Week 1 of the Fantasy Football season brings us long-awaited first answers to some of our biggest questions of the season, but it also creates a lot more questions that we hadn't even considered before. Like, "Does Brandon Aiyuk have a role in the 49ers offense?" Or, "Is Mark Andrews even a top-five tight end anymore?" Bet you didn't think anyone would be asking those questions back when you were draft, huh?
Some of those questions are unknowable. Some are just incredibly difficult to answer. But, that's our job as Fantasy analysts, so I took to Twitter Wednesday afternoon to ask the audience for their biggest questions heading into Week 2.
Here are those questions along with my answers -- or, at least in some cases, my best guesses! Sometimes, that's all you can do at this point in the season.
What do we do about these six backfields?
Any clarity/thoughts (even though its just one week) on the timeshare backfields. Ravens, Broncos, Bucs, etc.)— Phill Paik (@filpaik) September 15, 2021
The nice thing about Week 1 is we actually get our first tangible sign of how teams want to use their running backs. In some instances, like with the Rams and Darrell Henderson, that gives us a ton of clarity -- they clearly prefer Henderson to Sony Michel right now. In other instances, we don't really get much clarity at all -- or at least the clarity we do get doesn't give us an obvious answer. That was the case for the Broncos in Week 1, as Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon split snaps evenly, with Williams getting an edge in carries only on the final drive to run out the clock.
By my count there are six backfields where you can classify them as either a true timeshare or where we just don't really know what to expect in the near term. Here are my thoughts on those six:
49ers: Obviously, we're assuming Elijah Mitchell is the lead back here, with Jamycal Hasty and perhaps Trey Sermon backing him up. Sermon was inactive for Week 1 while Mitchell rushed for 104 yards on 19 carries in Raheem Mostert's place. The thing about the 49ers is, they had six different running backs lead them in carries in 2020 and three in 2019, with the leader in carries averaging 15.1 per game in 2020 and just 13.7 in 2019. If Mitchell is the lead back, he should be viewed as a mid-range RB2 in most leagues, but given Shanahan's history, we'll have to re-evaluate this one on a weekly basis.
Ravens: Ty'Son Williams led the team in RB snaps in Week 1 and looked much more effective than Latavius Murray, but Murray was on the field for 14 rushing snaps, compared to 12 for Williams. And, while Williams had a 20-4 edge in snaps in the first half, that turned into a 17-14 edge for Murray in the second half. Which makes me think Murray probably has the edge for Week 2, though he'll have to play better than he did. It's possible he will, but I would recommend avoiding this situation unless you need a flex or RB3 in non-PPR until we get more clarity.
Broncos: This is a situation where we did get clarity, and it looks like a true time share. Neither Gordon nor Williams ran the ball particularly well outside of Gordon's 70-yard touchdown run, but they should fare better in Week 2 against the Jaguars. Both are in the RB3 discussion as long as this timeshare exists.
Buccaneers: Ronald Jones found himself in the doghouse yet again in Week 1 following a fumble, but Bruce Arians gave him a vote of confidence in publicly naming him the starter for Week 2. This situation remains as it has been since last season -- Jones should get the first opportunity, and if he runs well, he'll likely remain the lead back. But he has absolutely no margin for error, and Leonard Fournette is more likely to be asked to contribute in the passing game, too -- though Giovani Bernard complicates that, as well. I'm going to have to be pretty desperate to start anyone in Tampa.
Jaguars: The good news for James Robinson is he did lead the team's running backs in snaps, 42-25. That is, unfortunately, about where the good news ends, as Carlos Hyde rushed nine times to Robinson's five carries, and Hyde closed the snap gap in the second half. The silver lining is that Robinson ran 33 routes and was targeted six times, including three times from out of the slot. He's still the best Fantasy option here and a fringe RB2 for me in Week 2, but if Hyde continues to get more carries, that'll drop Robinson into the Nyheim Hines territory in the rankings, if not lower.
Jets: This was just a mess in Week 1, with Tevin Coleman seeing nine carries and Ty Johnson and Michael Carter each seeing two. Johnson was more used in the passing game and led the team in snaps as a result, but you'd have to be truly desperate to use anyone in this backfield until the offense looks better than it did in the opener.
What's Brandon Aiyuk's role?
I mean, you certainly don't want to see the head coach calling your fifth-round pick out this early in the season. Shanahan is a finnicky coach, and he doesn't care much about draft stock or perceived hierarchies; he's just going to play who he thinks gives him the best chance to win. I assume that means Aiyuk will see his role increase moving forward, but there are shades of Dante Pettis in this -- Pettis, if you remember, entered 2019 as the projected No. 1 wide receiver and a popular breakout candidate but found himself in Shanahan's doghouse following a disappointing training camp.
But to answer the question, you should not be dropping Aiyuk, and I view this as a very nice buying opportunity. Maybe Aiyuk never gets back in Shanahan's good graces, but he's also a lot more talented than Pettis ever was, so I'll bet on it. That being said, I was skeptical he was going to be a must-start Fantasy option before this, and I'm definitely not certain he's a better player than Deebo Samuel, who looked fantastic in Week 1.
Can we trust Juwan Johnson?
Juwan Johnson only had 3 targets... but they were targets that show Sean Payton has faith in him. If / When safe to trust Johnson?— Lazarus Jackson (@lazchance) September 15, 2021
It's so hard to take much of anything from the Saints Week 1 game, because it was so lopsided basically from the get-go. How much can we learn from Johnson earning three of 21 targets, especially when two resulted in touchdowns? Adam Trautman was on the field a lot more often than Johnson and had three targets of his own while running 18 routes to Johnson's nine. But Johnson is a developmental player the Saints clearly like, so his role isn't likely to remain static all season. I wouldn't feel comfortable starting him yet, but if he goes out in Week 2 and runs 50% of the team's routes and earns a target share over 15% again, I'll have to consider it.
Time to worry about Zeke and Julio?
What to expect from zeke and Julio— Joe 🇺🇸 (@mmmmmmmmmggg) September 15, 2021
I think both will be fine, but I'm a lot more confident in Ezekiel Elliott than I am Julio Jones for Week 2. Elliott gets Zack Martin back and the Chargers should present an easier challenge than the Bucs did -- the Cowboys largely abandoned the run in Week 1 very early on, and it's not hard to see why given the opponent. He's still a must-start Fantasy option.
As for Julio, I'm still ranking him as a WR2 for Week 2, but I definitely want to see him and Tannehill get on the same page quickly. That'll be easier when Chandler Jones hasn't established semi-permanent residence in their backfield, so hopefully this is the week they figure it out. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little but worried.
Should we worry about Mark Andrews?
Am I overreacting being worried about Mark Andrews after just 1 week? Drafted thinking he’d clearly be Top 1 or 2 in targets in Baltimore again. Now not so confident, or that he’s a Top 5 TE.— Bret Brillante (@BretBrillante) September 15, 2021
(Traded him straight up for Tee Higgins today in a league I lost Jeudy)
Yes. I'm fine trading him for Higgins, but that's not because I'm particularly concerned about Andrews. Sure, he was third on the team in targets, but the bigger issue in Week 1 was that he just wasn't particularly efficient, catching three of them for just 20 yards. That's never been an issue for Andrews before, so I have no reason to think it will be one this season. And, if you're looking for a reason to be optimistic about Andrews, how about this: He ran a route on 37 of 39 pass plays, a higher rate than any game last season. He'll be just fine, don't you worry.
Should we worry about the Falcons offense?
How concerned should I be about the Atlanta offense?— Gus Juhlin (@GusTheMule12) September 15, 2021
Not particularly, yet, though I can't shake the thought of how much they struggled last season when Julio Jones wasn't playing. In seven games where Jones was inactive, Matt Ryan averaged 6.6 yards per attempt with a 4.0% touchdown rate, well below his career rates of 7.5 Y/A and 4.6%. The addition of Kyle Pitts was supposed to help mitigate some of that, and I do think Ryan is going to play better moving forward.
However, one thing to keep an eye on is that, in situations where the point differential against the Eagles was within one score either way (36 offensive plays), the Falcons ran the ball 53% of the time; they threw 62% of the time last season in such situations. That was much more in line with Arthur Smith's playcalling in 2020 with the Titans, which is a bit concerning for the passing game.
Ja'Marr Chase: stud?
Is Ja’Marr Chase the real deal?— Bismarck Manes (@BismarckManes) September 15, 2021
Well, let's see: He's one of just five wide receivers drafted inside of the top five overall picks in the NFL Draft over the last decade. That was after a college career that saw him put up 84-1780-20 while being 19 years old for the entire season. And he just had five catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut, while the other four top-five pick WRs since 2012 combined for 171 yards and no touchdowns in their respective debuts.
Our prior should be that Chase was the real deal all along, and we should have needed pretty compelling evidence to change that. Maybe the preseason/training camp struggles were enough to shift that for you, but if they were, his performance in Week 1 is much stronger evidence in his favor, especially since he led the Bengals WR in snaps, routes, and targets. The Bengals treated him like their No. 1 WR, so why should I treat him as anything else? Every week won't be that good for him, but you should expect him to be very good for Fantasy moving forward.
What about the other Bengals receivers?
Is Tyler Boyd droppable?— dave kuhn (@differentdaves) September 15, 2021
To phrase the question a different way, because I don't think you should be dropping Boyd: With Chase playing like he did in Week 1, should you be worried about Boyd or Tee Higgins? I'm not ready to say that. Higgins is probably less of a concern given his 15.8 points in Week 1, but Boyd had just 6.2 -- three catches on four targets for 32 yards. Boyd isn't a big play guy in this offense, so he typically relies on volume for his Fantasy value. With Chase clearly pushing him down in the pecking order, can he still get that volume?
Well, one thing to keep in mind about Week 1 for the Bengals is it was Joe Burrow's first game back from his knee injury and they were playing against a pretty conservative Vikings team, so they had the luxury of playing a pretty conservative game plan, and they took it. The Bengals had the fifth-lowest pass rate of the week in situations where the point differential was within one score, throwing just 47% of the time. And that split grew as the game went on -- they threw the ball just 38% of the time with the point differential within one score in the fourth quarter and overtime. Perhaps because Joe Burrow came up favoring his shoulder after one late hit?
Whatever the reason, that's a big change from where they were in 2020, when the Bengals threw 59% of the time in such situations. I'm expecting there to be a lot more pass volume moving forward, and I'm still expecting the three top wide receivers to see a very healthy share, so I'm not panicking about Boyd yet. But, if you drafted him as a WR2 in Fantasy, you're at a serious disadvantage when it comes to upside. But you should have known that coming in.
What will we get from Clyde Edwards-Helaire?
What are the expectations for CEH going forward?— french fried taters (@AdultSippyCup) September 15, 2021
I had two concerns about Clyde Edwards-Helaire coming into the season:
- That he wouldn't have a goal-line role.
- That he would lose playing time on third down.
On the first concern, we only have a two-snap sample from Week 1 where the Chiefs were inside the 5-yard line, but Edwards-Helaire was on the field for both; he was also on the field for all four snaps from 10 yards or shorter. It's too early to say, but that seems like a win to me, albeit a small one for now.
We have a larger sample on third downs, and it's a little more mixed there: Edwards-Helaire was on for seven of 13 snaps, with Darrel Williams on for the other six. The good news is Edwards-Helaire went out on a route for six of his seven plays, while Williams only did so on three of six. Still small sample sizes, and I have to expect Williams will have the edge in two-minute drills. However, Edwards-Helaire ran 28 routes compared to just seven for Williams overall, so I'm counting this as a big win for him.
I view Edwards-Helaire much as I did coming into the season: As a high-end RB2 with significant upside beyond that. Week 1 didn't change that view at all, it reinforced it.
So who should you start and sit this week? And which surprising quarterback could lead you to victory? Visit SportsLine now to get Week 2 rankings for every position, plus see which QB is going to come out of nowhere to crack the top 10, all from the model that has out-performed experts big-time.