What We Saw: Week 1

The What We Saw team recaps everything you missed from this week's action

49ers @ Steelers

Final Score: 49ers 30, Steelers 7

Writer: Adam Nardelli (@adamnardelli on Twitter)


Fresh off an NFC Championship appearance, the San Francisco 49ers couldn’t have started their 2023 campaign any better. Brock Purdy picked up right where he left off last season, running the offense in pristine fashion. Meanwhile, the Steelers had yet to earn a first down with about five minutes left in the second quarter. Kenny Pickett very well may take a leap in his second year, but the 49ers defense assured that leap wouldn’t start until at least Week 2.

Three Up

  • Brandon Aiyuk – He immediately looked like the 49ers’ clear alpha receiver and was heavily involved early and often.
  • Brock Purdy –  He’s just so efficient and continues to take advantage of an exceptional situation he finds himself in.
  • Christian McCaffrey – It almost feels weird putting him in this category considering how good we all know he is, but he had too productive of a day to leave him off the list.

Three Down

  • Kenny Pickett – Considering how good he looked in the preseason, starting the season with two interceptions and putting forth a largely underwhelming performance was disappointing and discouraging.
  • Najee Harris – The game script didn’t help, but Harris was largely uninvolved even in the passing game when the Steelers were forced to throw early.
  • Diontae Johnson – A mediocre performance paired with a hamstring injury that forced him to leave the game are causes for real concern for Diontae Johnson’s fantasy forecast.


San Francisco 49ers





Brock Purdy: 19/29, 220 yards. 2 TD, 3 sacks | 3 carries, 20 yards


Purdy did exactly what his head coach Kyle Shanahan wants: operate the offense effectively and deliver the ball to their playmakers. The former Mr. Irrelevant was anything but on the opening Sunday of the season in what usually is a tough environment in Pittsburgh. Purdy came right out of the gates blazing hot, completing 11 of his first 13 passes. It didn’t take any time for Purdy to get the 49ers offense into a groove, scoring 20 total points on their first four drives. His throws looked sharp and there was no lack of zip on his passes, despite offseason elbow surgery. Purdy placed a beautiful throw to Brandon Aiyuk’s  back shoulder in the corner of the endzone early in the second quarter. Purdy’s accuracy in tight windows as well as his chemistry with Aiyuk was on full display with this touchdown.

The Arizona native also put up 20 yards on the ground, most of it coming on a nice 17 yard scramble in the fourth quarter. Purdy’s rushing ability isn’t an emphasized part of the offense, and he’ll never be Jalen Hurts, but his athleticism helps contribute to a solid floor for fantasy purposes.


Running Back


Christian McCaffrey: 22 carries, 152 yards, TD | 5 targets, 3 receptions, 17 yards


Does McCaffrey kicking off the season in this type of fashion surprise anyone? It shouldn’t. If anyone thought Kyle Shanahan was going to ease McCaffrey into the season, they were terribly mistaken. Thirteen carries in the first half emphasizes how McCaffrey is one of the few bell cow running backs left, and Kyle Shanahan has no reason to deviate, despite rumblings to the contrary.  In his seventh year, the Stanford Cardinal looked as elusive as ever, and his Week 1 performance was highlighted by a 65-yard touchdown run featuring a beautiful spin move and fancy sideline footwork on his way to paydirt. The best part of McCaffrey’s Week 1 outing for his fantasy managers: he barely did anything in the passing game, yet still ended his day with nearly 24 PPR fantasy points.


Elijah Mitchell: 5 carries, 10 yards | 1 target 


The fact that no other running backs got a carry shows, at least for now, this is a two-man backfield and Mitchell maintains his handcuff value.  It would’ve been nice to see a little more come from those five carries though.


Wide Receiver/Tight End


Brandon Aiyuk: 8 targets, 8 receptions, 129 yards, 2 TD


Right from the start, Aiyuk looked like he was going to dominate the Steelers secondary, and that’s exactly what happened. It was his day and there wasn’t much anyone in black and gold was going to do about it. Aiyuk followed up his opening drive touchdown with a 23 yard reception in the middle of the field. At that point, it was clear Purdy and Aiyuk were working on a different level and you could see his special day brewing.  From a downfield standpoint, Aiyuk was clearly Purdy’s preferred target over Kittle and Deebo Samuel, which bodes well for Aiyuk’s fantasy outlook.  If you haven’t seen Aiyuk’s 19 yard back shoulder touchdown in the second quarter, do yourself a favor and check it out.



Deebo Samuel: 7 targets, 5 receptions, 55 yards | 2 carries, 8 yards


Samuel was a solid WR2, but the 2021 Samuel that we all know and love didn’t show up.  Deebo did most of his damage in the short and intermediate area of the field, which is where he’s at his best, but he was unable to break any of those short catches for big gains.  The encouraging thing is he also had two carries totaling nine touches, showing Shanahan will not shy away from getting Deebo the ball as much as he reasonably can.  Still, today was more disappointing than encouraging (10.5 PPR points) considering the high draft capital that was likely used to acquire him.


George Kittle: 6 targets, 3 catches, 19 yards


The day started with an 11 yard reception, making fantasy owners think we were going to see the George Kittle of old.  That was unfortunately not true, as Kittle managed only 8 more yards after that play en route to a highly disappointing Week 1 outing for those who drafted Kittle.  He likely was hampered by a groin injury that caused him to practice in a limited manner throughout the week, but for a guy that can’t shake the injury bug lately, it’s a tough start to the season from a fantasy standpoint.


Pittsburgh Steelers





Kenny Pickett: 31/46, 232 yards, TD, 2 INT, 5 sacks | 1 carry, 4 yards


Pickett and the Steelers offense couldn’t have started 2023 any worse.  A three and out on the first drive and an interception by Pickett on the second drive put this offense in a slump that they never got out of.  Pickett and the rest of the Steelers offense simply looked overmatched.  The New Jersey native easily could have had three interceptions, but 49ers linebacker Fred Warner dropped an erratic throw by Pickett deep in Steelers territory early in the second quarter.  That throw might have been the most concerning of all. A mistake like that is concerning for a guy who’s supposed to take a major step in his second year, especially given where they were on the field at the time.

Another missing piece of Pickett’s game today was his running ability. In a game where the Steelers offense was desperate for any big plays, his fantasy managers would’ve liked to see Pickett finish his day with more than one carry for four yards. Yes, the 49ers pass rush is daunting, but Pickett displayed enough athleticism his rookie year to make a 10 or 15 yard scramble a reasonable expectation. Even Purdy did as much.


Running Back


Najee Harris: 6 carries, 31 yards | 2 targets, 2 receptions, 2 yards


The 2021 first-round pick was largely missing in action in Week 1.  The game script did force the Steelers to go away from the run early, but even if Kenny Pickett does improve significantly this year, six carries for Harris is no recipe for success.  Of his 31 rushing yards, 24 came on one nice run when the Steelers were down 20-0; otherwise, he was a non-factor. In a game where the Steelers had to throw to keep up, it’s concerning to see Harris only get two targets. For a guy that hauled in 74 receptions his rookie year, his absence from the passing game on a day like today is hard to understand.


Jaylen Warren: 3 carries, 6 yards | 6 targets, 5 receptions, 12 yards


We’ll have to wait one more week to see if Warren really eats into Harris’ carries. Given how quickly the Steelers fell behind, it’s hard to take much away from the backfield usage in this game. Pickett did look Warren’s way often in a game where they needed some sort of spark, but it never amounted to any significant yardage.


Anthony McFarland: 2 targets, 2 receptions, 11 yards


Wide Receiver/Tight End


Allen Robinson II: 8 targets, 5 receptions, 64 yards


No one saw this coming. Allen Robinson leading the Steelers in receiving yards wasn’t exactly the plan for fantasy owners and Steelers fans alike.  Yes, Robinson looked like he has something still left in the tank compared to his 2022 season with the Rams, but 31 of those 64 yards came on one play in garbage time. His numbers are likely a product of not having Diontae Johnson in a game script focused on passing.


Diontae Johnson: 6 targets, 3 receptions, 48 yards


Johnson looked like he was just getting his day started when he hobbled off after a 26 yard reception early in the third quarter.  He never returned from that hamstring injury, but one can’t help but think what his numbers may have been on a day where Pickett threw the ball 46 times.


Calvin Austin: 6 targets, 6 receptions, 37 yards


If Johnson is out for any extended period of time, Austin is a name to possibly keep an eye on.  The Steelers made it a priority to get the ball to Austin in space. While he only came away with 37 yards, Austin’s usage seems to indicate he may be more of a focal point of the offense than originally thought.


George Pickens: 7 targets, 5 receptions, 36 yards


Pickens’ day was headlined by a play that unfortunately didn’t count: the second-year pro made an acrobatic one-handed catch in the endzone, but was unable to keep two feet in bounds.  It’s still worth a play checking out for entertainment purposes, but the rest of day for Pickens was largely underwhelming.  Seven targets shows that Pickett wants to get Pickens involved, but that connection proved tough to establish against a strong 49ers defense.


Pat Freiermuth: 4 targets, 1 reception, 3 yards, TD


Talk about a touchdown saving the day! Freiermuth suffered a chest injury in the second quarter on a pass thrown his way in the endzone. He then came back in, scored the Steelers’ lone touchdown, and was later deemed questionable to return.  It’s hard to take away much from the Penn State product’s performance due to the injury, but it’s no surprise to see Pickett looks his way in the redzone, which is exactly why you drafted him.


Connor Heyward: 4 targets, 2 receptions, 19 yards

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