The NFL returned last week. It was weird with no fans and with face shields (shoutout to Andy Reid) and Zoom interviews, but the actual football was surprisingly crisp. Fantasy football managers rejoiced, watching high draft picks such as Saints running back Alvin Kamara and prized rookies such as Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire deliver big fantasy points. Matthew Berry’s Week 2 Love/Hate column is here, with all the lowdown on who looked good and will continue to do so, and which players you might want to sit.
I’ve told a version of this story before, but it bears repeating:
I went to college at Syracuse University (Go Cuse!), and while I was there, Doritos decided to sponsor a national contest to find “The Funniest College Student in America.” So it sent a crew to various colleges to hold, in essence, an open-mic night for college students. And part of the crew that came to these colleges was a professional touring comedian named Leroy Seabrooks.
His job was to perform comedy, get the crowd in a laughing mood and act as master of ceremonies, keeping the show moving between the inexperienced college kids, many of whom were trying stand-up for the first time.
I remember him being very funny, but once during his routine he told a joke that didn’t get much of a laugh. Without missing a beat, he just shrugged. “That’s OK. I think that joke is hilarious. You see, most of these jokes are for you guys. But,” he said, pointing to himself, “that joke? That joke was for Leroy. So the next time I tell a joke you don’t laugh at, you just think to yourself, ‘That one must have been for Leroy.'” And he knowingly pointed to his temple as he got a laugh with that.
A little while later in his set, another joke fell flat. He stopped, looked right at the audience and said: “That one was for Leroy.” He got a laugh with that.
The college kids were all doing their routines, one after another. They weren’t polished, but it was an easy and forgiving crowd that had been drinking all night, so most students got a handful of laughs with their routines. But then a very nervous freshman got up. Even in front of an understanding audience, this kid was just BRUTAL. Crickets after every joke. It wasn’t funny bad, it was uncomfortable bad. People couldn’t even muster up pity laughs, and then this kid told one joke so awful that it nuked the room. You could literally hear a pin drop, the room grew so silent.
The kid realized how bad he had bombed and just stood there silently, a deer in the headlights for what seemed like an eternity. You could feel the sweat dripping off him. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, he pointed and said: “That one was for Leroy!”
Brought the house down.
While I was at Syracuse, my friends and I did a sitcom for two years at the student TV station. And while we were writing or performing it, oftentimes someone would pitch a joke that would make all of us laugh, but I knew it was too inside and wouldn’t make sense to the audience. And the writer would defend it. “Hey, that one’s for Leroy!” So we instituted a rule of one Leroy joke per episode — one joke that was entirely for our pleasure, that was just to make us happy, that we found funny and didn’t care if anyone else did.
When I moved to Los Angeles after college and became a sitcom and movie writer, I had a loan out/production company. I called it Leroy Productions.
It was a small, throwaway joke by a comedian … a standard line I’m sure he used every show any time one of his jokes didn’t land. But many years later, not only have I never forgotten it, I think of it often.
Especially in the spring of 2017, when I got called into ESPN executive vice president and executive editor of studio production Norby Williamson’s office.
Norby oversees much of what you watch and listen to on ESPN, and after some catching up, Norby asked me a question. “You ever seen ‘Mad Money’ with Jim Cramer?” I nodded. “Well,” he continued, “What do you think about a format sort of like that but with you, all about fantasy football?”
We discussed further. Cramer’s show was just a starting point, he explained. He just liked the idea of having one host, talking directly to the camera with energy and having fun talking about what can sometimes be a dry subject for TV given all the numbers associated with fantasy.
Norby asked me if I knew Ed Eck. Ed was a producer here at ESPN, and I said I did, I had worked with Ed many times over the years and we got along well. Norby said great. He wanted Ed and me to go off and come up with what the show would be. As I was leaving, Norby told me there were only two rules:
1) It couldn’t look like anything else on ESPN. No desks, no ties, no highlights, no debate, no radio shows as a TV show, nothing. It had to look 100 percent different from anything else on the air.
2) It had to be ready in six weeks, launching after the Fantasy Football Marathon in early August.
Most shows get a year or longer to develop, so this was definitely going to be a challenge. But Ed and I decided not to worry about that and instead focused on rule No. 1, a rule I quickly added to.
Not only could it not look like anything else on ESPN, I said to Ed, I didn’t want it to look or sound like anything else I did. I wanted it to be its own world and offer its own value proposition for why people should watch. You may not have noticed it or maybe you have and just don’t care, but love or hate them, this column is a very different experience from the Fantasy Focus podcast. And the podcast is a different experience from Fantasy Football Now.
There are only so many players and so many ways to say “Start this guy, bench that one,” so there’s already some inherent sameness that is unavoidable when you do fantasy analysis. So for the stuff we could control, I wanted it to be unique to ESPN, unique to anything else I did, and, I finally added, unique to anything anyone else was doing when it came to fantasy football analysis. Just like Norby requested, I wanted it to be different.
Because I’ve always been different. As a kid, as an adult and certainly as a fantasy football analyst. I mean, hell, we are 1,000 words into this thing and I have yet to mention a player, you know? Against everyone’s advice, often fighting with superiors and audience alike who told me this is not the way you do it, I kept at it, kept being weird. Stop with the long intros, stop with the jokes on the podcast, stop with it all, they said. I didn’t. My style isn’t for everyone (still isn’t!) and I’ve had to fight year after year to do it the way I do. My response is always the same. One of these days I’m sure I’ll figure out the right way to be a fantasy analyst. But today is not that day. And so I trudged on, fighting and clawing and arguing until the spring of 2017.
When, for the first time in my life, I’m literally being told … go ahead, make it different.
So Ed and I would meet every day in his office and spitball ideas on exactly how to do that. I didn’t want the stereotypical format of a female host setting me up with questions or another guy in a suit arguing with me. Instead I asked for big-bearded, sleeve-tatted and nose-pierced Daniel Dopp, my podcast producer with whom I had a good on-air relationship. He certainly didn’t look like anyone else on ESPN. Ed and I both wanted the show to be filled with insightful and smart, deep-diving fantasy analysis. The core of the show always had to be about helping people win. But upon that foundation, we both come from the school of thought that fantasy, more than anything else, is fun. It’s a hobby, something we play to escape, and the show should reflect that.
I’ve always been obsessed with puppets. From “Avenue Q” to Gary Puppet and Jackie Puppet back in the day on “The Howard Stern Show” to very obviously “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” I loved the subversive humor you could get away with regarding puppets that might not fly if coming out of the mouth of a human. And it’s not like any other shows on ESPN have puppets, so, you know, we started coming up with puppet characters.
An actual Bitter Berry from my podcast rants was a natural, as was a talking and wise Crystal Ball, complete with old raspy cigarette voice. When you’ve been around forever and predict the future, you’ve seen some things, you know? Crystal would reflect that. Many of the debate shows on TV often use what is known as a “strawman” argument, refuting the point being made by attacking a distorted and exaggerated version of the original premise. So we should have, I said, an actual Straw Man. Let him make the arguments of sports radio blowhards and egg avatar Twitter users. Straw Man is a fan favorite and the character my daughters love the most, though I never know if it’s because they think he’s funny or they actually agree with him. Ha!
Between injuries, benchings and poor performance, fantasy is often filled with bad news, so was there a mechanism to deliver bad news? What puppet could be the Bearer of Bad News? Shoutout to Mitchell Clements, our PA the first year, who suggested an actual Bear of Bad News. And playing along with the awfulness of that pun, Ed decided the Bear should be a failed stand-up comic.
The only thing better than a puppet is a robot, so of course we had to have one of those. Silliest way to do an injury segment? Have Stephania Bell come in with “minions” dressed in skeleton outfits, of course, so she could point out injuries in her segment “Show Me Where It Hurts.” From costumes to a very liberal use of a green screen, from “F, Marry, Chill (where the F, of course, stands for friend)” to our Monday underperforming stars segment “What the #%$@ Just Happened?” we made ourselves laugh. A lot.
As we rehearsed with Daniel doing wacky stuff, disco balls dropping from the ceiling, socks with NFL player pictures on them suddenly coming to life, and talking puppets all over the place while a robot and a guy in a bear costume wandered around, it occurred to us very clearly.
There’s no way this show lasts.
We had been operating in our little bubble developing the show, and considering the short turnaround time to get on the air, I was certain that when people at ESPN eventually saw just how dumb and weird it was, we were sure to be canceled. Sooner rather than later. So screw it, man. Let’s just do what we want and make ourselves happy. Let’s go out in a blaze of glory. This show’s for Leroy.
And so the countdown began. I asked Ed if we could get a sign made, like those signs you see in factories. You know, those “We Have ___ Days Without an Accident!” signs? We should put one of those up, I said, that said “____ Days Without Cancellation.” It sits right next to the door I walk through at the start of every show. So we dutifully drew a “1” on “Days Without Cancellation” sign and launched on ESPN2, on time, as we made a very specific promise to our viewers. “Give us 20 minutes,” we said. “We promise to make you a much smarter fantasy player. And a much dumber person.”
And then a funny thing happened on the way to immediate cancellation and derision. People liked it. People internally liked it, people watching ESPN2 liked it. Not everyone, of course. That’s true with everything I do. But a lot more people liked it than not.
So we kept adding numbers to that sign.
After the first season, the bosses came to me again. ESPN+ was starting up, it was a huge company priority and they were assembling content to put on the platform. Content they believed people would want to pay for. Content like … The Fantasy Show.
I couldn’t believe we were getting a second season of this ridiculousness. They know we have angry, foul-mouthed puppets, right? That we now have talking watercoolers, cartoon aliens, a low-rent superhero named Waiver Man and a guy in a giant caterpillar outfit that begrudgingly brings out stats for us to discuss named The Stat-a-Pillar? They know this, right? They did, and yeah, they wanted more.
So we launched on ESPN+ and got even dumber (a personal fave was Daniel starting a rival network on our show called ESPN Minus), and I’ll be damned, but yeah, people supported it with subscriptions. And we kept adding numbers to that sign.
Last Thursday, the Thursday of Week 1 of the NFL season, the first Thursday of Season 4 of The Fantasy Show, we wrote the number 250.
We’ve done 250 episodes of this dumb thing. In typical show fashion, we had fun with the number, and ESPN even put out a tongue-in-cheek news release about it, where I was quoted as saying, “When I reflect on the incredible achievement of The Fantasy Show’s 250th episode, surpassing shows like ‘Seinfeld,’ ‘The Office’ and ‘MASH,’ I can’t help but think that if those shows had puppets or talked more about fake football, maybe they would have lasted longer.”
I made a joke about it, but truthfully I was (and continue to be) really, really, really proud of that. Of the show, of surviving, of finding a loyal audience, of the incredible team of people that work on the show every day to pull off the impossible. ESPN is not built for the kind of show we do — you’d be surprised at how hard a show with puppets and props and robots and (this year) cartoon characters is to do. We have no budget for professional voice actors, so every character on the show is done by a staff member, all of whom have actual jobs on the show they have to do.
Around the time of this 250th episode, Brian Lockhart, vice president and executive producer of original content for ESPN+, was asked about our dumb little show. This is what he said:
“The best thing about The Fantasy Show with Matthew Berry is that there isn’t anything like it anywhere on any platform. It’s truly unique, both in its approach and the people who execute the show. There’s a perfect combination of comedy and deep statistical analysis that actually makes fantasy players smarter. Add in the fact that there is only one Matthew Berry, and no one works harder that Matthew, Daniel, Ed and the show’s production team. It’s something that no one else can match — no wonder it’s one of the most popular shows on ESPN+.”
I mean, right? What do you say to that? He is right about how hard the show’s production staff works. Starting at the top with the man who oversees fantasy and gambling studio production for the company, Scott Clark, aka @all_biz, the Adam Schefter of The War Room League and the man who Scott Clarked me in fantasy a few years back. Our producers, Dennis Renno and Bryan Rubin, our directors, Becky Coole and Javi Escalante, our production assistants, Lexa Paluszewski and Tatiyana Smallwood, staff researcher (who helped with this column) Kevin Pulsifer and, of course, show producer, researcher and The Stat-a-Pillar himself, Damian Dabrowski. And there have been many who have worked hard and done great work on the show over the years who now work elsewhere, but they will always be part of the family.
But I want to give a special shoutout to Ed Eck, of course, Daniel Dopp and our top producer and the man who writes every script of the show, DJ Gallo. They have all been there from the very start, the only ones who have been there for all 250 episodes. Couldn’t do the show without any of them, but especially these three.
And one other guy I have to mention we absolutely couldn’t do the show without.
That first year we had the budget for only four puppets. (Turns out puppets are a lot more expensive than you’d think.) So when we met with the puppet guys, they suggested one puppet in a suit. That way you could do a lot of different things with it, changing hair color, adding glasses or mustaches, you could have the puppet be a reporter or lawyer or player agent, etc., etc. You could get a lot of characters out of one generic puppet in a suit. And a lightbulb went on.
No, we said, we don’t want a puppet in a suit. We want a puppet that is a suit. Obviously a show like this show needs a puppet boss. A puppet boss that yells at me and Daniel, pointing out all the many things at ESPN that are better than our terrible show.
In rehearsals, we instinctively called the puppet “Norby” after our real-life boss. But before we went on air I remember showing actual Norby a clip of the boss puppet character to see what he thought and make sure he was OK with it. He was fine with it.
And then we said, “Well, we want to call him Norby.”
Norby: “You shouldn’t name him after — ahh, I don’t care. If you think it’s funny, go ahead.”
Unlike puppet Norby, who yells at us for not talking enough about LeBron or wishing our show had an actual star such as Stephen A. Smith, the real Norby is incredibly supportive. “If you think it’s funny, go ahead.”
That doesn’t happen a lot in television … anywhere. Where you get someone powerful in your corner who supports you and says, “If you think it’s funny, go ahead.” Who basically says, “I trust you to make it good and smart and funny and I’m gonna give you the support you need to do it” while giving you the room and freedom to do it however you think works best. But it happened here. So yeah, none of this exists without the real Norby Williamson.
There’s a lesson in there, about just pursuing what you like and not worrying about whether anyone else will like it, and another lesson in management about supporting people to do just that. But ultimately, I just want to leave you with this:
Because ESPN+ is still growing, The Fantasy Show reaches a smaller audience than any of the other things I do for the company. But while I love my job and enjoy all aspects of it, I have to tell you … The Fantasy Show is my favorite thing I get to do. I truly, truly love it and the people I get the honor of working with on it. And I hope you watch it if you don’t already. Because it’s good and smart and funny and different. But if you don’t? That’s fine. And I know this intro was really long, even by my standards, but you know what else? I don’t care.
Because the show and this intro are entirely for Leroy.
Let’s get to it.
As always, “Love/Hate” is not a start/sit column but merely about expectations and players I believe will exceed or fall short of general expectations. Here we go.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 2
ESPN projected points: 19.5
The year is 2029. Self-driving, flying cars have finally reached the market, allowing the few Americans who no longer work full time on Zoom to watch the 1,000th episode of The Fantasy Show on ESPN+ on their way to work. Meanwhile, fantasy managers are still hesitant to start Allen despite his 10 consecutive years finishing as a top-10 fantasy quarterback. OK, fine, so flying cars might never arrive (although I demand that the flying-car scientists start working on that technology immediately), but Allen definitely has, and it’s time we all realized it. Sure, we might not get the passing we got out of him in Week 1 every game, but even with a career-high 46 pass attempts, Allen still ran 14 times for 57 yards and a touchdown. Considering that in Week 2 he faces a Dolphins defense that was just gashed by Cam Newton on the ground and that Allen averages 31.1 points per game in his career against Miami, Allen is not only a Love for me (I have him in the top four this week), he is a must-start going forward. Don’t wait until 2029 to jump on the Josh Allen (flying) train.
ESPN projected points: 20.8
Look, I’m not hitting the panic button on Brady after Week 1. I’d tell the Panthers to hit the panic button on their defense, but they’d probably fail to make contact with the panic button and it would waltz into the end zone untouched. Carolina had the fourth-worst red zone defense in 2019, and in Week 1 it allowed three touchdowns in four red zone trips from the Raiders. Even with Brady’s struggles last week on the road against a good Saints defense, he was still QB13 in fantasy and just 1.3 points away from being in the top 10. While Chris Godwin being put into the concussion protocol on Wednesday is #notideal, it doesn’t matter to me. Tom has heard the criticism all week and the Panthers are gonna pay for it. Expect him to be a top-10 performer this week against a decidedly bottom-10 defense.
Field Yates says any fantasy manager who is disappointed with Tom Brady’s 20.5 fantasy points against the Saints needs to reset their expectations.
ESPN projected points: 17.5
Will Newton get injured if he keeps running as much as he did in Week 1? Maybe. How am I supposed to know? It’s not my job to predict the future. I’m sorry, what? Yes, go ahead. Ah, OK. I’m being told in my ear that predicting the future is exactly my job. Well, then I will tell you Newton is healthy now and a healthy Newton is a fantasy star. Two rushing touchdowns last year; since Newton entered the NFL, he leads all players in goal-to-go rushing touchdowns. Considering that last season Seattle was the fifth-worst goal-to-go defense and allowed the Falcons to convert twice in goal-to-go situations in Week 1, I’m in on Newton as a strong top-10 play this week in what I’m predicting will be an epic battle with Russell Wilson.
Others receiving votes
A Browns defense that gave up a league-high 10.9 YPA and the third-highest completion percentage in Week 1 is playing on a short week and is really banged up, as multiple starters in Cleveland’s secondary are out for this game. So gimme Joe Burrow, who had eight carries for 46 yards and a score last week and should find the passing much easier this week as a top-15 play in Week 2. … For deeper leagues, two-quarterback leagues or as a DFS punt play, consider Teddy Bridgewater against the Buccaneers. The Bucs probably will hold the Carolina run game in check — Christian McCaffrey averaged just 1.7 yards per carry against the Bucs in 2019 — and Carolina also should be trailing significantly (see Brady, Tom). That means a pass-heavy game script for Teddy B. And quietly, Bridgewater showed some promise running last week too. He joined Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen as the only quarterbacks to pass for 270 yards and rush for 25 in Week 1. … Another two-QB or deep-league play: Yes, Philip Rivers struggled in Week 1, but no one struggled worse than the Vikings’ defense. That unit might want to head north over the border, where it might find some CFL offenses it potentially might handle. Rivers won’t do as well as Aaron Rodgers did against the Vikings in Week 1, but that pass-heavy Colts offense shouldn’t struggle to move the ball.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 2
ESPN projected points: 17.7
I’m as big a Washington homer as there is, but even I was like, uh, Philly, what the hell was that last week? An offensive line that has been decimated by injury might get some help (Lane Johnson, who missed Week 1, practiced in full on Wednesday), but still. The line is young and a work in progress. And after giving up eight (eight!) sacks in Week 1 to Ryan Kerrigan, Chase Young & Co., Wentz now has to deal with Aaron Donald and friends. Donald and the Rams were tied for sixth in highest pressure rate in Week 1. I have Wentz outside my top 12 this week in all leagues except the ones that award fantasy points for being driven into the ground.
ESPN projected points: 18.4
You know what isn’t good for a quarterback? Losing one of the best receivers in football (#analysis). But just because it’s obvious that Michael Thomas missing this game is bad for Brees doesn’t mean it’s not true. Last season, Thomas accounted for 30.1% of Brees’ fantasy points. Yes, they will work to get Emmanuel Sanders up to speed, they have Jared Cook and Alvin Kamara out of the backfield, and we have seen Tre’Quan Smith have big days as well. The over/under number here is a high one, and nothing we saw in Week 1 from the Raiders’ defense scares us. But I worry the Saints go more run-heavy here (they had a rush rate of 47.7% last week in a game they were leading for a lot of it, and they are heavy favorites in this one), especially since their defense should have no issue stopping the Raiders. Plus, there’s always a chance Taysom Hill vultures work as coach Sean Payton tries to get creative to account for Thomas’ absence (Hill has more than 15 snaps played in five consecutive games). Gut call, but feels like the Saints win this game, win it handily and don’t need a lot from Brees to do so. He’s outside my top 10 for the week.
Running backs I love in Week 2
ESPN projected points: 14.8
If the Panthers are done letting the panic button score, could they send it over to everyone with Austin Ekeler on their team? Everyone except me, that is. While fantasy managers have been freaking out about Ekeler’s lack of passing-game usage in Week 1 and reports of Anthony Lynn saying QB checkdowns will be less a part of the Chargers’ game plan, I’m choosing to focus on the fact that Ekeler GOT 19 CARRIES in Week 1 (19!). I’m sorry, but I don’t believe the Chargers will say, you know, we have one of the best pass-catching running backs in football, you know what we should do? Fewer passes to him. The receptions will come. And I think it starts this week against a Chiefs defense that, since the start of last season, has given up the most receiving yards to running backs and the fourth-most catches, while coughing up 4.95 yards per carry last week to Houston. The Chargers are 8.5-point underdogs in this one, so expect lots of passing for them to catch up and Ekeler returning to PPR monster status in Week 2.
Austin Ekeler only had one target in Week 1, but Matthew Berry is not concerned considering Ekeler had 20 touches on Sunday.
ESPN projected points: 16.1
The year was 2016. America faced a presidential election, LeBron James stormed through the NBA playoffs and David Johnson was a fantasy star. Ah, memories. OK, so even in 2020 some things haven’t changed. I said all offseason that Bill O’Brien would try to justify the DeAndre Hopkins trade by featuring Johnson heavily this season, and that happened in Week 1: 74% of Houston RB touches went to its new acquisition. In Week 2, that should only go up with Duke Johnson banged up. I get it. The Ravens’ defense is scary, but lots of work for Johnson in this one against a Baltimore defense that allowed 5.7 yards per rush in the opener.
ESPN projected points: 15.5 (Taylor), 10.5 (Hines)
You had me at “Minnesota.” After coughing up over 175 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown on a 4.96-yards-per-carry average last week to the Packers, I’m excited to see what this dynamic duo does to them this week. With Marlon Mack unfortunately lost for the season, Taylor assumes the lead-back role earlier than we expected and he, along with Hines, also will get plenty of work in the passing game. Just under 50% of Philip Rivers’ Week 1 completions went to running backs, as Hines and Taylor combined for 14 receptions. Rivers’ penchant for throwing to his running backs combined with a Vikes D that allowed nine RB receptions in Week 1 has me ready to talk these guys up on the 252nd episode of The Fantasy Show on ESPN+. Taylor is a top-10 guy this week, and Hines is a high-upside flex for PPR leagues.
Matthew Berry expects Jonathan Taylor to share the workload with Nyheim Hines, but would still deem Taylor a must-start for the rest of the season.
Others receiving votes
The Bucs’ offense struggled in Week 1, but Ronald Jones II was a bright spot, getting 73% of Tampa Bay RB touches. If that volume continues (it’s always dicey with Bruce Arians, but I cautiously expect it to continue this week), Jones is in line for a nice day against a Carolina defense that finished last season as the worst defense against RBs and got gashed by Josh Jacobs last week. … Same as Jonathan Taylor in Indy, we assumed J.K. Dobbins would eventually get the bulk of the workload in Baltimore. We just didn’t think it would happen so quickly. Dobbins led Ravens backs in snaps in Week 1 and was able to convert both of his goal-to-go carries. Now he faces a Texans D that allows the fourth-most fantasy points to running backs since 2019. … I know David Montgomery isn’t an exciting pick, but considering the Giants just allowed Benny Snell Jr. to run for over 100 yards, there’s no reason Montgomery can’t do the same in Week 2. … As mentioned in the Drew Brees section, I expect New Orleans to go even more run heavy without Thomas in the lineup and in a game they are heavily favored to win. Quietly, Latavius Murray had 15 carries last week.
Running backs I hate in Week 2
ESPN projected points: 11.4
Saquon Barkley had 15 carries for just 6 yards against the Steelers on Monday night. News flash: Melvin Gordon isn’t Saquon Barkley. Sure, Denver’s offensive line isn’t as bad as the Giants’, and with Phillip Lindsay likely missing this game with turf toe there should be more work for Gordon, but still, the Steelers’ defensive line is no joke, having allowed just five rushing touchdowns to RBs over their past 17 games. Since the start of 2019, only one running back has managed to score 14 or more points against Pittsburgh (Kareem Hunt), and I’m saying that fact is still true after Sunday.
ESPN projected points: N/A
Same game here, and if James Conner is active, I have no idea how you could feel confident in starting him after what we saw last week, where he was ineffective and (once again) left the game early because of injury. And even if he’s out, you’d feel better about rolling Benny Snell Jr. out there, but not by a lot. The Broncos’ front held Derrick Henry to 3.7 yards per carry last week, stopped him three different times on goal-to-go rushes, and since the start of 2019 has given up just seven rushing touchdowns (tied for fourth fewest).
ESPN projected points: 11.0
Here’s the weird part: I like Brown. Like him as a running back and think his job is probably more secure than he gets credit for. You’ll see some Cam Akers, I am sure, but this is not because I doubt he gets a full workload. But rather because the Eagles are a very tough matchup. Yes, Peyton Barber fell into the end zone twice last week, but he averaged 1.7 yards per carry on 17 (17!) attempts. Since the start of 2019, Philly has allowed the third-fewest rushing yards, fourth-lowest YPC and seventh-fewest fantasy points to opposing RBs. All that plus, you know, I might be dead wrong on Brown having a strong grip on the job. He’s a touchdown-dependent flex for me this week.
Matthew Berry reacts to Malcolm Brown’s performance in Week 1 vs. the Cowboys, and Field Yates adds that he’s widely available in leagues.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 2
ESPN projected points: 15.6
You know who I really love? The Vikings’ “secondary.” Not only did they allow Aaron Rodgers to torch them (and later in this article their poor defense may come up again when discussing the Colts’ passing game Sunday; that’s what the kids call foreshadowing), but by putting Minnesota in negative game script, it means Kirk Cousins has to start passing. When he starts passing, he passes to Thielen. Thielen had an insane 32% target share last week, and for his career when he sees 8+ targets he averages 21.7 PPG. Shouldn’t be a tough matchup with the Colts, who allowed a 92.9% catch rate and three scores to the Jaguars last Sunday. With a sneaky high over/under of 48.5 (as of this writing), Thielen is locked in as a confident top 10.
ESPN projected points: 13.4
I’ll admit: My preseason prediction of Gallup’s ascension to fantasy superstar status got off to a slow start in Week 1. But, as Tony Stark said in “Avengers: Endgame,” part of the journey is a five-target, three-reception Week 1 road loss to the Rams that included a BS OPI call that wiped away a 47-yard reception. I haven’t seen the movie recently, but I’m pretty sure that’s a direct quote. I’m back on Gallup (and really, the entire Cowboys passing game) this week at home against a Falcons team that allowed the fourth-most yards to wide receivers in Week 1. Since the start of last season, the Falcons give up 15.5 yards per reception to WRs lined up wide, which is where Gallup gets most of his work. I expect Dallas to be pass-heavy on Sunday against that weak Falcons secondary, and Gallup averages 16.9 FPPG for his career in games in which he gets seven or more targets. Gallup remains a season-long Love for me, and I’m all in on him in Week 2.
ESPN projected points: 11.3
Clever readers who were paying attention may have noticed the very subtle hint I put in Adam Thielen’s write-up about Indy’s matchup with the Vikings “secondary.” Surprise! I was talking about Parris Campbell, who, lest you forget, was taken ahead of DK Metcalf, Diontae Johnson and fellow Ohio State product Terry McLaurin in the 2019 NFL draft. Forget his injury-plagued rookie season. The kid can flat-out play. The Colts love him — he led all Colts receivers in snaps and targets in Week 1 — and he responded with a team-high 71 receiving yards. Look for more of the same in Week 2 against that Vikings defense that gave up 22 receptions, 315 yards and four touchdowns to wideouts last week.
ESPN projected points: 12.1
Even in a game in which JuJu Smith-Schuster had two touchdown catches, and even after starting the game with a muffed punt and a dropped pass, Johnson still led the Steelers in targets on Monday night with 11. Targeted on 33.3% of his routes (tied for the sixth-highest rate among WRs who ran 20-plus routes in Week 1), he’s in the Antonio Brown role in the Re-Roethlisberger’d Pittsburgh offense, and the Johnson business should be booming in Week 2 against a Broncos pass defense that allowed 13 receptions and 147 yards to WRs lined up wide a week ago. Last chance to buy low. He’s gonna be awesome this year.
Matthew Berry feels extremely encouraged by Diontae Johnson’s performance against the Giants and adds that Johnson is a guy he would make a trade offer for.
ESPN projected points: 12.8
Sanders would be a Love for me this week even without Michael Thomas on the shelf. Sanders led all players in red zone targets in Week 1, while the Raiders have allowed the eighth-highest completion percentage in the red zone since the start of 2019. But, yes, now that he is in line to get even more targets because of Thomas’ injury? I like Sanders even more. He’s averaged 18.8 FPPG in his past eight games with at least six targets.
Others receiving votes
Regardless of whether Chris Godwin starts or is out due to being placed in the concussion protocol, give me some Scotty Miller against the Panthers. You know how I feel about Brady, and Miller (5-73 on six targets last week, plus he got a rushing attempt for 6 yards) has as good a matchup this week as he’ll see all year. … Dallas Goedert led the Eagles in targets, catches and yards in Week 1 and, since the start of 2019, among TEs he ranks seventh in targets, eighth in receptions and 10th in yards. Over the same period, the Rams — Goedert’s Week 2 opponent — allow a league-worst 12.7 yards per reception to tight ends. … Logan Thomas led my Football Team with eight targets in Week 1, and this week he gets an Arizona team that continues to be abysmal defending the tight end position. Field and Stephania made fun of me for bringing him up in the preseason, but Thomas is gonna be a thing this year, guys. He really is. Worth seeing if he’s still out there in your league. … I know, I know. He disappointed in a big way last week. But I kinda like Eric Ebron this week against a Broncos squad that gave up a score to Jonnu Smith last week and since the start of last year is top six in the NFL in most receptions and yards allowed to opposing tight ends.
With Michael Thomas out for Monday night football, Matthew Berry and Field Yates believe that Emmanuel Sanders can fill the fantasy void that Thomas is leaving.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 2
ESPN projected points: 13.6
You know it pains me to say, but my little Kupp is on the Hate list. And it’s all because the Rams are giving him only a little bit of targets: just 52 in his past nine games. In the nine games before that? Kupp got 93 targets. A Kupp getting 10 targets a game is always a Love for me, but not one getting five.
ESPN projected points: 8.2
Facing a Bills defense that since the start of last year has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to tight ends, you’re likely looking elsewhere. Nothing that Ryan Fitzpatrick did last week could inspire confidence here, especially in another tough matchup. Gesicki has over 51 yards in just three of 33 career games. You’re most likely gonna need a score for him to pay off here. In a game against Buffalo with the lowest over/under on the slate, how lucky do you feel?
ESPN projected points: 13.7
If putting Kupp on the Hate list was upsetting, how do you think I feel adding McLaurin, too? The answer: not great. By the way, “not great” is also the answer to the question: How has McLaurin’s target share been lately? Since Week 3 of 2019, McLaurin’s share has been scary, only twice getting more than seven targets in a game. He also has scored just two touchdowns in his past 10 games. Likely shadowed by Patrick Peterson as well, this is just … ugh. OK, the end of this column has made me sad. Time to wrap it up. Hope you all have a happy Week 2.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, can’t wait for you to see what we have planned for Waiver Man this year on “The Fantasy Show” on ESPN+.