11: 55 AM ET
Mike ClayESPN Writer
- Fantasy football, NFL analyst for ESPN.com
- Member of Pro Football Writers of America
- Founding director of Pro Football Focus Fantasy
- 2013 FSTA award winner for most accurate preseason rankings
The Fantasy 32 analyzes the NFL from a fantasy perspective, with at least one mention of each of the league’s 32 teams. Though efficiency will be discussed plenty, the column will lean heavily on usage data, because volume is king (by far) in fantasy football. Use these tidbits to make the best waiver-wire, trade and lineup decisions for the upcoming week and beyond. Be sure to check back each week of the season for a new version of the Fantasy 32.
Throughout the below team-by-team rundowns, I’ll be referencing “OFP” and “OTD.” OFP stands for opportunity-adjusted fantasy points. Imagine a league in which players are created equal. OFP is a statistic that weighs every pass/carry/target and converts the data into one number that indicates a player’s opportunity to score fantasy points, or his “expected” fantasy point total. For example, if a player has an OFP of 14.5, it means that a league average player who saw the same workload in the same location on the field would have scored 14.5 fantasy points. FORP is the difference between a player’s actual fantasy point total and his OFP. OTD works the same way, except instead of fantasy points, it’s touchdowns. Volume is king in fantasy football, so this is not information you want to overlook.
That said, here is the Week 1 OFP Leaderboard:
Next, here are the players who exceeded their OFP by the largest margin this past week and are thus candidates to see a dip in fantasy production moving forward, assuming they see a similar workload:
And these players who fell short of their OFP by the largest margin last week and thus you shouldn’t be too quick to overreact to their performance when making lineup, trade or waiver decisions:
The Cardinals had a fourth wide receiver on the field for a massive 76% of their offensive snaps on Sunday. Coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense yielded only 33 snaps and two targets to tight ends Charles Clay and Maxx Williams, who are both nowhere close to fantasy relevance. Larry Fitzgerald (78 snaps, 24% target share) and Christian Kirk (76, 24%) remain weekly flex options, though Damiere Byrd (72, 14%) and KeeSean Johnson (63, 18%) need a slight boost in targets to match the snaps before they push for flex appeal. Both are fine stashes in deeper leagues.
RB Devonta Freeman (33 snaps) had a rough Week 1 (11 touches, 31 yards) while all but splitting snaps with Ito Smith (34). Of course, Freeman was facing a very good Minnesota defense that has been terrific at slowing opposing backs in recent seasons. Life won’t be much easier against the Eagles’ strong run defense in Week 2, but the superior Atlanta back will certainly be a candidate for a larger role moving forward. Don’t panic — Freeman is still a solid RB2.
WR Marquise Brown exploded for 5 receptions, 147 yards and 2 touchdowns in his NFL debut, but keep in mind that he was limited to 12 snaps (fifth among Ravens wideouts) and five targets. The gap between his fantasy point total (31) and OFP (10) was second-largest in the league. Brown won’t be able to sustain anything close to fantasy relevance with that playing time. Yes, it’s possible he plays more in Week 2, but that’s nothing more than speculation. He should be added to all benches, but is a super risky start against Arizona.
The Bills’ Week 1 running back snap distribution was as follows: Devin Singletary (43), Frank Gore (18), T.J. Yeldon (2). This has obviously worked out to a two-headed attack, with Gore handling a bulk of the rushes (11 carries, 0 targets) and Singletary most of the receiving work (four carries, six targets). Especially considering Singletary produced 98 yards to Gore’s 20, the rookie is easily the preferred fantasy option and a flex option this week against the Giants.
WR Curtis Samuel underwhelmed in Week 1 (4 targets, 3 receptions, 32 yards), but don’t panic just yet. Samuel was on the field for 59 of the team’s 64 offensive snaps, which was only one behind DJ Moore. Moore, Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen hoarded 81.1% (or 30) of the team’s 37 targets in this one — a number that will be much lower (figure closer to 60%) most weeks. Samuel remains a flex option.
With Chicago dumping the run while playing from behind on Thursday, RB Tarik Cohen paced the team’s backfield with 46 snaps played. Mike Davis handled 38 and rookie David Montgomery played 23. It’s not ideal for Montgomery, whose ADP rose as high as the fourth round during the offseason. Nonetheless, Chicago was held to three points, and it makes logical sense that his role will only increase in the coming weeks. Montgomery is a good bench hold and fringe flex option for now.
Is third-year WR John Ross III this year’s Tyler Boyd? His Week 1 performance suggests that may be the case. Ross exploded for seven catches, 158 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 12 targets in Week 1. He was second among the team’s receivers in snaps (57) and was on the field for 46 of the team’s 56 pass plays. Though FORP tells us he was a bit over his head, Ross’ 19 OFP was ninth-highest among wide receivers, which means there is plenty of opportunity for big fantasy production. Especially with A.J. Green expected to miss a few more weeks, Ross’ big day is enough to put him on the WR3 radar against the 49ers in Week 2.
Nick Chubb was one of a lengthy list of underwhelming Week 1 running backs, but the second-year back’s playing time offers some reason for optimism moving forward. Chubb racked up 17 carries and four targets on 45 snaps. Backup RBs Dontrell Hilliard and D’Ernest Johnson combined for two carries and four targets on 18 snaps. Chubb still posted a top-20 OFP, and he’ll move even closer to the top of the leaderboard once he inevitably manages a few carries near the goal line. He remains an RB1 at the Jets this week.
The Dallas offense exploded for five touchdowns against the Giants on Sunday, but Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t a big part of it (14 touches, 63 yards, 1 touchdown). After holding out most of the offseason, Elliott was limited to 34 snaps, which wasn’t too far ahead of rookie Tony Pollard (21), and his 10 OFP barely cracked the top 30 at the position. Elliott’s role will increase in the coming weeks, so there’s obviously no reason to panic. He’s a top-four fantasy back.
With one week in the books, it appears we have a two-man backfield committee in Denver. Phillip Lindsay handled 31 snaps to Royce Freeman’s 27 in the Broncos’ loss in Oakland. Lindsay held a slight edge in carries (11 to 10) and, more importantly, appears to now be the team’s primary passing-down back. Lindsay was targeted on six of his 17 routes, whereas Freeman managed one target on 13 routes. Meanwhile, Devontae Booker didn’t play a snap. Lindsay is a fringe RB2 and Freeman a non-PPR flex option.
Rookie tight ends are almost never fantasy relevant, but T.J. Hockenson is making a case that he will break the mold. Hockenson was on the field for 57 of Detroit’s 80 snaps Sunday, catching six of nine targets for 131 yards and a score. Hockenson should be rostered in all but shallow formats and is a fringe TE1.
Following Green Bay’s Week 1 victory over Chicago, there’s no longer any debate as to whom the team’s No. 2 wide receiver is. Marquez Valdes-Scantling played 38 snaps, which was second to only Davante Adams (55) and well ahead of Geronimo Allison (28), Trevor Davis (17) and Jake Kumerow (one). Valdes-Scantling is best left on benches against Minnesota this week, but he has WR3/flex upside in his current role.
Will Fuller V was limited to three targets in his 2019 debut, but don’t fret. The former first round pick was on the field for 58 of the team’s 59 offensive snaps, which matched DeAndre Hopkins‘ playing time. Fuller appears locked into No. 2 duties and is thus a WR3/flex option moving forward.
Who is the Colts’ tight end you want in your fantasy lineup? Well, maybe none following Sunday’s six-target, 31-yard combined effort. That said, it does appear Jack Doyle remains the team’s No. 1 at the position. Doyle played 42 snaps (14 routes), compared to 25 (16) for Eric Ebron and 13 (two) for Mo Alie-Cox. Ebron has a little more upside in the touchdown department but figures to see inconsistent targets, whereas Doyle is the safer PPR option.
It wasn’t particularly surprising due to their terrific matchup, but perimeter WRs Chris Conley (7 targets, 6 receptions, 97 yards, 1 TD) and DJ Chark (4-4-146-1) exploded onto the fantasy scene on Sunday. Conley (39 snaps) and Chark (36) both played a generous chunk of the snaps and trailed only Dede Westbrook (41) among Jacksonville wideouts. The duo should be added to benches (Conley is the preferred add), though both will be risky starts against Houston in Week 2 with rookie Gardner Minshew replacing the injured Nick Foles.
As expected, Damien Williams paced the Chiefs’ backfield in snaps (39) in Week 1, but LeSean McCoy (18) was significantly more effective as a rusher (81 yards on 10 carries to Williams’ 26 yards on 13 attempts), leaving Williams to do most of his damage as a receiver (39 yards on seven targets). Williams’ significant receiving role in Kansas City’s pass-heavy offense makes him the preferred fantasy choice for now, but McCoy is also a viable flex, especially considering his role is very likely to expand.
So much for a 50-50 split. Austin Ekeler has been one of the league’s most-efficient backs since entering the league, and that showed up in the snap counts (44 to 15 edge over Justin Jackson) and on the stat sheet against the Colts. Ekeler was his usual electric self, putting up 58 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries, as well as six catches, 96 yards and two additional touchdowns on seven targets. As long as Melvin Gordon is out, Ekeler will be a borderline top-10 fantasy RB, with Jackson serving as a shaky flex play.
All eyes were on Todd Gurley II Sunday, and it’s fair to say the results were a mixed bag. On the negative side, he was limited to one target and deferred two rushing touchdowns to Malcolm Brown. On the plus side, he dominated backfield snaps (51, compared to 19 for Brown and two for Darrell Henderson) and was effective (14 carries, 97 yards). Jared Goff targeted his running backs only once in the game (a number that will definitely rise significantly in the future), so we shouldn’t panic on Gurley just yet. Consider him a good RB2 against the Saints in Week 2. Brown should be added, but can’t be started with confidence just yet. Playing 26.4% of the snaps, including a minimal receiving role, won’t cut it for flex value.
The Dolphins were a disaster nearly across the board in Week 1, and that includes the backfield. Kenyan Drake (25 snaps) enjoyed an edge in playing time over Kalen Ballage (19), but Drake was held to 27 yards on six touches, whereas Ballage struggled to 12 yards on six touches. Drake is the preferred fantasy play, especially in PPR, but is more of a flex option against New England this week. Those of you in deep leagues may want to throw No. 3 RB Mark Walton on your bench.
The Vikings needed only 10 pass attempts to beat the Falcons on Sunday, but at least we got a good look at the backfield. Dalvin Cook (33 snaps) was the main man, with Alexander Mattison (11), Ameer Abdullah (four) and Mike Boone (two) picking up the scraps. No surprise here: Cook was extremely productive, putting up 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 23 touches. Consider Cook a viable RB1 against Green Bay in Week 2 and lock in Mattison as the handcuff.
WR Josh Gordon was on the field for 45 of 67 snaps in his return to action in Week 1. Gordon ran behind Julian Edelman (64 snaps) and Phillip Dorsett (60) and was targeted only four times but figures to operate in three-wide sets with Edelman and Antonio Brown beginning in Week 2. Brown is best-viewed as a fringe WR1, Edelman as a WR2 and Gordon, who has more value in non-PPR leagues, a WR3.
Believe it or not, Ted Ginn Jr. is back on the fantasy radar. The 33-year-old field-stretcher was on the field for 33 of the Saints’ 44 pass plays on Monday night, which was enough to edge Tre’Quan Smith (30 routes) for No. 2 duties behind Michael Thomas (39). Ginn delivered the goods, catching all seven of his targets for 101 yards. Consider Ginn a fringe flex option and Smith more of an end-of-bench stash.
WR Sterling Shepard underwhelmed in his debut as New York’s clear No. 1 wide receiver (7 targets, 6 receptions, 42 yards), but on the plus side, he was on the field for 65 of the team’s 66 offensive snaps. Evan Engram (14 targets) stole the show, but Shepard’s six receptions paced the team’s wide receivers. Shepard is back to working from the slot (at least until Golden Tate returns), so he’ll dodge CB Tre’Davious White and will instead play in the same spot Jamison Crowder did when he put up a league-high 14 receptions against Buffalo in Week 1. Shepard is in the concussion protocol, but if he’s cleared for Sunday, he’ll be a WR3 play.
RB Le’Veon Bell was expected to be brought along slowly in his Jets debut. So much for that. Bell was on the field for all 66 of New York’s offensive snaps. Bell racked up 60 yards on 17 carries, adding six receptions, 32 yards and one touchdown as a receiver. The efficiency wasn’t great, but Bell’s workhorse usage confirms that he remains a strong weekly RB1 play.
Running back Josh Jacobs was expected to play a massive role as a ball-carrier as a rookie, and that was certainly the case in Week 1. Jacobs racked up 85 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 23 carries, adding a 28-yard catch on his lone target. As noted in the above OFP chart, only Christian McCaffrey exceeded Jacobs’ Week 1 OFP and, in fact, Jacobs actually fell short of his expected total. What does it all mean? It means Jacobs has a path to a massive rookie season and is thus a fringe RB1.
The Eagles utilized a three-headed backfield attack in Week 1, but rookie Miles Sanders was clearly leading the committee. Sanders played 36 snaps (12 touches), compared to 20 (12) for Darren Sproles and 16 (eight) for Jordan Howard. A second-round rookie, Sanders’ snap count only figures to increase as the season goes on, though he’ll be limited to flex numbers in his current capacity. He should be in lineups this week against an Atlanta defense that was just gashed for 120 yards by Cook.
WR James Washington flashed with a 45-yard reception on Sunday night, but his playing time leaves something to be desired. Washington ranked fourth among the team’s wideouts in pass routes (29), trailing JuJu Smith-Schuster (41), Donte Moncrief (43) and Ryan Switzer (36), while also deferring work to rookie Diontae Johnson (21). Moncrief’s ugly performance (7 yards on 10 targets) should be a path to a larger role for Washington, so keep the explosive playmaker on your bench.
Rookie WR DK Metcalf was nearly a full-time player in his Seahawks debut, handling 38 of a possible 49 offensive snaps. Metcalf ran a route on 22 of the team’s 24 pass plays, which trailed only Tyler Lockett (23) among the team’s wide receivers. Metcalf trailed only Chris Carson in targets (six) and, in fact, no other Seahawk had more than two. Metcalf’s 17.2 aDOT suggests he’ll be a boom/bust vertical threat, but with Russell Wilson under center, that’s enough to put him on the flex radar, especially in non-PPR.
The 49ers’ wide receiver depth chart was super tricky to sort out during the offseason, and Week 1 didn’t help much. With Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd out with injuries, Deebo Samuel (52 of 60 possible snaps), Marquise Goodwin (45), Richie James (22), Kendrick Bourne (14) and Dante Pettis (two) carried the load. The Pettis number was the most shocking, and he should thus be nowhere close to starting lineups until further notice. Samuel should also be on benches, but considering that no 49ers wide receiver cleared three targets in this game, none of them should be in starting lineups right now. Those of you in 12-team PPR leagues may want to consider Taylor for a bench spot.
Following about as rough a rookie season as you’ll ever see, Ronald Jones burst back onto the fantasy scene with an impressive Week 1 showing. Jones actually finished third among the team’s running backs in snaps (21) but was significantly more effective than Peyton Barber (24) and Dare Ogunbowale (24). Jones put up 93 yards on 14 touches, meaning he already cleared his yardage total from the entire 2017 season (77 yards on 30 touches). Jones is the Buccaneers running back you want on your roster, but considering he was a non-factor as a receiver (four routes), the second-year back is best viewed as a borderline flex in 12-team leagues.
Rookie WR A.J. Brown produced 100 receiving yards in his NFL debut, but a deeper look suggests we shouldn’t overspend on waivers. Brown was targeted only four times and his 22 snaps were fewer than Corey Davis (41) and Tajae Sharpe (29), and just ahead of Adam Humphries (19). On the plus side, Brown (16) trailed only Davis (19) in pass routes, which suggests he’ll be in for a larger role when the game script isn’t calling for as many running plays. Brown remains more of an upside bench stash than a weekly fantasy starter.
WR Terry McLaurin was one of several rookie pass-catchers who made major noise in Week 1. McLaurin caught five of seven targets for 125 yards and one touchdown while playing 49 snaps. That was second most to Trey Quinn (52) among the team’s receivers, with Paul Richardson (43) just behind. McLaurin, who was on the field for 36 of 41 pass plays, is already a full-time player and handling a solid target share. His speed and downfield playmaking ability (20.4 aDOT) were on full display, so he should be a waiver priority this week despite Washington’s shaky quarterback situation. Consider McLaurin a borderline flex in 12-plus team leagues, though there’s room for more.