🌶️ SPICY Beat Reporter Predictions
Can it be Thursday night already?
So about those four offers that Kareem Hunt is reportedly deciding between…
In today’s Fantasy Life Newsletter presented by Rival Fantasy:
Spicy fantasy football burning questions from The Athletic
Cooper Kupp (hamstring) still considered day-to-day
Week 1 Utilization Report: Key situations to monitor
QUICK HITTER: Our Rankings are LIVE!
Week 1 Waiver Wire: Get these guys on your bench ASAP
It’s 9/5. Take it away, Ian Hartitz…
The Athletic dropped a spicy fantasy football column on Labor Day, asking their ever-excellent team of beat reporters to offer one important item to know for all 32 teams ahead of the season.
◽️ Will Mark Andrews remain Lamar Jackson's top target?
◽️ How will the reps in Detroit's revamped backfield play out?
◽️ Will Najee Harris' touches be limited?
What should you be worried about on each team as you go to draft your fantasy roster?
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic)
Sep 4, 2023
Of course, fantasy football Twitter/X didn’t take too kindly to all the information – because how are human beings supposed to rationally react to potentially bad news when our happiness literally depends on the outcome of our fantasy football leagues?
The following two items sounded some especially hostile alarms in fantasy land; let’s dive in to see if concern is warranted, or if involved fantasy managers can continue living their day-to-day lives with some semblance of optimism.
🤨 Kyle Pitts: No. 4 pass-game option in Atlanta?
Falcons beat reporter Josh Kendall concluded a question on where managers should draft Pitts with:
“I don’t see Pitts being any higher than fourth on this team in targets. Plus, he still must prove he’s healthy after last season’s surgery.”
While Pitts frustrated fantasy managers last season with his lack of production, the usage on hand was pretty hard to complain about:
TE most targets per route run in 2022 (min. 50 targets)
Kyle Pitts (26.5%)
Mark Andrews (25.4%)
Travis Kelce (25%)
Unfortunately, no TE had more uncatchable targets than Pitts last season (PFF), causing the 2021 NFL Draft’s No. 4 overall pick to fail in converting his big-time opportunities into big-time numbers.
Current Fantasy Life season-long projections do indeed have Drake London (118.5) leading the Falcons in targets, but Pitts (93.2) comes in well ahead of guys like Mack Hollins (63.8), Bijan Robinson (51.4) and Cordarrelle Patterson (29.9).
Pitts’ fantasy managers should indeed be concerned about the overall available pass-game volume inside of the league’s reigning second-most run-heavy offense since at least 2016. The assumption that Desmond Ridder will be a massive upgrade over Mariota is also iffy, considering he sure wasn’t last year.
It’d make sense if Pitts has to put forward some excellent efficiency to really make waves in fantasy football land because of the overall volume concerns in this passing game; just realize it’d be borderline coaching malpractice for this sort of talent to fall outside of Ridder’s top-three options in 2023.
😡 Texans expected to use a “platoon” system at RB?
The Athletic’s Mike Jones (who?) referenced the addition of longtime Bills RB Devin Singletary and noted that it's "Appearing as if Houston plans on going with a platoon."
While Jones did say Pierce should still start, anything close to a 50/50 split would really go against what we saw from the offense’s first-team preseason usage.
Dameon Pierce for PRESIDENT.
Played 7 drives with C.J. Stroud this preseason.
83% rush atts
67% route participation
100% short yardage
83% pass downs
Singletary will get more in a larger sample, but Pierce is distancing.
Top 12 upside if pass downs stick.
— Dwain McFarland (@dwainmcfarland)
Aug 28, 2023
The Texans’ decision to not bring back 2022 pass-down specialist Rex Burkhead opens up some fantasy-friendly opportunities in the passing game; it remains to be seen whether Pierce or Singletary – hell, maybe even Dare Ogunbowale – manages to seize a sizeable target share, or if things are destined to be split more evenly than fantasy managers would prefer.
Performance in pass pro could be a deciding factor: Pierce graded out as PFF’s sixth-worst pass-blocking RB among 60 qualified backs in 2023. Singletary ranked 12th.
I’m still happy to add Pierce in the middle rounds (especially on teams that started with three or more WRs inside of the first four rounds), but the absence of a true every-down role could limit his best-case ceiling inside of an offense not exactly expected to make a habit of lighting up scoreboards.
Player usage might just be one piece of the puzzle that is fantasy football analysis, but it’s probably the single biggest piece. Shocking but true: Players can’t score fantasy points without getting the football (Thanks Biden).
While we won’t be able to sink our teeth into regular season utilization until this time next week, Dwain is here with some key situations to monitor throughout Week 1.
We have tracked and analyzed every move NFL teams have made this offseason. Teams have signaled their intentions from free agency to the draft and provided clues on how things have progressed in training camp and preseason games.
Based on all those data points, we have a decent idea of how many teams will look on Week 1 (of course, there will be surprises), but there are still a handful of quality offenses with depth charts shrouded by ambiguity.
As we head into the biggest reveal week of the NFL season, here are the top situations where we hope to gain clarity.
🤔 Will a WR emerge as a clear-cut starter in Kansas City?
Kansas City was the most prolific passing attack in the NFL in 2022, but Travis Kelce was the only receiving option worthy of a guaranteed spot in your starting lineup.
JuJu Smith-Schuster finished as the 32nd WR in points per game (11.8) but was never able to carve out a large enough role to push higher. Smith-Schuster only topped an 80% route participation in half of the Chiefs’ games.
The lack of high-end route participation was a challenge across the board:
JuJu Smith-Schuster: 71%
Marquez Valdes-Scantling: 76%
Justin Watson: 38%
Skyy Moore: 25%
Kadarius Toney: 22%
We saw much of the same in four drives with Patrick Mahomes this preseason.
This utilization also mirrors recent comments from General Manager Brett Veach.
Chiefs GM Brett Veach said today Rashee Rice/Justyn Ross would start out as "package" players. The hope is they produce enough to graduate & become every-down WRs later in season. Right now, Skyy Moore is one of those every-down guys. Veach expects a "big jump" from Skyy this yr.
— Jesse Newell (@jessenewell)
Aug 30, 2023
All eyes will be on Moore this Thursday night against the Lions. The second-year WR steamed up draft boards this summer after failing to carve out a role on a bad receiving corps last season.
A 60% route participation would constitute a significant jump compared to his rookie season but would hardly be enough to make him a viable weekly starter in fantasy football.
If any of Toney, Rice, James, or Ross register a healthy route participation in Week 1, their valuation will skyrocket heading into Week 2.
🦁 How will the Lions split the RB workload?
We haven’t seen Detroit’s starting offense this preseason, leaving us to guess how they might divide snaps between Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery.
Gibbs is an electric playmaker with high-end passing-down chops, making him an excellent candidate to handle passing-downs. Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey were Gibbs’ closest two comps in the RB Super Model.
Interesting from Lions OC Ben Johnson on rookie RB Jahmyr Gibbs: "We might use Gibbs in some ways that people don’t quite think we might."
— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman)
Sep 2, 2023
While some are speculating this could mean more work for Gibbs at WR, that wouldn’t open up much more fantasy upside.
However, if the cryptic message we are missing in this tweet is Gibbs in a more prominent rushing role, including totes inside the five-yard line, that scenario would have astronomical fantasy implications.
I only have Gibbs projected for 39% of the rushing attempts with a 50% route participation. In that role, he lands at 14.2 fantasy points per game. There is a chance Gibbs is the lead back, with Montgomery spelling him.
If we bump Gibbs to 50% of the rushing attempts and 60% route participation, he catapults to 17.3 points per game.
If Gibbs edges out Montgomery in utilization against the Chiefs on Thursday night, he will enter the RB1 conversation in Week 2.
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🏥 Sometimes no news is the best news in fantasy football land. Health is wealth!
🧑⚕️ It’s concerning when any NFL player goes to see a “specialist”. Especially when they’re your first-round pick.
The Panthers could be without one of the league’s best pass rushers in Week 1. Pay the man!
🤯 DeVonta Smith could finish HOW HIGH in fantasy?! Matthew Berry has thoughts.
🍿 The Jets will deploy a pretty, pretty, pretty good RB duo in Week 1. Get your popcorn ready.
🎉 Happy retirement to this longtime Vikings TE. 50 career TDs is pretty great!
👀 One spot to view every NFL game’s betting, matchup and overall game information. Is that something that you might be interested in?
🤔 Official position change for the Saints’ do-it-all vulture. Surely the fantasy community won’t freak out about this.
🕰️ The clock continues to tick on one of the Super Bowl champion’s best players. Looking VERY iffy for Thursday night.
What’s the only thing cooler than scooping up the HOTTEST waiver wire picks of the week? Already having them on your bench because you, a scholar, listened to Chris and picked up these options before it became the hip thing to do.
You did it. You drafted your team and get excited every time you look at it.
Go ahead and take another look.
Each pick is a banger. You got every player at good value. Plus, opening kickoff is in a couple of days. Surely, you’ve got your starters ready to go.
So, now what?
Now, it’s time to shift from being a fantasy drafter to a fantasy manager.
Every week will give us new information. Injuries or changing roles will bring players on the waiver wire into the spotlight. And, as we learn more, I’ll pull all the data together to find the right waiver targets worth claiming.
I know it’s Week 1, and you (should) have your starting QB locked and loaded. But let’s say you drafted in mid-August. You know, when we had more confidence in some of the later options. So, if you need a spot starter, I’ve got a few choices.
❤️🔥 Jordan Love, Packers (at Bears)
Love has looked in command of the Packers’ offense throughout the preseason, and the Packers might have a shot in the NFC North. He (and the rest of the skill players) may be young, but against Chicago’s defense, their immaturity might not matter.
In 2022, the Bears allowed the third-most top-six finishes to opposing QBs (7). They were dead last in dropback success rate allowed and gave up the 11th-most passing yards per game. But Love’s rushing ability is what will put him in the fantasy spotlight.
Mobile passers (Daniel Jones, Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen, etc.) averaged 45.7 yards and a score against Chicago, and Love had a 10.8% scramble rate through the preseason.
He has the surrounding cast and innate talent to vault into the QB1 ranks after Week 1.
🔔🐄 Running Back
👀 Just In Case: Deon Jackson, Colts (vs. Jaguars)
The news about the Colts’ contingency plans may have gone under the radar with all of the Jonathan Taylor drama. Deon Jackson will start with Taylor out until Week 4 and Zack Moss on the mend.
While not the most effective runner (matched Rachaad White in yards after contact per attempt), Jackson’s 1.47 yards per route run (YPRR) on 34 targets ranked ahead of James Cook, Aaron Jones, and Rhamondre Stevenson.
The Jaguars ceded the eighth-most PPR points to RBs in ’22, giving Jackson an easy path to an RB1 start this season.
💪 Wide Receiver
🧀 Jayden Reed, Packers
Romeo Doubs’ injury makes Jayden Reed an easy click and stash to start the season.
Reports in May highlighted Reed getting slot reps with the first-team offense. We saw Love’s connection with Reed in early August, and he was on a trajectory to be a starter when Doubs was healthy. The rookie WR had the highest targets per route run (TPRR) of the WRs, and secured half of the looks from Love in obvious passing situations during the preseason.
Chicago gave up the third-most yards after catch per reception of any defense in ’22, and Reed ranked behind only Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Zay Flowers, and Jordan Addison from this draft class in the same metric.
With the Bears allowing an average of 55.5 yards to slot WRs last season, Reed has the volume and talent to be a viable fantasy asset in Week 1.
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— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB)
Sep 4, 2023