Fantasy: Dynasty Slants – Week 1 Recap

| September 15, 2011

Week 1 is in the books and dynasty owners can begin surveying the new reality of this NFL season. While it would be unwise to put too much stock into what we witnessed last week, some of the data helped clarify important long-term situations.

Here are the slants this week:

Can Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez coexist as top 10 options at the tight end position?

Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez put on a clinic on Monday Night Football with the assistance of Tom Brady at the helm. The duo combined for 44 fantasy points in PPR leagues on 13 receptions for 189 yards and 2 touchdowns. The question you may be asking yourself is if they can keep up this pace for the rest of the year and for the future. It would be foolish to expect that Brady will throw for 517 yards every week, especially to two players who play the same position. Well only one part of that statement is incorrect. Both players can be weekly fantasy starters because of where they line up on the field. In fact, Week 1 helped validate my dynasty ranking of both players in the top 10 for the better part of the last seven months.

First, let us look at where each player lined up on the field in 2010 and through the first week of 2011:

Rob Gronkowski
Pos 2010 2011
TE 79% 67%
TE – Slot 18% 32%
TE – Wide 2% 0%
HB 0% 0%
FB 1% 1%
Aaron Hernandez
Pos 2010 2011
TE 38% 32%
TE – Slot 43% 26%
TE – Wide 14% 32%
HB 1% 5%
FB 4% 5%

Strictly speaking, Gronkowski was almost exclusively an in-line tight end last year while Hernandez was split wide more often. One week is too small a sample size to draw any significant conclusions on how each will be used this year, but Gronkowski was used more in the slot and Hernandez lined up as a wide receiver significantly more. We saw immediate results of their position flexibility. Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett and Cameron Wake could not keep up with either player from the linebacker position and no one in the secondary had much luck either. With both players on the field at the same time, it forced Miami to stay in a base formation or bring in their nickel defense without the Patriots having to change personnel. Between Gronkowski’s size and Hernandez’s speed, they can win almost any matchup.

Year Name Games FP FP / SN TA / SN % TA / PR % TA / G Rec. Yds TD TD Rate %
2011 Aaron Hernandez 1 23 0.35 13.6 23.7 9.0 7 103 1 14.3
2011 Rob Gronkowski 1 21 0.27 9.3 16.3 7.0 6 86 1 16.7
Year Name  Games FP FP / SN TA / SN % TA / PPR % TA / G Rec. Yds TD TD Rate %
2010  Aaron Hernandez 14 142 0.29 13.1 20.6 4.6 45 563 6 12.5
2010  Rob Gronkowski 16 156 0.20 7.2 19.9 3.6 42 546 10 23.8

Both players’ fantasy points per snap has them ahead of their pace from last year as expected. While the targets per snap percentage for each player is up, only Hernandez’s targets per pass route run increased. It may be a sign of things to come this year, but the No. 3-5 wide receivers for the Patriots combined for 27 snaps played (Ochocinco, Edelman and Slater).

While it may seem foolish to expect two players from the same team at a position where fantasy points can be traditionally hard to come by, both players are top 10 dynasty options. Hernandez may be a classified as a tight end in name only; his position flexibility gives us a glimpse of what the new prototype is for a slot receiver in the NFL. Leave it to mastermind Bill Belichick to be one step ahead of the rest of us.

The Houston backfield sans Arian Foster      

For the first time since the 2009 season, someone other than Arian Foster started a game at running back for the Texans. During that stretch, Foster has become one of the premier running backs in the league dominating nearly all the offensive touches for the Texans and leaving little work for his backups. None of the Houston running backs quite duplicated Foster’s heroics from Week 1 last year versus the Colts (33 attempts, 231 rushing yards, 3 TD), but their performance left us wondering if Foster is really that talented or is it the Texans’ running scheme. For now, I will not question Foster’s talent level, but I will look back at the data we have since 2008 to see if there are any trends to take note of.

Year Pos Name Team Games Snaps FP FP / SN FP / Opp FP / Gm Att. Yds TD Yco / Att.

2008

RB  Steve Slaton HST

16

768

277

0.36

0.43

17.3

268

1282

9

3.1

2008

RB  Ahman Green HST

8

196

62

0.31

0.37

7.7

74

294

3

2.6

2008

RB  Ryan Moats HST

5

59

20

0.34

0.45

4.0

26

94

1

2.0

2008

RB  Chris Taylor HST

2

30

3

0.09

0.11

1.4

14

37

0

2.1

Steve Slaton was the story of the 2008 season as a third round draft choice. Seemingly coming from nowhere, Slaton finished in the top five among running backs in PPR leagues. Ahman Green was the only other back to have more than 30 carries.

Year Pos Name Team Games Snaps FP FP / SN FP / Opp FP / Gm Att. Yds TD Yco / Att.

2009

RB  Ryan Moats HST

8

198

90

0.45

0.52

11.2

101

390

4

2.6

2009

RB  Arian Foster HST

4

127

60

0.47

0.54

15.0

54

257

3

2.5

2009

RB  Chris Brown HST

14

275

65

0.24

0.32

4.7

79

267

3

2.6

2009

RB  Steve Slaton HST

11

453

166

0.37

0.47

15.1

131

450

3

2.1

Steve Slaton was a first round pick in fantasy leagues the year following his breakout season, but ultimately struggled with injuries and did not live up to his ADP. Several other backs got carries, including Arian Foster as an undrafted rookie from Tennessee. Foster proved to be the most efficient back in terms of fantasy points per snap.

Year Pos Name Team Games Snaps FP FP / SN FP / Opp FP / Gm Att. Yds TD Yco / Att.

2010

RB  Arian Foster HST

16

855

393

0.46

0.55

24.6

327

1616

16

2.6

2010

RB  Derrick Ward HST

14

125

68

0.54

0.66

4.8

50

315

4

4.0

2010

RB  Steve Slaton HST

5

57

13

0.24

0.27

2.7

19

93

0

2.0

We know the story here. Arian Foster seemingly came from nowhere to become the No. 1 fantasy running back in every scoring format. He received the majority of the work, with only a few carries going to Ward and Slaton. Interestingly enough, Ward was more efficient in terms of fantasy points per snap and rushing yards after contact.

Year Pos Name Team Games Snaps FP FP / SN FP / Opp FP / Gm Att. Yds TD Yco / Att.

2011

HB Ben Tate HST

1

42

17

0.41

0.49

17.3

24

123

1

3.2

2011

HB Derrick Ward HST

1

20

10

0.50

0.50

9.9

11

39

1

2.1

2011

HB Steve Slaton HST

1

5

3

0.56

0.70

2.8

2

12

0

5.0

This brings us to this season. Foster sat out with his injured hamstring, while it was Derrick Ward who got the start. Ben Tate received the majority of the playing time after Ward left with an injury himself, and proceeded to score a touchdown and exceed 100 yards rushing in his first career game. Neither running back duplicated Foster’s production in Week 1 last year, but it is clear that the Texans’ ground game under head coach Gary Kubiak produces great fantasy numbers.

So long as Foster stays the starter, he is a Top 5 option in dynasty leagues. His opportunity and situation alone give him a better chance than most for fantasy success, and despite being an undrafted free agent, he has legitimate talent. Week 1 showed us that dynasty owners of Foster must also carry Ben Tate for the short and long-term. If Houston does not give Foster a contract extension in the near future, Tate could be the next Houston running back with a top five fantasy season under his belt.

Quick Slants

Greg Salas looks primed to inherit injured Danny Amendolas’ slot position. Salas lined up in the slot on 11 of his 13 snaps in Week 1, catching one of his three targets for a 21-yard gain. Salas was a favorite of many in the draftnik community as an Austin Collie-type  who is a buy low candidate in your dynasty league. Amendola may not get his job back when healthy.

Dez Bryant formally passed Miles Austin as the top wide receiver for Dallas this week. After Bryant burned Antonio Cromartie on 3-yard touchdown reception on the first series, Darrelle Revis switched to covering Bryant for the remainder of the game. Revis only allowed a 26-yard reception to Bryant. Revis can shut down the best receivers in the game, but it is more noteworthy that the Jets defense recognized Bryant’s talent.

LeGarrette Blount owners should be concerned. He only played in 13 snaps compared to Earnest Graham’s 46 with 5 rushing attempts for 15 yards. Blount was viewed as a breakout candidate heading into his second season, but we must now monitor this situation in Tampa Bay more closely. It would be wise not to overreact, but this could be a bad sign for his fantasy value. It’s worth noting that Tampa was playing from behind, but it’s a bad sign when he’s all but removed from the gameplan.

The San Diego backfield did not become any clearer this week. Mike Tolbert got more snaps and more pass plays, but Ryan Mathews did more with the same amount of carries. Tolbert managed to catch all nine of his targets, including two touchdown receptions. While it will be maddening for owners of each player for the near future, Mathews is the more dynamic player and could far out produce Tolbert when given the opportunity.

Pos Name Team Snaps Run Pass Run Block Pass Block FP FP / SN Att. Yds TD TA / SN % Rec. Yds TD
HB Mike Tolbert SD

48

12

25

2

9

36

0.76

12

35

1

18.8

9

58

2

HB Ryan Mathews SD

36

12

17

6

1

15

0.41

12

45

0

13.9

3

73

0

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