Fantasy Football QB1 Primer: Week 1 (2019)
All season long in this space, I will rank the top-10 quarterbacks for each given week based on a variety of factors. The primary consideration will always be the true talent and ability of the signal-caller. Other circumstances such as the scheduled matchup, surrounding talent, offensive line play, and advanced metrics are then weighed in to produce a weekly ranking.
10. Matthew Stafford (DET) @ Arizona Cardinals
Admittedly, this is an aggressive ranking for Stafford given Detroit’s commitment to the run this season. However, the Cardinals were ranked 17th in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) according to Football Outsiders, and they will be without top defensive backs, Patrick Peterson and Robert Alford. With a revamped offensive line entering its second year together, Kerryon Johnson catching passes out of the backfield, and Danny Amendola and rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson operating underneath while talented wideouts Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones threaten the perimeter, it’s hard not to see Stafford having one of his better games of the season on the road in Arizona.
9. Baker Mayfield (CLE) vs. Tennessee Titans
Mayfield should occupy higher places on this list in the weeks to come, but Cleveland’s O-line took a hit to bring in Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon, sending Kevin Zeitler and draft capital to New York in return. Austin Corbett has “earned” a 61.5 overall grade from PFF this preseason, so it’s debatable whether Mayfield will have the time to establish a rhythm with his new weapons on offense. Odell Beckham Jr. is already hobbled, so this ranking may actually be too high, but it’s hard to justify not including the ascending superstar quarterback here in what should be a fired-up debut in Cleveland.
8. Russell Wilson (SEA) vs. Cincinnati Bengals
It’s hard to envision Wilson having many big weeks through the air on a team that wants to pound the ball between the tackles, but if there was ever a week to watch it happen it would be Week 1 at home. The Bengals were a bottom-10 pass defense last year, and Wilson will likely want to establish chemistry and rapport with size-speed freak DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in his new, expanded role. Wilson shouldn’t need to throw much this week, but the Bengals may sell out to stop the run, forcing Wilson to attack through the air, something he should be able to do with aplomb.
7. Dak Prescott (DAL) vs. New York Giants
Dak Prescott finished as a top-four fantasy quarterback in football once Amari Cooper joined the team. New OC Kellen Moore has installed an offense that figures to be far more creative and explosive this year. Cooper finally returned to practice after a foot injury plagued him all preseason. With Ezekiel Elliott ending his holdout, look for Dallas to put the ball more in Dak’s hands as the team seeks to ease their star runner in and avoid him getting hurt in a very winnable division matchup. The Giants trotted out a bottom-6 pass defense last year, while Dallas boasts a top-two offensive line. You do the math.
6. Carson Wentz (PHI) vs. Washington Redskins
The Redskins posted 46 sacks and 26 takeaways last year, but the unit lost defensive backs Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and D.J. Swearinger, as well as tackle machine Zach Brown at linebacker. Rookie Montez Sweat will try and fill Brown’s shoes, and Jon Bostic and Landon Collins have been added to help, but they will have a tough assignment containing the division rival Eagles in Week 1.
Carson Wentz has arguably the best supporting cast of his young career this season. Electric rookie Miles Sanders and Darren Sproles should be weapons out of the backfield, while Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz might be the best tight end tandem in football. Philadelphia added super-sized receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside to pair with towering Alshon Jeffrey, giving Wentz can’t miss targets downfield. Add to that DeSean Jackson to stretch the field and beat defenses deep, and Wentz has top-shelf weapons at every level now.
Washington’s defense may eventually emerge as a strong unit as the season progresses, but in Week 1 on the road, expect Wentz to remind everyone why the Eagles invested in him as their franchise quarterback.
5. Cam Newton (CAR) vs. Los Angeles Rams
Newton is scheduled to start in Week 1, and he’s arguably never had a better group of talent around him than D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Greg Olsen, and Christian McCaffrey. His offensive line excels at pass blocking, and the Rams aren’t the same defense this year after losing Lamarcus Joyner and replacing him with veteran safety Eric Weddle. Aaron Donald promised to be disruptive on the line, but Newton has the weapons to truly challenge this defense.
4. Drew Brees (NO) vs Houston Texans
Drew Brees and the Saints host the Texans on Monday Night Football to open the season. PFF previously graded Houston’s pass rush as the 5th best in football heading into this year, but Jadeveon Clowney was shipped off to Seattle, and the player positioned opposite him at outside linebacker, Whitney Mercilus, struggled to regain his form last year after a pectoral injury cost him part of 2017. The Texans remade their secondary in the offseason, adding four new starters, but their chemistry and communication will be tested by Drew Brees in front of a raucous home crowd. Brees is on the downside of his career, but he should be able to shine with all his weapons healthy while operating behind PFF’s 6th best O-line.
3. Deshaun Watson (HOU) @ New Orleans Saints
Deshaun Watson is a solid threat to finish as the number one overall quarterback this year. Adding Laremy Tunsil to upgrade a putrid line and Kenny Stills to pair with all-world receiver DeAndre Hopkins and big-play machine Will Fuller gives Watson a potent cast to keep up with Drew Brees in what could turn into a shootout at New Orleans. New starting running back, Duke Johnson, who ranked second in yards per route run, according to PFF last year, adds a new dimension to a backfield that had been sorely lacking with Lamar Miller as a starter. The Saints defense at home in New Orleans will not be an easy matchup, but Watson is poised to explode this season.
2. Patrick Mahomes (KC) @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Mahomes will almost certainly be in the running for top-ranked quarterback every week. This week against Jacksonville may not be one of them. In what many called a “down year” the Jaguars still finished as a top-6 unit in defensive DVOA in 2018. Mahomes will likely have to throw the ball more with Kareem Hunt replaced by a committee of LeSean McCoy and Damien Williams. Expect a very solid game from Mahomes, but the best statistical output among the group on this list may be a little hard to come by this week.
1. Jameis Winston (TB) vs. San Francisco 49ers
Winston may seem like an odd placement on this list until you remember that his new head coach is Bruce Arians. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and tight end O.J. Howard might rival any collection of pass-catchers Arians has previously coached. The 49ers were historically bad at generating takeaways last season, challenging the record for fewest takeaways in a single season. San Francisco travels across the country for this Week 1 tilt, and Arians should have no problem dialing up plays for Winston to shred a defense that ranked in the bottom six in pass defense last year and did very little to improve its stock.
Note: Running quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and Kyler Murray have the capacity to post a top-10, and even QB1 overall finish on the strength of their rushing abilities each week. However, you’re hedging your bet that the rushing stats will be there given how low the floor could be if any of those players struggle to move the ball through the air. For Week 1, at least, it makes more sense to take a wait-and-see approach to evaluate how these young passers have developed, and how the league will adjust to them with a full offseason of tape to study their weaknesses and tendencies. As with all boom-or-bust players, there is risk baked into their weekly projections. All three may experience growing pains, but any of them could go off as well.