The Fifteen is named for No. 15 Patrick Mahomes, otherwise known as the ultimate quarterback, a chimera fashioned of equal parts Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson. As always, I watched most of the games yesterday, and these are my probably inaccurate musings.
1. Only the Browns would break their losing streak by not winning. This game was simultaneously not as close as the score indicated, and yet – as is the case in every game where both teams missed field goals of just over 40 yards in overtime – both teams exit feeling like they let victory slip through their fingers. You do have to wonder what the Browns might have been able to accomplish if they’d deployed the first and 35th picks of the NFL draft.
In his debut with the Browns, Tyrod Taylor was every bit the QB that led Buffalo to the playoffs and the one that got benched for Nathan Peterman. You could excuse the 15-for-40 and blame it on the weather, but he ran eight times and was sacked seven. That’s 15 potential chances to dump the ball off to the RB, but Taylor completed only two passes to the backs, one each to Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson. Meanwhile, Hyde ran 22 times for 62 yards, reminding everyone that he was one of the least efficient runners in the NFL last year.
If you’re a Browns fan or a Johnson owner, you’re desperately praying for Baker Mayfield.1 We’ve previously written about the threat of running QBs to pass-catching RBs, and Week 1 was Exhibit A in what could be an ongoing nightmare.
2. It was a very bad weekend for the Le’Veon Bell holdout. A month ago, I wrote about James Conner as one of three handcuffs with RB1 potential, and he required only a single game to show that crazy upside. I just wish I’d realized how little Bell cares about his teammates, because I don’t own Conner in nearly as many leagues as I should. This was poor planning on my part, as signs of Bell’s selfishness are not exactly thin on the ground.
3. If you passed on Alvin Kamara or Melvin Gordon to select Ezekiel Elliott, you have my sympathies. This has the flavor of one of those Week 1 overreactions I’ll want back a month from now, but at least it’s an overreaction that fits what I’ve been saying for months.2 Elliott is obviously a very good runner, but when selecting fantasy RBs, you want elite pass-catchers in good offenses. Elliott has shown signs as a receiver, but he’s unlikely to reach the level of players like Bell, David Johnson, or Todd Gurley. Moreover, the Cowboys offense is going to be a train wreck. Their only good karma is having Dez Bryant root against them, and that will only take you so far.
4. If you passed on Alvin Kamara for anyone … Of course, this is only one week. Michael Thomas probably won’t set every receiving record known to man.3 But I encouraged you all summer to ignore the concerns about the sustainability of Kamara’s efficiency and just buy the young superstar. The expanded volume will more than make up for it. Plus, turn-of-the-century Marshall Faulk is in the range of outcomes. We talked about that last week.
5. Phillip Lindsay poses real danger to Royce Freeman’s rookie breakout. Maybe we should amend the combine rules to require an invitation for the most productive RB in any given class? Lindsay and Freeman posted identical 15-71 rushing lines, but the UDFA rookie is the preferred option in the passing game, his 29-yard catch-and-run score showing why he was a superstar at Colorado.
6. If there’s one thing I love even more than the strong-armed gunslingers, it’s the weak-armed members of the fraternity. Any weekend Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t start, the league is worse for it. He’s joined in this category by Case Keenum, the man who led Minnesota to the NFC Championship game but couldn’t earn the love of tough-hearted bastard/old school father figure Mike Zimmer. Throwing it around for 329 yards and a trio of touchdowns, Keenum quickly restored Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas to fantasy relevance. That he also threw three picks is only noteworthy if you’re a Broncos reality fan.4 Cort Smith’s bold prediction of Sanders as a WR1 is looking good.
7. Patrick Mahomes is making four teams better. Washington, Minnesota, and Denver can all thank Mahomes and Andy Reid, after the they all joined the Chiefs in the winner’s column. Mahomes will be an upgrade on Alex Smith in Kansas City, but if you followed the QB Historical Distribution Scores, you know that Smith was also an upgrade on Kirk Cousins. The owner of a 70-31 regular season record since 2011, Smith was in complete control – passing only to TEs and RBs as is his wont – in Washington’s demolition of the Cardinals. Cousins may also be an upgrade on Keenum, in which case, everyone is happy.
8. Dalvin Cook quietly made himself a trade target. Cook carried 16 times for only 40 yards and didn’t find the end zone, a disappointment for owners who saw backs like Elliott and David Johnson bailed out by late scores. But Cook also caught six passes for 55 yards and looked electric in the receiving game. With that usage profile, it’s not difficult to imagine him joining the Gurley tier by year’s end.
9. My two favorite Zero RB targets went in opposite directions. My two highest-owned players are Austin Ekeler and Matt Breida, and they had very different weekends. Let’s start with Breida. He mildly outclassed Alfred Morris on Sunday, showing more explosiveness on the way to an 11-46 line. Unfortunately, he also caught only a single pass. It’s only one week, of course, but this continues the trend we saw at the end of last season. Carlos Hyde caught over five passes a game with C.J. Beathard but fewer than three a game with Jimmy Garoppolo.
This is one of the dangers of a backfield split with Morris. It redirects the passing game away from the backs. Despite the early absence of Marquise Goodwin and despite trailing most of the afternoon, the 49ers backs combined for only a single reception. When Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman both finished among the top-20 RBs under Kyle Shanahan in 2016, they combined for 85 receptions.
10. Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler have a shot at being the Kamara and Ingram for 2018. All fantasy owners covet RB receptions, but the Chargers’ opening performance was an even more blissful experience for those of us who covet them as Smeagol covets the ring. Gordon has been a mild disappointment as a pure runner, but few NFL players can match his size/agility profile in the open field. In catching nine passes for 102 yards, he conjured up memories of those record-breaking performances at Wisconsin. Ekeler added on with 89 more yards, including a 15-yard TD that advertised his potential to be a top-five runner if Gordon goes down. Sure, it was against the Chiefs, and, resounding victory aside, Kansas City is going to be your jackpot defense all season. But the Chargers have too many weapons in the passing game for defenses to key on the backs. This is going to be one of the NFL’s most exciting offenses.
11. Note to New England: Please don’t turn Rex Burkhead into an early-down plodder. The argument for Burkhead has always been a hybrid profile that emphasized high-value touches. It didn’t work out that way against Houston. He carried 18 times for 64 yards, generally looking fit and explosive, but scoring minimally in fantasy. He did get clear for an easy TD reception only to see Tom Brady overthrow him, but the single catch raises a mild red flag. It’ll only get more crowded when Sony Michel is ready.
12. I don’t agree with A.J. Green, but I don’t disagree that vehemently. Green may or may not have compared Mixon to Gurley and Bell.5 There’s a long way to go for Mixon to reach that level, but a game with over 150 yards from scrimmage, a TD, and five receptions is a good way to start. Mixon was inefficient as a rookie, and he’s a hard player to like for obvious reasons. I don’t have any Mixon ownership, but I also never found myself on the overvalued bandwagon this summer for one key reason. He catches passes. You can sell his 17-95-1 rushing line as the result of facing Indianapolis, but it’s much harder to get around the 5-54 in the passing game, especially when Tyler Boyd and John Ross combined for only four catches.
13. It’s Gronk and then everybody else. Rob Gronkowski was my early pick for a Player to Crush ADP Every Round, and it’s probably wise to get that in while it’s still accurate. Gronk has been a first-round pick in some previous seasons, and 2018 looked primed to be his record-breaking campaign. After all, this is an offense so desperate for playmakers that Chris Hogan and Rex Burkhead were early-rounders.6 Gronkowski’s 7-123-1 line more than doubled up the combo of Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz. Trey Burton, Kyle Rudolph, and Evan Engram didn’t bring much to the table either.
14. Good night for the Bears, even after the devastating loss. It was hard not to watch the Arizona Cardinals yesterday and not think the Bears got the better of them in the coaching carousel. Of course, part of this is just their different locations on the young QB development timeline. The Browns and Cardinals should be less like watching an episode of network TV once they get Mayfield and Josh Rosen on the field. But Matt Nagy looked positively McVay-ian in his debut, right up until he got too cute and too conservative at the end. Jordan Howard caught more passes in this one than Tarik Cohen. That’s great news for Howard and his owners,7 but bad news for the Bears.
15. Patrick Mahomes is going to be the QB1. I’ve been hinting at this most of the offseason when it was ludicrous, so I might as well just say it now that it’s only slightly less ludicrous. He’s too good, the weapons are too good – Kansas City barely even used Travis Kelce or Sammy Watkins – and the defense is too bad. At one point, he threw a running, sidearm rocket thirty yards down the field to Hill, a pass no one else in the NFL could throw, except for Matthew Stafford, and Stafford wouldn’t have thrown another accurate pass the rest of the game.8
That’s it for The Fifteen this week. I apologize for not watching Baltimore/Buffalo or Tennessee/Miami, but you only live once, or at least that’s the general consensus. Good luck this evening. I hope everyone started Austin Ekeler, benched Doug Baldwin, and that you don’t need 30 points from Amari Cooper to win.9
- If you’re just a Browns fan and don’t care about fantasy, you could pray for an 0-0-16 season where the opposing team to commits six turnovers every game. (back)
- We tend to pick out the Week 1 results that fit our preconceived notions. It’s how the brain works. (back)
- Although if the Saints are suddenly back to being their lovable selves on defense, it becomes a long shot possibility. (back)
- Which, frankly, you shouldn’t admit. (back)
- He probably did if skimming headlines is a good way to edify yourself. (back)
- Again, good time to get that in before the fireworks next week. (back)
- And a victory for honesty. Chicago said this was coming. (back)
- That’s not entirely fair. The Detroit playcallers wouldn’t have called another sensical play the rest of the game. Also, Mahomes was only 15-for-27, so supreme accuracy wasn’t what this performance rested on either. (back)
- But also, that if you do need 30, Cooper has a big night. (back)