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There's the wilderness, and then there is where Saquon Barkley has been the past two years. When he wasn't hobbled by ACL or high-ankle issues, Barkley was averaging 3.5 yards on his 181 carries for the league's worst coach behind one of its worst offensive lines. Dark. “Generational” had become Barkley's punchline, though the honorific that became an epithet was never wholly without merit. Barkley had a 197-yard game as a rookie and legendary 279-yard effort as a sophomore. You shouldn't use the No. 2 overall pick on a running back, but if you do, they better be capable of those kinds of performances.
It seemed like Barkley no longer was, but new coach Brian Daboll at least offered hope. Although he was not known for favoring the run game in Buffalo — quite the opposite, in fact — Daboll was regarded as someone who put his playmakers in position to do so. Summer reports had Daboll doing all he could to re-establish Barkley's big-play and pass-catching upside. Enter Sunday, where Barkley's 194 yards from scrimmage already have him 22.6 percent of the way to his 2021 season total in 13 games. He had four runs of 10-plus yards, including a 68-yard rumble that was supposed to be his calling card coming out of Penn State. He caught six passes, a number he reached only three times last season despite Joe Judge's insanely conservative offense. He simply did the things Saquon Barkley is supposed to do, and he did them against a team that was the AFC's No. 1 seed a year ago.
The challenge for Barkley has never been spiked weeks. It has been sustaining them in any meaningful fashion. What coaching didn't prevent, injury made impossible. Daboll can't do anything about the latter but seems to be the cure for the former. A Christian McCaffrey-type draft pick you could make in the second round instead of at No. 2 overall, Barkley has already won his fantasy managers a week. Now we'll see what he has in mind for the season.
Five Week 1 Storylines
Dak Prescott suffers broken hand to cap disastrous evening vs. Bucs. A game that seemed intent on going from bad to worse for the Cowboys finally hit rock bottom when Prescott smashed his throwing hand on an incoming Shaq Barrett in the fourth quarter. Prescott immediately knew it was broken, and owner Jerry Jones confirmed after the game that his franchise player needed surgery. He will be sidelined for a minimum of “several weeks,” likely 4-6. Prescott's shocking injury buried the previous lede that the Cowboys' offense was dismal even before it lost its quarterback. An offensive line already missing LT Tyron Smith lost LG Connor McGovern to an ankle injury, and CeeDee Lamb was running wind sprints as Prescott checked down for the few completions he managed. Although Michael Gallup could return from his torn ACL as soon as Week 2 against the Bengals, Cooper Rush is not about to fix what ailed this team on Sunday. With Rush under center, Lamb will be a volatile WR2, while defenses will be free to camp on a rushing attack that couldn't generate any heat against the Bucs' elite front. Ezekiel Elliott belongs in the RB20-24 range for Week 2.
Chris Godwin joins Prescott on the shelf in injuryfest in Dallas. Making a faster-than-expected return from last December's torn ACL, Godwin pulled up following a five-yard reception running the two-minute drill near the end of the first half. Visibly wincing after making an awkward grab, Godwin was never heard from again and seems headed for a multi-week absence considering the precarious nature of his lower-body health. You can call it second guessing, but Godwin's injury raises questions about why a player who resumed team drills only 20 days ago was playing at all. It's a moot point now, one that puts Julio Jones in the WR2 mix following his successful Bucs debut and perhaps gives some top-40 steam to Russell Gage for however long Godwin is sidelined.
Elijah Mitchell goes down yet again as 49ers succumb to Chicago. Playing through injury almost his entire 11-game rookie campaign, Mitchell appeared noticeably more explosive at soggy Solider Field on Sunday … for 18 minutes. That's all the longer he made it before getting his knee bent in awkward fashion after six productive touches. Ruled out ominously quickly, Mitchell was spotted afterward sporting a “substantial brace.” Jeff Wilson operated as the lead back in Mitchell's absence but was out-gained by both Trey Lance and Deebo Samuel on the ground. Oh, and also Mitchell. A born role player, Wilson is not equipped to be leading a backfield. He should be joined by Jordan Mason in Week 2, though the buzzy undrafted rookie was entrusted with zero snaps against the Bears. A healthy scratch for the opener, Tyrion Davis-Price should be up against the Seahawks on Sunday. Although Wilson is the preferred add as a plug-and-play FLEX, Mason and Davis-Price's unknown upside warrant fliers.
Packers' post-Davante Adams future gets off to a rough start. Just don't drop a 75-yard touchdown, just don't drop a 75-yard touchdown, just don't drop a 75-yard touchdown … anddddddd he dropped a 75-yard touchdown. Christian Watson couldn't do the bare minimum against the Vikings, and an Allen Lazard-less receiver corps found itself back at square one. Watson was entrusted with only three other looks, while the washed duo of Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb combined for 5/32. The lone bright spot remained Romeo Doubs, who turned his five targets into 4/37. Hardly earth-shattering, but he at least did his job after an early miscommunication with Aaron Rodgers. What could have been an eye-opening Sunday produced the status quo. Lazard is the default No. 1, and Doubs is where the upside resides.
Dolphins' Tyreek Hill-focused offense hits the ground running. You don't trade five draft picks for a player to make them second fiddle. Hill's 12 looks more than doubled up his closest competition, though it was 2021 target hog Jaylen Waddle who got the touchdown. Waddle should see more than five targets most weeks, but the Week 1 message was unmistakable. Hill is the foundation piece because of course he is. 12 targets against a Bill Belichick defense is as clear as a commitment gets. There will be Waddle weeks, but every week will be Hill week.
Five More Week 1 Storylines
Keenan Allen makes it just 22 snaps against Raiders. You will find some stuff if you CTRL+F “hamstring” on Keenan Allen's internal Rotoworld page. His latest soft-tissue comes on a short week, and has him in his own words with only a “small” possibility of suiting up against the Chiefs on Thursday. That is the bad news, but the good is that the wideout is confident it should not be a long absence. This is a man who should know considering his history with hamstring woes. In theory, Allen's absence will be a golden opportunity for second-year pro Josh Palmer, though he ceded a surprising amount of Sunday slot work to DeAndre Carter. More encouragingly, Pro Football Focus did chart Palmer as featuring over Carter in two-receiver sets. It only translated to three catches for five yards in the box score, but late-round Palmer drafters have a WR3 dart to throw in what is guaranteed to be a monster-totaled game in L.A.
Chiefs' post-Tyreek Hill offense rolls. One reason the total will be so high? Kansas City's offense didn't miss a beat in its merciless beatdown of the pathetic Cardinals, with Patrick Mahomes rolling up 360 yards and spreading his five touchdowns across four different pass catchers. That did not include new No. 1 receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, whose eight targets were second only to Travis Kelce's nine. Smith-Schuster turned those looks into 6/79, his most productive game since Week 16 2020. It was one game against one bad team, but what appeared to be sensibly re-tooled skill corps on paper very much was in the desert. Smith-Schuster is a top-24 option for Week 2 and arguably top 18.
Patriots' offense goes off the rails in Miami. Two offensive coordinators. Three running backs. An endless receiver rotation. Zero big plays until a mysteriously doghoused Kendrick Bourne entered. The Patriots got what they paid for in Miami, and Mac Jones paid with an MRI on his back. As NBC Sports Boston's Tom Curran points out, typically excuse-allergic Bill Belichick opted for the sunny interpretation, claiming his team was really only two plays away from competing. That wasn't my takeaway, though it's hard to say what was. These committees and rotations are fantasy poison, and impossible to win with in real life. There will be a whittling. Until then, Rhamondre Stevenson has to be returned to the volatile FLEX range and no Pats receiver save for perhaps Jakobi Meyers' empty volume deserves the WR4 treatment.
Carson Wentz shows signs of life. Wentz has finally figured it out. He has solved football's biggest puzzle. He … knows how to beat the Jaguars. I joke, but I literally joked on Twitter before the game was over that he had not figured it out, and Commanders fans are still letting me have it. Even with a few costly interceptions mixed in, it was still better than Wentz appeared at almost any point in 2021. He hit play-making receivers Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson for three combined touchdowns and even managed to resurrect Curtis Samuel. He found Antonio Gibson worthy of targets, a huge step for fantasy managers. Wentz is never returning to the land of the QB1s, but streamer viability was far from a guarantee in Washington. We are not there yet, and yet … it is already closer than we thought.
Kadarius Toney begins the season in the doghouse. Few players pass the eye test as easily as Toney. If you turn on a Giants game and happen to see him, it is immediately apparent that in a league of freak athletes, the second-year first-rounder is just a little freakier. But that is not enough. It is never enough when your teammates and competition are all the world's best. You have to have discipline and commitment, and the Giants' new coaching staff evidently is still not satisfied with Toney's. It is a shame for fantasy managers, but a player with WR1/2 upside can no longer even be regarded as a top-48 option and could be drop fodder if you are desperate for a roster spot. What other takeaway is there when the staff has had an entire summer to plan and gives you seven snaps in the opener? Toney's only saving grace could be Wan'Dale Robinson's knee injury. If Sunday was a wake-up call and Robinson's injury an opportunity, perhaps Toney will pan out after all.
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1. How have the Giants not already traded Kadarius Toney to the 2009 Raiders?
3. Have the Falcons trademarked blowing two-score leads in the second half so they at least get something out of it?
Early Waivers Look (Players rostered in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
QB: Jameis Winston (vs. TB), Matt Ryan (@JAX), Daniel Jones (vs. CAR), Carson Wentz (@DET), Mac Jones (@PIT)
RB: Kenneth Gainwell, Khalil Herbert, Jeff Wilson, Kenyan Drake, Rex Burkhead, Rachaad White, Isiah Pacheco, Tyler Allgeier, Zack Moss
WR: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jarvis Landry, Josh Palmer, D.J. Chark, Treylon Burks, Romeo Doubs, Michael Gallup, Russell Gage, Jakobi Meyers, Garrett Wilson, Curtis Samuel, Corey Davis, Devin Duvernay, Kyle Philips
TE: Robert Tonyan, Evan Engram, Taysom Hill, Gerald Everett, Hayden Hurst, Logan Thomas, Tyler Conklin
DEF: Bengals (@DAL), Steelers (vs. NE), Dolphins (@BAL), Raiders (vs. ARZ), Jets (@CLE), Giants (vs. CAR)
Stats of the Week
Via NFL.com's Michael F. Florio via NextGenStats: Julio Jones had the seventh-fastest top speed (20.62 miles per hour) of any ball carrier in Week 1. With Chris Godwin already back on the shelf, Julio caught 3-of-5 targets for 69 yards, and added two rushes for 17 yards. If his hamstrings cooperate, we could be looking at a WR2.
TE3. Taysom Hill's current standing in PPR leagues that perpetuate the farce that he is a tight end. But you can't fight city hall, so you might as well add him.
Via Albert Breer: “The Patriots are now 6-8 over their past 14 AFC East games, going back to the 2019 finale. And four of those six wins are over the Jets.”
#QBWinz, yes, but Tua Tagovailoa is the first quarterback to ever get four straight of them against a Bill Belichick-coached team.
Four years. That's how long it had been since Derek Carr had a three-interception performance. Davante Adams' target hog reputation precedes him, but Carr would do well to remember that, whereas Aaron Rodgers had no other pass-catching threats, Carr does, and it isn't necessary for Adams' looks to blow away Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow's combined total.
Tweet of the Week, from René Bugner: Joe Burrow mit drei Interceptions und einem Fumble lost nach 24 Minuten 😱😱😱😱
Down Bad Fans of the Week, via Connor Hughes: There is a LOUD "Mike White" chant breaking out at MetLife Stadium.
The “Free This Random Bears Specialist” Award: Un-cancel Trenton Gill for bringing a towel onto the field to dry it off and immediately getting called for a personal foul.