The race to Super Bowl LIII continues this Thanksgiving weekend, with a full slate of NFL games. All 32 teams are in action, with three games already in the books. The Chicago Bears withstood a valiant effort from the David Blough led Detroit Lions. Josh Allen took the Buffalo Bills into Dallas and defeated the Cowboys, to heap more pressure on Jason Garrett. Finally, in the NFC South, the New Orleans Saints took down the Atlanta Falcons. However, this isn’t a review piece; this is the NFL Week 13 preview.
With so many games to watch in Week 13, it can be challenging to know where to watch.
A lot of eyes will be focused on the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, after the unsavory outcome of the last matchup. Neither Myles Garrett (suspension) or Mason Rudolph (benched) will be on show, but there will be an atmosphere regardless.
Today also sees a potential Super Bowl dry run, as the San Francisco 49ers take on the Baltimore Ravens. Lamar Jackson will be looking to continue his MVP campaign against a tough 49ers pass rush, led by rookie Nick Bosa.
Jackson currently holds the highest grade in our Offensive Share Metric, with a 61.74 grade from the Ravens Week 10 win over the Bengals.
Away from these highlight matchups, who should you be watching in NFL Week 13? Using a combination of our OSM and NFL Next Gen Stats, here’s three under the radar players set to shine in Week 13.
Mecole Hardman – WR – Kansas City Chiefs
What do you look at to define a league-leading wide receiver? Is it the number of receiving yards that he has? Is it the number of touchdowns that he has?
If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then it’s likely that you’ve overlooked Kansas City Chiefs rookie WR, Mecole Hardman.
No, Hardman doesn’t league the league in receiving yards. He doesn’t even lead his team in that category. His five receiving touchdowns are somewhat short of the league-leading nine laid down by Marvin Jones, Chris Godwin, and Kenny Golladay.
However, Hardman is our number one overall graded WR with an overall grade of 43.61. If you’re unfamiliar with the OSM grading scale, then anything over 40 is defined as elite performance.
Elite is what you get with the former Georgia Bulldog.
Hardman leads the league in average separation, creating a gap to the nearest defender at the time of the catch, of 4.3 yards per play on average. As a result, he leads the league in yards after the catch (YAC) with an average of 12.6 YAC. Although there is some expectation for WRs produce after the catch, he also leads the league in YAC above expectation with an average of 7 yards per catch.
Hardman’s blazing speed is the key to this success. Hardman features twice in the top 10 fastest ball carriers of the 2019 NFL season. He hit an incredible 21.87 mph on his 63-yard touchdown during the Week 10 loss to the Tennessee Titans. That came after logging 21.74 mph on an 83-yard touchdown in the Week 3 win over the Ravens.
The Oakland Raiders are the team faced with limiting Hardman in NFL Week 13. They have already failed once this season, allowing him 61 yards and a touchdown on four receptions in the Chiefs 28-10 victory. The Raiders defense has given up the 6th most receiving yards in the league during the 2019 NFL season, including 1985 yard to WRs.
Expect Hardman to take that over the 2000 mark very early in today’s game.
Ronald Jones – RB – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The NFL is a league that expects success immediately. If that doesn’t come at you fast, then you’re rapidly tossed aside and labeled a bust.
That is precisely the situation that Ronald Jones found himself in during his 2018 rookie season. As an early second-round pick, Bucs fans were expecting an immediate return on their investment. They didn’t see it. Jones featured in just nine games in 2018, carrying the ball just 23 times for a dismal 44 yards. A pitiful 1.9 average yards per carry.
2019 has certainly been an improvement for Jones.
As we head into Week 13, Jones is ranked in the top 10 in our OSM RB rankings. His overall OSM grade is 18.37, good enough for RB 9. One place ahead of him is a teammate, Peyton Barber. However, Barber’s overall grade is skewed by an anomalous 32.19 grade. Jones has led the Tampa Bay running back room in OSM grade for most weeks.
Despite Barber starting more games, Jones leads the team in rushing yards and touchdowns with 474 yards and five scores. His average of four yards per carry is much improved on his rookie season. He’s grinding out the yards this year, and his top-five ranking in broken tackles and top 20 ranking in yards after contact is a testament to this.
Jones is also providing a receiving threat this season with 218 yards on 21 receptions and an 80.8% catch percentage.
The Buccaneers Week 13 matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars offers Jones a prime opportunity for more success. The Jaguars have given up the fourth-most rushing yards in the NFL, with 1310 of those 1565 yards coming from the RB position. The Jaguars have also allowed the third-most touchdowns to the RB position.
Other than the ten rushing touchdowns allowed to running backs in 2019, they’ve also allowed the second-most total rushing touchdowns. It could be time for both Jones and Jameis Winston to burst into the endzone.
Kaden Smith – TE – New York Giants
The New York Giants host the Green Bay Packers today at the Metlife Stadium with a litany of offensive injury concerns. Alongside WR Golden Tate (concussion), both starting tight ends, Evan Engram (foot), and Rhett Ellison (concussion) have been officially declared out for today’s game.
The loss of Engram and Ellison is particularly disappointing for the Giants, as they face a Packers team that has been abysmal against the TE position so far in 2019.
Last time out, they were torn apart by George Kittle. The 49ers TE leads the way with an OSM grade of 54.86 last week. He’s just the tip of the iceberg as the Packers have allowed 30+ OSM grades to the TE position on six total occasions. Three of those have been elite grades (Kittle, Darren Waller, and Greg Olson). They’ve now allowed 756 yards to the position, third-worst in the league and allowed six touchdowns to tight ends, the fourth-most in the league.
It would have been the perfect opportunity for a player of Engram’s ability to have a breakout game. However, there is another Giants TE who can use the chance to emerge into the spotlight.
Kaden Smith is that tight end.
Smith’s emergence has already begun in some respect. The 6th round pick of the San Francisco 49ers made his first career catch in the Week 10 loss to local rivals the New York Jets. Two weeks later, he secured his first career touchdown in the loss to the Bears.
In that game, he received an OSM grade of 38.53, a near-elite performance. Smith ranked as the sixth-best tight end in Week 12. Although his 17 yards don’t immediately stand out, he secured five out of his six targets for an 83.3% catch completion percentage.
Over his two seasons at Stanford, Smith showed his pass-catching ability with 1049 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
Now he gets the opportunity to show he can do it in the NFL too.