The Primer: Week 1 Edition (2019 Fantasy Football)
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What an unbelievable ride it’s been over the last two years, watching The Primer turn into everything I’d ever hoped it’d be. You’ve consumed it, digested it, and even shared it, despite knowing your most despised rivals might see it and gain more information than you’d ever want them to have. But let me tell you, it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
When I originally suggested the idea for this article years ago, I was turned down because it was “too time-consuming” and more work than it was worth. Continually disagreeing with that premise, I never gave up hope and was able to convince the FantasyPros brass to let me take a shot at it. After year one, the response was good enough to the point where they agreed to allow me to keep writing it for another year.
I’m extremely proud to share with you that after year two’s results, we’re all set for takeoff on year three. What you don’t know is that it grew three times the audience size in year two. At our yearly team meetings, my boss said, “I have no idea how people can read and digest 30,000 words a week, but thanks to Tags, the masses have spoken. It’s one of the biggest successes this year.”
KC at JAC | ATL at MIN | TEN at CLE | BUF at NYJ | BAL at MIA | WAS at PHI | LAR at CAR | IND at LAC | CIN at SEA | NYG at DAL | SF at TB | DET at ARI | PIT at NE | HOU at NO | DEN at OAK
Those words wouldn’t have existed if not for your support. While I fully understand not wanting to share the articles or podcasts of your favorite analysts in the industry because you don’t want to give your competition any advice to help them, you must also understand that when you do share their work, it allows them to continue producing the work you know and love. The way I see it is that you’d rather have a few league mates know about it rather than it to simply go away, right? Still, I know it takes some confidence on your part to share my work but know that I – and analysts around the industry – greatly appreciate it when you do share and support our work.
This piece gets my heart and soul on a weekly basis, though I couldn’t do it without time. Fortunately, my family allows me to dedicate the time needed to complete it for 16 straight weeks. I disappear for a lot more time than most are asked to deal with, to the point where I’ve been asked if it’s still something I want to do.
My response has always been the same. There’s a reason I’ve always wanted to do this piece and it still remains. Fantasy football players around the world want to know who to start, sure, but they also want to know why they’re starting them over another player. Without context on every player involved, there’s no way to answer every question analysts receive on a weekly basis. Believe me, I wish I could get to every question that pops up on my Twitter timeline. By talking about every player from every game without any emotion attached to your roster, The Primer should help bring you clarity. There’s no sit/start article that could do that. There are no rankings that will satisfy your curiosity without reasoning. There’s no podcast that’ll break down your entire roster.
The Primer wants to do all of that for you. I want to do all of that for you. That’s why I do what I do each week during the fantasy season. My wife knows that in order for me to be that person, I have to dedicate a lot of time to this craft. What most don’t realize is that she must sacrifice as well. So, as we get started on our third year of The Primer, I’d like to thank my wife for allowing me to do what I do. I’d also like to thank all of you for accepting me into your weekly routine and supporting what I love. Thank you to my FantasyPros brethren for allowing me to convince you to do this piece on a weekly basis. Now, as my favorite singer in the world Jonathan Davis would say, it’s time to rock.
Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars
Line: KC by 4.0
Patrick Mahomes: Let the games begin. Many have said Mahomes will break the laws of regression and finish with 50-plus touchdowns again, though he’s got a tough start to that road. Despite the public perception that the Jaguars took a giant step back last year, did you know there were just five quarterbacks who threw for more than one touchdown against them? These two teams met in Week 5 last year where Mahomes completed just 22-of-38 passes for 313 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. While that was before the Jaguars lost all their hope, we’re at the same point again. Mahomes and Ben Roethlisberger were the only two who threw for more than 286 yards against them, too, so don’t automatically assume that Mahomes will torch them in Week 1. So, how did the Jaguars allow fantasy points to quarterbacks? Well, there were five quarterbacks who rushed for at least 49 yards and they allowed five rushing touchdowns to quarterbacks. Mahomes can add value with his legs, though it’s not a week to be paying up for him in DFS lineups, particularly cash ones. You’re playing him if you drafted him in redraft leagues, though he’s likely to be a great return on investment in this one.
Nick Foles: Could there be a better matchup for Foles to start his Jaguars career? Not only is he at home, but he’s against a Chiefs defense that’s transitioning to a 4-3 and lacks talent at cornerback. 10-of-16 quarterbacks threw multiple touchdowns against the Chiefs last year and four of them threw for 400-plus yards, though many of them were playing from behind as Mahomes continually racked up points. The biggest issue for Foles is that he lacks a possession receiver that he can rely on as an outlet. While some believe Dede Westbrook is that guy, he’s not built to withstand hits on 90-plus receptions (we saw him take a nasty hit in the preseason). Knowing there were just four quarterbacks who didn’t post at least 16 fantasy points against the Chiefs last year is a great sign for Foles’ floor, though I’m wondering just how high his ceiling is. We’ll find out a lot about this offense in Week 1. Foles offers a decent floor as a QB2 streamer, though given his lack of options in the passing-game, I don’t think he has the ceiling to win a DFS tournament.
Damien Williams, LeSean McCoy, and Darwin Thompson: We’ve heard Andy Reid talk about a timeshare at running back, though that’s never really been his style. My guess would be that the newly-acquired McCoy will mix in for 8-10 touches, though nothing significant that you can rely on right now. Williams is the starter until further notice, and that has offered tons of value in Reid’s offense. The Jaguars allowed just one running back to finish better than the RB10 last year and that was Derrick Henry late in the season when they’d clearly given up. They let go of Malik Jackson this offseason, but the combination of Abry Jones and Taven Bryan should be more than competent up the middle alongside Marcell Dareus. Many will remember who Williams was in the postseason, but you also can’t ignore the fact that he was as fresh as they come while all other players were beaten by that time in the year. He had three carries on the season coming into Week 12, which is the definition of fresh legs. He’s explosive and can get things done in the passing game, which is likely where he’s leaned on this week, as Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins have their hands full with the Jaguars cornerbacks. Williams should be put into lineups as an RB2, though there are likely better weeks for him to come. McCoy should be left on benches if you can help it, though he should offer RB4/5 value in a pinch. Thompson is strictly a high-priority bench stash for the moment.
Leonard Fournette: We’ve heard good things about Fournette this offseason, as he’s seemingly got his head on straight. If he wants to start the year with a bang, this is the matchup to do it. The Chiefs allowed over 1,800 yards on the ground last year (5th-most) while allowing another 895 yards (5th-most) and six touchdowns (tied for most) through the air. They allowed eight running backs to eclipse 20 PPR points against them last year, while allowing another six of them 15-plus PPR points. Think about that for a minute. They played 16 games last year and allowed 16 running backs to score 15-plus PPR points. The average RB1 performance was 16.8 PPR points in 2018. Playing at home with a healthy offensive line (not many realized 4-of-5 starters were hurt to end last year), Fournette is a great play in both season-long and DFS. Most think he’s gamescript-dependent, but knowing he’s caught 58 passes in 21 career games says otherwise. He’s able to be used in cash games this week.
Tyreek Hill: The good news for Hill owners is that he’ll be on the field for Week 1. The bad news is that he’ll be covered by the game’s best cornerback. Jalen Ramsey is a handful and was able to hold Hill to just four catches for 61 yards on seven targets in their meeting last year. On the year, Ramsey allowed just a 54.6 percent completion rate in his coverage with two touchdowns (one to Deandre Hopkins, one to Antonio Brown). Reid does a good job to move Hill around the formation, which could allow him to evade Ramsey’s coverage, though it’ll be short lived. As is the case all weeks, it only takes one play for Hill to live up to WR1 expectations, though the odds aren’t in his favor here. I’d consider him a high-end WR2 and one to avoid in cash games, though you never cross him off your tournament list.
Sammy Watkins: “Oh hey, Hill has to deal with Ramsey, so I’ll take Watkins!” It sounds like a great idea until you realize that A.J. Bouye is on the other side of the field. Bouye has been a stud the last few years and is a big part of the reason the Jaguars allowed just 131.4 yards per game to receivers last year. That’s the whole team, not just one or two players. Ridiculous, right? While Watkins will likely wind up being a value this year, this isn’t the matchup to get excited about. The hope should be that Reid moves him into the slot (which he did 30-plus percent of the time last year) to get free from the tough coverage, as Bouye doesn’t really travel into the slot. Watkins should be considered a mediocre WR4 for this game.
Mecole Hardman/Demarcus Robinson: We don’t know how Reid will mix in these two with Watkins/Hill, but my guess would be that we’ll see more of Robinson due to experience. The unfortunate part is that Robinson doesn’t play in the slot very often, which would mean he’ll see Bouye when he is on the field, and that’s not a good thing. If Hardman played, he’d be more involved in the slot, though there’s too much risk to find out. Remember that Chris Conley played 75 percent of the snaps last year and wasn’t a fantasy producer. This is a very top-heavy offense, though if there’s one matchup to exploit on the Jaguars defense, it’s in the slot against D.J. Hayden. I’d advise just taking a week to see who plays how many snaps.
Dede Westbrook: There are many excited about the potential of Westbrook, and while I like him as a player, I don’t necessarily believe he’s being used in the correct role. Players like him should move into the slot to create mismatches, but he’s playing there practically full-time, making the offense a bit more predictable. The Chiefs blockbuster trade a year ago was when they acquired Kendall Fuller, the cornerback who’ll be covering Westbrook in this game. He did allow plenty of receptions in his coverage last year, but did a good job keeping the play in front of him, as he allowed just 11.6 yards per reception and two touchdowns all year. It’s not a brutal matchup or one that you must avoid, though it’s likely the toughest matchup among the Jaguars receivers. He should net six-plus targets, putting him on the WR3/4 radar in Week 1.
Marqise Lee: It appears that Lee is on track to play in Week 1, though he hasn’t had much time with his new quarterback in the newly installed offense. Because of that, it’s going to be tough to recommend him, even though the matchup is a good one. Bashaud Breeland would be the cornerback covering him the majority of time, a cornerback who’s on his third team in three years. He’s the definition of an average cornerback. Lee is, however, someone you can stick on the edge of your bench in redraft leagues. Don’t forget how good he was with Blake Bortles as his quarterback. Health was always the problem, not talent.
Chris Conley/D.J. Chark: With Lee coming back to the lineup, that’s going to boot one of Conley or Chark out of the lineup when the Jaguars go three-wide. They’ve talked up Conley in camp, but he’s been a disappointment through multiple quarterbacks, so let’s just say the hope isn’t high on this end. Foles isn’t a great deep-ball passer, though it does help that the Chiefs have a new safety combo on the back end, as miscommunication is a real thing. The Chiefs allowed 44 plays of 20-plus yards last year, which ranked as just the 10th-fewest, so despite their struggles, it wasn’t due to massive plays. The coincides with the 12.2 yards per reception, which was also one of the lower marks in the league. Neither of these two should be near fantasy lineups until we know how many snaps they’ll play.
Travis Kelce: The Jaguars struggled against athletic tight ends last year, as Kelce posted 5/100/0 on eight targets, and Eric Ebron tagged them twice for 3/69/2 and 10/81/0 in their matchups. The eight touchdowns the Jaguars allowed to tight ends ranked as the sixth-most in the NFL. Knowing how good the Jaguars cornerbacks are, it’s likely we see a lot of Kelce in this game. You don’t need me to tell you to start him as a high-end TE1. He’s also safe for cash games if you have the money to spend on him.
Geoff Swaim: After the injury to Josh Oliver, there’s no question that Swaim is the starting tight end for the Jaguars. This is good for desperate streamers because the Chiefs were the fifth-worst team in the league at defending tight ends last year. They allowed a league-high 10 touchdowns to them, one every 12.0 targets. There were a remarkable 10 tight ends who totaled at least 51 yards against them, too. It’s rough to play him with much confidence seeing he is on a new team, has a new quarterback, and is in a completely different offense, but if there’s someone who’s available on the waiver wire in a last-second pinch, Swaim isn’t a bad bet for at least TE2 production. Update: He’s dealing with a foot injury that has him listed as questionable, though he’s expected to play.
Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings
Line: MIN by 4.0
Matt Ryan: Remember all those stats this offseason about how Ryan gets to play in a dome in each of his first nine games? Well, playing inside the dome at Minnesota is no picnic. There were just three quarterbacks the entire year who topped 16.0 fantasy points against the Vikings. Two of them were on the road, while the other was Josh Allen, who threw for just 196 yards and one touchdown, though he ran for 39 yards and two touchdowns. Ryan isn’t going to do that. Outside of Allen, no quarterback totaled more than 12.0 fantasy points in Minnesota, which included Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. They’ve had plenty of time to gameplan for the Falcons pass attack, making Ryan an unappealing starter in redraft leagues this week. He’s more of a middling QB2 than a QB1 and not someone I’d use in DFS lineups.
Kirk Cousins: This isn’t the same Falcons defense you saw last year, as their defense was decimated with injuries. They may not be a top-tier unit, but they’re not going to allow a league-high 21.3 fantasy points per game again, either. The Vikings have said they want to run the ball more this year and it makes sense considering they upgraded the interior of their offensive line with the addition of Garrett Bradbury in the draft. Sure, Cousins finished as a top-12 quarterback last year, but his attempts dipped quite a bit as the year went on. He was the QB6 through eight weeks but was the QB18 during the final eight weeks. The total in this game signifies that oddsmakers see it a bit more run-heavy than a shootout, leaving Cousins as a high-end QB2 in the rankings. They have the receiving talent to beat the Falcons through the air, but it’s not as if the Falcons have a stout run-defense, either. Cousins should provide a solid floor for streaming purposes.
Devonta Freeman: We’ve seen the Falcons run more of a timeshare over the last couple years, but with Tevin Coleman gone and no clear-cut backup to Freeman, we may see more of a one-back approach this year. Freeman obviously needs to stay healthy, too. This game against the Vikings won’t be a picnic, though. They allowed just two running backs to eclipse 90 yards on the ground last year. If there was one area of the Vikings defense that was leaky to running backs last year, it was in the receiving department where they allowed 6.6 yards per target, which was one of the higher marks in the league. There were five running backs who accumulated more than 50 yards through the air against them last year. Still, the combination of being on the road as an underdog doesn’t set up well for those who are contemplating him for DFS purposes. He should still net 15-plus touches, making him a low-end RB2 in redraft leagues.
Dalvin Cook: It’s no secret that the Falcons defense was horrible last year. They allowed 10 running backs to finish as top-10 options, including three of them to finish as the RB1 that particular week. Injuries had a lot to do with their struggles, but this is a unit that wasn’t particularly good against running backs in 2017, either, and particularly pass-catching ones. Despite playing just 11 games, Cook saw 49 targets in 2018, highlighting how much they want to use him as a pass-catcher. The Falcons have ranked in the eight-most receiving yardage allowed to running backs in each of the last four years, highlighting it’s a problem in Dan Quinn’s scheme that he’s okay avoiding. Knowing Alexander Mattison is a backup and not one who’s particularly good in the passing game, Cook should be a valuable fantasy asset this week and should be played as a strong RB1. He’s safe to use in DFS cash games, too.
Julio Jones: Everyone knows about Xavier Rhodes, someone who’s regarded as one of the better shadow cornerbacks in the game, right? He’s allowed just seven touchdowns in his coverage over the last three years combined. Keep in mind that’s over a span of over 200 targets, usually covering the opponents top receiver. Still, he slipped a bit last year, allowing a rather-high 65.2 percent catch-rate in his coverage, though injuries could be part to blame. But here’s the thing – when a team has a cornerback like Rhodes, they usually trust him in man coverage. Jones is good enough to beat anyone man coverage, but will Ryan target him as much? That’s the question here. When targeted last year, Jones posted 10.8 yards per target in zone coverage but just 6.9 yards per target in base man coverage, though his marks went up dramatically when the corner presses him at the line of scrimmage. Is that a Ryan problem? I hesitate to think it’s a Jones problem. Rhodes did play press coverage nearly 38 percent of the time in 2018. You’re playing Jones in season-long leagues as a low-end WR1, though it’s a week where you may want to have light exposure in DFS.
Calvin Ridley: Knowing that Xavier Rhodes will cover Jones, Ridley is going to match-up with Trae Waynes. Throughout his NFL career, Waynes has been what I’d describe as a mediocre cornerback. He has speed, but that’s not going to help with Ridley. Over the last two years, Waynes has allowed a 93.4 QB Rating in his coverage, large in part to do with the 62.4 percent catch-rate he’s allowed. The issue is that the Vikings run Waynes in zone nearly half the time, which is not the best thing for Ridley’s game. Against man coverage, Ridley posted a 154.8 WR Rating. Against zone coverage, it dropped to 96.6. While that’s still solid, he’s clearly better if the defense is man-heavy. This is not a game to expect a shootout, leaving Ridley as a WR3 in redraft. He’s not a must-play in DFS, nor is he a must-fade.
Mohamed Sanu: He’ll match-up with Mackensie Alexander, who took a big step in the right direction last year. The former second-round pick allowed just 9.6 yards per reception while manning the slot, an improvement from his 12.5 in 2016 and 11.6 in 2017. There was just one slot-heavy wide receiver who posted more than 10.5 PPR points against the Vikings last year (Cooper Kupp), and it was a Thursday night game where the Vikings had to travel across the country to play on a short week. While Sanu is usually undervalued in fantasy, this is not a matchup to target.
Stefon Diggs: Did you know Diggs was one of just seven wide receivers who averaged double-digit targets in 2018? It’s clear there’s enough room for both Thielen and Diggs to be fantasy superstars, though the Vikings moving to more of a run-heavy approach is not ideal. The Falcons are moving to Desmond Trufant and Isaiah Oliver as the starters this year, and it’s unlikely they’ll have Trufant shadow, as he’s been steadily declining over the last few years. Diggs moves all over, as he wasn’t at one position (LWR/RWR/SWR) more than 38 percent of the time, meaning he’ll see a combination of all three starting cornerbacks. He’s far better than each of them and knowing they play a lot of man coverage is great for his prospects, as Cousins had a 128.0 QB Rating when targeting him in man coverage. In fact, seven of Diggs’ nine touchdowns came in man coverage. He should be plugged in as a low-end WR1 in this matchup. He’s not someone you absolutely need to play in cash, as Thielen can steal production, but he’s in consideration for tournaments. *Update* Diggs popped up on the injury report on Wednesday with a hamstring. While he was at practice on Thursday, it adds another level of concern.
Adam Thielen: Word came out that Thielen was dealing with a fractured back at the end of last year, hampering his performance. It makes sense, too, though the decrease in pass attempts also contributed to the lack of production as the year went on. He saw 10-plus targets in each of the first seven games, but just twice over the remainder of the season. The Falcons will have moved safety Damontae Kazee into the nickel cornerback role this year, which may backfire in their face considering Kazee allowed two touchdowns on just 19 targets in coverage last year. While it’s a different position, it’s surely not easier, especially when you have to cover Thielen. Because of that, Thielen should be the primary chain-mover for the Vikings pass attack. This is not a game where you should be expecting a shootout, somewhat limited the expected output in the passing-game, but Thielen needs to be played as a borderline WR1 in this matchup. He’s likely a safer cash-game play than Diggs.
Austin Hooper: So, now that we know wide receivers haven’t fared too well against the Vikings, what about tight ends? Well, that wasn’t exactly pretty, either. There were just four tight ends who posted top-12 performances against them last year and all of them saw at least seven targets. That’s a mark Hooper saw just three times in 2018. In fact, if a tight end didn’t see at least six targets against the Vikings, he didn’t finish with more than 34 yards. If starting Hooper, you’re looking for a touchdown, though I don’t think it’s a safe bet given the healthy state of the Vikings offense and that this game is taking place in Minnesota where they allowed just four passing touchdowns last year. He’s just a middling TE2 this week and one I’d avoid in DFS cash games.
Kyle Rudolph: After hearing the Vikings were going to release Rudolph, it was a shocker to see him extended for four years, though the Vikings can get out of it after this season with just $5.8 million in dead cap. Despite the Falcons being incredibly bad last year, they weren’t necessarily a team to target with tight ends. No tight end finished with more than 16.2 PPR points and just six tight ends topped 9.8 PPR points. With Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen back healthy (Allen is questionable), it’s likely they improve even further in that area. The Falcons allow much more receptions to running backs, meaning Rudolph should take a backseat to Dalvin Cook‘s pass-catching prowess this week. Rudolph has always been a touchdown-dependent option and the Falcons allowed just five of them to the position last year. He’s a weak TE2 option this week.
Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns
Line: CLE by 5.5
Marcus Mariota: If you watched any of the Titans preseason games, you can’t say you’re comfortable with him as your starting fantasy quarterback. Knowing he’ll be without his starting left tackle, Taylor Lewan, for the first four weeks is even more concerning. The matchup in Week 1 against the Browns is no longer an easy one, as they have one of the nastiest front-fours in all of football. Between Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon, Larry Ogunjobi, and Sheldon Richardson, they’re going to find their way into the backfield. The team total for the Titans is just 20 points, which might be generous considering how bad the Titans offense has looked. While the Browns did have some talent on the defensive side of the ball last year, they did allow five different quarterbacks 20-plus fantasy points. It’s worth noting that three of those quarterbacks threw the ball 52-plus times, while the other two were Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson (who rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns). The hope for Mariota is that they have to abandon their “run-heavy” approach because the Browns put points on the board, leading to pass attempts. It’s not something you should be counting on, though, which leaves Mariota off the streaming radar.
Baker Mayfield: After picking up steam as the season went on, Mayfield will look to build on his strong finish to his rookie campaign where he was the No. 9 fantasy quarterback over the final 10 weeks of the season. He threw multiple touchdowns in 8-of-10 games, while the Titans defense allowed multiple passing touchdowns in 8-of-16 games last year. Keep in mind Mayfield didn’t have his new weapon Odell Beckham at his disposal while posting those numbers. Here’s the list of quarterbacks the Titans held to less than 16.0 fantasy points last year: Cody Kessler, Ryan Tannehill, Joe Flacco, Tom Brady, Josh Allen, Blake Bortles, Josh Johnson, Eli Manning, and Josh McCown. You want to tell anyone that Mayfield is anywhere close to that group? Every other quarterback who played them threw for at least two touchdowns. While playing at home in the season opener that they haven’t won since 2004 (I’m not kidding), look for Mayfield to rectify that with a QB1 performance against the Titans. Consider him a solid cash-game option. He has some tournament appeal, too, but would need the Titans to at least present a fight to rack up the attempts, which is somewhat unlikely.
Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis: After sitting out practically all of training camp with a calf injury, it appears Henry will suit up for this game. During this offseason, I told readers I didn’t want to own Henry because he’d be too gamescript-dependent. Henry played 16 games last year, six where he was the favorite and 10 where he was the underdog. Here are the splits:
Do you understand why you should be hesitant to trust him in a game they’re a 5.5-point underdog? If you project the Titans to win this game, you should not only bet on them, but you should play Henry. I’m not one of them. His splits in wins and losses is nearly identical. I will say that Henry is the type of running back who can break an 80-yard touchdown run at any time, so he’s not completely off the board in tournaments, but he’s not a good play, either. Consider him a mediocre RB3/flex option in this game. Lewis is a bit interesting considering the projected gamescript, especially in PPR formats. There were nine different running backs who accumulated at least 38 yards through the air against the Browns last year. Still, with the Titans talking about involving Henry in the passing game limits how comfortable you can be, making him a shaky RB4, and one you ideally wait on to see how things shake out.
Nick Chubb: It’s his time to shine with Duke Johnson out of town and Kareem Hunt suspended. You really don’t expect them to pull Chubb off the field for Dontrell Hilliard, do you? The workload will be there, though the matchup against the Titans isn’t an easy one. There were just three running backs who hit the century-mark against them last year and just three running backs who finished as top-12 options. In fact, they allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to running backs, though much of that was due to the lack of production in the passing game. They allowed just 404 yards without a single touchdown through the air, though we know that’s not Chubb’s wheelhouse. Opponents averaged 22.5 carries per game against them last year and it’s unlikely we see any other Browns running back tally more than a few carries. With this game being at home and them being a pretty big favorite, the correlation to success is strong with Chubb. He’s not an elite start against the stout Titans run defense, but he’s still a borderline RB1. There are better starts in DFS cash games, however.
Corey Davis: Did you know that only Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Tyreek Hill, Kenny Golladay, and Antonio Brown saw a higher percentage of their team’s air yards than Davis in 2018? We typically see that lead to production, though Davis had an unusually hard schedule last year, and it’s not like the quarterback play was great. Mike Vrabel continually says Davis is clearly the best wide receiver on this team, so we should expect him to remain in a heavily targeted role. His matchup in Week 1 isn’t a great one, though. The Browns will have Denzel Ward covering him, last year’s first-round pick who has the makings of a shutdown cornerback. He allowed just a 53.7 percent catch-rate in his coverage last year, while holding opposing No. 1 receivers to just 10.3 yards per reception and four touchdowns on 82 targets. Keep in mind that was as a rookie. The Titans should rack up at least 30 pass attempts in this contest, which likely means eight-plus targets for Davis, though they aren’t likely to be highly efficient ones. He’s just a low-end WR3 until we see Mariota step up his game.
Adam Humphries: We’ve seen Humphries be a favorite of Mariota in the preseason, which likely has to do with the fact that his offensive line was crumbling around him. That’s not going to change against a stout Browns pass-rush. We don’t know if the Browns will have T.J. Carrie in the slot or if they are moving safeties around, but if one thing is clear, Humphries’ matchup will be better than Davis’. Carrie was solid last year, as he didn’t allow a single touchdown on 87 targets. It was a career year for him, as he’s been a relatively mediocre cornerback throughout his five-year career, so we don’t want to say it’s a bad matchup. It surely helps that the Titans are likely to be forced to abandon their run-heavy attack, which should allow Humphries to rack up some receptions. Expecting a line of around 5/55/0 sounds about right, making him a mediocre WR4/5 option, depending on whether you play PPR or not.
Odell Beckham Jr: In his first game with the Browns, will there be fireworks? Knowing he’s going to match-up with Malcolm Butler and Adoree Jackson makes it somewhat likely. Butler was absolutely brutal in coverage last year, allowing seven touchdowns in his coverage, the second-most in the league. Beckham roasts the best cornerbacks in the league, though Eli Manning had trouble getting him the ball at times. Just go back and watch the Beckham/Josh Norman battles, and you’ll see Beckham could’ve had much bigger games. Mayfield won’t miss those throws very often. It wasn’t just touchdowns, either, as the Titans allowed seven different wide receivers to rack up at least 104 yards against them, with five of them doing it without double-digit targets. Combine it all and you had 11 wide receivers total at least 18.7 PPR points against the Titans. Beckham might just be the best wide receiver play on the board and he’s usable in both cash and tournament lineups.
Jarvis Landry: While I’m going to be heavily invested in Beckham this weekend, I won’t be as high on Landry. He’s going to move back to a primary slot role, which means he’ll see the Titans most consistent cornerback, Logan Ryan. He has allowed a rather-high 65.3 percent completion rate over the last two years with the Titans, but in the slot, that should be somewhat expected. We saw just two slot-heavy wide receivers finish as top-24 options against the Titans last year and both players (Dede Westbrook and Julian Edelman) saw at least 10 targets. While this is possible for Landry, I wouldn’t consider it likely. He’s still a solid WR3 option considering how good the Titans are against the run, though I believe Beckham steals the show here.
Rashard Higgins: With Antonio Callaway suspended and reporting out of shape, Higgins has a chance to run with the No. 3 wide receiver job in the Browns offense. From the time Mayfield took over as the starter, Higgins saw 40 targets and turned them into 30 receptions, 455 yards, and four touchdowns. He’s pretty good at football, though he’s likely fourth in line for targets. With that being said, the Titans weak spot in the secondary is on the perimeter with Malcolm Butler and Adoree Jackson, and we don’t know if they’ll shadow Beckham. If you want a pivot off Beckham in a tournament lineup, Higgins can be that guy. I don’t think there’ll be enough pass attempts to justify starting him with any confidence, though he remains a solid bench stash in case anything was to happen to Beckham or Landry.
Delanie Walker: Remember when it was an automatic decision to start tight ends against the Browns? Well, it may not be that easy anymore, though they aren’t one to avoid, either. There were three times they allowed a top-three tight end performance last year, while allowing a total of nine top-12 performances. Many dropped Walker down draft boards this offseason, though Mariota’s been at his best when targeting him. Age may have taken some of his upside, but Walker should be a lock to see at least six targets in this game. Any tight end who saw at least six targets against the Browns last year finished with a minimum of 8.3 PPR points, including Matt LaCosse and C.J. Uzomah. He may not be sexy, but Walker is on the TE1 radar this week.
David Njoku: When the Browns traded for Beckham, I initially perceived Njoku’s stock to go down, though the more I dug in, the more I changed my tune. With Landry and Beckham on the field, Njoku becomes somewhat of an afterthought for defensive coordinators. Not just that, but trading away Duke Johnson opened the door for more targets. Running back and tight end targets are much higher correlated than wide receiver and tight end targets. The issue this week, however, is that the Titans were one of the best in the league at defending the tight end position in 2018, though they did fall off toward the end of the year. Through the first 14 weeks, they allowed just one tight end (Zach Ertz) to score more than 8.3 PPR points against them, but we watched both Eric Ebron and Evan Engram tally 15-plus points in the final three weeks. Ebron scored one of the two touchdowns they allowed ALL SEASON, which was tied for the lowest in the league. Njoku is an athletic freak, but the matchup doesn’t scream must-play, though I wouldn’t cross him off tournament sheets as a pivot away from Beckham.