News & Analysis

Jahnke: Fantasy football reactions to MNF

Week 1 came to an end with Monday night's double header, which featured four teams that had plenty to show us about how they would use their skill players and what it means for their fantasy futures. In the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers backfield, there's also a clear priority waiver wire pickup.

Editor's note: All of PFF's grades and advanced stats from Week 1 of NFL action are available to ELITE subscribers now. Subscribe today for access!

Let's dive into the results to see how player usage affects fantasy football going forward. Also check out my Sunday Night Football fantasy reaction and Thursday Night Football fantasy reaction before filing those waiver claims for Week 2. 

Benny Snell’s Big Game

James Conner started the early game at running back and played 15 of the first 22 plays for Pittsburgh before suffering a game-ending injury. Before Conner's exit, Benny Snell Jr. had functioned as the the clear No. 2 back with five plays versus Jaylen Samuels‘ two.

With Conner out, there was a clear distinction between the roles of Snell and Samuels. The Steelers ran on 19 of 26 plays with Snell on the field. When Jaylen Samuels was in, they passed on 19 of 20 plays. Despite all of those pass routes, Samuels was only targeted once for 1 yard.

If Conner were to miss any games, Snell is the player to own. He looks to be in line for the majority of the rushing snaps and ideally more passing plays than he saw on Monday. Regardless of Conner's Week 2 status, Snell is a critical handcuff for anyone rostering Conner. The Steelers are downplaying the injury for now, but if Conner misses time, chances are fourth-round rookie Anthony McFarland Jr. would be active and potentially take some of the playing time as well.

Emergence of Chase Claypool

The Steelers have spent a draft pick in the first three rounds on a wide receiver in each of the last four years. All four of these players between 34 and 69 receiving yards on Monday. Second-round rookie Chase Claypool was the most impressive with two big catches for 39 yards, even though he wasn’t the most valuable for fantasy purposes.

Those who drafted Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster should be taking a sigh of relief based on their playing time, as they both played in 55 of a possible 64 snaps. It was James Washington who saw a decrease in playing time, only seeing 37 snaps while Claypool came in for 19. Over the last seven games of last season, Washington had at least 43 snaps in every game with a couple of solid fantasy performances mixed in. 

Claypool looked good and should at the very least continue to see this level of volume. Anyone who took a chance on Washington was rewarded this week with a touchdown. He only had three targets on his 25 pass routes, so he could be someone worth trying to trade.

As for Claypool, he makes for an interesting speculative add if you have enough bench spots. He definitely isn’t someone who can be trusted to start unless he can overtake Washington in snaps, but his playing time should increase as the season progresses.

Steelers Tight Ends To Avoid

Neither Eric Ebron nor Vance McDonald played in over 65% of the offense’s snaps. They both had two targets and one catch. Ebron is the better of the two options long-term — there was a slight tendency for pass plays when he was in compared to rushes for McDonald.

There was hope Ebron would be an end zone threat for Pittsburgh, but he didn't see any of the team's five red zone targets. Neither TE is playing enough or seeing enough volume to be started unless Ebron starts to be used more in the red zone.

Saquon Barkley’s 6 Yards Rushing

Saquon Barkley ran the ball 15 times for six yards, which is the lowest yardage total for a running back with that many carries since 1998. He had -10 yards before contact and 16 yards after it, so his poor performance in part came from the Giants' blocking.

This is not time to panic for Barkley fantasy owners. According to our strength of schedule tool, this was the worst matchup for Barkley this season. He saved fantasy owners with six catches for 60 yards. He should have at least a little more room to operate in future matchups and should be targeted in trades if anyone is freaked out about Monday's box score.

Giants Receivers Without Golden Tate

Since Daniel Jones took over at quarterback, the team has yet to have all four of Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate and Evan Engram healthy for the same game. The three wide receivers were drafted close together according to ADP, so it will be an interesting story line throughout the season to see who ends up with the better fantasy season. 

C.J. Board and Damion Ratley split the third wide receiver snaps. Even if Tate were to miss more time, neither player is worth a roster spot in fantasy. Slayton ended up playing a few more snaps than Shepard, but those extra snaps all came from run plays. Slayton ended up with more targets and yards than Shepard, along with two touchdowns.

Because the two were close in targets, I’m not sure it’s time to go all in with Slayton as the best receiver here, but this game was certainly promising for him. Engram saw the playing time he should expect and a solid seven targets, but he only caught two passes and dropped two. Engram has been considered a TE1 in large part due to his usage, though quality of play hasn’t always matched the volume, which leads to some disappointing games like this.

Broncos New RBBC

Phillip Lindsay suffered a foot injury late in the first half and didn't return to the game, but we got an idea of how the Broncos would use him and free-agent addition Melvin Gordon III. Before the injury, Lindsay had 19 snaps to Gordon's 15. They were very balanced in terms of run vs. pass usage, with Lindsay having a slight edge running while Gordon had a slight edge receiving. Lindsay did have a tendency to play on first and second downs, while Gordon was the clear third-down back. They split snaps near the goal line. 

This usage was good news for Lindsay, provided he is good to go in Week 2. The third-year back was expected to spell Gordon but not necessarily to work in an even split. There was concern that Royce Freeman could be involved in the committee, but he didn’t play until the fourth quarter. Gordon has the potential to see over 60% of snaps with a stronger hold on the job, but it’s harder to trust starting him in a 50/50 time share.

If Lindsay were to miss time, Gordon would be a must-start — he would likely see over 75% of the snaps with Lindsay out like he did in the second half. Freeman is also worth a look if Lindsay is out for any significant period. He won't be someone to start unless Gordon gets hurt, too. 

The Debut of Jerry Jeudy

With Broncos No. 1 wide receiver Courtland Sutton and second-round rookie KJ Hamler inactive, there’s not much to take away from the Broncos wide receiver usage. First-round rookie Jerry Jeudy saw roughly the same number of pass routes as returning players Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton.

The expectation is for Jeudy to join the two inactive players in most three wide receiver sets. There was some evidence to support this, as Jeudy saw the most targets and had the most receiving yards among the three wide receivers. Jeudy's target total was impressive but will take a hit once the other young studs get healthy. Still, he's clearly going to be a focal point if Sutton or Hamler miss any more time.

Noah Fant Sophomore Breakout?

Noah Fant had two monster games as a rookie in 2019 against the Browns and Texans with 110-plus yards and a touchdown in large part thanks to yards after the catch. He failed to get more than 60 yards in any of his other games and only scored one other touchdown.

Against the Titans, Fant caught five of six passes for 81 yards and a score — a line that ranks among his top three games of his career. It was just the second time he caught five passes in a game. He still had a high amount of yards come after the catch but wasn’t as dependent on it in his other breakout games.

While some of his target share is due to the injured wide receivers, he had one of the most promising games from a tight end this week. Fant has two of his least favorable matchups of the season over the next two weeks, so don’t be surprised if he doesn’t repeat this performance in September. From there on, he's at worst a borderline starter the rest of the season.

Jonnu Smith The Waiver Wire TE Target

Most of the 2020 tight end breakout candidates were guaranteed to see opportunities but hadn’t proven they can play at a high level. Jonnu Smith was the opposite in that his rate stats were very impressive and he just needed more playing time and targets.

Smith saw 59 total snaps Monday night, which is more than he had in any game in 2019. He had seven targets for just the third time in his career. He didn’t do particularly well with his catches outside of the touchdown, but it was still good to see him get the playing time and the targets.

Smith should have been drafted in most leagues, but he needs to be rostered across the board. He has legitimate skills with the ball in his hands and is clearly a part of this offense — and there are plenty of favorable tight end matchups on the Titans schedule coming up. 

Corey Davis Strong Performance

The rest of the Titans wide receivers and running backs saw the exact playing time you would expect, as they have largely the same skill players from last year. The only surprise among them was Corey Davis, who caught seven of eight passes thrown his way for 101 yards with all seven catches going for first downs.

It was only the third 100-yard game of Davis' career — he didn't hit that mark in 2019. He’s available in most leagues and probably should be at the bottom of some fantasy rosters, but I wouldn’t expect this high level of fantasy play to continue. In a run-first offense alongside A.J. Brown, it’s unlikely that Davis sees eight targets many more times this season. Chances are he won’t maintain an 87.5% catch rate with 100% of catches going for first downs, either.

While I wouldn’t trust starting Davis at this point, he’s still worth the roster spot because he has graded well throughout his career, just not with the fantasy numbers you would expect. If he continues to step up his level of play, then Tennessee would have to give him more targets.

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