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’m also taking advantage of watching press conferences and reading transcripts from coaches and players, as well as using the NFL’s Next Gen Stats info to look for fantasy-relevant angles. I’ll also cover notable injuries.
I will publish this column twice weekly — on Wednesdays to preview the Thursday night game, and on Fridays to preview the Sunday slate.
All times are Eastern.
Denver at NY Jets (Thu, 8:20 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Broncos…
The Broncos benched the erratic and undisciplined Jeff Driskel during the fourth quarter of Week 3’s loss to the Bucs, and inserted 2019 UDFA Brett Rypien into the lineup. Rypien, the nephew of Super Bowl XXVI MVP Mark Rypien, went 8/9 for 53 yards and a pick, and the Broncos and coach Vic Fangio saw enough to make Rypien their starting QB in Week 4. Rypien’s lone interception came on a fourth-down play.
One of the reasons Fangio made the decision? He doesn’t think Rypien will be as reckless as Driskel in terms of taking sacks. According to The Athletic’s Nick Kosmider, The Broncos QBs over the last two games have taken 13 sacks for a loss of 106 yards, and Rypien’s history in high school and college suggests he’s someone who can beat the blitz quickly and effectively. Broncos QBs have been blitzed the most of any team in each of the last two weeks, Kosmider points out, and Jet DC Gregg Williams is no stranger to blitzes. Despite the Jets being an abject disaster this season, they’ve generated pressure on 41.9% of dropbacks, tied for 9th-most in the NFL, according to SIS. (This is despite Philip Rivers being able to do his taxes in the pocket last week.)
Rypien’s handling of pressure is more notable this week for the Broncos because they had to put starting RT Elijah Wilkinson on IR with a leg injury. And Wilkinson was only starting at RT because Ja’Wuan James opted out of the 2020 season. Veteran Demar Dotson will now take over RT duties.
Rypien’s success (or lack thereof) could determine how fast the Broncos bring back starting QB Drew Lock. Fangio said this week that “there’s a chance” Lock (shoulder) could play in Week 5. I guess he’ll magically feel better if Rypien doesn’t play well.
The Broncos could get some reinforcements in the backfield soon. RB Phillip Lindsay, who has missed two games with turf toe, is practicing this week and is getting “close,” per Fangio. Obviously, Lindsay’s return — which looks like it’ll be Week 5 after the “mini bye” if not this week — would eat into the role of RB Melvin Gordon on a team that has been crushed by the injury bug on both sides of the ball and is struggling to move it.
What They’re Saying About the Jets…
What is there to say about the Jets? I mean, I suppose it’s plenty, but for fantasy purposes, you’re probably better off ignoring this team.
Everything is dysfunctional right now. Sam Darnold threw 3 INTs against the Colts last week — as The Athletic’s Connor Hughes points out, not only were two of them pick-sixes, but the other one came in the red zone. Coach Adam Gase is firmly on the hot seat, and Hughes speculates (informed speculation?) that Thursday night could be the last straw if the Jets lose to a Broncos team starting a second-year UDFA QB.
Hughes thinks that Gase’s complicated offense has Darnold “drowning.” Hughes brought up a meeting Darnold and Gase had last year, when Darnold was going through a similar funk, where Darnold asked Gase to reteach him the offense from the foundation up. Could they do something similar on a short week? It may be the only thing that can save either man’s job. Gase is a goner barring a massive turnaround, and if the Jets continue to play like this, they’ll be in position to draft Darnold’s replacement.
The Jets are a team that had veteran players call out their effort in practices the last couple weeks. It’s a team without an identity, as Gase himself said.
“Well, I mean, it’s hard to say anything offensively because, once we play with our starting wide receiver group then I’ll have a better idea of you know, what that looks like, once Lev [Le’Veon Bell] gets back,” Gase said, according to Hughes. “But’s hard to say after three games.”
Bell, by the way, expects to be back in Week 5, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. Will he have a new coach at that time?
Darnold could get some help if WR Jamison Crowder (hamstring) plays this week, but he’d be more likely to go if this game were on Sunday, it goes without saying. Don’t expect Breshad Perriman (ankle) to go.
The Jets’ pass pro — not really a huge priority against a Bronco defense that has generated pressure at the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL, per SIS — might have LT Mekhi Becton (shoulder) this week. Becton’s injury looked bad against the Colts last week, but apparently isn’t as bad as it looked. And the Broncos’ defense, already shorthanded, is now down DT Jurrell Casey (torn bicep) for the season.
It’s hard to imagine a less attractive fantasy game. With the Broncos’ focus on getting the ball out quickly, I’m thinking this is a good game for TE Noah Fant and WR Jerry Jeudy. I’d also like to put RB Gordon in that category, but if Lindsay returns, Gordon drops from RB2 to FLEX. I’m not playing Lindsay if he goes.
For the Jets, the prudent move would be to bench everyone. I guess you can start Crowder, and if Crowder doesn’t play, Braxton Berrios. But I’d prefer to just sit back with a drink (or six) and watch this crapfest from an uninterested position.