Fantasy Football: 10 Lessons Learned in Week 1

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Much like Slim Shady, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Gandalf before me, I am back! With the conclusion of Week 1 comes the long-awaited and highly-anticipated return of Lessons Learned with The Fantasy Footballers — such humility, I know.

For any newcomers, this weekly article is essentially a quick-hitting collection of key takeaways from the week in fantasy football. Sometimes we’ll expand on trends or results that Andy, Mike and Jason covered in the recap episode of the podcast, other times we will pinpoint some less obvious lessons that may have sneakily important impacts in your leagues!

Without further ado, let’s jump into the fantasy classroom and find our first batch of lessons learned!

1. Todd Gurley is Still Top Tier … Now Potentially On His Own

For anyone who read my offseason article on Todd Gurley’s 2018 prospects, his 25-touch, 147-yard, 1-TD performance against the Raiders on Monday Night should not come as a surprise. The Rams offense is still elite, and Gurley’s usage in both phases of the game and in the red zone is second-to-none.

Speaking of which, the outlook for the other top-tier backs, Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, and Ezekiel Elliott, is not quite as bright. Obviously, Bell is caught up in a nasty contract situation and will score zero points per week for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, DJ and Zeke were actually affected by the putrid offenses we’d hoped they could carry. Neither topped 90 scrimmage yards and while they were still decent for fantasy, they’re dangerously close to slipping into a sub-elite tier right behind Gurley.

2. The Falcons’ Steve Sarkisian Still Can’t Decipher the Red Zone

If you’ve ever seen the movie National Treasure (itself a national treasure), you’ll recall the stark difference in competency between the protagonist (Nicolas Cage) and the villain (Sean Bean) when it came to deciphering mysterious clues in search of vast riches. If vast riches are found in the end zone, and the mysterious clues are scattered inside the 20-yard line, Steve Sarkisian is Sean Bean — for those of you who missed the reference, that’s bad.

For some reason, Atlanta’s second-year offensive coordinator is incapable of guiding his team to the promised land once they reach the border. Since Sark took over from Kyle Shanahan last year, the Falcons rank 26th in the entire NFL in touchdown percentage in the red zone (and 29th in overall scoring percentage). It’s bad news for Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, and Julio Jones (to a degree, the man still racked up 169 yards).

I’ll be sending the Falcons some tape of vintage Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, and we’ll all hope they learn the lesson themselves. Until then, it’ll be frustrating for fantasy.

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3. The Bills’ Offensive Woes Are Bad News for LeSean McCoy

The Buffalo Bills are very, very, very, very … very bad at football. They lost 47-3 to the Ravens, benched their starting QB, punted 8 times, and gave up 6 sacks. I have no reservations saying they’re worse than the 2017 Cleveland Browns — who, in case you forgot, did not win a single game. And, unfortunately for LeSean McCoy owners, the star running back did nothing to suggest he could overcome the team’s struggles in Week 1.

McCoy rushed 7 times for 22 yards and “added” a single catch for -1 yards. He was outperformed by a 7th-round depth player named Marcus Murphy. It wasn’t pretty, folks. And while the Bills have decided to make the switch to Josh Allen at QB heading into Week 2, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to salvage the offense to a point where McCoy is putting up RB1 numbers again. He should get more touches moving forward, but it may not matter much on this dumpster fire of a team.

4. James Conner is a More Than Capable Emergency Bell

With the aforementioned Le’Veon Bell holdout comes another chance to watch his backups run rampant in fantasy. We saw it with DeAngelo Williams in years passed, and we saw it again with Pittsburgh’s own James Conner. In Week 1. the second-year back matched Bell’s highest scrimmage yards total from last season (192), scored a pair of touchdowns, and quelled any concern that the Steelers might sputter without Bell.

The hottest question in fantasy right now is what to do with Conner and Bell, and I’ll admit I have almost no good idea of when Bell will make his return (heck, I’m not even sure he does). What I do know is that Conner is a locked-and-loaded RB1 every week until he does. And if you play in a keeper or dynasty league, go get him now. When Bell walks next season, Conner could potentially slide right into the top five in fantasy.

5. Joe Mixon is a Legitimate Bell-Cow Back

If there’s room in the workhorse stable with some of the question marks we’ve addressed so far, Joe Mixon would be the first in line for a stall. (Too much horse analogy? Fair, my bad). Mixon racked up 17 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown versus the Colts, and even more importantly snagged 5 of 7 targets for 54 yards. Meanwhile, perennial thorn-in-the-side Giovani Bernard only saw a single target and took his lone carry for -2 yards.

While expectations for Mixon should be slightly tempered considering the inefficacy of the Colts defense, the operative word here is slightly. His involvement looks legitimately elite, his talent is top-notch, and the only standing between him and sure RB1 status is the reliability of the Cincinnati offense. If Andy Dalton and the Bengals can remain productive moving forward, Mixon could be a steal of the draft.

6. George Kittle is in the Running for Every Week TE Starter

If you’re Andy Holloway and spent $44 of your FAAB on Kittle, this lesson is more of a prophecy of unquestioned greatness. But if it is, it’s got a lot more credence than the whole Mayan apocalypse thing. Kittle led the 49ers with 9 targets against a stout Vikings defense and caught 5 of them for 90 yards, narrowly missing on a couple big ones. He was highly involved, perfectly utilized, and gloriously productive in Week 1 — a welcome sight amongst the wasteland that greeted us elsewhere at the tight end position.

Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With Greg Olsen and Delanie Walker banged up, and guys like Evan Engram and Jimmy Graham concerningly quiet, Kittle is a hot commodity right now. Get your hands on him if you can, and don’t hesitate to start him for the foreseeable future.

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7. Mahomes and Hill Are One Spicy Combo

My goodness. Patrick Mahomes made quite the flashy debut in Week 1, largely thanks to the adventures of Tyreek Hill. The speedy, dynamic wideout made the Chargers look silly on Sunday with a pair of touchdowns and 169 receiving yards, and has clearly established himself as one of the most electric players in the entire NFL.

Now, this duo still might be the Ultra-Hot-Fire Mega Burrito With Extra Beans of fantasy football, in that they’re a dangerous proposition with high upside and some serious risk. Remember that while Hill had four performances of 15 or more non-PPR fantasy points last season, he also had four of less than 5 as well. I still think will be some ups and downs with these guys, but the ups are going to sky high. I’d keep my eye out for games with high projected point totals — like Week 2’s matchup with the Steelers — and lock in both Mahomes and Hill as bona fide stud muffins.

8. Cole Beasley is Worth a Look in PPR

Here’s one of those lessons that’s a little deeper: if you play in a full PPR league, Cole Beasley should be owned and potentially started. We fiercely debated whether Allen Hurns or Michael Gallup (or, for a special few, Terrance Williams) would be the guy to step up in the Dallas receiving corps, without giving much attention to Beasley. Well, the Cowboy’s version of the classic “New England slot receiver” led the team in targets (8), receptions (7), and yards (73) against the Panthers, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to expect more of the same moving forward.

Beasley has always been a reliable target for Dak Prescott, and while we all scrambled to find the Dez Bryant replacement this offseason, we probably should have been looking for the Jason Witten Safety Blanket replacement instead. Hint, it’s Cole Beasley. The guy is unlikely to top 10 yards per reception on the regular, or score a wealth of touchdowns, but he’s a good weekly bet for 6-8 catches, and in PPR that’s an every week FLEX option.

9. The Denver Backfield is New Orleans Lite

Yeah, after one week of NFL action, I just compared Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay to Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Come at me, bro. In my defense, I did say “Lite,” and it’s an important distinction. Freeman and Lindsay are not going to both be RB1s, or combine for more than 3,000 scrimmage yards and 25 touchdowns like the Saints lads did last season.

Still, these two are likely to share carries, though I think Freeman will get more than the 50-50 split he had with Lindsay in Week 1, contribute in the passing game, and score a fair amount in a revitalized offense. Case Keenum, though spotty in Week 1, is a massive improvement over the failed Osweiler-Lynch-Siemian experiment, and that means huge positive regression for this offense. With a still-elite defense to boot, I think this Broncos team is a playoff contender, and that’s good news for their running backs. For me, Freeman is a low-end RB2 moving forward, while Lindsay slides in as a viable PPR FLEX option. That’s a rare combination in a single backfield.

10. The Chicago Bears Defense is Legit

We knew the addition of now-highest-paid-defensive-player-in-the-league Khalil Mack would be a boost, but my goodness did that Bears defense look good against Aaron Rodgers on Sunday Night. Granted, the wizard of a quarterback managed to beat them in the end, but not before Da Bears racked up 4 sacks, an interception, and 2 forced fumbles.

I know talking defenses isn’t the daydream of most fantasy football players, but there are a couple important lessons to be learned here. First, be careful who you start against Chicago. By that, I do actually mean Russell Wilson next week. I’d consider a number of streamers over Wilson and that sieve of an offensive line. Second, snag the Bears D/ST where you can, especially considering the lack of scary matchups on their upcoming schedule. Outside of the Patriots in Week 7, I like the Bears in every game through mid-November.

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