Week 9 Fantasy Football Stats Notebook: Can Nyheim Hines help Bills solve two key problems?

Josh Allen has a 21.2 percent target share to running backs this year. Bills running backs had a 15.4% target share in 2021 and 13.5% in 2020. It was clear this was a point in the offseason and the organization has gotten Allen to buy in. That's good for fantasy managers buying into the RBs on this offense.

The Bills spent much of the offseason trying to get a player with juice to incentive Allen to throw to running backs. We know about the failed JD McKissic pursuit and the eventual drafting of James Cook. It turns out the message sank in with Allen anyway, as holdover Devin Singletary became the receiving back even if he lacks some dynamism.

At least … he was that guy.

The Bill took yet another big swing at adding someone with juice to the pass-catching running back role by trading for former Colt, Nyheim Hines.

Indianapolis Colts running back Nyheim Hines (21) got a fantasy boost
Nyheim Hines' fantasy value is directly tied to his pass-catching ability. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Hines has always been a strong option in the passing game. This season alone he’s been targeted on 27.5% of his routes, the eighth-highest among running backs.

He’s never been a fully featured player in Indianapolis despite Frank Reich seemingly always finding a way to hype his role up in the offseason. However, the Bills clearly have plans for Hines in a role that’s already working in their offense. Hines could easily boost his weekly snap share, routes and catches per game (3.6) number in Buffalo the rest of the way.

It seems a virtual lock that Hines will assume the bulk of the passing downs for Buffalo. Singletary will still be around but Hines was brought in for a reason, with eyes to add a little more to those targets.

But I wonder if there are even more duties in store for Hines.

Typically the whole “running backs lining up in the slot” is an offseason trope that doesn’t become a reality. That’s not really the case for Hines.

He’s lined up in the slot on 23.7% of his snaps this season. That’s the most among running backs — by a lot. He’s the lone non-fullback to clear 20% this season.

The Bills have not gotten the play out of their slot receivers they’d like this season. Jamison Crowder is out with an injury and Isaiah McKenzie has been hit or miss. Rookie Khalil Shakir has flashed but is a Day 3 rookie whom they might not want to overload. Part of McKenzie’s volatility is that he’s still more of a returner than receiver. He can beat man coverage with speed but doesn’t have the option routes against zone coverage in his bag that you typically want out of a slot.

Hines actually might be the answer to that problem as he’s perfectly capable of executing those plays. It’s a bonus that he’s well used to building chemistry with a bevy of new quarterbacks based on the Colts’ recent history behind center.

It’s obvious that Hines was brought in to be the guy the Bills have been hoping to catch passes out of the backfield. He might end up helping them solve two problems at once, which will only increase his fantasy value.

T.J. Hockenson ran a route on 78% of the Lions’ dropbacks

He had a 17.9% target share and is stepping into a team where the top tight end had a 13.4% target share. The difference is that Irv Smith only ran a route on 58% of the dropbacks.

There’s a segment of fantasy folks who try to make Smith into more than he is as a player. The reality is that Hockenson is just a much more accomplished guy with more clearly defined strengths.

Hockenson could end up being a force multiplier for the Vikings. He’ll be a plus addition to their zone-blocking run game and help create matchups in the passing attack. All while likely garnering similar volume with increased odds for touchdowns in a better offense.

Darius Slayton and Wan’Dale Robinson have an identical 17.6% target share the last three weeks

It was quite a journey to get here but it appears the Giants have finally landed on their top two receivers for the rest of the season.

It was always a bit weird to me that the team wanted to kick Darius Slayton to the curb. Slayton is far from a star but compared to some of the guys New York has rolled out, he’s more than competent.

On the other end, the organization always had big plans for Wan’Dale Robinson after taking him in Round 2 of the draft this year. He’s finally healthy after a Week 1 injury.

The best part about these two is that they really complement each other. Slayton is more of a pure outside vertical receiver whereas Robinson is a slot man who gets layup targets to create in space. That’s perfectly personified by Slayton’s 33.7% share of the air yards and Robinson’s 12% over this three-week stretch.

A player like Robinson needs a ton of volume to produce in fantasy, whereas Slayton can do more with less but will be rocky week-to-week. Both players can be useful and are widely available in fantasy leagues.

Titans don’t rank higher than 15th in any DVOA offensive category

Naturally, that 15th ranking comes as a rushing offense. It’s worth wondering how much they climbed after last week’s bludgeoning of Houston.

The Titans are such an amazing team. They rarely stand out in the typical ways we expect for high-end teams in modern football but they’re still just so good.

Culture matters. Tennessee is really leaning into that essence on offense this season.

Last week was obviously extreme with rookie Malik Willis starting and giving them legitimately nothing through the air but they haven’t gotten a ton out of the passing game all year anyway. First-round rookie Treylon Burks was on the slow burn before getting hurt. Robert Woods is the leading receiver with a whopping 256 yards while two running backs rank second and third with 144 and 140, respectively.

Again, what an amazing team.

Some of the best things they’ve done on offense is getting Derrick Henry (10 yards per catch) out in space as a receiver for the first time this season. Of course, it is because Henry remains the center of their universe.

The Titans' defense deserves a ton of props for this run, too. One of the team's true 2022 strengths is their ability to bury opposing rushing attacks. They rank first in run defense DVOA and give up the fewest rushing yards before contact per carry to opposing backs.

Falcons rank 10th in rushing success rate

It looks like Atlanta will get Cordarrelle Patterson back this week. Their depth backs have been solid but Patterson was an explosive difference maker when on the field. He still leads all running backs with 50-plus carries in success rate and ranks seventh in EPA per rush.

Patterson gets a soft landing spot for his return. The Chargers allow 5.7 yards per carry, the most in the NFL. All that money spent on defense in the offseason and the returns for LA have been average at best.

Rhamondre Stevenson has a 56% share of the team rush attempts in the last two weeks

It’s notable because Damien Harris has been active for both of those games.

Even more noteworthy is Stevenson’s passing-game role. He’s sporting a 35.6% targets per route run percentage and a 27% target share in this span.

Those marks are elite-level RB1 type of usage. Stevenson is going to go down as one of the best picks in fantasy football and has worked his way out of any “start/sit” questions.

Rhamondre Stevenson #38 of the New England Patriots
Rhamondre Stevenson has reached another level of production this season. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) (Mike Stobe via Getty Images)

Terry McLaurin’s target share with Carson Wentz this season: 15.9%

McLaurin’s target share with Taylor Heinicke this season is a far more inspiring and justifiable 25.0%.

One of the best traits a backup quarterback can have is bringing life to an offense and knowing where your bread is buttered. Just getting the ball to your best player on a routine basis can demonstrate you understand both assignments.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, Wentz and Heinicke are both backup-level quarterbacks at this stage of their respective careers. That’s praise for Heinicke and just the honest truth about Wentz. The former understands the two above assignments far better than the latter.

For McLaurin’s sake and, frankly, for the Commanders’ hopes as well, Heinicke should remain the QB1 until he plays himself out of the job.

Chris Olave and Alvin Kamara have a 46.3% combined target share since Week 5

The Saints announced they don’t expect Michael Thomas to play again this season. It’s a bummer for a great player who has struggled through a mountain of injuries since his 2019 record-breaking campaign.

However, this offense has a clear identity without Thomas and it’s all about Olave and Kamara. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where their offensive universe doesn’t revolve around these two bright stars. They are their two best players, without a shadow of a doubt.

Andy Dalton isn’t anyone’s idea of an answer at QB or plus-starter but he can get the ball to these two guys. That’s all we want.

P.J. Walker ranks 13th in EPA per dropback since Week 7

He’s doing this while averaging 11.1 air yards per attempt, the third highest among quarterbacks in that span. P.J. Walker has some legitimate arm talent.

Folks are calling that late-game touchdown last week to DJ Moore a Hail Mary. Perhaps, but man, Walker laid that ball right to Moore in stride on a vertical route. It was a great example of his arm strength.

We are mostly just grateful that Walker’s insertion into the starting lineup has saved Moore’s season but he’s playing really good football and deserves his own praise.

Both George Pickens and Diontae Johnson are top 10 in unrealized air yards

The Steelers trading Chase Claypool theoretically opens up volume for everyone else. The only problem here is that volume wasn’t really the source of concern.

I don’t love yards per target or really any stat that includes yards or targets for evaluating wide receivers. But no “efficiency” metric matters for Pittsburgh pass-catchers because unfortunately, they don’t run a real NFL offense.

Until something changes structurally for the Steelers' offense this unit will never reach its potential. And that’s unfortunate because their ceiling with Johnson and Pickens should be quite high.

Davante Adams ranks 34th in yards per target and 19th in yards per route run

Do you think anything has changed about Davante Adams as an individual player from this year to last? I don’t.

This is all to my above point in the Steelers section that any wide receiver stat with “yards” in it is a quarterback and/or offensive environment stat.

Adams is essentially the lone big-name wide receiver who changed teams in the offseason and isn’t finding success in his new home. That’s because he’s playing in the least-healthy offensive ecosystem with the least-inspiring quarterback. This stuff doesn’t have to be that hard.

Amon-Ra St. Brown 31.6% targets per route run, 3rd best in the NFL

The seas look like they’re parting for Amon-Ra St. Brown to get right back to dominant form — starting this week.

The Lions trading T.J. Hockenson only opens up more room in the target pecking order. Especially since he and St. Brown run routes in similar areas of the field. St. Brown is a volume sponge as is but he’s now the only true target-earner active in this offense right now, especially if D’Andre Swift’s health continues to be complicated.

The Packers play a zone-heavy defense. Beating zone coverage is St. Brown’s specialty as a big slot. He’s a top-five play on the receiver board this week.

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