Fantasy Football Start/Sit: Week 1
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Fantasy football drafts now officially step aside for in-season management. This simply creates a new minefield of decisions to navigate in order to take home the title.
Now that you’ve figured out who to take, it’s time to figure out who actually gets the chance to accumulate points. Drafting the perfect team won’t matter if you don’t insert the right players into your starting lineup.
Since we’re all still analyzing from a macro, full-season perspective, most managers will likely start the players selected in the highest spots. This isn’t the wrong strategy in all cases. An over-active gamer can maneuver out of a victory by getting too clever. Know when to stick by the studs, but also be prepared to play some matchups as soon as this weekend.
Based on their draft slots, the following players are fringe starters in a standard 10- or 12-team league. In once case, the early Week 1 Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR using half-PPR) suggest sitting a star with a tough opening draw. Let’s examine each situation to determine how to proceed.
Matt Ryan (ATL) at MIN: QB17 ECR
Last year, I compared my personal rankings to the ECR in the weekly Undervalued/Overvalued column. It seemed like just about every week I defended Ryan, who registered a ho-hum 4,924 passing yards, 34 touchdowns, and 108.1 passer rating.
Here we are again. His No. 17 ECR for Week 1 is understandable. After all, the Vikings ranked third in passing defense with an NFL-low 15 passing touchdowns surrendered last season. It’s a brutal matchup, but you didn’t invest precious draft capital on Matty Ice to immediately sit him for a middling streamer. He exceeded 13 fantasy points all but twice last year, so start the steady stud unless holstering a high-end reserve such as Jameis Winston.
Dak Prescott (DAL) vs. NYG: QB11 ECR
The Giants will look to bounce back this season behind Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon, Eli Apple, and Landon Collins. Wait. Never mind. Their solution to placing 22nd in defensive DVOA last year? Get rid of anyone who could possibly help spark a turnaround. Prescott, meanwhile, was the QB9 (in terms of points per game) in nine games after the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper last season. Although the star receiver has dealt with a foot injury this preseason, he doesn’t appear in jeopardy of missing Sunday’s opener.
The bigger question is whether Ezekiel Elliott ends his holdout in time to face the NFC East foe. On Tuesday, per ESPN’s Todd Archer, the running back’s agent described a deal as “very close.” Also courtesy of Archer, Jason Garrett has not set a deadline for Elliott to return in order to play Sunday. If he has both star teammates in tow, Prescott — who produced 387 passing yards and four touchdowns against the G-Men to close the 2018 season — should deliver another top-12 showing.
Perhaps those splits won’t stick, as he actually performed better in enemy territory (18 TDs, 2 INTs) in 2017. It’s not enough reason to sound the sirens and scour the waiver wire for a warm body. When paired with last year’s late struggles and the uncertain efficacy of Kupp and Todd Gurley, it’s enough to slide Goff beyond Week 1’s top-12 quarterbacks. Kirk Cousins tops him by one spot in my rankings.
Mark Ingram (BAL) at MIA: RB14 ECR
In seven games started by Lamar Jackson last season, six of which the Ravens won, Gus Edwards compiled 654 rushing yards on 122 carries. Ingram, a superior runner, now inhabits that role. He’ll start the season against the Dolphins, who traded linebacker Kiko Alonso amid last week’s yard sale. Even on the road, Baltimore is a touchdown favorite. This is the perfect spot for Ingram to announce his arrival with 20 handoffs for 100 yards and a touchdown. He’s a strong RB2 to use judiciously in DFS lineups as well.
Phillip Lindsay (DEN) at OAK: RB20 ECR
Lindsay didn’t receive much love for an undrafted rookie who recorded 1,278 yards, 10 touchdowns, and an AFC-high 5.4 yards per carry. Royce Freeman, who was expected to headline Denver’s backfield at this time last year, is now expected to eat into Lindsay’s responsibilities. That could come to fruition, but it’s not an immediate concern. The opposing Raiders ranked 30th in rushing defense last year. While they’re slight favorites at home, this could still become an enviable game script for both Lindsay and Freeman to return value in a run-heavy attack.
Kenyan Drake (MIA) vs. BAL: RB36 ECR
Just stay away from Miami’s entire offense on the other end of what looks to be a lopsided matchup. Drake is the only conceivable option given the potential to accrue catches in garbage time. The rushing outlook, however, is too bleak to bet on five receptions. Only the Bears permitted more fantasy points to running backs than the Ravens last year, and Miami continued to pilfer its roster by shipping star left tackle Laremy Tunsil to the Texans. Drake was in a walking boot up until last week, so he’s not worth the hassle beyond the deepest of leagues.
Derrius Guice (WAS) at PHI: RB37 ECR
After performing well in Washington’s third preseason contest, Guice looks poised to make his regular-season debut Sunday. He could also get more work than anticipated by drafters (myself included) who shied away from the former LSU standout.
“We drafted him for a reason,” Washington head coach Jay Gruden said Monday, per Adam Caplan. “We feel like he can be a first, second and even a third-down back, if needed. I think the offense, carries wise, will probably go through him, pretty much.”
Those who drafted Guice are likely feeling more optimistic about his outlook, but it’d still behoove them to bench him this week. Guice missed all of last season with a torn ACL, so his body might not cash the checks Gruden is writing. Even if he does go full throttle in his NFL debut, Washington is a major underdog at Philadelphia. Last season, Adrian Peterson produced just 464 total yards in the team’s 10 losses while averaging 34.6 yards in the seven double-digit defeats. The Eagles concluded last season fifth in rushing defense after stymieing Washington to 21 yards on the ground in Week 17’s 24-0 shutout.
Will Fuller (HOU) at NO: WR28 ECR
Fuller is the ultimate “go big or go home” gambit, and this is the perfect situation to swing for the fences. (Sorry, some of us still have baseball on the mind.) He hasn’t played an NFL game since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament on October 25, and that includes this preseason. The explosive wideout nevertheless said he’s “ready” to suit up Sunday, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.
Points will be aplenty between the Texans and Saints, which carries Week 1’s highest over/under line on FanDuel Sportsbook. New Orleans relinquished the most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers this year, and Fuller shouldn’t have as much attention for Deshaun Watson‘s services. Keke Coutee is doubtful, and the recently acquired Kenny Stills won’t have much time to learn Houston’s playbook. Watson and Fuller have connected for 782 yards and 11 touchdowns in 11 career games together, so the week-winning upside is too tantalizing to pass up at the Superdome.
Dede Westbrook (JAC) vs. KC: WR27 ECR
This is a risky call, especially coming from someone more bearish on Westbrook than many others. Yet after leading the Jaguars in targets (101), receptions (66), receiving yards (717), and touchdowns (five), the 25-year-old has a more accurate quarterback at his disposal. He showed some immediate chemistry with Nick Foles when linking for four catches and a score in Week 3’s preseason dress rehearsal. This connection should yield more volume (or at least efficiency) for Westbrook, especially as Week 1 underdogs against Kansas City’s offensive juggernaut.
Sammy Watkins (KC) at JAC: WR40 ECR
Is this the year Watkins finally delivers a full-fledged breakout? Hold on, let me find something from 2016, 2017, 0r 2018 to copy and paste here. Before giving up entirely, remember that he is a 26-year-old receiver playing in the NFL’s premier offense. Including the playoffs, he averaged 57.9 receiving yards per game for the Chiefs. He also went catchless at Denver and somehow exited a 54-51 shootout against the Rams with four yards. Although the upside still exists, his floor is as low as can be. As a result, there’s too much risk to start him against A.J. Bouye‘s Jaguars. Only the Ravens relinquished fewer fantasy points per game to wide receivers, so find a safer option despite Watkins faring well (6 catches, 78 YDs) in this matchup last season.
Robby Anderson (NYJ) vs. BUF: WR35 ECR
Anderson got the better of Tre’Davious White last season, submitting 76 yards and a touchdown in Week 14’s meeting. Don’t bank on a repeat performance. While the Jets receiver finished 2018 strong, he fell short of 40 yards seven times during a maddening season. Sam Darnold has shown instant rapport with Jamison Crowder in the slot, leaving Anderson as a boom-or-bust option more likely to bust. Anderson is on track to play despite a calf injury, and his dim outlook could change if White’s quad contusion is more serious than initially believed.
Delanie Walker (TEN) at CLE: TE10 ECR
Walker hasn’t played since dislocating his ankle in last year’s Week 1 bout. There’s certainly no guarantee of the 35-year-old returning as a fully healthy and competent fantasy starter. In a perfect world, it’d be nice to take a week to scout him outside of the starting lineup. This world, however, is a messy one with few trustworthy tight ends beyond the top guys. Since so many of the alternatives come with their own injury issues (Greg Olsen, Jordan Reed, Trey Burton, and Jimmy Graham), let’s roll the dice on a veteran who recorded at least 800 receiving yards in four straight seasons prior to 2018. Marcus Mariota now has more wide receivers at his disposal, but a healthy Walker always brandished one of the highest floors beyond the elite choices.
Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle (IND) vs. LAC: TE13 and 17 ECR
Is Jacoby Brissett any good? Which tight end, if any, will Andrew Luck’s replacement favor? There are too many variables to comfortably trot out Ebron or Doyle this Sunday against the Chargers, who boasted the NFL’s best DVOA against tight ends last season. It’s also possible managers don’t have any better choices, but don’t expect much from either. Ebron is a touchdown-or-bust option already poised for serious touchdown regression before losing Luck. Doyle has a limited ceiling without a sturdy floor.