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 6 of the 2023 NFL season.
1) Mr. Touchdown Independent
Most people know by now that Christian McCaffrey has scored a touchdown in 14 consecutive games. But if he wasn’t such a touchdown machine, would he be that great in fantasy? Let’s do the math: if you take away one touchdown from each of those games, McCaffrey would drop from the RB1 over that span to … the RB1, and still not close. Yep, subtract 84 fantasy points and he still has 67 more fantasy points than the next-closest RB. His touchdown streak is now longer than 20 of the 32 NFL teams, and he is on pace for 455 fantasy points in 2023. That would rank as fourth-best by a running back in the Super Bowl era, behind only himself (in 2019), LaDainian Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk.
2) Addison by subtraction
In any efficiency or productivity metric, the rookie out of USC has outplayed teammate K.J. Osborn significantly through five weeks. And while the Vikings have eased Jordan Addison in from a usage standpoint, Week 5 finally marked his first game with a 20-plus percent route share, and Minnesota will need someone to step up in the absence of Justin Jefferson. The upside doesn’t favor Osborn, who sports zero targets of 20-plus air yards and far fewer fantasy points per target than Addison. Despite far fewer snaps, Addison has drawn six of these deep targets, resulting in sky-high efficiency best highlighted by his passer rating when targeted: Addison’s at 120.8 and Osborn’s at 66.4, according to Pro Football Focus. Before he was the first overall draft pick in your fantasy draft, Jefferson scored 12.4 fantasy points per game through his first five career games in Minnesota. Addison currently sits at 12.8 and hopes to mirror Jefferson’s final rookie mark of 19.3 fantasy PPG by the end of the season.
3) Chicago needs Moore receivers
After two targets, 25 yards and less than five fantasy points in Week 1, everyone panicked. Now, DJ Moore has more receiving yards (531) than any Bears WR had in the entirety of the 2022 season. The other Chicago wideouts aren’t doing much in 2023 either, as Moore has 69 percent of the team’s wideout fantasy points. His No. 1 ranking in fantasy points per target is the result of 8.5 yards after the catch per reception, a mark only three players have reached in any of the last eight seasons (A.J. Brown, Mecole Hardman and Deebo Samuel three times). The yards after the catch and the lack of competition provide a safe floor for Moore the rest of the way.
4) Reversing Fields
Three of the last four QB1s in points per game in a season have been dual-threat quarterbacks who had a breakout passing season: Lamar Jackson in 2019, Josh Allen in 2020 and Jalen Hurts in 2022. Justin Fields’ last two weeks suggest we might be on the way to another such season. We’ve seen the September struggles before: Since 2022, Fields has averaged fewer than 12 fantasy points in the first month of the season, compared to 23.5 from October on.
This year’s breakout production, however, is different. Last season, only 44 percent of Fields' fantasy points came from passing. This year, that mark sits at 75 percent. Even with the rocky start, Fields is ninth in passing-generated fantasy points. Only Kirk Cousins has more passing touchdowns on the year (and Cousins has 52 more passing attempts). The downfield passes have skyrocketed for Fields, as his big plays rank second in the league, and no other QB has a higher rate of touchdowns per attempt. If he can keep it up, Fields might go from tossed aside to top of the position in no time.
P.S. Fields’ next three matchups: Vikings (25th against QBs), Raiders (20th) and Chargers (28th).
5) Fantasy-league-winning play
Not only is the “tush push” an unstoppable NFL play (in Philly), it’s also a fantasy cheat code. Jalen Hurts is currently averaging 4.9 fantasy points per game on plays from the 1-yard line. The rest of the league’s quarterbacks average just 0.75 points per game in such scenarios. If you subtract that difference of 4.15 points, it would shift Hurts from QB3 to QB16, making it arguably the most valuable single play in fantasy. And take note: Quarterbacks looking to steal the play include Josh Allen, Justin Fields and Daniel Jones (if less successfully) -- greatly boosting their rushing floors and touchdown upside.
6) Big play or bust?
Explosive plays can be used to predict future breakout success, yet a lack of them can result in a lowered ceiling and eventually decreased volume. DJ Moore and De’Von Achane, who was placed on IR this week, lead their respective positions in fantasy points per game from big plays (categorized as carries of 10-plus yards and receptions of 20-plus yards). As the Jets ramp up Breece Hall, we can have confidence knowing that 70 percent of his rushing yards and 61 percent of his fantasy points have come from explosive plays. And the two most notable receivers with 65-plus percent of their fantasy points coming from big plays include George Pickens and Marvin Mims Jr., who sits at a whopping 93 percent through five weeks. On the other end, Kyren Williams, Rhamondre Stevenson, Rachaad White and Miles Sanders are four starting backs with fewer than 10 fantasy points from long gains this season. But the guy I’m most worried about is Josh Jacobs. Only seven percent of his rushing yards come from carries of 10-plus yards. Despite being RB10 ahead of Week 6, his points from big plays rank 40th. In weeks without a goal-line touchdown, the floor he had in 2022 simply does not exist in 2023.
7) Touchdowns ready to bloom
Zay Flowers has been one of the best rookies this season. He’s garnered 40 targets, ranks 11th in target share and has seven red zone targets -- all resulting in a solid 12.4 fantasy points per game. And yet, he’s scored zero touchdowns. The last player to have 12-plus fantasy points per game and zero touchdowns through five career games was Julio Jones in 2011. He ended that season with eight touchdowns, averaging the 13th-most points among receivers and kicking off a Hall of Fame-caliber career. Stay patient with Flowers.
8) Not in the zone
Fantasy managers have been rightfully upset with the production of Chris Olave, a second-round fantasy draft pick. We can place a lot of the blame on his league-leading 308 unrealized air yards (Next Gen air yards on targets minus actual receiving yards). That should correct itself and help Olave produce more fantasy points in the future … just maybe not in Week 6. The Texans are the fourth-toughest team versus receivers in fantasy. They also have the fewest snaps in man coverage this season. Why does that matter? Well, Olave has been unusually unproductive against zone coverage, with just 44 percent of his yards coming against that scheme (well below average). For context, teammate Michael Thomas excels against zone coverage, racking up 70 percent of his yards when opponents are in zone. Don’t give up on Olave, but don’t set your expectations high this Sunday either.