This article is part of our NFL Reactions series.
We're (almost) six full weeks into the season, which feels like a good time to evaluate some preseason draft choices. Admittedly, it's an exercise you could theoretically do every week and I'm probably only bringing this up to make a point about a player who I've long appreciated both because he's very good and because he's been playing a long time.
If someone told you there was a wide receiver who had more than 100 receptions on at least 145 targets for more than 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons and was among the NFL leaders in targets after six weeks, where would you have drafted him? Does that sound like a first-round pick in PPR leagues? Maybe a second? What if I told you there were only two players who had at least 100 receptions on 145+ targets in the past two seasons? Does that clinch the first-round selection? Do you automatically assume it's Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham?
11 players had at least 145 targets during the 2015 season, with seven catching at least 100 of them: Brown, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Jarvis Landry, Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald and Demaryius Thomas. Among that group, only Fitzgerald and Brown were able to repeat the feat (Beckham was four receptions short of 100 in 2015). No, this isn't a piece about how great Brown is, it's about how under-appreciated Fitzgerald still is among so many fantasy players.
We harp on age as a reason not to draft players in season-long leagues or lower our expectations in DFS because Father Time always wins. And while he eventually wins, it doesn't mean he's going to win now. No, Larry Fitzgerald is winning now.
Fitzgerald's lack of touchdowns seemed to hurt his standing in drafts, as he only scored six last year after having nine the year before, but here's the list of receivers with more than 15 over that span:
There are a number of notable wideouts who are considered elite players who haven't been able to match up with Fitzgerald over the past two seasons and all of them were likely picked ahead of the ageless wonder in drafts:
This isn't to say Fitzgerald is better than those players, and of course I know that we draft players for what they will do or we think they can do and not what they have done, but it's crazy to me how many people ignored Fitzgerald's history and wouldn't touch him because he's 34 years old. There are plenty of other players who were worth ignoring because they are old (shout out to Frank Gore, who is three months older than Fitzgerald but also plays a significantly more bruising position), but those who passed on Fitzgerald for more upside players like Sammy Watkins (Bills or Rams version), Martavis Bryant, Kelvin Benjamin or Alshon Jeffery, among others, are probably wanting that pick back.
I bring this all up because Fitzgerald had a vintage game Sunday against the Buccaneers, catching 10 of 11 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown in their 38-33 win. Despite the availability of John Brown, Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, Andre Ellington and a few others who could catch passes, half of quarterback Carson Palmer's throws went to Fitzgerald and no one else had more than three receptions. It was Fitzgerald's fourth game this year with double-digit targets, third with a touchdown and second with at least 10 receptions and more than 135 yards. One could say he's turning back the clock, but he's been this good for a over a decade.
Speaking of old, holy moly is that Adrian Peterson being fantasy relevant again? David Johnson's long-term injury put the Cardinals' backfield in flux, and while everyone was saying it meant more work for the Browns and Nelson and Ellington, it seems to be Fitzgerald who continued to be the steadiest part of the offense. However, in need of a real running back, the Cardinals traded for Peterson and immediately put him to work. He scored on the Cardinals' first drive of Sunday's game and never let up, rushing 26 times for 134 yards and two touchdowns. If that was a vintage Fitzgerald game, it was surely one for Peterson, who hadn't had that many rushing yards and touchdowns in the same game since Week 11 of the 2015 season when he rushed 29 times for 158 yards and two scores against the Falcons. If there was any question as to whether Peterson could handle the responsibility of being a full-time starter again, I think those have been answered.
Another player who benefitted greatly from the Peterson trade was Saints running back Mark Ingram, who was significantly hampered by Peterson's presence despite fairly minimal work through the first five weeks of the season. Nevertheless, Ingram showed Sunday why the Saints signing Peterson this past offseason was unnecessary, as he had 114 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries while also catching all five of his targets for 36 receiving yards in the Saints' bonkers 52-38 win over the Lions in New Orleans. Ingram hadn't rushed for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns since Week 8 of the 2014 season against the Panthers when he rushed 30 times for 100 yards and the two scores, though he did have 15 carries for 158 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers in Week 8 last season, but one of them came through the air. His dominant performance Sunday put to rest what the Saints will do with their carries this season, and even though Alvin Kamara rattled off 75 yards on 10 carries against the Bucs, Ingram is clearly the top dog on the depth chart.
The over/under for the Lions-Saints game was 51, a total the Saints reached by themselves while also allowing 38 points. However, quarterbacks Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford combined for only five touchdowns, while Peterson's two scores were the only rushing ones in the game. So what happened? How about three defensive touchdowns by the Saints and another two by the Lions. Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro actually opened the scoring with a fumble recovery in the end zone early in the first quarter, followed by Marshon Lattimore's 27-yard pick six in the third quarter and then Cameron Jordan's interception in the end zone with five minutes left. Add to that Jamal Agnew's 74-yard punt return for a touchdown and A'Shawn Robinson's two-yard interception return for a score in the fourth quarter for the Lions and this game featured two of the six highest-scoring defense/special teams units in a game that had 90 points scored. The Saints' defense is widely considered one of the worst in the NFL, and yet here it was as the highest-scoring unit on a day when it got no touchdowns from its special teams.
All in all, there were 14 D/ST touchdowns Sunday thanks to the Lions, Saints and the:
• Ravens' Bobby Rainey returning a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown and Michael Campanaro adding a 77-yard punt return for a score;
• Bears' Adrian Amos picking off Joe Flacco and going 96 yards to the house;
• Texans' Jonathan Joseph returning an interception 82 yards for a TD;
• Browns' Jason McCourty's doing the same but on a 56-yard return;
• Bucs' Lavonte David recovering a fumble and rumbling 21 yards to the end zone;
• Rams' Pharoh Cooper returning the opening kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown and then Malcolm Brown returning a blocked punt for a score later in the first half;
• Giants' Janoris Jenkins picking off Trevor Siemian and running 43 yards to pay dirt.
The Saints defense/special teams unit was the fourth-highest scorer among all positions in PPR formats Sunday, a ridiculous output for any defense, let alone one that's been so bad for years. The fact that none of the points came from a special teams return just made it all the more remarkable.
One game that did not include any defense or special teams touchdowns was the Vikings-Packers game in Minnesota, one that will be remembered as possibly the last game Aaron Rodgers plays this year. The Packers' signal caller suffered a broken right (throwing arm) collarbone in the first quarter and is expected to miss the rest of the season. Almost immediately after the news broke, Twitter erupted with possible replacements, including long-time Packers fanColin Kaepernick, rookie broadcaster Tony Romo and, of course, Brett Favre. Nevertheless, head coach Mike McCarthy made it very clear that backup quarterback Brett Hundley, who replaced Rodgers on Sunday, would be the starter, with Joe Callahan likely being promoted from the practice squad to be the backup. Hundley completed 18 of 33 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown Sunday, but he also threw three interceptions and fumbled (the Packers recovered it) and is no where close to Rodgers' level (in fairness, not many are). The Packers' top three receivers (Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams) were all legitimate starters in most fantasy leagues, but the loss of Rodgers will have a major impact on their expected production, enough that fantasy owners should scramble to find replacements.
One thing we did learn from that game is that the Vikings' backfield should belong to Jerick McKinnon, who rushed 16 times for 69 yards and a touchdown while also catching all five of his targets for 30 yards and another score in their 23-10 win. McKinnon actually finished with just one more carry than Latavius Murray, but the latter was only able to rack up 28 yards (1.9 YPC), and he caught only one pass for nine receiving yards. While the usage split is interesting, it's probably more notable that McKinnon's rushing touchdown came on a third-down, three-yard run after Murray lost a yard on his first-down carry (Case Keenum threw an incomplete pass on second down). The limitation on McKinnon was that Murray was likely to get the goal-line carries, but after failing to convert Sunday and then seeing McKinnon get in the end zone, those worries appear to be overblown. McKinnon finished the day as the fifth-highest scoring running back in PPR formats, which was pretty good production since every back ahead of him had at least 20 carries.