Welcome to Vantage Points, a column I will be writing weekly during the NFL season as a window into every game of the week. With access limited more than ever this year and with no preseason games for us to put our own eyes on, I have the utmost respect for sportswriters covering the NFL on a daily basis, giving us a window into what these teams might look like and where their strengths and weaknesses — beyond the obvious — lie.
The purpose of this column is to highlight the work of those writers, but to also turn some of their observations into actionable fantasy advice. The goal isn’t just to highlight obvious angles, but perhaps some of the lower-end ones that could lead to fantasy advantages.
I will publish this column twice weekly — on Wednesdays to preview the Thursday night game, and on Fridays to preview the Sunday slate.
Houston at Kansas City (Thu, 8:20 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Texans…
WR Brandin Cooks was limited in practice on Monday with a quad injury. He’s actually been limited much of the summer, so my initial read on the situation was that Houston is just being cautious with a player who has had significant injury issues throughout his career thus far. Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle agrees, noting Cooks has looked “fast” in drills.
However, Cooks did not practice on a Tuesday, and an in-week downgrade is rarely a good sign. If Cooks can’t go, more reps for Randall Cobb and Kenny Stills would be in order. He returned to practice on Wednesday and is officially listed as questionable, problematic for someone with Cooks’ injury history.
Say what you want about Bill O’Brien’s methods, but he did fix the Texans’ offensive line with the Laremy Tunsil trade and other moves. All five starters are back.
The good news for the Texans’ secondary? Well, top CB Bradley Roby did a spectacular job on Tyreek Hill in the playoffs last year, holding him to 3/41 receiving despite Kansas City putting up 51 points.
The bad news for the Texans’ secondary? Presumed starting CB Gareon Conley (ankle) has been placed on short-term IR. The Texans want him to get right for later in the season, but that means second-year man Lonnie Johnson is going to have to play more — Johnson struggled badly against Travis Kelce in the playoffs last year, and he’s limited in practice with a hip injury this week, though he’s had a good camp. But it’s hard to shake last year’s struggles and the fact that Houston even briefly entertained moving Johnson to safety this year. Houston’s other options at corner are not inspiring — Vernon Hargreaves, Phillip Gaines, and fourth-round rookie John Reid among them. Gaines has been missing practice as well, with an ankle injury.
Something that was a minor surprise for Texans beat writers, including The Athletic’s Aaron Reiss, is that the Texans chose to keep second-year TE Kahale Warring, who missed all of 2019 with hamstring and concussion problems. They kept him over Jordan Thomas, whom Reiss said had a more consistent camp. The Texans clearly like Warring’s potential, but he is unlikely to play over Darren Fells and Jordan Akins early. For fantasy purposes, it’s not a very good TE room anyway.
What They’re Saying About the Chiefs…
We know the Chiefs can score with anyone, but they might have to this season, because their secondary is perhaps the weakest position on the team — especially cornerback. The Athletic’s Nate Taylor expects Charvarius Ward, who started all 16 games last season, to be Kansas City’s top CB.
But beyond Ward? The Chiefs have to deal with the four-game substance abuse suspension for presumed starter Bashaud Breeland. The top three corners behind Ward are Antonio Hamilton (an off-season signing), second-year pro Rashad Fenton (mostly a slot corner), and fourth-round rookie L’Jarius Sneed from Louisiana Tech. Combined, they have two NFL starts, both by Hamilton. Arrowhead Pride reports it might actually be Sneed who gets the start — he was taking first-team reps in the Chiefs’ final livestream practice. Sneed is long and fast (6’0”, 4.37 speed), so he might be the best matchup against the Texans’ explosive perimeter speed (both Hamilton and Fenton ran in the 4.5s).
Hamilton noted in Taylor’s piece that the Chiefs are well prepared for the Texans’ speed because they have to cover Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman in practice. That makes sense!
In the backfield, Taylor thinks we could see a little bit of a split early on between rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire and vet Darrel Williams, who was CEH’s mentor at LSU. Williams ran away with the Chiefs’ #2 RB job in camp (Kansas City released DeAndre Washington).
Besides CB, the Chiefs’ biggest issue is on the offensive line, especially at guard. RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opted out, so the Chiefs need to replace both of their starting guards from Super Bowl LIV (Stefen Wisniewski signed with Pittsburgh). Veteran Kelechi Osemele will likely play LG, but he isn’t the player he once was, and Andrew Wylie will play RG. Wylie is unspectacular. The Texans, for what it’s worth, have a rebuilt defensive line — they cut one of their top run defenders in DE Angelo Blackson, and are going with a youth movement alongside JJ Watt — second-year DE Charles Omenihu, third-year pro DT PJ Hall, and rookie DT Ross Blacklock (Houston’s top pick) are expected to have sizeable roles. This figures to be a key matchup (as it always is).
TE Travis Kelce (knee) was limited on Monday but practiced in full on Tuesday. There’s no reason to worry about his status.
The most fascinating thing about this game, to me, is how Roby did a phenomenal job on Hill in the postseason last year. While no one is sitting Hill in season-long leagues, I wonder if those in deeper formats might want to give a look to Hardman or Sammy Watkins to make a big play given the Texans’ struggles at the other CB spot.
I’m willing to give Williams a look as a low-end FLEX play given how the Texans are going with a youth movement on the defensive line, though I also believe Edwards-Helaire should be locked into lineups. Remember the last time the Chiefs had a highly drafted rookie RB playing on primetime in the first game of the year?
I’m playing Will Fuller for the Texans given the Chiefs’ CB woes, but Cooks’ injury has me shook. Everyone on planet earth expects this game to be a shootout, and the newly extended Deshaun Watson is going to want to go toe-to-toe with Patrick Mahomes. Those in deeper leagues could potentially give a look to Stills and Cobb if Cooks is out or limited.