Welcome to Week 2, fantasy managers! This past weekend was filled with some stunning matchups and dominant fantasy performances. From Saquon Barkley to Justin Jefferson, we will highlight and discuss these players below. If you are new to this article series, I will be using my Expected Fantasy Points model to determine which players relied on volume or efficiency to produce for fantasy.
In short, the two metrics that we will analyze are:
Expected Fantasy Points (or xFP)
Fantasy Points Over Expected (or FPOE = Actual Points - Expected Points)
Why do these metrics matter? Basically, fantasy production that is rooted in volume (or xFP) is usually sustainable week to week. We want to target players who rank highly in this metric. On the other hand, players who rely on efficiency (or FPOE) are much more volatile week to week.
For a more detailed breakdown of my model, be sure to check out my series primer from Week 1!
Let’s dive in!
Wide Receivers: Fantasy Usage & Efficiency
Justin Jefferson - Minnesota Vikings
Justin Jefferson had a truly elite performance this past weekend against the Green Bay Packers, averaging an impressive 35.5 percent target share to go along with a 72.8 percent air yards share.
No, that is not a typo.
Jefferson accounted for well over half of his team’s air yards in Week 1, highlighting just how beneficial Kevin O’Connell’s offense will be for his fantasy upside. What is truly intriguing about his production is that nearly half of it came from his Points Over Expected at +18.8.
In most cases, it would be a red flag if a player relied so heavily on efficiency. However, in Jefferson’s case, he also ranked WR7 in Expected Fantasy Points with 20.6. In other words, with average efficiency, Jefferson would have finished as a top- seven fantasy WR. His efficiency simply propelled him to a week-winning performance for fantasy managers.
A player who really impressed me with his usage this past week was Jacksonville’s Christian Kirk, finishing top-five in Expected Fantasy Points at 21.4. In his first official game with Trevor Lawrence, Kirk accounted for 31.6% of the targets, converting these opportunities into 117 receiving yards. And while he did finish below his expected value (-3.69 FPOE), driven by the lack of touchdowns and his 50% catch rate, his numbers are still very encouraging.
In fact, Kirk is the perfect player to target in your fantasy leagues because his production was heavily rooted in volume. Assuming he can maintain this level of usage, it would not surprise me if Kirk finished with a few WR1 performances in the near future, especially if his efficiency regresses to the mean.
For comparison, I would much rather roster Kirk than someone like Gabriel Davis or Jahan Dotson, two players who finished higher in PPR leagues this past week but relied primarily on their FPOE to produce. So if you managed to draft Kirk in the middle rounds of your fantasy draft, you can comfortably put him in your lineup as a WR2 with significant upside.
Running Backs: Fantasy Usage & Efficiency
Saquon Barkley - New York Giants
Saquon Barkley is finally back!
After struggling through injuries the last two years, it is encouraging to see Barkley return to his efficient and productive self. In addition, Brian Daboll is already proving to be a significant upgrade to last year’s coaching staff. In Barkley’s first game, the Giants fully leveraged his versatility as he averaged an impressive 33.3 percent target share against the Titans. In my series primer, I mentioned that targets are significantly more valuable (2.62x) than rush attempts. So the fact that Daboll is willing to use Saquon in the receiving game will only boost his fantasy production.
When examining his usage, he finished the week as the RB5 in Expected Fantasy Points (20.8). And while he did rely heavily on efficiency (+12.6 FPOE) to finish as the RB1 this past week, the baseline production indicates that he should be a top-five running back at the very least if he continues to be this involved in the Giants offense. Keep in mind, however, that Kadarius Toney was barely used and Wan’Dale Robinson left the game early due to a knee injury, which could have affected their target distribution. However, after an elite performance, it is clear that Barkley has the upside to be a league winner as long as he remains healthy this season.
While the storyline of Monday Night Football was centered on Russell Wilson’s return to Seattle, fantasy managers were also waiting to see the backfield splits for the Broncos' running backs. And while it was only one game, Javonte Williams is shaping up to be the more valuable fantasy running back in Denver. While he was clearly behind Gordon in rush attempts, it was their receiving usage that caught my eye.
Javonte finished with a 29.3 percent target share compared to Gordon’s 4.9%, ranking RB2 on the week in this metric behind only Saquon Barkley. Even more impressive, Williams also finished the week as the RB4 in Expected PPR Points with 22.4. Assuming the Broncos’ coaching staff continues to use him in the receiving game, Williams should remain a weekly RB1 with the upside to finish within the top three if he can convert on his red-zone opportunities.
Tight Ends: Fantasy Usage & Efficiency
Since breaking out in his second season, we have seen very little from O.J. Howard in part due to an Achilles tear that he suffered in 2020. And after being cut by the Buffalo Bills just a few weeks ago, it appeared Howard’s career was trending in the wrong direction.
Fast forward to Week 1, he surprises everyone by catching two receiving touchdowns and finishing as the TE2 with 17.8 PPR points.
While the stat line is intriguing, he only averaged a 5.6 percent target share, a 17% snap rate and an expected PPR value of 5.02 (TE27). On a positive note, both of his targets came inside the opponent’s 25-yard line, proving that the Texans had a role for him in the red zone. For now though, do not chase the touchdowns, stash him on your bench and wait until he becomes more involved in the offense before plugging him into your lineup.
Quarterbacks: Fantasy Usage & Efficiency
Overshadowed by elite performances from Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, Marcus Mariota’s production this past week has gone slightly under the radar. He finished the week as the QB9 with 19.8 fantasy points while ranking even higher in Expected Value at QB6 (22.7). As you can imagine, his heavy usage in the rushing game clearly raises his fantasy upside, currently averaging the fourth highest rushing share among Quarterbacks at 31.6 percent.
Even more surprising, he finished as a QB1 despite not throwing for a single passing touchdown this past week. In other words, even if his passing efficiency does not improve, Mariota’s rushing production can clearly carry his fantasy upside each week. If he is somehow still sitting on your waiver wire, and you are currently looking for a replacement for Dak Prescott, Mariota might just be the perfect pickup for your fantasy team.