Welcome to Week 1and it is the best time of the year! Football is just around the corner and if you are new this season (or returning from last year), I want to say THANK YOU for reading. I know it’s a long article and you have a life. I genuinely appreciate you taking the time to read this one, as it’s my favorite article. We will always be updating this after it’s published every week to keep everything up and up. Without any further ado, let’s jump into the NFL DFS Game by Game Breakdown Week 1 to find out who we like!
QB – For a player that finished the 2020 season sixth in passing touchdowns, eighth in yards, and seventh in air yards, nobody ever seems to really like Kirk Cousins. Cousins was third in yards per attempt and was only 14th in total attempts, showing some efficiency through the air. The Bengals finished last year 19th in passing yards allowed and 27th in passing DVOA, nothing impressive. The issue for gauging this season is the Bengals brought in (or got back from injury) four or five defensive starters. The top three corners are Mike Hilton, Trae Waynes, and Chidobe Awuzie and none of those players recorded a snap for the Bengals last season. If the trends from last season continue, Cousins shouldn’t face much pressure as the Bengals were bottom-three in the league in creating pressure. Cousins was second in clean completion rate at 81.7% so he’s fine if he is a somewhat pricey option on DK.
Update – Rookie lineman Christian Darrisaw is out and that’s not super helpful, but doesn’t take me off any Minnesota skill player.
RB – No other running back had more RZ touches than Dalvin Cook last year and his 312 carries for 1,557 yards were both second in the league. On top of that, he was 11th in routes run and ninth in target share among backs at 13.4%. Cincinnati was 21st in DVOA against the run in 2020 and they gave up almost 2,500 total yards. Only three teams allowed more rushing yards last season and Cook is one of the most reliable fantasy backs in football. His price tag is fair, even if I might prefer a few backs for a little less money. I won’t talk you off from Cook, that’s for sure.
WR – I’ve been a little hesitant buying all the way into Justin Jefferson this year but this passing tree is going to be pretty narrow. It’s Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Cook….and then those three guys all over again. After Jefferson’s breakout in Week 3 of last year, he was targeted at least eight times in eight of the next 113 games and didn’t dip below that mark in the final six contests. Jefferson was 16th in total targets but sixth in target share at 26.5% and eighth in air yards share at 37.1%. Other than being just 29th in RZ targets, Jefferson was excellent in almost every single other metric and that was despite being 38th in catchable rate. He was seventh in FPPR (fantasy points per route) and if he scores a few more touchdowns, he could be a top-five receiver. The matchup against Chidobe Awuzie isn’t a concern as he was 76th in FPPT (fantasy points per target) and allowed a 71.7% catch rate.
The rub with the touchdowns for Jefferson is Thielen is still there and he commanded 20 RZ targets, third-most in the league. Thielen converted for 14 touchdowns on a 25.2% target share and was 10th in air yards share, numbers that could stand up again this year (except he likely doesn’t score 14 times again). Thielen never left the field and played the third-highest snap share at 92.1%. He should face Mike Hilton for some of the game and that’s another non-worrisome matchup. Hilton played a good bit of slot for the Steelers last year and if the Bengals expand on his role of a 42.3% snap share, I’m not sure how well he holds up. Trae Waynes didn’t play virtually any slot last year and if he’s on Thielen, he allowed a 1.82 FPPT.
Update – Waynes is out for this game and Hilton likely sticks in the slot. Thielen will face Eli Apple, who couldn’t even stick with the Panthers last season. This stack with Jefferson, Thielen, and Cousins really is extremely appealing with a concentrated target share and a dynamite matchup.
TE – Oh look, a punt at the position! It’s becoming apparent that I’m either going a full punt, Pitts, or the elite route at this position. Irv Smith is gone for the season and while the Vikings did trade for Chris Herndon, Tyler Conklin is still there and actually produced at the end of last year.
Tyler Conklin in final 4 games of last year (Kyle Rudolph was out, Irv Smith was in):* 69% of the snaps* 181 snaps in-line, 19 slot or wide* Ran a route on 65% of Cousins' dropbacks* Saw 21 targets for a 13.7% share * Went 15-168-1— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) September 1, 2021
Tyler Conklin in final 4 games of last year (Kyle Rudolph was out, Irv Smith was in):* 69% of the snaps* 181 snaps in-line, 19 slot or wide* Ran a route on 65% of Cousins' dropbacks* Saw 21 targets for a 13.7% share * Went 15-168-1
The Bengals were another team that struggled to contain the position last year with almost 15 DK points a game gave up and Smith and Kyle Rudolph combined for around a 22% target share last season. The passing game for the Vikings is going to be so condensed that Conklin is very much in the running for a punt option. I wonder if he even picks up some steam among the industry through the week.
D/ST – I really like the potential for Minny in this spot. The Bengals have not shown they can protect Joe Burrow consistently and the Vikings get Danielle Hunter back after he missed all of 2020. Hunter was third in sacks in 2019 and Burrow has not played more than a handful of snaps after blowing out his knee. They were poor in pressure rate at under 20% last year but they also blitzed only 26.9% of the time. The secondary wouldn’t allow risks through a good portion of the season but more experience now does help.
Update – Linebacker Anthony Barr is out. I’ve cooled on the Vikings defense a little because it just seems very easy to find an extra $300 for the Denver defense this week.
Cash Plays – Cook, Jefferson, Conklin
GPP Plays – Thielen, Cousins, D/ST
QB – I will have a bit of a hard time playing Joe Burrow on this slate. The camp reports have been all over the board and he’s only had a handful of snaps in the preseason after reconstructive knee surgery. It also doesn’t help Burrow that the Vikings will get a pass rusher, Danielle Hunter, back after he missed the entire year in 2020. The Cincinnati offensive line allowed Burrow to be pressured over 24% of the time and Burrow struggled mightily with a 25% completion rate under pressure. Burrow was also just 27th in FPPD (fantasy points per dropback), 26th in yards per attempt, and 22nd in air yards per game. That makes sense that if you can’t really protect the QB, he can’t let downfield routes develop. They did bring in Riley Reiff to play tackle but i’s stretch to say that solves everything. Minnesota finished 14th in DVOA against the pass last year without their best pass rusher and that makes Burrow deep GPP only for me.
RB – There are not many more polarizing players than Joe Mixon in the fantasy community. Some have sworn him off totally, others think he will smash this season. I’m somewhat in-between but he was averaging around 24 touches per game and that’s the kind of volume we love. Minnesota also had their struggles against the run last season, allowing the sixth-most rushing yards and finishing 30th in DVOA against the run. Mixon was ninth in snap share at 66% and he’s going to get opportunities as long as he’s on the field. He’s not super pricey and could fly under the radar here.
Update – He may not be near as under the radar as I thought. It seems the industry is happier to play him than I thought, so let’s monitor that through the week. I assumed with how some folks seemed to hate him, he’d not be super popular.
WR – This could be the wrong way to approach it, but Ja’Marr Chase is out of my pool until he has some sort of flash. I’m not down on him long-term, but he’s shaking off not playing football for a long period of time and that’s tougher to get behind. I’m focused on Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd and the salary for Higgins is exceptionally low. The fact Higgins finished 67/908/6 with some of the quarterbacks the Bengals trotted out last year is incredible. He also ranks 16th in unrealized air yards, meaning there were a lot of plays left on the table last year. He’ll improve on his 74.5% snap rate this year and the Bashaud Breeland matchup works out as well. I grant you that Breeland played well with Kansas City last year but he did allow an 11.3 YPR last season and Higgins isn’t priced accurately at all in my opinion. He earned 107 targets as it was last year and that was with A.J. Green sucking up 104 targets himself.
Boyd is the quintessential slot receiver, sitting in that formation 76% of the time last year (fourth-most in the NFL). He only had a 21.9% target share but again, AJG is gone and Chase may not be there yet. It did lead Boyd to sit 16th in RZ targets and 20th in receptions last year. Despite only sitting 55th in yards per route, Boyd suffered through only 89 of his 110 targets being deemed catchable. The plan seems to be for Minnesota to put Mackensie Alexander in the slot as he played 54.1% of his snaps there last season. He only allowed 7.4 FPPG (fantasy points per game) which was the third-best in the league. With the volume Cincy is likely to pass, I’m not super worried about the matchup but I definitely prefer Higgins.
TE – C.J. Uzomah is back from injury but I’m struggling to find a reason to play him. The Bengals have three very legitimate receivers (Chase isn’t going to drop passes forever) and Mixon will be involved in the passing game. He did have an 11.7% target share in parts of two games but there’s no telling if that would have continued and that was before spending a high pick on Chase. We have better options even in this salary range.
D/ST – The Bengals only got a 19% pressure rate and were dead last in sacks last season. The remade secondary could help, but not enough that I’m willing to play them this week. I don’t see the big-play ability worth the risk.
Cash Plays – Higgins, Cook
GPP Plays Boyd, Chase
QB – This game is interesting because even though the O/U is the same as the Vikings game, I believe there is far more fantasy intrigue in this one. When you play Jalen Hurts, you’re not exactly going just after passing production more than the Konami code of his rushing ability. It’s hard to take anything concrete from his starts last year because the Eagles were a disaster and they have a new coaching staff. However, in the three games Hurts started and finished, he posted 106, 63, and 69 rushing yards and finished as a QB1 (no lower than QB12) every week. That included a boom game against the Cardinals when he was the highest-scoring quarterback on the week. In those games, he threw one touchdown in two of them. It shows just how valuable rushing yards can be. The Falcons did finish ninth in rushing yards allowed to opposing quarterbacks and 19th in DVOA against the pass and neglected to bring in any impact-free agents on that side of the ball. If he can improve on a 57.4% catchable pass rate, 64.9% clean completion rate, and a true completion rate of 58.8%, Hurts is going to be a weapon in fantasy. He’s a safe play with some upside to go with it seeing as how Atlanta allowed the most passing yards per game in 2020.
RB – I will be the first to tell you that I am not a Miles Sanders guy. He was only getting about 13 carries per game last season and four targets per game. While 17 potential touches aren’t terrible, he’s not coming cheaply either. Sanders played 12 games last year and was outside the top 15 at his position eight times, which isn’t the best rate for a back that’s $6,500. Atlanta was also surprisingly tough on backs last year, ranking sixth in DVOA against the run and allowing only the second-fewest rushing yards to backs. They were only one of five teams to allow less than 1,200 rushing yards.
Having said all of that, Sanders is still a strong pick. Why? Well, the first aspect is the offensive line is healthy where it was not last season. Secondly, new coach Nick Sirianni is talking about accentuating the strengths of the Hurts/Sanders pair. When they played together last season, Sanders averaged over 100 scrimmage yards and scored three touchdowns. While Sarianni has spoken about keeping Sanders fresh, I don’t think Boston Scott is the new Nyheim Hines, if we’re comparing the situation to Indy. That’s where Sarianni was the OC for the past three seasons and we should expect Sanders to get a healthy workload behind an offensive line that can still play at a high level.
WR – Most of the attention this year will go to Devonta Smith, and that happens when you win the Heisman Trophy and are a very high draft pick. What he lacks in size he makes up for in speed and route-running ability. He could see some of A.J. Terrell who had a rough rookie year last season. He can run with Smith as they both were at a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, but Terrell allowed 1.87 FPPT and a 108.4 passer rating. No corner allowed more yards than his 1,039 and Smith isn’t the only receiver with upside.
Figuring out who will get more run between Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins is going to be important. Reagor should have the leg up but Watkins has impressed all through the preseason. With two tight ends to utilize, I’m not sure how often Philly will be in 11 personnel this year but for now, I’d assume Reagor is getting the first crack opposite Smith. He’s still just 22 years old and Philly spent a first-round pick on him. What he does have going for him is he was 97th in catchable targets last year, just 37 targets. There were almost 500 air yards left unrealized and he could face corner Kendall Sheffield. That player gave up a 1.79 FPPT across 82 targets last year. We could see this one shootout in the dome and the entire passing game tree is very cheap on the Philly side.
TE – The Eagles played two tight ends at one of the highest rates in football last season at 35%, meaning they could do it again since Zach Ertz was not traded and Dallas Goedert is still there. I think he’s in a no man’s land for salary and I’m not really going to play him, but don’t be shocked by Ertz having a strong game here. This offense is going to be different than last season but Ertz still had the highest target share at 18.9% and he and the organization have mended fences. He was poor last year but only 58% of his targets were catchable, 40th at the tight end position. It’s not something that’s just going to transfer, but it should be noted Atlanta gave up 91 receptions to tight ends last year, tied for the second-most. Geodert had a 21.4% share of the RZ targets and is in play, but I’d rather go with the cheaper player.
D/ST – The defense might go overlooked, but there are times where defenses can be useful in shootout scripts because of sacks and turnovers. That is an area that Philly can do some damage as they ranked second in pressure rate last year and sacked the quarterback 49 times, third-most. They only generated 19 turnovers but if they can constantly harass Ryan, the Falcons offense can go off the rails.
Update – Starting strong safety Rodney McLeod is out, which only raises the potential for the Falcons pass catchers like Ridley and Pitts.
Cash Plays – Hurts, Sanders
GPP Plays – Ertz, Smith, Reagor, D/ST
QB – If this game does shoot out, Matt Ryan has some big-time potential as well at a very affordable price. Philly was 24th in DVOA against the pass last season and seemingly has been a pass funnel defense since…well, forever. Ryan is not going to help in the rushing department like Hurts will but he finished first in air yards, fourth in passing yards, and first in attempts last year. That is sure to dial back a little bit this season with a new coach in Arthur Smith, formerly of Tennessee. Sure, Coach Smith doesn’t have the luxury of Derrick Henry in the backfield on this team but I’m not banking on Ryan finishing first in passing attempts again this year. The largest obstacle for Ryan is the Philly pass rush. Last season, they were second in generating pressure at 27.9% in spite of being bottom-five in the blitz rate. Ryan was only 19th in pressured completion rate at 40.2% but the Falcons could be in more pass-heavy scripts than they would like this year. Both teams were inside the top-eight in pace last year (it’s worth noting that Philly was 17th in neutral scripts) and Ryan is at a very solid price in the dome.
RB – Figuring out Mike Davis is not going to be an easy task. He was the only show in town with Carolina through a lot of 2020 and he had three straight weeks of top 10 finishes after CMC got hurt. Then things went south, with only two finishes above RB20 in the next 10 games. He prepared a little bit differently for being the starter this offseason, but that’s still a red flag for me. We’re talking four strong games out of 13, not a high ratio. I will grant you that there’s realistically no depth behind him, but that was the case last year as well. Philly was 13th against the run last year in DVOA, which was a small step back for them. They still were inside the top 12 in rushing yards allowed and the eighth-fewest receptions. I’m not a huge believer in the talent so this play isn’t for me and now Wayne Gallman is in the backfield as well.
WR – This will make certain members of the Discord angry, but corner Darius Slay is going to get torn up by Calvin Ridley. Not only is Julio Jones elsewhere now, but Ridley was also a monster already last season. He was second in air yards share at 41.4%, first in total air yards, first in deep targets, second in RZ targets, fourth in receiving yards, ninth in touchdowns, and fourth in FPPG. Any other questions? This man is under $8,000. I’m not trying to say that Slay is a bad corner. He’s just not elite. Slay was targeted 103 times last year. NFL teams don’t go after elite corners like that and Slay allowed 76 receptions and a 104.6 passer rating. He is the third-highest salaried receiver but still feels like a bargain. Safety Anthony Harris is going to help over the top but that’s certainly not a reason to shy away.
I don’t exactly mind Russell Gage, but I think he’s solidly overpriced for being the third option in this passing game. We have a lot of other value receivers to go with that are under $5,000. Granted, PPR is his best format and he had a target share of over 18% but Kyle Pitts should bite into that and the 14 RZ and 10 EZ targets Gage had in 2020. The salary is just too much for me on this slate.
TE – Oh baby, it will be fun to play Kyle Pitts this season. This kid is not yet 21 years old and runs a 4.49 at 6’6″ and 245 pounds. That’s a Madden Create a Player and I could care less if he can block. That’s mostly what Hayden Hurst is for and you do not take Pitts at the fourth overall pick to block. Julio Jones accumulated 25% of the air yards last year and an 18% target share with eight EZ targets. Even if Pitts gets just a majority of that….he’s not priced accurately at $4,500. The linebackers of Philly are going to have their hands absolutely full in this matchup and I won’t be shocked if Pitts is routinely over $6,500 this season.
D/ST – They have a new DC in Dean Pees, but the only time his defenses have done well was in Baltimore when he had a talented roster to work with. That’s not exactly what he has in Atlanta and they only got to the quarterback 29 times. They did manage to hurry the quarterback 10.4% of the time, which was ninth in the league. That could easily backfire with Hurts taking off out of the pocket so I’m not playing the Falcons.
Cash Plays – Ryan, Ridley, Pitts
GPP Plays – Davis
QB – This game stands to be among the most popular on the slate and for good reason. We get a close spread, a high O/U, and both teams were in the top-five in the pace of play altogether and top-three in neutral game scripts. Anytime Kyler Murray is under $8,000 on DK, he feels like an absolute bargain. Kyler is one of the new breeds of quarterbacks that contributes on the ground and through the air, as he finished third in carries among his colleagues, fourth in RZ (red zone) carries, and second in rushing yards among quarterbacks. There may actually be even more rushing upside hidden in those numbers since there was a three-week stretch where he had an injured shoulder and rushed a combined 15 times. Murray combined for 94 total RZ opportunities with passing and rushing attempts and for context, Deshaun Watson led with 85 RZ pass attempts. Tennessee was 30th in DVOA against the pass last season and while they did add to their defensive front, the secondary remains a sharp concern. Kyler is likely my favorite high-end spend at the position.
RB – It’s possible that both Chase Edmonds and James Conner could both pay off the price tags in a shootout. I wonder if they will be more like the Edmonds/Kenyan Drake combo last season when Drake had 239 rushes and 56 of those came inside the red zone. Edmonds only had 97 and 13 which were both third on the team behind Kyler as well. Now, I think that gap closes and both Conner and Edmonds could be looking at 150-ish carries but Conner could still be the RZ back. Edmonds finished seventh in receptions among running backs but Conner is perfectly capable as a receiver as well. Tennessee was 16th in DVOA against the run and there should be plenty of opportunities in this game. I would slightly rather Edmonds, but we truly don’t know what the split is going to be.
WR – I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kyler throw it at least 40 times in this one even though he only did it four times last season. The Cardinals secondary is going to have a real issue containing the Titans pass game and Deandre Hopkins is going to continue to be heavily targeted. He saw 160 last year which was second in the league and he was 10th in air yards. Nuk also finished second in receptions and yards so he’s well worth a spend in this game script. Tennessee brought in Janoris Jenkins who is a fine corner, but not one that can slow down Hopkins.
It appears that A.J. Green may well be the second receiver in Arizona and that is a valuable role. Green was third in unrealized air yards last year and only saw a 60.6% rate of catchable passes. The improvement in QB play and pace of this game should help and he’s a very cheap way to get exposure to this game environment. Don’t forget Christian Kirk either as he had a 16.3% target share so even if AJG takes the Larry Fitzgerald of 2020 share at 16.1%, Kirk will still see some volume. I’d likely side with Green, but let’s keep an eye on practice reports through the week.
TE – Kliff Kingsbury’s offense has had zero use for tight ends in his tenure and there is no reason to think that has changed this season.
D/ST – A team facing Julio, AJB, Henry, and Tannehill is not going to be attractive defensively probably all year long. Tennessee only took 25 sacks last year and turned it over 12 times, the second-fewest in the league.
Cash Plays – Kyler, Hopkins
GPP Plays – Edmonds, Conner, AJG
QB – Efficiency, thy name is Ryan Tannehill. Not many players can finish as the QB9 when they rank 18th in attempts and 15th in yards, but Tannehill threw 33 touchdowns and seventh in yards per attempt. There are maybe some hidden yards as Tannehill was ninth in air yards last year but 40th in deep-ball completion rate at 33.3%. A receiver like Julio Jones could help that metric an awful lot. Perhaps the worst thing I can say about Tannehill is his offensive coordinator from last season is gone and that isn’t the most helpful aspect. Tannehill was ninth in points per drop back and while I think it’s hard to mess up an offense that boasts Julio, A.J. Brown, and Derrick Henry, it has to be noted that the offense is different. Tannehill faces a strong pass-rushing duo of Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt, but he was 12th in completion rate under pressure in 2020. Arizona was ninth in both DVOA against the pass and pressure rate last year, but I still like Tannehill in a shootout-style game.
RB – Maybe this is a crazy take, but I’m typically not on Derrick Henry unless it’s a matchup that I simply can’t pass up. The guy is ridiculous and he’s coming off a season where he rushed for over 2,000 yards but he’s also approaching 700 carries across the past two seasons. That’s an awful lot, even for a cyborg-like Henry. He also has a super limited receiving upside with a total of 52 receptions across three seasons. Arizona was 10th in DVOA against the run and theoretically improved their defense this year with Watt. I’m not here to tell you that Henry is a terrible play, but I do think we can spend this high salary a bit more wisely. This game could be one that slants towards the passing game and a player like Alvin Kamara sitting there for $200 less with absurd reception potential is tough to pass up.
WR – The duo of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones should be able to get open at will in this game. The corners are Tay Gowan and Byron Murphy Jr. and they are flat out overmatched. Brown was the WR6 in points per game and his metrics are frightening. Consider he produced that despite ranking 28th in snap share, 58th in routes run, 29th in RZ targets, 31st in air yards, 27th in receptions, and just 14th in receiving yards. That’s absolutely crazy and Julio is easily the best receiver he’s ever played with. If some of the metrics go up for Brown, the sky is the limit. The metrics for Julio aren’t as important because he was injured so much last season. As long as he’s healthy, neither of those corners has anything for Julio. Let’s not forget, Tennessee lost almost 30% of their target share from 2020 in Jonnu Smith and Adam Humphries. Even if they just crawl up to average in pass attempts from 30th last year, both of these receivers can have big games.
TE – Anthony Firkser has had some attention in the draft season because Jonnu Smith moved on to New England and some folks are buying the narrative that Arizona can’t defend the tight end. That was very true in 2019 when they were dead last against the position. However, in 2018 and 2020, they were inside the top six. There could be a valuable role if he just took the Jonnu Smith role since Smith had a 30.9% RZ share and 15.5% for the target share. However, last year’s team did not have Julio on it and they have a new OC. This isn’t a spot where the stats are sure to transfer over. I’m not particularly interested myself.
D/ST – Certainly not, with Arizona taking under 30 sacks last year and having playmakers at every level. Neither defense in this game has much reason to be played.
Cash Plays – Tannehill, AJB, Julio
GPP Plays – Henry
QB – I don’t think Trevor Lawerence is some spectacular value or anything like that, but playing against this Houston defense in your first game isn’t the worst draw. They were 29th in DVOA against the pass last season allowed the 10th most passing yards. They are in full tank mode so we shouldn’t expect much different this year. We obviously don’t have a lot to go off for Lawerence at the NFL level past the preseason, but the last time we saw him on the field he torched the Cowboys for 139 yards and two scores. There is no player to worry about behind him with Gardner Minshew being dealt to Philly, so Lawerence is going to be the man (as he always was going to be). This play is mostly picking on the Texans and believing in the talent that Lawerence has shown the past three seasons at Clemson.
RB – When I first saw that rookie Travis Etienne was injured and out for the year, I assumed James Robinson was going to be the chalk. That may well still be the case but J-Rob is at a fair price as opposed to super cheap. Last year saw him sit sixth in snap share, carries, and ninth in receptions. He was the only player in the Jacksonville backfield, basically. There is some perception that will be the case again, but I’m going to throw some cold water on that. The new coaching staff with Urban Meyer saw fit to spend a first-round pick on Etienne, despite all the other needs. Carlos Hyde was also brought in and I suspect he might share more work than most think. Through 66 snaps with Lawrence this preseason, Robinson has 33 snaps and Hyde has 28. Houston was 30th in DVOA against the run last year and surrendered the most rushing yards in the league. This is a strong matchup especially now that Jacksonville has a real quarterback at the helm, but I don’t know if J-Rob sees 20-22 touches. You could argue for Hyde in deep GPP at the minimum price for a running back.
WR – Just go ahead and pencil in Marvin Jones this week in the lineup This game is one between two bad defenses and could wind up high scoring, and Jones is going to be a security blanket for Lawerence. He played 89.6% of the snaps last year for Detroit, seventh-most in the NFL. Jones was also 16th in RZ targets and you can say what you want about Lawerence in his first game – he is better than the Detroit quarterbacks in 2020. Jones was at least 26th in FPPG, receptions, and yards last year. Every Houston corner gave up at least a 1.55 FPPT last year so regardless of who Jones has, he’s going to get it done. The salary does not make sense.
One of the reasons why I like Jones so much is because I think both D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault are sort of pricey. We honestly don’t know exactly how this offense will prioritize targets and I have very little trust in Urban Meyer and his staff. Jones having production behind him with trash quarterbacks and coming in $2,200 cheaper than Chark seems like a slam dunk. If there’s a player to pair up with Jones in a double stack (or potentially get off the chalk with Jones), it could well be Chark. He was 19th in air yards last year, fifth in deep targets with 29 and ninth in unrealized air yards. Chark only saw a 71% catchable rate, which was 90th in the league. Lawrence should help with those metrics and Chark does bring 4.3 speed. All it would take is one big play for him and Shenault should be working in the slot, which could rack up 5/50 with no real opposition.
TE – There is not a tight end of fantasy relevance on the Jaguars at this point. With three receivers and running backs getting targets, there’s not a case to be made for a play here.
D/ST – No thank you even though the Houston offense will likely not be good. The Jaguars are in the middle of an overhaul and finished with the fifth-lowest pressure rate last year. They only had 18 sacks which were the second-fewest and generated just 17 turnovers.
Cash Plays – Robinson, Jones Jr.
GPP Plays – Lawerence, Chark, Hyde
QB – Whoooo boy are the Texans going to be difficult to write about most of the way. Tyrod Taylor only had 30 attempts last season before a freak medical accident forced rookie Justin Herbert into the lineup on short notice. Taylor accomplished very little in his lone game last year on a much more talented offense. The best argument you can make is the game script, but if the Jags don’t get out ahead in this one it’s pretty difficult to see the upside for Taylor. We want quarterbacks that have a ton of upside, not just hitting a 2.5x on their salary. Even a player like Jameis Winston for $100 cheaper is much more appealing in my eyes.
RB – This is a super long article and I appreciate everyone reading so I’m going to do something I won’t normally do. Just say no to Texans’ running backs. Their head coach has openly said it’s an RBBC (running back by committee) with four players potentially involved. One of Phillip Lindsay, Mark Ingram, David Johnson, and maybe even Rex Burkhead could go for 3x. Having said that, there are zero reasons to chase this split in that offense. Michael did mean Mark Ingram, as he corrected himself in another tweet.
#Texans RB usage today with Tyrod Taylor – Melvin Ingram: 37% snaps, 7 carries, 1 target (19 yards)– David Johnson: 33% snaps, 4 carries, 1 target (30 yards)– Phillip Lindsay: 19% snaps, 5 carries, 0 targets (15 yards)— Michael F. Florio (@MichaelFFlorio) August 29, 2021
#Texans RB usage today with Tyrod Taylor – Melvin Ingram: 37% snaps, 7 carries, 1 target (19 yards)– David Johnson: 33% snaps, 4 carries, 1 target (30 yards)– Phillip Lindsay: 19% snaps, 5 carries, 0 targets (15 yards)
WR – The quality of quarterback play is certainly in question, but Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins are in really interesting spots and are not expensive at all. Let’s talk about Cooks first since he is the clear alpha in the passing game and finished last year 18th in targets and 20th in target share. He had one of the quietest 81/1,150/6 seasons in memory and was the WR17 in PPG. The game scripts are likely to go negative most of the year for Houston, this week possibly included. Corner C.J. Henderson was rumored to be on the trade block already but he only allowed 36 receptions last year in an 80.3% snap share. Cooks won’t have a speed advantage as Henderson matches his 4.3 40-yard speed. He’s totally fine but I don’t think I’m going here unless it’s a game stack.
I actually prefer Collins as he should be the WR2 in this offense. This is a Stix Special has Nico has been his dude the entire offseason and we know to listen to Stix. The Texans cut Keke Coutee last week and that leaves Cooks, Collins, and Chris Conley as the top three receivers. Houston spent a top-100 pick on him in this past draft and the loss of Will Fuller, Coutee, and Randall Cobb combined for 57% of the air yards share and almost 50% of the target share. Collins just isn’t nearly expensive enough, regardless of where he’s going to line up and which corner he’s facing.
TE – Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but I can actually see Jordan Akins being a dart play. Taylor has liked his tight ends throughout his career and there are a ton of 2020 targets no longer on the team (270, to be exact). Akins was at an 11.8% target share last year as it was and if they have to take to the air a lot, Cooks and Nico won’t get every target available. He’s far from a sure thing but he’s the type of stealth play that could be a difference-maker in GPP. Touchdowns are notoriously tricky to project year to year, but Jacksonville gave up 13 last year and that was the second-most. Even some improvement would mean 8-9 scores.
D/ST – They’re taking on a rookie quarterback and I couldn’t be less interested in a defense totally devoid of talent.
Cash Plays – Collins, Cooks
GPP Plays – Akins
QB – There are going to be weeks that I want to play Ben Roethlisberger, but this week is not likely to be one of them. The dislike for Big Ben has gone too far in seasonal drafting since he still threw 33 touchdowns and was 12th in points per game but the salary isn’t super low and the Bills were 12th in DVOA against the pass last season. Oh, by the way, the Bills spent their first two picks on pass rushers and get back Star Lotulelei after he sat out 2020. Big Ben was volume-dependent last season as he finished a terrible 39th in FPPD (fantasy points per dropback), 48th in deep-ball completion rate, and 32nd in clean completion rate. According to Ben, his lack of arm strength was not helped by doing so much rehab coming into the 2020 season. It does make sense, but I’m not willing to play him in Buffalo in this scenario. Buffalo blitzed at the eighth-highest rate last year and that could be a large issue for a re-made offensive line.
Update – Lotulelei is out with a calf injury, which does raise the passing game just a bit and helps out Najee Harris.
RB – It makes me impossibly sad to likely pass on Najee Harris in Week 1. To put it out there, I’m extremely high on the young man out of Alabama as I think he’s going to get a monster workload in this offense. Health permitting, I think we’re looking at over 300 carries and at least 45-50 receptions. However, I think the Steelers could struggle in this game with the new offensive line against the Buffalo defense, as stated in the Big Ben portion. The Bills were top 12 in DVOA against the run and 17th in rushing yards allowed. They weren’t exactly dominant but I’m not sure just how long the Steelers stay in this one to continue running the ball. They were not vulnerable through the air against running backs (although I think Najee is a mismatch out of the backfield) and it’s a high salary to pay if you’re not sure on the rushing yards. Get back to me next week against the Raiders at home because I’m likely smashing that button.
WR – Diontae Johnson is the most expensive Steelers receiver and maybe that’s exactly what he should be.
Diontae Johnson (2020)– postseason included, games (4) with an injury suffered in the first-half excluded+ 12 total games+ 12.3 targets per game (1st)+ 19.6 XFP per game (2nd)+ 19.4 FPG (4th)+ 10+ targets in 11 of 11 games Ben Roethlisberger playedADP: WR18— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) September 1, 2021
Diontae Johnson (2020)– postseason included, games (4) with an injury suffered in the first-half excluded+ 12 total games+ 12.3 targets per game (1st)+ 19.6 XFP per game (2nd)+ 19.4 FPG (4th)+ 10+ targets in 11 of 11 games Ben Roethlisberger playedADP: WR18
Big Ben absolutely loves Johnson and he finished sixth in the NFL in targets. He could actually avoid Tre White as the projected matchup could have him see Levi Wallace instead. I sort of hesitate with that since Pittsburgh has a new OC and they’re using motion more in the preseason. Wallace was strong last season across 76 targets as he only allowed an 81.2 passer rating and 1.52 FPPT, 23rd in the league. I think the Steelers trail a lot in this one so the matchup doesn’t give me much pause.
Everyone seems to be enamored with Chase Claypool, and that makes plenty of sense. His combo of speed and size are rare, but if he doesn’t play more than 63% of the snaps than he did in 2020, that’s going to be an issue. Pittsburgh didn’t run as many three-receiver sets as last year in the preseason which could be a small issue. They were at 75% last season and we could see them drop from that rate. I’d be surprised if Johnson or JuJu Smith-Schuster left the field very often. Claypool had a 16.7% target share last year while Johnson was at 22.9% and JuJu was at 19.6%. Pittsburgh values the blocking JuJu brings (and they should).
In this game, I think all three are viable but it is something we need to keep an eye on. Claypool would see the most of White at cornerback, but he’s a large mismatch as far as size. White also wasn’t as strong last year, ranking 67th last year in FPPT and he allowed a 64% catch rate. If JuJu plays from the slot as he did for most of last year, Taron Johnson is the matchup and he ranked 12th in FPPT and sixth in FPPG. I have them ranked Johnson, Claypool, then JuJu.
TE – This is a deep GPP special ONLY, but I’m actually more interested in rookie Pat Freiermuth in this setting. With the Steelers coming into the game as heavy underdogs, we can project they will have to pass a good deal. The rookie out of Penn State checks in at 6’5″ and Big Ben has talked about liking tall targets in the RZ basically his entire career. In the only action we saw from the veteran quarterback in the preseason, he found Freiermuth twice in the end zone for six. At the minimum price, it takes only one score to hit 3x and I think he’s going to play a significant role in the red zone. Eric Ebron is still there between the 20’s and his 91 targets last season are no joke, but it’s hard to project that again. Pittsburgh ideally doesn’t want to throw the ball 41 times a game and Ebron had a 14.9% target share, 15th among tight ends.
D/ST – Seeing as how I’m on record saying they’re going to get steamrolled, I will not look twice at them this week. They were an elite defense last year by about every metric we could look at but a lot has changed and the matchup is horrendous.
Cash Plays – Diontae
GPP Plays – Claypool, JuJu, Harris, Freiermuth
QB – Josh Allen has officially secured the bag this offseason, and good for him. If Kyler comes in as chalky, Allen could be a big-time pivot. Yes, Pittsburgh was one of the best defenses in football in 2020 …but this is not the same defense. They lost Bud Dupree, Steve Nelson, and Mike Hilton to start. Stalwarts Stephon Tuitt and T.J. Watt have yet to play or even practice as of Monday, August 30th. (Tuitt has since been placed on IR)
When these teams tangled last year, Allen was QB12 and he only had 28 rushing yards. The matchup is not that scary since Allen finished last season fifth in pass yards, sixth in attempts, fourth in RZ pass attempts (123 total opportunities), and 11th in FPPD. His 43% completion rate under pressure was just 24th, but the Pittsburgh defense could be severely hampered in that aspect in Week 1. Even if Allen sees a slight downtick in rushing attempts from his 102 last season, he’s going to still run a bit and his receiving corps is excellent. Buffalo has also given us hints to exactly what kind of offense they’re going to run –
Buffalo pass rate in neutral game script in Weeks 1-8: 56% (17th in the league during that span)Weeks 9-17: 67% (2nd)Pass rate on 100 neutral-script plays across three playoff games: 69%Starters in 2021 preseason finale: 12 snaps, 12 dropbacks— Jack Miller (@JackMiller02) September 3, 2021
Buffalo pass rate in neutral game script in Weeks 1-8: 56% (17th in the league during that span)Weeks 9-17: 67% (2nd)Pass rate on 100 neutral-script plays across three playoff games: 69%Starters in 2021 preseason finale: 12 snaps, 12 dropbacks
RB – I may have questions about the Steelers’ defense, but I think they will still be above average in stopping the run. Zack Moss and Devin Singletary are sharing this backfield and realistically, if Allen’s role doesn’t change, they’re only going to get a small share of RZ work. Last year, Allen had 24 carries, Moss had 28, and Singletary had 20. Allen had the lead closer to the goal line as well, so there seems to be a ceiling on these backs if things continue. That could be up in the air but I suspect that OC Brian Daboll attacks this defense through the air. Last year, Allen had 43 attempts against the Steelers which was his third-most of the season. With a firmly split backfield, a tougher matchup, and potentially limited touchdown opportunity, we can find better plays.
WR – I absolutely love Stefon Diggs this week. People may shy away with the red 9th next to his name for the matchup but I do not care. Diggs led the league in targets, receptions, and yards last year and we already talked about some of the issues for the Pittsburgh defense. Their secondary is far worse than it was last season, with Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick the lone strong players. I give credit to Haden that he finished last year in the top 25 in FPPT, FPPG, passer rating allowed, and catch rate allowed. He is still going to have his hands full and at age 32, I’m not sure how much longer he can play at this level.
Buffalo played 11 personnel with three receivers 71% of the time last year, which means that Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley should see the field an awful lot. Some combo of Cameron Sutton, Justin Layne, and James Pierre is going to be charged with keeping them contained. None of these players logged a snap rate over 38% last year and this is a distinct advantage for Buffalo. If they spread the field out and the Steelers can’t generate a pass rush, this secondary will get torched.
Update 1 – Emmanuel Sanders is questionable and if he’s out, we can bump up Beasley and especially Gabe Davis. Beasley wouldn’t move out of the slot so Davis would be on the boundary opposite of Haden quite often.
Update 2 – The Steelers did swing a trade to acquire corner Ahkello Witherspoon but he also played under 40% of snaps last year. It’s a steep learning curve to play in one week and the fact Seattle traded him with the corners they have…. shouldn’t scare anyone away from Buffalo receivers.
TE – I’m not looking this way since I’m far more interested in the receivers. Dawson Knox had a target share of just 9.4% last year and the Bills added Sanders to the receiving corps. Even if Manny Sanders just fills the 2020 John Brown role, Knox isn’t anything special. There are better options that are cheaper in my eyes.
D/ST – I think the offseason hate for Pittsburgh has gone a little far with Buffalo potentially being the chalk defense. By all means, play them in cash. They only got a 22.2% pressure rate and even with additional pass rushers added in the draft, Pittsburgh accentuates getting the ball out fast. They were the only team to not allow more than 20 sacks last year and only turned the ball over 18 times. Buffalo was excellent in turning the ball over at 26 but I’m not sure there’s a big ceiling.
Cash Plays – Allen, Diggs, D/ST
GPP Plays – Sanders, Beasley, Davis
QB – Jimmy Garoppolo will draw the start, but it’s only a matter of time before Trey Lance takes over. That might not happen full-time in this game, but the 49ers are already talking about specific packages for Lance. The highest upside spot for his playmaking ability is in the RZ, and that could really cap Jimmy G’s upside. Think of it like when Taysom Hill came in for the Saints and vultured a Drew Brees touchdown. San Fran shouldn’t have to keep their foot on the gas pedal in this game so I’m going to limit my exposure to this team, with one major exception.
RB – Is it too early to say that I really like Raheem Mostert on this slate? Yes, the 49ers drafted Trey Sermon and I expect this to be the typical Kyle Shanahan-style rotation at some point. What I don’t expect is that to happen this week because the 49ers cut Wayne Gallman and Jeff Wilson is on the PUP list. Their running backs heading into this game will be Mostert, Sermon, fellow rookie Elijah Mitchell, and Jamycal Hasty. Hasty had all of 39 carries last season so I fully expect Mostert to get the majority of work as one of the biggest favorites on the slate. He’s got 4.4 speed and the 49ers rattled off almost 120 rushing yards a game last year despite the litany of injuries on the offensive side. Detroit was bottom-five in DVOA against the run and allowed the fifth-most rushing yards. Mostert is way. Too. Cheap. He may only get 12-14 touches but that will be enough to carry value in my eyes.
WR – The passing game is somewhat difficult to project but we assume Brandon Aiyuk will have the most valuable role in the receiving corps. He was 16th in snaps share and earned 96 targets as a rookie, converting for 60/748/7. He only had a 72.9% catchable rate and to say the quarterback play was mostly poor is being generous. It’s duly noted that George Kittle missed a lot of time last season, but Aiyuk’s 14 RZ targets were inside the top 16 across all receivers. He should face Amani Oruwariye for a good portion of the game and he allowed 2.00 FPPT and the second-most yards at 1,015. The largest reason Aiyuk could flop is if the game script calls for minimal passing attempts.
Deebo Samuel played in just seven games with a 17.6% target share and the largest knock on him was the absolute lack of air yards. He had 44 targets with a total of 97 air yards. The aDOT was 2.6 yards, 109th in the league. As the third fiddle in the passing game (we think), he would have to see a change in role to make him extremely viable. Since he rarely went into the slot, corner Jeff Okudah will be working against him. Okudah was a rookie last year and allowed a 101.7 passer rating on a 56.7% snap share. I’ll take the cheaper Aiyuk. I strongly doubt this is the game where all three passing weapons hit value, leaving Deebo on the outside looking in.
TE – This is absolutely not a shot at George Kittle, but I don’t think he’s worth the salary on this slate. He’s one of my favorite players to watch because he has zero miedo (zero fear, Kittle is a big Pentagon Jr. fan of AEW fame) and plays like his hair is on fire. When he was active last year, Kittle had a 24% target share and a 26% share of the air yards. He was first in yards per route at 2.94, first in points per route, and was third in points per game. My only slight fear is how much they need him in this one. If the game stays close, Kittle could smash and is more appealing with no Darren Waller or Mark Andrews on the slate. However, I’m just going to find the money for other options this week.
D/ST – Out of general principle, I don’t like paying up for defense in any given week. There is every reason to think San Francisco improves on their 22.6% pressure rate and 30 sacks, considering the hurry rate was 11.2% and the blitz rate was the 10th highest in the league. They do have a new DC in DeMeco Ryans but he’s worked under Saleh and they get back players they lost to injury last year. Detroit projects to be one of the lowest-scoring offenses in football, so I get it if you go there. I just likely don’t.
Update – Tackle Javon Kinlaw and corner Emmanuel Moseley are both doubtful, which is just one more reason to not pay up for this defense.
Cash Picks – Mostert, Kittle, D/ST
GPP Picks – Aiyuk, Samuel
QB – There is no real reason to play Jared Goff in this game. The matchup is a nightmare since the 49ers were seventh in DVOA against the pass last season and only allowed the ninth-fewest DK points to quarterbacks last year. That was with significant injuries all the way across the board for that defense, including Nick Bosa. His lone weapons of any repute are T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift, and that is not enough to get him in my lineups. Goff was 40th in FPPD last season and that was with a vastly more talented offense around him and a better offensive coach in Sean McVay. I’m simply not interested here and would play Teddy Bridgewater ahead of him.
RB – I suppose you could make an argument for D’Andre Swift through his passing work if the Lions are down for most of this game, but Coach Dan Campbell was speaking about concerns with Swift’s conditioning less than 10 days before the season. That’s not what I want to hear when a back is $6,900 and has Jamaal Williams to share the load with. I’m not sitting here remotely telling you that Willams is as good as Swift, but the Lions will play both. The split is unknown since Swift was banged up through most of camp. San Francisco was 10th in DVOA against the run, a large concern as well.
Swift is a Rorschach test in many ways. One of the most important skills an analyst can have in my eyes is the ability to separate what they think should happen from what the coaches are telling us and putting on the field. Analysts all agree on the talent for Swift and what he brings to the field. I don’t think anyone can deny that. I mean, he chewed up 878 scrimmage yards last year on a 47.5% snap rate and 160 touches. The kid is fantastic. However, some will overlook everything else about the situation but talent cannot be our only factor. We can scream from the mountaintops that Swift should get 20+ touches a game. It doesn’t matter if the coach doesn’t agree, and I won’t pay nearly $7,000 this week in an awful matchup for Swift. There will be other weeks when we will hammer playing Swift.
Update – The Lions will be without tackle Taylor Decker and that hurts the entire offense.
WR – Typically, we’re going to want receivers that are big underdogs because the script would say that team is going to pass a lot. The Lions might be an exception since their corps is Tyrell Williams, Quintez Cephus….and then a mishmash of three or four other guys. The best bet would likely be rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown but it is guesswork right now. If we’re going after anyone, Williams would likely be the favorite since he is the alpha of the group. Considering all of these players would be no higher than second in the passing tree, I have to say I’m not interested. We have better values than just playing Williams hoping for garbage time production.
TE – It’s interesting to note that San Francisco dominated against tight ends in 2020. They were the only team to allow under 500 yards (the next best was Pittsburgh at 638), they allowed the fewest targets and receptions, and only the second-least touchdowns at four. That’s all fair, but someone has to catch the ball for the Lions and T.J. Hockenson is the leading option. Last year saw him finish fifth in targets, fourth in receptions, third in receiving yards, and the was with only scoring six times. Many think that he’s got another level and I tend to agree, but I’m not convinced this is where I want to test the theory. He’s fine, but that mid-range is just not where I’m living this week.
D/ST – Get used to this, but no. The Lions were dead last in pressure rate last year and had just 12 turnovers forced. I want no part of that against Shanahan and company.
Cash Plays – None
GPP Plays – Swift, Hockenson
QB – It’s sort of an odd salary tier for Russell Wilson. In a vacuum, I’d rather just spend a little more and play Josh Allen or Kyler Murray, while also recognizing there are options cheaper with the same upside. Indy was eighth in DVOA against the pass last year and gave up under 18 DK points per game, the 10th best in football. If last year’s trends continue, these two teams will not push the pace of play since they ranked 19th and 23rd. Wilson threw 40 touchdowns last year but was also just 15th in FPPD despite finishing in the top 10 in attempts, yards, air yards, RZ attempts, and deep attempts. What’s interesting is the Colts blitzed the second-fewest times in the league last year and Russ was fifth in clean completion percentage. You can argue that Indy didn’t need to blitz a ton because they still generated a pressure rate over 23%, but Wilson should be able to pick them apart if he has time in the pocket.
RB – On a points per game basis, Chris Carson has typically been a low-end RB1 and he’s not priced like that at all. Seattle is likely going to run the ball a little more than 25.6 times they did last year, so Carson should be around at least 15-17 carries a week. My fear is the Seahawks did keep five backs on the roster, so the caveat on Carson could be the passing work. He averaged almost four targets per game last year but that work could go toward Rashaad Penny or DeeJay Dallas this season. That could leave Carson as a two-down “thunder” back and Indy was top 10 in DVOA against the run while allowing the third-fewest rushing yards. Having players like Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner on your defense tends to help that, leaving Carson outside of my main targets list.
WR – Oh my goodness is this a dynamite spot for D.K. Metcalf. Let’s just talk about the 6’3″, 228-pound receiver who runs a 4.3 40 that is getting covered by either Xavier Rhodes or Rock-Ya Sin. Rhodes is 6’1″ and 210 and used to be able to run a 4.4 while Ya-Sin is giving up three inches, almost 40 pounds, and runs a 4.5 40. Guys, Metcalf is going to trounce these corners. Last year he was second in snap share, air yards, third in deep targets, 10th in RZ targets, sixth in yards, and sixth in unrealized air yards. He had 840 unrealized air yards, which is frankly terrifying. Only 76% of his targets were catchable, which was 60th. If that bumps up, Metcalf could easily go over 1,500 yards (he was at 1,303 last year). The elite tier of the wide receiver position is absolutely loaded this week.
Tyler Lockett was very hit or miss last year but he played the eighth-most slot snaps at 54.4%. That left him at fifth in routes run and he had a 24.6% target share, 15th in the league. Kenny Moore played slot 61.6% of the time last year and was targeted the fifth-most in the league at 112 times. He was honestly very stout with the fifth-best passer rating allowed and the 15th best FPPT at 1.48. Lockett is a player that I don’t actively worry about matchups, but I do prefer Metcalf for a few hundred more in salary. The fact Seattle only kept four receivers on the roster means these top two are not coming off the field.
Update – Kenny Moore is banged up and we’ll have to keep an eye on things through the week. If Moore is out, the double-stack becomes even more intriguing with the number of values we have across the board.
Update 2 – Rhodes is out of this game while Moore is in. Metcalf is going to go scorched Earth on Ya-Sin and I have Metcalf everywhere this week. He actually has taken over Stefon Diggs for my favorite receiver play.
TE – One of the more popular late picks on the draft at tight end is Gerald Everett. Seattle poached him from the division rival Rams and we know he will be atop the depth chart for the Seahawks. I mentioned earlier how Seattle only kept four receivers so Everett stands to get some work in this offense. It should be noted that after Metcalf and Lockett, the only other player with a double-digit target share in the offense was Carson. They had three tight ends split a target share totaling over 20% however and if Everett sits at even a 15% target share, that’s a valuable role. Those three players also accounted for 22 RZ targets, which also is good for Everett heading into the season.
D/ST – I truly don’t mind them as I think they could hold their own against the run and force Wentz to throw a little more. That wouldn’t be ideal for Indy since Wentz has had zero time to get acclimated to the offense. They blitzed at the 11th highest rate and got home 46 times with 22 turnovers forced. If it wasn’t for a couple of options I liked better at a cheaper salary, I could get on board.
Cash Plays – Russ
GPP Plays – Metcalf (I’d play him in cash but Diggs will be the field’s choice), Lockett, Carson, Everett, D/ST
QB – I suppose you can throw Carson Wentz in the mix of cheap plays that theoretically make some sense, but it’s a tough sell for me. He’s coming off an absolutely brutal season laden with turnovers and sacks. Of course, the change in scenery is a significant upgrade both in coaching and offensive line play in front of him. However, Wentz has had almost zero time to practice and no live game reps in a new offense against a defense that did improve as the year went on in 2020. Seattle was 20th in DVOA against the pass but just remember, they were on pace to give up a record amount of passing yards in the early part of the season. 20th is actually somewhat respectable from the hole they dug themselves. Seattle also created pressure over 24% of the time but that could be stalemated by Colt’s O-line. All in all, I don’t see the need or upside here.
RB – The price isn’t going to do you any favors, but Jonathan Taylor is so talented that I would consider him to some extent. It’s not the ideal spot if last year holds up as Seattle was seventh in DVOA against the run and they allowed only the fourth-fewest yards (on the third-fewest attempts). Nyheim Hines still very much will be involved as he had 153 touches last year and in honesty, that’s one of the biggest arguments against spending this much on JT. Every other back that is priced at least $8,000 is the clear-cut guy and while JT is very obviously going to out-touch Hines, you’re paying top dollar. One aspect we absolutely do not need this year is Hines taking 26 RZ rush attempts, five attempts inside the 10, and 12 RZ targets. Hines had 38 (don’t count the RZ and inside the 10 twice) opportunities in the RZ combined and JT had 52. I’m hoping that gap gets larger and Marlon Mack isn’t terribly involved. It’s a deep GPP play in my eyes.
WR – We’re simply not going to get many number one receivers as cheap as Michael Pittman. With the loss of T.Y. Hilton, Pittman has a clear path to be the alpha in the passing game. He was a breakout candidate to some and he only ran 351 routes last season, 70th in the league. All of his metrics are going to increase and we generally see the largest jump in production between the rookie and second year. The Seahawks don’t have a ton of quality corners and Pittman should see plenty of Tre Flowers, who sported a 75.3% catch rate and a 102.3 passer rating.
We can also consider Parris Campbell and Zach Pascal, who will have a larger role. The ball is going to be spread out and even though they only combined for about a 25% target share, Hilton was at 18.6% last year. There’s a good chunk of targets to go around and Campbell has a 4.3 40-yard dash out of the slot. The salary is the same but I slightly prefer Campbell.
Update – Guard Quenton Nelson is questionable for this game and if he’s out, I would only be looking at Pittman, Campbell, and maybe Hines for quick passes in this offense and likely only as a runback for Seattle.
TE – I’m not all that interested in either Jack Doyle or Mo Elie-Cox. They likely still split targets like they and Trey Burton did last year, meaning they all bit into each other’s potential. Burton is gone but the Colts will still be spreading the ball around a lot. We have better options than chasing tight ends that had a target share under 7.7% last season, even with Hilton out.
D/ST – The Colts have Leonard and Buckner, but they only blitzed 17.1% of the time last year, the second-lowest rate in the NFL. You have to give them credit for getting a quarterback hurry 11.1% of the time but if that falters without bringing the blitz, Wilson and the Seahawks receivers will torch them. I don’t exactly see them replicating 25 turnovers but they are cheap enough to consider in deep GPP settings.
Cash Plays – Pittman
GPP Plays – JT, Hines, D/ST
QB – Justin Herbert might be a fairly easy fade this week, but it has nothing to do with the rookie season he put up last year. Herbert was fourth in attempts, 10th in RZ attempts, sixth in yards, and seventh in points per game. Volume certainly helped since his FPPD was only 23rd but some of that can be attributed to finishing 29th in deep-ball completion rate and 17th in clean completion rate. He can improve on all of those and likely throw for more than 31 touchdowns, but Washington’s defense is very likely to be tough again. They were second in DVOA against the pass, generated the fifth-most sacks, and allowed just the third-fewest DK points to quarterbacks. They added Willam Jackson III to their secondary and boast Chase Young, one of the best young defenders in football. I believe we can make smarter plays than going after this defense.
RB – I can’t pound the table for him, but Austin Ekeler is one of my favorite backs in the league. It’s not a great matchup on paper as Washington is a stout defense, gave up just 61 receptions to running backs last year (fourth-fewest), and ranked 11th in DVOA against the run. Ekeler totaled 933 scrimmage yards in just 10 games last season and that included a game where he was clearly hobbled and gritting it out. In those 10 games, he racked up 54 receptions which were fifth among running backs and that is such a valuable skill set on DK since it is full PPR. He’s going to touch the ball 16-18 times a game but 5-6 of those are going to be receptions, raising his floor. He won’t be a huge factor on the goal line with just 17 RZ rush attempts last year but his receiving chops make up for that. He’s a super interesting pivot from Aaron Jones of the Packers, who we’ll talk about.
Update – I’m not going o mess with Ekeler, regardless if he plays. With hamstring injuries, he can attempt to play and tweak it further after a touch or two and be done for the day. With the tougher matchup looming, he’s easy to not force.
WR – Let’s start with the fact that this is not the best matchup the Chargers will get this year. Duly noted. Now let’s talk about the disrespect of Keenan Allen being priced under $7,000. Listen, Washington is going to be tough on receivers. They gave up the third-fewest fantasy points to the position last year. Washington also cut Jimmy Moreland and let Ronald Darby walk from the secondary, but signed William Jackson to fill the void, and the Jackson/Kendall Fuller combo at cornerback is stout. Allen moves around as he split between the slot and boundary almost evenly at 50% each. He also enjoyed the third-highest target rate on the routes he ran at 29.6%. One of the reasons I think he still gets fed even in this spot is he was only 58th in deep targets and 34th in air yards. With the vicious Washington pass rush, Herbert getting the ball out fast is imperative (even with a vastly improved O-line). Allen and Ekeler are going to both see a lot of volume, especially this week.
Since I’ve said that part, I’m not a huge fan of Mike Williams and a secondary player like rookie Joshua Palmer. I will have exposure to both during certain games and it was super interesting to hear Ekeler call attention to Palmer being a fantasy sleeper on a recent podcast. For those unaware, Ekeler is very into fantasy football so he gets it. I just don’t love the matchup and with Allen sitting at a bargain price, that would be the play in my eyes.
TE – The more recognizable name is Jared Cook, but I’ll pass on the veteran in favor of Donald Parham. He’s still just 24 years old and a monster of a man at 6’8″, 240 pounds. He has taken a ton of snaps with the first team all camp and OC Joe Lombardi has been impressed with his blocking, which will keep him on the field when it matters most. On just 10 receptions last year, he scored three times. If the deep ball is tough to find for the Chargers in this game, Parham could spend it working the intermediate portion of the field and pay off heavily.
D/ST – There is always a chance Fitzpatrick goes full FitzTragic and has multiple turnovers. The argument can be made for a GPP play since the Vikings could be popular and we haven’t gotten to my favorite choice. The 27 sacks last year were the eighth-fewest and the 19 turnovers were tied for the seventh-fewest. Past that, I don’t think we have a lot of reasons to go here.
Cash Plays – Ekeler, Allen
GPP Plays – Parham
QB – The price on Ryan Fitzpatrick is awfully tempting, to be honest. Right off the bat, receiver Terry McLaurin is better than any receiver he worked with in Miami last season. While he only played a partial season, he hit on the deep ball 56% of the time, seventh in the league. Scott Turner is the OC and in honesty, it’s hard to tell what this offense is going to be. Last year he had an absolute carousel at the quarterback position and FitzMagic came over from Miami, so we’re largely starting from scratch. What we do know is Fitzpatrick is willing to chuck no matter what. The Chargers were 17th in DVOA against the pass last year, blitzed at the lowest rate in the league, and had under 30 sacks. It’s not hard to see Fitzpatrick go for 20 DK here. The Chargers elected to overhaul their offensive line in free agency, meaning the defense is mostly relying on Joey Boas and Derwin James to be healthy and make the difference this year. Those are two great players but I don’t fear the defense as a whole.
RB – All aboard the Antonio Gibson RB1 train! He’s under $6,000 and even though his matchup is in the red on DK, that might be deceiving. The Chargers were 26th in DVOA against the run and allowed over 1,500 rushing yards to go along with 91 receptions to the backs (seventh-most). LA looked good against backs because they only allowed a total of 13 touchdowns to the position. That’s not a stat we can expect to repeat from year to year. Gibson and J.D. McKissic are the main cogs in this backfield and since Peyton Barber was cut, that opens up more goal-line work for Gibson. Last season, Barber had eight carries inside the 10 and 16 total attempts in the RZ. I don’t have reason to think McKissic is more involved in that area of the field as his role was the passing downs back in 2020. Now, I think Gibson earns more than an 8.9% target share this year so McKissic should come down from 19.2%. The bottom line is Gibson was 16th in FPPO (fantasy points per opportunity) in his rookie year transitioning to a full-time running back. The ceiling is sky-high and the price does not really reflect it.
WR – The Chargers were strong against receivers last year to be sure and that was without safety Derwin James. He’s back and healthy, but they have seen turnover at the cornerback position. Casey Hayward and Desmond King have both moved on, leaving the top two corners as Michael Davis and Chris Harris. Receiver Terry McLaurin is underpriced just like Keenan Allen and his 2020 season is slightly misleading. After Alex Smith took over at quarterback, Scary Terry only exceeded 90 air yards in a game twice as opposed to six of seven games before Smith played. Fitzmagic is going to reverse that trend and Washington could really hit the ground running on offense this year. McLaurin was a top-20 receiver with only four touchdowns and finishing outside the top-10 in receptions and yards. He’s still got a couple of levels to go as far as fantasy production.
I’m not that interested in Curtis Samuel and/or Dyami Brown for this week. Samuel hasn’t played all preseason and is just starting to practice this week. Brown is a rookie and is likely behind Adam Humphries to start the year, at least. Now, if Samuel sits this week we can revisit this but for now, I’m looking at McLaurin and nobody else from this receiving corps.
Update – Samuel has now hit the IR and even with the opening, I’m not sure I’d play Brown or Humphries in anything other than deeper GPP and MME formats. I think it just funnels more work to McLaurin, Thomas, and even Gibson. Brown is certainly the more explosive option but we don’t have a locked in role like we have with some other options this week.
TE – It was a banner season for Logan Thomas last year, finishing first in routes run and snaps share. That covered the fact he wasn’t super efficient with the 26th best points per route and 25th ranked points per target. Only two other tight ends had more than his 72 receptions, but now Washington has added Samuel to the mix. My biggest concern is Derwin James, who is excellent as a cover safety when he’s healthy. Way back in his rookie year of 2018, he was a big part of the reason the Chargers only gave up five touchdowns and just 74 receptions on 121 targets to the position. I’m not super interested in Thomas for this slate.
D/ST – They’re a fantastic unit overall with 23 turnovers forced, 47 sacks, they ranked third in total DVOA, and generated a pressure rate of almost 26%. The talent on the Chargers side is equal to the task though and I can see the game going a little low-scoring, but not totally relevant for fantasy scoring.
Cash Plays – Gibson, McLaurin
GPP Plays – Fitzpatrick
QB – This entire game is basically just throwing a lot of 2020 out the window. New York bottomed out and took Zach Wilson with the second pick in the draft and the rookie has looked the part through the preseason, mostly. He’s flashed his ability to make any throw you can want in the NFL but to quote Stix in the Discord chat – do we need to go with Wilson on the road in his first start? I can’t build a super compelling case for that. The Jets improved the offense as a whole with additions to the line and receiving corps but the range of outcomes for Wilson is pretty wide. Carolina was 23rd in DVOA against the pass last season but drafted Jaycee Horn and signed A.J. Bouye, which should certainly help improve the secondary.
RB – The hope that Michael Carter would break out in Week 1 is likely dead, leaving us with Tevin Coleman and Ty Johnson. Carter played into the fourth quarter in the preseason and had virtually zero first-team reps. The play here is Johnson, who has shown ability as a runner and receiver in (at least what we hope) is a functioning offense. It may not really be worth a whole lot, but he was listed as the top back on the Jets depth chart. Johnson only had a 22% snap share and had 253 scrimmage yards on just 70 touches. Carolina was 10th in DVOA against the run and they got hammered by running backs catching passes, giving up the third-most receptions and the 11th most yards. They absolutely overhauled this defense as much as you can in an offseason so I definitely don’t want to project the same finish. However, Johnson appears to be a strong value on the slate if spending down at the position.
WR – Corey Davis was peppered with targets in the preseason and the Jets gave him a solid amount of money to get him to New York. He is clearly the alpha in the passing game and although it’s not comparable with playing in Tennessee last year, Davis was sixth in points per route and 21st in points per target. Number one receivers don’t come super cheap very often and he’ll either face rookie Jaycee Horn or Donte Jackson. The latter allowed a 1.56 FPPT through 80 targets last year but only played about 58% of the snaps, so it could go higher with more playing time.
If Jamison Crowder is out, Elijah Moore would be very interesting as well. The rookie should play outside regardless but I can see Crowder being popular with Wilson. He didn’t play in the preseason so I wouldn’t expect Davis to continue to see around a 50% target share. Crowder was 24th in points per route last year so let’s see how it shakes out through the week.
Update – Oh boy. Not only is Crowder out but Keelan Cole is likely out as well. That leaves Davis and Moore as the clear one and two receivers in this offense and Moore is minimum price. I’m fully in for Moore and would play him in any format, but don’t forget how many targets Davis got in the preseason without Crowder and Moore. It was almost 50% of the throws Wilson made. Play whoever fits in the lineup this week as a runback for Panthers stacks and use one in cash (we’ll see who’s more popular).
TE – When we look for punt tight ends, we’re looking for players that can score a touchdown and catch 3-4 balls for a super low price. It sure looks like minimum-priced Tyler Kroft could fit the bill. Mike LaFleur is the OC for New York and he was the passing game coordinator for the 49ers. He’s been working under Kyle Shanahan for the last three seasons and they produced numbers from that position, many times even when they missed George Kittle. Kroft is about the lone man standing, he should see the field a lot and has a rookie quarterback making his first start on the road. For the price, I think you could do a LOT worse. I could find myself going this route in double tight end lineups, but we’ll get to that.
D/ST – They lost Carl Lawson before the season even started and the secondary is terrible. Robert Saleh is going to need any trick he has up his sleeve to keep this defense competitive and I don’t want to go here.
Cash Plays – Davis
GPP Plays – Johnson, Kroft, Moore/Crowder
QB – Sam Darnold is free of the tyranny that was Adam Gase as a coach and can finally start his NFL career. There’s no way to tell how much of the ineptitude shown by Darnold so far was Case-related or not, but I’m willing to give him a chance with a Joe Brady (OC) offense… at some point. Darnold has much better weapons around him than he ever has before and that’s a huge bonus, but Darnold was 56th in FPPD. That’s not a typo. He was also 33rd in points per game, 51st in deep-ball completion, and 43rd in the catchable pass rate. The only slight redeeming factor was he was seventh in clean completion rate. The Jets were 28th in DVOA against the pa