Fantasy Football Overvalued/Undervalued: Week 1 (2019)
At last, we’re here: Week 1 of the 2019 NFL season. Sure, Packers-Bears was a bit of a dud, but that was just the appetizer for the 15-course meal we’ll get to enjoy on Sunday and Monday. Before we get there, though, we’ll need to set our lineups, and that’s where this column comes in.
If you’re at all familiar with FantasyPros — and if you’re reading this article, you probably are — then you know that this site made a name for itself with its Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR). This year, well over 100 experts from across the fantasy football industry have submitted rankings for Week 1, and FantasyPros offers you the “wisdom of the crowd” by merging those rankings into an industry-wide consensus.
It’s an invaluable tool, no doubt. But that doesn’t mean you should just blindly follow the pack. It’s your team, and you’re the one who needs to make the final call on your lineup. After all, getting to play NFL coach/GM is why we love to play this game in the first place.
This column will aim to show you where I differ most from the industry consensus and to give you a sense of why. I’m not arrogant enough to claim that you should always listen to me, but hopefully, I can provide some useful tidbits of information that you can use in making your start/sit decisions.
And if you end up making the wrong call? Well, just try to keep it in perspective. It may seem like we know just about everything about these players right now, but as the aforementioned Packers-Bears game showed, that sense of certainty goes out the window once the actual games start. Fantasy football outcomes are notoriously difficult to predict, but those of us who think things through rationally and take in as much information as we can come out ahead in the long run.
Undervalued: Ben Roethlisberger (PIT)
My Rank: QB8
Big Ben was the third highest-scoring QB last season, but he’s been just the 11th QB taken in drafts this year following Antonio Brown’s departure from Pittsburgh. It also appears that the fantasy industry is skeptical that Roethlisberger can deliver QB1 numbers in New England on Sunday night, but I wouldn’t bet against him. Big Ben is known for being better at home than on the road, but that changed last season when he averaged 345.6 passing yards in his eight road games. Meanwhile, he’s put up at least 300 yards or two touchdowns in eight straight games against New England, a streak that dates back to 2008. That’s what you call a high-floor fantasy option. I get the concern that he’ll no longer be able to rely on Brown (clearly Oakland can’t either), but Roethlisberger still has plenty of weapons to work with during a primetime game that could easily become a shootout.
Overvalued: Russell Wilson (SEA)
My Rank: QB13
Wilson is a tremendous football player, but he’s also coming off of a season where he produced just 3,448 passing yards — his fewest since 2013 — and a career-low 67 rushing attempts. His fantasy value was saved by a career-high 35 passing scores, but his 8.2 percent touchdown percentage is due for quite a bit of regression, meaning it could be tough for him to post even 30 TDs this season unless Seattle decides to throw a lot more. That seems unlikely, given the coaching staff’s commitment to the run, Doug Baldwin’s retirement, and the Seahawks’ lack of proven receiving options outside of Tyler Lockett. At 30 years old, it’s also tough to expect Wilson’s rushing attempts to jump back up to previous levels. Even his Week 1 matchup isn’t quite as juicy as it might first appear — the Bengals possess an above-average secondary, according to Pro Football Focus.
Undervalued: James White (NE)
My Rank RB18
White is not a traditional running back, but it hardly matters for fantasy purposes. He finished as a top-12 fantasy RB last year in all formats (even non-PPR). While he may not quite match that level of productivity this season, he’s unlikely to experience a major drop off, particularly now that Rob Gronkowski is no longer around to soak up Tom Brady’s targets. Sony Michel may be in for a big season, but he and White essentially play different positions, and the New England offense has proven to be more than capable of supporting two fantasy-relevant RBs. White hasn’t done much against Pittsburgh in the past — he produced just 37 yards against the Steelers last year and even less in two prior contests — but I’m willing to overlook that given his integral role in this offense and the fact that Vegas expects this to be one of the highest-scoring games of the week.
Overvalued: Jordan Howard (PHI)
My Rank: RB41
As 10-point home favorites against Washington, you could make the case that the Eagles will be handing the ball off to Howard a lot in the second half on Sunday. But do we really know that those carries will go to Howard, or that he’ll be able to do anything with them? After bottoming out with just 3.7 yards per carry in his final season in Chicago, Howard enters a crowded running back room in Philadelphia that features talented rookie Miles Sanders, veteran scatback Darren Sproles, and capable backup Corey Clement. Realistically, you can’t expect Howard to play 50 percent of the snaps even in a best-case scenario, and given his declining skill set, he’ll likely need a short touchdown plunge to pay off for fantasy owners. That isn’t particularly likely against a Washington defense that rates much better against the run than against the pass. I’d look elsewhere for an RB3/flex option.
Undervalued: Emmanuel Sanders (DEN)
My Rank: WR28
Sanders’ quick return from a torn Achilles and ankle surgery has been nothing short of remarkable, and the Broncos view him as their number one receiver heading into Week 1. I’d expect Joe Flacco to lean heavily on him to begin the year, given the relative inexperience of Denver’s other wideouts. This is a receiver who has consistently produced WR2-caliber numbers throughout his career, and while he is a major injury risk at this stage of his career, he certainly looks healthy right now if the preseason is any indication. In Week 1, he’ll go up against a Raiders secondary that Pro Football Focus rates as a bottom-six unit. I get the hesitation to assume Sanders will immediately revert to weekly WR2 status, but if he’s your WR3/flex option? Sign me up.
Overvalued: Mike Williams (LAC)
My Rank: WR32
This one is admittedly a little dicey, as Williams has the talent to deliver WR2 numbers or better. I have trouble slotting him in as a top-25 receiver when we have so little sense of how much volume he’ll see. Yes, Tyrell Williams is no longer in the picture, but in all likelihood, his deep threat role will simply be inherited by Travis Benjamin. Meanwhile, Keenan Allen remains the alpha in this receiver corps and Hunter Henry is back to compete for Phillip Rivers‘ attention, particularly in the red zone. Mike Williams’ fantasy value last season was almost entirely dependent on his absurd touchdown rate — 10 TDs on just 66 targets — but he’ll need to see a lot more targets to maintain that kind of fantasy production. Perhaps he will, but until we see it he feels like more of a WR3/flex option than a WR2, especially for a matchup with the Colts that Los Angeles should be able to control rather comfortably.
Undervalued: Tyler Eifert (CIN)
My Rank: TE13
Eifert was quietly on his way to a top-12 fantasy tight end season in 2018 before breaking his ankle in Week 4. It was an all-too-familiar refrain for the Notre Dame product, who has played just 14 games over the last three seasons due to a variety of injuries. You can’t expect him to play 16 games, but he is healthy right now, and that makes him a nice value play. When he has been on the field, Eifert has proven capable of producing around 45-50 receiving yards with a pretty good shot at a touchdown — remember, he scored 18 TDs in a 21 game stretch over the 2015 and 2016 seasons. With A.J. Green currently sidelined, Andy Dalton is in need of reliable pass-catchers beyond Tyler Boyd, and Eifert could fit the bill against Seattle in Week 1.
Overvalued: Mark Andrews (BAL)
My Rank: TE16
There are other tight ends I’m lower on than consensus, but I’ll go with Andrews here since he’s a bit more likely to find himself in fantasy lineups than Greg Olsen or Kyle Rudolph. Andrews was a pleasant surprise for the Ravens and fantasy owners in 2018, overtaking first-round pick Hayden Hurst to lead Baltimore tight ends in receiving by a healthy margin. But he still finished outside of the top-15 at the position in fantasy scoring, and it’s difficult to see how he takes a big step forward this season in an extremely run-heavy offense that will rotate three tight ends (Andrews, Hurst, and blocking specialist Nick Boyle). The Ravens shouldn’t have much trouble moving the ball against Miami in Week 1, but it should mostly happen on the ground, and I simply don’t trust that Andrews will see enough targets to be a reliable starting option in standard 10- and 12-team leagues.