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Fantasy Football
Fantasy Football

Fantasy Football Dealings: What You Need To Know After Week 1

  • Jaime Eisner
  • September 11, 2023
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Welcome to Fantasy Football Dealings, the newest weekly column here on The Draft Network. Each Monday we’ll delve into the hottest (and coldest) players and topics in the fantasy football world and break down whether or not something is a big deal, little deal, or no deal at all. We’ll parse through the eye test, snap counts, production, and more to give actionable advice to fantasy football managers everywhere.

Let’s dive right into things after a wild Week 1 of NFL and fantasy football action.

Fantasy Football Dealings: Week 1

Big Deal

Zay Flowers’ usage: Obviously, a rookie wide receiver debuting with nine catches on 10 targets is a huge deal, but there’s something even more exciting about the Week 1 performance: his usage. Flowers and Odell Beckham Jr. were on the field constantly and in all personnel grouping for the Ravens, cementing them as Baltimore’s never-leave-the-field guys. This is a huge deal moving forward and ensures Week 1 won’t be a fluke. Flowers ended up as my WR42 in my season-long fantasy football rankings, but projects as a WR3 moving forward.

Tyjae Spears is a thing: At this point, we’re all well aware that Derrick Henry comes off the field on third downs—but Spears didn’t only play on third downs. The rookie earned his fair share of early-down snaps and actually played more than Henry did in Week 1. Spears was always the clear Henry handcuff in fantasy football drafts, but this not only solidifies that but leaves the door open for Spears to grow into a role that could be lineup-worthy when bye weeks arrive.

— The Kellen Moore Effect: There were two things that really stood out when watching the Chargers’ new offense. 1) Joshua Kelley will get plenty of work as Moore features multiple running backs. 2) Donald Parham Jr. is eating into Gerald Everett’s workload. Kelley should be a hot waiver wire pick-up this week and looks in line to receive double-digit touches from here on out. Parham Jr. has always been a favorite of mine with size you can’t teach, but this is the first time we’ve really seen him and Everett playing the same roles. Everett got more snaps but wasn’t used exclusively as a receiving threat. Conversely, Parham Jr. wasn’t only used as a blocker/red-zone threat. 

Puka Nucua is for real: Listeners of the Prospects and Props Podcast know how much Chris Schubert and I talked up Nacua this offseason. Cooper Kupp’s injury allowed Nacua to move up the depth chart and he shined bright (like a diamond) on Sunday. He had a whopping 15 targets, catching 10 of them for 119 yards. While he won’t get that kind of workload every week, this is not a fluke. The ways he won on Sunday are repeatable and he should be a weekly flex play until Kupp returns. The same goes for Tutu Atwell.

Little Deal

Dameon Pierce’s third-down usage: There was a ton of optimism coming out of the preseason that Pierce would get more passing-down opportunities in 2023. Yet, he had fewer third-down snaps than both Mike Boone and Devin Singletary in Week 1. Boone was the clear favorite for the Texans in that role and was also on the field for the majority of Houston’s two-minute drill snaps (per PFF’s Nathan Jahnke, who is a must-follow for all fantasy football managers). There’s no reason to panic yet, but my skepticism about a larger third-down role kept Pierce outside my top 20 RBs in my preseason rankings. While still a solid player, his fantasy upside is severely capped if this doesn’t change.

Drake London’s goose egg: Death, taxes, the Falcons spending top-10 picks on offensive pass-catchers who barely get thrown to. Atlanta’s passing offense is an eyesore and it’s hard not to be a little concerned when a player like London gets a grand total of just one target. However, I’m not ready to call this a big deal yet. In the four games Desmond Ridder started last season, London averaged 9.0 targets, 6.3 receptions, and 83.3 receiving yards per game (with a 31.3% target share). Let’s check back in a couple weeks.

Brian Robinson Jr. running routes: Robinson Jr. caught a 7-yard touchdown to open the scoring for the Commanders, but he also got some third-down work and ran nearly as many routes as he had carries. While his yards-per-carry average still leaves plenty to be desired, Robinson Jr. should be a little less touchdown-dependent if he continues to be involved in the receiving game, at least to this extent.

Christian Kirk only playing in three-receiver sets: I almost put this in “Big Deal” but I’ll wait another week or two so I don’t feel like I’m overreacting. However, I did give this a Dwayne Johnson-like eyebrow raise. Kirk played nearly exclusively in three-receiver sets against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1, limiting him to less than 45 offensive snaps (both Calvin Ridley and Zay Jones played around 60 snaps). Kirk caught one of his two targets for nine yards. I’d still play Kirk as a WR3/flex in Week 2, but he’s now a player I have circled in red for a recheck later this month.

Cam Akers/Kyren Williams split: You normally don’t second-guess a running back who has 22 carries and a touchdown in Week 1, but Akers’ usage is definitely worth diving into. He was heavily out-snapped by Williams, including on early downs. And, quite frankly, Williams was the more effective player. You likely weren’t relying on Akers as a starter anyway, but you might want to start making plans if you need to move on from him in October (or at least give Williams a long look on the waiver wire this week).

Kayshon Boutte Patriots’ WR2?: Sixth-round rookie Boutte played a lot in Week 1—more than JuJu Smith-Schuster, Demario Douglas, etc. While Boutte only had three targets (including a couple near-misses), he ran more routes than any Patriot not named Kendrick Bourne. Let’s monitor this usage and see if Boutte is worthy of a mid-season pick-up.

No Deal

Miles Sanders’ third-down usage: While a quick look at Chuba Hubbard’s stat line and ownership of third downs could concern Sanders’ fantasy managers, I’m not worried at all. Despite playing on mostly early downs, Sanders was the second-most-targeted Panther by Bryce Young on Sunday (6, tied with Terrace Marshall Jr. and one behind Hayden Hurst) and played a ton during two-minute drill situations. While Hubbard will continue to have a presence in Carolina’s backfield, Sanders should be a 16-20 touch player each week.

Tee Higgins’ goose egg: I’m just writing off everything we saw from the Bengals in Week 1. While it is fair to attribute Joe Burrow’s slow start to missing so much offseason work, there are really no discernible changes fantasy managers need to make with their star Bengals moving forward.

Jake Ferguson’s puny stat line: I’m still super high on Ferguson, a player who could finish as a top-12 tight end this season. He only caught two passes for 11 yards on Sunday Night Football, but he had seven targets, including a drop in the heavy rain. The Cowboys’ offense didn’t have to do much to beat the Giants so we didn’t really see the numbers we expected. However, Ferguson was involved early and often before things got out of hand, which gives me some positivity moving forward.

Told You So

— Falcons’ backfield split: Bijan Robinson is a stud—that we know. But the Falcons were not just going to give up on Tyler Allgeier. This is a true split and a big reason why I viewed Robinson as a second-round fantasy player, not a top-eight pick. Even still, Robinson may be the Falcons’ WR1 (only half-joking) and his 6/27/1 through the receiving game ensured he finished Week 1 as an RB1. 

Brandon Aiyuk is 49ers’ WR1: This isn’t a knock on Deebo Samuel by any means, but Aiyuk is the better pure receiver and will continue to be a go-to threat in all areas of the field for Brock Purdy. It was odd to see Samuel and Aiyuk ranked 2-3 rounds apart in the preseason, but both are weekly starters as fantasy WR2s.

Michael Thomas is a thing again: While Thomas won’t be challenging for the receptions record ever again, he’s still going to be a major part of the Saints’ passing game when healthy. Thomas led the Saints in routes run and tied with Chris Olave for most offensive snaps played while finishing second in targets and tied for second in receptions. Derek Carr found a rapport with Thomas early, and the wide receiver should remain in contention to be a weekly WR3/flex play for fantasy football managers.

— Stop overrating D’Andre Swift: So many people (myself included in the past) want to make Swift a thing. It just hasn’t happened yet. That’s not to say it can’t at some point in the future, but fantasy managers can’t keep paying the price on potential. Swift played fewer than 20 snaps in Week 1 and was rather ineffective.

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Jaime Eisner