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. Winston/Mariota's time is up
Since being selected first and second overall in the 2015 draft, it's been a bumpy road for Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. After a promising first two seasons, there was little doubt that these two would develop in to franchise QB's. After four years, it may be time to call it.
Both QBs have lost more games than they've won (Mariota: 30-33, Winston: 23-37), and both have turned the ball over nearly as many times as they've scored (Mariota: 87-59, WInston: 109-84).
The more I look in to it, the less I think Mariota, who actually has a playoff win under his belt, needs to be shopped as much as Winston, who leads the NFL in turnovers since being drafted. But he's not completely off the hook.
Mariota has two games with a 129+ passer rating this season, but those games came against Atlanta and Cleveland, his two easiest matchups thus far. Over the last two seasons, any time Mariota finds himself matched up with a halfway decent defense he can hardly generate more than 150 yards of total offense to save his life. And I'm not just being mean. In 14 games last season Mariota averaged 180 passing yards per contest. If you remove the two 300-yard games that year, it would be just 156 per game. Does that sound like a franchise QB to you?
Last year, he took 42 sacks (tied for eighth-most), this year he's taken 25... In six games (most in the NFL). He's currently on pace to take 67 sacks in 2019. That would have led the NFL last season. Sure, you can blame the Titans O-line, who have been brutal this season, but if you watch the tape, a lot of the sacks are Mariota's fault and his fault alone. He's simply too non-chalant in the pocket, his sense of pressure is almost non-existent at times. He's holding the ball for too long. I can appreciate never giving up on the play, but at a certain point, you gotta know when to fold 'em. As a rookie/sophomore these things can be somewhat excused as him still developing, but at this stage of his career, it's a problem. It's no wonder he was benched for Ryan Tannehill in week six.
Believe it or not, there was a time where Mariota was my favorite NFL QB, I even have his jersey to prove it. In fact, I have two. I'll never forget when he scored 35 fantasy points against the Jaguars in his rookie season, thanks to a 70-yard rushing TD. I was in awe. Winston on the other hand, I find hard to watch.
Winston was exactly as advertised coming out of FSU. He was labeled as a cannon-arm prototype QB with franchise potential, but the turnovers were a concern. Five years in, and he just can't seem to escape his turnover-prone, head-scratching decision making nature. In week six against the Panthers, Winston set a single-game career-high with six turnovers. He now has 12 interceptions in six games, putting him on pace to throw 32 this season. While he's more likely to put up gaudy numbers than Mariota (4,000+ passing yards in each of his first two seasons), he's also much more likely to cost his team the game with a poor decision. His turnovers, win-loss ratio, and downright ugly play at times speaks for itself.
NFL analyst Daniel Jeremiah said it best, Mariota misses too many layups, and Winston takes too many threes. I think it's been enough time for these two teams to know what they have in their first round quarterbacks: busts. It may be too early for them to give up on the season, but it's definitely time for the Bucs and Titans to start looking at other options, because neither Winston or Mariota are the answer..
2. Nothing makes sense in London: part two
Let's see, what didn't make sense this time? Well, for starters last time the Panthers and Bucs met, the Bucs defense bullied Panthers offense... When they actually had their starting QB. This time, not so much.
What else? Christian McCaffery was held under 60 total yards. He came in to this week averaging 172 per game... Sure, he scored two TD's, but after his second quarter receiving touchdown, he was held to -5 yards on his next 12 carriers.
How about another? Coming in to week six, Jameis Winston had four straight games with 100+ passer rating and a 10-2 TD/INT ratio over that span. Sure enough, he makes it to London and has a career-high six turnovers.
To be fair, I was expecting Winston to come crashing down hard sooner or later, and McCaffery was already held to a low yardage total by the same defense earlier in the year, but still, nothing makes sense in London.
3. Terry McLaurin: Fantasy Superstar
I sat Julian Edelman on Thursday night to play Terry McLaurin on Sunday, and I was losing my mind all week after Edelman went off for 20 PPR points. Thoughts racing through my head: Wow, I’m dumb. How can I expect to provide people with fantasy advice if I’m over here sitting my studs? What kind of guru am I?
Come one o'clock Sunday afternoon, McLaurin put my mind at ease. Scary Terry opened this game up with a 25-yard touchdown on his first reception. He scored a 33-yard touchdown on his next catch. He finished the day with a gorgeous 4 catch, 100 yard, two TD stat line.
Forget being unbiased, because theres not a player I get more excited about scoring a TD than Terry McLaurin. Not only has he been excellent in fantasy, but just in case you haven't been reading the Sunday takeaways, he also set a record as the only rookie WR in NFL history to begin his career with five catches, over 50 yards and a touchdown in each of his first three games. I suspect it would have been four in a row if he wasn't held out of his week four game versus the very generous New York Giants with an injury.
His worst game this year was three catches for 51 yards, which is actually pretty impressive considering it was against the Patriots, who are currently in the same conversation as the 2000 Ravens and '85 Bears as one of the best defenses of all time (seriously, look it up). New England didn't give up a passing TD until this week when Daniel Jones delivered a perfect floater to Golden Tate (who is suddenly on the flex radar by the way). Had McLaurin scored on them with Case Keenum as his quarterback, all hell would have broken loose and he'd be drawing Odell Beckham-type comparisons, as far as rookies go.
In week six, McLaurin averaged 25 YPC. Clearly, he's got speed to burn (4.3 40-yard dash), excellent route running skills (like, really excellent), contested catch ability (when he hasn’t completely blown by his defender) and, oh yeah, he went to Ohio state. Who was the last Ohio State wide receiver that was heavily slept on after falling out of the first round? I think his name was Michael Thomas. I wonder how he's doing.
Terry went north of 100 for the second time this season, and now has five TD's in five games. He has no less than 50 yards in any game he's played. He's already played New England and scored a TD against Chicago. What I'm trying to say is, there are no longer any matchups on his schedule that scare me. And yes, I know he’s playing the 49ers next week.
McLaurin's 93.8 fantasy points through the first five games of his career are the most by any receiver since Randy Moss. That's more points than OBJ, who was downright legendary in his rookie season. The former Ohio State product is shaping up to be this seasons waiver-wire steal of the year. I personally have a LOT of stock invested in him, and you know what? I'll go on record and say Terry is my fantasy ride-or-die this year. And my new favorite player. Moving forward, I see no reason for him not to be locked in to your starting lineup.
4. Tyreek Hill/Hunter Henry make spectacular return to action
Tyreek Hill, oh my. After being drafted as many fantasy owners WR1, they had to watch in horror as he went down with an injury in week one. The same can be said of Hunter Henry who was a consensus top-five tight end coming in to this season. Both reminded us why they were so highly regarded in week six, and boy did it feel good.
If you waited for Tyreek, you were rewarded on Sunday. Hill's first catch of the day was a mind-boggling grab over two Texans defenders, that he somehow turned in to a TD. He finished the day with five catches on 10 targets for 80 yards and two TD's. It should go without saying that, as Patrick Mahomes top target, he should be locked in as a top 5-7 fantasy receiver from here on out. After a ridiculous 30 PPR points (eight catches, 100 yards, two TD's) in his return from injury, Henry should slide right in to the same range for tight ends.
Unlike Hill however, I wouldn’t invest too much stock in Henry due to his injury history, but unless you have yourself a Kelce, Kittle, Ertz, Engram, Waller, Hooper or Andrews, I see no reason not to plug Henry in each week. Until you can’t.
5. Odell Beckham not concerned with winning
Maybe this isn't news to some. But to me, it seems like Odell is more worried about making cool plays and putting up numbers for himself than he is with winning games. I saw him as a frustrated superstar being held back in New York. In Cleveland, it's become clear to me he's a pre-madonna who only cares about his personal stats and fame. He strikes me as the type of guy to celebrate a fifteen yard gain when his team is down by 20. He’s never more animated than he is when one of his plays gets called back. Except when he catches a kicking net looking at him the wrong way. Forget the fact that Baker is playing like a dumpster fire, and they're losing games left and right. To Odell Beckham, it's the Odell Beckham show.
Now, this has nothing to do with fantasy, as those numbers he wants are exactly what you're looking for. He had 100 yards this week, which was his second time hitting the mark this season. But I personally don't see him as a top-10 WR , especially given the way the Browns are playing. Not only am I down on him because I don't like him as a person anymore, but so far this season he has just one TD. After the game he had in week six, it might be a good time to sell him with the promise of WR1 value. I wouldn't be so hopeful if I was the one hanging on to him.
6. 49ers defense is scary good
I know they've played extremely well to this point, but holding the Rams to less than 150 total yards? That's something else entirely. Jared Goff finished with just 78 passing yards in week six. The same guy who threw for 500+ just two weeks ago. After that performance, San Fran is allowing the least passing yards per game (150.2), ten less yards than the New England Patriots. They are allowing just three more total yards per game than the Pats this season. Surely, I don't have to tell you how good New England has been. (See 3. Terry McLaurin: Fantasy Superstar, paragraph four)
The Niners are no less than fifth in fewest fantasy points allowed to any position. Sixth if you count kickers. It's a ridiculous turn-around from 2018 when the Niners were a top-10 matchup for every position except TE. For the past two seasons, you would lick your chops when you saw them on the upcoming schedule, but now it's the complete opposite.
Shockingly, the 49ers, depsite being the number two D/ST in fantasy, are available in 58.5 percent of ESPN leagues. I'll uh... Be right back.
7. Jets offense has life with Darnold
How bout them Cowboys? Playing in his first game since contracting mono (typing that made me laugh) Sam Darnold balled out against Dallas with 338 yards and two touchdowns, including a 92-yard TD to Robby Anderson which was the longest play from scrimmage this season.
Not only did Anderson shine with Darnold back at the reigns, but Jamison Crowder (15.8 PPR points) and Demaryius Thomas (10.2 PPR points) each had encouraging games as well. And just like that, there are several fantasy-relevant names worthy of flex consideration in the Meadowlands.
Le'Veon Bell, on the other hand, had another lackluster showing. It was concering to see him catch just one pass after averaging seven per game prior to this week, but now that Darnold is playing, it should open up things for him as well. My reasoning being that Darnold is enough of a threat as a passer that teams can't sell out to stop the run. The Cowboys learned that the hard way.
Unfortunately for them, Bell and the Jets face off against New England next week. So for Bell owners, things should get worse before they get better. I'm still holding out hope that Bell gets it going by the end of the year, but with each passing week, I'm losing more and more patience. I labeled him as a buy-low last week, but if this keeps up for another two weeks, he should basically be free.
8. Matt Ryan... QB1?
In a league filled with QBs playing as good as Russell Wilson (15 TD's, no INT), Deshaun Watson (leading the league with 17 total TD's), Lamar Jackson (only player to ever throw for 200 yards and rush for 150+ in a single game), and Patrick Mahomes (literally a threat to break a single-game passing record every week), give me Matt Ryan as my fantasy QB1 for the rest of the season.
He's currently the only remaining QB to throw for 300+ yards in every game this year. Right now he's on pace for over 5,000 yards, yet his team is 1-5. Can the man get an MVP vote or something? Thanks to his god awful defense, Ryan has to single handedly fight to keep his team in the game every week. In the third quarter, the Falcons were down 27-10, they had 7% chance of winning at that point, and if not for a Matt Bryant missed extra point, they might have. Instead Ryan fell victim to factors he couldn't hope to control, yet again.
Ryan still has at least eight games left to play indoors this season, and as long as his defense continues to give up points at an alarming rate, he will continue to have to put up 300 passing yards every week. Unsurprisingly, he has 30 fantasy points in back to back weeks. He has no teams on his remaining schedule that should scare you (except week 15 against the 49ers, assuming they haven’t cooled down by then). In a league with some highly-mobile fantasy friendly QBs, I'll take the former MVP pocket-passer as my bet to finish as QB1 at the end of the season.
9. Stefon Diggs out of the dog-house, JuJu takes his place
This past Sunday, Stefon Diggs exploded for seven catches 167 yards and three TD’s, Diggs’s first career three TD catch game. And, of course, it came at a time where everybody had lost all their trust in him. It's safe to say he's returned from the fantasy dog house. But I wouldn't expect those kind of numbers each week. After all, he only gets to play the Eagles once. Still, he seems to have re-established himself as a WR2. Granted, a risky one, but clearly one that offers elite upside.
JuJu on the other hand... It's been rough. Like, really rough. One catch, for seven yards in week six? ONE CATCH?! SEVEN YARDS JUJU?!?! It marks the second time he's been held under 16 yards this season. To be fair, every other game he's had no less than 75 yards, but he also hasn't had more than 84 so far. It's not his fault he lost Big Ben and Mason Rudolph, but jeez man. If this is an inidication of things to come, I'm selling immediately. You never saw DeAndre Hopkins suffer catching passes from the collection of QBs he had to deal with before the Texans found their savior in Deshaun Watson. Which begs the question, is JuJu WR1 material? With a good QB, absolutely. Without one, I'm not so sure. He has a bye next week but then he gets a dream matchup with the Miami Dolphins, and if he flops in that game... Well, its good riddance for me.
10. The Steelers defense is legit
Double-digit fantasy points in three straight weeks? You don't say. Two or more turnovers in every game since acquiring Minkah Fitzpatrick? Shut the front door. They shut the Chargers out in the first half on Sunday Night? Eh, I guess thats not so surprising.
Still, with names like Minkah Fitzpatrick, TJ Watt, Joe Haden, Cameron Heyward, Devin Bush, and Bud Dupree flying around, there is a lot to get excited about. Who would have thought Pittsburghs defense would be the strength of their team? There's obvious concern that the Steelers QBs won't be able to keep this defense off the field very often, but they're certainly worth a look each week. They're not scaring anyone in terms of yards or points allowed but the propensity for high sack and turnover totals makes them a promising play in fantasy, especially if the matchup is right.
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.