The Fantasy 32 analyzes the NFL from a fantasy perspective, with at least one mention of each of the league’s 32 teams. Though efficiency will be discussed plenty, the column will lean heavily on usage data, as volume is king (by far) in fantasy football. Use these tidbits to make the best waiver-wire, trade and lineup decisions for the upcoming week and beyond. Be sure to check back each Tuesday throughout the season for a new version of the Fantasy 32.
Week 2 review: Which 49ers RB should get more carries?
Find out how offensive line play impacts the fantasy value of the 49ers’ backfield, the Texans’ passing game, LeSean McCoy and Blake Bortles.
Fantasy impact of Josh Gordon’s trade to New England
Now that Josh Gordon is a Patriot, what does it mean for the talented wideout and the rest of the New England offense from a fantasy perspective?
Breaking down the film: Fantasy takeaways from Week 2
Matt Bowen breaks down the tape to glean a deeper understanding of what stood out around the NFL in Week 2.
Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: Mixon is expected to miss multiple weeks due to a knee injury, which puts Giovani Bernard right back on the fantasy radar. Bernard was limited to two looks (carries + targets) on nine snaps in Week 1, but Mixon’s injury allowed Bernard 12 looks on 36 snaps in Week 2. Reserve back Tra Carson (two snaps) barely played a role. Last season, Mixon was out during Weeks 13 and 14, and barely played even when he returned in Week 15. Bernard handled 34 of the 42 touches by Bengals backs, was fantasy’s No. 16 back during the two games Mixon was out and ranked ninth in fantasy points from Week 13 on. Fourth-round pick Mark Walton figures to get some run and is a savvy deep-league add, but Bernard is expected to be the Bengals’ featured back against the Panthers in Week 3. Scoop him up and start him.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills: McCoy suffered a rib injury on Sunday, leaving his Week 3 status in doubt. Marcus Murphy — not Chris Ivory — has been the next man up for Buffalo this season. Murphy has been on the field for 44 snaps (23 routes) and handled nine carries and seven targets this season. Ivory’s 15 snaps (eight routes) have allowed him five carries and two targets. If McCoy is out for this week’s game at Minnesota, expect a committee attack, with Ivory getting plenty of early-down and short-yardage run, and Murphy as the change-of-pace/receiving back (think poor man’s Derrick Henry/Dion Lewis tandem). Regardless, this is a situation to avoid against the Vikings’ elite defense.
Eagles wide receivers: Alshon Jeffery (shoulder) remains out, and Mike Wallace went down with an ankle injury after six snaps on Sunday and is expected to miss extended time. With those two sidelined, the snaps/routes were as follows for Eagles wide receivers in Week 2: Nelson Agholor (69/47), Kamar Aiken (59/40), Shelton Gibson (32/18) and DeAndre Carter (19/9). Especially with Carson Wentz due back this week, it’s possible Aiken, who was targeted six times on Sunday, will sneak into fantasy value. Those in 16-team leagues should take a look.
Greg Zuerlein, K, Los Angeles Rams: Hey, a kicker. Seriously. Zuerlein was the top-scoring kicker in fantasy last season, so this one is notable. No, you don’t need to keep him stashed on your bench and, yes, replacement Sam Ficken is a viable replacement. The Rams’ offense is one of the best in the league, which led to the second-most field goal attempts (43) and most extra-point attempts (51) in 2017. Ficken replaced Zuerlein for two games last season and nailed two of three field goals and four of five extra points.
By the way, in other kicker news, the Vikings signed Dan Bailey (Daniel Carlson waived) and the Browns signed Greg Joseph (Zane Gonzalez waived). Bailey has a ton of upside in Minnesota’s strong offense and is another good option if you’re looking to replace Zuerlein.
Throughout this piece, I’ll be referencing “OFP” and “OTD.” OFP stands for opportunity-adjusted fantasy points. Imagine a league in which players are created equal. OFP is a statistic that weighs every pass/carry/target and converts the data into one number that indicates a player’s opportunity to score fantasy points, or his “expected” fantasy point total. For example, if a player has an OFP of 14.5, it means that a league-average player who saw the same workload in the same area of the field would have scored 14.5 fantasy points. OTD works the same way, except instead of fantasy points, it’s touchdowns.
That said, here is the OFP leaderboard from Week 2:
When an offense as good as the Steelers’ is forced to play from behind, there’s sure to be some serious opportunity for fantasy production. That was the case on Sunday, as Pittsburgh fell behind Kansas City 21-0 early. The result was JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown dominating OFP. Smith-Schuster had a massive fantasy week, but it actually could’ve been better based on his usage. All three Steelers rank top six in overall OFP this season, which is an incredible — albeit unsustainable — feat. Nonetheless, the trio should be locked into lineups, along with James Conner, against Tampa Bay this week.
Chris Thompson, RB, Washington Redskins: Thompson had a big Week 2 and OFP shows that it was legit. With 19 catches, Thompson trails only Christian McCaffrey (20) in receptions at running back. Though he was lucky in the touchdown department last season, Thompson was RB10 in fantasy prior to suffering a season-ending broken fibula, so this production isn’t particularly shocking. Thompson isn’t going to score often or carry the ball much, but his massive role as a receiver keeps him in the RB2 mix.
Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch isn’t shown above, but he finished fifth in OFP at running back in Week 2. Lynch had 18 carries and two targets in the loss to Denver. Lynch won’t add much as a receiver (four targets thus far), but he’ll be busy as a rusher (29 carries) and near the goal line. He’s a flex option in PPR and in the RB2 mix in non-PPR.
Could Bills QB Josh Allen actually sneak into fantasy relevance? OFP suggests he could. Despite sitting out the first half of Week 1, Allen ranks 16th at the quarterback position in OFP through two weeks. That’s ahead of the likes of Kirk Cousins, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo. Allen has struggled (his minus-15 FORP is third worst) and the Bills’ offense is terrible, but Allen’s rushing production can’t be overlooked. He ranks fourth at the position in carries (12) and sixth in rushing yards (58). Allen’s 11.8 average depth of throw trails only Patrick Mahomes (11.9). This sounds a lot like 2017’s DeShone Kizer, who ranked seventh at quarterback in OFP (thanks to a high aDOT, playing from behind often and a lot of rushing), but posted a horrific minus-79 OFP and was well off the fantasy radar. If Allen is somewhat competent, however, he could sneak into the QB2 mix. His progress is worth monitoring.
Broncos RB Phillip Lindsay has taken the league by storm, rising from unheralded, undrafted free-agent signing to Denver’s clear top running back. Lindsay sits 14th at running back through Week 2, though it’s worth noting that he’s 26th in OFP. That suggests he’ll need to create more separation between himself, Devontae Booker and Royce Freeman. Lindsay (53 snaps, 16 routes, 29 carries, 4 targets) has been the top back so far, but Freeman (44, 15, 23, 2) and Booker (39, 25, 5, 2) aren’t far behind. Freeman also has been the primary goal-line back, handling both of the team’s carries by running backs inside the opponent’s 4-yard line thus far. Consider Lindsay an RB2 and Freeman a flex option in non-PPR.
Vikings WR Adam Thielen exploded in Week 2 and now sits eighth at wide receiver in fantasy points. Though he’s 10 points above his OFP, Thielen sits seventh at the position in the category. Thielen’s massive 31 percent target share is excellent, but may be hard to sustain with Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and Dalvin Cook also involved. Additionally, Thielen scored on Sunday, but isn’t yet a proven commodity in that department. He has never eclipsed five touchdowns in a season and has been targeted while inside the opponent’s 9-yard line once this season.
The Rams have had a third wide receiver on the field for all but one of their 68 pass plays through Week 2. That 99 percent rate tops the NFL, which is no surprise considering they paced the league in the category in 2017. Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp all rank top 25 at wide receiver in OFP and the Rams’ wide receiver-friendly offense will allow all three to remain fantasy starters.
The Patriots, meanwhile, rank last in three-plus wide receiver sets when passing, at 38 percent. Instead, they’ve gone with two running backs a league-high 36 percent of the time and with two-plus tight ends at a 31 percent rate (sixth highest). This has obviously been a product of weak wide receiver personnel, but figures to change following Monday’s acquisition of Josh Gordon.
The Chiefs’ offense has scored 10 touchdowns in two games. That’s obviously unsustainable, and it is to a major extent. Consider that an Andy Reid offense hasn’t exceeded 2.7 scores per game during his five previous seasons with the Chiefs. Kansas City has also scored all 10 of its touchdowns through the air (Reid has averaged a 57 percent rate here since joining the Chiefs) and has been held to a field goal attempt once. Regression to the mean will hit this offense hard, though if Patrick Mahomes continues to play well, this has the looks of one of the league’s better units.
The Lions and Raiders are the only two teams that have allowed at least 140 rushing yards in both games this season. Detroit was smacked for 169 yards by the Jets and 190 yards by the 49ers. Oakland allowed 140 yards to the Rams and 168 to the Broncos. Both teams are above 5.6 YPC allowed. The Raiders play the Dolphins in Week 3 and the Lions host the Patriots. Especially considering the two defenses’ personnel woes, Kenyan Drake, Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead should be upgraded in Week 3.
The NFL’s leading rusher through Week 2? You guessed it: 49ers RB Matt Breida. OK, maybe you didn’t guess that, but it’s yet another running back taking advantage of Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Breida has actually played seven fewer snaps and has four fewer carries than Alfred Morris, but the second-year back is averaging 8.4 yards per carry. Breida is obviously going to crash back to earth in terms of efficiency, so he’ll need an uptick in volume in order to sustain RB2 production. He currently sits 29th at the position with a 21 OFP (plus-10 FORP).
Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard currently sits seventh in fantasy points at the tight end position, but his production shouldn’t be considered sustainable. Howard sits 28th in OFP, behind the likes of Jason Croom, Maxx Williams and Ian Thomas. Howard has been targeted only six times and has benefited from a pair of long touchdowns. Howard is worth a bench spot as he’s an every-down player and running well ahead of Cameron Brate, but he’ll need more volume to keep up TE1 production.
Speaking of unsustainable, let’s talk about Buccaneers WR DeSean Jackson. Jackson has been targeted just nine times in two games, but has caught all of them for 275 yards and three touchdowns. He’s third at wide receiver in fantasy points, but 54th in OFP. His plus-38 FORP is highest in the NFL, ahead of Tyreek Hill (plus-36) and teammate Ryan Fitzpatrick (plus-35). Jackson, who is sharing wide receiver snaps with three other players, is about as obvious a sell-high player as you’ll see this season.
Colts QB Andrew Luck is back and playing the most conservative ball of his career. Luck sports a 5.34 average depth of throw, which is higher than only Derek Carr (5.29). Luck’s previous career low in the category was 8.1 back in 2013. On the plus side, Luck has completed 71 percent of his passes and has been off target on just 15 percent of his passes (both would be career-best marks). Luck’s underwhelming start has also included just nine rushing yards and a 4-3 TD-INT mark. He sits 20th in fantasy points, though he is 13th in OFP at the position. Luck remains in the QB1 discussion, but is a strong bench candidate in Philadelphia this week.
Are the Jets’ and Dolphins’ defenses for real? I don’t think so … at least not to this extent. The two teams rank first and third, respectively, in D/ST fantasy points through Week 2, but there are reasons for that.
Let’s start with the Jets, who I had as a mid-pack defense on paper entering the season. The Jets’ defense was impressive in a Week 1 destruction of the Lions before falling short at home against the Dolphins in Week 2. This team has a solid interior defensive line and plenty of talent at corner, linebacker and safety, but edge rusher remains a major concern area. This unit also has benefited from a league-high five interceptions and two defensive touchdowns (we’ll see if that’s sustainable). I can see some upside here, but I think this unit falls back to more of a streaming option in upcoming weeks.
I’m less optimistic about Miami. The Dolphins allowed 20 points in a win against the underwhelming Titans offense in Week 1, before slowing a Jets offense without much firepower in Week 2 (yes, the Jets scored four touchdowns in Week 1, but against what is arguably the league’s worst defense and with multiple short fields). The Miami defense has a solid group of pass-rushers, but does not stand out in the interior line and has significant concerns at linebacker. Another step forward from corners Xavien Howard, Bobby McCain and Minkah Fitzpatrick could be the difference-maker here, but high-end play against a good — or even average — offense is something we need to see. Miami faces Oakland in Week 3 before its first big test at New England in Week 4.
Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett has scored twice in two games this season after totaling three receiving touchdowns during the previous two seasons. Lockett posted a 3-59-1 line against Denver in the opener and improved to 5-60-1 against Chicago on Monday night. Lockett’s 17 percent target share leaves something to be desired, especially with Doug Baldwin sidelined, but it’s also much higher than his 13 percent share during both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Lockett will remain in the flex discussion if Baldwin remains out against Dallas in Week 3.
Bears WR Allen Robinson racked up 14 targets on Monday Night Football, which was double the next-closest player in the game. Robinson has now eclipsed 60 receiving yards in both games with Chicago and his 145 receiving yards ranks 23rd at the position. Robinson is clearly Mitchell Trubisky’s go-to target and he won’t be short of volume in an offense that will continue to lean on the pass.
Cardinals RB David Johnson is off to a disappointing start, but it’s no time to panic. Johnson has handled 22 carries, 32 pass routes and 10 targets over 67 of a possible 94 snaps. He has deferred some passing-down work to Chase Edmonds (18 routes and nine targets), but is still the preferred choice in that department. Johnson remains a rare workhorse and the volume figures to lead to production in a hurry.
Falcons RB Devonta Freeman was out in Week 2 and could miss a few more games. That opened the door for Tevin Coleman to play 39 of 59 possible snaps against the Panthers in Week 2. Coleman carried the ball 16 times and was targeted on four of 17 routes. Backup Ito Smith carried the ball on nine of 18 snaps and was targeted on one of four routes. Each of the three Falcons backs is averaging at least 5.0 yards per carry this season. Coleman is in the RB2 mix against a Saints defense faring well against the run so far this season.
Panthers TE Ian Thomas was on the field for 61 of the Panthers’ 65 offensive snaps and ran 41 of 47 possible pass routes in Week 2. Thomas was targeted only three times, but the hefty playing time is a good sign. Thomas isn’t a reliable starter in most formats just yet, but remains in the TE2 discussion.
Speaking of replacement tight ends, the Titans’ Jonnu Smith filled in for Delanie Walker (injured reserve) on Sunday by playing all 56 of Tennessee’s offensive snaps. Smith ran a route on 17 of 22 pass plays, but bizarrely was not targeted. The lack of targets is a concern, but like Thomas, the playing time is great news. Especially with Marcus Mariota seemingly due back soon, Smith remains a sleeper (albeit not yet a starter) at the position.
When Eagles RB Jay Ajayi left Sunday’s game with an injury, the Eagles turned to both Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood. Clement played 31 snaps (22 routes) and registered 12 looks. Smallwood handled 23 snaps (13 routes) and eight looks. Ajayi was limited to 21 snaps (10 routes) and eight looks. Ajayi returned to the game and should be fine in Week 3, but this is a heads up that the Eagles will employ a committee (that would also include Darren Sproles) if Ajayi misses time.
With Josh Gordon out of the picture, the Browns turned to Antonio Callaway (48 snaps, 29 routes, 4 targets) and Rashard Higgins (45 snaps, 24 routes, 7 targets) behind Jarvis Landry in Week 2. This is what we should expect moving forward, though Callaway’s role presumably will continue to rise. The rookie is worth a roster spot, but can’t be counted on to start just yet.
Is Bengals WR Tyler Boyd a reliable WR3/flex option? He’s getting close. Boyd caught six of nine targets for 91 yards and one touchdown against Baltimore in Week 2. He’s clearly the team’s No. 2 wide receiver, out-snapping John Ross 99 to 73 and out-targeting him 14 to 6 through two games. Boyd should be in your flex in 12-team leagues when the matchup is beneficial.
Same game, same question, except for Ravens WR John Brown. Is he now a weekly starter? Yes. Brown posted a 4-92-1 line (10 targets) in Week 2 and his 32 OFP (17th among wide receivers) suggests his production aligns well with his opportunity. Brown is still the Ravens’ No. 2 receiver — he’s eight behind Michael Crabtree in snaps, six behind in routes and two behind in targets — but he has been the offense’s most productive weapon. Brown is a flex option, but a risky one in Week 3 against Denver.
Should any Packers running backs be in fantasy lineups against Washington in Week 3? No. Aaron Jones is back from suspension, but his role is uncertain in his first game back. That said, he’s likely to get some run as a ball carrier considering Jamaal Williams’ continued struggles. Williams sits 10th in the NFL in carries (31), but is averaging 3.4 yards per carry and has added only 12 yards on three targets. Ty Montgomery, meanwhile, has played 44 snaps to Williams’ 80, which has limited him to 10 touches. Jones may eventually emerge as lead back here, but for now, all of these guys need to be on benches.
Can I drop Chargers TE Antonio Gates? Sure. It’s possible Gates is being brought along slowly after signing just prior to Week 1, but he simply isn’t getting enough run right now. Gates has been on the field for 40 of the team’s 128 offensive snaps (31 percent) and has been targeted on four of those 40 snaps.
Should I be panicking about Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott‘s slow start? No. Elliott sits eighth among running backs in fantasy points, is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and — perhaps most notably — is playing a huge role as a receiver. Elliott is tied for the team lead in pass routes (44), is third in targets (nine) and is handling a career-high 19 percent target share. The receiving workload has allowed him only 26 yards so far, but Elliott’s 20 touches per game are going to allow a ton of fantasy production going forward. He’s still an elite RB1.