Fantasy Football: 5 Things We Learned in Week 2
The injury bug definitely caught up to the NFL in Week 2.
In addition to the two big quarterback injuries we'll cover today, it seemed as if the entire league was hurting. The New England Patriots offensive line is down to backups and their backups, the Philadelphia Eagles barely made it out of their devastating Sunday Night Football loss alive, James Conner and Damien Williams suffered knee injuries of unknown severity, Michael Gallup is undergoing an MRI for a knee injury, and I'm sure I'm missing others as well.
Between those injuries, some ridiculous breakouts, and some unforeseen happenings, the NFL looks nothing like how we imagined it would just two weeks ago. There's a ton of new information to keep up with, and if you fall behind now, you might not catch back up in time.
With that in mind, here are five things we learned in Week 2.
The Saints Might Be In Big Trouble
Yesterday afternoon, the New Orleans Saints faced off against the Los Angeles Rams for the first time since a botched pass interference call -- as well a Drew Brees interception, lest we forget -- sent the Rams to the Super Bowl and the Saints back home. It was slated to be one of the premier matchups of the week, but fate intervened on behalf of the Rams once again -- this time in the form of a thumb injury to Brees' throwing hand.
Following the injury, Brees was shown being unable to grip a football on the broadcast. He did not return to the game, and Adam Schefter reported this morning that Brees is expected to undergo surgery and could miss up to six weeks.
Whatever happens with Brees, the Saints are in trouble without him. Teddy Bridgewater stepped in for the legendary quarterback and looked less than inspiring. Bridgewater completed just 17 of his 30 pass attempts for 165 scoreless yards. He looked a little lost out there, too, holding onto the ball for an average of 2.89 seconds per drop back -- the fifth-highest rate in the league -- and taking two sacks. According to numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) model, which measures how much value a player adds or subtracts from his team's expected points total, those sacks cost the Saints 2.67 expected points.
It should go without saying that Brees' absence means that our favorite Saints players in fantasy football will take a hit. Michael Thomas drew 11 targets in the second, third and fourth quarters, but without Brees, he managed just 8 receptions for 65 scoreless yards.
Alvin Kamara similarly struggled. He was solid on the ground, but was only targeted twice during that same span.
The prolific pass-catchers on the Saints' offense relied on Brees to sustain their fantasy value and thus take a hit for as long as Bridgewater is the quarterback. But the fringe options -- like Jared Cook and Latavius Murray -- go from flex options to borderline droppable in most fantasy leagues.
Ben Roethlisberger Goes Down
The other major quarterback injury of the week came following a Ben Roethlisberger pass attempt in the Pittsburgh Steelers' close loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The most concerning part of Roethlisberger's injury was that it was a non-contact injury, as Roethlisberger was seen following through on a pass, then recoiling his arm in pain moments later. Big Ben underwent an MRI, and the Steelers' worst fears were confirmed -- they've already announced that Roethlisberger will undergo surgery and is out for the season.
Roethlisberger's injury meant 2018 third-round draft pick and pre-season star Mason Rudolph got a chance to drive the Steelers' offense. The sophomore looked alright in his debut -- more promising than Bridgewater, at least. Rudolph completed 12 of his 19 attempts for 112 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. Like fellow backup Gardner Minshew in his off-the-bench performance last week when Nick Foles went down, Rudolph's interception bounced off his receiver's helmet and into the waiting arms of a Seahawks defender.
Rudolph's promising performance was encouraging for fantasy football. He targeted JuJu Smith-Schuster (six targets) and Vance McDonald (four targets) consistently while pushing the ball downfield -- he averaged 8.3 intended air yards per attempt per Next Gen Stats. He kept the Steelers competitive in a tight game and should hopefully show signs of improvement with a full week of practice as a starter heading into next week. Your Steelers players do take a fantasy hit with Ben out for the year, but they're in a better spot than the Saints' top players.
The Year of the Rookie Receiver
Move over 2014 -- 2019 is becoming the year of the rookie receiver.
The 2019 draft class' receivers balled out in Week 1 and continued their dominant performances into Week 2. Marquise Brown and Terry McLaurin balled out yet again, while Deebo Samuel and Mecole Hardman each popped after relatively quiet debuts.
We once again saw D.K. Metcalf full-grown-man-ing defenders half his size on his way to a top-25 performance (pending Monday Night Football). Parris Campbell scored his first NFL touchdown, Hunter Renfrow led the Oakland Raiders in targets, and Preston Williams looked like the best receiver on the Miami Dolphins.
Rookie wideouts typically struggle to find their footing in the NFL, but it seems that NFL teams are giving their rookies more opportunities to shine this year. Brown saw a huge leap in snaps from last week and led the Baltimore Ravens in targets this week, while McLaurin has seemingly established himself as Washington's top receiving option. Deebo led his team in receptions and yards in Week 2, and Hardman looked like a passable stop-gap for the Kansas City Chiefs while Tyreek Hill recovers from a collarbone injury.
The top of the fantasy football leaderboards looks completely different for wide receivers than we imagined it would heading into the season, in large part due to these breakout rookie performances. Julio Jones and Keenan Allen are currently the only receivers who were drafted in the top 12 of their position are currently ranked in the top 12 in fantasy points in half-point-per-reception leagues.
It's encouraging to see these rookies so active already, but keep in mind the struggles rookies often face to produce consistently. I'm rooting for the 2019 class to take over the NFL, but we should really expect these rookies to regress as the season continues and for studs like DeAndre Hopkins and Amari Cooper to catch back up to them.
The Bengals Have a Brand New Look
Somewhat lost in the Week 1 shuffle was the Cincinnati Bengals' new look on offense in 2019. Yes, we all saw John Ross' insane breakout performance. But driving that performance was new head coach Zac Taylor's approach to offense.
If not for Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury's prolific play calling -- and an extra 10 minutes of overtime play -- Andy Dalton would be leading the league in pass attempts. You read that right -- Andy freaking Dalton. Dalton has attempted 92 passes so far this season. This is a complete turnaround from the Bengals' glacial pace over the previous two seasons.
That ridiculous passing volume wasn't just a result of negative game scripts, either. While they lost big time to the San Francisco 49ers this week, they were extremely competitive in their loss to the Seahawks in Week 1, a game in which Dalton attempted 16 passes on the team's first two drives, while Taylor called just 4 rushing plays during those drives. This offense is going extremely pass-heavy, even in neutral game scripts, and I am here for it.
That pass-volume is a boon for the Bengals receivers. Obviously, we've seen the benefit it's had for Ross, the number one receiver in fantasy football as of this writing. But it should also inflate Tyler Boyd's numbers -- who caught 10 of 10 targets for 122 yards in Week 2 -- for as long as A.J. Green remains sidelined.
Even Tyler Eifert has drawn a surprising 10 targets so far this season, putting him on the map as a tight end sleeper in 2019 -- he's owned in just 9% of Yahoo! fantasy leagues heading into Week 3.
We'd obviously like to see the Bengals' running backs benefit from this as well, but we may have to wait for Joe Mixon to fully recover from a Week 1 ankle sprain before that happens. MIxon has rushed the ball just 17 times thus far but has drawn an encouraging 8 targets despite limited snaps, while Giovani Bernard has drawn an additional 6 targets. Mixon could become one of the safest running back plays in fantasy once he regains his bell-cow role for the Bengals.
This Bengals' offense is trending way up, and it's not just variance. Zac Taylor clearly sees the value of a prolific passing offense, which means these performances are no fluke. Buy in on Bengals offense before the rest of your league notices.
Dalvin Cook Is an Absolute Stud
The Minnesota Vikings were not kidding when they said they wanted to run the ball more in 2019. In Week 1, they ran the ball 38 times while attempting just 10 passes. Things normalized somewhat in their Week 2 loss to the Green Bay Packers, but one thing remains clear -- Dalvin Cook is going to be a beast in fantasy football this year.
Through Week 2, Cook has the second-most touches among all running backs, landing just one touch behind fellow workhorse Christian McCaffrey. His 41 carries are second in the league behind Marlon Mack, and he's still drawing a decent 12% target share in the Vikings' run-heavy offense. He's the RB2 overall in half-point PPR leagues and the fifth-highest scoring player across the entire league on the back of his heavy usage.
It's crazy how good Cook has been with that heavy workload. He's averaging an impressive 6.5 yards per carry and a solid 9.2 yards per target in one of the more efficient starts to a season we've ever seen.
I'm not a huge fan of extrapolating a small sample size to a full season, but let's entertain the idea for a moment. If he plays like this for a full 16 games this season -- something he has yet to do in his NFL career -- his stats would be as follows: 328 carries for 2,120 yards and 24 touchdowns, with 40 receptions for another 368 yards. That would be pretty cool, actually, so here's hoping he can stay healthy for the full season.
Cook has been having an insane start to the 2019 season and could end up being one of the best values in your fantasy drafts this year if the first two weeks have been any indication.