Each week in ‘Is It Legit?’, we’ll take a look at noteworthy performances from unexpected sources, and decide whether those performances should inspire fantasy managers to change their future outlook for those players.
While it can be tempting to rush to the waiver wire to take a flier on the previous week’s biggest standouts, it can also be prudent to exercise caution before throwing those players directly into your lineup if their past fantasy-relevant efforts aren’t likely to be repeated. That’s the aim of this column: to sort through the numbers and determine, based on talent and expected opportunity, whether and to what extent certain players should be trusted in lineups for the foreseeable future.
Let’s give it a shot and dive right into our first batch of players from Week 1.
Chris Thompson (RB – WAS)
Week 1 line: 3 carries for 10 yards, 7 receptions (10 targets) for 68 yards, 14.80 PPR points
(Rostered in 14% of Yahoo leagues)
Realizing the potential for the Washington Redskins third-down back to have a busy afternoon in a potentially negative game script, I snagged Chris Thompson out of the free-agent pool in a couple of my leagues Sunday morning before the day’s action began. Though the Redskins played the Eagles much tougher than anticipated, Thompson was still peppered with targets in the loss as Washington’s primary running back in passing situations. Though it’s been a while since we’ve seen him truly thrive in that spot, it’s a role in which Thompson has dominated when healthy over the years.
Thompson was a PPR machine for Washington in 2017, averaging 14.84 PPR points in the first 10 games of that season before missing the remainder of the year with a knee injury. He then battled injuries to his ribs throughout last season, ultimately missing six games and posting far-less efficient numbers as a pass-catcher (13.1 yards/reception in 2017, 6.5 yards/reception in 2018).
Knock on wood, the 29-year-old Thompson appears healthy this season, and his timing couldn’t be better given the news this week that Derrius Guice will miss some time with a meniscus injury. Adrian Peterson will likely step into Guice’s role as the starter and early-down running back for the Redskins, but this situation should be absolutely teeming with opportunity for Thompson.
Basically, Thompson’s value boils down to the fact that the Redskins probably aren’t very good. Give credit to Case Keenum and the entire Washington squad for hanging tough with the Eagles in Week 1, but even that moderately close outcome presented Thompson with ample opportunity throughout. And in games the Redskins trail heavily in the fourth quarter, the frequent garbage-time dump-off passes to Thompson will be immensely profitable for his fantasy owners.
In most cases, it feels smarter to gravitate toward fantasy players whose real teams are actually good at football. But when it comes to the passing-down back on a bad team, opportunity is king. It won’t necessarily be pretty, but Chris Thompson is going to score more than his fair share of fantasy points this year. He should be a consistently strong FLEX with an RB2 ceiling for as long as he stays healthy this season.
John Ross III (WR – CIN)
Week 1 line: 7 receptions (12 targets) for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns, 34.80 PPR points
(Rostered in 14% of Yahoo leagues)
Post-hype breakout alert?! John Ross was a popular candidate to burst onto the fantasy radar following a highlight-worthy flash in the 2018 preseason, but he only managed 21 receptions on 58 targets for a brutal 36.2 catch percentage last season. Needless to say, he wasn’t a reliable fantasy option.
But with many expecting the Bengals to struggle offensively this season and some wondering if Andy Dalton would even last the year as the starter in Cincinnati, the Cats surprised folks when they nearly upended Seattle in Week 1. Ross played a central role in that upset bid, displaying the big play knack that makes him such a tantalizing prospect for fantasy owners. But is this the year that Ross finally does more than tease us?
The beneficiary of some creative play-calling, Ross took advantage of an out-of-sorts Seattle defense as he burned the Seahawks on a flea-flicker for his first touchdown Sunday.
John Ross vs. a confused linebacker isn’t what I’d call a fair fight. Giovani Bernard did a nice job of creating this play by selling the defense on a rushing attempt before flipping the ball back to Dalton. While it’s typically imprudent to expect trick plays to buoy a receiver’s value every week, it’s not necessarily out of the realm of plausibility that Sean McVay disciple Zac Taylor could regularly employ such creative play-calling to open up the passing game in Cincy.
Speaking of which, I’m compelled to mention how competent and comfortable Dalton looked in Taylor’s offensive scheme throughout Sunday’s game. The Red Rifle was 35 of 51 passing for a whopping 418 yards. If this game serves as any indication, the Bengals could be looking to air it out on a regular basis this season, especially if Joe Mixon continues to get banged up as he did Sunday. With A.J. Green currently on the mend, Ross should draw plenty of opportunity with which to mesh his budding talent over the next few weeks.
Now, Ross is still susceptible to brutal miscues, as evidenced by this next play from Sunday. If Ross hauls in this pass, there’s nothing but daylight in front of him. It would’ve been a touchdown, and by his reaction, he knew it.
It was at this point that in the game that I thought, ‘Yup, classic John Ross.’ He is what he is by now: talented, but mistake-prone. You just don’t get those kinds of plays back in the NFL.
Except… then Ross did this on literally the next play from scrimmage.
Call me crazy, but I want to believe.
Verdict: LEGIT (For now)
Though Ross has a lower floor than some other options on the wire this week, his ceiling is tremendous. For as long as A.J. Green is out, Ross seems like a viable option as a flex play or WR3 on a running back-heavy fantasy roster. The Bengals defense looked decent against Seattle, but odds are they’ll be playing from behind a fair bit this year, giving Ross ample opportunity to make plays on the outside in an offense that could become more passing friendly than we might have initially anticipated. Green’s eventual return could complicate matters, but for now, Ross should have every opportunity to chase that third-year breakout.
D.J. Chark Jr. (WR – JAX)
Week 1 line: 4 receptions (4 targets) for 148 yards and a touchdown, 24.60 PPR points
(Rostered in 3% of Yahoo leagues)
I love me some Gardner Minshew after his impressive performance off the bench Sunday against Kansas City, but it’s probably naive to believe the Jaguars passing game can support three fantasy-relevant receivers on a weekly basis with a backup quarterback leading the way. Strangely, however, that’s what happened in Jacksonville’s Week 1 tilt against the Chiefs.
D.J. Chark and Chris Conley both popped for more than 20 fantasy points, while Dede Westbrook, the anticipated WR1 in this offense, put together a fine day in his own right. While Chark’s big day was fun to watch, I’m not sure it holds up on the repeat-ability scale due to some of the extenuating circumstances that allowed it to happen in the first place.
Before leaving the game with a broken collarbone, Nick Foles dropped a dime into Chark’s breadbasket for the second-year wideout’s first-ever NFL touchdown.
But of course, Foles isn’t going to be around to continue to build that connection with Chark for at least eight weeks, as he’s been placed on IR after undergoing surgery. So let’s talk about Minshew.
The other factor Sunday was the unique game script dictated by the league’s pre-eminent offense. You know, the one that has Patrick Mahomes as its quarterback? Yeah, games in which Mahomes participates tend to take on characteristics of a shootout. The Kansas City secondary certainly contributes to those circumstances, as well.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Chark’s volume wasn’t anything special in Week 1. Though he caught all his targets, he was targeted only four times. While Chark’s weekly ceiling is attractive, his game relies upon pop plays in order to reach that ceiling. Though Minshew completed 22 of 25 pass attempts Sunday, he did so with a safe, methodical approach reliant upon the short-passing game. Minshew did find Chark on one deep ball Sunday, so it’s not as though he’s incapable of chucking the football downfield. It’s just not likely he’ll be asked to do so with enough regularity to green light Chark for fantasy starting lineups at this point.
Verdict: NOT LEGIT
When it’s not facing the high-powered Chiefs, Jacksonville should be involved in lower-scoring affairs predicated on sturdy defensive football and a Leonard Fournette-led rushing attack. While Westbrook should remain fantasy-relevant with some regularity, it’s hard to envision comfortably relying upon Chark or Conley in lineups just yet, though either would make for reasonable additions as bench stashes after their impressive outings last week.
(Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire)