Fantasy Football Week 2 Booms and Busts: Derek Carr lets it rip

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For years, Derek Carr has been a fantasy afterthought, a backup, a secondary plan. He peaked at QB10 back in 2016, and he’s been in the QB2 range — usually somewhere in the teens — ever since.

But maybe these 2021 Raiders need to write a new script. Maybe it’s time to junk the running game and let Derek cook.

I expected a team to come out flat in this Raiders-Steelers match, and one sure did — the Steelers. Although Carr was working without Josh Jacobs and didn’t get anything from the understudy running backs, the Raiders moved the ball easily through the air. Carr rang up 382 yards and two touchdowns on the vaunted Steelers defense, coasting to an easy 26-17 victory.

The Steelers did all they could to make sure Darren Waller (5-65-0) didn’t destroy them, but Carr found other options. Henry Ruggs (5-113-1) got loose for a game-clinching 61-yard touchdown. Bryan Edwards had a modest 3-40-0 day on three targets, but he also had a touchdown catch wiped out by penalty. Hunter Renfrow (5-57-0) still offers PPR value in deeper pools.

Perhaps the Raiders will go pass-heavy even when Jacobs (toe/ankle) is ready to return. Either way, Waller will remain parked at the No. 2 spot in the tight end ranks, and Carr could keep pushing the QB1 grouping. And with young players like Ruggs and Edwards starting to flash weekly, you can see the upside to this offense. I might have to burn every preseason prediction I made on this team, figuring Las Vegas was a sure bet to finish last in a very deep AFC West.

Steelers in midst of offensive identity crisis

Meanwhile, the Steelers need to figure out who they are on offense. Najee Harris (10-38-0) once again struggled to get free behind a makeshift Pittsburgh offensive line, though he fixed his fantasy day with a nifty 25-yard touchdown catch. Diontae Johnson continues to be a target monster (12 looks, 9-105-0 result; we'll check his knee injury Monday), but Chase Claypool needed nine targets to get three catches. JuJu Smith-Schuster had six short catches and a day-saving touchdown run.

As talented as this receiver room is, I'm tempered on the offense's upside — because it’s hard to trust Ben Roethlisberger these days. Big Ben looked sluggish and old in the season opener, but the defense stole a win at Buffalo. Roethlisberger huffed and puffed to a 27-40-295-1-1 line against the ordinary Raiders defense; that’s simply not enough production in today’s pass-happy NFL. I can’t imagine Roethlisberger being startable as a QB1 in fantasy leagues this year.

Too long, didn’t read? The arrow is pointing up on the Raiders passing game, and it should do well against the Dolphins and Chargers in the next two weeks. But it could be last call for the aging Roethlisberger, which caps the upside of his talented targets.

Buccaneers threatening a runaway in fun NFC South

With the NFC South playing exclusively in-division for Week 2, let's start the bullet points there:

• Not that you throw a parade for beating the Falcons — this isn’t February 2017 — but the Buccaneers offense looks unfair. Tom Brady’s favorite receiver has always been the open receiver, and he has so many toys at his disposal. Don’t forget, Rob Gronkowski is just a few months older than Travis Kelce — why can’t he be a top-five tight end this year? Leonard Fournette has a shot to distance himself from Ronald Jones; everything Jones can do, Fournette probably does better. Leo was even making excellent blitz pickups on Sunday.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette (7)
Leonard Fournette could be separating himself from Ronald Jones in the TB backfield. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)

• Kyle Pitts hasn’t exploded yet, but the usage and targets indicate it’s coming. And heck, 5-73-0 will almost always serve as a playable line. Mike Davis’ seven short catches keep his PPR value afloat; he’s staying involved even as the Falcons fall behind weekly, and that’s critical. He’s an ordinary talent, but in the backfield, usage is king.

• A year ago, the Panthers had the league’s youngest defense. It’s growing up in a hurry. The Saints offense looked awful Sunday, but Carolina had a hand in forcing that. The Panthers should make things miserable for Houston (and a backup quarterback) on Thursday. 

• From time to time this summer I passed on DJ Moore; I liked the ADP on Robby Anderson better. That appears to be a mistake. Anderson isn’t a bad player, of course, and can still sneak into the WR3 conversation. But Moore is a true alpha, and a target hog — and this is an offense that already has a touch kingpin in Christian McCaffrey. Even with Carolina’s usage tree somewhat narrow, the presence of McCaffrey and Moore make it difficult for everyone else.

• Jameis Winston was back to the Tampa Bay version — four sacks, two picks. Only, this Winston forgot to make some big plays (he did rush in a touchdown, that doesn’t count). In fairness to Winston, New Orleans has one of the weakest receiver rooms in the league.

Speed Round

• Justin Fields looked raw and overmatched, but it’s an emergency relief appearance. You can’t take anything from it. 

• Joe Burrow stood tall in the Cincinnati pocket and had some splash plays and some negative plays — three picks, four sacks. If his pocket awareness doesn’t get a little better — or the Bengals pass blocking doesn’t come around — Burrow’s going to take a brutal pounding. I’d like to see the Bengals get Joe Mixon going in the screen game, try to use the aggressiveness of an opposing defense against itself.

• It was a tidy game from Baker Mayfield, especially since he didn’t have his two signature receivers for most of the day (Odell Beckham didn’t dress, Jarvis Landry got hurt early). But for the second straight week, the Browns receiving board was longer than the phone book. Mayfield only attempted 21 passes and yet he targeted 10 different teammates. Good luck coaxing fantasy value from that stone.

• Elijah Mitchell managers can’t really complain, given that he had 19 touches at Philadelphia (compared to nine for JaMycal Hasty). Mitchell did have a short touchdown run overturned, and couldn’t find much room to operate (17 carries, 42 yards). The Eagles defensive front has been excellent for two straight weeks. I understand anyone who had a backfield need and went aggressively after Mitchell, but the San Francisco backfield is still a week-to-week guessing game for most of us.

• Jalen Hurts did little as a passer, other than one magic 91-yard sideline connection to Quez Watkins (which somehow did not go for a touchdown). But Hurts also scampered for 82 yards and a touchdown on the ground; no matter how his passing day goes, he has a chance to apply some rushing deodorant. He’s a much better fantasy player than real-life one right now. We're just here for the numbers. 

• I've long been a Ryan Fitzpatrick fan, almost an apologist. But I don't see Taylor Heinicke as a major step downward. Sure, Heinicke will have to adjust to future opponents who will be specifically prepared for his tendencies and weaknesses. But I'm not downgrading any of the WFT's key offensive fantasy talent. 

• I'm disappointed — and stunned — that the WFT defense has been so ordinary. Allowing 29 points to Danny Dimes, without a turnover generated? It's time to reevaluate everything. Washington's schedule is about to get nasty — here comes Buffalo in Week 3, Kansas City in Week 6, Green Bay in Week 7 — so I fully understand if you push this DST to the wire. Play for today, gamers. 

• You don't want to grade Miami on a day where its starting quarterback was hurt in the first period, but the Dolphins didn't show much (259 total yards) in a misleading opening-day victory at New England, either. It's very likely the Dolphins are the third-best team in the division. 

• Buffalo's 35 points on the scoreboard didn't jibe with an ordinary day of offensive production: 21 first downs, 314 total yards, 4.9 yards per play (the league's median YPP last year was 5.7). Don't let the final score fool you into thinking everything's sunshine and lollipops right now. 

• I don't know what the Cowboys are going to do about it, but Tony Pollard sure looks better than Zeke Elliott. 

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