With storylines across the league bubbling up over an entire seven-month offseason, it was hard to focus on just five burning questions heading into week 1, but that’s what I tried to do. Every week I’m going to address the biggest and toughest fantasy questions pertaining to the upcoming slate of games and analyze all the potential outcomes.
Here are my Week 1 burning questions:
Will Ezekiel Elliott (RB – DAL) take any time to adjust?
The most prominent question of this entire offseason was “is Zeke going to sign a new contract before Week 1?” Elliott and the Cowboys managed to get a deal done less than a week before the start of the season, so the new question is, “will Zeke be given a full load just five days after rejoining his teammates?”
Since 2016, Elliott has 607 more rushing yards than anyone else in the league, and that span includes missing six games in 2017 and a single game in both 2016 and ’18. There’s no question that he’s been one of the most dominant forces when he’s on the field, but there have been reports coming out saying he’ll only get 20-25 snaps in Week 1 since he’s still getting acclimated. It will be extremely hard to bench Elliott on your fantasy team, especially in such a tasty matchup against the Giants who ranked in the bottom 10 in defensive yards and points last year.
My advice is to start him. If the Cowboys get near the goal line you know who’s getting the ball, and I imagine they’re going to give him a bit more work than what’s being reported. Temper your expectations for his workload in Week 1, but don’t leave him on your bench.
How will the Colts move on without Andrew Luck?
Two weeks ago, the NFL community was taken for a loop when Andrew Luck retired from the NFL after only seven seasons in the league. He claimed the constant injuries and rehabbing them were taking away from the game and it was something he could no longer carry on with. Despite the questionable timing of his announcement, the Colts wished Luck the best and continued business as usual with Jacoby Brissett, who had been getting most of the first-team reps in the preseason anyways.
Before Luck retired though, the Colts looked like the favorites in the AFC South and even had championship aspirations. Can Brissett lead this team anywhere near the potential they had with Luck at the helm?
Although Brissett is a significant downgrade, the Colts have a well-rounded team. In 2018, their defense ranked 10th in points allowed and 11th in yards allowed, the first time they’ve been inside the top-12 in both of those categories since 2008. They also significantly improved their offensive line last year. Pro Football Focus ranked their unit 10th in pass blocking and third in run blocking. Brissett has an ideal supporting cast, but the Colts’ successes and failures will be put squarely on his shoulders.
How will all the backfields play out?
One thing that everyone from beat writers to fantasy analysts try and understand during the offseason is how a team will divide the snap share and touches among its backfield. If a committee is expected, who will lead the committee and how often will he be on the field? If a bell cow is expected, how many snaps will the backup get and is he even worth rostering? In Week 1 we’ll finally get some answers.
As an avid Matt Breida “truther,” I’m excited to see how the 49ers backfield unfolds. Last year they brought in Jerick McKinnon in free agency to be their workhorse running back. When he went on IR before the season started, Breida carried the load and at one point led the league in rushing, but he couldn’t stay healthy either.
In 2019 Kyle Shanahan brought in a familiar face in Tevin Coleman to make the situation even muddier. The 49ers recently put McKinnon on IR again so he’ll be out at least eight games this season, and it will be a battle between the efficient but often injured Breida and the new face but never made it as a workhorse Coleman. Other backfields I’m excited to see unfold are the Bears and Eagles who both have rookies eyeing a takeover of the lead-back role.
How will the former Steelers superstars fare on their new teams?
Dating back to the last offseason, it could be argued that no two players made more noise off the field than Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. In 2017, they were two All-Pro players playing happily on the same team. In 2018 and ’19 though, there was no happiness, and no playing at all on Bell’s part. After a year of sitting out, Bell found a new home with the New York Jets. He hasn’t played a football game in over 600 days, so how is he going to look on a significantly worse team with a significantly worse offensive line? What will he do if he can’t dance patiently behind the line as he did so famously in Pittsburgh? What will he do when the entire defense focuses solely on him because they don’t have to worry about Antonio Brown?
And for Brown, can he play without Big Ben Roethlisberger? The last time we saw Brown without Big Ben for an extended period of time was in 2015 when Michael Vick filled in for the injured quarterback. He started three games for the Steelers. In those three games, Brown totaled 11 receptions for 111 yards and zero touchdowns. Can he create chemistry with Derek Carr the way he had it (at least on the field) with Big Ben?
How much will Todd Gurley (RB – LAR) play?
Before all the running backs decided to hold out for new contracts, the biggest buzz of the offseason was Todd Gurley’s knees. The fantasy football MVP of the past two seasons isn’t being drafted until the second round because everyone is terrified he will fall apart the first time he gets tackled in a game. The Rams are committed to managing Gurley’s usage more carefully, and even traded up in the draft to grab running back Darrell Henderson in the third round, but how much will Gurley actually play? And how much does he need to play in order to sustain his status as an RB1?
In the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl last season, Gurley was given a total of 14 carries for 45 yards. Hopefully, Sean McVay is implementing a plan for him to be more consistent and also have more consistent help, because he looked like he was falling off a cliff in the playoffs last year.