Fantasy football is, at its core, an exercise in risk analysis. Points are our currency and every article we digest, every podcast we engorge ourselves in, every box score we study is aimed at shining a light on safe, bankable volume we can rely on on a weekly basis. That’s the purpose served by Targets and Touches, a thorough and exhaustively researched window into which players are making their respective teams tick. This will be a weekly fixture here at Rotoworld, informed by data from Airyards.com, NFL Next Gen Stats, Pro Football Focus, Pro-Football-Reference and Sharp Football. Now let’s get to the good stuff.
RZ Targets: Larry Fitzgerald (2)
Observations: Kyler Murray sleepwalked through his first three NFL quarters (70 yards and an interception on 9-of-25 passing) but came alive late, leading an 18-point fourth-quarter comeback en route to an opening-week tie with Detroit. Reborn in Kliff Kingsbury’s up-tempo offense after circling the drain under inept offensive coordinator Mike McCoy last season, Larry Fitzgerald flexed his fantasy muscles with an electric Week 1, rolling to an 8-113-1 receiving line while playing an NFL-high 94.6 percent of his snaps in the slot. The 113 yards were Fitzgerald’s most in a game since the penultimate week of 2017. Christian Kirk also received heavy slot usage, lining up inside on 88.7 percent of his Week 1 reps, fourth-highest in the league behind Fitzgerald, Cole Beasley (91.2) and Danny Amendola (88.9). Second-round UMass alum Andy Isabella worked as the Cardinals’ kick returner in Week 1, but never saw the field on offense. That would put him sixth on the team’s depth chart behind Fitzgerald, Kirk, Damiere Byrd, KeeSean Johnson and Trent Sherfield. Severely misused by the previous coaching regime in Arizona, David Johnson went supernova against the Lions, kicking off the Kingsbury Era with 137 yards (82 rushing, 55 receiving) and a touchdown on 24 touches.
RZ Carries: Ito Smith (1)
Observations: The Falcons didn’t put up much of a fight in Week 1, committing three turnovers in an uninspiring loss to Minnesota. Devonta Freeman looked nothing like the every-week starter fantasy owners drafted him to be, falling flat by rushing for 19 yards on eight underwhelming carries out of the Falcons backfield. He also lost a fumble while submitting a long run of only five yards in the losing effort. Julio Jones, whose bank account stretched to capacity this weekend with the signing of a three-year, $66-million contract extension (complete with a lavish $64 million in guaranteed dough), was held in check by Xavier Rhodes Sunday, accruing just 31 yards despite leading the team in both air yards (107) and targets (11). Even in a brutal matchup, seeing Jones log fewer yards than Austin Hooper (9-77-0) and Justin Hardy (4-41-0), among others, was surprising to say the least. Matt Ryan spent his Sunday afternoon under siege, absorbing four sacks for a loss of 32 yards while completing just 8-of-16 passes for 94 yards and two interceptions against pressure (28.6 quarterback rating).
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RZ Targets: None
Observations: An alternate title for Sunday’s Panthers/Rams season opener would be the Christian McCaffrey Show. The third-year menace led the Panthers in … well, everything. Catches (10), rushing yards (128), receiving yards (81), yards from scrimmage (209), touchdowns (two), you name it. The elusive 1,000-yard rushing, 1,000-yard receiving season is one of those pie in the sky ideas that gets brought up every year, but if anyone can actually reach it (aside from the two players in NFL history who already have), it’s McCaffrey. He’s been the dictionary definition of a workhorse, seeing the field on an absurd 91.8 percent of Carolina’s offensive snaps since the start of 2018. Already battling a bad back that could keep him out of Week 2 or at least limit his effectiveness on Thursday night, deteriorating veteran Greg Olsen seems to be breaking down once again. That could present an opportunity for backup Ian Thomas, who was barely heard from in Week 1 (targeted once on four snaps). Curtis Samuel is a perfect buy-low candidate. Some may be ready to jump ship after his ugly Week 1 (3-32-0 on four targets), but Samuel still played a full complement of snaps (was in on 61-of-66 offensive plays) and should fare better with soft secondaries on tap in Weeks 2 (Tampa Bay) and 3 (Arizona).
RZ Carries: None
Observations: The #FreeDavidMontgomery movement has begun in earnest. The third-round rookie was undeniably effective in his NFL debut (two broken tackles, 45 yards from scrimmage) but was only afforded 27 snaps compared to 40 for Mike Davis and 51 for Tarik Cohen. Montgomery will climb the Bears’ backfield ladder eventually, but with Davis and Cohen still holding court, his ascent could take longer than some expected. Cohen’s only rushing attempt Thursday was wiped away by a holding penalty, though he still collected a team-high eight catches in the loss to Green Bay. With Cohen functioning as the primary slot receiver, Anthony Miller didn’t have much to do in the opener, logging a mere 15 snaps and waiting until the 1:12 mark of the fourth quarter to draw his first target from Mitchell Trubisky. Maybe the abbreviated workload had something to do with his balky ankle, which shelved him for most of training camp, though it was still jarring seeing Miller take a backseat to Cordarrelle Patterson and Javon Wims (20 snaps a piece) among others. It may not have been the Bears’ night, but at least Allen Robinson did his part, breathing life into a stagnant Chicago offense by making a number of contested catches en route to his 10th career 100-yard game. Adam Shaheen made little impact filling in for an injured Trey Burton at tight end, handling one-of-two targets for six yards in the losing effort.
RZ Carries: Ezekiel Elliott (3)
Observations: Propelled by clever play-calling from rookie OC Kellen Moore—no team ran play-action more frequently than Dallas in Week 1 (46.9 percent of passes)—the Cowboys looked like an offensive juggernaut in Sunday’s win over the rival Giants. Extension candidate Dak Prescott delivered a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating while demonstrating an almost telepathic connection with sophomore stud Michael Gallup, who soaked up seven catches for a career-high 158 yards in the victory. Including the playoffs, the 2018 third-rounder has either cleared 100 yards or scored a touchdown in three of his last four performances. A strained foot slowed Amari Cooper this summer but not Sunday as the fifth-year receiver obliterated New York for 106 yards on six catches with most of that carnage coming in the first half (5-61-1 before the break). Ezekiel Elliott was on a pitch count in his return from a summer-long holdout but made the most of his limited offensive snaps (he was in 37 of the Cowboys’ 68 plays), providing 63 yards and a touchdown on 14 touches. Cowboys lifer Jason Witten out-snapped Blake Jarwin in his return from the Monday Night Football booth, though Jarwin was more productive, outgaining the veteran by 24 yards.
Observations: Sunday had all the makings of a Marvin Jones smash spot—playing indoors against a shorthanded secondary (All-Pro Patrick Peterson is serving a six-game PED suspension) and a fast-paced Cardinals Offense (more plays = more volume for fantasy). So naturally the Lions doled out 13 targets to aging slot man Danny Amendola, his most since Week 15 of 2014 (about five Cleveland quarterbacks and a million Antonio Brown controversies ago), and another nine to rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson. Jones’ meager nine-percent target share was a source of disappointment for some (he claimed 7.9-percent ownership in FanDuel’s Sunday Bomb GPP event), though Hockenson’s promising debut served as compelling evidence of his star potential. Arguably the most intriguing name among current waiver possibilities, expect many FAAB dollars to be shed in Hockenson’s pursuit this week. Now entering the final stages of his transition from early-down staple to aging committee back, C.J. Anderson muddied Detroit’s backfield waters by netting 11 carries on Sunday, five fewer than second-year enforcer Kerryon Johnson. Matthew Stafford achieved his highest yardage output (385) since Week 8 of 2017, though he needed 45 passing attempts and a 10-minute overtime to get there.
Green Bay Packers
RZ Carries: Aaron Rodgers (2)
Observations: Fantasy owners know to temper their expectations when the Bears are on the schedule, even when it comes to surefire Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers and receiving prodigy Davante Adams. Neither were at their best in Week 1 with Adams pulling in just four catches for 36 yards (his lowest receiving output since Week 7 of 2017), while Rodgers took five sacks in a game that featured more punts (17) than total points (13). Rodgers didn’t tally a single preseason snap (shoddy field conditions in Winnipeg kept him from suiting up for Green Bay’s dress rehearsal against Oakland) and played like it Thursday night, laboring through an uncharacteristically scattershot opening quarter (2-of-5 for five yards passing) before finally getting Green Bay on the board with an eight-yard touchdown to Jimmy Graham later in the half. Marquez Valdes-Scantling paced the Packers with a team-high 52 yards, though the bulk of that production came on one play, a 47-yard gainer from Rodgers early in the second quarter. Many pegged slot receiver Geronimo Allison as a prime breakout candidate following Randall Cobb’s free-agent defection, but that didn’t materialize in Week 1 as the Illinois alum goose-egged while drawing fewer targets than Trevor Davis, Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan, just to name a few. With a slew of juicy free agents on the wire (John Ross and T.J. Hockenson headline this week’s waiver crop), Allison could be on the rocks in fantasy. Aaron Jones didn’t break any records with his tepid 13-39-0 rushing line in Week 1, but at least he stayed in the black unlike his teammate Jamaal Williams, who spent his opening night stuck in neutral (five carries for zero yards).
Los Angeles Rams
Observations: As much as we want it to be about Sean McVay’s photographic memory or Aaron Donald’s overwhelming dominance, the story in Los Angeles will always be the ticking time bomb known as Todd Gurley’s knee. That drove the narrative in Week 1 as L.A. tried to keep Gurley out of harm’s way by exposing him to just 14 carries, light work for a back making workhorse money. Gurley was predictably excellent (6.9 yards per carry) playing in his home state of North Carolina in Sunday’s opener, but fantasy owners have to be concerned by his usage, which didn’t include any goal-line or red-zone work. Instead, the glamour carries fell to Malcolm Brown, who hammered in a pair of goal-line touchdowns in the win over Carolina. Darrell Henderson was the Rams handcuff most fantasy owners chased this summer, though he wasn’t a factor against the Panthers, appearing on just two of Los Angeles’ 76 offensive snaps. Coming off a lackluster preseason (57 yards on 23 carries), Henderson has serious ground to make up in his quest for year-one relevance. Cooper Kupp (playing for the first time since his November ACL tear) and Robert Woods both played the majority of their snaps inside, logging slot rates of 70.3 and 61.5, respectively.
RZ Targets: None
Observations: Kirk Cousins laid back in a hammock Sunday while Minnesota’s rushing attack took the wheel, gashing the visiting Falcons for 172 yards on the ground. That left only two targets for Stefon Diggs, who gutted out a two-catch, 37-yard performance while playing through a bad hamstring. With new OC Kevin Stefanski taking the opposite approach of pass-minded John DeFillippo (who lasted less than a year before getting the axe from ‘Sota), Alexander Mattison could offer standalone value as an accessory to breadwinner Dalvin Cook, who has now spanned at least 100 yards in three of four contests dating back to last season. Xavier Rhodes put the clamps on Julio Jones, who was held to a pedestrian 5-31-1 line in his first game since becoming the league’s highest-paid wide receiver.
New Orleans Saints
Observations: Sean Payton’s galaxy-brained obsession with Taysom Hill continued in Week 1 as the third-year gadget man siphoned two red-zone touches in a hard-fought victory over the Texans. Hill found pay-dirt on a third-quarter rope from Drew Brees, accounting for the first career receiving touchdown of his New Orleans tenure. “Can’t Guard” Michael Thomas (10-123-0 on 13 targets) was so thorough in his domination of Aaron Colvin Monday night that the overmatched Houston corner was let go 24 hours later. Thomas’ last two seasons have been a masterclass in efficiency as the former Ohio State Buckeye has cashed in on an outrageous 82.5 percent of his targets (postseason included) during that span. Latavius Murray slid seamlessly into the Mark Ingram role, functioning in a change-of-pace capacity behind starter Alvin Kamara, whose 169 yards from scrimmage ranked third among Week 1 ball-carriers. Jared Cook’s anemic seven-percent target share could have fantasy owners rethinking his place in the league’s tight-end hierarchy.
New York Giants
Observations: The Giants couldn’t stop the bleeding Sunday in Dallas, though at least opportunistic fantasy owners were able to salvage something from it. Evan Engram struck gold with a career-high 116 receiving yards at Jerry’s World, needing 14 targets (the high-water mark among Week 1 tight ends) to accomplish it. Engram's output was largely fueled by garbage time as six of his 11 catches came during the fourth quarter. While his final stat line may be partially inflated by that particular set of circumstances, game script should work in Engram’s favor most weeks on a team FanDuel Sportsbook projects for 5.5 wins. Backfield chess piece Saquon Barkley was limited to 11 carries on an afternoon where the Giants attempted 48 passes, but made the most of that relatively light workload, grinding his way to 120 yards on the ground (10.9 yards per attempt). Sterling Shepard ran 35 of his 50 routes out of the slot (70 percent), a slight increase from last year when he lined up inside on 58.2 percent of his snaps. It will be interesting to see how he meshes with Golden Tate (currently serving a four-game PED ban), who has also been lauded for his slot prowess (69-percent slot rate last season). Daniel “Danny Dimes” Jones made a late cameo in the loss to Dallas, completing 3-of-4 passes in relief of Eli Manning, though he also coughed up the ball, resulting in a Giants turnover.
Observations: DeSean Jackson had so many narratives working Sunday—his return to Philadelphia after a five-year hiatus, a #RevengeGame on tap against his former team. And it all went swimmingly for the veteran, who roasted the Redskins (8-154-2 on 10 targets) like a Thanksgiving turkey while seeing a surprising number of slot chances (48.4-percent slot rate) for the high-powered Eagles. Philly’s divide-and-conquer backfield was a three-pronged enterprise in Week 1, consisting of rookie Miles Sanders (27 yards on 12 touches), explosive veteran Darren Sproles (12 touches for 63 yards from scrimmage) and newcomer Jordan Howard, who amassed 55 yards (44 rushing, 11 receiving) on nine touches. Many pointed to Zach Ertz as a potential regression candidate after setting franchise and tight end records for catches (116) last year, but he was still plenty productive in the opener, drawing seven looks from Carson Wentz while out-snapping Dallas Goedert by a noticeable 61-41 clip.
San Francisco 49ers
RZ Targets: Kendrick Bourne (1)
Observations: To say George Kittle did the heavy lifting for the Niners Sunday in their win over Tampa Bay would be putting it mildly. Across football, only DeAndre Hopkins and Jamison Crowder commanded a greater target share than the stud tight end (37 percent) in Week 1. Obviously, I’d never root for anyone to get hurt, but you have to admit, sometimes it makes our lives easier, especially in fantasy where overthinking lineup choices has become something of an epidemic. Take the 49ers, for instance. With Tevin Coleman nursing a high-ankle sprain, the path is now paved for Matt Breida—who has spent much of his career buried in frustrating committees—to serve as the clear bell-cow in San Francisco. Will Hunting could solve any equation on Professor Lambeau’s chalkboard, but I wonder if he could figure out what’s going on with Dante Pettis. Chastised throughout the summer by demanding head coach Kyle Shanahan, only to be listed atop the team’s depth chart prior to Week 1, Pettis was limited to two snaps in the win at Tampa Bay. A recent groin injury could be the culprit, but there’s still a great deal of mystery surrounding the Niners sophomore receiver. For frazzled fantasy owners in search of lineup certainty, that’s the last thing any of us need.
RZ Carries: Chris Carson (4)
Observations: Chris Carson continued to work ahead of draft reach Rashaad Penny in the opener (21-6 touch advantage) while adding a new wrinkle to his game by leading the Seahawks with seven targets. Gifted a dream matchup against an inept Bengals secondary (no team yielded more passing yards in 2018), Lockett let a lot of fantasy owners down (he was a supremely chalky DFS commodity, garnering a 19.5-percent ownership stake in FanDuel’s Sunday Bomb) with his Week 1 disappointment. He was held to a single catch against Cincy, though he made it an important one, pushing send on a 44-yard touchdown strike from Russell Wilson. Tasked with replacing Doug Baldwin in the slot, Lockett lined up inside on 15 of his 23 passing routes (65.2-percent slot rate). DK Metcalf, a chiseled god who, in a stunning misuse of his powers, has lent his immense physical gifts to the sport of football, was as good as advertised in the opener, blazing to a 4-89-0 receiving line while showing zero ill effects from his recent knee scope. Beleaguered sophomore Tre Flowers was a piñata in Week 1, serving up 170 receiving yards while earning PFF’s worst coverage grade among 98 qualifiers at cornerback. He’ll be a player to pick on in upcoming DFS matchups.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Observations: The Bruce Arians Era in Tampa began with a thud Sunday as Jameis Winston squandered an enviable matchup against a beatable Niners secondary by hurling a pair of pick-sixes in a 31-17 home loss at Raymond James. Coming off a flu bug that kept him from practicing on Friday, Mike Evans didn’t compete with his usual fervor, contributing a sluggish 2-28-0 line on five targets. Even players as accomplished as Evans are subject to a rough patch now and then, especially while operating at less than 100 percent. With that in mind, the shrewdest fantasy prognosticators could not have predicted a scenario where Evans would be outgained by undrafted rookie Dare Ogunbowale (4-33-0). Remarkably, Ronald Jones rushed for more yards in Sunday’s opener (75) than he did his entire rookie year (44 yards in nine games). As expected, Chris Godwin handled the role vacated by free-agent casualty Adam Humphries, running 24 of his 39 routes (61.5 percent) from the slot in Week 1. O.J. Howard was present for 79.7 percent of the Bucs’ offensive snaps, well above his career rate of 63.5. Though it didn’t have any tangible payoff Sunday (he finished the week as TE27 in PPR leagues), that usage should bode well for Howard’s long-term fantasy prospects.
RZ Carries: None
Observations: Derrius Guice tanked in his NFL debut, submitting a dismal 1.8 yards per carry while looking like an injury-riddled shell of the player who turned heads during his three-year reign at SEC powerhouse LSU. Now on the shelf with a reported meniscus issue, Guice will cede workhorse responsibilities to aging power back Adrian Peterson, who spent Week 1 as a healthy scratch. Terry McLaurin, former teammate of backup quarterback Dwayne Haskins (who we should see at some point this year), pulled out all the stops Sunday, blowing the Eagles up for 125 yards while playing on 92.2 percent of Washington’s snaps. Former Mr. Irrelevant Trey Quinn showed instant chemistry with Case Keenum in Week 1, going 4-33-1 on six targets as the heir to departed slot receiver Jamison Crowder. Vernon Davis helped the streaming crowd with a respectable Week 1 effort, contributing a useable 4-59-1 receiving line in place of injured starter Jordan Reed, who remains in the league’s concussion protocol.