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So much happens on any given Sunday in the NFL. It’s hard to keep track of it all. More importantly, it’s quite a lot to decide what we should value as signal and what we should just ignore as noise. In this space, I’ll go through all that we learned this week and give you the five things I care about coming out of Week 2, along with five things I can’t muster up the emotional energy to care for. Good news for you: We’re going to do this exercise in emotional turmoil every Sunday of the regular season.
5 Things I care about
Finding the balance in the Saints recalibration
Drew Brees exited what was expected to be a high-flying affair between his Saints and the Rams after suffering a hand injury. Shots of Brees failing to grip a football with his bandaged thumb hit the Twittersphere during the game. Monday morning the reports came that Brees suffered a torn thumb ligament that will require surgery and he’s expected miss about six weeks.
The future Hall of Famer’s early departure gave us a glimpse at what life will look like for the Saints without Brees under center. Teddy Bridgewater took over and offered up a mixed bag. For the first several drives under his watch, the Saints looked utterly pedestrian. Bridgewater didn’t look like a former first-round pick or a player deserving of the cult following he still has from his days as a Draft Twitter favorite heading into 2014. He looked like ... any other backup quarterback around the National Football League.
To his credit, as the game went on, Bridgewater started to find a groove with the short-passing game. He hit Thomas for multiple drive-moving gains as the contest wore on. It was not all a lost cause for the Saints offense. And admittedly, the Rams defense does look like a much-improved unit from a year ago. After swarming in the passing game against Carolina in Week 1, Los Angeles was stifling the Saints this week even before Brees took his leave.
Week 2 left us with a still-cloudy picture of what to expect from Bridgewater himself in the context of this offense. The good news when projecting this unit: We know where the ball is going. Despite some small flashes from the ancillary assets, through two games the Saints offense has run through its two stars in Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. Even new additions Jared Cook and Latavius Murray haven’t cracked through yet. Cook saw seven targets against the Rams but made little impact. Murray was even quieter in Week 2 than the Saints opener when he collected 47 total yards.
For fantasy purposes, the floors remain intact for the elite players like Kamara and Thomas. Not only does Bridgewater’s resume and the few fine drives he led to end this loss give us that confidence, but the volume is mainly what will save these two. You can project the Pro Bowl wideout for double-digit targets. Kamara has 20-touch potential every single week. Yet, no matter where you believe Drew Brees is at here in this stage of his career, there is no debating that his loss shaves off the ceiling for these two young stars.
We need to care about finding the balance for projecting these two elite players. A sharp turn downward is not warranted but some realistic pessimism must be injected.
Jimmy Garoppolo, breath of fresh air
It was fair to start readying a torch to put a little heat on Jimmy Garoppolo after a slow Week 1 against a beatable defense. That output against Tampa Bay followed not only a shaky offseason but a 2018 campaign that saw Nick Mullens captain Kyle Shanahan’s offense with striking efficiency in his absence.
Week 2 help squelch some of the negativity on Garoppolo. The 49ers got to 2-0 after absolutely thrashing the Bengals, 41-17. Jimmy G hit us with a strong stat line, tossing three scores and nearly cracking 300 yards through the air. He was quite efficient with a 68 percent completion rate and a beefy 11.9 yards per attempt.
You can make the point that much of the damage was done after Garoppolo’s assignment was complete. Leading receiver Deebo Samuel earned 82 of his 87 yards after the catch. Raheem Mostert did almost all of his damage through the air, post-reception.
However, hitting receivers on time with space to work with is the key assignment for a quarterback in this offense. On Sunday, Garoppolo did so with noticeable precision. And let’s not take it all away from Garoppolo. He still got deep threat Marquise Goodwin involved and George Kittle hauled in all three of his looks with a 17.3 average depth of target.
After offering a ceiling game in a juicy matchup, Garoppolo eased any concerns from fake footballers about whether he could come through. The 49ers also have to be feeling good after two straight wins. All things looking up for San Francisco heading into Week 3.
Kenny Golladay: Leap made
I was out on Kenny Golladay as a pick in Round 4. It had nothing to do with Golladay’s ability as a player. The concerns were exclusively with the Lions’ preferred offensive approach. Either way, the take looks horribly wrong.
Through two weeks, Golladay has 12 catches for 159 yards and a pair of scores to his name. He looks every bit the part of a strong WR2 in fantasy and a No. 1 wideout on his own team. Golladay took big steps from Year 1 to Year 2 and it looks like his third season has brought just another elevation in his play.
Against the Chargers, Golladay beat one of the top cover corners in the NFL. He got over Casey Hayward for multiple catches on Sunday, including his deep touchdown. Thriving despite tough matchups; that’s what the best receivers in the game do and Golladay is on that path.
Devin Smith being a playmaker
Less than a calendar year ago the Cowboys offense was one of the worst watches in the NFL. Between a stale system and a pass-catching corps bereft of any talent, calling them boring would be kind. Dallas’ transformation from then to now is simply stunning. Not only has Kellen Moore brought them out of the dark ages when it comes to their offensive design, they suddenly look flush with talent.
Amari Cooper has scored in each of his first two games, continuing his strong finish to 2018. Michael Gallup has legitimately made the leap, collecting 226 yards and hauling in 86.7 percent of his targets. Randall Cobb and Jason Witten look like they’ve turned back the clock at least three years, sliding into bit roles for the Cowboys.
Week 2 brought yet another name to the forefront: Devin Smith. The former second-round pick was a favorite prospect of mine back in the 2015 NFL Draft. Smith led the Cowboys with 74 receiving yards today and hauled in a deep touchdown, his patented move during his collegiate days. It was awesome to see for a player whose career just never got off the ground due to injuries.
Make no mistake, Smith will hardly be a weekly fantasy option. However, the fact he’s healthy and a legitimate deep threat for this team just raises the ceiling that much more for one of 2019’s surprise units. Dak Prescott’s making-the-leap campaign just got one more assist as the driver of a unit that went from a barren cupboard to boasting an embarrassment of riches.
Everyone but Sammy Watkins smashing in Kansas City
The last two games for Sammy Watkins feel all too familiar. An eruption game followed by a moment where he falls back to the pack.
Coming into Week 2, it was assumed that Watkins would hold every-week fantasy WR1 value and the Chiefs offense would not miss a beat in the absence of Tyreek Hill. The latter was true. Patrick Mahomes is the rising tide that raises all boats. There have been no signs of statistical regression through two weeks for the god-like quarterback. On Sunday, backup wideout Demarcus Robinson went for over 170 yards and scored twice. Rookie Mecole Hardeman and Travis Kelce also made big plays en route to finding the end zone for Mahomes.
The only one left out in the cold was Sammy Watkins. To be fair, he saw a team-high 13 targets on way to a six-catch, 49-yard day. Some of the misses were due to mild misfires from Mahomes. None of this is to say Watkins is a bad player. He’s just been an inconsistent producer for the entirety of his career and not a player a passing game flows through. Multiple offenses, coaching staffs, and quarterbacks have now made that decision about this player. Fantasy managers should know the drill by now too.
Watkins is someone you want to break ties in favor of playing in your lineup every week because you know the outrageous ceiling exists. Managing expectations is key, however, and those should be set south of clear WR1 status.
5 Things I don’t care about
The backup QB excuse for Pittsburgh
You can say this, that, or the other about why this has been the case but the reality is, through eight quarters of football, the Pittsburgh Steelers offense looks painfully ordinary.
Writing their Week 1 sputter off to the Patriots having their number was one thing, but what’s the excuse this week? It cannot be that backup quarterback Mason Rudolph had to take snaps, because long before he entered the game, this unit looked like a dud.
Ben Roethlisberger was on his way to a subpar game, with a 53.5% completion rate and 5.0 yards per attempt, before suffering a season-ending injury. That was against a vulnerable secondary that bled production to Andy Dalton in Week 1. We didn’t get vintage Big Ben at home. Mason Rudolph took over and provided an economical performance that kept the game close largely thanks to the Seahawks’ miscues on offense. Make no mistake, Ben Roethlisberger not finishing the game is not an excuse for why this offense disappointed again.
For everything that’s wrong with Antonio Brown, the Steelers desperately miss him on the field. Donte Moncrief continues to be a net negative. JuJu Smith-Schuster has two up-and-down performances through two weeks where he too often disappeared for long stretches. None of the players behind them have stepped up.
Using available targets to project a breakout or step-up season should only ever be one footnote in the story, not the entire case in its self. The overall health of the offense is of paramount concern and through two games, the Steelers are showing why removing a top-of-the-line asset is all too damaging to that energy. Some players are getting bigger slices of this pie in the wake of Brown’s departure but the overall dish is far less appetizing.
That issue is only exacerbated with Rudolph having to take over. In years past of Pittsburgh’s offense, we’ve seen Steelers backups be dropped into a unit humming along with elite options in the backfield and out wide. That is no longer the case. Rudolph now takes over a ship that looks lost at sea. It looked it was already time to adjust expectations for high-end players like JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner. Well, new information did become available, but a season-ending injury for Ben Roethlisberger is hardly considered a welcomed report.
The fact that John Ross’ touchdown came in garbage time
The NFL’s leader in receiving yards through two weeks (heading into Sunday Night Football)? John Ross with 270. No one saw that coming but here we are.
His Week 2 outing wasn’t as beefy as his opening game showing and the touchdown came on a garbage-time 66-yard scamper. Yet, Ross still drew eight targets. That’s more than enough to bank on, given his skill-set.
Frankly, Ross looks like he’s here to stay for two reasons. For starters, Ross is filling a crucial role for the Bengals in A.J. Green’s absence. His vertical ability tilts the field and opens up windows for the rest of the pass-catchers, as evidenced by Tyler Boyd’s 10 catches on 10 targets performance after a slow Week 1. Even better, Ross is playing well on his own merit. Ross was more than just a speed player coming into the NFL; he showed an ability to sell deep patterns before snapping back on out routes and curls to pick up chunk yardage. We’re finally getting those flashes.
There was a small drumbeat in the offseason coming out of Cincinnati that Ross was set to fill a Brandin Cooks-type role in Zac Taylor’s offense as he came over from Los Angeles. So far, he hasn’t done anything to lose that gig.
Derrick Henry doubters
Through two weeks of the NFL season, Derrick Henry has 165 yards on the ground (80-plus in back-to-back games) and three total touchdowns. His 87 yards through the air is buoyed by one long catch and run but there’s been nothing fluky about his performance as a rusher.
Derrick Henry has 39 touches thus far. Backup Dion Lewis has just 12. No Titans receiver or tight end has more than nine grabs. It’s painfully apparent that the Titans’ promise will be kept. Henry will indeed be the engine of this offense.
What you get from Henry isn’t as flashy from a box score perspective as other running backs. While he may be the engine of the Titans offense, this is still a slow unit that doesn’t have much scoring upside. Henry will have to do the bulk of the work himself while he’s not attached to a dynamic passing game. He also doesn’t get much receiving work himself, which makes his floor problematic.
However, all that is more than tolerable from your second fantasy running back. As long as the Titans defense continues to look like a strong swarming unit, their top running backs will remain an every-week start. You can pick your nits but you’re starting to grasp at straws. Henry looks like a right answer in 2019.
Adrian Peterson looked good on Sunday. At the very least, he didn’t look like someone who is nearing ancient status at the running back position. However, while he found the end zone, the overall box score result was still middling. Peterson managed 32 total yards on 12 touches.
The veteran back’s uninspiring bottom-line results looked quite similar to what Derrius Guice offered in Week 1 before leaving with an injury. Even Chris Thompson offered just a shaky floor with five catches for 48 yards that only the most desperate full-PPR player would find acceptable.
The reality remains that as long as Washington’s offense remains a middling unit that plays alongside a defense that can’t stop bleeding passing game production, the backfield is unlikely to hold much value. It doesn’t matter who leads the backfield in touches when the overall team outlook remains this poor. What kind of offense a running back is tethered to is of more consequence than the runner’s ability.
We can have a debate as to who is the more optimal play based on game flow between Thompson and Peterson every week. But the answer to the debate probably doesn’t matter. If you’re deciding between holding one of these two or a waiver add with more unknown upside, your choice should be quite clear.
Nelson Agholor’s big drop at the top of the roller coaster
Nelson Agholor has had quite the roller-coaster career in Philadelphia. He’s gone from massive bust, to valuable role player, to 2018 letdown, and headed into this season, a forgotten man. The Eagles couldn’t afford to forget about him Sunday night.
Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson both exited the eventual loss to the Falcons early, leaving Nelson Agholor as the top veteran receiver left on the squad. Agholor responded, even if it was in his usual volatile fashion. After finding the end zone for Carson Wentz, Agholor dropped what would have been a game-winning touchdown. Not long after, he hauled in a deep-shot prayer from Wentz that gave them one last shot in scoring position to win the game.
Agholor will no doubt take some lumps for that drop but it doesn’t matter when projecting his outlook for the coming weeks. Wentz had some issues in this game but overall displayed the insane playmaker mentality that makes him an MVP candidate and the elevating ability that makes us care about any player in his distribution tree. If other receivers miss time, Agholor showed us why he can rest atop that tree for a short stretch. Do not forget about him.