Saturday, September 8, 2018

Fantasy Football Week 1: Start'em, Sit'em

Ultimately, the decision of which player to start is largely determined by the composition of your roster (as well as your league's settings).

As an example, Andrew Luck is listed below as a "start" for Week 1. And I'd feel comfortable going into Week 1 with him as my starting quarterback.

That said, he may be a sit for your team.

In other words, if you owned both Aaron Rodgers and Luck (even though owning both wouldn't make sense), you should start Rodgers (every week) -- and in turn, bench Luck.

So while you won't find absolute start-sit recommendations below (use my Week 1 Fantasy Football Rankings for that instead), the goal here is to highlight some players that I like (and would feel comfortable starting) as well as some players that I dislike for this week (and would prefer to keep on my bench).

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Week 1 Fantasy Football Start'em

QB - Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (vs. NYJ)

Opening the season at home against the Jets, Stafford & Co. are projected to score the seventh-most points (25.75) based on implied totals from Week 1 NFL odds. One of four teams to allow at least 30 passing touchdowns in 2017, the Jets also allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Meanwhile, Stafford has a favorable home-road split as the veteran signal-caller threw 17 touchdowns to only three interceptions in eight home games last season (compared to a 12-to-seven ratio on the road). Stafford is a top-five fantasy quarterback for me in Week 1.

QB - Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (vs. CIN)

More than 600 days in between regular-season starts, perhaps it's wise(r) to take a wait-and-see approach with Luck. Even though it's possible that he gets off to a slow start, Luck has finished as a top-four fantasy quarterback in each of his past three full seasons -- QB4 (2013), QB2 (2014) and QB4 (2016). In those three full seasons, Luck has averaged 4,274 yards and 31 TDs (passing) as well as 330 yards and three TDs (rushing). Based on Vegas odds, the Colts are projected to be a top-eight scoring offense on the week and Luck will likely have a strong perforance if that implied total turns out to be accurate.

QB - Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams (at OAK)

In a rare worst-to-first transformation in scoring offense, the new coaching regime revitalized an offense that ended 2016 on life support. In the process, Goff vastly exceeded expectations in his second season and finished as a top-12 quarterback on the year. While I don't necessarily expect an improvement or even a repeat top-12 performance from Goff, he has better weapons (Brandin Cooks > Sammy Watkins) than he had in his first two seasons and he opens the year with a favorable matchup.

As bad as Oakland's defense was in 2017, Gruden has made it decidedly worse by trading away their best defensive player to the Bears as Khalil Mack was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year just two seasons ago. The Rams are nearly five-point road favorites and projected to score the fourth-most points on this week's slate.

RB - Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers (vs. CHI)

Due to other injuries amongst the team's running backs, Williams was a workhorse down the stretch. Only three running backs had more carries than Williams (122) from Week 10 on -- Melvin Gordon (137), Frank Gore (134) and LeSean McCoy (130) -- even though he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry as a rookie.

There are several reasons why Williams could be in store for a bellcow workload in Week 1. Not only is backfield mate Aaron Jones suspended for Week 1 (and 2), but the Packers are one of three teams favored by a touchdown or more. In addition to the potential for positive game script, only the Saints and Patriots are projected to score more points this week than the Packers this week.

RB - James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers (at CLE)

While he hasn't yet reported, Le'Veon Bell could still report this weekend to avoid missing his Week 1 game check. On the other hand, it's entirely possible that he misses a half-season (or more). Even if he does report prior to Sunday's game in Cleveland, however, how much work will Bell get? Probably not much and he'd likely/possibly be inactive even if he reports soon.

With that said, Conner becomes a nice plug-and-play option. In previous seasons where Bell had missed games, we've seen how productive DeAngelo Williams was. Averaging 5.3 YPC this preseason, Conner may not perform similarly, but he certainly has top-10 upside if he assumes close to the same workload that Williams got in Bell's absence(s).

RB - Lamar Miller, Houston Texans (at NE)

There are a couple of positives on the injury front for Miller's fantasy outlook in Week 1. Not only will D'Onta Foreman (Achilles/PUP) miss at least the first six games, but the return of Deshaun Watson puts more stress on opposing defenses and helps to open up running lanes for Miller. Setting career lows in his YPC average in back-to-back seasons, Miller shed some weight this offseason and that could lead to more explosiveness.

In general, the Patriots focus on taking away an opponent's best offensive weapon. So, in other words, the Patriots defensive game plan will focus on slowing down stud receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Perhaps that -- the attention given to Hopkins -- benefits Miller as well. I'd be more than comfortable starting Miller as my RB2 most weeks and this week is no different.

WR - Chris Hogan, New England Patriots (vs. HOU)

Off to a fast start, Hogan was one of the top fantasy wide receivers in the first half of last season. In his first eight games, he posted a 33/438/5 line to score the seventh-most fantasy points (standard scoring) during that span.

As always, Rob Gronkowski will draw the most attention from opposing defenses. Like last season but albeit for a different reason, Julian Edelman won't be on the field in Week 1 (or Weeks 2-4) as he serves his four-game suspension. Neither will 1,000-yard receiver Brandin Cooks, who was traded to the Rams, or Danny Amendola, who signed with Miami in free agency. With the lack of experienced New England wideouts beyond Hogan, another strong start to the season is in the cards for 7-Eleven.

Related: Hogan appeared on my list of 10 bold predictions for 2018

WR - Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos (vs. SEA)

While Sanders missed four games, his 2017 numbers (47/555/2) were nearly half of his 2016 production (79/1,032/5). Before last season, however, Sanders had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. With below-mediocre quarterback play over the past couple of seasons, the Broncos will get their steadiest post-Peyton Manning quarterback play with Case Keenum signing a free-agent deal this spring. No longer the Legion of Boom, the Seahawks secondary and defense overall isn't the elite unit that it once was and Sanders showed good rapport with Keenum this preseason.

WR - JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers (at CLE)

With Antonio Brown sidelined in Week 17 last year, Smith-Schuster exploded for 9/143/1 against the Browns in the regular-season finale. Going into his second season, the former USC Trojan should put together a more consistent season from beginning to end. Granted, the Browns have an improved defense and drafted cornerback Denzel Ward with the fourth-overall pick this spring, but the ascending receiver is a top-20 play in Week 1.

TE - Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins (at ARI)

Reed has missed at least four games in four of his five NFL seasons including 10 missed games last season. From a full season perspective, it's difficult to trust that Reed can stay on the field with fantasy owners being burned so many times before.

When healthy, however, Reed is about as productive as it gets. In his healthiest season (14 games in 2015), Reed had a monster 87/952/11 line. Not listed on the injury report and in "great shape" heading into Week 1, Reed is startworthy with top-five upside against any opponent.

TE - Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals (at IND)

It's difficult to have confidence that Eifert will stay healthy for a full season. But like with Reed, we at least know that Eifert is healthy heading into Week 1. When healthy, he's a dominant red-zone threat. Eifert has played only 24 games in the previous four seasons, but he has a total of 18 touchdowns during that span. Last season, the Colts allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.

Week 1 Fantasy Football Sit'em

QB - Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers (at MIN)

So far, so good as Jimmy GQ has begun his 49ers tenure with a 5-0 record. Completing 67.4 percent of his pass attempts for 8.8 Y/A last season, Garoppolo's seven-to-five TD-to-INT ratio limited what could have been significant late-season fantasy success in 2017. Facing Minnesota's elite defense on the road, however, his unbeaten streak is in serious jeopardy.

Based on Vegas odds for Week 1 NFL games, only the Bills (16.25), Browns (18.5) and Jets (19.25) have lower implied totals than the 49ers (19.75) and a couple other teams this week. Meanwhile, the Vikings allowed a league-low 13 passing scores and the second-fewest passing yards (3,078) in 2017.

QB - Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs (at LAC)

Like Garoppolo, Mahomes is a potential breakout candidate in 2018. Taking over for Alex Smith, who was traded to Washington, Mahomes will make his second career start this week in L.A. The second-year gun-slinging quarterback gets a difficult start in his 2018 debut. The Bolts surrendered the third-fewest passing yards and touchdowns and ranked in the top six in both sacks and passes intercepted. A fringe QB1 in 12-team leagues with top-five upside, Mahomes will be worth a look as a streamer many weeks this season, but this isn't his best opportunity.

QB - Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders (vs. LAR)

After throwing for 3,900-plus yards in each of the past two seasons with a combined 60 passing scores, Carr regressed to 3,496 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2017. Looking to bounce back, the fifth-year quarterback faces an uphill battle against a revamped Rams secondary that features Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib on the outside and LaMarcus Joyner at free safety. Based on my rankings, Carr (QB29) may not even be worth starting as a QB2 in a 12-teamer.

RB - Alfred Morris, San Francisco 49ers (at MIN)

Shanahan was the coordinator in Washington in Morris' first two seasons -- 335/1,610/13 in 2012 and 276/1,275/7 in 2013. Those rushing numbers aren't reasonable in 2018, but there will be several weeks where Alf is in the RB2 conversation and it wouldn't be a shocker if he finished the year as a top-24 back. With a tough matchup on the road against the Vikings, Matt Breida could even have more success than Morris due to his superior pass-catching abilities compared to Morris. Even so, neither Morris nor Breida is worth starting this weekend.

RB - Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks (at DEN)

A sleeper pick in 2017, Carson was off to a promising start before his injury forced him to miss the final 12 games of the season. Even though the Seahawks drafted Rashaad Penny in the first round, Carson is still a potential breakout candidate and was already atop the depth chart prior to Penny's finger injury. That said, the matchup isn't favorable for Carson. Not only did the Broncos rank fifth overall in run defense last season, but no team allowed fewer yards per carry (3.3) than the Broncos. In addition, only three teams are projected to score fewer points than the Seahawks in Week 1 based on implied totals from Vegas odds.

RB - Isaiah Crowell, New York Jets (at DET)

With a rookie quarterback (in fact, the youngest starter ever) under center, the Jets will likely try to take the ball out of Sam Darnold's hands and rely more heavily on their ground game. Game script may keep the road 'dogs from being able to do that as much as they'd like. In some weeks, Crowell could be in the RB2 mix, but it's difficult to gauge how the allocation of work between Crowell and Bilal Powell will be distributed. The team has repeatedly talked about their hot-hand approach and if the Jets fall behind early, we could especially see more Powell than Crowell.

WR - Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders (vs. LAR)

If you're in a 12-team league that starts two wide receivers, Cooper is just outside of being a "start" as he currently sits in the WR25 spot in my Week 1 rankings. On a positive note, Gruden has talked about how the passing attack will be funneled through Cooper. That said, Cooper and Jordy Nelson draw a difficult matchup against Talib and Peters. Coming off a disappointing 48/680/7 season, the bounce-back may not begin in earnest until Week 2.

WR - Marquise Goodwin, San Francisco 49ers (at MIN)

With Pierre Garcon sidelined for the second half of last season, Goodwin stepped up and nearly reached the 1,000-yard milestone in a breakout campaign. At one point last year, Goodwin had a five-game stretch with 78-plus yards that also included a three-game 99-yard streak. With Garcon healthy now, Goodwin still figures to be the team's most productive receiver in 2018, but this matchup downgrades all of the pass-catchers and the offense in general. Outside of my top-30 wide receivers for the week, there are likely better options on your roster for most fantasy owners.

WR - Sammy Watkins, Kansas City Chiefs (at LAC)

Playing for his third team in three seasons, Watkins has been a recent disappointment in fantasy production given his level of talent. The former No. 4 overall pick obviously has the talent to be one of the better receivers in the league and we've had a glimpse of that production earlier in his career. That said, he's the fourth offensive option behind Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill and the team faces one of the best defenses and secondaries in the league this weekend. This week, Watkins is ranked outside of my top-36 receivers so I have him as a sit even in 12-team, three-WR leagues.

TE - Evan Engram, New York Giants (vs. JAX)

What Engram did as a rookie was impressive. At a position where rookies typically struggle to acclimate, the former Rebel led all rookie tight ends with 64 catches for 722 yards and six touchdowns. Only four tight ends had more fantasy points than Engram in 2017.

Aided by injuries that forced him into a more prominent rookie role, the Giants receiving corps is now at full strength. The Jags present a difficult matchup for all of New York's skill-position players. To be fair, Engram is my TE11 this week so he may be a start for some in 12-team leagues, but he's lower in my rankings this week (TE11) than he'll be in the majority of weeks to follow.

TE - George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers (at MIN)

Speaking of second-year tight ends that had productive rookie seasons, Kittle posted a 43/515/2 line and only Engram had more catches or yards amongst rookie tight ends. Many expect Kittle to make a second-year leap (including me) and given the uncertainty at the position beyond the top 10, I have Kittle inside my top-12 fantasy tight ends in my preseason rankings for the 2018 NFL season. I'm sure I sound like a broken record at this point, but the matchup pushes Kittle further down in Week 1 rankings as the Vikes were the league's stingiest defense to opposing tight ends in 2017.

Week 1 Fantasy Football Rankings:
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