Fantasy Football Start/Sit: Week 2 (2020)
Wait, you didn’t sit Saquon Barkley for Peyton Barber in Week 1? And you actually started that Michael Thomas scrub when superstars like Willie Snead and Corey Davis were just sitting on the waiver wire? What were you thinking?
Countless fantasy football managers across the land received a swift and severe reminder that sound logic doesn’t always breed optimal results. Weird things happen every week and no, that doesn’t exclude the upcoming one. Perhaps risk-averse gamers — this writer included — would benefit a bit from steering into that volatility and taking a few more chances.
That doesn’t, however, mean managers should take a nihilistic approach to setting their weekly lineups. Results aside, benching Barkley for Barber would have been a demonstrably dumb decision. Benching a stud coming off one bad day for a Week 1 breakout would be just as foolish.
Beyond the basic box score, there’s useful data to absorb from the opening week’s usage. Weighing these risks and rewards, let’s take a look at some fringe Week 2 options with help from the early half-PPR Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR).
Start: Tom Brady (TB) vs. CAR: QB11 ECR
Playing in a uniform other than New England’s for the first time this century, Brady looked … well, he looked like a 43-year-old making his team debut against a stout defense without the benefit of preseason games. In a stat, courtesy of Pro Football Reference, that anyone would have assumed belonged to former Tampa Bay signal-caller Jameis Winston, Brady became the first quarterback in seven years to throw a pick-six in three consecutive contests.
During Week 1’s 34-23 loss to New Orleans, Brady went 23-of-36 for 239 yards, two passing touchdowns, and two interceptions. He did this against a Saints defense that ranked 10th in DVOA against the pass last year. The future Hall of Famer also didn’t receive much assistance from a hobbled Mike Evans, who was held off the scoreboard entirely before catching a late two-yard touchdown. By the way, Brady still finished as Week 1’s QB10 because of a rushing score.
Those expecting him to flip the switch back into MVP form clearly expected too much. Drafters who took Brady as a low-end QB1, however, should stand pat. Since returning from a Week 7 bye last year, the Panthers have allowed 33.7 points per game, winning just once in 11 tries. Per DraftKings Sportsbook, Tampa Bay holds an early over/under line of 28.5 points. While Carolina is far more exploitable against the run, Ronald Jones and/or Leonard Fournette may not be ready to dominate as much as Josh Jacobs. Brady should have a more efficient game with plenty of more trips to the red zone. It’s too soon to consider swapping him out for a streamer under center.
Sit: Carson Wentz (PHI) vs. LAR: QB14 ECR
You typically want a quarterback willing to sling the ball deep, and Wentz certainly didn’t disappoint in that regard. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, he led all Week 1 passers with 12.0 average intended air yards per throw. Despite connecting with Jalen Reagor for a 55-yard strike, Wentz nevertheless averaged a mundane 6.4 yards per attempt. Ten quarterbacks tallied more air yards per completion than his 6.3. Besides, it appears he would have benefited from checking down:
poor desean 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/J0yWJ5Mk7t
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) September 16, 2020
It’s hard to be too critical of Wentz’s Week 1 performance, as he was constantly running for his life. Playing without Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, and Andre Dilliard, the Eagles’ tattered offensive line permitted eight sacks to Washington. The constant pressure also generated two interceptions and fumbles apiece. No quarterback had a worse Week 1 QBR than Wentz (14.2).
Suffice to say, this is a bad time to encounter Aaron Donald. The Rams compiled 50 sacks last season and three more against Dak Prescott on Sunday night. Entering 2020 with sky-high expectations, Prescott got stymied to 266 passing yards and one touchdown on 39 attempts. While Wentz’s outlook certainly improves if Johnson and Miles Sanders return to the starting lineup, that may simply upgrade him from a clear QB2 to a borderline top-15 play.
Start: Zack Moss (BUF) at MIA: RB26 ECR
I instantly gazed eerily at Moss’s RB26 ECR, which seems awfully high for a rookie who turned 12 touches into 27 yards during his NFL debut. The third-round NFL Draft pick sits just three spots behind Bills teammate Devin Singletary, who played a dozen more snaps than Moss (12) and received seven Week 1 targets.
Why is the industry so confident in both this weekend? The matchup undoubtedly plays a major role. Following a decisive 27-17 win over the Jets, the Bills get another vulnerable AFC East opponent in the Dolphins. They’re early 5.5-point favorites on the road, and that might be too low. Buffalo won last year’s meetings by 10 and 17 points in Weeks 7 and 11, respectively. Miami, which relinquished the sixth-most rushing yards per game (135.4) last year, began 2020 by ceding 217 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to New England.
Josh Allen could vulture some scoring opportunities like Cam Newton did last Sunday, but that brings us to another major point in Moss’s favor. Last week, he received a whopping eight red-zone rushes, four inside the five-yard line. While he didn’t capitalize on any, he converted one of his two goal-line targets into a touchdown. Another soft matchup should create more scoring opportunities for the newcomer, making him a solid flex play even if sharing Buffalo’s backfield with Singletary.
Sit: Antonio Gibson (WAS) at ARI: RB29 ECR
Another rookie running back is perched in flex territory. Like Moss, Gibson settled for nine carries in his first NFL game. Unlike Moss, just one came inside the 20. Barber, on the other hand, got 10 of his team-high 17 handoffs in the red zone. Gibson also saw the field for just 18 snaps in Washington’s 27-17 upset over Philadelphia.
Discouraging start aside, a handful of analysts are going back to the well. As of Tuesday evening, he’s ranked higher than Week 1 standouts Nyheim Hines, Malcolm Brown, and Benny Snell. While it’d take a really deep league or desperate manager to trust Barber, his RB55 ECR seems to ignore his touchdown-vulture potential against the Cardinals. Perhaps everyone is emboldened by Raheem Mostert breaking off a 75-yard touchdown reception at Arizona’s expense. Barber certainly won’t do that, but Gibson could play a bigger role in the receiving game.
Make him prove it first. While Barber may not seem like much of a threat, J.D. McKissic actually led the backfield with 31 snaps. If that workload persists, he’ll probably top Week 1’s minus-one yard on four touches. Look for reality to sink in among analysts, leading Gibson to fall into the 30s of Week 2’s RB rankings. Along with Brown and Hines, James Robinson, Joshua Kelley, and even Fournette (RB 34-36, respectively) are higher-floor plays with some upside.
Start: CeeDee Lamb (DAL) vs. ATL: WR37 ECR
Lamb may mature into a reliable fantasy contributor sooner than anticipated. Even as the third in command, he played 59 of 72 snaps for the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. The rookie didn’t dominate, but he didn’t shy away from the grand stage either. The first-round selection secured five of six targets for 59 yards in a losing effort.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, Prescott has one fewer weapon at his disposal. Blake Jarwin will undergo season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL. His replacement, Dalton Shultz, dropped two of his four targets. Randall Cobb and Jason Witten each vacated 83 targets last year, but no tight end — unless Dallas acquires someone else — is likely to receive that full serving now. This could mean a larger role for Lamb, and Week 2 presents the perfect opportunity to test his new positioning.
The Cowboys and Falcons matchup currently brandishes Week 2’s highest over/under line (53) on DraftKings. Russell Wilson just torched Atlanta for 322 passing yards and four touchdowns in a 38-25 victory. Prescott’s 39 pass attempts last week were just a hair higher than last season’s 37.25 per-game average, so he’ll have plenty of chances to spread the wealth. Consider Lamb a worthy WR3 or flex play in a probable shootout.
Sit: Darius Slayton (NYG) at CHI: WR40 ECR
Slayton has 10 touchdowns in 15 career games. He has nine of them in his last 10 contests, including four two-score games. While his upside is off the charts, the second-year wideout still has work to do before fantasy managers treat him as a set-and-forget option.
Slayton will swing some matchups this season; the question is what he’ll do when not breaking the bank. Last year, he totaled 322 in nine bouts without reaching paydirt. One of his best scoreless performances was a four-catch, 67-yard effort against the Bears following a 10-catch, 121-yard, two-touchdown outburst versus the Jets. That’s a fine outcome, but he displayed a far lower floor. After limiting opposing wide receivers to the second-most fantasy points behind the Patriots, the Bears contained Marvin Jones Sr. to 55 yards without Kenny Golladay in Detroit’s Week 1 lineup. And if Golden Tate returns from a hamstring injury, the Giants could have a full complement of pass-catchers (Slayton, Tate, Sterling Shepard, Saquon Barkley, and Evan Engram) active all at once for the first time.
Although Slayton could make this call foolish in hindsight, consider that Jones, Lamb, Diontae Johnson, Jamison Crowder, and Emmanuel Sanders (more on him in a moment) make up a loaded group of wide receivers narrowly above him in the ECR.
Start: Jared Cook (NO) at LVR: TE11 ECR
Cook was a slam-dunk fade in 2020 drafts. Of course he wouldn’t replicate last year’s nine touchdowns with just 43 catches and 65 targets. Despite the lofty 2019 touchdown tally, he topped four catches in two games and 75 yards in just three.
While he didn’t reach the end zone last Sunday, Cook instead caught five of seven targets for 80 yards.
The major difference between last year and last week? Michael Thomas was shockingly a non-factor, producing just 15 yards on five targets. According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the star wide receiver’s ankle is worse than the Saints thought. He’s likely to miss a few weeks, leaving Drew Brees starving for dependable targets. Sanders should feast in Thomas’ absence, but no other New Orleans receiver caught more than one pass last Sunday. The lower target share that steered drafters away from Cook could rise considerably. That may include steady red-zone attention against a Raiders defense that surrendered seven touchdowns to tight ends last season.
Sit: Rob Gronkowski (TB) vs. CAR: TE18 ECR
While Brady’s rest-of-season outlook shouldn’t change drastically, Week 1 was the worst-case scenario for Gronkowski’s fantasy value. Retired in 2019, the brief WWE 24/7 Champion returned to the gridiron to play with his former Patriots teammate. He could serve a huge role in Tampa Bay’s offense, but not as an every-week fantasy starter. He’s back to block.
Gronkowski caught two of three targets for 11 yards in his NFL comeback. Making matters worse, O.J. Howard doubled the veteran’s reception and target counts while producing a nine-yard touchdown. Quite frankly, an inflated touchdown total a la Jimmy Graham in 2017 is the only way Gronk will justify his preseason price. He’s more likely to finish closer to the version of Graham that floundered in Green Bay over the last two years. Until Gronkowski proves otherwise, don’t start a touchdown-or-bust tight end who has to compete with two other tight ends on his team (Howard and Cameron Brate) for goal-line looks.
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