The Primer: Week 2 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
This past week marked the 19th anniversary of 9/11. There are few events in life you remember exactly where you were when they happened. It was a little more than that to me.
Right out of high school, my dad gave me an option. He said I could go to college, or I could go to work for him in the family business where we built and delivered office furniture. Truth be told, I didn’t even know what I wanted to do with my life at that point. All I knew was that I wanted to make some money, buy a nice car, and eventually a home.
Things were going well. Business was great, I got a raise, and bought a brand-new Mustang off the showroom floor before I turned 19 years old. Then that day came…
As I sat in the truck listening to the horror that was taking place, I could feel my heart breaking for those stuck in that building. It was the first time I’d felt heartbroken for people I didn’t know. While some wouldn’t want to admit that at nearly 19 years old, we all mature at our own pace.
I felt helpless… weak. I had tears falling as the second tower was struck. Then reality hit me; the next stop on our schedule for the day was the Sears Tower. I called my dad and told him I didn’t want to go down there because I was terrified of what might happen. He told me that I couldn’t go through life scared and wondering what could/might happen. He said we had to push through and do our jobs.
It turned into an argument, but I followed instruction and started heading downtown. Heading down there, all I could do was stare at the Sears Tower and wonder “will I see something fly into it?” By the time I’d arrived, they shut down the city and forced everyone to evacuate.
After getting home, I watched the coverage and it only made me weaker. I wanted to do something. Anything. My dad was in the Army when he was younger, so I told him I wanted to go enlist and fight for our country. He backed me and said that if it’s what I wanted; he would support me. I went down to the local recruitment office and they put me through the whole ordeal. Physical fitness, drug test, paperwork, etc. I passed all the tests and they said they wanted me to go home for a week, lose five pounds, then come back.
I was shocked to say the least, as I was in the best shape of my life at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds. But what was five pounds to me? I could drop that by wearing a sauna suit and going for a quick run. No big deal. I went back home to tell my dad about it and he said he wouldn’t allow me to go back. He said that if I was willing to die for my country, that should’ve been enough. He said to tell them to take the five pounds and shove it… well, you get the idea. I had no clue what to make of it, but I told myself he wasn’t wrong.
A year and a half later, my daughter was born. That would’ve never happened had I gone overseas. Heck, I may not be here writing this. It’s crazy how one event can change your outlook on life and where you’re headed. I talked to a recruiter a few years back and told him what had happened to me. He said that it was likely them sending you home to ensure it wasn’t an emotional decision to enlist. It makes sense. He’s since passed away, but I can only imagine my dad’s relief when he was able to tell me not to go. I mean, who wants their son to go to war?
Every time I go to the city, I look up and thank God the Sears Tower is still standing. To those who lost a loved one in those tragic events that day, I’m truly sorry. I’ll never forget how I felt on that day. Let it be a reminder that life is too short, so make the most of it every single day.
NYG at CHI | LAR at PHI | ATL at DAL | CAR at TB | SF at NYJ | DEN at PIT | JAC at TEN | DET at GB | BUF at MIA | MIN at IND | WAS at ARI | BAL at HOU | KC at LAC | NE at SEA | NO at LVR
So, what does The Primer offer? Anything you could ever want. Seriously, it’ll have wide receiver/cornerback matchups, recent history against each team, comparable player performances, unique stats, and most importantly, how they should be played that particular week. The idea here is to give you as much information and confidence as possible when you hit that ‘Submit Lineup’ button each week.
On top of all that, I’ll come back by Saturday morning to update once practice participation reports are posted. Still want more? We’ll be doing a livestream on our YouTube channel every Sunday morning from 11-12 EST, breaking down the inactives and letting you know which players benefit the most from them.
New York Giants at Chicago Bears
Line: CHI by 5.5
Daniel Jones: The Steelers weren’t going to make life easy on Saquon Barkley last week, so Jones was forced to throw more than the Giants probably would’ve liked. He made some great throws, and others that were not so great, but overall, his 17.4 fantasy points would’ve been the fourth-best number against the Steelers last year. The Bears defense isn’t as ferocious as it used to be, as they struggled to get constant pressure on Matthew Stafford last week, but they’re still a good unit. They’ve allowed just one quarterback over their last 17 games to average more than 7.7 yards per attempt, which is extremely good. You’d have to go all the way back to Week 7 of 2018 to find the last time they allowed three passing touchdowns. They’ve done a good job containing quarterbacks on the ground, too, as they allowed just one quarterback all of last year to rush for more than 27 yards. Jones himself finished with 21-of-36 passing for 150 yards, two touchdowns, and 27 rushing yards in their Week 12 meeting last year. All in all, it’s a similar situation for him as it was last week, even if the Bears aren’t quite the defense the Steelers are. Jones should be considered a middling QB2.
Mitchell Trubisky: I posted something in last week’s Weekend Waiver Wire Stashes piece (comes out every Saturday) saying that Trubisky could be a top-12 fantasy quarterback through two weeks with the Lions and Giants on the schedule. I was feeling really dumb until the fourth quarter of that game, when Trubisky got into a rhythm and finished as the QB7 on the week. Do you want to risk that again? The Giants defense looked a lot better in their first game under Joe Judge than I expected them to, as installing a new defense/offense during this offseason had to be tough. However, it seemed the Steelers caught on to it and adjusted as the game went on. Ben Roethlisberger wound up throwing for 229 yards and three touchdowns in his first start back from elbow surgery. The Giants have now allowed 15-of-17 quarterbacks to finish with at least 17.1 fantasy points since the start of last year. That’s ridiculous. They’re also playing on a short week while traveling to Chicago, which could present additional concerns about their performance. We need to collect more information on Judge’s defense before jumping to conclusions, but the lack of talent on the defensive side of the ball can only go so far. Trubisky can be considered a mid-to-high-end QB2 once again this week, though there are other streamers who don’t come with the volatility he has throughout his career.
Saquon Barkley: It was a mess for Barkley in Week 1, which was somewhat expected considering the opponent, but no one could’ve forecasted what happened over and over again in the Giants backfield. There were guys hitting him as he was taking the handoff, which is extremely tough to do, meaning they were unblocked. We talked about how good the Steelers run defense was last week, so don’t worry too much, though the blocking up front was a real problem. The Bears struggled without Akiem Hicks last year, and then struggled to slow down Adrian Peterson last week with Eddie Goldman off the field. Peterson rumbled for 93 yards on just 14 carries, looking as spry as ever. They allowed a rushing touchdown to the rookie D’Andre Swift, and should’ve allowed him a receiving touchdown too, as he was wide open in the end zone. This Bears defense has gone through changes over the last few years and missing a key piece up the middle has made them semi vulnerable. They have done a good job overall with running backs in the passing game, though, allowing just 5.15 yards per target since the start of last year, including just two receiving touchdowns. This isn’t a great matchup for Barkley, especially on a short week, but you’ll always play him with that big play ability combined with massive volume he has. It’s not a week to trust him in cash games, though.
David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen: Everyone wants to laugh about it, but Montgomery looked extremely good in Week 1, doing whatever he had to do to gain extra yards. Coming off a groin injury that had him limited early in the week, it was a massive step in the right direction. As expected, Cohen was limited in the number of times they handed him the ball (7), but it was surprising to see him wind up with just two receptions. The Giants looked to be strong when holding James Conner to just 17 yards on his first eight touches, but he was apparently trying to push through an ankle injury. Once Benny Snell took over, he rushed for 113 yards on 19 carries. I thought Blake Martinez played a good game last week in his new defense, which is important as the centerpiece and their big free agent acquisition. This Giants defense seemed to have taken a step in the right direction under Joe Judge, so we can’t assume it’s the same unit as last year, which was actually better than expected, allowing 3.96 yards per carry on the year. Still, the Bears are five-point home favorites against a team coming off a short week. Montgomery should be considered a mid-to-low-end RB2 who will get the goal-line opportunities. Cohen is a bit trickier since the Giants secondary is similar to the Lions in that they don’t have the cornerbacks to slow down wide receivers. Still, James Bradberry is better than anything the Lions had, so we should see a few more targets funneled Cohen’s way. There were just five games all of last year where Cohen saw fewer than five targets. He should be considered a low-end RB3/flex play here.
Sterling Shepard: With the way the game started last week, it seemed Shepard would see 20 targets in that game. Many will see the final results of Slayton’s two-touchdown performance and think, “here we go again,” but Shepard looked very good against a tough defense, catching all six passes for 47 yards. With Golden Tate out of the lineup, he played a lot of snaps in the slot, which is where he’s arguably the best. We don’t know if Tate will return yet this week, so stay tuned. If Tate returns, Shepard will match up with rookie Jaylon Johnson quite a bit in coverage. He played competently in his first NFL game last week, allowing just 2-of-6 passing for 40 yards in his coverage, though he did get run over by Marvin Jones. If Tate is out, that would put Shepard against Buster Skrine, who had a rough game in Week 1, allowing Danny Amendola to rack up five catches for 81 yards on just seven targets. Either way, it’s not the worst matchup for Shepard, but it’s also not great. There were 27 receivers who saw at least six targets against the Bears last year, and just 14 of them scored double-digit PPR points. Shepard is likely the safest Giants WR play here, but he’s just a WR4.
Golden Tate: His status is still uncertain for this week, though we did hear mumblings from Giants beat reporters last week that Tate didn’t look close to 100 percent in practice, which is likely why he was held out. This game is just six days later, so there are no guarantees. In the new offense, we don’t know if he’ll have the same role as he did under Pat Shurmur, as Sterling Shepard played in the slot a lot in Week 1. That could’ve been completely due to Tate being out, but it also could mean be that they plan on rotating these two around, which would be a negative for Tate at his advanced age. Buster Skrine is the Bears slot cornerback who played much better than expected last year but opened 2020 by allowing five catches and 81 yards to Danny Amendola. There are so many unknowns about Tate, it’s best to move forward without him this week, as there are many unknowns, including his health. Stay tuned for updates to his status here. *Update* He was limited in practice all week and is going to draw the questionable tag. You’re better off playing this one safe.
Darius Slayton: Now that was an impressive performance out of Slayton. He just smashed the Steelers for 6/102/2, which amounted to 28.2 PPR points. That defense had allowed just two 20-point receivers all of 2019, and neither of them topped 25.5 points. I won’t say that Slayton is locked-in as the WR1 just yet because we saw shades of this last year, only for him to go out the next week and see three targets. Seriously, he totaled 154 yards and two touchdowns in Week 14, but then saw three targets the following week. This is a new offense and he led the team with nine targets, so we must embrace the possibility that he’s going to break out (more consistently). He plays almost exclusively on the perimeter, which will match him up with both Kyle Fuller and rookie Jaylon Johnson. It’s worth noting that the Bears did allow just seven pass plays of 40-plus yards last year (third-fewest), but the Steelers defense had allowed just six of them last year, and Slayton got behind them for a 41-yard touchdown. When you start Slayton, you must know what you’re getting yourself into. Last year, against these Bears, he totaled four catches for 67 yards on seven targets. He should be considered a boom-or-bust WR4.
Allen Robinson: In case you haven’t heard, Robinson has reportedly requested a trade. He’s coming off a mediocre performance, so maybe it’s not the best time, but the Bears should be making this right for the top-10 NFL wide receiver. It’ll be business as usual for Robinson this week, though he’ll have a tougher matchup than he did last week. The Giants acquired James Bradberry this offseason, and though he’s their only starting-worthy cornerback, he’s the one who’ll see Robinson the most. Bradberry was charged with giving up two touchdowns in his coverage last week, but one was on a rub play where he was essentially screened out of the play, and the other was when he tried to come into the slot to cover JuJu Smith-Schuster. Bradberry isn’t a slot cornerback (it’s a different position) and the Steelers took advantage. If the Bears get creative with Robinson, he’ll be just fine. He did play 41.7 percent of his snaps in the slot last week. Start him as a low-end WR1 here.
Anthony Miller: The end result was good, as Miller compiled four receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown, but there are concerns. He ran just 22 pass routes last week, while Ted Ginn ran 16, Javon Wims ran 13, and Darnell Mooney ran 12. They all pale in comparison to Allen Robinson‘s 36 routes, so Miller isn’t quite an every-down player. Miller’s 3.45 yards per route run in Week 1 ranked sixth among receivers who played 20-plus snaps. The Giants have fourth-round rookie Darnay Holmes covering the slot, which is more good news for Miller, who played almost all his snaps there. Holmes allowed 5-of-6 passing for 56 yards in his coverage last week. There may have been some first game jitters, but he wasn’t someone they expected to come in and be impactful right away. The biggest thing standing in Miller’s way of a breakout is Matt Nagy. Because of that, we can’t say Miller is a can’t-miss player, even in a great matchup. Consider him an upside WR4 who really should finish as a top-30 receiver in this matchup.
Evan Engram: It was a horrible game for Engram last week, who dropped multiple passes, including a should-be touchdown where he stopped his route. He just looked to not be completely there in this game. We heard rumblings about the Giants trying to trade him in the offseason, so maybe there’s a disconnect with him and the coaching staff. Whatever the case, he didn’t look good. Seven targets is something to latch onto, though. The Bears are coming off a game in which they allowed T.J. Hockenson to catch all five of his targets for 56 yards and a touchdown. The Bears allowed just two tight ends to top 50 yards last year, though there were plenty who totaled 30-50 yards, which is why they allowed 13 tight ends to finish as top-20 options. They have a new safety in Tashaun Gipson, so it’s possible there will be a learning curve between him and Eddie Jackson. Engram should come with a decent floor as a top-15 tight end, but if he plays like he did last week, they’re going to give more snaps to Kaden Smith, and rightfully so.
Jimmy Graham: He turned seven targets into 25 yards in his Bears debut, though one of them was for a touchdown. He actually should’ve scored twice, but Graham mistimed his jump for the ball. Let me be clear: He looks like a soon-to-be 34-year-old tight end. But it’s clear the Bears want to get him the ball, if possible. The Giants allowed just two tight ends last year to have at least 50 yards and a touchdown, and only one was a starter. Graham played against them and totaled just one catch for 16 yards, though he was with a different team and the Giants were under a different head coach/coordinator. Jabrill Peppers is a physical safety and won’t allow Graham to push him around, which is part of the reason I’m fading Graham in this game. He’s going to be touchdown-or-bust most weeks, so given the primary matchup with Peppers, who hasn’t allowed a touchdown in his coverage since coming to the Giants (last year), I’m not recommending him as a streamer.
Los Angeles Rams at Philadelphia Eagles
Line: LAR by 1.5
Jared Goff: We talked last week about Goff’s splits against good/bad pass defenses. In case you missed it, here are the teams he had his biggest games against in 2019: The Cardinals twice (32nd), Falcons (25th), Bengals (27th), and Bucs (23rd). The Cowboys ranked 13th and he walked away from that game with 275 yards and no touchdowns. The Eagles ranked 14th last year, and then just acquired cornerbacks Darius Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman this offseason. Sure, the Eagles lost last week, but it wasn’t due to their pass defense that allowed just 178 yards. The Eagles bring the pressure with their front seven, too. They sacked Haskins on 8.8 percent of his dropbacks last week, which ranked as the fifth-highest mark in Week 1. Keep in mind they didn’t have Derek Barnett off the edge or Javon Hargrave on the interior. Barnett is expected to play this week, while Hargrave is still a question mark. But bottom line is that this pass defense isn’t a cakewalk, which is where Goff does well. Because of that, he’s not a recommended streamer. Here’s a crazy stat on Goff: Since that shootout game on Monday night against the Chiefs in 2018, he’s thrown just 28 touchdowns in 22 games on 841 pass attempts (3.3 percent). Wait for the bad defenses to roll in before trusting him.
Carson Wentz: We knew the Eagles were down three offensive lineman, but what we didn’t know was that Wentz was going to hold onto the ball for far too long. He was continually uncertain and it led to him getting sacked eight times for 62 yards. He also fumbled twice (lost one). It was a bad game all around for him, and the matchup doesn’t get any better this week. Washington has one of the most talented front sevens in football, but Aaron Donald should count as two players, making life unfair on offensive lines. The Cowboys were a team that many had ranked as the No. 1 unit in the league, and the Rams defensive line continually brought pressure to Dak Prescott, limiting him to just 6.8 yards per attempt. There were just two games in 2019 where he averaged fewer yards per attempt. The Rams aren’t untouchable, though. There were three games in 2019 where they allowed 29-plus fantasy points to quarterbacks, though every other quarterback was held to fewer than 18 fantasy points. It’s also worth noting that only one of those 29-point games came with Jalen Ramsey on the team. Knowing I don’t expect Jared Goff to play particularly well, I can’t see a whole lot of pass attempts for Wentz in this game. He should be considered a mid-to-high-end QB2 who might not have a very high ceiling.
Malcolm Brown, Cam Akers, and Darrell Henderson: We knew it would be a timeshare, and though I said that Brown would have a larger role than most expected, no one guessed he’d lead the team with 21 touches. By comparison, there were just three games last year where Todd Gurley totaled 21 touches. We heard Sean McVay say he wanted to steal pages out of Kyle Shanahan’s book, and he did just that in Week 1 as his running backs combined for a massive 39 touches in a win over the Cowboys. The Eagles run defense is going to be a much tougher test. Sure, they allowed two rushing touchdowns to Peyton Barber, but they’ve now allowed just 3.59 yards per carry since the start of the 2019 season. Running backs have combined to average just 24.6 touches per game against them. That’s an issue for a three-headed monster. They’ve allowed just three running backs to top 66 rushing yards over their last 17 games. Brown did get both of the team’s carries inside the five-yard line, so he’s the most likely to score a touchdown, and he’s also the one who led the team in targets (4). If you’re starting one, it’s him, though this matchup is a headache for running backs. Consider him a touchdown-reliant RB3. Akers was the clear No. 2 ahead of Henderson but did nothing to separate himself. Akers should be considered a volatile RB4 until further notice, but if McVay takes a page out of Shanahan’s book, we could have a new leader in the backfield on a week-to-week basis.
Miles Sanders and Boston Scott: Apparently, the Eagles may have been a bit too confident heading into Week 1, as Sanders was reportedly held back for precautionary reasons. He should be a go this week and may not even be on a snap count. Scott touched the ball 11 times last week while Corey Clement chipped in with eight touches, though neither did much for fantasy teams. Scott did have to leave the game for a bit with an ankle injury but ultimately returned. The Rams are a team you can run the ball against, as they allowed five 110-plus yard rushers last year, and their struggles against the run continued to Week 1 where they allowed Ezekiel Elliott 127 total yards and two touchdowns. He was the fourth running back to score multiple touchdowns against them over their last 17 games, so there’s clearly a ceiling. Part of the reasons there is success against them is due to plays per game, as opponents averaged 66.0 plays per game against them last year, which led to 27.6 running back touches per game. On opportunity alone, they ranked as the 11th-toughest matchup for running backs. If Sanders is back to full health and on no snap count, he should be in lineups as a low-end RB1/high-end RB2. If Scott were forced to miss any time, Sanders would be a lock for 18-plus touches, which would obviously give him cash-game viability. The fact that the Eagles still haven’t signed another running back says a lot about their confidence with Sanders. *Update* Sanders has practiced in full all week. He’s a full go. One name to keep an eye on, however, is Lane Johnson. The interior lineman was downgraded in practice on Thursday, and if he were to miss this game, it’d downgrade Sanders into RB2 territory.
Robert Woods: It seemed like Woods was going to see 20 targets with the way the game started last week. He wound up with a respectable eight targets and a carry that netted 119 total yards. His role in this offense was never in doubt and that showed in Week 1. The Eagles did have Darius Slay playing on both sides of the formation last week, so it’s possible we see him glued to Woods. That would be an issue, as it was for Terry McLaurin last week when he finished with 5/61/0 on seven targets. That’s not a horrible game and the Rams do move Woods around the formation quite a bit, so he’ll likely shake Slay a few times. Even in the slot, Nickell Robey-Coleman is not an easy cornerback to beat in coverage. You can’t look at last year’s numbers for wide receivers against the Eagles, as this cornerback unit is new and improved. Washington was not a big test for them, so we don’t know if they’ll be playing on all cylinders just yet, as there’s a communication aspect to coverage. Woods has now seen 88 targets in his last eight games, so you’re starting him regardless, but this matchup should have you temper expectations to mid-to-low-end WR2 territory.
Cooper Kupp: There was a lot of chatter about Kupp and how much he’d be taken off the field if/when the Rams run 12 personnel. They did run 12 personnel on 20 snaps, which is a lot, but Kupp was on the field for 61-of-72 snaps over the course of the game. He’s a full-time player, so don’t pay too much attention to the four-catch, 40-yard performance. The issue this week is that he’ll match up with Nickell Robey-Coleman more often than not. The Eagles snagged him in free agency from the Rams oddly enough, so Robey-Coleman likely has a lot of practice time against Kupp. Over the last four years, Robey-Coleman has allowed 153-of-246 passing (62.2 percent) for 1,492 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s just 6.07 yards per target and a touchdown every 30.1 targets. Now, to be fair, he is in a new defensive scheme, which can change things, but he’s been consistently good in coverage. Kupp remains on the high-end WR3 radar who might be a good buy-low target after this game.
Josh Reynolds and Van Jefferson: We didn’t know how the snaps would work out between these two, and as it turns out, they split them. Reynolds got the start, but Jefferson edged him in targets (3 to 1). This is a duo we’ll continue to monitor, as they’ll have fantasy relevance in good matchups, though it’s hard to say this is one of them. The cornerback trio of Darius Slay, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Avonte Maddox is a solid one, though it’s possible that Slay shadows Woods and Robey-Coleman tracks Kupp, which would leave them matched up against Maddox. He would be the weakest link of the bunch, but will the Rams have a chance to get the ball downfield against the Eagles? I’d say Jefferson is the hail mary play, though neither are recommended starts until one separates themselves.
DeSean Jackson: It was a disappointing day for the Eagles offense in Week 1, and that includes Jackson who was held to just two catches for 46 yards on a solid seven targets. We can’t complain about the target total, though the more experience Jalen Reagor gets, the more he’s going to cut into that number. The Rams cornerbacks did very well limiting the big plays against the Cowboys trio of receivers. They allowed the fifth-most receptions to wide receivers in Week 1, but again, when you play the Cowboys, that’s going to happen. Gallup was the only one who averaged more than 11.8 yards per reception, and he wound up with three catches for 50 yards on five targets. Going back to last year, this Rams defense allowed just six plays of 40-plus yards, which ranked as the fifth fewest in the league. Jackson’s average depth of target was 30.8 yards in Week 1, which led the league. Jackson is someone who’ll offer WR3 value during certain weeks, but you likely have better options this week. Still, he’s on the WR4 radar as someone who should see six-plus targets.
Jalen Reagor: We got a surprise active out of Reagor last week, so you really shouldn’t have been relying on him. He only caught one ball in his debut, but he made it count, showcasing elite ball-tracking on a 55-yard reception. He got behind the coverage again at the end of the second quarter where Wentz overthrew him on what would’ve been an 80-yard touchdown. There will be more to come with him, though this matchup is a tough one. The Rams allowed just six passes of 40-plus yards last year, which ranked as the fifth fewest in the league, and considering Reagor’s targets took place down the field, this matchup doesn’t exactly suit his strengths. I do believe he’s more than just a deep threat, so I don’t want to completely write off the possibility that he plays a bigger role in Week 2, but I don’t want to rely on him in starting lineups just yet.
Greg Ward: We saw the Eagles try and stretch the field over and over against Washington last week, but maybe they dial it back this week after Wentz was sacked eight times? Wentz’s average depth of target was 11.9 yards, which was the highest among all quarterbacks in Week 1. The Rams, like Washington, will bring pressure to Wentz. We saw the Cowboys take advantage of dumpoffs, completing 18-of-25 passes to wide receivers that amounted to just 190 scoreless yards. Ward is that safety valve over the middle of the field, though we are going to see Jalen Reagor‘s role increase as the weeks go on. Ward did tie DeSean Jackson with seven targets last week, so he wasn’t a forgotten man, but he’s a lower ceiling player. The Rams moved on from Nickell Robey-Coleman this offseason, which means they had to downgrade to Darious Williams. We watched the Cowboys target him quite a bit, which can be the case with Ward this week. He might be a Danny Amendola-type start from Week 1, which turned out 5/81/0. He’s on the WR4/5 radar in this matchup, as it might suit his skillset the best.
Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett: We had to sit back and wait to see if Higbee was in the same role with Everett back healthy, so considering he played 90 percent of the snaps, I think he’s safe. The matchup against the Cowboys did treat him a lot better in 2019, but they were under a new defensive coordinator, so it’s not apples to apples. The Eagles have been one of the best in the NFL against tight ends under Jim Schwartz, even though Logan Thomas churned out 4/37/1 last week. Throughout the entire 2019 season, they allowed just 681 receiving yards to the position, or 42.6 yards per game. They lost safety Malcolm Jenkins, which can certainly impact their efficiency, though I’m not jumping the gun after one game. But knowing how improved the Eagles cornerback unit is, we should see more targets funnel to the tight ends. Everett played just 33 percent of the snaps and saw two targets, so there’s not much to see there. Higbee should be played as a TE1 with his snap share where it is, even in a tough matchup. *Update* Everett had to miss some practice time this week due to a back injury, so this only gives us more confidence in Higbee as a solid TE1.
Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert: With the banged up wide receivers and running backs in the Eagles’ offense, we expected Goedert to be more involved, but to see more targets than Ertz? It wasn’t just the targets, either. Goedert played 79 percent of the snaps while Ertz played 85 percent of the snaps. This appears to be a timeshare, though we now have eight straight games where Goedert has seen at least six targets, which is massive for a tight end. Ertz is in a contract dispute and apparently showed up late to a practice recently, so it’s something to monitor. The Rams are a team you can attack with tight ends, as they allowed eight tight ends to finish as top-10 tight ends last year. We watched their defense willing to let the Cowboys chip away and dump down, just waiting for a mistake. When Blake Jarwin was hurt in the first half, we knew we weren’t going to see a TE1 performance last week against them. All in all, there were just two teams who allowed more yards per target to tight ends than the Rams last year, which bodes well for both of these tight ends, who appear to be locked into six-plus targets apiece. Ertz is still the preferred option, but the gap is shrinking. Both can be played as TE1s in this matchup.
Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys
Line: DAL by 5.0
Matt Ryan: Remember when we talked about Ryan potentially throwing the ball 650 times this year? Well, we may have been short on that projection considering he’s on pace for 864 of them after one game. While he’s obviously not hitting that mark, this defense is clearly going to allow him to hit some high numbers. Against the Cowboys, we should once again see a lot of pass attempts. Their games netted the fifth-most plays per game last year, and then we watched the Rams run 72 plays against them in Week 1. Knowing the Falcons pass-to-run ratio has been 65-plus percent in each of the last two years, we should see a minimum of 40 pass attempts. The Cowboys are under a new defensive coordinator, so we can’t pull too much from last year, but losing their top cornerback and one of their top edge rushers surely can’t help. They also lost another big piece of their defense last week when Leighton Vander Esch had to go on injured reserve with a collarbone injury. No matter which way the Cowboys slice it, they’ll have rookie Trevon Diggs against Julio Jones or Calvin Ridley. In a game with one of the highest projected totals, start Ryan as a rock-solid QB1.
Dak Prescott: It wasn’t the start that Prescott hoped for last week, but he played the game smart, taking what the Rams gave him. Fortunately, the Falcons are a much more giving unit. The Falcons allowed Russell Wilson to complete 31-of-35 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns in Week 1 despite playing just 58 snaps. The Falcons cornerback unit of Isaiah Oliver, rookie A.J. Terrell, and Darqueze Dennard are just not equipped to handle the Cowboys receivers. It makes you feel better about Prescott’s ceiling when you hear that the Falcons haven’t allowed a running back more than 111 rushing yards since 2018. When you combine that with the fact that the Cowboys have a 28.5-point team total and you have what could be a week-winning performance out of Prescott. There were seven quarterbacks who posted 20-plus fantasy points against the Falcons last year, and just one of them needed more than 37 pass attempts to do it. Start Prescott as an elite QB1. He’s someone who should be in plenty of cash and tournament lineups.
Todd Gurley: As expected, the Falcons gave Gurley the workhorse role, as he totaled 19 opportunities while Brian Hill and Ito Smith combined for just nine of them. He also totaled all three of their goal-line carries in Week 1. Playing for a high-scoring offense, that’s a great thing. The Cowboys are still learning new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s scheme, so there’ll be some bumps along the way. While with the Rams last year, Gurley struggled to get much going against them, as he rushed for just 20 yards on 11 carries, but he scored twice netting 18.8 PPR points. However, the Cowboys defense struggled to slow down Malcolm Brown last week as he rumbled for 79 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. The loss of Leighton Vander Esch mid-game surely wasn’t ideal for them, but they also lost strong safety Jeff Heath, interior lineman Maliek Collins, and edge defender Robert Quinn this offseason. We’ll continue to gather information on the Cowboys unit under Nolan, but knowing the uncertainty, combined with Gurley’s opportunity in this offense, you should continue starting him as a sturdy RB2 with some touchdown upside. If you want to pivot off Matt Ryan in tournaments, Gurley has multi-touchdown upside.
Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard: Those who thought Elliott would retain his workhorse workload under Mike McCarthy were correct. Elliott racked up 25 touches to Pollard’s four touches en route to a 127-yard, two-touchdown performance. The Cowboys have a team-implied total of 28.5 points, which makes you want to get excited once again. Most would be surprised that the Falcons allowed the ninth-fewest fantasy points on the ground to running backs last year. There was no running back who totaled more than 111 rushing yards. In fact, there were just four running backs who reached 75 yards on the ground. However, there’s a new avenue for Elliott to rack up points now that Blake Jarwin is out for the season. Running back and tight end targets correlate more than wide receiver targets, so losing Jarwin is massive for Elliott’s potential ceiling. It’s not surprising to see Elliott get four targets last week, but it shouldn’t surprise you to see him get five-plus this week against a Falcons have allowed a ton of receptions to running backs under Dan Quinn. Since he became their coach, they’ve allowed an average of 6.4 receptions per game to running backs. That’s easily the most in the league during that time. While I love Prescott as an elite play in this matchup, Elliott has multiple avenues to production in what should be a high-scoring game. Play him wherever you can. Pollard is not someone you can play with any confidence after he totaled just four touches in his first game under McCarthy. It seems like he’ll have a bigger role in games that are blowouts, which is certainly within the realm of possibilities this week considering they’re five-point favorites, but I wouldn’t bank on it. He’s just a handcuff right now.
Julio Jones: What do you know? Another year, another Jones 150-yard performance. His 152 yards against the Seahawks tied his second-highest yardage total from last season, which oddly enough, also came against the Seahawks. Naturally, he didn’t score a touchdown, but you shouldn’t be concerned. The Cowboys don’t have a shadow cornerback, so Jones will see a mix of Chidobe Awuzie, Trevon Diggs, and Anthony Brown. If they align the way they did last week against the Rams, Jones will see the most of the rookie Diggs. In his first game, he was targeted three times, allowing three catches for 63 yards. It’s not going to get easier with Jones inside a dome. The Cowboys allowed the fifth-fewest yards to wide receivers last year, but they lost their best cornerback and had a chance in their defensive scheme, so it’s a whole new ballgame. Start Jones as a WR1 this week in a game where the Falcons should throw the ball 40-plus times.
Calvin Ridley: We’ve now watched Ridley play in seven games without Mohamed Sanu. In those games, he’s totaled 61 targets. Over the course of a 16-game season, that would amount to 139 targets. He’s here to stay and the breakout is real. He’s currently the WR2 behind only Davante Adams. His primary matchup this week will be against Chidobe Awuzie, their top cornerback who allowed a miniscule 8.1 yards per target in his coverage last year and a touchdown every 30.0 targets. He allowed just 11 yards in his coverage against the Rams last week while intercepting a pass, too. However, we must start saying that Ridley is a No. 1 receiver in his own right. He went up against the Seahawks best cornerback last week (Shaquill Griffin) and roasted him. The Falcons are moving him and Julio Jones back and forth, so Ridley will see some of rookie Trevon Diggs as well. Ridley should be in lineups every week and this one is no exception. He should be considered a sturdy high-end WR2 with touchdown upside to carry him into WR1 territory.
Russell Gage: Each of the Falcons wide receivers saw 12 targets last week, including Gage, who turned them into a career-high 114 yards. Not many realize that Gage actually saw 66 targets over the final nine games last year, which is more than enough to be fantasy relevant. While I do expect Hayden Hurst to get more involved as the weeks go on, Gage is someone who can be considered in high-volume games. The Cowboys had Anthony Brown cover the slot in Week 1 and that worked out well, as Cooper Kupp was held to just four catches for 40 scoreless yards last week. Brown did allow all four passes that came his way to be completed, but it clearly wasn’t a smash spot, as Kupp has higher odds of getting targeted than Gage does. It’s possible that Gage is a Cole Beasley-type player this year who you can use in a pinch, as he’s likely going to get six-plus targets per game, even if his ceiling isn’t very high. Consider him a decent floor WR4/5-type play.
Amari Cooper: There were many who wanted to fade Cooper last week due to his matchup with Jalen Ramsey, combined with the fact that he had been missing some practice time. Clearly, he didn’t get the memo. Cooper saw 14 targets and turned them into 10 receptions for 81 yards. They weren’t able to stretch the field very much with the pressure the Rams were getting, but it was good to see Cooper produce in a tough matchup. This week should be a playground for the Cowboys receivers, and Cooper in particular. He played nearly two-thirds of his snaps at right wide receiver, which means he’ll line up against rookie A.J. Terrell two-thirds of the time. Terrell was torched in his first NFL game, allowing 6-of-6 passing for 100 yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks. The Falcons will not be shifting much because that’s the thing about the Cowboys. You move one cornerback and you screw the rest of them. Heck, it clearly doesn’t matter if you leave Cooper in man coverage, even against Ramsey. It also doesn’t hurt that this game is being played under a retractable roof. Cooper has averaged 99.2 yards per game in such stadiums over the course of his career. The only risk here is a lack of targets because there are plus matchups all over the field, but if last week showed us anything, it’s that Cooper is the clear No. 1 in this offense after seeing 14 targets while Gallup and Lamb combined for 11 of them. Start Cooper as a WR1 and expect results. He’s a better tournament play than cash considering all the options the Cowboys have.
Michael Gallup: We talked about Gallup last week, saying that he had the toughest matchup on the Cowboys, as he only goes into the slot about 10 percent of the time, which was the spot to do damage. The Falcons, however, are prime for the taking. They allowed 56 passing plays of 20-plus yards last year, which ranked as the 10th most in football. Gallup will see Isaiah Oliver in coverage most of the time, a third-year cornerback who’s been a disappointment as a former second-round pick. Throughout his two-plus years of play, he’s allowed 84 receptions for 1,090 yards and seven touchdowns on 127 targets. That all adds up to a 108.1 QB Rating in his coverage. Dating back to last year, Gallup has seen at least six targets in 12-of-15 games. If he gets that here, he’s performing. While Gallup was someone I was lower on last week, he should be able to return WR3 value in this game with top-20 potential if he were to hit on a big play.
CeeDee Lamb: It was a solid debut for Lamb, who caught 5-of-6 targets for 59 yards against the Rams. I mentioned that he had the best matchup on the field for the Cowboys, so part of it should’ve been expected. This week, it’s a bit different. Lamb played 92.5 percent of his snaps in the slot. The strength of the Falcons defense is probably the slot, as they acquired Darqueze Dennard this offseason. He still allowed 5-of-6 passing for 42 yards last week in his coverage, but that’s miniscule compared to the 12-of-14 passing for 180 yards and two touchdowns that A.J. Terrell and Isaiah Oliver allowed. That’s why I’m a bit lower on Lamb this week, as Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup should have big games. It does help Lamb’s potential target share in this offense knowing that Blake Jarwin is out for the season, as they were somewhat competing for targets over the middle of the field. There are going to be some big games for Lamb this year, but it’s tough to see him outproducing his teammates in this one. Consider him a WR4 this week.
Hayden Hurst: I warned everyone last week that Hurst was playing his first game in a new offense and that the Seahawks made a massive change that would affect tight end performance. While he only saw five targets compared to 12 for each of the three wide receivers, Hurst probably earned some trust from Matt Ryan in that game, as he laid out to snag a 27-yard pass that 95 percent of tight ends wouldn’t have caught. Hurst did play 62 snaps, which ranked third behind only Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. The Cowboys are going to have some major issues game-planning against the Falcons wide receivers where they’ll need to tilt the defense, but don’t have the safety or linebacker talent (without Leighton Vander Esch) to make up for that with Hurst. The Falcons should have options all over the field and Hurst is one of them. There were five tight ends who totaled at least 16.9 PPR points against the Cowboys last year, and though it’s a new defensive scheme, the lack of talent up the middle remains. Hurst is still being eased in but he should be able to post low-end TE1 numbers this week.
Dalton Schultz: Now that we know Blake Jarwin is out for the season, Schultz will be the primary tight end for a team that targeted tight ends 122 times last year. The issue is that Schultz has been in the NFL for three years now and has totaled 23 targets the entire time. There’s so much uncertainty here, but knowing he saw four targets in essentially half of a game is a sign that he’ll be involved. The Falcons allowed just 7.14 yards per target to tight ends last year, which ranked as the 12th-lowest mark in football. The 1.65 fantasy points per target they allowed ranked as the 10th-lowest mark. There were eight tight ends who finished as a TE1 against them last year, but six of them saw at least six targets, including five of them seeing double-digit targets. He’s worth a speculative add if you stream tight ends, but I’d prefer to see him produce before putting him in lineups.