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Time to recalibrate? Checking in with the Chiefs, Pats, Rams, Browns

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When we assemble our fantasy rosters, we generally like to go where the points are. Follow Andy Reid in Kansas City, you bet. Hang out with Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels in New England. Sean McVay likes to pad our bottom lines.

Alas, with just one game in the books, all three of those teams are at interesting forks in the road. Kansas City lost a major player, New England added a star, and the Rams might be backing off one of their biggest names.

Time for a check-in and recalibration. Sure, it’s been just one game. But when big news happens, we need to at least consider adjustments.

I’ll throw the Browns into this recalibration exercise since they had one of the most shocking Week 1 performances. Get out your notebooks and let’s try to figure this all out.

Kansas City — How high is the Sammy Watkins sky?

The Chiefs will be without Tyreek Hill for a while, and you don’t lose an elite talent and field stretcher without a significant impact. Sammy Watkins is coming off the game of his life (198 yards, three touchdowns), but where does his story go from here?

I’m more bearish on Watkins than most. He’s been a Top-20 receiver once in five years. He played 15 games with the Sean McVay Rams in 2017 — albeit it was a late arrival — and managed all of 39 catches (we did appreciate the eight touchdowns). Watkins averaged 52 yards a game last year in Kansas City, a modest haul when you’re riding shotgun with a Patrick Mahomes MVP season.

Watkins will get more opportunity forward, but also more defensive attention. Usually, I let opportunity break this tie — especially when we’re tied to an elite offense — but when I hear some outlets and pundits proclaiming Watkins an obvious WR1 the rest of the way, I start thinking about the trade market. Could you get Mike Evans for Watkins? Could you get D.J. Moore and a second player for Watkins?

If you roster Watkins, you probably should at least explore the trade market. Recency bias is a hell of a drug. If you’re unimpressed with the offer, you can always say no. But just see what’s out there.

LeSean McCoy looked considerably better than Damien Williams, though Williams did bail out with six short catches and touchdown deodorant (a one-yard plunge). But given McCoy’s history with Andy Reid and the fact that Kansas City quickly gave McCoy a reasonable contract off a cut, we have to take this seriously. I thought I was out of the McCoy business a month ago; now, I’m back in. He’s about even with Williams in current value, and could easily be this team’s top back.

Mahomes is the last guy I’d ever worry about, but if I were drafting fresh today, I’d probably have Deshaun Watson as my No. 1 quarterback. Hill is that impactful. But the move down from 1 to 2 (if it’s even real in this case) is nothing to panic over.

Sep 8, 2019; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) reacts after scoring his second touchdown of the game during the first quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
Is Sammy Watkins ready to be a true No. 1 wideout again? (Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)

New England — Antonio Brown makes a wide tree even wider

The Patriots don’t lack for skill talent, and that’s great news for Tom Brady. What looked like an ordinary setup six weeks ago now looks elite. Josh Gordon’s return was a nice surprise, and he looked excellent in the opener. Julian Edelman is an option-route nightmare. And picking up Antonio Brown on the cheap was a shrewd move.

And heck, Phillip Dorsett is coming off a two-touchdown game. He was a first-round pick just four years ago. Not a bad WR4 in reserve.

Crowded trees often thin out during the year, and you can imagine that here. Gordon’s never a good bet for a full season, nor is Edelman. Perhaps Brown’s free-lancing ways won’t click with Brady (I’m actually not worried about that), or maybe he’ll go off the reservation again. It’s plausible someone will be missing from this trio by the fantasy playoffs.

At least the Patriots are willing to phase out tight-end usage, at least for now. In the post-Gronkowski world, New England ran plenty of zero-TE sets in the opener. Then again, if there’s a team that insists on 16 different game plans for 16 weeks, it’s the Patriots.

The New England backfield is a yearly fantasy conundrum — we know production is coming, but usage can be tricky to decipher. Sony Michel is a classy inside runner, James White a trusted pass-catcher. But beware Rex Burkhead, the most versatile back on the roster, someone who doesn’t instantly tip the play call to the defense. All three of these guys could get 8-14 touches in the juicy Week 2 Miami matchup. And like the wideouts, we might not get streamlined clarity until someone gets hurt, or moves to the doghouse.

Rams — Committee life in the backfield?

Todd Gurley’s opening day line was respectable, but understand the genesis of it. Malcolm Brown was more of the prioritized back in the first half, and he received the short touchdown work. Gurley was an effective closer, but he didn’t have the backfield to himself. He was also a lesser priority in the passing game. Given the financial commitment Brown received over the winter, and how he was used in Week 1, I don’t think he’s going away.

Jared Goff has a jagged home bias last year (34 additional rating points, and a 12-touchdown difference), after showing a minor road bias in 2017. Sometimes this stuff is just noise, adopting a pattern in the clouds, but let’s note Goff’s mediocre road opener with interest. The Rams do have a bunch of interesting home matches to come — the Saints in Week 2, the Bucs in Week 4, and the Niners in Week 6. I’m not a big fan of looking far ahead on the schedule, but the Rams also have three road games in the Week 13-16 pocket.

Browns — A sea of flags and missed blocks

Cleveland’s offense was one of the most shocking no-shows in Week 1. Tennessee is a respectable opponent, but 13 points is not acceptable for a home opener. Eighteen overall flags is a nightmare, and a suspect Cleveland offensive line was even worse than expected; an in-game suspension and another injury did not help.

Baker Mayfield didn’t have adequate protection, and it showed. He threw three picks, was sacked five times. He did connect seven times with Odell Beckham Jr., but they went for a modest 10.1 YPC. If the Browns can’t protect, it’s hard to utilize a lot of shot plays.

Nick Chubb is one Cleveland player I’m not worried about. He owned 17 of the team’s 20 carries and made a reasonable 4.4 YPC despite the lack of lanes. Okay, he lost a short touchdown to Dontrell Hilliard, but it was Hilliard’s only carry. Chubb also had three short catches and four targets. He’s still a Top-12 fantasy commodity for me; he doesn’t need gaping holes to be effective.

David Njoku dropped a couple of passes, but still had four grabs and a short touchdown. I’m willing to project a modest third-year spike, especially if the protection problems wind up tightening the average depth of target.

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