Moss and Wes Welker and the years that followed.

Doesn’t that sound a bit like Tua through his first few starts? It may be what we get out of Miami through the rest of 2020.

The Titans are in the dog days of their schedule

Opposing defensive DVOA rankings

Week 7: Pittsburgh Steelers - 2nd

Week 8: Cincinnati Bengals - 30th

Week 9: Chicago Bears - 3rd

Week 10 Indianapolis Colts - 4th

Week 11: Baltimore Ravens - 6th

Week 12: Indianapolis Colts - 4th

The Titans are 3-4 in their last four games. We know the stop unit and particularly the pass rush has emerged as a problem. However, they haven’t scored more than 24 points as a team in any of those games after clearing 30 points in four of their first five games and 40 points in two of five. The offensive variance can be easily explained by matchups.

Outside of their Week 8 point-trading loss against the Bengals, it doesn’t get more difficult in terms of defensive opponents than what Tennessee has dealt with of late. And it’s not letting up the next two weeks with Baltimore and Indianapolis on the schedule.

There are maybe five truly good defenses in the NFL and the Titans will have played four of them (and one twice) by the time Week 12 comes to an end.

Good news for Titans backers and fantasy managers hoping for more from their skill position players: The schedule takes a 180-degree turn after Week 12. In the final five games of the season, Tennessee’s opponents rank an average of 23rd:

Week 13: Cleveland Browns - 18th

Week 14: Jacksonville Jaguars - 31st

Week 15: Detroit Lions - 25th

Week 16: Green Bay Packers - 16th

Week 17: Houston Texans - 28th

Tennessee could easily beat Baltimore or Indianapolis in a slugfest-style game, or at least split those two contests. Then at 7-4 or 8-3, they’d be set to try and make their push in a crowded AFC playoff race to secure a spot while facing a cupcake slate of opposing defenses.

For fantasy managers counting on A.J. Brown, Derrick Henry, or Ryan Tannehill, just hang on tight. It’s not as if these guys have been totally blowing it for you in every one of these last four games but this trio could be set to wreck shop in the fantasy playoffs.

Andy Reid is about to become Thanos post-bye

Head coaching record post-bye: 18-3

I’m cheating here with wins and losses being the exact opposite of an advanced metric but the point remains the same. Andy Reid has always been a wizard coming off a bye week but this season in particular, he looks like he’s Thanos putting all of the infinity stones in place with the league’s most dangerous offense nearly at full strength.

The football media as a whole has seemingly arrived at the conclusion that Patrick Mahomes should probably win MVP every single season he’s a breathing participant because he is just that good. This is reality. You may tire of it but you should probably get used to it. 2020 has been a microcosm of how this process will play out every year of his career. We’ll prop up plenty of other options along the way because of fatigue, then at some point in the middle of the season, we’ll just realize Mahomes is doing something insane, like throwing 25 touchdowns to just one interception in 2020 and throw him right back at the top of the race.

Now, someone like Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Aaron Rodgers, or another dark horse could wreck shop, write a great narrative the rest of the way, and end up being the MVP. Mahomes isn’t a lock, nor will he realistically win the award every year until he hangs it up. But right now, he’s the presumptive pick. This will be the process every single season until he does retire.

This season, the presumptive MVP will come off his bye week with the best coach in NFL history on these weeks and at the controls of an offense fully loaded with healthy playmakers. Making matters worse, Mahomes will go to work against a Raiders defense that already isn’t good with nearly all of them being placed on the COVID-19 list. He’ll certainly look to put it on the only team to topple the Chiefs so far this year.

Do what you can to save at other positions in DFS — if you have SNF on your slate — to pay up for Patrick Mahomes at your quarterback spot this week.

El quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) y el entrenador jefe Andy Reid
The Chiefs duo of Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid look unstoppable coming off a bye. (AP Foto/Gail Burton)

Eagles shake up WR/TE room

Philadelphia routes run in Week 10 (air yards, targets)

Jalen Reagor - 37 (94, 7)

Travis Fulgham - 33 (75, 5)

Dallas Goedert - 28 (59, 6)

Greg Ward - 22 (10, 6)

Miles Sanders - 17 (7, 5)

Alshon Jeffery 14 (18, 1)

Richard Rodgers 11 (60, 5)

A couple of weeks ago we were hoping that Travis Fulgham would continue to hold an alpha role as the Eagles’ X-receiver and Dallas Goedert would get the type of volume to become a top-level fantasy tight end. It’s just a one-game sample size but with most of what will be their 2020 offensive core in place, that was anything but the case in Week 10.

Alshon Jeffery took the field on just 27.7 percent of the snaps and drew a single target in his return. However, that was enough to interfere with Fulgham’s perimeter-only role. From Weeks 5 to 8, Fulham was pushing 90 percent of the team snaps while averaging 37 routes, over 10 targets, and 110.8 air yards per game.

It’s not great to see those numbers take such a big hit in Jeffery’s first game back. It looks like Jalen Reagor, the gifted first-rounder, will be the top receiver down the stretch while operating as Philly’s flanker.

Richard Rodgers chipping off five targets while Goedert inhaled just six was also troubling. It appears the Eagles want to continue using a pair of tight ends. The veteran has performed when asked and hauled in four passes for 60 yards against New York. With Zach Ertz already designated to return, the optimism for Goedert to rise up the tight end ranks is looking foolish. You may think he’s clearly the most talented option there — as any reasonable observer would — but the team’s decision-making is making that a moot point.

The Eagles have plenty of attractive fantasy-environment games down the stretch with Cleveland, Seattle, Green Bay, New Orleans, Arizona, and Dallas on the ledger. Because of the schedule, you shouldn’t completely bail on guys like Fulgham or Goedert.

However, you might want to adjust your expectations for both. The days of Fulgham being an every-week WR1/2 are likely over and Goedert may never reach the hopes many in the community had for him.

And the real take here may just be to load up on Jalen Reagor, who is still somehow only rostered in 25 percent of Yahoo leagues. Wake up, people.

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