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. Let's dive in and look at some interesting pieces of information from an exciting 2022 NFL Week 1.
No Clarity Yet in the Green Bay Passing Game
Even before Allen Lazard was ruled out of the game against the Minnesota Vikings, there was plenty of uncertainty around the passing game for the Green Bay Packers. You don't lose the best wide receiver in the NFL and expect it to not have wide-ranging ramifications throughout the entire offense. Add in Lazard's one-week injury, and Aaron Rodgers and company entered Week 1 with a number of question marks.
For those hoping some clarity or chemistry would become evident after the first week, they were sorely mistaken. Here are the receiving numbers from the Packers in their loss to the Vikings.
Yes, what you are seeing is six players between two and six targets, no one with more than five catches, and no one with more than 46 receiving yards. If we filter down to just the wide receivers sans Lazard, the numbers actually look worse.
#Packers WRs target shares:
Romeo Doubs 13%
Christian Watson 10%
Randall Cobb 8%
Sammy Watkins 8%
— Alex Johnson (@a_johnsonFF) September 12, 2022
We have to withhold full judgment until we see Lazard on the field, but this first showing should actually give Lazard's fantasy managers some hope that he can emerge from what was a very lackluster and uninspiring wide receiver room against Minnesota. At times, Rodgers didn't seem to care much about this game, so that is always something to monitor. But it seems that has been this team's identity through the first few weeks in recent years.
They always seem to figure it out as the middle of the season approaches, so this may be an exercise in patience until things are more clear.
Javonte Williams' Usage Looks Promising
One of the hottest debates of the fantasy offseason was just how much work would Javonte Williams get in the Denver Broncos' backfield after they decided to bring back Melvin Gordon. Opinions and speculation ranged anywhere from another 50/50 split much as we saw in 2021, to a 70/30 split in favor of Williams, which would surely catapult him into the top-five running back discussion.
After one week in the books for the Broncos, we have an early look at how the running backs might be handled in Denver, and things are looking up for Williams.
Final numbers (via @NextGenStats):
Javonte Williams: 7 carries, 12 targets, 57.8% snaps, 63.6% route rate
Melvin Gordon: 12 carries, 2 targets, 40.6% snaps, 27.3% route rate
Leveled off a bit, but that's still a super encouraging role for Javonte. https://t.co/ImyUeAljiG
— Jim Sannes (@JimSannes) September 13, 2022
We, of course, would like to see Williams handle more of the carries in the early downs, the short yardage, and all of the goal line work (Williams had two goal-line snaps, Gordon had one). But considering the target share and the almost 60% snap rate, Williams' role should be just fine going forward, especially in any kind of point-per-reception format
Those 12 targets were two more than any other running back in Week 1 (Breece Hall, 10), and Williams' 65 receiving yards ranked second at the position. But perhaps the most encouraging thing about those numbers is that this was largely a neutral game script. The game on Monday night against the Seattle Seahawks was often within a one-score margin, so there was not a long-term need to pass on every down.
If you invested in Williams, you should be happy with what you are seeing so far.
We Were Too Low on Christian Kirk
The top wide receiver target earners on the week had very familiar names in the top five. Davante Adams (17), Ja'Marr Chase (16), Cooper Kupp (15), A.J. Brown (13), and Michael Pittman Jr. (13) have all grown accustomed to oversized roles in their team's offense gameplans. But right after these top guys was Christian Kirk (12 targets), who was one of the most intriguing free agent signings of the entire offseason.
The Jacksonville Jaguars gave Kirk a four-year, $72 million deal -- which could escalate to $84 million -- to come in and be Trevor Lawrence's go-to pass-catcher. After a season where targets were distributed to guys like Marvin Jones, Laquon Treadwell, and D.J. Chark, the Jaguars' management decided they needed someone to come in a be an alpha. They have found him in Kirk.
But more than just overall targets on the week, digging into the numbers shows us that Kirk's first game as a Jaguar could have been even more explosive than it already was (six catches for 117 yards). Kirk not only ranked sixth in targets, but he was third among all wide receivers in air yards and second in red zone targets. He failed to bring in a touchdown, but Lawrence was looking for Kirk all over the field.
The only potential fly in the ointment with Kirk is the possibility that Lawrence is just not a good NFL quarterback. It's too early to tell after one game post-Urban Meyer this year, but Kirk's catch rate suffered a bit on Sunday. Among wide receivers with at least 12 targets, Kirk's six catches ranked last, and Kirk ranked 118th among all NFL pass catchers in pass completion percentage over expectation. Based on the early numbers, Kirk was impacted by the lack of accuracy from Lawrence.
But not to panic yet, as Kirk still dominated the receiving game. With Kirk drafted as the WR40 in half-PPR leagues this year, it appears we were all too low considering the Week 1 usage.