If you are a reader of this column on a regular basis, you know that I don’t value quarterbacks. The reason is because the position has been traditionally deep enough to wait until the late rounds to draft one. The opportunity cost of selecting Josh Allen in the third round, or Patrick Mahomes in the fourth round is too high.
Mahomes might change my mind with his 29 touchdown passes and 3585 passing yards through 11 games. But Mahomes is not the focus of this column. The point I want to make is that quarterbacks matter to wide receivers. Consider Michael Pittman, who was taken in the third round of many fantasy drafts.
Things started out peachy for Pittman in the Colts’ first game. Quarterback Matt Ryan peppered him with 13 targets, and Pittman caught nine of them for 121 yards and a touchdown. That added up to 27.1 PPR points. He was averaging almost 16 PPG until former head coach Frank Reich benched Ryan in late October.
Reich named Sam Ehlinger as the starter for the remainder of the season. Indianapolis was 3-3-1 at the time, and Reich believed the second-year quarterback could give the Colts a boost. Suffice it to say that the Ehlinger experiment did not go well. After a mediocre game against Washington, Ehlinger was a bust against New England.
Ehlinger wasn’t the only one who was awful in the 26-3 loss in Foxboro. Pittman had his worst game of the season, managing to catch only 3-of-6 targets for 22 yards. His 5.2 fantasy points had many of his managers on a suicide watch heading into Week 10. After all, Reich had named Ryan quarterback for life in Indianapolis, and the future was bleak.
The future brightened a bit the next day when Reich was fired, and it got even brighter when interim head coach Jeff Saturday named Ryan the starter against Las Vegas. As soon as that news broke, I proposed a trade to a manager in one of my leagues. I offered him Nick Chubb for Miles Sanders and Pittman. He quickly accepted the trade.
Pittman underwhelmed in the game against the Raiders, although he was targeted nine times. He caught seven for 53 yards and 12.3 FP. The next week, in a tougher matchup against Philadelphia, Pittman caught 6-of-7 targets for 75 yards but still hadn’t gotten into the end zone since Week 1. Then, on Monday night one of seven catches was for a touchdown.
It should come as no surprise that I’m pretty happy with the trade I made. Sanders, who scored 29.5 FP in my half-point PPR league last week, was the bigger piece. However, Pittman had his best game since Week 6. He was targeted 11 times in the Monday night game against Pittsburgh, and I’m hoping he’s due for more positive touchdown regression.
Pittman is just one of several wide receivers that are either being boosted, or hurt by the performance of their quarterback. D.J. Moore and Garrett Wilson are riding high right now after a quarterback change, but other talented wide receivers have been dragged down by poor quarterback play. Let’s take a look at seven more to see what happened.
D.J. MOORE, CAROLINA PANTHERS
The Moore doubters were crawling out of the woodwork as recently as last week after Carolina’s No. 1 receiver put up his third straight single-digit clunker. The fact that Sam Darnold made Moore look elite on Sunday speaks more to how bad Baker Mayfield is than how good Darnold is. Moore is a must-start WR as long as Mayfield stays on the bench.
GARRETT WILSON, NEW YORK JETS
Speaking of a must start, Wilson is just that now that Mike White has replaced Zach Wilson. No doubt, Garrett Wilson was on many fantasy manager benches on Sunday after being limited to just two receptions for 12 yards in Week 11. Wilson showed immediate chemistry with White on his way to five receptions, 95 yards and two touchdowns. Fire him up!
ZAY JONES, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, may have come of age in Sunday’s comeback win over Baltimore on Sunday. That bodes well for Zay Jones, who has been targeted 24 times by Lawrence in the past two weeks. Jones had 27.5 FP without getting into the end zone, so check your waiver wire and see if he’s available.
CHRIS OLAVE, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
An injured Jameis Winston passed for 353 yards and a touchdown in Week 3. In that game, Olave was targeted 13 times, catching nine for 147 yards. The rookie sensation is 18th in target share (25.8%), 12th in target per route run rate (28.3%), and fourth in air yard share (40.2%). But the play of Saints QB Andy Dalton continues to drag him down.
DRAKE LONDON, ATLANTA FALCONS
With Kyle Pitts sidelined, London should have gone off Sunday. Instead, he caught 2-of-4 targets for 29 yards in a loss to Washington. The reason why the Falcons are a run-first offense is because Marcus Mariota can’t hit the broad side of a barn. London ranks 13th in target share (27.1%) and 11th in target per route run rate (11th). It doesn’t matter.
DIONTAE JOHNSON, PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Another talented wideout hurt by poor quarterback play, Johnson has seen his aDOT and target share drop with rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett at the helm. Over the last two games without Chase Claypool, Johnson has seen his target share dip to 15.6%, with an average of only 1.05 yards per route run. Johnson still doesn’t have a touchdown this season.
BRANDIN COOKS, HOUSTON TEXANS
Like Johnson, Cooks was being drafted in the fifth round but has been a bust. He hasn’t finished as a WR3 or better since Week 4. A quarterback change on Sunday helped only slightly, with Cooks catching all five of his targets for 59 yards. Cooks has a 22.1% target share, 28.8% air yard share but only three red zone targets over his last seven games.
Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.