The Best of Week 3

Matt Waldman scouts our in-season content and shares five must-knows and his takes on each.

You guys have a ton of articles.

This statement about Footballguys is a blessing but it can feel like a curse. Our staff delivers insights that change seasons for the better yet realistically, no fantasy owner has the time to read everything we publish in a week.

If this describes you, let me be your scout. Here are five insights from Footballguys articles that I find compelling for the weekend ahead. I'll share what should help you this week, touch on the long-term outlook, and sometimes offer a counterargument.

1. Corey Clement: The Sharp Play?

Ryan Zamichieli authors The Sharp Report, an analysis based on who the top DFS players are using in their lineups. Zamichieli provides a detailed premise of the weekly post that I personally find intriguing:

One of the most proficient gamblers that sportsbooks have ever seen, Haralabos Voulgaris, is on record saying the main reason he retired from professional gambling is that he was gradually losing his edge against the sportsbooks. Voulgaris explains that every time he placed a bet, he gave the sportsbook a metaphoric piece to the puzzle that, once solved, would completely erase his edge to the point where he would no longer be a profitable bettor.

The same way sportsbooks learned from Voulgaris’ bets and eroded his edge, daily fantasy sports players can learn from their top competitors and eat away at their edge. These top competitors, known as sharps, typically play DFS at a much higher level and for much more money than others. These players normally have very advanced and accurate projection systems that give them their edge over the field. Fortunately, every time they enter a contest the sharp players’ lineups are available to the public to be broken down, analyzed and learned from.

The Sharp Report will be a weekly article that uses all available and applicable data to draw conclusions regarding how the industry’s smartest decision makers and their projections systems come to their final conclusions when building lineups. Over the course of the entire season, The Sharp Report’s goal will be to project what the best players in the industry will do in upcoming contests and, in turn, figure out what it is that gives these high-level players their edge over the field.

Zamichieli explains, "The overlap between sharps' lineups is where true learning points are found. When the best players in the industry agree on specific players and matchups, that serves as an indicator this specific spot is worth further investigation."

Last week's Sharp Play was Christian McCaffery, who earned 20.9 fantasy points on FanDuel and 30.9 on DraftKings. This week's Sharp play is Corey Clement:

Jay Ajayi picked up an injury significant enough for Mike Groh, Philadelphia's offensive coordinator, to say there's a "good chance" he won't be able to play on Sunday against the Colts. Darren Sproles missed Week 2 with an injury and is also questionable for the Eagles' Week 3 matchup at home with Indianapolis.

In Sproles' absence in Week 2, Corey Clement stepped into the passing-down role that Darren Sproles filled in Week 1. In Week 2, Clement tallied 6 targets, 5 catches, and 55 yards along with 6 rushes for 30 yards. Carson Wentz is slated to return to the Eagles' lineup and (hopefully) inject life into their offense this weekend.

The Eagles come into the game as 6.5-point favorites over the Colts and in a matchup like this, teams typically run the ball substantially more to preserve the lead and ensure a victory. In Carson Wentz's first game back from a torn ACL, it would not come as a surprise if Doug Pederson were to call a very conservative game once a lead is secured.

Should Ajayi and Sproles both miss the Eagles' Week 3 home game against the Colts, Clement will likely see a massive uptick in playing time and usage in Philadelphia's offense. For just $5,800 on FanDuel and $4,300 on DraftKings, Clement will provide significant salary relief to fit higher-priced options elsewhere if Sproles and Ajayi are not available.

In conclusion, Zamichieli likes Clement because the other viable running backs are unlikely to play, the Eagles are a favorite at home, and the DFS pricing does not reflect Clement's potential role. It's always worthwhile cross-checking analysis with the thoughts of others. Although I probably could have told you that Matt Bitonti still rates Philadelphia's offensive line at the top of his weekly rankings, it doesn't take long to check for confirmation.

Sigmund Bloom also has Clement as a "solid RB2" in his weekly RB Tiers and as a featured player in his Sleepers column for reasons similar as Zamichieli:

The Eagles are likely to be without Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles this week, making Clement the de facto lead back. Practice squad call-up Josh Adams and Wendell Smallwood will share the load, but Clement should get lots of red zone play and he has looked sharp this year. The return of Carson Wentz at home should give the offense a boost of energy, and Clement will sustain that when he touches the ball. He has added PPR upside and the Eagles had already had two running back touchdowns in the red zone in each of the first two games.

Verdict: Clement has always been a smart runner between the tackles. He runs strong even if he's not a dynamic pro athlete at the position. The Colts ceded nearly 21 fantasy points to Joe Mixon in standard leagues but rebounded somewhat in Week 2, limiting Chris Thompson and Adrian Peterson to 14 points. Expected 8-12 points from Clement is a reasonable projection and that lands solidly in RB2 territory.

2. Buy Low: Sony Michel

My buddy Bloom is a content machine and he's always good at combining just enough supporting detail to making the "need to know" compelling. He does this with Sony Michel this week in Buy-Low, Sell-High:

Sony Michel, RB, NE - Michel got 11 touches in 13 snaps in his first game back. The Patriots obviously trust him despite missing the summer, and he is clearly the most gifted back of their group. His role should grow in Week 3, and a national television stage will make the most talented back in one of the most productive backfields very difficult to pry from anyone’s grip if he makes a splash play or two against the Lions.

After our Thursday Night Audible podcast, Bloom told me that he likes to watch the tape and then cross-check his insights with mine. When it comes to Michel, we're on the same page. This week's Gut Check examines three NFL backfields and the players who are producing now as well as which ones you should be acquiring for later.

Michel qualified as a "now" and a "later."

Now and later: Sony Michel

Now is the time to buy into Michel's services for the year or perhaps, prey on a frustrated dynasty newbie who wonders why he ever decided to pick a player in a New England backfield. Michel's performance against the Jaguars won't get box score jockeys excited and that's a good thing for anyone hoping to buy low.

The caveat: BUY LOW. If you can't buy low, don't let the team with Michel sucker you into a package deal. Just move on. Don't at me with "what do you think of this trade where I'm offered Michel, an AMC Gremlin, a half a Pacer, a Ford F150 in need of a transmission, and two magic beans for your established studs?'

Understood?

New England drafted Michel to be the future answer of its backfield. Not, an answer but the answer. Watching him perform against Jacksonville, the film reveals what the box score didn't: Michel is an all-purpose back who will eventually reveal that he has greater upside at each phase of running back play than his peers on the depth chart.

Michel was the best pass protector in this rich class of rookie backs and he flashed this on Sunday with an excellent cut block of Calais Campbell.

The most impressive part of this play is how decisive he was with the transition between setting his feet to square Campbell and attacking with the cut. It was seamless. So many backs hesitate at this transition point and wind up with a late execution of whichever choice they made. In this case, Michel's choice of the cut — this close to Brady — was the correct decision or else he risked getting bulled into the quarterback.

Michel's work to protect Brady will earn him more playing time, especially when this was his first time in pads since early August and against the best defense in the NFL. His rushing production shouldn't be overly scrutinized. New England ceded an early lead, Michel was likely on a snap count, and the game script wasn't friendly to the New England offense.

There were a couple of bright spots for Michel as a runner.

Although the safety gave away his power by dropping to one knee in an attempt to get lower than Michel, this is a good example of an efficient run with a strong finish from a back who often earned the Mr. Outside role at Georgia thanks to Nick Chubb's work as Mr. Inside. While Chubb is a better inside runner than Michel (if you don't agree with this perspective, consider the perspective of a lineman who played with them at Georgia who privately answered this question to a reporter that yours truly knows), Michel has the skills and potential of an every-down NFL back.

With Josh Gordon coming to New England, expect more room for Patriots backs to roam. As long as Michel stays healthy and holds onto the ball, expect his volume to rise steadily throughout the fall. If you can buy low, he's both a "now" and a "later."

Verdict: New England faces Detroit this weekend and in case you missed this week's Top 10, the Lions run defense has been in a giving spirit since August...

7. merry Christmas, matt breida! love, the Lions' defense

There's a lot of love for Matt Breida because he's that eye-candy athlete. He performed well in limited time last year but his work tends to result in getting what the defense gives him if he doesn't reach the opponent's secondary.

When San Francisco hosted Detroit this weekend, the Lions decided that being they are fans of Breida and won't be back for Christmas, would give the 49ers runner some gifts in September.

Watch a Lions preseason game during the past three years and FOX analyst Chris Spielman earns ample opportunity to teach viewers what a lack of gap discipline and integrity looks like. Today, he got to do on three occasions in this regular season tilt.

Spielman also dropped a valuable preseason insight that's at least worth exploring if you don't immediately take it as gospel: If a defense struggles to defend the run during the preseason, it's likely it will have the same struggles throughout the year.

Take note of Detroit on the schedule because the defense is feeling festive.

Michel remains a risky play because he hasn't earned the lead role but it appears he's on this trajectory and the Lions are possible coronation game for the rookie.

3. Yards Per Carry: The single worst, least predictive, most useless stat out there.

That's what Adam Harstad and many football analysts think — film and data alike. It's the subject of Harstad's Week Regression Alert feature.

But for the first prediction of the year I wanted to start this column off with a bang by focusing on the single worst, least-predictive, most useless stat out there: yards per carry. Yards per carry is not a "sticky" stat— that is, it's not a stat that tends to stay pretty stable between one sample and the next. It is extremely sensitive to outliers. It jumps all over the map not just from one season to the next, but even within a single season. It takes 177 games or 1978 carries in the same system— essentially eleven years— before a player's yard per carry average "stabilizes" and reaches a point where it represents more skill than chance.

So if a player has a high yards-per-carry average, (and especially if that average comes over a small sample), that average means essentially nothing going forward. The league average yards per carry typically fluctuates from between 4.1 and 4.3. Most players with very high and very low averages early in the year will perform somewhere near that range going forward. This presents an opportunity for savvy fantasy owners to trade players with few carries but lots of yards for players with lots of carries but few yards.

Which brings me to Breida, Lindsay, and my first prediction of the season. There are currently 21 players with 100 rushing yards. Here they are, sorted from highest to lowest yards per carry.

Name Carries Yards YPC
Matt Breida 22 184 8.4
Austin Ekeler 16 116 7.3
Isaiah Crowell 22 137 6.2
Phillip Lindsay 29 178 6.1
Tevin Coleman 25 126 5.0
Lamar Miller 34 166 4.9
Joe Mixon 38 179 4.7
Ezekiel Elliott 32 147 4.6
Saquon Barkley 29 134 4.6
T.J. Yeldon 24 109 4.5
Jordan Wilkins 24 101 4.2
Jordan Howard 29 117 4.0
Kenyan Drake 25 101 4.0
James Conner 39 152 3.9
Dion Lewis 30 117 3.9
Todd Gurley 39 150 3.8
Marshawn Lynch 29 106 3.7
Kareem Hunt 34 124 3.6
Jamaal Williams 31 106 3.4
Adrian Peterson 37 116 3.1
Carlos Hyde 38 105 2.8

Now, how these predictions are going to work is I'm going to take the top performers in a statistic, lump them into Group A, take the bottom performers, lump them into Group B, and then predict that Group B will outperform Group A going forward. In many ways, this is a very restrictive format. I don't get to pick and choose who I want in my Group B or who I'd rather exclude from Group A...

Grouping the players this way gets some heavy hitters into Group A; Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott were first-round picks in fantasy drafts this last offseason because they're expected to rush for a ton of yards. But again, I believe in regression to the mean enough to really put it to the test. So these are your groups.

Matt Breida, Austin Ekeler, Isaiah Crowell, Phillip Lindsay, Tevin Coleman, Lamar Miller, Joe Mixon, Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, and T.J. Yeldon have combined to carry the ball 271 times for 1476 yards, a 5.4 YPC average. This is your Group A.

Jordan Howard, Kenyan Drake, James Conner, Dion Lewis, Todd Gurley, Marshawn Lynch, Kareem Hunt, Jamaal Williams, Adrian Peterson, and Carlos Hyde have combined to carry the ball 331 times for 1194 yards, a 3.6 YPC average. This is your Group B.

To this point in the season, Group A has outrushed Group B by 24 percent. I predict that, through the magic of regression to the mean, Group B will average more rushing yards per game over the next four weeks. Be sure to check back in the weeks to come to see how well my prediction has fared.

Verdict: Adam's work is often more theoretical than prescriptive. In the spirit of prescribing, here's I've seen of these players thus far that may help you.

  • Howard, Conner, Gurley, Lynch, and Hunt are definite buys.
  • Ekeler, Barkley Crowell, Coleman, Miller, Elliott, and Mixon are holds even if their yards per carry " stabilize" to a lower figure.
  • Yeldon is a hold because Fournette is the most fragile of the big-ticket options.
  • Breida and Lindsay are players I'd sell. Both are NFL-caliber running backs, but I'm not convinced they are long-term surprises.
  • Peterson and Drake are volatile performers who can deliver strong RB2 production totals for the year but the weekly ups and downs might be nauseating.
  • While I still like him as a hold in dynasty leagues, no one will be buying Williams and you can probably drop him if you have depth at the position and need to take chances elsewhere.
  • Hyde's production will increase with Baker Mayfield as the starter. If it doesn't, Nick Chubb is ready and waiting. It makes Hyde a sell-high within the next 3-4 weeks.

Good luck!

4. Outliers

Jeff Tefertiller's weekly article examines players who are under or overvalued in a given week based on a calculated comparison between Footballguys Top 200 Forward and initial site rankings. Here are some outliers worth consideration this weekend and in the near-term:

Nelson Agholor

  • Top 200 ranking: 28
  • Weekly ranking: 19
  • Difference: +9

We recommended Agholor in this column last week and he came through for fantasy players. The other recommendation, Stefon Diggs, performed well, too. Agholor gets Carson Wentz back under center and faces the weak Indianapolis Colts secondary. Still available on some waiver wires, Agholor makes a great spot starter while Alshon Jeffery AND Mike Wallace are sidelined. He is the lone healthy starting receiver.

Giovani Bernard

  • Top 200 ranking: 35
  • Weekly ranking: 17
  • Difference: +18

Bernard steps into the lead-back role vacated by Joe Mixon after his knee injury last week. While the matchup is a difficult one against the Panthers, there should be enough passing-game work to warrant his RB2 status.

George Kittle

  • Top 200 ranking: 10
  • Weekly ranking: 6
  • Difference: +4

Kittle has become a focal point in the 49ers offense this season, especially with Marquise Goodwin sidelined with the leg injury. He gets a Chiefs defense this week that made Jesse James look like Tony Gonzalez a week ago. James was always open in the middle of the field. We expect San Francisco to attack Kansas City in much the same way.

Verdict: Kittle is an obvious play. Carolina didn't look that sturdy against Atlanta's rushing attack and the Falcons lost Andy Levitre in that game. Cincinnati's ground game should produce with Bernard at the controls. Jordan Matthews may be back but Agholor is by far the best option and likely to earn some deeper targets from Wentz, provided that Wentz is healthy enough and not a desperation ploy by an impatient team.

5. Matt Bitonti's offensive line rankings

We'll end this week's Best Of with some quick-hitting commentary paired with Bitonti's updated offensive line rankings.

CLEVELAND UP SIX SPOTS.

After a choppy Week One, rookie left tackle Desmond Harrison settled down and played well during the Week Two loss at New Orleans. Harrison is an athletic specimen with the rare physical gifts to play left tackle "on an island" (without blocking help from tight ends or running backs). Harrison was injured during preseason (hamstring) and was questionable again this week with a shoulder injury but look for the young player to start the next game and likely the entire season. Harrison has to improve his technique and gain experience but the team may have found a cheap, long-term solution at the spot.

Waldman's Verdict: The difference in the offensive line's execution when Baker Mayfield hit the field after Tyrod Taylor got hurt was notable. Mayfield made quicker decisions, identified open receivers, and riddled the Jets' zone defense. This increased the tempo of the offense and gave the line confidence that it didn't need to stop opponents for unrealistic lengths of time for Taylor to get rid of the ball. While Mayfield left the pocket on some plays, he did a better job of playing within it than Taylor, who has also created some of his own pressure. As long as Mayfield continues starting, look for increased fantasy production from David Njoku, Carlos Hyde, and Jarvis Landry because Mayfield will at least elongate drives between the 20s.

ATLANTA DOWN TWO SPOTS.

Veteran left guard Andy Levitre tore his triceps during the Week 2 win versus Carolina and he has been placed on injured reserve. In his place steps Wes Schweitzer. Schweitzer was last year's starting right guard but he lost the gig in preseason to veteran Brandon Fusco who arrived via free agency. Schweitzer is a massive run blocking asset but can be compromised in pass protection. Schweitzer was awkward lining up on the left side at first, but he settled in as the game progressed. The line takes a small hit without Levitre, but they still grade as a top-tier unit.

Waldman's Verdict: Atlanta's ground game remains an asset and look for more quick-hitters to Calvin Ridley and play-action rolls with Austin Hooper as the target.

WASHINGTON DOWN TWO SPOTS.

The injury bug has hit Washington as starting left guard Shaun Lauvao did not participate in practice this week and is a 'likely inactive' according to Dr. Jene Bramel's mid-week report. Left tackle Trent Williams and right guard Brandon Scherff were forced from (and then returned to) the home loss to Indy. Scherff was briefly replaced by Geron Christian. Ty Nsekhe played a series for Williams. Williams aggravated a chronic left knee injury and is listed as questionable in the mid-week injury report. These rankings expect Lauvao to be out but both Williams and Scherff to be ready for the home game against Green Bay. This is a slight downgrading of the line due to mounting injury concerns. Key players are limping into the contest.

Waldman's Verdict: This doesn't look like a good week for Adrian Peterson's run script but it's fine for Chris Thompson.

PITTSBURGH DOWN TWELVE SPOTS.

On the surface, this downgrade is because right guard David Decastro missed last weeks' game with a severely fractured hand, and might miss this week's contest as well. But in actuality, there are several other key injuries, and this lineup is very difficult to predict this week. Besides Decastro, who could cast himself up and play, left guard Ramon Foster was listed as questionable with a knee problem and right tackle Marcus Gilbert is also questionable, battling a hamstring injury. The model assumes only Decastro misses the contest but it could play out a variety of ways. The good news is this game versus Tampa Bay is on Monday Night and the injured players will have an extra day to rejoin the lineup.

Waldman's Verdict: If the Steelers lose by two touchdowns this week and the injuries along the offensive line remain a concern, James Conner and perhaps even Antonio Brown are sell-highs. This is a game where I'll be paying a lot of attention this Sunday.

Good luck this weekend!