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Buy/Sell/Hold Report #1

By Jared Smola 8:31am EDT 9/22/21


BUY David Montgomery, RB, Bears

Montgomery has been 1 of the workhorsiest RBs in the league through 2 weeks. He’s played 69% of Chicago’s offensive snaps and hogged 82% of the RB carries. Montgomery is tied for 7th league-wide with 36 carries and ranks 7th with 41 opportunities (carries + targets).

He’s looked good, too, showing his usual elusiveness -- but also more speed and burst than we’ve seen over his first 2 NFL seasons.

Montgomery’s production has been a bit muted by Chicago’s Dalton-led offense, though. The Bears currently rank bottom 5 in points, yards and yards per play.

But here comes Justin Fields to save the day! The rookie figures to go through the typical growing pains as a passer. But his elite rushing ability should spark this offense. And we know that running QBs tend to boost RB efficiency by posing another threat to defenses.

Buy Montgomery before he gets the Fields Bump.


BUY Javonte Williams, RB, Broncos

Consider it a win for Williams that he’s already earned 50% of Denver’s backfield work this early in his rookie season. Through 2 games, Williams has played 61 snaps to Melvin Gordon’s 74. Williams holds the carry edge 27 to 24.

A quick glance at yards per carry might make you think Gordon has out-played his younger backfield mate so far. But Gordon’s 5.5 yards per carry is inflated by his 70-yard TD in the opener.

Advanced metrics say that Williams has been the better runner. He ranks 5th among 51 qualifying RBs in Pro Football Focus’ Elusive Rating; Gordon is down at 40th. Yards after contact per attempt? Williams 14th; Gordon 38th. Missed tackles forced? Williams 4th; Gordon 28th. Williams sits 9th among those 51 qualifying RBs in PFF’s rushing grades -- 22 spots ahead of Gordon.

So, if we can trust Denver’s coaching staff to do the right thing, Williams’ role should only grow from here. See if you can buy him on the cheap from an inpatient owner.


BUY D.K. Metcalf, WR, Seahawks

If there’s an impatient (or irrational) Metcalf owner in your league … strike up a conversation.

The 3rd-year pro has ranked WR28 (at Colts) and WR47 (vs. Titans) through 2 games. But he enters Week 3 tied with Tyler Lockett in targets (16). QB Russell Wilson is rolling under new OC Shane Waldron, racking up 597 yards and 6 scores. And he’s done that despite Seattle ranking 31st in plays and 30th in pass attempts. Wilson has completed 74% of his passes and averaged an ungodly 11.1 yards per attempt.

He’s throwing deep, too. Wilson has attempted passes of 15+ air yards at the 3rd-highest rate league-wide, per Numberfire’s JJ Zachariason. That can only be good news for a downfield dynamo like Metcalf.

Simply put, it’s only a matter of time before Metcalf’s production catches up to Lockett’s.


BUY A.J. Brown, WR, Titans

Brown is an interesting case, and whether to buy him might depend on just how frustrated his current owner is.

There was room for Brown to regress from his per-catch production of the past 2 years. He finished 2019 atop the league in average yards after catch above expectation, and then ranked 2nd in that category in 2020. Gaining more than the “expected” yards is likely a mark of talent most often, but it’s difficult to consistently produce at quite that level.

Brown was also fortunate in TDs through his 1st 2 seasons. He scored on 15.4% of his 2019 receptions, and then 15.7% last year. Among 97 players who saw at least 100 targets over those 2 seasons, only Adam Thielen, Jared Cook and Mike Evans beat Brown’s 15.5% TD rate.

So if you’re having to pay up to the point that he’ll disappoint you by missing the top 8 among fantasy WRs, then you might want to back away.

But he’s worth looking into right now because the 3rd-year man sits all the way down at 48th among PPR wideouts -- and 49th in non-PPR. Brown’s definitely coming up from there.

Let’s just look at what has happened so far. If we take the 17 targets he has seen through 2 games (a solid 22.9% share of Ryan Tannehill attempts) and apply Brown’s 62.3% career catch rate and current 13.1 yards per reception, he goes from 7 catches for 92 yards up to 10.6 and 138.7.

That’d be enough to boost Brown from 48th to 29th among PPR WRs -- ahead of Mike Evans and D.K. Metcalf, among others.

Brown struggled through 3 drops in Sunday’s OT win at Seattle, but he totaled just 11 over his first 2 seasons, with drop rates of less than 9% each year. So there’s no reason to worry about that issue persisting. Tannehill isn’t worried.

"I told him that I’m going to keep throwing to him," the QB said, per The Tennessean. "I have a lot of faith in A.J., and I told him I’m going to keep coming to him. I did that. I kept throwing his way (on Sunday), and if I feel like he has an advantage on a guy, I’m going to let it rip like I always trust him. This is a guy who misses a couple plays there or something like that, I’m not going to cancel him out.”

The Tennessee offense on whole looked worrisome in a lopsided Week 1 loss to Arizona, but the Titans rebounded for 532 yards (347 passing) and 33 points against the Seahawks.

The offense retains plenty of upside in its talent. And even if we’re still wondering about the effect of the OC switch, we believe in Brown the player.

Now is a good time to see how much your league mate still believes.


BUY George Kittle, TE, 49ers

Kittle was fine in Week 1, catching 4 of 5 targets for 78 yards.

Week 2 turned up 4 catches for 17 yards, giving him his lowest single-game PPR output since Week 13 of 2019.

Here’s the thing: Kittle’s run a route on 75% of the 49ers dropbacks, 8th highest among TEs (per Pro Football Focus). He was at 74% in 2020.

It’s a rate reflective of Kittle’s dominance as a blocker. But it’s also one that’ll allow for fantasy-friendly production, especially when you consider his past efficiency. Kittle led all TEs in yards per route run in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Missing Deebo Samuel for most of last season helped. Still, through 8 games, Kittle was on pace for overall TE3 numbers. And that extrapolation only assumes 4 TDs.

Brandon Aiyuk’s current slump helps boost the target outlook in the short term. Longer term, it remains to be seen if Samuel — who’s missed 23 games over the past 2 seasons — can stay healthy. Any missed time would likely elevate Kittle’s role. San Francisco’s WR depth is Lions-level bad.

Mix in the 49ers’ likely move to Trey Lance, and this offense could hit another gear down the stretch.


BUY Tyler Higbee, TE, Rams

Higbee is coming off a 1-catch dud -- in a game in which Matt Stafford chucked for 278 yards and 2 scores.

That might have Higbee owners thinking that he’s in for another frustrating fantasy season.

Nuh uh.

Higbee has seen elite playing time through 2 weeks. He played every single 1 of the Rams’ offensive snaps. And he’s run a pass route on 85% of the team’s pass plays. The only TEs with higher route rates: Mark Andrews, Darren Waller, Logan Thomas, T.J. Hockenson and Travis Kelce. Higbee sits ahead of Kyle Pitts, George Kittle, Noah Fant, Rob Gronkowski and everyone else.

That’s exciting because Higbee has been 1 of the more efficient TEs on a per-route basis over the past couple of seasons. In 2019, he ranked 3rd among 40 qualifying TEs in yards per route run. Then he finished 9th out of 43 last year.

And that came on offenses much less explosive than the one Matt Stafford is piloting this year. The longtime Lion has settled in nicely to his new digs, averaging 10.7 yards per attempt with 5 TDs through 2 games.

Simply put, if Higbee continues getting this usage in this passing game, he’s a strong bet for a top 8 fantasy finish.


SELL Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys

Thank goodness Elliott found the end zone against the Chargers. That gave us a potential selling opportunity.

It’s fair to describe the veteran RB as a declining talent. (Aren’t they all at this position?) It’s also arguable how much his talent level matters as long as he’s getting workhorse touches in a strong offense. (That’s what “RBs don’t matter” is all about.)

The biggest problem, though, is that workload.

In 2020, Elliott claimed 59.8% of Dallas rushing attempts and 11.7% of targets in games he shared with Tony Pollard. The #2 back garnered a 21.8% carry share and 5.1% target share.

Through 2 games this season, those numbers look like this …

Carry share: Elliott 55.1%, Pollard 32.7%
Target share: Elliott 4.7%, Pollard 8.2%

It’s just 2 games, which means there’s time for shares to shift back toward prior years. The playing time for the 2 RBs has been right in line with what we saw last year.

But the 2nd of those 2 games found Pollard falling just 2 opportunities (carries + targets) short of Elliott, despite playing half as many snaps. He trailed the vet by just 0.3 in our expected PPR points metric (12.7 vs. 12.4). And Pollard has spent the first 2 weeks looking like a guy you want to keep involved in the offense.

It’s not time to panic and shove Elliott off for whatever you can get. But it’s a good time to shop and see if you can move him as a Round 1-2 value, just in case his situation doesn’t improve.


SELL Devin Singletary, RB, Bills

Singletary sits 17th in PPR points, largely because of a 46-yard TD Sunday in Miami. That marked the 2nd-longest run of his career.

Good news.

The flip side is that Zack Moss returned in Week 2. While he wasn’t featured until the 4th quarter — when he scored twice from in close — there’s a real chance his role grows as he shakes off some rust. Remember: Moss out-carried Singletary 41-28 over the final month of the 2020 regular season. (Moss was knocked out of the Wild Card round with an ankle injury that lingered into the summer.)

Buffalo’s approach as a pass-first offense hasn’t changed, either. They sit 1st league-wide in situation neutral pace through 2 games (69%). With Buffalo going 4 deep at WR, there’s just not much upside to Singletary’s receiving line. The 24-year-old recorded just 2.3 catches per game alongside MVP-level Josh Allen in 2020.

One more factor to monitor: Singletary’s fumbles. After fumbling against Miami, he’s now put 3 balls on the ground in 2 games. It’s worth noting that Moss also fumbled on Sunday — but there’s certainly greater concern on Singletary’s side.

This Bills backfield still figures to be frustrating and largely unproductive from a fantasy standpoint this season. Now is a good time to see if you can get out from under it and turn a profit on Singletary.


SELL Rob Gronkowski, TE, Bucs

Including the playoffs, Tom Brady has now thrown 2+ TD passes in 13 straight games. He’s averaging 3 per contest over that span, plus 303.9 passing yards.

We buy this pass offense remaining terrific. It’s even possible Brady reaches 50 TDs for the 2nd time in his career. It’s probably impossible that he stays on his current TD rate of 10.5%, though. That’s 3.9 percentage points ahead of last year’s mark, which ranked 6th in the league. Brady’s 2 NFL-leading marks in that category were 8.7% (2007) and 7.3% (2010).

Gronkowski’s TD rate is even more obviously coming down. He has found the end zone on 33.3% of his receptions. Gronk’s best-ever single-season TD rate was 20% back in 2012 (when he played only 11 games). Next best, 18.9%.

He has also opened this season catching passes at an outlandish 92.3% rate. (Career: 65.4%.) At the same time, Gronkowski has seen his average depth of target drop by 3.3 yards and his yards per catch open nearly 3 yards short of his previous low.

Gronk’s target share, meanwhile, has climbed from 12.3% in 2020 to 15.1% this season. After the Week 13 bye last season (and including the playoffs), Gronkowski dipped to 10% target share.

We’re talking small samples with all of these numbers, of course. But the bottom line is that everything has gone dreamily for Tampa’s top TE through the first 2 games of 2021. Dreams end, though, and Gronk is bound to wake up.

He could fall way off this opening pace and still pay off the rest of the way at the cheap draft price you likely paid. But why not see if we can multiply that value by selling high?


HOLD Robby Anderson, WR, Panthers

It’s been a slow start for Anderson, who’s caught just 4 balls through 2 games. He got away with it in Week 1, when his only grab went for a 57-yard score. Anderson posted an empty 3-38 line in Week 2.

What’s gone wrong? For starters, it sure looks like D.J. Moore is Carolina’s #1 WR this season. He’s seen 26% of the team’s targets vs. just 12% for Anderson. Last year, it was Anderson at 24% and Moore at 23% in their 15 games together.

Anderson’s role has also seemingly changed, from a short-range target to a deep guy. Last year, his average depth of target came 9.8 yards downfield. This year, it’s at a whopping 22.3 yards.

So Anderson is seeing fewer targets. And the targets he’s getting are more volatile.

The good news is that Anderson is still a full-time player. He’s played 77% of Carolina’s offensive snaps and run a route on 88% of the pass plays. Those marks are right in line with last year’s 78% snap rate and 89% route rate.

It’s also worth noting that after registering an 8.6% target share in the opener, he saw 15.8% of the Panthers’ targets in Week 2. If he can bump that up a few more percentage points, he can still be a WR3 for fantasy squads this season.


HOLD Robert Woods, WR, Rams

Why not to worry about Woods: The guy finished 12th and 14th among PPR wideouts the past 2 years. His current offense ranks 5th in points and 7th in passing yards, even while ranking just 27th in pass attempts.

And even though Cooper Kupp’s numbers have dominated his over the 1st 2 weeks, Woods target share actually stands a little higher than last year’s: 23.2% vs. 22.9% (including the playoffs).

We’re mildly concerned at Woods ranking 3rd among L.A. wideouts in routes so far. The Rams have also decreased their “early-down” pass frequency so far in 2021 vs. 2020: from 54.9% to 51.9%.

On the other hand, they’re up from 12th in situation-neutral play pace last year to 1st in the league this season, according to Football Outsiders. That can counteract any loss of target volume if the Rams keep their pass rate down.

Ultimately, we don’t want to sell low on the chance that Woods rebounds to deliver numbers like he has the past 2 years. But we’re also not breathlessly chasing him in case Kupp maintains his lead-target status with the new QB (37.5% target share).

It’s also worth noting that the Rams have a nice-looking stretch of pass defenses up until the Week 11 bye:

Tampa Bay
Arizona
Seattle
N.Y. Giants
Detroit
Houston
Tennessee
San Francisco


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