Well, the season started and so far COVID-19 mostly impacts concession sales at the stadium. We’ve got four months left to reach the playoffs, so fingers crossed that the players don’t act the way I would if I was in my early twenties with millions in the bank account.
Six things I am thinking about heading into the weekend:
- Saints receivers – The unthinkable happened when Michael Thomas suffered a high-ankle sprain against the Buccaneers. His absence should boost the playing time for Tre’Quan Smith who was hyped this summer by players and coaches. The reality is that some or even all of those passes once meant for Thomas will now end up with Alvin Kamara or Jared Cook and both are already fantasy starters. Smith has scored five times in each of his first two seasons, but last year never did more than one or two catches in a game. He had two monster games as a rookie (10-157 and 3-111) but was quiet in all other games. Smith is one to watch since Thomas seems likely to miss a few games. Notable as wellNotable as well is Marquez Callaway, an undrafted free agent that signed with the Saints in May after the NFL draft. Technically, he is the backup for Thomas while Smith is behind Emmanuel Sanders. It’s been five years since the Saints have had to play without Thomas who topped 100 catches in each of the last three seasons. The Saints face Raiders, Packers, Lions and Chargers next, and will need to throw downfield to someone new.
- RB Benny Snell – The Steelers backfield is instantly harder to read after James Conner sprained his ankle in the win over the Giants. Conner was ineffective on his six runs for nine yards but Snell gained 113 yards on 19 carries and looked very comfortable. Now Conner is back to full practices yesterday and should face the Broncos on Sunday. HC Mike Tomlin said that Conner would return as the primary back but the speculation is that Snell has bought himself a bigger role. The Steelers offensive line has been hit with injuries which won’t help, but they play in home games in three of the next four games. Snell was already a must own for the less-than-durable Conner owner and now is the one to watch in this backfield.
- RB James Robinson – It’s not often that a a no-name, undrafted rookie running back makes the team. It’s unheard of to see him shoot up the depth chart to No. 1 in about one week right before the season started. The former Illinois State back ran for 1,899 yards on 364 carries in 2019 but went undrafted since he was from a small school in the Missouri Valley Conference. But Robinson ran for 62 yards on 16 rushes versus the Colts in Week 1 and no other back had a carry. Chris Thompson only fielded two short passes for six yards. Robinson faces the Titans this week, but his next three opponents are the Dolphins, Bengals and Texans. If he looks as good this week at the Titans, Robinson will end up as one of the biggest running back surprises of the season.
- WR Quintez Cephus – The Lions spent their fifth-round pick on the Wisconsin wideout who topped out with 59-902-7 last year on a team that greatly prefers to run. He made the Lions final roster and was already speculated to be in line to play some slot. But Kenny Golladay injured his hamstring right before the start of the season and missed Week 1. Cephus took his place and led the Lions with ten targets versus the Bears. He only caught three for 43 yards but he faced the Bears defense and Matt Stafford kept trying to connect with him. The Lions are not going to have the luxury of rushing at the Packers and then Cardinals next and Golladay appears likely to miss at least this week as well. This is a powerful passing attack that starts the year against some of the better defenses. Cephus could earn an ongoing role if he can continue to attract the attention of Stafford.
- WR Parris Campbell – The Colts used their 2.27 pick of 2018 to take the 4.31/40 speedster out of Ohio State, but he was plagued with injuries his first two seasons. The Colts offense is all new now with Philip Rivers as the starting quarterback. His first game this year saw him start across from T.Y. Hilton (not Michael Pittman). Campbell tied with Hilton with nine targets and left the team with 71 yards on six catches. This week their home opener is against the Vikings defense that struggled in their opening loss to the Packers. Campbell looks to finally be cashing in that potential and worth watching on Sunday.
- RB Peyton Barber – The lack of preseason games or even comprehensive reports from training camps led to numerous depth chart surprises across the NFL in Week 1. One of the biggest was Peyton Barber who out-carried Antonio Gibson 17 to 11 rushes and scored both short touchdowns. Dwayne Haskins only completed three passes for nine yards to his running backs so receptions are not going to be part of the running back value in Washington. Goal line plunges are and Barber has quickly climbed through the logjam in the backfield to be the No. 1 back. Bryce Love was a surprising inactive in Week 1. If he doesn’t suit up for the matchup in Arizona on Sunday, his career is likely to never start. Week 1 is usually in favor of veterans, but Washington’s depth chart was open for any back to climb. There is a chance that Gibson eventually overtakes Barber, but there is an equal chance that it remains a committee and Gibson is not considered a primary back.