Kickoff: Sunday, September 19th at 1:00 PM ET
Location: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Betting Odds: NO -3.5, 44 Total on Oddshark
New Orleans Saints
Jameis Winston (Sit)
There could not have been much better of an advert for Lasik eye surgery than Jameis Winston‘s performance against the Green Bay Packers. He finished with 5 TDs on only 20 passes and added 37 rushing yards, which is one of the most absurdly efficient stat lines of all time. It turns out being able to see is a pretty important thing for a quarterback. There is no doubt that Winston will not be able to keep up with that level of performance deeper into the season but it is hard to argue that he doesn’t seem to have significantly improved leading this Saints team. Yet, week 1 anomalies happen all the time and it is far too early in the season to go all-in on Winston as a starter. Carolina’s defense seems to have improved over the offseason and this matchup gives us another chance to evaluate Winston before considering him to be a real option as a starter.
Alvin Kamara (Start, RB1), Tony Jones Jr. (Sit)
Going into his fifth year, Alvin Kamara got off to a confident start to the season against the Packers. Gaining 83 yards across 20 carries, Kamara was the motor of the offense and all signs point to another big year for the Saints playmaker. As many of the Saints weapons have already gone down, his week-to-week role should be bigger than any other point in his career and Kamara generally takes advantage of volume. The Carolina Panthers were very effective at stopping the Jets ground game last week but we will have to wait and see if this was a result of the Panthers defense rather than the Jets being the Jets. Kamara should not be too affected and will likely still put together a strong performance.
Undrafted free agent Tony Jones Jr. emerged as a rotational back in this game, which is a bit of a surprise considering he only featured in a single game last year. Jones put together a solid performance though, rushing for 50 yards over 11 carries. He is not a fantasy option at the moment, particularly as Kamara still gets the majority of redzone looks, but it is worth tracking his development as Saints RB2s have had fantasy viability in the past.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Marquez Callaway (Start, Flex), Deonte Harris (Sit), Juwan Johnson (Sit), Adam Trautman (Sit)
After all that happened to Micheal Thomas, week 1 did not go a long way to help evaluate this receiving group. The Saints finished the game with only 21 passing attempts and 151 yards and no player caught more than 3 passes which leaves us still lacking a lot of information about what this offense could look like. Marquez Callaway was assumed to be the number 1 receiver but failed to make any sort of impact in week 1, receiving only 2 targets which led to a single 14-yard catch. This does not necessarily mean he will not be productive in weeks to come, merely that the Saints game against the Packers left us back where we started when evaluating this offense. Callaway is obviously a risk, but in a more standard game, he should get a lot more work against the Panthers.
The most productive receiver of the group was Deonte Harris. This was largely due to a 55-yard touchdown catch as one of his two catches, finishing with a total of 72 yards. There are still doubts over whether this translates to a major role, however, as Harris is largely a big-play threat, which rarely converts into being a consistent fantasy option. He has yet to show any back-to-back games of substantial production in his career so far and so he is unlikely to be a good start on Sunday.
At the tight end position, the two major fantasy options are Juwan Johnson and Adam Trautman. Of the pair, Johnson had the bigger week, finding the endzone twice and scoring 17 points. This is unlikely to last, however, as the second-year player only played 19% of all snaps, making the touchdowns fairly unrepresentative of his overall usage. His excellent performance in limited playing time could lead to an increase in his role but current information seems to suggest the coaching staff favor Trautman overall. Trautman played in 82% of offensive snaps and is likely to be the go-to option for the rest of the year but his lack of production in week 1 and the emergence of Johnson makes him more a more difficult start in his game against the Panthers.
Sam Darnold (Sit)
While Sam Darnold enjoyed a satisfying revenge game against his former team, it is important to temper expectations about his performance for the rest of the year. While putting up pretty good fantasy points against the Jets, helped by a rushing TD, you have to remember that he was facing arguably the worst secondary in the NFL. Many of the familiar warning signs were still there for Darnold and it seemed like things might have gone very differently against better opposition. Darnold now moves from one of the worst defenses to one of the best. The Saints completely shut down a dysfunctional Packers offense and have a real chance of doing a similar thing to the Panthers. Stay far away from Darnold.
Christian McCaffrey (Start, RB1), Chuba Hubbard (Sit)
Christian McCaffrey was the number one fantasy draft pick for good reason, and he performed at a high level in week 1. Totaling 187 scrimmage yards, McCaffrey took full advantage of a poor Jets defense and got plenty of touches throughout the game. There is not really much to think about when starting McCaffrey, he tends to be pretty matchup-immune and always gets a lot of work on the ground and through the air. The Saints are a tough matchup but it would still be surprising if he puts up anything other than RB1 numbers.
Fourth-round rookie Chuba Hubbard is clearly the backup on the roster, seeing 7 snaps against the Jets. The only way he becomes viable to start is if McCaffrey goes down with an injury.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
D.J. Moore (Start, WR2), Robby Anderson (Start, Flex), Terrace Marshall Jr. (Sit), Ian Thomas (Sit), Dan Arnold (Sit)
The Panthers have a variety of options at wide receiver, but D.J. Moore is perhaps the most proven fantasy option. Moore put up around 1200 yards in each of his last two seasons and came into the 2021 season confidently looking like the number one option for Darnold. Only McCaffrey saw more targets and Moore was the most productive of the three starters, making 6 catches for 80 yards. If Saints number one corner Marshon Lattimore misses the game, he will be likely to put up substantial numbers again but he is still limited by the Saints defense and his QB.
If you only watched the highlights of this game, Robby Anderson might have seen like the star, scoring a 57-yard TD in the second quarter. This was his only catch of the day, however, and creates an inaccurate representation of his performance. He should be able to improve on this performance because of his previous chemistry with Darnold, but he needs to put in consistent performances to stop the next guy from taking his targets. That would be Terrace Marshall Jr. After a strong training camp, the second-round draft pick looks set for a considerable role and this was confirmed in week 1. Marshall had 6 targets, double that of Anderson, and brought in 3 of them for 26 yards. He is not quite ready to be a fantasy option yet, but do not be surprised if he is sometime in the near future.
The Panthers used a combination of Ian Thomas and Dan Arnold at tight end, but neither showed anything to suggest they would be able to challenge the talent at wide receiver in this offense to contend for fantasy points.
Statistics courtesy of Fantasy Data.
-Patrick McAndrew (@PMcAndrewNFL on Twitter)