Week 1 fantasy football reaction

It was a Week 1 with plenty of standout performances. What do they mean? Tristan Cockcroft and Matt Bowen are here with instant analysis on the biggest fantasy performers.

Here are the players who stood out from a fantasy perspective.

1 p.m. ET games

Cockcroft: Jackson’s 40.7 PPR fantasy points, a total that looks all the more remarkable if you consider that he was lifted from the Baltimore Ravens‘ 59-10 blowout victory against the Miami Dolphins after three quarters, paced all quarterbacks from the 1 p.m. ET game block (seven games). In most unusual fashion, Jackson accomplished the feat primarily passing the football, becoming the first quarterback in Ravens franchise history to have a perfect 158.3 passer rating, thanks to his 371 yards and six touchdowns passing.

To put that into perspective, Jackson made seven starts to conclude his 2018 rookie season and amassed a total of 1,114 yards and five TDs passing. Some of his success Sunday must be attributed to an extremely favorable matchup against a weak Dolphins defense, but Jackson’s willingness to throw deep in this one, especially to rookie wideout Marquise Brown, makes him a more appealing upside play when the matchup calls — and that’s in addition to his already elevated weekly floor, thanks to his rushing ability, which was a nonfactor in Week 1. Jackson was started in only 37.5% of ESPN leagues, a number that should rise in the coming weeks.

Bowen: Jackson diced up the Miami secondary Sunday, going 17-of-20 for 324 yards and five TD throws. I loved the scripted matchups to get Brown loose over the top or the strike zone throw to Willie Snead. Although Jackson didn’t fill up the box score on the ground — only three rushing attempts — his accuracy from the pocket was impressive. I thought Jackson was locked in with both the drop-back game and the pass concepts coming off run-action.

I expect the rushing numbers for Jackson to get a boost moving forward, as they can dial up a bunch of QB designed runs and RPO schemes for Jackson. But in a game in which Baltimore had the matchup advantage versus Miami, new offensive coordinator Greg Roman put together a call sheet to attack the Dolphins’ secondary. With Jackson displaying a noticeable jump in development as a thrower, he is going to climb in my weekly ranks. Dual-threat talent with the Cardinals’ defense is on tap in Week 2.

WR Marquise Brown

Cockcroft: In addition to becoming the first player in NFL history with multiple 40-yard touchdowns in his debut, per Elias, Brown scored 30.7 PPR fantasy points, the sixth-most by a wide receiver since at least 1950. Unfortunately, only 1.1% of ESPN fantasy managers started Brown in Week 1, so most missed out on what might be his best score of the entire season, considering it came against a Dolphins team in shambles. But his two long touchdown scores illustrated his big-play capability, and he appears to have Jackson’s eye, so even from a risk/reward angle, the rookie is worth adding in most fantasy leagues.

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Bowen: It’s all about the explosive play traits with Brown in the Ravens system. This guy can fly, and we saw that early on the quick inside slant route from Jackson. With run-action pulling the linebackers and the post safety down, Brown had a true one-on-one matchup. Win at the top of the route, and make a house call — on a high-percentage throw from Jackson. That’s a basic scheme that leads to a big-play jump for Baltimore. The deep ball to Brown on the post route? Speed wins again.

With Miami in a split-safety look, Jackson had room and open field to stem the safety within the route. And it was a clear read for Jackson. Take the vertical shot, which should be a weekly part of the Ravens’ game plan moving forward. Think about this: Brown averaged 36.8 yards per catch. Although the Ravens don’t get to match up against the Miami defense every week, I’m with Tristan on the risk/reward play. Brown played only 12 snaps on Sunday, but this one featured a bunch of JV guys on the field in the second half. I would expect Brown’s snap count to climb next week, given his production and immediate impact. He should be added in all scoring formats, given his ability to instantly flip the field, with more upside in non-PPR leagues.

Cockcroft: If you thought you might’ve been witnessing Watkins making history in Sunday’s game, you weren’t wrong: His 46.8 PPR fantasy points — the runaway leader among players from the 1 p.m. ET game block — were the most by any wide receiver since Earnest Gray had 50.4 in the 1980 opener. While Watkins capitalized on an early injury to Tyreek Hill (shoulder), he also topped his career high for fantasy points in less than half of the first quarter, with his first touchdown in particular exhibiting his tremendous skill set. If Hill misses additional time, Watkins would be a big benefactor, elevating easily into the WR2 tier with the potential to boost into WR1 when the matchup calls.

Bowen: As Tristan noted, Hill’s injury helped Watkins, but let’s not look past the numbers here. Watkins put up nine catches — on 11 targets — for 198 yards and three scores against an upper-tier Jags defense. Yes, I loved the designed throwback wheel from Andy Reid. That was slick. And it led to an open-target toss from Patrick Mahomes to hit Watkins in space. Catch and go for six. But let’s go back to Watkins’ first score because it highlights his sudden ability after the catch. That’s a simple, Hi-Lo read for Mahomes. Throw the in-cut, right? Sure. However, this is where Watkins turned an intermediate route into a big play. Make the grab, and scoot past the defense. Pursuit angles? Not when Watkins hits the gas. Now, if Hill is down next week, then we bump Watkins up as high-end WR2. Remember, the system in Kansas City, with Mahomes throwing the rock, is going to create positive opportunities. A healthy Watkins becomes a weapon for that offense.

Cockcroft: If you’re a big believer in “revenge” games, you’ll certainly be collecting Jackson’s Week 1 as part of your case. I don’t classify myself among this group, but acknowledge that certain players do, occasionally, step up their games against their former mates, and Jackson’s 35.4 PPR fantasy points, just four-tenths of a point shy of his previous personal best, against the Washington Redskins had that kind of look. With that, Jackson has averaged 18.3 points in his eight career games against former teams, compared to 13.4 in all games played in his career. Of greater relevance to me was his giving quarterback Carson Wentz that deep threat that seemed to be absent in last season’s Eagles offense, as Jackson hauled in a pair of 50-yard TD passes in the process. Jackson is historically an up-and-down weekly fantasy play, tough to gauge around his matchups, but he’s in a good fit for 2019 and should be in your WR3/5 mix.

Bowen: This is the exact impact fantasy managers wanted to see from Jackson in Doug Pederson’s system. In addition to opening up the inside passing lanes with his ability to push safeties down the field, Jackson reminded us that he is a blazer in the vertical passing game. That’s easy money for Wentz. Take those shots when Jackson can get on top of the defense — and let him separate with the ball in the air. Now, as much as I believe in Jackson’s vertical ability and the need for Wentz to challenge the top of the defense, Tristan has noted the up-and-down fantasy history with Jackson. And I’m with him. Yes, Jackson has value as a WR3 in the lineup, but let’s pump the breaks before elevating Jackson in the ranks.

Cockcroft: Although Cook has had a pair of higher-scoring fantasy games in his career than his 26.0 PPR points on Sunday, his 21 carries were more than he had in a game in all of 2018, and the effort continued an upward trend he was showing late last season (as well as in the preseason). With that, Cook has averaged 19.5 points in his past seven regular-season games, and if he can handle more than two-thirds of the snaps — that was his percentage played on Sunday — as well as the occasional 20-carry workload without recurrence of injuries, an RB1 season could be in order.

Bowen: This is the guy I watched back on his college tape at Florida State. He’s fresh, the body is healthy, and he’s playing fast in an offense that wants to lean on the run game. Zone schemes, power, misdirection, more. He’s a fit here, and he showed us Sunday that he can handle 20-plus touches, totaling 120 yards and two scores versus the Atlanta defense. Let’s look at the Next Gen play diagram of Cook’s 22-yard touchdown run.

This is classic one-back power with the misdirection jet sweep mixed in. The scheme is on point, and so is the play from Cook to bounce the rock outside. That’s where we saw the burst to take the ball to the end zone. Yes, Cook will give some touches to rookie Alexander Mattison, but I’m with Tristan here. The Vikings running back looks healthy and should be in line to produce consistent RB1 numbers.

Quick-hitters

Cockcroft: Christian McCaffrey‘s 42.9 PPR fantasy points led all running backs from the 1 p.m. ET game block, and they were the second-most he has scored in any of his 33 career NFL games. He has an astonishing 296.1 points in 10 games played since Nov. 1.

Cockcroft: Los Angeles Rams linebacker Cory Littleton, the No. 3 scoring linebacker from 2018 using the scoring system we do for our weekly ESPN IDP rankings (237.8), set a personal best with 32.5 fantasy points on Sunday behind eight solo tackles, six assisted tackles, two passes defensed, one interception and one fumble recovery. Only nine players had a greater single-game total in all of 2018.

Cockcroft: Cam Newton‘s 2019 debut bust through the bottom of his expected statistical floor, as his 5.4 fantasy points were the worst among starting quarterbacks from the 1 p.m. ET game block. That was also his third-worst single-game score in any of his 124 career games played (123 of those starts).

Bowen: The numbers won’t reflect it, as Miles Sanders posted a total of 27 yards on 11 touches. However, Sanders had a chunk play called back and saw carries in the tight red zone, and I thought he flashed the traits I watched on his college film at Penn State. He’s a dynamic runner who could emerge as a solid flex play this season if he sees a consistent rate of 12-15 touches per game in a high-scoring Eagles offense.

Bowen: Todd Gurley did post more than 100 total yards on offense, and I could see the straight-line speed late in the game on the zone runs, but is there a little concern here for Gurley managers? He saw 14 touches, and backup running back Malcolm Brown scored twice on tight red zone carries and ended up with 11 touches. As of now, it seems that the Rams are fine taking some of the load off Gurley.

Bowen: Is the rushing volume going to jump for Devin Singletary next week? The rookie out of FAU posted 70 yards rushing — on four carries. He has the stop/start speed to find daylight. Even with the Bills using a rotation in the backfield with veteran Frank Gore, Singletary has the pro traits as a runner, and he did catch the ball Sunday, bringing in five of six targets for 28 yards. He’s a solid flex play for me in Week 2 versus the Giants.

4 pm. ET games

Cockcroft: Ekeler, who scored the game-winning touchdown for the Chargers on Sunday, led all running backs from the late games with 39.4 PPR fantasy points. In his first game as the team’s featured back during Melvin Gordon’s holdout, Ekeler played 44 of 59 team snaps (75%), which compares favorably to Justin Jackson‘s 15 of 59 (25%). It’s a situation that might remind some fantasy managers of the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ backfield from a year ago, as Ekeler’s 39.4 points probably bring back memories of James Conner‘s 34.2 points in 2018 Week 1.

While I have my doubts that Ekeler can handle a bell-cow/20-carry kind of weekly workload, his strong pass-catching skills make him a fine weekly RB2 in PPR, even facing what should be a pair of tougher matchups against the Detroit Lions and Houston Texans in Weeks 2 and 3.

Bowen: Tristan hit on the workload numbers for Ekeler. I agree here. We shouldn’t expect Ekeler to carry the rock 20-plus times in Melvin Gordon’s absence. However, if he can get you 10-12 carries on the ground, along with five-to-eight targets in the pass game, the volume is there for Ekeler to post high-end RB2 numbers. Look, Ekeler brings some juice to this offense as a target for Philip Rivers on underneath throws or screens. And the game-winning touchdown run? Great cut there to find daylight. He’s a prime fit for an explosive Chargers offense that will utilize his versatility in the game plan.

Cockcroft: We talk a fair amount about the steep learning curve rookie tight ends face at the NFL level, which is why Hockenson’s performance in his debut on Sunday was one of particular note. In setting a new tight end record in an NFL debut with 131 receiving yards, Hockenson scored 25.1 PPR fantasy points, second-most by a player at the position in his first career game.

It’s one game, yes, but there were preseason hints that Hockenson was going to be heavily involved in Detroit’s offense right away. Plus, he ran 33 routes, a number exceeded by any rookie tight end only three times in all of 2018, and played 57 of 80 (71%) of the offensive snaps. If that doesn’t look like a must-roster tight end, I don’t know what does.

Bowen: With offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell now calling plays for Detroit, Hockeson has the opportunity to become a viable target for QB Matthew Stafford. As Tristan said above, the preseason film on the Iowa alumnus gave us a glimpse into how the tight end can be utilized in the Lions’ offense. That showed up on Sunday, with Hockenson catching six of nine targets for 131 yards and a score. Look, Hockenson has the route-running chops to create separation versus linebackers and safeties. Plus, the Lions can set the table for the rookie on flood concepts, inside matchups or quick game throws underneath. Given the snap count numbers that Tristan mentioned, fantasy managers can count on Hockenson playing a consistent role in Detroit. Get him on the roster.

Bowen: Trust the talent and the upside with Murray in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. That’s how I see it after Murray and this Cardinals offense found a rhythm late in the game versus Detroit.

Yes, the No. 1 overall pick looked every bit like a rookie though the first three quarters against Matt Patricia’s defense. But Murray cashed in late, and Kingsbury found the right schemes to put his quarterback in positive situations. Murray showed excellent touch on deep ball throws, the Cards leaned on the man-coverage beaters in the red zone, and the head coach went into his Air Raid package to set up a 1-on-1 for running back David Johnson down the seam for a TD. Murray finished with 308 yards passing and two touchdowns on a whopping 54 pass attempts. Yes, game flow played a major role there, and it impacted the rushing carries for Murray. But I believe the QB designed runs will become a bigger factor for Murray and this offense moving forward. With that said, we all saw the flashes of what Murray can be in Kingsbury’s offense. He’s a high-ceiling fantasy player who can be started in deeper leagues.

Quick-hitters

Cockcroft: John Ross III‘s 34.8 PPR fantasy points and 12 targets each shattered his previous career highs of 13.2 (2018 Week 4) and seven (2018 Weeks 3, 11 and 12). More importantly, Ross’ 57 snaps and 12 targets compared favorably with those of teammate Tyler Boyd (55 and 11).

Cockcroft: Dak Prescott‘s 34.0 fantasy points fell just eight one-hundredths of a point shy of matching his career best, and he now has his two best single-game efforts in his past two regular-season games (33.5, 2018 Week 17). While it’s easy to discount Prescott’s effort because it came against a poor New York Giants defense, he’s showing improved passing ability and needs to be regarded as a more serious contender for low-end QB1 numbers.

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