Fantasy Football Week 1 Stealing Signals: Breaking down every game on the schedule
Welcome to the CBS Fantasy debut of my weekly column, Stealing Signals. Whether you’re new to this column or a prior reader who has followed it around the block over the previous two seasons, I truly appreciate you letting me be a part of your football season.
What Stealing Signals is: Put simply, a look at every team, player and situation, every week. But not as a preview of the next week. A look back.
NFL seasons are inherently small samples. This article, at its core, strives to dig into the numbers you see in your Fantasy box score, add in necessary context and draw out actionable conclusions about what we can believe in and what is a mirage. The signal and the noise.
Along the way, we’ll cover snap counts, discuss optimal touch mixes for running backs and the combination of targets and air yards for pass catchers, and I’ll give you the most notable stat I saw from each game.
As some of my older readers know, I might grow tired of making the same observations week in and week out about the bad teams that repeat mistakes, so we might veer off and have some fun along the way. If you make this piece a weekly staple, my hope is you’ll find it to be a more in-depth review of Fantasy takeaways than you’ll see anywhere else, but also that you’ll learn new ideas for how to take what we observe on Sundays and convert it into decisions that will help you win your leagues, and ultimately become a better Fantasy player.
There’s further information at bottom detailing a couple of the more uncommon stats I’ll discuss. Data is typically courtesy of Pro Football Reference, RotoViz, the RotoGrinders Premium Usage App, airyards.com or PFF. Always feel free to hit me up on Twitter @YardsPerGretch with any questions about anything I covered or to ask my thoughts on something I glossed over. That is some of my favorite feedback, because sometimes it’s something I’ve missed.
Week 1 featured plenty of big performances, both from guys we expected to show out and others who surprised us a bit. It’s always the longest Stealing Signals of the season because it’s 100% new information. Let’s get into it.
Editor’s note: This story will be updated with more games as the day goes along.
Here are some important statistical acronyms to know for Stealing Signals:
TRAP – : for running backs, the percentage of all touches that are not high-value touches.
WOPR – : a metric created by Josh Hermsmeyer, it balances team share of targets and team share of air yards. Because a player’s WOPR is a share of his team’s overall opportunity, it’s important to consider team volume as additional context.
RACR – Receiver Air Conversion Ratio: also created by Hermsmeyer, RACR is calculated as total receiving yards divided by total air yards. Similar to yards per reception or yards per target, but per air yard instead.
Packers 10-Bears 3
David Montgomery’s role is a big story, but if it creates a panic, he’s likely a buy. Just having a role in Week 1 is a good sign for a rookie running back, and workloads often expand throughout the year. Nick Chubb last year and Alvin Kamara the year before both benefited from trades, but take a guy like Joe Mixon, who played under 40% of the snaps in his first two games in 2017 before exceeding that mark for nine straight before a Week 12 injury. Jordan Howard had a big rookie season for these Bears in 2016; he hardly played in the first two weeks before taking over for Jeremy Langford.
Another important note on Bears running back usage was how frequently Tarik Cohen lined up in the slot (40 slot snaps, per PFF). Because of that, Davis and Montgomery had a combined snap share of 94%. That was a positive sign for Montgomery, in that he may only be competing with Davis for a large workload, as Cohen was essentially playing a different position. Davis’s seven targets to Montgomery’s one was also notable, but Montgomery did run 15 routes compared to 26 for Davis, per PFF. The route disparity looks more like the overall snap disparity than the 7:1 target ratio, and argues Montgomery’s receiving would tick up if his playing time does.
Similarly, the 60/40 split between Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams isn’t great, but shouldn’t be a major concern given it’s Week 1 and Jones didn’t play in the preseason. Jones ran one more route than Williams (15 to 14). Since the Packers ran just one play inside the 10-yard line, Jones had just one high-value touch (a reception) on 14 total touches. That’s not great on its face, but there’s a possibility his role will expand, and the offense should be able to create more against defenses that aren’t the Bears. His value should’ve only taken a slight hit here, but we need to keep an eye on his high-value touches.
Allen Robinson’s 13 targets and 149 air yards are an obviously positive sign, and with Trey Burton hurt and Anthony Miller nonexistent, there should be plenty of optimism about his No. 1 role. He was better last year than most realize. Even with Mitchell Trubisky’s erratic play, Robinson crested 100 yards.
Slowing Davante Adams was a clear focus of the Bears’ defense, and at one point Adams pointed and counted the three defenders surrounding him after an uncatchable target thrown his direction. Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jimmy Graham were clearly ahead of Geronimo Allison as Aaron Rodgers‘ go-to options with Adams at times triple-covered.
We don’t want to overreact to one week, but we also don’t want to underreact. Allison was invisible in a game where Rodgers needed secondary options, while Miller looks boxed out by Cohen’s increased slot usage (Cohen ran 40 routes to Miller’s 11) and played fewer snaps and ran fewer routes than both Javon Wims and Cordarrelle Patterson. Given both Allison and Miller were later-round picks in most leagues, they are already cut candidates in shallower leagues given we’ll need the roster space to hit the always-packed Week 1 waiver wire. Both still have upside, but upside is always a probability play, and both have a lower probability of hitting that upside today than they did before last night’s game.
- Signal: Allen Robinson’s usage, Geronimo Allison and Anthony Miller’s lack of usage
- Noise: Davante Adams’ production, David Montgomery’s role
Rams 30-Panthers 27
Despite the scoreline, this was a relatively uneventful game outside the backfields. Both Cam Newton and Jared Goff played poorly, and stuck close to the line of scrimmage. Newton’s career low aDOT for a season came last year, at 7.5. He was at 5.8 in Week 1. Goff has been at 7.9 and 8.7 the last two years under Sean McVay, but averaged just 6.6 yards of depth on his Week 1 throws.
A conservative (and poor) game is less concerning for Goff, given the Rams traveled west to east for a 1 p.m. ET game and led throughout. For Newton, it’s more of a concern, as was his lack of rushing. Last year, he hit at least 20 yards on the ground in 11 of 14 games. He had just three attempts for negative-2 yards Sunday.
Both the Rams and Panthers were highly concentrated with their snap shares. Each of the Rams’ top three wide receivers were over 90%, while they split things up more with their backs and tight ends. Cooper Kupp looked healthy, and he and Robert Woods dominated targets, but Brandin Cooks still saw six at a 13.3 aDOT, easily the highest on the team. He’ll have better days.
For the Panthers, each of McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel and Greg Olsen played at least 94% of the snaps. There are only five skill position slots on an offense, so that left very little playing time for other players. This is a big positive for Olsen’s value, and Chris Manhertz notably played over Ian Thomas in two-tight end packages, though that would be due to Manhertz’s superior blocking. Thomas does not appear to have a role unless Olsen misses time.
Samuel’s dud is not one to overreact to, given his level of involvement, but the lack of deep targets is a mild concern given Newton’s offseason shoulder issues. Samuel’s 6.2 aDOT was a far cry from his 11.9 mark last year. It won’t be time to panic unless Newton is similarly unwilling or unable to air it out moving forward, beginning against the Bucs in Week 2.
Christian McCaffrey’s 10 receptions and three green zone rushes gave him 13 high-value touches, five more than any other running back in Week 1. That’s the definition of upside, and it translated to his Fantasy total. He played 100% of the snaps, something he did frequently in 2018.
On the Rams’ side, Todd Gurley played a significant snap share and was the feature back as Los Angeles salted the game away late. But he also had just one high-value touch, a reception, while Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson combined for five green zone rushes. Some of that may have been situational — all four of Brown’s green zone rushes came on drives where Brown got all of the running back touches, so it’s possible he wasn’t a goal-line back so much as the Rams gave Gurley the drive off. But Henderson did sub in for a green zone carry on a drive Gurley began as the lead back.
It’s a concern to see Gurley with a much higher TRAP than Brown, and that he seemed to need the plus game script to rack up eight of his 14 rushes and 64 of his 97 rushing yards in the fourth quarter. But he also ran a route on 71% of Jared Goff’s dropbacks, so we should probably expect more targets going forward.
Though Henderson was surprisingly uninvolved — we knew Brown would have a role, but it seemed likely so too would Henderson — he’s not droppable until we see how the touches split out over multiple weeks. We have no idea what Gurley’s maintenance plan is.
- Signal: Greg Olsen — every-down player; Darrell Henderson — No. 3 RB for now
- Noise: Malcolm Brown — goal-line role (he didn’t specifically substitute in for those touches); Brandin Cooks — target share; Curtis Samuel — target share
- Snap Notes: John Brown – 86%, Cole Beasley – 70%, Zay Jones – 42%, Robert Foster – 22%, Devin Singletary – 70%, Frank Gore – 28%, T.J. Yeldon – 3%, Dawson Knox – 55%, Le’Veon Bell – 100%, Robby Anderson – 96%, Quincy Enunwa – 92%, Jamison Crowder – 90%, Ryan Griffin – 94%
- Key Stat: Le’Veon Bell – 100% snap share
If you drafted Devin Singletary, congratulations. Singletary was the clear lead back and played a monster share of the passing downs, running a route on a whopping 82% of Josh Allen‘s dropbacks and catching five of six targets. He only rushed four times, but that was largely because the Bills came out throwing and then were scripted into more passing. Singletary started and played heavily over the first two drives; while Frank Gore finished with 11 carries, his first attempt didn’t come until the last play of the first quarter, and three of those carries were to run out the clock late. He also only gained 20 yards, while Singletary looked explosive in picking up 70.
It looks for now like Gore is perhaps the trusted veteran in some clear early-down situations, but that might not last long given his production. He was tackled for a two-yard loss that resulted in a safety when the team was backed up in its own territory, and was unable to gain a first down to clinch the game on three late-game carries. Even if he does continue to be a thorn in the side of Singletary’s rush attempts, Singletary’s 70% snap share and heavy work in the passing game is extremely notable.
The Bills receivers were about as you’d expect, with John Brown catching a late 38-yard touchdown on an underthrown ball to take him to an impressive 10-7-123-1 line. We know Smokey’s talented, and he’s the clear No. 1 here, but even in a heavy passing script Josh Allen threw for just 254 yards on 37 passes with 10 rush attempts (which limit the pass volume).
The Bills’ two rookie tight ends both played, with third-round pick Dawson Knox leading the team’s tight ends in routes, while seventh-round pick and preseason star Tommy Sweeney finished with more receiving yards. Neither is much of an option if they are splitting reps.
A big trend from Adam Gase’s time in Miami was heavy 11 personnel and really high snap percentages for all of his top three receivers. That carried over to the Jets, as each of the top three wide receivers played at least 90% of the snaps. Somewhat surprisingly it also applied to Le’Veon Bell, who played every single snap.
Bell’s workload was exactly what you were hoping to see if you invested a first-round pick. He carried 17 times and was targeted nine times, catching six passes, including a touchdown. His ceiling won’t be as high in this offense as it was with the Steelers, but the offense showed in the preseason it has some potential, and it’s impossible to argue with a running back playing 100% of the snaps.
Jamison Crowder was targeted a whopping 17 times, catching 14, filling the Jarvis Landry role in Gase’s offense everyone suggested he might. He’s an easy start in PPR going forward.
Anderson wasn’t highly productive, but racked up 121 air yards and should have had at least one big play that Sam Darnold underthrew. He’s a fine play going forward as well, as more of a boom-or-bust option.
Tight end Ryan Griffin also played a huge snap share (94%) in what was likely a precursor to a big role for Chris Herndon when he returns from suspension. If he’s available, he makes for a strong stash.
Ty Montgomery is now just a pure handcuff.
Signal: Devin Singletary – substantial snap share, heavy passing work; Jets – highly concentrated snaps and roles
Noise: Frank Gore – rush attempt lead (didn’t play many snaps, and they were low-value rushes anyway)
Titans 43-Browns 13
- Snap Notes: Corey Davis – 74%, Tajae Sharpe – 49%, A.J. Brown – 43%, Adam Humphries – 36%, Delanie Walker – 48%, Derrick Henry – 59%, Dion Lewis – 43%, Odell Beckham – 100%, Jarvis Landry – 100%, Rashard Higgins – 44%, Nick Chubb – 70%, David Njoku – 90%
- Key Stat: Tennessee – 28/24 run/pass split
Though the final score was lopsided, Tennessee led by just nine points entering the fourth quarter. Their snap shares weren’t influenced by resting starters, which makes how much they rotated notable.
Delanie Walker, for instance, caught both of his touchdowns in the fourth, and the Titans ran just six plays after his second touchdown grab. He a route on 67% of Mariota’s dropbacks, a healthy percentage, but wasn’t an every-down player.
A.J. Brown was the star in the passing game, though both he and Adam Humphries were out-snapped by Tajae Sharpe. Brown (18) and Humphries (13) did run more routes than Sharpe (11), and I’m very high on Brown as a player and grabbed him in Dynasty formats this offseason. But for as good as he looked in Week 1, this is still an offense that threw just 24 passes and rotated pass-catchers, making it hard to trust any of them in redraft. Brown’s worth a lower-cost speculative add, for now, on the hope his role expands.
Derrick Henry hit a home run on his one reception and cashed in one of his two green zone rushes, but that means he scored on two of three high-value touches he had for the day, while he racked up 17 low-value touches to round out his Fantasy total. He ran a route on 33% of dropbacks, the same number as Dion Lewis. Put in this offensive context, I’m still very comfortable being completely off him this year.
Overall, as good as the Titans’ looked, they ran just 52 plays and converted short fields into 21 fourth quarter points after Baker Mayfield was intercepted three times in the final period. Some of their low play volume is tied to their own offensive efficiency, but this game alone doesn’t paint a picture of the next offensive juggernaut.
It was a disappointing start for the Browns by any measure. It’s notable they still managed more total yards than the Titans (albeit on far more plays), but you can’t explain away a hapless seven-drive stretch from the middle of the first quarter into the third where they punted five times, took a safety and weren’t able to score in the two-minute drill to close the half.
What we can take away is Beckham, Landry and Njoku all played huge snap shares. Nick Chubb’s 70% was very solid, and while he lost a short touchdown to Dontrell Hilliard on play eight of a somewhat long first drive, he did see half of the running back targets and ran a route on 55% of Mayfield’s dropbacks, a very solid number for a running back.
Hilliard (18% snap share, routes on 20% of dropbacks) split backup work with D’Ernest Johnson (12%, 11%), rendering both unusable. Rashard Higgins looked good early, but ran a route on just 45% of dropbacks, fewer than Damion Ratley‘s 52%.
- Signal: Tennessee — non-concentrated, low volume passing game; Nick Chubb — played on plenty of passing downs
- Noise: Derrick Henry — 14.5 receiving Fantasy points (on one catch); Cleveland — general offensive woes (new coach, new personnel; it’s fair to give them a little time)
Ravens 59-Dolphins 10
- Snap Notes: Seth Roberts – 68%, Willie Snead – 65%, Chris Moore – 42%, Miles Boykin – 23%, Marquise Brown – 18%, Gus Edwards – 38%, Mark Ingram – 32%, Justice Hill – 30%, DeVante Parker – 76%, Allen Hurns – 70%, Jakeem Grant – 60%, Preston Williams – 42%, Albert Wilson – 12%, Kenyan Drake – 54%, Kalen Ballage – 40%
- Key Stat: Lamar Jackson – 17/20, 324 passing yards, 5 touchdowns
Games like the Ravens just had can lead to some problems for Fantasy analysis. There are obvious positive takeaways, however. No, the Miami defense was not the only reason Lamar Jackson did what he did. He was on point on several throws, both downfield and in the shorter area — the slant that Hollywood Brown took to the house was as much about perfect placement as it was Brown’s ability. Yes, as Twitter was quick to tell me, there was a ton of YAC on the play. It was also YAC that was generated by a combination of a great throw, Brown’s playmaking, also the cornerback misplaying it and there being no safety in sight.
But while we should absolutely have higher expectations for Jackson as a passer after witnessing his Week 1, we also need to recognize that when the raw numbers (yards, touchdowns) come down from the Week 1 benchmark, not all of the pass-catchers or even running backs can be as productive.
Though Mark Andrews played fewer snaps than both Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst, he tied for the team lead with 18 routes run and is locked in as a top receiving option. The tight ends combined for a whopping 15 targets on 26 pass attempts, so there doesn’t seem to be a shift there from Jackson’s rookie year tendencies.
Seth Roberts and Willie Snead were next on the team in routes run with 18 and 17. Brown was incredible, but played just 14 snaps and ran just eight routes. Some of that may have been due to the scoreline, as he was out there and productive early in the game and they had no need to keep him on the field late given he missed time this offseason with a foot injury. He’s still a priority waiver add, while Roberts and Snead are not. Just keep in mind there was plenty of rotation here and there won’t always be 379 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns to divvy up. Ideally Brown’s and Miles Boykin’s roles will grow in short order and we can focus on those two and Andrews.
Mark Ingram had a great game in what was a perfect setup both in terms of the defense he faced and the game script. It wouldn’t be surprising if it’s his best game of the season, given Jackson continued to show he’s unlikely to target the running back position heavily and how much the backs rotated.
Ingram’s last touch came right at the beginning of the fourth quarter, so his snap share isn’t a fair thing to point to. But while Ingram led all Week 1 running backs with five green zone rushes, Gus Edwards was right behind him with four, including one on the first drive of the game and another in the second quarter, both of which came just plays before one of Ingram’s two short touchdown runs. The Saints led the league in RB green zone rush attempts last year with 3.4 per game, so we can’t expect the Ravens to generate nine such opportunities most weeks. Thus, Ingram splitting those touches is a problem.
Justice Hill flashed a bit as a change of pace back, but got no high-value touches and continued to work as a change of pace after Ingram left the game while Edwards was the primary back salting things away. We’ll need to see more, but that might be an indication of how the work could split if Ingram were to miss time.
There’s not much to say about the Dolphins‘ performance. Kenyan Drake played ahead of Kalen Ballage, but neither was productive behind a woeful offensive line and against an elite defense. Ryan Fitzpatrick did his best to work some FitzMagic, but was eventually removed for Josh Rosen, who promptly threw an interception.
There was a heavy WR rotation, meaning I’m likely to avoid all Dolphins. It was nice to see Preston Williams make an athletic grab for a touchdown, and DeVante Parker saw 163 air yards, third most on the week so far. But even with Fitzpatrick’s willingness to air it out, this isn’t a great situation and we can’t be sure who will run substantial routes in any game. Albert Wilson was perhaps the favorite to lead the team in that department coming in, but he ran just five routes and is droppable if you have him.
- Signal: Lamar Jackson – is good; Miami – is bad
- Noise: Baltimore – overall offensive production; Mark Ingram – in more of a committee than his production suggests
Chiefs 40-Jaguars 26
- Snap Notes: Sammy Watkins – 96%, Mecole Hardman – 78%, Demarcus Robinson – 63%, Damien Williams – 66%, LeSean McCoy – 29%, Darwin Thompson – 3%; Leonard Fournette – 86%, Dede Westbrook – 83%, Chris Conley – 76%, DJ Chark – 71%, Marqise Lee – 21%, James O’Shaughnessy – 66%, Geoff Swaim – 50%
- Key Stat: Sammy Watkins – 0.88 WOPR (led NFL)
Unfortunately, we got two major injuries in Kansas City’s win over Jacksonville to start with. Tyreek Hill suffered a shoulder joint injury that will sideline him several weeks, and may make him a candidate for short-term IR. Nick Foles suffered a broken collarbone that will likely sideline him even longer.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Chiefs didn’t miss a beat. When it appeared Hill might be suspended this offseason, there was some concern about Patrick Mahomes, so certainly his ability to put up big numbers on the road in Jacksonville without his WR1 speaks volumes about his potential to repeat this year.
Sammy Watkins led the NFL in Weighted Opportunity Rating (WOPR) this week, something that on its face is an amazing spot to be in given the strength of the offense he’s in. His massive production will be hard to repeat, but 11 targets and 99 air yards from Patrick Mahomes is a top-10 wide receiver role if he sustains it.
Additionally, Mecole Hardman saw just one target but is a must-add given he wound up running a route on 79% of Patrick Mahomes’ dropbacks. Tyreek Hill ran a route on 21%, so it’s safe to say Hardman was essentially his direct replacement. Given Hill will be out for some time and how good the Chiefs looked overall, Hardman could be a weekly flex in short order.
LeSean McCoy was more efficient than Damien Williams, but Williams dominated the snaps and high-value touches with eight to McCoy’s two. When the Chiefs got down to the one, Williams got a tip pass on a jet motion on the first play, which didn’t convert. Two plays later, he took an inside handoff for the touchdown. If he continues to handle the passing downs and get goal-line work, he’ll still be very productive.
But it doesn’t have to be an either/or thing! McCoy’s touches were likely limited somewhat as he works his way in, but a 10-81 rushing line has to be seen as a positive for his value as well. Williams won’t get every scoring chance, and McCoy did catch a pass, so he’s not without value in his own right.
Leonard Fournette’s 86% snap share is very interesting, and was bested by just McCaffrey, Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson among the league’s backs. We heard plenty of rumblings Fournette would be in for a big role this year, and he was clearly an every down back in Week 1. He saw six of seven RB targets for Jacksonville, and while the offense will likely stall out at times with Foles on the shelf, the volume will be there for Fournette.
Gardner Minshew is the replacement for Foles, and he played well, though he racked up 127 of his 275 passing yards and both of his passing touchdowns in fourth quarter comeback mode against a Chiefs defense that is already not great but was also playing off. Still, it’s hard to knock a 22-for-25 passing day.
Surprisingly, it was D.J. Chark and Chris Conley with the majority of the production over Dede Westbrook. Chark was a solid prospect coming out of LSU who runs a 4.34 at 6-foot-3, so it’s unsurprising he racked up 106 air yards on four targets, all of which he caught. He’ll be boom-or-bust going forward, but his emergence and the lack of playing time for Marqise Lee likely indicates he’s going to stick in the lineup.
Westbrook did find the end zone late and hauled in five of six targets, but for just 30 yards. His aDOT was a miniscule 0.8, but he led the receivers in snaps and routes. He’ll be fine.
James O’Shaughnessy and Geoff Swaim split the tight end snaps but it was O’Shaughnessy who played more and ran more routes, if you’re in a deep tight end league.
- Signal: Leonard Fournette – massive workload; Sammy Watkins – huge receiving role; Mecole Hardman – Tyreek Hill replacement; Damien Williams – plenty of high-value touches
- Noise: Jacksonville passing game production – a lot of garbage time against a bad defense
Vikings 28-Falcons 12
- Snap Notes: Adam Thielen – 89%, Stefon Diggs – 60%, Chad Beebe – 26%, Kyle Rudolph – 100%, Irv Smith – 49%, Dalvin Cook – 68%, Alexander Mattison – 23%, Mohamed Sanu – 85%, Calvin Ridley – 78%, Julio Jones – 68%, Austin Hooper – 79%, Devonta Freeman – 50%, Ito Smith – 50%
- Key Stat: Minnesota – 10 pass attempts
What the Vikings did in Week 1 was an affront to modern football. Their 10 pass attempts were the third fewest by a team in the last decade. Rushing purists were overjoyed by just how thoroughly the run was established.
There’s not much to say about Minnesota’s passing game that Kirk Cousins‘ 8/10, 98-yard passing line doesn’t already say. Stefon Diggs was a little banged up, so he played just 60% of the snaps, but he ran a route on all … 11 of Cousins’ dropbacks. The Vikings made good on their promise to run more two tight end looks, as Kyle Rudolph played 100% of the snaps, with rookie Irv Smith was still out there for 49% of them.
This type of script and situation is an obvious boon for a running back — and in fact can only happen when the running game is rolling — and Dalvin Cook’s line shows that as well.
The big question is what does this mean? And the answer is not much. No one expected the Vikings to throw a ton this year. They will have a highly concentrated passing offense, though, so Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs will still be solid. Those two are way more “buy” than “sell” after Week 1; last year’s Seahawks had the fewest total pass attempts of any team in the past five seasons and even they averaged 26.7 pass attempts per game, so the Vikings will throw far more passes in likely every other game this year, even if they are among the run-heaviest teams in the league.
Weird stuff happens in football. We can’t overreact. And if the league-mate with Thielen or Diggs is overreacting, go get them.
Atlanta looked awful offensively, though they were able to string together two fourth-quarter touchdown drives. The game was 28-0 heading into the final period, and there’s little more we can take away from their offensive performance. Atlanta did play most of their regulars into the fourth quarter, so it’s very notable Ito Smith played 50% of the snaps. All four of Devonta Freeman’s targets came in the fourth quarter, and while he wound up with more HVT (3 to 2), it was Ito who ran more routes on the day (23 to 20) and got the team’s only green zone rush attempt, a one-yard loss from the 2-yard line in the third quarter. Ito has clear standalone value behind (or next to) Freeman, while Freeman’s value has to take a hit with this performance.
Austin Hooper was another beneficiary of Matt Ryan‘s 18 fourth quarter pass attempts, as he caught five balls in the final period to bring his line to 9-9-77. Both Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones scored in the fourth.
Given this was a road game at Minnesota’s strong defense, there’s not much to read into it. If you rostered those guys, it’s nice they got some garbage time production.
- Signal: Devonta Freeman/Ito Smith – timeshare; Minnesota – were serious about wanting to run more
- Noise: Minnesota – most everything regarding their passing game (shoot Week 1 to the moon); Austin Hooper – some degree of his big day
Eagles 32-Washington 27
- Snap Notes: Alshon Jeffery – 80%, Nelson Agholor – 80%, DeSean Jackson – 69%, Miles Sanders – 48%, Darren Sproles – 31%, Jordan Howard – 23%, Zach Ertz – 83%, Dallas Goedert – 55%, Trey Quinn – 97%, Terry McLaurin – 93%, Paul Richardson – 78%, Chris Thompson – 64%, Derrius Guice – 36%, Vernon Davis – 82%
- Key Stat: Terry McLaurin – 7 targets, 143 air yards
Washington got the early jump on Philadelphia, which created an early script that the final score doesn’t do justice. That’s notable because the Eagles have been one of the most script-sensitive teams over the past few seasons. In this one, they were down 17-0 late in the second quarter, and 20-7 at the half.
That meant it was D-Jax time. DeSean Jackson provided 51- and 53-yard touchdown receptions in his return to the Eagles, and turned 10 targets and 142 air yards into an 8-154-2 line. Nelson Agholor was also heavily involved in three-wide sets, while Alshon Jeffery caught a 5-yard touchdown and also scored what went down as a 2-yard rush on a designed quick hit.
Each of Jackson, Agholor and Zach Ertz ran routes on 78% of Carson Wentz‘s dropbacks, behind Jeffery’s 85%.
Miles Sanders got the first and third rush attempts of the game, and despite the script being a Darren Sproles classic, Sanders easily played the most running back snaps at 48% and ran the most routes with 16. He only saw two targets while Sproles and Jordan Howard — who combined for 17 routes between them — each had three. That suggests Sanders should be in line for more targets going forward.
Meanwhile, Sanders got two rush attempts from the 3-yard line, the two closest attempts the Eagles had on the day other than Jeffery’s “rush,” and had a potential 21-yard touchdown run negated by a holding penalty on fellow rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. By comparison, Howard saw five of his eight touches on a 19-play drive that chewed up nearly nine minutes of the fourth quarter after the Eagles got the ball back with a 29-20 lead.
Sanders’ box score line only shows 12 touches for 27 yards, but it was a very promising day for the rookie. He’s a trade target if you can get him.
Case Keenum put together a strong start for Washington, notably hitting Vernon Davis for a 48-yard score in the first and rookie Terry McLaurin for a 69-yarder early in the second. Of all the rookies who performed well in Week 1, McLaurin’s 93% snap share stands out. He’s a clear waiver wire target, and I’d have him ahead of Hollywood Brown on the basis that McLaurin is already a full-time player and put up a 7-5-125-1 line on the Eagles.
Interestingly, Washington found themselves in a pass-heavy script too, and threw 15 straight times on a long drive that ended with a futile Trey Quinn touchdown with 12 seconds left to cover the spread. The vast majority of Keenum’s production came from the two early deep balls and this final drive, and he’s not someone I would recommend adding unless you’re in a 2QB league and in dire need.
Chris Thompson saw six of his 10 targets on that drive, and while Washington will likely be in similar situations throughout the season, Thompson’s 64% snap share was likely elevated by what we’re now hearing was an injury to Derrius Guice. Adrian Peterson was inactive, and Guice is now headed for an MRI on his non-surgically repaired knee. Should Guice miss time, Peterson will be around to likely prevent Thompson from getting his snap share over 60% too many more times.
- Signal: Miles Sanders — lead back already, Terry McLaurin — full-time player
- Noise: Chris Thompson — 10 targets (6 on final drive)
Chargers 30-Colts 24
- Snap Notes: Keenan Allen – 83%, Mike Williams – 64%, Travis Benjamin – 48%, Dontrelle Inman – 42%, Austin Ekeler – 75%, Justin Jackson – 25%, Hunter Henry – 91%, T.Y. Hilton – 89%, Devin Funchess – 57%, Chester Rogers – 40%, Zach Pascal – 37%, Parris Campbell – 29%, Deon Cain – 17%, Marlon Mack – 76%, Nyheim Hines – 27%, Jack Doyle – 68%, Eric Ebron – 40%
- Key Stat: Austin Ekeler – 18 touches, 154 yards, 3 touchdowns
Austin Ekeler’s Week 1 was the embodiment of what can happen when a low TRAP back gets a bigger workload. We may have expected a bit more of a timeshare with Justin Jackson, but Ekeler wound up playing 75% of the snaps, and he notably maintained a low TRAP, rushing just 12 times (including twice in the green zone) against six catches on seven targets. In other words, eight of his 18 touches were HVT. He scored on three of those.
Jackson was also very good, and is very much still worth a stash, but had a more traditional workload. Whereas Ekeler ran 27 routes, Jackson carried six times for 57 yards and caught just one pass. He did see three targets, but ran just seven routes.
Mike Williams exited with a knee injury, though he did play nearly two-thirds of the snaps and run 27 routes. It’s unclear when he suffered the injury or how much time he might miss, but both Dontrelle Inman and Travis Benjamin were involved behind him. The two main downfield options were Keenan Allen (36 routes, 10 targets) and Hunter Henry (32, 5), and the passing game would be expected to flow through them and Ekeler should Williams miss time.
Rumors of the Colts‘ demise appear to have been exaggerated. Yes, the Chargers are a different defense without Derwin James. But Jacoby Brissett played very well as something of a game manager, while Marlon Mack racked up 174 rushing yards and a score on 25 carries behind an offensive line that will keep the Colts from bottoming out.
Mack’s production is especially notable given the Colts trailed throughout. Mack’s big play was a 63-yard touchdown at the 7:51 mark of the third quarter, with the Colts trailing by 15. Given that it worked and the Colts were able to get back into the game and force overtime, we should expect the Colts to not abandon the run as quickly when trailing as they did in 2018 with Andrew Luck under center.
I included six Colts’ wide receivers in the above snap notes, primarily because Chester Rogers and Zach Pascal weren’t targeted and won’t show up in box scores but played more than Parris Campbell and Deon Cain. It looks like Devin Funchess could miss some time, but it will be hard to pin down who the top target is behind T.Y. Hilton.
It might be the tight ends, who split the work. Eric Ebron ran 16 routes to Jack Doyle’s 13, and neither was very productive. Ebron did get an end zone target but lost out on the touchdown due to bobbling the ball as he went out of bounds.
As for Hilton, he was exceptionally productive, posting a 9-8-87-2 line. Given Brissett threw just 27 passes in a game where the Colts needed to come back, I’m not overly optimistic he can follow that up with similar performances. He’ll be solid and doesn’t have a ton of competition for targets, but he was also wildly efficient in what looked like a conservative offense and that makes him a sell high candidate if someone is interested.
- Signal: Colts — will run regardless of script, Austin Ekeler — top-10 RB play while Melvin Gordon is out
- Noise: T.Y. Hilton — 3.2 PPR points per target
Cowboys 35-Giants 17
- Snap Notes: Michael Gallup – 78%, Amari Cooper – 76%, Randall Cobb – 71%, Ezekiel Elliott – 54%, Tony Pollard – 32%, Jason Witten – 66%, Blake Jarwin – 40%, Sterling Shepard – 99%, Cody Latimer – 88%, Bennie Fowler – 72%, Saquon Barkley – 80%, Wayne Gallman – 20%, Evan Engram – 77%
- Key Stat: Dak Prescott – 301 air yards, 9.4 aDOT (eclipsed both just three times in 2018)
New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore orchestrated a phenomenal Week 1 showing for the Cowboys, whose passing offense was more vertical and exceptionally effective. Both Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup broke 100 yards as Dak Prescott threw for 405 yards and four scores. His 301 air yards and 9.4 aDOT were both elevated from last year’s seasonal numbers, and he eclipsed both marks in just three games last season.
They won’t be this good every week, but there’s not really a “but” — it’s a really rosy picture through one game. Randall Cobb ran a route on 75% of dropbacks and was productive in his new digs, while both Jason Witten and Blake Jarwin scored from the tight end spot. Witten played a considerable number of snaps — he used to be a 100% snap share guy almost every week; it was nothing like that — and ran a route on 56% of Dallas’s dropbacks. I’m not sure I could start Witten right now, but I also wouldn’t be adding Jarwin outside of deep formats given he only ran a route on 25% of the dropbacks.
It’s extremely likely Ezekiel Elliott’s workload was culled due to his being away from the team all of August. He was far more efficient than Tony Pollard, and while YPC doesn’t really matter to us, it matters to coaches. I suspect the fact that Elliott had more than double the rushing yards of Pollard on the same number of carries will accelerate whatever timeline may have been there. Expect a big workload in Week 2.
For the Giants, Cody Latimer saw 164 air yards, second most on the week behind only James Washington. Latimer wasn’t particularly good, catching three of eight targets for 74 yards, but his role opened up the underneath for Evan Engram to feast to the tune of 14 targets, 11 receptions, 116 yards and a score. Sterling Shepard was used similarly, and had an even lower aDOT than Engram’s 5.1, as Shepard posted a 7-6-42 line at an aDOT of 3.0.
Saquon Barkley had a 59-yard run on his first carry, but was held back by the offense a bit after that. He caught four of six targets for just 19 yards and added just 10 more carries for another 61 yards after the initial big play. To make matters worse, the Giants were trailing by enough that Wayne Gallman was in late in the fourth to steal three catches and a two-yard touchdown run on the final two drives.
Still, Saquon finished with an 80% snap share, fifth-highest among all Week 1 backs, and it’s hard to imagine Saquon getting any fewer than the 15 touches he got here.
- Signal: Cowboys – more vertical passing offense; Evan Engram – target monster
- Noise: Saquon Barkley – 15 touches; Cowboys – some degree of the passing efficiency and perhaps even volume (given Zeke’s likely enhanced workload)
Cardinals 24-Lions 24
- Snap Share: Larry Fitzgerald – 96%, Christian Kirk – 93%, Damiere Byrd – 88%, KeeSean Johnson – 76%, Maxx Williams – 25%, Charles Clay – 16%, David Johnson – 87%, Chase Edmonds – 11%, Kenny Golladay – 98%, Marvin Jones – 81%, Danny Amendola – 53%, T.J. Hockenson – 73%, Jesse James – 58%, Kerryon Johnson – 57%, C.J. Anderson – 30%
- Key Stat: Kyler Murray – 570 air yards (21st most in a single game since 2012)
The Cardinals had four wide receivers play at least 75% of the snaps, which I can confidently say I haven’t seen before. Over the last several years, 11 personnel has grown in popularity, and there are several teams like the Rams and Adam Gase’s aforementioned Dolphins (and now Jets) that lean on it nearly exclusively. As many expected given Kliff Kingsbury’s history at Texas Tech, the Cardinals ran the logical next step of that evolution — tons of four wide sets.
We do see offenses that do this frequently, but they tend to still use a tight end or perhaps a running back split out. Not the Cardinals. They went with all wide receivers; their tight ends combined for 36 total snaps of a possible 89.
Speaking of the total volume, that trended similarly to the productivity. Through three quarters, Kyler Murray was 9/25 (36%) for 70 passing yards and an interception. In the fourth quarter and overtime, he was 20/29 (69%) for 238 passing yards and two touchdowns.
The Cardinals did wind up running a whopping 89 plays, but it took five periods to get there, and for most of regulation they struggled. Here’s to hoping what we saw in a great fourth quarter comeback and into overtime will translate to next week, from the first quarter on. I’m willing to assume it might, given it was both the head coach and quarterback’s first taste of the NFL.
Also, by the end of the game, we had this:
That’s very promising for Fantasy.
As for individual players, Larry Fitzgerald was the Week 1 star, turning 13 targets and 156 air yards into eight catches for 113 yards with a pair of filthy diving catches in key spots. Christian Kirk’s 12 targets and 139 air yards speak to better days than his 4-for-39 receiving line. And then KeeSean Johnson and Damiere Byrd, just by virtue of playing such big snaps in this offense, become waiver targets. Johnson had 10 targets and 113 air yards, while Byrd had seven and 72. Each of those four receivers ran routes on at least 83% of Murray’s dropbacks.
I discussed the issues with David Johnson’s 2018 usage — specifically Mike McCoy’s unwillingness to split him out — back in June, and Week 1 was a very, very positive sign:
Johnson appeared headed for an underwhelming day, though he almost certainly should have scored on a 7-yard run down to the 1 late in the second quarter, but instead almost voluntarily went out of bounds, something he acknowledged after the game.
He got another chance at a big moment and didn’t miss it, catching a late 27-yard touchdown (nearly all air yards) that, combined with the extra period, propelled him to a strong Fantasy total. His 87% snap share was also massive, given the team ran so many plays. He’s back, baby.
Detroit also got a nice volume boost from the extra period, and we likely saw far more volume from Matthew Stafford than we’ll see most weeks. T.J. Hockenson was a clear star with a 9-6-131-1 line, a phenomenal first performance for anyone, but especially a rookie tight end. Danny Amendola and Kenny Golladay joined him as Lions with at least nine targets and 120 air yards.
Amendola’s 13-7-104-1 line also stands out, if only because of the easy comparison to Golden Tate’s old high-volume role. But much like the Ravens’ and Cowboys’ writeups earlier, we do have to be concerned about whether both Amendola and Hockenson can be productive at the same time when the volume — Stafford threw 45 passes, more than any of his final 14 games in 2018 — and overall production comes back down a bit, especially assuming Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay will likely be the lead receiving options most weeks.
An even bigger concern would be Kerryon Johnson, who totaled just 62 scoreless yards despite the play volume bump. His workload screamed TRAP back, as he saw just two targets despite the team’s 45 passes and racked up 16 low-value rush attempts. In fairness, the Lions never called a rushing play inside the 10.
- Signal: Arizona – could have four Fantasy-viable WRs; David Johnson – massive snaps, 7 HVT; Kerryon Johnson – high TRAP workload
- Noise: Christian Kirk – 4 catches, 39 yards (buy the 12 targets, 139 air yards); Detroit – overall play volume, pass attempts