New season, new clothes, new flavors in the ice cream or coffee shop, new streaming series, ROOKIES — we love new things, don’t we? So much better than the old stuff, especially when it comes to certain fantasy football situations.
From humans down to the simplest bacteria and all species in between, there is a bias towards the new or new choice (Novelty Bias). Novelty represents opportunity, it carries no past disappointments, and simply select anything new activates our dopamine reward system.
Before we get too carried away on that pleasure path, let me remind you that not everything new turns out to be good (green apple cone?!?). So let’s get to some of the surprising performances that hit NFL fields in Week 4, focusing on how the appearance of some new faces at QB affected the fantasy-relevant skill players.
(More on these Skittles later*)
It was only a matter of time, of course, but Pittsburgh ushered in the Kenny Pickett era at halftime in Sunday’s loss to the Jets. Pickett now famously had not one of his 13 passes hit the ground.
You know the punchline, but only one of the three interceptions was even partially Pickett’s fault.
He rushed in with two scores to put his team in contention, but ultimately the effort fell short. I’m not a fan of the timing of the move, as there really was no rush to get Pickett in there; this is not a win-it-all-now team. The upcoming schedule, starting with Buffalo and Tampa Bay, will likely blow out Mike Tomlin’s “spark” in the eyes and hearts of Steelers fans. I love talented new players getting an opportunity as much as the next person – I could be a poster child for the aforementioned Novelty Bias – but I feel like we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment with this one.
As for how the promotion affects other fantasy assets, Pickett was a pass-first QB for Pitt in college, throwing for 42 touchdowns while rushing for just five in his 2021 season. So even though Najee Harris had a terrible day in a seemingly favorable matchup with the Jets (18 rushes for 74 yards), Pickett isn’t the prototypical running QB who should be grabbing all the rushing touchdowns going forward. The 18 attempts were a season-high for Harris, but he also managed zero goals – and that’s the biggest concern with Harris for me. He’s not an auto starter against Buffalo or Tampa Bay.
The news is better for George Pickens, who is probably the one player capable of keeping Pickett’s hopes high over the next few weeks. Pickens posted the best half-PPR WR stat line of the Steelers’ young season thanks to Pickett in Week 4 (6/102). Unfortunately, this team is unlikely to suddenly transform into a fantasy man with Pickett leading them into this rough stretch of the schedule; his start is not even one security from now on.
I am resigned to taking a wait and see approach with Najee, Diontae Johnson and Pickens, if your roster can handle it.
Not exactly new, but to make his season debut by beating his team was nice. He did it in a completely different style than Joe Flaccoalso with much fewer delivery attempts. Wilson threw passes to five different WRs, one TE and one RB. Corey Davis led them with seven targets and caught a touchdown, while Breece Hall and Garrett Wilson was tied at six. Elijah Moore and Tyler Conklin followed by four and five goals respectively.
That’s a lot of mouths to feed on a reduced diet of pass attempts, and it’s worth noting this was a pass-friendly game script. Breece Hall’s outlook remains the most favorable here. I think most of us can afford not to start a Jets receiver, but Corey Davis against the Dolphins is kind of tempting in a DFS tournament kind of way. Conklin continues to be a boring but serviceable fantasy TE, ranking eighth in half-PPR fantasy points and fourth in receptions among TEs.
Putting aside the unfortunate circumstances that led Bridgewater to the starting QB job for Miami, there were some marked changes in personnel usage from the first to the second half of Thursday Night Football. Though Tyreek Hill remained a consistent target (10 catches on 14 targets for 160 yards), we saw Trent Sherfield out goal Jaylen Waddle 6-for-5 with Bridgewater at the helm. All the Sherfield goals came in the second half, with Waddle making a disappearing act. I’m a big believer in QB-WR camaraderie, and backup QBs tend to have that with backup receivers. That Cooper Rush- Noah Brown connection is another recent example.
Should we worry about Waddle? I do not think; Bridgewater is a veteran with impressive decision-making skills and a high completion percentage (66.4 percent) who should connect with Waddle given a week or so of first-team reps. This is a case where I believe the talent Waddle possesses outweighs any previous comfort Bridgewater had with Sherfield on the training ground.
Bottom line: Start Waddle and don’t waste your FAAB on Sherfield.
Bailey Zappe and the New England Patriots
We don’t know that this will be a long-term change for New England, but early signs are that Zappe is a solid player. Zappe, after leading a comeback that forced overtime with the Packers, has an interesting waiver target in competitive SuperFlex or 2QB leagues. We would like more clarity on how long Mac Jones will be out, but high ankle sprains could be several weeks of injury. The New England offense is not a powerful attack, but in limited time, Zappe did better than, say, Baker Mayfield, Trevor Lawrence and Marcus Mariota in week 4.
The truth is, it’s too early to make a definitive call on Zappe as a fantasy option. But next week he gets the Lions, so if you need another QB, I’d add the speculative addition.
Quick Hits: The Facts
TJ Hockenson: The answer to everyone’s Sunday morning question, “Which Lions wide receiver should I start?” turned out to be TJ Hockenson.
Why were so many unprepared for this breakout performance (8/179/2)? Hockenson is a good example of Primacy Bias, the cognitive distortion that causes us to overestimate the value of the first item in a series. In Hockenson’s case, the first three elements, perhaps. Starting the season as the seventh TE in fantasy leagues, Hockenson disappointed in both usage and production with meager 4/38, 3/26 and 3/18/1 stat lines to begin the season. We forget (or ignore) all the stats and analytics that made him the seventh tight end taken this year because of how he started the season.
While the absence of Amon-Ra St. Brown and DJ Chark in Week 4 certainly helped make this mega-performance possible for Hockenson, it’s clear that this team is capable of planning Jared Goff to work with what he has. While this individual stat line is more likely a fluke, the fact is that we need to reframe our classic view of a hapless (and hopeless) Detroit Lions offense and start the one going on the field with confidence.
Geno Smith: He has the best completion percentage among QBs so far, and is a wizard at keeping drives alive. He has that indescribable (by me, at least) quality that pushes his teammates to go the extra mile to play for him. I wish I had drafted him in all my 2QB and SuperFlex leagues, and he’s on his way into 10-12 team standard league starting material.
Quick Hits: Fluke
Michael Pittman: On a day when Matt Ryan throws for over 350 yards, the expectation is that his top receiver has more than three catchers for 31 yards. What makes it sting all the more is Mo Alie-Cox catching two red zone targets for touchdowns, while Pittman caught none of his. It was a frustrating stat line that we need to put behind us; a clear stroke of luck. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to the Broncos in Week 5 with some trepidation, as Denver has allowed the fewest fantasy points to wide receiver so far this season.
Jamal Agnew: This was a tough game for the Jaguars, who were without Zay Jones at the last minute. Even though Darius Slay was hurt during the game, the Eagles did a good job of holding on Christian Church (two catches on nine targets), Travis Etienne and James Robinson. That left Trevor Lawrence no choice but to throw to Agnew and give him the fluke 4/50/2 stat line that will likely be his best of the season. Jacksonville has shown some strength on both sides of the ball this season, and I fully expect to see Kirk and the running backs bounce back against Houston next week. Agnew is not a good add option.
*Oh, and if you’re curious, here’s a list of some other foods that have been made “new and improved” by manufacturers but seriously let fans down: https://soyummy.com/recipe-changed. I was glad to see I wasn’t alone on Skittles.