Welcome to The Forward Pass. This weekly column will look at usage from the previous week in the NFL and consider what that usage means for the future.
Most of us enter Week 1 pretty confident in the usage we expect to see for any given player. Once the games have been played, however, we need to assess what actually happened on the field and set aside our preconceived notions in order to live in a new reality of profitability.
I’m not going to cover every game or every player: Just the situations and performances that really stood out to me.
Let’s take the red pill.
Panthers at Broncos
C.J. Anderson was unstoppable on Thursday night, totaling 139 total yards and two touchdowns. Devontae Booker saw just 10.34 percent of offensive snaps and had just three carries for eight yards. He also lost a fumble. Anderson played 83 percent of the offensive snaps and received 85.7 percent of the team’s red-zone carries. He had all the team’s market share of carries inside the the 10-yard line. On a team that was largely a split backfield with Ronnie HIllman last year, Anderson is clearly the guy this year. He’s priced as a top-seven back on DraftKings and FanDuel, but his usage may still make him a DFS value in Week 2 against a banged-up Colts defense.
In this same game, Kelvin Benjamin played 71 percent of the snaps in a game in which the Panthers were planning to limit his workload. Most people thought that Benjamin and Devin Funchess would be looking at an even split, but Funchess played just 52 percent of the offensive snaps. Both had one red-zone target (25 percent of team market share), but it was Benjamin who converted his target into a touchdown. With Newton throwing 33 times, it was a surprise to see Benjamin lead the way with a 36.4 percent target market share. Greg Olsen and Funchess had 27. 3 and 12. 1 percent. K-Benjy almost certainly won’t finish the year with target market share this high, but he looks like he could surpass his rookie mark of 26.6 percent.
Raiders at Saints
The Saints defense will be one to target yet again in 2015, surrendering 486 total yards to Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders, 319 through the air. The Saints look primed to make average offenses look like . . . the Saints offense.
The real story in this game was not the defense or even Brandin Cooks, who had a 98-yard touchdown. The real story is Willie Snead, who vastly outperformed his salary-based expectations. As Editor-in-Chief Matthew Freedman has argued, last year Snead was basically second-year Antonio Brown. Snead exploded for an AB-esque 9-172-1 stat line in Week 1, catching all of his targets. He equalled Cooks with a 32.1 percent target share, although Cooks did out-target him in the red zone 3-1 and out-snap him 62-52. Regardless, Snead looks well ahead of tight end Coby Fleener as the team’s No. 2 receiver. Snead’s target share is worth targeting on DraftKings, where he is still $5,800.
On the other side of the ball, Cooper led the Raiders with 11 targets and 137 yards. Michael Crabtree had one more reception and a superior catch rate (on nine targets), but Cooper was targeted once in the red-zone while Crabtree was not (excepting that each of them scored a two-point conversion). Last year Crabtree led the Raiders with 146 targets. Cooper had 130. Those numbers might end up reversed this year.
Vikings at Titans
Tajae Sharpe, who had the fourth-highest Projected DraftKings Plus/Minus in our Cash Model last week, paid back those who had faith in his preseason performance. Sharpe played 96 percent of the offensive snaps and racked up a staggering 11 targets with 26.8 market share as the clear No. 1 receiver in Tennessee. He saw just one red-zone target — but that was still 20 percent market share. As long as he continues to see targets, he will be a lay-up cash game play in his current salary range.
Packers at Jaguars
Another Week 1 surprise was the flop of Jared Cook (52 percent of snaps and two targets) and reemergence of Davante Adams (92 percent of snaps and seven targets). Adams trailed Randall Cobb by only one target, and his 3-50-1 stat line and 20.6 percent target market share were both solid. Last year, Aaron Rodgers had three wide receivers with at least 90 targets, and he has supported three viable fantasy receivers in the past. Adams was targeted 94 times last year. He could easily be targeted that much this year and is currently cheap for a guy with his target potential.
Bengals at Jets
Last year Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall got 36.8 and 27.6 percent of the Jets’ red-zone targets. In Week 1, Decker was targeted twice and Marshall thrice within the 20-yard line. Quincy Enunwa might’ve stolen the spotlight with his surprise 7-54-1 performance, but he was targeted only in the red zone. Decker and Marshall still own that part of the field for the Jets. They combined for ‘only’ 15 targets, five receptions, 69 yards, and a touchdown, but the passing offense still belongs to them.
Patriots at Cardinals
Like Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald was targeted three times in the red zone. Unlike Marshall, he caught all of his targets and scored twice, finishing Week 1 with an 8-81-2 stat line on 10 targets. He was the most productive of Arizona’s receivers, but moving forward we should monitor his target split with Michael Floyd and John Brown, who combined for 11 targets.
The polarizing Martellus Bennett played 97 percent of offensive snaps but trailed both Julian Edelman and James White in targets and tied Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola in receptions. He had 14 receiving yards — only 11 more than quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. He had only 15.1 percent of the Patriots’ targets in a game without Rob Gronkowski. When Gronk returns, we’ll need to monitor Bennett’s market share closely.
Chargers at Chiefs
The hero of Week 1 was chalk artist Spencer Ware, who led the Chiefs to a huge comeback win on his way to accumulating 199 yards and almost two touchdowns on just 18 touches. I talked about him as a potential breakout back in August. He could have standalone value even when Jamaal Charles returns. In the meantime, he’s likely to be chalky again in Week 2 — deservedly so. His eight targets (even though most of them came when the Chiefs needed to throw) demonstrate Ware’s potential as a true three-down workhorse.