Sunday Takeaways: Mariota Impresses

This article was designed to analyze the events that occurred on Sunday and try to get ahead of the curve. Identifying important fantasy story lines and correctly handicapping them can be the difference between winning and losing in the upcoming weeks. Everyone witnessed Ameer Abdullah‘s big day, but is he for real? Is it time to panic on C.J. Anderson? Here’s my take:

Quarterback

Marcus Mariota, Titans – While this wasn’t quite Cam Newton’s circa-2011 debut in terms of yardage, it may have been equally as impressive. Marcus Mariota just seemed like a veteran as he stayed calm and collected in the pocket all day en route to a 13-16, 209 yard and four TD performance. If he’s available in your yearly league of 12 teams or more and you waited to draft a QB until the 11th or 12th off the board, I think Mariota warrants an immediate add. He reminds me of Russell Wilson a little bit as he offers the ability to run and flat out does not seem to get flustered. While darker days are likely ahead, he’s a legitimate threat to the top 12 of QBs for the rest of the season, so do not continue to sleep on him.

Jameis Winston, Buccaneers – Jameis Winston’s debut was nowhere near as impressive as Mariota’s, especially from the start (his first pass attempt was intercepted for a TD by Coty Sensabaugh). His final line wasn’t terrible (16-33, 210 yards, two TD and two INT), but that’s only because the team was playing from way behind and needed to air it out to try to get back in it. The accuracy numbers (48.4 percent completion), or lack thereof, tell the real story. I didn’t have high hopes for Winston as a rookie (at least not nearly as high as Mariota) and he did nothing to disprove that notion in game number one. He can run a little bit (six ATT for 18 yards), which somewhat solidifies his floor, but it’s hard to put any faith into him until he refines the mechanics and improves on the spotty accuracy.

Running Back

Ameer Abdullah, Lions – Twitter is an interesting place. There were pundits calling Ameer Abdullah small and slow, but he didn’t look like either of those things in his debut. In just his first NFL carry, Abdullah went 24 yards to the house. The Lions didn’t dish out all that many carries (16 total), but Abdullah led all backs in both carries and receptions (and obviously touches as well). So much for the theory of him ranking third on the Lions depth chart. Abdullah has quite clearly been the back to own in this backfield since he showcased his ability in the preseason. He’s firmly supplanted as a RB2 who will occasionally have TDs vultured by Joique Bell. Even though they’ll split carries on a week-to-week basis, Abdullah’s explosiveness is too prevalent to ignore.

Bishop Sankey, Titans – Amazing how different a player can look after an offseason (and the addition of a running quarterback (QB)). Bishop Sankey, who many wouldn’t have touched with a 10-foot pole prior to Sunday, carried the ball 12 times for 74 yards (6.2 YPC) and a TD. While he didn’t lead the team in carries, the guy who did didn’t look so great (Terrance West averaged 3.2 YPC on 13 ATT). Maybe this guy is just going to be one of those solid, yet unspectacular backs who gets it done week after week, similar to Frank Gore the past few seasons. Mariota’s presence definitely helped and will continue to do so, making Sankey a viable RB3/FLEX option at the very least next week in Cleveland.

Rashad Jennings, Giants – Rashad Jennings hardly touched the ball until the fourth quarter, beginning things with a lucky TD that was set up by Trumaine McBride stepping out of bounds at the one yard line on an interception return. After that, most of the touches he received were due to game flow and the team trying to preserve the lead. In my opinion, this backfield is going to be a pain in the ass to deal with, similar to the Patriots last season. There’s slightly more rhyme and reason to Tom Coughlin’s scheme, but the production is going to depend on how the game is going. Andre Williams will likely see his fair share of touches if the game remains close, Rashad Jennings if the team is up and Shane Vereen if the team is behind. I’m going to say leave these backs for tournaments only until further notice, because we learned this situation is a mess.

C.J. Anderson/Ronnie Hillman, Broncos – No running back (RB) outplayed Ronnie Hillman in the preseason. Among all backs who carried the ball at least 20 times, Hillman’s 7.4 YPC and and 51.7 yards per game (YPG) led all players. In Sunday’s opener, C.J. Anderson looked a bit sluggish to me and it showed in the numbers: 12 ATT, 29 yards (2.4 YPC) with his longest run being a six-yard scamper. Peyton Manning targeted Anderson eight times but connected only four times for 19 yards. Meanwhile, Ronnie Hillman carried 12 times for 41 yards (3.4 YPC) including an 11-yard run. Anderson left the ballgame twice with an injury, including once at the end with what is being called a “sprained toe.” The Broncos play again on Thursday and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Anderson sit. Hillman will eat into Anderson’s workload in upcoming weeks regardless in my opinion, but it could jump start the process if Anderson sits Thursday and Hillman produces. Keep a close eye on this situation, as it may turn out Hillman is actually the back to own in the long-term this season.

Wide Receiver

Keenan Allen/Stevie Johnson, Chargers – It’s fair to consider Keenan Allen’s 2014 season a disappointment after he burst onto the scene with a 71 REC, 1,046 yard and eight TD debut in 2013, despite playing only 15 games. He caught more passes last season (77), but only racked up 783 yards and four TD. Both Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates produced more receiving yards than Allen, so his role seemed a bit unclear heading into this season. He wasted no time clarifying the situation by catching 15 passes on 17 targets for 166 yards against the Lions. Stevie Johnson sort of took on the Allen-circa-2014 role as the move-the-chains guy. Malcolm Floyd is still on the team and Antonio Gates will be back after a four-game suspension, but I think there’s reason for optimism in the passing game. The addition of Melvin Gordon vastly improves the interior running game… an aspect they didn’t possess last year with Branden Oliver running the show. With the defense slightly more concerned about the run, it should open up the passing game. Essentially, Gordon makes all the receivers better and could help Phillip Rivers put together a nice bounceback season overall. Allen ranks as a high-end WR2 for me with Johnson worth weekly FLEX consideration in their new roles. Floyd will factor in every once in a while, but not enough to truly matter.

James Jones, Packers – Apparently the Giants didn’t need this guy, so once again he was able to just slide back into the third WR role on the Packers’ depth chart. Aaron Rodgers still feels comfortable with him there, as he immediately turned to him as his top redzone target. James Jones caught four passes on four targets, two of which resulted in TDs. He received at least one other redzone target that won’t show up on the box score because of a holding penalty. Truly, Davante Adams just isn’t a polished receiver. This opens up a possible role for Jones, which should prove to be be a large one. He scored 14 TD with this offense in 2012 and I think he has the potential to go for double-digits once again, especially because redzone threat Jordy Nelson is out for the season. Don’t write off Jones’ performance as just an isolated big game; he’ll likely be kept plenty busy, especially when the team finds themselves inside the 20-yard line.

Tight End

Tyler Eifert, Bengals – I had suspicions this could be Tyler Eifert’s breakout season, but now I’m 100 percent sold. While everyone was drooling over Marvin Jones in the preseason, I was preaching that Eifert has Pro Bowl type talent and should force himself into a large role this season. All he did in week number one was catch nine of his 12 targets and convert them into 104 yards and two TDs. He’s not going to outproduce A.J. Green every week, but I do think he ends up as a top 7-10 TE. If they target him once again in the double digits next week, I may change my tune and feel his upside could even crack the top five.

Ladarius Green, Chargers – As mentioned earlier, the running game is going to open up the passing game in San Diego. Until Antonio Gates returns, one of the main beneficiaries will continue to be TE Ladarius Green. It almost feels wrong to call him a TE because he owns the speed of a receiver. Philip Rivers has always looked to his TEs as security blankets, so it’s a nice benefit to have one consistently beating linebackers with his quickness. Expect some similar lines to his five REC, 74 yard and one TD performance in week one in the upcoming weeks… but take a wait-and-see approach to using him again once Gates returns.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Buccaneers – It makes sense that a young player would want to find a large target to dump it to when in doubt. Five REC for 110 yards and two TDs is a little bit of overkill compared to what I was eluding to. Jameis Winston’s presence felt like an upgrade for Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ prospects, but I think this big game was partially due to the absence of Mike Evans. When he returns, Winston will have twin towers on the outside with Seferian-Jenkins just used as needed. This performance puts him on TE2 (aka cheap TE) radar in the upcoming weeks, but my gut feeling is that this was a bit of an anomaly. The whole Tampa offense is not going to be reliable from week to week, so just stay away (especially in cash games) whenever you can.

Ricky Sanders

Ricky Sanders

Ricky Sanders is a fantasy sports expert with over 15 years of playing experience. After starting several freelance fantasy sports blogs, Ricky moved up in the fantasy industry when he joined Going9 Baseball. He wrote fantasy baseball content and had a weekly radio spot on the site’s SiriusXM Satellite Radio show. Shortly thereafter, in early 2013, Ricky joined RotoExperts as a three-sport fantasy contributor, eventually becoming one of the site’s lead basketball writers. While writing for RotoExperts, Ricky was introduced to daily fantasy sports and immediately fell in love. With help from some of his mentors, some of the best DFS players in the world, he honed his skills and became the daily fantasy expert he is today. When RotoExperts created a daily-focused website called DailyRoto.com, Ricky was brought on as one of the main contributors. He still makes frequent appearances on the RotoExperts SiriusXM Radio show and on the FNTSY Sports Television Network, talking daily fantasy sports. He also continues to write for a few DFS content sites: RotoCurve and The Fantasy Fix. Ricky is a proud and active member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He has agreed to be a writer and representative for the FantasyDraft brand and serves as an ambassador to the site. He has no more access to the site than the typical user. Don’t hesitate to contact Ricky with questions on Twitter @RSandersDFS.

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