“They wrote me off, but I won’t respond.” What a bar. What a way to cap off week 1 of the fantasy football season. But we were already looking ahead a few minutes later Geno Smith dropping the hottest quote of 2022. Injury updates and reactions to offseason guesses instantly filled our timeline.
And we’ll see how accurate some of the analytics were at the start of Week 2 tonight.
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Battle for AFC West begins as Chiefs host Chargers
Once again, NFL schedulers have us ready for a great night. Instead of a possible Super Bowl game, we get a future AFC playoff game. Patrick Mahomes looked unstoppable during the Chiefs’ unveiling of their new offense, but as you’ll see blowing, Justin Herbert and the Chargers still have the necessary firepower:
I’ve watched and re-watched this throw more times than I care to admit. I don’t understand it. It’s not just the pass itself, but the decision to separate two defenders and place a ball past a third that baffles me. And look at Herbert after The version. He knew it was good before he arrived Keenan Allenhands.
It’s hard to underestimate the talent that will be on the pitch during this game. But I will pay attention to some things in the Chargers offense.
Last season, Los Angeles was sixth in early success rate in neutral situations, at 56.8%. They opened in 2022 at 66.7%. But even though he’s a cyborg under center, Herbert’s aDOT on those plays was 5.5 aerial yards. For reference, Mahomes had an aDOT of 6.6 under similar conditions on Sunday. So, you’d think the Chargers would be just as effective on the field at keeping their offense moving.
Los Angeles was 30th in EPA by rush. Somehow their run block got worse. Kansas City held James Conner at a quick 40.0% success rate and he needed a touchdown to save his day. Austin Ekeler may need similar runout. Or, the Chiefs could force the Chargers into a high-scoring affair.
On the KC side of the ball, life without Tyreek Hill looked pretty easy. My long-held belief was that Chefs could Frankenstein their reception hall in Hill. Instead of having one guy multi-tasking, just have multiple guys. It makes our job as fantasy managers more difficult, but we soon saw who had that ‘Tyreek Hill’ feature on Sunday.
Hill was the team’s leading slot receiver in 2021, a position Mahomes has targeted on 37.3% of his drops. Ju Ju Smith Schuster and Mecole Hardman tied for most inland routes. But Smith-Schuster’s YPRR of 1.79 was far superior.
Unsurprisingly, Hill won the most goals of more than 20 airyards last year. Mahomes’ deep ball rate has steadily dropped as he’s seen more two-man coverage, but he’ll still swing for the fences when given the chance. Again, Hardman earned a few looks. And of course, Marquez Valdes-Scantling took a transfer on a jet sweep to keep Kansas City’s penchant for pre-snap window dressing intact.
Everything is still there, just with new (and more) faces. Reports of the disappearance of the chiefs were greatly exaggerated. But they still have a big test ahead of them.
The Chargers’ defensive front nearly matched the Bills’ pressure rating at 30.2%. Therefore, Derek Carr was 26th in EPA per play. The Raiders’ only explosive passing game didn’t come until the fourth quarter, a 31-yard rushing Darren Waller. Mahomes can handle the pressure, but we’ll see if his new passing options can do the same.
Don’t bench these guys
I’m trying to control my reactions from last week. It’s easy to get upset when a late guy shows up. But we only have a few days to make programming decisions, and we can’t use hype as a reason to start someone. To help you out, I have a few guys worth starting out with if you need a flexible option.
Starting Everett (or feeling comfortable about it) shouldn’t hinge on Allen’s availability (he’s already been ruled out). I mean, sure, anyone can connect two dots and see more opportunities for Everett with one less option for Herbert. But we don’t know how the Chargers would fill an Allen-sized hole in their offense. So, let’s start with what we know:
At worst, Los Angeles pushed Everett into the attack. Its TPRR of 17.4% ranks it 15th among its peers (min. 4 targets). However, compare its use to other tight ends on new teams. Evan EngramThe TPRR of was 11.4%. OJ Howard gained half as many targets, and I forgot austin hooper was on the Titans until the fourth quarter. Plus, Everett was efficient with the stares he received.
Everett’s 2.35 YPRR puts him comfortably in the top five, with half of his goals coming while the Chargers were in scoring position. The Chargers’ willingness to move him (lunge, wide, backfield) in his first game hints at their plans. I would run it on most marginal top 12 options on Thursday night.
I feel vindicated about Clyde Edwards-Helaire after Sunday. The Chiefs deployed him as a rusher and receiver as we all imagined, with two touchdowns to keep our hopes alive. But he was not a one-person army.
McKinnon tied Edwards-Helaire in moments (27), but McKinnon’s 22.2% goal-per-run rate (TPRR) was higher than Edwards-Helaire’s (20.0%). McKinnon also had a higher EPA per rush while the game was still competitive (0.3 to 0.15). His only downside was being absent in the red zone, but we should not expect a similar scenario tonight.
McKinnon was a one-for-one trade with Edwards-Helaire in Week 1. At 30, his 13.6 YAC per reception was in line with his younger counterpart (14.0). Kansas City will need explosive plays to keep up with Los Angeles, and McKinnon still has the juice. If you need help at RB, take a look at McKinnon.
Don’t twist it. I’m not trying to chase touchdowns here. Hardman was shaking in the end zone after most Cardinals fans left the stadium. Plus, he had just 16 receiving yards that day. But using it caught my eye as the Chiefs will need to use all their weapons to secure a victory tonight.
Hardman saw a target on 24.0% of his routes in Week 1. Mahomes only targeted Travis Kelce and Smith-Schuster at a higher rate. The types targets were also intriguing.
Hardman led the team in red zone targets (3) and tied Smith-Schuster in deep targets, with the rest of his targets coming in the short end of the field. Although he mostly stayed on the perimeter, that factored in the volatility of his boxscore. But that didn’t stop Mahomes from looking in Hardman’s direction.
My only concern is his participation on the road, as he’s only run on 25 of Mahomes’ 41 dropouts (least among full-time players). However, Hardman earned a 28.3% share of the air court in Game 1. He’ll be less popular given his track record, but he’s worth it if you need punch in your lineup.
Let’s wait a week and see how things go
On the other hand, I don’t want to overreact to a sample of a game. I’m still clinging to a few preseason narratives that I couldn’t reconcile with last week’s action. Maybe Week 1 was a sign of things to come, but I’ll keep these guys on my bench for now.
The narrative of the offseason for Palmer was that he was Allen’s backup. His aDOT of 10.0 matches where Allen typically operates. When Allen ran out of time last season, it was Palmer who took over the coveted slot machine role for the Chargers. And yet, we haven’t seen more work for the second after Allen left the game.
The positive rounds are that he ran the second routes and was the only WR with a red zone goal for Los Angeles in Week 1. However, Palmer and DeAndré Carter divide the role of the slot machine into three targets each. And Carter was the most productive of the duo with downside versatility.
Palmer looks like another cog in the Herbert machine. I would prefer more time to gain clarity, even in what we hope will be a high-scoring contest.
Maybe I’m being stubborn here. Anyway, I need to see more of Pacheco. Boxscore scouts will be quick to point to his total yardage as a reason to start him. OK cool. I would also be happy with 12.2 points from a player late in the round. But let’s be real about its results for a minute.
Pacheco’s first touch didn’t come until the Chiefs’ third practice as the last man in the rotation. He gained two yards on two carries (with one attempt on the goal line). We didn’t see the rookie again until the fourth quarter when the score was 37-15. With the game in hand, Pacheco racked up 60 of 62 yards as Edwards-Helaire took place, and McKinnon took an insignificant carry on their final drive. It’s hard to see a similar game scenario in TNF.
Pacheco did nothing to change his status in the pecking order on Sunday. He was the least effective of the trio on the ground (0.01 EPA per attempt). Moreover, he hasn’t won a single goal on just four courses. I would wait another week for more clarity on Pacheco’s role going forward.