East Coast Offense: The Fournette Question
East Coast Offense: The Fournette Question

This article is part of our East Coast Offense series.

The Fournette Question

Last week as usual we had Scott Pianowski on our Sirius XM radio show, and he opined during his typical excellent and informative segment that drafting Leonard Fournette was an unforced error of sorts due to his injury history. When I pointed out that Fournette had hurt his ankle last year (and in college) and this year has an ostensibly unrelated hamstring injury, Pianowski cited an Injury Predictor site, which I dismissed this summer, that had Fournette as its highest risk running back.

I went back and looked at Fournette's college injuries, and they include the ankle, a knee bruise, a quad bruise and a stepped-on foot. Not only did he not have a hamstring injury, but he didn't even have a muscle strain of any kind in his history. Moreover, Fournette was completely healthy this summer, with not a whisper of an ailment, and he had dropped 20 pounds, presumably putting less strain on his body. Finally, Fournette played 13 of 15 games last year despite having an ankle injury (he was suspended for one for violating a team rule), and in those 13 games logged 268 carries and 36 catches, i.e., to the extent he was injured, it wasn't so bad that he couldn't put up a top-five per-game workload while he played.

But here we are, approaching Week 6, and Fournette has been a disaster for two of my teams. Was this an unforced error or simply bad luck? Should I have heeded the "Injury Predictor" or was I right to dismiss it in this case?

My view is the latter. To the extent prior injuries predict subsequent unrelated ones, perhaps there's some unknown mechanism - diet, genetics, e.g. - making someone more injury prone generally, but barring the identification of that mechanism and persuasive evidence of its effects, I don't see how we can rely on it. So the injury predictor was right, but for the wrong reason. This is akin to telling your relative that smokes, eats foods cooked in refined seed oils (never eat anything made with Canola, corn, soybean, safflower, sunflower or grapeseed oil) and doesn't exercise that he's shortening his lifespan, and then saying I told you so when he gets hit by a bus.

That said, I looked into the injury predictor more deeply when writing this piece, and it might well be useful, particularly in cases where we have less information, or we don't want to dig through a player's entire injury history. But keep in mind two things about seemingly rigorous algorithmic tools: (1) If you don't take the time to understand how they work and where their biases might be, you're essentially going on faith; and (2) Even if you did grasp and accept the validity of their methods, they would only be useful in general, i.e., algorithmic tools don't have opinions about specific players - they simply rely on factors that are generally predictive and apply them uniformly, hoping to be more right than wrong overall. Even if the tool is more accurate than you would be generally, it might be totally off base in specific situations that an informed person would be more likely to read correctly.

Incidentally, one short cut to identifying the reliability of an algorithmic tool is to see what its creators are risking on its accuracy, i.e., the "skin in the game" test. One reason I cite (though still don't copy) Massey-Peabody's NFL picks is I know they back it up with substantial investments. Did the Injury Predictor owners go big on the under for Fournette's season-long yardage total? If they did, it would make a difference to me.

Week 6 Trivia

Apropos of Drew Brees setting the all-time passing yardage record Monday night...

Guessing the Lines

GameMy LineGuessed LineActual LineML-AL
Eagles at Giants0-2.5-33
Buccaneers at Falcons5.563.52
Steelers at Bengals31.52.50.5
Chargers at Browns31.5-14
Seahawks at Raiders-0.5-3-32.5
Bears at Dolphins-1.5-2.5-31.5
Cardinals at Vikings10.59.510.50
Colts at Jets2.532.50
Panthers at Redskins31.512
Bills at Texans8780
Rams at Broncos-8.5-7-7-1.5
Jaguars at Cowboys-2.50-30.5
Ravens at Titans-10-32
Chiefs at Pats333.5-0.5
49ers at Packers10.5109.51

Unlike last week, there are wide disparities between several of my lines and the actual ones. It looks like I'm on the Browns, Raiders, Giants and Redskins for sure, but I reserve the right to change my mind, of course, in Beating the Book.

Week 5 Observations

The Cowboys and Texans both urgently need coaching upgrades. Bill O'Brien actually challenged a Zeke Elliott catch and run that would have given the Cowboys first and goal from the five, won and sent them to second and one from the seven, arguably an even better situation for the offense. Instead of needing five yards to score, the Cowboys had three tries to get one yard (and likely more) to get a fresh set of downs even closer to the goal line. The Cowboys got stuffed on second down, but gained three yards on third.

Jason Garrett, of course, punted on fourth and short from the Texans with five minutes left in overtime! Even Jerry Jones, of all people, called Garrett out.

Dak Prescott looked okay, but Elliott led the team with seven targets, and no other receiver saw more than four. There's never been a less ownable receiving corps in this pass-heavy era. Or a more ownable one from the perspective of opposing cornerbacks.

Deshaun Watson looked pretty good, put up 375 passing yards on 8.5 YPA and ran for 40 yards, to boot. He was sacked only once, but took some big hits on running plays, something that doesn't bode well for his long-term health. His offensive line didn't look that bad, though.

DeAndre Hopkins had another 13-9-151 day. He's the AFC Adam Thielen or more aptly, Thielen is the NFC Hopkins – a guy who does it every week. Tailback Alfred Blue had a big game as a receiver (8-8-73), tight end Ryan Griffin chipped in for 9-6-65 and rookie Keke Coutee (pronounced "QT", I'm told) went 7-6-51-1, supplanting Will Fuller who caught only two short passes. Blue also had 20 carries in Lamar Miller's absence, but for only 46 yards.

The Rams won their game at Seattle by going for it on 4th-and-1 in their own territory rather than punting the ball back to Russell Wilson where a field goal would have beaten them. Sean McVay is the anti-Jason Garrett, and it's one of the reasons why the Rams are the best team in the NFL. Of course, they didn't cover because (1) The Seahawks ran roughshod over their defensive line; (2) Marcus Peters isn't himself; (3) Their kicker missed a PAT; and (4) They lost two of their three receivers (Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp) to concussions. Maybe Seattle would have covered even if those two were healthy, but before even knowing the line (or who they play), I'm taking the Rams against the spread in Week 6.

It looks like Jared Goff threw two picks, but one was a deflection at the goal line and the other was an end-of-the-half Hail Mary. Otherwise, he got 10.0 YPA in a hostile venue and threw for 321 yards without two of his top receivers for most of the game.

Robert Woods, the last man standing, predictably had a good game with a 7-5-92 line through the air and 56 yards rushing. Unlike Cooks, Kupp had the courtesy to go 9-6-90-1 before leaving.

Todd Gurley always produces – 22-77-3 and four catches for 36 yards. He's like peak Emmitt Smith or LaDainian Tomlinson at this point.

Russell Wilson was efficient (9.4 YPA) and threw three TDs, but attempted only 21 passes.

Tyler Lockett went 5-3-98-1, someone named David Moore went 4-3-38-2, while Doug Baldwin caught only one pass for one yard. It seems likely Baldwin is not himself and acting more as a decoy.

Chris Carson and Mike Davis looked unstoppable, breaking multiple tackles every time they touched the ball. Carson went 19-116 and Davis 12-68-1. Bizarre that the team drafted Rashaad Penny in the first round, only to make him third string.

I don't have much to say about the Cardinals-49ers game. Larry Fitzgerald isn't a big part of the offense any more, Josh Rosen seems competent for a rookie and David Johnson largely has nowhere to go, but at least got some goal-line work (and two scores) this week.

Matt Breida is now out with a sprained ankle, depleting the 49ers even further. The team's leading receivers were the tight end (George Kittle, mostly on one play), fullback (Kyle Juszczyk) and the slot receiver (Trent Taylor.) Outside receivers Kendrick Bourne and Pierre Garcon had 80 yards on 19 targets between them. I suppose Alfred Morris could have a big role going forward.

Thielen had another 100-yard game, his fifth straight to start the year, a record in the Super Bowl era. Stefon Diggs, also proving to be among the more reliable targets in the league, went 11-10-91.

Kirk Cousins and Carson Wentz both went over 300 yards, and 8.0 YPA, but the game was a defensive struggle from the start. Zach Ertz, arguably the No. 1 fantasy TE, went 11-10-110-1, but Alshon Jeffery (2-for-39) had little to show for his eight targets.

Wendell Smallwood had three carries for 27 yards and three catches for 44 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion. With Jay Ajayi out for year, Largewood could have a big role.

Interestingly, Doug Pederson went for a two-point conversion, down 20-12, in the fourth quarter. It's the right call because the idea is if you make it, you can win the game with at PAT after your next score, and if you don't make it, at least you know to go for two should you score again. Basically, you'd have to fail twice (about 30 percent) in order to lose, but if you make the first one (about 45 percent), you win on the next score. Obviously, it's better to have a 45 percent chance to win, a roughly 30 percent chance to lose and a 25 percent chance at overtime (miss the first, make the second) than simply taking your chances (50/50) in overtime.

I watched more of the Raiders-Chargers than I care to admit, solely because the Raiders plus 4.5 were a Supercontest pick. At one point, Oakland was down 20-3 with a first-and-goal at the one and an entire quarter remaining. All the Raiders needed to do was score to cut it to 10, watch the Chargers play it safe by punting and backdoor cover 20-17. Of course, instead of handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch, Derek Carr scrambled around in the backfield before throwing an egregious, game- and cover-sealing pick.

It's one thing for a QB to force the ball 40 yards downfield on 3rd-and-15 and throw an interception. On the spectrum of turnovers that's essentially as harmless as an incomplete pass and a punt. Carr's pick was on the opposite end – squandering second and goal from the one and essentially ending the game. It's dumb that interceptions all count the same in the stat line, whether they're Goff's end-of-half Hail Mary or Carr's season-destroying catastrophe.

Amari Cooper was once again MIA, and we should probably get used to boom or bust games from him like most cornerback-sensitive wideouts. Martavis Bryant fumbled, but led the team with 91 receiving yards.

Philip Rivers is still cranking – 12.6 YPA, 339 yards, two TDs, one sack and no picks. It was a clean game against a weak defense.

Keenan Allen looks healthy again, going 9-8-90, while Tyrell and Mike Williams chipped in modestly with seven targets between them. Melvin Gordon is the poor man's Gurley, always involved as a rusher and passer and usually productive.

The Giants game was the worst of all worlds for me. I took the Panthers minus seven, didn't have the stomach to go against my own team in Survivor, and the Giants lost anyway on a 63-yard field goal. At least Saquon Barkley's injury doesn't appear serious.

Eli Manning managed 9.1 YPA and 326 passing yards, but Odell Beckham had to bail him out a few times by snagging high throws. One long TD to Beckham was actually a perfect ball, but more often than not, the receiver has to adjust to make the catch. Rarely does Manning lead the receiver or throw him open, and he's just lucky to have players like Beckham and Barkley making plays for him.

Barkley scored twice and went over 100 YFS for the fifth straight game. Only Kareem Hunt last year had more consecutive 100 YFS games to start a career, though Barkley left after scoring the go-ahead TD with an apparent back injury.

Beckham went 14-8-131-1 and threw a 57-yard TD pass to Barkley. He also let a punt hit him while trying to block that resulted in a Panthers TD. Beckham is still a top-three WR.

Speaking of awful coaching, why did the Panthers run the ball on 3rd-and-1 with no timeouts at the end of the game? It's like Ron Rivera's brain had a first-down-seeking script that malfunctioned and overrode the game-on-the-line mission. They were awfully lucky Graham Gano hit one of the longest field goals of all time.

Cam Newton is spreading the ball around to his receivers, and with D.J. Moore's role growing and Curtis Samuel back, it's hard to handicap. Next week, he might have Greg Olsen back to. Christian McCaffrey is getting plenty of work – 17 carries and six targets. Plus, he finally scored.

James Conner did his best Le'Veon Bell impression yet with 23 carries for 110 yards and two TDs, plus four catches for 75 more yards. It'll be interesting to see what happens if and when Bell returns in three weeks.

Antonio Brown went 13-6-101-1, while Juju Smith-Schuster did little besides catch an early TD.

Matt Ryan took six sacks, lost a fumble and had to get x-rays (negative) on his foot after the game.

Devonta Freeman had eight carries in his return, but the Judge (Ito Smith) scored at the goal line. Austin Hooper (12-9-77) and Mohamed Sanu (7-4-73-1) led the team in receiving, while Calvin Ridley (5-4-38) and Julio Jones (9-5-62) were relatively quiet. Jones has yet to score a TD this year.

Sam Darnold completed only 10 passes, but three were to Robby Anderson for 123 yards and two TDs. Anderson is one of the league's best deep threats, and it's nice to see the Jets finally use him. Quincy Enunwa had no catches despite five targets, and Terrelle Pryor caught a 20-yard TD late on his only look.

Isaiah Crowell annihilated the Broncos, going 15-219-2. Here's the list of players with 200-plus yards in a game on 15 or fewer carries. It's not long. Bilal Powell was also productive with 20 carries for 99 yards, though he lost a fumble.

Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman were both efficient as usual, but game flow limited their work. Devontae Booker caught five of six targets for 59 yards, further cementing himself as the team's pass-catching back. Case Keenum threw for 377 yards and two TDs, but was only moderately efficient (7.4 YPA), took four sacks and tossed another pick. Demaryius Thomas led the team with a 6-5-105-1 line, while Emmanuel Sanders saw 14 targets for only 72 yards.

The Jaguars slowed down Patrick Mahomes somewhat, but it's hard to tell given Blake Bortles four picks and five sacks which put the game out of hand early. Mahomes threw two picks and didn't throw a TD, but he still had 313 yards, 8.2 YPA and a rushing TD.

Kareem Hunt had 82 rushing yards and a TD, but only one catch for seven yards. Game flow hasn't been that conducive to Hunt being a major pass catcher. The Chiefs trio of top targets (Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins) all were modestly productive, splitting Mahomes passing output fairly evenly.

Bortles threw for a whopping 430 yards in extended garbage time, spreading the ball to six receivers, all of whom got at least 55 yards but none of whom exceeded 76.

T.J. Yeldon had 122 YFS and a score and could be in for plenty of work with Leonard Fournette still hurt, and backup Corey Grant now out for the year.

Mason Crosby had a game for the ages, missing four field goals and his only PAT. Mike McCarthy, in perhaps his only shrewd move of the game, got Crosby one last chance in garbage time to restore his confidence. Given that Crosby made the kick, I'd expect him to keep the job, but he's undoubtedly on the ropes.

Aaron Rodgers exploded for 442 yards and three TDs and seemed to move well, though he lost two fumbles.

Devante Adams went 12-9-140-1, which was unsurprising given the injuries to Geronimo Allison and Randall Cobb as well as the game flow. Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jimmy Graham saw double-digit targets, with the former scoring the TD, though Graham was targeted at the goal line. Equanimeous St. Brown didn't let the lack of targets bother him, putting up a 5-3-81 line.

The running game is still a three-headed monster with McCarthy unwilling to commit to one of them.

Matthew Stafford had a quiet game, thanks to game flow and two short TDs by LeGarrette Blount. Blount's and Theo Riddick's specialized roles greatly limit Kerryon Johnson's upside, though Johnson led the team with 12 carries for 70 yards.

Kenny Golladay's breakout continued with a 9-4-98-1 showing. Golladay had another long TD called back on a hold.

The Browns throttled Joe Flacco – 5.3 YPA, zero TDs, one pick and two sacks. John Brown and Michael Crabtree saw a lot of targets, but didn't do much with them.

Baker Mayfield threw for 342 yards and a TD on 8.0 YPA against a tough defense. He threw one pick and took five sacks, however.

David Njoku is emerging as a key target for Mayfield along with Jarvis Landry. Rashard Higgins (now out at least two weeks with a knee injury) was the most efficient target, putting up a 4-3-66-1 line. Antonio Callaway saw five targets, but for only 22 yards. Someone other than Landry will have a bigger role, and Njoku is probably the best bet.

Despite Nick Chubb's monster game against the Raiders, he saw only three carries for two yards Sunday while Carlos Hyde had 17 for 63.

The Bengals outscored the Dolphins 24-0 in the fourth quarter, thanks to two defensive TDs to win the game and cover the spread. It was an ugly game all around, though A.J. Green had his usual 10-6-112 and Joe Mixon had 22 carries for 93 yards and three catches for 22 yards and a TD in his return. With Gio Bernard out, Mixon is going to be a major workhorse.

Kenyan Drake saw only six carries to Frank Gore's 12, but Drake went 11-7-69-1 as as receiver. No other Dolphins' pass catcher had more than six targets.

Marcus Mariota's road struggles date back to last year, and Sunday in Buffalo was no different – 5.0 YPA, no TDs, two sacks. Josh Allen wasn't any better, though he ran for a score. LeSean McCoy had 24 carries for 85 yards and caught two passes for 23 more if you want to reach for an offensive bright spot.

Drew Brees had another routine big game – 363 yards, 12.5 YPA, three TDs, no picks and two sacks. He also passed Peyton Manning for the all-time passing yards title, a mark he's likely to hold for a while unless Tom Brady (5,000 yards behind) plays until he's 50. Brees is a year and a half younger and frankly looks like he has more years left in the tank.

Mark Ingram returned from his suspension and looked like his old self, running hard, breaking tackles and scoring twice. He wasn't especially efficient, but he had 16 carries, three targets, two catches and 20 yards receiving. Alvin Kamara had only six carries and caught three of four targets for 15 yards. Kamara should still be a top-10 fantasy back, but Ingram's role is the same as last year's, and Kamara's volume won't be what it was the first four weeks.

Taysom Hill also vultured a TD from the backs via direct snap. Consider it the Sean Payton tax.

With Ted Ginn out, his successor Tre'Quan Smith had two long TDs on three targets for 111 yards. Sadly, my snake-bitten 14-team league squad with Leonard Fournette and Le'Veon Bell faced Smith and lost by six points, despite starting Isaiah Crowell, Robby Anderson and Wendall Smallwood.

Michael Thomas and Cam Meredith were both quietly efficient with 70-plus yards each, but gameflow limited their targets.

Alex Smith looked okay to me, throwing downfield, making accurate passes and scrambling well, despite playing from behind and being under heavy pressure most of the game. His one pick was on fourth down.

The Redskins couldn't run at all, and apparently Adrian Peterson separated his shoulder, but snapped it back in and returned to the game. Chris Thompson wasn't much better, though he caught six of eight targets for 45 yards. Jamison Crowder, Paul Richardson and Maurice Harris split most of the rest of the targets evenly to little effect. Jordan Reed saw only two targets, catching one for 21 yards.

The Saints looked shaky to start the year, but last night their defense looked better than it has all year, and the offense was borderline Rams-esque. They're the second best team in the NFC right now and closer to No. 1 than No. 3.

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Chris Liss
Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.
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