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 7 of the 2023 NFL season.
1) Hall aboooooard the Breece train!
Over the last two weeks, we’ve seen the Jets start to let their young back loose, playing in more than half of the offensive snaps in each of the last two games. While Hall has been eased into volume in each of his seasons (as a rookie in 2022 and from injury in 2023), when he's crossed that 50 percent threshold, he's averaged 21.3 fantasy points per game. That would be the third-most by any RB since 2022 -- behind only fantasy superstars Christian McCaffrey and Austin Ekeler -- and a double-digit jump from the 9.5 points per game he averages without a bell cow workload. The extra work hasn’t seemed to bring any efficiency issues either, as his fantasy points per opportunity (targets and carries) ranks fourth among running backs since his draft day. It’s scary (for his opponents at least) to think he is leading the NFL in rushing the past two weeks and will likely only continue to see increased snaps and receiving work after the bye.
2) Tee time is comin'
If I saw a league mate selling Higgins, I would be first in line to acquire him. Never mind that he leads all receivers in fantasy points below expected (-27.4), per PFF. While it’s not a category any wideout wants to top, Higgins clearly has been a victim of circumstance -- his quarterback has been hurt and he's been hurt. But the Bengals’ early bye has given Higgins and Joe Burrow extra time to get healthy. When the fourth-year pass catcher is right, he’s a force. In games since 2021 in which he’s played at least 60 percent of snaps, Higgins ranks as the WR11, scoring 15.9 fantasy points per contest. Last season, Higgins ranked third in fantasy points above expected and second in fantasy points per target, and that’s despite playing behind All-Pro Ja’Marr Chase. So do with Higgins what you should’ve done with Breece Hall -- snag the receiver on the cheap while you still can.
P.S. Higgins has an unbelievable schedule to start the fantasy playoffs: vs. Vikings in Week 15 (currently 30th against WRs), and at Steelers in Week 16 (29th).
3) Hooked on a Thielen
The WR1 over the last five weeks of the season is not Tyreek Hill, Ja’Marr Chase or DJ Moore. It’s Adam Thielen. The 33-year-old, whose ADP was close to WR50, is somehow averaging 21.1 fantasy points per game -- even when you include his Week 1 dud. That's the highest in a season by any wideout 33 or older in the Super Bowl era, and the list of players to score over 18 per game is stacked with Hall of Famers: Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Cris Carter, Steve Smith Sr. and J.T. Smith. I would usually preach caution over touchdown regression, but Thielen seems to have a consistent knack for the end zone -- only three receivers have more touchdowns since 2020, and the veteran continues to pile them on while operating as Bryce Young’s favorite red zone target.
4) Commander in Chief
Is Rashee Rice the next Tyreek Hill? No, they're completely different receivers. However, Hill and Rice are the only Chiefs wideouts in recent history to average more than nine fantasy points in their rookie seasons. And like Rice, Hill earned his work slowly through the course of that 2016 season. And his breakout? The seventh game of the season, when he scored 21.5 points and proceeded to average more than 17 per game the rest of the way. Rice has flashed clear signs of a similar second-half breakout opportunity. He sits inside the top 10 in the league in yards per route run, right alongside eight former Pro Bowlers. And although he's fourth among Chiefs’ receivers in routes, he is first in red zone targets, which has helped him lead the group in fantasy points in five of his first six weeks in the NFL. If Andy Reid does give his talented rookie more snaps, expect a big game against the Chargers, who rank 31st against fantasy wideouts this season.
5) King of the (Tyreek) Hill
Speaking of Tyreek Hill, there are hardly words to describe how incredible his start to 2023 has been. He is on pace to shatter not only the NFL record for receiving yards, but also the fantasy points record for wide receivers. Calvin Johnson nearly broke 2,000 yards in 2012 with 1,964. Hill’s pace for 2023 is 2,306. And per math, that equates to a whole lot of fantasy points -- 455.6 to be exact, 16 more than Cooper Kupp’s record from 2021. Mike McDaniel’s need-for-speed offense has unlocked Hill to single-handedly disintegrate defense after defense. With four games of 150+ receiving yards already under his belt, he needs just one more to tie the NFL record of five in a single season. Reminder: The Dolphins have played six games. Some of us regret drafting Justin Jefferson over Christian McCaffrey at the 1.01, but the real question is: Why did we draft anybody above Cheetah?
How do you stop a king? Apparently with eight pawns that know you can’t throw downfield. Through six games, Derrick Henry has faced loaded boxes (when a defense has more defenders in the box than there are blockers, per Next Gen Stats) 15 times more than any other team this season. That’s 56 percent of Henry’s attempts, and he's gained just over three yards per attempt in such situations. His running mate, Tyjae Spears, only deals with loaded boxes 29 percent of the time, which has allowed him to run for 10-plus yards on 23 percent of his carries, compared to Henry’s mere eight percent. With Ryan Tannehill sitting at the bottom of the league in pass attempts per game (and now injured), I wouldn’t expect an increase in explosive plays or consistency from the Titans’ best weapon.
7) Buy or Sell: Fantasy Points Over Expected Edition
Fantasy points over expected is an excellent metric for evaluating whether a player will improve or depreciate as he regresses to the mean in the future. Josh Jacobs, Dameon Pierce and Tony Pollard sit at the bottom of the running back position when comparing their actual and expected fantasy points in 2023. Here are my assessments on whether to buy or sell the three backs based on their odds of flipping their fortunes in the near future.
-37.0 fantasy points over expected (PFF)
SELL: Jacobs has only 8.3 fantasy points on explosive plays this season, an outrageously low nine percent of his total. This results in a much lower ceiling and makes Jacobs a touchdown-dependent play most weeks. If a friend (or enemy) wants Jacobs for the volume, I’d hand him off.
-30.4 fantasy points over expected (PFF)
SELL: Pierce saw a massive dip in snaps last week, playing only 35 percent and seeing zero targets. Fantasy running backs rise to elite status because of receiving volume and high touchdown-upside opportunities. Pierce has neither and might be slipping beneath Devin Singletary on the depth chart.
-26.7 fantasy points over expected (PFF)
BUY: On the other side of Texas, Pollard has both targets and unfulfilled touchdown upside. A running back who simultaneously ranks second in goal-line carries and third in running back targets is nearly unheard of, but Pollard is that back. And yet, he might be on the trade block in your league with just two touchdowns. As things balance out, he could very well be a top-five running back the rest of the way.