Friday Walkthrough: Herbert in a Perfect Spot

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Welcome to the Friday Walkthrough, where every week I'll be outlining critical fantasy football context for the upcoming slate of games.

At the end of the article I've included an extensive list of the stats used to write this article, what they are, why they're useful, and where they came from.

Let's get to the games!

Byes: None

Already Played: Giants, Football Team

Patriots at Jets, 1PM eastern, Sunday

Patriots Implied Team Total: 24.5

Mac Jones isn't a fantasy starter, but he should be able to move the ball effectively against the Jets. Jones was QB12 in EPA/play last week. He now faces a defense that allowed Sam Darnold to finish QB16 in EPA/play, after ranking QB35 in 2020. The Patriots were also surprisingly fast-paced in their opener, finishing 5th fastest in situation neutral seconds/play. Jones can't be played on his own yet, but if he's efficient with good play volume there will be fantasy value in this offense.

Outside of a fumble that cost the Patriots a win, Damien Harris showed some very encouraging signs in Week 1. He played 53% of the Patriots snaps, with an 8% target share. In 2020, he averaged 39% of snaps and a 3% target share. Harris was able to increase his receiving role with James White holding steady at his 18% target share from 2020. As hoped, Jones is creating more overall receiving volume, and more targets to the running backs than Cam Newton did.

It remains to be seen if Harris can keep up his Week 1 target share. Rhamondre Stevenson was benched due his own fumble, and may be slated for some of the targets Harris saw against Miami. Even with Stevenson likely in the mix going forward, there is definitely more upside in this backfield than there was last season, and both Harris and White look fantasy viable this week.

Jakobi Meyers, as expected, is the WR1 in New England. While both he and Nelson Agholor ran routes on 95% of dropbacks, Meyers was targeted on 24% of his routes to Agholor's 16%. More importantly, Meyers played 80% of his snaps in the slot, but then kicked outside rather than leaving the field when not in the slot. While Agholor fans can technically claim co-WR1 status, Meyers should have a much easier time racking up targets, as he did in Week 1. The Jets just allowed rookie Terrace Marshall to get targeted on 26% of his routes, while playing 79% from the slot. Coming off a 25% target share, Meyers could be in for a nice day in New York.

Jets Implied Team Total: 18.5

Zach Wilson played very poorly in Week 1, in a game he salvaged somewhat from a boxscore perspective with a late TD drive. But in terms of EPA/play, Wilson was the worst quarterback in the league with the game's outcome in doubt.

Week 1 EPA/CPOE
Week 1 EPA/CPOE

A big part of Wilson's struggles came down to pressure. The rookie faced pressure on 51% of his dropbacks, the third highest rate in the league, and turned in a 31% completion percentage on those plays. Wilson did at last show a knack for big plays while under pressure, averaging 6.8 yards per attempt and 21.8 yards per completion. The Jets' coaches didn't help matters by running play action on only 19% of Wilson's dropbacks, the 26th highest rate.

Wilson's pressure issues may not improve in Week 2 considering the Jets lost LT Mekhi Becton to an MCL sprain. Things also might not improve because Wilson may be to blame. Wilson averaged 2.68 seconds in the pocket on his pass attempts, which was the eighth slowest in Week 1. Wilson takes a long time to throw, has a diminished offensive line and will be facing Bill Belichick in his second career start. He could once again deliver some big plays, but the Jets offense is likely to be a start and mostly stop affair, unless Wilson speeds up considerably in his second start.

Even if Wilson plays better, there's not much value right now in the Jets' backfield. Ty Johnson led the way with 54% of snaps but Tevin Coleman saw 53% of the rushing attempts. Coleman wasn't targeted, while Johnson saw three targets and Michael Carter mixed in for two. Johnson and Carter may eventually hold some fantasy appeal but shouldn't be relied on in any format in Week 2.

Corey Davis looks to be the engine of the Jets offense, at least for now. Davis posted an excellent yards per route run of 2.62 despite Zach Wilson's struggles. Davis' underlying numbers were a little less bullish however. He ran a route on 86% of dropbacks, which isn't terrible, but Elijah Moore was just behind at 84%. With Jamison Crowder and Keelan Cole both out of the lineup, I would have expected Davis to be at more like 95%. His target share of 21% also wasn't dominant. Overall, it was a good day for Davis, but he could easily come back down to earth against the Patriots.

After watching this game, I would have told you (and maybe did on our recap pod) that Tyler Kroft and Ryan Griffen split time. They did not. Kroft ran a route on 70% of routes to just 26% for Griffen. It just felt like they split time because Griffen was targeted on 45% of his routes. I think this likely speaks more to Zach Wilson's preferences than to Griffen's talent level. Kroft, who was targeted on a solid 17% of his routes, has potential for a strong target share against the Patriots. Then again, with Jamison Crowder expected back, perhaps he soaks up more of the shallow targets this week.

Broncos at Jaguars, 1PM eastern, Sunday

Broncos Implied Team Total: 25.5

Teddy Bridgewater was quite good in his Broncos debut, finishing QB4 in EPA/play despite being pressured on the second highest percentage of his dropbacks. Bridgewater was slower getting the ball out in Week 1 than he was in 2020, which likely contributed to his high pressure rate. He has a good chance of speeding up his time to throw in Week 2, but even if not, he faces PFF's 31st graded pass rush. Bridgewater holds very little fantasy appeal on his own, but he's showing promise as a facilitator for the Broncos' major weapons.

Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams split reps evenly in Week 1 and Williams saw 14 carries to Gordon's 11. Gordon had the better day with a 70 yard TD run and three targets to Williams' one. Gordon only ran 19 routes to Williams' 14 however, so it's not clear that he'll have a huge lead in the receiving work this week.

With Jerry Jeudy (ankle) out of the lineup for a significant stretch, the Broncos are likely to mix up their wide receiver deployment. As John Daigle noted on our waiver wire podcast this week, Jeudy was the Broncos' primary slot receiver in Week 1. That role will likely to shift to Hamler, who played primarily out of the slot in 2020. Hamler wasn't a full time player in Week 1, with Tim Patrick running 17% more routes, but Hamler is now likely to "slot" into the higher value role and be close to a full time player. His aDOT is also likely to move down from last week's 21.3 and get much closer to Jeudy's 11.7, which should mesh better with Bridgewater. Hamler is in play as a GPP dart throw against a poor Jacksonville defense.

Courtland Sutton could also theoretically benefit from Jeudy's absence. I think that will eventually be the case, but I'm doubtful it happens this week. Sutton was on the field plenty in Week 1, running a route on 80% of dropbacks. But he was targeted on just 9% of his routes. With an aDOT of 16.3 he looks to be in the dreaded "Teddy Bridgewater's deep threat" role that D.J. Moore muddled through last season. He's also still working back from last year's ACL tear. Given the matchup, Sutton can be started in a pinch, but you likely have better options this week.

Noah Fant ran wasn't a full time receiver in Week 1, running a route on just 66% of dropbacks. I expect that to increase in Week 2 however, as his health improves. It's also possible that Fant sees more time in the slot with Jeudy out. Fant had a strong YPRR of 2.3 in Week 1, and could be in for big week if he benefits from the available slot snaps.

Jaguars Implied Team Total: 19.5

In Week 1, Trevor Lawrence fell well short of the lofty expectations placed on him by NFL scouts. He looked a more like the quarterback the preseason-Twitter-scouts warned us he was. Lawrence finished QB28 in EPA/play, landing between Jared Goff and Matt Ryan in the metric (that's an oof). Worryingly he was only pressured on 25% of his dropbacks, the 7th lowest pressure rate in the league. He was QB21 in yards per attempt, with two interceptions from a clean pocket. Lawrence now faces PFF's third ranked defense in pass coverage, so his struggles will likely continue.

Lawrence may still be able to salvage his fantasy day, and the day of his weapons, on volume. The Jaguars offense operated at the second quickest situation neutral seconds/play. And the Jaguars defense just let Houston do whatever they want. Because the Texans are the Texans, they chose to run. But the Jaguars defense was even worse against the pass in Week 1, and the Broncos could add play volume if they choose to score on the Jaguars through the air instead of on the ground.

James Robinson may be slipping USC brochures under the Urban Meyer's office door after his head coach gave Carlos Hyde nine carries to his five in Week 1. Robinson had a clear lead in snaps (63% to 34%) and targets (12% to 4%), but the usage still had to be maddening. Even if Meyer were to somehow leave, the offensive coordinator would still be Darrel Bevell, the man who played Adrian Peterson over D'Andre Swift. Robinson had four games in 2020 with 80%+ snaps, which is very unlikely to repeat this season. However, Robinson managed to maintain his 12% target share from 2020, even with a reduced snap share, thanks to a pass heavy environment. Hyde looms, ready to ruin his Week 2, but Robinson can still deliver this week as a receiving back with sufficient rushing work in the mold of Chase Edmonds.

D.J. Chark's late summer discount in fantasy drafts never made any sense, and he showed why in Week 1 with a 24% target share and a 46% air yard share. While Chark ran three less routes than Marvin Jones, there is no doubt who the top outside wide receiver here is. If anyone is going to challenge Chark for targets, my money is on Laviska Shenault, who was targeted on 22% of his routes in Week 1. Many of these were short targets on designed plays leading to a low aDOT. This has been correctly noted by Rotoworld legend, all around good guy, and despicable Viska-hater, Josh Norris.

Obviously an aDOT of 4.0 on a gadget role isn't gonna do it. However, the bet with Viska is (and always has been) that he's a highly talented and versatile wide receiver who can mix in low aDOT receptions with intermediate and deep receptions as well. I'm willing to go back to the well on Shenault here, although Chark is the better play given his high target and air yard volume.

Bills at Dolphins, 1PM eastern, Sunday

Bills Implied Team Total: 22.25

Josh Allen was off in Week 1, finishing QB25 in EPA/play after finishing QB5 in 2020. He now moves from the Steelers' second graded pass rush to the Dolphins' 20th graded unit. More importantly, the Bills are still the Bills. Buffalo finished second in situation neutral pass rate and eighth in pass rate over expectation. And the Bills played faster than last year, jumping from 11th to third in situation neutral seconds/play. Allen is set up for a nice bounce-back game in Miami.

With Zack Moss as a healthy scratch, Devin Singletary played 75% of snaps and had a 10% target share. Singletary's role--even in a Bills offense that devalues the running back position--is highly valuable. If Moss is inactive again and the Bills get things rolling as I expect, Singletary could be in for a nice day. If Moss is active, both running backs are far less interesting.

Emmanuel Sanders is the clear outside WR2 in Buffalo. Sanders ran a route on 93% of dropbacks, with Gabriel Davis at just 61%. Davis scored a TD but he wasn't actually much more efficient than the veteran, posting a 1.18 YPRR to Sanders' 1.0. The entire receiving corp was off in Week 1, as evidenced by Stefon Diggs leading the group with a YPRR of 1.25. Still, it's not like Davis made a strong case for more playing time. The Bills will likely run similar deployment in Miami and bet on Allen to look like his 2020 self again. This will make Beasley (who tied Diggs in routes) and Sanders far more trustworthy options than Davis in Week 2.

Dolphins Implied Team Total: 25.25

Sunday should tell us a lot about who the Dolphins plan to be in 2021. Even with Will Fuller missing the game, a pass heavy game environment is on tap. If the Dolphins are planning let Tua Tagovailoa sling it this year, I'd expect them to do it here.

In Week 1, the Dolphins ranked 29th in pass rate over expected and 18th in situation neutral pass rate, finishing just below last year's end of season rate with Tua. There was hope that the passing game would open up in Tua' second season, but we haven't seen signs of that yet.

The Bills might not give the Dolphins a choice in Week 2, if Allen returns to form. And if Miami is in catchup mode things could get fun. The Dolphins finished second in situation neutral seconds per play in Week 1, after finishing 25th last year. Tagovailoa could be leading a fast paced offense in shootout mode, which makes him very startable this week. But he also has a low floor, given the Dolphins reluctance to lean on the pass in Week 1.

Mike Gesicki's fantasy outlook is definitely less rosy than it looked at times last season. In 2020, he averaged a route on 73% of dropbacks, while seeing 67% of his snaps in the slot. In Week 1, he ran a route on 59% of dropbacks, with 56% of his snaps in the slot. Jaylen Waddle can't completely block Gesicki from slot snaps because the tight end splits out to create a modified-4WR set, as well as playing in the slot in 2WR sets. But Waddle had an impact in Week 1, and that can be expected to continue in Week 2. Concerningly, Durham Smythe also ran a route on 52% of dropbacks, and Adam Shaheen is due back this week. Gesicki is more of a traditional tight end than he was last year, with snap competition from other traditional tight ends. He's a clear stay away, even in what could be a high scoring affair against the Bills.

49ers at Eagles, 1PM eastern, Sunday

49ers Implied Team Total: 26.5

Jimmy Garoppolo must not play a lot of fantasy football, because he clearly does not Trey Lance to start. Garoppolo finished QB2 in EPA/play in Week 1 and QB1 in CPOE.

Week 1 EPA/CPOE
Week 1 EPA/CPOE

The Eagles defensive line presents a challenge in Week 2. But Garoppolo posted the fourth fastest time to throw in Week 1 and finished QB11 in time to throw in 2020. He's unlikely to give the Eagles much time to get to him. Garoppolo should be able to move the ball much more effectively against Philadelphia than Matt Ryan did.

Kyle Shanahan created a full four days of fantasy mayhem by healthy scratching Trey Sermon on Sunday. How things play out from here is largely dependent on if Sermon is inactive once again. The 49ers claimed Trenton Cannon off waivers and the kick returner / reserve running back could allow the 49ers to play the Eagles with Mitchell, Cannon and JaMycal Hasty as their active running backs. In that case Mitchell would likely have a similar role to Week 1 when he had 64% of the running back snaps and 68% of the team attempts. But Shanahan clearly revels in making prognosticators look foolish.

Shanahan didn't just bench his presumed starting running back, he semi-benched his only starting caliber wide receiver outside of Deebo Samuel. The result was Samuel exploding for 189 yards and a TD on 12 targets... on only 25 routes. That's a YPRR of 7.56. YPRR is a metric where anything above 2.5 is absolutely elite. What Samuel did last week is mind boggling. Shanahan can pretend that Trent Sherfield is the one keeping Brandon Aiyuk off the field, but there's no way Garoppolo would have locked on to Samuel so completely if that were even remotely true.

George Kittle also continued to be wildly efficient, finishing with a YPRR of 4.88. We need more passing volume here, and if the Eagles can push the 49ers more than the Lions did, we may get it this week. With Aiyuk in the doghouse, Kittle is set up very well for a high target share.

Eagles Implied Team Total: 23.5

Jalen Hurts was very strong in Week 1, finishing QB9 in EPA/play. Week 2 will be a much tougher test. He'll be facing PFF's eight graded pass rush after beating up on a Falcons unit graded dead last. The 49ers also now know that Nick Sirianni plans to use Hurts very differently than he was in 2020. Hurts finished with the second highest aDOT in the league in 2020, finishing behind only prayer-yards legend Joe Flacco. Last week, Hurts had the lowest aDOT in the NFL. Hurts didn't suddenly turn into a dink and dunk passer. Instead the Eagles relied on a high rate of designed short passes, with Hurts throwing a screen on the third highest percentage of his dropbacks.

Sirianni talked up the screen game throughout the offseason, and Philadelphia's Week 1 game plan delivered, although not entirely as expected. Miles Sanders received one screen target, while Kenneth Gainwell received none. Meanwhile, Jalen Reagor (3), Quez Watkins (2) and Dallas Goedert (1) combined for six screen targets. As the Colts offensive coordinator in 2020, Sirianni was a fan of screen passes as well, finishing second in the league. That usage was tilted more to running backs than to receivers however, so I do not expect to see such a high rate of wide receiver screens going forward.

Given that D'Andre Swift took a screen pass 43 yards to the house against the 49ers in Week 1, more running back screens would be an exciting development. Especially since both backs are already being used as receivers. Sanders saw five targets in Week 1 and Gainwell saw three.

Last week's usage makes it harder to buy into Jalen Reagor, who totaled 31 yards on screen passes, including a 23 yard TD. Reagor's usage in the screen game won't disappear going forward, but Week 1 could ultimately be his season high. DeVonta Smith is a much easier play than Reagor this Sunday. Not only was his usage more typical, but he ran a route on 95% of dropbacks to just 69% for Reagor. Smith also dominated air yards with 55%, and was also efficient with a 1.92 YPRR. It was an incredible debut for the rookie and he looks like a strong option again this week.

For Dallas Goedert purposes, Zach Ertz' status will be critical to monitor heading up to kickoff. Goedert saw a 17% target share and a 35% air yard share in Week 1. But he only ran a route on 69% of dropback. Ertz was at 59%. If Ertz were to miss the game we could see 80%+ routes for Goedert, which would make him a very strong play.

Rams at Colts, 1PM eastern, Sunday

Rams Implied Team Total: 25.75

Matthew Stafford arguably exceeded the hype in Week 1, finishing QB3 in EPA/play. Although, the Bears helped him out a ton, finishing Week 1 with PFF's 32nd ranked coverage unit. Luckily, Stafford gets the Colts' 30th ranked unit this week. The Rams are unlikely to waste this gift. They finished with the fastest situation neutral seconds/play in Week 1 and fourth in pass rate over expected. Let the good times roll.

If Week 1 is any indication, the wide receiver / tight end screen is going to be a bigger part of the game plan that it was with Jared Goff under center. The Rams threw a screen pass each to Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and DeSean Jackson, and two more to Tyler Higbee. Interestingly, McVay didn't include Darrell Henderson in the fun--which largely fits with his known tendencies. The 2020 Rams finished 23rd in running back screens.

Henderson will be just fine without screen passes, as long as he's also not seeing Sony Michel on the field. Michel played just three snaps in Week 1 and Jake Funk played zero offensive snaps. That left 49 snaps (94%) for Henderson. Given that Sunday was Michel's first game with the Rams, I'm not surprised that he was worked in slowly. I am surprised with how slowly he's being worked in though. Henderson has significant upside with this role to himself, and after playing efficiently in Week 1, it's realistic to expect him to maintain an 80%+ snap share in Week 2.

Cooper Kupp ran a route on 100% of dropbacks in Week 1, which is very exciting, and not what we've typically seen from him. Robert Woods was at just 67%, while Van Jefferson was at just 85%. What is going on here? Honestly, I don't know. But I know I'm not starting Van Jefferson. Jefferson played out of his mind and was still only targeted on 13% of his routes. Given that the Colts are going to try and limit play volume in this game, he can't be started. The tough call here is Woods. But given that Woods was targeted on 22% of his routes and has long been a full-time player, I'm still planning to start him.

Tyler Higbee had a YPRR of 2.72 in Week 1 and is the piece of the Rams offense that I'm most excited about this week. We don't need huge passing volume at the tight end position, if a player has a complete lock on snaps. And you may not know this because it's a bit of an industry secret, but Higbee played 100% of snaps against the Bears.


Colts Implied Team Total: 22.25

If the Rams offense doesn't deliver a big fantasy day, it may have more to do with the Colts' offense rather than their defense. The Colts know exactly what they have in Carson Wentz. We know this because they are intent on having Wentz run as few plays as humanly possible. In Week 1, Indianapolis finished 28th in pass rate over expected and dead slowest in situation neutral seconds/play as they desperately tried to hide Wentz and his QB30 performance in EPA/play.

In 2020, Nyheim Hines had a 14% target share and Jonathan Taylor was at 8%. In Week 1, Hines was at 21% and Taylor was at 24%. While a 45% target share to running backs is clearly unsustainable, the move from Philip Rivers to Carson Wentz may not have a negative effect on running back passes, as we expected. Part of the reason for this increased target share was an increase in screen passes to the running backs. The screen volume was pretty run of the mill for Hines. He averaged 1.1 screens per game in 2020 and saw two in Week 1. But Taylor only had 13 screen targets in all of 2020 and saw three in Week 1. Designed targets would be a huge boost to his 2021 outlook. With Carson Wentz struggling and still not fully mobile, Taylor should continue to be a part of the passing game plan.

Michael Pittman and Zach Pascal look like true full-time players with T.Y. Hilton out. Pittman ran a route on 98% of dropbacks and Pascal was at 93%. Both players had very poor efficiency, however. Pittman was targeted on just 7% of his routes with a 0.67 YPRR and Pascal was targeted on 10% of his routes with a 1.05 YPRR. In fact, all Colts non-RBs were inefficient last week. I would have a hard time playing any Colts non-RB in Week 2.

Raiders at Steelers, 11PM eastern, Sunday

Raiders Implied Team Total: 20.25

Derek Carr might honestly be a really good quarterback. Having seen Derek Carr play many times, I immediately reject this idea on a gut level, but the numbers say differently. Carr is QB7 in EPA/play since 2019, with a tight end as his top target. And this is despite suboptimal play-calling. Carr was QB23 in play action rate in 2020 and finished dead last in Week 1. John Gruden may be outsmarting himself with his famously complicated playbook, failing to include play-action options that would boost the efficiency of an already surprisingly efficient passer.

Gruden may not pretend to run very often, but he definitely enjoys the real thing. Since 2019, the Raiders rank 21st in situation neutral pass rate. They actually passed more than expected in Week 1. But facing the Steelers' second graded pass rush unit, Gruden is likely to to return to the ground game rather then pass through it like the Bills did. With Josh Jacobs missing this game, that could mean a big role for Kenyan Drake, whose skillset may actually be better suited to an explosive early down role than a rotational receiving role. Drake played only four fewer snaps than Jacobs in Week 1, and saw five targets to Jacobs' two. Although, if you're playing Drake make peace now with Peyton Barber is stealing a TD and more early down work than you care to see.

The Raiders wide receiver situation is bizarre. Bryan Edwards led the group by running a route on 64% of dropbacks, Hunter Renfrow was second at 61% and Henry Ruggs was third at 57%. Contributions from Zay Jones and a healthy dose of fullback Alec Ingold prevented any wide receiver from being a full time player. Edwards certainly looked like he should get more run, and he finished with a strong 2.08 YPRR. But we need to see him getting a full slate of routes before considering him in fantasy. I think we'll get there eventually, but for this week I'm not willing to take a John Gruden trust-fall.

Darren Waller ran a route on a ridiculous 93% of dropbacks and had a truly wild 18 targets. He's going to break tight end premium leagues if the Raiders end up being pass heavy this year.

Steelers Implied Team Total: 26.75

PFF only has one pass rush unit graded higher than the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger will be facing off against them in Week 2, which is probably not going to go great. Roethlisberger was barley pressured by the Bills and still finished with the seventh lowest aDOT in Week 1. Ben simply isn't looking to go deep anymore, and it's not great for the efficiency of the offense, as evidenced by Roethlisberger's QB23 finish in EPA/play. With the Raiders' pass rush bearing down on him, Roethlisberger is going to get even dinkier and dunkier in an outing that promises to be hard to watch.

When a running back is said to be in an "every down role" that's almost always hyperbole. In this case, it's not. Najee Harris played 100% of snaps in Week 1, and he'll likely do it again Sunday, or get very close. Harris was also used as both a rusher and receiver. He saw three targets in Week 1, all of which were past the line of scrimmage, and two of which were at the goal line. On the third, Harris had a ton of empty space in front of him but Roethlisberger missed him high.

Another positive sign for Harris: after finishing fourth in screen passes in 2020, the Steelers continued to be screen heavy in Week 1. Pittsburgh didn't included Harris in those plays, but Diontae Johnson, James Washington and Zach Gentry combined for five screen passes. It's likely that Harris eventually sees some of that work as well. The Steelers' overall offensive environment looks worse than we feared, but Harris' role might be even better than we hoped.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is getting a little bit of run outside of the slot, running a route on 100% of dropbacks with a slot rate of 76%. This has interestingly has opened up some slot routes for Chase Claypool, who played 29% of his snaps in the slot against the Bills. Claypool was the Steelers' most efficient wide receiver with a YPRR of 1.55 in a poor day for the group as a whole. I'm not expecting a big day for anyone in the Steelers' passing game, but I'm definitely curious to see if Claypool's role continues to include slot work.

Bengals at Bears, 1PM eastern, Sunday

Bengals Implied Team Total: 21.5

Joe Burrow is a sleeping giant. Less than a year removed from an ACL tear, Burrow finished QB10 in EPA/play and QB10 in CPOE. Burrow also finished with a 83.3% completion percentage and 8.0 YPA while under pressure. Obviously all of the small sample and major regression caveats apply here... but still... this was nice to see after a preseason filled with "Burrow isn't comfortable in the pocket" hand wringing.

Much of this passing efficiency was hidden in Week 1 by a game-plan designed not to overload Burrow in his first game back. The Bengals finished last in situation neutral pass rate and in pass rate over expected. Facing the Andy Dalton "led" Bears in Week 2, the Bengals are likely to lean on their backfield once again.

Joe Mixon dominated the Bengals backfield in Week 1 in a way he never has in his career. He handled 78% of snaps, and had a 15% target share. This is the profile we're looking for. Mixon is set up for a strong game in Chicago, but he'll actually be even better off when the Bengals start passing more--assuming he maintains such a large target share.

It does seem inevitable that the Bengals will start passing heavily again, because it looks like Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins are both for real. Chase had an absurd 3.37 YPRR in Week 1 and Higgins finished with 2.15. Higgins looked like he was going to break the metric before being carted off with dehydration issues and was quiet in his return. Chase may already be the WR1 here, but with an aDOT of 16.3 to Higgins' 10.2, I'm more comfortable betting on the second-year wide receiver this week--who I was higher on entering the season as well.

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Bears Implied Team Total: 23.5

The Bears continue to live in a fantasy land where starting Andy Dalton over Justin Fields is acceptable life choice. The Bears appear to have real belief in this approach. Unlike the Colts and Giants, who seem very aware of who is under center, the Bears are running plays like they have a league average starter, finishing 16th in pass rate over expectation. Dalton rewarded them by finishing QB26 in EPA/play.

Do I actually think the Bears should run more just because they're starting Dalton? Of course not. The Bears should make optimal play-calling decisions even in the midst of a historically sub-optimal lineup decision. I'm just tilted that the Bears truly do not seem to realize they have a better option ready and waiting. Perhaps they'll wake up if the Dalton struggles again against the Bengals defense, ranked 12th in EPA/play allowed.

David Montgomery may be just as antsy to see Fields in the lineup as I am. Montgomery has been completely stripped of the receiving role that he inherited from Tarik Cohen in 2020, with that work going to Damien Williams instead. Montgomery had just a 3% target share in Week 2, with Williams at 13%. When Fields takes over he may be able to create enough rushing efficiency for Montgomery to make him a strong fantasy play. For now he's a TD or bust option in an Andy Dalton led offense.

Last year you could tell the Rams offense wasn't operating like it wanted because the "deep threats" in the offense had shallow aDOTs of around 10. The Bears are taking that red flag to a new level. Darnell Mooney, Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd--clear-cut deep threats--had aDOTs of 7.0, 7.5 and 3.7. Allen Robinson had an aDOT of 4.3 and finished with a YPRR of 0.81. Dalton is a true talent minimizer at this stage of his career. We have to keep riding this out with Allen Robinson, who ran a route on 96% of dropbacks with 26% of targets and 25% of air yards, but he's the only piece of the passing offense I'm willing to touch this week.

Texans at Browns, 1PM eastern, Sunday

Texans Implied Team Total: 17.5

No team surprised more than the Texans in Week 1, opening with a win in what looked like it could realistically be a winless season. They dominated the Jaguars so thoroughly that despite passing 33 times and rushing 41, they perfectly met pass rate expectations. As heavy road underdogs to a Browns team that just hung with the Chiefs, the Texans are likely to be forced out of their preferred script. If Taylor looks like he did in 2020 when he finished QB54 in EPA/play, instead of like he did last week in a shocking QB13 finish, the Texans' inability to hide him will make for a ugly outing.

Mark Ingram played 46% of snaps in Week 1 with David Johnson at 28% and Phillip Lindsay at 26%. The easy victory over Jacksonville may have been a perfect storm for Ingram. Assuming the Texans aren't able to dictate script, we're likely to see less Ingram and more Lindsay, and potentially quite a bit more Johnson.

Brandin Cooks ran a route on 95% of dropbacks and secured 22% of targets and 43% of air yards. He had an aDOT of 19.1 however, so his fantasy value is going to be very hit or miss. This week, the Texans are up against PFF's 20th graded coverage unit in a game where they should be passing. So this looks like a pretty decent week to play Cooks, if you're into that sort thing.

Nico Collins isn't on the radar this week, but he ran a route on 73% of dropbacks, so he might eventually be fantasy relevant.

Browns Implied Team Total: 30.5

Baker Mayfield finished seventh in EPA/play in 2020 and picked up right where he left off, finishing QB8 in Week 1. The Browns didn't fully press their advantage through the air however, finishing 26th in pass rate over expecated and 25th in situation neutral seconds/play. Of course, in Week 1 the Browns were trying to keep Patrick Mahomes off the field by running and slowing down the game. Kevin Stefanski did not lose sleep this week at the thought of creating additional Tyrod Taylor possessions by scoring quickly.

We always learn a lot Week 1, most of it directly contrary to what we assumed would be the case. So it's kind of nice to see that Nick Chubb's role is exactly what we thought it would be. He did get used on a screen pass, which was nice to see, considering he only had five screen targets in all of 2020. But, it was only one of two total targets on the day. This is the backfield you think it is. Fortunately, the Cleveland offensive line is what we thought it was as well. Widely considered an elite unit entering the season, they currently rank first in Adjusted Line Yards. If the Texans revert to who we thought they were pre-Week 1, this will be one of Chubb's better setups of the season.

Everyone expected the Browns wide receiver breakout to be Donovan Peoples-Jones, but it was Anthony Schwartz who went off for 3-69 on five targets. Clearly the Browns were surprised as well, given that they had Peoples-Jones run a route on 84% of dropbacks to just 55% for Schwartz.

With Odell Beckham already declared out, I think Schwartz's emergence could be great news for Jarvis Landry. Landry now has two deep threat wide receivers on the field with him, allowing him to work underneath and in the intermediate areas--as he did last week on his way to 2.63 YPRR. I expect the overall passing volume to be too low to consider Landry in small field DFS tournaments, but he's quite startable as a FLEX option.

Saints at Panthers, 1PM eastern, Sunday

Saints Implied Team Total: 24

Jameis Winston played lights out last Sunday, leading the league in EPA/play and finishing eighth in CPOE. It could have been an even bigger day, but New Orleans was slow paced (24th in situation neutral seconds/play) and run heavy (30th in pass rate over expected). This didn't happen by accident of course; the Packers didn't show up to play on Sunday. Given how bad the Packers were, it's tough to know how much we can buy into Winton's incredible day or the Saints approach in general. I'm not ready to buy Winston as a star, but it's also a safe bet that the play calling will be more fantasy friendly going forward.

This week the Saints face the the top ranked defense in EPA/play allowed. However, the Panthers' standout performance came against Zach Wilson and a backfield made up of Ty Johnson, Tevin Coleman and a fourth round rookie. We'll see how they fare against Alvin Kamara, who looks set up for an incredible season. Kamara saw 73% of the Saints snaps in a blowout win. He averaged 65% in 2020. He also saw a 20% target share in Week 1, slightly below his 22% in 2020... but again, in a blowout win. Kamara's only real paths to failure in this game are if the Saints defense shuts down the Panthers like it did the Packers, or if the Panthers defense is legitimately awesome. If we hit a simple two-leg parlay that 1) the Panthers simply beat up on a rookie quarterback last week and 2) Carolina's offense can push the Saints significantly better than the Packers did, the payoff is a huge Kamara performance.

Marquez Callaway ran a route on 88% of dropbacks, which led the Saints. He also moved around the formation, with 32% of his snaps in the slot. It was everything we were hoping for in terms of his role. The problem, was that he was only targeted twice on his 21 routes. Given his route profile, I feel comfortable betting on Callaway to eventually emerge as the Saints' WR1. But given his aDOT of 19.5, it's hard to feel good about starting him this week. He's more interesting for DFS purposes. We want to be betting on volatile pieces for spike weeks in this offense if Winston is who he looked like against the Packers. After failing as major chalk in Week 1, Callaway looks interesting in GPPs, with the field likely off him.

It was a weird summer for Adam Trautman, who was a buzzy breakout candidate, got hurt, and then saw all of his buzz gobbled up by Juwan Johnson. It looks like we should have stayed with Trautman, who ran a route on 75% of dropbacks and led the Saints in target share (26%) and WOPR (0.5). He's my preferred Saints tight end play despite Juwan Johnson getting in the end zone twice last week.

Panthers Implied Point Total: 20.5

Sam Darnold was solid in Week 1, and the Panthers half embraced the Darnold experience. They didn't try to hide him as a passer, finishing with a pass rate 4% over expected. But they played slightly slower than last year, unwilling to go full Darnold. Facing a Saints defense that allowed the second lowest EPA/play in Week 1, I doubt we'll see the Panthers speed things up this week.

Christian McCaffrey isn't not a running back, but running back is also the wrong term for what this man is doing on the football field. In Week 1, McCaffrey had an absolutely ridiculous 27% target share, which led the team. McCaffrey played only 3.3% of his snaps in the slot, so his usage could be interpreted as a Darnold check-down masterpiece. That's not quite right though. Although McCaffrey's routes started behind of the line of scrimmage, five of McCaffrey's nine targets came past the line of scrimmage. He was essentially a late releasing slot receiver.

CMC
CMC

Three of McCaffrey's targets were also screens, benefitting from a Carolina game plan that nearly doubled screen play utilization from 2020. With this combination of short area usage and screen passes, McCaffrey's receiving workload... might be close to sustainable. He won't finish with a 27% target share of course, but even with modest regression he can still break fantasy football. Even in a tough matchup with the Saints, he has major blow up potential.

D.J. Moore also benefited from additional screen work, seeing two of his eight targets on screens after seeing just five screen targets in all of 2020. These layup targets could unlock a superstar-breakout if they continue to be paired with a well-rounded target profile. Overall Moore's usage was similar to 2020, seeing a mix of targets at all depths. Fortunately, he was quite a bit more effective on his intermediate and deep targets than in 2020, jumping from a YPT of 18.5 to 28.5. It's possible that Darnold has unlocked some additional efficiency here, but I'm more inclined to chalk this up to a good matchup against the Jets, and it being a one game sample. Still, Moore offers some contrarian appeal in Week 2. If the Packers Week 1 offensive collapse had more to do with Green Bay than New Orleans, and Moore continues pairing screen usage with better deep ball efficiency, it could be a very nice week.

Vikings at Cardinals, 4:05 PM eastern, Sunday

Vikings Implied Team Total: 23.5

The Vikings were pushed off Mike Zimmer's preferred script in Week 1, passing 50 times with 22 rushing attempts. Zimmer did not enjoy the experience, operating at over 37 seconds between plays in neutral game script. Only the Colts were slower Week 1 and the Vikings were five seconds slower than the slowest team from 2020 (Green Bay). Week 2 offers another dose of bitter passing medicine. Zimmer will likely let the Vikings throw the ball as needed to keep up with the Cardinals on the scoreboard, but he's likely to keep things as slow as possible once again. There's also a chance that the Cardinals fourth graded pass rush goes off again and limits both play volume as passing efficiency.

If Zimmer somehow gets his desired run-heavy game script, Dalvin Cook will be the main beneficiary. But Cook made a case in Week 1 that he can handle all game environments. With seven targets and a 16% target share, Cook looks at first glance to be more game script independent. Unfortunately, Cook ran a route on only 49% of dropbacks, and per Dwain McFarland's Utilization Report he only played on 50% of long down and distance snaps and 47% of 2-minute snaps. Cook isn't at risk of being totally phased out of this game, but we'd prefer the Vikings to avoid true comeback mode. Assuming they can do that, Cook should be in for a very nice outing, with the Vikings a small underdog in a game with a decent total.

Adam Thielen had a very strong day with 9 receptions for 92 yards and 2 TDs. Justin Jefferson also scored a TD, but he was called down short of the goal line. Zimmer challenged the play but it could not be overturned because this year the NFL has placed a replay emphasis on being wrong.

Jefferson has a good chance of scoring again this week, with the Cardinals likely to drag the Vikings into a pass heavy script. Thielen also looks set up for a strong week, with his goal line role remaining firmly established.

Cardinals Implied Team Total: 27

The Cardinals weren't operating at their fastest in Week 1, finishing 6th in situation neutral seconds/play. But they didn't really need to be with their defense pressuring the Titans into an existential crisis. They have some room to play faster if the Vikings offense comes to play, and a faster Cardinals offense is a tantalizing thought. Kyler Murray was terrific in Week 1, finishing QB5 in EPA/play and QB7 in CPOE. He faces a Vikings defense that ranks 29th in coverage grade.

The Cardinals nearly doubled their 2020 screen pass rate in Week 1. Six of the seven total screens were split evenly between Chase Edmonds and Rondale Moore. Christian Kirk received the seventh. Edmonds and Moore combined for 92 yards on their screen targets, so it would make sense for the Cardinals to continue utilizing both players in this capacity going forward. This should serve as a small boost to each player's floor.

As far as ceiling in this backfield, that also looks to be with Edmonds. Edmonds played 58% of the snaps, had a 12% target share and, critically, received a carry within the 10 yard line--the second of his career. Conner also received a carry inside the 10, with Murray running in a short TD as well. If Conner is losing goal line work to both Edmonds and Murray, it's tough to play him with any confidence. Edmonds' clear lead as a receiver (Conner was not targeted in Week 1) makes it much easier to bank his receiving floor and bet on a TD.

Christian Kirk was the story of Week 1 with two touchdowns, but his routes were way down from 2020. Kirk ran a route on 87% of dropbacks last season but was at just 61% in Week 1. The silver lining is that Kirk's role in the offense shifted dramatically. After playing just 16% of his snaps in the slot in 2020, he played 96% of his snaps there in Week 1. A.J. Green held down Kirk's previous spot on the outside. With a YPRR of 0.78 he also held down the offense. Luckily, Green won't be as bad for the offense as Larry Fitzgerald was last year, even if Green himself might be worse. The slot roles in this offense are highly valuable. So Kirk soaking up routes there can help make up for a more limited role overall, and can help keep the offense moving.

Still, Kirk is hard to trust against the Vikings because he's being squeezed by Rondale Moore. Moore ran a route on only 39% of dropbacks, but was targeted on a ridiculous 36% of his routes. Despite an aDOT of just 4.0, he delivered a 13.6 YPT. Moore's role should be expected to increase, and quickly.

Falcons at Buccaneers, 4:05 PM eastern, Sunday

Falcons Implied Team Total: 19.25

Woof. The Falcons were not what we were hoping in Week 1. Matt Ryan ranked behind Andy Dalton and Jared Goff in EPA/play, finishing QB29. He was QB28 in CPOE. The Falcons were very run heavy, ranking 29th in pass rate over expected, although they were losing so badly that it's hard to know if that was reflective of their game plan or their desire to go home. There was at least a silver lining in their pace of play, with Atlanta finishing fourth in situation neutral seconds/play. But if Buccaneers score points as expected, an uptempo offense isn't going to save the Falcons if they fail to embrace a comeback game script once again.

Week 1 was also not the debut we expected for Kyle Pitts. He managed a YPRR of just 1.0 and a YPT of just 4.4. Pitts could be in for a bigger day in Week 2, however. Despite being a rookie tight end he ran a route on 79% of dropbacks in his debut, tying Mike Davis and Russell Gage for second on the team. Pitts was also targeted on 22% of his routes, a very strong number for a tight end. The underlying theory of this play is intact--Pitts is the Falcons' no. 2 wide receiver. If you're a believer in his talent, stick with him in Week 2.

Calvin Ridley did not benefit from playing alongside a rookie tight end instead of Julio Jones. Coming off a YPRR of 2.44, Ridley posted just 1.34 in Week 1. His aDOT was also down considerably, from 15.2 to 11.3. Ridley's deep role in the offense wasn't replaced by anyone... he continued to have the deepest aDOT on the team. The Falcons simply didn't challenge deep. That may be difficult to fix in Week 2 if the Buccaneers get to Matt Ryan the way the Eagles did. Ryan faced the 10th highest pressure rate in Week 1. It's difficult to have a ton of confidence in Ridley because his upside scenarios require the Falcons to look completely different than they did in Week 1. But if Smith copies the Cowboys' Week 1 game plan, Ridley's 25% target share and 54% air yard share from last week are a reminder of how strong his Week 2 could be.

Mike Davis' role was low-key everything his backers were hoping it would be. He played 75% of snaps and saw 20% of targets, finishing with 20.7 expected PPR points. He left 10.5 points on the field, however, which delighted his many doubters. Against the Buccaneers he's very unlikely to be efficient as a rusher but he at least has potential to rack up receptions. Davis ran a route on 79% of dropbacks compared to 21% for Cordarrelle Patterson, so he has a much clearer lead on the former wide receiver in the passing game than expected. Unfortunately, Davis' receiving work is likely to be of the dump off variety rather than to include screens. The Falcons ran exactly zero screens in Week 1 on 39 dropbacks. This fits with Arthur Smith's tendencies; the Titans were 30th in total screen passes in 2020. Schemed receptions could help improve Davis' poor YPRR of 0.74 from Week 1. But with those unlikely, his only real out this week is high volume check down passes.

Buccaneers Implied Team Total: 31.75

The Buccaneers defeated Dallas in an extremely pass happy environment. Dallas was the only team with a higher pass rate over expected in Week 1 than Tampa Bay. But the Buccaneers could look to switch things up against Atlanta. The Falcons were just gashed by the Eagles' rushing attack, which led the league in rushing EPA/play. Tampa Bay doesn't have Jalen Hurts, and so won't come close to matching what the Eagles did in Week 1, but the Falcons run defense might be a problem, and we could see a more run heavy game plan in Week 2.

If so, the question will be which Tampa Bay running back has not made a critical error, or at least made one less recently. Ronald Jones is reportedly a starter once again, presumably because benching Rojo doesn't hit quite the same for Arians unless it occurs mid-game. Arians has since declared that all of his running backs are starters, so take Jones' official starter status for what it's worth (nothing).

Leonard Fournette had the backfield mostly to himself in Week 1, and he did what you would expect: failed to meet expectations. Fournette left 4.4 of his 15.3 expected points on the field and turned in a YPRR of just 0.93. Nevertheless, he's the running back to start here if you have to pick one. Ronald Jones is the best rusher by a mile, but his grip on playing time is too tenuous to trust this week. (Full disclosure: there's a 100% chance I play Rojo in a GPP.).

Antonio Brown is going to have nice role in this offense. But he's going to make predicting the Buccaneers wide receivers a nightmare on week to week basis. Brown ran a route on 72% of dropbacks and had a 3.36 YPRR. Chris Godwin is coming off an even better Week 1. Mike Evans ran a route on 96% of dropbacks and still has a huge ceiling. A player with Brown's efficiency would normally have a shot of his role growing, but that seems very unlikely to occur this week. Instead I'd rather bet on Mike Evans to bounce back or Chris Godwin to keep rolling.

Titans at Seahawks, 4:25 PM eastern, Sunday

Titans Implied Team Total: 23.75

From 2019-2020 Patrick Mahomes led all quarterbacks in EPA/play... Ryan Tannehill was second. The Tannehill / Arthur Smith combination was magic. Through one game with Smith in Atlanta, the magic is gone, with Tannehill at QB24 in EPA/play. Every quarterback has bad games, but the 2021 Titans also shifted dramatically away from two key factors that made the 2019-2020 Titans so effective and fantasy friendly. First, they drastically slowed down their pace, taking nearly eight additional seconds between plays compared to 2020, moving from third to 30th in situation neutral seconds/play. Second, they abandoned play action, arguably the most fundamental element of their Tannehill-era identity. Tannehill led the league in play action pass rate in 2020. Last week he finished ahead of only Derek Carr.

Derrick Henry struggled to get going last week, which may have contributed to the lack of play action. Hopefully new offensive coordinator Todd Downing does not believe he needs to establish the run before using his quarterback's superpower--because there is no statistical evidence that he needs to do that. If that is Downing's philosophy however, the Titans could be in trouble once again. The Seahawks allowed the Falcons to rush for the fifth lowest EPA/play. Henry will present a far bigger challenge than Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson, but given that the Seahawks offense can also push the Titans out of a run heavy script, it's not an ideal matchup for Henry. Henry played on 0% of long down and distance snaps and 0% of 2-minute snaps in Week 1, so he's as game script dependent as ever, which comes with a low floor on a struggling offense.

A.J. Brown saw only four targets in Week 1, but that was good for a 21% target share and a 37% air yard share. Brown, like Henry, has the same role we're used to and just needs this offense to get going again. Julio Jones didn't help the offense much against the Cardinals, posting a YPRR of just 0.85. He was excellent in 2020 when healthy however, so I'm viewing his Week 2 outlook as, once again, dependent on the offense as a whole finding its footing.

Seahawks Implied Team Total: 30.25

One week into the Shane Waldron era, things are coming together as hoped. The Seahawks' pace jumped from 22nd to 12th, and Russell Wilson was highly efficient with the seventh highest EPA/play. Wilson has always been an efficient passer, so this shouldn't be a huge surprise, but it's still nice to see after Seattle struggled mightily down the stretch last year. Pete Carroll also can't complain, as the Seahawks passed only 1% more than expected, finishing 18th in pass rate over expected. This feels like a sustainable formula, both in a statistical sense, and in a Carroll not freaking out and ruining it sense.

As far as the run game goes, it looks to belong to Chris Carson. Although, his 78% snap share was likely inflated due to a Rashaad Penny calf injury. We'll likely see Alex Collins eat into Carson's workload this week, after being a healthy scratch against the Colts.

Tyler Lockett went off for a huge game, but DK Metcalf is shaping up to be the biggest beneficiary of the new offense. Metcalf was truly pigeonholed last year, running just a handful of routes. His Week 1 targets showed promising variety.

DK Metcalf
DK Metcalf

Metcalf moved around the formation as well, playing 29% of his snaps from the slot, while running a route on 100% of dropbacks. He was also efficient with a 2.14 YPRR. Lockett played a similar amount in the slot (33%) and was even more efficient with a YPRR of 3.85. Both Lockett and Metcalf are great plays in Week 2, but I still view Metcalf as having the higher ceiling.

Gerald Everett got a TD in Week 1 but I don't trust him this week. He saw a target on only 12% of his routes, while running less routes and seeing fewer targets than Will Dissly.

Cowboys at Chargers, 4:25 PM eastern, Sunday

Cowboys Implied Team Total: 25.75

Dallas broke situation neutral pass rate in Week 1.

SN pass rate
SN pass rate

This reportedly resulted from Dak Prescott repeatedly checking out of run plays, which honestly warms my heart.

Moving forward, we can't expect Dallas to be this pass heavy. They they finished with a pass rate 22% higher than expected, which dwarfed the pass happy Chiefs (9%) and Bills (4%) in Week 1. Dallas is still likely to prefer the pass in against the Chargers, but not at the rate they debuted with.

If the Cowboys do shift away from the pass, Ezekiel Elliott, and it pains me to write this, could be an absolute smash this week. Last year in Weeks 1-5, Elliott had an 88% snap share. Following Dak's injury his snap share dropped to 64%, coinciding with an expanded role for Tony Pollard. In Week 1, he was nearly where he was in early 2020, seeing 83% of snaps. Elliott only saw a 4% target share, which is a major concern. But he ran a route on 71% of dropbacks, so he has upside for a large target share if things break right. It looks like Elliott may end up chalky this week in DFS, which means I'll be fading him. He has potential to ruin my week.

Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb are much scarier DFS fades, and truly joyous season long starts. Cooper ran a route on 94% of dropbacks in Week 1, but Lamb was only at 76%. With Michael Gallup out this week, Lamb is a full time player or we riot.

Lamb was targeted on an absurd 32% of his routes against Tampa Bay, so if he finally runs a full slate of routes, he has unreal fantasy upside. Cooper has a high ceiling in his own right, but I'd rather bet on Lamb this week if picking only one.

Chargers Implied Team Total: 29.25

The Chargers offense was excellent in Week 1, but not quite as efficient as I would have thought from watching the game. Herbert was QB17 in EPA/play and QB17 in CPOE. But Herbert was able to sustain solid efficiency on a large sample. The Chargers were the ninth fastest offense in Week 1, which helped boost play volume. They also had a 10% pass rate over expected, which was fifth in the league. There were eight quarterbacks with 40+ dropbacks in Week 1, only Prescott, Brady, Carr and Herbert were able to pair that volume with efficient play.

The Cowboys offer a strong chance to repeat that dynamic. With the highest total of the week and two fast-paced and pass-first offenses, this game has major shootout potential. In changing opponents from Washington to Dallas, Herbert is also swapping out PFF's seventh graded pass rush for its 29th. And Herbert is again facing a bottom 10 coverage unit. It's a perfect setup.

Herbert's good matchup is excellent news for Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Both wide receivers had a 27% target share in Week 1 and were targeted on 30% and 29% of their routes, respectively. We know that Allen is going to be a smash when Herbert goes off. What's more interesting is that Mike Williams saw his aDOT drop to 10.0 in Week 1, which is much more conducive to consistent production than the 15.8 aDOT he operated at last season. Both players are strong starts this week.

Austin Ekeler got four carries inside the 10 yard line in this game, which was borderline shocking. The headline has become that he wasn't targeted, but this is the wrong headline. Ekeler is an incredible receiving back and his coaches know this. His offensive coordinator was on the Saints last season, who not only targeted Alvin Kamara heavily, but did so with designed plays, finishing fourth in running back screen passes. In an uptempo, high volume affair with the Cowboys, I expect Ekeler to return to a valuable receiving role. If his role now includes significant goal line work as well, Ekeler could easily be the play of the week.

Chiefs at Ravens, 8:20 PM eastern, Sunday

Chiefs Implied Team Total: 29

Patrick Mahomes continues to be incredible. In Week 1 he was QB6 in EPA/play and QB4 in CPOE in a comeback win against the Browns. The Chiefs, as expected, were pass heavy. Unexpectedly though, they played slow, finishing 27th in situation neutral seconds/play after finishing seventh in 2020. Given the lack of turnover within the Chiefs offense, I'm expecting them to return to a more uptempo pace this week.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire will be a major beneficiary of more pace, provided he's on the field. While Edwards-Helaire played 73% of snaps overall, he only played 14% of long down and distance snaps and 40% of 2-minute snaps. He's still in a clear lead-back role, but given that he was inefficient in Week 1 (like he was as a rookie) Edwards-Helaire can't really afford to cede snaps that could lead to targets.

Tyreek Hill had the headline fantasy performance from the Chiefs' win, and the underlying numbers are arguably even more impressive than his fantasy production. With a day like Hill's 11-197-1, you would expect that he was hyper efficient. He was, of course, efficient--but it was his opportunity that was off the charts. Hill had a 45% target share, a 74% air yard share and was targeted on 39% of his routes. Every one of those numbers is absolutely nuts. Hill had 15 targets with an aDOT over 15 and paired them with high-end efficiency. That... doesn't happen. Not unless you're an elite wide receiver drawing targets from Patrick Mahomes. Hill is set up for another blow up game against the Ravens, in what is starting to look like a very fun season for his fantasy managers.

Mecole Hardman had a quietly strong Week 1. He had terrible 0.56 YPRR, so maybe I'm setting the bar too low. But Hardman has always had trouble getting on the field consistently, and he ran a route on 83% of dropbacks. He's hard to trust in season long leagues but has some upside appeal in this matchup.

Ravens Implied Team Total: 25.5

Lamar Jackson didn't have his best game on Monday night, finishing QB21 in EPA/play and QB24 in CPOE. He faced the sixth most pressure on the week, but that was partly was a result of his own play. In 2020, only Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield had a longer time to throw than Jackson. In Week 1 Jackson again finished as QB4 in time to throw, which is going to lead to pressure. The Raiders didn't help matters with a very strong pass rush that PFF graded as the best of Week 1. The good news is that the Chiefs just faced Baker Mayfield, who had the sixth slowest time to throw in Week 1, and their pass rush came away graded 25th. Jackson is unlikely to get the ball out quickly, but the Chiefs are unlikely to punish him for that the way the Raiders did.

The Chiefs defense also had PFF's 32nd graded rush defense in Week 1, and allowed the sixth most rushing EPA/play. The Ravens rushing pecking order is a total unknown. Ty'Son Williams lost playing time to Latavius Murray as the Raiders game went on, and Devonta Freeman was elevated to the 53-man roster this week. Only zero RB teams should be wading into these waters. The good news is that the rushing attack should be more efficient than in Week 1, which should help set up the passing game.

If a Ravens pass catcher ends up being the story of the game, my money is on Mark Andrews. Andrews ran a route on 95% of dropbacks, which is pretty crazy for a tight end. He's fully become a wide receiver with tight end eligibility. In Week 1, he was a really bad wide receiver, with a YPRR of just 0.54. But Andrews has an excellent career YPRR of 2.09. I'm not worried about him being inefficient in a one game sample where Jackson wasn't in top form. In a high scoring affair, this could be a very strong game for Andrews.

Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins were both strong in Week 1. Watkins had a 2.59 YPRR and actually ran more routes, while Brown had a YPRR of 2.03. This passing offense didn't look great in their opener but it wasn't actually that far off from being a very good day. Assuming Brown's ankle is healthy, he's a strong play this week. Watkins makes an interesting dart throw.

Lions at Packers, 8:15 PM eastern, Monday

Lions Implied Team Total: 18.5

Since writing the Lions preview this summer, I've been hoping Detroit would be a fun bad team. Week 1 was a great start. Jared Goff played like a quarterback many coaches would have hidden, ranking QB27 in EPA/play. But the Lions played to win, not to go home early, finishing middle of the road in pace and 11th in pass rate over expected.

Even better, the Lions ignored modern offensive design and funneled their opportunity through their running backs and tight end. This actually blends perfectly with Goff's refusal to throw the ball deeper than 10 yards downfield, so they're fairly likely to stick with this unconventional strategy. This approach also makes for rare fantasy producers at key positions.

Despite working back from a groin injury, Swift played 70% of snaps in Week 1. He also saw a 20% target share. Honestly, this is a dream scenario. Sure, Swift only had 11 carries to Jamaal Williams' nine. And both Williams and Swift saw a carry within the 10. So yes, Swift is going to cede valuable work to Williams, which will hurt. But... Swift can afford to cede the occasional goal line carry when he has upside for 11 targets, which is what he saw in Week 1. That level of target volume put him at 24 expected fantasy points... which he delivered on. The Packers are a total wild card right now as Detroit's Week 2 opponent, but I'm buying Swift's extremely valuable usage which, if it keeps up, makes him virtually game script proof

T.J. Hockenson's role also looks extremely valuable. He ran a route on 84% of dropbacks in Week 1, with 64% of his snaps coming out of the slot. He earned a target on 21% of his routes, and had a strong YPRR of 1.83. Interestingly, Ben Gretch noted in Stealing Signals, that seven of his targets came in the first half. The implication being that once the Lions got into true catchup mode, the additional wide receivers on the field reduced his target share. Perhaps if the Packers play slowly this week, the Lions will stay close enough to fully feed Hockenson. Either way, Hockenson is the rare tight end whose team wants to use him like a wide receiver and who is up to the task.

Packers Implied Team Total: 30

Aaron Rodgers looked terrible on Sunday.

He was even worse on the field, finishing above struggling rookie Zach Wilson in EPA/play and... no one else. Green Bay refuses to play with pace, even when behind. They operated with the 29th slowest pace in situation neutral script, and even when down 7+ they still played slower than nine teams did in neutral script. The Packers are philosophically committed to playing like they have a lead. Things can get out of hand when they don't.

The Lions offer a get-right opportunity at the perfect time. With the 28th graded coverage unit and a defense that allowed the most EPA/play in the NFL, Rodgers should be able to bounce back to his MVP form.

If so, we should also see a return to fantasy MVP form from Davante Adams. Adams still managed to earn a target on 26% of his routes and produce a 2.07 YPRR. He only got 27 routes in the offensive implosion, but he's still the guy.

With a blowout as bad as Week 1, it's hard to know exactly what the backfield snap counts will be if the Packers are rolling this week, although it's safe to say that Kylin Hill won't get 25% of the snaps again. The silver lining if he does: we can all head to bed early on a school night.

Sources

To write this article I relied on the following stats, metrics and grades.

  • Expected Points Added per Play (EPA/Play).

    • Efficiency metric based how much a play improved a team's likelihood of scoring.

    • I use this metric primarily for QB efficiency, but also for defensive efficiency.

  • Completion Percentage Over Expected

    • QB accuracy metric

      • Data from rbsdm.com

        • All CPOE referenced in this article has garbage time filtered out.

          • I do this by setting win probability filter to between 10-90%.

  • Pass Rate over Expected

    • Measures passing decisions against what would be expected given the game situation.

  • Situation Neutral Pass Rate

    • Measures pass rate on downs and in situations when a team truly has the choice to pass or run.

  • Situation Neutral Seconds per Play

    • Seconds between plays in neutral game script.

    • Faster play generally means more plays, which provides more opportunity for fantasy scoring.

      • Data from Football Outsiders

  • Adjusted Line Yards

    • Run blocking stat that has been correlated with elite fantasy running back seasons.

      • Data from Football Outsiders

  • Snaps and Snap Share

    • Probably the single most important stat for running back opportunity.

      • Teams check in and out of runs with only one back on the field. Being on the field is critical.

      • Data from Pro Football Focus and RotoViz

  • Target Share and Air Yard share

    • The combination of these is called WOPR. Created by Josh Hermsmeyer, this metric scales from 0-1.

      • Data from Pro Football Focus and RotoViz

  • Routes run per dropback

    • Snap share for receivers... since I'm not concerned with who is playing run blocking snaps.

      • Data from Pro Football Focus

  • Yards Per Route Run

    • A YPRR of 1.8+ is good and anything 2+ is very good.

    • This metric is particularly useful for young wide receivers whose role could grow as a result of strong play.

    • It can also help identify truly elite wide receivers.

    • It filters out in-game injury and blowouts much better than target share does.

      • Data from PFF

  • Target per Route Run

    • TPRR and Yards per Target combine to make up YPRR.

    • TPRR is especially useful for tight ends.

      • Some offenses and quarterbacks prioritize throwing to the tight end much more than others.

      • Some tight ends are far better at getting open than others.

    • TPRR is much more stable than YPT, so in small samples especially, I'd rather know who is drawing targets than what happened afterward.

  • Expected Fantasy Points.

    • Both RotoViz and PFF have similar Expected Points metric's that adjust opportunity based on the context of each play.

      • I am referencing PFF's metric unless otherwise stated.

  • A number of other PFF status including Time to Throw, Play Action Rate, Pressure Rate, Screen Passes and Defensive Grades.