News & Analysis

Jahnke: Fantasy football reactions to Texans at Chiefs

We are one NFL game in the book, and there's already a lot to learn for fantasy purposes. Both the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans went through major changes in their backfields, and the Texans rolled out some brand new receivers. In some cases our assumptions going into the season were confirmed, but there are other players whose stock we'll have to adjust already.

This will be an ongoing series throughout the NFL season after Sunday’s slate of action and also for notable Thursday and Monday night games. At least once per week I’ll look at the snaps taken by skill players in various situations to see how that compares to players' past usage and what that means about their future.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire breakout game

Clyde Edwards-Helaire had a monster game, rushing for 135 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown. He didn’t have any catches despite being targeted. Clearly, he'll have even bigger games in the near future.

Over the first half, Edwards-Helaire saw 23 snaps to Darrel Williams 16. Williams played more than Edwards-Helaire on third and fourth downs, and Williams had all of the snaps in the two-minute drill Kansas City ran to end the first half. In the second half, the Chiefs trusted Edwards-Helaire more and he played in over 75% of snaps, including more third downs.

Chiefs halfback snap percentage by half
Halfback 1st Half 2nd Half
Clyde Edwards-Helaire 59.0% 76.7%
Darrel Williams 41.0% 23.3%
Darwin Thompson 0.0% 0.0%

For other teams, what happened in the first half would be some cause for concern. Depending on game scripts, sometimes a back who sees more third down and two-minute drill snaps can end up with the majority of snaps due to the game script. No one expects the Chiefs to be down late in games trying to catch up often, so Edwards-Helaire should be safe there.

There's also reason to believe he can improve by playing better close to the goal line. Edwards-Helaire took all six of the Chiefs' carries within 5 yards of the end zone. He ran for -2 yards, which is bound to regress and lead to some touchdowns in future games.

The Chiefs appeared to trust Edwards-Helaire more as the game went on, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they're ready to unleash him for over 75% of snaps next week. He has experience running out the clock at the end of games, and that will be a common occurrence for Kansas City.

Darrel Williams didn’t do enough with his touches to make him any more than the handcuff. It is noteworthy that Williams was the only other halfback to get snaps. Darwin Thompson didn’t have any. If Edwards-Helaire ever were to get hurt, Williams would definitely be the one to own.

One Johnson up, another Johnson down

Last season, Duke Johnson Jr. averaged 34 snaps per game for the Texans, with a minimum of 21 snaps in each game. The addition of David Johnson was supposed to limit his snaps slightly, but David wasn’t expecting to have the same every-down role he had in Arizona.

It was clear in the first half that David was the every-down player and Duke was the backup. There were three plays in the first quarter where both were on the field, and two plays where Duke was in instead of David. Outside of that, David took every backfield snap in the first 28 minutes.

This is great news for those who drafted David, as he should have reliable touches regardless of game script. The Chiefs controlled time of possession in this game, which limited David’s touches, but there aren’t many teams that should be able to do it to the extreme that Kansas City did. This is also bad news for Duke. His role was only in the two-RB sets and occasionally to give David a break.

Houston HB carries and pass routes combined in first half
David Johnson 19
Duke Johnson 4

Things took a turn in the second half, with David getting dinged early but returning to action. Then Duke suffered a leg injury and did not return. If Duke were to miss any time, David could see upwards of 80% of the Texans' offensive snaps. Even if Duke Johnson doesn’t miss time, David Johnson‘s stock is on the rise with how much he played in the first half.

Texans Wide Receiver Rotation

The game started with Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks as the clear starters with Randall Cobb coming in for three-WR sets. The Texans started running more of a rotation at wide receiver in the second quarter, with Kenny Stills mixing in for either Fuller or Cooks several plays in a row. All four receivers saw significant first-half playing time.

DeAndre Carter also started seeing snaps in the second half, with both Cooks and Stills more limited. Cooks' injury coming into the game likely had something to do with his lack of playing time.

Fuller was clearly Watson's favorite receiver to target, as the popular break-out candidate saw half of the QB's targets. He won't maintain such a massive target share, but it’s still promising for his future. Watson will get more used to all of his new targets at some point, but Fuller clearly looks like the top target in a pass-heavy offense. Injury concerns are going to loom, but as long as he’s healthy he should be starting in most fantasy situations.

Neither Cobb nor Stills saw any targets over the first three quarters of the game. Cobb's showing was a disappointment, as there was potential for him to be one of Watson's top targets. I wouldn't drop him yet, but a couple more games like this and it will be time to move off the veteran. 

Chiefs Receiving Pecking Order Remains the Same

In terms of snaps, it was clear Tyreek Hill led the rotation with Sammy Watkins a close second. Demarcus Robinson, like most of last season, remained the third receiver, while Mecole Hardman was fourth.

Sammy Watkins wasn’t getting much love this offseason but was a solid late-round draft pick. He led the team in targets and caught a touchdown. This is his fourth-straight game with 75 or more yards when you include last year's playoffs. Every indication is Watkins will remain the team's second wide receiver option, and he should have a better fantasy season than last year.

On the other hand, people were optimistic about Hardman becoming a bigger part of the offense. There were reasons to believe that Hardman wouldn’t see a significant increase in playing time, but he saw a noteworthy number of his snaps from 12 personnel. In 11 personnel, Robinson had more than double Hardman's snaps. Robinson saw six targets to one for Hardman in total. At this point, Hardman isn’t someone you can reliably start.

Chiefs wide receiver snap percentage from 11 personnel
Tyreek Hill 95.1%
Sammy Watkins 92.7%
Demarcus Robinson 75.6%
Mecole Hardman 34.2%
Byron Pringle 2.4%

Akins Breakout?

The Texans kept Darren Fells and Jordan Akins as their two tight ends, like last year. Fells saw more snaps in 2019, but Akins ran more pass routes and saw more targets, making Akins the tight end to roster in 2020.  There was some hope that Akins would have a breakout year and at least some evidence in this game that he could be a bigger factor in the offense. 

As expected, Akins ran more pass routes, and because of the game script he ended up having more snaps as well. Despite that, the tight ends had the same number of targets at two each. Those who took a chance on Akins this week were rewarded with a touchdown, but two targets on 33 routes isn’t very promising for future fantasy success. In a game where the Texans are more competitive, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Fells see just as much, if not more, playing time as Akins.

Chiefs New No. 2 Tight End

The Chiefs added Ricky Seals-Jones as a restricted free agent from the Browns in free agency, and he was expected to be Kansas City’s second tight end. It was a little surprising to see he was a healthy inactive, and Nick Keizer was the second tight end. Keizer was an undrafted rookie in 2018 who saw the end of 2018 on the Ravens practice squad and all of 2019 on the Chiefs practice squad.

The Chiefs ran a significant number of plays in 12 personnel, which allowed Keizer significant playing time. There were a few plays where Travis Kelce sat out in 11 or 21 personnel with Keizer in, but the Chiefs ran the ball on all of them. He didn’t see any targets and probably wouldn’t be a big factor in the offense if Kelce were to ever miss time. Even though Keizer’s performance wasn’t fantasy-relevant, it’s always good to see a guy who spent two years on the practice squad play significant snaps in his first NFL game.

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