Sports

The 49ers’ Week 1 Curveballs


Kyle Shanahan was all too happy to get the Week 1 party started, obliging the fantasy universe with not one but two stunning decisions, neither of which involved his already crazy quarterback situation.

For his first surprise, Shanahan made third-round rookie Trey Sermon a healthy scratch. In and of itself, Day 2 picks failing to make the 46-man roster for Week 1 is not that unusual. But Sermon spent the summer being billed as the thunder to Raheem Mostert’s injury-prone lightning, a perception Shanahan did nothing to dispel. That is until 90 minutes before Sunday’s kickoff, leaving fantasy managers scrambling to replace someone who typically went in the 6th-7th round.

Sermon was one thing. He’s a rookie. The idea that he was Mostert’s 1B back was fueled as much by the media as his coach (though he did run with the starters during the preseason). Brandon Aiyuk’s benching and subsequent zero-target performance was something else entirely. One of the lone bright spots during the 49ers’ doomed 2020, there was quite literally zero indication that Aiyuk had apparently fallen behind Trent Sherfield on the depth chart. But that is where Aiyuk found himself as he played only 27 snaps in a game where the Niners scored 41 points.

Explanations were all over the map. Shanahan claimed it was because of Aiyuk’s balky hamstring during the summer … before also claiming Sherfield had “earned the right to be out there more.” The rumor mill spun with talk of Aiyuk falling out of favor with the coaching staff. “After a hot start to training camp, Brandon Aiyuk tailed off dramatically,” were the words of ace 49ers beat reporter Matt Maiocco. “He is still learning how to be a pro. Kyle Shanahan, clearly, favors some of the other wide receivers right now. Message sent.”

Despite all of this, Aiyuk still ended up running a route on 56 percent of his (limited) snaps. His role will grow … just not back to its 2020 heights with George Kittle healthy, Deebo Samuel healthy and Sherfield apparently the latest apple of the coaching staff’s eye. He should be considered a WR4 with room to rise or fall.

As for the backfield, Sermon’s shutdown wasn’t the only storyline. There was also Mostert’s quite literally instant knee injury, an all too common occurrence for the explosive 29-year-old back. That thrust explosive 23-year-old back Elijah Mitchell into the limelight and he responded with 19/104/1 in his NFL debut. JaMycal Hasty was not a factor behind the sixth-round rookie. 5-foot-10 with 4.38 speed, Mitchell came out of small-school Louisiana Monroe without a pass-catching profile but a penchant for big plays. He is the kind of movable chess piece Shanny can easily scheme into space. Sunday, draft profile met reality. Despite the matter being far from settled, Mitchell should be added in all formats as Shanahan decides just what it is he wants to do with his backfield life. Sermon should be rostered for at least one more game.

Five Week 1 Storylines

Jerry Jeudy suffers high-ankle sprain as Broncos rout Giants. The good news is that Jeudy’s injury was only a high-ankle sprain. The bad news is that the good news is Jeudy’s injury is a high-ankle sprain. An ailment that comes with a 4-6 week timeline in the best of times is also prone to setbacks. Jeudy does have youth on his side as he begins his rehab, but he is all but certain to land on injured reserve and miss at least the next three games. It’s the sorriest of shames for a player who was as advertised before going down on Sunday, soaking up targets as a precise route runner and Teddy Bridgewater’s No. 1 target. This was as Courtland Sutton struggled to contribute anything at all returning from his torn ACL. Sutton will maintain Week 2 WR3 benefit of the doubt, but Tim Patrick and speedster KJ Hamler are worth monitoring on the waiver wire.

Titans annihilated in first post-Arthur Smith contest. How bad were the Titans on Sunday? LT Taylor Lewan now has a pinned tweet that reads: “Got my (butt) kicked today, no way around that. I let the team and the fans down. Thank you Chandler Jones for exposing me. It will only force me to get better.” Goodness gracious. Lewan’s complete domination at the hands of Jones was one reason Ryan Tannehill took six sacks and committed three turnovers. Another was awful play-calling from new OC Todd Downing. Yet another was Arizona showing zero respect for Tanne’s play fakes. It was on those disrupted play-actions that all the really bad things happened. The Titans’ Week 1 is why the phrase “back to the drawing board” exists. It’s a daunting assignment ahead of a Week 2 date with a Seahawks defense that shuts down the run, putting the pressure squarely on Lewan and Tannehill’s shoulders to get A.J. Brown and Julio Jones going following their invisible opener.

Ryan Fitzpatrick goes down with potentially serious hip injury. One of my summer mantras was that starting Fitzpatrick is always more fun in theory than practice. He didn’t even get the chance to wear out his welcome before dislocating his hip, a painful, painful experience that could end his season. Played out though Fitzpatrick gets, that would be a devastating development for Terry McLaurin and company, as Fitz still represents a monumental upgrade on the Football Team’s 2020 quarterback play. Fellow meme quarterback Taylor Heinicke is the next man up, and will be out there on Thursday evening against a solid Giants defense smarting from a Week 1 humiliation. With no Fitz and plenty of James Bradberry, McLaurin will find himself on the low-end of the Week 2 WR2 ranks.

James Robinson out-carried by Carlos Hyde and manages only eight touches. Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it … anddddddddd he did it. Jaguars coach Urban Meyer has made it obvious he is not a James Robinson fan. Sunday, he made it clear just how far he was willing to go, giving early-down chugger Hyde four more carries even as the Jags spent the afternoon playing from behind in annihilation game script. Hyde won the touch war 11-8, and also the production battle 58-54. Robinson still ran more routes, but the fact that Hyde ran any routes is a poor sign. Most rational coaches would not be involving Hyde in their passing game at this stage of his career. One game is one game. Maybe Meyer will see the light once he turns on the film. But Robinson is on RB2 probation.

Zack Moss healthy scratched vs. Steelers. I spent the summer saying things on podcasts like “is Zack Moss even good?” It turns out Bills coach Sean McDermott was pondering similar questions, though even I would not have taken things this far. Moss’ shutdown certainly did not manifest as a positive in the game flow, where the Bills were inefficient in the passing game and found themselves stymied on some critical third/fourth- and shorts. Devin Singletary is the better, more versatile player while Matt Breida is probably a poor man’s version of Singletary. Making them the 1-2 was not a bad idea. But I agree with top Bills beat writer Joe Buscaglia that Moss should at least be active. I also agree with any fantasy manager who suggests Moss should be cut in 12-team leagues. He should.

Don’t forget, for the latest on everything NFL, check out NBC Sports EDGE’s Player News, or follow @NBCSEdgeFB or @RotoPat on Twitter.

Five More Week 1 Storylines

Antonio Gibson out-touches J.D. McKissic 23-1. At least for one week, the Football Team saw the light, making Gibson their focal point. Only four backs handled a greater share of their “backfield opportunities,” with Gibson gobbling up 89 percent of his team’s carries and running back targets. Jaret Patterson received more touches than McKissic, though McKissic still quietly played 36 percent of Washington’s snaps. Despite that, the early returns suggest that last year’s McKissic supernova was mostly an Alex Smith phenomenon. Gibson is an RB1 until further notice.

Kyle Pitts manages 4/31 as Falcons display zero offense. Reasons to be worried: Pitts produced a hugely disappointing box score in a game where the Falcons badly needed offense. Reasons to not be worried: Pretty much everything else. Adam Levitan laid it out too well in a tweet to not take it lock, stock and barrel. Via Levitan, Pitts: Played 71 percent of the Falcons’ snaps, ran a route on 90 percent of Matt Ryan’s dropbacks, lined up in the slot 23 times and split out wide 14 times. He tied for team lead with 22.8 percent target share. That is the usage we were hoping for. We just didn’t get the production as Ryan looked like an old man. That will be Pitts’ biggest concern going forward, but in an offense desperate for high-upside targets, Pitts did nothing to suggest in Week 1 he will not provide them.

Ja’Marr Chase shakes off quiet summer for 5/101/1 NFL debut. Chase became just the 29th player since 1970 to reach 100 receiving yards in his NFL debut, and just the 10th active player. He led the Bengals in receiving and notched the seventh-longest grab of the day league wide. Chase was graded on a curve in camp with every little mistake highlighted while players like Kyle Pitts got breathless writeups any time they so much as got a first down. The most gifted receiver prospect since Amari Cooper will undoubtedly hit speed bumps, but the road looks clear to weekly top-24 status. Tough matchups with the Bears and Steelers will put that hypothesis to the test the next two weeks.

Austin Ekeler not targeted in win over Football Team, rookie Larry Rountree claims No. 2 role. These things happen with pass-catching backs. Sometimes the receptions just are not going to be there. Nothing from Justin Herbert’s rookie season or new OC Joe Lombardi’s Saints history suggests they will not materialize. The greater concern for Ekeler remains his health. On that front, sixth-round rookie Rountree has gotten the first shot as Ekeler’s early-down breather back over inconsistent options Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley. Sunday made it feel like there was a long way to go toward establishing the Bolts backs’ actual roles, but Rountree is worth an add in every league where he is available, which is every league.

Joe Mixon turns every-down role into 150 yards on 33 touches. The summer’s most under-discussed every-down back, Mixon met his post-Giovani Bernard destiny and vacuumed up all the work in Cincinnati’s backfield. As mentioned with Ja’Marr Chase, Mixon’s production will be put to the test in tough Week 2-3 dates with Chicago and Pittsburgh, but his usage appears to be that of a bulletproof RB1. They simply don’t make running back roles like this anymore.

Questions

1. Why did Brandon Aiyuk read Dante Pettis’ autobiography?

2. Has Urban Meyer memorized his local Papa John’s number yet?

3. Can Bill Belichick please spare Damien Harris’ life?

Early Waiver Look (Players rostered in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)

QB: Jameis Winston (@CAR), Ben Roethlisberger (vs. LV), Teddy Bridgewater (@JAX), Tua Tagovailoa (vs. BUF), Sam Darnold (vs. NO), Jimmy Garoppolo (@PHI), Mac Jones (@NYJ), Trey Lance (@PHI)
RB: Elijah Mitchell, Mark Ingram, Carlos Hyde, Phillip Lindsay, Tevin Coleman, Tony Jones, Damien Williams, Cordarrelle Patterson, Larry Rountree
WR: Darnell Mooney, Cole Beasley, Sterling Shepard, Rondale Moore, Nelson Agholor, Jalen Reagor, Gabriel Davis, Tim Patrick, Dyami Brown, Zach Pascal
TE: Cole Kmet, Jared Cook, Juwan Johnson, Dawson Knox, Adam Trautman, David Njoku, Tyler Conklin, Tyler Kroft
DEF: Packers (vs. DET), Saints (@CAR), Bears (vs. CIN), Giants (@WFT), Seahawks (vs. TEN), Bengals (@CHI)

Stats of the Week

Five. That’s how many more rushing yards Cordarrelle Patterson produced than Mike Davis on eight fewer carries, out-gaining him 54-49 on the ground. Patterson played 24-of-71 snaps, establishing himself as the clear-cut No. 2 back in a backfield not exactly brimming with talent.

17. That’s how many fewer snaps Mike Gesicki played than Durham Smythe. Gesicki was on the field for only two more plays than Hunter Long as he caught zero passes.

Via The Good Lord Reebs: Damien Harris faced eight-plus defenders in the box on 17.4 percent of his Sunday carries. That was compared to 39.4 percent a year ago with Cam Newton under center. If Bill Belichick can get over Harris’ game-costing fumble, he’s a legit RB2.

Matthew Stafford’s two touchdown passes of 50-plus yards against the Bears were as many as the Rams managed in all of 2020.

Via Marcus Mosher: The Giants have averaged 17.3 points per since hiring Jason Garrett as offensive coordinator.

Via Bill Barnwell, this is what Justin Herbert did against the Football Team on third down: 13-of-16 for 160 yards, 11 first downs and a touchdown.

Awards Section

Week 1 Fantasy All-Pro Team: QB Kyler Murray, RB Christian McCaffrey, RB Joe Mixon, WR Tyreek Hill, WR Amari Cooper, TE Deebo Samuel, TE Rob Gronkowski

Worst Tweet of the Week: The Lions’ serenading of Jared Goff with “Papi’s Home.” QB 1. 👀 has company.

Tweet of the Week: In response to the Lions’ tweet, @LionsSuper_Bowl reminded “don’t ever tweet something like this again.”

All Is Right With The Universe Award: Jared Goff throwing a pick six in his Lions debut.

Griff Whalen Memorial Play Call of the Week: Whatever this was from the Bills on a 4th-and-1.

Realizing You Accidentally Let Russ Cook Award: Pete Carroll disgustedly realizing he accidentally let Russell Wilson cook.



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