The fantasy blocking breakdown series reviews the impact that run and pass blocking have on fantasy football performance, using methodologies detailed here.
This week's fantasy blocking breakdown will look at how the powerhouse Philadelphia Eagles ground game has turned Wendell Smallwood and LeGarrette Blount into legitimate fantasy starters, highlight how the Jacksonville Jaguars' abysmal rush defense made fantasy gold out of the New York Jets' ball carriers, detail why Le'Veon Bell's incredible 34.6 points in Week 4 is not his fantasy ceiling and note a group of potentially valuable buy-low running backs.
Eagles ground-and-pound attack
My Week 4 blocking preview article noted that the matchup against the Chargers meant everything was in place for the Philadelphia Eagles to finally move away from their pass-heavy approach in Weeks 1-3 and start to use their powerful offensive line to ground and pound with great success.
The Eagles went after this blocking mismatch with gusto, as their 42 carries were the most by a Philadelphia team since Week 13 of the 2014 season. Philadelphia's offense came into the contest ranked 10th in good blocking rate (GBR) (41.4 percent) and improved upon that total with a 42.1 percent GBR against the Chargers.
LeGarrette Blount added his tackle-breaking ability to the mix by posting 109 rushing yards after first defensive contact, which is the most any player has posted so far in 2017 and is the fifth-highest total over the past five years (per ESPN Stats & Information).
This blocking advantage led Blount to post a season-high 16.6 points. Wendell Smallwood managed to tally 17.9 points despite getting good blocking on only 27.3 percent of his carries, so he actually could post even higher fantasy totals down the road if he receives a GBR of 40 percent or higher in a contest. Fantasy managers should also consider acquiring third-string running back Corey Clement (available in 99.8 percent of ESPN leagues), as he has racked up 16 carries in the past two weeks and is only an injury away from being part of what could be a run-heavy platoon in Philadelphia.
Jacksonville's atrocious rush defense
Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey said last week that he believes this team has the best secondary in the NFL. The Denver Broncos might have something to say about Ramsey's claim, but the more important factor from a fantasy football perspective is that Ramsey didn't note that Jacksonville might have the worst rush defense in the league.
The Jaguars defense ended Week 3 ranking dead last in my good blocking rate metric that measures how often an offense gives its ball carriers quality run blocking. To put their 54.4 percent GBR allowed figure into perspective, consider that it is more than 10 percent higher than the 44.1 percent GBR mark that Pittsburgh's offense led the league with during the 2016 campaign.
Jacksonville aimed to address this problem in Week 4 by bringing an extra defender into the box on 28 plays, a total that is tied for the fifth highest by any team so far during the 2017 season. This did not cause the Jets any playcalling hesitation, as they ran against this loaded box on 16 occasions and gained 138 yards, or 8.6 yards per carry versus what should have been unfavorable personnel circumstances. The result of this was Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire each racking up more than 20 fantasy points.
This performance was par for the course for the Jaguars defense, as they now place last in the league in rushing yards allowed (662), yards per rush (5.7) and yards before first defensive contact (438). This has translated to Jacksonville ranking tied for 27th in running back fantasy points allowed (112), a total that should make any fantasy manager with a running back facing this club in future weeks quite happy with the upside potential this matchup should bring.
Le'Veon Bell hasn't hit his ceiling yet
Bell has seen his point total jump by a significant amount every week, as he went from posting 7.7 points in Week 1 to 13.1 points in Week 2, 21.8 points in Week 3 and skyrocketed to 34.6 points in Week 4.
That last total might make one think Bell has reached his production ceiling, but consider this before placing that cap on his projection. Bell has posted a 6.0-yard mark this season in my good blocking yards per attempt (GBYPA) metric that measures a ball carrier's productivity when given good run blocking. This pace is more than a yard off of Bell's 7.5 GBYPA during the 2016 season and is 2.8 yards short of his 8.8 GBYPA from the 2014 campaign.
A return to his earlier GBYPA form could mean a 40-point game is in Bell's near future, maybe even as early as Week 5 when the Steelers host the Jaguars. This means Bell's fantasy managers should not even consider selling high on him.
The blocking isn't the problem in Green Bay
Blocking was a hindrance to the Packers ground game in 2016, as Green Bay ranked 30th in GBR last season. That hasn't been the case in 2017, as the Green and Gold entered Week 4 with a 42.6 percent GBR that placed eighth best and improved to a 44.3 percent GBR after the Week 5 contest against Chicago.
The issue for the Packers this year is their 5.4 GBYPA through Week 3 ranked 30th and their 5.2 GBYPA after four weeks is a more than 3-yard decline from the 8.3 GBYPA the team posted in 2016.
As bad as those GBYPA totals are, savvy fantasy managers should note that history indicates good blocking carries are normally four to five times as valuable as bad blocking carries and thus realize this situation offers a perfect buy-low opportunity for any of the Packers running backs. It should also be noted that Montgomery posted a 10.8 GBYPA last season and thereby has a potentially elite production ceiling once he gets healthy.
• Aaron Rodgers averaged an incredible 22.0 yards per attempt on passes thrown 11 or more yards downfield against the Bears despite Chicago getting pass rush pressure on 40 percent of those throws. His ability to hit big plays under pressure will make it even tougher for defenses to concentrate on keeping the Packers ground game in check and should make Green Bay's running backs even more valuable buy-low targets.
• Miami's run game woes continued against the Saints. The Dolphins offense came into that matchup with the worst run blocking in the league, as their 22.2 percent GBR ranked last and was more than six points behind the 31st ranked team (Indianapolis, 28.8). New Orleans held Miami to a 25.0 percent GBR in this contest, a total that limited Jay Ajayi to only 6.4 points. Unless and until the Dolphins get the run blocking issue resolved, every Miami fantasy prospect could be stuck in neutral.