5 things I care about
I’m embarrassed for the Cowboys' receivers
I had someone ask me if CeeDee Lamb is a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy and reality. I think so, but the truth is, it doesn’t really matter when the rest of the guys on the field might be No. 5 and No. 6 WRs … maybe.
Dennis Houston, Simi Fehoko, Noah Brown; who are these guys? That’s not a serious operation.
It doesn’t make a difference how good of a receiver Lamb is because the defense can squat on his short and intermediate routes when the outside players are no threat at all. You could see the Bucs doing that all Sunday night. Lamb handled 11 targets but had just 1.9 yards of separation on those looks. Those plays become so low-percentage like that when the defense doesn’t respect your ability to hit downfield passes. The other Dallas receivers can’t separate or win contested passes.
We knew wide receiver might be a sore spot for Dallas with Michael Gallup destined to miss time to start the season but it’s only gotten worse as time has gone on. James Washington’s injury created a depth issue and now, apparently, third-round rookie Jalen Tolbert (healthy scratch) isn’t ready to step up.
But your plan shouldn’t completely fall apart when the likes of Washington get hurt or a Day 2 rookie isn’t ready to play right away.
If that sends you off track, you didn’t really have a plan at all.
Don’t forget, they’re also playing with a hand tied behind their back with the offensive line issues they also didn’t properly design for. The Cowboys clearly didn’t have a Plan B ready for tonight. They just ran their same old plays with a completely depleted supporting cast. We saw the results.
Oh and now Dak Prescott will miss multiple weeks; Jerry Jones confirmed his starting quarterback will need hand surgery.
You can’t script a more troubling start for the Dallas Cowboys 2022 season.
Saquon Barkley is back
If Saquon Barkley gets the type of usage he saw in Week 1 all season long, he will be a top-five player in fantasy football. Period.
Barkley ran a team-high 21 routes and absorbed 33.3 percent of the targets. He also handled 78% of the running back carries for the Giants. He scored a touchdown and also slammed in a two-point conversion on a designed popgun pass for him.
It was unbelievably encouraging to see, especially in his first game of the season. Barkley was the engine of this Giants offense.
The rest of the offense, however, is a bit of a mess. Kadarius Toney has fallen way down the depth chart and ran just three routes. Daniel Jones ranked 28th out of 28 quarterbacks in EPA per dropback heading into Sunday Night Football. Sterling Shepard made a stunning return after a late-season 2021 Achilles tear and ran as a key player while scoring a long touchdown. but that was the only other shining light.
Despite all that, Barkley looked like a league-winner in fantasy. And for as long as he’s healthy, that shouldn’t change.
A.J. Brown shines in Eagles debut
It was a banner week all the way around for big-name wide receivers that changed teams this offseason. The most encouraging performance was that of A.J. Brown.
Questions surrounded just about all of the receivers who swapped jerseys but none more consequential than the subject of Brown’s volume. At least, that was the narrative when he was traded to Philadelphia. Then we got reports from Eagles’ training camp that Jalen Hurts was laser-focused on targeting his new No. 1 wideout.
Week 1 provided a resounding endorsement of Brown’s usage.
Brown maintained an absurd 44.8% target share against the Lions. He ran a route on 39 of Hurts’ 44 dropbacks. It was apparent from the jump that the now-Eagles receiver was about to have a massive game. Brown had the most receiving yards in the first half of a team debut by any non-rookie since at least 1991, per NFL Research.
Hurts looks like he’s going to finish the week top-five in EPA per dropback, despite a sub-60% completion rate. If Brown stays healthy, maintains this sort of volume and Hurts continues to play well, then the receiver is going to push for a 1,400-yard season. He’s that talented.
Washington’s WRs are so underrated
The Washington Commanders have a really good wide receiver trio.
Curtis Samuel was a revelation right away. He finished with a team-high 26.8% target share and collected five catches on five targets and two rushes on Washington’s first two drives. It's clear he is going to be featured for this team.
Jahan Dotson operated ahead of Samuel, as expected, running 40 routes to his 36. The rookie and the veteran both split time in the slot. That’s a great way to maximize them both. Dotson scored two impressive touchdowns, one of which was the game-winner. His skills at plucking the ball away from his frame were perfectly on display.
Terry McLaurin fell behind both in targets but ran the most routes on the team and scored on a deep route. I doubt Antonio Gibson is going to see eight targets very often so don’t be concerned about McLaurin’s workload. He’s still the clear No. 1 wideout.
The offense will always be murky with Carson Wentz at the helm. He had his fair share of typical Wentz mistakes in this win. But these three guys are going to have big weeks and can be the driving force of the offense; the whole offense’s ceiling is higher because of these guys. McLaurin is a strong WR2 in fantasy and both Dotson and Samuel should be rostered.
Justin Jefferson was worth all the hype
Justin Jefferson was steamed up to the very top of the wide receiver board for some analysts and it was extremely rare to see him any lower than WR2 overall. It was a bold move but one he deserved.
It was great to see him leave no doubt in Week 1.
The Packers opted not to dedicate special attention to Jefferson and they ended up bleeding production to the star wideout. Jefferson handled an absurd 72.8% of the Vikings' air yards. In addition to working downfield, he also averaged over nine yards after the catch per reception. He can win at all levels with elite-level separation and is now being actively schemed into favorable looks. Jefferson didn’t even lead the team in slot snaps, despite all the talk of the “Cooper Kupp role.”
Jefferson doesn’t need the Kupp role.
This is going to be a truly special season for him. He might be our first 2,000-yard receiver.
5 Things I don’t care about
Judging the non-fully loaded Bucs passing game
Much like the Cowboys, the Buccaneers knew their wide receiver unit was going to come into 2022 a bit compromised. Unlike the Cowboys, Tampa Bay remained financially flexible enough to have several options to throw out there.
The Bucs probably didn’t plan to have Julio Jones run a route on 76% of the dropbacks in Week 1. They certainly didn’t want to have Breshad Perriman handling 28.2% of the team’s air yards. Those fallback options are pretty nice, however, when you consider what other NFC hopeful contenders like Dallas or Green Bay are dealing with at the moment.
Tom Brady didn’t look perfect as the top receivers shuffled in and out of the lineup and the offensive line suffered more injuries. However, I’m withholding judgment on this offense until we see them at full strength. And with the passing game struggling, Leonard Fournette stepped up to handle 23 touches and put up 127 yards.
At some point, the Bucs will string a full game together with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones and Russell Gage. At least, we hope they will. When that moment comes, we’ll have a better understanding of what the Bucs will be as an offense.
Any remaining worries about Amon-Ra St. Brown’s workload
Amon-Ra St. Brown had a 32.4% target share in Week 1, leading his team by a decent gap. I would like to note a bunch of dudes didn't need to be hurt for this to happen today.
The talented rookie receiver ran a route on 95% of Jared Goff’s dropbacks. No surprise, he led the team in slot snaps but never left the field regardless of formation.
Almost any case against St. Brown heading into 2022 just didn’t hold much weight. Simply put: You don’t do what he did to end his rookie season unless you can play. The strengths of his game just overlap so well with Goff’s preferences as a passer. He holds an important role in this offense and he was not going to lose the playing time he earned before his massive fantasy breakout in the last month of 2021.
These big slots who smash against zones over the middle can be alpha receivers with the NFL as a whole moving to more zone-heavy defenses. Just look at Cooper Kupp last season for evidence.
St. Brown might not maintain a 30% target share all season; that would be aggressive. However, if he even comes in at 26-28% he’s going to smash his fantasy ADP and push to catch 100 balls.
Don’t forget about him when ranking the top breakout receivers in the league.
Ja’Marr Chase’s regression
Anytime someone does what Ja’Marr Chase did last year on deep targets, there will always be the regression discussion. However, it doesn’t matter when a player is as good as Chase is.
Chase was awesome as a rookie in the 2021 season. He looked even better in Week 1 of the 2022 season.
The player we saw against the Steelers looked like a true do-it-all player who can win on every route and in every phase of the position. That’s the player we saw in sectors of his rookie season. Now, he looks like he’s ready to put it all together.
Chase handled 30.25% of the team targets. No one else cleared 20% with Tee Higgins absent for most of the game. The Bengals don’t get back into this game without making Chase the centerpiece of their offensive universe. He is the definition of a difference-maker.
Non-Diontae Johnson Steelers WRs
Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson’s volume was often discussed as a product of Ben Roethlisberger.
Well, what do you know, that didn’t hold up to the test of reality.
With a new quarterback under center, Johnson still maintained his hefty volume (32.4% of the team targets). That’s because he’s good at football.
The rest of the Steelers' distribution was a bit cloudier. Chase Claypool played the most snaps and lined up in the slot on 89% of his snaps. That’s the right role for him but brought him just six short-area looks. The exciting rookie George Pickens ran the third-most routes on the team.
The Bengals' defense played well but the Steelers' offensive line remains a massive issue and Mitchell Trubisky hardly looks like he’s about to experience a career revival. The ceiling on this unit isn’t great, so we really aren’t interested in playing anyone beyond Johnson in fantasy anyway.
Any laying-the-hammer takes from CHI vs SF
The conditions in Chicago were hideous leading into the game. Guys were running in pre-game warmup with little puddles splashing in their wake. It didn’t get better; frankly, it became much worse late in the contest.
They had to add the yard lines in post! pic.twitter.com/8tXfEQLnjN
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) September 11, 2022
I know folks want to write the book on Justin Fields and Trey Lance as quickly as possible but everything from this game has to be taken with a massive grain of salt. Each of them had their moments — especially Fields — but he might have just gotten the best breaks in the timing of the rain. You do have to give him credit for creating big gaps in the 49ers' secondary with his mobility and rocketing a few strong deep throws.
We’ll know a lot more about these two young passers (mostly Lance) when we see them in better conditions. This was a mess.