Fantasy Football: 10 Lessons Learned in Week 2
As usual, the first lesson learned in Week 2 of the fantasy football season is that much of what we thought we learned in Week 1 was really just smoke and mirrors. This is a fickle game, and we have to “be water” to stay afloat — yeah, that was Marianas Trench deep right there. Anyone who wrote off Patrick Mahomes and Ryan Fitzpatrick after Week 1, or prematurely crowned Kenny Stills as a WR1, had their confidence shaken in a wild Week 2.
So what can we learn from this most recent gamut of NFL matchups that won’t come back to bite us in Week 3? Let’s dive back into the fantasy classroom and find out.
1. The Receiving RB Revolution is Reaching New Heights
We’ve seen the trend of diminishing bell cows and rising pass-catchers at the running back position for some time now. But my goodness, what a week. Only one back topped 20 carries in the entire league (Joe Mixon, with 21) and only three topped 100 rushing yards — Matt Breida (138), Phillip Lindsay (107), and Tevin Coleman (107). Meanwhile, two backs hit a monstrous 14 receptions — Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley — good enough for third-most by an RB in NFL history, while 10 guys topped 50 receiving yards.
While some of these elite receiving totals are coming from pass-catching specialists like Chris Thompson and James White, the real story is how the high-end fantasy stars are getting in the mix as well. McCaffrey and Barkley, as well as Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, and others, are staking their claim on RB1 territory largely thanks to contributions as a receiver. Heck, even Jordan Howard has 8 catches for 58 yards this year! Until further notice, if an RB can’t catch passes, he’s probably not a fantasy stud muffin.
2. Austin Ekeler is Pushing for Every Week FLEXibility
One look at Melvin Gordon’s fantasy numbers and any sane person would assume he was the only back to own in Los Angeles (or more specifically, in StubHub Center). Not so. The Chargers are pulling a 2017 Saints and doling out fantasy goodness to a pair of running backs. The beneficiary? Sophomore breakout Austin Ekeler.
Through two weeks, Ekeler has 16 carries for 116 yards and 8 receptions for 108 yards, with a receiving touchdown to boot. His 224 total scrimmage yards are the seventh-most in the league, and his obscene 7.25 yards per carry is second among qualified backs to only Matt Breida. While that efficiency is likely to drop as the season progresses, his usage in the LAC offense is effective and impressive. Until we see something change drastically, Ekeler is an every week FLEX option.
3. Diggs & Thielen Can Both Be WR1s
Coming into the season, the big debate in Minnesota was whether Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen would be the top dog and if it was possible for Kirk Cousins to sustain both as WR2s. Well, it turns out they’re both superstars and have a nearly equal shot at WR1 upside all season. Currently, Diggs has the lead with 44 fantasy points on the back of 171 yards and 3 TDs, but Thielen is close behind with 38.3 points on 233 yards and 1 TD.
They rank fourth and eighth in half-PPR scoring through two weeks, and both finished in the top three in Week 2 (only A.J. Green‘s third touchdown kept them from leading the week together). With Thielen taking the lead in catches and yards and Diggs on pace for 24 touchdowns (it’s math people), it’s hard to pick a guy. Fortunately, you don’t really need to. Just start both and smile.
4. The Saints Kind of Need Mark Ingram Back
Just as we all expected, the New Orleans Saints, who led the NFL in rushing yards last season, currently sit at … 30th in the league, with 75 total rushing yards. While Alvin Kamara has gotten it done for fantasy through the air and in the end zone, the Saints are probably chomping at the bit for the return of Mark Ingram in Week 4. Kamara has accounted for all 75 of the team’s rushing yards, but his 21 total carries and 3.57 yards per carry both tell the story we suspected: he’s not a bell cow back.
Meanwhile, the Saints are only 1-1 by the grace of former Browns kicker Zane Gonzalez, who had every opportunity to send New Orleans into Week 3 winless and failed (he no longer has a job). I think we can ignore fears of Sean Peyton’s “hatred” towards Mark Ingram — Ingram is going to eat upon his return and is a great buy-low candidate if his owner is antsy.
5. Michael Thomas is Third-Year Breakin’ Out
Yep, it’s a New Orleans Double-Dip (delicious, I know). Thing is, we can’t really skip over Michael Thomas, the man currently on pace for 224 receptions, 2,162 yards and 24 TDs (again, #math). Like it or not, Thomas is a monster right now, and there’s little reason to project major regression. He is far and away the best receiver on the team, and his league-leading 28 receptions on a 93.3% catch rate are simply mind-blowing.
Granted, no one can keep up this kind of pace, and the return of Mark Ingram (see above) might shift the offense back towards the run a bit. But that should just mean that Thomas settles into a more realistic 150 receptions, 1,500 yards, and 15 TDs … yeah, those numbers are still a bit steep, but I liked the “15” symmetry. In all seriousness, Thomas has stepped into a super-elite territory and the list of guys I’d want over him is about one or two names long.
6. Okay, I Admit It, Patrick Mahomes is the GOAT
I intentionally left Patrick Mahomes out of the Week 1 Lessons Learned because I thought we needed to see a bit more before crowning him as king of the QBs. For those of you who slept through Week 2, we saw a bit more. Mahomes now has 10 passing TDs through the first two weeks of the season, which has never been done in NFL history. His arsenal of receiving weapons, which we knew was good, is almost inarguably the best in the league. He’s not turning the ball over (yet), and Andy Reid is scheming this offense perfectly to suit his wonderboy QB.
I personally invested in this lesson a couple days ago trading away Tom Brady to make way for Mahomes. While the sample size is still small, the evidence is too strong to ignore. Mahomes is a QB1 rest of season and has a very good chance at being the QB1 when all is said and done.
7. The Ryan Fitzpatrick-McGregor Legacy Grows
If you haven’t watched the video of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s presser after his masterful Week 2 performance, do yourself a favor and dedicate two minutes to this glorious experience. They will change your life. Besides his hysterical getup, Fitzpatrick has shared another similarity with the infamous Conor McGregor: pure dominance at his craft. Granted a wealth of legitimate receiving weapons, FitzMagic is leading the league in passing yards (819) and would be atop the list in touchdowns were it not for the other Patrick (Mahomes, that is).
How can this be? Well, we’ve seen Fitzpatrick put up fantasy-relevant numbers before when he had Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker on the Jets. While he’s no Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, who make middling receivers look like stars, Fitzpatrick is the type of QB who thrives when he can air it out to highly capable pass-catchers. We don’t know how long the Magic will last, as the suspended Jameis Winston is free to play after Week 3, so plan accordingly. That may mean targeting OJ Howard and selling high on DeSean Jackson, as Winston tends to flip the two when it comes to production. But at least for one more week, enjoy the antics of the bearded sensation.
8. Offensive Offenses are Bad for Fantasy
While this one should be fairly obvious, we’re seeing some bona fide stars severely hampered by this reality. Especially when it comes to putrid play on the offensive line, the Cardinals, Bills, Giants, and Seahawks are putting us in a bad place when it comes to fantasy reliability. David Johnson has totaled 85 rushing yards on 3.86 yards per carry. LeSean McCoy (and every other player in Buffalo) is a non-starter until further notice. Odell Beckham Jr. had only 51 receiving yards in Week 2 and has yet to catch a touchdown (a difficult task when his QB has about 0.05 seconds to throw the ball on every play). Russell Wilson may not make it through the season after taking 6 sacks in each of the first two weeks (for reference, the record-holder for sacks taken in a season, David Carr, averaged 4.8 per game in 2002).
Hopefully, a couple of these teams turn it around in the near future. But until we see marked improvement, all their relevant fantasy weapons take a slight to a major hit.
9. The Lions WRs Are a Unique Trio
With the emergence of Kenny “Smooth Routes” Golladay and the inefficacy of the Lions defense, we’re looking at a bona fide receiving Cerberus in Detroit (that’s a three-headed dog, for you non-mythology experts). Golladay actually leads the team in receiving yards (203), but he, Golden Tate, and Marvin Jones have all totaled at least 17 targets, 100 yards, and a touchdown through two weeks. The Lions as a team have compiled the second-most targets to the WR in the entire league (69) and the second-most receiving yards (505) behind only the magical Buccaneers.
This is now a bit of a Rams situation, where any and all of Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp, and Robert Woods are startable on a weekly basis. We may not know who will lead the pack between Golladay, Tate, and Jones in a given week, but the most likely result is that all three have some value. In PPR, Tate is still my favorite, but otherwise, it’s nearly a three-sided coin flip (don’t ask questions).
10. Keelan Cole is (Probably) the WR to Own in Jacksonville
Looking at the box scores alone, it might be tough to pick a Jaguars receiver rest of season. Keelan Cole’s 170 yards are the team-high, but Donte Moncrief has more targets, Dede Westbrook isn’t far behind in either category, and all three have a touchdown. Fortunately, the tape tells us what the numbers do not: Keelan Cole is (probably) the best option for fantasy.
I cheated and left the modifying “probably” because the sample size is small and I’ve been a Westbrook truther for awhile. But Cole has been a step ahead of his teammates on tape through two weeks, including what is undoubtedly the best catch of the year. We’ll see how the offense flows when Leonard Fournette returns, but Cole is at least a FLEX option moving forward, and certainly has WR2 upside.