We waited all offseason for Week 1 and the players delivered in spectacular fashion. From the DAL-TB opener to the overtime finish in Las Vegas, we were glued to our screens. We had real football! Real lineup decisions to make with data waiting for us afterward to help inform our decisions for the next week. And so, after taking a day to let our thoughts marinate, we get to think about what we saw and what it means moving forward.
I’m excited to bring this column back for another season but the first few weeks are the toughest. The title is “Three Lessons Learned” but I’ll lightly push back on the idea it conveys. “Learn” means knowledge or facts were exchanged over the last four days. But we can’t be certain about the future for any of these players. At least not yet. Regardless, as always, I’ll lay out my data-driven thoughts on the three biggest storylines at each skill position and how to approach them from a fantasy lens. Let’s start with a quarterback to kick things off.
Quarterback: Jalen Hurts, Eagles
Week 1 Results: 23.0(Projected), 28.8 (Actual)
The fantasy community debated Jalen Hurts’ upside all offseason. We saw what he was capable of over his three full starts last season. He cracked 300 passing yards twice while averaging 10.3 fantasy points with his legs. But his situation with Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson, and the Eagles’ front office was more dysfunctional than Congress. Hurts was productive as a passer but inaccurate at times with a -5.1% Completion Percentage Over Expected (CPOE). And their offseason didn’t instill much confidence.
Nick Sirianni didn’t indicate the offense would cater to Hurts’ strengths until early August. DeVonta Smith, their lone bright spot, missed significant time with an MCL sprain. Plus, Kenny Gainwell had only received a single touch with the first-team offense to start camp. We had no idea what to expect from this offense other than what Hurts could provide with his legs.
The volatility kept Hurts at the backend of the Top 12. Preseason and camp highlights gave us hope but wanted certainty. A QB1 with three wide receivers ranked outside of the Top 40 is a tough sell. However, we can’t hold the same position after Week 1.
Advice Moving Forward
Hurts should be considered a "set it and forget it" quarterback until we see otherwise.
I said in the intro we can’t be certain about anything and that’s still true. But what we saw on Sunday should force an adjustment in how we view Hurts. And not just his production. Of course, we’ll take the 3 passing touchdowns and 62 rushing yards. But it’s how he accumulated those yards and the quality of his play that should hold our attention.
His first scoring drive showed immediate improvement in both ball placement and footwork in the pocket. The latter being something Sirianni stressed throughout the offseason. With speedy pass-catchers, Hurts didn’t need to play hero with shots downfield. He still took them and was successful on 100.0% of his passes of 20 air yards or more. But his overall accuracy was more impressive. Hurts was sixth in CPOE which is a stark improvement over where we left him last year. The matchup may have played a role, but again, let’s revisit our assumptions about the Eagles’ offense.
Hurts showed improvement as a passer, the team was 10th in Pass Rate Over Expectation (PROE), and he still gave us rushing production. He’s piloting an offense that leans on its strengths. They have speed on the perimeter with their receivers, tight-ends that can separate, and running backs with utility in the passing game. Hurts’ next three games are against three defenses that were involved in high-scoring shootouts last week (i.e. SF, DAL, and KC). Until we see a change in Hurts’ play, he’s a top option at quarterback.
Running Back: Austin Ekeler, Chargers
Week 1 Results: 17.4 (Projected), 11.7 (Actual)
Rich Hribar laid out the only real question we had regarding Austin Ekeler’s usage heading into the season.
His overall opportunity as a rusher gave him a stable floor. He had a 51.4% share of the rushing attempts just last season despite the hamstring injury that sidelined him for six weeks. But his potential ceiling is what drove his ADP into the late first round this year.
Since 2019, Ekeler has averaged 6.7 targets per game. The only running backs with a first-round ADP with a greater passing game usage over the same time span are Christian McCaffrey (8.5) and Alvin Kamara (7.0). The spike-week potential has always been in his weekly range of outcomes, but his bump in ADP was a bet on goal-line work. And it seemed like we would see such a scenario play out as headed into the season.
Who Ekeler’s backup would be was still undecided as late as mid-August. Both Joshua Kelley and Justin Jackson weren’t separating themselves and sixth-round rookie Larry Rountree III was flashing during their preseason games. The ambiguity solidified our position that Ekeler would get all of the touches needed to secure his early ADP. Well, we got what we asked for but it came at a cost most weren’t willing to pay.
Advice Moving Forward
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