Hunter Renfrow, Ezekiel Elliott, & More Early-Season Duds
NFL Week 3 - Hunter Renfrow ranks dead last in receiving DYAR? How is that even possible? Renfrow is like the lovechild of Wes Welker and Julian Edelman, raised as his favorite son by Jon Gruden and then adopted by Josh McDaniels, the Slot-Guy Svengali. What on earth could Renfrow possibly be doing wrong?
Oh yeah, the fumbles.
Renfrow's overtime fumble cost the Las Vegas Raiders the game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2. He also fumbled two plays before that fateful touchdown return by Byron Murphy, but teammate Foster Moreau recovered it. Renfrow also fumbled at the end of a Week 1 reception in the loss to the Los Angeles Chargers but recovered it himself. DYAR and DVOA penalize players and offense for the fumbles their team recovers, because while fumble rates are relatively reliable and predictive, recovery "luck" fluctuates wildly and tends to distort results.
Renfrow was also the target of a Derek Carr interception against the Chargers. Is it Renfrow's fault that Bryce Callahan undercut a soft pass into traffic? Not really. It's not CeeDee Lamb's fault (68th in DYAR) that the Cowboys offense was a disaster in Week 1 and Cooper Rush is currently their starter. Receiver DYAR often measures the effectiveness of the passing game when that receiver is targeted, not whether the receiver is "good" or not. Passes to Renfrow have resulted in two turnovers, two near-turnovers, five incomplete passes, and just two gains of over 10 yards in 16 targets. That's very, very bad, and it's a reason the Raiders are 0-2.
Renfrow suffered a concussion at the end of the Cardinals loss. He was not practicing as of midweek. His poor metrics aren't really an issue. but his potential unavailability is baked into the Raiders' -2 line against the sputtering Tennessee Titans. Still, Walkthrough remains comfortable picking the Raiders, because the Titans defense ranks 31st at stopping No. 1 receivers after tossing bouquets at a streaking Stefon Diggs on Monday night. Davante Adams (plus Maxx Crosby versus the poor backup left tackle who draws the short straw after the Taylor Lewan injury) should be sufficient for a Raiders cover.
Moving forward, Renfrow should bounce back: he finished 10th in DYAR last season, Carr is a capable quarterback, and McDaniels knows how to deploy slot receivers. Renfrow's last-place DVOA is an example of a small-sample trend which has had a big impact on the standings early in the 2022 season. The Raiders may not be Super Bowl contenders, but they are better than their record and likely to improve once they get more efficiency from one of their most reliable playmakers.
Hmmm, what other secrets are lying at the bottom of the DVOA tables, and what might they be trying to tell us about Week 3 and beyond?
Dead Last in Passing and Rushing DYAR: Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
As discussed early in the week, the Bengals' problems start with their offensive line, continue with their offensive line, flow briefly through Burrow's idiosyncratic pocket decisions, make a pitstop at Zac Taylor's system, then return to the offensive line just in time to watch La'el Collins get pinwheeled by an edge rusher.
Bengals-Jets Week 3 Play: The Bengals are five-point favorites against a non-embarrassing Jets team, and Walkthrough doesn't wanna touch them. (Neither does the public, apparently, as that line is sliding toward the Jets). If anything, we're leaning toward the Joe Burrow Longest Completion prop at 37.5: Sauce Gardner is the only guy in the Jets secondary equipped to cover Ja'Marr Chase, and Sauce ain't ready to cover Chase just yet. The Bengals line just need to protect Burrow once for that prop to hit. Once.
Dead Last in Receiving DVOA Among RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
Here's a fun one! Elliott has been targeted for four passes, two of them incomplete, one for a loss of 3, and one for a loss of 4. That's a DVOA of -139.1% in a tiny, tiny sample, which makes sense: if you leaked into the flat and then curled into the fetal position to avoid being hit before the ball was thrown, you would actually be a more effective receiver than Zeke right now.
Tony Pollard ranks a respectable-but-not-great 27th in receiving DYAR and 24th in DVOA on nine passes right now. Pollard "caught" a 46-yard "pass" for a touchdown against the Bengals which was really just a quick pitch sweep tossed almost perfectly parallel to the line of scrimmage. He also caught a 10-yard pass against the Buccaneers, but on fourth-and-12 at the end of the fourth quarter. Everything else has been bean dip.
A clever coach would work overtime to get Elliott and Pollard heavily involved in the passing game to protect Rush and take pressure off Lamb. Cowboys coaches are neither clever nor work overtime.
Cowboys Week 3 Play: Walkthrough told you to hammer Cooper Rush in his first start last week, and you are very welcome. Now it's time to run screaming from the Cowboys. Our way-too-early lean for Monday night against the Giants is the Over of 39: the points-off-turnovers potential is high, as is the likelihood that either Zeke or Pollard exposes a Giants defense that's operating on pure adrenaline, vibes, and opponent incompetence (admittedly still an issue) for two weeks.
Dead Last in Receiving DVOA Among TEs: Tyler Conklin, New York Jets
Given seven targets in Week 1, Conklin fumbled after a 2-yard reception (the Jets recovered); caught 5- and 6-yard passes on two second-and-longs; and caught a 3-yard touchdown in the final moments of the fourth quarter of a 24-9 loss, plus three incompletions. Conklin fumbled again against the Browns (deep in Jets territory) and caught 1- and 4-yard passes to go with two incompletions and receptions of 9, 9, and 13 yards.
Conklin has a decent track record as an outlet/checkdown receiver, and Joe Flacco (starting for another week) adores outlet/checkdown receivers. The Jets offense is moderately functional, and fellow tight end C.J. Uzomah is dealing with a hamstring injury. Conklin will get plenty of targets and should work his way towards the lower middle of the DVOA/DYAR pack.
Tyler Conklin Play for Week 3: His over/under on receiving yards in Week 3 stands at 27.5. Unless Uzomah trends toward playing late in the week, bang the over and hope he can crack the three-yard barrier on play-action rollouts.
Week 3 News 'n' Notes
More DVOA splits and trends in a moment! But first: BREAKING NEWS and hard-hitting analysis.
Mike Evans' One-Game Suspension Upheld
His appeal was going well until NFL suspension czar Jon Runyan held up Marshon Lattimore like a matador's cape next to a 30th-floor window and Evans nearly leapt to his death.
New Buccaneers WR Cole Beasley Slid Into Tom Brady's Instagram DMs in Order to Get Brady's Attention Last Week.
You and about 500,000 hopeful women, Cole.
Jameis Winston Now Has an Ankle Injury as Well as a Back Injury
Taysom Hill has a voodoo doll that looks like a pin cushion.
Eagles Return Man Britain Covey Parked in the Fan Lot on Monday Night Because the Security at Lincoln Financial Field did not Recognize Him
Smart move. The player's lot is so close that Covey's windshield could have been cracked by one of Kirk Cousins' throwaways. Also: never mess with security at the Linc.
Robert Saleh Affirms That Zach Wilson Will be the Jets' Starting Quarterback Once Healthy, Despite Joe Flacco's Success
Wilson has now stumbled into quarterback controversies with Flacco and Mike White, plus all the Cougartown stuff, through 13 NFL starts. He's starting to make Sam Darnold's early career look like Justin Herbert's early career.
Justin Fields Angers Chicago Bears Fans with Out-of-Context Postgame Comments
- No receivers? Check.
- No drainage on the field? Check.
- No one in PR/media relations to get ahead of relatively benign comments before they go viral? Check.
Heh. I take back what I wrote about the Bears lazily hanging Fields out to dry. They're aggressively hanging Fields out to dry.
Aaron Rodgers Explains that Ayahuasca Tea is "Not a Drug" Because it's Just a Plant
Rodgers is every ninth-grader in a general-level English class in 2002, starting the second paragraph of his standardized-test mandated persuasive essay on Should Marijuana Be Legalized? with, "First and foremost, marajuana is just a plant. It's natural, and anything natural should be legal." Rodgers turns in the essay, gets four points out of six from the teacher who has skimmed over 4,000 similar arguments, then asks his mom to call the teacher to demand seven points and a formal apology. Mom refuses (It's September, dear. Let's not get off on the wrong foot), and she gets a page in Rodgers' burn book right next to the teacher.
Also, those thousands of essays resulted in adult-use marijuana legalization in many states, so shout-out to all those 14-year-old know-it-alls. But please, let's not adopt any of their other ideas.
Dead Last DVOA Plays, Continued
Let's go back to the DVOA tables and see what we can learn from some of the team splits.
Dead Last Against Passes to Tight Ends and Running Backs: Arizona Cardinals
You probably recall that Travis Kelce went 8-121-1 against the Cardinals defense in Week 1. You may have noticed that Darren Waller went 6-50-1, with a touchdown on a goal-line fade when covered on the boundary by some linebacker named Ezekiel Turner. Two touchdown catches by Clyde Edwards-Helaire may also have caught your attention, and another by Jody Fortson, plus productive receptions on screens and other short concepts by Jerrick McKinnon, Ameer Abdullah, and Josh Jacobs.
The Cardinals also rank 25th at stopping "other" wide receivers (Mack Hollins is the definition of an "other wide receiver"), 30th at stopping passes over the middle of the field, and 31st at stopping short passes. Bottom line: Byron Murphy does a great job with his assignments (WR1, typically), but it's open season on everyone else who drops into coverage for the Cardinals.
Anti-Cardinals Week 3 Play: The only factor that should give fantasy gamers pause before assembling huge RB/TE DFS stacks against the Cardinals is that both the Chiefs and Raiders spread lots of wealth around to TE2/RB3 types. Opponents REALLY want linebackers such as Turner, Nick Vigil, and Tanner Vallejo on the field (Isaiah Simmons' current position appears to be "doghouse"), and they will use two-tight end sets and two-back formations to get the mismatches they crave. Most Tyler Higbee props look a little too rich for Sunday, but Higbee Longest Reception OVER +17.5 yards is just a blown assignment or missed tackle on a routine pass over the middle away.
Speaking of the Rams…
Dead Last in Special Teams DVOA: Los Angeles Rams
Here's a fine example of how small sample sizes can be both distorting and illuminating. The Rams suffered a blocked punt against the Atlanta Falcons, only have one punt return this season (for a loss of 1), and have only allowed one punt return (for 20 yards). The Rams special teams bear monitoring, because they're where much of the cost-cutting can be seen, but their current DVOA is a blip, and that blocked punt made the Falcons game look a lot closer than it really was.
Los Angeles Rams Play for Week 3: Walkthrough's Twelve Quadrillion Star Play of the Week is Rams (-3.5) AND Bills (-5.5) in a two-team parlay at +264. If that's a little risky for you, try parlaying both teams straight up at (as of Thursday afternoon) +120. Or just play Rams-Cardinals: the Rams are undervalued because of their wobbly start, the Cardinals overvalued because they sucker-punched the Raiders.
Dead Last in Offensive Goal-to-Go DVOA: Minnesota Vikings
How on earth did the Vikings limbo under the Denver Broncos? One issue is that they have not faced many goal-to-go situations. When they have faced them, the Vikings ran three plays for 0 yards twice before settling for field goals against the Packers in Week 1, then produced a fourth-quarter Kirk Cousins special from the 9-yard line against the Eagles on Monday night: incomplete pass, near-interception, interception. No, "near-interceptions" aren't counted by DVOA, but we cannot deny Cousins his flair.
For their part, the Broncos have already fumbled twice from the 1-yard line and settled for 20- and 24-yard field goals in goal-to-go situations. Both teams are testing the low-end tolerances of DVOA with low sample sizes. The difference is that the Broncos will eventually figure things out.
Broncos Week 3 Play: Yeah, screw the Vikings. The Broncos are undervalued at +1.5 on Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers. The "backup quarterback starting first game" factor does not apply to Jimmy Garoppolo: the house, public, and Broncos are all aware of what he is and isn't capable of as the 49ers starter. Heck, Garoppolo might make the 49ers over-valued! Take the Broncos.
Dead Last in Rushing Stuffed Rate: Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens' running backs have been stopped for no gain or a loss on 33% of running plays, which is rather suboptimal. Kenyan Drake has been stuffed six times in 17 carries (he's dead last in rushing DVOA), Justice Hill once in five carries, and Mike Davis three times in just seven carries. Quarterback runs are not accounted for in stuff rate, but Lamar Jackson has also been stuffed three times, including twice on fourth down, once on a botched snap at the goal line. The slick surface in Week 1 was partially to blame, but Drake and Hill each got stuffed for losses on first downs when the Ravens were failing to run out the clock against the Dolphins, leading to a punt and a long field goal. So this is a split that illustrates a major Ravens early-season problem.
The great news here is that J.K. Dobbins was listed as a full participant on the Ravens Wednesday injury report. This is not a "running backs don't matter" situation: the Ravens are using lots of replacement-level rushers right now (Drake was literally pulled from the waiver wire after the Raiders released him), so Dobbins is a legit upgrade. The not-so-great news is that the Ravens have a habit of letting Dobbins warm up on Sunday morning and then saying "Eh, we're just not sure he's 100.000% ready yet."
Ravens Week 3 Play: There were no Dobbins props on the board as of Thursday, and the -2.5 line against the New England Patriots is right where the Football Outsiders DVOA picks (available to FO+ subscribers!) also land. The only wager Walkthrough is even considering is Lamar Jackson as an anytime scorer at +135, because it's fun to root for Jackson tuddies.
Dead Last in First-Quarter Offensive DVOA: Carolina Panthers (-106.6%)
The Panthers squeezed two offensive fumbles (plus a special teams fumble) into the first quarter against the Giants, with Christian McCaffrey getting stuffed on fourth-and-short on the final play. Week 1 featured two Baker Mayfield fumbles (both recovered by the Panthers), two three-and-outs, and a sack. The Panthers look terrible, but they would look even worse if not for some decent fumble luck.
Incidentally, the Dolphins are a surprising 31st in offensive first-quarter DVOA. The Dolphins have only had two first-quarter possessions so far: one against the New England Patriots that ended with a strip-sack (recovered by the Dolphins) and a field goal, and one against the Baltimore Ravens which ended in an interception. Three guesses where the Dolphins rank in fourth-quarter offensive DVOA. Still, their slow starts have Walkthrough feeling comfortable about the Bills-Rams parlay we discussed earlier.
Panthers Week 3 Play: Jameis Winston's litany of injuries has us wary of the Saints -2.5. All those Mayfield fumbles and Winston's Winston-ness has us leaning toward a points-off-turnovers fueled Over at 40.5. Is it same-game parlay time? It's same-game parlay time. Saints moneyline AND Over at +210.
When Mayfield and Winston are involved, it's best to go big or go home.