Watch this play and let your conscience serve as the arbiter of fantasy justice.
That play came with just under five minutes to go in the first quarter of the second edition of Monday Night Football, when Jared Goff “threw” a 19-yard touchdown pass to Todd Gurley. You could forgive yourself if you didn’t even realize the ball traveled through the air, because it basically didn’t.
For all intents and purposes, this is a handoff, yet it officially counted as a pass. It’s extremely misleading when looking at the box score—nobody watching that live thought, Gosh, what a pristine throw from Jared Goff. More importantly, it wreaked havoc on fantasy football. Todd Gurley earned one point in PPR leagues for this “catch,” and Jared Goff earned four points for a passing touchdown plus the 19 yards (and 0.76 points) Gurley picked up on the ground even though the throw (flick?) traveled maybe the length of your laptop. James Harrison’s fear that football will hand out participation trophies is finally coming to fruition.
This is not an isolated incident. Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes II benefited from the same technicality twice on Sunday and finished with “four” passing touchdowns (two of which combined for 94 yards, while the other two combined for 9.4 inches). He finished with 28.3 fantasy points, good for the fourth-highest score among quarterbacks in Week 1. Remove his two glorified handoffs, and he’d drop down to 20.3 fantasy points and be the 10th-highest-scoring quarterback of the week. This is fantasy anarchy, and it’s likely going to get worse. If Sean McVay and Andy Reid, two of the most respected (and imitated) offensive coaches in the NFL, have already adopted quick flips with great success, it could quickly spread around the copycat league.
We can’t change the rules, which state that a play is a forward pass if “the ball initially moves forward (to a point nearer the opponent’s goal line) after leaving the passer’s hand(s).” What we can do—for fantasy purposes—is change how we value players that may benefit from this loophole. Here are the QBs most likely to benefit from this silly permutation of football legalese.
Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
Without the touchdown “pass” to Gurley, Goff would fall from 15th place to 20th in Week 1 fantasy scoring, right behind Blake Bortles. If the Rams keep that sweep play in their bag of red zone tricks, it could pay huge dividends for him. Gurley had 11 touchdowns on 32 rushing attempts within 10 yards of the end zone last season (both figures led the league). If McVay converts a chunk of those red zone “rush” attempts into “pass” attempts, it could inflate Goff’s touchdown numbers.
Patrick Mahomes II, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were the first team to flash the flick play this week, doing so twice. The first, a toss to De’Anthony Thomas on their first drive of the second half, caught the Chargers so off guard that the four defenders in best position to tackle Thomas for a loss were pointing their hips in the wrong direction when he got the ball.
Even more Chargers defenders were facing the wrong way when the Chiefs ran a nearly identical play for Tyreek Hill for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Any play that gets a team to lose track of Hill at the goal line is well designed. Even on a zoomed-in replay, the pitch is hidden by Kareem Hunt.
The Chiefs seem like the early favorite to lead the league in counterfeit passing scores, which is good news for Mahomes’s fantasy owners.
Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
Trubisky managed seven touchdown passes in 12 starts last year, so if any quarterback could use an artificial boost, it’s him. And if any team is going to steal the Chiefs’ goal-line package, it’s the Bears. New head coach Matt Nagy was Reid’s offensive coordinator in Kansas City last year, and he’s expected to unveil major aspects of the Chiefs’ college concepts throughout the season. Former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich is his offensive coordinator, so this staff won’t be afraid to get weird. It’s not hard to envision the Bears running the above Chiefs play with Jordan Howard replacing Hunt and Tarik Cohen in the Thomas/Hill role.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots
In Week 1 last season, the Chiefs demolished the Patriots by unveiling their spread coast offense. The Patriots used Kansas City’s concepts the next week for a touchdown.
New England just lost Jeremy Hill, who was slated to be the team’s goal-line back, for the season to a torn ACL and has the thinnest receiving group in the league (only Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett played more than 21 percent of New England’s snaps in Week 1), so the Patriots are in dire need of some creative play-calling when Rob Gronkowski is bracketed by defenders in the red zone. If the Patriots head back to Reid’s drawing board for some, er, inspiration, then James White and Rex Burkhead would both be well-suited for a motion turning into a jet sweep.
Nick Foles/Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Doug Pederson is another Reid disciple who proudly adopts ideas that work no matter where they come from, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Eagles roll out a flip-like play in goal-line packages, especially if Carson Wentz doesn’t initially have the same mobility to extend plays that he frequently showed last year. In case you didn’t hear about it 10,000 times during various Week 1 broadcasts, the Philly Special featured a ball being tossed to a tight end on a reverse. Weird flips are already right up Philly’s special alley.