Sunday Aftermath: Anthony Richardson’s injury, Nacua’s dominance and much more
The promise and the peril. That was the story of Anthony Richardson’s Week 2. The promise was on full display in the first five minutes, where Richardson looked more like a nuclear warhead than quarterback under center. The No. 4 overall pick was unstoppable as he rushed for a pair of touchdowns to put the Colts up 14-0 at the 9:13 mark of the opening frame. And when we say “rushed for two touchdowns,” we mean rushed for two touchdowns. This wasn’t diving over the top of the pile or getting pushed into the painted area by his linemen. Richardson did all the work on his 18- and 15-yard scramble scores. That is special.
But then came the peril. After getting his knee banged late in Week 1, this time it was Richardson’s head. In that all-too-familiar, sickening football scene, it bounced off the turf like a basketball. In another all-too-familiar episode, it wasn’t the coaching staff or independent spotter who removed Richardson from the game, but the quarterback himself. Thank goodness the young signal caller had the wherewithal to know something was not right. Otherwise it could have been an Anthony Rizzo-type situation where he spent weeks playing through a head injury no one else could detect.
Richardson’s caution means he should end up missing only a game or two, if any. But the injuries of his first two weeks also mean it will likely now be the Colts who display caution moving forward. Richardson is going to need to be protected more, and is unlikely to be cut loose the way he was in Weeks 1 and 2, at least until he can string together a few healthy performances. Hopefully all involved have learned a few valuable lessons and return with a better mastery of how to deploy Richardson’s truly unique skill-set.
Five Week 2 Storylines
Joe Burrow aggravates calf injury as Bengals fall further down the spiral. 0-2 is at least familiar, as coach Zac Taylor was a little too eager to emphasize in his post-game press conference. Everything else is like a bad dream for an offense that just hasn’t been competitive the first two weeks. Burrow did at least get up to 300 yards … through two games. Struggling with his health, he is also struggling with his deep ball, posting a 0.0. QB rating on attempts that traveled 15-plus yards down the field Sunday. Now all eyes turn to his calf, which does have an extra day to get healthy ahead of Week 3 Monday Night Football against the Rams. The Bengals have become annual turnaround artists. This will be their toughest challenge yet.
Saquon Barkley suffers yet another orthopedic injury. Barkley was nearly in tears after spraining his ankle late in Arizona. He’s a man who knows all too much about serious ailments. Yet the initial word is that he has avoided another one. X-rays were negative and optimism is high for the MRI. It’s not a broken ankle, and it is supposedly just an “ordinary” sprain. Barkley’s reaction certainly wasn’t ordinary, but perhaps it was just the emotions of a man who can’t go through this again. Whatever the severity, there is essentially no chance Barkley will be out there Thursday evening against the 49ers. It will be the Matt Breida show, with perhaps Gary Brightwell and rookie Eric Gray sprinkled in.
Mike Evans runs a demolition derby through the Bears’ “secondary.” This was already a bad group before it lost two safeties mid-game Sunday. Then it became so bad even Baker Mayfield knew what to do with it. Evans was the beneficiary of some truly hilarious plays, but “knowing what to do with it” was admittedly not something I expected of Mayfield and Evans. Like Geno Smith in 2022 with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, it was probably silly to believe Mayfield was so bad he couldn’t make at least some fantasy hay with a pair of All-Pro type wideouts in Evans and Chris Godwin. This still is not going to be Tom Brady, or even Jameis Winston. But it is safe to say after two contests that Evans remains a WR2, and Godwin can be a dependable PPR WR3. Godwin and his Mayfield-friendly skill-set could end up surpassing Evans’ deep game.
Joshua Kelley and AJ Dillon both bomb in spot starts. The Kelley Hive — if there is such a thing — will undoubtedly blame the matchup, but Sunday was an important reminder: It doesn’t matter how many touches a backup might project for, talent still matters. I did not heed this advice in my own damn rankings, and felt so annoyed afterward. The nature of fantasy football is having to play people like Kelley and Dillon, of course, but before you pencil “high-end RB2 numbers” into your calculations, make sure to ask yourself questions like … has this player ever produced at any point during the course of their rookie contract? All of that being, Kelley against the Vikings in Week 3 is looking awfully tasty if Austin Ekeler (ankle) remains sidelined…
David Montgomery carted with bruised thigh, but Jahmyr Gibbs can’t quite monopolize workload. There was at least good news before Montgomery departed, with Gibbs being much more involved in the passing game. He finished with a team-leading seven receptions on an also team-leading nine targets. That didn’t make it any less frustrating that he was splitting carries with Craig Reynolds after Montgomery’s departure. The Lions simply are not going to throw Gibbs into the deep end, and we would assume that includes Week 3 against the Falcons even if Montgomery sits. Gibbs would be the 1A in any non-Montgomery committee, however, and find himself as a high-end RB2 rather than the borderline option he was for Week 2.
Five More Week 2 Storylines
Puka Nacua doubles down on extraordinary Week 1, begins assaulting NFL record books. We knew 10 catches on 15 targets could not be repeated. We just didn’t know which way. Nacua blew away his Week 1 line by grabbing 15-of-20 balls for 147 yards. His 25 receptions through his first two NFL games are a new record, while yesterday’s 15 rookie receptions were an all-time record for any game. The numbers can’t even be debated at this point: The young man is for real. What can be debated is his post-Cooper Kupp role. All-Pro Kupp could be back as soon as Week 5. That would be bad for Nacua, but it is probably even worse for Kupp at this point. That is the main takeaway for Kupp drafters. You will not be getting the player you invested first- or second-round capital in. How could you when someone has been this good? Nacua is demanding WR1 consideration for Week 3 against the Bengals.
Kyren Williams formalizes takeover of Rams’ backfield. Williams’ emergence would be the biggest story for any other offense. That he is playing second fiddle to Nacua can’t hide the fact that this is now a one-man backfield. With Cam Akers healthy scratched against the 49ers, Williams an every-snap player, dominating touches, reaching 100 yards from scrimmage and scoring two touchdowns. All this against a genuinely elite 49ers defense. With Akers reportedly on the trade block, coach Sean McVay no longer has a backfield plan B. Williams’ talent level is unclear, but his role creates a top-20 fantasy baseline, one that could creep into RB1 territory if Williams is more prolific and efficient against softer defenses.
C.J. Stroud flashes why he was a top-two pick. Up to 91 attempts and 626 yards without an INT, Stroud’s 384 yards against the Colts were the Texans’ fourth most of the post-Matt Schaub era. Although Stroud benefitted from three quarters of comeback game script, there was nothing fluky about his box score stuffing. Stroud supported not one, not two, but three receivers, finding each of Nico Collins, Tank Dell and Robert Woods for at least 6/70. He supplied the first 100-yard game of Collins’ career, as well as Dell’s first touchdown. Collins was doing damage down the field, and Dell was tacking on yards after the catch. Perhaps most encouragingly, Stroud ignored running back- and Dalton Schultz-checkdowns. He wanted real production. Another potential shootout awaits for Week 3 against the Jags. Stroud is on the streaming radar.
Brian Robinson consolidates his backfield gains. Breezing to a new career high in yards from scrimmage, as well as his first two-touchdown performance, Robinson put the Commanders’ offense on his back and ensured Antonio Gibson will be a fantasy afterthought moving forward. Amongst Week 2’s league leaders rush yards over expected, Robinson was getting more than what was blocked, and looking all the way back from last year’s unfortunate lower-body injury. Running stronger and taking advantage of more advantageous play sequencing from new OC Eric Bieniemy, Robinson has the looks of a player putting it all together. He is now a safe every-week RB2, if lower end because of his relative lack of passing-game production.
Zach Wilson’s first start of 2023 goes as poorly as feared. First things first: The Cowboys look like the quarterback test of the season. Wilson still failed it as spectacularly as possible. And it’s not like things are going to get any easier in the AFC East, including this week against Bill Belichick’s Patriots. Belichick put Wilson in a veritable torture chamber last season, and there is zero reason to believe things will be any different this week. Just ask the Jets’ coaching staff, which continues to let Wilson do as little as possible. Wilson has more weapons at his disposal than he did a year ago, but it just doesn’t seem to matter for this quarterback. Garrett Wilson is a boom/bust WR3 for Week 3 with Breece Hall operating in the same capacity on the RB2/3 borderline. Fantasy managers can reassess when the inevitable quarterback change comes, hopefully in 2-3 weeks.
1. How many times do the Broncos refuse Sean Payton’s resignation before finally accepting it?
2. Did Zach Wilson ever take his ear buds out when Aaron Rodgers was talking?
3. Have the Chargers checked to see if their stadium is buried on top of a Chargers burial ground?
Early Waivers Look (Players rostered in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
QB: Matthew Stafford (@CIN), Derek Carr (@GB), C.J. Stroud (@JAX), Kenny Pickett (@LV)
RB: Matt Breida, Justice Hill, Roschon Johnson, Craig Reynolds, Damien Harris, Latavius Murray, Jerome Ford, Tyjae Spears
WR: Tutu Atwell, Tank Dell, Josh Reynolds, Kendrick Bourne, Jalin Hyatt, Marvin Mims, Jayden Reed, Skyy Moore, Robert Woods
TE: Zach Ertz, Gerald Everett, Jake Ferguson, Juwan Johnson, Luke Musgrave, Cade Otton
DEF: Chiefs (vs. CHI), Jaguars (vs. HOU), Lions (vs. ATL), Seahawks (vs. CAR)
Stats of the Week
Via Zack Pearson: “Through two weeks, the Bears have called four designed runs for Justin Fields.” Listen, Fields’ play has been indefensible, but it’s not going to make anything better by not doing the thing he’s best at.
From Travis Wingfield: “Margin for error in the NFL is always razor thin. Chargers had six possessions in the 4th quarter/OT with a chance to create a two-score lead or win it at the end. They’re 0/6 on those closer drives and, as a result, 0-2.”
Rich Hribar on the Jags’ early struggles: Through two weeks, the Jaguars have a league-low -35.9 EPA on offense. The next closest team (the Jets) is at -22.0. Jaguars are a league-worst 6-of-24 (25%) on 3rd downs to open the year with 1.6 yards per play on 3rd down.”
Week 2 Fantasy All-Pro Team: QB Daniel Jones, RB Brian Robinson, RB Kyren Williams, WR Puka Nacua, WR Mike Evans, WR Keenan Allen, TE T.J. Hockenson
Tweet of the Week, from Arif Hasan: Crazy how Matthew Stafford has been supported by some of the most productive receivers in NFL history: Calvin Johnson, Cooper Kupp, Puka Nacua
The Well *Someone* Has To Pay For Tom Brady’s Sins Award: Mac Jones.
The Providing Hope To Luxury Picks Everywhere Award: Tutu Atwell.