Each week during the NFL season, I will offer up a variety of top-five lists because, well, who doesn’t love a top five list? With that universal love of lists in mind, I go out on a limb this week with my top 5 impressions from Week 1, both positive and negative.
5 Positive Impressions from Week 1
Leonard Fournette, Jac, RB – There’s no questioning Fournette’s talent, but it was fair to be concerned about his situation, landing in a Jacksonville backfield that has finished in the bottom six in running back fantasy points in each of the past five seasons. And opening on the road against a formidable Houston defense was also cause for concern. Apparently, there was no need to worry. Not only was Fournette rock solid on his 26 carries (100 yards), flashing his impressive blend of power and speed, but he also showed well in the passing game, and his offensive line actually created some daylight to work with. If this emerging, insanely talented, Jags’ defense can continue to keep its team in the game, Fournette could wind up leading the league in carries, and finishing among the top six running backs in the process.
Tarik Cohen, Chi, RB – The diminutive Cohen has drawn comparisons to Darren Sproles, and the North Carolina A&T rookie looked like a prime-aged version of Sproles in his debut against Atlanta in Week 1 – watch his late-second quarter change-of-direction 46-yard run and you might even think he looks a bit like vintage Barry Sanders. I can tell Jordan Howard owners that there is no need to freak out about Cohen’s dazzling NFL debut, but the fact of the matter is that Cohen is almost assuredly going to curb Howard’s workload more than those Howard owners likely thought when they drafted him. Cohen should see a regular dozen-ish touches a week, half likely to come through the air. Danny Woodhead and David Johnson owners will rightfully be all over this guy on the waiver wire.
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A bunch more rookies – If you’re judging by just the first week of the season, you might proclaim this the greatest fantasy rookie class ever. As stellar as the Fournette and Cohen performances were, they were far from the only standout efforts by first-timers. In fact, the rookie class delivered a top-12 performance at each of the skill positions – QB DeShone Kizer (#7), RBs Fournette (#3), Cohen (#4), Kareem Hunt (#1), Dalvin Cook (#12), WRs Kenney Golladay (#3), Cooper Kupp (#9) and TE Evan Engram (#12). Although his fantasy impact was minor, I wouldn’t want to leave out Seattle’s undrafted rookie RB Chris Carson, who led a crowded backfield in snaps at Green Bay, and was much more productive than Eddie Lacy or C.J. Prosise. He may not be far from officially laying claim to the lead role in Seattle’s backfield.
Carson Wentz, Phi, QB – The thing that always jumps out at me most about Wentz is his ability to find improvisational success when the play breaks down, and we saw that perfectly illustrated on Wentz’s 58-yard first quarter TD toss to Nelson Agholor (who, surprisingly, also turned my head) that looked a bit like a Eli Manning-to-David Tyree Super Bowl re-enactment (save for the part where Tyree pins the ball against his helmet). Wentz is still far from a finished product, but he has the weapons and the pass-heavy offense to post a true breakout line this season, even as he’s still learning the nuances of the position.
Sam Bradford, Min, QB – Bradford had a cherry matchup against New Orleans on Monday night, but give the former No. 1 overall pick credit (along with Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and rookie RB Dalvin Cook) for taking full advantage. Bradford led all Week 1 signal callers in QB Rating when under pressure, he completed all five of his attempts of 20-plus yards and he was decisive in his delivery, ranking sixth-quickest in average time to throw (2.36 seconds). Bradford also had his pinpoint accuracy on display, completing 27-of-32 passes. Bradford only has five remaining games on the schedule against defenses that ranked above average in limiting opposing QB fantasy points last season – CHI (twice), PIT, CIN and BAL.
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5 Negative Impressions from Week 1
Eli Manning, NYG, QB – Maybe it’s not totally fair to judge this offense without Odell Beckham in it, but Manning (220 passing yards, 5.8 YPA), and the Giants offense couldn’t have looked much more anemic in the opener at Dallas. Manning’s presumed go-to guy on Sunday night, Brandon Marshall, was AWOL until the very last seconds of the game, when he finally hauled in his first pass in a Giants uniform. Otherwise, B-Marsh looked miles apart from Manning, both literally and figuratively, as Marshall was split out wide most of the night and Manning mostly ignored him. Peyton’s brother struggled down the stretch last season, averaging less than 200 passing yards over the second half of the year. This was not the performance to inspire thoughts of the elderly Manning turning things around in ’17.
Todd Gurley, LAR, RB – Gurley found the end zone and did have some success in the passing game, but 11 of his 19 carries went for two yards or less versus an Indy defense that allowed 4.8 YPC to running backs in ’16, and 46 points to the Rams on Sunday. After just 40 rushing yards and a 2.1 YPC vs. the Colts, one has to wonder what kind of upside does Gurley have when the schedule takes a turn for the worse? And, other than a nice matchup in a couple weeks against San Francisco and a run-in with New Orleans in late November, there’s not a whole lot on Gurley’s slate to get excited about. His owners are going to need him to continue to add healthy yards in the passing game because he looks he’s going to struggle to reach 1,000 rushing yards again.
Eddie Lacy, Sea, RB – Lacy’s return to Lambeau Field resulted in five carries for three yards. Seattle’s offensive line was atrocious, so this is not all on Lacy. And, admittedly, five carries is not much to go on to make an indictment of a player, but the fact that rookie Chris Carson popped in his limited (albeit team-high) amount of backfield work in this contest has to be concerning to both Lacy and his fantasy owners. The former Packers’ ground-pounder was the most-owned Seattle back in Week 1, but for my money, give me Carson, Thomas Rawls and even C.J. Prosise ahead of Lacy going forward.
Ameer Abdullah, Det, RB – You can’t really blame Abdullah for his atrocious 15-carry, 30-yard rush line as a strong Arizona front line had him bottled up at every turn, and this Detroit offensive line has run blocking issues – the Lions accrued the most negative runs in the league last season, and Abdullah went backwards on three of his carries on Sunday (minus-8 yards combined). The Lions have had just one 1,000-yard rusher since ’04, and the early returns point towards another fail in that department in ’17.
Hunter Henry, LAC, TE – Henry’s ’17 debut on Monday night amounted to squat for fantasy purposes. Playing on just 39 percent of the Chargers’ snaps at Denver, 16 fewer snaps in total than Antonio Gates, Henry failed to see a single target from QB Philip Rivers. Of course, Denver is brutal place to hunt for receiving production, but Henry did manage six catches for 83 yards and a TD when he visited Mile High territory as a rookie. Unfortunately, this time around Henry was forced into a blocking role most of the night, which might not be a rare occurrence while Keenan Allen is healthy – there is no shortage of mouths to feed in this offense.
5 Rough Starts in Week 1 Not Worth Getting Worked Up About
Russell Wilson, Sea, QB – Wilson was just the No. 23 fantasy QB in Week 1, but slow starts are nothing new for the Seahawks’ signal caller, who has finished outside the QB top 20 in four of his six season-openers, with his other two finishes coming in at No. 15 and No. 8. You might have watched the Green Bay game on Sunday and thought to yourself that he’s going to ultimately be doomed by this porous offensive line, but that’s also old hat for Wilson, who is the only QB in the league with 40 sacks in each of the past four seasons. If you look at Wilson’s career splits, his November/December splits are decidedly better than his September/October numbers. But with home games against San Francisco and Indianapolis in two of the next three weeks, Wilson owners shouldn’t have to wait until November to start seeing a return on investment.
Kelvin Benjamin, Car, WR – Last week in my bold predictions Funston Fives, I had Benjamin down for 13 touchdowns this season. I also had him ranked as a WR1 in my Week 1 rankings based on the matchup against San Francisco. So, yeah, Benjamin’s one-catch, 25-yard performance on Sunday was a letdown, but not one that I’m going to worry too much about. Carolina had little need to throw the ball against the Niners, and only attempted six second-half passes. With Cam Newton limited in the preseason because of a shoulder injury, there was some justification for leaning on the backfield of Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey (38 touches combined), while limiting Cam’s exposure in the passing game. But at least Benjamin tallied five targets, second-best on the team behind Christian McCaffrey’s seven. Benjamin’s schedule is loaded with advantageous matchups, so there’ll be plenty of opportunities for him to rebound.
Alshon Jeffery, Phi, WR – Jeffery was targeted a healthy seven times in his Philly debut at Washington, but managed just three catches for 38 yards. Such is life when you’re contending with corner Josh Norman for much of the day (Norman allowed just two catches on seven balls targeted at his assignment for just 25 yards). Jeffery could have had something to write home about if he had been able to come up with a couple big hitters that QB Carson Wentz sent his way, but one deep pass to the end zone was nearly picked off, and Jeffery was unable to hang onto another potential big gainer. This was a tougher individual matchup for Jeffery than he’ll typically face. As the go-to wideout in what should be a very pass-heavy offense, there’s still plenty of reason for Jeffery owners to be optimistic going forward.
Michael Thomas, NO, WR – Like Jeffery, Thomas had a tough draw, matched up often against Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes, who had the lowest QB Rating allowed among qualified corners last season. Thomas led the Saints in targets (8) but could only muster a five-catch, 45-yard fantasy line. Frankly, it was expected that Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints’ passing game would struggle more than usual in a tough Week 1 spot. But, like all receivers in the NFC South (see Benjamin above), the rest-of-season schedule is loaded with a lot of soft spots to help make up for Thomas’ lagging Week 1 production.
Eric Decker, Ten, WR – Three catches for 10 yards was hardly an inspiring Titans’ debut for Decker. But owners should be heartened by his eight targets, with the key being that three of his looks (and two of his catches) came from within 15 yards of the Raiders’ end zone. Decker has a brutal stretch of upcoming games (JAC, SEA, HOU), so he may have a hard time turning things around immediately. But there’s plenty of attractive matchups for Decker once we get past the first month of the season, and I still expect him to lead this team in TD catches.
5 Matchups to Exploit in Week 2
Larry Fitzgerald vs. Indianapolis – Fitzgerald faces an Indy pass defense that allowed a 118.5 QB Rating and more than 300 passing yards to Jared Goff! Fitzgerald ranked second in Week 1 with 13 targets, but with David Johnson out this week (and at least several more after that), don’t be surprised if Fitzgerald is leaned on even more against the Colts. He’s squarely in the WR1 conversation this week.
Marshawn Lynch vs NY Jets – Beast-Mode’s Oakland debut (18 carries, 76 yards, 0 TD) may have looked fairly ordinary to a box score surfer, but if you watched him in action, you know that it was a far cry from ordinary. Lynch had the second-best Yards After Contact per Attempt among Week 1 running backs, and he was third in Missed Tackles (5). He did all that against a Titans’ defense that finished last season with the third-fewest yards rushing allowed to the RB position. The Sheldon Richardson-less Jets allowed the third-most rushing yards to running backs in Week 1. Look for Lynch to improve upon his Week 1 numbers, while splashing pay dirt for the first time as a member of the Silver-and-Black.
Ty Montgomery vs Atlanta – Green Bay stayed committed to running Montgomery (19 carries) in what was a tightly contested battle versus an excellent Seattle run defense. This week, relief is on the way as he’ll face a Falcons’ defense that allowed 6.6 yards per carry, and 11 catches for 61 receiving yards, to Chicago running backs in Week 1. The set-up is ripe for Montgomery, who was the No. 7 fantasy RB in Week 1, to jump into the position’s top 5 this week.
James White vs. New Orleans – Only Atlanta allowed more receiving fantasy points to the RB position than New Orleans last season. That should be welcome news for owners of White, the RB with the second-most fantasy receiving points at the position (behind David Johnson) in ’16. But White also picked up a career-high 10 carries in Week 1 against the Chiefs, and he had 19 more snaps than any other Patriots’ back. In a likely shootout on the Bayou, you’re going to want the dozen or so touches that White is expected to handle.
Tyrell Williams vs. Miami –Williams tallied five catches for 54 yards at Denver in Week 1, not a terrible line against the Broncos’ “No Fly Zone” secondary. In fact, Williams managed just 32 yards combined in two contests against Denver last season. With seven targets, Williams was actively involved in the Chargers’ passing attack, and that should pay big dividends this week against a Miami defense that was the fifth-most generous in fantasy to the WR position in ’16. Don’t consider Williams anything less than a WR2 this week.