Fantasy football is, at its core, an exercise in risk analysis. Points are our currency and every article we digest, every podcast we engorge ourselves in, every box score we study is aimed at shining a light on safe, bankable volume we can rely on on a weekly basis. That’s the purpose served by Targets and Touches, a thorough and exhaustively researched window into which players are making their respective teams tick. This will be a weekly fixture here at Rotoworld, informed by data from Airyards.com, NFL Next Gen Stats, Pro Football Focus, Pro-Football-Reference and Sharp Football. Now let’s get to the good stuff.
Observations: Baltimore’s decimation of the Dolphins should inspire an interesting chicken versus egg debate: are the Ravens really this good or is Miami actually this bad? Lamar Jackson entered Sunday’s action with five touchdown passes across seven career starts. Naturally, it took him all of three quarters to reach that mark Sunday. Making his Ravens debut following an eight-year run in New Orleans, Mark Ingram logged fewer snaps (25) than teammate Gus Edwards (29), but that was mostly a product of the enormous lead Baltimore built early on, which allowed Ingram to rest on his laurels in the second half. Though Sunday’s carry distribution may not be indicative of the Ravens’ true backfield pecking order, it’s evident that Edwards—who led the team in rushing as a rookie—will remain a fixture on early downs. Marquise Brown spent most of the offseason rehabbing a Lisfranc injury he suffered late in his college career, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he massacred Miami in his NFL debut, turning five targets into a monster 4-147-2 receiving line. Hollywood is sure to be a popular waiver add this week (he’s owned in a meager 32 percent of Yahoo leagues at this moment), but keep in mind, he was only in on 14-of-76 offensive snaps (18.4 percent). The first-rounder’s deep prowess is undeniable (18.8 aDOT), but the insane efficiency he showed in Week 1 is unsustainable. Meanwhile Brown’s former Oklahoma teammate, Mark Andrews, picked up where he left off last season, operating as Jackson’s go-to target en route to a career-high in yards. Andrews’ scarce preseason usage (he played fewer snaps with the starting unit than fellow tight ends Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst) sparked some concern within the fantasy community, but clearly those worries were unwarranted. Anthony Averett was a liability against Miami, a grim sign for a Baltimore secondary that just lost mainstay Jimmy Smith to a sprained MCL.
RZ Targets: None
Observations: On paper, field-stretcher John Brown appeared to be an ideal match for cannon-armed (albeit highly erratic) quarterback Josh Allen. Sunday that dream pairing was finally put to the test and wouldn’t you know it, the two worked in perfect harmony, connecting seven times for 133 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets. Smokey’s busy Sunday resulted in a robust 27-percent target share, a smidge better than free-agent acquisition Cole Beasley (24 percent), who predictably spent his afternoon working out of the slot. In fact, Beasley’s 91.2-percent slot rate was third-highest among Week 1 receivers, trailing only Adam Humphries (a perfect 100 percent) and Larry Fitzgerald (94.6). Frank Gore is the league’s oldest running back and he looked it Sunday, averaging a sluggish 1.8 yards per carry in his Buffalo debut. Meanwhile Devin Singletary needed just nine touches to roll up 98 yards from scrimmage, cementing himself as the clear back to own in Buffalo’s Post-Shady Era. Jacksonville transplant T.J. Yeldon had little involvement in Sunday’s opener, seeing the field on just two of 66 offensive snaps. Allen vaulted up the QB ranks on the strength of 631 rushing yards last year (second-most among quarterbacks) and stuck to that agenda in Week 1, scrambling 10 times for a net of 38 yards.
RZ Targets: Giovani Bernard (1)
RZ Carries: Joe Mixon (2)
Observations: Freed from the shackles of Marvin Lewis’ stale methods, the Bengals showed promise under rookie head coach Zac Taylor, teeing off a vulnerable Seahawks secondary by dialing up play-action on nearly 34 percent of their snaps. With Joe Mixon (ankle) hobbled, Cincinnati turned to Andy Dalton, who throttled Seattle for a career-high 418 yards in the losing effort. Third-year lid-lifter John Ross’ long-awaited breakout came in the form of a 7-158-2 explosion, though his heroics weren’t enough to push Cincy into the winner’s circle. Tyler Boyd also thrived in A.J. Green’s absence, tacking on an 8-60-0 receiving line while seeing 11 looks from Dalton. Giovani Bernard functioned as a near-every-down player in Mixon’s stead, though his outputs (21 rushing yards, 42 receiving yards) didn’t jump off the page. Tyler Eifert appeared healthy in his return from last year’s gruesome ankle injury, but wasn’t as productive as teammate C.J. Uzomah, who went for 66 yards on four catches while also out-snapping Eifert 53-37.
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RZ Targets: David Njoku (1)
RZ Carries: Dontrell Hilliard (1)
Observations: Any momentum Cleveland may have carried into 2019 was quickly extinguished by the Titans, who annihilated the Browns on their home turf. Baker Mayfield crumbled like a house of cards behind Cleveland’s patchwork O line (the Browns were down to their third-string left tackle following Greg Robinson’s ejection and Kendall Lamm’s subsequent knee injury), taking five sacks and a safety while gifting the Titans a trio of fourth-quarter interceptions (Malcolm Butler returned one of them for a pick-six). Odell Beckham vowed to play through a hip injury in Week 1 and did exactly that, playing all 71 snaps in his Cleveland debut. David Njoku tied for the league-lead among tight ends with eight drops a year ago, a fatal flaw that has apparently followed him into 2019. He labored through another mistake-prone effort on Sunday (two drops), though the third-year tight end salvaged the day for his fantasy owners by beating Kevin Byard for a short touchdown. Nick Chubb looked shifty in the opener (he forced three missed tackles) but was vultured on the goal line by Dontrell Hilliard, who converted his lone carry for a four-yard touchdown. Hilliard also had a presence on passing downs before a concussion spelled an early end to his afternoon. After seeing increased work as an outside receiver in 2018, Jarvis Landry reverted to his usual slot role in Week 1, lining up inside on 88.6 percent of his snaps. All three of Rashard Higgins’ targets came on Cleveland’s opening drive.
Observations: Courtland Sutton enjoyed the best game of his young career in Week 1, leading Denver in a multitude of offensive categories including targets, air yards and receiving yards. Fellow SMU alum Emmanuel Sanders also did well for himself, contributing a 5-86-1 line on seven targets in his first regular-season reps since last year’s Achilles tear. Fantasy owners spent the offseason bracing for a committee backfield in Denver and that’s exactly how it played out in Week 1 with crafty tackle-shedder Phillip Lindsay and 229-pound tank Royce Freeman operating in a near 50/50 split (33 snaps for Lindsay, 29 for Freeman). Lindsay won the touch battle 15-11, though the yardage war was essentially a dead heat (66-61 in Lindsay’s favor). Joe Flacco was enamored with his tight ends in Baltimore and displayed a similar fondness for Noah Fant in Monday night’s opener, targeting the Iowa rookie five times in the loss to Oakland.
Observations: Exiled from Cleveland, Jacksonville and Kansas City, all in a span of 10 months, Carlos Hyde looked like he was on his last NFL legs. But rather than put the fading vet out to pasture as some teams would have, the Texans surprisingly featured Hyde in their opener, affording him a team-leading 10 carries in a Monday night loss to New Orleans. The bold gamut mostly worked as Hyde cruised to 83 yards on the ground, his most in a game since Week 3 of last season. Always the groomsmen never the groom, Duke Johnson was again denied workhorse usage, seeing fewer rushing attempts than Hyde despite carrying a decisive edge in backfield snaps (41 to Hyde’s 23). In a stunning reversal of last year’s flawlessness, DeAndre Hopkins—who went all of 2018 without a drop—was charged with three slip-ups against the Saints, tying him with John Ross for the most miscues among Week 1 receivers. The Texans used a committee approach to replace injured slot receiver Keke Coutee (who could be back in the fold as soon as next week) with Hopkins, Will Fuller (who showed no ill effects in his return from last year’s ACL tear), newcomer Kenny Stills and DeAndre Carter all lining up inside on at least 35 percent of their snaps. Stills only caught three balls in his Houston debut, though one of them happened to be a go-ahead, 37-yard touchdown with 37 ticks remaining in the fourth quarter.
RZ Carries: Marlon Mack (4)
Observations: Now that Andrew Luck has ridden off into the sunset, the shell-shocked Colts will have to make lemonade out of lemons. That’s precisely what they did in the opener, feeding their studs T.Y. Hilton (8-87-2 on nine targets) and Marlon Mack (25-174-1 on the ground) in a game they probably would have won if not for a pair of head-scratching misses (that number stretches to three if you include his botched extra-point) by the usually laser-accurate Adam Vinatieri. Tight ends feasted during Jacoby Brissett’s last reign as starter, but that wasn’t his MO Sunday as the TE trio of Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron and Mo Alie-Cox combined for just three catches in the losing effort. Nyheim Hines is still the preferred pass-catcher of Indy’s two backfield weapons, but the former took a clear backseat in Sunday’s opener as Mack out-snapped Hines by a monumental 48-17 margin. There was some concern that Luck’s departure would cause Mack to fall off the RB2 radar, but Sunday proved the third-year ball-carrier is still a valued piece of Indy’s offensive puzzle. 2018 sixth-rounder Deon Cain could see an expanded role with Devin Funchess (broken collarbone) shelved indefinitely.
RZ Targets: Dede Westbrook (2)
RZ Carries: Gardner Minshew (1)
Observations: D.J. Chark announced his presence with a mammoth Week 1, hanging 146 yards on KC’s overmatched secondary. Sunday’s outburst represented a quantum leap for the turbo-charged sophomore, who posted a lethargic 14-174-0 line as a rookie in 2018. Chark is certainly a worthy waiver add, though fantasy owners still need to tread carefully in wake of his relatively light target share (12 percent). A non-factor throughout his Kansas City tenure, Chris Conley went berserk in Sunday’s #RevengeGame, shredding the Chiefs for a career-high 97 yards on six catches. Coming off a deeply disappointing 2018, Leonard Fournette showed signs of life by logging a healthy 66 yards on the ground (5.1 yards per carry), though fantasy owners (and the Jaguars too, for that matter) probably could have done without his two drops. Jalen Ramsey had planned to wage battle with Chiefs burner Tyreek Hill (who tapped out with a collarbone injury early on), but instead spent the afternoon getting dunked on by Sammy Watkins (9-198-3 on 11 targets). With Nick Foles headed for injured reserve, it’s going to be the Gardner Minshew Show in Duval, at least for the next couple of months.
Kansas City Chiefs
Targets: Sammy Watkins (11), Travis Kelce (8), Damien Williams (6), Tyreek Hill (2), Demarcus Robinson (2), Blake Bell (1), Mecole Hardman (1), LeSean McCoy (1), Anthony Sherman (1), Darwin Thompson (1)
Air Yards: Sammy Watkins (99), Travis Kelce (63), Tyreek Hill (16), Blake Bell (7), Demarcus Robinson (6), LeSean McCoy (4), Mecole Hardman (0), Darwin Thompson (0), Anthony Sherman (-4), Damien Williams (-15)
Observations: Injuries to Tyreek Hill (collarbone) and Patrick Mahomes (ankle) put a slight damper on Sunday’s proceedings, though those setbacks served as only minor inconveniences in a cakewalk win over Jacksonville. Sammy Watkins staged a hostile takeover in Hill’s stead, running unencumbered through the Jags secondary for career-bests in both yards (198) and touchdowns (three). With Hill headed for a lengthy absence, Watkins’ fantasy stock has never been higher. As most of us feared, Kansas City’s backfield has again devolved into a complicated timeshare (a staple of Andy Reid offenses) with Damien Williams and newcomer LeSean McCoy operating as co-conspirators. Ousted from Buffalo on the heels of a lackluster 2018 (career-worst 3.2 yards per carry), McCoy turned back the clock with a vintage effort in his Chiefs debut, collecting 93 yards from scrimmage on only 11 touches. Williams didn’t find much daylight in the opener (13 carries for 26 yards) but his goal-line usage and involvement in the passing game (6-39-0 receiving line) both bode well for his long-term prospects.
Los Angeles Chargers
Observations: Austin Ekeler channeled his inner James Conner on Sunday, quickly making the Chargers forget about Melvin Gordon (just as Conner’s sophomore breakout sabotaged any leverage Le’Veon Bell may have had in Pittsburgh last year) with a Herculean showing in L.A.’s season-opening win over Indianapolis. Ekeler steered the ship with 154 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns (including the clincher in overtime) on 18 touches. Ekeler saw the field on 74.6 percent of the Chargers’ snaps compared to just 25.4 percent for backfield-mate Justin Jackson. Suiting up for his first regular-season game since December of 2017, Henry soaked up five targets from Philip Rivers, which he converted into a respectable 4-60-0 receiving line. Red-zone hog Mike Williams limped off with a knee injury late, but insisted he’s fine. Now on his second stint with the Bolts, Dontrelle Inman commanded just one target in the opening-week victory. Indy’s secondary proved no match for Keenan Allen, who has averaged a meaty 82.2 yards per game while boasting an efficient 67.9-percent catch rate since the start of 2017.
RZ Targets: Preston Williams (2)
RZ Carries: None
Observations: Miami took it on the chin in Week 1. That might be underselling it as Sunday’s 59-10 humiliation at the hands of Baltimore was apparently so demoralizing that “multiple” Dolphins phoned their agents begging for a way out. Miami’s tumbleweed offense posed little threat to the Ravens, producing 200 yards (179 passing, 21 rushing) on 47 largely unwatchable offensive plays. The Kenyan Drake/Kalen Ballage debate got plenty of mileage on fantasy podcasts this summer but what we failed to consider is that neither will be successful if the Dolphins are always playing from behind, which seems like a distinct possibility given their recent talent purge. Undrafted Colorado State alum Preston Williams was a bright spot in an otherwise dreary day for Miami, capturing his first career touchdown on a second-quarter bullet from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Albert Wilson’s return from calf and hip injuries was a quiet one as the sixth-year speedster cashed in his chips with just 14 yards (13 receiving, one rushing) on six offensive snaps. DeVante Parker ranked fourth in Week 1 air yards and was also among the league leaders in aDOT (23.3).
New England Patriots
Observations: The Red Sox fell victim to the dreaded World Series hangover this year, but 20 miles south in Foxboro, the Patriots aren’t having that problem. The defending champs were surgical in Sunday’s demolition of Pittsburgh, dominating in nearly every facet. The only weak link was Sony Michel, who spent the night getting stonewalled by Pittsburgh’s front seven (15 carries for 14 yards). Phillip Dorsett christened the new season by dusting Mike Hilton for a 25-yard touchdown in the second quarter, then went back for seconds, landing on the receiving end of a 58-yard deep bomb from Tom Brady. Sunday marked the first multi-touchdown performance of Dorsett’s five-year career. Reigning Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman spent most of the summer rehabbing a broken thumb, but didn’t look any worse for the wear against Pittsburgh, occupying his usual role as Brady’s security blanket. Backfield havoc-wreaker Rex Burkhead lit up Pittsburgh for 85 yards on 13 touches because of course he did. With Matt LaCosse (ankle) absent and Ben Watson serving a four-game suspension to begin the year, 2018 seventh-rounder Ryan Izzo was the only Patriots tight end to dress in Week 1. With Demaryius Thomas due back from a hamstring pull and enigmatic chain-mover Antonio Brown joining the fold after a rollercoaster offseason in Oakland, it’s no wonder Vegas has already installed the Pats as 18.5-point road favorites over the lowly Dolphins in Week 2.
New York Jets
RZ Carries: Le’Veon Bell (1)
Observations: For years, Alex Smith has been the butt of jokes, enduring a near constant stream of grief for his shamelessly cautious brand of dink-and-dunk football. But now it’s Sam Darnold’s turn to be the punchline. He made Smith look like Brett Favre with Sunday’s check-down-fest, producing a feeble 5.4 aDOT while only having eyes for slot receiver Jamison Crowder, who accounted for an eye-popping 40-percent target share (second to Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins). Ryan Griffin earned a full complement of snaps in his Jets debut (67-of-71 offensive plays), a positive development for Chris Herndon, who finished second to Mark Andrews in receiving yards among rookie tight ends last season and should be a major contributor once he returns from his four-game suspension. Playing his first down of professional football in 20 months, Le’Veon Bell joined Christian McCaffrey as one of just two running backs to play all of his team’s snaps in Week 1. Ty Montgomery was one of the more coveted handcuffs in fantasy drafts this summer but Sunday’s disappointment (he was in on just five snaps) should have him headed back to the waiver wire. Quincy Enunwa had a Sunday from Hell, losing four yards on his lone catch while fumbling on the game’s final play. Trumaine Johnson was a turnstile in Sunday’s defeat, permitting seven catches for 110 yards on eight targets while playing through a hamstring injury.
Observations: No longer burdened by the weight of Antonio Brown’s massive ego (AB’s head was so big in Oakland it needed its own locker room), the Raiders looked surprisingly sharp in their opener, executing a run-heavy game plan to fend off the Broncos in a Monday night thriller. Rookie Josh Jacobs was at the forefront, fulfilling his workhorse destiny by pounding the rock 23 times (second among Week 1 ball-carriers) en route to 85 yards and a pair of end-zone visits. No player in the NFL garnered more red-zone opportunities than Jacobs, who out-touched backfield colleague Jalen Richard (the Raiders’ co-leader in receptions last year) by an overwhelming 24-2 clip. Game flow favored Jacobs on Monday night (Oakland never trailed against Denver), but obviously that won’t be the case every week. Brown’s messy divorce from Oakland came as welcome news to Tyrell Williams, who predictably led the team in receiving yards while accounting for a robust 27-percent snap share. The latter mark ranked second on the team to Darren Waller (31 percent), who never came off the field in Monday night’s win (played on 55-of-55 offensive snaps). Given Derek Carr’s affinity for targeting tight ends (Jared Cook served as his muse in 2018, pacing the Raiders in targets, yards and touchdown receptions), Waller should be in line for a top-12 finish at a sparse fantasy position.
Air Yards: James Washington (169), Donte Moncrief (92), JuJu Smith-Schuster (64), Johnny Holton (45), Diontae Johnson (45), Vance McDonald (32), Ryan Switzer (12), James Conner (3), Jaylen Samuels (3)
RZ Targets: Donte Moncrief (2)
Observations: Donte Moncrief endured a horror-show debut for the Steelers, melting down in an ugly loss to New England. He squandered his team-high 10 targets, mustering just seven yards on three catches while garnering PFF’s worst grade among 98 qualified receivers in Week 1. James Washington drew 169 air yards in the opener, second to only Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins (216), but converted just two of his six targets for 51 yards in the losing effort. The 23-year-old hasn’t had much success early in his career, submitting an anemic 40.9-percent catch rate (18-for-44) through 15 NFL appearances. JuJu Smith-Schuster was stifled by All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but used garbage time to pad his stats with three catches for 43 yards in the fourth quarter. Vance McDonald had a goose egg going until Pittsburgh’s final possession, when he saved face by nabbing two balls for a modest 40 yards. Game script was no friend to James Conner in Week 1 (played just 46.3 percent of the Steelers’ snaps), though he still led the backfield with 14 touches while outgaining teammate Jaylen Samuels by nearly 60 yards.
RZ Carries: Derrick Henry (4)
Observations: Many dismissed Derrick Henry’s late-season explosion last year as an outlier, citing his otherwise unimpressive resume as proof that the former Heisman Trophy winner couldn’t be counted on as weekly RB1. But Henry’s critics may be rethinking their stance after witnessing the clinic he put on in Week 1, obliterating the Browns for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Henry burned some serious rubber on his 75-yard receiving score, blazing to the end-zone at a blistering 20.93 mph, the eighth-fastest run of Week 1 per NFL’s Next Gen Stats. He held a decisive edge over Dion Lewis, out-touching his backfield sidekick by a convincing 20-6 margin. A.J. Brown, one of two Ole Miss receivers to go in the second round of April’s draft (Seahawks specimen DK Metcalf was the other), was prolific in Tennessee’s opening-week win, leading the team with 100 yards despite playing fewer snaps than teammates Corey Davis (who came up empty on his three targets) and Tajae Sharpe. Brown’s 55 yards after the catch were the fifth-most of Week 1, trailing only Sammy Watkins (135), Michael Gallup (77), Jamison Crowder (70) and John Ross (60). Delanie Walker didn’t miss a beat in his return from last year’s dislocated ankle, displaying instant chemistry with Marcus Mariota en route to his first multi-touchdown game since 2015.