The biggest surprise nearly one-quarter of the way through the season
is the emergence of Cordarrelle
Patterson. In an offense that has yet to find a way to unleash
established stud Calvin
Ridley and a generational talent in Kyle
Pitts, Patterson is making a mockery of all kinds of efficiency
I will not pretend as if I saw this coming, but I must admit
I made an error in judgment in August regarding him and his place
on my Big Boards. We
knew before the start of the season that Patterson was going
to be the primary backup to Mike
Davis. As I mentioned two weeks ago, I was quite
skeptical of Davis. So why did I not include him in my rankings?
There is a multilayered answer to that question, but the primary
problem was there was no universal agreement on his primary position
among the major fantasy host sites. Part of the formula that helps
me arrive at the SSI score to rank the players for my Big Boards
is position-specific, which would result in a fairly significant
difference in where he would land in my rankings.
There was also the small issue of having no idea how many sites
listed him as a running back and how many listed him as a receiver.
There isn't even consistency on the issue on the same platform
as we begin October. For example, the majority of my leagues this
year are hosted by MFL. In the experts' leagues I participate
in there, Patterson is still listed as a receiver. In my money
leagues run by APEX (hosted by MFL), he was a receiver for at
least the first two weeks of the season before he was recognized
as a running back. As far as I know, ESPN had him listed as a
running back the whole time.
Because of all the confusion about how host sites would handle
his position, I excluded him from the rankings. It seems obvious
to me now how I should have handled the situation: make a note
at the bottom of my Big Board articles indicating where I had
him ranked as a running back and where he would have been if he
was listed as a receiver. Why does any of this matter? Because
I felt like he had a chance to be relevant. It became obvious
to me after watching him on NFL Game Pass in Week 1 that he was
going to have a substantial role in the Falcons' offense. As a
result, I picked him up in roughly 10 of my leagues before the
start of Week 2 and added him in two others with a hefty FAAB
bid the following week. I have traded him away in one league since
then, leaving me with 11 shares of him on 18 teams.
This is not a humble brag so much as it is an admission of what
I feel was a bad decision just over a month ago. (Not an Urban
Meyer kind of bad decision, but you get my point.) Part of the
beauty of being a fantasy analyst with a platform such as this
column is that each of you should be able to benefit from my analysis
or the conclusions I reach whenever I reach them - assuming you
choose to rely on my advice. I am not sure an apology is necessary
here, but I do feel as though I have failed each of you in some
Nevertheless, the purpose of this week's column was not to issue
a lengthy apology, but rather dive into what is allowing Patterson
to be so successful through four games. After I do that, I want
to spend the rest of my time identifying players who have a reasonable
shot to go from rags to riches in the fantasy world - maybe not
to the degree Patterson has though - over the next month or so.
A large part of figuring out how someone is enjoying so much
success in football usually comes down to utilization and the
amount of opportunity he is receiving. Patterson has played no
more than 26 offensive snaps in any game so far this season. As
we might expect from a player listed as a running back, he has
lined up in the backfield on 64 of 97 snaps (66 percent). He has
been deployed out wide 15 times and in the slot 14 times. He has
also lined up as a Wildcat quarterback once and as an inline tight
end three times.
Digging a bit deeper, he has been on the field for 65 pass plays
through four games and ran 51 routes. (For some level of context,
Nick Chubb has been on the field for 64 pass plays and ran 49
routes.) The big difference between Patterson and someone like
Chubb is how often the former sees a target; the opportunity share
for both players is remarkably similar. Patterson has been targeted
on 20 of his 51 routes (39 percent) and given an opportunity (carry
or target) on 48.5 percent of his offensive snaps. Chubb has played
143 snaps, carried the ball 69 times and caught all four of his
targets on his 49 routes run, which means he has been targeted
on 7.8 percent of his routes. His opportunity share is 51 percent.
Think about that for a second. Chubb was a first-round pick in
most fantasy drafts. While Patterson is playing significantly
fewer snaps overall, he is getting the ball at roughly the same
rate and a priority in the passing game. If a player is getting
the ball on roughly every other snap he is in the game, he doesn't
need many plays to pay off in fantasy. His opportunity share has
been consistent through four games. The thing that has made him
spectacular - at least in two of his games - is his touchdown
efficiency. Five touchdowns on 45 touches is a pace that makes
2018 and 2020 Alvin Kamara jealous. In case you don't recall,
Kamara averaged one score every 15.2 touches in 2018 and one score
every 12.9 touches last season.
Kamara has shown us that ridiculous touchdown efficiency is repeatable,
but let's not make the mistake of thinking that 1) Patterson is
Kamara and 2) this Atlanta offense is capable of doing what the
Saints have done in recent years. Of course, regression will hit
Patterson. The odds are very favorable he will not end 2021 with
20 touchdowns on 180-ish touches. He has caught 90 percent of
his targets. That will probably drop down at least 10 percent.
Does that mean he cannot be a lesser version of pre-2021 Kamara?
I'm not sure we should discount the possibility.
How is that possible? All we hear is that he is a 30-year-old
journeyman on his fifth team in nine seasons.
The knock on Patterson throughout his career is that he has not
been able to absorb an NFL playbook. (It is part of the reason
why he has been pigeonholed as a kick returner for so long.) If
there is any degree of truth to that - something multiple scouts
and general managers have reportedly said - it is just another
indication of how often coaches still believe players should fit
the system and not the other way around. It should have been fairly
obvious along the way that some Patterson - even as a gadget player
- is better than no Patterson. New England teased us with Patterson
in 2018 when it relied on him at running back to get through a
game or two as injuries were affecting the roster. We know he
has running back skills. He is 6-2 and 220 pounds, so we know
he has running back size. He is one of the best kick returners
of all time, so we know he can find a hole and accelerate. Anyone
that has seen at least a couple of his receiving touchdowns knows
he can make people miss in space and play through contact.
HC Arthur Smith has yet to find the secret sauce that allows
all of his studs to eat at the same time, but it is becoming obvious
he identified Patterson as a matchup weapon rather quickly. His
logic: run Patterson just enough to create doubt in the defense
so that he can have a favorable matchup in the passing game when
he needs it. (To that end, Patterson has at least six rush attempts
- and no more than seven - in every game so far and at least six
targets in his last three.) When a play-caller can create doubt
in a defense's mind about the use of a specialist like Patterson,
the defensive coordinator is unlikely to downsize his defense
(from nickel to dime, for example) to match a cornerback up with
Patterson. This leads to what we've seen from Patterson so far
- too fast and skilled for a linebacker to guard, too big for
a safety - which is what we are accustomed to hearing about tight
end prospects. Lining up Patterson in the backfield also ensures
that he doesn't have to deal with physical coverage off the line
of scrimmage. As long as defenses continue giving Patterson that
linebacker/safety matchup when he is lined up in the backfield,
Smith will likely continue to use him underneath and allow him
to do his thing after the catch, particularly in the red zone.
I can pretty much guarantee each of you he will not remain as
the overall RB3 and/or WR5 in PPR scoring. (For what it is worth,
his opportunities are very similar to RB43 Myles Gaskin.) However,
the way he is being utilized now - and how often he sees the ball
when he is on the field - should remain a constant. As long as
fantasy managers understand that his TD rate is what is out of
the ordinary and don't count on that moving forward, he should
be a mid-range or low-end RB2 in fantasy at worst. Week 1 (8.7
fantasy points) and Week 3 (16.2) should be the expectation moving
forward, not Week 2 (23.9) and Week 4 (34.6). Expect the floor
he has provided so far and hope for the occasional ceiling.
The beauty of Patterson is that he is both a great sell-high
and hold for fantasy managers. If there is that one manager in
your league who is willing to part with high-end WR1 or top-10
running back, pull the trigger. I realize most fantasy managers
will not do that and probably will not change their minds until
the industry reaches a consensus that he is no longer a fluke.
(People like having their opinions confirmed by "experts.")
The other option is to hold, which is not a bad thing in this
case. Patterson isn't going to lose his 12 to 14 weekly touches
- 40 percent of which have been catches so far - as long as he
keeps making Smith look like a genius. Eight of Patterson's 45
touches have come in the red zone, so he likely has a few more
boom weeks in him.
To be as helpful as possible to as many people as possible, I'm
going to set the bar at players who are rostered in 30 percent
or less of ESPN and MFL leagues. I also want to try to avoid players
who may be stashed on IR, although that will not be the case at
running back. Think of this as more of a "get to know you
before I have to get to know you" piece rather than "next
week's hot waiver wire add today" piece.
Huntley most notably came on in relief of an injured Lamar Jackson
in Baltimore's Divisional Round loss to the Bills last season.
He threw for 60 yards and ran for 32 more in a quarter of work.
Was he wildly impressive in that game? Well, it depends on what
your criteria are. For the sake of this article and the dual-threat
ability most managers want from their fantasy quarterbacks in
2021, he is exactly the kind of player we should keep in mind.
So far this season, Lamar Jackson has dealt with a sore hip,
a non-COVID illness and a back "flare-up." This summer,
he was sidelined with COVID. He missed a game last year after
testing positive for COVID. While he has dialed back the rush
attempts in the last two games, he is still on pace for nearly
180 this season. Can you see where this is going? The reason Huntley
is the primary backup to Jackson is that the offense won't have
to change much to play to his strengths if/when Jackson misses
time. Huntley isn't quite the runner or passer that Jackson -
there is a reason he was undrafted - but he is certainly an above-average
athlete who completed 73.1 percent of his passes in his final
year in college. In that season he averaged 10.3 yards per attempt
and 10.8 adjusted yards per attempt (a metric that accounts for
passing yards, passing touchdowns, interceptions and passing attempts).
For those interested, the adjusted yards per attempt formula
When we consider the Ravens are passing at a higher rate this
year than they ever have with OC Greg Roman calling the shots
and are as deep at receiver as they have been in years, Huntley
is one (likely?) injury to or absence from Jackson away from entering
the low-end QB1 conversation. He is essentially a poor man's Trey
Lance or Justin Fields that is not on anyone's redraft radar.
As many are likely aware, Wilson underwent meniscus surgery in
May and was given a timeline of 4-6 months. We have passed the
most aggressive portion of that timeline (late September) and
already know he has started to run. "Starting to run"
is a good sign, but no one should read that as he is two weeks
away from playing in a game. There is a real possibility we will
not see him until November. Even then, there is no guarantee he
is back to his pre-injury self or steps back into a meaningful
role. With that said …
Elijah Mitchell lasted two games before hurting his shoulder
and Trey Sermon doesn't appear to have HC Kyle Shanahan's trust
in the passing game. While Wilson's durability has been a question
through his first three NFL seasons, we can feel reasonably good
that Shanahan trusts him in the passing game and at the goal line.
Wilson made three starts last season and averaged 21.7 fantasy
points in those contests. In the seven games in which he touched
the ball at least 10 times, he averaged 74.3 rushing yards, 1.4
touchdowns and 19 fantasy points. His relative lack of speed and
explosiveness probably ensures Mitchell will remain involved -
giving this backfield a thunder-and-lightning effect - once Wilson
returns, but there is no guarantee of that. The clock is really
taking on Sermon, however, as he was drafted in part to be the
long-term physical complement in the Tevin
Coleman and Wilson role. If Sermon hasn't put a stranglehold
on that role by the start of November, then Wilson really becomes
intriguing. And in case you don't remember, I
want all of the exposure I can get to the San Francisco offense
in the fantasy playoffs this season.
We have a total of 14 carries and two catches over five games
last year to go on with Evans. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury
dogged him for most of 2020 and a knee injury in the first preseason
game landed him on IR this summer. He was designated for return
on Wednesday (Oct. 6), opening up a 21-day window to practice
before the team has to decide to activate him or keep him on IR.
Much to my (pleasant) surprise, new OC Todd Downing has simultaneously
relied MORE on Derrick Henry AND passed more often than predecessor
While some of that is a product of the kind of games Tennessee
has been in so far (two overtime games has contributed to the
unexpected play volume), there is little question the running
backs have been highly involved in the passing game by design,
averaging nine targets and 7.3 catches per game so far. Last season,
Tennessee running backs were targeted about 3.5 times per game
and averaged just under 2.5 receptions.
However, this is not merely a recommendation for Evans returning
from IR to replace Jeremy McNichols and fill the pass-catching
role that Tennessee had in mind for him when it drafted him in
the third round last year. It is also a hedge that the Titans
- or fantasy managers - cannot expect Derrick Henry to continue
handling 31.8 touches per game (a 17-game pace of 540). Either
a few of those touches are going to go to Evans and McNichols
by choice or Downing will be forced to replace Henry when he begins
to fade or gets hurt.
To that end, Evans was impressing before going down, handling
workload" in training camp. There is no such thing as a one-for-one
replacement for Henry anywhere in the league, but Tennessee doesn't
even have anything close to another big back available outside
of FBs Tony Carter and Khari
Blasingame. The most likely early-down replacement for Henry
on the roster heading into Week 5 is 208-pound Mekhi
Sargent, who is also the biggest non-Henry running back on
the roster. While McNichols has some obvious chops in the passing
game, he only has 55 carries to his name since he was drafted
in 2017. The Titans likely have no desire to use him any more
or any differently than they already are.
McNichols' current standing as the overall RB34 is enough proof
that Evans' likely role will have some value in fantasy. The difference
here is that Henry is handling so much work right now that two
backs could enjoy some level of flex value if he misses a game
or more. There is also reason to believe Evans would lead a committee
if the Titans had to experience life without Henry.
*** I know he doesn't quite qualify for this article, but try
to find some room on your roster to stash Rashod
Bateman (13.4 percent on ESPN, 31.9 percent on ESPN). He could
easily overtake Sammy
Watkins (WR49) and step into a full-time role a week or two
after he is activated. Do not be surprised if he emerges as Lamar
Jackson's primary target at receiver sometime in November.
He should have a solid WR4 floor and WR3 upside once his conditioning
is no longer an issue.
This one is the longest of long shots. The common-sense replacement
for D.J. Chark is ex-Charger Tyron Johnson. However, Johnson has
yet to play more than 10 snaps this year. Austin played 22 snaps
in his season debut on Thursday night against the Bengals, logging
41 offensive snaps. Austin didn't do much with his opportunities,
catching one of his three targets for eight yards, but he happens
to fit the profile of the Swiss Army knife players that HC Urban
Meyer has gravitated toward throughout his career (Curtis Samuel,
Percy Harvin, etc.). He is also the kind of player Meyer sought
in the draft (Kadarius Toney).
I am not suggesting Austin will eventually fill the role Meyer
had in mind for Travis Etienne, but I also won't discount the
possibility of Jacksonville trying it. Whether the Jaguars attempt
to do that or have Austin work solely as Chark's replacement,
the third receiver in this offense should not lack for opportunity.
Chark's absence could funnel more targets to Marvin Jones and
Laviska Shenault (and eventually Dan Arnold), but it seems unlikely
those two receivers will pick up most of Chark's 7.3 targets per
game when they are already combining for 15-plus. While the Jaguars
have significantly lowered their passing game volume since attempting
51 passes in the opener, one has to wonder if that will continue
with upcoming games against dangerous offenses such as the Titans,
Seahawks and Bills. While Arnold could easily end up being the
biggest beneficiary, I believe Meyer & Co. will not resist
the temptation to see if they can do what no other coaching staff
at any of Austin's previous stops have been able to do: find a
way to tap until the skillset that once made him a first-round
pick. Perhaps most importantly, I believe Trevor Lawrence can
make three receivers relevant in fantasy.
As I insinuated in the previous paragraph, Dan Arnold is someone
fantasy managers should keep tabs on over the next few weeks.
Although the current Jacksonville regime was not very high on
CB CJ Henderson, it still says a lot that the Jaguars were willing
to deal their 2020 first-round pick to pick up a tight end they
targeted in free agency. It also says something that Arnold logged
18 snaps last week, just days after he was acquired. For fantasy
managers hoping for a Dawson Knox emergence from a readily available
tight end, Arnold is one of the better bets.
With that said, the primary reason Carolina was willing to part
with Arnold was how comfortable it was with Tremble's development.
The rookie did not experience an immediate or meteoric rise in
playing time or production as a result of the trade in Week 4,
but that doesn't mean he won't eventually. The odds are very much
against him becoming a thing in this offense this year; D.J. Moore
and (eventually) Christian McCaffrey will hog about half of the
targets. However, my ears (and eyes) perked up when HC Matt Rhule
noted after the trade that Tremble is "this year's Jeremy Chinn." That was just days after the Panthers used him on
an end-around touchdown run in the red zone. Offensive coordinators
do not typically dial up running plays for their tight ends during
a Thursday night game just because they have an urge to use something
from the back of their playbook. Among other things, Tremble was
being rewarded for his progress. Perhaps just as importantly,
offensive coordinators only run plays like that with their tight
ends when they love their athleticism, which is part of the reason
why I buy into Tremble as someone who can make an impact at some
point this season.
Consistency will be hard to come by for everyone in this offense
who isn't Moore or McCaffrey, but the Panthers' ancillary players
- such as Robby Anderson and Terrace Marshall Jr. - will get theirs
on occasion because the offense is going to be that good. Tremble
may not be on the level of Anderson or Marshall yet, but you can
bet that a tight end with his athleticism (4.65 speed and 36-inch
vertical on his 250-pound frame) will be able to embarrass a linebacker
or two down the seam over the next month or two.
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured
in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010.
He hosted USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football
internet chat every Sunday in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst
on a number of national sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s
“Fantasy Drive”. Doug is also a member of the Fantasy
Sports Writers Association.