“They wrote me off, I ain’t write back though.” What a bar. What a way to cap Week 1 of the fantasy football season. But we were already looking ahead within minutes of Geno Smith dropping the hottest quote of 2022. Injury updates and reactions to offseason assumptions instantly filled our timelines.
And we’ll see how accurate some of the analysis was as Week 2 kicks off tonight.
Battle for the AFC West gets going as Chiefs host Chargers
Yet again, the NFL schedule makers set us up for a good night. Instead of a possible Super Bowl matchup, we get a future AFC playoff game. Patrick Mahomes looked unstoppable in the Chiefs’ unveiling of their new offense, but as you’ll see blow, Justin Herbert and the Chargers still have the firepower to match:
I’ve watched and rewatched 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 split two defenders and fit a ball in front of a third that leaves me confounded. And watch Herbert after the release. He knew it was good before it got to Keenan Allen’s hands.
It’s hard to understate how much talent will be on the field during this game. But I’ll be paying attention to a few things within the Chargers’ offense.
Last season, Los Angeles was sixth in early-down passing rate in neutral situations, at 56.8 percent. 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 air yards. For reference, Mahomes had a 6.6 aDOT in similar conditions Sunday. So, you’d think the Chargers would be equally effective on the ground to keep their offense moving.
Los Angeles was 30th in EPA per rush. Somehow, their run blocking got worse. Kansas City held James Conner to a 40.0% rushing success rate and he required a touchdown to save his day. Austin Ekeler may need a similar runout. Or, the Chiefs could force the Chargers into a high-scoring affair.
Over on the KC side of the ball, life without Tyreek Hill looked pretty easy. My long-held belief was the Chiefs could Frankenstein their receiver room into Hill. Instead of having one guy do multiple things, simply have multiple guys. It makes our jobs as fantasy managers harder, but we quickly saw who had that “Tyreek Hill” function Sunday.
Hill was the team’s leading slot receiver in 2021, a position Mahomes targeted on 37.3% of his dropbacks. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman tied for the most routes run from the interior. But Smith-Schuster’s 1.79 YPRR was far superior.
Unsurprisingly, Hill earned the most targets of 20-plus air yards last year. Mahomes’ deep-ball rate has steadily declined as he’s seen more two-high coverages, but he’ll still swing for the fences when given the chance. Again, Hardman earned some looks. And, of course, Marquez Valdes-Scantling took a handoff on a jet sweep to keep Kansas City’s penchant for pre-snap window dressing intact.
It’s all still there, just with new (and more) faces. The reports of the Chiefs’ demise were greatly exaggerated. But they still have a big test in front of them.
The Chargers’ defensive front nearly matched the Bills’ pressure rate at 30.2%. As a result, Derek Carr was 26th in EPA per play. The Raiders’ lone explosive passing play didn’t come until the fourth quarter, a 31-yarder to Darren Waller. Mahomes can deal with pressure, but we’ll see if his new passing options can do the same.
Don’t bench these guys
I’m trying to keep my reactions from last week in check. It’s easy to get excited when a late-round guy pops. But we’ve only got a couple of days to make lineup decisions, and we can’t use hype as a reason to start someone. To help, I’ve got a few guys worth starting if you need a flex option.
Starting Everett (or feeling comfortable about it) shouldn’t hinge on Allen’s availability (he’s already been ruled out). I mean, sure, anybody 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 do know:
At worst, Los Angeles was easing Everett into the offense. His 17.4% TPRR ranked 15th among his peers (min. 4 targets). However, compare his usage to other tight ends on new squads. Evan Engram’s TPRR was 11.4%. O.J. Howard earned half as many targets, and I forgot Austin Hooper was on the Titans until the fourth quarter. Plus, Everett was efficient with the looks he received.
Everett’s 2.35 YPRR puts him comfortably in the top five, with half his targets coming while the Chargers were in scoring position. The Chargers’ willingness to move him around (slot, wide, backfield) in his first game hints at their plans. I’d start him over most fringe top-12 options Thursday night.
I feel vindicated about Clyde Edwards-Helaire after Sunday. The Chiefs deployed him as a rusher and receiver as we all envisioned, with two touchdowns to keep our hopes alive. But he wasn’t a one-person army.
McKinnon matched Edwards-Helaire in snaps (27), but McKinnon’s 22.2% targets per route run (TPRR) rate was greater 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 downfall was being absent in the red zone, but we can’t expect a similar scenario tonight.
McKinnon was a one-for-one swap with Edwards-Helaire in Week 1. At 30 years old, 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, give McKinnon a look.
Don’t get it twisted. I’m not trying to chase touchdowns here. Hardman was shimmying in the end zone after most Cardinals fans left the stadium. Plus, he only had 16 receiving yards on the day. But his usage caught my eye as the Chiefs will need to use all their weapons to pull off a win tonight.
Hardman saw a target on 24.0% of his routes in Week 1. Mahomes targeted only Travis Kelce and Smith-Schuster at a higher rate. The types of 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 area of the field. While he primarily stayed on the perimeter, it factored into his boxscore volatility. But it didn’t stop Mahomes from looking Hardman’s way.
My only concern is his route participation, as he ran on just 25 of Mahomes’ 41 dropbacks (the least among the full-time players). However, Hardman did secure a 28.3% air yard share in the opener. He’ll be less popular given his track record but is worth a shot if you need some 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 one-game sample. I’m still holding on to a few preseason narratives I couldn’t square with last week’s action. Maybe Week 1 was a sign of things to come, but I’ll hold these guys on my bench for now.
The offseason narrative for Palmer was he’s Allen’s replacement. His 10.0 aDOT aligns with where Allen typically operates. When Allen missed time last season, it was Palmer who took over the coveted slot role for the Chargers. And yet, we didn’t see more work for the sophomore after Allen exited the game.
The positive spins are that he ran the second-most routes and was the only WR with a red-zone target for Los Angeles in Week 1. However, Palmer and DeAndre Carter split the slot role at three targets apiece. And Carter was the more productive of the duo with downfield versatility.
Palmer looks like another cog in the Herbert machine. I’d prefer more time to gain some clarity even in what we expect to be a high-scoring contest.
Maybe I’m the stubborn one here. Regardless, I need to see more from Pacheco. Boxscore scouts will be quick to point out his yardage total as a reason for starting him. OK, cool. I’d be happy with 12.2 points from a late-round player, too. But let’s be real about his results for a minute.
Pacheco’s first touch didn’t come until the Chiefs’ third drive as the last man in the rotation. He gained two yards on two carries (with one goal-line attempt). 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 his 62 yards as Edwards-Helaire took a seat, and McKinnon took a meaningless carry on their final drive. It’s hard to see a similar game scenario in TNF.
Pacheco didn’t do anything to change his status in the pecking order Sunday. He was the least efficient of the trio on the ground (0.01 EPA per attempt). Plus, he didn’t earn a single target on just four routes. I’d wait another week for more clarity on Pacheco’s role moving forward.