Fantasy Football: 3 Things We Learned in Week 1
Perhaps more than anything, fantasy football is a game of adjustments. Season-long fantasy doesn't end at the draft, and smart managers learn to take the trends and data that each week of games offers and apply it to their roster decisions moving forward.
This weekly piece will look at trends from the previous slate of games and determine which trends in snaps, usage, and matchups are actionable moving forward. Lets' dive in and look at some interesting pieces of information from Week 1.
Darrell Henderson is a Workhorse -- For Now
When Cam Akers was lost to a season-ending Achilles injury, the speculation ran wild of who would fill his shoes given that, in 2020, he became a set-it-and-forget-it fantasy back for the Los Angeles Rams.
Only seven running backs had a higher snap count share than Akers (67%) in this last five weeks of 2020. So the question became, would Sean McVey -- with a retooled offense -- give that bell-cow role to another back, or would he institute a timeshare? After the Rams traded for Sony Michel, it was a major blow to the thought that Darrell Henderson would claim that alpha role. Plus, the Rams decided to also carry Jake Funk on the opening roster, so surely we would be looking at a three-headed rushing attack, right?
Not so fast, my friend.
Only Najee Harris (100%) played a higher percentage of snaps than Henderson (94.2%) in Week 1. And, when Henderson was on the field, chances are he was a part of the offense. He received a rush attempt on a healthy 33% of his snaps -- the same number as Dalvin Cook for context. He also was asked to play a major role in the passing offense. Even though he only received one target on the night, that was fluky considering he ran 78% of the routes on the Rams' various passing attempts:
Running back route involvement rate Week 1 leaders:
86% - Najee Harris
80% - Mike Davis
78% - Darrell Henderson
72% - Alvin Kamara
71% - Zeke, Chase Edmonds
68% - CEH
65% - D'Andre Swift, Devin Singletary
64% - Chris Carson
63% - James Robinson
61% - CMC
— Jacob Gibbs (@jagibbs_23) September 13, 2021
The presence of Sony Michel still looms large, but the Rams only had him on the field for three snaps on Sunday night. Is a larger role coming? We would have to assume so, considering Los Angeles gave up draft capital to acquire his services. But this could stabilize as an Akers-like split in favor of Henderson -- seeing roughly 67% of snaps -- with Michel and Funk mixing in. If that is the case, Henderson is easily going to pay off his average draft position inside the fifth round.
Matthew Stafford and the Rams' offense was firing on all cylinders Sunday night, so if it ends up being one of the best in the NFL this year, Henderson could end up as a league-winner as well.
Corey Davis Can Succeed Anywhere
Over the course of the offseason, I had several interactions with people on Twitter about Corey Davis. There seemed to be a general uneasiness about his performance coming into the 2021 season -- primarily focused on his change of teams. On the surface, he was moving to a new team with a rookie quarterback. Yes, that does mean a complete unknown for the offense Davis enters, but it does help the rookie is Zach Wilson, who was talented enough to be the number two overall pick back in April.
Other skeptics also believed that Davis's success in Tennessee was due, in part, to the fact that he had a king at running back and a world-class wide receiver drawing the defense's attention, which allowed Davis to excel in one-on-one coverage. There is obviously no Derrick Henry or AJ Brown on the New York Jets this year, so Davis is projected to be the primary focus of the opposing defense.
This may have been true on Sunday, but it did not seem to matter. Davis ended his day on Sunday with 5 catches on 7 targets for 97 yards and 2 touchdowns -- all of which easily led his team. That performance was good for 26.7 PPR fantasy points, which ranked fifth among all wide receivers.However, the most encouraging thing about the Wilson-Davis connection on Sunday is that it was not a dink-and-dunk game where Davis got it done all with yards after the catch. Here are the top ten receivers Sunday in average targeted air yards, according to NFL Next Gen Stats:
|Player||Avg. Target Air Yards|
But this was not on just long bombs downfield to Davis. Among this group, Davis ranked second in catch percentage (71%) and first in average cushion per route.Therefore, Davis was creating space and converting his opportunities.
Behind Davis, it seems to be a convoluted mess of targets siphoned to players like Elijah Moore, Braxton Berrios, Ryan Griffin, and others. One thing is decided, however. Davis is the alpha receiver, and even in a new system with a rookie quarterback, he looks to be productive. If you grabbed him at his ADP of WR41, congratulations on a top-15 wide receiver in the ninth round.
Sterling Shepard is Worth an Add
What if I told you there were three players in the NFL who have streaks going of at least 20 PPR points in three straight games and two were 100% rostered, while the other was only 39% rostered? That wide receiver would be an immediate waiver wire add.
That wide receiver is Sterling Shepard:
Longest ongoing consecutive games played with 20+ PPR points...
Travis Kelce, Christian McCaffrey - 8
Sterling Shepard - 3
— Rich Hribar (@LordReebs) September 13, 2021
Yes, Shepard has been excellent in his past handful of games, including a dominant performance against the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Shepard saw 9 targets, turning 7 into catches for 113 receiving yards and a touchdown. In addition, he looked like the most capable pass-catcher on the New York Giants roster. Under the hood, Shepard finished with a 25% target share and an average depth of target of 10.2 yards -- all numbers indicative of an elite pass-catcher.
Of course, you do have to consider that Evan Engram sat out this game, Saquon Barkley was limited, and Kadarius Toney is still getting acclimated to the team (two catches for negative two yards). But, even if those other teammates round into form, it would just make the offense more efficient, and Shepard has looked like Daniel Jones' most trusted receiver for the better part of a year at this point.
Somehow, despite this, he is available in 60% in Yahoo leagues. In FAAB formats, place a healthy free agent bid on the wide receiver if you are already in need of a pass-catching replacement, and he should sneak behind key running backs on traditional waivers this week as well.