Ten Things We Learned in Week 1 (Fantasy Football)
HAPPY HOLIDAYS! Football is back. We made it, which is something I have to admit I wasn’t sure would happen. Watching all the games on Sunday was a blast, and I felt a brief sense of normalcy creep back into my life as I tilted and cheered. I took a lot of notes and presented them in a summarized fashion to let you know what I learned, so you don’t have to do the boring work. I’ll be doing this column every week this season just like I did last year, recapping as many fantasy-relevant observations as I possibly can.
Let’s jump into the ten things we learned this week (keep in mind, this is prior to Monday’s contests):
1. It’s Going to be a Wild Ride
It’s been a long offseason for a lot of reasons, most of which are much bigger than football. The lack of preseason and the uncertainty surrounding how things would go from a testing standpoint lead to a lot less excitement than we see most of the time. Thankfully player safety appears to be of the utmost importance based on the small number of positive cases early on, so there’s growing hope every week that they can pull this off. Things are going to be crazy for a long time, and the injury reports should be monitored closely and Sunday morning waivers will be a bit more wild than usual. Any player could sit out at any time, and it won’t require a prior report if it’s COVID-19 related. The best advice for navigating this is no advice at all, because the truth is – none of us know how to do that. Just keep a close eye on every news source you trust, and set alerts on your phone if you play in a league with sharks. Plan on some craziness each and every week, and try to embrace the chaos because there’s enough real-life things to be concerned over, fantasy football should be fun.
2. Clyde Edwards-Helaire Should Live Up to the Hype
It was the juke heard round’ the world on Thursday night, when fan-favorite and top ten fantasy pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire scampered to the end zone for the Chiefs in the first half. CEH ended the game with over 120 rushing yards and nearly 20 fantasy points, despite his well-published goal line statistics. He was stuffed on six goal-line carries, but the usage at the goal line is encouraging in my opinion. They clearly trust their rookie to carry the load, and that should be dynamite for his fantasy stock. An explosive pass-catching back who will be one of the focal points of one of the best offenses of the decade? Sign me up. The biggest reason he’s set up for success is the fact that Mahomes, Kelce, and Hill force defenses into keeping a reasonable number of defenders in the box, allowing CEH to have a lot more room to work when he reaches the second level. Casual fans are slowly catching on that the pass actually sets up the run, and no one does it better than Kansas City. If anyone is looking to move him since they think it was an outlier game and they’re worried about the goal line touches…. do what it takes to acquire the rookie, even if it means paying higher-end RB1 cost.
3. Cam Newton’s ADP Was Blasphemous
This should have been more obvious, right? All of the reports coming out of camp indicated Cam was healthy and looked like his old self, and Bill is an evil genius. Granted, their week one performance was against a mediocre Dolphins team, the Patriots looked like a completely new franchise. After twenty years of Brady, they shifted to a more RPO focused attack with running lanes open for their quarterback, and it only took one offseason (and zero preseason games). He’s been behind center for one game, and he already holds the Patriots franchise record for rushing yards in a single contest. He found the end zone twice and did just enough through the air to provide fantasy owners with a great performance and an exciting outlook for the whole year. Cam finished up draft season with an ADP of QB18, which looking back on it – made zero sense. He’s worth a decent bid if he’s available in your league since his rushing floor will keep him fantasy relevant, and if you took him late, you should be very happy about it.
4. Aaron Rodgers isn’t Done Yet
At one point Aaron Rodgers‘ was THE bonafide top quarterback in fantasy, and people were taking him in the middle rounds without hesitation year after year. Thankfully the late-round quarterback strategy changed that for everyone including Rodgers, but his performance last year caused a bit of an overreaction in fantasy drafts this year. The Packers vowed to be a run-heavy team and their draft decisions raised a lot of eyebrows regarding their confidence in him going forward. The concerns about Rodgers’ fantasy stock was totally justified, but he answered some of those critics in a big way this week. He went out and tossed four touchdowns and piled on 364 yards in a high scoring win over the Vikings, and looked like his old self. One throw stood out to me in the first; it was a strike to Adams in the back of the endzone after a textbook Rodgers scramble. Adams will absolutely smash this season and could coast to the overall WR1 finish, and Rodgers should bounce back when we compare him to the 2019 version. He may not be the guy we took in round five, but his fantasy stock should be a lot closer to QB1 territory than it was in the preseason.
5. Russell Wilson Might Be Unleashed
Russell Wilson is one of my favorite players, and I wrote a lengthy piece last year about how disrespected he seems to be in the all-time great QB conversation. He’s an elite talent who won’t be fully appreciated until he’s finished, but week one was a promising view into a window that I hope Seattle will open. They have been stubbornly married to the run for a long time, and Russ has relied more on efficiency than volume. This past Sunday he dropped back 18 times in the first half, and the Seattle backfield only compiled four rush attempts. They switched it up in the second half since they had a lead, but Russ dominated overall. He casually completed 88% of his passes and chucked four touchdowns and no interceptions in a win over a solid Atlanta Falcons attack. If this type of trend continues, Russ won’t only have a fantasy MVP in his sights, but an NFL MVP award.
6. Running Back Usage Was Unexpected – Which Was Expected
This could be applied to everything we saw in week one, but running backs have special value in fantasy so it’s particularly important. Preseason is boring to some people, but for those of us who care way too much about this stuff – it’s crucial for predicting usage and scheme. Running backs are fragile in the NFL since they get smacked more times than anyone, and most coaches are well aware of that. The decision to scale back usage, in general, has grown in popularity as of late, but this year was particularly tough and it’s safe to assume the usage we saw in this first week isn’t reliable at all. If you knew your players had less time to acclimate to the speed of a real NFL game, would you give your workhorses a full workload right out of the gate without any preseason? I would hope not. Rookie running backs are uniquely vulnerable when discussing this mindset because the investment made in them just a few months ago is one they want to protect. Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara only had 12 carries, Nick Chubb only 11, and Mark Ingram only 10. Long story short: if you have Jonathan Taylor, JK Dobbins, Austin Ekeler, Cam Akers, Kenyan Drake, or Miles Sanders – try not to panic or overreact.
7. The Falcons Air-Attack Will Be Awesome
I was banging the drum for Matt Ryan in redraft leagues all offseason long. The Falcons’ defense is not special enough to demand an offense built around the run, and Ryan has been a machine from a yardage standpoint for a decade now. Between Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Hayden Hurst, and Todd Gurley – the Falcons have an explosive offensive attack. Fantasy points aren’t dependent on real-life wins and losses in a direct sense, and the Falcons are the perfect mold of a team you want to aggressively target. Similar to the Bucs last season, Ryan will be in a LOT of situations where they have to work their way back into games, and he has the weapons to do just that. This first week went according to plan, as the Falcons were never really a threat to win the contest but all of their fantasy assets produced huge games anyway. They had three separate players in the top five this week for receptions, which is a very difficult thing to do, regardless of who you are. This should be a season-long trend, and the Falcons offense will produce a lot of fantasy points. If you can get in on it somehow, it’s not too late. I’m not a huge fan of Gurley but it’s clear they view him as the lead runner since he saw 67% of the team’s total running back touches. If Ryan and company can keep dominating through the air, there’s no reason to think Gurley can’t deliver value on the ground as a byproduct of it. Give me all the Falcons this year.
8. Deandre Hopkins Has No Time for Your History Lessons
The narrative about receivers switching teams is accurate, and I have no problem admitting I avoided Hopkins because of it. Looking back on that, I should’ve known better. Hopkins is a generational receiver, but more importantly – the Cardinals are a different breed of NFL offense. I discussed their pace of play in my week one article last season, so it’s fitting I’d rehash the discussion now. Volume was the concern for Hopkins, but the volume of the Cardinals passing attack is unique, just like his talent. He went out and notched 14 catches on 16 targets for 151 yards and looked just like he did in Houston. Kyler Murray clearly favors him when a play breaks down, and the Arizona offense plays at a quick pace. Murray attempted more than 40 passes, and this is not an outlier for Kingsbury. Hopkins may take his licks in the touchdown department this year, but it’s very clear he will be heavily targeted at all levels of the secondary. We should feel confident viewing him as a low end WR1 each and every week, and he still has the potential to return first-round value if his first performance in Arizona was any indication.
9. The Browns are Running Out of Chances
What in the world happened to the Browns, and most importantly – Baker Mayfield? I will happily admit that I made a lot of excuses for him based on coaching, continuity, and scheme last season. I don’t think one game should decide his 2020 fate, but it appears as if he lost his ability to make accurate throws, which is what made his rookie season so promising. He missed countless receivers who had chances to make plays and was the reason his team stalled out multiple times on Sunday. The Ravens are an excellent defense and they are coached well, but Baker is running out of excuses within even the most loyal fantasy circles. I’m genuinely concerned about him, BUT I’m not totally out yet. OBJ still had a healthy target share and this is a unique start to the season, but it was not pretty. Bringing in Austin Hooper and extending Kareem Hunt just to play slow and remove continuity from the backfield is a bizarre set of choices for the coaching staff. I’m hoping they simply (and foolishly) planned to slow down the Ravens and this is just a one-off instance, but the doubt has crept in. I hope I eat my words in a few weeks, but for now, I’m concerned about anyone I drafted from that team.
10. Gurley’s Replacement Isn’t Clear (and Probably Doesn’t Exist)
When Todd Gurley left for Atlanta, the first person we ran to was Darrell Henderson. When the Rams announced their third-round pick, we ran to Cam Akers. When they announced their depth chart, we discussed Malcolm Brown. The point I’m making here is – Gurley was Gurley, and it doesn’t appear like there’s a bonafide workhorse replacement being groomed in LA. Sean McVay is a smart coach, and I discussed in the offseason how he learned his lesson regarding the overuse of running backs when TG3 went crazy three seasons ago. Gurley dealt with injuries and ended up being released, so I’d be shocked if McVay went back to that type of offense when he has no reason to. When you look at the best rushing attacks in the league, it’s San Francisco, Baltimore, and everyone else. The thing those two teams do best is rotate running backs and create efficiency with scheme and play action, not necessarily running back talent. The answer to the puzzle in the Rams backfield may end up being… no one. Cam Akers will have some big games, Malcolm Brown will vulture touchdowns, and I’m sure Henderson will break off some huge runs in relief. The workload was split fairly evenly Sunday night with Brown outperforming the new rookie running back, and although I do expect Akers to grow into the 1A role – I wouldn’t plan on a three-down workhorse showing up in McVay’s offense anytime soon.