It's a bit of a running personal joke that I haven't selected higher
than fourth in any money-league draft in at least four years. (If
memory serves, I was essentially gifted the No. 1 overall pick in
a draft in 2013 after one of the leagues I signed up for didn't
have fill up by draft time, so the site administrator asked me if
I would be willing to play in this other league.) I do remember
using the pick to select Adrian Peterson, but the point is since
that draft, I have entered more than 30 money leagues (more on that
in just a bit) and been unable to pick inside the top 25 percent
of the first round each time.
This year, I decided to take part in 15 money leagues, although
six of them are best-ball MFL25s which do not require weekly management
and all but three do not allow trading. Even with that many entries,
I drafted fourth twice and no higher than sixth in any of the
others. So, one might conclude I have some of the worst "random"
luck known to man, or I am seriously "due" for a market
correction in the near future.
I share this story because I wanted to pair up David Johnson
and Kareem Hunt on at least one team this year and remember what
it was like to have a LaDainian Tomlinson-like force in my lineup
each week paired with a RB2 I really believed in. I knew the injury
risk Johnson was - I laid out the case why I didn't think he would
be the top fantasy running back in 2017 in my Bold
Predictions piece last week - but I didn't care. As far as
I was concerned, 80 percent of what Johnson gave owners last year
was going to be good enough for me.
Fast forward one week later - I did all of my money drafts last
week - and thousands of owners are already facing the decision
as to whether or not they should cut Johnson. (How quickly things
change in this little hobby of ours.) So was my aforementioned
"luck" ultimately good or bad? Only time will tell,
as we have a long road to travel before we can make such determinations.
One thing I do know is that my draft-slot "luck" continued
to put me in a good spot to continually land Hunt in the second
round of most of my drafts. Almost comically, I finished as the
high scorer in six of my aforementioned leagues this past week
and No. 2 in two others. I'm not about to claim victory or anything
of the sort. (It's
not like I drafted T.J. Houshmandzadeh after all.) I greatly
benefited from the effort from one rookie running back whose performance
shattered even the wildest of expectations for a debut against
a defending Super Bowl champion. If Hunt can avoid injury, first
and foremost, and come anywhere close to posting half
of his 45.6 PPR points on a semi-regular basis, I will have received
more from him than I could probably have imagined.
Is there a moral to this story? Maybe something along the lines
of "count your blessings" (that you didn't land the
No. 1 overall pick) or "don't be afraid to take your shot
if you see an opportunity" (if you felt the same way about
Hunt as I did), but I really only led off with this story because
I think it does a decent job of encapsulating Week 1 while illustrating
how quickly things change in fantasy football.
Hall-of-Fame quarterback Steve Young suggested a few years ago
that September is really just an extension of the preseason, in
part because of the new CBA limiting contact in practice and in
part due to extreme caution coaches use during exhibition play,
limiting the exposure of their key players as much as possible
in order to get them to Week 1. As a result, coaches usually don't
know what they have until October, which means many in the fantasy
community are grasping at straws in hopes they can find a trend
or clinging to a belief in a player (and/or his talent) they may
have spent the offseason promoting until then. Young's assertion
may not be true in every case, but I believe it is correct more
often than not.
Because it seems foolish to get into a sell-high, buy-low discussion
or attempt to spot which trends may hold (and which ones may not)
after one week or action, I'm going to spend this week sharing
some of the more notable observations I made from Week 1. Maybe
somewhere along the way, I'll provide some useful fantasy insights.
Let's find out together:
1) It is way too early to believe the New
England Patriots aren't who we thought they were.
The Patriots' offensive philosophy for years has been about controlling
the middle of the field. That is most easily accomplished with
physical freaks at tight end and receivers with enough intelligence
and quickness to get open quickly. For at least one half, the
Kansas City Chiefs had perhaps the best cover safety in the game
(Eric Berry) plastered to Rob Gronkowski, who nearly hauled in
a touchdown anyway on what would have been a spectacular diving
grab. (Why Gronk became an afterthought following Berry's Achilles'
injury still befuddles me.)
Meanwhile, an offense still coping with a season-ending injury
to Julian Edelman started out fast and was picking up steam with
Danny Amendola in his place before the latter suffered yet another
injury. So, forgive Tom Brady if he needs just a little time to
adjust to his ever-changing supporting cast. James White led all
New England running backs with 43 offensive snaps (three more
than Hunt, believe it or not), but it is fair to wonder how much
of that had to do with the Patriots trailing for most the fourth
quarter and how much of it had to do with the amount of time Mike Gillislee (24 snaps) missed during the preseason. Rex Burkhead
got the start but recorded only 10 snaps while Dion Lewis tallied
six. Since White is basically a less explosive but more durable
version of Lewis, it is probably safe to say the latter is going
to be difficult to use in fantasy until White is sidelined. Otherwise,
the patented New England RBBC figures to remain in place for the
Sixteen of Hunt's 17 runs in the opener went up the middle or
to the right side, suggesting the Chiefs either REALLY believe
in the right side of their offensive line or wanted to expose
a weakness they believe exists on the left side of the Patriots'
defensive line. For the moment, I'm going with the latter. Hunt
also did the bulk of his damage on the ground (76 yards) in the
fourth quarter, which was most likely a byproduct of New England
losing LB Dont'a Hightower in the previous period. If anything,
Week 1 provided some idea on how important Hightower is to the
defense. Even future Hall-of-Fame coaches like Bill Belichick
need time to develop depth, and if there was one area in which
the Patriots don't have quality depth yet, it might be behind
9 touches in Week 1 suggest Hill may become
one of the more consistent fantasy WRs this year.
2) The Chiefs are going to make Tyreek
Hill a No. 1 receiver whether you like it or not.
Hill will likely enjoy a nice five-to-seven year run as one of
the premier deep threats in the game, although it helps when a
team blows its coverage and lets him stroll into the end zone
for the last 25 yards of his 75-yard touchdown catch. Getting
back on point, a receiver generally needs seven targets to have
a chance to be a consistent WR1, although possessing some of the
best deep speed in the league blurs that line a bit. At any rate,
Hill saw eight targets in Week 1 and carried the ball two more
times. Perhaps the best part of his usage against the Patriots
was his TD catch was his only true deep route, although he nearly
hauled in a contested 20-yard throw early in the fourth quarter.
HC Andy Reid also did a fine job of making sure defenders were
not able to get their hands on him right after the snap, occasionally
lining him up and backfield or stacking him behind another receiver
to give him a free release. By my count, at least four of his
routes were run inside 10 yards, which should be encouraging for
his owners considering his reputation as a "speed guy."
With only Travis Kelce and Hunt pushing him for targets and the
occasional rushing attempt thrown in, Hill may actually end up
becoming one of the more consistent fantasy receivers this year,
as opposed to a hit-or-miss player like so many other "deep
threats" before him.
3) Detroit appears ready to stick with
the run and the legend of Kenny Golladay continues to grow.
Prior to Week 1, Ameer Abdullah attempted as many as 15 runs
only once in his career. Despite trailing for most of the game
against the Arizona Cardinals and not having much success against
their solid front seven, he topped that mark in the opener as
the Lions finished with 27 rushing attempts. More tough running
weeks are ahead (Giants, Falcons, Vikings and Panthers are the
next four opponents on their schedule), but this kind of commitment
to the rushing attack (and specifically Abdullah) bodes well for
everyone in Detroit's offense. The downside is OC Jim Bob Cooter
seems set on sticking with Theo Riddick on passing downs (expected)
and using Dwayne Washington near the goal line (expected as well,
but still frustrating). Either way, 27 rushing attempts for an
offense that averaged a shade under 22 in 2016 can be considered
progress, and Abdullah is enough of a big-play threat that he
should be able to break loose for a handful for touchdowns. His
ceiling is obviously capped by the roles his teammates are keeping
at the moment, but his 18 touches versus Arizona were a career
high and fall in line with the preseason speculation coming out
of Detroit that he would receive plenty of work.
Golladay was targeted on seven of his 44 (out of 73) offensive
snaps against the Cardinals, which is not a bad ratio considering
he was supposed to share time with T.J. Jones (18 snaps) as the
No. 3 receiver. He was having a pretty blah day until he beat
Justin Bethel on a 10-yard corner route early in the fourth and
made a spectacular 45-yard diving grab in Bethel's coverage a
little over five minutes later. As many suspected, Golladay appears
poised to take over Anquan Boldin's role in the offense, with
the added benefit of being able to stretch the defense in a way
the veteran could not in 2016. The rookie was also targeted on
a failed two-point attempt, providing more than enough evidence
that Stafford has either been instructed to make him a primary
read in the red zone or he has simply opted for the physical mismatch
he often provides in those situations.
4) At least for one week, Nelson Agholor
was a bit of a deep threat and a central part of the Philadelphia
Eagles' offensive game plan.
Agholor was targeted eight times against the Washington Redskins,
two of which were downfield routes. Let's face it: his first catch
(the 58-yard touchdown) was a broken play. Before we dismiss it
completely, however, it is notable he was the deep receiver on
the pattern and moved further downfield as the play unfolded over
the course of 10 to 15 seconds. He was also the target on another
deep throw late in the first half. Perhaps most encouragingly,
HC Doug Pederson attempted to scheme him open for a touchdown
to begin the second quarter using reverse action, and it took
an incredibly heady and savvy play by Washington S D.J. Swearinger
to prevent him from walking into the end zone. Based solely on
his usage in this contest, it is not unthinkable he can be at
least the same kind of fantasy-viable threat Jordan Matthews was
out of the slot in his first three seasons. If there was a downside
to his Week 1 showing, it might have been the fact he received
only two targets in the second half.
5) Cleveland Browns HC Hue Jackson wasn't
kidding about committing to the run, but we have to wonder whether
or not that includes Duke Johnson.
True to the vow he made this offseason, Jackson stuck to the
run in Week 1 despite getting only 57 yards on 25 attempts from
his rushing attack. Isaiah Crowell handled 17 of the carries,
scored on a two-point conversion and finished with 19 touches,
which is about as heavy of workload as an owner can ask for anymore
from a running back, especially one usually available in the middle
part of the third round in most 12-team drafts. Crowell's long
run was six yards and, as discouraging as a 33-yard rushing effort
was for his fantasy owners, the workload is highly encouraging.
Owners may need to be patient for one more week (the Baltimore
Ravens await in Week 2), but 16-18 carries per week against the
Colts, Bengals and Jets over the following three weeks would seem
to be a solid launching point for a 1,000-yard season.
While Crowell was handling 68 percent of the carries in Week
1, Johnson played 50 snaps and did not see a single rushing attempt.
As it turns out, Johnson played exclusively in the slot. Jackson
told reporters on Monday that Johnson is not "strictly"
a wide receiver now, and that his Week 1 usage was strictly game-plan
related. It is an interesting take, especially considering Jackson
and his offensive staff found three carries for rookie Matt Dayes. Time will most likely tell us the Ravens will have an even
stouter run defense than the Steelers, so one has to wonder if
Johnson will see any time in the backfield in Week 2 either before
the schedule lightens up. More than likely, Jackson will get around
to giving Johnson some work in the backfield in the coming weeks,
as it serves no purpose to have the scatback attend the meetings
for the running backs and receivers if he has truly transitioned
into strictly a slot receiver. Owners have to hope Johnson will
eventually carve out a role similar to the one Riddick has in
6) As much as it appeared Derrick Henry
was sharing time with DeMarco Murray, he wasn't.
All too often as owners, our eyes (or maybe our hearts) deceive
us. Murray enjoyed a 12-6 advantage in carries over Henry, caught
both of his targets (Henry had none) and recorded a 47-18 edge
in offensive snaps. If there was a shred of good news for Henry's
fantasy owners, it might be he saw the ball on exactly one-third
of his snaps, whereas Murray finished at 29.8 percent. Perhaps
the snap difference shrinks in the near future, but HC Mike Mularkey's
history says it probably won't. What did appear different from
last year was how early Henry entered the game.
With that said, the Titans appeared to have little interest in
establishing the run in Week 1 against the Oakland Raiders. (In
case you were wondering, Tennessee only trailed by more than one
score for just over seven minutes prior to the Raiders' final
field goal with 1:09 remaining.) To that end, Marcus Mariota threw
41 passes, which is tied for the third-most attempts he's had
in the NFL. Worse yet, Tennessee's offensive line looked nothing
like the dominant unit it was last season, continuing a theme
that was consistent throughout the preseason as well. Given how
strong their next opponent (the Jaguars) were against the pass
in Week 1 and most of last season, Week 2 would be a good time
for the Titans to return to their "exotic smash-mouth"
ways. Jacksonville is unlikely to put much separation between
itself and most of its opponents this season, and Tennessee obviously
boasts more offensive weapons than Houston brought to the table
in the opener.
7) Austin Hooper is a reminder that it
is sometimes better to be lucky than good in fantasy.
Hooper saw exactly two targets in Week 1, the first of which
was a complete coverage bust that ended with him scoring an 88-yard
touchdown early in the fourth quarter and the second was a 40-yard
catch-and-run on a drag route during which Chicago Bears defensive
backs were powerless to stop him. That's it. (OK, that's not completely
accurate. A defensive holding wiped out another short catch.)
That's all it took for Hooper to be a DFS darling and/or make
his regular fantasy owners extremely happy. With that said, it's
hard for any owner to get overly thrilled about two targets, no
matter how productive they are/were. It should be noted the Bears
were among the best the defending tight ends last season, so perhaps
owners can come out of this game feeling good about Hooper being
able to make the best out of his limited opportunities. It's also
worth pointing out Atlanta ran a total of 53 offensive plays (Chicago
finished with 59), so neither team was providing much in the way
8) Although Danny Woodhead may be sidelined,
Javorius Allen may not be the answer to the question you thought
you were asking.
The question being: who picks up the workload Woodhead leaves
behind? The answer (or at least the name I'm about to say) may
surprise you, in part because he's played a whopping 12 games
in four NFL seasons and in part because he can't seem to stay
healthy. The answer also didn't come from reviewing game film
either, but rather a comment QB Joe Flacco made about him after
the Ravens' shutout win over the Bengals. His suggestion: slot
WR Michael Campanaro. And it makes sense. Not only is Campanaro
a shifty receiver, but he would also be an absolute mismatch against
most linebackers and be in his comfort zone as a short-range target
for Flacco. For what little it is worth, the 5-9, 191-pounder
played running back in high school before starring as a receiver
at Wake Forest. And think about it for a bit: the coaching staff
and/or front office obviously loves Campanaro, who they have kept
around for a long time despite limited production and availability.
Even if Flacco's suggestion proves to be prophetic, Campanaro
wouldn't be expected to take on all the same roles Woodhead figured
to have (primarily red zone and passing downs), but even if all
Campanaro does is absorb most of the passing-game role Woodhead
leaves behind, it will be enough to put him on the radar in deeper
PPR leagues. It is admittedly something of a longshot, but one
for owners in deeper leagues to consider taking. Given Baltimore
has so few weapons in the short passing game and doesn't figure
to score many points on a weekly basis, Campanaro could remain
pretty busy in negative-script games in which the Ravens' defense
alone isn't enough. Plugging Campanaro into Woodhead's role so
everyone else can stay in their comfort zone makes a lot of sense.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.