Week 1 is finally here and it’s time to get some answers to big questions that have been vexing many this draft season. I should say, it’s time to START to get some answers. We don’t want to overreact to what we see this week. The way the super forecasters beat the prediction markets is that they react modestly to each bit of new information — never radically. So if you think a player is a sleeper and he has a sleepy day, you should downgrade your expectations slightly (the equivalent of about a round of ADP). And vice versa if they (seem to) pop.
Here are 10 things to watch for in Week 1.
1. By the time you read this, we’ll probably have clarity on the Patriots running back situation. Rex Burkhead was rising and Mike Gillislee falling late in the draft season. Gillislee is reportedly set to be the goal-line back. Last year, LeGarrette Blount scored an NFL high 67.7 points in goal-line situations, about twice the average of the top 24. So Gillislee is going to need more steady work to provide top 75 overall value.
2. For the Raiders, does Marshawn Lynch have anything left in the tank or is he done and just too beat up from all that pounding, as was the case in 2015? Lynch (Seattle-career low 3.8 per carry in 2015) was not discounted enough anywhere for these real risks. So he can really only disappoint.
3. The Falcons issue is whether the loss of offensive guru Kyle Shanahan is likely to derail what was an all-time juggernaut offense in 2016. My bet all draft season was, “No.” But a sub-25-point day in Chicago would be worrisome.
4. In Cincinnati, we want to see if Jeremy Hill is a real starter or just a technical one with Joe Mixon getting most of the carries? Mixon love finally faded as the end of the summer with his stock dropping about a round, generally. I think he’s really a zeroRB (sixth rounder). Remember, Hill, just 24, averaged 5.1 per carry in 2014. So he could just take the job and run with it even though exactly no one besides me seems to think this is even possible.
5. Todd Gurley needs a big game at home as a favorite against a terrible Colts team playing without Andrew Luck. If he can’t beat 4.0 per carry here, he is making it even more likely he’s just not good (right now, based on his horrific 2016 performance, it’s roughly about 50-60% he’s not good).
6. For the Bears and Jordan Howard owners, the big issue is whether Mike Glennon is going to be passable enough for Howard to remain productive. Last year does not prove anything as that was an outlier season with bad QB play. Remember, people were laughing at the notion that the Rams terrible QB play/offense would hurt Gurley in 2016 because it had not in 2015. But you can’t defy gravity/environment in consecutive seasons unless you are an all-time talent.
7. I’ll be watching the Lions game closely to see the workload planned for Ameer Abdullah, who I get is discounted for injury risk. But the first and second down role is worth about 73% of overall RB scoring. If he adds goal-line, too, which Scott Pianowski said is the plan on our Breakfast Table Podcast, then he’s a top 15 RB in a good Detroit offense.
8. The other big question in Detroit is who gets the red-zone looks among the receivers? My bet is on Marvin Jones to return on investment. Jones had 482 receiving yards last year through four games and looked like a league-winner. He faded thereafter but he was still targeted even deeper downfield and the data supports this air-yards stat as being especially predictive. Jones is also 6-2 and scored 10 times on 51 catches in 2013 (for the Bengals).
9. For the Titans, we need to see what the passing tree looks like. Is there a clear No. 1 or a No. 1 and 1A? We’ve basically bet the latter this draft season, though Rishard Matthews has always been too-steeply discounted relative to his 2016 production (65-945-9).
10. Kirk Cousins is always having to prove something and now what he needs to show is that he can generate well-above-average efficiency without DeSean Jackson. Looking at his career and crunching the numbers, there’s a strong case that Jackson alone is worth about 0.5 yards in yards per pass play. That would drop Cousins/Washington from second to seventh last year and probably cost them about 2-3 points per game. But can Terrelle Pryor take the top off of the defense somewhere nearly as good as Jackson? Remember, though, Cousins badly underachieved in touchdowns last year so this may already be priced in.
Bonus: What is coach Mike McCarthy planning to do with Ty Montgomery. While Montgomery is 6-0, 216, he had over 11 carries in just one game including the postseason. He also had more than four receptions just one time in his last 11 games as Aaron Rodgers doesn’t like to throw to his backs even when they are former wideouts. Is Montgomery going to get 70% of carries or 40% — and who gets the rest?