Ten Things We Learned in Week 1 (Fantasy Football)
Football is back, which means everyone is going to react rationally and remain calm after they see their favorite draft picks get meaningful snaps. No one is going to panic about Week 1 and everyone is going to be reasonable about preseason predictions.
If only that were the case. Depending on which end of the spectrum your team was on, there was a good chance someone on your bench went crazy or an opponent was frustrated by not starting someone themselves. Players we barely even discussed lit up the box score out of nowhere, and it made for some exciting but confusing football. Last season we saw similar outputs from Isaiah Crowell, Kenny Stills, and Carlos Hyde. They didn’t last.
I’m not implying that every big performance was an outlier, but it’s safe to assume that a few of them were borderline flukes. If you think Mike Evans is droppable, or that John Ross is a top-five receiver, by all means – do your thing. I wouldn’t personally recommend it but it’s your team and not mine. Some of the things we learned in week one are much more legitimate because they confirmed trends that we saw coming throughout the preseason. Usually, the rule of thumb is: if it makes no sense at all, then it’s probably an outlier. Phillip Lindsay doesn’t happen very often, so we don’t want to react as if every player will follow that same path. Let’s take a look at ten things we learned that might actually matter:
1. Lamar Jackson could break fantasy football (but not in the way we expected).
Jackson was a very popular sleeper pick during draft season, but it was primarily because of his ability to run the football. John Harbaugh gave us every indication that they would pound the rock early and often, and most people assumed Jackson would be a run-first quarterback that would make his money on the ground. Week one showed us that in the right situation (and potentially the best matchup he will have all season), he can light it up through the air as well. Defenses will have to respect his arm a lot more than we initially expected if he continues to perform well, so he could be a truly game-breaking quarterback option reminiscent of peak Michael Vick. Five touchdowns is five touchdowns regardless of matchup and Hollywood Brown looks just as good as advertised. If John Harbaugh is the evil genius he appears to be, then he’s molding Jackson into a brand new type of quarterback that only Pat Mahomes can keep up with.
2. Running back talent doesn’t guarantee fantasy stardom.
The whole “running backs don’t matter” narrative is misunderstood by most. It isn’t because talent is irrelevant, it’s because the running game is won or lost at the line of scrimmage, and fantasy output is directly linked to involvement in the passing game. To take it a step further, it’s more about how the outcome of the game rarely depends on the difference between an elite back and someone who fills in for him. There are a few exceptions, especially in fantasy. The Saquon Barkleys of the world aren’t born very often and most of the time a running back behind the Giants offensive line would be demolished on a weekly basis. Thankfully the Giants recognized his ability to catch passes so they keep him heavily involved, regardless of how bad the Giants may be.
On the flip side of this, we knew that Marlon Mack, Derrick Henry, and Mark Ingram would thrive in volume focused roles because of the offensive line play on their team. They aren’t as talented as Barkley, but the hog mollies up front give them enough room to light up our fantasy box scores. The biggest concerns after week one center around Nick Chubb and Kerryon Johnson. Even though both players currently rank in the top ten in attempts, they both flopped on Sunday because they barely saw any work through the air. Their offensive lines aren’t elite, so their rushing production is capped; even with volume. If we don’t see an improvement at the line of scrimmage, both of these players are in danger of disappointing fantasy owners everywhere. Talent means very little if the team doesn’t do what’s necessary to let that talent shine through.
3. The NFL is becoming a league that’s dominated by one thing – speed.
Speed kills, we all know this. The more games we watch in the modern NFL, the more we see how important it is to have speed in every aspect of the game. Week one showed us that elite speed down the field can be deadly. Tyreek Hill showed us last year just how dynamic an offense can be if you have a lightning-fast receiver and a mobile quarterback. Going into Sunday Night Football tonight, the five players leading the league in receiving yards are Sammy Watkins, John Ross, Michael Gallup, DeSean Jackson, and Marquise Brown. Four of these players are lightning-fast and they showed us just how effective that type of speed can be. Rostering these guys in fantasy will be frustrating at times throughout the season if you choose to start them on a weekly basis, but if you had one of them in your lineup today then you saw just how exciting it can be when things go well. Speed can break a game wide open, whether it’s fantasy football or the real gridiron.
4. A healthy Dalvin Cook is a damn beautiful thing.
Dalvin Cook exploded onto the scene as a rookie but injuries have held him back ever since. Week one was the first time we saw a fully healthy Cook in the Vikings backfield, and what a sight it was. Cook ran all over the Falcons defense and gashed them for 111 yards and two touchdowns. His coach hasn’t been shy about how much they plan to run the ball, and he backed up those comments on Sunday when the Vikings only threw the ball ten times the entire game. This is definitely a concern for the receivers in Minnesota, but it’s tough to make a clean judgment off of one game. The primary concern with Cook is keeping him healthy, but if the Vikings can do that then he has a realistic shot at being a top-five running back in 2019. If you do own Cook, make sure you grab Alexander Mattison this week if you haven’t already.
5. The Browns hype appears premature, but you should take advantage of that.
The Browns were the darlings of the football world all offseason, and for good reason. They trimmed the fat in the front office, they committed to Nick Chubb by trading away Duke Johnson, and they added a future hall of fame pass catcher for their second-year QB. OBJ had a solid first outing, but we didn’t really see enough to lock him in as a high-end WR1 just yet. Baker Mayfield struggled more than most expected and his three interceptions were even more concerning in real-time. Mayfield has a huge future in this league, but it’s very clear that he’s still ascending and has a lot of room to improve. The Titans defense is certainly no joke, but given the hype and the ADP of all the players involved in the Cleveland offense; I don’t blame you if have a tiny bit of panic mixed in with your Monday morning Cheerios. I still believe in the offense as a whole and I think all three of the players I mentioned are perfect buy-low candidates.
6. Chris Carson is a workhorse.
Carson crept into the third round by the time the first game kicked off, but it appears as if his ADP was very justified. Not only did Carson get fifteen carries and multiple end zone looks, but he also lead his team in receptions. Let me repeat that one more time: he led the entire team in receptions. It’s definitely time to forget about Rashaad Penny’s draft capital and focus on Chris Carson as a locked-in top twelve back for the rest of the year.
7. Not even Bruce Arians could save Jameis Winston.
Winston has been a polarizing player since he first stepped onto campus at Florida State, but his NFL career has been rocky at best. Winston received high praise from his Buccaneer teammates throughout the preseason and his decision making this summer was very promising. We saw a more reserved and cautious playmaker who seemed ready to limit his turnovers, but all of that fell apart once the lights came on. Referring to his week one performance as ugly is an insult to the word ugly, and if this is the best we get from him then he may crossover into true “bust” territory. He threw three terrible interceptions and overthrew multiple receivers on his way to a 194/1/3 finish which looks better on paper than it did on film. Winston can be a fantasy monster if he gets it together, but it’s a serious question mark as to whether or not he can. For the sake of our Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and O.J. Howard shares – let’s hope he does.
8. The Cardinals Offense has some serious fantasy appeal.
The Kliff Kingsbury experiment has officially begun, and it was an average performance overall if you base it solely on the final outcome. Kyler Murray had a brutal first half, throwing for only 41 yards and an interception with a 37% completion percentage. Twitter was already taking victory laps by the time the Cardinals ran out of the locker room, and those takes were quietly silenced in the next two quarters and overtime. Murray completed 20 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the second half while showing poise and command of the high octane offense when it mattered most.
The Cardinals ran a total of 83 plays in the game, but what will be overlooked was the fact that 71 of them were in regulation. The Ravens lead the league last year with 70 plays per game, which means the Cardinals played at a higher pace than any team did in all of 2018. More plays lead to more offense, and more offense leads to more fantasy points. It sounds simple, but too many people ignore it when evaluating their roster. I don’t expect all of their games to be complete roller coasters like this one was, but I also don’t expect Murray to start off as slow as he did from here on out. Kliff Kingsbury let his rookie quarterback throw the ball 54 times in his first game, and it’s very clear that his talent is unique. If Murray can settle down and get on the same page with all of his receivers, we just might see the offense we all hoped we would. The first thing I would do on Monday morning is blast out trade offers for David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald because I think we only saw the floor of this offense in week one.
9. A matchup with the Miami Dolphins is a fantasy owners dream.
I can’t say much more about this than the Ravens already show you. The Dolphins are really bad. Like…. REALLY bad. We knew the offense would struggle to put up points, but not many people expected the defense to be as terrible as they were in their first game. The Ravens made them look like a JV high school team, and immediately after the game some of the Dolphins players requested to be traded. This isn’t something that gets fixed easily, so if you see “MIA” in the matchup column, you can sleep easy with that player in your lineup.
10. Week 1 was weird.
We discuss this every single year, but every single year people do the same thing, which is panic. The opposing coaches don’t have recent film on their opponents, there are eight brand new head coaches in 2019, and some of these teams still have depth chart issues to sort out. Players like John Ross will probably fade to the background, while someone like Sammy Watkins may stick around. There’s a lot going on that most of us don’t know about, so we don’t want to take anything too seriously in week one. If your team pooped in its big boy pants, don’t panic. Just grab a new pair of pants, and be ready to watch week two without them when your favorite player bounces back. If you think it’s reasonable to follow the statistics of week one, just ask yourself this: do you really think that John Brown and Phillip Dorsett are better than Odell Beckham and Devante Adams?