New season, new clothes, new flavor at the ice cream or coffee shop, new streaming series, ROOKIES — we love new things, don’t we? So much better than old things, especially when it comes to certain fantasy football situations.
From humans on down to the simplest bacteria and every species in between, there is a bias toward the new, or novel choice (Novelty Bias). Novelty represents opportunity, it carries no past disappointments, and simply choosing something new activates our dopamine reward system.
Before we get too carried away on that pleasure pathway, I have to remind you that not everything new turns out to be good (green apple Skittles?!?). So, let’s get to some of the surprising performances that hit NFL fields in Week 4, with a focus on how the appearance of some new faces at QB affected the fantasy-relevant skill players.
(More on those Skittles later*)
Kenny Pickett and the Pittsburgh Steelers
It was only a matter of time, of course, but Pittsburgh ushered in the Kenny Pickett era at halftime in Sunday’s loss to the Jets. Pickett now famously did not have a single one of his 13 passes hit the ground.
You know the punchline, but only one of those three interceptions was even partially Pickett’s fault.
He rushed in two scores to put his team in contention, but ultimately the effort came up short. I’m not a fan of the timing of the move, since there was really no rush to get Pickett in there; this is not a win-it-all-now team. The upcoming schedule, starting with Buffalo and Tampa Bay, is likely to fizzle out Mike Tomlin’s "spark" in the eyes and hearts of Steelers fans. I love talented new players getting opportunity as much as the next person — I could be a poster child for the aforementioned Novelty Bias — but I feel like we’re being set up for disappointment with this one.
As for how the promotion affects other fantasy assets, Pickett was a pass-first QB for Pitt in college, throwing for 42 touchdowns while rushing for just five in his 2021 season. So, even though Najee Harris had an awful day in a seemingly favorable matchup with the Jets (18 rushes for 74 yards), Pickett is not the prototypical running QB who should vulture all the rushing touchdowns going forward. The 18 attempts were a season-high for Harris, but he also notched zero targets — and that is the biggest concern with Harris for me. He’s not an auto-start against Buffalo or Tampa Bay.
The news is better for George Pickens, who is probably the one player capable of keeping the hopes high for Pickett over the next couple of weeks. Pickens posted the best half-PPR WR stat line of the Steelers’ young season thanks to Pickett in Week 4 (6/102). Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this team suddenly turns into a fantasy juggernaut with Pickett leading them into this rough stretch of the schedule; his starting isn't even a certainty as of now.
I’m resigned to taking a wait-and-see approach with Najee, Diontae Johnson and Pickens, if your roster can stand it.
Zach Wilson and the New York Jets
Not entirely new, but making his season debut by getting his team the win was nice. He did it in quite a different style than Joe Flacco, too, with a lot fewer pass attempts. Wilson threw passes to five different WR, a TE and an RB. Corey Davis led them with seven targets and caught a touchdown, while Breece Hall and Garrett Wilson were tied with six. Elijah Moore and Tyler Conklin followed with four and five targets, respectively.
That’s a lot of mouths to feed on a reduced diet of pass attempts, and it’s worth noting, this was a pass-friendly game script. Breece Hall’s outlook is still the most favorable here. I think most of us can afford to not start a Jets receiver, but Corey Davis against the Dolphins is kind of tempting, in a DFS tournament kind of way. Conklin continues to be a boring but usable fantasy TE, ranking eighth in half-PPR fantasy points and fourth in receptions among TEs.
Teddy Bridgewater and the Miami Dolphins
Putting the unfortunate circumstances that led Bridgewater to the starting QB job for Miami aside, there were some stark changes in personnel usage from the first to second halves of Thursday Night Football. Though Tyreek Hill remained a constant target (10 catches on 14 targets for 160 yards), we saw Trent Sherfield out-target Jaylen Waddle 6-to-5 with Bridgewater at the helm. All of the Sherfield targets came in the second half, while Waddle did a disappearing act. I’m a big believer in QB-WR camaraderie, and backup QBs tend to have it with backup receivers. The Cooper Rush-Noah Brown connection is another recent example.
Should we worry about Waddle? I think not; Bridgewater is a veteran with impressive decision-making skills and a high completion percentage (66.4 percent) who should establish rapport with Waddle given a week or so of first-team reps. This is a case where I think the talent Waddle possesses outweighs any previous comfort Bridgewater had with Sherfield on the practice field.
Bottom line: Start Waddle and don’t waste your FAAB on Sherfield.
Bailey Zappe and the New England Patriots
We don’t know that this will be a long-term change for New England, but early signs are that Zappe is a solid player. Zappe, after leading a comeback that forced overtime with the Packers, makes an interesting waiver target in competitive SuperFlex leagues or 2QB leagues. We’d love more clarity on how long Mac Jones will be out, but high ankle sprains can be multiple-week injuries. The New England offense isn’t a high-powered one, but in limited time, Zappe outperformed the likes of Baker Mayfield, Trevor Lawrence and Marcus Mariota in Week 4.
The truth is, it’s too early to make a definitive call on Zappe as a fantasy option. However, next week he gets the Lions, so if you require a second QB, I’d make the speculative add.
Quick Hits: Fact
T.J. Hockenson: The answer to everyone’s Sunday morning question, "Which Lions’ wide receiver do I start?" turned out to be T.J. Hockenson.
Why were so many unprepared for this breakout performance (8/179/2)? Hockenson is a great example of Primacy Bias, the cognitive distortion that leads us to over-weight the value of the first item in a series. In Hockenson’s case, the first three items, perhaps. Starting the season as the seventh TE drafted in fantasy leagues, Hockenson disappointed in both usage and production with meager 4/38, 3/26 and 3/18/1 stat lines to begin the season. We forget (or ignore) all the stats and analysis that made him the seventh tight end taken this year because of how he started the season.
While the absence of Amon-Ra St. Brown and DJ Chark in Week 4 certainly helped enable this mega-performance for Hockenson, it is clear that this team is capable of scheming for Jared Goff to work with what he has. While this individual stat line is more likely a fluke, the fact is that we need to reframe our classic view of a hapless (and hopeless) Detroit Lions offense and start whoever is going to be on the field with confidence.
Geno Smith: He has the best completion percentage among QBs so far, and is a magician at keeping drives alive. He has that indescribable (by me, at least) trait that pushes his teammates to go the extra mile to make the play for him. I wish I had drafted him in all my 2QB and SuperFlex leagues, and he’s inching into 10-12 team standard league starting material.
Quick Hits: Fluke
Michael Pittman: On a day when Matt Ryan throws for over 350 yards, the expectation is for his top receiver to have more than three catches for 31 yards. What makes it sting all the more is Mo Alie-Cox catching two red-zone targets for touchdowns, while Pittman caught neither of his. It was a frustrating stat line that we have to put behind us; a definite fluke. But I’d be lying if I said I’m not looking ahead to the Broncos in Week 5 with some trepidation, as Denver has allowed the fewest fantasy points to wide receivers so far this season.
Jamal Agnew: This was a tough matchup for the Jaguars, who were without Zay Jones at the last minute. Even though Darius Slay was hurt during the game, the Eagles did a great job of containing Christian Kirk (two catches on nine targets), Travis Etienne and James Robinson. That left Trevor Lawrence little choice but to throw to Agnew and give him the fluky 4/50/2 stat line that will probably be his best of the season. Jacksonville has shown some strength on both sides of the ball this season, and I fully expect to see Kirk and the running backs bounce back vs. Houston next week. Agnew is not a good add option.
*Oh, and if you’re curious, here’s a list of some other foods that have been made “new and improved” by the producers, but seriously let fans down: https://soyummy.com/recipe-changed. I was pleased to see I was not alone on the Skittles.