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. Joe Burrow robbed of game-winning drive
2020 first overall selection Joe Burrow struggled at times during his NFL debut. Being the competitor he is, Burrow graded his own performance with a D after the game. But, aside from a highly questionable shovel pass that went directly to Chargers all-pro linebacker Melvin Ingram, there wasn’t anything egregious about his performance.
In fact, it could be argued that when it mattered most, Burrow played like a vet.
With no timeouts left and the game on the line, Burrow showed the world why he was the first player off the board in 2020.
Joe Cool began his first NFL two-minute drill with a rush for seven yards. He then proceeded to go 8 for 10 for 79 yards, leading the Bengals all the way down to the three-yard line before throwing the would-be game winning TD to AJ Green.
"That guy doesn't flinch. The way he handled himself in that last drive was unbelievable," Green said. "We've got a special one in Joe."
It is impressive to receive that kind of praise from a ten-year veteran, it's even more impressive to play the way Burrow did, in crunch time (of your first pro game), against one of the most talented secondaries in the NFL.
Unfortunately for Burrow, the Bengals didn't win that game thanks to (arguably) the softest push-off call of all time. The call was against Green, who was playing in his first game since week nine of 2018. But the call wasn't to blame for the Bengals loss.
Burrow put them well within field goal range to tie the 13-16 game and send it to OT. But ultimately, it was out-of-shape kicker Randy Bullock that biffed a game-tying chip shot and subsequently hurt himself on the same play.
The Bengals walked away devastated. But NFL fans and fantasy owners walked away encouraged.
Green proved to be Burrows favorite receiver, leading the team with nine targets. And Burrow proved to be more than capable of getting him the ball.
On paper, there was nothing spectacular about Green's week one game. But when it counted, Burrow knew where to look. On the aforementioned last drive of the game, Green made a beautiful catch. It was the type of eye-popping catch that would silence anybody claiming he had lost a step. It ended up being just out of bounds. If things went slightly more his way, Green would have finished with about 18 PPR points in week one.
Not bad for someone who hasn’t played in two years. Especially considering it was against (arguably) the best CB tandem in football.
Green is a high-end WR3 at this point, with the potential to shoot all the way up the ranks in a few weeks time. If the Green owner in your league didn't pay close attention on Sunday, chances are he's available for a discount price.
Burrow is more exciting for real-life football purposes than he is for fantasy, at least in the short term. BUT after seeing the way he handled himself in the most crucial moments of the game, I wouldn't be surprised to see him finish with a few top-ten weeks this season.
I'm willing to bet he'll get another shot at a game-winning drive, and when he does, he'll complete it.
Photo courtesy of sports.yahoo.com
Burrow evades defenders on his way to a 23-yard rushing TD in his NFL debut.
2. James Robinson is legit
This guy James Robinson joined the Jaguars team (within the last month) as an un-drafted rookie and locked up the starting running back job. You knew he had to be some type of dog right then and there.
He confirmed that to be quite clear after hurdling a defender and picking up 28 yards on his only catch of the day.
Robinson handled 100 percent of the Jaguars carries on Sunday. He was the only player in the league to do so in week one.
To be fair, he is on the Jaguars where there clearly isn't much competition, and the offensive line is beyond questionable. So, it's not surprising that he didn't garner much fantasy attention (rostered in just 29.1 percent of ESPN leagues at the moment) but he definitely should be on your radar now.
If you find yourself in need of an RB after week one (Le'Veon Bell and James Conner owners) you could do a lot worse than Robinson.
3. Super Cam is back!
Cam Newton began his Patriots career with a bang in week one. But, honestly, was anyone surprised?
Considering the wonders Pats OC Josh McDaniels has worked with QB's like Tim Tebow, Jacoby Brissett and Matt Cassel, what did you think was going to happen when you handed him a former league-MVP? An incredibly mobile former league-MVP at that.
In week one, Newton led his team in carries (15) and rush yards (75), finding the end zone twice with his legs. It could have been three times if he wasn't stuffed on the one-yard line before ultimately ceding the TD to Sony Michel.
Considering the amount of designed runs the Pats had for Newton, it’s not unreasonable to expect him to lead the team in rush TD’s this season.
Cam only threw for 155 yards in week one (15/19) and still scored 25.7 fantasy points. Imagine what happens when the game plan calls for both.
I don't think I saw one picture of Newton this offseason where he didn't have an ear-to-ear smile. This may be a moot point, but the last time I remember him being so smiley was 2015. He scored 45 total TD's and finished as QB1 that season.
With a coaching staff like New England's, and all the talent in the world, Super Cam has a legitimate shot to finish as a top-five QB this season.
I know it's early, but It’s beginning to look like Super Cam may have been THE single most undervalued player on draft day. (Round-13 ADP)
Hopefully you weren’t afraid to reach.
4. Starters outperformed by their depth chart inferiors
Zach Ertz, Nick Chubb, Marlon Mack, Antonio Gibson. One thing these players all had in common in week one? They were outplayed by their depth chart inferiors.
In Mack's case, he suffered a season ending injury that opened the door for his backup Johnathan Taylor to step into a prominent role. But even if that wasn't the case, Nyheim Hines still would have been on this list.
Even before Mack left the game, Hines had already scored a TD on the ground and through the air. I listed Hines as my top waiver claim for this week because not only do the Colts have the best O-line in football, Phillip Rivers also loves his pass catching RB's. (See Austin Ekeler, Melvin Gordon, Danny Woodhead, etc.) 37 percent of Rivers passes in week one went to a RB.
Hines had caught 107 passes in the two seasons prior to Rivers arrival. We probably should have seen this one coming from a mile away.
Speaking of seeing things coming from a mile away, Kareem Hunt yet again outscored Nick Chubb in fantasy.
Chubb is a great real life player, and if he had the backfield to himself, I firmly believe he is a true top-five fantasy RB. Unfortunately for his fantasy owners, he shares the backfield with another player I feel the exact same way about.
In week one, Hunt finished with more carries, yards, targets AND receptions than Chubb despite playing a fewer percentage of snaps. It was even more concerning for Chubb owners that this was not the case until AFTER Chubb fumbled the football.
Since week 11 last season, this has been a maddening split for anyone hoping for meaningful production out of Chubb. I mean, don't you just hate when they list a guy as the starter on the depth chart and then feed someone else? Kind of like Antonio Gibson and career-vulture Peyton Barber.
Gibson was a popular play this week as the Washington Football Team's (alleged) starting RB. But who was it that received the bulk of the carries despite playing the least amount of Washington's backfield snaps? That's right. PEYTON F@$#%N BARBER.
It's not that I was even using Gibson on any team this week, because I wasn't. But I have to say, Barber just grinds my gears. It seems like it doesn't matter where he is, or how buried he is on the depth chart. He'll find a way to steal the TD's.
I personally think he is one of the most average running backs I've ever seen (career AVG: 3.5 YPC). I cannot fathom why he got 17 carries on Sunday, but I can certainly fathom the fact he only picked up 29 yards (1.7 YPC) on those carries.
Yet, Barber manages to stay relevant once again because, apparently, he has some sort of hypnotic power that convinces the coaching staff of whatever team he's on to give him infinite carries inside the five. And wouldn't you know it? He scored twice and doubled Gibson's fantasy point totals.
Barbers YPC and catch percentage have declined in each season he's played as a pro, he's never made a significant impact as a receiver, and failed to impress the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 16 games as a starting running back.
I just. Don't. Get it.
Gibson did fine, (nine carries, 36 yards, two receptions, eight yards) but obviously you would have liked to see him get a little more love. Just like you would have liked to see Ronald Jones get more a little more love, all of last year.
I don't even want to think about the Washington/Philly game anymore, but I have to because I need to talk about the Eagles TE situation. So let's get this over with.
On Sunday, Zach Ertz caught Philly's first TD of the day in the first quarter. But that was about all we saw from him for the rest of the game. Ertz finished with just three catches for 18 yards.
Instead, it was Dallas Goedert who led the way against the Football Team with eight catches for 101 yards and a TD of his own, scoring 24.1 (PPR) fantasy points as opposed to Ertz's 10.8.
The TD came on a deep route where Goedert made an impressive speed turn adjustment that could make you say, "He's really a tight end?" Considering the fact Goedert finished as TE10 last season, and injuries to the Eagles receiving corps, it was no surprise to see him in an expanded role.
He impressed enough to leave many fantasy owners wondering, "Is this going to be a thing?"
Unlike Ertz, Goedert actually gets down the field. He showed in week one he's capable of outproducing Ertz, especially with defenses are keying on Ertz as the Eagles top weapon.
I listed Goedert as one of my top waiver claims this week because I believe this is legit. Ertz is still locked in as a TE1, no doubt about it. But so is Goedert, at least as far as I'm concerned.
5. Aaron Rodgers is a bad man... Again.
In week one, Aaron Rodgers reminded us exactly what he's capable of. Despite a lot of criticism surrounding his fantasy value this season (his ADP was QB14 on ESPN) Rodgers proceeded to throw for 364 yards and four TD's against a Vikings team that he had thrown just four TD's against in their last four meetings.
Many fans are wondering, is Rodgers back?
My answer? He never left.
Sure he's been lackluster the past two seasons as a fantasy QB. But as a real life QB, he has never shown signs of being anything but elite.
Despite concerns about declined production, Rodgers has never dipped below 62 percent completion percentage or a 93.8 QBR in a season. He hasn't throw for double-digit INT's in a season since 2010 (six total 2018-2019). He has also thrown for 25+ TD's in back to back seasons now.
In what many viewed as a down year for Rodgers last season, he finished as QB10 in fantasy, went 13-3 and made it to the NFC Championship.
After the Packers drafted a QB instead of a skill player in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft, anyone who knows anything about Aaron Rodgers had to see this one coming. He's going to use this season to make it clear: he's not going anywhere.
I'm not saying he plays like this every week, because a lot of this huge game has to do with the fact that the Vikings have an inexperienced secondary. BUT I am saying I expect him to once again finish as a top-ten fantasy QB.
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.