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Week 4 TNF and Injury News

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We’re closing in on a month into the season and we know about as much as can be expected. Nothing. Cooper Kupp is the WR1. The Chiefs are last in their division. Derrick Henry is a PPR stud on track for the most touches in the league. Exactly as we all thought back in August. Speaking of which, Week 4 kicks off with two teams that are in vastly different spots than we thought before the season started. I’ll preview TNF to start off the week and review all of the fantasy-relevant injury news coming out of practice from Wednesday.

TNF Preview: College Gameday on Thursday Night

I’m not even going to try to guess how many times a story or reference to LSU, Ohio State, or Clemson will happen tonight. The histories of the players and coaches will be easy fodder for the game crew. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a cameo from Kirk Herbstreit. Lucky for us, the game at least sets up as an entertaining one from both a real and fantasy sense.

Jacksonville’s offense has been nothing short of a rollercoaster. The preseason set us up for this and each week we’re met with some form of chaos. Whether it be losing to the Texans in Week 1 or using a jump pass to execute a flea-flicker, the Jaguars are nothing if not entertaining. But we need them to be productive.

Jacksonville is 26th in offensive yards per drive with just two drives that have moved them into the red zone. For better or worse, they’ve been primarily reliant on Trevor Lawrence’s arm. Jacksonville has 6 touchdowns in three games. Lawrence accounts for 5 of those scores. But it’s not like Urban Meyer and Darrell Bevell wanted their rookie quarterback slinging the ball nearly 40 times per game. They’re 26th in pass rate over expectation. But game flow continually pushes them into a pass-heavy script.

Lawrence has trailed by 10 or more points on 57.5% of his dropbacks. As a result, we’ve witnessed the best and worst of traditional rookie growing pains.

When kept clean, we see why he was the top pick of the draft. His eyes draw the safety to Laviska Shenault on the underneath route. Plus, Lawrence releases the ball before D.J. Chark is even past Kyle Fuller for flawless execution. But when the pocket breaks down, he’s quickly finding he doesn’t have the same windows to fit pass into as he did back at Clemson.

The Bengals have put up pressure on 27.7% of enemy quarterback dropbacks and had even less pressure against Ben Roethlisberger this past Sunday. But Cincinnati’s defense still got home with 4 sacks and 2 picks. They’ll be shorthanded without Jessie Bates and Chidobe Awuzie making it easier for Lawrence to connect downfield for big gains.

I’ve been a Bengals’ fan for 20 years and can’t remember the last time we sat atop the AFC North standings. But my excitement has come at a cost. Cincinnati’s passing game has been sacrificed. After leading the league in dropbacks per game, Burrow now leads an anemic aerial attack. So much to the point that my friends have turned it into a weekly bit.

For myself, it’s the classic Daily Struggle meme. Should we be happy the offense has found success without it being at the expense of its young quarterback? Absolutely. Can we hope for some compromise between their pass to run ratio in the future? I hope so!

Burrow had just 19 (!) dropbacks on Sunday. The only other starting quarterback to match such a low value was Davis Mills last Thursday. But it’s not like Burrow, or his pass catchers, are lacking when we turn to the boxscore.

Cincinnati’s saving grace is that they’re third in red-zone passing rate over expectation. Plus, Burrow’s been red hot on deep-ball passes. He’s tied for second in touchdowns on passes of 20 air yards or more. But 24.1% of his yards this season have come on those passes. He’s connected for a touchdown on a deep pass in all of his games this season. My cautious optimism aside, we’ll need more volume to offset the unsustainable efficiency we’re seeing through the air. But, against the Jaguars’ defense, it likely won’t matter.

Quarterbacks facing Jacksonville have finished as the QB11, QB11, and QB15. Surprisingly, Kyler Murray had the worst fantasy outing against the Jaguars. However, it was due to touchdown variance as James Conner got two short scores and there was a pick-6 from Lawrence. Regardless, Jacksonville’s secondary has allowed an average 311.7 passing yards and just traded away one of their starting corners. We may not know how often Burrow might pass it tonight. But, rest assured, it’ll be completed with ease against this secondary.

Points of Interest in TNF

For Jacksonville, I’ll be focused on their passing game. Specifically, Shenault Jr. It’s no surprise that he has a 5.0 aDOT playing alongside Marvin Jones Jr. and D.J. Chark Jr. (It just dawned on me that all three receivers are juniors.) However, the expectation was that the position would be more productive.

He’s run a route on 79.7% of Trevor Lawrence’s dropbacks and owned the slot with a 65.0% target share. But has just a 16.9% target share. He’s yet to be targeted inside the 20-yard line. Part of the problem is that the Jaguars have run just 16 plays in the red zone. The other is the lack of offensive creativity for a player with legitimate talent as a rusher. I don’t expect Urban Meyer to turn into Andy Reid overnight. But stressing the interior of a defense would do wonders for his quarterback constantly that’s constantly under duress.

My eyes will be on the Bengals’ passing game, too. It may just be my fandom, which absolutely conflicts with what I want them to do from a fantasy sense, but I don’t see their passing rate changing. But we do get some more insight into the pecking order behind their typical (read: preferred) starting trio.

On Sunday, the Bengals’ operated out of 1-1 personnel (three receiver sets) on 62.0% of their plays which was the lowest of the season. Chase and Boyd ran routes on 100% of Burrow’s dropbacks but we saw the ancillary guys come into play. Thomas had the (slightly) better-looking boxscore with 19 yards to Tate’s 14. But Tate had more snaps (57% to 21%), ran more routes (10 to 5), and was the only one of the two to run a route while the team was in scoring position. Tate’s biggest issue has been health so I’d expect to see him more with Higgins still on the mend.

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Injury Slants

Let’s start with some good news.

The Ravens are still 28th in pass rate over expectation, but the targets have been concentrated on Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, and Mark Andrews. It’s great for fantasy purposes but creates a predictable offense. Rashod Bateman’s return creates a new wrinkle for a team that needs to get creative to secure wins. My thoughts on Bateman from shortly after the draft.

Lamar is the QB5 so far on the season. But all three games have been decided by 6 points or less. Hopefully, any injury concerns will be past the rookie and the Ravens’ passing game can take off.

A.J. Brown’s absence isn’t as much of a shock. He left during the first half of the Titans’ Week 3 matchup and was later ruled out. Julio Jones played just 51% of the offensive snaps and Mike Vrable said Jones got “tight” and was pulled. Now, he’s receiving treatment. We’ve seen similar weeks of multiple missed practices from Jones when he was in Atlanta. But, even against the Jets, we’d like to see one of the star receivers get out on the field.

The hope is that Curtis Samuel is over the groin injury that plagued him all offseason. If so, he immediately walks into a significant role. In his absence, no one within Washington’s pass-catching corps has seized the WR2 spot. Adam Humphries has manned the slot and accrued a whopping 29 yards. The highly-hyped rookie Dyami Brown has the most deep targets and yet to connect with Taylor Heinicke. Samuel has executed both roles within Scott Turner’s offense in the past with even worse quarterback play. If he’s still out on your waiver wire, he shouldn’t be.

We likely won’t see anything on the Giants’ receivers until Friday. Both were knocked out on Sunday with the same issue to add to the pile of injuries for the New York football team. Wednesday was just a walkthrough for the Giants, but neither would have participated had the team fully practiced. Their absence makes Kenny Golladay and Evan Engram attractive options against the Saints. However, New Orleans has allowed the second-fewest points to quarterbacks through the first three weeks of the season.

Dalvin Cook returned to practice and Adam Thielen’s absence was just veteran’s rest. But, Tyler Conklin’s missed day is a concern. The Vikings’ primary tight-end saw a career-high 8 targets on Sunday. One of which resulted in Minnesota’s first touchdown. No other tight-end even ran a route. His absence would likely shift looks back to K.J. Osborn, but Conklin’s availability to close out the week will tell us more.

Anytime a player with an early-round ADP misses practice, the fantasy community takes notice. Kittle’s Wednesday DNP is especially jarring as he’s coming off of his most-productive game of the season. His routes, targets, and yards all took a step forward in this clash against the Packers. A DNP to start the week isn’t what we want to see. However, Kyle Shanahan said the star tight-end “should be all right this week ” and he was held out due to soreness. As of Wednesday, there’s no indication Kittle will miss time.

Will Fuller appeared to be injured during overtime in Week 3 on a deep shot to the endzone. After pleading with the referee, you can see Fuller holding the back of his leg. It also looked like Jonathan Abrams rolled across Fuller’s body which is likely why he’s listed with two injuries to start the week. It’s encouraging Miami used him this way in his debut but they’re already frighteningly scarce at wide receiver. Let’s hope he can suit up in what would be a plus matchup against the Colts in Week 4.

Gerald Everett had appeared to separate himself from Will Dissly as Everett had the majority of the routes and snaps on Sunday. Now, his Week 4 status is in doubt. Everett’s vaccination status is unknown so he’d have to test negative Thursday and Friday to play on Sunday as the team travels to Santa Clara a day early. Freddie Swain appears to have the WR3 job locked up and Dee Eskridge is set to return from the concussion protocol. If Everett misses time, he’ll return to a crowded offense in Week 5.

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