The Vantasner Danger Meridian and Everybody Is Right in Week 1
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Image Credit: MSA/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: DeAndre Hopkins.

For one week, at least, everyone can feel good about their fantasy strategy. The elite RBs found the end zone on multiple occasions, and yet they were still outscored by the stud WRs going at the end of Round 1. As long as you didn’t draft Michael Thomas or Joe Mixon, you’re roaring into Week 2. Shawn Siegele looks at all of the major developments from an epic start to the 2020 fantasy football season.

Coming to you Tuesday this week and on Mondays in the future, I’ll be doing a little bit of everything in this space, from using the tools to find the key advanced stats of the week, to posting my Rest of Season Rankings for a specific positional group, to providing TV and book recommendations. We’re all looking for new discoveries to help us get through a couple more months of social distancing.

As always, I’ve already watched the vast majority of this weekend’s games. The itchy trigger finger on the remote has me through every game except Patriots/Dolphins and Eagles/Football Team. Unfortunately, my DVR only allows me to record seven games at once, but forgoing the Dolphins and the Team is less of a sacrifice.

We have a fantastic Monday lineup in 2020 with Monty Phan on High Staked, Curtis Patrick on waivers, and Mark Wemken on the Showdown slate. Sam Wallace and John Keenan deliver our RotoViz spin on all of the latest fantasy news in The Blitz.

What Part Don’t You Get?

Well, obviously the core concept.

Single-Elite RB and Zero RB are smashing leagues in Week 1, but almost all owners can be excited about their constructions in the early going. Twenty players scored 20-plus points, and they came from everywhere: four members of the Big 5 at RB, both of the superstar WRs after Thomas, and all three members of the Falcons wide receiver corps. It included four more deep receivers – Jamison Crowder, Robby Anderson, Darius Slayton, and Sammy Watkins – as well as two deep RB options.

Davante Adams GB 41.6
Josh Jacobs LV 35.9
Calvin Ridley ATL 33.9
Adam Thielen MIN 31
DeAndre Hopkins ARI 29.1
Christian McCaffrey CAR 28.4
Darius Slayton NYG 28.2
Ezekiel Elliott DAL 27.7
Nyheim Hines IND 27.3
Malcolm Brown LAR 26
Robby Anderson CAR 25.5
Raheem Mostert SF 25.1
JuJu Smith-Schuster PIT 24.9
Julio Jones ATL 24.7
Chris Carson SEA 24.6
Jamison Crowder NYJ 24.5
Alvin Kamara NO 23.7
Dalvin Cook MIN 21.8
Sammy Watkins KC 21.5
Russell Gage ATL 20.4

Blair Andrews recently detailed our Extreme Zero RB draft in the FFPC Main Event. We didn’t select an RB until Round 11, but that receiver firepower was enough to get off to a fast start.

In the 2020 Zero RB Update, I mentioned that Nyheim Hines was in the running to be my most-owned player. A week into the season, and that may prove fortuitous. After his Week 1 usage confirmed much of the offseason rhetoric, it wouldn’t be surprising if Hines outscored similar backs like Austin Ekeler, James White, and Tarik Cohen.

Going by Expected Fantasy Points, Hines earned a low-end RB2 workload in this offense as a rookie. Enter Philip Rivers. Last year, he ranked No. 1 in creating reEP for the RB position and more than doubled up Jacoby Brissett.

Then this happened in Week 1.

I’ve included the 49ers and Bills as the teams that finished No. 2 and No. 3 in reEP to the RBs, and also included the teams with other high-profile 2020 rookie RBs. The entire thesis for the Chiefs drafting Clyde Edwards-Helaire and not Jonathan Taylor was the pass-catching element. This didn’t play out the way many expected, although practice reports continued to hammer Taylor’s receiving involvement.

While Edwards-Helaire made some of the stutter-step, disappear-and-go moves that made him a legend last year at LSU, I was still seething as I watched Taylor take that first reception 35 yards down to the 2. This is what Kansas City could have had – a back who broke the RB Prospect Lab.

If you’ve been following our dynasty content since the first edition of the Dynasty Command Center Rookie Guide back in January, you know how we feel about Taylor, and that didn’t stop just because he landed in Indianapolis. Curtis and I drafted 1.03 in our Main Event, and had so much fun that we signed up for a second … and drew the 1.03 again. We split our Round 1 shares between Alvin Kamara and Dalvin Cook, but in Rounds 2 and 3 we couldn’t talk ourselves off of DeAndre Hopkins and Taylor respectively.

While I hate grabbing a second RB early, I shared my plan for how to attack a draft with an RB-RB start, which for me would be taking any RB2 before Round 7. With Marlon Mack out for the year, we may not have to wait as long for this to pay off. It’s easy to see the bias since we liked Taylor enough to draft him even with Mack in place, but after the injury, Curtis and I were discussing whether or not he would have a Saquon Barkley-like rookie campaign.

Can Taylor and Hines both finish as RB1s? It’ll be a challenge, but the receiving value gives them an unfair advantage. Last year Ekeler scored 313 points, but Melvin Gordon actually led 15.7 to 15.4 in total EP/G. At the end of the article, we’ll look at where I have Taylor and Hines in my Rest of Season RB rankings.

Red Flags Emerge for a Few Early RBs

A few top WRs did disappoint. Thomas and Chris Godwin raised eyebrows in a game where the stingy New Orleans and Tampa defenses appeared to be playing with 12 men. At the other glamour position, a handful of early RBs may already be in trouble.

Joe Mixon lost the target battle to Giovani Bernard, and has only the narrowest path to an RB1 finish in the type of offense we watched yesterday. Averaging negative fantasy points over expectation (FPOE) for his career as a rusher, he needs to be much more involved in the passing game than backs like Derrick Henry.

The same can be said for Ekeler. Last season, he averaged 10.5 reEP, second in the NFL behind Christian McCaffrey. He won’t come close to that number with Tyrod Taylor in town. But Ekeler remains one of the NFL’s best talents at the position. He’s an instant buy-low, right?

Yes, and no. Joshua Kelley looked good in his debut, almost matching Ekeler in ruEP and punching in a touchdown. The rookie may offer more rushing talent than Gordon a season ago. Dubbed the Ultimate King Sleeper by Curtis, he hits a number of our favorite metrics for outperforming draft position.

Sam Wallace expertly breaks down the situations in Arizona and Cleveland in The Blitz.

Shot Out of Cannon vs Stumbling Sideways

It’s not hard to understand why the Jaguars released Leonard Fournette and elevated James Robinson. As Monty points out in High Staked, the rookie was ready to rock.

These aren’t gaudy lines from Robinson and Ronald Jones, but they hit the holes with abandon and accelerated at the second level upon finding an opening. Fournette continued his 2019 struggles where he totaled more than 20 points of negative FPOE as both a runner and receiver. When it came to the Tampa backfield, RoJo was going nowhere fast, Fournette was going nowhere slow(ly), and LeSean McCoy appeared to be in his own Bill and Ted movie.

The touch split in Tampa has the potential to be infuriating, but it was much tighter in Jacksonville.

Player Team Att Yards TD YPC % Tm Att
Josh Jacobs LV 25 93 3 3.7 81%
Ezekiel Elliott DAL 22 96 1 4.4 81%
Christian McCaffrey CAR 23 96 2 4.2 77%
Clyde Edwards-Helaire KC 25 138 1 5.5 74%
James Robinson JAC 16 62 0 3.9 70%

The results are even better than this indicates, as Robinson didn’t lose a carry to another back. Gardner Minshew scrambled five times and receiving behemoth Laviska Shenault carried twice. This is straightforwardly an encouraging sign, but it might be even better than you realize. Blair Andrews has demonstrated that market share of rushing EP correlates better with following week PPR scoring than scoring itself.

A Tale of Two Garbage Times

Adam Thielen and Calvin Ridley were the kings of the fourth quarter in Week 1. Only Davante Adams scored more receiving points in the first three quarters than Ridley and Thielen did in the fourth quarter alone.

Thielen was sitting at 2-32-0 for much of the game, and we might be more concerned about his situation, especially if Minnesota isn’t routinely slaughtered. The two teams resided at opposite ends of the volume spectrum in 2019, and even when teams regress the following year, a big gap remains.

Atlanta continued this trend in Week 1 with a 54-25 edge in passing attempts. If their defense continues to struggle, WR1 finishes from Ridley and Jones are almost locked in.

Meanwhile, there are signs Thielen could thrive even in this low-volume attack. He mitigated concerns about his age/injury profile and wasn’t challenged by Irv Smith or Justin Jefferson. He earned 54% of the Vikings’ air yards, fourth-best in Week 1. I would be tempted to sell Thielen after this massive performance – last year Stefon Diggs put up four WR1 weeks, including 43 points in Week 6, but also languished in single digits on six occasions – but right now I’m just happy for Madison Parkhill who had Thielen as his most-owned WR for 2020.

The Screener also helps us look at targets once the deficit becomes untenable. Four receivers earned at least six targets in Week 1 while their team trailed by at least two TDs. Three benefited, but Odell Beckham continued to struggle.

Jack Miller built on our research into WRs changing teams, and he discovered that the decline carries on into Year 2. His focus was on Beckham, and while he pointed out that you want to evaluate each player separately, it was something to consider for the former superstar. The practice reports were glowing, but the Browns couldn’t get it going when they stepped out on the field against Baltimore.

Week 1 continues a brutal stretch of efficiency since Beckham arrived in Cleveland.

Over the last 17 games, Beckham has finished in the positive only five times.

* For more in-depth coverage of WR targets, Expected Points, and air yards, be sure to check out Zachary Kreuger’s WR Usage Report later today.

Rest of Season RB Rankings – The Top 20

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Shawn Siegele

Author of the original Zero RB article and 2013 NFFC Primetime Grand Champion. 11-time main event league winner. 2015, 2017, 2018 titles in MFL10 of Death.

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