Stealing Signals: Week 1, NFC
Identifying and acting on underdiscussed early-season trends can be a huge boost to building a championship fantasy football roster. Here are the moves I’m considering and the things I’m watching in Week 1.
Green Bay Packers
We have a pretty good idea what the pass-catching corps will look like, so the big question is how the running back workload splits out. Rookie Jamaal Williams looked to have a line on substantial playing time in conjunction with Ty Montgomery until Montgomery played a high percentage of first-team snaps in the third preseason game. How much, if any, work fellow rookie Aaron Jones gets will also be of interest, as he looked to be the superior prospect to Williams.
There are a lot of workload question marks in Detroit, but a couple I’m most interested in are how much Kenny Golladay and Eric Ebron play, and what their involvement looks like.
Ebron is recovering from a hamstring injury originally suffered July 31, and missed basically all of August, returning to practice on Labor Day. He was very acquirable in August drafts, as the fantasy football community seemed to buy the concern around hamstring injuries lingering. The possibility the team was playing it safe with their breakout-candidate, fourth-year TE is an afterthought, but his Week 1 snap count should give us an indication as to his health.
Big involvement for the exciting rookie Golladay would go far to proving Heith Krueger’s thesis Golden Tate was overvalued based on fraudulent expected volume.
The other big thing to track is the snap count between Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. It seems a foregone conclusion for many Abdullah will lead the backfield in playing time this year, but if so, by how much?
A big storyline from preseason Week 3 was Stefon Diggs running routes on the outside, with Adam Thielen in the slot. My take on this is WRs move around a lot, and while we know Diggs was very efficient in the slot and a move to the outside probably isn’t great on the surface, we don’t know how permanent that is nor how he’ll fare out there.
It’s entirely possible the Vikings used him exclusively on the outside in pre-Week 3 out of a desire to work on that look; that interpretation suggests Diggs could still play in the slot a fair amount. Meanwhile, it’s also possible he’s plenty effective outside. He’s good.
Also keep an eye on the Dalvin Cook/Latavius Murray split. I explained yesterday why a rookie not getting massive work shouldn’t be a red flag, but the inverse would be pretty telling. Of course, in this case Murray isn’t fully healthy, so there’s another layer here.
There are available targets for days here. My guess is Zach Miller, Kevin White, and Kendall Wright get targeted most frequently, and are guys I’d speculatively add if you need WR or TE depth. The Bears might not be good, but targets drive fantasy scoring.
If you’re excited for Tarik Cohen after the Jeremy Langford release, you need to see him play ahead of Benny Cunningham. My expectation is Cunningham is the second RB in snaps, which makes Cohen a hard hold in redraft leagues.
Chris Carson was a preseason FAAB darling, but does he have a real shot to play in a backfield with Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, and C.J. Prosise? We’ll likely find out in Week 1, as Rawls isn’t fully healthy. If he’s more than a fourth RB on a crowded depth chart, he’d have to see some snaps when the listed starter is banged up, right?
Also, track the snap shares for Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett. Lockett is a little banged up himself; Richardson should be expected to outsnap him. If he doesn’t, that’s not a great sign for holding Richardson.
San Francisco 49ers
There’s a lot going on with the 49ers. Does Kyle Shanahan see Matt Breida as the Tevin Coleman to Carlos Hyde’s Devonta Freeman? Is Marquise Goodwin the new Taylor Gabriel?
While I’m making these flawed comparisons, what would that make Kyle Juszczyk, he of the massive contract and “offensive weapon” status, per GM John Lynch. After the release of Vance McDonald, is George Kittle a sleeper TE to own, or might Juszczyk play a hybrid RB/FB/TE role?
Bigger picture, I’m interested in the offense as a whole. I’m buying the Shanahan-Brian Hoyer combo a bit, as I mentioned on the August 21st Facebook Live. They get a cross-country traveling Panthers team at home in Week 1.
The No. 2 WR situation is notable, as John Brown, Jaron Brown, and J.J. Nelson all have some degree of claim on the role. It will likely be fluid, but snap counts could be interesting.
Otherwise, it’s probably David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald dominating everything.
Los Angeles Rams
Handcuffing is silly, but Malcolm Brown is one of the more overlooked backups in fantasy. Todd Gurley’s role should be massive, but Brown started pre-Week 3 and looks to have little competition for the No. 2 role. He’s worth a stash in deep leagues while monitoring the non-Gurley RB snaps.
Cooper Kupp had a strong preseason before a groin injury. It’s unclear if he plays, and where he slots in vis a vis Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Tavon Austin, if he does.
The Tyler Higbee/Gerald Everett TE rotation is also a situation to track. Until one’s a clear starter, I’m off both.
New Orleans Saints
|Year||WR TrgMS||TE TrgMS||RB TrgMS|
If Fleener’s going to make good on a strong second season in New Orleans, it would presumably need to start from the jump with Willie Snead out the first three weeks.
Ted Ginn and Brandon Coleman will also be interesting to watch, as will the playing time for Zero RB candidate Alvin Kamara.
What will Christian McCaffrey’s role be like? It’s one of the most debated storylines of the offseason. The Panthers haven’t thrown many passes to RBs in recent seasons, so we’ll need to see a shift there. And does he outsnap Jonathan Stewart from the jump?
Other storylines here include Kelvin Benjamin’s hold on a strong market share, and whether Devin Funchess or Curtis Samuel are involved enough to make themselves valuable and limit Benjamin’s ceiling.
With minor personnel changes, the early-season questions amount to whether the team is impacted by the offensive coordinator switch from Kyle Shanahan to Steve Sarkisian.
Joe Paeno likes Austin Hooper as a breakout TE, and his snap count and targets will be notable early on in his second season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs’ Week 1 game has been postponed, and we’re all obviously very concerned about the next major hurricane about to hit the U.S. after what Harvey did to the Houston area.
From a fantasy perspective, it pushes Doug Martin’s return out to Week 5, and means we’ll have to wait a week to see what kind of opportunity new additions DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard, and Chris Godwin get, as well as how the split between Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims goes in Martin’s absence.
I know as much about the Ezekiel Elliott situation as everyone else, which is to say nothing. The pass-catching hierarchy looks unchanged at the top from 2016.
Wendell Smallwood has some potential to make noise this season, but we’ll have to see how much he plays alongside LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles — two backs on the wrong side of 30 — in Week 1.
Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith have been uninspiring WRs the past two seasons, but both have plenty of opportunity heading into a new year.
I’m also curious if Zach Ertz, with less target competition than ever, is capable of producing before December.
New York Giants
While Odell Beckham’s hobbled, we’ll get a glimpse of what kind of form Brandon Marshall is in, and what it means for Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram. If Marshall hasn’t lost too much, the young guys will have trouble competing for targets when Beckham returns.
Shane Vereen is another example of pass-catching backs who could lead their backfields in snaps. The Giants ran one single play last year with more than one back on the field. If Vereen plays as much as he did in 2015 and early 2016, it’s not a great sign for Paul Perkins.
There are a lot of changes in Washington, but the biggest question is simply whether they’ve ironed out the preseason issues. Fantasy drafters have been high on this offense, with Terrelle Pryor, Jordan Reed, and Jamison Crowder all going in the early-to-mid rounds. It was already going to be difficult for all three to return value, but would be substantially worse if the offense is as out of sync as it looked in the preseason.
Meanwhile, does Rob Kelley have enough playing time to be worth starting? Or will Chris Thompson take too many snaps with Samaje Perine rotating into some early-down work?
And what about Josh Doctson’s snaps? He’s listed behind Ryan Grant on the depth chart. Keep tabs on how that develops.