Fantasy football is a passion for many. Sometimes that passion causes fantasy managers to make emotional decisions even when the data suggest otherwise. Each week during the 2023 NFL season, Liz Loza will attempt to strike a balance between what the data states and what the heart wants. This is called Facts vs. Feelings.
Duality. It's the idea that two opposing concepts can exist at the same time.
For example, someone can fully appreciate nature while bristling at the idea of camping (or raking leaves, or shoveling snow).
A dear friend and colleague can be incredibly funny and still deliver flat jokes at inappropriate moments (I am definitely not referencing Mike Clay).
Beloved pets can be considered so ugly that they're cute (but don't say that to a #dogparent).
Each of these instances illustrates the complexities of everyday life. There is no escaping the "yeah, buts" and the "well maybes" that both confound and delight us. Layer upon layer of contradictory and complementary experiences can be crazy-making, but they also provide us with an expanse of data from which to pull.
Fantasy Football brilliantly highlights this surfing of the pendulum. Managers may seem desperate for simplicity, yet passionately wrestle the pros and cons of their starting lineup(s) for a quarter of a calendar year. And sometimes the duality of a player's situation forces investors to acknowledge that two things (for example, facts and feelings) can be simultaneously and equally true.
Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys: Prescott is a gutty NFL quarterback. He is also a middling fantasy QB. Prescott turned in a virtually mistake-free performance versus the Jets, completing more than 81% of his throws and avoiding any turnovers. His determined efficiency (and subsequent victory) should be lauded by Dallas fans. Those facts, however, don't negate managers' feelings of disappointment surrounding his finish as FF's QB17 in Week 2.
Mike McCarthy has shown us what he wants to do time and time again. Sure, there was a gap year followed by an apology tour aimed at the analytics bros, but actions speak louder than words (and McCarthy's recent statements haven't exactly been hushed) . McCarthy is managing the game and it's working ... to the benefit of the team and the detriment of Prescott's fantasy stock. Prescott currently ranks 22nd in pass attempts (62) and 26th among QBs in rushing fantasy points. Per ESPN Analytics, the Cowboys are favored in all but one game for the rest of the season. So, where's the upside?
At some point, Dak will have to air it out. And then we will see him use the breadth of his receiving talent to its potential ceiling. But that fake football fantasy isn't coming at Arizona (the Cowboys are favored by 12) in Week 3 (or probably versus New England in Week 4). Expect Prescott to post a W and QB2 FF numbers for his third straight contest.
Kenneth Walker III, RB, Seattle Seahawks: On the topic of overthinking, Walker has virtual hobbyists asking "Zach Charb-o-who?" for a second consecutive outing. Despite summertime concerns that the second-year player and rookie would comprise an equitable timeshare, Walker has turned upfield and created a new narrative on his own.
Walker, out of MSU, has dominated Seattle's backfield, recording a snap share of 63% (RB14) and a team touch percentage of 62.5% (tied for RB16 with Derrick Henry). Charbonnet, on the other hand, is outside of the top 50 RBs in both categories (27% snap share, 25% team touch percentage).
Walker is coming off of a commanding two-score showing versus an improved Lions run defense. The numbers reveal that those TDs weren't flukey, as Walker's five goal-line rushes are tied for second in the NFL. In fact, only Tony Pollard has managed more GL opportunities with 10. Walker figures to command top-12 fantasy RB consideration as the 5-point favorite versus a Panthers squad that gave up two rushing scores to Tony Jones Jr. and will be without Shaq Thompson on a short week.
Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Perhaps there is a reality inside the NFL's metaverse in which the Seahawks backfield exists as some thought it might ... but that's actually just called the Steelers' real-life RBBC. Najee Harris' fall from grace is more brain-knotting than navigating between meta, multi and mega-verses, but here we are.
The 2021 first-round pick has finished outside of the top-39 fantasy producers at the position in back-to-back efforts. Meanwhile, Jaylen Warren is fantasy's RB40 overall, managing 28 more scrimmage yards on one fewer touch. Warren's larger presence in the passing game is what's pushing his production, as he's drawn 12 targets to Harris' five. Yet, both RBs have recorded exactly 21 opportunities a piece. Harris' might have the edge in total snaps (54% to Warren's 41%) and carries (16 to Warren's 9) but the stuck-in-the-mud-ness quality of his running is getting none of us anywhere.
Sunday night's matchup at Allegiant Stadium put the Steelers in a bounce-back spot. The fact, however, that neither Harris nor Warren have recorded a single red zone carry, makes my feelings on the likelihood of a rebound less than optimistic. The 1A/1B utilization of these two backs (along with an utter lack of offensive zing) canabalizes their individual upsides, pushing Harris outside of the top-24 RBs while keeping Warren in the RB30 range.
Jahan Dotson, WR, Washington Commandeers: I was a vocal supporter of Najee's dead-zone appeal heading into the season. After reviewing the numbers, I'm also willing to let that take rest in peace. That's not the case, however, for Dotson. The second-year receiver has underwhelmed, failing to register more than 9.0 fantasy points in an outing yet this year. It's coming though. I can feel it. And I have the facts to back up my stance.
Dotson leads the receiving corps in snaps (111). In fact, he recorded a snap share of 85% (the highest of any non-OL or QB) at Denver last Sunday. The 23-year-old additionally leads the team in routes run (73) and targets drawn (12). His eight grabs are tied (with Curtis Samuel) for the most on the team. The opportunity is leaning in his favor. As 6.5 underdogs facing a Bills team that currently ranks fourth in pass rate, the odds are as well. Buffalo's defense is no joke, but with Tre'Davious White devoted to pestering Terry McLaurin, Dotson should find time to shine.
Jerry Jeudy, WR, Denver Broncos: This was supposed to be Jerry Jeudy's year. And so was last year. And the year before that ... I don't need to remind Jeudy investors of their abundant patience. I would ask, though, that they lean into those hopes, whether they're false or not, for another week.
On a day in which Russell Wilson threw the ball 32 times to exceed 300 yards, Jeudy's 3-25-0 stat line definitely stings. It is a positive sign, however, that coming off of a hamstring injury, he registered the second-most receiver snaps (just 13 fewer than Courtland Sutton) and managed 18 yards after the catch (72%). Not suffering a setback and staying on the field are good things. Let's give him a game to shake off some rust and get back in sync with his QB.
Coming off of a frustrating loss, Sean Payton figures to lean on his most trusted playmakers. I expect Jeudy's snap and target share to skyrocket in a high-scoring game (48.0, second-highest O/U for the week) on the road at Miami. The Dolphins have allowed the most receptions and the seventh-most yards to the slot -- which is where Jeudy lined up on nearly 40% of his snaps in 2022 -- so far this season. A six-catch and 70-yard day seems on tap for the fourth-year receiver this Sunday.
Zach Ertz, TE, Arizona Cardinals: Speaking of not giving up on players, how about a player not giving up on himself? The 32-year-old may not be as quick as he once was, but his reliable hands and savvy route running have emerged as a balm for journeyman Josh Dobbs. So much so that Ertz's 18 targets rank twentieth among all pass-catchers and first among tight ends.
Registering six catches in back-to-back weeks, the vet has finished inside the top 12 at the position in consecutive outings. His 4.5 yards per target and 6.4 yards per reception may be outside of the top 25 TEs, but his consistent volume provides managers with a steady floor among an unsteady group.
Dobbs figures to crave security versus an unrelenting Dallas defense in Week 3. Not for nothing, Tyler Conklin finished Week 2 second in team targets (6) after Zach Wilson felt the burden of the Boys' pass rush. Ertz's Sunday stat line may not be flashy, but five grabs for 50(ish) yards is enough to make him a borderline TE1.
Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons: I wish the path to Pitts' fantasy success were as clear. He is fantastically gifted. But Arthur Smith isn't tempted. There's that duality again. A player capable of skimming the receiving ceiling ... who ranks 24th at the position in targets (8 total). ARGH.
Rolling the dice on a Falcon not named Bijan is risky business. Still, that's my job and I've got a hunch the Florida product performs this weekend. Yes, volume is the largest determining factor in projecting fantasy prosperity. No, Pitts doesn't have a whole lot of it. However, his underlying numbers magnify his upside, making him nearly impossible to sit. Pitts is the TE2 in yards per target (14.8) while leading the position in aDOT (12.1 yards). He's also run the most routes (49) of any player on his team.
Perhaps, Arthur Smith might be more willing to use the 2021 first-round pick's talents if the matchup were favorable? Brian Flores has stiffened the Lions' run defense. While the aforementioned Walker scored twice last Sunday, Detroit allowed just 3.3 yards per carry. The team was similarly stingy (3.9 YPC) at Arrowhead in the opener. Yet, opposing offenses have found success testing Detroit over the middle, resulting in the fifth-most fantasy points allowed to the position (with Travis Kelce sidelined in Week 1) over the past two weeks.
Pitts can do this. And so can you. Keep the faith ... and the facts.
Follow Liz on social @LizLoza_FF