Week 1 is in the books and it is always fascinating to see how well teams are actually going to play. But the reality is that we only know what happened for one game. It always takes three weeks before teams can comfortably be categorized. With a sample of one week, we cannot be sure if that offense was that good (or bad) or the opposing defense was that bad (or good). And really, dumping players after only one week seems like a set-up for a classic case of “wait, didn’t just cut that guy? Oops!”
Another week, another six guys I’ve been thinking about.
1. RB Jalen Richard (OAK) – I play in several big money contests where each team has $1000 salary cap dollars to spend on free agents. And after his big Week 1, Richard was not only grabbed in every league. He went for $578 in one (about $50-$60 was enough in most leagues). I did not get into the Jaelen Richard Sweepstakes. First off – who exactly is he? He was a four year back at Southern Mississippi who never had more than 87 carries in a season until his senior year. He stepped up to 185 carries for 1098 yards and 14 touchdowns. He shared the backfield with Ito Smith (171-1128-10) who is the starter there this season. Richard (pronounced ree-shard) also caught 30 passes for 284 yards and two more scores (Ito had 49-515-3). So it was only his final season in college that he stepped up to an average of 14 carries per game. As many as 25 and as few as just four in a game.
He was undrafted and did not receive much attention by any of the scouting services. At 5-8/ 205 lbs., what little was said about him was that he could end up as a change-of-pace back in the NFL because of his size. And that he would go undrafted. The Raiders did draft DeAndre Washington with their 5.04 pick and he currently is the #3 back because Taiwan Jones is #2. And #4 is Jalen Richard who has already beaten the odds by making an NFL team. Richard did impress in the preseason but suffered a sprained knee and missed the first two games. He still made the team though and has flashed speed and quickness. And of course in the first game of the year, Latavius Murray ran 14 times, DeAndre Washington had 5 carries and Richard caught an 8-yard pass in the first quarter, returned a punt and then ran for the 75-yard touchdown midway in the fourth quarter. He would add two more carries for nine yards and a catch for 3 yards in the final drive.
The Raiders showed confidence in him with those final series touches. And stranger things have happened in the NFL than someone coming out of nowhere to claim a starting spot and becoming a star. Why didn’t I buy him this week? Because I play the odds and they say that a guy who was never a full-time starter in Conference USA and never mattered there until his senior year is highly unlikely to blossom in the NFL into anything more than a special teamer and change of pace guy. There are probably 50 other running backs who fit his description coming out of college every year. It was a great touchdown run and maybe he will continue to surprise. But that is just it – it would still be a surprise.
2. RB Rob Kelley (WAS) – The undrafted rookie beat out Keith Marshall who was drafted (7.21). The ex-Tulane back is a prototypical 6-0, 228 lb. and he never had more than 98 carries in any season. He only averaged 4.0 yards per carry on his 318 attempts there over four years. He fell into the same logjam of backs that would include Jalen Richard trying to make a team that did not want you for seven rounds of the draft. He too was a Conference USA player until Tulane switched to the American Conference last year. Last year, Kelley was only the third most used back at Tulane who never uses any back that much. Last year Dontrelle Hilliard was tops with only 115 runs. So he went to a school that just doesn’t run the ball that much.
Kelley did turn heads in the preseason. He sent Keith Marshall packing. He was talked up by HC Jay Gruden and ran for 51 yards on 12 carries in Week 3 of the preseason. He ran for 99 yards on 16 runs in Week 4. And last week – zero carries. But the Redskins never intended on running that much anyway with the Steelers defense great against the run and far weaker against the pass again this year. Matt Jones only ran for 24 yards on seven carries. Ironically, the same 3.4 yard average that he had from last year. Chris Thompson also had four runs. Kelley should see some playing time in this home game against the Cowboys who gave up 113 rushing yards to the Giants last week. I want to see Kelley play Big Boy Ball. His college resume was nothing special nor that busy but at Tulane, they like to throw a lot and run a little. Kelley’s biggest attraction right now is that he is not Matt Jones. The Redskins are still very much behind Jones as the starter so Kelley wouldn’t do much until later in the year if at all. With the Skins only running the ball 11 times last week, he must have felt like he was still in college.
3. WR Tyrell Williams (SD) – Yet another undrafted player who made the Chargers last year and spent time on their practice squad before being called up in November during the annual “Purging of the Wideouts” that has become so popular in San Diego. Williams was a star at Western Oregon and rolled up impressive stats against schools that you have never heard of before. He is very fast and yet is 6-4/205 – basically major physical attributes that played at a really small school. But last year his two catches in Week 17 in Denver went for a total of 90 yards and one touchdown. He was dialed in as the #3 receiver this year with the early demise of Stevie Johnson.
His first game this year had him with 71 yards on two catches in Kansas City. And of course, the loss of Keenan Allen means there is a big hole in the wide receiver corps for the Chargers. Again. And Philip Rivers has talked him up. He will likely play the split end and take it deep while Dontrelle Inman and Travis Benjamin are on shorter routes. That likely means inconsistent play at best but with the record attrition of the Chargers wideouts, Williams could move up again. He was impressive enough to merit final round picks in some of my leagues and I am glad I did so far. There is plenty of opportunity in San Diego that is ready to be used by one or more receivers.
4. TE Gary Barnidge (CLE) – Let’s keep this one shorter. Barnidge was a true freak last year. When the Browns literally were running out of any viable receivers, the 30-year-old tight end stepped up from his usual 12 catches per year to having 79 for 1043 yards and nine touchdowns. That is a Cinderella that no one saw coming, not even Gary. But he only had two passes and no catches in Week 1, leaving fantasy owners disappointed. But then Robert Griffin III was lost with a shoulder injury and once again, Josh McCown steps in still with no chance of starting a 16 game season for the 13th year in a row. Fantasy owners suddenly have hope. But probably not.
McCown only started eight games last year. And the Browns had only one wideout that played all 16 games (Travis Benjamin). The other wideouts are almost all gone now and Andrew Hawkins, Darius Jennings, Taylor Gabriel, Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline took turns showing why they are no longer starters anywhere in the NFL. This year has the Browns with an entirely new coaching staff and play calling. And Corey Coleman was the first wideout taken in the NFL draft. Terrelle Pryor has a role and looks good. And Josh Gordon is returning in a few weeks. Barnidge had a Cinderella season thanks to a set of circumstances that no longer exists. Now he will do better than no catches in future games. But if the Browns return to throwing seven or eight completions to him every game, it means everything fell apart again. And the Browns are not there yet.
5. WR Dez Bryant (DAL) – .Fantasy owners felt the pain when Bryant only managed one catch with Dak Prescott starting in Week 1. Is it time to worry? Yes and no. It was certainly disconcerting anytime a player of his stature flops so badly but he did have a 24-yard touchdown called back. And he has struggled against the Giants who held him to 5-48 (with Romo) last year. He will return to much better stats but he’s not going to be the same as he was with Romo. Until (or if) Romo returns, Prescott cannot be expected to maintain a high level of production with him unless he presses and risks interceptions. The first half of the season is going to be a downturn. But the second half, Bryant gets a much easier schedule and he’ll either be with a more experienced Prescott or back with Romo. So worry now? Yes. At least accept the likely reality. And no – he could be as good as ever in the second half of the year. Of course, your fantasy team has to maintain winning now to make later season points matter…
6. QB Kirk Cousins (WAS) – Not much fun in the Monday night game but there are still reasons to expect a good year from Cousins. He did throw for 329 yards but had two interceptions and no scores versus the Steelers. But that game went sideways from the second quarter and Cousins was unable to punch in scores. Some of that relates to a substandard rushing game. But his day was still promising because he hit DeSean Jackson for 102 yards on six catches, still completed seven passes for 64 yards to Jordan Reed, and then has Justin Crowder, Pierre Garcon and even Josh Doctson (eventually) to use. This week hosting the Cowboys is likely to be another lesser game since it was both times in 2015. But then Cousins hits a streak of games @NYG, CLE, @BAL and PHI that should be much more profitable for the next month.
And an extra point…
I was really disappointed that there were no huge surprises in Week 1 as free agents (aside from apparently Jalen Richard). There is normally one guy no one saw coming. Figure that may come this week. But more importantly, in your leagues go look at which players were just dropped. Chances are there are a few slow-starting gems there.