Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire
Each week throughout the NFL season, our staff at QB List will be watching and reviewing all the games from every week and offering up our takes on the fantasy-relevant things that happened. Here’s what we saw in Week 1.
Eagles vs. Falcons
Thursday’s game pitted the reigning Super Bowl champions against an Atlanta Falcons team they bounced from the divisional round in January. It had all the makings of an exciting match up, but this one was ugly from the very start. The game was delayed for about an hour before finally kicking off. By halftime there had been only nine points scored in total. There were 26 penalties combined between the two teams for a whopping 236 yards! Hopefully, this is not a premonition of how the NFL will be this season. Amidst all of this, there were many fantasy relevant takeaways. So let’s go ahead and dive in!
For Atlanta, it seemed to be the same old song and dance on offense. It was almost like rewatching the divisional playoff game all over again. From the very first drive, the Falcons got down to the red zone and could not finish. Atlanta had five trips to the red zone and only converted one of them. There was rarely a flow to the offense and the play calling lacked creativity. When there was some semblance of chemistry, it was often killed by penalties. This is something Atlanta must fix and fans’ patience is wearing thin with Steve Sarkisian. Only time will tell if the offensive woes continue, but there is too much talent on this team to be this inefficient. Amidst all of this there are fantasy relevant players on this team. Here is what stood out in week one and what owners can expect moving forward out of their Falcons.
Julio Jones is still a Baaaddd Man
Julio Jones was targeted early and often, finishing with a staggering 19 targets. He converted that to 10 catches for 169 yards. He was even utilized in the run game early on. Julio could have had an even bigger night, but Matt Ryan missed deep on a go route Jones burnt the secondary on. He also had a controversial 51 yard catch that was reviewed and ruled a drop. The troubling part is, he came away with no score, which is the primary focus Julio haters have harped on for the past year now. I would like to tell you this will improve, but until the Falcons find answers in the red zone, keep expectations tempered. The fact is, Atlanta clearly force fed him the ball and he is going to get a ton of points sheerly on volume. Keep riding Julio as a locked and loaded WR1.
A Split Backfield
Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman shared the backfield duties Thursday. Coleman had three more attempts, but was less effective. Coleman did manage one score on the night, but did not eclipse twenty yards rushing. Freeman looked like the more effective back all night, averaging six yards per carry. Coleman and Freeman also combined for seven targets in the passing game and Sarkisian made a concerted effort to draw up screen plays to both backs. With Coleman in the final year of his deal, the Falcons will not look to limit his usage. This is bad news for Freeman owners who probably spent a high draft pick on the Florida State product. Until a clearer picture of the carry-split shakes out, consider both to be no more than a flex option moving forward.
Matty (put on) Ice
Matt Ryan was abysmal for much of the night. He completed less than 50% of his attempts and finished with a total QBR of 12.4. He was sacked four times, threw a pick, and nearly coughed up a fumble to the Eagles defense. It was his lowest completion percentage since his 2011 season. Despite all of that, he led what looked to be a game-winning drive, but could not seal the deal in the end. The Eagles defense can be credited for much of Ryan’s putrid performance, but the lack of flow on the offense is apparent. Steve Sarkisian will be under the microscope until these red zone woes are resolved. As for Matty Ice, this is pretty close to rock bottom. I believe he will bounce back at home next week. Until the red zone concerns are cleared up, Ryan has cemented himself as a QB2.
Getting Passed Up
Atlanta looked set on forcing the ball to Julio Jones. While this can be effective, it is going to take all of Atlanta’s pass-catchers getting involved, to reach their full potential on offense. Austin Hooper had a few key grabs, but was not utilized enough in the red zone. If the Falcons can find ways to get him the ball, Hooper could be a solid TE2 and streamer. Mohamed Sanu was targeted only six times in this one. Matt Ryan leaned on him a lot last season and needs to look his way more often. Sanu is a sure-handed, chain-moving target. However, until the Falcons come to that same realization, he can remain on your bench or waivers. Calvin Ridley was not even targeted against the Eagles. He is another wideout who Atlanta must utilize if they want to move the ball effectively. They used a first-round pick on Ridley and he possesses too much talent to be quiet all season. Until the coming out party, he is nothing more than an upside stash.
A Damaged Defense
If not for Atlanta’s defense, this game could have gotten out of hand. They pushed the pocket on Nick Foles all night and held the Eagles to 232 yards of offense. However, the Falcons defense suffered several injuries throughout the game, including pro bowl safety Keanu Neal. Deion Jones, Takk McKinley, and Desmond Trufant were all on the ground at some point Thursday, but returned to the game. This unit is one that has the potential to be top five in the league, but needs help from the offense to keep them off the field and give them better field position. Losing Neal is a huge blow, but up-and-comer Damontae Kazee was all over the field in the preseason and has the talent to fill in nicely. That was put on display when he had a pass break up that led to an interception Thursday night. Atlanta is a solid defense and should only continue to get better as the season progresses. They are not an every week starter, but are definitely a serviceable stream with the right matchups.
Atlanta has a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. However, until the offense starts producing, there is only one clearcut starter for fantasy purposes. Julio Jones will continue to be a top three wide receiver most weeks. One of Coleman and Freeman should emerge as a RB2, but the division of carries makes it hard to trust either one. The usage in the passing game should give each a decent floor to make them a flex option in ppr leagues. As for the rest of the team, fantasy owners should take a wait-and-see approach.
Man was that an exciting game. It wasn’t quite the breathtaking shootout that Superbowl LII turned out to be, but several key red zone stops and a last second play deciding the game’s outcome sure made the environment feel playoffs-esque. As many of you already know, I could write about 2-3 pages detailing every small play from the Birds’ 60 minutes of gameplay, but I’m gonna do my best to only hit on the fantasy-relevant info I saw. Let’s start with the offense…
A Slow Day in Folesadelphia
Though Thursday night’s game was without a doubt a thriller, the Eagles offense certainly tried their very best to calm the vibes at Lincoln Financial Field. Despite a godawful final stat line, Nick Foles looked serviceable under center, and once he began to take a feature role in the 2nd half, Jay Ajayi sure looked to be rolling downhill.
That being said, however, Foles certainly will not be an option in fantasy with this type of play, and Ajayi will not return RB2 numbers unless his role is that of the 2nd half offense. Don’t push the panic button on Ajayi yet, as Doug Pederson came out and said Darren Sproles got likely the most work he’ll get in a single game on Thursday, but Pederson clearly wants all of his backs involved, including the talented Corey Clement, which means less volume for the aforementioned bashing British RB.
The WR’s and TE’s languished for a variety of reasons, but chief among them seemed to be the absence of Alshon Jeffery. Without the big man in the fold, Nelson Agholor was forced from his dynamic role in the slot, and the Falcons were free to shade coverage to tight end Zach Ertz.
I don’t expect Doug Pederson to allow this problem to occur in multiple weeks, and the emergence of Zach Ertz 2.0 in Dallas Goedert should help with that, so with the massive target volume Agholor and Ertz saw last night, I’d expect their fantasy stock to trend up. Unfortunately, I do not share the same optimism for Mike Wallace’s coming performances, as he and Foles just looked off. I wouldn’t expect anything of note from Wallace until Carson Wentz and his impressive deep ball return.
Defense to Die For
After a slow 2017, many people will forget the 2016 Atlanta Falcons offense which, carrying nearly the same personnel as Thursday’s offensive unit, torched the entire league and nearly captured a superbowl. Well, the Eagles defense managed to hold the aforementioned offensive unit to a little over 300 total yards, a mere 55 on the ground, and only 12 points. Yes, 169 of those yards were recorded solely by Julio Jones, but when you hold the entirety of a team to less than 150 total yards you can afford to yield to one of the best receivers in the league. Despite the solid overall effort by the Birds D here, even more impressive were the 13 QB pressures produced by the team’s defensive line, leading to 4 sacks, a pick, and a forced fumble. When you can produce pressure like that on a regular basis, and most importantly into the 4th quarter, good things are going to happen. Finally, this performance is framed by the knowledge that the team’s star WILL linebacker Nigel Bradham and all pro DT Timmy Jernigan were both absent for this game, meaning even better things are bound to come for this unit. Snap em up or trade for them while you can folks.