What We Learned: 2021 Preseason
Check back here every week to listen to Tim: analyze what we saw, discuss who's trending up or down, and jump to some wild conclusions.
1. Lamar Jackson > Patriots Defense
For the first time all season, the New England Patriots did not hold a lead at any point in the game in week against the Ravens. For as good as the Patriots defense has been, they simply were not equipped to deal with a QB as dynamic as Lamar Jackson.
The criticism of the Pats offense playing sub-par and the defense riding high on an extra-soft schedule seemed like it was just the critics being nit-picky, but in fact, it was those exact issues and weaknesses that were exposed in week nine.
The Pats were dominated for most of the game after the Ravens got off to a 17-0 start, something New England fans aren’t used to seeing from their opponents this year. However, with seven minutes left in the third quarter, it was still close. The Patriots were down by just four points, with more than enough time to come back. But the Ravens showed no mercy closing it out, beating the Pats (37-20) by 17 points, by far the largest deficit they have seen this season.
Prior to week nine, the Patriots had coughed up a total of just four TD's all season. They surrendered four TD's to Baltimore on Sunday.
Jackson and the Ravens power-scheme proved to be too much of a challenge for the juggernaut Pats, regularly disorienting them with triple options, read options, QB scrambles, and a few well-timed perfectly placed passes, which was once thought to be a weakness of Lamar Jackson's game. Historically good or not, Jackson poses a unique challenge to any defense, regardless of their caliber.
Jackson (224 total yard, three total TD's, no turnovers in week nine) is, without a doubt, the most athletically gifted player ever to play the position. And after defeating the Pats in such a convincing manner, he is a front runner for league MVP.
He's now 12-3 in his career as a starter (does that mean Belichick has technically lost to a rookie QB?) He is just the second player ever with two rush TD's and a pass TD versus New England in the Belichick era.
Of course, Jackson didn't do it all himself, Mark Ingram helped out with
130+ total yards, and the Ravens defense suffocated the Pats offense (especially in the fourth quarter) but make no mistake, Jackson controlled this game.
He was labeled as a one-dimensional QB after displaying a run-heavy style in his first eight starts of 2018. Critics wrote Jackson off, saying he didn't have the arm talent to get it done. In week one of 2019, he went out, threw for 300+ yards, five TD's and a perfect passer rating of 158.3... But then it was 'Oh but that was against the Dolphins'... Whether it be the Dolphins defense, a Patriots defense that was on pace to be the best defense of all time, it doesn't matter. Everybody needs to stop what they're doing, and put some respect on this man's name. His true name: MVP.
Lamar Jackson keeps the ball on a read option, scoots in to the end zone for the second rushing TD allowed by the Patriots this season. Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images
2. The Jets nightmare season continues
A 26-18 loss to the 0-8, now 1-8 Miami Dolphins, it doesn't get much worse than that...
Let me just begin by saying, in my unbiased opinion, I firmly believe Adam Gase and Greg Williams should be fired... Immediately. Watching the team play it's obvious to see Gase doesn't have any idea how to manage the game, or his offense. I can't imagine, after this weeks loss, he has many fans left in the locker room either.
If Gase is allowed to stay, it will be catastrophic for this team. He's on his way to ruining Sam Darnold for good. He is committed to limiting one of the most elite athletes in the NFL, Le'Veon Bell, to a blocking role more than anything else. He doesn't know how to use explosive weapons like Demaryius Thomas, Robby Anderson, Ty Montgomery, etc. All three have yet to make a significant impact consistently this season. He seems to be doing a fine job getting Jamison Crowder involved however, and maybe someone should tell him this, but it's going to take more than prioritizing the force feeding of an efficient slot weapon to successfully run an offense.
You have LE'VEON BELL for crying out loud. If he isn't receiving at least 25 touches or more per game, that's your first problem. I'm no NFL coach, but it doesn't take one to clearly see they need to prioritize the run, set up the play action, and open things up for Darnold and his many weapons. Expose your 22-year old QB a little bit less for Christ sake...
I can understand game-flow being an issue, with the Jets trailing in most games, but Gase is making the call to pass on the goal-line when he should be running, and he runs the ball on 3rd and 3 when the defense is in an obvious run-stopping look... That 3rd and 3 is just one example, but it was a zero blitz, and even I diagnosed it before the snap! How much of that is on Gase for making the call, or Darnold not checking out of the current play is anyones guess. But either Gase can't catch a break, or he just sucks as a head coach and a play caller. (13-19 in his final two seasons as head coach of the Dolphins)
And now it's time to roast Greg Williams, shall we? The guy is a disaster. Most recently, he was the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns. The Jets said, "Woah... The former defensive coordinator of the 0-16 Cleveland Browns is available? The same Greg Williams that was either fired or not brought back to the last six teams he coached for? The guy who had AARON DONALD for three years as the Rams defensive coordinator, yet finished below .500 and no higher than third in their division during his tenure, yet as soon as he was let go, they went 11-5 and won their division? Let's hire him. Let's hire Greg Williams. That’ll do the trick."
From the coaches they've brought on, to the way they’ve played on the field, from the Kelechi Osemele situation, to the Jamaal Adams situation... The way the Jets have been managed this year has been nothing short of criminal. If their owner doesn’t completely clean house and start from scratch by the end of this season, he either doesn't pay attention to professional football, or he's a Patriots fan.
3. Tyler Lockett hates me
So, just for context, I have seven fantasy football teams. And, I can't make this up (trust me I wouldn't just for fun), but I had the pleasure of playing against Tyler Lockett on six of those seven teams this week. Needless to say, I lost most of them... Okay, fine. I lost them all.
If you haven't heard, Lockett went off in week nine against the Bucs. He finished with 13 catches, 153 yards, two TD's, and 40.2 PPR points, a number that I have stared at far too much in the past 24 hours.
I actually played against a guy who hasn't set his lineup since the beginning of the season. He's had Vernon Davis as his tight end for weeks. He played Todd Gurley, who was on a bye this week. He's 0-8. But sure enough, thanks mostly to Tyler Lockett, he beat me this week.
Now, I can sit here and complain that this particular team is my only team that is below .500. I could complain about how I've lost by two points twice. I could complain about how JuJu Smith-Schuster was a waste of a second round pick and that every time he’s scored five points or less for me this season, it ends up making the difference. I could sit here and complain all day long that with this team, I’ve had to play against Aaron Jones when he damn near had 50 (49.2), the Patriots defense putting up 35 in week two, Sammy Watkins when he had a 46.8 explosion, and now Tyler Lockett's 40.2 PPR point clinic (all CAREER-HIGH's by the way). I COULD complain, but that's just not what champions do... But enough about my fantasy team from Hell, how about Lockett?
He is quite literally THE perfect weapon and compliment for Russell Wilson's ultra accurate cannon of an arm. He is Doug Baldwin's hands and route running ability, with the speed and athleticism of John Brown. And most importantly, he’s a legit WR1 in fantasy. His breakout campaign continues along the heels of Russell Wilson's MVP run. From now on, I will have Lockett ranked as a top-six option each week. Hopefully that will persuade him to take it easy on me the next time we face off...
4. Metcalf: Legit WR2
DK Metcalf is living up to his potential in Seattle, especially as of late. He came in to week nine with at least 50 yards or a TD in seven of his eight games this season. Last week, he caught two TD's on just three catches. The one knock about the Ole-Miss product was that he had not caught more than four passes in any game yet. But this week, it all came together.
His 4.3 speed and 6'3 frame was on full display, catching six passes for 123 yards, and one TD. With a QB like Russell Wilson, Metcalf's potential is enormous. If he continues to be as involved as he was in week nine, I see him as a borderline top-15 fantasy WR going forward.
5. Haskins not ready to be a starter
Not once, but twice Adrian Peterson (update: still a beast) single handedly carried the Redskins in to the red zone against Buffalo in week nine. But both of those times, Washington ended up finding themselves in a third and long situation, leaving it to Haskins to make a play through the air. And both times, he just couldn't do it. Despite three trips in to Buffalo territory, the Redskins failed to score a TD in week nine.
To be honest, I don't think Haskins is bad athlete or anything, he just looks like a deer in headlights to me. The game seems to be way too fast for him at this point. And I know he's a rookie. Daniel Jones, Kyler Murray, and Gardner Minshew have all had their struggles this season, but none have looked nearly as bad as Haskins has.
It's a small sample size, but the former Ohio State QB is averaging just 35.5 passing yards per quarter this season.
For the Redskins sake (mostly my guy Terry McLaurin) I really hope Keenum can get on, and stay on the field. Because as long as Haskins is playing, it's a fantasy wasteland in Washington. Even the Jets would have a chance beat them. And that's saying something.
6. Steelers defense is elite
The Steelers have now recorded more than 13 fantasy points in every game since acquiring Minkah Fitzpatrick, who was responsible for a 99-yard pick six on Brian Hoyer in week nine.
Disclaimer: I know I had them as the sit of the week, but if I knew TY Hilton and Jacoby Brissett would be out, they probably would have been the start of the week.
In the last four weeks, the Steelers have averaged 3.25 turnovers and 3.75 sacks per game. TJ Watt, Cameron Heyward, Devin Bush and Fitzpatrick have proved to be a very imposing, turnover causing collection of players.
From now on, regardless of matchup, the Steelers are worthy of top-seven fantasy defense consideration each week. And yes, that includes next week against the Rams, who the 49ers held to just over 100 total yards in week six.
7. Devin Singletary is legit
It's a small sample size, but Singletary is averaging 7.1 yards per touch (6.7 yards per carry and 8.6 yards per reception) on 52 total touches this season.
Over the past two weeks, he has been out-snapping and outplaying Frank Gore, who was stopped three times straight on the one yard line, and once on 4th and 2 in week nine... Brutal.
Singletary is explosive, has great vision and can clearly handle the workload of a feature back (140 total yards and one TD on 23 touches in week nine). It seems like Motor is ready to take over lead back duties in Buffalo, and the timing is great. He will face Cleveland and Miami in his next two games and is currently available in over 35% of ESPN leagues.
Dare I say, he looks the part of a high-end fantasy RB2. I will be ranking him as such until further notice.
8. The Bears defense: no longer a scary matchup
Latavius Murray, Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Jordan Howard... What do all these RB's have in common? They have all scored a TD on the Chicago Bears defense in the last three weeks. The Bears pass defense is being shredded as well lately. Michael Thomas and Zach Ertz have beaten them for over 100 yards and a TD in the same span. Keenan Allen would have as well had he not dropped a would be 30-yard TD last week.
Now their defensive struggles mostly have to do with the fact the Bears offense (Mitchell Trubisky: 173.9 YPG, five passing TD's this season) can't keep them off the field. In the first half on Sunday, their offense had nine total yards. Like NFL analyst Andrew Siciliano said, it's not a typo, it's not a slam, it's just a fact.
This defense is exhausted from carrying the team these past two years, and it's starting to show. Fantasy fans rejoice, you no longer need to be worried if you see a matchup with the Bears on the schedule!
9. Ryan Tannehill: Fantasy starter
Since taking over the starting gig for Tennessee, Tannehill has at least 18 fantasy points three weeks in a row. He now has either 300 yards passing or three TD's in every game he's started this season.
Like I said two weeks ago, he's playing with perhaps the best offense he has ever been on. Tannehill is benefiting from the luxury of having Derrick Henry draw the defense down, and between AJ Brown, Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, Adam Humphries, etc. he has plenty of talented mouths to feed. Even Dion Lewis got involved this week (five catches, 33 yards).
In week nine, Tannehill spread the ball around, completing passes to eight different receivers.
When Delanie Walker eventually returns, things should only improve for the Titans offense. I'm going to go out on a limb and say Tannehill is a top-15 fantasy QB for the rest of the season. Don't like it? Sue me.
10. Emmanuel Sanders has elite flex potential in SanFran
Since joining the 49ers, Emmanuel Sanders has a TD in two straight games. In week eight, Jimmy G had his best game of the season (317 yards 4 TD's), and it was Sanders who led the way with seven catches for 117 yards and one TD. It's possible Garoppolo, who had throw for less than 200 yards four times in his eight games this season, was simply missing someone to fill the WR1 role. It's also possible he went off simply because they played a very soft Cardinals defense. Either way, neither Sanders or Garoppolo is looking back.
Next up for the Niners is a matchup with an equally soft Seahawks defense that failed to force a turnover on Jameis Winston in week nine.
I'm not saying Sanders should be viewed with WR1 or even WR2 value just yet, but from what I've seen from him in SanFran, he should at the very least be plugged in at flex until he proves otherwise. You won't want to be the one sitting him if he does it again.
Tim Brosnan, Fantasy Sports Analyst/Freelance Journalist
Tim Brosnan is a college-educated sports journalist from the New Haven, Connecticut area.
Brosnan earned his Bachelor's Degree from Castleton University where he majored in Media & Communication, with a focus in Journalism.
During his tenure as the sports editor of the Castleton Spartan newspaper, Brosnan created the segment 'Tim's Fantasy Tips'. It began as a simple weekly start/sit column, but since then, the idea has grown into so much more.
Brosnan has taken his experience/passion for fantasy football and combined it with his journalistic know-how in order to bring you a completely original, well-informed, multi-layered fantasy football advice experience.
We hope you enjoy.