Does the Tennessee Titans backfield still belong to DeMarco Murray? Is a Brandin Cooks breakout actually coming? Did somebody put kryptonite in Superman’s football? And what’s wrong with the NFL’s second-leading rusher from 2016? Senior writer Matt Wilson tackles those Monday morning fantasy subjects in his Week 2 edition of “Traps & Trends.”
1. Did we see a changing of the guard in the Tennessee Titans’ backfield?
The Damage: Murray, after closing out Week 1 with a disappointing 60 yards on 14 combo touches against the Oakland Raiders, compiled 28 yards on 10 total touches in a little more than two quarters played versus the Jacksonville Jaguars before spending the rest of afternoon parked on the sideline wearing a baseball cap. Second-year pro Derrick Murray, the bigger and arguably more explosive member of the Titans backfield tandem, took over, powering through a very respectable Jaguars run defense for a career-high 92 yards and one rushing score on 14 carries with no targets in the passing game. Is this the end of the Murray era and the start of the Henry era?
The Diagnosis: TOSSUP
After the game, Titans head coach Mike Mularkey said Murray was pulled early in the second half because he had suffered a slight hamstring injury. With Tennessee in front 16-3 and Henry running well, Murray simply wasn’t needed. He didn’t look very explosive versus the Raiders in Week 1, so perhaps Murray’s bum hamstring had been an issue before now. By the way, a hamstring injury had slowed Murray during training camp, but it’s not known whether this was a re-aggravation of that injury.
Unless Murray heals up quickly, it looks like Henry will get the Week 3 home start against a Seattle Seahawks defense that Carlos Hyde gashed for 124 yards on the ground. Overall, I think we’ve seen Murray’s final days as the featured runner. When Murray is good to go again, I think he’ll continue to start and receive nice workloads of 12 to 14 touches per game, but Henry will receive weekly standalone-value workloads, too. If Henry absolutely dominates as the bell-cow back, there’s a chance that he could steal Murray’s starting gig. Stay tuned.
2. Isn’t this guy supposed to be the most explosive weapon that the New England Patriots have featured in their passing attack since Randy Moss?
The Dude: Brandin Cooks
The Damage: Back in Week 1, Cooks caught three balls for 88 yards on seven targets during his team’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, and Tom Brady came close to hooking up with him in the end zone twice. Cooks’ Week 2 showing has left fantasy owners understandably grumbling and muttering some words that are better left unprinted in this column. Brady, bouncing back as expected from a disappointing season debut, absolutely torched the New Orleans Saints for 447 yards and three scoring strikes, but Cooks made just two grabs for 37 yards on a measly four targets and toted the rock two times for six yards. This definitely wasn’t the homecoming performance that we expected. In case you missed it, Brady, in the second quarter of that contest, under-threw Cooks on what would have been a sure touchdown pass. He was tackled just short of the end zone. Is it time to bench Cooks and make him earn his way back into your starting lineup?
The Diagnosis: TRAP
That’s five catches for 125 yards with no touchdowns on 11 targets and three near misses on touchdown grabs for Cooks just two games into his Patriots career despite all the injuries in the New England receiver corps. While I would downgrade Cooks to No. 2 fantasy wideout status, I wouldn’t give up on the dangerous big-play specialist just yet. Despite all the glowing preseason talk we heard about the Brady-to-Cooks connection lighting it up, I don’t think they’re on the same page just yet. Give Cooks another shot in Week 3. He draws a home matchup against what looks like a very banged up Houston Texans secondary.
3. Any resemblance between the 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year and that guy quarterbacking the Carolina Panthers right now is just coincidental.
The Dude: Cam Newton
The Damage: You know Newton underwent surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder, which limited him to just two preseason pass attempts. Two weeks into the 2017 regular season, Newton hasn’t played like the same guy who led his team to a Super Bowl. Back in Week 1, he game managed his way through a road victory over the San Francisco 49ers, going 14 of 25 for 171 yards and two touchdown tosses, and carried six times for three yards. This past Sunday, however, Newton struggled against an overhauled Buffalo Bills secondary, completing just 20 of 32 throws for 228 scoreless yards, and toted the rock five times for 27 yards. Frequently under siege – he was sacked six times – Newton sailed quite a few of his throws. Late in the fourth quarter, Newton missed a wide-open Christian McCaffrey. Is this the level of production from Newton that we should expect going forward?
The Diagnosis: TOSSUP
Maybe he’s still shaking the rust off. Maybe Newton’s surgically repaired shoulder isn’t fully recovered. In my non-medical opinion, Newton just doesn’t look 100 percent. Will he play better as the season progresses? Maybe. Honestly, I don’t know, but I’m worried. Right now, however, he’s definitely not getting the job done for fantasy owners. If you own Newton, downgrade him to No. 2 fantasy passer status if you haven’t already, and warm up a long-term backup option for “Superman” if you haven’t already. Newton draws a very favorable Week 3 home matchup versus a New Orleans Saints defense that has been sliced up by Sam Bradford and Tom Brady. If Newton can’t rack up at least 200 passing yards and two touchdown tosses against the Saints – even without Greg Olsen (broken foot) – then something is terribly wrong.