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: Pocket Passer?
Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson opened the 2019 season on a slightly different note than most expected him to. After averaging 17 rushes per game and a completion percentage of 58.2 in his seven games as a starter in 2018, most had him pegged as a one-dimensional rushing quarterback.
In week one, Jackson completed 85 percent of his passes for 324 yards, five touchdowns and a perfect passer rating of 158.3 while leading the Ravens to a franchise-record for points in a game (59).
If this game wasn’t such a blowout, Jackson would have played the fourth quarter and could have had a much bigger fantasy day. Jackson's benching, however, was good for Gus Edwards who paced all Ravens RB’s in touches (17). I wouldn’t buy in to that too much, as most of those touches came in garbage-time. Mark Ingram, who was also benched with the starters, was extremely efficient with his 14 touches (104 yards, two TD’s). He’ll likely receive the bulk of the carries going forward.
Marquis ‘Hollywood’ Brown (4-147-2tds) and tight end Mark Andrews (8-108-1td) were responsible for 70 percent of Jackson’s completions and are suddenly on everyone’s fantasy-radar.
Jackson attempted 20 passes overall, but the strangest thing was that, after averaging 17 carrier per game as a starter in 2018, Jackson only had three carries for six yards in this game… So much for his fantasy value depending on his legs…
Jackson hardly ran the ball and delivered an elite performance as a passer, a complete 180 from what anyone would have guessed. The fantasy implications are enormous.
If Jackson can score you 33.6 fantasy points (ESPN standard scoring) in three quarters with his arm alone, just imagine how many points he can score you when he get’s involved on the ground/plays the whole game. Think Cam Newton, but with a higher ceiling.
2. It’s Dalvin Cook’s year.
Let me just say, going back to the 2017 NFL draft, I endorsed Dalvin Cook as the best RB in the draft, over Fournette. Fournette may have stolen the show his rookie season, but make no mistake, this is Dalvin Cooks year.
The way I see it, the only reason it hasn’t been his year yet is because he hasn’t been healthy. He missed most of his rookie year with a torn ACL, and, while shaking off the rust of that injury, missed five games last year.
Let’s just make this clear; we’re talking about a running back that rushed for over 1,600 yards and scored 20 touchdowns as a Seminole, two seasons in a row. Two seasons, 3,000 + rush yards, forty touchdowns.
Don’t even get me started on the efficiency (6.5 yards per carry). If you throw on the tape it’s obvious to see why he was an absolute numbers-machine. With elite speed and vision, Cook is a walking big-play. Smoking defenses was routine for him in college. We started to see it from Cook before he went down with an ACL injury in his rookie season, now it looks like its finally time for him to capitalize on his potential.
Minnesota currently has the fourteenth-most fantasy friendly schedule for running backs in 2019, but I suspect Cook will be matchup-proof before long.
3. Sammy Watkins value skyrockets
With Chiefs WR1 Tyreek Hill set to miss “a few weeks” Sammy Watkins has been launched into the WR1 discussion. Watkins finished week one with nine catches for 198 yards and three TD’s (three TD’s all of 2018) against a tough Jaguars defense.
Playing on his fourth team since being drafted top-four in the 2014 NFL draft, it finally looks like Watkins will have his chance to deliver consistent WR1 production as Mahomes's go-to guy.
On paper, Watkins is the prototypical WR1. Strong hands, excellent route-running ability, great speed (clocked at 21.33 mph on a touchdown grab in week one) and, not to mention, he’s got an MVP quarterback that threw for 5,000 yards and 50 TD’s last season to toss him the rock.
Aside from Hill’s two catches in this game, and Demarcus Robinsons one reception for zero yards, Watkins was the ONLY wide receiver catching the ball for Kansas City.
This one doesn’t require a lengthy explanation. As long as Hill is out, Watkins is a top-10 fantasy receiver.
4. Williams paces chiefs in touches, McCoy more efficient.
Speaking of the Chiefs, how about that backfield situation? If you saw what I saw, you know it’s only a matter of time before Shady assumes lead-back duties.
Damien Williams paced Kansas city RBs in touches in week one with 19, but it was LeSean McCoy who was the more effective of the two. McCoy turned his 11 touches into 93 total yards (8.4 yards per touch) as opposed to Williams who was only able to churn out 65 yards (3.4 yards per touch).
The Chiefs can’t just forget about what Williams has done for them since they lost Kareem Hunt, but if his efficiency continues to be shadowed by McCoy’s it won’t be long before Shady is the one leading Kansas City RBs, not only in yards, but in receptions and red-zone opportunities as well.
5. Derrick Henry is inevitable
Another 75+ yard touchdown. Are you kidding me? I guess not. How many times do we have to see it before we believe our eyes? This one was enough for me.
Derrick Henry is a dog; there is no denying it.
Not only is he an absolute hammer on the goal line, he’s also a threat to zoom by your defense from anywhere on the field (20.93 mph on 75 yard touchdown reception in week one).
Henry turned his 20 touches against Cleveland into 159 total yards and two TD’s. Dion Lewis hardly competed for snaps or touches in this game.
Henry is the undisputed RB1 in Tennessee and I have him as a strong RB2 in fantasy going forward. Otherwise, I’m afraid I’ll go broke betting against him. I’ve labeled the Heisman-winner as a fluke in the past. I won’t make that mistake again.
6. Wentz making early MVP case
Journalists are supposed to be unbiased. But I can’t be, because I love Carson Wentz. There is one moment during the 2017 season I will never forget. At the time, Wentz was leading the league with 32 touchdown passes and was on his way to a league MVP title. It was a week 14 game against the Los Angeles Rams, Wentz tore his ACL on his opponents side of the field. Instead of heading to the locker room, he stayed in the game, proceeded to drive downfield, threw a touchdown, and then exited.
In a league with some incredibly talented QB’s like Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, and Dak Prescott showing out in week one, give me Wentz as my early favorite for MVP.
It was Wentz who willed his team to a victory in week one. Let’s be honest, that defense wasn’t doing him any favors. After entering the half down 20-7 against Washington, Wentz rallied his team to 25 unanswered points in the second half. He finished with 313 yards and three TDs, and the Eagles defeated the Redskins 32-27.
But seriously, 27 points allowed to the Redskins practice-squad of a starting offense? You were my start of the week Eagles defense, how could you? To be fair, Case Keenum has already earned my respect, plus Terry McLaurin looks legit and Derrius Guice didn't look himself. But that spectacular Vernon Davis hurdle TD was nothing but the result of poor tackling.
Either way, Wentz looks like he’s returned to that form, and that could be a scary thing for this league. Desean Jackson looks right at home as Wentz’s deep-threat (two 50+ yard TDs in week one, zero people surprised), Alshon Jeffery and his vice-grip hands are locked in to the possession WR/red-zone threat role, combine that with one of the best pass-catching tight ends in football in Zach Ertz and… Do you smell that? It smells like a recipe for fantasy success for Carson Wentz.
7. Todd Gurley is still the lead back... I think.
What many fantasy owners feared with the announcement of Gurley’s dialed-back workload came to fruition on Sunday. While he still produced 101 total yards on 15 touches, Gurley was the victim of two vultured TD’s via second-string RB Malcolm Brown.
The confusing thing about it was that Brown had more carries (11) than Gurley (9) by the time he scored his second TD. But make no mistake, once Carolina came knocking on the door, it was Gurley who got the call. He finished the game with the most snaps and most touches amongst Rams RBs. He looked excellent running the ball and was a decisive factor in Los Angeles’s win.
This approach to keep Gurley fresh is better for the Rams in real life than it will be for fantasy owners. Gurley will likely cede red-zone touches to his backups, but he won't be kept out of the endzone forever. I say be patient fantasy owners, Gurley will eat sooner or later.
8. Who the @#%! Is Gardner Minshew?
No, really, who the @#%! Is Garder Minshew? I actually don’t know. I wrote it down as one of my points while watching the games. Before Sunday, I had never heard of him.
I’m doing some research on him as I write this.
Here what I found: In 2018, Minshew led FBS in pass completions (433), pass attempts (613), passing yards per game (367.6) was second in passing yards (4,477) and finished in the top-five with 38 touchdowns. During the Alamo Bowl, Minshew broke the Pac-12 single season record for most passing yards, a record previously held by Jared Goff. - Wikipedia
Here’s what I saw on Sunday: the guy has some stones.
After Jaguars starting QB and former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles went down with what turned out to be a broken collarbone in week one, Minshew stepped up and delivered a respectable performance. Minshew’s 88 percent completion percentage on Sunday was the highest in NFL history for any player with atleast 15 pass attempts in their first game.
Minshew came out firing, going 22 for 25 with 275 yards, two TD’s and an interception in just over three quarters of play.
Although Jacksonville eventually fell to the Chiefs 26-40, it seems to me that Minshew just might breathe some fantasy-life into this Jaguars offense. He managed to get Dede Westbrook into the endzone, a good-sign for fantasy owners, but it was Chris Conley who was his favorite target. Conley finished with six receptions on seven targets for 97 yards and a TD.
DJ Chark also made a case for himself in this game. Chark caught all four of his targets for 141 yards (35 yards per catch), including a 35-yard TD from Foles on the play he was injured. Westbrook was the second-most targeted (24%) of the six players Minshew spread the ball to, but he only finished with five catches for 30 yards.
Westbrook should see better days in the future, especially if Minshew continues to play at a high level. However, it seems like he’s got more competition in the receiver-room than we expected.
9. Kyler Murray comes alive in the 4th, Showcases fantasy potential
After picking up just three first downs in three quarters, there wasn’t much light at the end of the tunnel for Arizona.
At one point in the second quarter the Lions muffed a punt, setting Murray and the Cardinals up ten yards away from the endzone. Still, they could not manage a first down and ended up settling for a field goal.
Entering the fourth quarter trailing the Lions 24-6, things were not looking good for Kyler. He had completed just nine of his 25 pass attempts for 70 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. Then, Murray came alive.
He led his team to 18 unanswered points, tossing touchdowns to fantasy studs Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson to send the game into over time. He drove down the field and helped his team score first in overtime, but the game eventually ended in a 27-27 tie.
In 4Q/OT, Murray went 20/29 for 238 yards and 2 touchdowns. Murray didn’t win the game for his team, but he didn’t lose it, which is more than some teams around the league can say about their quarterback this week.
The most encouraging thing I saw, from a fantasy perspective, was how when it counted, Murray got the ball to his stars. Fantasy owners love to see that, especially the ones who own David Johnson. He delivered a classic DJ performance with 134 all-purpose yards, six receptions and a touchdown. His day could have been even bigger had he not gotten careless and been forced out of bounds on a sure touchdown run.
Murray showed grit in his first NFL start and he projects to give this Cardinals offense a nice boost in fantasy.
10. Brady and AB, match made in heaven?
Antonio Brown gets signed by the Patriots. You could not imagine a more fantasy friendly sentence if you tried.
We know the kind of player Brady is, an elite quarterback, a quarterback with the ability to throw for over 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in a season. He now has a collection of weapons (Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Brown and Demaryius Thomas) that has never been so deep, even without Gronk. Brown, Thomas and Gordon were each voted first-team all-pro in 2013.If you played Edelman, Gordon or Phillip Dorsett on Sunday, you know Brady has it in him to support three fantasy-relevant wide receivers at once.
We know the kind of player Brown is, a player that’s paced his position in fantasy points for half a decade. Since 2013, Brown averages 114 catches, 1,524 yards and 11 touchdowns per season.
Put the two together and I shouldn’t even need to tell you how the sky is the limit. AB will have competition for targets like never-before and this could turn out to be a very short-lived tenure, but maybe, just maybe, it could be the greatest fantasy season by a wide receiver we’ve seen in a long time. Hopefully you held on to him.
Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins scores one of his three touchdowns ( Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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.