Fast Connections, Week 2: Watkins filling Hill's shoes

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Fantasy football enthusiasts expected fireworks in the first week of the NFL regular season, and the games didn't disappoint. Eight contests featured 50 or more points, most coming through the passing game. Unsurprisingly, fantasy managers with quarterbacks and receivers in those matchups tended to fair well.

Last week's Fast Connections focused on the quarterback-receiver combinations that could start quickly in 2019. Entering Week 2, we look at some tandems that indeed led fantasy managers to success.

Patrick Mahomes to Sammy Watkins, Kansas City Chiefs


Other than a scary moment when Patrick Mahomes limped off the field with an ankle injury, Sunday proved to be just another day for the reigning MVP. He completed 25 of his 33 passes for 378 yards and three touchdowns, enough to push the Chiefs to a decisive 40-26 victory over the Jaguars.

But while Mahomes overcame an injury to have a stellar performance, his usual top target did not. Wideout Tyreek Hill left during the first quarter of Sunday's game early after absorbing a hit from Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey near the sideline. Hill, since diagnosed with a sternoclavicular joint injury in his shoulder, is expected to miss multiple weeks.

But while the Chiefs won't see Hill in the lineup for a while, they look just fine without him. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins stepped into Hill's role admirably in Week 1, hauling in nine passes for a career-high 198 yards and three touchdowns. Watkins' speed has always made him a problem for defenses. Now that he plays a leading role in a high-flying Kansas City offense, he could become one of the best values in fantasy football.

Next Gen Stats says ...

Playing with Mahomes helps any receiver, but Watkins gives his quarterback plenty of opportunities for efficient completions. The sixth-year wideout got open (3 or more yards of separation from the nearest defender) on 36.4 percent of his targets and wide open (5 or more yards) on 18.2 percent. Even deep down the field, those big passing windows constitute layups for a starting quarterback in the NFL. Mahomes certainly recognized the opportunity, targeting Watkins on 34.4 percent of the receiver's routes. Expect the two to continue connecting while Hill remains sidelined.

Lamar Jackson to Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens


The Ravens spent much of the offseason discussing the new offense installed by offensive coordinator Greg Roman would revolutionize offensive football in the NFL. Most assumed that the team planned to devote even more snaps to the ground game, and Mark Ingram did indeed perform well in that capacity in Week 1. However, Lamar Jackson and his connection with rookie wideout Marquise Brown became the talk of Baltimore's season-opening victory over Miami.

Brown, the No. 25 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, missed much of the offseason while recovering from foot surgery. Accordingly, most expected the former college standout to start his rookie campaign slow. Instead, he connected with Jackson for four caches, 147 yards and two scores, helping the Ravens to a dominant 59-10 win.

Next Gen Stats says ...

Baltimore's new scheme plays to Jackson's strengths by funneling much of the passing game down the seams and toward his dominant side. Only three of Jackson's passes didn't target the middle or right areas of the field, and he averaged over 24 yards of air distance per attempt. That approach works well with a vertical threat like Brown, who averaged a team-leading 44.4 yards of distance per route in Week 1. The Ravens don't play the Dolphins every week, but the Jackson-Brown connection shouldn't slow down all too much moving forward.

Drew Brees to Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints


While a dubious non-call in the NFC Championship Game dominated offseason talk in New Orleans, Drew Brees' apparent decline still garnered significant discussion. In fairness, Brees didn't look like himself down the stretch of 2018. He threw as many interceptions and touchdowns during the final four games of the regular season and performed only moderately better against the Eagles and Rams in the playoffs. Now 40, Brees has reached the point in his career where a drop-off could occur at any moment.

But that time has not arrived just yet. Brees resembled his old form in the Saints' season opener against the Texans, completing nearly 75 percent of his throws for 370 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. Brees looked particularly sharp on the team's final drive, connecting on all three of his non-spike pass attempts to set up Wil Lutz's game-winning field goal.

Brees also has one of the NFL's elite receivers at his disposal. Michael Thomas, fresh off a second-team All-Pro season, picked up right where he left off last year. He hauled in 10 of the 13 passes Brees threw his direction for 123 yards. While he didn't reach the end zone, the Saints don't emerge victorious without him.

Next Gen Stats says ...

The Texans didn't try to double-team any Saints receiver but Thomas, but that didn't stop him from creating 3 or more yards of separation on 23.1 percent of his targets. Even when Houston had tight coverage, Thomas managed to make catches other wideouts simply can't. His catch rate (76.9 percent of targets) came in more than 10 percentage points higher than his expected catch rate (66.4 percent). Thomas generally runs shorter routes, but that meshes well with Brees, who ranks fifth in average time to throw (2.53 seconds) since the start of 2016.

-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is a fantasy analyst for NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH

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