Parity and opportunity

The NFL has finally achieved its stated goal of league parity. Heading into Week 4 of the 2022 season, there are only two undefeated teams – the Miami Dolphins in the AFC and the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC. The Buffalo Bills, the current favorite to win Super Bowl, aren’t even winning their division after losing a thriller in Miami on Sunday. The Bills’ odds are +400, followed by the Chiefs at +650, Buccaneers at +700, and Eagles at +1100. The Dolphins are +2000.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are 2-1, after finishing last season 3-14. Jacksonville not only snapped an 18-game road losing streak on Sunday, but they made a statement by dominating the Los Angeles Chargers in a game they won by four touchdowns. The 28-point win was Jacksonville’s largest on the road since a 33-3 rout of Minnesota more than 20 years ago. Do you think Philadelphia took notice? The Eagles host the Jags Sunday in a game people will actually care about.

Suffice it to say that fantasy managers weren’t loading up on Jacksonville players in any of my preseason drafts. Travis Etienne Jr. was the first Jaguar player off the board in my home league draft. He was the 39th overall pick. Christian Kirk was next at No. 99, and Trevor Lawrence was No. 135. James Robinson wasn’t even drafted, although my brother-in-law was smart enough to pick him up off waivers two weeks ago. Etienne has been the least productive of the four.

A dozen teams are currently 2-1, but the worst has to be the Chicago Bears. They appeared headed for a loss against the Houston Texans after David Montgomery left Sunday’s game early with a knee/ankle injury. If you’ve seen the Bears play, you know Justin Fields can’t hit the broadside of a barn with a football. He’s thrown only 45 passes in three games, completing slightly more than half of them. His quarterback rating was 28th best heading into this game.

When all seemed lost for the Bears faithful, it was Khalil Herbert to the rescue. Herbert rushed for 157 yards on 20 carries, scoring two touchdowns. He added two catches for 12 yards, and most importantly, put up 30.9 PPR fantasy points. If Montgomery misses time, Herbert will be a must-start back Sunday when the Bears take on the Giants. His rostership percentage was 49% in Yahoo Leagues and only 25.2% in ESPN leagues heading into this week’s waiver wire run.

Keeping things positive, I was pleasantly surprised to see Derrick Henry targeted on 40% of his routes Sunday as the Tennessee Titans held off the Las Vegas Raiders for their first win of the season. He was targeted six times, catching five balls for 58 yards. Maybe head coach Mike Vrabel finally figured out that dumping the balls off in the flat to one of the best running backs in the league is a good strategy. Henry scored 25.3 fantasy points after two straight single-digit games.

Henry wasn’t out there running complex routes. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill only threw 27 passes, and Henry was the second-leading receiver. Robert Woods was No. 1, catching four passes for 85 yards and putting up his highest fantasy point total of the season – 12.5. The arrow is pointing up for Woods, the No. 1 receiver on this team. He had only two targets in opening week, five last week but nine this week. He’s available in about a third of leagues, so check your waiver wire.

Okay, now I’m going to get negative. Fantasy managers that drafted Justin Jefferson early in the first round looked like geniuses after the first week. Nine receptions for 184 yards and two touchdowns equated to 39.4 fantasy points. But the last two weeks have cast a serious doubt on that. Jefferson only caught six of 12 targets for 48 yards and no touchdowns in Week 2, but that was against Philadelphia. Everyone knew he would go off against Detroit on Sunday.

Talk about a disappointment. Jefferson only caught three balls for 14 yards and 4.4 fantasy points. Holy Cow, Batman! What’s going on, here? Jefferson has a 25.7% target share on the season with an average of 8.9 air yards per target. He’s not been getting much work downfield the last two weeks but the layups aren’t there either. There’s clearly more volatility to his role than we might have expected. But he’s still a great receiver, so buy low on Jefferson if you can right now.

Speaking of frustration, D.J. Moore has been all that for fantasy managers, having been targeted only six times in each game and catching a total of seven passes for 88 yards. Moore has had only one double-digit game, which isn’t good for a player who was being drafted in the third or fourth round of most draft. Hopes of a Baker Mayfield revival in Carolina have dimmed into darkness, but Moore did play 60 snaps on Sunday, so don’t drop him or trade him away.

But there’s another wide receiver named Moore who’s done even worse than D.J. That’s Elijah Moore, who hasn’t had a double-digit game yet in spite of all of the preseason hype. This is another player you should hold on except in the shallow leagues because better days are coming. How do I know this? Consider the fact that Moore was in for 76 snaps, ran 56 routes and was targeted 10 times by Joe Flacco. Unfortunately, he caught only four of them. But activity leads to productivity.  

While we’re being negative, let’s consider Joe Mixon who got out-produced by Samaje Perine in the Bengals backfield. Mixon seemed primed for a big game against the Jets, but things got ugly early as he ceded a passing touchdown to Perine in the first quarter, and then ended up getting rested late in the game with a sore ankle. Perine’s 47 yards from scrimmage nearly doubled Mixon’s 24 yards on 12 carries. Mixon limped off the field on his last play, but the injury is reportedly minor.

Another running back who seemed primed for a big game was Alvin Kamara. The Saints were supposed to roll over the Panthers, with Kamara projected to score close to 20 fantasy points. He managed only 7.3, with 15 rushes for 61 yards and no touchdowns in a 22-14 loss. Even worse, Kamara only caught two balls for 12 yards. Jameis Winston has shown less interest in checking down to Kamara, compared to previous Saints quarterbacks, and that does not bode well for Kamara.

I know there’s a lot of bad news out there for fantasy managers right now, but try and keep things in perspective. There have been only three games, and the worst you can be is 0-3. I started 0-4 in my home league in 2017 and won the league championship. If you’re 0-3, keep working the waiver wire and look for a trade that might turn things around. But don’t trade away your studs when they are not performing. Like I said last week, sell high and buy low. Good luck.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

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