An Introduction, Struggling Rookies, and the Matt Ryan Problem

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Football is back, and so is everyone’s favorite source of banter to have between their friends and coworkers: fantasy football. We’ve had our drafts, paid our buy-in fees for our leagues, and taken in the first week of the NFL season.

We watched Ryan Fitzpatrick ruin the weeks of every Saints D/ST owner, new head coaches go a whooping 0-7, and the Cleveland Browns played a game of regular season football and did not lose for the first time in two years. Absolutely wild.

My goal for this column is to help you all, my readers, win your fantasy leagues this season. Everybody loves being a winner right? So, without further adieu, here are some players whose stock went up and down after week one, and some players to target on the waiver wire, who are available in more than 50 percent of leagues on ESPN.

Stock Up:

Jay Ajayi RB, Philadelphia Eagles: Although Ajayi was only on the field for 40 percent of the Eagles’ offensive plays on Thursday night, he received the bulk of the carries, receiving 15 carries compared to five a piece for Darren Sproles and Corey Clement. With his limited carries, Ajayi was efficient, rushing for over 4.2 yards per carry and scoring two touchdowns, and did so with the explosiveness that has made him effective in the past.

The lack of snaps can be attributed to Ajayi nursing a foot injury throughout the preseason, and Eagles coach Doug Pederson wanting to ease him back into his role.

I just wanted to make sure he was good and get him into the flow of the game,” Coach Doug Pederson said on NBC sports after Thursday night’s game. “He did a nice job. It was encouraging to see. I think not only going forward, but him, health-wise, coming out of the game was really good. Moving forward, we’ll see him more.”

An uptick in Ajayi’s volume gives him serious fantasy value moving forward. He’s going to get the volume that will allow him to produce RB1 numbers, and should also get plenty of goal line looks on an Eagles offense that put up 28.6 points per game last year.

Ajayi’s ability to produce in fantasy will largely be tied to his ability to stay healthy, but if he is able to stay healthy for all 16 games this season, he has a serious chance at finishing as a top 8 fantasy running back.

Emmanuel Sanders WR, Denver Broncos: Case Keenum loves to throw to his slot receivers, as we saw last year during Keenum’s breakout campaign and Adam Thielen’s subsequent breakout. Now, as a member of the Denver Broncos, Keenum has a new receiver to throw to out of the slot, Emmanuel Sanders.

After a rough 2017 season which saw him finish as the 61st ranked wide receiver in fantasy, Sanders bounced back in big fashion in Week 1. Sanders finished his first game on Sunday with 10 receptions, 135 yards, and a touchdown, the fourth best performance of all receivers in PPR scoring.

The biggest takeaway here is that Keenum targeted Sanders a team high 11 times, displaying his rapport with the receiver, and Sanders’ production is sustainable. As long as Sanders remains one of Keenum’s main targets moving forward, Sanders is a strong WR2 with WR1 upside.

Stock Down:

Matt Ryan QB, Atlanta Falcons: While watching the season opening game on Thursday night, it was hard to believe that the Falcons quarterback was the league’s MVP just two seasons ago. However, Ryan’s underwhelming performance is less about Ryan’s ability as a Quarterback, but rather the offensive play calling that the Falcons are having him run.  

Since former Falcons Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan left Atlanta to take over the head coaching job of the 49ers at the end of the 2016 season, Ryan has regressed significantly. For reference, here are Ryan’s per game averages during his last 17 games with Shanahan as his OC, versus the 17 games he has played thus far with Steve Sarkisian as his OC.

Ryan with Shannahan: 291.26 Yards, 2.24 TDs, .41 INT, 109.96 Passer Rating

Ryan with Sarkisian: 255.65 Yards, 1.18 TDs, .76 INT, 90.42 Passer Rating

Ryan’s last 17 games with Shannahan ranked him as the 3rd best QB in fantasy during that span. However, during his 17 games with Sarkisian running his play calling, Ryan has dropped down from an average of 19.8 Fantasy PPG, to 13.4 Fantasy PPG, dropping him to number 15. This trails the likes of Dak Prescott, Jared Goff, and Blake Bortles. Yuck! As long as Ryan is playing in Sarkisian’s ineffective offense, I would refrain from starting Ryan; or anyone on this Falcons offense for that matter.

Ronald Jones RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - A highly hyped rookie hailing from USC, many fantasy players touted Jones as a sleeper for this coming season. He had the perfect narrative to be a sleeper in many leagues, being a 2nd round rookie in what appeared to be a wide open Tampa Bay backfield.

However, Jones’ NFL career has gotten off to an abysmal start. After averaging a meager .65 yards per carry during the preseason, Jones was inactive in what would have been his NFL debut on Sunday. The healthy scratch indicates that he has fallen far out of favor with Tampa Bay’s coaching staff, who opted to roll with Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers.

Sorry to everyone that reached for Jones during draft season this year, he is not ownable in any format for the foreseeable future.

Waiver Targets:

George Kittle TE, San Francisco 49ers (owned in 37.1 percent of leagues) - Week 1 was brutal to the tight end position, as perennial starters Delanie Walker and Greg Olsen went down with injuries that could cost their seasons. If you are a Walker or Olsen owner, pick up Kittle, who lead the 49ers in with 9 targets last week. Kittle should get plenty of volume in a 49ers offense that will continue to grow as a unit under Jimmy Garoppolo.

Mike Williams WR, Los Angeles Chargers (owned in 34.5 percent of leagues) - Despite being listed as the Chargers’ third wide receiver, Williams had the second most targets among Chargers wide receivers in week 1. The second year pro appears to be becoming one of Phillip Rivers’ favorite weapons, and has great size that makes him a good red zone target.

Phillip Lindsay RB, Denver Broncos (owned in 1.9 percent of leagues) - Going into Wednesday, no one expected the undrafted rookie from Colorado to lead the Broncos’ backfield in touches, especially with fellow rookie Royce Freeman and stalwart Devontae Booker still in the mix. After Sunday, it looks like Booker is the odd man out, and Lindsay has established himself as Denver’s running back on passing downs. This role gives Lindsay great value in PPR leagues going forward.