There was a point in time, around Friday last week, where I was a little bit bummed about how boring Week 3 looked. Coaches were announcing lots of starters weren't playing, the Packers and Raiders had just played a game in Canada on an 80-yard field, and there was no indication we'd get news about Ezekiel Elliott or Melvin Gordon. I knew the preseason was losing significance, but this seemed ridiculous. Then the NFL reminded me what ridiculous really looked like.
We got a surprise retirement, a season-ending injury and multiple interesting performances over the weekend. It was almost too much to process at once. That's why we have Believe It or Not.
T.Y. Hilton, Marlon Mack and Eric Ebron are still starting options with Jacoby Brissett.
Let's just start with the wildest of all news; Andrew Luck's retirement. The consensus coming out of the industry seems to be that yes, Jacoby Brissett is a downgrade, but he should be better than 2017. That's based on the Colts' strengths in system and offensive line as well as development we expect Brissett has made. Assuming this is still a fast-paced offense that schemes people open, they should still score plenty of points. Mack and Hilton should remain in the top-24 at their positions and Ebron remains a top-12 tight end almost by default.
Verdict: Don't believe it.
I agree with the first part. I don't believe Brissett is terrible. But he can be not-terrible and still be a significant downgrade from Andrew Luck. I expect the offense to run fewer plays due to its inability to sustain as many drives. I also expect Brissett to scramble slightly more often, which fully cuts into everyone's volume. Maybe most importantly, none of these three players are what I would call high-volume players. Mack and Ebron in particular were heavily reliant on touchdowns for their Fantasy production. No Luck is going to mean fewer touchdowns for sure.
As for Hilton, this offense just spreads the ball around too much for him to be a must-start option if his volume and efficiency are cut. I have him projected for numbers that will likely land him in the top-25 if he plays 16 games, but that's not enough to rank him there in the preseason. If you can get Mack or Hilton in PPR as a late-fifth or early-sixth round pick as a flex I'm all for it. Otherwise you should pass.
The one caveat is that Mack should still get enough work on the ground to be a decent starter in non-PPR. He's a fine fourth round pick in that format.
Duke Johnson should be drafted like a top-30 running back now.
The other enormous news from Saturday night was the season-ending knee injury suffered by Lamar Miller. The only other running back on the roster with any NFL experience to speak of is Duke Johnson. So much of this game is opportunity, and Johnson has it in spades right now. The Texans are an above average offense that will score plenty of points, and Johnson is a very talented running back who has been remarkably efficient (4.7 yards per carry, 7.1 yards per target) since his second year. In PPR leagues, Johnson is better than Mack and a top-25 back.
Verdict: Believe it.
For now we don't have much choice. The Texans have a collection of inexperienced backs who can't come close to Johnson's ability as a ball carrier or pass catcher. While I do think it's likely they add someone else after cuts are made, I seriously doubt that back will earn a feature role. And to be clear, Johnson doesn't need anything close to a feature role to be a top-30 back.
I projected Johnson for just 35% of Houston's rush attempts (165) and 13% of the team's targets (65). I lowered his rushing average to 4.2 and his yards per target below 7. I gave him seven total touchdowns on 217 touches. In my PPR projections that came out to RB22. That's nowhere close to Johnson's ceiling right now, but other than the touchdowns it feels pretty close to his floor.
Tevin Coleman could be falling behind Matt Breida.
After spending most of the offseason getting excited about Coleman's role in San Francisco, we got a stiff reality check over the weekend. Matt Breida just might be better. Breida ran seven times for 44 yards and caught a pair of passes for 31 yards and a touchdown Saturday night. In the same game Coleman ran nine times for 19 yards and his only catch went for 2 yards. Jerick McKinnon may not be a factor right now, but that doesn't mean smooth sailing for Coleman. Breida looks like he'll take at least half of the work.
Verdict: Don't believe it.
Breida is definitely good, and as long as McKinnon stays out of the picture there's plenty of room for both backs to be useful in Fantasy, but I'm not going to let one game of efficiency change who I expect to lead the team. I doubt the head coach is either. I have Coleman projected for 230 touches, which would be a career-high. Maybe you think that's a little too high after Saturday? That's perfectly fine. He's been a top-24 running back each of the past three seasons with fewer than 200 touches. Coleman should still be the lead back and has produced better in the passing game than Breida in the past. I have no problem with him as my No. 2 running back.
Dede Westbrook is the clear No. 1 in Jacksonville and a No. 2 in Fantasy leagues.
Full disclosure, I've been saying this since the start of summer. So the fact that Westbrook dominated first-team targets on Thursday may be more convincing to me than it is to others. But he dominated them pretty thoroughly, and saw targets at all levels of the field, and is the pretty clear No. 1 in this offense right now. Essentially, Foles was only looking for Westbrook and Leonard Fournette when he dropped back to pass. You can draft Westbrook with confidence in the fifth round as a No. 2 receiver. Yes, ahead of Hilton.
Verdict: Believe it.
Call it confirmation bias if you like, but seven of 10 targets, including a pair of deep shots down the middle was enough to convince me of something I long suspected. Westbrook is the No. 1 receiver in an offense that should be much improved from a year ago. The truth is, there just isn't that much debate who the most talented receiver is for Jacksonville, at least until Marqise Lee is ready. And even once Lee returns, Westbrook is going to have a six-month head start on rapport with Foles. I expect 120-plus targets and 1,000 yards this season.