When there is so much going on, what should fantasy gamers and sports fans focus on? This is the question I will answer for you in this series of articles entitled, “Lessons Learned.” Here are the lessons we learned in Week 1 of the NFL season.
1) Thursday Breakdown – Should we just give the 2023 Super Bowl title to the Bills already?
Buffalo, this year’s Super Bowl favorite, opened the 2022 season as road favorites against the defending Super Bowl Champion Rams. They lived up to the advanced billing, crushing the defending champs 31-10, and it wasn’t even that close.
Last year, the Bills stopped teams by preventing big plays. This year, it seems they’re going to prevent little plays, too. They completely stomped on the Rams’ revamped offensive line. The Bills defense sacked Matthew Stafford seven times. Last year, he didn’t see his seventh sack until Week 8.
As great as the Bills are, coach Sean McDermott, please don’t put your quarterback at risk! Yes, we know Josh Allen is a big, strong, aggressive runner, but he must never lead your team in carries and certainly not in a blowout win. The Bills have a serviceable back in Devin Singletary and, should push comes to shove, they would still win with Zack Moss. We all saw James Cook fumble on his first NFL carry, but he only did so twice in 297 college touches. Cook will be fine and can help too. The Bills won’t win behind Case Keenum.
Lessons Learned- The Rams
For the Rams, Cooper Kupp saw 15 targets. Tight end Tyler Higbee received 11 targets. Newcomer Allen Robinson played 97-percent of the snaps but saw only two targets. When a quarterback has no time to throw, he looks for his comfort blanket, in this case Kupp, and for quick dump offs to a familiar tight end, Higbee. In LA’s backfield, Cam Akers was deemed “good to go” by head coach Sean McVay. After giving Cam 113 carries in last year’s playoffs, McVay gave Cam 12 snaps & three carries in the NFL season opener. What happened? Was it the play where Akers decided not to pick up a blitzer and Stafford got destroyed? Was it something in the locker room or on the practice field? We may never know, but fantasy players hope this gut punch was just a message to Cam and merely a Week 1 issue.
Action: Congrats if you drafted any Bills. It’s true Isaiah McKenzie and Jamison Crowder might split slot snaps. However, if either fully takes over the role, there’ll be plenty of fantasy points there. Don’t give up on the Rams; they don’t play Buffalo every week. You may not want to start Robinson or Akers next week but expect them to get attention as early as Week 2. Los Angeles can’t afford to ignore both of them long term.
2) Week 1 is Only One Week, but It’s OK to Panic on…
We’ve spent months preparing for drafts and negotiating dynasty league deals to build our rosters. We’re not going to throw all that work away after just one bad week. For some perspective, last year, Ty’Son Williams finished Week 1 as RB9. This was two spots better than Jonathan Taylor and 19 better than Austin Ekeler. Corey Davis, Tyler Lockett and Sterling Shepard all graced the top 10 WRs list, besting Cooper Kupp. Juwan Johnson produced a TE5 week. So, Week 1 is usually no time to panic.
However, it is fine to panic on …
- San Francisco – In a Chicago downpour, the 49ers, one of the NFC’s Super Bowl favorites, fell to a Bears team widely considered one of the league’s worst. The 49ers’ vaunted pass rush, who led the NFL with 48 sacks a year ago, only sacked Justin Fields twice against Chicago’s overhauled and inexperienced offensive line. On the offensive side, Elijah Mitchell hurt his knee early and left in a brace. Despite his obvious talents, Mitchell missed six games as a rookie and is hurt again. Trey Lance completed less than half his throws. He put up 5.9 Yards Per Attempt with a pick and no scores against a team that allowed the third-most passing touchdowns last year. The Bears also featured a pair of rookie defensive backs and traded away pass rusher Khalil Mack. Mike Shanahan recently re-signed Jimmy Garoppolo who, his own flaws notwithstanding, led the 49ers to the 2021 playoffs behind an 8.6 (No. 2) Yards Per Attempt and a 74.7-percent (No. 3) True Completion Percent.
- Green Bay – This past offseason, the Packers decided they didn’t need Davante Adams anymore. Are they still sure about that? Adams, now playing in Las Vegas alongside college buddy Derek Carr, put up 141 yards and a score in Week 1. Aaron Rodgers‘ new leading WR on Sunday, Romeo Doubs, posted 37 yards and no scores. In only one of Adams’ last 57 games has he had 37 or fewer receiving yards. In 2021, Adams was top-three in WR Targets, Target Rate, Receptions, Receiving Yards & Yards Per Route Run. No one in Green Bay’s new receiving corps – Allen Lazard, Romeo Doubs, Christian Watson, Randall Cobb and Sammy Watkins – is remotely close to Davante Adams.
- Dallas – Receivers Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson and offensive linemen Connor Williams and La’el Collins are gone. Starting left tackle Tyron Smith is out for the year. Michael Gallup is still hurt. Dak Prescott was injured in Week 1 and will miss several weeks. This means the Cowboys will likely play Cooper Rush at quarterback for the foreseeable future. With no deep threat against Tampa Bay, and all eyes on CeeDee Lamb, the Cowboy’s new No. 1 WR grabbed 2 of 11 targets for 29 yards. This team is suddenly a mess.
Actions: If you rostered Trey Lance, add Jimmy Garoppolo to your bench. He’s available on waivers and Shanahan is not a patient man. If Elijah Mitchell is on your team, hope he’s okay but expect to make other plans. Tyrion Davis-Price was a healthy scratch but will get another chance if Mitchell is out for any length of time. Jeff Wilson won’t hold up, and Deebo Samuel can’t carry the 49ers ground game. If you have Packers or Cowboys, you have to ride it out; you’re not going to be able to trade any of them after their Week 1 showings.
3) A Great NFL Player is Not Necessarily a Great Fantasy Player
Fantasy football has a Nick Chubb problem. He’s a great football player and fun to watch. For fantasy football, though, that’s not enough. He’s touchdown-dependent, and the Browns don’t seem particularly interested in using him near that part of the field.
Sunday, Chubb had a great rushing day. He produced 22 carries, 141 yards which is the fourth-most yards heading into Monday night. But Chubb didn’t score and was all but absent from the passing game. His 15.3 PPR fantasy points finished No. 17 among RBs – good but not game-winning.
In Cleveland, Kareem Hunt gets the red zone touches and the targets. Hunt, on far fewer touches Sunday, put up 23.0 PPR fantasy points. What leads Cleveland’s brain trust to choose Hunt over Chubb when it matters most? Is it Hunt’s smaller size, lesser Speed Score, 35th-percentile, Bench Press, or 16th-percentile Agility Score? Or is it his 62nd-percentile Burst Score, which, while nice, pales in comparison to Chubb’s 92nd-percentile mark? Whatever the reason, since the start of 2020, when Chubb doesn’t score, he averages 9.4 PPR points a game. That not only won’t win you games, it will lose them.
Action: If you have Chubb, hope for big runs. If you have other options, you must consider benching Chubb for pass-catching or red zone backs. If someone in your league is RB-desperate enough to trade for him, and you have any other options, try to sell his big rushing day.
4) A Rookie is a Rookie is a Rookie
While fantasy football players easily get caught up rushing to overdraft rookies based on exciting training camps and preseasons, when the regular seasons hit, NFL teams look to their veterans first.
Other than Jahan Dotson, who finished WR 15 on the strength of two scores (despite only bringing in 3 catches for 40 yards), no other rookie finished near his redraft ADP. Breece Hall, with a fifth round ADP, saw six carries for 23 yards. His six catches on 10 targets lifted him to an RB32 finish. Dameon Pierce had fewer carries than ancient Rex Burkhead in a game the Texans led most of the way. James Cook fumbled his lone carry. Preseason darling George Pickens caught one ball for three yards. Drake London was the top rookie WR after Dotson with a WR32 PPR finish.
But, don’t despair. Not everyone is Ja’Marr Chase who waltzed onto an NFL field and put up 101 yards and a score in his first game. Justin Jefferson‘s first NFL game gave us two catches for 26 yards. Jonathan Taylor started his career with nine carries for 22 yards. Travis Kelce didn’t see a target until year two. None of this suggests this year’s players will end up in those players’ class, but the examples highlight need for patience.
Action: Wait for rookies to earn snaps and show themselves as producers before starting them. Don’t drop them but exercise patience before starting them.
5) Can’t Anyone Kick?
I know, we all hate kickers. But a lot of our leagues do force us to roster kickers, including the legendary Scott Fish Bowl, where kickers score enough bonus points to warrant flex consideration. We can’t afford to give up points just because the position is not glamorous – we must try to squeeze more points wherever we can.
Sunday, Evan McPherson had a game-winning extra point blocked in regulation and then missed a game winning FG attempt in overtime. Not to be outdone, Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell returned the favor, hitting the upright shortly thereafter. Harrison Butker hurt himself kicking off and was replaced by safety Justin Reed who made one extra point but missed the next by almost the width of the field. Rodrigo Blankenship missed a game-winning FG. Randy Bullock, too, missed a game-winner. Chicago’s Cairo Santos hit one of three extra points (albeit in a downpour). Ryan Succop missed a kick. And so on…
Enter our new hero, Cleveland rookie Cade York, a fourth-round pick, the highest-selected kicker in the last six years, who hit 82-percent of his kicks at LSU. York went 4-for-4 in FGs Week 1, including a 58-yard game-winner at Carolina that had another 10-15 yards to spare. On a team that’s not going to score many touchdowns, York in one week has already earned their confidence on long kicks. Hold your nose and put in a waiver claim to upgrade your kicker. York is a must-add! (And I promise to never write about kickers again!)
Action: Unless you have a stud kicker, go get Cleveland’s Cade York now. A fourth-pick by the Browns, he’s the highest-drafted kicker in the last six years.