Daniel, Liz and DJ: home leagues, early-season surprises and the rise of the fantasy WRs

by 24britishtvSept. 16, 2022, 4:01 p.m. 15
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Daniel Dopp, Liz Loza and DJ Gallo talk life, fantasy football, pop culture and everything in between in a new weekly "fantasy improv" column, which runs every Friday throughout the NFL season. Joe Kaiser serves as the moderator and attempts to keep things on track.

DJ: Another Thursday Night football game in the books, and I got to be honest: That was a disappointing game from a fantasy perspective. Even Mike Williams' game-high 25.3 points was a letdown after his first half. Justin Herbert was the only other player to break 20 points. Travis Kelce barely broke 10. Mecole Hardman and JuJu Smith-Schuster combined for just 6 catches for 59 yards. I hate Thursday night games in fantasy, especially when Thursday nights bring down high-scoring teams. On the positive side, Zander Horvath is now my clear FB1 moving forward.

Kaiser: Because football. Speaking of which, who had Seahawks beating Russell Wilson on MNF on their bingo card? (Not me.)

Daniel: The Broncos fumbled twice on the 1-yard line, severely mismanaged the clock and still almost kicked a 64-yarder to win it. This is the peak of the Seahawks' season right here.

Kaiser: You're probably right. I think most Seahawks fans didn't expect any peaks, so this is playing with the casino's chips, already, Week 1. Now... at SF for Week 2.

Liz: I'm with Dopp. The Seahawks just played their Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the Broncos played like a team working through communication kinks under a first-time HC and with a new QB in the loudest stadium on the planet.

Kaiser: So this was a bit of a shocker... but far from the only one in Week 1. What was the biggest surprise you saw in the opening week of the NFL?

Liz: I was surprised to see Aaron Jones outproduced, out-touched, and nearly out-snapped by AJ Dillon. The Packers were only favored by 1.5 heading into the game so it wasn't shocking to see Green Bay fall behind. However, given Allen Lazard's absence and the WR corps' minimal rapport with Aaron Rodgers, it's brow-raising that Jones didn't rack up more aerial opportunities. He drew just five looks (Dillon recorded six) and converted on only three of them. I'm moving Jones outside of my top 12 (think RB16 range) and Dillon not far behind (RB20-ish) for Sunday night's matchup versus Chicago.

Daniel: Biggest surprise for me was how rusty so many teams were! Joe Burrow, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers and Dak Prescott (out between four and eight weeks depending on the doctor you ask) all finished outside the top 10 at the position. It feels like teams are comfortable playing half of an NFL regular-season game out of sync than risking star players getting hurt in the preseason. I didn't love it. Also, how can I pass up the opportunity to say how surprised I was at the Lions putting up 35 points on Philly? Hard Knocks might not have been lying about D'Andre Swift & ARSB.

DJ: I was most surprised that people were surprised by Nathaniel Hackett's late-game decision-making. I mean, the guy gave Melvin Gordon III almost double the number of carries he gave to Javonte Williams. Of course someone who does that would also not know how to manage the end of a game.

Kaiser: When clock was winding down, I told my son, "They are gonna kick it." And I was still surprised when they actually did...

Kaiser: One week in the books. How'd you do in your home leagues?

DJ: I mean, I don't want to share this information, but since you asked: I won 172-88. It's a keeper league, and my three keepers are Patrick Mahomes, Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase. In the draft I got Travis Kelce, Dalvin Cook, Diontae Johnson and Chris Godwin. I gambled waiting on drafting an RB2 until Round 9 and managed to land James Robinson -- and Week 1 suggests he's still the RB1 in Jacksonville. On paper, this is the greatest fantasy team I've had in my life. By far. Can't wait to see how it all falls apart.

Daniel: In the Crappy Bands You've Never Heard Of league, I bested Riley Breckenridge (Thrice's drummer), but it cost me Dak Prescott in the process. It's a superflex league, and after waivers ran I've downgraded to Mitch Trubisky. So that's not great. I also lost Dak in a dynasty league I'm in with Field Yates & Tristan H. Cockcroft where I'm now relying on Jacoby Brissett to lead my squad. Oh, did I mention I lost Dak in the Fantasy Focus Show League? It's fine. Everything's fine. There's no problem here.

Liz: The biggest Womp Womp, But Of Course chuckle came from the guy who auto-drafted. Team Super Marion Butters (aka Gary) posted the highest point total of the week with Justin Jefferson and Saquon Barkley leading his team. I lost Dak in few places (like the Fishbowl, ouch). But digging how well my WR-heavy teams performed. Jefferson and Diggs are the truth, and I'm thrilled I prioritized them ahead of RBs.

Kaiser: I've had this same thought about WRs, Liz, and am seeing it with my teams as well. Is there a chance, given the makeup of the NFL in 2022, that there could be a shift in draft strategy in the coming years, where it's as common to pick WRs in the first round as it is to pick RBs?

Liz: Yes. Absolutely! I feel like we've been saying this since PPR became more standard than standard. The problem is that folks ("experts" included) get skittish about passing on an RB in the first two rounds. It requires a lot of discipline and confidence to wade into -- and then successfully target -- the diamonds in the Dead Zone rough.

There are so few elite producers (I'm talking about usage, not talent, TBC) at RB that most managers end up drafting from a place of scarcity rather than prioritizing the best of the best at WR because of the sheer number of options available at the position.

DJ: I agree with everything Liz said. And it becomes that much harder if you're drafting late in the first round in a snake draft. If you pass on running backs with your first two selections, you've essentially painted yourself into a zero-RB corner whether you want to be there or not. And as the great fantasy analyst Patrick Swayze once said: "Nobody paints me into a zero-RB corner." (Slight paraphrase.) There are just so many high-upside receivers available in the middle rounds, I never leave the first two rounds without at least one back. I'm just not that brave. Ask anyone.

Liz: Patrick Swayze also said that drafting zero RBs takes a lot of guts and that you, DJ, are not scared of anything.

Kaiser: This is getting out of hand. Daniel, are you on board, or are you also taking a deep dive into Patrick Swayze movie quotes?

Daniel: Very much on board with this because the league has become a passing league. It feels easier to hit on a mid-/late-round WR than it does to hit on a backup RB, so I get the fear of wanting to get the "sure thing" at RB early in the draft, but AJ Dillon and Kareem Hunt were two great examples of what you can find in the later rounds of drafts if you go WR-heavy early on. Imagine grabbing Justin Jefferson, D'Andre Swift (or Joe Mixon/Leonard Fournette -- 2nd Rd. ADP) and Michael Pittman Jr. with your first three picks and then snagging Dillon, Hunt, Michael Carter or Cordarrelle Patterson as your cheap RB2. I'm beginning to see the WR light and I'm not sure I can go back after the huge Week 1 WRs had. Sorry, didn't mean to put you guys in a corner here.

Kaiser: I'm pretty sure that last part is a Swayze reference.

Kaiser: Which player are you feeling most differently about heading into Week 2 compared with where you were at heading into Week 1?

DJ: I promise I'm not obsessed with Javonte Williams -- my new "J. Williams #33" tattoo could easily be modified to be about Patriots reserve defensive back Joejuan Williams -- but Javonte Williams getting 12 targets and 11 receptions in Week 1 is huge. I stayed away from him in drafts because of timeshare concerns, but even if Melvin Gordon continues to get heavy usage in the run game, Williams could be a PPR monster.

Daniel: Christian Kirk really impressed me in Week 1. He was paid to be "the guy" in that WR corps, and he delivered in almost every way imaginable: 6 rec, 117 yds on 12 targets for 17.7 FP. His having a 31% target share in Wk 1 after months of offseason debate about what he'll look like gives me the courage to say that we're just seeing the beginning of what Kirk will be in this Jags offense.

Liz: Seeing Curtis Samuel healthy and making an immediate impact is huge. He's a player I was high on after a breakout 2020 campaign, especially as he was reuniting with Ron Rivera in Washington. I thought he might be dunzo after Jahan Dotson (whose talent I'm also enamored by and who I had listed as my WR5 before last April) was drafted in the first round. Seeing Samuel's versatility used in Week 1 -- particularly while Brian Robinson is sidelined -- is giving off big flex vibes. He's my WR29 heading into the Commanders' matchup at Detroit.

Kaiser: Whatcha got for the Lions, Bears and Steelers this week? Will your teams cover?

Liz: Packers on the ML but the Bears to cover.

DJ: Steelers money line. The only thing that makes me feel positive about Pittsburgh's offensive display last week is that I also saw the New England Patriots attempt offense.

Daniel: Lions are the favorites for the first time in 24 games, and I'm celebrating by laying points with the Honolulu blue.

Follow Liz Loza (@LizLoza_FF), Daniel Dopp (@DanielDopp) and DJ Gallo (@DJGalloETC) on Twitter. Liz Loza and Daniel Dopp's fantasy football rankings appear every week during the season.

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