Week 1 of the 2019 fantasy football season is in the books, and as usual some of the most informed player expectations have imploded. Players who were expected to be studs turned out to be duds. And players who were thought to be nobodies became somebodies.
For example, of the fantasy WR1s for Week 1, only 2 finished as WR1s last year. Seven of them (yes, 7) didn’t even crack the WR3 ranks, or top 36, last year.
Also as usual, Overreaction Monday (or is it Tuesday?) has set in among the fantasy community, especially with regards to underperforming players. Twitter is full of tweets from fantasy owners chastising the experts for bad advice and asking whether certain players are droppable.
But it’s important not to overreact to only one week of results, especially for underperforming players, because they could be an anomaly. To figure that out, it helps to look beyond the box score. How did the player actually play in the game? Are there other stats that shed light on his performance? Were there other on-field factors, like game script, that neutralized a player’s effectiveness? Were there off-field factors?
This article will focus on those under-performing players, the anticipated fantasy relevant players who weren’t so relevant Week 1. I’m going to provide some Panic/Don’t Panic takes on each one.
By “Don’t Panic,” I mean that player’s Week 1 box score was just an anomaly, and he should be fine. By “Panic,” I don’t necessarily mean it’s time to drop a player, but he should be benched until things turn around. If it makes someone feel better, he at least could be considered replaceable by a more promising waiver wire addition.
Sometimes I’ll come down in the middle with an “A Little Nervous” designation, meaning one of two things. For some players, especially flex spot plays, it means sit that player for a week or two to see how things shake out. For other players, namely high ADP players, it means prepare yourself for some possible season-long disappointment as they could underperform their ADP.
David Montgomery (6/18/0 rushing, 1/27/0 receiving)
Among fantasy players, Montgomery grew in appeal as the off-season progressed because of glowing OTA and training camp reports. His performance in the preseason accelerated his hype, causing his FantasyPros Consensus ADP to rise to RB21, a backend RB2. But if fantasy players had more closely followed some Bears beat writers like Brad Biggs and Dan Wiederer, both of the Chicago Tribune, they would have been a little more circumspect on Montgomery’s prospects for his rookie season. While both writers thought he would lead the backfield in touches by the end of the season, at the start he would be in a RBBC, limiting his upside.
This RBBC is exactly what manifested in the opening game against the Packers, with Montgomery trailing the other Bears RBs in relevant measures and ending up as the Week 1 PPR RB44. Tarik Cohen was on the field for 70% of the snaps, Mike Davis for 56%, and Montgomery for 38%. While Montgomery did lead the RB group in carries with 6, Davis got 5. And in the receiving game, Montgomery only got 1 target for 1 reception to Cohen’s 10 targets for 8 receptions and Davis‘ 7 targets for 6 receptions.
In his post-game comments, Nagy acknowledged that the “general fan” would like to see Montgomery in a bellcow role, but he justified his rookie RB’s usage by pointing out that he’s still “…a rookie coming in and learning, there’s a lot of intricacies to our offense…[n]ot just with running the ball, but in pass protection and running routes.” To the disappointment of the general fan and especially fantasy players who he addressed directly, Nagy went on to say “I know everyone wants instant gratification…and great fantasy stats right away….But there’s going to be a little bit of wait here, a balance as we figure out what’s best and how to use him.”
While there’s no reason to outright panic on Montgomery, for now he’s no better than a flex play, and that’s if there are no better options available on the bench. He’s probably not going to live up to his RB21 ADP until much later in the season, if at all. A LITTLE NERVOUS
Anthony Miller (0/0/0 receiving)
With some fantasy players hoping for a second year leap from Miller, whose rookie year WR60 finish was powered by his 7 TDs, they were understandably shocked to witness his performance on opening night. The most glaring aspect of his performance was his noticeable absence from the field. In his place in the slot soaking up his potential targets was Tarik Cohen, who as mentioned above was targeted 10 times. Miller eventually got targeted, but only once and on the last drive of the game. For the entire game, he ended up being on the field for only 16% of the snaps.
In an interview with Pro Football Weekly a couple of days later, Miller said he was as surprised as everyone else at his minimal role on opening night. Although he was limited early in training camp with an ankle injury, by Week 1 he was good to go and no longer listed on the injury report. As Miller claimed, “My ankle was 100 percent. I was good. I was ready.”
But Nagy saw it differently. About a month earlier, Nagy made some comments suggesting that Miller didn’t have his full confidence. “He’s a weapon for us. But right now, just having him out the last several weeks, we’ve got to make sure he stays inside that playbook and he understands the details of this offense.”
Of course, every coach, especially offensive-minded gurus, wants his players to know the playbook cold. But something deeper seems to be going on here. If Miller really was a weapon for Nagy’s offense, if he really was a go-to guy, Miller wouldn’t be standing on the sidelines. Ezekiel Elliot missed training camp and the whole preseason, showed up a few days before the start of the season, and he still played a majority (54%) of the snaps. Admittedly, Miller isn’t the same caliber of player of Zeke, but still he’s a second year player who had a whole year to acclimate himself to Nagy’s offense. Unless there are some major new wrinkles, Miller should be familiar enough with the playbook. He just seems to be deep enough in Nagy’s doghouse that he should sit on fantasy benches until he proves himself otherwise. PANIC
Aaron Jones (13/39/0 rushing, 1/0/0 receiving)
Some in the fantasy football world were really high on Jones, even seeing the potential for a RB1 finish. This dream was enough to push Jones’ ADP up to RB15. This RB1 prediction and high ADP was mainly based on his talent (considered by many to be the superior back over Jamal Williams) and the anticipation of new Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s offense targeting the running back position more often. Per Jon Meerdink of The Power Sweep blog, the top running back on LaFleur’s NFL coordinator tenure teams averaged 47.8 catches per season for 400 yards, much higher than the Packer running back average of 32.8 catches for 270 yards during that same stretch. Jones supporters also latched onto comments made by LaFleur in a presser after the second day of minicamp in which the coach stated that he would “love it” in answering a question about getting the RBs more involved in the passing game.
But the opening night game threw some cold water on those RB1 dreams as Jones finished as the fantasy RB51. He only gained 39 yards on 13 carries, and he received just one target for one catch for 0 yards. Much of this stat line was attributable to the ferocious Bears defense, which stuffed a lot of runs and put a lot of pressure on Aaron Rodgers, sacking him 5 times. But it was also attributable to an out-of-sync Packers offense, which stalled on several drives and only managed to put up 10 points, far below their 2018 average of 23.5 points per game.
After the game, both LaFleur and Rodgers said the offense had a lot of improving to do. Two staples of LaFleur’s offense are play-action and up-tempo play. LaFleur acknowledged some poor and slow play-calling that subverted both of these staples, and Rodgers also said he often took too long to get the plays off. Hopefully the Packers offense starts humming soon, although next week they face another tough defense in the Minnesota Vikings.
Besides the open question of how long it will take for the Packers offense to start humming, there’s also the concern of Jones’ injury history. Late in the game, he came off the field and was seen squatting on the sidelines wincing in pain. Although LaFleur had stated before the season that the Green Bay backfield was going to operate as a committee, Jamal Williams may have taken away a few more snaps because of the injury. By the end of the game, the split was roughly 60%-40, favoring Jones. There has been no word yet on whether Jones will be listed on the injury report, but it’s just another reason that when it comes to Jones, I’m A LITTLE NERVOUS.
Geronimo Allison (0/0/0 receiving)
Last year, Allison garnered some attention from fantasy players who coveted his status as the presumed WR2 in Green Bay. But his season was derailed by injury. This year, he recaptured that attention as players again presumed he would be the WR2 in the new Green Bay offense under LaFleur. This presumption pushed his ADP to WR43.
But if opening night threw cold water on RB1 dreams for Aaron Jones, it drowned any hopes for Allison emerging as a fantasy relevant player in 2019. How Allison’s night was going to go was foreshadowed by the third play of the first drive when he was lightly hand-checked by the corner and he proceeded to stumble five yards downfield and fall flat on his face. He finished the night by going 0/0/0 on 0 targets for 0 fantasy points.
Although the stifling Bears defense and the rusty Green Bay offense had their impacts, the main reason for Allison’s no-show performance was the fact that the clear WR2 for the Packers is now Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Scantling went 4/62/0 on 6 targets and even got a carry on a jet sweep. If a WR gets a carry, it’s a clear sign the coaching staff wants to get him involved in the offense. By the end of the night, Scantling was in on 66% of the snaps and Allison 50%. In 2 WR sets, it was Scantling on the field.
Other than keeping Allison on the bench to wait on an injury to either Davante Adams or MVS, he’s essentially a drop candidate. PANIC
Miles Sanders (11/25/0 rushing, 1/2/0 receiving)
Like Montgomery, Sanders began earning more and more preseason hype as he got over an early OTA hamstring injury and started putting on a show in training camp and preseason games. It was enough to push his ADP up to RB29. But also like Montgomery, fantasy players may have gotten ahead of themselves as Sanders was always going to be part of a RBBC, not only because of other talented RBs on the Philadelphia roster but also because it’s a staple of the Philadelphia offense.
At first glance, Sanders’ stat line of 11 carries for only 25 yards and 2.3 ypc suggests that his fantasy season could have significant downside not only because of the Philadelphia RBBC but maybe even his talent. But watching him actually play suggests otherwise. First of all, the eye test alone reveals a back who was shifty and explosive. Even though most of his runs were stuffed at the line of scrimmage or resulted in a loss because of defensive penetration, he did rip off a nice 19 yard run late in the 3rd quarter in which he showcased some burst to get past the arm tackle of a defensive lineman. And his stat line was seriously deflated by a phantom holding call that called back a 21 yard TD scamper late in the 4th quarter. It has even been reported that the NFL informed the Eagles that the holding call was a mistake.
While looking beyond the box score to his play on the field shows that Sanders should have fantasy value this season, there are still some reasons for concern. The main reason is the RBBC. Of the total carries by the Eagles RBs, Sanders led the way with 11, but veteran Darren Sproles was close behind with 9 and Jordan Howard siphoned off 6. And when the Eagles were behind early in the game, the team leaned more on Sproles as their passing game back, who got 3 targets to Sanders’ 1. Another reason is the bobbled handoff he had during the game, raising the specter of his dreaded fumbling issue.
Like Montgomery, Sanders will probably earn more and more touches as the season progresses and the talent gap between him and the others becomes more apparent. For now, he’s just a flex start, assuming there aren’t better options on the bench. A LITTLE NERVOUS
Christian Kirk (4/32/0 receiving, 1/12/0 rushing)
Besides showing promise as a rookie, Kirk earned his WR35 ADP on the basis of expectations for a fast-paced, high-scoring, high-snap count Air Raid Arizona Cardinals offense under new head coach Kliff Kingsbury. But for three quarters of its NFL regular season debut, the Cardinals offense was perceived by many to be offensive, managing only two field goals. Fox TV announcer Mark Schlereth even said, “For three quarters, to call it garbage would have been an insult to garbage.” The Cardinals offense, however, got going in the 4th quarter, scoring 18 points to force OT, and escaping with a tie.
After watching the game itself, I would hesitate to call the Cardinals offense outright garbage. It showed a lot of variety in its formations, and mixed up the play-calling. It wasn’t so much the scheme that had a rough showing as it was Kyler Murray’s QB play and the offensive line’s performance. The line allowed significant penetration sending Murray scrambling for his life, and Murray made some questionable throws. I think it’s still a little early to dismiss the Air Raid scheme as unworkable in the NFL.
Watching the game itself also reveals that Kirk’s box score is misleading. He actually had 10 targets in regulation time and 2 more in OT. One of those targets was a pass that sailed over Kirk’s head when he was wide open in the flat, robbing him of a much better stat line. Two of those targets were in the end zone. Six to eight targets a game is more than enough to be a fantasy relevant WR, even a fantasy difference maker. And his targeting in the end zone twice suggests he will get his chances to score. DON’T PANIC
Dante Pettis (0/0/0 receiving)
As mentioned earlier, Anthony Miller is in Nagy’s doghouse, but there might be no other offensive skill player deeper in his coach’s doghouse than second year WR Dante Pettis. Anticipated by many at the start of the OTAs to break out in his sophomore season as the WR1 in Head Coach Kyle Shanahan’s high octane offense, his outlook steadily began declining as troubling beat writer reports emerged from offseason workouts and training camp.
The one word that kept coming up in these reports was ”inconsistent.” His inconsistency mostly had to do with catching the ball, especially in contested catch situations. Then Shanahan shockingly came out and said that rather than being his WR1, Pettis had to compete for a starting spot. He showed that he was serious when he made Pettis play late into the 4th quarter of the third preseason game.
Another issue that came up I first heard on the Locked on 49ers podcast with host Brian Peacock. Peacock and a co-host wondered aloud if Pettis had the ”dawg in him” like 49ers great Jerry Rice did. Though they didn’t state it as fact, they expressed concern about the possibility based on his camp performance and happy-go-lucky personality. We know that Pettis has the cat in him (anyone who has seen Pettis score a TD knows what I’m talking about), but would he have the dawg in him to claw his way out of Shanahan’s doghouse?
From what we saw in the 49ers first regular season game against the Bucs, the answer appears to be no. Not only was Pettis not in the starting lineup, he was hardly even on the field. He only played 2 snaps the whole game. If he wasn’t ready for the start of the season after a whole year in Shanahan’s offense and a whole offseason after that, it’s hard to see when he’ll ever be ready. He’s definitely a drop candidate. PANIC
There are a few more players who deserve some attention in this article, but I don’t want to write a book. So I’ll just go with some quick hits to close this article out.
Todd Gurley had a solid day carrying the ball 14 times for 97 yards and 6.9 ypc. But of deep concern to Gurley owners is the fact that his 14 carries lagged behind his nearly 20 carry/game average in the first 10 weeks of the 2018 season before his knee started flaring up. Furthermore, Malcolm Brown was heavily involved in the run game as well, garnering 11 carries for 43 yards and 4.8 ypc. And in the red zone, Brown got 5 touches, scoring 2 TDs. Gurley got 0. Although Gurley will still be a fantasy factor, it doesn’t look like he’s not going to carry fantasy team‘s to championships this year. For that reason, I’m A LITTLE NERVOUS.
Devonta Freeman had a rough day. He ran 8 times for only 19 yards and 2.4 ypc, and he caught 3 passes for 12 yards. He also coughed up a fumble. Watching him run, it was obvious that he was a little rusty. He struggled to hit holes and beat defenders to the edge. Ito Smith was more efficient with his 6 carries, gaining 31 yards and 5.2 ypc. A LITTLE NERVOUS
Having sewn up the WR2 spot early in training camp in a Pittsburgh offense that had a ton of targets available with the departure of Antonio Brown, Donte Moncrief looked like a fantasy breakout candidate. The anticipation of him receiving a ton of targets materialized as he got 10, but the anticipation of fantasy success did not. He only caught 3 of those targets. Even worse, he had 4 drops. James Washington actually looked pretty good during the game, repeatedly stacking defensive backs on his go routes. With JuJu shut down most of the game, the Steelers might need a field stretcher like Washington to play more to open things up. PANIC
Of all the underperforming players, Christian Kirk is the one I’m least worried about. Some of the players I discussed might turn things around, but don’t be afraid to bench them until they do.