Fantasy Football: 3 Things We Learned in Week 1
Perhaps more than anything, fantasy football is a game about adjustments. Season-long fantasy doesn't end at the draft, and smart owners learn to take the trends and data that each week of games offers and apply it to their roster decisions moving forward.
This weekly piece will look at trends from the previous slate of games and determine what trends in snaps, usage, and matchups are actionable moving forward.
Coaches Don't Care When You Drafted Running Backs
Maybe this one should be that we relearned this fact in Week 1, because every year season-long players have their best ideas and theories about how running back usage will evolve, and then head coaches come around to throw those plans (and entry fees) in the trash.
First, some basic rushing opportunities from the opening week. Here are the running backs with the most rush attempts from Week 1: Derrick Henry (31), Josh Jacobs (25), Clyde Edwards-Helaire (25), Christian McCaffrey (23), Ezekiel Elliott (22), Benny Snell Jr. (19), Austin Ekeler (19), Joe Mixon (19), Malcolm Brown (19) and Peyton Barber (19).
The first five on this list were about as predictable as the Cleveland Browns getting blown out by the Baltimore Ravens, but then things get really weird. Fantasy players who spent high draft picks on James Conner, Cam Akers, or Antonio Gibson this offseason are left scratching their heads as to how their players got less volume than some perennial bench players.
In high-leverage situations (red zone and closer), there was also plenty of unexpected usage. Here are red-zone rush attempt leaders in Week 1: Edwards-Helaire (10), Barber (10), Zack Moss (8), Jacobs (6), Adrian Peterson (6), Latavius Murray (6), Henry (6), McCaffery (6), Joshua Kelley (6) and Brown (5).
Once again, we see discrepancies between expected usage and actual usage. As we look to Week 2, fantasy players who picked D'Andre Swift, Alvin Kamara, Ekeler, Akers, and Gibson have to evaluate if these figures are short-term, game-environment anomalies or if these backs will be consistently featured in the red-zone.
Similarly, highly ranked players like Chris Carson (two touchdowns are nice but a 45% snap share is not) and Nick Chubb (49% of snaps in what looks like a split backfield) present similar conundrums for fantasy players.
Clearly coaches are in the business of winning NFL games and not padding fantasy stats. We as fantasy managers must be willing to quickly align usage with game scripts to determine what is the most likely path forward for running backs and pivot where needed. And even then, sometimes the unthinkable happens.
2020 in a tweet: Peyton Barber finished with 10 red zone touches in Week 1. There were just four teams of running backs who finished with more than that.
— Mike Tagliere (@MikeTagliereNFL) September 15, 2020
Russell Wilson Puts on a Chef Hat
In 2019, the Seattle Seahawks were the sixth-heaviest run team in the NFL, rushing on almost 46% of their offensive plays (and first in 2018 with 52% of their plays being a run). On Sunday, that rush percentage plummeted to fewer than 35% in what might be a signal that Seattle is finally ready to unleash Wilson in a featured passing role.
But since it's just one week, we should decide whether or not to overreact to that figure as it was a fast-paced, shootout game environment. In looking for info as to how the Seahawks performed in non-obvious passing downs, this in particular stood out:
Per @SharpFootball, Seattle threw the ball 68.6% of the time in neutral game script in Q1-3 (24 passes and 11 runs) in Week 1. That's a massive improvement after being at 54.8% in 2019 and 45.7% in 2018. Seahawks brass might finally be listening to the #LetRussCook movement.
— Jack Miller (@JackMiller02) September 14, 2020
You can further see the massive jumps in passing opportunities over the past two seasons as it pertains to Seattle's games that are within one score through three quarters. If this trend continues, the Seattle passing corps might all prove to be league-winners, even those who demanded high draft positions. Wilson ranked second among all quarterbacks this week with 0.57 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, an efficiency number that defines how accurate Russ is with his passes.
Even Carson got into the mix on Sunday, setting career highs for receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns for a single game. This shift means Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf are all strong buys, and you should scour your waiver wire to see if Greg Olsen is available. Olsen was on the field on 66% of the Seahawks' snaps and ended with four targets and a touchdown.
Purple People Eaters No More
The Minnesota Vikings have a historical reputation of being a tough, grinding, in-your-face defense that dates back to the glory years of the 1970s.
Since we are living in the Upside Down in 2020, however, that is clearly no longer the case as the game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday proved that the Vikings might be one of the most exploitable defenses in the league, particularly in the secondary. Minnesota has gone full out on the youth movement in the secondary this year, and their lack of experience and cohesiveness was on full display Sunday afternoon.
The Vikings released Xavier Rhodes and lost both Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander as free agents, forcing rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler into immediate action with Holton Hill in an offseason in which they got limited reps and no preseason games to work out their coverages.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dantzler was torched for six catches (on six targets) for 78 yards allowed and a touchdown Sunday. Combined, Dantzler and Hill allowed 13 catches on 17 targets for 167 yards and the score -- while only breaking up one pass along the way.
Vikings Secondary PFF Grades From Yesterday
Harrison Smith- 70.0
Cameron Dantzler- 59.8
Mike Hughes- 54.2
Anthony Harris- 34.9
Holton Hill- 29.0
Easily Anthony Harris and Holton Hills worst game as a pro.
— Dan the Man (@ClappedDan) September 14, 2020
Granted, the Vikings will not be playing Aaron Rodgers every week, but with four of their next five games coming against Philip Rivers, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, and Matt Ryan, this young defense better get better in a hurry if they have any hope of shutting down opposing offenses.