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 seven notable nuggets ahead of Week 4 of the 2023 NFL season.
1) Still Raheem 'Must-Start'
Through three weeks, Christian McCaffrey is your RB1. Wait, that’s not right? It’s actually 31-year-old Raheem Mostert. The veteran speedster has proven that age really is just a number -- his jersey number, in fact -- as he posted the third-fastest top speed by a ball-carrier (21.62 mph) this season, according to Next Gen Stats. A 30-plus-year-old RB has never finished a season as the overall RB1 and has rarely cracked the top 10 at the position. The last 31-year-old to finish top three among fantasy backs? Hall of Fame legend Walter Payton with the 1985 Bears. Time will tell whether Mostert can stay on top, but for now, you’re starting him every week.
2) The next-gen Mostert
Raheem Mostert’s 45.2 fantasy points against the Broncos wasn’t enough to lock up RB1 on the week ... or even on his own team. That honor goes to De’Von Achane, a rookie out of Texas A&M who entered the game with less than two career fantasy points. He is now the RB6 on the season. Scoring a fantasy point and a half per snap does that to a guy. As does Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel’s need for speed -- a driving force behind Achane’s draft selection after running a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. Achane has now recorded an obscene 2.22 fantasy points per opportunity (a.k.a. targets plus carries), outpacing Mostert (1.65) for most among running backs. Nobody else sits above 1.25 points per opportunity.
3) Loud and Stroud
The Texans have relied heavily on the second overall draft pick, as they have recorded the second-largest gap between passing yards and rushing yards in the NFL this season. Stroud’s 302 passing yards per game would be the rookie record for a full season and would have ranked second in the entire league in 2022 behind only MVP Patrick Mahomes. What’s even more rare is Stroud's ability to support fantasy-relevant receivers. No rookie quarterback has produced a top-20 fantasy receiver since Justin Herbert aided Keenan Allen to WR13 in 2020. Through Week 3, Stroud is supporting two: Tank Dell (WR13) and Nico Collins (WR19). It is, shall we say, unusual for a rookie to lead the league in third-down passing, rank third in pass attempts and claim zero giveaways through three games. The only people more pleased than the Texans to have Stroud in the building are his new fantasy managers.
4) Next Bolt up
Public service announcement: The Chargers’ wide receiver receptions leader in 2022 wasn’t Keenan Allen or Mike Williams -- it was Josh Palmer. And, once again, injuries have sadly dominated headlines to start this NFL season. With Williams out for the season (torn ACL), many fantasy managers are deciding whether to invest in Palmer or rookie Quentin Johnston. Last season, we saw this explosive Chargers offense play in five contests without Williams. In those games, Palmer recorded 16.0 fantasy points per game -- double his typical output -- and averaged near double-digit targets, while also being a top-end WR2 in that stretch. The vacated volume in Los Angeles ranks inside the top 12 through three weeks, offering plenty of work to whomever seizes the opportunity. Given his experience, Palmer is the frontrunner for now. That said, don’t be surprised if Johnston, the 21st overall pick in April's draft, quickly ascends in value on an offense that ranks third in both pass attempts and yards.
5) Honest goal-line work
The only thing more valuable than targets for fantasy running backs are goal-line carries -- on average, a carry inside the 5-yard line was worth three fantasy points in 2022. So far in 2023, the goal-line leaders are in a tier of their own. Tony Pollard (eight) and Kenneth Walker III (seven) top the position by a mile with no one else with five such carries. But we can also use this stat to find hope for demoralized fantasy managers of Josh Jacobs and Alexander Mattison. Although both players have yet to see the end zone, each has logged four of these valuable goal-line attempts. On the flipside, managers of Christian McCaffrey, Bijan Robinson, James Cook and Rhamondre Stevenson might have cause for worry. These players have just one apiece (though they’ve mostly maintained value elsewhere). Still, it could be worse. They could have zero … like Travis Etienne Jr., Najee Harris and Breece Hall.
By the way, Jalen Hurts has four goal-line carries … tied for third-most in the NFL regardless of position and double any other QB.
6) Spare a TD?
The only guarantee when it comes to touchdowns is that they'll come and go, especially for wide receivers, which increases the value of fantasy success outside of the end zone. There are six stud wideouts with a brighter future ahead based on non-touchdown production. CeeDee Lamb is the WR18 on the season but becomes the WR9 if touchdowns are neutralized. Ja’Marr Chase also moves up nine spots in this experiment (to WR16) and would sit right behind A.J. Brown. The once-Buckeyes-now-Saints receiver duo has also racked up the yards without reaching the end zone. Michael Thomas would move from WR41 to WR25 sans TDs, while Chris Olave -- already the WR12 -- would break into the top seven. On the other hand, players who have relied heavily on touchdowns for fantasy output might have a rude awakening ahead -- a good example would be Romeo Doubs, who drops nearly 20 spots from WR28 to WR47. Lastly, though he’s already the WR6 on the season, Puka Nacua has positive regression coming -- zero receiving touchdowns on a league-leading 42 targets is the definition of outlier data. He’ll score soon.
7) 20-by-3 in 2023
All right, who’s going to attract 20 targets this week? The spikes of undivided volume so far this season are in rare air. From 2017 to 2022, we only saw three games where a wideout garnered 20-plus targets. We’ve been blessed with three such games in the past two weeks from Puka Nacua, Keenan Allen and Davante Adams. Unsurprisingly, each are top-six fantasy receivers on the season. An important note: The previous three players to do have 20 targets in a game were not flash-in-the-pan playmakers. Julio Jones finished as the WR3 when he did it in 2019, and Tyler Lockett finished as the WR8 the following season, seven spots behind the third instance, Cooper Kupp, who did it in a record-breaking fantasy season. The Rams star was the WR1 in 2020 despite having only scored 22 fantasy points on his 20-target day.