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. Someone please get Eli off the field
Plain and simple, Eli Manning has got to go. It’s harsh, I know. Believe me, I used to love Eli. I would even go as far as to call him my hero when the Giants took down the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. But I can’t watch him play football anymore. It literally hurts my eyes.
He has ranked well below average in passer rating the last three seasons (no higher than 21st among qualified QB’s since 2016) and he’s never been very efficient (no less than ten interceptions in a season since 2004, three seasons with 20+ interceptions) but he’s got two Super Bowl rings, right?
So, there must be something in there worth holding on to… Right?
The Giants must think so, since they’re willing to look past the fact that they haven’t won more than half of their games in five of the past six seasons. Even though he’s visibly capping the Giants offense and limiting Saquon Barkley’s unbelievable potential, the Giants just will. not. let. go.
Saquon is literally averaging more yards per carry (7.8) than Eli is averaging yards per completion (6.2) and most of the time they’re playing against stacked boxes! Yet they throw the ball with Eli 45 times a game, and give it to Barkley less than 20. It’s kind of ridiculous when you hear yourself say it out loud.
How much longer are the Giants going to delay the inevitable, and at what cost? Eli has been ineffective for years, and he’s not going to get any better. The writing is on the wall, Manning is way past his prime. It’s time for him to go.
2. The 49ers backfield is an enigma
With Tevin Coleman injured for the foreseeable future, fantasy owners were excited to see Matt Breida have the backfield to himself. Breida played well against the Bengals, 132 yards on 13 touches (10 yards per touch). Unfortunately for fantasy owners, he was the victim of not one, not two, but three vultured TD’s on Sunday. Backup Jeff Wilson scored two short rushing TDs, while Raheem Mostert scored a 30 yard rushing TD. Mostert also scored a 30 yard receiving TD but it was called back.
So things didn’t shake out the way we expected them to for Breida, but to tell the truth, I’m not convinced Raheem Mostert isn’t the best back they have in San Fran, and Breida is really good. Mostert had the most touches by 49ers RB’s on Sunday (13 carries 83 yards, 3 receptions, 68 yards and one TD). This isn’t the first time we’ve seen him vulture TD’s and it probably won’t be the last.
The point here is, this is one of the deepest committees in the league and it will, no doubt, be impossible to predict each week. With Colemans inevitable return, things will only get worse. If you were counting on a San Francisco RB in fantasy this year, I feel bad for you son.
3. Lamar Jackson = QB1
As far as I’m concerned, in fantasy, Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes are in a tier of their own. They’re simply playing football at a level we’ve never seen.
In week one, Jackson got it done with his arm (158.3 passer rating). In week two, he was unleashed.
On Sunday against the Cardinals, Lamar Jackson became the only player in NFL history with 250+ passing yards and 120+ rushing yards in a single game.
With his historic performance, Jackson displayed just how high his ceiling is. We’ve seen Cam, we’ve seen Mike Vick, we’ve seen Randall Cunningham. But never before has a player done what Lamar Jackson did in just his ninth NFL start. And he even said he thought he could have had a better game!
I honestly would not be surprised if he broke his own record at some point this season, throwing for 300 and rushing for 150… It’s insane to think that something like that is not far-fetched for any player. But that’s just how good Jackson is.
He’s got weapons around him, he’s making smart decisions, accurate throws and he’s winning games (8-1 as a starter). Most importantly, he’s been a pleasure to watch.
I’ve got a feeling his 64.5 fantasy points through two weeks (32.2 PPG) is just the beginning of something very special.
4. Dak is no fluke
On Sunday against the Redskins, Dak Prescott continued his hot-start to the 2019 season, throwing for 269 yards, three TD’s, and rushing for 69 yards on five carries. Prescott’s 59 fantasy points through two weeks trails only Lamar Jackson (64).
Dak’s ADP was round 11 this year. He is currently QB 2. His upcoming schedule includes games against Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia and the Jets all within the next five weeks. With the Dallas offense firing on all cylinders, Dak is starting to look like one of this years biggest steals. If you were lucky, or smart enough, to nab him late in your draft, then kudos to you.
5. Minshew is a DOG
Held out of the end-zone all day, no timeouts, fourth and ten, 52 seconds on the clock. What do you do? A lesser quarterback might have folded, but Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew refused to quit.
After a rough outing in Houston where he was sacked four times and held to less than 200 passing yards through four quarters, Minshew got an opportunity to show what he was made of.
On their last drive, he came in clutch. Minshew put up 22 yards on the ground, plus 32 yards and a touchdown through the air, including an 18-yard run on fourth and ten. But the most important takeaway is that he marched the Jaguars down the field, and got them in the end-zone on the one drive they needed it most.
Jacksonville ended up losing the game 12-13 after a failing to convert a two-point attempt. The Jaguars struggled to run the ball all game but perplexingly decided to give the ball to Leonard Fournette (15 rushes for 47 yards) instead of putting the game in the hands of their quarterback that just put together a game winning drive. Either way, the loss isn’t on Minshew.
The guy is a competitor and a dog. He has the highest completion percentage for a rookie through his fist two games since 1970, and he has my respect.
7. Either the Packers defense is good, or Kirk sucks
Through two weeks, the Packers defense has allowed only one passing TD and just 19 points. In those same two weeks, Kirk Cousins has thrown for just 328 yards, two TD’s and two interceptions. So, did the Packers defense play good two weeks in a row? Or did Cousins just play bad two weeks in a row?
I say it could be a little bit of both.
The additions of players like Za’Darius Smith and Darnell Savage have certainly brought some life to this Green Bay unit. But on the other hand, they have only been faced with Mitchell Trubisky, and a self-sabotaging Kirk Cousins so far. Still, six sacks, three interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, a block and just 19 points allowed for 22 fantasy points through two weeks is encouraging to see from a defense. This unit should have the opportunity to capitalize/cash-in on some weak matchups this year.
But back to Kirk… Last week, he threw for just 98 yards in a game where the Vikings didn’t need him to throw, this week he turned the ball over three times in a game where they did. I don’t know that I’m ready to throw in the towel on Cousins just yet, but the Vikings might not be as patient. Minnesota paid him a LOT of money to be the guy for them and he’s just 9-8-1 as their starter. He won’t last long if he can’t find a way to overcome the tough defenses of the NFC North.
Minnesota is averaging the least wide receiver targets in the NFL through two weeks (23) yet; Theilen and Diggs are managing to somewhat stay afloat. Their weekly ceilings are obviously limited by the run first approach, these two receivers caught 100 balls each last year, but given this small sample size, it doesn’t look like they’re very likely to duplicate that success this season. I know it’s early, but things are trending in the wrong direction for the Vikings passing attack.
8. Aaron Jones has officially been freed.
Aaron Jones set a new career-high for touches in a game this week with 27 against Minnesota. He racked up 116 yards on 23 carries and caught four passes for 34 yards. He is currently tied for the third-most carries in the league. Ladies and gentlemen, Aaron Jones has been freed.
It’s crazy that it took this long for him to even have 20 carries in a game. If I knew this was the game he’d finally be freed, I would have never put him on the sit list!
Despite suffering a stolen touchdown via Jamaal Williams, Jones still had a solid fantasy day, putting up RB1 numbers thanks to RB1 volume against a Vikings defense that is solid versus the run. The week one game against Chicago where Jones was bottled up could prove to be an outlier. I for one am very excited to see what Aaron Jones can do with the workload we saw from him this week.
He faces a tough Denver run defense in week three, but I’ve got all the confidence in the world rolling Jones out from now on. Thank God for Matt LeFleur.
8. Kyler Murray = NFL QB
The legend of Kyler Murray continues. He became the first rookie to record 300 passing yards in back to back games to begin his career, since Cam Newton.
The rookie has 94 pass attempts through two weeks… I don't know off the top of my head but that's got to be some sort of record.
An important takeaway is that he didn’t turn the ball over against a solid Ravens defense. The ones benefitting the most from Murray’s high-level play are his receivers.
The Cardinals lead the league in wide receiver targets through two weeks and its not even close (73, Falcons second with 59). In week two, Murray was 4-5 for 159 yards on deep passes. Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald each had at least five catches and over 100 yards in week two, and have 44 targets between the two of them so far in 2019. The Cardinals are running four-receiver sets at a higher rate than anyone in the NFL currently. Damiere Byrd and KeeSean Johnson are each benefitting as well.
Murray once again helped his team find the end-zone in the fourth, but Lamar Jackson and the Ravens didn’t give them a chance to get the ball back, and eventually won 23-17.
So far, Murray has a tie that felt like a win, and a one-possession loss. If he keeps playing the way he’s playing, it’s only a matter of time before the wins follow.
9. Wentz robbed of back-to-back game winning drives
Wentz and the Eagles got off to an ugly start yet again in week two. They were held to six points in the first half thanks Wentz’s two interceptions on throws that were highly uncharacteristic of him. He definitely missed Desean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery in this game, who exited early due to injury. But, rest assured, when it came down to it, Wentz was money.
On a go-ahead drive late in the fourth quarter, he went 8-8 passing for 72 yards; a rushing first down and a rushing td. One throw he made on a third and long during the drive, was absolutely mind-boggling. Wentz escaped the pocket, had a defender dragging him down to his knees, and a centimeter before he hit the deck, he delivered a strike to Mack Hollins for the most clutch first down of the game.
Unfortunately for him, his defense thought it would be a good idea to give Julio Jones an inch of space and it cost them a 50-yard touchdown. So with two minutes left on the clock, Wentz was called on to do it again.
Let me be very clear about this, the Eagles should have had a touchdown on the first play of this drive and walked away 2-0. Wentz delivered one of the most perfectly placed balls I’ve ever seen thrown, to receiver Nelson Agholor in stride, the only problem was Agholor forgot to catch it.
Soon enough, they found themselves faced with a fourth and 13, in classic fashion, Wentz escaped pressure and heaved a well-placed deep shot to Nelson Agholor, who was able to hang on this time. The Eagles eventually lost on a fourth and seven try. Zach Ertz came within inches, but he shouldn’t have had to.
If Agholor catches the first pass of their last drive, Carson Wentz is a hero and scores four second-half TD’s to get his team another come from behind win. Instead, he is 1-1.
10. Brees and Big Ben go down, Fantasy Football suffers
Fantasy owners watched in horror this week as Drew Brees and Big Ben went down with injuries. Those fantasy owner fears were confirmed on Monday when the teams announced their diagnosis. Drew Brees will miss at least six weeks with a hand injury while the doctors decide whether or not he needs surgery, while Big Ben will have elbow surgery and has already been ruled out for the rest of the 2019 season.
Not only does this affect fantasy owners that had Brees and Ben, but it’s also a devastating blow for their respective offenses as well. JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner had already begun the season on a relatively quiet note, but with Big Ben now out, I’m not so sure things are going to get better for them. JuJu goes from a top-five WR down to a top-10 for me, while Conner moves from a top-ten running back to a top-20.
The Saints, on the other hand, I’m less worried about. I still think Kamara and Michael Thomas possess elite value, even without Brees on the field.
Michael Thomas is the most targeted wide receiver through two weeks (26) and just finished with 89 yards on ten catches in a game where Brees hardly played. I’d also expect Latavius Murray’s role to increase in order to accommodate Brees’s absence. As we know, this approach also helps take pressure off Kamara and allows him to thrive.
However, I definitely would not recommend playing Bridgewater or Mason Rudolph to replace either of the two injured QB’s. You're better off working a trade for someone like Jared Goff or Baker Mayfield.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is sacked by the Seahawks' Branden Jackson in the first quarter Sunday. Roethlisberger sat out the second half with an elbow injury. - Chaz Palla - Tribune Review
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.