Two weeks into last season, New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara had just eight carries for 21 yards, seven catches for 71 yards and zero touchdowns before he went bonkers and won the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
It’s impossible to predict that level of eruption for anybody who has been lying dormant through the first two weeks of 2018. But if your fantasy team is 0-2 and you feel like you need to swing for the fences, Josh Gordon and Aaron Jones are a couple of intriguing high-ceiling options.
Gordon’s upside is obvious, since he led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards in 2013 and has now teamed up with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. But the downside is pretty glaring, as well, since he has missed more than 50 games since then because of suspensions and addiction issues, and the Cleveland Browns finally decided to give up on him this week.
As ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss wrote, Gordon “could turn out to be a big steal, or he might quickly fall off as the non-factor that he has mostly been over the past four seasons.”
Although you may have visions of Randy Moss’ 2007 debut with the Patriots dancing in your head (98 catches, 1,493 yards, 23 touchdown catches), Reiss also mentioned some of the low-risk fliers who haven’t worked out as well for New England over the years (such as Chad Ochocinco, Albert Haynesworth and Michael Floyd).
And since the Patriots only paid a “drop in the bucket” to acquire Gordon, Reiss stressed that “history has shown they won’t be hesitant to move on quickly if he can’t be a reliable teammate or fit into the team’s hard-driving culture.”
With all of that being said, Gordon still has immense talent. And he has a great opportunity to revive his career with a legendary team that happens to need a big-play receiver.
Reiss said he expects a limited package for Gordon initially — assuming Gordon’s hamstring injury doesn’t keep him inactive this week. But, Reiss said, “if everything clicks — and that’s a big ‘if’ — he should be in the top three receivers, and they run plenty of three-receiver sets.”
Matthew Berry explains the thought process behind not ranking Aaron Jones for Week 3.
Likewise, ESPN Green Bay Packers reporter Rob Demovsky doesn’t expect an immediate breakout performance from Jones, who returned from a two-game suspension this week. Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Jones will have a “secondary role” behind Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery.
However, Demovsky said, “I’ve thought all along that at some point this season Jones would be their lead back” — especially if injuries creep up at some point for Williams or Montgomery.
“There’s little doubt that Jones is the most dynamic of the Packers’ top three running backs,” wrote Demovsky, who pointed out that in games when Jones has touched the ball since the start of last season, Green Bay has averaged 125.9 rushing yards — compared to 79.0 without him.
As a rookie last season, Jones had four games with a carry of at least 20 yards. And his 5.5-yard rushing average ranked No. 2 among all NFL backs with at least 75 carries (behind only Kamara).
New RB1s in San Francisco, Denver?
Just as everyone predicted, the NFL’s rushing leader through two weeks is Matt Breida. Even more unlikely — the San Francisco 49ers‘ second-year running back isn’t even leading his own team in carries or snaps. Breida has run for 184 yards on just 22 carries, while Alfred Morris has 86 yards on 26 carries.
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Obviously Breida has been extremely efficient with those touches. As ESPN 49ers reporter Nick Wagoner pointed out, even if you take away Breida’s 66-yard touchdown run from last week, he is still averaging 5.6 yards on the rest of his carries. So, yes, the undrafted 5-foot-11, 190-pounder should get more opportunities to be San Francisco’s leading man as the season goes.
But Wagoner said 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan trusts the veteran Morris and will keep him involved — especially in situations like the four-minute offense where they want to churn out tough yards.
“I don’t think Breida will get 20 carries a game, but I think it will start edging more toward like 15-17 for Breida and 8-10 for Morris,” Wagoner predicted.
Meanwhile, ESPN Denver Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold described a similar situation in the Broncos’ backfield, where undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay has been the surprise breakout of 2018 so far. The dynamic 5-8, 190-pounder became the first undrafted player in NFL history with more than 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first two games (a total of 29 carries for 78 yards, plus three catches for 35 yards and a touchdown).
Legwold said he still expects the bigger, more physical rookie Royce Freeman to get work — and he also mentioned the four-minute offense as an example of when Freeman would be more involved, as well as heavy goal-line packages. So far, Freeman has 23 carries for 99 yards and a touchdown, with no catches.
Legwold pointed out that third running back Devontae Booker actually got more snaps than Freeman last week (22-16), but he said he doesn’t expect that to happen often.
“They love Lindsay’s production for sure, but I think they still feel like for him to have consistent impact throughout the season, they’ll have to manage his touches. He is a rookie and he isn’t built like a traditional lug-the-rock guy,” said Legwold, who also pointed out Lindsay plays a key role on special teams, which the Broncos have made a priority.
“I feel extremely confident moving around, on the run,” Wentz said. And coach Doug Pederson insisted he’s not going to “coach scared.”
McManus also wrote an in-depth piece on how Wentz got through his comeback with help from his mental coach, his new wife and others.
Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore has made it a big priority to get Alex Collins and the run game off the ground, as ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley wrote. Collins has just 48 yards on 16 carries, and Baltimore ranks 30th in the NFL at 3.3 yards per carry.
Collins lost a fumble in Week 1, but that doesn’t appear to have affected his workload. The bigger issue, Hensley said, is the unique way that the first two games played out. The Ravens took a huge lead against the Bills in Week 1 and rested Collins for most of the second half, then they fell behind early against the Bengals in Week 2 and abandoned the run.
“I mean, yeah come on, we want to get the ball in Alex’s hands,” Flacco said. “He’s a playmaker, man. He’s dynamic.”
Carolina Panthers: As ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton wrote, Christian McCaffrey is on pace to obliterate the NFL record for receptions in a season by a running back (102 by Matt Forte in 2014). McCaffrey has 20 already, including a franchise-record-tying 14 this past week.
“When I look at him coming out of the backfield I think of LaDainian Tomlinson. He just creates so many mismatches,” said veteran Panthers safety Mike Adams — a comparison that’s not too crazy, considering that former Chargers coach Norv Turner is Carolina’s new offensive coordinator.
Miami Dolphins: Albert Wilson has been a fun addition as a “do-everything” receiver/running back/wildcat quarterback. As ESPN Dolphins reporter Cameron Wolfe wrote, some wondered where Wilson would fit when he signed a three-year, $24 million deal in March. But coach Adam Gase had a plan for him, “and we are starting to see it.”
Unfortunately, the Dolphins’ receiving corps is too crowded to consider Wilson a reliable fantasy play — especially with DeVante Parker poised to return from a broken finger this week. Wolfe said Kenny Stills remains the safest fantasy bet. But he added Parker should be worth a roster spot in 12- or 14-team leagues because he is Miami’s biggest receiver and should eventually return to getting a steady share of the snaps.
Cincinnati Bengals: Running back Joe Mixon is expected to miss two to four weeks after having surgery to repair what he called a “slight tear” in his meniscus. As ESPN Bengals reporter Katherine Terrell wrote, Mixon said he feels great already and will return as soon as he feels comfortable enough to “run full speed and cut on a dime.”
Los Angeles Chargers: Remember when RB Melvin Gordon scored zero touchdowns as a rookie? Now he has a knack for finding the end zone, as ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams wrote. QB Philip Rivers said on one of Gordon’s three touchdowns last week, he was getting ready to throw to receiver Tyrell Williams before spotting Gordon “mid-delivery.”
Seattle Seahawks: As ESPN Seahawks reporter Brady Henderson wrote, rookie tight end Will Dissly‘s breakout start (147 yards and two touchdowns) is even more surprising when you consider Seattle liked him because he was the draft’s best blocking tight end. Coach Pete Carroll told ESPN 710 Radio in Seattle that he found himself hollering, “It’s Mike Ditka!” during Dissly’s 66-yard score in Week 1.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Some interesting fantasy notes included in the latest update on Le’Veon Bell‘s contract holdout from ESPN Steelers reporter Jeremy Fowler: Drafters who took Bell No. 1 overall in ESPN leagues have a winning percentage of 43.5, compared to 65.2 for those who drafted Todd Gurley first.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Keelan Cole has emerged as Jacksonville’s No. 1 receiver even faster than expected with 10 catches for 170 yards and a touchdown, according to ESPN Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco, who said it’s clear that QB Blake Bortles trusts him. DiRocco also explored why Bortles has been statistically better in games without standout RB Leonard Fournette.
Detroit Lions: Detroit’s pass-run ratio has been historically lopsided, according to ESPN Lions reporter Michael Rothstein. If they can get that corrected, Rothstein thinks rookie RB Kerryon Johnson is a good buy-low candidate. “At some point, he should take over,” Rothstein said of Detroit’s time share.
Houston Texans: Receiver Will Fuller had a big game in his 2018 debut (eight catches, 113 yards and a TD). As ESPN Texans reporter Sarah Barshop wrote, his presence also helped Houston spread the ball around and take attention away from fellow receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who had six catches for 110 yards and a TD.
Green Bay Packers: Demovsky also wrote this week about the emergence of young receiver Geronimo Allison in Green Bay. You can also find regular updates on QB Aaron Rodgers‘ health on the Packers’ team page.
Kansas City Chiefs/49ers: Last but not least, some fun stories on two of the NFL’s fastest men, who will take the same field this week — Kansas City’s “Cheetah” receiver Tyreek Hill and 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin. According to Wagoner, when Goodwin was asked how his speed stacks up to Hill’s, he said he doesn’t compare himself to anybody — then he rolled up his sleeve to reveal the forearm tattoo commemorating his appearance in the 2012 Olympics.
Meanwhile, ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher wrote about how Hill wants to become known as more than just the NFL’s fastest receiver.