The first edition of Stealing Signals 2020 is here! My apologies on the delay today — I will typically have this up earlier on Mondays. Today required a bit more digging for data than usual as we get back into the swing of things, and a quick note I’m a little light on air yards data this week as I await the update to the glorious airyards.com.
I also want to once again say thank you for signing up for this service. There’s more information about plans for this newsletter on the site. This Week 1 email will be the longest of the year, because it’s important to react appropriately to early data. The easy option is to say “don’t overreact,” but I generally disagree, and am more concerned with underreacting, which this newsletter service tells me is not a word. Of course, with no preseason in 2020, we need to be somewhat careful, because these early trends might be less informative than in years past. Let’s be careful but try to find some important notes.
Data are 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. So much happens every week, and I undoubtedly miss an injury here or a reason for wonky usage there. You guys helping me fill those holes is my favorite feedback.
Here are some important statistics to know for Stealing Signals:
Green Zone — Inside the opponent's 10-yard line.
HVT — High-Value Touches: Green zone touches plus receptions. Touchdown potential and pass-catching upside are the keys to RB upside in PPR, while rush attempts outside scoring range are far lower in fantasy value.
TRAP — Trivial Rush Attempt Percentage: For running backs, the percentage of all touches that are not High-Value Touches. A higher TRAP means a high percentage of low-value rush attempts outside scoring range, which is worse for fantasy production.
WOPR — Weighted Opportunity Rating: A metric created by Josh Hermsmeyer which 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.
TPRR — Targets Per Route Run: Pretty self explanatory, and my preferred way of breaking down the popular stat Yards Per Route Run.
Chiefs 34, Texans 20
Snap Notes: Clyde Edwards-Helaire: 67%, Darrel Williams: 33%, Sammy Watkins: 80%, Demarcus Robinson: 48%, Mecole Hardman: 29%, David Johnson: 81%, Duke Johnson: 24% (ankle injury), Will Fuller: 80%, Randall Cobb: 78%, Brandin Cooks: 53% (questionable entering game), Jordan Akins: 81%
Key Stat: Clyde Edwards-Helaire — 7 green zone touches (tied most in Week 1 through Sunday)
We jump right off the bat with a delicate discussion. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was my RB6 entering the season, and I had some Saturday drafts where his Thursday performance didn’t elevate him in my rankings, though it did solidify him there. His massive green zone role was fantastic to see, but he only saw two targets. We know CEH can catch the ball, but as we’ll discuss often this week, RB receptions aren’t solely about player skill. CEH has been compared to Kareem Hunt; an interesting and potentially applicable note on Hunt is his receptions per game fell from 3.3 in his rookie season with Alex Smith at QB to 2.4 when Patrick Mahomes took over in 2018. Hunt’s lack of receiving work in 2018 didn’t make much sense in a vacuum as he was a very effective pass-catcher both seasons, but Mahomes was and is an effective downfield passer. Hunt was still very valuable that season, scoring 14 touchdowns in 11 games and averaging 20.9 PPR points per game. Elite RB seasons typically get up to around 25 PPR points per game, so Hunt was a bit shy of that even with a high TD rate. I would absolutely take 20-plus points per game from CEH this season, and I’m happy overall with him as a first-round pick where I took him. But the way I would phrase this is I’m expecting fewer receptions per game rest of season after seeing Week 1 than what my upside projection would have been coming in. I’m excited about his overall role and not particularly worried about his touchdown potential despite some struggles on those green zone rush attempts, and he’ll actually catch passes most weeks. But this is something legitimate to monitor, and we may be looking at a high-end outcome of 45-50 receptions whereas I would have previously thought he had 65-catch upside if his snap share was this strong out of the gate.
The Chiefs only kept three RBs on the active roster and Darwin Thompson didn’t play any offensive snaps. Darrel Williams had a disappointing output but is a high-end handcuff with some HVT upside after he played on third downs early and CEH struggled in the green zone. A clear waiver target where he’s available, and a hold if you have him, Williams ran 10 routes compared to 17 for CEH.
Mecole Hardman received an early tip pass on jet motion, and his usage was interesting early on. But Andy Reid is known for creativity in those first 15 plays, and after that point Hardman mostly played as a backup, running 11 total routes. The lack of a role increase is disheartening, and he seems to be locked into what we saw in 2019, at least for now. Demarcus Robinson had a few gaffes, so that could change, but for now Hardman is something of a WR handcuff. The upside remains massive and this unfortunately looks like a season where we might see a high injury rate, so I’m not dropping him outside of very shallow leagues where you have to have production on your bench.
You know the drill with Sammy Watkins, which is to say I have no idea whether this is to be trusted. But his role was huge, he’s a full-time player in an elite offense, and he did have a monster playoff run after an inconsistent 2019 regular season.
David Johnson looked spry en route to 100 total yards and a score, and his usage was very encouraging. Duke Johnson did leave the game with a hamstring (and looks likely to miss Week 2), so while David’s 32 routes on 40 dropbacks was very encouraging, it’s hard to know what the split would have been with Duke healthy. I was not on David coming in, but I will say his splitting out wide was a very positive sign. That’s what we saw with regularity back in 2016, but we didn’t see as much in recent seasons. If you have him, you can certainly ride this out. He did miss a few snaps and health will be key. but you knew that already.
The hope for Will Fuller, beyond the obvious that he stays healthy, was that his role would include shorter targets. I saw some people spinning his Week 1 as a negative, but I was very encouraged. Houston did try to go down the sideline to him multiple times, but Kansas City was rolling safety help over the top — that makes some sense given Fuller infamously dropped multiple potential long touchdowns in Kansas City in their regular season meeting last year. But Deshaun Watson went to Fuller early, late on a key fourth down on a quick out, and often in between. He looks like the clear No. 1, and the deep targets will come. I think his value rose considerably with this performance, and I drafted him 4.10 Saturday night.
The rest of the Texans pass-catchers were disappointing. Brandin Cooks was limited to just 19 routes, Randall Cobb was not but didn’t make much noise, and while Jordan Akins played a bunch of snaps and caught a touchdown, he saw just two targets and the book on him is a low rate of targets per route run, so this Week 1 performance didn’t do much to convince me he’ll be a consistent fantasy force.
Signal: Clyde Edwards-Helaire — clear lead back, strong green zone role, reception upside concerns; Darrel Williams — clear No. 2 in a great offense; Mecole Hardman — no role improvement, but worth a hold for now; Will Fuller — racked up short and intermediate targets
Noise: Jordan Akins — production was strong, lack of targets was not; Brandin Cooks — entered the game questionable, limited role
Seahawks 38, Falcons 25
Snap Notes: Chris Carson: 45%, Carlos Hyde: 34%, Travis Homer: 21%, Greg Olsen: 66%, Will Dissly: 40%, Todd Gurley: 46%, Brian Hill: 27%, Ito Smith: 25%, Hayden Hurst: 78%, Russell Gage: 70%
Key Stat: Seahawks — 68% pass rate on first and second downs through first three quarters (highest in Week 1)
They let Russ cook!
But seriously, I can’t really overstate how big this could be. Russell Wilson is a wildly efficient passer who for years has bailed out the Seahawks from potential bad losses due to poor game management. In this double-digit win, Seattle kept their foot on the gas, winding up with 35 passes against just 20 runs. Wilson completed 31 of 35 passes for 322 yards and 4 touchdowns, which is a kinda good line as I understand it. He hinted this offseason about a desire to be a legitimate MVP candidate at some point; any kind of vague stat chasing is good for fantasy.
Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf were as expected. They both played nearly every snap, shared the target lead with eight apiece, and Lockett caught all eight of his while Metcalf caught four but they went for nearly identical yardage. Metcalf’s the downfield threat with the boom touchdown potential, and he scored here, but Lockett’s got plenty of TD potential in him, too. Both could smash if this pass focus sticks.
David Moore played a lot as the No. 3 WR and could have some good games, but that would seem to be Josh Gordon’s spot later on.
Greg Olsen didn’t play every snap and only saw four of seven TE targets with Will Dissly and Jacob Hollister picking up the other three, but he caught all four and found the end zone. He ran 22 routes compared to 15 for Dissly and Hollister combined, and we’d like to see that tick up, but he’s another interesting piece if this offense throws a lot.
Chris Carson was targeted six times on 18 routes run, and caught all six including two scores. But he was also out-carried by Carlos Hyde, which is notable for both. Carson had a solid pass-catching role in 2019, but he also thrived in part because of huge snap shares. His 45% snap share here would have tied for his second lowest in all of 2019, and as with all backs, he typically wasn’t as productive in 2019 when he wasn’t playing a big percentage of snaps. He’s someone I’d move if there was interest, given Travis Homer also mixed in on passing downs. All three of Carson, Hyde, and Homer got one green zone touch.
Atlanta had three 100-yard receivers, with each of Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Russell Gage seeing 12 targets and catching nine balls. Each of those three plus Hayden Hurst ran routes on at least 80% of dropbacks. The writing has been on the wall all offseason that Matt Ryan would throw a ton, and this game script pushed him to 54 pass attempts, 25 of which came in the fourth quarter alone. He won’t throw that many times most weeks, but this looks like a high-volume, concentrated passing game, and a lucrative one at that.
Eight of Ridley’s targets and both his touchdowns came in the fourth quarter, but that’s sort of the upside with him in a pass-heavy offense. I’m not discounting that. Gage is notable, though, in that he closed 2019 pacing for over 100 targets in the final nine games after the Mohamed Sanu trade. His full-time role makes him a waiver option. I do expect Hurst to see a few more targets going forward and Gage to probably lose a few, especially as the overall team volume levels out.
Todd Gurley didn’t play a big snap share, but all five of Brian Hill’s two and Ito Smith’s three receptions came on the Falcons’ final scoring drive in the fourth quarter. Gurley saw five targets and three green zone rushes earlier in the game, punching in a short touchdown. His workload was solid.
Signal: Russell Wilson — the chef hat is on; Chris Carson — not a clear workhorse like he was for most of 2019; Hayden Hurst — routes on 80% of dropbacks (fade the low target totals in a high-volume game)
Noise: Chris Carson — two receiving touchdowns; Falcons — 54 pass attempts (they will throw a lot, but not this much most weeks); Todd Gurley — low snap share (most of his missed snaps were garbage time, had 5 HVT)
Ravens 38, Browns 6
Snap Notes: J.K. Dobbins: 39%, Mark Ingram: 36%, Gus Edwards: 25%, Mark Andrews: 71%, Miles Boykin: 68%, Kareem Hunt: 49%, Nick Chubb: 48%, Jarvis Landry: 71% (health was uncertain)
Key Stat: Mark Andrews — routes on 87% of dropbacks (2019 season high: 73%)
So much happened Sunday that it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Lamar Jackson was incredible. Maybe that was to be expected from the reigning MVP, but he had his doubters, and he looked incredible, particularly as a passer. Hear me out on this, but … what if he … got better?
Mark Andrews played a bigger snap share and ran more routes per dropback than any game in the 2019 regular season, and he did it in a blowout. That’s huge news considering his elite rate of targets per route run and overall efficiency. This was the path to Andrews flirting with an overall TE1 finish, as the hope was Hayden Hurst’s exit might push him into a bigger role. The Ravens kept just two tight ends on their active roster after using three in a rotation throughout 2019, so this seems likely to stick. Wheels up.
J.K. Dobbins out-snapped Mark Ingram, which may have been in part due to the blowout, but Dobbins was in the game as early as the first Ravens’ drive, and he also scored two short touchdowns. Those were his only two green zone touches and Ingram had one of his own, so I wouldn’t say Dobbins has a clear hold on high-leverage work or anything like that. Baltimore likes to rotate backs and Ingram wasn’t an every-down guy last year, but this appears to be more of a split than many anticipated, at least this early. Gus Edwards also got a first-half carry.
Marquise Brown had a solid day, catching all five first-half targets he saw for 101 yards. Miles Boykin actually led the Ravens’ wide receivers in routes, and he’ll be a name to watch. The 2019 third-round pick is an incredible athlete and was a solid producer at Notre Dame.
There aren’t a lot of encouraging things to say about the Browns’ opener, but they played a very good team, and one note might be that they ran the ball effectively. Obviously passing is the more important element of an offense, but both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt averaged over 5.5 yards per carry on double-digit carries.
Chubb and Hunt split playing time nearly right down the middle, with Hunt seemingly having the more valuable role given his six to one target advantage, but Chubb actually ran more routes, 16 to 13. That would seem to argue Hunt’s six targets might have been a little fluky, but the worse signs here are clearly on Chubb’s side. If I had Chubb anywhere, I would not be encouraged, but the routes are one thing to think about — it’s possible roles aren’t as defined this season and Chubb sees an uptick in receiving work, even as it looks like he’ll be ceding rushing attempts. Both backs will need this offense to be better to have consistent value in a split like this.
Jarvis Landry played plenty of snaps given the uncertainty of his health and the blowout scoreline, and he caught five of six passes for a team-high 61 yards. Odell Beckham easily led the team with 10 targets but he caught just three, and his day looked a lot like his 2019 woes.
The Browns certainly employed plenty of two-TE sets, as expected under new coach Kevin Stefanski who used a similar offense while coordinating Minnesota last season. David Njoku looked good early, but left with an injury that has landed him on IR for at least three weeks. He’ll be worth watching in deeper TE Premium formats when he gets back, as he looked like a real part of the offense and was the top option on his short touchdown catch. Austin Hooper also ran routes on two-thirds of dropbacks, third on the team behind Landry and Beckham, but was not heavily targeted. He’ll still likely be the top TE on the team at year’s end, but the Minnesota template is scary given that Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith finished at 48 and 47 targets last year.
Signal: Mark Andrews — role expanded from 2019, wheels up; Mark Ingram — in a bigger timeshare than expected; Nick Chubb — in a bigger timeshare than his ADP would have suggested; Jarvis Landry — seemed healthy
Noise: J.K. Dobbins — two rushing touchdowns (only two green zone touches, Ingram also had one, seems fluid); Kareem Hunt — 6 targets (only ran 13 routes); Odell Beckham — I don’t know how good he’ll be, and this wasn’t an encouraging start, but the 10 targets will go overlooked in favor of the three catches
Bills 27, Jets 17
Snap Notes: Devin Singletary: 59%, Zack Moss: 45%, Gabriel Davis: 49%, Le’Veon Bell: 57% (injured), Frank Gore: 25%, Josh Adams: 23%, Chris Hogan: 91%
Key Stat: Zack Moss — 7 HVT (tied fourth most through Sunday)
The Bills looked good, and the Jets looked bad, and this scoreline only looked somewhat close because of a long Jamison Crowder touchdown and a late Jets score with under a minute left. Let’s start with the Crowder touchdown, because I’ve been anti-Crowder this offseason, saying that while I expect a solid 16-game line, his weekly production is mostly replaceable at any point in the season. But 13-7-115-1 is not a replaceable line. First things first: those targets are awesome to see. But right behind that, you have to acknowledge his 69-yard touchdown was caught at the line of scrimmage — it was literally 0 air yards and 69 YAC. Crowder’s good at football, and made a strong cut to get loose. But say he got tackled after a 10-yard gain on that play — now we’re talking about a 7-56 line on 13 targets. That’s fine. This is not a good team, and his scoring opportunities will be limited most weeks, plus he’s not always going to get comfortably into the double digits in targets — that would be absurd. I do think there’s reason to be optimistic after this performance, of course, but Crowder is still a low-aDOT (read: low value targets) receiver that has PPR volume on his side but not much else. If someone is willing to overpay because of a one-week target boom and a big YAC play, sell sell sell.
Chris Hogan caught just one of four targets for 0 yards, but he played a huge role. Chris Herndon (7-6-37) and Breshad Perriman (5-3-17) were pretty clearly the next two targets for Sam Darnold, who looked shaky. Each of the top three receivers ran routes on at least 95% of dropbacks, while Herndon was down at 56%. This does not look like a great passing game to target, but Herndon and Perriman might at least see downfield looks.
Le’Veon Bell left with a hamstring injury that might cost him some time apparently, but he did still finish with routes on 54% of dropbacks and made a nice 30-yard catch downfield (shoutout RB air yards!) late in the second quarter. If and when he’s back, he should have a solid receiving role but few chances to rack up yardage and touchdowns in a bad offense. If Bell does miss time, note that all four of Josh Adams’ touches, including his late touchdown run, came on the Jets final drive when the game was mostly in hand. Frank Gore received his required six carries earlier in the game. Adams would not be a priority add.
Zack Moss had a fantastic debut for Buffalo, catching a touchdown and importantly getting all five Bills RB touches in the green zone. Devin Singletary played more snaps, ran more routes (26 to 20), and saw more targets (7 to 4) but Moss’ high-leverage role is enough for me to have them on level ground going forward. If you made me pick, I’d take Moss.
Stefon Diggs looked solid in his debut, catching eight of nine targets for 86 yards. I’m a Diggs truther, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t note John Brown kind of stole the show, and this looks like a fun duo. Brown’s 10-6-70-1 line could have been even better if not for a juuuust-a-bit-high pass from Josh Allen that made the rounds on Twitter Sunday.
Quick mention for rookie Gabriel Davis out of UCF, who was one of my favorite late-round WRs in the 2020 class. He’s unlikely to play a fantasy factor this year, but a 49% snap share and a pair of catches in Week 1 is great to see for dynasty players.
Signal: Zack Moss — all five RB green zone touches; John Brown — looked great, should co-exist well with Stefon Diggs
Noise: Jamison Crowder — 69-yard TD was all YAC, 3.8 YPT on other 12 targets; Josh Adams — all four touches and touchdown came on final drive of game, likely not a very worthwhile start if Bell misses time
Raiders 34, Panthers 30
Snap Notes: Josh Jacobs: 78%, Bryan Edwards: 75%, Henry Ruggs: 67%, Hunter Renfrow: 48%, D.J. Moore: 87%, Robby Anderson: 82%, Curtis Samuel: 75%, Ian Thomas: 66%
Key Stat: Josh Jacobs — 17 routes (tied 2019 season high), 6 targets (bested 2019 season high)
We’ve reach the Josh Jacobs receiving role section of the newsletter, and it’s a huge story. He ran a lot of routes than we frequently saw in 2019, Devontae Booker and Jalen Richard each ran just three, and Jacobs added a whopping six green zone touches, which we knew he’d get. His 10 HVT tied with Nyheim Hines for most in the NFL through Sunday’s games. The only minor thing I will note is his 73% snap share in Week 1, 2019, proved to be a season high. It was like Jon Gruden wanted to show off his new first-round rookie, but then he rotated more in every game from that point forward. I’m not saying that will happen again, but I’m a little wary of whether Jacobs’ 78% snap share in Week 1 this time around will stick. That’s a minor concern as something to watch; everything else here points to a monster season.
Booker saw three targets, but it should be noted he only ran three routes and hardly played. Jason Witten’s lone target came as the first read on a third-and-4 play from the 4-yard line. That’s not a great sign for Darren Waller given how much Foster Moreau seemed to steal his red zone looks in 2019. Waller did catch six of eight targets and remains a strong PPR option, but his lack of high-leverage usage in 2019 impacted his touchdown potential.
Henry Ruggs was off to a fast start in his debut before leaving the game for a bit, though he did return. He set up the first of Jacobs’ three touchdowns after taking a deep crosser 45 yards down to the 1-yard line. Despite missing some snaps, Ruggs finished with the second-most targets on the team (5) and added two rushes for 11 yards. The concern was this might be too crowded of a passing game, but other than Waller and Ruggs, no Raider WR or TE had more than two targets.
We got our first look at the new Panthers offense, and it was interesting. Christian McCaffrey rushed 23 times and saw four targets, a slight diversion from his typical workload. He was still very productive, and is so talented at whatever he’s asked to do that it’s not a concern. He converted two of four green zone rushes into scores and his seven HVT were tied for fourth most among backs through Sunday, so the relative lack of receiving was covered. He ran routes on a massive-for-a-running-back 87% of dropbacks and did still catch three balls for 38 yards so it’s not like he did nothing in the passing game.
But all three wide receivers were far more involved, each seeing either eight or nine targets. Robby Anderson ran routes on 90% of dropbacks, and saw far more short and intermediate looks than I expected. His receiving line looked a little like Crowder’s before a fourth-quarter 75-yard touchdown after burning his man on a double move. That type of downfield explosiveness with the ability to see eight targets makes him look like a strong value for those who took him late in drafts.
D.J. Moore led the team in snaps, routes, and targets with nine, but caught just four for 54 in a slightly disappointing opener. He did see an end zone target on a slant where he was closely guarded, but the defender broke it up. As a heavy Moore drafter, I can’t say I’m unconcerned by the involvement and usage of the other two receivers in Week 1, because I was drafting Moore like he and McCaffrey would clearly be the lead guys. Moore is still the biggest talent of the receivers here, though. He was a sterling prospect, put up 960 total yards as a 21-year-old rookie, and backed that up with a 14-game pace that looked a lot like Michael Thomas’s second season (before leaving early in Week 15 last year). Even if this passing game is a little more balanced than I’d hoped, Moore should be efficient most weeks, and I would expect him to lead the receiving group in volume by the end of the season.
Curtis Samuel ran routes on 74% of dropbacks and saw mostly underneath targets. That was a not-unexpected but still major departure from his 2019 role, where he was mostly a downfield threat. Samuel could have some PPR value, though his targets are a little lower value and Anderson’s big game and then McCaffrey and Moore make it tough to imagine he sees a ton of targets most weeks. That is an even bigger concern for Ian Thomas, who saw just two looks in Week 1.
Signal: Josh Jacobs — bigger receiving role to go along with green zone touches, 10 HVT overall; Henry Ruggs — solid Week 1 role; Panthers — possible spread target shares; Robby Anderson — strong role
Noise: Devontae Booker — 3 targets (only ran three routes); D.J. Moore — 6.0 YPT; Christian McCaffrey — 4 targets (routes on 87% of dropbacks)
Bears 27, Lions 23
Snap Notes: Tarik Cohen: 46%, David Montgomery: 45%, Cordarrelle Patterson: 15%, Jimmy Graham: 80%, Ted Ginn: 43%, Anthony Miller 42%, D’Andre Swift: 44%, Adrian Peterson: 31%, Kerryon Johnson: 26%, Quintez Cephus: 79%, Danny Amendola: 55%, T.J. Hockenson: 64%
Key Stat: D’Andre Swift — 23 routes, five targets
This one had it all, a Mitchell Trubisky comeback, a Lions heartbreak … and a 45-year old lead RB? Wait, 35. How old is he? Adrian Peterson ran for 6.6 yards per carry and caught all three targets he saw.
Watching the game, I would have thought Cordarrelle Patterson played more than 15% of the snaps. He was used out of the backfield and as a receiver, but ultimately in no more than a gadget role. Tarik Cohen and David Montgomery were the main guys, with Cohen running routes on 45% of dropbacks and Montgomery not far behind at a solid 38%. Montgomery ran efficiently as well, picking up 64 yards on 13 carries.
To my eye, Trubisky was very up and down. He threw off his back foot and sailed a few passes, but did make some strong throws late. His final line that includes three touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a comeback win was better than his actual performance.
I’m not really buying Jimmy Graham, but it’s hard to argue with what we saw. Routes on 78% of dropbacks, three red zone targets, and seven targets overall. Allen Robinson was solid if a little inefficient, while Anthony Miller’s late touchdown may have masked a 55% route share that was a little concerning.
D’Andre Swift led the backfield in snaps, and ran routes on a solid 49% of dropbacks, seeing five targets. He got just three carries, but he did punch in a short touchdown. Of course, he dropped a would-be game-winning touchdown in the end zone on the penultimate play of the game. That was tough for the rookie, but for fantasy there does appears to be HVT upside for him in this backfield, but it’s certainly crowded. Kerryon Johnson looked like the odd man out.
With Kenny Golladay out, Marvin Jones ran routes on 100% of dropbacks, but second on the team was a little surprising. Fifth-round rookie Quintez Cephus ran routes on 74% of dropbacks and saw 10 targets, though he only caught three. Cephus had a pretty good production record at Wisconsin, which is more important than his subpar 40 time. Odds are this role doesn’t stick when Golladay returns, but he’s worth watching.
T.J. Hockenson was my favorite late-round TE late this draft season — he was a high draft pick, the Lions passing offense looked better with Matthew Stafford healthy last year, and his TPRR was far superior to other young potential breakouts like Noah Fant and Mike Gesicki. He caught all five targets he saw for 56 yards and a score, and I don’t really have much else to say other than I’m still very high on him.
Signal: Jimmy Graham — three red zone targets, big route share; Kerryon Johnson — potentially the odd man out; D’Andre Swift — solid receiving role
Noise: Adrian Peterson — 3 receptions (ran just 9 routes); Lions — some degree of the target shares with Golladay out
Jaguars 27, Colts 20
Snap Notes: James Robinson: 84%, Keelan Cole: 66%, Laviska Shenault: 62%, Nyheim Hines: 53%, Jonathan Taylor: 35%, Marlon Mack: 15% (injured), Parris Campbell: 82%, Zach Pascal: 62%, Michael Pittman: 53%
Key Stat: Colts — 20 total HVT (6 clear of any other team through Sunday)
First and foremost, the Marlon Mack injury was a bummer for him and particularly tough as he heads into free agency this offseason. It also opened up a huge role for Jonathan Taylor, a prospect whose production record is only surpassed by his athletic profile. The man feels like a borderline lock to be successful in this situation, and two different people asked me today about a Miles Sanders for Taylor straight up trade. I try to think about these early-season trades as if I were redrafting today. I came to the conclusion I’d take Taylor first, and I prefer him there. I love Sanders, but the Eagles’ offensive line struggled (more on that later) and he’s dealing with an injury with a high rate of recurrence. Sanders might have a higher absolute ceiling in terms of the share of his backfield he could take on, but Taylor’s probability to hit something close to a ceiling outcome feels quite a bit higher right now.
Nyheim Hines was the big story, and I promised more discussion of RB target rates. One of the recurring things I wrote this offseason was that this was a backfield I was targeting. I even took Mack a couple of times, but mostly that meant Taylor for upside or Hines for value. Philip Rivers threw to his trio of backs a whopping 17 times in Week 1, and their 20 total High-Value Touches easily led any offense through Sunday. Last season, the Chargers averaged the most HVT per game at 11.4. We’ll get to Austin Ekeler and the Chargers tomorrow, but in Week 1 they had fewer HVT than in any game last season. Rivers is the common thread here, and he’s a big reason I made the case people were overlooking Taylor’s reception upside. Both Taylor and Hines can catch plenty of passes in this backfield, and they are both targets if you can get them. Taylor, of course, adds monster rushing upside and could legitimately compete for a top-five finish. Of course, Taylor only played 35% of the snaps even with Mack exiting early, and he caught six passes on just 13 routes run. He might still have to work his way into big snaps with Hines showing out in Week 1. But there’s no reason to be cautious with him and he’s a perfect example where you don’t want to underreact.
On the other side of the ball, fellow rookie James Robinson saw every Jacksonville RB rush attempt, though Chris Thompson ran far more routes. Robinson looks like a high floor option if you’re already hurting at RB, but the ceiling may be a little capped by Thompson in the passing game.
Alright, I’ve waited long enough to mention Laviska Shenault. He’s so sweet. Caught three of four targets including a touchdown, rushed twice for 10 yards, and ran routes on 64% of dropbacks. That role should only increase.
D.J. Chark was the clear No. 1, and Keelan Cole had a surprisingly valuable role, running routes on 79% of dropbacks and leading the team with five targets. Jacksonville ran a league low (through Sunday) 47 offensive plays, in part because Indianapolis had three drives of at least 11 plays and five minutes or longer. Gardner Minshew was fantastic, completing 19 of 20 passes, but he’ll be throwing a lot more than that most weeks.
The Colts threw 46 times against just 22 runs, and I do think they’ll be more run heavy some weeks. Obviously a big part of their gameplan involved Mack. One insight this gave us was Parris Campbell stepping up in a big way, and Rivers looked toward his new slot receiver replacement for old friend Keenan Allen often. Campbell ran routes on 83% of dropbacks and saw nine targets, and looks like a waiver wire version of Jamison Crowder.
Signal: Colts — tons of HVT in the backfield; James Robinson — limited receiving but clear early down workhorse; Keelan Cole, Laviska Shenault — solid Week 1 roles; Parris Campbell — very strong Week 1 role
Noise: Jaguars — 20 pass attempts; Nyheim Hines — hopefully you don’t need me to tell you this was a spike week
Packers 43, Vikings 34
Snap Notes: Aaron Jones: 54%, Jamaal Williams: 40%, AJ Dillon: 6%, Allen Lazard: 87%, Marquez Valdes-Scantling: 54%, Robert Tonyan: 62%, Jace Sternberger: 15%, Dalvin Cook: 58%, Alexander Mattison: 37%, Justin Jefferson: 69%, Bisi Johnson: 63%, Kyle Rudolph: 62%, Irv Smith: 60%
Key Stat: Vikings — 25/22 pass/run ratio despite negative game script
Week 1 often has a narrative element, and these next two games both featured that. But I have to say I wasn’t expected this one. After a long offseason that seemed to be centered around transitioning the offense away from Aaron Rodgers, Rodgers went out and made a statement with 364 yards passing and four scores. Does he suddenly have elite upside again? I have to say I’m skeptical. For starters, his reduced rushing stats have hurt his ceiling in recent seasons, and he rushed just once for 2 yards here. But Rodgers also had a few high-end passing games like this last season, including a ridiculous 429-yard, five-touchdown outing in Week 7. Recapturing the magic in spurts can happen.
Davante Adams was incredible, seeing 17 targets on Rodgers’ 44 passes and catching 14 for 156 and two scores. Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard both looked good as well, each catching four passes for at least 80 total yards and a score. Lazard played nearly every down, running routes on 86% of dropbacks, while Valdes-Scantling was at 66% routes. Assuming Lazard is rostered in a league, Valdes-Scantling looks like a top waiver option in terms of raw output. But because both were productive behind Adams, my concern here is volume. This doesn’t project to be a team that throws 44 times most weeks, and Adams is going to dominate looks.
Aaron Jones shared snaps with Jamaal Williams, who picked up where he left off in 2019 as a thorn in the side of Jones’ passing work. Jones ran 19 routes to Williams’ 15 and saw six targets to Williams’ four. But AJ Dillon’s completely nonexistent role did mean Jones handled the majority of the rush attempts, and his seven HVT were solid. Williams had five of his own, including a pair of green zone touches, and could have some standalone value this year.
Jace Sternberger played 15% of snaps, fourth among the team’s tight ends (depending how you classify rookie Josiah Deguara, who also lined up in the backfield often). Robert Tonyan led the team, followed by Marcedes Lewis, but none were very involved. Sternberger’s droppable if you have him, and this doesn’t figure to be a fantasy-friendly position group.
Kirk Cousins had just 11 pass attempts through three quarters. From a fantasy perspective, there was some hope overall team regression might mean more passing volume, but the Vikings didn’t kick it into high gear until the fourth quarter. Adam Thielen did benefit, recording four of his six catches for 78 of his 110 yards and both scores in the final period, and the Vikings ultimately put up 24 points in the fourth while trying to keep pace with the Packers. But the lack of earlier urgency is concerning for their team pass volume.
Outside Thielen, no one on Minnesota saw more than four targets. Justin Jefferson ran a healthy 84% routes, but Bisi Johnson out-targeted him, and Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith shared the tight end work. This doesn’t look like a great setup for additional receiving value.
The Vikings spelled Dalvin Cook with Alexander Mattison more than drafters would have liked to see, and Mattison had four targets to Cook’s two, and also stole a green zone touch while Cook had three. Cook did run more routes than Mattison, 14 to 11, and had a short touchdown as well as two 2-point conversions. I’m not particularly worried about Cook’s role and expect it will expand as we go.
Signal: Packers RBs — Jamaal Williams had a solid role, but AJ Dillon barely played, probably a net positive for Aaron Jones; Marquez Valdes-Scantling — definitely has a solid role, but don’t go overbidding; Kirk Cousins — threw 14 of his 25 passes in the fourth quarter
Noise: Packers — 44 pass attempts; Dalvin Cook — limited role, fewer targets than Mattison (ran more routes and had a short TD plus two 2-point conversions)
Patriots 21, Dolphins 11
Snap Notes: James White: 30%, Rex Burkhead: 30%, Sony Michel: 30%, Damiere Byrd: 88%, N’Keal Harry: 80%, Julian Edelman: 58%, Ryan Izzo: 98%, Myles Gaskin: 63%, Matt Breida: 23%, Jordan Howard: 15%, Preston Williams: 90%, Isaiah Ford: 74%, DeVante Parker: 37% (injured), Mike Gesicki: 73%
Key Stat: Cam Newton — 15 carries, 75 rush yards, 2 rush TD
The other narrative in question was whether Bill Belichick might want to show off Cam Newton a little bit, and Newton’s versatility was on full display in Week 1 with 15 carries for 75 yards and two rushing scores. Newton didn’t throw a touchdown, but he very well could have — N’Keal Harry fumbled into the end zone and out of bounds for a touchback at one point. The Patriots were also cruising on their first drive when Newton hit Julian Edelman for what should have been a big gain in the middle of the field, only for Edelman to lose control on contact. Newton was sacked on the next play and the drive stalled, but overall he looked good in his debut in a new-look Patriots offense, which centered on Newton’s strengths including plenty of read-options. While they were run-heavy overall, New England could have fairly easily put up more points than the 21 they finished with. It wasn’t a tough matchup, but it was also our first look with no preseason and things went pretty well. Bigger things could be coming from Newton in this offense.
While N’Keal Harry and Julian Edelman were expected to be big parts of the passing game, Ryan Izzo and Damiere Byrd were the surprises. It was a low-volume game with just 19 pass attempts, 13 of which went to Harry and Edelman, while James White caught three. But in games where they throw more, Byrd is a speedster who could have some splash potential in a similar role to Ted Ginn, looking back to Newton’s Carolina days. Izzo ran routes on 77% of dropbacks as well, so his two targets weren’t indicative of a block-first TE — he got out there a bit. Neither Byrd nor Izzo is worth an add right now, but they bear monitoring and might be interesting cheap options in next Sunday night’s one-game DFS contests when the Patriots visit Seattle.
The backfield was chopped up four ways, with Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and White each playing 19 snaps, while J.J. Taylor got nine reps of his own. Michel got the short touchdown late, while White and Taylor gobbled up the only RB targets. This is a backfield that bears monitoring, but I wouldn’t feel good starting any of them in season long next weekend.
Myles Gaskin was the big story on Miami’s side, as the second-year back out of Washington easily led the backfield a year after playing sparingly as a seventh-round pick. Gaskin was a big-time four-year producer in college, but is just an average athlete. Still, he’s a shifty back and looked good in Week 1, rushing for 40 yards on just nine carries and catching all four target he saw for 26 more. Jordan Howard played a very limited role but he did get all three green zone touches, which caps Gaskin’s upside, and makes him a less appealing waiver target. But it also probably isn’t enough to make Howard worth rostering given how little else he did.
DeVante Parker suffered a hamstring injury early, and Preston Williams (7) and Mike Gesicki (5) led the Dolphins in targets, with Isaiah Ford and Jakeem Grant each seeing four. Williams caught just two passes as he started to draw plenty of Stephon Gilmore, but he could play a big role in the coming weeks if Parker misses time. Unfortunately, Miami gets another tough draw with the Bills next week.
Signal: Cam Newton — big rushing potential, passing role should grow; Myles Gaskin — looks like lead back; Jordan Howard — goal-line back
Noise: Patriots — 19 pass attempts (pass attempts will rise); Preston Williams — two catches (saw seven targets, also saw plenty of Gilmore after Parker left)
Washington 27, Eagles 17
Snap Notes: Boston Scott: 56%, Corey Clement: 37%, Jalen Reagor: 59%, DeSean Jackson: 54%, Zach Ertz: 85%, Dallas Goedert: 79%, J.D. McKissic: 44%, Peyton Barber: 41%, Antonio Gibson: 26%, Steven Sims: 83%, Dontrelle Inman: 51%, Logan Thomas: 74%
Key Stat: Carson Wentz — sacked eight times
The battle of the cheap DFS RB plays that did not turn out like many hoped went to Washington. This game was decided on the line of scrimmage, where the Washington front put tons of pressure on the banged up Eagles offense line, eventually sacking Carson Wentz eight times. Wentz played well early, but eventually the hits piled up. The line didn’t do Boston Scott any favors, either.
Washington in 2019 was one of two teams since 2006 to finish an NFL season with fewer than 900 offensive plays. With a new coaching staff taking over, the hope was some additional play volume could spark fantasy value. Their 70 Week 1 plays were well above average and could mean a substantial shift — even getting back to “below average” rather than “astronomically low” would be a plus. Ron Rivera’s staff in Carolina last year played at a reasonably quick pace, and we saw some of that here.
Dwayne Haskins looked solid, though his final line wasn’t all that pretty. Terry McLaurin was a little quiet but ran routes on 100% of dropbacks and will be fine, while Logan Thomas and all his offseason buzz racked up eight targets, catch four for 50 yards plus a score. A converted quarterback, Thomas is a big plus athlete that Washington gave solid guaranteed money to when they seemingly wouldn’t have needed to as he hadn’t done much in his NFL career. They’ve said he’ll have a solid role and he ran routes on 86% of dropbacks in Week 1. He’s a worthwhile waiver option for those who were relying on Blake Jarwin.
Steven Sims ran routes on 94% of dropbacks and was solid, while Dontrelle Inman played a strong role as well, running routes on 75% of dropbacks. These two receivers figure to be the other pieces of Washington’s downfield puzzle.
The backfield was a bit of a mess, with Antonio Gibson starting and seeing significant usage early, but eventually only playing a 26% snap share. Peyton Barber got a whopping seven green zone touches, tied for the Week 1 lead through Sunday, while Gibson got just one. Meanwhile, J.D. McKissic led the backfield in snaps and ran a route on 58% of dropbacks while Gibson did so on just 22%. That’s all bad news for Gibson, who appears to be getting squeezed for High-Value Touches in both areas. That said, Barber totaled just 29 rushing yards on 17 carries, though he did score twice.
Boston Scott actually led his backfield, but there was just nothing there in what quickly became an extremely pass-first gameplan. That was somewhat to be expected with Scott as the lead back, given his skill set, but Scott drew just two targets despite 24 routes, a solid 48% of dropbacks. Scott still looks like a solid PPR option as long as Sanders is out.
The heavy two-TE sets were in full force, with both Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert playing more than 75% of snaps and no Eagles wide receiver breaking 60%. Goedert was the big star, though Ertz saw seven targets, caught a touchdown, and ran six more routes than Goedert to lead the team. Don’t take this as a sign Goedert has surpassed Ertz, but both are very viable options.
The wide receiver rotation was a bit confusing, though both DeSean Jackson and Jalen Reagor wound up running routes on 60% of dropbacks. They look like the lead pairing, and perhaps the Eagles limited both out of an abundance of caution from a health perspective. Both had flashes, but the Eagles just weren’t consistent enough as an offense, particularly while getting shut out in the second half, for there to be a lot of production here.
Signal: Antonio Gibson — squeezed for routes by McKissic and green zone touches by Barber; Washington — strong Week 1 play volume; Eagles — offensive line is a mess
Noise: Zach Ertz — it’s natural to see another TE go off and think that’s a big negative, but Ertz led the team in routes and saw seven targets; Boston Scott — two targets (ran 24 routes)
Look out for the rest of Week 1 tomorrow, including a recap of the biggest signals and noise from all 16 games!