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Week 17 Stats Notebook: Is Trey Lance a fantasy football starter?

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Trey Lance averages 3.8 yards after contact per rush attempt

Trey Lance is a truly dynamic, particularly powerful runner. Some players whose company he keeps in the above metric: Josh Allen (3.5), Taysom Hill (3.9) and Cam Newton (3.44). All three of those are some of the most physical, punishing runners behind center in the NFL. Lance has the ability to be a guy like this, instantly making him a fantasy starter any time he takes the field.

That’s easy. The harder discussion is what does this offense look like with Lance starting?

We last saw Lance start in a Week 5 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers had a -9 percent passing rate above expectation and ranked 24th in neutral pass rate. To put it more plainly, Lance had 29 passes to 28 team rush attempts, which better demonstrates what his scrambling and designed rush attempts can do to this offense. Making matters worse, when he did decide or was asked to throw the ball, it didn’t go well. Lance’s 28.9 QBR perfectly shows he just was not ready at that point, a fact Kyle Shanahan hasn’t even tried to hide from.

No pass-catcher cleared 60 yards and only Deebo Samuel hit a fantasy ceiling thanks to a rushing touchdown — because of course he did.

All that said, there’s a chance things go differently this time based on two factors.

One thing that’s also 100 percent true and works in the passing game’s favor is how different this unit is now. Back in Week 5, George Kittle was on IR and Brandon Aiyuk was in Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse. Neither of those things are true anymore. Week 5 was Samuel and a bunch of guys who shouldn’t be getting routine playing time.

We could well see a scenario where Lance, who has reportedly been much better in practice of late, comes out and mixes electric downfield passing with his proven rushing chops. Would that force history to repeat itself — a gifted athletic quarterback usurps a solid starter playing well for the 49ers amid a playoff run — for San Francisco? Maybe an Alex Smith/Colin Kaepernick comparison for Jimmy Garoppolo/Trey Lance instead of the Alex Smith/Patrick Mahomes dynamic we’ve pointed out before.

It’s unlikely but it would instantly change the outlook for this offense. For better or worse? That’s a harder question to answer. It all depends on Lance looking far more prepared than he (understandably) did in Week 5.

Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers
Will Trey Lance show progression if he plays in Week 17? (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Dallas ranked third in neutral pass rate in Week 16; Dak Prescott’s 11.5 aDOT was the highest it’s been since Week 9

Dak Prescott’s aDOT has been below 8.0 four times since missing Week 8 with his calf injury. It fell under that mark just once in his first six games.

It certainly looked like Dallas was far too horizontally inclined over their previous few games. The numbers back that up and also affirm the course correction we saw last week. Dallas came out attacking through the air and was quick to pick on Washington up the seam.

That’s when this Cowboys' offense is at its best. Prescott looked more comfortable than he had at any point this side of their bye week. With that structural change in place, we can get back to projecting this offense to be one of the best in any given week.

The Bengals ranked 4th in neutral pass rate last week

I couldn’t get one thought out of my head for most of the Bengals’ Week 16 win over the Ravens: Why can’t you always play like this, Cincy?

The Bengals have yo-yo’d between a run-first and pass-first operation all season long. However, they’d been decidedly conservative since their bye week. The way they opened it up against Baltimore was extremely exciting and indicative of their true potential.

The difference between the Bengals offense of Weeks 11 to 15 and the one we saw last week is the margin of a team where everyone can hit with Joe Burrow cooking at high efficiency — or one laden with volatility.

The Bengals are the first team in NFL history to have a 4,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and a pair of 1,000-yard receivers all 25 years old or younger. The future is exceedingly bright with this youthful offense … but the future can also be now for the Bengals. They just have to let it be so.

A.J. Brown had a 77% share of the Titans air yards in Week 16

It was so apparent what a difference-maker A.J. Brown is when the Titans beat the 49ers last week. The team didn’t just have its alpha receiver back, it welcomed the return of a player who is light years ahead of the other receivers on the roster.

Ryan Tannehill has been one of the biggest busts in fantasy football at quarterback. That’s going to happen when you’re throwing to the ghost of Julio Jones (when he’s available) and legitimately fringe roster talents for most of the season.

Brown is one of the best talents at the position and the only possible engine for Tennessee without Derrick Henry. He instantly vaults to the top-eight of receiver rankings when healthy.

Antonio Brown had a 58% target share in Week 16

Antonio Brown was drafted as “Some random No. 3 receiver for one of the NFL’s best offenses” based on his summer ADP when in reality, he’s one of the best receivers to ever play pro football who just happens to play on one of the NFL’s best offenses.

He reminded us of that in Week 16.

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Outside of Cyril Grayson’s outlier 62-yard catch, Brown was almost the entire passing game for Tom Brady last week. Brown is still that good; he’s capable of being that alpha receiver. That’s why he’s still on this roster after all that’s taken place with him the last three years.

With Chris Godwin out, Antonio Brown should be ranked as a top-10 fantasy receiver regardless of whether Mike Evans clears the COVID protocols in time to play. Getting this kind of volume against the Jets while tethered to Brady is simply too gorgeous of a spot.

Sony Michel has 60 gap-runs all year — 33 of them in the last 4 games

This is a departure from the Rams' traditionally zone-based rushing attack. The broadcast booth with Mark Schlereth mentioned that the Rams had moved to more gap schemes to account for Sony Michel’s skill-set. He’s just much better running behind lines in that scheme than zones. The data backs this up.

This just further establishes Michel as not the 1A of some committee but a true bell-cow back for the Rams after Darrell Henderson was barely in the picture last week before getting hurt. Cam Akers is indeed back and reportedly looks good but we should be skeptical of any back performing well — if at all — after an Achilles injury given the history:

We should be rooting for Akers to be a great story. But we’re a long way off him impacting Michel’s Week 17 fantasy stock.

Panthers and Saints have the 2nd lowest projected total of week 17

It’s easy to see why: These two teams rank 31st and 32nd in offensive EPA since Week 13.

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Sometimes it’s nice to be able to cross an entire game off your checklist, especially when we have a hefty 14 games on the DFS main slate. I’m not sure there’s a single-player I want to play in this contest. That includes Alvin Kamara who, to really no fault of his own, has been the RB52 and RB36 the last two weeks.

If you have Kamara in a season-long league you might be forced to chase the bounce-back. In DFS, no shot.

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