Between the Lines: Week 9 Snap Count Analysis

Irv Smith broke out again with his first two-touchdown game of his career. But what do the snap counts tell us about his potential going forward?

In fantasy football, one way to gain an edge over opponents is to look beyond the box score and examine player snap counts. While a quick scan of player stats can tell us who actually performed and produced, snap count data can give us an indicator of guys who are seeing the field on a consistent -- or inconsistent -- basis.

After all, opportunities breed fantasy points and snap counts are one of the more predictive metrics for fantasy football performance. This makes sense, intuitively, as the more a player is on the field, the more opportunities he'll have to touch the ball, and the more opportunities he'll have to score fantasy points.

In each of these weekly articles, I'll evaluate each position by looking at snap count, opportunity, and efficiency trends. All data, unless otherwise noted, comes from numberFire's Snap Count page, where you can find more in-depth details about player snap usage.

Running Back

- I'm just as shocked as anyone that Adrian Peterson continues to get as much run in the Detroit Lions offense as he does. Rookie teammate D'Andre Swift totaled 32 yards on the team's first drive on Sunday, yet only played on 40 percent of the team's snaps. The Lions faced a negative game script for most of the game, so I would've expected Swift to play more as the team's primary pass-catching back, but instead Peterson was targeted 5 times while playing on 27 percent of the team's snaps. Additionally, Kerryon Johnson remains involved to the tune of a 33 percent snap share. Unfortunately, this backfield situation is the most maddening type of workload distribution, and as long as Matt Patricia remains the coach of the Lions, we should expect more of the same.

- In Christian McCaffrey's return to action, he returned to being the fantasy football superstar that he is. Prior to the game, the Carolina Panthers indicated that they would work McCaffrey in slowly, which may have scared off fantasy managers. While he did only play on 71 percent of snaps, he totaled an astounding 28 touches. It should be noted that McCaffrey did get shaken up towards the end of the game and is at risk of missing Week 10, but it was to his ribs or shoulder, and he was not impacted by the ankle in the slightest. If he's all good to go, Mike Davis will return to being an afterthought following an admirable fill-in job. Davis played on only 31 percent of snaps, which may be his ceiling while McCaffrey is back in the lineup.

- The Buffalo Bills continues to confuse and frustrate fantasy managers with how they're using their running backs. After missing three games due to injury, Zack Moss has worked himself back into a decent role alongside Devin Singletary. Over the past three weeks, Moss as barely out-snapped Singletary, 104 to 99. Additionally, Moss has gotten more opportunities (36) than Singletary has (33) over those same three weeks. Finally, this past week, Moss hit a season-high 56 percent snap share. While the trend makes it look like Moss may be pulling away, this remains as much of a committee as any backfield in the NFL.

Wide Receiver

- Last week, I wrote about the Denver Broncos tight end group, but this week, I'm going to focus on their wide receiver corps. Jerry Jeudy is emerging as a bright, young receiver as many expected. But he's still competing for regular playing time with the likes of Tim Patrick, K.J. Hamler, and DaeSean Hamilton (this also comes without the team's primary receiver in Courtland Sutton). Since the Week 5 bye, Jeudy has played on 73 percent or more of the team's snaps in every game, which includes back-to-back games with double-digit targets. Patrick also went right back to his heavy workload with an 82 percent snap share following a game missed to injury. Hamler's usage, on the other hand, has bounced up and down all season, with two games below a 40 percent snap share and three games above a 75 percent snap share. Lastly, Hamilton's spike week of a 94 percent snap share last week looks to be a function of Patrick missing the game, as his snap share dropped back down to just 37 percent.

- Although this was the first game that T.Y. Hilton missed due to injury, it doesn't seem like he's been playing much in the games he's been active. In any case, let's take a look at how the rest of the wide receiver group was used with Hilton out. Both Marcus Johnson and Michael Pittman Jr. led the way, garnering snap shares of 88 percent and 87 percent, respectively. Zach Pascal was next in line with a 60 percent snap share, but that was his lowest of the season, which is concerning (not that many people were relying on him). At the end of the depth chart, De'Michael Harris and Daurice Fountain were both used on fewer than a quarter of the team's snaps, so they can be safely ignored in season-long leagues.

- Justin Herbert has given life to the Los Angeles Chargers passing game in his seven starts, throwing for an average of 306 yards per game, which has boosted the wide receivers. Keenan Allen has been the biggest beneficiary, as he has played on 94 percent of snaps in all but two games so far this season. This comes with double-digit targets in every single game that Herbert has started (aside from Week 5 in which he left early due to injury). After a relatively slow start to the season, Mike Williams has worked himself into a nice role in the offense with 5 receptions and 80 receiving yards in three of his last four games. This comes from playing on 87 percent or more of the snaps in each of those games, with his down week occurring when he only played on 67 percent of the team's snaps. Meanwhile, Jalen Guyton appears to have locked in the WR3 role for the Chargers, as he's played on 80 percent or more of snaps in five of the last six games.

Tight End

- With Michael Thomas back in the mix for the New Orleans Saints, all the attention was focused on him. The Saints throttled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so the snap counts may be a little skewed, but the tight end room has been a bit perplexing as of late. This week, Josh Hill led the team in snap percentage at 62 percent, which is the third-highest single-game mark for a Saints tight end this season. Hill has out-snapped rookie Adam Trautman in all but one game, and Trautman has failed to reach a 50 percent snap share in all but one game this season. But we mustn't forget about Jared Cook, who has scored a touchdown in four of the seven games that he's played. His snap share has decreased after posting a 65 percent snap share in the first two weeks, as he's hit a 50 percent snap share in just two games since. None of these tight ends can be trusted as anything more than a bye week fill-in while Thomas works his way back to a larger role.

- Once again, many people find themselves heart throbbing over second-year tight end Irv Smith Jr., who's coming off of a two-score game and his best fantasy performance of his career. I hate to do this, but I'm here to pour some cold water on the notion that Smith can continue to be a reliable fantasy football starter. First, Smith only played on 38 percent of the team's snaps this week, a season-low, while Kyle Rudolph played on 72 percent of snaps and has been above 70 percent in six of eight games. Furthermore, Smith only ran nine routes compared to 13 for Rudolph (per PFF). Production is not sustainable on this few routes and this few snaps, so be wary of how much you trust Smith going forward.