Welcome to Week 9, fantasy managers! Since we are halfway through the year, we will be using my Expected Fantasy Points model to determine which players you can trust in the second half of the season based on their usage and volume through eight weeks. Therefore, I will be highlighting the top players in Expected Fantasy Points (xFP) at each position.
Why does this metric matter? In short, fantasy production rooted in usage and volume (or xFP) is sustainable week to week. As a result, we want to target players who rank highly in this metric. Since we are looking at the last eight games, all metrics used below are on a “per game” basis. For a more detailed breakdown of my xFP model, be sure to check out my series primer from Week 1!
Let’s dive in!
Wide Receivers: Fantasy Usage & Efficiency
Chris Olave - New Orleans Saints
One of the most productive rookies this year has been Chris Olave, who has stepped up as the Saints’ WR1 over the last few weeks. After a quiet first matchup, Olave has not had a single game below a 20 percent target share or below a 30 percent air yards share since Week 2. And compared to the rest of the league, Olave ranks as the:
WR17 in Target Share (26.3%)
WR6 in Air Yards Share (41.3%)
WR12 in Expected Fantasy Points (13.1)
WR12 in Yards per Route Run (2.53)
To put those numbers into perspective, Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle both averaged a lower target share and air yards share in their rookie seasons. And while Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry should return at some point this year, keep in mind that Olave averaged 9.6 targets per game with both players in the lineup. Therefore, based on his usage so far, Olave should be a reliable WR2 going forward.
CeeDee Lamb - Dallas Cowboys
CeeDee Lamb has had an inconsistent start to his 2022 campaign, finishing inside the top 24 in only three of his first eight games. Of course, this is heavily driven by the absence of Dak Prescott. But despite the uneven fantasy production, Lamb has been the focal point for the Cowboys’ passing offense, averaging a 31.6 percent target share and 41.9 percent air yards share this season. In fact, the only wide receivers currently averaging a higher target share than Lamb are DeAndre Hopkins, Cooper Kupp and Tyreek Hill. In short, his volume has been truly elite through the first eight games. And with Prescott finally healthy, we saw a glimpse of what his upside could be in Week 8 as he totaled 16.3 fantasy points on eight opportunities. Therefore, expect Lamb to be a more consistent WR1 for the rest of the season.
Running Backs: Fantasy Usage & Efficiency
Dameon Pierce - Houston Texans
When Dameon Pierce first became the starter in Week 2, my initial concern was that his fantasy value would be limited due to his lack of involvement in the passing game. However, he has alleviated those concerns in recent weeks, averaging a healthy 15.6 percent target share in his last four games. In addition, he is also the RB2 in opportunity share (44.4%) in that timespan, behind only Derrick Henry.
Week 8 was actually the perfect example of how his tremendous usage can carry his fantasy value. Against the Tennessee Titans, Pierce only totaled 35 rushing yards on 15 attempts. However, he still finished as the RB20 as he remained heavily involved as a receiver with a 17.2% target share. As long as he remains a focal point for the Texans, Pierce will retain a weekly RB2 floor and should be one of the safest running backs for fantasy in the second half of the season.
Josh Jacobs - Las Vegas Raiders
In the final year of his rookie contract, Josh Jacobs has received tremendous volume. He is currently setting career highs in opportunity share (37.5%) and rushing share (78.1%), while also remaining heavily involved as a receiver with a 10.9% target share. In fact, the only running backs with a higher opportunity share this season are Derrick Henry, Saquon Barkley, and Christian McCaffrey. As a result, it should not be a surprise that Jacobs is the RB4 in half-PPR leagues.
His usage value is equally impressive, currently ranking as the RB8 with 14.7 Expected Fantasy Points. In other words, even if his efficiency (+3.8 Fantasy Points Over Expected) regresses in the second half, he should still remain a mid-range RB1 for fantasy managers. And while he is coming off his worst fantasy performance this season, that was partially due to the Raiders trailing for the entire game and failing to score a single point. I expect more competitive games in the near future, which means Jacobs should be a lock to receive around 20 to 25 opportunities in most matchups going forward.
Tight Ends: Fantasy Usage & Efficiency
Pat Freiermuth - Pittsburgh Steelers
Despite dealing with inconsistencies at the quarterback position, Pat Freiermuth has quietly put together a very productive start to his season. In fact, if we remove the game in which he left early due to a concussion, Freiermuth has finished as a TE1 in four of his six games. Furthermore, his usage numbers all rank near the top of the tight end position. Through eight weeks, Freiermuth is the:
TE5 in Expected Fantasy Points (9.23)
TE9 in Target Share (18.5%)
TE6 in Air Yards Share (18.5%)
TE7 in Air Yards per Target (8.2)
TE7 in Yards per Route Run (1.77)
Keep in mind, Freiermuth would rank even higher in some of these metrics had he not suffered an injury in Week 5. And while he does have a couple of tougher matchups coming up against the Saints and the Bengals, the Steelers have the fourth-best fantasy schedule for tight ends starting in Week 12 through the fantasy playoffs. Therefore, Freiermuth would be the perfect trade target if you have been scrambling to find a consistent option at the tight end position.
Quarterbacks: Fantasy Usage & Efficiency
Justin Herbert - Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert has had a rough start to the season as he has dealt with a variety of injuries to the Chargers’ offense. Despite that, he has still delivered four QB1 performances in seven games, in part due to the pass-heavy nature of their offensive scheme. In fact, the Chargers are fourth in the league in neutral-situation, early-down passing rate at 62.7 percent — behind only the Bills, Buccaneers and Chiefs. This is especially important for Herbert’s fantasy upside, as he needs to pass the ball at a much higher rate to keep up with the dual-threat quarterbacks in the league.
However, despite ranking as the QB4 in Expected Fantasy Points, you can see above that Herbert is only the QB10 in Fantasy Points per game. In other words, his upside is significantly higher than his performance through the first eight weeks. And with a juicy fantasy schedule coming up — the third-best among quarterbacks — I truly believe Herbert will have a much improved second half. Hopefully, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams return healthy relatively soon. But even if they have to miss some more time, Herbert should still be a QB1 with Austin Ekeler and Gerald Everett leading the way.