Fantasy football: How to handle elite players who struggled in Week 1

Cam Newton, Devonta Freeman and Mike Evans all performed poorly during the NFL’s opening weekend, but is it time to worry yet?

Week 1 of the NFL season is in the books, so naturally plenty of guys and gals in the fantasy football community are either puffed up with pride over successful roster decisions or vociferously ruing their decisions.

I’d tell you which camp I’m sitting in, but I’m way too busy groaning about my decision to start the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton (33.6 points) at quarterback over the Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson (5.4 points). No way; I’m not feeling foolish for discounting the ineptitude of the Miami Dolphins defense opening the door for the talented Jackson to shine, or not factoring in that Newton was playing his first meaningful football since shoulder surgery. That’s not me at all.

Hey, we all get burned eventually. And much like the pros, we have to shake it off and be, to paraphrase New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, “on to Week 2.”

Regardless, some hard decisions could be coming when it comes to the most-started players who underperformed. Was Week 1 a blip? Was this an omen of future doom? Let’s take a look at a few of the players rostered in the vast majority of ESPN leagues who scored lowest in the first week — not counting injured players — and figure out how to proceed.

Cam Newton

OK, so you know already how this one affected me. I was the last team to take a QB on draft day, and as Carolina fan I was happy to land Newton. I also knew to be cautious in light of his offseason surgery and preseason foot injury, so I snagged Jackson as insurance. Thank the football gods for that foresight.

I’ll be rolling with Jackson this week, but I’m not concerned about Newton’s 2019 outlook on the whole. Week 1 often is erratic as players who sat in the preseason finally play in an actual game situation. He’ll be a factor in the running game, and his options in the passing game are plentiful. The touchdowns and rushing yards will come, and he’ll be anywhere from an elite QB to a passable starter the rest of the way.

Devonta Freeman

Of the 12 healthy RBs on least 99% of rosters, the Atlanta Falcons rusher was by far the most disappointing this past weekend. He carried eight times for 19 yards and caught three passes for 12 yards. Understudy Ito Smith carried six times for 31 yards and caught a nine-yard pass in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

This is no time to hit the panic button and sell low or drop Freeman, but one must be prepared for the worst. Smith could continue to see a usage split in what should be a high-powered Atlanta offense, so be smart and handcuff the two together. Smith was available in more than 90% of leagues on Tuesday afternoon.

Mike Evans

Almost universally rostered, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ top offensive weapon was a dud on Sunday. Although not injured, Evans clearly was hampered by an illness that netted him a “questionable” designation entering the loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Still, those who rolled the dice and garnered only two catches for 28 yards on five targets have to be feeling cross.

A quick turnaround this Thursday against the Panthers means closely monitoring his status for Week 2. If he’s still on the injury report with the illness, consider benching him for a more stable option. Once he’s past this, you’re in the clear to consider him a true WR1 again. This will pass.

Top TEs

Only nine tight ends sit on 90% of rosters. Outside of those on 99% of teams, it gets pretty hairy. Three of them scored between five and six points in PPR formats: Jared Cook (New Orleans Saints), O.J. Howard (Buccaneers) and Vance McDonald (Pittsburgh Steelers).

Howard’s four catches on five targets for 32 yards, plus a fumble, aren’t a major issue. He was involved in the offense, but turnovers and Evans’ struggles didn’t help. He’s still better than most options. McDonald (two catches, 40 yards) should improve as the Pittsburgh offense moves past what should be an unusually poor week against New England.

However, Cook and his two catches on three targets for 37 yards in his New Orleans debut are worrisome. Last year’s 896 yards, 101 targets and six touchdowns were career bests with the Oakland Raiders. From 2011 to 2017 with four different teams, he averaged 590 yards and 78 targets with 18 total TDs over those seven years. Don’t bank on anything more than a fringe TE1 from this journeyman. If you can still drop him in favor of potentially available T.J. Hockenson (Detroit Lions) or Mark Andrews (Ravens), do not hesitate to do so.

Scott Fontana