Targets, touches and touchdowns: Week 2

Targets, touches and touchdowns: Week 2

Statistical Analysis

Targets, touches and touchdowns: Week 2

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back, TT&T faithful and first-time readers alike, and I know we all can agree it’s beyond awesome to have real NFL games to analyze and a week’s worth of stats to dissect.

We begin, though, with a few words of warning: Do not go overboard with what just transpired over the opening weekend.

Sure, some of what we witnessed will prove to be a precursor to the rest of the season, but much of it is nothing more than flash-in-the-pan fool’s gold.

Just jump back to Week 1 a season ago. Sure, we had Patrick Mahomes (four touchdown passes), James Conner (192 total yards, two TDs) and Eric Ebron (51 yards, TD) finishing the week among the statistical standouts at their respective positions, but we also had – sound familiar? – Case Keenum (329 yards, three TDs), Randall Cobb (nine catches-142 yards-TD) and tight end Will Dissly (105 yards, TD) finish among the fantasy studs as well.

Now, fantasy football is unforgiving from the standpoint in that waiver claims quickly must be prioritized and FAAB budgets aren’t unlimited, so we must readily decide which performances were real and which were not and plan our moves accordingly.

Just as in fantasy drafts and real game itself, some of our calls and determinations will be wrong of course – it’s simply the nature of the competitive beast – but planting flags and finding hills to stand on we must as the first few weeks of the season are the prime time for unearthing and acquiring overlooked and underappreciated fantasy finds who will prove to be valuable assets for the remainder of the season.

This is a subject better covered in the Huddle’s Free-agent Forecast and Fantasy Market Report, but the what’s-real-and-what’s-not concept is definitely something to keep in mind here as we now delve deeper into some of the significant stats, notable numbers and illuminating integers compiled over the opening weekend through Sunday and what they project going forward.

Gurley conundrum continues

Sorry, Todd Gurley owners, but Week 1 of the new season did nothing to answer the puzzling health/usage questions surrounding the former elite fantasy running back.

Sure, Gurley led the Los Angeles Rams’ backs in snaps (54), rushing attempts (14), touches (15) and total yards (101), but it was backup Malcolm Brown who scored both the team’s rushing TDs (one and five yards) and finished with 11 carries for 53 yards while playing 21 snaps overall.

It marked the first time since Gurley entered the league in 2015 that a Rams running back other than TGIII himself (13 times) finished a game with double-digit rushing attempts and two ground scores.

Rookie third-round pick Darrell Henderson, meanwhile, surprisingly was hardly involved at all, seeing just one rushing attempt (for no yards) on two total snaps.

As for Gurley, it marked his fourth straight game, including last season’s playoffs, with 18 or fewer touches. In his previous 31 regular-season games, Gurley had only two contests (in Weeks 11 and 14 last season) with 15 or fewer touches, but following a postseason in which he averaged 11.3 touches in three games and an offseason of rest in which the Rams have repeatedly insisted that nothing is wrong with the 25-year-old back, Gurley opened with 15 touches and 10.1 fantasy points in a non-blowout 30-27 road win in Carolina.

“(It was) because of game flow,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said afterward when asked directly why Gurley received only 15 touches.

We’re not buying it, coach, and we don’t believe Gurley – a workhorse back who averaged 22.5 touches over 14 regular-season contests a season ago before a late-year knee issue kept him out of the final two games – is now fully healthy and currently isn’t on some sort of unannounced pre-determined pitch count.

Gurley is still the No. 1 back on one of the league’s most potent offenses and surely will have several elite fantasy outings this season. But something is still not right, and Gurley just isn’t the week-in and week-out elite fantasy back of seasons past.

Value him as an RB2 going forward, and his fantasy owners should seriously consider selling him high in a trade if he has an OG (Old Gurley) huge fantasy day early this season.

Interesting AFC West backfields

A year ago at this time, the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers possessed two of the more known fantasy running back commodities in Kareem Hunt and Melvin Gordon, respectively.

Fast forward back to the present and we find that Hunt has long since been released and is awaiting the end of his suspension in Cleveland while Gordon is holding out, hoping for an elite running back payday.

In the meantime, both backfields are of fantasy interest as part of high-powered offenses.

For K.C., in a 40-26 road win in sweltering Jacksonville on Sunday, incumbent starter Damien Williams led the way with 13 rushes for 26 yards, including a one-yard scoring run, and six receptions for 39 yards on six targets – all while playing 45 of 68 offensive snaps. Recent acquisition LeSean McCoy played 20 snaps and rushed 10 times for 81 yards and caught his only target for 12 yards.

Rookie Darwin Thompson, meanwhile, saw only two snaps, with no rushes and reeled in his only target for a three-yard gain.

Williams’ TD made all the fantasy difference Sunday, but don’t be surprised if his snap and touch share continue to creep down as the two relative newcomers, McCoy and Thompson, become more acclimated to coach Andy Reid’s highly creative offense.

A little later Sunday afternoon, any hope Gordon had for a mega payday took a sizable hit as backups Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson showed well in the Chargers’ 30-24 overtime win over the visiting Indianapolis Colts.

As expected, Ekeler was the main man for the Bolts, playing 48 of 64 offensive snaps while rushing 12 times for 58 yards and a TD and catching six of seven targets for 96 yards and two more scores. Jackson, meanwhile, saw 16 snaps, carried six times for 57 yards and reeled in one of his three targets for four yards.

Ekeler matched his career game-high in touches, scored a career-high three TDs and ranked as third overall and second among running backs, through Sunday, with 39.4 PPR-league points.

Gordon couldn’t have liked what he saw, but Ekeler and Jackson fantasy owners did. Look for the rushing attempt share to move toward a more even split going forward, but Ekeler is one of the league’s more prolific pass-catching backs and is a high-end RB2 asset in PPR leagues as long as Gordon continues his ill-fated holdout or is traded.

Motor City aerial intrigue

Wideouts Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. were perceived to be the top pass-catching options on a run-first Detroit Lions team, but none of the above played out in Sunday’s season-opening 27-27 tie with the host Arizona Cardinals.

First of all, despite being ahead or tied for all but four minutes of the 70-minute affair, the Lions had a somewhat surprising 60-40 pass-run split with 48 passing attempts and 32 rushes.

QB Matthew Stafford ranked among the week’s top fantasy passers with 27 completions in 45 attempts for 385 yards and three scores. Roughly half of those targets (22) and completions (13) and 245 of his yards and two of his scoring passes went to rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson (9 targets-6 catches-131 yards-TD) and slot wide receiver Danny Amendola (13-7-104-1) while Golladay (9-4-42-1) and Jones (4-4-56-0) were the third and fourth most productive pass-catchers.

Hockenson, the eighth-overall pick in the draft, was nothing short of a revelation, averaging 21.8 yards per catch, pacing all league tight ends in yardage and establishing nothing short of a Super Bowl-era NFL record for most receiving yards by a rookie tight end in his league debut.

And at a position where there’s a shortage of premium fantasy talent, forget about the rookie tight end stigma and swoop up Hockenson if he’s still available in your league in the (very realistic) hopes that he follows the footsteps of fellow former Iowa tight end George Kittle to sudden fantasy stardom.

We’re not nearly as bullish on the 33-year-old Amendola, who has an injury-filled track record, but he’s a definite PPR-league flex/depth option after he posted his best single-game receiving yardage total since 2015 on Sunday.

And there’s certainly no reason to downgrade Golladay or Jones in the meantime – especially now that opposing defenses look as if they’ll have to dedicate much more attention than planned to deal with Detroit’s tight end and slot receiver positions.

Extra points

  • Rookie WR DK Metcalf not only shook off a preseason knee issue and played Sunday, but he wound up leading the Seattle Seahawks in receiving yards (89) while grabbing four of six targets. Moreover, Metcalf’s 89 receiving yards marked the most by a Seattle rookie wide receiver in a debut, eclipsing the previous record of 76 held by Hall of Famer Steve Largent in 1976.
  • Speaking of standout rookie wideouts, we can’t go without mentioning the Baltimore Ravens’ Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (5-4-147-2), whose 30.7 PPR points were the most by a rookie receiver in his debut since Anquan Boldin’s7 total in 2003.
  • Ravens QB Lamar Jackson also tossed three other TD passes while completing 17-of-20 attempts for a career-high 324 yards in the 59-10 pasting of the lowly Miami Dolphins. Prior to the contest, in which the Ravens established single-game franchise records for points and total yards (643), Jackson had thrown all of eight TDs in 199 career attempts, including one postseason contest. Also, it must be noted that Jackson’s big day included only six rushing yards on three attempts – his lowest (by 33 yards) in nine career starts.
  • Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey posted a 19-128-2 rushing stat line and an 11-10-81-0 receiving line to become the first running back in the Super Bowl era to twice total at least 120 rushing yards and 10 or more catches in a game. McCaffrey also accomplished the feat Week 12 last season when he joined Tiki Barber (2003), LaDainian Tomlinson (2002), Ricky Watters (1995) and Emmitt Smith (1994) in the exclusive club.
  • From the Times-Sure-Have-Changed Dept., only two of Tom Brady’s 37 targets Sunday night went to a tight end (second-year TE Ryan Izzo, 2-1-3-0) while 20 went to wide receivers and 15 to running backs. And now enter target monster WR Antonio Brown to further tilt the mix …
  • In the same game, WR Donte Moncrief was the Week 1 answer to fantasy folks’ pressing question about who would serve as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top target aside from WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. The newly acquired Moncrief actually led the team in targets with 10, but like the rest of his teammates, failed miserably with the prime-time opportunity, hauling in only three for a grand total of seven yards. Smith-Schuster, meanwhile, had to deal with the considerable coverage skills of Pats CB Stephon Gilmore most of the night, but still wound up leading the team in receptions (six) and yards (78) on eight targets.
  • It was quite the opening-week quagmire in the Tampa Bay backfield Sunday as the team’s top three backs, Peyton Barber (25 snaps, 36 percent), Ronald Jones (22, 31 percent) and Dare Ogunbowale (27, 39 percent) essentially had a three-way playing time split. Ogunbowale, though, didn’t record a rushing attempt but tied for the team lead with four receptions for 33 yards on five targets. Jones, coming off a deeply disappointing rookie season, actually eclipsed his entire 2018 output by 31 rushing yards with his 75 yards on 13 carries while also logging an 18-yard reception. Barber finished with 33 yards on eight carries and caught two of four targets for 12 yards, but it looks like Jones might be Bucs back to own as a post-hype sleeper.
  • Staying with the Bucs, QB Jameis Winston had a dud of a debut in the Bruce Arians Era on Sunday in the 31-17 home loss to the San Francisco 49ers, throwing twice as many TD passes (two pick-sixes) to the visitors as he did his own team while tossing three total interceptions and fumbling twice (none lost). And the three picks came against a Niners squad which picked off two only passes all of last season. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t there anymore for the Bucs to turn to when Winston struggles, but perhaps we need to dial down the Winston fantasy hype once and for all, realizing that the QB’s turnover-prone ways are always going to limit his potential.
  • Cincinnati Bengals WR John Ross took advantage of Andy Dalton’s career highs in completions (35) and yards (418) with a career day across the board (12-7-158-2) in positing his first multiple-TD game Sunday in Seattle. Just don’t go too crazy in trying to pick up Ross as it was only his 17th game played (out of a possible 33) and his career TD rate is just too unsustainable with a whopping nine scoring grabs in 17 games, only 28 career catches and 72 targets.
  • If Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has his way, we’ll see more Kirk Cousins stat lines resembling his 8-of-10, 98-yard one-TD showing Sunday in a 28-12 win over the visiting Atlanta Falcons. Cousins’ attempts, completions and yardage totals hit lows among his 75 career starts as the Vikings totaled 38 rushing plays to only 11 passing dropbacks in the contest. Given the strength of the Vikings’ defense and the potent 1-2 rushing punch of Dalvin Cook (21-111-2) and rookie Alexander Mattison (9-49-0), it’s looking like we need to lower the rest-of-season fantasy values of Cousins and his targets (we’re speaking to you, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen owners) going forward.

Finally, a note from one of the more overshadowed games of the weekend. The Buffalo Bills rallied to clip the host New York Jets 17-16 on Sunday, but new N.Y. wideout Jamison Crowder finished with league week highs (again through play Sunday) in targets (17) and receptions (14) while totaling 103 yards, including four rushing, in the loss.

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