Fantasy Football Week 1 BS Meter
With the regular season opening Thursday night in Philadelphia, we head into Week 1 with many questions in the fantasy world. We wanted the preseason to provide answers, but we instead have even more questions.
The Philadelphia Eagles have been cautious with Carson Wentz and his return from a torn ACL, so even though it was disappointing to hear he wouldn't be ready for Week 1, it wasn't surprising. Nick Foles will step in to start and hopefully replicate his success from the team's Super Bowl run.
Backfield battles in the preseason provided various results. Rookie Royce Freeman came out of August on top of the Denver Broncos' running back depth chart, while the Indianapolis Colts don't appear any closer to finding their lead back. Kerryon Johnson made a good impression in his first preseason with the Detroit Lions, but that backfield is a crowded one.
The B.S. Meter breaks down 10 of the most pressing issues in fantasy football heading into Week 1. The statements will be rated from 1 to 10, with 1 being completely true or 10 being total BS.
Note: All fantasy stats used to calculate finishes are from FantasyPros. All advanced stats are calculated using data from Pro Football Reference. All stats are based on a points-per-reception (PPR) format.
The 49ers Will Use Multiple RBs to Replace Jerick McKinnon
When the San Francisco 49ers lost Jerick McKinnon to a torn ACL, fantasy players everywhere scrambled to make the next move. Those who had McKinnon now had a gaping hole in their lineup to fill, while savvy players saw an opportunity to grab a starting NFL RB off the waiver wire. But who is it: Alfred Morris or Matt Breida?
The answer isn't so simple. McKinnon was signed to play a major role in the 49ers offense, so replacing him with one player isn't easy this close to Week 1.
When McKinnon was battling a calf injury earlier in the preseason, Breida was out with a shoulder injury and Joe Williams was dealing with a rib injury. The 49ers needed help quickly, so they signed Morris on Aug. 13. Morris knows head coach Kyle Shanahan's system, which made the fit good. However, it wasn't a lock that Morris would have a significant role, much less make the team knowing McKinnon and Breida had short-term injuries.
Morris ended up making the team over Williams, who was waived, to join Breida and McKinnon. Breida got clearance to come back from his shoulder injury on Sept. 1, the same day McKinnon tore his ACL.
With Breida seeing action in just one preseason game, it's fair to believe Morris will lead the way on the ground at least in Week 1. However, Breida could be the more active back in the passing game. Last season as a rookie, he turned 36 targets into 21 receptions for 180 yards and a TD as a backup to Carlos Hyde. Morris has averaged 9.5 receptions for 70.2 yards on 13.7 targets per year over six seasons.
As a rookie, Breida was also solid on the ground with 465 yards and two TDs on 105 carries (4.4 yards per carry). He's more of a do-it-all back than Morris, so his upside is higher, and he should get more of a bump in PPR formats. However, Morris did a fine job replacing Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas last season, and his knowledge of Shanahan's offense is important. Expect both Morris and Breida to pick up the slack for McKinnon.
B.S. Meter on 49ers using multiple backs to replace McKinnon: 1/10
The Colts Don't Have a Lead Back
The Indianapolis Colts came into the preseason with a pair of rookie RBs in Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines joining Marlon Mack, Christine Michael and Robert Turbin. Arguably, nothing is settled in that backfield heading into Week 1.
Turbin is unavailable for the first four games because he has to serve a suspension. Mack has a hamstring injury that could keep him out of action this weekend. Hines fumbled four times during the preseason and did nothing to show he deserved anything more than a complementary role. Michael hasn't taken a regular-season snap since Week 17 of the 2016 season.
That leaves Wilkins as the potential starter for Week 1. According to Mike Wells of ESPN.com, Wilkins is the "front-runner to start" if Mack's hamstring injury is bad enough to sideline him for the opener. While it's hard to feel confident in Wilkins or any Colts RB, if he can string together some solid performances to open the season, he could win the job. However, as the Colts enter Week 1, none of their backs appear ready to lead the way.
B.S. Meter on Colts not having a lead back: 2/10
Ryan Fitzpatrick Isn't a Significant Downgrade from Jameis Winston
On June 28, the NFL suspended Jameis Winston for the first three games of the season because of a violation of the personal conduct policy. That means the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been planning for Ryan Fitzpatrick to start the season for more than two months.
In 2017, the Buccaneers called on Fitzpatrick for three starts when Winston was battling a shoulder injury. They won against the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins but lost to the Atlanta Falcons. Over that span, Fitzpatrick completed 66 of 115 pass attempts for 745 yards with three TDs and one INT. He rushed eight times for 38 yards. During those weeks, Fitzpatrick was the No. 16 fantasy QB with 14.5 fantasy points per game.
By comparison, Winston averaged 15.5 fantasy points per game in 13 appearances. Winston had just 19 TDs in his 13 games after throwing 28 TDs over 16 games in 2016.
Mike Evans was suspended for Fitzpatrick's first start in Week 10, but he posted 11 receptions for 170 yards in the other two games. While it is a small sample size, he wasn't negatively affected by Fitzpatrick's start over Winston. That's important because Fitzpatrick's stint as the starter may last beyond the first three games of this season.
According to Jenna Laine of ESPN.com, when general manager Jason Licht was on WFLA TV during the fourth preseason game, he was asked about Winston's future and said, "I don't think it's fair to say right now that he's going to be the guy." That might be a bigger statement about Winston's off-field issues than what he's done on the field.
The Buccaneers will have a decision to make once Winston is eligible to return, but it shouldn't significantly change the fantasy output of the top options in Tampa Bay.
B.S. Meter on Fitzpatrick not being a significant downgrade from Winston: 3/10
Patrick Mahomes Will Have Growing Pains Early in the Season
Can Patrick Mahomes be both a fantasy sleeper and struggle early in the season? Yes, because reality and fantasy don't always match up. You might be surprised to learn Dak Prescott was the No. 10 fantasy QB in 2017 at 16.3 fantasy points per game. While that was a slip from his No. 6 finish (17.9 FPG) in 2016, back-to-back top-10 finishes are an impressive way to start a career.
Mahomes enters his second season and first as a starter with a wealth of talent around him. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce are the top leftovers in the receiving corps, and they'll be joined by WR Sammy Watkins, who is an upgrade over the likes of Albert Wilson and Chris Conley. Of course, the Chiefs also have the 2017 rushing champ, Kareem Hunt, so Mahomes should have both a strong rushing attack and a dangerous pass-catcher out of the backfield.
That all sounds good, but the early-season schedule does not. The Chiefs open with road games against the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers before hosting the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3. They travel to Denver to face the Broncos in Week 4 on Monday Night Football, only to come home to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 5. Mahomes gets another big spotlight with a Sunday night matchup in New England against the Patriots in Week 6.
That means Mahomes faces a pair of top-five consensus defenses in the Jaguars and Chargers and five top-12 defenses (Broncos, Patriots, Steelers) in the first six weeks of the season. That's a brutal schedule for anyone. Mahomes can make up for struggles with his legs and volume in the passing game, but garbage time could wind up being his best friend when it comes to fantasy production.
B.S. Meter on Mahomes dealing with growing pains early in the season: 4/10
Andrew Luck's Struggles Are Behind Him
Unlike last season, the Indianapolis Colts will begin Week 1 knowing Andrew Luck is ready to start. What version of Luck we'll see is still up for debate.
Luck didn't have any setbacks during the preseason and appeared to stay right on schedule in his comeback. According to Stephen Holder of The Athletic, Luck's velocity isn't where it needs to be, which Luck knows. He believes it will come with time. Holder did praise Luck's accuracy, so the process is far enough along to feel good about Luck coming into the season.
Other than T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle, Luck doesn't have a group of established players or ones he's familiar with, so that has to be a concern. The issues in the backfield were addressed earlier, which might put unnecessary pressure on Luck until someone steps up, if that ever happens.
It might take some time for Luck to get all of his physical capabilities back to what we're used to seeing, although considering he had a major injury to his throwing arm, he may never return to his pre-injury form. However, Luck is a cerebral QB who is more than just a physical talent, so he can make up for any physical shortcomings with his high football IQ. Be patient with Luck, as he should still be a top-10 fantasy QB.
B.S. Meter on Luck's struggles being behind him: 5/10
Doug Baldwin's Knee Injury Is a Major Concern
When the Seattle Seahawks announced Doug Baldwin would sit out the entire preseason with an unspecified knee injury, the expectations for massive fantasy production took a hit.
Of course, you could be optimistic and think that the Seahawks were being extra cautious with Russell Wilson's top target. Why take any chances in meaningless preseason games when Wilson and Baldwin have been together since 2012? It made all the sense in the world for Baldwin to take his time to make sure the knee was in good shape for the start of the regular season.
The knee might be OK, but it may never be in great shape. At the end of the preseason, Baldwin told Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times that he'd be ready for Week 1, but that the knee issue is still a work in progress. Obviously, that's not ideal news and will likely land Baldwin on the injury report all season.
In the offseason, the Seahawks added Brandon Marshall and Jaron Brown, both of whom made the 53-man roster. Along with Tyler Lockett, they should make up for the 33.5 percent target share vacated by Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson, but the belief was Baldwin would also take on a decent portion of those targets. Will his knee hinder him from adding to the 22.1 percent target share he had in 2017?
Instead of posting career highs, maybe he'll be limited to a WR2 spot in your fantasy lineup. Even though expectations should be lowered, all is not lost for Baldwin. The knee injury isn't a major concern until it starts costing him significant snaps. Missing practice isn't a big deal, as we've seen from plenty of top WRs in the past.
B.S. Meter on Baldwin's knee injury being a major concern: 6/10
Kerryon Johnson Is Already a Reliable Fantasy RB
The Detroit Lions haven't had a 100-yard rusher since Reggie Bush hit the century mark on Thanksgiving in 2013. Kerryon Johnson could be the man to break that streak, but it might take some time this season to get those chances.
Fifteen carries for 68 yards and five receptions for 43 yards may not seem like much of a preseason, but when you put it into context, it wasn't a bad August for Johnson. The Lions put Zach Zenner (back) on injured reserve and waived Dwayne Washington as part of final cuts, yet they kept Ameer Abdullah. That means Abdullah and Johnson are part of a backfield that also includes LeGarrette Blount and Theo Riddick.
Abdullah shouldn't block Johnson from emerging, yet any touches he gets over Johnson would be potentially misguided, since Abdullah's had chances to be the man in the backfield and repeatedly failed. Riddick is a dangerous pass-catcher, so his presence is justified. Signing Blount and drafting Johnson made sense, as it gave the Lions two different options to find some sort of reliable rushing attack.
All of the backs still on the roster got time with the first-team offense during the preseason, which is why it's hard to go all in on Johnson from the jump. According to Tim Twentyman of the Lions' official site, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is happy with Johnson's trajectory, and he wants to let the rookie's role "develop and define itself" based on what Johnson does early in the year.
That seems to leave the door open for Johnson to carve out a big role if he performs well early in the season. That doesn't mean Johnson will play a little or a lot right away, but he's getting the chance to play his way into something significant. Johnson should enter the season as an RB3 with the potential to be a regular fantasy starter if he earns the snaps and touches.
B.S. Meter on Johnson already being a reliable fantasy RB: 7/10
Josh Gordon Will Be a Top-15 WR in Week 1
The unfortunate truth of Josh Gordon's career is that it's made up of missed opportunities and expectations that were never met, despite his immense talent. Of course, that talent is what afforded him so many chances and is why the Cleveland Browns are willing to give him another one after he performed well at the end of last season and took care of his own well-being before reporting to the team in August.
Gordon didn't rejoin the Browns until Aug. 18 and wasn't activated from the non-football injury list until Aug. 25, which made him eligible to practice. However, a hamstring injury kept him out of practice until Sept. 3. That means he never saw action in the preseason and won't have much practice time before Week 1.
On Aug. 27, head coach Hue Jackson told Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com that Gordon won't start in Week 1, but that he will play. Gordon can turn any play into a big one, so it's easy to get excited about any chances he might get in the opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That doesn't mean you have to install Gordon into a top WR slot in your fantasy lineup. Even if we limit the concern to the hamstring injury, just a week of practice leading into Week 1 may give the Browns trepidation about using Gordon a lot.
Could Gordon turn four targets and 50 percent of the snaps into two TDs and 80 yards? Yes, but that doesn't mean you need to put such high expectations on him in Week 1. If everything goes well, Gordon could be a top-15 fantasy WR this season, but it's not fair to have such expectations immediately.
B.S. Meter on Gordon being a top-15 WR in Week 1: 8/10
Antonio Gates Will Be a Top-12 Fantasy TE
The Los Angeles Chargers finally made the move that was expected way back when Hunter Henry tore his ACL on May 22. They signed Antonio Gates to return to the team for his 16th season.
Instead of putting Gates through the unnecessary rigors of training camp, practice and the preseason, the Chargers made the signing official on Sept. 2, just seven days before their opener with the Kansas City Chiefs. Virgil Green was on top of the team's depth chart since Henry went down and could technically remain there as a blocking TE, but he had no chance of replacing Henry and neither does Gates. But does he have to do that much to have value?
With Mike Williams entering his second season at full health to join Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams, the Chargers have enough talent in their receiving corps to keep from asking a lot out of Gates. The Chargers only need Gates to be a chain-mover and active target in the red zone. That means Gates likely won't come through for fantasy unless he scores, but he should have those scoring chances as long as he stays healthy.
The TD-or-nothing value of Gates is a bit dangerous to rely on as a weekly fantasy starter, but in the right matchup (like this weekend's), he'll be worth a look. The TE position isn't deep in fantasy, but that doesn't mean you should be banking on Gates to provide consistent production. He's far from the player who provided such value.
B.S. Meter on Gates being a top-12 TE for the season: 9/10
The Eagles Are in Trouble with Nick Foles
On Monday, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson announced Nick Foles as the Week 1 starter against the Atlanta Falcons. According to Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice, Pederson said the decision was about "the football team and the best interests" of the 53-man roster. The move wasn't a big surprise, and Foles was kept around to be a reliable backup if Carson Wentz wasn't available.
We know that worked out well last season, so the Eagles are hoping Foles can replicate that magic for as long as it takes. In Foles' three playoff starts, he completed 77 of 106 passing attempts for 971 yards, six TDs and one INT. He had one of the best Super Bowl stat lines ever, when he connected on 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards with three TDs and an INT in addition to a TD reception.
The Eagles don't need another catch from Foles, and they don't need such gaudy numbers. However, they do need him to handle an offense that wasn't injured throughout the preseason.
Besides the absence of Wentz, Alshon Jeffery's recovery from offseason shoulder surgery kept him off the field and will likely keep him out of Week 1. Nelson Agholor and Jay Ajayi both missed time in the preseason, too. But other than Wentz and Jeffery, the Eagles should have their regulars out there on Thursday night in Philadelphia.
Judging the Eagles offense by its performance in the preseason is unfair. Learning from the mistakes of their preseason performance is important. It may take a little time for the Eagles to jell, but they are not in trouble with Foles.
B.S. Meter on Eagles being in trouble with Nick Foles: 10/10