One of my favorite things about the staff we’ve assembled at Fantasy Points is the fact that we can all play to our strengths. Scott Barrett can be the DFS guy. Graham Barfield can be the numbers guy. Tom Brolley can be the betting guy. John Hansen can be the projections… *ahem*… guru. Ben Kukainis can be the guy who doesn’t sleep, makes everything run, and without whom none of us can find our underwear.
And I get to be the guy with the big mouth.
I talk a lot. That’s what I do. I’m on the radio, and I got “Talks the Most” in my high school yearbook superlatives. So I thought the best thing to do for my early-week in-season work is to write a column I’m calling “Tuesday Talking Points.”
In doing the SiriusXM Fantasy Football Gameday show, I watch a lot of football. I’ve got multiple TVs going, with full games and the RedZone Channel on. And when you have to talk on the radio for six hours every Sunday, you’re going to form some opinions. I’m putting some of these in written form for our Fantasy Points subscribers, and I hope to educate and entertain (and, as always, provide some actionable info).
Aaron Rodgers, Middle-Finger Season?
I’ll fully admit I was off the Aaron Rodgers train this year. I don’t think he played particularly well last season, and the Packers’ receiving corps was really poor last season with the exception of Davante Adams. We had him on our “Players to Avoid” list, and pointed out that the one real reason to be positive on Rodgers was mostly anecdotal — he’s going to be pissed off after the Packers drafted a QB in the first round.
Well, Rodgers played a vintage Rodgers game in Week 1, carving up the Vikings for 364 yards and 4 TD, and raising a couple of freedom rockets to his doubters. I think it’s interesting that Rodgers had talked up both Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard this off-season, and both scored in Week 1. (MVS also dealt with some drops.) I’m not expecting this to be a regular occurrence going forward, but Rodgers now seems to trust his younger guys.
For me, I have more faith in Lazard for fantasy — Rodgers’ trust in him is evident. Hell, he said so himself. It’s why Fantasy Twitter legend Jeff Janis never got on the field. I don’t want to backpedal too much after Week 1, because things are never as good (or as bad) as they seem after just one game. But Rodgers’ aggressiveness and high-level ability were on display, and if you ignored our advice to avoid him, you can continue firing him up in lineups.
On the flip side of Rodgers’ beautiful “F.U.” game, man, Tom Brady and Drew Brees looked old. Yes, in the battle against each other, they each had to face one of the NFL’s better defenses. But Brady had some communication issues with his receivers and threw a terrible pick-six, while Brees pop-gunned his way to 5.33 YPA and might have lost WR Michael Thomas to a high ankle sprain (if Thomas plays, it stands to reason it won’t be at 100%).
For fantasy purposes, I’m less worried about Brady at this stage. I just think Tampa’s offense — so long as WR Mike Evans (hamstring) is healthier — is set up more for fantasy success. And there’s no Taysom Hill to worry about in Tampa (I don’t think we’ll be seeing a Josh Rosen gadget package any time soon).
In New Orleans, I think Sean Payton wants to get the most out of Brees that he can, and he sure as hell doesn’t care about your fantasy team — Hill got the first target of 2020 for the Saints, while RB Latavius Murray got the first carry. If Thomas is limited or out for a period of time, don’t be shocked if this Saints’ offense is greater than the sum of its fantasy production, with the exception of the very rich Alvin Kamara. It’s a full-scale downgrade for me at this stage, even though I’m still picking New Orleans to go to the Super Bowl.
Philly, What the F?
I think Doug Pederson is a good coach and Carson Wentz is a good quarterback. Both of them were at their worst in Week 1 against Washington, and they need to do some soul searching. Wentz got off to a hot start, leading Philly to a 17-0 lead, and then the wheels came off. The Eagles basically chose to ignore the run game with RB Miles Sanders (hamstring) out. So Wentz was dropping back constantly, even with a three-score lead. And finally, Philly’s decimated offensive line — with only two projected starters (LG Isaac Seumalo, C Jason Kelce) in the same spot they opened at in the beginning of camp — was overwhelmed by Washington’s lethal front seven. Wentz was sacked a career-high eight times.
Wentz’s stubbornness and refusal to give up on a play leads to spectacular plays on occasion, but it also leads to dumb ones (the OL wasn’t solely responsible for all eight sacks). What frustrated me was Pederson’s stubbornness with the gameplan. The Eagles do finally have speed — WRs DeSean Jackson and Jalen Reagor were targeted deep constantly in Week 1. It’s the major thing their offense lacked last year, and Pederson was right to want to unleash it.
But when it was obvious that Wentz was going to have Team defenders in his lap all day, why did Pederson stick with the gameplan? Why did Wentz — one of the NFL’s best QBs on the move — roll out just once the entire game? It’s like Pederson totally forgot all off-season about how Philly schemed up success in their run to the division title last year. Having speed and finally being able to get deep doesn’t matter if Wentz is getting swallowed up before plays can develop.
And if Philly was so committed to long-developing passing plays, why did neither Reagor nor Jackson — the latter of whom swears he’s healthy, and Pederson confirms — play more than 60% of the snaps? Why did both of Wentz’s INTs come on comeback patterns to rookie WRs (Reagor and John Hightower), a precise timing throw, when these players haven’t had time together?
And is RT Lane Johnson (ankle) really that important to this team? I find it hard to believe that Philly is so much better with him in the lineup, as good as Johnson is. But the numbers don’t lie — under Pederson, Philly is 36-17 when Johnson plays. The Eagles are 6-12 when he doesn’t.
It appears the Eagles’ plan this week was to get through Week 1 healthy. That’s why they were cautious with Sanders and Johnson, and why they limited the snaps of Reagor and Jackson. They might have succeeded in that department overall, but it cost them a football game they should have won.
For fantasy, there is no reason to panic yet. We’ll see what happens in a better matchup if and when the Eagles are healthy (or at least healthier). But this was a frustrating performance from a coach and QB who should be better than these types of games in their fifth year together.
Rookie RB SZN
It was an up-and-down week for rookie RBs, as you might expect. The top back taken in April — and the top rookie back taken in fantasy drafts — Clyde Edwards-Helaire got things off to a great start on Thursday. Jonathan Taylor is looking like a potential league-winner, for reasons both good (6 receptions, 67 yards in his NFL debut) and bad (Marlon Mack’s injury). Those two you’re starting every week from here on out, and you don’t need me to tell you that.
It’s the others who are intriguing. The Rams’ Cam Akers made his debut on primetime TV, playing 33% of the snaps and getting 15 touches, but he gained just 43 yards on those touches and was outplayed by Malcolm Brown (60% snaps, 21 touches, 110 yards, 2 TD). Baltimore’s JK Dobbins scored twice in his debut and led his backfield with 39% of the offensive snaps, but will Mark Ingram play more when the Ravens actually have a competitive game? D’Andre Swift scored his first career touchdown for the Lions, but dropped a game-winning TD at the end of the game while Adrian Peterson looked great. Joshua Kelley earned effusive praise from Chargers coach Anthony Lynn after his 12/60/1 debut, but he’ll never carve out a lead-dog role with Austin Ekeler there. Washington’s Antonio Gibson was a hot name, but it doesn’t appear the Team trusts him in full yet.
The rookie who had the second-most carries behind Edwards-Helaire, though? Jacksonville UDFA James Robinson, who posted 16/62 rushing and 1/28 receiving while playing 68% of the snaps for the Jaguars, leading all rookie RBs in Week 1.
I drafted a ton of rookie RBs this year, mostly because I thought they landed in great spots and could be true league-winners if things broke right. Edwards-Helaire and Taylor already look primed to win leagues for people this year. Dobbins is in a great spot, but I need to see what the Ravens do in a close game. Swift’s mistakes may draw the ire of Matt Patricia, but his teammates — including elder statesman Peterson — are showing big-time support. If you’re a glass-half-full type, think about the fact that Swift got open for a potential game-winning TD and was trusted in that big spot in the first place.
Don’t be shy to spend some FAAB budget early this season. There are some potential big-time fantasy backs out there.
With James Conner (ankle) hurt, I think my preference is for Pittsburgh’s Benny Snell, who actually lived up to all the “best shape of his life!” camp reports and looked the quickest he’s ever been on Monday night against the Giants. I expect Pittsburgh to be a good offense with a solid line, but mostly I expect the Steelers’ defense to keep games in the range where 20 carries is a reasonable outcome every week for a guy like Snell. Conner might not be seriously hurt, but at this stage, I have no idea how Pittsburgh can deny Snell the carries he’s earned given Conner’s health woes.
Jonathan Taylor isn’t on your Waiver Wire, but it’s highly possible Nyheim Hines is. And while I think Taylor is going to explode following Marlon Mack’s Achilles injury, You can’t count out Hines. QB Philip Rivers 147 pass attempts to backs lined up in the backfield in 2019 — not even including RBs lined up out wide — was the most such pass attempts of any QB in the last five seasons, per SportsInfoSolutions. Rivers’ 125 attempts in this scenario in 2018 were the 10th-most over the last five seasons from any QB. The fact of the matter is Rivers loves checking it down. That’s likely to benefit Hines more than Taylor in the long run, and if you are in a PPR league, he might be your priority over Snell if tests show that Conner isn’t seriously hurt.
Surprising Passing-Game No Shows
Fantasy players weren’t excited about the passing-game work for two notable RBs — Kansas City’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the Chargers’ Austin Ekeler. CEH, a fabulous receiver at LSU, didn’t catch either of his 2 Week 1 targets. Ekeler, meanwhile, was targeted just once, and posted 3 yards receiving.
I am way less worried about CEH’s involvement in the passing game — mostly because Patrick Mahomes is good, and Tyrod Taylor stinks. But Andy Reid has always been a pass-heavy coach, and Anthony Lynn simply isn’t going to turn into Don Coryell overnight. While both backfields have a second back to rotate in — Darrel Williams in Kansas City and Joshua Kelley in LA — only the Chiefs’ offense projects to have the volume needed to support a receiving back if the receiving involvement isn’t what we anticipate.
Kansas City ran more than it passed in Week 1, but that didn’t happen once in 2019. Meanwhile, the Chargers’ 55% rush percentage ranked third among all teams in Week 1, despite being at just 36.7% in 2019, sixth-lowest rate in the NFL. Kansas City didn’t have a QB change — the Chargers did.
I’m not panicking on Ekeler, because he still played 67.6% of the snaps, got 19 carries, and looked really good. But Philip Rivers ain’t checking the ball down through that door.
Notable Snap Counts of the Week
In a game the Seahawks led the entire way, RB Chris Carson played just 45.2% of the snaps and saw just 6 carries. I pointed out in my Vantage Points column last week that Seahawks beat man Joe Fann expected more of a rotation here. Fann’s only error? He thought rookie DeeJay Dallas, who was inactive in Week 1, would be part of it over Travis Homer. But it seems — for now — he nailed the rotation part.
Only one WR played every snap for his team in Week 1 — the Jets’ Breshad Perriman. That was surprising to me, considering he missed a ton of camp time with a knee injury.
Maybe one reason Philly’s offense was so out of sync — the Eagles didn’t have a single WR play more than 60% of the snaps. Jalen Reagor led the way with 58.8%.
With Kenny Golladay out with a knee injury, rookie fifth-round pick Quintez Cephus was second among Detroit WRs with 79.5.
San Francisco’s Dante Pettis played 72.6% of the snaps, saw 1 target, and didn’t catch it. He reportedly had a good camp, but if he can’t even step up when Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are out, plus TE George Kittle is dinged, it appears he’s pretty much useless.
Not that this matters with Tyrod Taylor at QB, but Jalen Guyton (64.5%) is clearly the Chargers’ #3 WR. Rookie Joe Reed played just 3 snaps as the #4.
The Team’s Logan Thomas was 15th among tight ends in snap share in Week 1, and he was targeted 8 times. He can have some low-end fantasy value.
We were told all off-season that Patriots rookie TE Devin Asiasi was having a great camp. But they barely got his feet wet in Week 1, playing him on just 15.6% of the offensive snaps. Meanwhile, Ryan Izzo led all TEs with a 98.4% share.