DeAndre Hopkins owners are nervous. You can forgive them for their trepidation. Through four games, Hopkins has 17 receptions for 227 yards and two touchdowns. He has fewer than 60 yards in three of those games and has finished as a top-20 receiver just once. That’s not what anyone was expecting from a receiver who was a consensus first-round fantasy pick.
Last season, Hopkins caught 111 passes for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. While his talent and ability were the primary reasons he was the No. 6 receiver in standard-scoring leagues a year ago, the volume played a role, too. Hopkins’s 192 targets ranked third in the league, trailing only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown. He received 46.7% of the targets in the Houston passing game, which was by far the highest target share in the NFL. (Demaryius Thomas checked in second at 39.8%.)
Last season, Houston’s offensive scheme appeared to be, “Let’s just throw it up to DeAndre and see what he can do.” That isn’t the case this season, and while that’s great for the Texans in real life, it’s terrible for Hopkins’s fantasy owners.
Hopkins has 33 targets this season, which puts him on pace for 132 across 16 games. To give you a sense of where that would rank in a full season, Eric Decker and A.J. Green had that same number of targets last year, and they tied for 15th among receivers. Hopkins’s target share this season is 22.9%, which has him sandwiched between Amari Cooper and Doug Baldwin. Last season, a 22.9% target share would have ranked 24th among receivers.
It’s no mystery why Hopkins’s volume is down this season. Arian Foster played four games in his final season with the Texans. Once he was on the shelf, the best player in the offense, other than Hopkins, was … Nate Washington? Cecil Shorts? Alfred Blue? No matter who it was, he wasn’t exactly commanding much attention. Even if the Texans wanted to diversify their offense, they didn’t have anywhere to turn. As a result, Hopkins feasted.
This season, the Texans have two other weapons in their offense that must have their number called. The first is Lamar Miller, who has 93 carries, 13 receptions and 15 targets, despite failing to find the end zone through four games. He may play a different position than Hopkins, but he’s creating a larger role for the Houston running game than it had last season. That directly takes food off of Hopkins’s plate.
The other, more obvious, player is Will Fuller, who has quickly turned into a fantasy mainstay. The rookie out of Notre Dame leads the Texans in receptions (19), targets (34) and yards (323), while also scoring two touchdowns. Fuller first made his presence felt as a deep option, ripping off monster gains against the Bears and Chiefs the first two weeks of the season. Last Sunday against the Titans, he turned a screen pass into a big play. He has had success against man and zone coverage. In short, he has done everything a player can do in his first four games, and is now on the field for every Houston snap. Last year, Texans quarterbacks didn’t have the luxury of a reliable option other than Hopkins when they dropped back to pass. This year they do, and that reality is hurting Hopkins’s bottom line. After all, when you’ve got a receiver who can do this, you don’t need to force nearly 50% of your targets to one guy.
Despite these realities, there are brighter days ahead for Hopkins. Houston remains one of the most aggressive downfield passing teams in the league, and you can probably count on one hand the receivers who have more pure talent than Hopkins. Bill O’Brien’s seizing of the play-calling duties is good news for both Hopkins and Fuller. Even without the volume of last season, Hopkins remains a steadfast WR1. If his owner in your league is the jumpy sort, this would be a great week to check in on his price tag.
And now, the remainder of the Week 4 Target and Snap Report.
John Brown’s raid on Michael Floyd’s snap count
Through the first three weeks of the season, Floyd played no fewer than 80% of Arizona’s snaps in a game. Twice he played at least 90% of the team’s snaps. Meanwhile, Brown, who suffered through concussion-related symptoms for much of the summer, played no more than 57% of Arizona’s snaps over the first three games. That flipped in Week 4, and based on their respective performances this season, those usage rates are likely here to stay.
Brown played all but seven snaps in Arizona’s loss to Los Angeles last week and caught 10 of his whopping 16 targets for 144 yards. Floyd was on the field for fewer than half of the Cardinals’ plays, and while he got in the end zone for the second time this season, he had just three catches on seven targets for 36 yards. Brown barely played the first two weeks of the season, but has 27 targets and 214 yards the last two weeks. Floyd has yet to reach 214 yards on the season, despite his large snap share. That should tell you everything you need to know about where these two players are headed.
It gets worse for Floyd, though. He was outsnapped by Jaron Brown last week, as well. Among the 86 receivers with a snap rate of at least 50%, Floyd ranks 47th in fantasy points per target, 77th in yards per target and 85th in catch rate. There is simply no consistency in his game, and he’s living entirely on touchdown value. That’s no way to go through life as a receiver.
Bilal Powell’s surge back into fantasy prominence
The Jets became The Matt Forte Show during their first two games. Forte played 115 of 146 snaps (78.8%) across those games, handling 52 carries and 10 targets. Powell, meanwhile, was nothing more than a bit player. He was on the field for 34 snaps (23.3%), netting five carries and six targets. Forte was always going to be the team’s primary runner, but the discrepancy in the passing game was surprising. The last two weeks likely better reflect the realities of the Jets’ offense moving forward.
Forte is still dominating the carry share, running 29 times over the last two games to Powell’s eight. Powell, however, has 16 targets the last two weeks, while Forte has just seven. What’s more, they’ve been on the field for nearly the same number of plays, with Powell outpacing Forte by three snaps last week. In that time, Powell has hauled in 12 of his targets for 95 yards.
Powell is too strong a weapon for the Jets to ignore, especially with Eric Decker’s shoulder possibly keeping him off the field for the foreseeable future. Powell may not make a huge impact as a runner, but his receiving chops are unquestionable. He needs to be on a roster in all competitive leagues.
Isaiah Crowell’s remarkable quarter-season is not a fluke
The Browns’ Crowell is the No. 5 running back in standard-scoring leagues, his 61.9 points more than every back other than DeMarco Murray (77.6), Melvin Gordon (67.4), David Johnson (67) and LeSean McCoy (62.4). He’s second in the league in rushing yards with 394, trailing only Ezekiel Elliott (412), and first in yards per carry by a wide margin at 6.46. The cosmetic numbers are gorgeous, but the under-the-radar numbers are even more encouraging.
Running backs generally don’t influence play calls, and while they have a duty to set up blocks, they can’t control their blockers. There are two elements of running that back do control, which are really two branches of the same tree: missed tackles and yards after contact. In those metrics, as measured by Pro Football Focus, Crowell is thriving.
Among the 23 backs with at least 40 carries this season, Crowell ranks fifth in missed tackles (11), fourth in missed tackles per carry (0.18), and first in yards after contact per carry (4.5). Any back can run behind Dallas’s stellar line, and that’s truly not meant as a knock on Elliott, who has been just as good as advertised in his rookie year. A back who can make his own yards, however, has staying power, and Crowell has arguably been the most effective player at making his own yards thus far in 2016.
Would you believe it gets better? Matt Harmon, who does great work at NFL.com and Football Guys and is an absolute must-follow on Twitter, dropped this great bit of information on Tuesday. Only Todd Gurley and LeGarrette Blount have had more rushing attempts against eight-man boxes than Crowell this season. Crowell has rushed for 225 yards on 28 carries, or 8.04 yards per carry, against eight-man boxes. Gurley has rushed for 2.88 yards per carry against those stacked fronts, while Blount has 2.45 yards per carry. I was way off on Crowell coming into the year. Not only is he locked in as a fantasy starter in all formats, but he’s a projectable RB1 for the rest of the season.
Quick, someone get Aaron Rodgers to New York so he can tell everyone to relax
You’re frustrated. I know you are. I’m right there with you. You’re heavily invested in the Giants, just like me. You’ve got a lot riding on Odell Beckham Jr., and Eli Manning, too. And while you’re pleased with what you’ve seen from Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz, you’re nervous about what’s in store for the Giants’ passing game. I empathize with you. I’m also here to tell you that things are going to get better, most notably for Beckham and Manning.
Let’s start with the nature of the Giants’ offense. Last week we profiled the Giants among the league’s purest three-receiver base offenses. That didn’t change last week, despite a long night against Minnesota’s fearsome pass defense. Beckham and Cruz played every snap, while Shepard was on the field for all but four of the Giants’ 66 plays. The trio has missed a total of 25 snaps combined this season. That’s the same number as Amari Cooper individually. A.J. Green has missed 21. Mike Evans has been out for 40. For all intents and purposes, the Giants’ receivers never leave the field.
Moving onto performance, this passing game has been better than the surface numbers suggest. Dating back to 1999, there have been 189 instances of a quarterback throwing for at least 350 yards and 8.9 yards per attempt with a completion percentage of 65% or better. In just four of those games has the quarterback failed to throw a touchdown. Two of those four belong to Manning this year (the others, for those of you interested, were Tom Brady on Sept. 25, 2005, and Ben Roethlisberger on Dec. 12, 2014). The quarterbacks in the other 185 instances averaged a little more than three touchdowns per game.
To recap, Manning threw three touchdown passes Week 1. He proceeded to have two of the most anomalous non-touchdown games in Week 2 and 3, and then got shut down by the Vikings’ elite pass defense last week. Beckham Jr. was eighth in the league in receiving yards before being rendered irrelevant by the Vikings. There is no reason to panic if you’re tied to this passing game, specifically via Manning or Beckham. Everyone involved will be just fine.
The surprising efficiency of Sammie Coates
Four games into the season, the Steelers have to be pleased with Coates’s tweaking of the Martavis Bryant role. Coates isn’t the complete receiver Bryant is. He’s going to have to live mostly by running past defensive backs, and so far, he has been able to make it work. He has a 40-yard reception in every game, totaling 282 yards on 13 catches.
You could probably guess that Coates leads the league in average depth of target. He checks in with an aDOT of 21.4 yards, according to Pro Football Focus, just ahead of Kenny Stills and Phillip Dorsett. That isn’t all that noteworthy. We know Coates is, and will continue, stretching the field. It doesn’t matter if his aDOT is 21.4 yards or 20.7 yards, or 22.6 yards. It’s going to be in that range, and that’s going to give him big-play ability every week. What is worth noting, however, is the catch rate he has posted alongside that aDOT.
Coates has caught 13 of his 19 targets, which translates to a catch rate of 68.4% that places him just outside the top-30 in the league. Both the rate and his standing are far higher than is typical of a player among the league leaders in aDOT. Last year, three receivers—Devin Smith, Malcom Floyd and Darrius Heyward-Bey, had aDOTs of 19 yards or higher. Heyward-Bey had the best catch rate at 56.8%. Even if you lower the aDOT threshold to 14 yards, you’ll find just two receivers—A.J. Green and DeSean Jackson—who match or surpass Coates’s 2016 catch rate. You have to go down to an aDOT in the 10 to 11 yard range before you find catch rates of 68% with regularity.
As the season wears on and Coates racks up more and more targets, his catch rate is going to come down. That he has been able to keep it this high through four games, given the way he is deployed, is impressive. It also bodes well for his fantasy future.
What’s going on in Jacksonville?
Chris Ivory made his season debut two weeks ago, and the Jaguars rolled out a backfield package that mirrored what we saw in the preseason. Ivory and T.J. Yeldon split snaps, but the former handled twice as many carries, while the latter dominated on passing downs. Ivory also got all goal line and short-yardage work, seemingly confirming the division of labor we expected coming into the season.
The Jaguars stuck to that plan for all of one week before changing things up. If what we saw from them in London last week is a better representation of what they want to do in the backfield, Yeldon owners are going to be quite happy. The second-year player out of Alabama played 54 snaps, handling 14 carries and five targets. Ivory, meanwhile, played just 18 snaps, ran the ball eight times and got one target. Yeldon piled up 71 yards on the ground and 46 through the air, by far Jacksonville’s most effective performance by a running back this season. Ivory ran for 29 yards and was a non-factor in the passing game.
Stats can lie from time to time, but they don’t in this case. Yeldon looked excellent against the Colts, accelerating through holes and regularly bouncing runs outside for extra yardage. For that, let’s go to the videotape, which is actually a GIF.
He did most of his damage on the ground out of shotgun, a wrinkle that the Jaguars could keep around given how much better they were as a team running the ball in Week 4 than they had been in their previous three games. It must be said that the Colts are among the league’s worst run defenses, but Yeldon looked the part of a committee head last week.
To be fair to Ivory, he spent time in the hospital with an illness in September, and the Jaguars had to fly to London for last week’s game. It’s entirely possible that took a toll on him, which led to Yeldon’s big day. The Jaguars have a bye this week, so Ivory will have two weeks off between games. He may get an even split when we see them again in Week 6, and he’s certainly going to remain the team’s goal line back. Yeldon, however, gave the Jaguars the life on the ground last week they had been searching for during the first three games of the season. They just might want to give him an opportunity to prove it owed more to him and less to Indianapolis’s shoddy defense.
Checking in on some split backfields
Baltimore: Terrance West had a big day, carrying the ball 21 times for 113 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t get a target, however, and that’s something to keep an eye on this week. Rookie Kenneth Dixon is expected to make his debut after missing the first four weeks of the season because of a torn MCL. Dixon is expected to be, at the least, the team’s primary pass-catching back. He could end up eating into West’s carry load, as well. You have to admire the footwork from West here.
Carolina: It was Fozzy Whittaker who led the team in snaps with the Panthers trailing for most of their loss to the Falcons. He put up big receiving numbers, thanks to a safe defensive scheme from Atlanta in the second half, catching nine passes for 86 yards. Cameron Artis-Payne and the run game were phased out early. We can safely say that while Jonathan Stewart is out, Artis-Payne is the primary runner and Whittaker will handle the receiving duties.
Chicago: It was all Jordan Howard, all day, for the Bears in their win over the Lions. He played 63 of 69 snaps, running for 111 yards on 23 carries and catching three of his four targets for 21 yards. Expect more of the same, even when Jeremy Langford is able to return from his ankle injury.
Indianapolis: Neither Josh Ferguson nor Robert Turbin is going to take too many carries away from Frank Gore, but the former is starting to show up in the passing game. He had 10 targets last week and is up to 21 on the season. That makes him a decent stash in deeper leagues.
Kansas City: Jamaal Charles played 10 snaps, getting two carries and a target in his season debut. Spencer Ware was comfortably in command of the backfield last week, but that will likely change when the Chiefs return from their bye in Week 6.
Oakland: The song remains the same for Latavius Murray, though it may a bit more toward a minor pitch. He got just eight carries, exactly half of Oakland’s total, and two targets. Each play that DeAndre Washington makes—the rookie had 30 yards on the ground and 16 through the air on eight total touches—earns him more run.
Pittsburgh: Le’Veon Bell played 52 snaps, handling 18 carries and six targets in his return from suspension. DeAngelo Williams got a short-yardage score but had just five touches. So much for the veteran holding onto a role with Bell back in the fold.
Tennessee: Another week, another dominant showing from DeMarco Murray. He played all but three of the Titans’ snaps, while Derrick Henry was on the field for just nine. Given the way Murray has played, he isn’t going to give up many touches any time soon.
Pro Football Focus keeps track of a handy stand called adjusted completion percentage for quarterbacks. It’s similar to regular completion percentage, except it counts drops as completions, so as not to penalize the quarterback. Carson Wentz ranks first in the league at 80.4%, trailed by Derek Carr (79.2%) Russell Wilson (79.1%) and, seriously, Ryan Tannehill (77.5%).
The bottom of the standings might surprise you. Bringing up the rear is Carson Palmer, who has an adjusted completion percentage of 62.6%. Right ahead of him is Aaron Rodgers at 64.8%. The next two on the list aren’t a surprise. Jameis Winston is third from the bottom at 66.5%, with Marcus Mariota just ahead at 66.7%. Rodgers and the Packers seemed to turn things around against the Lions in Week 3, but this is just more cause for concern for Palmer and the Arizona passing game.
The five most interesting wide receiver snap rates from last week
Do with this information what you will…
• Dontrelle Inman, 97.1%
• Torrey Smith, 96.2%
• Tyrell Williams, 95.7%
• Terrelle Pryor, 93.1%
• Robert Woods, 88.2%
And finally, someone help Jaquiski Tartt (29) locate Ezekiel Elliott.
Seriously, he’s still not sure where Zeke went on this play.