Each week, NFL fantasy researcher Joel Smyth will identify important stats and trends to inform fantasy decisions ahead of your next matchup. These won't be your basic, elementary stats, but rather deep and unique insights to give you an edge over your friends (and enemies).
Here are eight notable nuggets ahead of Week 11 of the 2023 NFL season.
1) They aren't who we thought they were!
Surprise! Teams, and fantasy matchups, improve throughout the season. Sometimes a positional matchup ranking for the full year can lead you astray. Here are a few examples worth noting as we enter the homestretch.
- Seahawks vs. wide receivers: After a dominant stretch by Jahan Dotson, I tried to warn anyone who would listen to beware of playing him against the Seahawks last week. "The Seahawks are horrible versus wide receivers. What are you thinking?" Yes. They were horrible. They were 31st in the NFL against the position before their Week 5 bye. Since then, however, they rank inside the top five, fresh off delivering a goose egg to Dotson and holding Terry McLaurin to fewer than 10 points as well. With a healthy Devon Witherspoon pairing up across from Riq Woolen, it's better to avoid the Seattle secondary, despite its seasonal ranking of 19th versus WRs.
- Broncos vs. everything: Following the famous 70-point drubbing in Miami, fantasy managers were starting everyone they could against the Denver defense. That hasn't been as profitable as people hoped. In their six games since that loss, the Broncos are allowing fewer than two touchdowns per game, good enough to place inside the top 10 in the league.
- Bears vs. quarterbacks: Chicago's pass defense was never bad, just injured. After allowing nearly 23 points per game to quarterbacks over the first five weeks, the Bears have made a complete 180 with a healthier secondary. Since the rough start, Chicago has allowed fewer than 13 points a week to quarterbacks, with just one (Justin Herbert) scoring 17 or more fantasy points. Can they be the team to finally slow down Jared Goff in Detroit? To be determined. But they're not pushovers anymore.
2) A quarterback problem?
If it feels like fantasy points are down this season, it's because they are. And it all starts with the quarterback. Starters are averaging a dismal 15.6 points per game, the fewest since 2017, and the lack of league-wide success increases the value of the few who are succeeding. Only three QBs are averaging more than 20 points (Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen), but I believe more are coming. A safe floor, high-ceiling quarterback is a must come fantasy playoff time. That's why I would recommend trading for proven superstars who have slightly underperformed, such as Patrick Mahomes. He has consistently averaged 20 points throughout his career.
3) Hail to Howell
Need a low-cost option at quarterback? When it comes to the fantasy world, volume is historically excellent at replacing talent. For 17 consecutive years, the leader in passing attempts has finished as a QB1 on the season, including 11 finishes inside the top five. Howell is currently the QB5 in 2023, and it’s not a fluke. He is on pace to lead the position with 675 attempts. Don’t expect the volume to diminish either, as the Commanders have the second-highest pass rate over expected, according to Next Gen Stats, and they traded away their two best defensive players at the NFL deadline.
4) Scott Hanson's targets
Not all targets are created equal. For example, a red zone target -- unofficially sponsored by NFL RedZone -- is worth roughly three times the fantasy points of a throw outside the red area (3.5 fantasy points per target compared to 1.1). Davante Adams, Michael Pittman Jr. and Jake Ferguson lead the NFL in such targets entering Week 11, providing hope for Adams and evidence that Pittman's and Ferguson's production is here to stay. Three more notable players to mention: rookie wideouts Tank Dell, Rashee Rice and Zay Flowers. After seeing two red zone targets all season, Dell received five of the seven from his quarterback in Week 10, good enough to lead the league on the week and translating into another score. Rice is tied with Travis Kelce for the team-high in Kansas City, while Flowers has double-digit red zone opportunities himself.
5) Press pause on Prescott?
The Carolina Panthers are the most zone-heavy coverage team in the league. This week, they just so happen to face the quarterback who is most affected by the defensive coverage he is facing. Prescott has been on a tear: He’s the overall QB1 over the last five weeks following a rough start to the season. He’s also been the overall QB1 this season when facing man coverage, largely on the merits of 13 scores and only one interception. Zone coverage, however, is a different story. With five interceptions and just four touchdown passes, Prescott averages out as the QB23 against zone defense. Add in a positive game script (bad for the QB), a poor opposing rushing defense and a dominant Dallas squad in every phase, and Dak is at risk of falling outside the top 20 for Week 11.
6) Personnel-y rooting for more Kincaid
Dawson Knox will likely soon return to the Buffalo offense, creating some unease for fantasy managers of Dalton Kincaid. Since Knox went down, the rookie has been the TE4, averaging more than 16 points per game and running nearly 10 more routes per week than he had prior. The No. 1 reason for this production: 11 personnel -- when there is only one tight end on the field, along with three WRs and one RB. With Knox healthy, the Bills ran so many two-tight end sets that they ended up ranking 24th in 11 personnel, and 38 percent of Kincaid’s fantasy production had come in 11 personnel, as well as 100 percent of his red zone volume. Since Knox’s injury, Buffalo went back to its old ways, running 11 personnel the fourth-most in the NFL. Keep an eye on the Kincaid's snaps and routes upon Knox’s return. They may dictate what we can expect from the breakout rookie stud down the stretch.
7) White-hot receiving back
In fantasy, efficiency doesn’t always equal success and vice versa. In the case of Rachaad White, it’s been more of the latter. White is bottom six among running backs in rush yards over expected, success rate, yards per carry and yards after contact per carry, per Next Gen Stats. Basically, every relevant rushing efficiency metric. But it doesn't matter. His receiving output has carried his fantasy production into viable starter territory with more than 50 percent of his points coming in the passing game. White’s receiving efficiency is on the opposite side of the spectrum from the run game, ranking inside the top three in yards per target and receptions per target. In five of the next six games, White draws defenses that rank outside the top half versus receiving backs. The biggest challenge will be in the fantasy championship, when he gets a rematch with New Orleans, which is third-best at slowing down receivers out of the backfield and held White to three receptions for 22 yards in Week 4.
8) Giant game incoming
Through his eight career matchups versus the New York Football Giants, McLaurin has been an absolute menace. He’s scored 13-plus fantasy points in all eight contests, with an average of 18.5 per game. Moreover, through 10 weeks this season, the Giants are the most man-heavy coverage team in the NFL. When facing man coverage this season, McLaurin has garnered 35 percent of the Commanders’ air yards, vastly outpacing his teammates and outpacing his own share versus zone coverage. High-upside targets against a defense that’s already allowing the second-most receiving yards to wideouts? That’s a recipe for success. A ninth straight game with 13-plus should be doable, and I’d set the expectation much closer to his 18.5 average -- or higher.