What We Learned
Some people see the cheesy back-to-school ads floating around this time of year and bellow at its symbolism. Summer nearing its end. Money to be spent and organizing to be done. The return of Dancing With The Stars (seriously, who still watches that?). But for some, it's arguably the greatest time of the year. One last chance for a sunny vacation. On the brink of playoff baseball. Amidst the season of moving and graduating and grand life transitions.
But, most importantly, it signals the start of football season. For us, it signals the beginning of fantasy football season. Pre-season rankings can be thrown in the wood chipper as far as I'm concerned. Allow this weekly article to succinctly summarize all of the fantasy relevant happenings across the league, game-by-game. Schools back in session and my pencil pouch is stocked. Let's take a look at "What We Learned" after the opening week of NFL football. (note: this section will likely become shorter as the year goes on and fewer things are considered "lessons")
Kansas City Chiefs v. New England Patriots
Right atop my notes from the opening game of 2017 was the fantastic play of Chiefs hot seat QB Alex Smith. With the Kansas City brass having invested so much in Texas Tech rookie QB Patrick Mahomes, Smith had to display marked improvement to fend off any undertones of a QB controversy. And display he did. With two 75+ yard TD passes, the biggest difference in Smith's latest outing -- arguably the best game the 11-year veteran has had to date -- was his willingness and confidence in pushing the ball downfield. The Kansas City Star has noted throughout the offseason that Smith had been practicing more on his deep ball, and that was evident Thursday night. With playmakers like Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt in the fold, Alex Smith could be headed for a career year. As of now I view him as a mid-range QB2 and could certainly see myself dropping someone like Joe Flacco or Andy Dalton for him if I needed a more stable backup. At the very least he'll be a legitimate streaming option this season. Speaking of RB Kareem Hunt....you're probably thinking it's blasphemous that he didn't lead off this section. Breaking an NFL record for most yards in a rookie debut, Hunt displayed the same vision, balance, strength, and wiggle that made him such a special prospect at Toledo. I think it's fair to assume this will be his biggest game of the season, but that doesn't mean it was a fluke. Hunt is an every-week RB1 in an Andy Reid offense that churns out valuable fantasy backs. If you were able to snag Hunt in your draft, enjoy the ride. The last thing we learned from this Chiefs team is that WR Tyreek Hill was no rookie fluke. With the departure of Jeremy Maclin, Hill was presented with a massive opportunity as the team's top target hog and he responded. After concluding the 2016 season with 4 straight games with a 60+ TD, Hill reminded fantasy owners why he was worth the investment with a 75-yard TD reception early in the 3rd. With Hill's big-play ability paired with his high-volume role, there's little reason to suspect he won't finish as a top 20 WR this season.
Well...they're not who we thought they were. All offseason long fans heard the talking heads go on and on about how this might be the best Patriots team New England has fielded in the Brady era and that the rest of the league was on notice. Apparently the Chiefs didn't get that memo. The big takeaway from the Pats is that RB Mike Gillislee has a very clear and valuable role for this offense. In an offense that generates a ton of opportunities inside the opponents 10-yard line, Gillislee is going to threaten LaGarrette Blount's 18-TD 2016 season as a much more efficient short yardage back. Considering the hamstring injury that delayed his insertion into the lineup, it's fair to assume that Gillislee is only going to get more touches and become more comfortable in the offense going forward. Owners who took the gamble on the highest ADP Patriots RB have to be excited for what's to come, especially with New Orleans on the horizon for Week 2. He's looking like a solid RB2 option on the season, albeit a TD-dependent one. From there, some relatively minor notes remain. WR Chris Hogan is not going to serve as a Julian Edelman replacement. In fact, it's looking much more likely that WR Danny Amendola is going to be Tom's new go-to receiver over the middle, but we'll have to keep tabs on that. He's currently week-to-week with a concussion scare. Hogan remains worthy of a bench spot, especially with the injury designation to Amendola, but he doesn't deserve to sniff starting lineups for now. Amendola, meanwhile, could prove to be a sneaky WR3 play, especially in PPR leagues. With Malcolm Mitchell placed on IR, that leaves recently acquired WR Philip Dorsett as the next man up. Despite this, he is safe to leave on the waiver wire in all but the deepest of leagues until further notice. Fantasy owners need not worry about TE Rob Gronkowski.
New York Jets v. Buffalo Bills
I'd like to say we learned that the Jets are miserable on the offensive side of the ball, but if that's new information than you haven't been paying attention. This team is in full tank mode and if there's any overarching takeaway, it's to avoid the Jets for fantasy purposes unless you're targeting a streaming D/ST that faces them (which I strongly advise as your weekly strategy). Seriously, this Jets offense has a chance to be historically bad. Maddening to fantasy owners, promising young RB Bilal Powell split work almost evenly with RB Matt Forte (12 touches to 9). There's very little sensible reasoning behind keeping Forte involved in the game plan, which means his primary function in fantasy is to siphon value from Powell. While it's promising that Powell reeled in 5 receptions and won't fall victim to gameflow-related variables, it has to be concerning that he was only able to generate 8 fantasy points in full PPR leagues with that many catches. Powell should eventually be a high-volume PPR asset with RB2 upside, but until Forte is squeezed out of the offensive game plan, he's going to be an untrustworthy weekly option. While WR Robby Anderson drew most of the offseason puff pieces, newly acquired WR Jermaine Kearse surprisingly led the team in catches, targets, and yards (7/9/59). The Jets are likely to be throwing a ton this season as they play from behind early and often, which makes Kearse an interesting end-of-bench WR5 opton, especially in PPR leagues. Anderson should only be owned in deep leagues at this point, though he has a chance to bounce back Week 2 against Oakland. Don't worry about any other name on this Jets offense until TE Austin Sefarian-Jenkins returns.
It's not so much what we learned about the Bills as it is what they reaffirmed for us. This is an offense that is going to run as frequently as possible behind a top run blocking line. QB Tyrod Taylor is going to struggle in the traditional sense with mediocre WR play, but his rushing numbers will continue to boost his fantasy performances. It could have been a much better game for Taylor if not for a goal line interception, so this might be a good time to stash him as a QB2 bench option if he's still available in your league. His connection with WR Jordan Matthews and WR Zay Jones should only strengthen as the year progresses. Both of the receivers lines look sub-par, but it's very encouraging to see a high snap count for both guys, cementing their status as the top dogs on the outside of this offense. I still think both WRs are value WR4/5 options in PPR leagues and should have much bigger days ahead when the Bills can't simply rely on RB LeSean McCoy. Speaking of which, Shady is a locked-and-loaded high-volume high-end RB1 who's only concern is durability, in case you didn't know that before this game. He exited the game shortly and ceded a TD to backup Mike Tolbert with what appeared to be a stinger, but he came back into the game allowing fantasy owners to breathe a sigh of relief. The other player to keep tabs on from this game is TE Charles Clay. He led the team in targets and has the most familiarity with Tyrod from the receiving group, highlighted by his 2 endzone targets and 1 TD. He was lost in the shuffle this year amidst a deep TE group for fantasy, but Clay could prove to be a solid high-end TE2 option the rest of the way if health is on his side. I'd personally rather have him than guys like Fiedorowicz, Engram, and Brate.
Atlanta Falcons v. Chicago Bears
Similar to the Bills, we got much of the same from the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The Bears underrated defense was able to hold them in check relatively, but the recipe was familiar. It is clear that, even with new OC Steve Sarkisian calling the plays this year, this is going to be a team that focuses on getting their top two RBs 25-30 combined touches per game with a near even distribution when both are healthy. RB Devonta Freeman can't help but lose some of his value with that in mind. Despite how high-powered this offense might be, he is going to struggle with consistency with how often RB Tevin Coleman spells him. Coleman owners aren't getting much from the deal either, as he's little more than a boom-or-bust RB3 option with a shaky injury history. Continue to fire up Freeman as a mid-range RB1 with huge upside if Tevin goes down. QB Matt Ryan had a fairly shaky day against what should be a porous secondary, but TE Austin Hooper did a great job inflating his numbers with an 88-yard TD propelled by a grown man stiff arm. Ryan remains a solid mid-range QB1 whereas Hooper should be one of the hotter waiver pickups from the TE group. He plays in a high-powered offense that has a history of feeding TEs in the redzone. He should already be owned in most leagues as a high-potential TE2 type with great size and a growing rapport with his QB.
The Human Joystick. Mighty Mouse. Rik. Quite frankly I don't care what you decide to call him, but RB Tarik Cohen needs to be owned everywhere ASAP. In his NFL debut the North Carolina A&T product led the Bears in receptions, targets, receiving yards, rushing yards, and broken tackles. Though obviously not of the same position, Cohen flashes Tyreek Hill-like playmaking ability from just a season ago. Don't hesitate to put all of your eggs in this basket, as the Bears absolutely love this kid. He was an offseason sleeper of mine who is panning out beautifully for more than one of my teams. Cohen showed tremendous burst and vision on his runs and great suddenness in his routes. Did I mention Mike Glennon loves him? He is a PPR RB3 going forward as I expect the Bears to continue to manufacture touches his direction, giving him potential RB2 upside if his rushing role expands. So....what does this mean for 2016 stud RB Jordan Howard? Well, nothing good, especially after he dropped an opportunity to keep the Bears hopes of stealing the home opener alive. After leading NFL RBs in dropped passes a season ago (8), Howard is going to find himself hard-pressed to remain on the field in passing situations. Considering negative gameflow is expected to work against him more times than not, Howard is suddenly looking like an incredibly risky RB2 play going forward, particularly in PPR leagues. The nice thing is that the Bears are looking for ways to get both he and Cohen on the field, which should only open up space for him to operate. He'll be rather TD-dependent going forward without the guaranteed volume owners were expecting. The only thing else of note is that WR Kevin White simply cannot stay healthy. He's running out of chances in the pros.
Baltimore Ravens v. Cincinnati Bengals
One of the bigger takeaways of the game from Baltimore was another devastating early-season injury for RB Danny Woodhead. Woodhead came out hot with 3 catches on the first drive and showcased why he was considered such an underrated value pick in PPR leagues. Unfortunately that's all we got to see of him as he came up holding his hamstring at the end of the drive and had to be carted off the field. Word from Maryland is that the team fears the injury is significant and could hold Woodhead out for an extended period of time. Would you believe me if I told you, despite his injury, he leads the team in receptions after Week 1? That really is just a nice segue to tell you that QB Joe Flacco was little more than mediocre in this contest. The Bengals offense was such a joke that he only had to complete 9 passes to get the 20-0 victory. As of right now, he's only rosterable in deep leagues. WR Jeremy Maclin only caught 2 of 4 targets (albeit one for a TD) as he fell victim to the product of gameflow. Maclin should still be a consistent weapon on this offense going forward and should pose as a low-end WR3/4 type until further notice. WR Mike Wallace and WR Breshad Perriman were scarcely involved and neither should touch starting lineups until we see Baltimore open up the offense. Luckily for the Ravens, they were able to lean on RB Terrance West and RB Buck Allen to close this game out for them. The duo combined for 40 carries, 150 yards, and 1 TD. West is immediately vaulted into the TD-dependent RB2/3 range with the injury to Woodhead, whereas Allen becomes one of the more interesting waiver adds of the week. He brought a mediocre skillset over from USC and hasn't shown much efficiency at all in the pros, but could be a versatile piece to an offense that relies on throwing to the RB position. He's an RB4 stash in PPR leagues until further notice on Woodhead.
Fantasy owners will look at QB Andy Dalton's Sunday numbers and berate him, but it's hard to operate when the defense is constantly breathing down your neck. That's what Dalton faced Sunday and the condition of the Bengals offensive line was one of the most ignored subjects in fantasy circles this offseason. They were abysmal, rarely giving Dalton time to go through progressions and push the ball downfield with any authority. With that said, the OLine isn't changing any time soon, and Dalton isn't going to suddenly turn into Russell Wilson. I had high hopes that the Red Rifle might have another sneaky season in him, but 2017 is not looking like the answer. I'd feel comfortable dropping him for someone like Alex Smith or Sam Bradford if I'm looking for a more secure QB2 option. Unlike the OLine, one of the bigger offseason storylines in Cincinnati was the muddied RB situation. Very little came to fruition on Sunday, as the backfield touch split was 11:8:7 in favor of RB Joe Mixon and RB Giovani Bernard. Mixon had absolutely no room to breathe on most of his carries while Gio looked surprisingly spry for a player returning from an ACL tear. RB Jeremy Hill isn't exactly going away either. A lot has to go right for Mixon to eventually capture the value so many owners were projecting when they drafted him. For now, neither he or Hill should touch starting lineups. Bernard is an interesting low-end RB3/4 type in PPR leagues. With the rest of the Cincinnati offense struggling, it only makes sense that TE Tyler Eifert would lay an egg as well. The needle doesn't move for him as a mid-range TE1.
Pittsburgh Steelers v. Cleveland Browns
Well, I suppose you can say we learned that WR Antonio Brown is still really, really good. He absolutely throttled the Browns undermanned secondary and is arguably the biggest reason why the Steelers didn't come away with a loss in Cleveland. The only thing else fantasy owners could ask for is a TD, but I have a feeling Brown owners will see plenty of those over the coming weeks. AB continues to show why he's the safest 1st round pick of the last decade. The other bright spot for this offensive unit was TE Jesse James, who was 2nd on the team behind only Brown in targets and receptions. Not to mention the two redzone TDs he had. James certainly won't reproduce these numbers with any type of consistency, which relegates him to more of a dart throw streaming option and mid-range TE2. While Ben does love the big bodied TE near the goal line, I can't imagine we'll see him outpace Martavis Bryant and Le'Veon Bell again. The Steelers acquired Vance McDonald for a reason (hint: because James is nothing special). Speaking of WR Martavis Bryant, I think it's only fair that owners temper expectations for the recently suspended ascending talent. Bryant is still going to have some monster games, but may need a ramp up period to get reacclimated as the Steelers #2 outside threat. If he struggles again Week 2 against Minnesota (not unlikely), Bryant will start trending toward a strong buy-low candidate. Finally, RB Le'Veon Bell taught us that he's not literally superhuman. Coming off an extended holdout, the only reason it's a mild surprise that he has some rust to shake off is due to the incredibly high standard he's set for himself in the past. It's a shame he had to waste a matchup against a Cleveland front that should have no business bottling him up, and it becomes even more disappointing when owners realize that he won't face the Browns again in the 2017 fantasy season.
We also learned that the Browns aren't completely dead-in-the-water with rookie QB Deshone Kizer behind center. He will certainly have his ups and downs in his first season and I wouldn't advocate for him as anything more than a mid-range QB2, but it's nice to know that the Cleveland QB play won't completely torpedo the rest of the offense like in years past. That is very good news in particular for WR Corey Coleman, who Kizer has taken a fondness to. Coleman led the Browns in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and receiving TDs. He is looking like a very solid mid-round choice as the #1 WR in an offense with a big-armed QB and plenty of positive gameflow. Expect him to flirt with WR3 numbers all year long. WR Kenny Britt had to be one of the more disappointing cases of the first regular season Sunday. Coming off a highly effective contract-year with the LA Rams, Britt caught 1-of-3 targets for 13 yards with a brutal drop to boot. Hue Jackson is already skeptical to outright name him the #2 guy, which should seriously scare owners. With all of that said, the Browns aren't exactly rich for depth at WR (though Kasen Williams lurks) so Britt should continue to get opportunities to shine. We also found out that RB (WR?) Duke Johnson is still not close to earning meaningful reps as a ballcarrier, so much to the point that Coach Jackson had to reiterate to the media that Duke was still considered a tailback. Consider him as a PPR RB3 going forward, albeit a shaky one as Kizer aims downfield more often. I didn't take too much away from RB Isaiah Crowell's performance. The Steelers were clearly intent on stopping him and he's not the type of player who's going to make several men miss to maximize his yards. I wasn't high on him going into drafts for several reasons, but he still has to be considered a low-end RB2 until the sample size is large enough to prove otherwise.
Arizona Cardinals v. Detroit Lions
I wouldn't be able to start Arizona's summary without first mentioning the absolutely devastating wrist dislocation to near-consensus #1 overall pick RB David Johnson. Before I talk fantasy, thoughts go out to Johnson. I wish him nothing but a swift recovery. You may be irate that your blue-chip investment is lost after only 3 quarters of football (I get it, I have him on a team), but let's not forget that this is a real person dealing with a serious injury. Anyways, though he struggled throughout the game behind an offensive line creating little push, fantasy owners cannot replace the production DJ would have brought them. If you have an I.R. spot, DJ should comfortably sit there until healthy. If you're without an I.R. spot, well, it might be time to move on depending on how deep your league is. Arians has said he doesn't expect his star RB to return to the field until December. With that said, it leaves an interesting situation for RBs Kerwynn Williams, Andre Ellington, and the artist formerly known as CJ2K, Chris Johnson. Let's start with Williams. It's amazing to me how much hype he's getting on waiver wires this week considering the fact he averaged 2 yards per carry and 2 yards per catch in his short Week 1 playing time. This is by no means an above average runner and I already touched on how shaky the Cardinals run blocking looked before DJ went out. People are dismissing the arrival of CJ?K, but the Cardinals didn't bring him in to play special teams. Ultimately I foresee a situation where Williams and Johnson largely siphon each other's value, rendering both more or less useless in starting lineups week-to-week. Ellington might have value in PPR leagues, but don't go thinking 2014 Ellington is coming back. Beyond that, QB Carson Palmer struggled mightily against a mediocre Detroit secondary, and it's fair to question if he's officially past his time of being an above average NFL QB. WR Larry Fitzgerald should still enjoy success, but I expect volatile weeks from WR John Brown and J.J. Nelson.
Maybe QB Matthew Stafford was worth all that money after all? Teasing aside, Stafford looked incredibly on-point in Sunday's matchup against what should be one of the more imposing defenses in the NFL. I'll admit I had soured on Stafford's fantasy stock following the departure of WR Anquan Boldin and loss of talented young LT Taylor Decker, but he's a back-end QB1 until further notice. A big reason for that is the sudden emergence of Northern Illinois rookie WR Kenny Golladay. Golladay garnered a lot of preseason hype for his large frame and redzone prowess, and that was on full display in the 4th quarter of this contest. Stafford is the type of QB who is going to throw to the guys who make plays, so I don't expect Golladay to experience the normal ups and downs of rookie WRs. He's entrenched as the Lions #3 WR and this team utilizes a ton of 11 personnel, so Golladay should have plenty of opportunities to shine. He's a low-end WR3 going forward, with room to grow. One man's proposal is another man's love lost. That's the case for TE Eric Ebron, who was widely expected to emerge as the Lions go-to redzone option with the aforementioned Boldin retired. Ebron will certainly have better games than this, but the play of big-bodied Golladay will undoubtedly have a negative impact on his stock moving forward. Whereas before he was a high-end TE2 with room to grow, he should now sit in the mid-TE2 range and an end-of-bench type player. In smaller scope, other important notes include WR Golden Tate continuing to be an underrated WR2 and thriving in his expanded role in the slot, RB Theo Riddick continuing to be a PPR asset even with the return of RB Ameer Abdullah, and Abdullah's struggles as the lead runner after such a strong start in 2016. To be clear, I fully expect Abdullah to have better days. The Cardinals front can be imposing, but I was encouraged by his usage. He'll be another buy-low candidate moving forward.
Tennessee Titans v. Oakland Raiders
One of the main storylines of the preseason was the potential of QB Marcus Mariota to join the 2nd tier of QBs after Brady/Rodgers/Brees. While he certainly didn't look bad, it remains that he came up short of expectations, at least for the first week. With the bevy of weapons he has around him and his ability to produce points with his legs, it's hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn't finish the season as a QB1. If he's somehow a buy-low candidate in your league, make an attempt at him. Again, at least for the first week, we learned that RB Demarco Murray's workload is not in jeopardy with RB Derrick Henry waiting behind him. The production was far from ideal, but a 3:1 touch ratio with the sophomore back is about in line with what fantasy owners should have expected. Murray remains a low-end RB1 with some risk for me, whereas Henry is an end-of-bench stash RB5 type with high potential for growth. Perhaps the most interesting nugget from this game was the early involvement of blue-chip WR Corey Davis. After missing most of the preseason with a hamstring ailment, Davis burst onto the scene by leading the Titans in targets with 10 on Sunday, converting 6 of those tries into 69 yards. He looked like a top 5 draft pick and should continue to progress as Tennessee ramps up his reps (he logged the 3rd most snaps of the WR group). It's mostly good news for the rest of the pass catching corp. Both WRs Eric Decker & Rishard Matthews and TE Delanie Walker also saw 8+ targets, which is a great sign that Mariota was able to spread the ball and keep all of his weapons involved. It's going to be tough for fantasy owners to trust this group as a whole, including Davis, because there are naturally going to be weeks where one or two guys produce while the other 2 falter. Good luck with that guessing game, though Decker and Matthews should pose as the most volatile options. Walker remains a top 8 fantasy TE as Mariota's most reliable target.
From a fantasy perspective, the biggest takeaway from Oakland was their very clear attempt at force feeding WR Amari Cooper, especially in the redzone where Cooper failed to scored a single TD last year. The good news is that he punched one in with one heck of an effort after the catch. The bad news is that he completely lost the opportunity at having a monster day by dropping back-to-back-to-back endzone targets. Absolutely brutal if you're a fantasy owner watching this game. Even with that and the overall inefficient day (38% catch rate), Cooper is a locked-and-loaded back-end WR1 with room for growth if he refines his redzone prowess. QB Derek Carr showed that he will remain in the back-end QB1 group and the addition of TE Jared Cook looked like the perfect upgrade from the Raiders subpar TE play last year. Cook is working himself into potentially the top of the TE2 group as the clear-cut receiving TE on a proficient offensive unit. I would be remiss not to mention the fact that RB Marshawn Lynch looked very spry in his first game since taking a year off, and any fantasy owner who invested in him as a RB2 should be pleased after this first game. He logged 19 total touches which answers some workload questions people had in the preseason. Going forward he looks like a relatively high-volume, high-TD potential RB2 option. At least for now, RBs DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard aren't even ownable assets for me in most leagues. Even if Lynch goes down, those two are going to form a siphoning committee. Neither guy is anywhere near playable when he's healthy.
Philadelphia Eagles v. Washington Redskins
The biggest question mark for the Philadelphia Eagles heading into this 2017 regular season was how the RB committee might shake out. After somewhat of a down preseason, RB LaGarrette Blount was raising serious doubts over his ability to maintain the lead job of this ground game. At least for one week, that question was answered in the form of Blount logging by far the most carries of any Eagles back. Threatening sophomore RB Wendell Smallwood only logged 5 total touches and did little to nothing with his work. This should assure Blount at least a few more weeks of volume work. I would personally sell-high at the first moment he has a good game or stretch of games. QB Carson Wentz didn't generate a ton of preseason hype, though he was tabbed as a sleeper option by some pundits. He made those pundits look good on Sunday by tearing up a Redskins defense that was blowing through the Eagles OLine and locking down WR Alshon Jeffery with Josh Norman. Wentz should be considered a high-end QB2 going forward considering the sudden multitude of receiving options he has to choose from. Speaking of Jeffery, he's a player I'm particular worried about after Week 1. He was 4th on the team in catches and has often times relied on heavy volume to produce as the WR2 people expect. Wentz doesn't appear to be the type of QB to force the ball to a covered receiver, so Jeffery may struggle to return value on his draft position on a weekly basis. Welcome to the big leagues WR Nelson Agholor. After two very disappointing professional seasons, Agholor burst out after receiving plenty of preseason hype and finished 2nd on the team in targets. He's officially an asset worth owning in most leagues, especially PPR as he replaces some of Jordan Matthews production over the middle. Let's make quick mention of TE Zach Ertz, who showed why some tabbed him as a PPR sleeper top-5 TE after the departure of Matthews.
The Redskins offense was more or less a mess on Sunday, which is not exactly what most fantasy owners expected when they invested in several of their key players. QB Kirk Cousins was clearly off his game, missing WR Terrelle Pryor on several occasions and killing his team late with a questionable fumble. Cousins will almost definitely rebound and I'd tab him as a buy-low candidate after Week 1 if an owner is already devaluing him. The biggest concern for Cousins outlook actually has nothing to do with the passing game and everything to do with the success of the run game. RB Robert Kelley did little to alleviate those concerns by averaging a measly 3.0 YPC. It's not entirely his fault though. The Redskins offense line was getting whooped by the Eagles DLine on most plays, which seriously limited what the offense could accomplish. I mentioned Pryor earlier, but coming back, fantasy owners have to be thrilled by his target share after the first week. TE Jordan Reed and WR Jamison Crowder, two highly anticipated target hogs, wound up taking a backseat to Pryor and that could be a theme going forward. If that's the case, Pryor is an easy WR2 rest of season. Both Reed and Crowder appeared on the injury report but both guys looked fine on Sunday. I'm not worried about Reed at all as Cousins annually favored target, but I had my doubts about Crowder this offseason and that skepticism bubbled to the surface with his day to forget. With Ryan Grant and Josh Doctson earning more reps, Crowder is going to be an inconsistent WR3/4 type, even in PPR leagues.
Jacksonville Jaguars v. Houston Texans
First things first, is there finally a little sauce behind the sizzle of the Jaguars D/ST? For years fans have anticipated this unit to make marked improvements with various acquisitions, and they've generally disappointed. They absolutely terrorized Houston's QBs on Sunday, but lets' not forget that the Texans have perhaps the worst OLine in the league right now. I notice many leagues being bashful about adding them after only 1 good week against a bottom tier offense, but looking ahead at their schedule, this may very well be a unit that you start 75% of fantasy weeks. That's when a unit becomes an asset in my book. Beyond that, blue-chip RB Leonard Fournette should be the talk of the town. HC Doug Marrone preached heavy run-favored game scripts this season, and that's exactly what the rookie got against Houston, registering 29 touches for 124 yards. Fournette also had a TD vultured away from him, so he's just scratching the surface on his potential. It will be interesting to see how Fournette performs when game script doesn't favor him, but for now fantasy owners can ride the wave. The other major storyline from the Jaguars was the season-ending knee injury to WR Allen Robinson. Just as I said with David Johnson, I genuinely hope for a smooth rehabilitation process for ARob. Robinson's injury obviously hurts owners who invested in 2016's underachieving WR, but the vacancy leaves a huge chance for WR Marqise Lee to further showcase his ability. Lee turned it on late last season and looked like the Jags best receiving threat, though he finished Sunday's game without a catch. Even so, I expect him to be the most consistent producer in this passing game, with WR Allen Hurns inevitably having boom-or-bust type production.
The Houston Texans, on the other hand, were an unmitigated disaster. The offensive line was offensive, coming in at #32 on PFF's rankings for OLine play for the first week. This is largely why statuesque QB Tom Savage had no chance to succeed, and the sledding shouldn't get much easier for QB Deshaun Watson despite the hype. Watson isn't even a starter in 2 QB leagues yet, and I wouldn't waste a roster spot on him unless it was the deepest of leagues. The good thing to come from the anointing of Watson is the anticipated spike in production from WR DeAndre Hopkins. It's tough to say if his fantasy day was saved by Watson or the fact the Texans were in garbage-time catch-up mode for the majority of the second half, but fantasy owners don't care how or when he gets his points. With that said, Watson made a living off of force-feeding Mike Williams at Clemson, and I expect that pattern to continue with Nuk as his only viable target. Hopkins will continue to be a volatile back-end WR2 play in PPR formats. RB Lamar Miller still managed 96 total yards on 19 touches, which is exactly the type of workload that makes him a solid RB2 candidate. The Texans offensive line has to be cause for concern, however, as well as HC Bill O'Brien stating that D'Onta Foreman would be more involved moving forward. I'm not too worried about Miller in general, but I'd definitely want Foreman as a handcuff. TE CJ Fiedorowicz was unfortunately placed on I.R. following his second concussion over the last few weeks.
Indianapolis Colts v. Los Angeles Rams
Outside of their injured QB, the Indianapolis Colts may very well have the worst top-to-bottom roster in all of football. I realize you should be expected to lose road games with your backup QB starting, but the Colts got ran out of the Coliseum by a sub-par Rams team that was missing their best player (DT Aaron Donald, in case you didn't know). With that in mind, it becomes very difficult for me to recommend playing any of your Colts skill position players until QB Andrew Luck returns. The problem is, we still have no idea when that might be. Luck still has not resumed throwing, so I'd say we're still at least 2 weeks out from his return, and maybe longer. Jacoby Brissett being inserted as the starter might cushion that slightly, but I'm still looking at WR TY Hilton as a volatile WR3, WR Donte Moncrief as an unstartable WR4, and TE Jack Doyle as an unstartable back-end TE2. Savvy fantasy owners may see this as an opportunity to buy-low on a guy like Doyle, who should return TE1 value upon Luck's reinsertion into the lineup. RB Frank Gore ceded a lot of work to South Florida rookie RB Marlon Mack, who HC Chuck Pagano loosely compared to Jamaal Charles in the offseason. Mack is a must-own handcuff, regardless if you own Gore, because he has the potential to supplant the 34-year-old for the starting job by the time Luck returns, at which point his value would sky-rocket. It has to be concerning for Gore owners that Mack got the only goal line carry of the day, especially when you consider how inefficient Gore was in those situations last year.
Wow. That has to be the first thing you say after the drumming the Rams gave to Indianapolis. QB Jared Goff looked like a different player from the guy we saw in 2016, and I'd consider him as a back-end QB2 or high-end QB3 for 2 QB or deeper leagues. Let's not forget, however, that he was throwing against a Vontae Davis-less Colts secondary. It was a good tune up game for the sophomore, but let's see if he can carry it over against tougher opponents. At least for now, the outlook of WR Sammy Watkins has to be positive as he showed nice rapport with Goff, snaring all 5 of his targets in a game where the Rams didn't need to push the ball downfield much. He's still little more than a volatile WR3 option, but that's honestly more than I was expecting heading into the season. WR Cooper Kupp is looking like a PPR stud in the making as Goff's clear preferred slot target. I would expect his role to expand even more as the year goes on, making him a very solid buy option from any owner who is cute enough to "sell-high" while they can. Despite the solid fantasy day, RB Todd Gurley looked much of the same from his disappointing sophomore season. A mediocre Colts front 7 was able to hold him to just above 2 YPC, but the receptions and TD masked his deficiencies. Despite HC Sean McVay's insistence that Gurley will shine again this season, the results speak for themselves. He's going to have a very tough time giving owners the production they need with a rough upcoming schedule. I'd view this week as your sell-high opportunity.
Seattle Seahawks v. Green Bay Packers
This is another offensive line that can't seem to get out of their own way. There were multiple instances last week where QB Russell Wilson was literally running away from 4 defenders as his 5 offensive linemen chased their assignment. Wilson was viewed as a sleeper candidate with his renewed health, but that offensive line is going to seriously hinder his potential to put up bulk numbers. The Seahawks have promised to speed up the tempo of their offense, which should present Wilson with more opportunities to make plays, so you could make the argument that he is a solid buy-low candidate after Week 1. The good part for Wilson is that he has viable weapons all over the field. WR Doug Baldwin was dinged up throughout the game, but still showed that he's the best weapon on this Seattle offense and he will undoubtedly have bigger games in the near future. If you drafted him, you had to expect the ups and downs that come with it. He remains a high-end WR2. WR Paul Richardson is a name for deep leaguers to get on their bench. The former 2nd round pick is finally 100% healthy and is back to making signature acrobatic catches look easy. He is a speedster that the team likes to get involved, though his target share should diminish as WR Tyler Lockett sees more reps. For what it's worth, I'd rather have Richardson rest-of-season. TE Jimmy Graham was nothing short of disappointing on Sunday, but that should only provide a glorious buy-low window for him. I still fully expect him to finish the season as a top-5 TE as the Seahawks offense irons out their issues. The biggest question mark in Seattle remains their crowded backfield, where RB Chris Carson surprisingly got the start against Green Bay, and for good reason. He looked like a legitimate playmaker out there, routinely making guys miss behind the line of scrimmage to extend plays and maximize his yardage. With the condition of Seattle's OLine play, RB Eddie Lacy is going to have a tough time getting into a rhythm as he's not great at making first-level defenders miss. The return of RB Thomas Rawls should be viewed as the nail in the coffin to Lacy's potential, and a serious hit to Carson's. Rawls will be the starting RB for this team when healthy, making him the guy to own, but Carson has to be owned in all leagues for his potential to take over a high-value role.
There was far more good news on Green Bay's end of the field. QB Aaron Rodgers looked as crisp as ever despite getting hunted by the Seahawks ferocious defensive line rotation. It goes without saying that he's an every week QB1 regardless of matchup. Perhaps the biggest fantasy relevant news out of Green Bay was the confirmation that RB Ty Montgomery will be counted on as the lead dog of this backfield. He played on just over 90% of the teams offensive plays and was featured in both the run and pass game, collecting 23 total touches. The yards aren't overly impressive, but let's not forget that this was against arguably the best front 7 in the league. I was skeptical of his role in the offseason and warned fantasy owners willing to take the plunge, but it looks like that gamble will pay itself off. Montgomery is a locked-and-loaded RB2 with room for more if he continues this kind of heavy usage in this offense. RB Jamaal Williams is still a valuable handcuff to keep rostered. In the passing game, forgotten-man WR Randall Cobb surprisingly led the way with 9 catches on 13 targets. You'd be crazy to expect that volume weekly, but this game served as a nice reminder that Cobb still has tremendous upside in this offense. With that said, I'd predict that it was much more game-specific as Seattle's boundary corners worked to take away WR Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams. Jordy is a locked in WR1, but owners may be panicking slightly over Adams extremely quiet outing. Adams is still going to have great games throughout the year, but this game should serve as a reminder that there are a lot of mouths to feed in that Green Bay offense and guys like Adams, Cobb, and even TE Martellus Bennett will have unpredictable usage week-to-week.
Carolina Panthers v. San Francisco 49ers
The Carolina Panthers did exactly what they were supposed to do, which is handle a bottom 5 team in the league and assert their dominance on both sides of the ball. QB Cam Newton could have had a far better fantasy game if not for missing on several passes. Fantasy owners will pretty much have to ride his growing pains out as he adapts to running less and dumping it off in the flats more. Speaking of which, RB Christian McCaffrey had a solid if not unspectacular NFL debut. Starting with the good, you have to love the fact he garnered 18 touches and 7 targets in his first game. It shows a willingness from his QB to get him the ball in space, which will be vital to his fantasy value this season. The bad news is that he was widely ineffective on a per-touch basis, especially when you consider just how abysmal the 49ers run defense was last season. People are speculating that this is McCaffrey's floor, but I'm not nearly as optimistic. Fire him up as a low-end RB2 in PPR formats for the time being, with obvious room for growth. RB Jonathan Stewart actually ended up taking 20 total touches, including a redzone reception for a TD. If that's the type of usage we can expect in the future, Stewart will be a draft-day steal. It will be interesting to monitor the touch distribution from here on out. Stewart can currently be trusted as a RB3, though you'll want to choose games with positive game script before starting him. WR Kelvin Benjamin was one of the biggest disappointments of Sunday as he brought in 1 catch for a 20% catch rate. Kelvin will of course have better days moving forward and I'd include him as a buy-low candidate, but fantasy owners have to be concerned by Newton's comments that he won't be forcing the ball to anyone this season. That means trouble for TE Greg Olsen as well, though I wouldn't move him out of my top 5 rankings just yet. Game flow was not in the Carolina pass catcher's favor this week.
The San Francisco 49ers are arguably the least interesting team this season for fantasy purposes. QB Brian Hoyer is okay, but certainly shouldn't be owned in most/all leagues. Ultimately there's too much working against him with a very shaky OLine, sub-par weapons at best, and a defense that struggles to get off the field. He'll have positive game script working in his favor more days than not, but there's very, very little upside here. RB Carlos Hyde has to be the most intriguing name of the bunch, and he looked very good all things considering. This is a tough Panthers front, especially when you don't have any other threats on offense. Fantasy owners, particularly those in PPR leagues, have to love Hoyer's affinity for dumping it down as he targeted Hyde 6 times on Sunday. Hyde will move forward as a volume-based low-end RB2 in PPR leagues, health permitting. WR Pierre Garcon is far from a sexy name, but he should be one of the more consistent PPR assets out there this season. He is clearly Hoyer's #1 target in the pass game and Garcon has excelled as the #1 in Kyle Shanahan's offense before. The biggest problem is that he's never had a penchant for scoring TDs, and he now plays for an offense that will struggle with that same task. WR Marquise Goodwin is an interesting name for deep leaguers due to his blazing speed, though Hoyer's deep ball isn't anything to write home about and Goodwin dropped a great look on Sunday. Rookie TE George Kittle is another name to look out for, especially in Dynasty leagues. He's very similar to former Redskin Chris Cooley.
New York Giants v. Dallas Cowboys
Let's face it, the Giants offense is hard to watch when WR Odell Beckham Jr. is out. QB Eli Manning is arguably the most overrated signal caller in the league right now as he lives on name and rings alone. In his defense, the offensive line is sub-par, but he has to do a better job utilizing his weapons. He's a mid-range QB2 at absolute best, and that's assuming OBJ is playing. WR Brandon Marshall had to be one of the most disappointing Week 1 storylines as he gained quite a bit of hype as the Robin to Odell's Batman. That didn't take shape on Sunday night as Marshall was thrust into the Bat Mobile by himself, falling behind WRs Sterling Shepard and Roger Lewis & rookie TE Evan Engram of the receiving group. The fact he finished 5th on the team in targets and didn't record his first reception of a game the Giants were playing catch-up in is extremely alarming for his future prospects. Fantasy owners need to hope desperately that Odell's return is a spark plug for Marshall, otherwise he's a low-floor WR4 option in fantasy. I would not rush to buy-low on Marshall just yet. Another guy I'm worried about is RB Paul Perkins. I was not a believer in him taking advantage of the opportunity considering his line play and size, and Perkins reflected my concerns on Sunday, averaging just over 2 YPC and losing significant work to RB Shane Vereen. Vereen is looking like the back to own in PPR leagues and he's a guy I banged the table for in the preseason. He's Theo Riddickesque for an offense that loves to dump it down. He has a chance to usurp Perkins for the lead job as well. If you own Perkins, I would make sure to add Vereen ASAP.
The Cowboys, while not optimally efficient in settling for FGs, looked just as strong as they did last season and should continue to bully teams up front. Despite all of the offseason drama, they leaned on RB Ezekiel Elliott, who turned in a grown man's performance with 100+ yards on the ground and another 36 over 5 catches. The legal battle looms, but fantasy owners should enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts. Zeke is a lock-and-loaded top 2 RB in fantasy with little to no risk aside from the power of Goodell. His appeal seems destined to push this thing out until the 2018 season, but owners should still prioritize handcuffing him with RB Darren McFadden. Dak looked as dialed in as he did his rookie season, and though he only threw 1 TD, should be considered a very reliable high-end QB2 from here on out despite a tough schedule. WR Dez Bryant also falls victim to that tough schedule as he draws some of the tougher cover corners in the league over the next few weeks. He remains a no-doubt WR1 due to his volume and knack for the endzone, so there's not much to takeaway from this game on him. WR Terrance Williams had one of his better games on Sunday, but I wouldn't suddenly expect him to turn his career around. He can be left on waivers save deep leagues. TE Jason Witten is the ageless wonder, having been on the receiving end of Prescott's only TD pass, and he should be continue to serve as a solid, unspectacular TE2.
New Orleans Saints v. Minnesota Vikings
There was a lot of questions for this Saints team heading into the season, and with questions comes lessons. The biggest of those questions was just how HC Sean Payton would manage a backfield including bruisers RB Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson, as well as dynamic rookie RB Alvin Kamara. The result was very unexpected. It wasn't the most tenured back on the team getting the bulk of the work. It wasn't the future Hall of Famer playing against his former team, either. Instead, it was Kamara who led the trio in snaps, carries, and rushing yards. He was also clearly the preferred receiving option out of the backfield before Ingram collected some garbage time receptions. Despite all of this, he was not considered amongst the highest priority waiver pickups this week, and I think that might be a big mistake for whoever passes on him. I don't think this game was a fluke and I expect Kamara to continue to control a healthy portion of this timeshare. Ingram is clearly the safest of the three backs to own, simply because he can be relied upon to close out games the Saints are winning, but he is also an underrated receiving threat out of the backfield if they are in catch-up mode, as they were Monday. He remains somewhat of a boom-or-bust RB3. I was very low on Adrian Peterson entering the season, and this game only echoed my preconceived notions. Peterson is a one-dimensional threat at this stage of his career and frankly limits what this offense can do when he's on the field. I may be taking this a step too far, but my bold prediction is that his friction with coach Payton will continue to mount and the team will eventually release him. Obviously this would be huge for Kamara and Ingram. WR Michael Thomas had a tough matchup in this one, but he's still a no-doubt WR1 in my book. Try to buy-low if you can. TE Coby Fleener is the other story from this one, as he looks like a truly viable high-end TE2 while WR Willie Snead is out. Streamers take advantage.
One of the top stories of the week was just how brilliantly perfect QB Sam Bradford looked in the Vikings home opener. Keeping in mind it was against perhaps the worst defense in the league, Bradford looked like a former #1 overall pick, placing the ball with pinpoint accuracy and fantastic decision making, finishing with an 84% completion and closer to 90% without dropped passes. It's hard to say if this performance was simply a product of the opposition, but Bradford is worth a pickup with potential to be a high-end QB2. The Vikings offense has the weapons around him to excel and Bradford finally gets a second year in the same offensive system. RB Dalvin Cook answered any questions about his role and ability to transition to the NFL. He looked big and fast, plowing through Saints defenders in the open field. I'll admit I'm not a huge fan of him as a prospect and feel as though he will definitely prove less efficient in games against real defenses, but you have to love his high-volume role in an offense that looks like they should be able to sustain drives and lean on their defense. He's an entrenched RB2. WR Stefon Diggs is making an early case as one of the steals of the draft this year. It's never been a question of talent with Diggs, but durability. He said in the offseason this is the best shape he's ever been in and it looked like it on Monday. I'm a believer in this Vikings offense, and I think Diggs will finish the year as a WR2 as a homerun threat with consistent volume. WR Adam Thielen's performance was more likely to be a byproduct of the Saints defense, as I don't think owners can expect near those numbers most weeks. TE Kyle Rudolph will eat into his target share more than what we saw on Monday, even though the redzone machine scored another TD. Rudolph remains a very safe top 7 fantasy TE.
Los Angeles Chargers v. Denver Broncos
This game had the smell of a blowout before QB Philip Rivers mounted an unlikely comeback jump-started by a Broncos offensive fumble. Rivers seems to be perennially underrated in fantasy circles, and this is perhaps the best cast of weapons he's had around him in his career. Despite the tough early season schedule, he should pay big dividends for those who waited and pounced on him. WR Keenan Allen is back and healthy and showed us why he is a PPR monster. It is very evident that he remains Rivers' favorite target and he should continue to eat in this volume-based role. He's a high-end WR2 while healthy. WR Tyrell Williams turned in a surprisingly effective performance against the #1 secondary in the league and answered questions about his role with a healthy Allen in the lineup. He did not fade, but rather became Rivers next check after Keenan. The big bodied third-year receiver should hold low-end WR3 value for most of the year, and I love him as a Keenan Allen handcuff if owners can acquire him. RB Melvin Gordon continued to show that he's a surefire top 5 RB when healthy in this high-octane offense. Despite his consistently mediocre YPC average, Gordon has a knack for finding the endzone and has a rare unquestioned workhorse role in his offense. TE Hunter Henry was perhaps the most surprising fantasy tidbit out of this game, as the ascending young TE was invisible in this contest, leaving the game without a single target. It just goes to show that Henry is going to be a boom-or-bust options on most weeks due to his dependence on scoring TDs to return value.
This was the week of weak-armed QBs excelling pushing the ball downfield, and QB Trevor Siemian was the final chapter of that story. He looked pinpoint and decisive in his distribution of targets and it's hard to imagine sophomore Paxton Lynch ever truly challenging him for the starting role this offseason. Siemian plays in a conservative offense that wants to control the clock and rely on their defense, so the needle doesn't move much on his fantasy stock. He's a low-end QB2. Though RB C.J. Anderson didn't get great fantasy results, fantasy owners have to love his usage going forward. The main thing to worry about now his how the return of RB Devontae Booker might impact his volume. Until we find that out, Anderson is a mid-to-low RB2 based on volume alone. RB Jamaal Charles looked solid as well, though I doubt we see him take on a truly fantasy relevant role this season. He's worth a speculative add in deeper leagues. Though Siemian was good, he could not help WR Emmanuel Sanders turn in an acceptable fantasy performance. He just missed out on a deep TD, so I wouldn't be overly concerned heading forward, as his risk was built into his draft cost. The real takeaway is that WR Demaryius Thomas is clearly going to be the #1 in this offense with OC Mike McCoy back calling plays, who Thomas had a career year for in 2014.
Tune back in next week for a thorough rundown of everything fantasy related for ALL 32 teams (sorry we couldn't talk about you this week, Bucs and Phins).