The Zen philosopher Basho once wrote . . . Ha! I’m just kidding. Unlike my last article, I won’t be funneling my analysis through Ancient Philosophy. Hence the Caddyshack reference. No, no, instead I’d like to take some time and share a few storylines in Week One that should have a significant impact on the 2018 fantasy football season. In subsequent articles, I’ll focus the analysis more on individual players. However, since it’s Week One, I felt it made more sense to focus on the season ahead since 2017 is over and the preseason is, well, the preseason. Week One will be the first time we get to see what the NFL coaches have been cooking up in the off-season, how their moves will impact both their franchises and the players coming out of their schemes, and we will see some sleepers start to emerge.
I wrote the introduction after the actual article and since I’m coming up on 7,000 words, let’s just get to it . . .
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
Can the Falcons Score in the Red Zone?
Every time my dad (who recently retired after over 30 years as one of Vermont’s top basketball and football officials, sorry to throw that in here, it’s just no one ever seems to show refs much respect these days) and I watch any sporting event, we like to try and predict plays beforehand. As we sat in my TV room last season watching the Falcons last play of the 2017 season, neither of us predicted such a terrible final play call. Seriously. A sprint-out pass from Ryan to Jones with no secondary route option? That was the best play they could come up with on Fourth and Goal with one last chance to advance, hopefully ending the 28-3 memories? Yeesh. Look, the Falcons have a lot of weapons, but they are useless on anyone’s fantasy team if they aren’t scoring touchdowns.
Where Does the Ball Go in Atlanta?
A quick overview of the Atlanta depth chart reveals a plethora of offensive weapons most coaches would drool over. While this is great in terms of on the field performance, it makes it difficult to gauge exactly what to expect from anyone not named Matt Ryan. And even he comes with question marks based on, as I said above, their recurrent struggles passing in the red zone. Julio Jones still looks like one of the best, if not the best, receivers in the entire NFL, but how many defenses are going to blanket him? And when they do, how many passes is Calvin Ridley going to see coming his way? These are questions anyone who owns either player must ask themselves every week.
How Will the Philly Offense Look Until Wentz Returns?
Fans in Boston probably don’t want to hear it, but Doug Pederson out-coached Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl. Unlike the Jaguars, he added a few wrinkles to his RPO attack while refusing to let up. Rightfully so. Until the final fumble, I know I 100 percent expected Tom Brady to lead the Patriot’s down the field for the final score. It is critical to note that while Pederson put together one hell of a scheme, none of it would have worked if Nick Foles did not go out there and play the game of his life. Now the question becomes, can he do that during the regular season? If he can, then those who drafted Wentz can breathe a sigh of relief and start Foles. It also means certain players, like me for example, will draft Foles with the intention of flipping him for way over his market value to the player in my league with Wentz. If, however, Foles cannot replicate his playoff magic, we are all wasting a roster spot.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
No Bell, No Problem?
The Steelers are talking up James Conner and even though he looks like a solid back, I not sure I buy it. Pittsburgh does seem to be one of those franchises where it never matters who runs the ball, they always find success. It will be interesting to see if Conner is another Willie Parker, or if the Steelers need to meet Bell’s demands. A lot of fantasy implications are on the line here. Conner could become a great back-up or second back and Bell might find himself on a new team. Only time, and money, will tell. The Browns’ run defense actually made quite a few strides last season and are returning both a solid line and a solid, non-insider trading line-backing corp. So, Week One should be a great barometer for Conner and the other Pittsburgh backs.
Is the Browns’ Pass Rush Real?
Last year I made the mistake of thinking the Browns impressive preseason defensive attack would translate into the regular season. No need to rehash it, but, as we now know, it did not. This preseason was no different. In the third game against the Eagles, they were in full attack mode. When they kicked Emmanuel Ogbah inside, rushing Myles Garrett and Genard Avery off the edge, they looked very disruptive. With all the money they spent in the secondary and the drafting of Denzel Ward, the rush should have more time to get home this season. If that happens, they very well may become one of those high sack, high turnover Greg Williams’ defenses you don’t want to start either your quarterback or receivers against.
How About Their Passing Game?
Though he’s still raw, David Njoku looks like a potential must start tight end. Josh Gordon remains a miracle of fitness, hopefully having also put his troubles behind him. Jarvis Landry caught 100 passes in 2017 from the Ghost of Jay Cutler. Duke Johnson is the ultimate Swiss Army Knife. On paper, this should be a very good passing attack backed up by what should be a strong running game. Ultimately, though, this is all going to come down to Tyrod Taylor. I respect how well he protects the ball; I just fear it could prevent him from pushing the ball downfield. In Buffalo he did not take a lot of deep shots, just as he did not take a lot in the preseason. Njoku and Gordon are at their best running deep routes, while Landry and Johnson are at their best running underneath routes. These underneath routes only open up if the defense believes they must defend all three passing zones (short, middle, deep). So, what looks like a solid passing attack on paper could be neutralized if defenses know they can come up and jam the receivers on the line because they know Taylor won’t go deep.
Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts
Is Andrew Luck Back?
After the 2014 season, it looked like Luck would be a top ten fantasy quarterback for the next decade. Then came the poor line play and subsequent injury trouble. A quick Google search this morning revealed a series of depressing stories about how he genuinely wondered if he would ever return to the football field. It looks like he is finally healthy and ready to reclaim his spot as a top tier fantasy quarterback. Ironically Josh McDaniel’s last minute decision to jilt the Colts and leave the door open for Frank Reich might be the best thing to happen to Luck. If Reich can take the quick-throw offense from Philly and install it in Indy, Luck will not only thrive, he might also avoid the big hits that keep landing him on IR.
The Colts Finally Addressed Their Offensive Line, Will It Work?
I thought Quenton Nelson was the best prospect in the 2018 Draft. If the draft did not have five talented quarterbacks and plenty of QB-starving teams, there would have been a decent chance he became the first guard ever selected number one overall. I applaud the Colts for passing on Roquan Smith and drafting Nelson instead. Then putting the proverbial cherry on top and drafting Braden Smith in the second round. These two are absolute beasts that will improve the Indy running game, meaning Luck will have more chances to use play-action passing to keep defenders away from him. It also means Marlon Mack and Jordan Wilkins are running backs to watch for as potential waiver wire steals.
Is Andy Dalton Finally Here?
Ok, yeah, I’m trying to be poetic here and connect the third question with the first question. I mean, look, Dalton has exceeded a lot of expectations during his time in the league. The past few seasons he has cut down on the interceptions. He has not, however, been able to match the efficiency of his tragically cut short 2015 campaign. The Bengals are once more loaded at the skill positions and if Dalton can get back to 2015 form, he and said play-makers could have huge fantasy seasons.
Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins
How Will Tennessee Use Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis?
I assume with both Mike Vrabel in the coaching office and Marcus Mariota under center, the Titans are going to continue running the ball early and often in 2018. What remains to be seen is how the carries will be doled out to Mariota, Henry, and Lewis. Henry should get the most carries, but Lewis should end up the better player to have on your fantasy team, especially in PPR leagues. Unlike a lot of third down or change-of-pace backs, Lewis can be relied upon to get his fair share of carries. There is only so much we can learn from the preseason, so I’d like to see if the Titans have some dynamic two back formations they’re going to throw at the Dolphins in Week One.
Is Matt LaFluer Ready to Unleash Marcus Mariota?
Now that Cory Davis is healthy, I’d like to see the Titans give Mariota a few more chances to throw the ball this season. If you look at his game logs in 2017, you can see he was really only asked to throw more than 30 times a game whenever they were losing. I understand wanting to feature a run first attack having literally spelled that out above, but I do think it would benefit them to work a few more deep routes into their passing game. Doing so will allow Mariota and the backs more room to work with. Admittedly, I’m a bit biased here because I’ve always felt Mariota has been underrated as a passer going all the way back to his time at Oregon. If given the chance, I think he could thrive and become a dynamic quarterback both on the field and in fantasy.
Can Mike Gesicki Become a Top Tier Tight Ends?
Well his Youtube highlights call him “The Mismatch“, so I’ll go out on a limb and assume he has the potential to crack the top tier soon. Perhaps not this season, but it’s not like the Dolphins have a lot of other options in the receiving corp. I’m not knocking the guys they have, they just aren’t top flight receivers (unless DeVante Parker is finally ready to live up to his first round draft slot). With an extremely deep backfield and a healthy Ryan Tannehill, I can easily see Gesicki putting up big numbers this season.
San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
Just How Good is the Viking Defense?
My guess would be extremely good. Even though they got roughed up in the NFC Championship Game, this is, in my mind, the best defense in football. The pass rush is relentless and they’ve loaded up on defensive tackles to give Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks plenty of free space to wreak havoc. I, like most offensive coordinators, truly shudder thinking about what Mike Zimmer is going to cook up with five safeties on the roster. Look for all kinds of exotic looks as he uses all of his hybrid safety-linebackers like chess pieces. I know I’ll be hesitant to start anyone against this defense and suggest you do the same.
Is Jimmy G the Real Deal?
When I say Jimmy was on his way to San Fran and not Cleveland, I went to a dark place. When I found out they only gave up a second round pick and a back-up quarterback, I paced around my TV room uttering such horrifying phrases, I dare not mention them here. Needless to say, I think he’s the real deal. Having spent so much time getting to learn from the greatest quarterback of the last two decades, it’s not hard to imagine why. The 49ers did a great job upgrading their offensive line, their running game should be strong (more on that in a second), and George Kittle looks like the perfect tight-end for Kyle Shannahan’s system. Throw the rapport Jimmy built with Marquise Goodwin last season with the ageless Pierre Garcon and this looks like a good passing attack. Even if it isn’t this year, eventually Jimmy G will become a top ten fantasy quarterback.
Who Runs the Ball for San Francisco?
Jerrick McKinnon fled Minnesota’s deepest position for a chance to be more of a feature back in San Francisco. After tearing his ACL, he’ll have to wait one more season. If this were any other team with any other coach, I would be very concerned about their running game. Since, however, we’re talking about Kyle Shannahan, I view San Francisco not as a fantasy running back desert, but rather a treasure trove. It’s not yet clear who will get the majority of the carries, but the always underrated Alfred Morris figures to get a majority of the carries with former fantasy sleeper Matt Breida serving as a change-of-pace. The line is better, the Shannahan system works, so be sure to watch Week One and see who you should target for Week Two.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Is Deshaun Watson Healthy?
I will be the first one to admit, I did not think Watson would be a good fit playing for Bill O’Brien. I will also be the first one to admit I was dead wrong about that. My fear was that O’Brien would do to Watson what he did to every other quarterback he shuffled through the line-up during his tenure in Houston: expect him to be like Tom Brady. Since there is but one Tom Brady, surely you can see why I was concerned. Instead O’Brien tailored his offense to Watson’s strengths and it has become very obvious the Texans are on to something. Assuming he’s healthy, Watson is a must start in 2018. Subsequently, so are DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller.
Which Tight End Steps Up for Houston?
If Watson is healthy and neither DeAndre Hopkins nor Will Fuller have forgotten how to be DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, all kinds of room is going to open up underneath for the tight ends. With C.J. Fiedorowictz retiring, the position is wide open for Ryan Griffin or Jordan Atkins to take advantage of said space. It’s not clear yet which one will step-up, so be sure to tune in and take a look. Whoever it is, make sure to pick them up if they are still available.
Which Patriots Receiver Will Have a Huge Season (Thus Making the Entire “What Will They Do” Narrative Seem Silly)?
I hate, hate, hate the yearly ritual of everyone jumping on the “End of the Patriots’ Dynasty” bandwagon. So much so that I’m not even going to bother expanding much here. Let’s all just face reality: it doesn’t matter who, the Patriots are the most dynamic franchise is sports, someone, likely someone no one has ever heard of, is going to fill Juilan Edelman’s shoes for four weeks. So, can we please drop this narrative and move on? Thanks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Which Ryan Fitzpatrick Are the Bucs Starting Week One?
Has there ever been a quarterback with a stranger career than Ryan Fitzpatrick? It seems like every couple of seasons vanishes, only to return again with a big season. He gets a big contract, doesn’t play up to it, and the whole process starts over again. In that sense, he’s sort of the Pennywise the Dancing Clown of the NFL. Only instead of returning to eat children, he returns to put up good numbers before returning to his slumber. Since they seem more than willing to move on from Jameis Winston (finally), the Bucs season revolves around which Fitzpatrick will be starting for them this season. As such, the entire fantasy value of the rest of their offense revolves around which one shows up as well.
Will the Saints ask Alvin Kamara to be a Feature Back?
With Mark Ingram suspended for the first four games, we’ll get to see how Kamara looks as the number one back as opposed to the do everything back he was last season. It is possible he stays in that role and the Saints give rookie Boston Scott (that is not a typo, that’s his name and it is awesome) some carries. They also just signed Mike Gillislee recently and he might grab some carries in the red zone. Personally, I’d still like to see them give Kamara the job just to see if he can do it. Regardless of what happens, he’s going to remain a must start every week. And, for those of us who missed him in the draft, a player to try and acquire when Ingram returns.
Is Dan Arnold the Next Great “Wait, Who?” Tight End?
I honestly had never heard of him before reviewing the New Orleans depth chart. All I really know is he’s from a school in Wisconsin I’d never heard of before and he’s 6’6″. He was on their roster last season as an undrafted free agent wide receiver and now he’s listed as a tight end. Thus he has “Sean Payton” match-up nightmare written all over him . . .
Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants
How Will the Two-Back Attack Work for Jacksonville?
Leonard Fournette has returned for his second season in much better shape. Hopefully he can stay healthy this season. Jacksonville certainly seems committed to cutting down his carries a little bit with TJ Yeldon and Corey Grant on the roster. What I loved seeing in the preseason was the two-back formations they rolled out. It didn’t make much sense to me last season that they seemed hesitant to roll out multi-back formations. If they want to be a ground and pound team, I think they should. They just can’t line up one back in jumbo formation and expect their defense to carry them. Fournette remains an absolute must start, it’s just worth taking a look at Yeldon and Grant as potential sleepers.
Is Blake Bortles the New Eli Manning?
I respect Eli Manning. I respect what he has done in the postseason, namely besting the Patriots in not one, but two Super Bowls. However, he is on my “No Freaking Way” list every fantasy season. Though he is prone to near flawless games, he has the super fun ability to counter-balance said games with mind-numbing mediocrity and far too many interceptions. Blake Bortles has many of the same qualities. When he’s good, he can be really good. When he’s bad, he makes you want to rip your hair out. In the third preseason game he even pulled a Brandon Weeden and tried to backhand flip a pass into the flat while being sacked. Fortunately it didn’t get picked, but it was ugly. Like Eli, I need to see way more consistency from Bortles before ever adding him to my fantasy roster.
How Will Pat Schurmer Use Saquon Barkley?
Even though Davis Webb is no longer the heir apparent to Eli Manning after surprisingly being cut and the Giants could have drafted Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, or Josh Rosen with pick 2, I still think Barkley was the right pick. If the off-season moves to improve the line worked, Barkley should thrive playing for Pat Schurmer. Schurmer will move Barkley around the field in order to use his ability to catch the ball on top of obvious ability to run the ball. Look for a lot of swing routes out the backfield, quick passes when he’s split out, and crossing routes out of the slot. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see some reverses and jet sweeps with Jonathan Stewart in the backfield. Barkely should have a big rookie season and I could easily see him developing into a 1,000/1,000 player in the near future.
Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens
Can Nathan Peterman Bury the Five Interception Half?
i hope he can. Both for Peterman himself and, selfishly, for myself. When I was looking at the quarterbacks in the 2017 season, I fell in love with Peterman as a late round pick. I thought he was the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft. Needless to say, I was sure to mention this to quite a few people before his first start last season. It probably won’t surprise anyone to learn many of those same people were sure to text me after the disastrous first half in Los Angeles. Hopefully this season, Peterman can use his pinpoint accuracy to exceed this season. In terms of fantasy, his ability to do so impacts all the other players on the Bills’ offense. If he can’t. they might have to turn to Josh Allen. Allen will be good some day, but he does not seem ready yet. If he has to play this season and Peterman struggled, it will be a long season for anyone carrying anyone off the Bills roster.
Will Alex Collins Break-Out in 2018?
As the season progressed, Baltimore started giving Collins more carries, and he rewarded them. This season, Collins will get a majority of the carries. If he can build off of last season, he should be viewed as a number two back, perhaps even a one in 12 team leagues. Joe Flacco is at his best when he has a strong play-action attack. With two good rookie tight ends added to the roster, a solid running game is ever the more critical for Baltimore to maximize their potential. Also do not sleep on the potency of the Lamar Jackson sub-packages. If these take off, Collins should find himself with all kinds of running room.
Will Baltimore Regret Letting Ryan Jensen Go?
Center is perhaps the most underrated position not just on the offensive line, but in all of football. Baltimore is planning on starting former undrafted free agent Matt Skura at center this season, having lost Ryan Jensen to the Bucs. I’m not saying they should have matched or exceed the largest contract ever given to a center, but they had better be sure Skura is up to the task. If not, Collins break out season, Flacco’s play-action passing, and Hayden Hurst‘s potentially huge rookie season are all off the table.
Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers
Will Andy Reid Run the Ball?
Odds are, probably not. Let’s just be honest about that and realize that leopards never change their spots. However, if there were ever a season for him to do it, this would be the season. Patrick Mahomes has a great arm and can make the throws Alex Smith never could. This will allow him to open up space for the underneath routes Reid loves to call. The problem is Mahomes seems to have a little Brett Favre in him, potentially leading him to trusting his arm too much. Early reports out of training camp indicated he was throwing too many interceptions in practice. As we have seen time and again, the best way to temper those “I can throw it anywhere” impulses young quarterbacks are prone to is by running the ball. Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill give the Chiefs plenty of creative options to scare the defense into loading up the box. Doing so allows Mahomes to find one on one match-ups both on the outside and in the seam. This way if he does force the ball, it might be into single, not double coverage. The Chiefs offense can be scary on the field and a treasure trove in fantasy. Only if Andy Reid reverses his 20 year long opposition to running the football.
Did the Chiefs Improve Their Pass Defense?
If they didn’t, then every number one, two, and three receiver on your roster is a must play against the Chiefs. Even with one of the best corners in football, Marcus Peters, this was a terrible pass defense last season. While they devoted their first draft pick, Breeland Speaks, to fixing anemic pass rush (59 sacks over two seasons), there are still far too many questions in the defensive backfield. Not only is Peters now a Ram, their projected slot corner, David Amerson, was so poor in the preseason, he got cut. Yes, that’s right, not benched, cut. Additionally, they have brought in two new safeties off the street in Jordan Lucas and Ron Parker. None of this points to a very fun season in Kansas City. For now, all receivers remain a must play when they pop-up on the Chiefs’ schedule.
Will Austin Ekeler Steal a Few Touches from Melvin Gordon?
Melvin Gordon looks prime for another great season in 2018 and yet the running back I keep seeing popping up in fantasy previews is Ekeler. I’d be lying if I said I’d ever heard of him before recently, but looking at tape I’m starting to see why. Unlike a lot of change-of-pace backs, Ekeler looks plenty comfortable running between the tackles. Just because Gordon can be an every down back, does not mean he should. We are no longer in the 90’s where back-up running backs only saw the field in an emergency. I would imagine the Chargers will embrace the growing trend in order to keep Gordon fresh. Even if he still gets most of the carries, Ekeler should still find himself on the field in passing situations. If he’s on your waiver wire, go get him. Or if someone else already picked him up, use one of my favorite tricks and ask for him as a “throw-in” in a bigger trade.
Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos
Can Brandon Marshall Replace Jimmy Graham in the Red Zone?
Brandon Marshall appears once more, this season in Seattle. However you feel about him, there is not denying he’s still 6’5″ and, as such, still plenty dangerous in the red zone. While I don’t think he’ll lead the team in receiving or put up numbers close to what he once did, he is a good fourth or fifth receiver to carry now that Mr. Graham has relocated to the Frozen Tundra. The Seahawks brought in Ed Dickson to be their starter, only for him to end up on IR. This leaves three unproven tight ends to augment an undersized receiving corp with only Jaron Brown also being over six feet tall. Someone is going to need to catch jump balls in the red zone, until someone else steps up, that’s going to have to be Marshall.
Or the Seahawks can learn their lesson from Super Bowls past and not throw the ball in the red zone. In order to do that, their going to need either Chris Carson or Rashaad Penny to take over in the backfield. Of the two, I would lean towards picking up Penny. Even though Carson will open the season as the starter, Penny projects as the eventual long term starter. He has the same downhill style as the great Marshawn Lynch, while adding far superior receiving skills. Even if Carson gets a bulk of the carries early in the season, stash Penny if you can. He has immediate value in PPR leagues and could end up a solid number two back by the middle of the season.
What Can We Expect from Case Keenum?
I honestly have no idea. I’ve always been a big fan of Keenum and did not think the Vikings made the major upgrade many seemed to think they did when they replaced Keenum with Kirk Cousins. If Keenum can continue to protect the ball, he finds himself in a great situation. Royce Freeman will attract a lot of attention and his receivers are much bigger and much better than the guys he had in Minnesota. With Keenum operating at a high level, Demaryus Thomas remains a solid one or two in any fantasy line-up, with rookie Courtland Sutton emerging into a solid player as the season progresses. If Keenum struggles, all three players mentioned above probably need to be moved out of the starting line-up until we find out what excatly Chad Kelly can do. And no, replacing Paxton Lynch on the roster does not necessarily mean he has potential. Because, you know, Paxton Lynch.
Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals
Who Runs the Ball in Washington?
Thanks to a knee injury, we know it won’t be Derrius Guice. Now it comes to the 33 year old Adrian Peterson and 2017’s fantasy darling Chris Thompson. I imagine Peterson, who has proved ageless thus far, starts off getting most of the carries with Thompson serving as the third down back. As the season drags on, there is a good chance Thompson starts to get more and more carries. I;m sure Alex Smith would love to have a solid running game now that he’s been liberated from Andy “What Means Running?” Reid. So, someone is going to have to carry the ball in Washington. It’s too hard to know who belongs on fantasy rosters for now, making the Week One match-up in Arizona a must watch for fantasy players.
Can Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis Block Enough?
The Redskins love to play with both Reed and Davis on the field. It’s not hard to imagine why as both are excellent receivers. As noted above, however, the Redskins already have a ton of question marks in the backfield. Can they really run the risk of leaving two sub-par blocking tight ends on the field? If they can, then either Reed or Davis are solid back-up tight ends. One likely emerges as the new Travis Kelce as Alex Smith loves throwing to tight ends. It will ultimately come down to blocking as the 6’5″, 252 pound Jeremy Sprinkle is also on the roster. If Reed or Davis cannot be relied upon to block, one will need to be subbed out for Sprinkle. Meaning whichever one left on the field becomes the primary receiver. Which is not necessarily a good thing, as opposing defenses will now know which one to shadow.
How Long Will it Take for Josh Rosen to Take Over?
Quite honestly, this has less to do with Sam Bradford‘s ability and far more to do with his extensive injury history. I feel like a jerk for writing this, but the question ultimately becomes when Bradford gets injured, do the Cardinals go with the veteran Mike Glennon or start the Josh Rosen era early? Those of you who own either David Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald need to follow this storyline very closely as it will directly impact what kind of offense the Cardinals end up running.
Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers
Who Steps into Dez Bryant‘s Shoes?
I already mentioned my pick: Michael Gallup. Or, more specifically, a deep rotation of receivers. The Cowboys are going to run the ball a lot and Dak Prescott will have plenty of clean looks on play-action. What remains to be seen is whether or not he will fall in love with one guy who emerges as a must play number one or he ends up throwing simply to whoever is open. If I had to, I would guess the former. Being liberated from Bryant’s relentless ego probably points to a more receiver by committee look. Week One will go a long way to answering these questions.
Will Zeke Elliot Rush for 2,000 Yards in 2018?
The Cowboys have the best line in football and when they are lined up next to each other in the shotgun, Prescott and Eliot are threats to run. This means the defense cannot simply zero in on Elliot. Elliot nearly ran for 1,000 yards last season in only 10 games, behind an injury riddled line, so having him running behind this line when it’s healthy is almost unfair. He is one of the rare running backs who perfectly balances patience and aggression. As I watched his film, I was floored by how many times he froze a defender in space. It was as if they’d completely forgotten everything they’d ever learned about tackling. With a full season in 2018, there is a very good chance he ends up over the 2,000 yard mark.
How Will Cam Newton Adjust to Norv Turner’s Offense?
Cam is not a young man anymore. Ok, that might be a bit extreme, especially considering he’s two years younger than I am. Still, at 29, Newton really shouldn’t be running as much as he used to. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still bigger than many linebackers (the reason why he hasn’t gone the way of RG 3), but at a certain point, it’s going to catch up to him. Enter perhaps the greatest offensive coordinator in NFL history, Norv Turner. Turner’s Air Coryell system is the perfect fit for where Newton is in his career. He’s never been the most accurate passer, a career completion percentage of 58.5% shows that, but it shouldn’t matter to Turner. He wants to get the ball down field to open up space for short screens and power running plays. The Panthers are well suited for such an attack with Christian McCaffery and CJ Anderson. If he buys in, Newton could be looking at a career year.
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Can Aaron Rodgers Stay Healthy?
Aaron Rodgers is the best fantasy quarterback in the NFL. Fantasy quarterback, Patriots fans, not overall quarterback. Please extinguish your torches and get off my lawn. Thank you. Anyway, Rodgers is the best and his numbers speak for themselves. In the seasons in which he has started 16 games he’s never had less than 500 passing attempts, his career completion percentage is 65%, career interception rate is 1.6% on 4,895 attempts, and career yards gained per completion is 12.1 yards. Now all the remains to be seen is can he stay healthy this season. If he can’t, there are a lot of people who will be scrambling to find a back-up who can come close to matching his productivity. Good luck with that . . .
How Many Touchdowns Will Jimmy Graham Score?
After years in the run-first Seattle offense, Jimmy Graham is back home in a spread offense. I imagine the Green Bay training facility was filled with maniacal laughter as Mike McCarthy plotted all the different ways he plans on using Graham this season. I can easily see Graham taking full advantage of all the one-on-one goal-line match-ups and free sprints down the slot as teams desperately try to contain the back-shoulder fades to Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. I do not think it is out of the question to see 10-15 touchdowns for Graham this season. On a personal note, I can’t wait to see how Mike Zimmer attempts to contain him with his hoard of hybrid safeties when the Packers and Vikings meet this season. That interest has nothing to do with fantasy, mind you. I’m just curious to see two great coaches playing chess against the backdrop of one of football’s greatest rivalries.
What Happens in Year Two of the Trubisky Era?
Adding Khalil Mack to an already solid defense certainly bodes well for Da Bears. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen make for a very good backfield and the receiving corp looks much better now that it features Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and rookie Anthony Miller. They even received a gift when James Daniels fell to them in the second round. Everything, on paper, looks to be trending in a positive direction in Chicago. However, none of these moves are going to mean anything if Trubisky does not improve from his rookie season. Many pundits thought the Bears reached for him in the 2017 Draft and I agree with them. There still is a lot we don’t know about him since there really isn’t a ton of tape on him from college. The Bears are the fourth best team in one of the best divisions in the NFL. Improvement can only happen with improvement from Trubisky. If he struggles, teams will load the box to stop Howard, then drop their safeties back to neutralize the speed of Gabriel. In order to stop this, Trubisky has to hit the mid-level throws. He has yet to show the ability to do that consistently, so be wary of Bears’ players until he does.
New York Jets at Detroit Lions
Will Isaiah Crowell Finally Get to Run the Ball Consistently?
Words cannot express my bewilderment with how poorly the Browns used Crowell during the Hue Jackson era. As I mentioned in my last article, it is a travesty he never got a chance to run the ball more than 20 times in a game last season. Assuming Todd Bowles learns from Jackson, I imagine that will change in 2018 as the Jets will also be starting a rookie quarterback. During his time in Cleveland, Crowell showed he was more than adept at running inside and outside. Not to mention out of the shotgun, I, and single back formations. Look for him to have a huge season this season. Or at least a lot of carries.
Is Sam Darnold Ready?
When I sat down to watch Darnold’s tape, it looked great. Up until he faced Ohio State in the bowl game last season. By my count, he could have easily ended up with eight interceptions. Since Ohio State has become a factory for pro-ready defensive backs, this is extremely concerning. I had hoped the Jets would let Darnold sit for a full season before sending him out as the full time starter. It is perfectly possible he showed drastic improvement in the off-season, otherwise why would they trade Teddy Bridgewater? All I can think is the Jets will be smart and will run the ball, only asking Darnold to throw when needed, not much unlike the Steelers did in Big Ben’s rookie season. If this happens, Crowell is a must start. If it doesn’t, teams will force Darnold to beat them. It remains to be seen if he can do that or not.
How Much of an Impact Will Frank Ragnow Have on the Detroit Running Game?
Matthew Stafford has never been afforded the benefit of a complimentary running attack. New coach Matt Patricia seems committed to changing that, exemplified by the very Belichick-like move of taking a center with his very first pick as the leader of the franchise. If the running game has indeed improved, Stafford remains a must have starter and LeGarrette Blount and Kerryon Johnson are guys to watch for. The Jets should have a good run defense this season, so this is going to be a very interesting match-up to watch in the first week. There is a good chance Blount repeats his epic touchdown filled 2016 season.
St. Louis Rams at Oakland Raiders
Can Brandin Cooks be What Sammy Watkins Couldn’t?
The Rams thought they were adding a deep threat who would open up a great deal of space last season. It didn’t pan out that way, so now he finds himself probably not panning out in Kansas City on a big contract. This season, the Rams will put their faith in Cooks. I have a feeling he will do a much better job than Watkins. He may not get a lot of catches, but he will put up big yards and might end up with double digit touchdowns. Never forget, Jared Goff can do this and Cooks should reap the benefits.
Is Jared Goff For Real?
I never really understood why so many people were willing to write Goff off after one season. When he was drafted by the Rams, I felt he should have sat out for the entire first year. Coming out of the Cal offense, he was a poor fit for then coach Jeff Fisher‘s offense. Looking at the tape, it showed how much he struggled in the more traditional offense. To be fair, it probably also didn’t help that there was little to no creativity in the play-calling, but still. When Sean McVay arrived, he was able to put Goff in more familiar formations and he really took off. Now we see if he can sustain 2017’s momentum. If he can, he’s going to be a must start for a long time. And the Rams offense will be a take your pick offense for fantasy productivity.
Is it Smart to Play Derek Carr Under Center?
I’m not going to join the various pundits lining up to dump on Jon Gruden for pretending it’s 1995. No, instead I’ll question his insistence on installing a classic West Coast scheme as opposed to the modernized West Coast-Spread hybrid run by Andy Reid and Mike McCarthy. My fear is that putting Derrick Carr under center leaves him open to another leg injury. One reason more and more teams have been implementing the shotgun is to get the quarterback farther away from the pass rushers. For the life of me I can’t find the clip, but I did notice a play this preseason that spoke to my concern. On the play, Carr took a five step drop and made a great throw to the tight end running up the seam. At the tail end of the play, he took a shot to the leg from a defensive tackle. I hope this does not become a trend as Carr is a great fantasy quarterback and Amari Cooper‘s fantasy numbers rely on a healthy Carr.