Fantasy Football Weekly Recap: Week 1 (2019)
From Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon to Andrew Luck and Antonio Brown, the 2019 NFL preseason was chock full of off-the-field drama. But nothing can compare to actual football. And actual football is back, baby!
There is no shortage of fantasy storylines coming out of the opening week, led by Lamar Jackson’s offensive explosion and Todd Gurley’s mysterious usage. But this week may be most remembered for eye-opening performances from a group of young pass-catchers.
Top 7 Surprises
Six of the top eight receiving yardage totals in Week 1 came from players who are 23 years old or younger, so look no further than these young guns for the biggest surprises of the week:
Marquise Brown (WR – BAL)
The Ravens spent a first-round pick on Hollywood Brown this spring, so there was already plenty of excitement about his long-term prospects in dynasty leagues. But only his immediate family could have expected him to go off for 147 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1. Brown is sure to be a hot waiver-wire pickup in redraft leagues this week, but before you get too carried away in your FAAB bidding, consider that he played just 12 snaps and was shut down after the Dolphins put Xavien Howard on him. As an exciting talent in an ascending offense, Brown is absolutely worth stashing, but I’ll need to see more before I consider him a weekly starting option in 10- and 12-team leagues.
T.J. Hockenson (TE – DET)
Hockenson’s 131 receiving yards were the most a tight end has ever put up in their first game. Rookie tight ends typically don’t produce much in fantasy because they have a lot on their plate (blocking assignments and receiver routes), but perhaps Hockenson will be an exception to the rule. The Lions are among the teams with the most targets to replace from last season, so the opportunity should be there for him to produce TE1 numbers.
John Ross (WR – CIN)
The ninth overall pick of the 2017 draft, Ross has proven to be quite an enigma in his first two seasons in Cincinnati. Things could finally be looking up for him under new head coach (and Sean McVay protegee) Zac Taylor. The Bengals are counting on Ross to produce with A.J. Green sidelined, and that’s just what he did in Week 1, hauling in seven catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns on a whopping 12 targets. He did have a couple of drops, but they were clearly outweighed by his big plays. If Taylor’s offense is anything like McVay’s, there will be room for three productive receivers in it, so perhaps Ross can hang onto some fantasy value even after Green returns.
Michael Gallup (WR – DAL)
Heading into the season, Gallup looked like a candidate to take a second-year leap, and he’s certainly off to a great start after catching all seven of his targets for 158 yards against the Giants on Sunday. The Cowboys are not a team that has often produced two viable fantasy receivers in recent seasons, and Amari Cooper is locked in as the top option in this passing game. But if Dak Prescott takes a big step forward as a passer this season, he could bring Gallup along for the ride.
D.J. Chark (WR – JAC)
Chark was basically a non-factor as a rookie in 2018, but the second-round pick put up a huge performance in Week 1 with 146 yards and a score. Unfortunately, it’s been just about impossible to make sense of the Jaguars’ receiving corps over the last couple seasons, and it may not get any easier in 2019. Dede Westbrook is considered the team’s number one receiver, but it was Chark who had the biggest fantasy performance in Week 1, while Chris Conley led the team in targets. Nick Foles‘ injury adds another layer of uncertainty. Will Gardner Minshew be able to consistently move the ball, and if so, who will emerge as his favorite target?
Terry McLaurin (WR – WAS)
McLaurin generated some buzz in dynasty circles this preseason, but he’s another young receiver who has landed on the redraft radar sooner than expected. There’s really no one standing in the way of McLaurin emerging as Washington’s top receiver, but it’s also easy to imagine guys like Trey Quinn, Paul Richardson, and Chris Thompson hogging targets at McLaurin’s expense. It’s also unrealistic to expect Case Keenum to throw for 380 yards each week, so McLaurin’s upside may be capped in the short term. He still makes for an interesting wait-and-see stash if you’ve got a roster spot to play with.
A.J. Brown (WR – TEN)
Brown’s big Week 1 performance could get lost among all the other young receivers on this list, but this second-round rookie reached the century mark in receiving yards, too. Brown played fewer snaps than Corey Davis and Tajae Sharpe, and he did all of his damage on two big plays of 47+ yards. With that in mind, this performance doesn’t look particularly sustainable in what should still be a low-yield offense. But Davis has repeatedly failed to lay his claim to number one receiver duties in Tennessee, so perhaps Brown will overtake him as the season progresses.
Top 7 Disappointments
Todd Gurley (RB – LAR)
Gurley looked healthy and was actually quite productive, but anyone that used a first or second-round pick on him has to be disappointed with Malcolm Brown vulturing two touchdowns. Gurley played 70 percent of the snaps and topped 100 total yards, so it’s hardly time to panic, but he simply won’t be an elite RB1 without the gaudy touchdown totals he’s had in the past. The Rams’ red-zone usage needs to be closely monitored going forward, and Brown is a worthy add whether you own Gurley or not.
After all the preseason hype, the Browns’ offense fell flat on its face in Week 1. Baker Mayfield confidently led Cleveland right down the field for a score on the opening drive, but then he spent the rest of the afternoon running for his life behind a shaky offensive line and making ill-advised throws into coverage. Still, in the big picture, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, and Nick Chubb all looked fine, and Mayfield and Co. should have much better days ahead of them.
Those who were expecting offensive fireworks from Bruce Arians’ Bucs (myself included) were left sorely disappointed by their Week 1 performance. Jameis Winston was flat-out bad, throwing for under 200 yards and three picks, while Mike Evans did not seem to be fully over the illness that limited him during the week. One bright spot was Ronald Jones, who produced 93 total yards on 14 touches and could soon have the chance to put some distance between himself and the other members of Tampa’s three-way RB committee. As with the Browns, it isn’t quite time to panic, but it would certainly be nice to see a better performance from Winston on Thursday in Carolina.
For one week at least, Pittsburgh looked to sorely miss Antonio Brown. The Steelers never could get into a rhythm against the Patriots, who put Ben Roethlisberger under constant pressure and didn’t give an inch of space to JuJu Smith-Schuster or any of Pittsburgh’s other receivers. This was a particularly tough matchup, so we shouldn’t overreact, but it is fair to say this team is going to need at least one of Vance McDonald, Donte Moncrief, or James Washington to step up.
Kerryon Johnson (RB – DET)
The warning signs were there in the preseason, but we now have confirmation that Kerryon is going to split a lot of touches with C.J. Anderson. Kerryon out-touched Anderson 18-11 in a game with a positive gamescript, so 15-20 touches looks like a best-case scenario for Johnson right now. He probably needs to be considered a low-end RB2 until we see him get a bigger piece of the pie.
George Kittle (TE – SF)
Kittle’s 54 receiving yards didn’t move the needle for fantasy owners, but he had two touchdowns called back on penalties. With no San Francisco wide receiver stepping up in a meaningful way against the Bucs, Kittle is locked in as far and away the top option in their passing game. This game was disappointing, but expect big things from Kittle in the near future.
Injuries are always the most disappointing thing in fantasy football, and there were plenty of them in Week 1. Tyreek Hill suffered a shoulder injury that will cost him a few weeks if not more. Nick Foles broke his clavicle and is out indefinitely. Tevin Coleman suffered an ankle injury that has Kyle Shanahan “concerned.” Devin Funchess broke his collarbone. And we’re still awaiting more details on Joe Mixon (ankle), Mike Williams (knee), and JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe).
Lamar Jackson became the first QB in NFL history to have a game with 5+ TDs, 300+ passing yards, 15+ yards per attempt, and 3 or fewer incompletions. Granted, it was against a Miami squad that barely qualifies as NFL-caliber, but Jackson’s performance seems to have put the questions about his passing ability to rest. His rushing ability already had him in the QB1 conversation, but he could be truly elite if he can continue to tear defenses apart with his arm.
Dante Pettis played just two snaps for the 49ers. Coach Kyle Shanahan warned throughout the preseason that Pettis would need to “earn a role” in the offense, but it was widely seen as a motivating ploy for the 2018 second-round pick, who was listed as the top receiver on the team’s unofficial depth chart. Well, that motivating ploy has evidently carried over into the regular season. Shanahan suggested that Pettis’ sore groin was also partially responsible for his limited playing time, so you might want to give him at least one more week before you consider cutting him loose.
LeSean McCoy more than tripled Damien Williams’ rushing output on three fewer carries. With 65 total yards and a touchdown, Williams was hardly a disaster for his fantasy owners this week, but the performance did little to alleviate concerns that McCoy could overtake him as the Chiefs’ primary back. It’s only one game, but it certainly looks like McCoy will emerge as the back of choice on early/running downs while Williams is largely relegated to passing-down duties.
Jamison Crowder became the first receiver in NFL history to catch 14 or more balls and not top 100 yards. The performance backs up preseason predictions that Crowder could approach 100 catches out of the slot this year, but his average depth of target (aDOT) of just three yards suggests Crowder is going to be a much more viable play in PPR leagues than standard formats.
The Vikings only attempted 10 passes in their easy victory over the Falcons. Not every game will play out like this one, where Minnesota jumped out to a 21-0 lead before halftime. But it sure seems like Mike Zimmer will prefer employing a run-heavy approach whenever possible, which isn’t the greatest news for Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, or Stefon Diggs from a fantasy perspective.
Christian McCaffrey is the fifth player in the Super Bowl era to have 10+ receptions and 120+ rushing yards in a game, and he is the only player to do it twice. You probably don’t need me to tell you that McCaffrey is good, but it might be time to start thinking of him as one of the best dual-threat RBs to ever play the game.
The Ravens’ offense is on the rise. We knew Baltimore was going to have an excellent running game, but the demolition of the Dolphins showed this team could be capable of much more.
Sammy Watkins could be a WR1 for however long Tyreek Hill is out. With 198 yards and three touchdowns, Watkins had the fantasy line of the week. He’s an excellent fantasy start until Hill returns, if not longer.
The Patriots are still the envy of the league. New England looks like it hardly needs Antonio Brown, so it’s scary to think about what this offense will look like if the AB gambit pays off.