This week, we'll begin our panel discussion focused on a pair of teams about to face each other this weekend. Next, we'll examine a variety of players who could be worth monitoring next month. And to end our roundtable, we'll share which fantasy developments shocked us during this opening month.
- The Cleveland Browns Reborn?
- Oakland's Offense: Rising, Falling, Holding Steady
- Anything to See Or Move Along?
- First Month Shockers
The Cleveland Browns Reborn?
- The tempo between plays was faster.
- Mayfield got rid of the ball faster to open receivers.
- The Browns drove the field.
What should be expected from Cleveland? Let's begin with Mayfield and move down the list.
Daniel Simpkins: Many of you that have talked to me know that I sincerely wish Mayfield had not seen the field in a full-time role this early. A quarterback’s development can be hurt when they are asked to do too much too soon and their confidence is shaken. That said, the Browns have made it abundantly clear they want to go forward with Baker as the starter.
It does not sound like Taylor will be back in the starting role, even when he is healthy. Please do not misunderstand me when I say I object to Mayfield starting. I like Mayfield a lot and was very impressed with what I saw up close and personal at the Senior Bowl. I just would like to have seen him get a chance to sit and develop because I am a big believer in that being helpful to set up a quarterback and his organization for long-term success.
From a pure fantasy lens, I think he’ll be one of the most exciting rookie starting options based on the strong offensive cast he has around him and how Todd Haley can mold an offensive system to his strengths. It will also take opponents a little bit of time to catch up in terms of identifying weaknesses on his tape. I like him just fine as a matchup-based streaming option.
Danny Tuccitto: I hate to be that guy, but I told you so. Baker Mayfield was going to start sooner rather than later. Tyrod Taylor is underrated, yes, but he's not the transcendent player who can unshackle the rest of the offense. Mayfield is. Therefore, while I'm not "upgrading" the rest of the offense based on this change, I'm increasing my confidence that they'll all finish the season where I thought they would in the first place.
Sean Settle: I am not ready to turn things loose and talk about things like the playoffs or a winning record even. He came into a game and brought a sense of energy that had not been felt in a while. He was willing to take risks and sling the ball down the field, unlike Tyrod Taylor. I am very hesitant to see a major upgrade over the course of the whole season for the offense as a whole. Mayfield is going to come back down to earth as defenses see more tape. He quickly found out he is no longer faster than defensive linemen and the entire pace of the game is different. He is going to go through his growing pains.
Will Grant: Mayfield looked solid, but in a typical fantasy league, I'm not ready to say he's a starting quality fantasy quarterback just yet. He performed well at home with most of the nation behind him against a very tired Jets team that wasn't very good. It's a good story, but I'm not starting him over Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff or Ryan Tannehill just yet.
Maurile Grant: I believe that Baker Mayfield is an upgrade over Tyrod Taylor this season, but not a big one. Taylor is around a slightly below average starting NFL quarterback. Mayfield is a rookie with tremendous talent and upside, but a learning curve ahead of him that puts him in the fantasy tier of an average starting NFL quarterback. There isn't a huge difference, I don't think.
If Mayfield is more efficient than Taylor, the Browns will convert more first downs, score more touchdowns, and generally run more offensive plays per game while scoring more fantasy points per play. It's a case where a rising tide lifts all ships.
Carlos Hyde, Jarvis Landry, and David Njoku all stand to benefit. But let's not overestimate the magnitude of that benefit. The difference between Taylor and Mayfield, over the course of the season, will not be huge. Mayfield taking over as the starter is probably an upgrade for the entire offense but probably only a slight upgrade.
Andrew Garda: As a Jets fan and someone who had Mayfield rated as his top quarterback in this class (yes, above new Gang Green man-crush Sam Darnold) I wanted to hop in, in part because I'm hoping to draw the poison out of that loss.
I love Mayfield and he showed me what I had hoped he would but a rookie season is a marathon, not a sprint and we only need look across to the other sideline to know how quick it can go south. In Mayfield's favor is the Browns are simply a team with more talent at most positions than Darnold has with the Jets (or Josh Allen has with the Bills or Josh Rosen has with the Cardinals) so he has some upside.
But I'm not rushing out to grab him in redraft or streaming him in DFS, yet. If you have a roster spot, he's got the upside, but if it means dumping a productive player, it's too early.
Mark Schofield: Mayfield is a different breed of cat. Watching that game on Thursday night you can see that the stadium, the sideline, and even the huddle took on a different vibe and feel once Mayfield entered the game. What sets him apart from Tyrod Taylor, and makes him a very intriguing option for this offense, is Mayfield's ability to make anticipation throws, and to challenge the middle of the field. Taylor was and is a "see it, throw it" thrower. Mayfield is not.
You could see it on film and in the post-game analysis. Take this tweet from NFL Next Gen Stats researcher Joey Ferraiola:
With these weapons around him, and Mayfield's willingness to make the throws Taylor would not, Mayfield is going to be an improvement over Taylor in both the short-term and the long term.
Waldman: I'm inclined to take a chance on Mayfield in re-draft leagues because he was dramatically more efficient as a decision maker. His performance lifted a ton of stress from the Browns offensive line and that led to bigger plays, better down-and-distance scripts, and a more efficient ground game. I think the difference will be palpable until a team tests him with tight man-to-man coverage and a pass rush that collapses the middle of the pocket without giving Mayfield the edges to escape. If Mayfield doesn't completely fall apart in these situations, he'll make a worthwhile second quarterback on fantasy rosters.
Let's discuss how you think Mayfield's tenure will impact the teammates mentioned above.
Schofield: As with the rest of the Browns' offensive players, can expect a bit of a boost in the short-term as well. If Cleveland takes on more of an up-tempo offense, given Mayfield's prowess in the up-tempo offensive approach, then Hyde should benefit from runs against worn-down defenses. I'd expect his current yards per carry of 3.3 to rise over the next few weeks.
Landry will also get a chance to be unlocked in this offense under Mayfield. The first step in turning Landry into a true fantasy asset and not just a PPR superstar was getting him into an offense that used him on more than just shallow crossing routes.
Now in Cleveland, we are seeing Landry as more of a vertical threat, and with Mayfield's ability and willingness to challenge throwing windows and make anticipation throws, Landry will get more opportunities downfield. There will be mistakes but Mayfield's mentality as a passer will give Landry more chances.
Njoku will get the biggest boost of all with Mayfield in the huddle, in my opinion. First, look again at the Mayfield passing chart against the New York Jets. Mayfield's willingness to challenge up the seam and in the middle of the field is perfect for a tight end in the passing game.
Second, Mayfield's background targeting tight ends in the passing game is evidence that Njoku is going to be looked to by his quarterback early and often in the offense. Watching Mayfield at Oklahoma you saw a quarterback looking to Mark Andrews in the vertical passing game, and in clutch situations. Njoku is going to get a boost.
Finally, I'll go with Duke Johnson Jr, who may take on even more of a receiver role. That will get him more opportunities and exposure in the passing game, which will give his value a little boost.
Grant: Landry looks solid and is paying decent value for where he was drafted this year. He could continue earning 12 targets a game, especially with zero competition. If he stays healthy, he'll finish as a top 15 fantasy wide receiver.
Njoku could perform on the border of the top 12 at his position. He'll be a decent bye week fill in right now until we see more from Mayfield. As crazy as this is going to sound, if Mayfield struggles, maybe Njoku moves up because he'll be a safety net.
Hyde may actually be asked to do a little more as a way to protect Mayfield from himself. The running game is a great way to establish tempo, control the clock, and keep a rookie quarterback from having to do too much. There may be a slight uptick in Hyde’s workload going forward to try and help the offense as a whole and keep Mayfield from having to force the ball down the field.
Njoku will have his work cut out for him. The Browns will look to establish the run in an effort to protect their rookie quarterback and not ask him to do too much. He will also have to contend with Mayfield taking shots down the field to his speedy receivers on the outside. Njoku may see a dip in production due to Mayfield’s unorthodox style. He plays much better with a traditional pocket passing quarterback.
Callaway was going to see his role increase no matter what due to the departure of Josh Gordon. The biggest thing he has going for him is his ability to stretch the field and a quarterback who is willing to take deep shots. Callaway may be slightly upgraded from a boom or bust candidate to a third fantasy receiver due to the fact that the Browns will be playing from behind often and the number of times Mayfield likes to take a shot down the field.
Oakland's offense: Rising, Falling, Holding Steady
I noted a similar thought in this week's Top 10 after watching the first three Raider games. Based on film performance, I see his point.
Pick one player from this list below (only profile three) who you expect their fantasy production to rise, fall, or hold steady over the next two months:
- Marshawn Lynch (15th RB in PPR/12th in standard)
- Jordy Nelson (30th WR in standard/39th in PPR)
- Amari Cooper (51st WR in PPR/62nd in PPR)
- Martavis Bryant (6 catches for 60 yards in the past 2 contests)
- Jared Cook (2nd TE PPR/3rd in standard)
- Derek Carr (25th QB)
- Doug Martin (9 carries for 43 yards against Miami in Week 3)
- Jalen Richard (15 for 114 yards as a receiver this year)
What should be expected from Oakland?
Tremblay: I don't expect Derek Carr to fall from the 25th fantasy quarterback. But put me in the doubter column because I don't expect him to rise much from there either. Call him a 'hold steady' because I foresee the Raiders struggling on offense all season. Amari Cooper will have some big games, Marshawn Lynch will score some touchdowns, even Jared Cook will be a worthwhile fantasy starter here and there, but the offense as a whole will struggle, and Derek Carr's fantasy production will disappoint.
Cooper's production will almost certainly increase significantly from what it's been over the first three weeks of the season. But I don't think he'll live up to his average draft position from the preseason (around WR15). Cooper is the Raiders' best receiver, probably their best offensive player, and he will get more targets as the season progresses, so his star is rising. But his star is rising relative to where it currently sits -- not where it sat four weeks ago.
Lynch is one of the few Raiders who has outperformed his preseason ADP so far, but I don't expect him to maintain his current pace. The offense as a whole is uninspiring, and Lynch has competition for running back touches -- primarily from Doug Martin and Jalen Richard, but DeAndre Washington could get in on the action at some point as well. I expect Lynch's fantasy production to fall.
Tuccitto: The only players in this offense I have any confidence in for the rest of 2018 are Cooper and Cook. And that's mainly due to Jon Gruden's coaching philosophy/history, which is primarily informed by Mike Holmgren's and Andy Reid's version of the West Coast Offense. This offense focuses especially on the No. 1 wide receiver, but also on the tight end when that player's talent/skill is commensurate with the role.
Said offense also tends to benefit the quarterback, but I'm not as sanguine about Carr being who Gruden wants at the position in the intermediate or long term. Ditto, Gruden's running back situation, which is a clear split between a runner and a couple of receivers, whereas he prefers multiple backs that can do both jobs — again a la Holmgren and Reid.
Schofield: I'll remain a believer in Amari Cooper until the day I shuffle off this mortal coil. His route-running and footwork are a perfect fit for what Jon Gruden asks of his receivers in his precision and timing-based West Coast offensive scheme. His numbers are fairly good now, but with more time and experience in this offensive system, I'm expecting his production to rise over the next few weeks.
As for Jared Cook, I'll say that his value and production should hold steady. He's buoyed in rankings right now by the struggles from Rob Gronkowski and the New England Patriots, which I'll get to in a moment. If Gronkowski rebounds a bit Cook's rankings from week-to-week might slip a bit, but tight ends are also a focal point of West Coast systems, and Cook's production to his point should be an indicator of how he will be used in this offense.
Running back rotations scare me and especially when one of the running backs in question get north of 30 years of age. Marshawn Lynch might be producing now, but I'm wary of him maintaining this level of production as we get into November and December.
Grant: Cooper is a guy that I keep waiting for him to explode - but man if he hasn't disappointed this season. I doubt he goes any lower, but I don't see him as a guy you can trust in your starting lineup yet. Cook's stats are good, but he hasn't gotten into the end zone yet. Averaging six catches per game, that's certain to change. He's definitely on the rise and someone to be excited about.
Settle: Jordy Nelson (30th WR in standard/39th in PPR) Nelson’s big game in Week 3 brought his stats to a point where he should hold steady for the rest of the year. In the first two weeks, he managed 5 catches for 53 yards before breaking out for 6 catches for 173 yards and a touchdown last week. His production is going to fall somewhere in between that point the rest of the season.
A more realistic line of 4 catches for 55 yards is likely and maybe a small uptick in touchdowns. If we average the first three games, we should find the point that Nelson is going to be around for the rest of the season. He will not be as bad as the first two games but nowhere close to as good as the third.
Simpkins: I believe that Cooper will be targeted more and won’t draw corner matchups that are as challenging going forward. In week one, it was the vaunted Rams cornerback tandem of Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters that made for a rough game. In week three, it was being smothered by Xavien Howard. I am a big believer in Cooper as a talent, and I think better days are ahead for both him and the Raiders offense.
Waldman: Looks like I'm on an island on this one. As you noted Daniel, the Raiders played two strong defenses during its first three games and pieced some solid drives together. I believe the Raiders have discovered that Jordy Nelson belongs in the slot and they'll use him more in this area as the season progresses.
If you truly examine Jon Gruden's body of work, he's gotten strong production from flankers, split ends, slot receivers, and tight ends. He's not nearly as one-dimensional/rigid as characterized. Nelson's production will rise and likely at the expense of Cooper delivering consistent fantasy production. Cooper will have some bigger weeks but enough bad weeks that Nelson will have more appeal.
I'm not nervous about Lynch at all. Last year was the time to be worried after he took a year off and played at a much heavier weight and still performed well in an offense that wasn't suited to his skills. Lynch will hold steady as a top-15 fantasy back.
Anything to See or MOve Along?
- Justin Jackson (elevated to the Chargers active roster in place of Detrez Newsome)
- Keke Coutee (expected to be active this week after a preseason hamstring injury)
- C.J. Beathard (replacing Jimmy Garoppolo)
- Josh Rosen (replacing Sam Bradford)
- Mark Andrews (8 catches 107 yards, and a score this year)
- Tyler Boyd (6 catches, 132 yards, and a touchdown last weekend)
- Jordan Thomas (2 catches for 53 yards last week)
- Jakeem Grant (2 catches, 70 yards, and 2 scores last week)
- Terrelle Pryor (7 catches for 133 yards in Weeks 1-2)
- Cam Meredith (first active game last week and earned a catch for a touchdown)
- Dallas Goedert (7 catches 73 yards and a score with Wentz in the lineup)
Is there anything to see here or should we move along?
Grant: The obvious answer here is that Beathard is going to play. With Garoppolo gone for the year, Beathard becomes the unquestionable starter. Anyone they bring in to back him up will be of questionable talent at best. So opportunity alone makes Beathard a guy worth watching. The 49ers had a rising team before Garoppolo, so the talent around Beathard is still there. They won't win the division and won't challenge for the playoffs either, but Beathard is going to have plenty of opportunities this season and he should be a serviceable backup/bye week starter.
It's hard to imagine the Cardinals being any less impressive on offense than they already are. With David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald to complement him, Rosen has a lot more talent than some of the other young starters this season. He didn't look great in the limited action he's had, but Chicago has a tough defense and he had a lot less time to shine than Mayfield. Rosen is worth keeping an eye on, but I don't see him as a roster option just yet.
A.J. Green left this week's game with a groin injury, and those have a tendency to linger and limit a player for a while, depending on how severe the injury is. Boyd immediately stepped into the spotlight and he could really be something special moving forward. Initially just a complement to Green, Boyd is averaging 7 targets a game and has just one fewer reception than Green but has 30 more receiving yards. Green has more touchdowns, but that's due to the fact that Green had three of them in week two. Boyd is a legitimate fantasy starter right now and if Green is limited, Boyd could be a top 20 fantasy wideout.
Schofield: Rosen takes over as the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals, and he'll have some weapons to throw to in guys like Larry Fitzgerald, Ricky Seals-Jones and Christian Kirk. Sam Bradford struggled under center for Arizona while he was the starter, and some might point to Mike McCoy, but from watching Bradford you see a number of missed opportunities in the passing game. Plays that were available to him at all levels of the field that he either missed with a throw or simply failed to look to. Rosen might be just a rookie but I'm expecting him to have a better grasp - and a more aggressive approach - than Bradford.
Beathard gets the chance to step into Kyle Shanahan's offense in the wake of Jimmy Garoppolo's season-ending knee injury. Beathard struggled a bit as a rookie, throwing four touchdowns and six interceptions during his starts until Shanahan turned to Garoppolo. But Shanahan drafted him in the third round for a reason, and with another year in the system, Beathard's understanding of the offense should be light years ahead of where it was last season. Now, he'll have some weapons around him such as George Kittle and Dante Pettis that he did not have with him last year. I'm expecting more from Beathard the rest of the season than we saw from him in 2017.
Goedert now gets to play with Carson Wentz. While Wentz was injured and did not play the full season, only the Kansas City Chiefs targeted tight ends more in the passing game last year than the Philadelphia Eagles. It probably should not have been a surprise that Goedert's best game as a rookie came with Wentz back in the lineup. Last week Goedert made his first NFL start and caught all 7 of his targets for 73 yards and a touchdown. With Wentz back, Goedert is primed for a big boost.
Settle: Carson Wentz has shown a love for tight ends his entire career. He was the one that got Trey Burton a nice new contract with the Bears in the offseason. Zach Ertz is going to be the primary option, but there should still be enough targets for Godert, especially while Alshon Jeffrey is still on the shelf. This should be interesting to watch the rest of the season, and you should definitely monitor his usage going forward.
Anyone that is in an offense with Drew Brees is worth taking a look at. Meredith was inactive early on because the coaching staff thought he had not learned the playbook enough and needed more time. He rewarded them right away with a touchdown and showed rapport with Brees as he worked back to the ball when he saw Brees in trouble in the backfield. It should not be hard to pass Ted Ginn Jr on the depth chart as the second receiver behind Michael Thomas and that is deserving of our fantasy attention.
The Dolphins are sitting atop the division right now and most of that has to do with the big play ability of the wide receivers. Grant scored on a jet sweep pass, and a trick play WR pass last week. There are not play calls that are going to happen every week, but the trust shown by the offensive coordinator to let Grant go out and make a play is very encouraging. Targets may be an issue with Stills, Amendola, Parker, Wilson, and Grant but it may be worth watching snap counts as the season progresses.
In the case of Boyd, I am watching what is happening with AJ Green first and foremost. John Ross has already lost snaps to Boyd and if the injury to Green lingers, it will be Boyd as the top receiving option in the offense. He had a monster game last week and has shown some flashes of brilliance before. The top adds this week are going to be Calvin Ridley and Tyler Boyd so if you do not act now, it may be too late.
Boyd is in year three of his rookie deal and finally looks like he’s putting things together. With A.J. Green likely to miss some time with a groin injury, we’ll see how Boyd handles better coverage rolled his way.
I am glad to see Goedert usage increase last week. I think he was the best tight end in this rookie class and certainly has a bright future on a team that has the potential to be good for years to come. I am not expecting a top finish at the position, but I want to see him and Wentz develop a strong rapport, especially in the end zone.
First Month shockers
Waldman: Which fantasy development has shocked you this month? How would you recommend fantasy owners to proceed?
Tremblay: The explosiveness of the Chiefs' and the Buccaneers' passing games. Both teams have talent at the receiving positions, but I didn't expect all the big plays from their respective quarterbacks.
We knew that Patrick Mahomes II II has a strong arm, and we knew that Tyreek Hill can get behind a defense, but Mahomes has taken good advantage of his whole array of playmakers. Sammy Watkins looks more explosive than he has in recent years, Chris Conley has become a solid red-zone threat, and Travis Kelce has picked up where he left off last season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, has transformed from a heady game-manager into a gutsy bomb-thrower. He's connected on big plays down the field to Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and O.J. Howard, and while Chris Godwin hasn't made a big play down the sideline yet, it seems like just a matter of time. I don't know how long Fitzpatrick will hold off Jameis Winston as the starting quarterback ... but whoever is under center, this passing offense looks far better than I was expecting before the start of the season.
Schofield: After a strong Week 1, Rob Gronkowski and the rest of the New England Patriots offense has certainly cooled off. Gronkowski's Week 1 touchdown propelled him to 23.3 points in PPR leagues, which was good for second place in most scoring formats. But his production has cratered the past two weeks. In Week 2 he was held to two receptions for just 15 yards by the Jacksonville Jaguars, and last week he was held to four receptions for 51 yards by the Detroit Lions. So what to do?
The New England Patriots offense is struggling right now, and it starts with a failure of receivers not named Gronkowski to get consistent separation. That gives defenses the chance to bracket Gronkowski, if not outright double-team.
The Patriots have gone through stretches like this early in seasons, and Bill Belichick always looks to have his teams playing their best football in January, not September. Plus this team will get Julian Edelman back next week as well as some level of production from Josh Gordon soon. It's not time to panic on Gronkowski, yet, and owners would be wise to ride out the next week and see what this Patriots' offense looks like come October.
Settle: The biggest thing that has stuck out to me is the lack of usage for David Johnson. He got paid in the offseason, they brought in Sam Bradford, Larry Fitzgerald was primed for another big year, but they cannot seem to get anything going. The defense has them playing from behind and that has handcuffed Johnson a bit, but he has been ineffective early in games and could do nothing against the Bears to help protect the lead last week.
I am not ready to give up on Johnson yet or even bench him. I would give him another two weeks to turn things around before making any sort of drastic move. IF you are 0-3 right now and desperately need a win, it may be time to move off, but otherwise in the words of Aaron Rodgers R-E-L-A-X. Give him time to get back to speed and adjust to his new quarterback. He should return to form and play like the top pick you expected.
Tuccitto: The inability and/or unwillingness of Arizona's new coaching staff to utilize David Johnson, their best offensive skill position player, in the way that produced an overall RB1 season, has shocked me.
As football is a top-down game, with players implementing their coaches' strategies and tactics, my recommendation is to jump ship. Get as much as you can for Johnson right now. As long as this offensive coaching staff is around, it's likely to be the best you can get.
The other (rather painful) surprise to me is just how much the Cowboys are struggling on offense this season. We all sort of knew that their passing game was going to struggle with the changes at wide receiver and tight end, but after three games, Dak Prescott has less than 500 yards passing.