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Welcome to Week 3 of the 2020 Footballguys Roundtable. Our intrepid and oddball panel of fantasy pundits discuss and debate the sustainability of September's surprise producers, the status of old faces in new places, receivers with new starting quarterbacks in Week 3, and whether fantasy GMs should panic about this month's slow starters.
For Real, Fool's Gold
Matt Waldman: Which two of these Week 2 Wonders are for real in 2021, which two are Fool's Gold?
- Cordarrelle Patterson
- Maxx Williams
- Quintez Cephus
- Ty'Son Williams
- K.J. Osborn
- Zach Pascal
- Tim Patrick
- Albert Okwuegbunam
Ryan Weisse: My two For Real players are Cordarelle Patterson and Tim Patrick. The writing was on the wall for Patterson to take this role all preseason and was mentioned many times in our Training Camp reports. Whether you believe in Mike Davis as an RB1 or not, he needed a backup running back, and Patterson is that guy. He might not score two touchdowns every week, but he will get a few carries and about four targets. Those targets will keep him in the RB3/Flex conversation.
Tim Patrick led the Broncos in receiving touchdowns, was 2nd in yards, and 3rd in targets and receptions. We all thought the return of Courtland Sutton would mean Patrick's disappearance, but we could not predict an early injury to Jerry Jeudy. While Jeudy is out, Patrick is again on the WR3 radar, especially if Teddy Bridgewater keeps playing so well.
For my Fool's Gold, give me Maxx Williams and KJ Osborn. Both of these can be summed up pretty much the same way: I don't believe their role in their offense is secure. In Arizona, the tight end has been an afterthought during Kliff Kingsbury's time there. William's had a good Week 2, with seven catches and 94 yards; he had no catches on two targets in Week 1. The Cardinals love 4-WR sets and have four good wide receivers. Williams might have a week like this now and then, but never with the consistency that you'd want from a fantasy starter.
Osborn is the WR3 on a team that historically doesn't throw enough for that role to matter. The Vikings' first two games were against teams with fast-paced offenses, and the Vikings were behind in both. The number three receiver on this team last season had 30 targets. Osborn is at 15 through three games. That volume is going to fall off when Minnesota can get back to their run-heavy philosophy.
Jason Wood: Never in a million years would I have expected to say Cordarrelle Patterson -- RUNNING BACK -- is a real wonder. Yet, after two weeks I'm going to say he's not only legitimate, he's more valuable than Mike Davis. Patterson has only played 33% of snaps so far, to Davis' 70%, yet Patterson has been more productive both in terms of touches and on a per-touch basis. And watching the game tape shows that's no fluke. Patterson is faster, more decisive, and is breaking tackles whereas Davis looks plodding.
Quintez Cephus is also legitimate, possibly. We all knew the Lions receiving corps was, at best, unsettled entering the year. Brett Perriman couldn't make the final roster, leaving us all throwing darts at veteran Tyrell Williams or rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown, but neither had the "bonafides" to project as a high-volume No. 1. Cephus pushed through all the miasma and has earned the coaches' and Jared Goff's trust.
The Vikings have been searching for a reliable No. 3 receiver for years, and Osborn may have finally solved the puzzle. But it's hard to get excited about the No. 3 receiver on a team that's going to rank in the bottom third of pass attempts, particularly when you've got two elite receivers in Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen ahead of him. Osborn is worth monitoring as an injury fill-in; he could go from Pyrite to just right if either Thielen or Jefferson get hurt.
Williams won the starting job but that's mainly because of his blocking ability. The Cardinals are the masters of 3-WR and 4-WR sets, and there are way too many alternative targets to believe Williams will see enough looks to justify fantasy relevance outside of best-ball formats.
Troy King: Patterson passed the eye test in Week 2. He looked more explosive than Mike Davis. Patterson’s 58 yards after the catch versus Davis' 36 on fewer touches is notable. Patterson also averaged 11.6 yards per reception versus Davis who only had 3.6 yards per reception. With the Atlanta Falcons, having the 31st ranked defense, they will be in negative game scripts that will favor Patterson in future matchups.
Williams is the RB1 on the league’s leader in rushes. In Week 2, he had a 55.56 % opportunity share and had 13 rushing attempts for 77 yards. Williams has performed well and should continue to see the most rushes/targets out of the Ravens' backfield.
Albert O?” More like Albert “NO” amirite? Seriously though, Okwuegbunam is averaging only a 10% target share this season. He is also only averaging 3.5 receptions and 3.5 targets a game. He got lucky with a touchdown in Week 1. He is simply someone I am avoiding starting.
I am not going to fall for this tight-end temptation. Williams set a career-high in receptions and receiving yards in Week 2. Unfortunately, he is most likely a one-week wonder. He is at best the 5th or 6th option on the team. He will be extremely touchdown dependent going forward like most tight ends and for that reason he can’t be trusted weekly.
Sean Settle: The wide receiver group for the Broncos was supposed to be a strength coming into this season with Patrick looking like the odd man out. Even with a strong showing last year as he led the team in receiving touchdowns he was behind Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and K.J Hamler. Injuries are testing that depth already and Patrick is firmly back in the conversation with Jeudy hurt. Sutton stepped up in Week 2, but Patrick came away with the touchdown. Look for Teddy Bridgewater to continue to look his way and for his opportunities to rise.
Patterson has come a long way since being a former first-round pick of the Vikings, then turned return man specialist, then back to WR, and now an RB. He is finally starting to get more of a chance in Atlanta despite being behind Mike Davis. He is going to be the primary passing catching RB on a team that will be playing from behind. This should put him in the flex conversation going forward with TD upside. The Falcons do not seem to trust Davis as an every-down back and that will see plenty of work spread to Patterson the rest of the season.
It was great to see the Vikings air it out as they tried to match the fast-paced Cardinals offense in Week 2. Osborn has emerged as the WR3 on this team but that is not a great spot to be. Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen will take the bulk target share in this offense when they are throwing the ball and Dalvin Cook is going to see more touches than anyone when they get back to their run-first style.
Minnesota was playing from behind against offenses that love to throw the ball and the production for tertiary receivers was inflated. Look for Osborn to fall back to his norm going forward. He may be good for the long explosive play a few times this year but that does not warrant WR3/Flex consideration.
This was a little harder to put in the fool’s gold category, but the fast start was a perfect storm for Pascal that is unlikely to continue. The Colts are eventually going to get back to pounding the ball with Jonathan Taylor. He led them down the stretch last year and they seem to have all but abandoned him so far this year. Carson Wentz is now dealing with 2 sprained ankles and T.Y Hilton is due back in a few weeks. That is not a very positive equation for Pascal and his production going forward.
Waldman: Every year, Andy, I ask this question, and you're giving these players the stink face.
Hicks: I don't play in leagues with rosters the size of phone books, Matt.
Waldman: What's a phone book?
Hicks: Ha! Anyhow, Cephus was the go-to receiver for Jared Goff after T.J. Hockensen, with Tyrell Williams out. Cephus is still developing but made some plays against the Packers after some promising moments in his rookie season.
Osborn is the third receiver in Minnesota, but with no decent receiving tight end, after Irv Smith went down, Osborn will get a good chunk of targets. The Vikings are likely to play from behind often as well, increasing the odds of Osborn being productive regularly.
Chad Parsons: I am bullish on Cordarrelle Patterson. He has transitioned to running back and, frankly, offensive weapon well. A huge boost is the wide receiver eligibility on plenty of platforms. Patterson can continue his rise in prominence, even if Mike Davis is healthy, as Atlanta needs playmakers (WR2+ has been a black hole through two weeks) and shootouts will be the norm with their questionable-at-best defense.
K.J. Osborn is tough to deny after back-to-back big games. Tight end is a low-level position for Minnesota and Osborn will see optimal coverage as the WR3. I rarely add wide receivers who are not WR1/2 types from the waiver wire, but Osborn has stand-alone flex appeal plus upside if Adam Thielen or Justin Jefferson were to miss time.
Zach Pascal is a tough sell with the Colts having quarterback questions (Wentz health, Eason a complete unknown at the NFL level experience-wise) plus Parris Campbell and T.Y. Hilton have both missed time so far. I agree that Pascal had the perfect storm through much of two weeks (Wentz healthy-ish, lagging competition) which I am skeptical these circumstances continue.
Waldman: For the sake of offering a different of view on Pascal for readers to consider, it's worth considering that opposing defenses will feel more confident with cheating defenders into the box to stop the run and force the Colts to win with Jacob Eason. Of the receivers on the Colts' roster, Pascal is arguably the most complete option in terms of the routes he can run and his experience level. I wouldn't be surprised if Pascal's production continues and possibly increases because of game scripts where the Colts are playing from deficits.
Parsons: Fair enough, but if Eason falls on his face, we could see a lot of attempts and little production. As for my last fool's gold, I want to buy into Maxx Williams, but really only see him as a two-tight-end format player. The snaps have been solid, but this is a receiver-centric passing attack and Arizona goes four quality options deep. Week 2 might be a season high-point for Williams.
Scott Bischoff: Cephus gets one of the nods here because he is a starting receiver and he faces little in the way of roadblocks to being productive from a fantasy standpoint. He is not fast and flashy, but he can separate and is a reliable target in a passing game that will be leaned upon in 2021. Ty'Son Williams looked very solid in Week 2. Yes, there is competition for goal-line work, but it is Williams who should get the majority of the workload in a running game that will be heavily utilized.
Williams is also fool’s gold for me as I don’t see him sustaining any kind of role on the Arizona offense. The Cardinals can throw the ball to wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Rondale Moore, and Christian Kirk. I’m not sure why they would choose Williams over the others mentioned.
Pascal was a player I thought was under the radar a touch in the run-up to the regular season, but after seeing the Indianapolis offense, I’m not sure he is anything more than a best-ball play. He lost time to get in sync with quarterback Carson Wentz due to Wentz’s foot injury in the preseason, and Wentz is out again after a mere two weeks into the year. It’s tough because I like Pascal, I just don’t see it with him right now.
Drew Davenport: Despite the fact that Ravens coaches say that all running backs will play, Williams clearly has the most juice. He's only playing about 50% of the snaps through two weeks so it's important to remember that's a limiting factor going forward, but he's going to be the most valuable running back to have in one of the league's best rushing attacks.
On top of that, no other running back is being sent out to run routes for Baltimore and that's a great sign for his fantasy floor. In Week 2, he narrowly missed a touchdown as he went sideways to fall into the end zone but lost the ball to a direct hit. The narrative today could easily be about how Williams is averaging 18 PPR points per game right now and a good bet to receive 12-15 touches a week. Williams is the real deal.
The Vikings have traditionally been a team that doesn't put their third wide receiver on the field very much. According to Sharp Football, the Vikings played 11-personnel (three wide receivers) at the lowest rate in the league in 2020 at just 29%. But in 2021 with their tight end problems, they are playing three wide receivers 53% of the time through the first two weeks.
This has allowed Osborn to carve out nearly a 17% target share so far and he has produced because of it. Fantasy analysts have been waiting for a third option to emerge in Minnesota for a long time and now that one has people are understandably skeptical. But if he can carve out a 15%-20% target share as he has so far then he will be the real deal.
The Arizona offense has never been one to emphasize the use of the tight end and that is no different this year. Williams had a nice game in Week 2, but he was virtually non-existent in Week 1 with just one target and zero receptions on a similar snap share as Week 2. Don't put any faith in Williams' big game against Minnesota.
I happen to think Pascal is an underrated fantasy receiver. But this situation is not great and it is likely to leave Pascal without much value. With Wentz already banged up and with Parris Campbell appearing close to returning, I'm skeptical Pascal earns the same target share. Whether it is a backup quarterback or Wentz, this offense won't be good enough or have strong enough quarterback play to expect three or four options to be relevant. Pascal has a history of having some fantasy value but then disappearing for long stretches. Nothing about the current situation in Indianapolis says this will be any different.
Old Faces, New Places
Waldman: Pick one player from this list of veterans below who have new digs:
- Sam Darnold
- Teddy Bridgewater
- Mike Davis
- Kenyan Drake
- Mark Ingram II
- Cordarrelle Patterson (If you picked him above, you can't pick him here)
- How has he looked to date?
- What are you projecting for his Week 3 matchup (quantitatively and qualitatively)?
- What do you project for him this year?
- What's his dynasty value (window of 2-3 years).
What do you have for our readers?
Davenport: Darnold has the look of yet another post-Adam Gase success story. Through two weeks he has 584 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, and 2 turnovers. But most importantly, his team is 2-0. Pro Football Reference also has him ranked 13th in the NFL in Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt. By most metrics, Darnold looks like he is going to find success with his new situation.
In Week 3 I'm not as bullish on the quantity as much as I am on the quality. Touchdowns can be very fluky (ask Ryan Tannehill managers after this week), but the Panthers' offense should move up and down the field with ease and that should create opportunities for Darnold to have a big game. At the same time, their opponent trots out a rookie quarterback against the Panthers' league-leading defense. That could be a problem for passing volume and it may create a situation where Darnold is turning around and handing the ball off in the second half of the game.
The rest of the year looks like it sets up well for Darnold. Their third-place schedule is soft and that presents quite a few weak defenses along the rest of Carolina's itinerary. The development of rookie Terrace Marshall Jr is also part of that outlook as it means that Darnold will have four quality playmakers to distribute the ball to against a very mediocre set of opponents.
Long-term, for Darnold's dynasty value the best thing that could've happened to him was to go to a situation like Carolina's where the coaching staff is offensively gifted and knows how to help their quarterbacks succeed. It looks like the move to the Panthers is going to give the USC product a big jump in dynasty value. It's wise to see some more out of the situation before fully jumping on board, but after two weeks there aren't many quarterbacks who have seen their value rise more than Darnold.
Bischoff: Darnold is doing what Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill did when he got away from poor coaching and general mismanagement from Adam Gase. He very much looks the part and has played extremely well through training camp and two regular-season games. Some of this has to do with the talent he is currently surrounded with and how much easier it must be to play the position now than it was in New York the past few seasons.
I am not certain he will need to go off this week against Houston, so I would project a modest game from him with the Panthers likely up and running out the clock in this game. I am thinking he will play well, but he will not need to put up gaudy numbers in Week 3.
Darnold can play to a low-end QB1 level this year with all the talent around him. There is a slew of quarterbacks in this range, but I think he’ll be a touch more consistent than some of the other more volatile options, and that consistency can be a great thing for fantasy lineups.
If Darnold can stay on this path, he is an under-the-radar (for now) dynasty asset capable of becoming a low-end QB1 for dynasty purposes.
Parsons: Mark Ingram II's last window to sell was post-Week 1. Houston had a glorious game script and Ingram was the clear lead back. As an older running back, windows are fleeting to get a return in dynasty, even for a de facto starter. Houston has a brutal schedule coming up, plus a quarterback change, and Ingram will be squeezed by David Johnson and Phillip Lindsay. Ingram is, at best, a 'hold your nose flex' through bye weeks. I hope Brandin Cooks survives fantasy-wise after his quality season start, but this offense could be straight downward from Week 3 forward until Tyrod Taylor returns. For a 2-3 year dynasty window, I doubt Ingram is on many dynasty rosters beyond rookie draft time in 2022.
Hicks: Darnold has been fantastic to date. The team is well-organized, well-coached, and has talent on both sides of the ball. In other words, Darnold has competency surrounding him and us flourishing. He is still a young and developing young quarterback so his limit may be bottom-end QB1. His rushing numbers aren’t likely to threaten the elite.
He has a quick turnaround this week in Houston which may be a tough test on a mental level for numerous reasons. The Panthers will be hoping just to get out with a win. Davis Mills is likely to struggle against Carolina's defense, but the Texans are better than projected.
I like Darnold as a dynasty prospect, especially if Carolina fully commits to him. They have a great group of receivers and Christian McCaffrey is still a young man.
Settle: Even after just seeing two weeks of Darnold in Carolina it looks like it was more of a Jets problem and less of a Darnold problem in New York. All of the reports coming out of camp were positive and he has backed it up early this season with 584 yards passing, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception. He has great weapons all around him and should be able to continue this sort of production as long as he continues to protect the ball.
The hits should keep coming in Week 3 against a Texans team that has had a very rough go of it. With Tyrod Taylor hurt and several missing players on defense expect Carolina to win big on a short week of rest. Realistically, Darnold is looking at 250 yards passing, 2 touchdowns, and a pick in Week 3. Things can very easily swing if it becomes a Christian McCaffrey game, but Darnold has all the weapons to put together a solid Week 3 performance.
Darnold should finish right around the middle of the pack in regards to quarterbacks. He has the weapons to fall just outside of the top 10 but is looking closer to 15-18. The biggest thing working against him is McCaffrey in the backfield. The ball is going to primarily go through McCaffrey rather than Darnold and this will limit some of his fantasy production. Look for his best season as a passer, but still not in the top 10 for QBs.
It is a little more difficult to predict because we do not know the weapons he will have around him in three years. However, Darnold was a highly rated QB coming into the league and is being given a second chance in Carolina. He is not going to finish in the top 5 as long as the offense goes through McCaffrey, but he should be a solid game manager over the next few years. Look at his prospects a lot like Alex Smith with the Chiefs several years ago.
King: Teddy “ Two Gloves” Bridgewater has looked very solid in these first two games. He is currently the QB12 on the season. He has a career-high completion rate (77.1%) and yards per attempt (8.5). He has exceeded more experts’ expectations thus far.
I’m expecting Bridgewater to finish as a high-end QB2 this week. The Broncos offense is ranked 13th overall and currently ranked 12th in passing yards and 15th in passing attempts, which means Bridgewater should continue to throw a lot this week. He has a tougher matchup this week against the 10th ranked New York Jets defense, but I believe his volume and accuracy will still make him a solid play.
I expect Bridgewater to finish as a high-end QB2 on the year. The offense should continue to be ranked top-15 in the league with their rushing and passing weapons. I wouldn’t be surprised if he threw for close to 4000 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Bridgewater is flirting with the “journeyman” label. Bridgewater could just be considered a “bridge” quarterback. In dynasty Superflex leagues, for 2021 he is worth a late first/ early 2nd. Within the next 2-3 years, his worth is around mid-late 2nd round pick due to the uncertainty of his future.
Weisse: I covered the Panthers for our Training Camp reports this offseason, so let's continue talking about Darnold, who has looked like a new quarterback to date, which is in line with just about all reports this preseason. He's making quick, correct decisions with his passes, and he is protecting the football. You can credit the coaches and Darnold himself, but the weapons around him are likely the most significant difference. Between Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and Terrace Marshall Jr, there is hardly a wrong decision to be made about where to throw the ball.
In Week 3, against a still bad but looking better Texans team, the Panthers are going to win big on a short week. Darnold should easily put up 250 yards and two touchdowns, and that might be his floor. A fantasy top-10 finish is in the cards for Week 3. He is the overall QB14 right now, and he should finish the season as a borderline top-14 option. In dynasty, he is an asset worth acquiring if you have an aging starter or are streaming the position. Just about every part of this team is young, which means Darnold is set up well for a two or three-year run as a top-12 quarterback. Not to mention, he's only 24 years old, playing in his fourth NFL season.
Wood: I'm gobsmacked by how well Teddy Bridgewater has looked in his first two games in Denver. I'm a Louisville fan and have followed Bridgewater's career since it began. And no matter what narrative you want to tell yourself, he's been a bad quarterback far more frequently than he's been additive.
Waldman: If you ever make it to Atlanta, I'll treat you to dinner, we'll watch some Bridgewater tape, and I'll show you why you're mistaken and projecting your delusions on others.
Wood: I want to think that you can't be serious, but I know you are. It's never been about talent, but Bridgewater has shown a propensity to play conservatively and refuse to test defenses downfield.
There was a three-game window in New Orleans two years ago when he was more aggressive, and yet he turned back into a pumpkin quickly and became a rotten Jack O'Lantern in Carolina last year. Yet, Bridgewater has maintained his accuracy this year in Denver while also throwing downfield with aplomb. If something has finally clicked, he could be a late-round fantasy gem. And he gets the lifeless New York Jets this week. Bridgewater projects as a solid QB2 for the rest of the year and may have earned dynasty value after being a bottom-of-the-roster option a month ago.
Waldman: While his arm isn't the strength of his game and that carries a lot of weight with the conventional analysis of quarterbacking, Bridgewater needs protection and specific elements in an offense that supports what he can do in a vertical game. His work under pressure, especially finding outlets and second and third reads, has always been an underrated facet of his game that keeps teams rolling with him as a veteran who can help the team if the starter gets hurt.
He's not an ideal starter for teams that want all of the physical bells and whistles of arm talent and that makes him a bad prospect for what the market wants. I'm sure as a comics collector, there are good works that the market didn't want and while the market is logical, it's not infallible.
Wood: Yeah, pick a good restaurant and I'll need enough wine to be convinced.
Waldman: At your age? You'll fall asleep.
Wood: Now who is projecting their delusions?
Waldman: You got me.
Waldman: The following receivers on the list below will likely have a new quarterback in the starting lineup next week due to an injured starter:
- Brandin Cooks
- Jaylon Waddle
- DeVante Parker
- Michael Pittman Jr
- Allen Robinson
- Darnell Mooney
- Zach Pascal
Wood: How can anyone not pick Brandin Cooks? He was a 1,000-yard receiver in New Orleans. A 1,000-yard receiver in Los Angeles. A 1,000-yard receiver in New England. And he was a 1,000-yard receiver in Houston last year.
No other receiver in history has been a 1,000-yard receiver on four different teams. He's done it with four different quarterbacks in four different systems. He's arguably the most "system-proof" player of his generation. And he stands at WR12 through two weeks with Tyrod Taylor under center. Taylor has played well, but he's not an elite quarterback and has never been a conduit for fantasy riches. While Davis Mills looked iffy, at best, last week, Cooks should see massive target share given Nico Collins' injury, and maintain top-25 value.
Weisee: I agree, word for word, with Jason. Brandin Cooks is going to be just fine. When a young quarterback steps in, especially on a short week, he is going to lean on his best weapon. Every other player mentioned in this list has a teammate mentioned as well, except Cooks. There is no debate where you throw the ball in Houston. Plus, the Panthers are going to win big, so the Texans will be throwing a lot. There will be plenty of target volume to keep Cooks's fantasy relevant.
King: He is used to catching passes from different quarterbacks and will still be reliable this year.
Settle: It does not seem to matter where he is playing or who is throwing him the ball, Cooks finds a way to succeed. He has had 1,000-yard receiving seasons everywhere he has played a full season and has had several different quarterbacks throw him the ball. Davis Mills may be one of the lesser-known names filling in for starters, but they do not have many other options to throw the ball to. Look for Cooks to lead this group of receivers again this season no matter who is under center. Cooks will continue to be a WR3/FLEX option with Mills under center.
After talking about Zach Pascal earlier, the same theory can be applied to Pittman going forward. Jacob Eason did not look good in his limited snaps and the Colts are likely to go back to running the ball first. There are going to be much fewer opportunities for all WRs on the Colts with Wentz injured. Downgrade both Pittman and Pascal as long as Eason is under center.
Hicks: This is a question surrounding the competency of the replacement quarterbacks. In that regard Cooks, Pittman and Pascal have the inferior passers. Justin Fields and Jacoby Brissett are either more talented or more experienced than Davis Mills or Jacob Eason. That said I am going with Brandin Cooks. Indianapolis and Miami have more options in the passing game and Fields will have his hands full with the Browns defense. The Texans are focused on running the ball and passing to Cooks. With Nico Collins and Danny Amendola out, it’s Cooks or nothing.
Parsons: The best news with Brandin Cooks is his likely market share. One of the most unique stats from Week 2 was Cooks' 14 targets where no other Houston player had more than two. Temper expectations with Davis Mills under center plus a tough three-game slate of matchups coming up, but the volume should be solid.
Color me skeptical of Jacoby Brissett and the Miami passing game, plus Will Fuller V is back in the mix and potentially likely the WR1 if we see the healthy Fuller from Houston. There were questions with Tua Tagovailoa under center and Brissett will be a downgrade.
Bischoff: It feels like the answer is Brandin Cooks or Allen Robinson as the others are either too young or just have not shown enough throughout their career to challenge these two. I’ll go with Robinson as I believe in quarterback Justin Fields more than quarterback Davis Mills right now. That does not mean I think Robinson is a sure thing as I think Fields is going to struggle a touch though. I believe Fields stabilizes the Chicago offense more than any of the other options available.
Davenport: After Taylor left the game, Mills threw 18 passes and 9 of them targeted Cooks. The offense will lose some productivity with the rookie under center, but if Mills continues to have a laser focus on Cooks he will prop up the veteran receiver's fantasy value and give him a solid weekly floor.
Jacoby Brissett is a solid backup quarterback, and he should benefit from getting all the starter repetitions in practice this week, but the offensive line has been a major problem for the Dolphins. How much of a downgrade it is to go from Tua Tagovailoa to Brissett can be debated, but it is a downgrade. And this may be cheating a bit, but now Will Fuller V enters the picture to further muddy the waters. Follow that up with dates against Indianapolis and Tampa Bay and this is not a situation that sets up well short-term while Tagovailoa is out.
Waldman: It's worth pointing out that most of you downgraded Pascal due to him working with Jacob Eason, an unproven second-year quarterback, but you're mostly in on Cooks. I'd like to point out the quarterbacks that Cooks has earned 1,000 yards with during his career:
Cooks has worked with two future Hall of Famers, perhaps first-ballot choices, as well as two quarterbacks with Pro Bowl designations in league-leading offenses. He has never worked with a rookie or reserve-caliber passer during his career.
In contrast, Pascal has worked with Wentz, Philip Rivers, Brissett, Brian Hoyer, and Andrew Luck. Only one of those quarterbacks performed at a Pro-Bowl level and Pascal has earned fantasy caliber production in given weeks with almost all of them.
I'm not saying that Pascal is a more attractive option than Cooks. Heck, I drafted Cooks in an auction league for a massive discount and I was pleased with him as a reserve on a stacked roster. Still, It's interesting that your confidence in Cooks getting it done because he's played with a lot of different quarterbacks while you're not as confident in Pascal, who has mostly played with reserve-level or over-the-hill passers, and has been productive as a less-targeted option in the team's pecking order thanks to the presence of T.Y. Hilton, Eric Ebron, and Jackon Doyle in offenses that frequently employed 2-3 tight ends in its alignments.
I think Drew's point about Cooks' targets with Mills is the best argument of this segment. Still, as much as I think Anthony Miller has a ton to prove, the Texans didn't have talent on the field comparable to Miller beyond Cooks. Miller can play slot and flanker and the only competent option outside of Cooks with a proven track record is slot man Danny Amendola. Chris Conley and Andre Roberts need a lot of surrounding talent to deliver and Collins is a rookie with a lot of raw talent but still a lot to learn.
I'm rolling with Jaylen Waddle. He earned eight targets against Buffalo, mostly with Brissett, and that's two more than he earned in the opener with Tagovailoa as the starter. While there's a possibility that Fuller hurts Waddle's targets, I find good route runners like Fuller actually open the field more for shot plays to speedsters like the rookie — even with Fuller being a deep threat as well.
There's also the fact that Fuller hasn't practiced or played in a while and he will likely be eased in or have an acclimation period of 2-3 weeks.
Waddle has a more diverse type of target plan in his scheme than Cooks. I like Cooks and his experience makes him a safer play from a conventional point of analysis, but Waddle is a more rugged receiver at the catch point and it makes him slightly more versatile.
Panic or Relax
Matt Waldman: Pick three players from this list whose performances are freaking you out and which three you're not concerned about their slow starts?
- Chase Claypool
- Kenny Golladay
- Laviska Shenault Jr
- Marquez Callaway
- Tyler Higbee
- Hunter Henry
- Mark Andrews
- James Robinson
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire
- Trey Sermon
- Zach Wilson
- Matt Ryan
No positional requirements, just who tops your list for any format: re-draft, keeper, or dynasty. Just explain why. Let's start with players you're worried about.
Parsons: Callaway is trending back to pumpkin status in a hurry after being a preseason darling and at least a half-season window to be the WR1 for the Saints. Callaway has been a ghost through two games and the Saints passing game has little stability with Callaway a de facto starter, Tre'Quan Smith still out, and a rag-tag rest of the depth chart.
Also, Adam Trautman has been invisible. The August window to get a second-round pick, or better, in a dynasty format is likely the best ever for Callaway, who is unstartable at this point.
Also, Hunter Henry has been a complete ancillary aspect to the Patriots' passing game and they have a light wide receiver group likely to improve in the future, plus Jonnu Smith is getting featured when on the field. Henry looks closer to 'just a guy' than an impact player just experiencing a couple of down weeks to open the season.
Davenport: The problems in Pittsburgh are still the same ones we saw last year. The optimism for a second-year leap from Claypool was not unwarranted, but there is no reason for that outlook after two weeks. Claypool is clearly still third in the pecking order, the offensive link stinks, and Ben Roethlisberger is already hurt. This situation has quite possibly gotten worse since 2020.
Edwards-Helaire is still playing plenty of snaps and running plenty of routes on Chiefs' dropbacks (59%), but the hopes of an increased role have not materialized. It's ok to bet on Edwards-Helaire making a jump in year two, but nothing so far has said he'll be the fantasy back everyone is hoping for. Until something changes he is going to be the same back we've seen to date.
I'm not necessarily freaking out because I didn't expect much from Golladay in the first place, but if someone was counting on him to return to his 2019 form that is looking less and less likely by the day. The dominant performer in New York's wide receiver corps has been Sterling Shepard, and now Evan Engram is close to returning. There are too many targets for Daniel Jones to prop all of them up. Golladay is going to be a frustrating player to start this year.
Bischoff: Callaway has not emerged in any way to be fantasy relevant. He is not very involved in the Saints passing game and looks to be an afterthought through two weeks.
Robinson had a huge season last year and the first distress signal should have been the Jaguars selection of running back Travis Etienne in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft. Etienne suffered a foot injury and is out for the year, but Robinson is still not being utilized in the Jaguars' offense.
Higbee was supposed to be a top target for newly acquired quarterback Matt Stafford, but that has not happened through two games. Stafford currently has eyes for wide receiver Cooper Kupp and that has all the other passing-game options underperforming.
Hicks: The Saints' Week 1 performance looks like an outlier, except for the numbers which weren’t that special. Draft slot matters. Location does too. So does availability. Sermon was boomed in a desperation play with limited rookie running backs available. Fortunately for him, the depth chart is collapsing around him and he gets a chance to redeem himself, but I would do it with no confidence.
A fumble that cost Edwards-Helaire's team a win, few targets as a receiver, and general uninspired running have many doubting his future as a running back in the NFL. Lucky for him the depth chart behind him is weak.
Settle: After being a surprise last year, James Robinson is in a bad spot this season. The Jaguars are starting a rookie quarterback that has not looked good, the team has a head coach who looks to have out foot out the door already, and the offense has no identity at all.
Robinson lost carries to Carlos Hyde in Week 1 and then did next to nothing after seeing the bulk of carries in Week 2. The negative game script this season is going to work against Robinson, and he is looking to become a touchdown-dependent FLEX option or even un-startable at this point. The entire Jacksonville offense looks like a crater right now and should be avoided.
Henry did not walk into a very good situation. The Patriots brought in too many tight-end options with Jonnu Smith being the best pass catcher amongst them. The choice to start Mac Jones made it look like the tight end safety valve was going to be a good play but there is just not enough ball to go around. With Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers taking the bulk share of targets on the outside, it is a tough spot for Henry. This is a situation to avoid altogether if possible.
Callaway was a fun sleeper pick coming into the season. With Michael Thomas sidelined and Jameis Winston under center, the targets had to go somewhere. Unfortunately, it has not been to Callaway. With just 3 catches on 6 targets for 22 yards, it is time to panic. The entire Saints offense has looked off and that does not bode well for a sleeper pick this season. Alvin Kamara will get his touches and Michael Thomas is going to come back and take the targets. Look for Callaway to fade away this season.
King: The Callaway hype got a little out of control after his one big preseason game. He is a bench warmer or waiver wire resident until further notice. Robinson we knew from 2020 is dead. He only has 16 rushing attempts for 72 yards on the season and is currently the RB42. The borderline RB1 expectations going into the season after Etienne was injured have completely evaporated. Robinson is nothing more than a risky flex option.
After being a healthy scratch game 1, he had one carry in Week 2 and is now injured. Even when Sermon recovers from injury, he is someone that should be left on your bench in dynasty and waivers for redraft.
Waldman: Why I am not in leagues with you guys losing confidence in Sermon! I'm missing a nice opportunity.
Weisse: I'm panicking about Robinson, Matt Ryan, and Henry. Robinson was carried by volume last season, and that is not happening again in 2021. After ceding carries to Carlos Hyde in Week 1, he took the lion share in Week 2. The result was a whopping 11 carries for 47 yards and an RB29 finish. Unfortunately, this team is not good enough to create a top-20 option for fantasy, and Robinson will continue to disappoint
Matt Ryan has been subpar for two weeks, and there is not much light at the end of the tunnel. He is averaging 230 yards, one touchdown, and 1.5 interceptions at this point. In a new offense on a bad team, things might get worse. The Atlanta defense will not do much to keep them in games, so Ryan will find himself in come-from-behind situations week after week. Playing from behind might result in better yardage, but expect the turnovers to continue as well.
Putting in bluntly, Hunter Henry was over-drafted in fantasy. Jonnu Smith was always the better receiver, and the team brought in Nelson Agholor for a reason. When you consider Smith, Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, and James White, Henry is the 5th look, and that is never going to pay dividends in fantasy football. Instead, his usage will be touchdown-based, and since that is just about the hardest thing to predict, managers would be better suited to move on.
Wood: We all have flaws in our process, and one of mine is falling in love with the rising dark horse receivers who dominate training camp. Sometimes it works out, but more often it doesn't once the regular season gets underway. Marquez Callaway is giving me the vapors after just four targets and two receptions through two weeks. The Saints are going to throw more than 22 times per game (I think) as the season normalizes, but Callaway has been summarily dominated by opposing defensive backs.
I was nervous about Urban Meyer's hire, but I thought Darrell Bevell's role as offensive coordinator would put a floor in the Jaguars' offense. Bevell may not be an elite play-caller, but he's highly competent and experienced, and his teams rarely see the bottom fall out. But Meyer's clearly got a heavy hand in personnel groupings and he just doesn't appear to believe in James Robinson the way we all do.
This answer is a bit of a cheat because I ranked Ryan far lower than the consensus. In a way, he's just confirming what I expected whereas he's probably causing others to panic. All you needed to do was look at how poorly Ryan has played over the years without Julio Jones in the lineup, and then consider how poorly constructed the Falcons roster is currently. He'll be lucky to finish as a top-20 quarterback.
Waldman: We were in agreement on Ryan, Wood. So, who are guys we should relax about their slow starts?
Wood: I was much lower than consensus on Golladay this preseason, and perhaps that's why I'm not worried now. If anything, his injuries and inability to practice with his new team drove his ADP down far enough where rostering him was more of a lottery ticket than something you needed to pan out. After watching Week 2, I think we can safely say he's healthy again and now it's just a matter of getting comfortable in the scheme. I wouldn't be surprised if Golladay performs like a top-20 receiver over the final 12-13 games of the season.
Andrews is never going to be a high-volume target like Darren Waller or Travis Kelce; he's touchdown-dependent. But I don't know why we would write his role off after two weeks. Andrews will be boom-or-bust -- as are most tight ends -- but he'll have more helpful weeks than not.
Wilson was one of the last quarterbacks drafted in nearly every league, so his slow start isn't hurting anyone. While the zero-touchdown, four-interception game was disconcerting, it's nothing that Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady haven't done in their careers. In fact, it's happened hundreds of times throughout NFL history and almost every great quarterback has one on their resume. We knew the Jets were rebuilding from the ground up, and 2021 was never going to be a bonanza. The key is ensuring the offensive line keeps Wilson safe, so he can flourish in 2022 and beyond once the roster is upgraded.
Weisse: I think it's okay to relax on Mark Andrews, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Chase Claypool. Baltimore has inexplicably decided to start leaning on their wide receivers, and Andrews is paying the price. The good news is that the tight end position is so bad that Andrews is still only three points per game behind the TE6. At five targets per game, Andrews is on pace for 85 targets on the year. When the touchdowns start heading his way again, you'll be happy you held on to him.
While he has started slow, Edwards-Helaire isn't losing work to anyone; he just isn't doing much with what he's given. He's carried the ball 27 times in two games, and no other back has more than four carries. He's been targeted just three times, but no other back has more than one target. A lack of touchdowns is killing him right now, but this offense is too good for this to continue.
Chase Claypool was always going to be "boom or bust," so bad weeks were to be expected. He is a big-play wide receiver, and that is the nature of his game. He is still third on the team in targets and operating well ahead of the fourth option. But, again, the lack of touchdowns is destroying his value, and the Steelers need to find ways to score. The wide receivers, in general, have only scored one touchdown in two weeks, so this is a team problem, not a Claypool issue. He was tied for the team lead in touchdowns last year and will be relied on even more in Diontae Johnson misses any time.
King: Shenault has 16 targets on the season and has a 19.5% target share (tied for second on the team). This has not translated the fantasy points yet, but it shows he is getting opportunities in the offense. The Jaguars are ranked 6th in passing attempts and have the 25th ranked defense, which will lead to more opportunities for Shenault in future matchups.
Claypool will be just fine. He is receiving a 19.4% target share and has the most air yards per target out of the big 3 wide receivers (18.2). In Week 2, Claypool saw 9 targets, but only had 3 receptions. Once Roethlisberger and Claypool start connecting more frequently on the deep plays, you will see Claypool winning weeks like last year. Claypool gets two favorable matchups the next two weeks against the Bengals and Packers the next two weeks.
Yes, it hasn’t been the beautiful connection we were hoping for between Daniel Jones and Kenny Golladay. The good news is that In Week 2, Golladay saw 8 targets for a 25.6 % target share. He also averaged 15.2 air yards per target. There are obviously some growing pains, but Golladay has a chance to bounce back where he faces Atlanta, New Orleans, and Dallas the next three weeks.
Settle: While the fumble on Sunday Night was bad, Edwards-Helaire is in too good of an offense to be kept down for long. The Ravens did a great job up front stopping the run and also took care of Tyreek Hill on the outside. It was a slow start for Edwards-Helaire last year and appears to be the same this season. Look for his touches to increase and for the Chiefs to get him the ball in the flat and play to his strengths. There is no reason to panic about Edwards-Helaire yet.
On the flip side of that Sunday Night game, Mark Andrews is also off to a slow start. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens have lost their entire running back stable and are still trying to figure out what they are going to do going forward. Hollywood Brown has stepped up on the outside and is making plays every week with Sammy Watkins also making an appearance. Andrews is a top 3 option in this offense and will see his share of the targets increase. Teams have taken away the middle of the field in the early going but look for Andrews to right the ship in the coming weeks.
Matt Ryan is not going to win many games this season, but his team is going to play from behind and he is going to have to throw the ball a lot. Mike Davis does not look to be the workhorse the Falcons were hoping, and it is going to fall on Ryan to push the ball down the field. Even without Julio Jones he still has Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage to throw to. Look for Ryan to approach 300 yards passing each week even if his touchdown numbers are down and his interception numbers are up. He is still going to finish as a top 15 quarterback this season and can have some big weeks if he limits the runovers.
Hicks: The big plays are coming for Claypool. The timing has been a fraction off, but if Ben Roethlisberger can focus on correcting that instead of complaining about coaching, Claypool will have big games. Andrews is getting targets, just not as many as expected and there are no touchdowns. Lamar Jackson looks to him far too often for the results to not come very soon. Shenault is getting the targets. They are currently unimaginative targets and while Trevor Lawrence is developing Shenault may struggle. If the coaching staff have any common sense, they toss out what isn’t working and adapt.
Parsons: I am not concerned by Claypool, Edwards-Helaire, or Sermon in dynasty. For Claypool, he is paired with Ben Roethlisberger struggling with deep balls and an offense centered on a shorter passing game.
Claypool showed enough in 2020 to be super patient until at least 2022. Edwards-Helaire is a highly durable profile with a top-24 finish in Year 1 as a Round 1 running back profile. Week 3 is a good matchup for Edwards-Helaire to bounce back from a slow start, but the density of hits on his historical profile is sky-high as a long-term dynasty bet.
Sermon is the best running back on the 49ers depth chart in my view and between the Week 1 inactive tag and then the concussion-fumble in Week 2, we have the perfect storm-poor start from an optics perspective. With Day 2 pedigree and Raheem Mostert out for the season, I am being super patient with Sermon.
Bischoff: Claypool is a volatile play on a weekly basis as he needs to score touchdowns to bolster his value. He has not scored yet but is seeing enough volume to make me comfortable with where his game is. Golladay missed critical time during training camp, the time needed to develop chemistry with quarterback Daniel Jones. Golladay makes plays down the field and Jones needs to have a keen understanding of how and where Golladay wins so he can put the ball into an area where Golladay can go get it. It is going to take a little time, and I am willing to give this pairing that time as it can pay off later in the season.
We need to be patient with Sermon as he could turn into a monster in the 49ers offense, but he needs a little time. The 49ers are missing a lot of running backs and we have seen that this system can turn much lesser runners into strong fantasy producers. Let’s let Sermon get back from his concussion and back into the lineup to see what he can do.
Davenport: The challenge from the rookie Jacob Harris in training camp proved to be a mirage. Higbee has played 100% of the snaps so far compared to the backups who have played less than 20%. He's also running a route on over 85% of the teams' dropbacks. Right now Cooper Kupp is gobbling up the points, but that will change and Higbee should have plenty of good days ahead of him.
The Marquise Brown breakout is not something I predicted, but it's hampering the numbers for Andrews. But don't despair. We know by now what Andrews is, and he's an inconsistent fantasy player. Nothing material has changed in the Ravens' offense and neither of the other tight ends is playing very much, if at all. Andrews will get his numbers so stay patient.
Urban Meyer appeared to come to his senses in Week 2 by giving Robinson an even bigger snap share than he had in Week 1. He's also running a route consistently over 60% of the time for Jacksonville, and this makes him a solid PPR floor play. The overall offense isn't going to be great at times, and some have drafted Robinson as an RB2 and may be disappointed, but Robinson is playing plenty and out-touched Carlos Hyde 14-2 this past week. He's going to have fantasy relevance going forward.
Waldman: You know I'm going to tell you that Sermon is a fantasy GM's patience play this year and anyone who gives up on him too early could pay dearly. I detail this entire depth chart in this week's Gut Check. Sermon is the most versatile runner the team has and Eli Mitchell was in the right place at the right time. It doesn't mean he lacks the baseline skills to contribute the entire year, but he's a limited speedster and it has shown on tape.
After five weeks, Chase Claypool was the No.22 PPR receiver and No.10 non-PPR option during the 2020 fantasy season. After Week 6, Claypool was the 24th-ranked non-PPR option and No.25 PPR option. These aren't bad figures for a vertical option but nowhere near the expectation that he set early when defenses weren't rolling safeties over to his side of the field and cornerbacks were literally allowing Claypool to catch perimeter targets uncontested.
Where I become concerned is after Week 10 of 2020. Claypool was 37th and 38th in PPR and non-PPR formats, respectively. The Steelers have its worst offensive line in recent memory, Ben Roethlisberger is unhappy with the offense, and Claypool has some significant flaws with his game. He's good enough to make a significant impact with specific routes, but he's not in an offense that can maximize his skills. I'd be concerned about him.
I think I was one of the lone voices in the wilderness of analysts who had a sober view of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, especially after his opening week against Houston in 2020. He's a bully in the open field, but not a great tackle breaker in the trenches. He can keep his feet and help generate a push, but he operates on terrific vision, solid footwork, and decent burst.
He's not a great outside zone runner, his pass protection was a work in progress (at best) as a rookie, and he hasn't been utilized as often as a receiver because Patrick Mahomes II can find better options downfield in ways that most quarterbacks would opt to check down to the back.
Still, I wouldn't panic about Edwards-Helaire as a viable talent. You just need to reset expectations to where they should have been all along: He's a scatback who doesn't earn Austin Ekler's production due in part to his role.
Thanks to all who participated and thank you, readers, for your patronage. Good luck this week.
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