WATCH: Who’d I Miss On? Adam Levitan’s biggest misses from Week 1
Week-to-week player performance can be very volatile. The worst thing we can do is miss out on a fluky big day and then chase it the following week, when that player is both more expensive and more owned.
So by examining usage instead of performance, we can cut through some of the noise and figure out what’s sustainable. Here are the most important usage notes I saw in Week 1. Hat-tip to ProFootballFocus for a lot of the snap info found below.
David Johnson’s concerning pass-game usage
Perhaps a lot of people — myself included — are guilty of overlooking the coaching change in Arizona. Bruce Arians was always one of the more aggressive, vertical-minded, creative offensive schemers. In 2016, Johnson ($8,200) lined up outside the backfield on 36 percent of his snaps and 41 percent of his pass routes, via PFF’s Pat Thorman. He ended up catching 80 balls on 120 targets. But in Week 1, he only lined up outside the backfield on 14 percent of his snaps and 9 percent of his routes. New Cardinals OC Mike McCoy comes from the John Fox coaching tree — he started his NFL coaching career in Carolina and again worked with Fox in Denver. If you’ve followed Fox’s tendencies, you know creativity and aggression are not his calling cards. So yes, I have concerns about Johnson’s usage given the state of the Cardinals and the look of the coaching. His pass-game role is a huge part of what makes him so valuable in fantasy.
George Kittle flashes elite tight end usage
At the ever-thin tight end position, it doesn’t take much to be a rising fantasy star. So Kittle ($3,800), one of the most hyped preseason players until he sustained a shoulder injury, is well on his way. He ran a route on 33 of Jimmy Garoppolo’s 38 dropbacks, compared to just five routes run for backup Garrett Celek. Kittle finished with 5-90-0 on nine targets and had chances at a whole bunch more. He’s going to be a strong play at $3,800 for a home game against the Lions in Week 2.
Jack Doyle the perfect fit with Andrew Luck
The new regime’s plan for Luck ($6,200) is very clear. He’s going to be a dink-and-dunk quarterback, getting the ball out quick to both hide the shaky offensive line and protect his shoulder. This makes perfect sense, especially when we consider his arm strength might no longer be what it once was and there are no competent receivers outside of T.Y. Hilton ($6,700) on the roster. So it all sets up perfectly for Doyle ($4,000), who played on 77-of-82 snaps, ran 55 pass routes and pass-blocked zero times in Week 1. Meanwhile, Eric Ebron ($3,500) played on 36 snaps and ran 25 pass routes. By looking at this passing chart, you can see how focused Luck was on the short-middle portion of the field — just like he was in the preseason. That’s where Doyle operates.
Joe Mixon seizes control of Bengals’ offense
A lot of smart people have made a comp between Le’Veon Bell ($9,000) and Mixon. Both are extremely talented backs who came into the league on the big side but slimmed down in an effort to get quicker and expand pass-game role. It all came together for Mixon against the Colts on Sunday, as he played on 78 percent of the snaps, ran 24 routes vs. one pass block and handled 92 percent of the running back touches. We saw him get split wide in the preseason and make plays, pushing Gio Bernard (two touches) into a strict backup role. The kind of usage Mixon projects for this season is rare air in today’s NFL and demands notice.
New slot roles for Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders
The slot has become fantasy’s premier position for wide receivers, particularly in full-PPR formats. Wideouts have the highest catch rates from the slot, often see increased volume and typically avoid the opponent’s best cornerbacks. We’ve seen Larry Fitzgerald, Juju Smith-Schuster, Adam Thielen, Jarvis Landry, Keenan Allen and more go nuts from the slot recently. So it was very notable to see both Thomas ($8,600) and Sanders ($6,200) see their slot rates spike in Week 1. Thomas was inside on 41 percent of his snaps during Sunday’s eruption after being in there on 20 percent last year. Sanders was at 51 percent slot rate Sunday after being at 27 percent last season. If you followed preseason usage, you saw this coming.
Royce Freeman shares with another rookie
We thought when Freeman ($4,300) won the starting job he would handle the vast majority of early-down work. That’s not what the Broncos had in mind. Freeman surprisingly shared the load with both Phillip Lindsay ($4,400) and Devontae Booker ($3,700) on Sunday, forming a three-headed monster. When the dust settled Freeman got 29 snaps, 15 carries and zero targets. Lindsay was at 26 snaps, 15 carries and three targets. Booker got 19 snaps, two carries and two targets. Obviously, this is not a sustainable model for anyone to have reliable weekly value.
Dalvin Cook shakes off workload concerns
Cook ($6,500) entered Sunday just 11 months removed from an ACL tear, generating concerns about how big a workload the Vikings would give him. It turns out they had no concerns. Cook was in on 80 percent of the snaps and handled 66 percent of the RB touches. Perhaps more importantly for game-flow independence and full-PPR scoring, Cook ran 31 pass routes vs. two for backup Latavius Murray ($4,600). Cook’s price on DraftKings only went up $300 because of a disappointing 13.4 DK points, but his usage reflects a $7K+ player.
Browns don’t ease in Josh Gordon
The Browns said Gordon ($5,800) wouldn’t start in Week 1 after missing so much camp time. Then a report came out Sunday morning that the plan was to use him for about 20 snaps. Both of those things proved to be false as Gordon played on 69-of-89 snaps in the Week 1 tie and ran a route on 47 of Tyrod Taylor’s ($5,800) 54 dropbacks (87 percent). Somehow, Gordon only saw three targets as Taylor targeted Jarvis Landry ($6,300) 15 times. But perhaps that was due to a lack of familiarity since the duo hasn’t practiced much together. Gordon, the clear-cut No. 2 wideout here, is a leap of faith but at least interesting against the Saints on Sunday.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is adamlevitan) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.