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 eight notable nuggets ahead of Week 12 of the 2023 NFL season.
1) Swift scoring opportunities
The Tush Push isn’t going anywhere. But oddly enough, D’Andre Swift hasn’t become a ghost on the goal line despite what you may expect. Jalen Hurts sits inside the top 10 in the league with 10 goal-line carries. His top running back? Also 10 goal-line carries. When the Eagles are inside the 10-yard line, they throw just 22 percent of the time, 13 percent less often than any other squad in the league. With such established tendencies and the fourth-most red zone trips per game, your confidence in Swift’s goal-line volume should be high. And although the touchdowns themselves haven’t materialized as often as we’d like, the Eagles’ opponents in the fantasy playoffs are all top-three in most goal-line rushing touchdowns allowed this year. Swift will get his.
Fun fact: Starting in Week 2, Swift has scored in every other game this season (on track to score in Week 13, 15 and 17, if you believe in such things).
2) Justin time
Justin Fields is back in more ways than one. Obviously he’s back from injury, but he’s also back to the high rushing volume we saw in 2022. In Week 11, the Bears called 13 designed runs for their quarterback, the most by any team in any game this season. After just 14 designed carries in his first four games of the year, Fields has 27 in his last two and a half contests. The same philosophy shift that led to his breakout last season has moved him from 17 points per game to a pace of more than 23 per game while healthy. Next up? The Minnesota Vikings -- who he gashed for 46 rushing yards in two quarters in Week 6 before his injury. Against the most blitz-happy defense in the NFL, look for Fields to scramble often on top of the increase in designed runs in an offense that’s finally opening up again.
3) 4.4 no more ...
Austin Ekeler has been an elite fantasy option in recent years on the merits of his goal-line work, target volume and efficiency. While the volume is still there, the efficiency is slipping away. There has been a noticeable lack of burst when watching the veteran running back this season. After researching, the results were worse than I thought: On his longest run in Week 11, Ekeler was only running 13 miles per hour, according to Next Gen Stats. Fast for me, yes. Fast for an NFL running back? Not as much. In comparison, offensive tackle Trey Pipkins had a faster acceleration time on the play and he weighs more than 300 pounds. Ekeler has seen a 38 percent dip in runs reaching 15-plus miles per hour, and the lack of explosivity has hurt his efficiency when it comes to the inside run game. Last season, his 5.6 yards per carry inside the tackles ranked fourth in the NFL. That number has dropped to 3.9 in 2023, ranking him outside the top 30 at the position. The volume and a great playoff fantasy schedule should keep him in play as an RB1, but he’s not likely to be the RB1.
4) A Likely benefactor
New Ravens offensive coordinator Todd Monken was known for his use of tight ends at the University of Georgia, where he recruited five-star talents by the dozen. The only guy who loves the position more than Monken is his quarterback, Lamar Jackson. Since Jackson's MVP campaign in 2019, tight ends have been targeted five percent more often in Baltimore than anywhere else in the league. Now, Isaiah Likely is not Mark Andrews. However, he has shown talent and will have opportunity. Last week, he ran 26 of 33 possible routes, an excellent mark for a tight end. As a rookie last season, Likely had five games where he saw five or more targets. In those contests, he averaged more than 13 fantasy points, which would be good enough for the TE5 in 2023. Opportunity, efficient passing and a great fantasy playoff schedule -- add it all together and you have a must-add tight end option.
5) The Runstronaut
It’s been just three games, but the fantasy picture in Minnesota seems clear. Joshua Dobbs, aka. The Passtronaut, has become a fantasy starter -- not because of his passing but his rushing ability. Dobbs has more rushing fantasy points (72.9) than Saquon Barkley, Breece Hall, Bijan Robinson and all but 18 running backs on the year. Also, tight end T.J. Hockenson has benefitted from a 35 percent target share since Dobbs came to town. The future for Jordan Addison and Justin Jefferson may not be as bright. Not only has the Vikings’ wide receiver target share dropped to 31st in the NFL since Week 9, but it has gone from second in pass play percentage under Kirk Cousins to 25th since his season-ending injury. The wideouts were doomed to regress without Cousins’ efficiency, but the decreased volume hurts even more.
6) A DangeRuss connection
It’s past time we start paying attention to the Broncos offense. Courtland Sutton is quietly the WR19 on the year, dominating end zone targets in Denver with 11 (while Jerry Jeudy has just three), and Russell Wilson was tied for third in the league in passing touchdowns ahead of Week 12, largely thanks to Sutton. When targeted through 11 weeks, Sutton has generated a 132.2 passer rating for his QB, the second-highest for any receiver when targeted behind only Tyreek Hill. As a result, he’s averaging the sixth-most fantasy points per target in the NFL, which means he doesn’t need an elite workload to produce. The Broncos’ final four games of the fantasy season all come against bottom-12 defenses against wideouts, including two matchups versus the Chargers (a fantasy gold mine).
7) Sailing the Red Sea
Sometimes stars can align more than once. For Puka Nacua, no matchup is more exciting for him than the Cardinals. Although it is middle of the road versus fantasy wideouts, Arizona is 29th against outside receivers while ranking fifth versus the slot when adjusting for schedule. Jonathan Gannon’s defense in Arizona also matches up perfectly with Matthew Stafford’s strengths. He's not the most mobile quarterback and can struggle versus pressure-heavy and blitz-heavy teams. He’s thrown just one touchdown and ranks as the QB29 against the blitz on the season. Don’t blitz Stafford and you may pay for your conservative approach. He’s eighth in yards per attempt against blitz-free coverage and posted his best passer rating of the season versus this Cardinals defense, which blitzes the third-least in the league, back in Week 5.
8) New Diggs?
Ever since Trevon Diggs went down with an injury before Week 3, former fifth-round cornerback DaRon Bland has been an absolute star in Dallas. If you were to count his interceptions as receptions, he would have 59.3 fantasy points on the season ... more than Quentin Johnston, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kadarius Toney and Jameson Williams. His five touchdowns alone this season are more than any entire defense outside the Cowboys. He’s responsible for around one-third of the Cowboys D/ST's league-leading fantasy points. In fact, his 43 points are only two shy of the 45-point mark set by the Rams D/ST (fewest in the NFL). In Diggs’ impressive 11-interception season, also in his second year, he contributed just shy of 36 fantasy points. Bland still has six games to go. As a result, the Cowboys defense could be a league-winning fantasy asset.