How did you enjoy that wild Week 1 NFL action? Our Traps & Trends guy, senior FantasySharks.com writer Matt Wilson, is always here to serve as our voice of calm during these crazy fantasy football weekends. Matt takes a close look at eight fantasy players that either made you pump your first in wild celebration or made you throw things at the television. He’s also sounding the alarm bells on the very shaky fantasy prospects of a former NFL Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year.
Welcome to the fourth season of Traps & Trends. Every Monday (Editors Note: Though due to an editorial snafu it’s Tuesday this week!), I’ll sift through the fantasy happenings from the Thursday/Sunday NFL action and give you my take on the long-term fantasy prospects of individual players that grab the headlines for whatever reason. I rely on statistics as much as possible. Sometimes, however, fantasy football acumen and old fashioned common sense are needed, especially this early in the season. I’m also not afraid to play a hunch or two, but I’ll give you a heads up when I do that.
We’re just one week into the regular season, but…
1. Hey! Weren’t you the NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year two seasons ago?
The Dude: Matt Ryan
The Damage: Ryan’s level of play was inexcusably bad overall during his team’s Thursday night road loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Touted as a preseason rebound candidate by many fantasy pundits, the 11th-year pro connected on just 21-of-43 throws for 251 scoreless yards with zero touchdowns and one interception. Ryan absorbed four sacks, too. In the third quarter, he just missed Jones on what would have been a 68-yard touchdown pass. Yes, Ryan was the NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in 2016, but it looks like his game has regressed big time. Ryan frequently held onto the ball too long and short-armed some very makeable throws. When the Eagles double teamed Jones in the closing seconds of the game – Ryan seemed determined to throw it to Jones each time he dropped back – the Atlanta Falcons triggerman seemed clueless about where to go with the ball (and scared to throw a pick), lofting ridiculously uncatchable throws into the end zone. Will Ryan continue to struggle?
The Diagnosis: TREND
While I blame some of Ryan’s problems on the play-calling of Atlanta offensive boss Steve Sarkisian, that’s not going to stop me from sounding the alarm bell about Ryan. I still think he’s capable of solid performances against softer defenses, but it’s hard to see any major improvement coming anytime soon from a struggling quarterback who tossed multiple touchdown passes in just five contests last year. If you drafted Ryan as a starter, yes, it’s time to punch the panic button. If you don’t have a solid backup option, you need to find one immediately. Ryan simply isn’t a weekly starting option right now.
2. Is Green Bay still the place where tight ends go to fail?
The Dude: Jimmy Graham
The Diagnosis: Making his long-awaited Green Bay Packers debut this past Sunday night, Graham caught a very disappointing two passes for eight yards on four targets even though the Packers offense operated in must-throw mode for the entire second half of a come-from-behind victory over the Chicago Bears. Graham took a backseat to Davante Adams (eight targets), Randall Cobb (10 targets) and Geronimo Allison (eight targets) in the receiver corps pecking order and was utilized as a blocker more than expected. Is this the level of usage that fantasy owners should expect for Graham going forward?
The Diagnosis: TREND
Where should I begin on this one? Green Bay spent the entire preseason telling us that Graham, coming off a career-low 9.1 yards per catch with the Seattle Seahawks last season, still had solid 4.5 speed. I’m not buying it. In my humble opinion, Graham, who turns 32 in November, has lost a step. As long as head coach Mike McCarthy has called the plays for the Packers and Aaron Rodgers has thrown passes for them, the Green Bay aerial attack has flowed mainly through the wideouts with tight ends operating primarily as red-zone targets and blockers. That’s what we saw from Graham Sunday night.
Where does the tight-ends-failing-in-Green Bay-thing come from? Two years ago, Jared Cook (Raiders) played 10 regular-season contests for the Packers, amassing just 30 receptions for 377 yards and one touchdown. Green Bay didn’t feature Cook, either. While some modestly better fantasy outings are likely for the touchdown-dependent Graham in the coming weeks, monster fantasy outings with six or more catches and close to triple digit yardage will be very rare.
3. Hey! Aren’t you supposed to be the Carolina Panthers’ workhorse tailback?
The Dude: Christian McCaffrey
The Damage: After using him as a bell-cow throughout the preseason (and giving early-down grinder C.J. Anderson very few touches), the Carolina Panthers dialed back McCaffrey’s usage during their home victory over the Dallas Cowboys. He toted the rock 10 times for 50 yards and caught six passes for 45 yards on nine targets. McCaffrey was expected to operate as the featured goal-line back, but Newton stole a goal-line score from him while leading the team with 13 carries. In addition, Anderson carried seven times for 35 yards, which was just three fewer carries than McCaffrey received. Is this the type of usage that fantasy owners should expect from McCaffrey going forward?
The Diagnosis: TREND
If you purchased our Fantasy Sharks Preseason VIP Report and read my fantasy profile on the Panthers, you know that I was very skeptical about Carolina using McCaffrey in true bell-cow role (I wasn’t buying into what the Green Bay Packers were selling about Jimmy Graham, either). McCaffrey, listed at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, simply isn’t big enough to handle huge weekly rushing workloads and goal-line work, so Anderson is going to steal carries regularly. In addition, Newton loves to score, and he has been stealing goal-line touchdowns from tailbacks long before McCaffrey joined the team in 2017. Don’t get down on him because of a likely lack of scoring and heavy rushing workloads. McCaffrey still touched the ball 16 times in the Dallas game, amassing 95 total yards. The second-year pro’s fantasy floor also looks very safe due to his role as a receiver, which should expand since Greg Olsen (broken foot) probably will be sidelined for a while.