STATS 2018 NFL Fantasy Football Projections: Week 2

By: Corey Schwartz | September 13, 2018

Alex Smith was known more as a game-managing quarterback during his first 11 seasons in the league. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Smith had the best season of his career in 2017, eclipsing the 4,000-yard mark for the first time while throwing a career-best 26 touchdowns against only five interceptions. That still wasn’t enough for Kansas City to hold onto him, though, as the Chiefs dealt Smith to Washington in the offseason.

And he’s still being underestimated.

Smith ranks much better in STATS’ Week 2 fantasy projections than among the average of 80+ experts submitting their player rankings to FantasyPros.com. STATS’ model predicts Smith to have a big week for reasons we’ll get into below. That model factors in everything from proprietary advanced analytics and metrics to weather projections that could affect player performance and productivity. Naturally, rankings will differ from expert to expert.

Each week we’ll highlight some players who we believe will fare better – or even worse – than expert consensus based on the STATS model. We’ll begin with a couple players from the Thursday night game and work our way through the week. Feedback is always appreciated, so feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @CSchwartz18.

Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati

  • Joe Mixon received 22 of 24 RB touches for the Bengals in Week 1. Most encouragingly, he saw seven receiving targets after averaging only 2.4 per game last season.
  • Mixon’s 8.4 yards per target in 2017 trailed only Chris Thompson and Todd Gurley among RBs who received at least 30 targets, so the extra passing volume should work wonders.
  • That all adds up to a matchup-proof RB1, which is why Mixon is our #8 RB this week, even against a tough opponent.

Javorius Allen, RB, Baltimore

  • Kenneth Dixon is out indefinitely, making Allen the Ravens’ primary backup RB. Most importantly, he should soak up targets in the passing game.
  • Las year with Dixon out, Allen averaged 3.8 targets per game, and we project him for a bit more against a Cincinnati defense that forced 12 throws to RBs in Week 1.
  • As a result, Allen is a decent emergency flex option in PPR leagues.

Alex Smith, QB, Washington

  • Washington is tied for third-highest expected point total of the week
    • We give Smith the fifth-highest TD projection this week
  • Colts allowed 8.7 yards per attempt (YPA) last week, after allowing the most in the league last year
    • We give Smith the ninth-highest yards projection this week
  • Add in his usual 3-4 rush attempts, and he’s our #2 QB this week (fantasypros: #9)

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco

  • Hype has reversed after a tough 3-INT game vs. Minnesota
  • That was perhaps his toughest matchup of the season, against a team that allowed NFL-low 6.0 YPA last season
  • Despite the tough matchup, Jimmy averaged 7.9 YPA – encouraging for his upside
    • He’s a YPA machine, now averaging a HOF-worthy 8.2 YPA over his career
  • Much easier matchup against below average Detroit pass D that got shredded by Sam Darnold
  • With last week serving as his floor, he could tap his upside this week – he’s our #3 QB (fantasypros: #12)

Philip Rivers, QB, LA Chargers

  • Over the years, much of Rivers’ stats came with the Chargers in come-back mode
    • Last week, when Rivers threw 51 passes, they were trailing for 58:03 (since Tyreek Hill returned a punt for a TD in the 2nd minute of the game)
  • This week against Buffalo should be different – we project him for 35.3 pass attempts, ranking only 16th
  • This low passing volume, plus his typical rushing zero, adds up to a QB2 – in fact we have him ranked 17th (fantasypros: 6th)
    • Other startable QB like Smith, Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford, and Patrick Mahomes have better matchups

James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh

  • Everybody figured out by now he’s a must-start RB1 if and when Le’Veon Bell sits
  • How much so, though?
    • Other Pittsburgh RB received 0 touches last week
    • We project Conner for 19.6 rush attempts, trailing only Todd Gurley II and Ezekiel Elliott
    • Add in better-than-expected pass-game usage (we project 2.5 receptions), and he is our #5 RB for the week in standard leagues (fantasypros: #7)

Dion Lewis, RB, Tennessee

  • Albeit with a different regime, Tennessee refused to make Derrick Henry a lead-back last year, despite their other RB (DeMarco Murray) averaging just 3.6 YPC in his final season
  • Then they went out and invested salary in Lewis, who averaged 5.0 YPC last year and mixed in impeccable passing game efficiency (catching 32 of 35 targets, or 91.4%)
  • Last week Lewis outperformed Henry and was rewarded with 10 more touches than him (21 to 11)
  • If the split is even close to 50/50 going forward, Lewis is efficient enough to be an RB2
  • In fact, we project him for 14 out of 26 Tennessee RB touches this week, and it adds up to a #19 ranking (fantasypros: #21)
  • He’s even better in PPR, jumping up to #15

David Johnson, RB, Arizona

  • Some combo of offensive inefficiency by Arizona combined with tough defense from Washington, caused Arizona’s offense to look broken last week
  • It probably won’t get any better against the Rams this week
  • An expected score of around 29-16 Rams is a worst case scenario for Johnson, and it’s a testament to his skill that his floor is a #6 ranking from us (fantasypros: #5)
  • Just pointing out this is the rare week we have him ranked below Conner and Melvin Gordon III

Kenny Golladay, WR, Detroit

  • After the first week of games, we look for times when the data confirms a narrative that a player is ready to step up into a bigger role
  • That happened last week, as the second-year breakout candidate Golladay played on almost every snap and saw 12 targets, many coming before Detroit fell massively behind
  • Even if his 23% target share drops into the high teens with some regression and worse individual matchups, he’s still a WR3 in that offense, and one of the top waiver-wire adds this week
  • We rank him #28 amongst WR (fantasypros: #36) in a game in which they may have to throw to keep up with Garoppolo and the 49ers

Nelson Agholor, WR, Philadelphia

  • For the 2nd straight week, Agholor is undervalued
  • With Alshon Jeffery out, Agholor is not just their clear #1 WR, but their only decent WR
  • He dominated the ball, receiving 10 targets on 35 team throws last week
  • This week should be more of the same, and with added efficiency, against a decimated Tampa secondary that just lost slot CB Vernon Hargreaves to the IR
  • He’s essentially Jarvis Landry with less competition for targets right now, and he should be ranked as a sure-fire WR2. We rank him #14 (fantasypros: #22)

Jared Cook, TE, Oakland

  • The waiver-wire add du jour after his 9 catch, 180 yard outburst on MNF, he’s still under-ranked by experts – we’re at #7 vs. fantasypros #11
  • We’re wary when players break out due to anomalous TD efficiency or long plays, but usage tends to be less volatile, as it’s driven by a player’s role and chemistry with his QB
  • Thus, our model is very encouraged by Cook’s 12 targets on 40 throws (30% share). Even if this percentage regresses into the high teens, he will receive TE1 volume (along the lines of Jordan Reed and the underrated Jack Doyle)
  • Another thing worth noting: Delanie Walker put up his first 1,000-yard season at 31 years old, and Greg Olsen at 29. Cook is now 31 and could be next in line to establish a late-career breakout.

Trey Burton, TE, Chicago

  • We essentially have Burton flip-flopped with Cook when comparing to fantasypros, as we have Burton ranked #10 (vs. fantasypros #6)
  • It doesn’t have much to do with Burton’s performance – in fact we’re encouraged by his 6 targets (17% share), and our model gives him the 8th largest target share among TE for week 2
  • It has more to do with his QB and the matchup: Mitchell Trubisky looked poor (averaging under 5 YPA) last week, and yet – due to the Bears’ defense – they’re favored to beat Seattle on MNF
  • Winning a low-scoring affair is a bad recipe for passing-game volume, so while Burton’s share of the pie is large, the pie itself may not be. That, plus inefficient QB play, has him ranked below most of the other TE1 candidates in our model

Dustin Hopkins, K, Washington

  • Alex Smith effect: in the last 6 seasons in which Smith was a full-time starting QB, his team finished top 10 in FGM 4 times
  • This makes sense, as Smith is competent and conservative – good enough to get into the Red Zone (above average 7.5 YPA from 2015-2017), but not good enough to punch it in (below average 4.2 TD% on all throws over 2015-2017)
  • Hopkins is a sneaky waiver-wire add going forward, but he’s an especially good play this week in a plus matchup in which they’re favored
  • He’s our #7 kicker this week (fantasypros: #15)

Tennessee Titans Defense

  • DeShaun Watson holds onto the ball, as evidenced by being sacked on 8.5% of drop-backs last year
  • That trend continued last week vs. New England, as he was sacked 3x (on 37 dropbacks) and forced into numerous other bad throws after holding onto the ball for 3+ seconds
  • Tennessee is admittedly banged up, but that defense did tie for the 5th most Sacks last year
  • Our model projects Tennessee for the second-most sacks, and (largely as a result) the 2nd most fumble recoveries, which is a recipe for upside