Fantasy Football: 5 Things We Learned in Week 1
It's finally back. The NFL is finally back, and that means fantasy football is back as well.
Week 1 of the NFL season is always a little bit like Christmas. We've seen the gifts wrapped under the tree and have spent probably too much time thinking about what's inside them. We've stayed up to date with beat reporters, roster changes, the NFL draft and the preseason games, and now we get to see the goodies hidden underneath the wrapping paper.
Sometimes teams are exactly what you wanted them to be -- we'll talk about a few of those here today. And then sometimes teams don't quite live up to expectations. But at least fans of underwhelming teams don't have to hide their disappointment like they would with Christmas gifts -- those fans get to complain as loud as they want on Twitter.
We have a massive trove of new presents to play with, and there are still two Monday Night Football games to go. And unfortunately, we don't have time to just bask in the glory of the NFL's return -- we still have to get ready for next week's fantasy matchups.
Today, we'll be covering some of the top takeaways from the first week of NFL action so you can start your preparation for Week 2.
Let's get at it.
Speed Killed in Week 1
If there was one overarching theme to the first week of the 2019 season, it's that speed dominated.
Each of the top seven wide receivers in fantasy this week were speed freaks who torched opposing defenses down the field. Sammy Watkins, who leads the pack in fantasy points heading into Monday Night Football, ran the slowest 40-yard dash of the bunch at his combine back in 2014, and he still blazed a top-notch 4.43-second time.
Seriously. The other top wideouts this week include DeSean Jackson, John Ross, Phillip Dorsett, D.J. Chark and T.Y. Hilton, who each ran their respective 40-yard dashes in the 4.30s or below. It's kind of hard to believe that Watkins would be the slowest receiver in any cohort, but here we are.
Most of these really don't seem to be flash-in-the-pan performances, either. Watkins is in line for a massive workload with Tyreek Hill sidelined with a scary shoulder injury, Jackson had a solid 26% target share in his return to the Philadelphia Eagles, and Hilton looked like he didn't even need Andrew Luck. Ross seemed like a truly featured part of the offense, drawing a whopping 12 looks from Andy Dalton.
However, we probably can't rely on Dorsett to perform like he did last night going forward, especially with Antonio Brown due to make his debut next week. And while Marquise Brown absolutely shredded the Miami Dolphins defense, he did all of his considerable damage -- 4 receptions for 147 yards and 2 scores -- on just 14 snaps. It was an incredible debut for the 2019 first-rounder and all but guarantees a bump in his workload going forward, but he's more of a stash-and-see candidate for fantasy purposes right now.
Chark is in a similar boat. He shined in Week 1, but did so on only four targets. The Jacksonville Jaguars will be relying on the mustachioed Gardner Minshew for the foreseeable future due to Nick Foles' clavicle injury, and though the rookie performed well in his unexpected debut, we can't expect him to prop Chark up every week.
The big takeaway here is that NFL offenses are taking deep shots and testing defenses early on in this season. You should feel a little more confident starting your speedsters each week and shooting for the unbelievable upside they provided in Week 1.
The Arizona Cardinals Are Not Who We Hoped They Would Be... Yet
Through three quarters, the Cards let up 24 points while only scoring 6 of their own. Kingsbury embarrassingly went for a field goal at the Detroit Lions's two-yard line while down 17-0. Murray had multiple passes batted down at the line of scrimmage and threw an interception. But it eventually turned into a tale of two halves -- or a tale of three quarters and then a fourth quarter plus overtime.
The numbers bear this out as well. Through the first three quarters, Murray averaged an abysmal -0.51 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per pass -- numberFire's metric that uses historic down-and-distance data to determine how many expected points a quarterback adds each time they attempted a pass -- while taking four sacks. Each time Murray attempted a pass, he cost his team an expected 0.51 points. Obviously, you want your quarterback to add points, not lose them.
He really turned things around in the fourth quarter, though. The Cardinals scored 18 unanswered points to force the game into overtime, and Murray looked like the stud he was for the Oklahoma Sooners last year. Using that same Passing NEP per pass metric, he completely turned it around, averaging 0.41 Passing NEP per pass in the fourth quarter and in overtime. He completed 20 of his 29 pass attempts during that stretch for 238 yards and 2 scores.
It was a shaky start and a solid finish for the rookie quarterback. His overall performance displayed the potential upside he has as he develops, as well as the inconsistencies that could keep him from being a reliable fantasy option in 2019. But his end-of-game performance wasn't the only reason for optimism going forward.
As promised, the Cardinals offense played fast. Including overtime, the team ran a league-leading 83 offensive plays on Sunday. Excluding overtime, they still ran 68, the fifth-highest number across the league. This offense is going to run a ton of plays this year, and as we all know, volume is everything in fantasy football.
The Cowboys Offense Is as Exciting as Promised
We have to hand it to Kellen Moore, the Dallas Cowboys' new play-caller. He drew up a perfect game plan for his debut. Seriously, Dak Prescott had a perfect 158.3 passer rating in their decisive victory over the New York Giants.
That turned into a studly fantasy performance for Prescott, as well. His 33.4 fantasy points were the second-most in the league in Week 1, landing him behind only Lamar Jackson on the fantasy leaderboards. His 405 passing yards were the second-most of Week 1 and came despite the Cowboys playing in positive gamescripts for the entire game.
The Cowboys' offense looked completely revitalized compared to seasons past. Gone are the days of their stale run-run-pass scripts and in are the days of pre-snap motions and play action. I almost couldn't believe my eyes watching this new Cowboys offense -- for the first time in years, I was excited to see what they had drawn up on each offensive snap.
Per PFF's Steve Palazzolo, Dak ran play action on 43.8% of his plays, the second-highest rate in the league for Week 1. Per NFL's Next Gen Stats, he averaged a solid 8.7 intended air yards per attempt, meaning he was pushing the ball down the field on a regular basis.
The whole offense benefits from Kellen Moore's overhaul of the playbook. Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper each broke 100 yards, and Cooper and Randall Cobb each scored. Even Jason Witten found his way into the end zone after spending the last year in the booth for Monday Night Football.
It's important to note, however, that Ezekiel Elliott played a limited role after spending the offseason away from the team. The team could regress towards their more run-heavy approach of the past few seasons once Zeke gets up to speed. We'll have to wait and see, but if Moore keeps putting Dak in places he can succeed, it may not even matter.
The Rams Backfield Situation Is Pretty Depressing
That's all I want to say about this, but this is important enough for us to cover in a little more depth.
If the rest of the season looks like Week 1, Todd Gurley is going to be a real disappointment in fantasy. Though he played on a backfield-high 70% of snaps and led the squad in rush attempts with 14, it's pretty clear that the Los Angeles Rams do not want to rely on Gurley the way they have in the past. Gurley's one target should also be concerning -- he was featured in the passing game far more often in 2018 than he was this Sunday.
Before we burn everything to the ground, we should note that Brown didn't appear to be the strict goal-line back. The Rams' approach to their backfield still seems to be to use Gurley as their primary back -- hence the heavy snap share and the team-high share of carries. However, Brown will have entire drives to himself to give Gurley a break. In Week 1, it just so happened that Brown was in on both drives that ended in a running back score.
The worst part of all of this was Darrell Henderson's role -- or lack thereof. Despite drawing much hype during the offseason, Henderson was in for just two offensive snaps and had just one carry for no gain. But the context for that single carry is concerning -- the Rams subbed Gurley out at the Panthers' five-yard line and gave Henderson the red zone carry.
It's the smallest of small sample sizes, but it definitely leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of anyone who drafted Gurley this year. There will be weeks where Gurley -- hopefully -- scores like Brown did this week, but Brown is going to have more weeks like the one he just had. Henderson appears to have little to no real role right now, but there's a chance he vultures high-value red zone carries from both backs.
The Rams are still a team that puts their running backs in situations to succeed. But those opportunities to succeed are just going to be a little more spread out this year.
Operation Fish-Tank Is a Go
I couldn't not write about the Baltimore Ravens this week, especially after hyping Lamar Jackson -- your Week 1 fantasy QB1 -- this offseason. They put on one of the most utterly dominant performances I've ever seen, and it was beautiful. I don't want to take anything away from them, but it's still important to note the context in which they scored their 59 points this week -- they played the Miami Dolphins.
It seemed obvious this offseason that the 'Phins were planning on tanking the 2019 season. They spent the offseason trading away veterans for draft picks and currently have one of the most talent-barren rosters we've seen in recent years.
After this week, it seems like head coach Brian Flores is on the same page as the team's higher-ups. Losing by 49 points at home is one way to ensure you have the first overall pick in next year's draft. You have to feel bad for the players on this team -- no one wants to play for a team that has no intention of winning. And you certainly can't fault any of them for asking their agents to inquire about trading them to teams that do want to win.
Obviously, you should curb any expectations you had for any Dolphins players in fantasy football -- assuming you had any expectations to begin with. But the real fantasy gold mine here comes from teams facing the 'Phins each week.
Next week they take on the New England Patriots, which should be fun. Make sure to pick up any defenses facing them for the coming weeks, too, and be aware that you can start pretty much anyone playing them each week.