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The Lowdown – Week 1

Go time, controversial comments, QAnon rubes, and the Interesting Players of the Week, in this edition of The Lowdown.

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Fantasy Football - Chandler Jones

Welcome to this edition of the Lowdown. This is my little corner of the fantasy football universe — feel free to pull up a chair and stay a while!

It’s Go Time
Can you feel it? That little bit of a tingling sensation, somewhere in the pit of your stomach? Of course you do, or else you wouldn’t be reading this column. Football is all the way back, baby! I know, I know: some people will claim that real football already kicked off this past Thursday night. But here’s the thing to keep in mind: those people are godless anarchists with no appreciation for the proper order of things. Football hasn’t started until the first slate of Sunday games has kicked off. Period. Finito la musica. End of discussion.

Don’t Say Anything Controversial
During my run as a national radio broadcaster at SiriusXM, my program director would, on a weekly basis, remind me to avoid saying anything controversial… which always struck me as a strange admonishment, given that the show was about fantasy sports. What could I possibly say that could even remotely be considered controversial? That Brett Favre was a reckless QB that often caused more harm than good to his team? And yet, the morning after every show, the PD would have list of things he found controversial.

I guess that’s just my nature: I tend to say what’s on my mind, only rarely pausing to consider the consequences of my speech. So in that spirit, I’ll say this: every NFL team has the right to cut or otherwise isolate any player who refuses to vaccinate; I’d even go so far as to postulate that a player refusing to vaccinate should have his contract voided and bonus money clawed back for the ubiquitous “conduct detrimental to the team”.

Look, this goes beyond the QAnon idiots and varying shades of Trumpers/conspiracy theorists who still refer to the “Kung Flu” as being a hoax. For NFL teams, this is a cut-and-dried business decision: unvaccinated players present a greater risk to optimal team performance, which in turn presents a greater risk to the health of teams’ P&L. Let’s also remember that the NFL and NFLPA jointly agreed to the COVID protocols for this season, so players who choose to remain unvaccinated really have no reason to complain. Guys like Cole Beasley (all you need to know about this guy is in his tweets on the subject), as good as they are as players, are ticking time bombs for teams. Entire rooms can be wiped out for 1-2 weeks (in the best case scenarios) leaving teams without any players to suit up to man a position (remember the Broncos last season, losing all their QBs for a game?).

Stop whining: get vaccinated or retire. The choice is yours.

Interesting Players of the Week

The first week of any NFL season is always the most difficult for nerds; we have no timely data, and must rely on just historical performance and observation of a highly dubious pre-season. So bear in mind that this week’s player selections are based more on my experience as a fantasy journalist and broadcaster, and less as an AI-driven nerd.

Ty’Shon Williams, RB BAL (vs. LV) – Why am I interested in the Ravens’ third-man up runner? Because it’ll tell me two things: (1) whether or not all the camp hype regarding Williams was true, and (2) the value of all the retreads the Ravens signed this week in the wake of Gus Edwards injury (Latavius Murray, Le’Veon Bell, Devonta Freeman, Trent Cannon). Williams is in a prime position to be the featured back in this offense, but if we see Lamar Jackson lead the team in carries against one of the more suspect defenses in the NFL, then it’ll be a long season for Baltimore. My guess is that Murray becomes the main option to share the backfield load with Williams, but for Week 1 it’ll be ride-or-die with Williams.

Jameis Winston, QB NO (vs. GB) – I’m a big Winston mark for 2021. As I’ve pointed out before, when we look at Winston we are looking at one of the most prolific passers in NFL history (after their first five seasons in the league)– there’s only one player that’s thrown for more yards over the first five years of his career, and that Peyton Manning. Winston’s main problem has been his propensity to throw interceptions, but in theory that’s coachable. I’d like Winston even more in this matchup if he a happy and healthy Michael Thomas to chuck the rock to, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Winston threw for close to 400 yards in this game to a variety of non-descript receivers. More importantly, this game will tell us if Sean Payton truly trusts Winston under center.

Detroit Wide Receivers (vs. SF) – the 49ers have a lot of issues at corner, so you’d think that this would be an opportunity for the Lions to air it out a bit, to show off their new QB (Jared Goff) a bit… but, noooooooooo! Put a gun to my head, and I doubt I could accurately list more than one or two receivers on the Lions. Thanks to the internet and an overly-eager intern, I’ve come to find out that the following is a list of players generously described as NFL wide receivers:

See what I mean? The whole thing has a sandlot feel to it. I don’t know who the WR1 is over there, let alone how to accurately predict any sort of target distribution. Throw in that I don’t think much of Goff as a QB, and you can understand why I’ve personally petitioned Dan Campbell to just run the single-wing and throw the occasional jump pass to Hockenson.

Chandler Jones/J.J. Watt, DL ARI (vs. TEN) – this is the most devastating pass-rushing duo in the NFL. Oh sorry, I got hit in the head by a stray frying pan hurled at me by the wife and thought this was 2018. Look, these two have the potential to dominate games, but both aren’t the players we remember. Watt hasn’t recorded double digit sacks since the 16 he put up in 2018, and Jones missed all of last year with an injury before returning this season with an attitude and demanding to be traded. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that this pair holds the key for the Cardinals’ season: if they can get to the QB (and it’s really Jones that I’m expecting to provide the 15+ sacks) and play the run tough (Watt is the lead guy for that task) the Cardinals suddenly become much more serious contenders in the NFC West.

De’Vondre Campbell, ILB GB (vs. NO) – Campbell was always one of those IDPs that I picked up during the season to stream at LB or as an injury/bye week addition, because he was always good for 6-7 stops a game and a decent shot at a big play. Now he gets the opportunity to start for the Packers in the role that made Blake Martinez an IDP stud. I made it a point to grab him in the last round of a lot of my drafts this season, as I think there’s a chance he becomes one of those value picks that ends up delivering a trophy for your team. I’ll need to see him put up 10 total tackles to have a good feeling for the rest of the season.

Nerd John is a 25+year veteran of fantasy sports journalism. John’s Fantasy Forecast series has won the prestigious Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) award for Best Series, and he’s been nominated as an FSWA Award finalist on nine occasions.

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