As great as A.J. Brown was in his Tennessee days, he was more secret weapon than anything. Rookie season? Brown finished as the fantasy WR9 despite ranking 46th in receiver targets. The following year, it was more of the same — WR9 finish, 30th on the target board. Brown’s rank collapsed to WR32 last year, despite a bump up in workload.
But the Titans never peppered him with constant opportunities. For Brown’s time in Tennessee, he had just five games with double-digit targets.
So perhaps it’s wheels-up time in Philadelphia. The Eagles said all summer that they wanted to feature Brown early and often, and that was the game plan as Philly outraced Detroit on Sunday, 38-35.
Brown racked up a juicy 10-155-0 line on 13 targets, the clear focus of the passing game. Heck, the Eagles only attempted 32 passes, and no one else saw more than four targets.
That’s a 38 percent target share for the new kid in town.
Of course, the Eagles have a loaded offensive line and plenty of running weapons, and those things were also in play Sunday. Jalen Hurts ran for 90 yards and a touchdown, tucking neatly beside his 243 passing yards. Miles Sanders also had 96 yards and a score, quickly opening his account after going the entire 2021 season without a spike. Kenneth Gainwell (5-20-1) and Boston Scott (4-10-1) also got into the paint.
Philly’s usage and touchdown distribution will be a key element for fantasy managers to monitor. Hurts, after all, averaged just over one touchdown pass per game last year. If Brown is going to be the alpha of this offense, it could hold back Dallas Goedert (3-60-0, four targets) and Devonta Smith (no catches, four targets) now and again.
Every wideout in the NFL has some boom and bust element to his game, but Smith is probably on the high end of that variability chart.
The opening third of the Eagles' schedule is a daisy — Philly plays Minnesota, Washington, Jacksonville and Arizona over the next four weeks. There isn’t a formidable defense in that mix, even if the Vikings did harass Aaron Rodgers for three hours. I don’t know who’s going to get the most quarters, but the Philadelphia offense should be in pinball mode for a while.
Star receivers coming out hot
Brown needed to work hard to get noticed Sunday. Without a touchdown, he stands WR6 on the opening week leaderboard as we go to press. It’s been a smashing debut week for the name-brand receivers.
Cooper Kupp and Stefon Diggs both had their good stuff in the Thursday opener (and Kupp continues to dominate targets). Ja’Marr Chase was uncoverable in Cincinnati’s overtime loss to Pittsburgh (10-129-1, and he lost a second touchdown from a poor spot). Justin Jefferson torched the Packers for 163 yards and two touchdowns in about a half of football (he's at 184 yards and counting as of this writing). Michael Pittman (9-121-1) was constantly open at Houston.
We could go on and on with the receiver love. Davante Adams easily topped 100 yards for Las Vegas, while Tyreek Hill (8-94-0) looked the part in Miami.
Perhaps we’re going to look back on 2022 as the Year of the Fantasy Wideout.
Jonathan Taylor marks his 1.01 territory
I have words for anyone who landed Jonathan Taylor this year, especially with a pick outside of 1.01.
I’m ravenously jealous of you.
The Colts did plenty of things wrong in an embarrassing 20-20 tie at Houston, but you couldn’t blame Pittman or Taylor, the signature players of the offense. Taylor lugged the ball 32 times for 162 yards and a touchdown and added four short catches. He’s at the top of the RB leaderboard as we hit early evening on Sunday, an eyelash ahead of D’Andre Swift.
Just because Taylor was the obvious and maybe boring pick at 1.01 doesn’t mean he wasn’t a smart choice. This guy was the overall RB1 last year, of course. He’s never missed a practice or a game since starting football, dating back to his youth days. He can play in all packages. The Colts have a plus offensive line.
On the other side, better days are probably ahead for Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey, but the Panthers' offense was messy in their loss to Cleveland. Blame most of it on Baker Mayfield, who led the team to a piddly 15 first downs. DJ Moore (40 total yards) was one of the few name-brand receivers who wasn’t invited to the Week 1 party. Maybe Robbie Anderson (5-102-1) is going to return to fantasy relevance; he was a full-time player Sunday, and the Panthers have a narrow usage tree.
McCaffrey finished with 10-33-1 rushing, and 4-24-0 receiving. A touchdown salvaged the fantasy day, but for the most part, the sledding was rough. The Giants and Saints come calling in the next two weeks.
• I’ve been more bearish on Trey Lance than most of the industry, but we can’t take a lot from Sunday’s loss at Chicago. The weather was dreadful and George Kittle didn’t play. The biggest takeaway from Chicago’s offense was Khalil Herbert looking much better than David Montgomery.
• If one man doesn’t take over the Patriots backfield, New England might be the deadest zone in fantasy football. The Patriots have a horrible schedule coming up, too: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Green Bay.
• The Bengals for the most part looked like a team that had just met five minutes before kickoff, which was to be expected given the limited time the full offense worked together this summer. Offensive lines take time to jell; Cincinnati’s blocking should be a lot better in the middle of the year. I’m not adjusting my expectations on this unit.
The Steelers won the overtime game through defense and grit, but the offense was mostly a poor-octane unit. Although Pittsburgh always has a very talented receiver room, I’m not sure you can start any of those guys proactively for the coming weeks.
• The Texans had favorable game script for most of the day and still Dameon Pierce was used less than Rex Burkhead. That’s concerning.
• Trevor Lawrence looked more raw and indecisive than I was hoping to see, but at least he got the ball to Christian Kirk proactively. That should be bankable all year. James Robinson’s stunning comeback is a blow to Travis Etienne managers.
• Maybe this is the Curtis Samuel hybrid season we’ve been waiting for. Carson Wentz has an uncanny knack of posting stats that look better than his actual play on the field. Circumstance led to Antonio Gibson getting a meaty role, but he took full advantage of it.
• It took a while for Jameis Winston to get cooking, but he was excellent in the second half. And all three of his primary receivers made impressive plays. For one week at least, the Saints were true to their words on Alvin Kamara — he was marginalized in the passing game. I regret not taking Taysom Hill more seriously as a sleeper tight end-eligible, although his big game came on just 16 snaps. He'll need to play more to become a reliable fantasy contributor.
• Mike Gesicki ran just 15 routes and saw one measly target. The Dolphins seemed to be phasing him out all summer, and it played as such Sunday. Several fantasy-relevant tight ends had poor openers, but most of them have more plausible upside than Gesicki.
• Saquon Barkley looked fantastic, rookie-year fantastic. And Daniel Jones was surprisingly effective despite little help downfield. Props to Brian Daboll for playing to win at the end; that's the sort of gutsy move that helps a floundering franchise flip its culture.
• It’s encouraging to see Treylon Burks (3-55-0, five targets) involved from the jump in Tennessee, making the most of 13 routes. It might take a handful of weeks, but he’s the type of player to target around Halloween, when the light often goes on for rookie receivers. The Titans offense desperately needs his size and his ability to make downfield plays.
• Joshua Palmer didn’t do much despite Keenan Allen leaving early, but I still view Palmer as an interesting upside stash, tied to Justin Herbert and the Chargers offense. If Allen can’t go Thursday, Palmer will likely practice and prepare as a starter, and that’s a completely different ask than what was presented Sunday. Exercise some patience here.