Yahoo feud continues

Last week, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek column about how Yahoo’s critique of two fantasy football drafts was forcing me to retire as an analyst. The Yahoo critiquer found fault with my draft day decision to take a certain Rams running back. “Despite open slots at quarterback and wide receivers, Alpha Dog drafted running back Cam Akers with the 46th pick, filling the WR/RB/TE flex position at the expense of a position of greater importance.”

It’s hard to defend my selection of Akers in the fourth round after Akers rushed three times for zero yards and was not targeted in the passing game in the Super Bowl champion’s embarrassing loss Thursday night on national television. Akers, who was out-touched 18-3 by Darrell Henderson, looked like a shell of his former self and may still be struggling to recover from a soft-tissue injury that caused him to miss a large portion of camp.

If you take a closer look at the critiquer’s comment, he’s not critical of my decision to take Akers in the fourth round. His criticism is based on the fact that I had drafted two running backs and a tight end in the first three rounds and should have targeted a wide receiver or quarterback. Now, it’s with a certain amount of pleasure that I will turn the tables on my critic and make him look foolish. Listen to what he said about my ninth-round selection.

“Everyone thinks they’re the next fantasy expert these days, so there’s no telling who led you to select Henderson Jr. in the 9th round, about 22 picks earlier than his ADP of 121. Projected to score 126 fantasy points this season with the Rams, he will need to outperform expectations to top last year when he rushed for 688 yards and five touchdowns and grabbed 29 passes for 176 yards and 3 TDs over 12 games to earn 149 fantasy points.”

This week, the fantasy football “experts” are calling Henderson a must-start at home against the Atlanta Falcons. There’s certainly no reason to think Henderson won’t lead the Rams backfield again. Apparently, Coach Sean McVay made the decision for Henderson to be his lead back before kickoff in Thursday Night Football. After all, Akers didn’t see the field until the second quarter and never played more than a few snaps at a time.        

Henderson, who gained 47 yards rushing, was also targeted five times from the backfield and caught all five balls for 28 yards against the stingy Bills defense. But is it really that surprising that Henderson could be the lead back in this backfield? Cam Akers’ Achilles injury prior to training camp opened the door for Henderson last year, and he put up career numbers. There’s no doubt that those numbers would have been better if he’d been able to stay healthy.

So, Yahoo, maybe it wasn’t so outrageous for me to draft Henderson in the 9th round. After all, he’s now being called the sleeper running back of the year by some. But the reality is that I didn’t take the Memphis product based on my belief that he would be the lead back for the Rams. I took Henderson because I was confident either Akers or Henderson would ultimately dominate touches this year. It’s not going to be Kyren Williams or Jake Funk.  

Perhaps, McVay will opt for a committee approach similar to what Vic Fangio did with Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon. Splitting carries between two backs is becoming more popular in the NFL. But keep in mind that the approach didn’t go so well in Denver as Vic Fangio finished the season 7-10 last year and was fired. Of course, it will work out just fine for Williams if he can continue to get 12 targets per game from Russell Wilson. But I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.  

With Week 1 in the books, there’s always a temptation to overreact to what happened on the field in each team’s opener. My advice is to make notes but don’t overreact. Each team has sixteen more games to play. However, there were plenty of surprises. I will confess that I might have been wrong about some players – both on the positive and negative sign. With that said, here are a few of my observations after watching the games and studying the stats:

RUNNING BACKS

I only managed to draft Saquon Barkley in one of my leagues, which is a pity because the Penn State product appears to be back to superstar status. Barkley carried the ball 18 times for 164 yards and a touchdown and caught six of seven targets in Sunday’s upset over the Titans. Trailing 20-13 late in the game, Barkley broke a 33-yard run to set up his two-yard TD plunge. He then dragged two Tennessee defends across the goal line to score a two-point conversion.

Nick Chubb is one of the best pure runners in the league, and he proved that Sunday by running all over the Panthers defense, breaking tackles and making defenders miss on his way to 141 yards rushing on 22 carries. In spite of not scoring a touchdown and only being targeted once by Jacoby Brissett, he finished the day with 15.3 fantasy points. It was frustrating to see him on the sidelines as Kareem Hunt scored twice in the win, but he’ll get his chances in the red zone.

It really looked like Antonio Gibson was going to be part of the supporting cast in the Washington backfield until the shooting of rookie Brian Robinson. With Robinson sidelined for the opener, Gibson made the most of his opportunity to start. He handled 14 carries, caught seven passes and totaled 130 yards. J.D. McKissic had just a minor role. Gibson should have at least three more games to prove his value to the coaching staff before Robinson returns.

As Miles’ Sanders ADP continued to sink throughout the preseason, I wondered if reports of his demise were premature. It seems so, based on his performance Sunday in Detroit. Sanders carried the ball 13 times for 96 yards and found his way into the end zone. This came in spite of quarterback Jalen Hurts rushing 17 times for 90 yards and a touchdown. These are the top two running backs in the Eagles backfield, and neither of them is named Kenneth Gainwell.

No fantasy analyst believed James Robinson would immediately resume his role as the lead running back in Jacksonville after suffering an Achilles injury in December. Most players need a year to recover fully from that kind of injury, and Travis Etienne was waiting in the wings. But Robinson out-touched Etienne 12 to six Sunday, scoring two touchdowns. He had 19.9 fantasy points. If you’re in a 10-team league, check your waiver wire and see if Robinson is available.  

On the negative side of the ledger, I can’t believe I drafted Elijah Mitchell on one of my teams. There’s no denying that the 49ers running back is good. He was averaging almost seven yards per carry when he suffered a sprained MCL in terrible playing conditions early in the second quarter of a game in Chicago.  With Mitchell going on the IL, you can get Jeff Wilson off of waivers but there’s no guarantee he’ll get all of Mitchell’s work. You’d be better off trading for Deebo Samuel.

Speaking of being negative, what in the world happened to Aaron Jones against the Vikings? Jones, who was being drafted in the second round in most fantasy drafts, had only five carries and three receptions on five targets. Despite trailing the entire game, A.J. Dillon was more active as both a runner and receiver. The rushing part wasn’t as big of a surprise as the receiving part. If Dillon is going to lead the Packers backfield, Jones will be a fantasy bust.

Jets rookie Breece Hall was being drafted in the fourth or fifth round a couple of weeks ago, while Michael Carter was going in the 12th round. I frankly discounted reports saying Michael Carter was ahead of Hall on the depth chart. Maybe, those reports had merit because Carter had four more rushing attempts and one more reception.  For now, this appears to be a timeshare, though that could change down the road. In my opinion, this is backfield to avoid.

Dameon Pierce shot up draft boards after he was declared the starting running back for the Texans. In retrospect, I’m glad I chose to fade him. Despite a favorable game script in his first game, Pierce had only 11 rushes for 33 yards and caught one ball for six yards. Meanwhile, Rex Burkhead led the team with 14 carries, while being targeted eight times. Burkhead wound up with 70 total yards in the game. Like the Jets, the Texans backfield is another one to avoid.

WIDE RECEIVERS

When my sister-in-law took Justin Jefferson with the second overall pick in our home league draft, I thought she was reaching a bit. As it just so happened, Candy was my opening matchup in our league, and Jefferson scored close to 40 fantasy points. I lost. Jefferson made an excellent Packers secondary look pitiful on Sunday, spending most of the day wide open. He wound up catching 9-of-11 targets for 184 yards, a career high, and he also had two touchdowns.

Reunited and it feels so good. Davante Adams and quarterback Derek Carr, best friends since their college football days at Fresno State, haven’t lost their bond. Carr targeted Adams on 46 percent of his passes Sunday, and Adams caught 10 of 17 targets for 141 yards and a touchdown. Oh, and 30 fantasy points, too. If you were smart enough to draft Adams in the second round, you should feel good because clearly the Raiders offense runs through Adams this season.  

While Hurts was running the ball down the Lions throats in Detroit, he stayed true to form and put the ball in the air less than 30 times. But A.J. Brown was targeted on 13 of Hurts’ 29 pass attempts, while catching 10 of his 18 completions. With 155 yards, the only other wide receiver to post stats was Zach Pascal, who had one catch for seven yards. DeVonta Smith (no catches) and Dallas Goedert each had four targets. Like Adams, Brown appears to be a target hog.

Speaking of target hogs, I had my doubts about Tyreek Hill after the trade to Miami. The Dolphins had been a run-first team in 2021, and there was the up-and-coming Jaylen Waddle on the other side of the field. Although Waddle had a good game Sunday, with a 4/69/1 line, Tyreek Hill out-targeted him 12 to five. With Hill having complained about his target share in Kansas City, his advocates believed the team would be compelled to feed him targets. It looks like they’re right.

It was expected to be a two-headed beast in Indianapolis with Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman. Frankly, I thought managers were getting out ahead of their skis drafting Pittman early in the third round, but maybe not. Matt Ryan targeted Pittman 13 times, and they connected on nine passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. That wound up being 27.10 PPR fantasy points for Pittman. There was still plenty of work for Taylor, who had 31 carries for 161 yards and a touchdown.  

While Pittman is on trajectory to live up to his preseason hype, managers who invested a second-round pick on CeeDee Lamb are probably having some buyer’s remorse after he caught only two of his 11 targets for 29 yards, no touchdowns and 4.9 PPR fantasy points. Lamb was expected to be a top fantasy wideout Amari Cooper was traded to Cleveland and Cedrick Wilson left for Miami. But it’s becoming clear that even a healthy Dak Prescott is not a very good quarterback.

Mike Williams can’t make the same excuse as Lamb. He has Justin Herbert throwing passes his way. There was talk that Williams would displace Keenan Allen as the Chargers WR1 this year, and I bought into the hype. I drafted him in the fourth round as my WR1 in one league. My hope was he would be the guy who averaged 10.2 targets during the first five weeks of 2021. He looked nothing like that guy Sunday against the Raiders, garnering just two receptions on four targets.

Another fourth-round darling was D.J. Moore. Analysts and pundits loved Moore heading into 2022, but he trailed teammates Robbie Anderson and Christian McCaffrey in receptions, with the former also garnering more targets than Moore. Although Moore managed a long gain of 26 yards, it was a modest performance overall from Carolina’s No. 1 wideout. Perhaps, he can build some chemistry with new quarterback Baker Mayfield ahead of Week 2’s matchup with the Giants.

The hype train also made a stop in Chicago this summer, taking Darnell Mooney for a ride that ended abruptly in the rain at Soldier Field. Mooney caught 1-of-3 targets for eight yards in the Bears’ upset victory over the 49ers. Justin Fields only attempted 17 passes on a miserable day, completing eight of them. Mooney, who became the WR1 as a rookie, showed rapport last year with Fields. But one must wonder if Fields is even good enough to propel Mooney to the next level.  

TIGHT END

In my tight end preview three weeks ago, I identified the three elite tight ends as Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews and Kyle Pitts. I’m rethinking Pitts being part of that trio after Sunday’s opener in Atlanta. Pitts caught two of seven targets for 19 yards during Sunday’s 27-26 loss to New Orleans. He was targeted two times on the opening drive and added a key reception at the end of the first half that set up a last-second field goal. Then he went missing in action in the second half.

QUARTERBACK

I came very close to taking Aaron Rodgers late in one of my drafts because he’s Aaron Rodgers. He must have switched uniforms with someone on Sunday because he certainly didn’t look like a future Hall of Fame quarterback. He completed 22 of 34 passes for 195 yards, no touchdowns and an interception just before halftime. The break didn’t help either because he came back on the field and fumbled after being sacked. Worst of all, he put up only 3.7 fantasy points in Minnesota.   

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

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