Jalen Hurts has unlocked elite qualities in AJ Brown

Jalen Hurts has the third-best passer rating when throwing go routes this year. The Eagles quarterback has been white-hot in fantasy football of late. But he’s been demonstrating excellent growth all season long. The most impressive part of his season is his dynamic with the Eagles new WR1.

When the Eagles traded for AJ Brown, there were some questions as to how he would meld with Jalen Hurts. It seems crazy now but it was a real conversation.

Brown had been a middle-of-the-field bully receiver in Tennessee, posing absurd efficiency results on in-breaking routes. Hurts was an infrequent passer over the middle as an NFL starter. The question was posed as to whether Hurts could take advantage of Brown’s strengths as a receiver.

Well, it’s almost like just looking at where wide receivers are targeted doesn’t tell you the whole story of their game.

Brown had long put the ability to win against press coverage and stack defenders in the downfield game on film. He was a pristine downfield route runner and one of the most underrated man-coverage beaters in the NFL.

Brown is averaging the second-lowest yards after the catch per reception number of his career; at 5.8, he’s still far from poor company. And yet, he’s still near his career expectations in yards per catch (15.6). That shows that Brown is being nicely used as a big-boy No. 1 wide receiver. He’s getting looks on those go-routes and flipping the field in the vertical game.

We know the YAC game is in his back pocket when the Eagles need it. Hurts has helped show the world Brown has even more — and perhaps better qualities — on the table to destroy defenses.

Brown has always been an elite receiver, with a game-film resume showing he can do everything you want an elite receiver to do. However, his new quarterback is actually shining a light on qualities in Brown’s game that were there to be unlocked in Tennessee — but we just never got the chance to see them.

Jared Goff ranks ninth in adjusted yards per attempt since Week 8.

That Week 8 mark lines up perfectly with Amon-Ra St. Brown’s return to form following injury issues. It’s not a coincidence.

St. Brown has emerged as a legitimate difference-maker, especially as a third-down chain-mover:

I’ve been calling St. Brown “Bud Light Cooper Kupp” since before he was drafted by the Lions. There is no shade to Bud Light, but the nickname no longer does St. Brown justice. He is truly so close with Kupp as a player. They share so many of the same strengths and win in the same areas of the field.

St. Brown is rapidly ascending the ranks of NFL receivers. But what about his quarterback?

There has been some weird Jared Goff discourse on Football Twitter last week. I don’t understand why it’s a surprise Goff has been productive. Part of why I was a huge advocate for drafting St. Brown in fantasy this year is because Goff is perfectly capable of supporting pass-catchers.

When he’s surrounded by quality receivers, in a good scheme and supported by acceptable pass protection, Goff can run a good offense. The Lions check all those boxes and frankly, out-kick several of those adjectives.

The way the Rams so publicly and aggressively dumped Goff probably caused folks to double-count his flaws. Goff is right around a league-average starting quarterback. Those guys are products of their environment. The Lions quietly provide a good one. To act like his production quality is stunning is a bit silly.

The Lions may eventually want more than average behind center but for now, Goff can do what the team and the public want of him: Just get the ball to their emerging star receiver.

JuJu Smith-Schuster has gotten a 1st down on 49% of his targets this year, 4th best among guys with 50+ targets

It’s been a strange season for JuJu Smith-Schuster from a fantasy perspective. He had a solid but unspectacular start to the season, then got white-hot from Weeks 6 to 9. Then that stretch, unfortunately, came to an end when he was knocked out of their Week 10 win over Jacksonville early with a brutal concussion.

He obviously missed the next game and was barely cleared to play in Week 12. Andy Reid talked about keeping him limited because they didn’t know if he’d be available until late in the week. JuJu only ran a route on 46 percent of the dropbacks in Week 12. He took another huge hit and missed some time in Week 13 during the Bengals game but did manage to return to the contest.

The Chiefs would no doubt consider the JuJu signing a success. He’s been a big part of their chain-moving game and he’s added a physical, zone-beating dimension the team lacked in previous seasons.

That’s the disconnect between fantasy and reality. The production has been so scattershot for JuJu after his hot streak was derailed by injury. Fake footballers have struggled to find the pattern in those three “chapters” of his season.

How will we remember JuJu Smith-Schuster’s fantasy season when it’s all said and done. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

With the last quarter of the season remaining, I’m betting JuJu has a strong finish and can produce as we saw in Weeks 6 to 9 more often than not. The role is still there and as long as he’s healthy, this offense can elevate him.

Joe Burrow has a 2.5-second time to throw since Week 10

That ranks 36th among all quarterbacks in that time span. Huge credit to Joe Burrow for showing a different style of play this year.

We’ve typically associated Burrow with his hang time in the pocket. He’s shown no issues holding the ball for a long period of time to let things open up downfield.

This year, and especially in the last month or so, Burrow has changed his game a bit. The Bengals have him getting the ball out fast and he’s been willing to take layups. That’s been huge for the running backs in the passing game but it’s also leveled out some of the wide receiver production for guys like Tee Higgins — an underrated press-coverage beater who gets open quickly.

Burrow has been on fire and is elevating all those around him.

As mentioned, the running backs have been huge in the passing game, especially Samaje Perine. He has 14 catches over his last three games and is averaging a healthy 9.7 yards per grab. It’s worth wondering if Perine continues to hold a role for this team even once Joe Mixon returns to the lineup. Perine has really brought a nice dimension to their backfield rotation.

Brock Purdy’s 5.4 air yards per attempt was the lowest among Week 14 QBs

It’s clear what the 49ers’ plan on offense will be with Brock Purdy. They’ll want “Mr. Irrelevant” to get the ball out quickly, not make mistakes and just execute the plays Kyle Shanahan draws up.

It’s wild to think that the final pick in the NFL Draft is about to take the wheel of one of the NFC’s top teams. But let’s not act as if this is the first time Shanahan and co. have been tasked with getting quality play out of an unheralded player.

This offense already wasn’t known for its vertical juice. Perhaps I’m just drinking the Kool-aid but players like it Christian McCaffrey, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel are great quick-separation players who can thrive in the short passing game.

Saquon Barkley has a 25% rushing success rate since Week 11

The Giants have had an awesome season but it certainly felt like their luck has been running low of late. The team has a -7.0 point differential the last three weeks, the sixth-worst in the NFL, and their struggles have been reflected in the output of their best player.

Saquon Barkley gets swarmed the moment he gets the ball. Opponents know he’s the one proven threat on offense and they just don’t respect the passing game right now.

Complicating matters is Barkley’s health. The longer the year has gone on, the more injuries have mounted for the star back.

Without Barkley in the fold, I can’t hold much optimism for any Giants player. It’s a shame Barkley’s incredible season has taken this turn. If he does sit, hopefully, he can finish the season healthy and in good momentum.

Justin Herbert ranks 19th in EPA per dropback since Keenan Allen got back (Week 11)

With what’s certain to be the Take Bowl on the horizon when the Dolphins come to town, the Chargers offense is playing remarkably flat.

I was hoping the offense would take a dramatic step forward with Keenan Allen in the fold. That hasn’t been the case. The improvement has been slight at best.

Allen has been solid but understandably doesn’t look like his old self. The receivers don’t get open and the pass protection is hideous. Both issues compound the other for an offense that is already too focused on the quick game.

Mike Williams looks like he may return this week. He at least brings a vertical stretch boundary option to push defenses out of the middle of the field. However, while he’s a good receiver, I’m not of the opinion he’s enough of a needle-mover to immediately change the trajectory of this offense. The Chargers need to look themselves in the mirror and ask some difficult questions about how this roster and offensive design were constructed.

I’m trying not to get myself carried away with James Cook as a late-season breakout but the signs are there. Last week was the first time Cook overtook Devin Singletary for the team lead in rushing and snap share. If the former had been the one to bang in the rushing score on TNF, it might be a bit more discussed.

As the data shows, Cook offers a bit more pop than Singletary.

Cook has been a bit better as a base runner when given chances this year. He was expected to be a passing-down specialist as a rookie but he’s shown a bit more than that.

It remains to be seen just how much more work Cook can handle. It’s also extremely unlikely that he just outright kicks Singletary out of the picture. If Cook can take on a bigger role in the last few weeks, he might end up being a late-season hero for fantasy managers. We want a piece of the Bills offense and Josh Allen has targeted running backs at a higher rate than ever this year.

Either way, Cook needs to be 100% rostered in fantasy leagues right now. He has injury upside and a path to grow his individual role on a great offense. Those types should not be on waivers.

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