The Primer: Week 1 Edition (2019 Fantasy Football)
Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Chargers
Line: LAC by 6.5
Jacoby Brissett: This game’s line shifted quite a bit when Andrew Luck announced his retirement, and rightfully so, though the Chargers have dealt with a few injuries as well, including starting safety Derwin James. Brissett looked good in the preseason and we cannot pretend this is 2017 all over again, as he has a rock star offensive line, strong head coach, and better options in the passing game. Some have stated that Brissett offers a high floor with his legs, though I’d argue that premise, as he scored 13.9 or less fantasy points in 9-of-16 starts in 2017. Again, it’s a new offense, but his floor isn’t as high as other mobile quarterbacks in the league. The Chargers allowed just two quarterbacks to hit the 20-point mark last year (Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff), while holding nine quarterbacks to 15 fantasy points or less. Goff was the only one who threw for 300 yards, while there was no quarterback who rushed for more than 41 yards, and no quarterback who rushed for a touchdown against them. Brissett is just a low-end QB2/high-end QB3 in this matchup.
Philip Rivers: We were hoping for a quarterback who could potentially keep pace with Rivers, though Andrew Luck retiring destroyed those chances. With Melvin Gordon‘s holdout continuing through the weekend, the Chargers may lean on their passing game a bit more than they would’ve had Gordon been with the team. There were seven quarterbacks who failed to finish as top-18 options against the Colts last year, though judging by their names, it wasn’t due to the Colts being a shutdown defense. Derek Anderson, Dak Prescott, Blaine Gabbert (twice), Cody Kessler, Alex Smith, and Carson Wentz were the names who failed to reach that mark. As for Wentz, it kind of makes sense that Frank Reich would’ve known what they were trying to accomplish, given he came from the Eagles. Rivers isn’t likely to light up the scoreboard in this game, but he should deliver quality QB2 numbers against this secondary. He’s someone I’d feel better about in cash than in tournaments, though there’s better options for both this week.
Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines: If there’s someone who isn’t as affected by the retirement of Andrew Luck, it’s Mack, who is still behind a top-three offensive line and has an offensive-minded head coach. It will limit his touchdown potential, however. There were just two running backs who hit the century-mark on the ground against the Chargers, but they allowed multiple rushing touchdowns to three different running backs. If the Colts are behind in this game, it’s not a good sign for Mack, who caught more than two passes just once in all of 2018. We’ve heard that they want to involve him more in the passing game, though they drafted Hines with a specific role in mind. The receiving role is the more valuable one in this game, as the Chargers allowed 108 receptions and 974 yards through the air to running backs last year, both of which ranked as the second most in the NFL. This is where coachspeak comes into play. Do you believe it? I believe Hines will still be the primary receiving back, making both of them risky options in this game. Mack should be considered a high-end RB3 who can get gamescripted out, while Hines doesn’t get enough work to feel comfortable as anything more than a RB4 in PPR formats.
Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson: Unless something changes really soon, it appears likely that we’re looking at an Ekeler/Jackson backfield in Week 1. The Colts were one of the biggest surprises last year when it came to their run defense, as they didn’t allow a single running back to accumulate 100 yards on the ground. There were eight different running backs who finished as RB1s against them, though. That was large in-part to their inability to defend running backs in the passing game. There were nine different running backs who totaled at least 40 yards through the air, including three of them with 64-plus yards. Because of that, Ekeler is mighty appealing in this game. While many believe he’ll carry the load, this has the looks of a timeshare between him and Jackson. They were both active against the Steelers in Week 13 when Ekeler got 21 combined carries/targets (13 rush, 8 targets) while Jackson got nine such opportunities (8 rush, 1 target). Then, in Week 14, the split was Ekeler 20 (15 rush, 5 targets), Jackson 9 (7 rush, 2 targets). Ekeler was banged up over the remainder of the season, but if last year was any indication, Ekeler has the edge in a 65/35 split, including more work in the passing game. Ekeler should be played as a low-end RB2 who may lose some goal-line touches, while Jackson is just a touchdown-dependent RB4.
T.Y. Hilton: Many have tried to stay true to Hilton throughout the Andrew Luck surprise retirement, though I’m not as optimistic. He’s played 26 games in his career without Luck, and in those games, he’s averaged just 3.8 receptions for 61.4 yards and 0.23 touchdowns. That’s a far cry from his 5.0 receptions, 79.3 yards, and 0.41 touchdowns with Luck. It’s over four fantasy points per game. Yes, this offense is improved since he played with Brissett back in 2017, but there’s also improved weapons around him. And yes, he needs to improve on 2017 dramatically, as he finished as a WR3 or better in just 5-of-16 games, or 31.3 percent, which ranked 60th among wide receivers that year. He’s going to see Casey Hayward most of the game, who allowed just a 57 percent completion rate in his coverage last year, though it’s important to note that those completions he did allow averaged a robust 15.3 yards, which was one of the higher marks in the league. The Chargers allowed 52 plays of 20-plus yards last year, which ranked 17th, so they weren’t particularly prone to allowing big plays. Hilton should be considered a semi-risky WR3 in this game and not one who is a must-play.
Devin Funchess: With Luck out of the picture, Funchess becomes somewhat of an afterthought, as no fantasy owners believe Brissett can continually support two fantasy relevant wide receivers. The Charges as a team allowed just 13 wide receiver touchdowns last year (sixth fewest), less than one per game, and that’s despite them being targeted 39 times in the red zone (inside the top half of the league). He’ll see a mix of Casey Hayward and the 2017 undrafted Michael Davis in coverage, the duo who performed extremely well for the Chargers last year. You should be waiting to see it before believing it when it comes to Funchess with Brissett.
Chester Rogers: He’s going to start with this job, though it’ll eventually be given to Parris Campbell, who missed tons of time throughout training camp. Unfortunately for Rogers, the Chargers have one of the better slot cornerbacks in the game in Desmond King, who allowed just 8.5 yards per reception in his coverage with just two touchdowns on 78 targets in 2018. Rogers isn’t on the fantasy radar right now, especially in this matchup.
Keenan Allen: After being held out of the preseason with an ankle injury, Allen appears good to go for Week 1. He’ll match-up with the Colts’ Kenny Moore, a formerly undrafted free agent the Colts snagged in 2017. Knowing the target-magnet Allen is, I decided to look at Moore’s game log last year. There were six games he saw seven-plus targets in his coverage. In those games, he allowed a combined 43-of-55 passing for 394 yards and two touchdowns. That’s a high completion rate, though he did seem to keep the plays in front of him. Allen is one of the elite route runners in the game who should be able to shake free and rack up the receptions in this game. This is the team Keke Coutee was able to rack up 11 receptions for 109 yards against last year. Allen should be played as a sturdy WR1 who should be relatively safe for cash games if he practices in full all week.
Mike Williams: With Tyrell Williams off to Oakland, Mike Williams has a big role to fill. There were just three games in 2018 where he hit 70 percent of the snaps, while there were seven games he played less than 60 percent of the snaps. It’s noteworthy that he scored multiple touchdowns in 2-of-3 games when playing 70 percent of snaps. With Melvin Gordon holding out, it’s possible we see more passing on the goal-line for the Chargers. He’s going to see a lot of Pierre Desir in coverage this week, the Colts top cornerback who they re-signed this offseason. Desir is far from an elite cornerback, though he’s gotten better as the years have gone on. He’s 6-foot-1, so Williams won’t absolutely tower over him, and he allowed just two touchdowns on 83 targets in his coverage last year. This isn’t a matchup to target, nor one to avoid, leaving Williams in the WR3 conversation this week.
Travis Benjamin: He’s been looked over by many this offseason, though I’m not sure why, as he’ll play in all three wide receiver sets. He’s not going to be getting consistently peppered with targets, but he may not need to considering his quarterback is Philip Rivers. He’s the field stretcher, so you naturally want to take a look at the safety play of the Colts, which is rather good. Malik Hooker is a ballhawk safety who has totaled five interceptions in just 21 career regular season games. He’s also a big part of the reason the Colts allowed just four 40-plus yard plays last year, the second fewest in the NFL. Benjamin is going to have some big weeks, though this doesn’t look like one of them.
Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle: Many are contemplating/have already dropped the Colts tight ends from their roster, but should you be one of them? Frank Reich clearly runs a system similar to his tutor, Doug Pederson, which favors the tight end position. While Andrew Luck loved to target tight ends, we should wonder if Jacoby Brissett does the same thing. During the 2017 season when Brissett was the quarterback, he targeted tight ends 29.6 percent of the time, which was the third-highest mark in the NFL. In comparison, Luck targeted tight ends 26.1 percent of the time last year. Unfortunately, the Chargers were brutal to tight ends last year, allowing just 1.47 PPR points per target, which was the second lowest mark in the league. Even though they saw 121 targets (fifth-most), which is a big enough sample size, they allowed just 6.15 yards per target (third-fewest). Keep in mind they played Travis Kelce twice and George Kittle, so it’s quite the accomplishment. Doyle is going to lead the team in snaps, though we don’t know if Ebron will be favored when it comes to the targets. With the tough matchup, both should be considered iffy TE2 options.
Hunter Henry: We’ve finally made it. Antonio Gates is no longer blocking the path to more targets for Henry. On top of that, Melvin Gordon is not on the field, which could mean more targets funneled to the tight end. There were 11 tight ends who finished as top-12 options against the Colts last year, which likely comes down to the fact that they allowed 6.44 receptions per game to the position, the most in the NFL. Not just receptions, either. They allowed the highest completion percentage (79.8 percent while no other team allowed higher than 74.5 percent), as well as the most yards per game (74.6) to the position. Knowing it’s a plus matchup combined with Gordon out, this could be a matchup that reminds you why Henry was locked in as a top-six tight end in drafts. He’s a top-six play this week who has nice tournament appeal, too.
Cincinnati Bengals at Seattle Seahawks
Line: SEA by 9.5
Andy Dalton: He’s been put in a very bad spot here, as he’s traveling into Seattle without A.J. Green, two of his starting linemen, and a brand-new offense. Fortunately, for him, this isn’t the same ol’ Seahawks defense that tormented opposing offenses in years past, though they did just add Jadeveon Clowney this past weekend to their front seven. It’s tough to know how Zac Taylor is going to operate his offense, but we do have an idea as to how this one will go, as they’re 9.5-point underdogs on the road. Some will automatically assume this means tons of pass attempts, though the Seahawks are likely to play a ball-control style offense with the injuries they’re dealing with to their receiving corps. It was that way last year, as Seahawks’ opponents averaged less than 60 plays per game. Meanwhile the Bengals defense allowed nearly 68 plays per game. There were nine quarterbacks who threw multiple touchdown passes against the Seahawks, including five of the last eight games. It’s unlikely Dalton has the weapons to post the numbers needed to get into streaming range, even if this matchup may not be as daunting as some think. Until Green comes back, Dalton remains on fantasy benches, even in 2QB leagues. *UPDATE* It appears that Dalton will also be without his starting left tackle Cordy Glenn, who’s dealing with concussion-like symptoms.
Russell Wilson: The Seahawks are at home favored by 9.5 points? It’s a great week to start Wilson, right? Well, not necessarily. Can he throw all over the Bengals if he wanted to? Yeah, probably. Will he need to in order to win this game? Nope. The Seahawks were slated to start Tyler Lockett and Jaron Brown at wide receiver in Week 1, but after the trade for Clowney, they needed to cut Brown in order to save cap space. That either means (a) D.K. Metcalf will be ready to go after a knee scope a few weeks ago, or (b) they’re starting rookies John Ursua/Gary Jennings. That’s not ideal for Wilson (Update: The Seahawks were able to re-sign Brown). The Bengals opponents averaged nearly 68 plays per game last year, though 29.1 of those plays were runs, while the Seahawks themselves averaged nearly 33 rushing attempts per game. This all adds up to a low volume game out of Wilson, though he’s been able to remain efficient enough throughout his career to produce in such games. He’s played 52 games in which he’s thrown the ball 28 times or less and netted an average of 21.1 fantasy points in them. His weapons have never been worse, so he should be considered a high-end-to-middling QB2 who has limited upside in this game.
Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard: We’ve heard that Mixon will be a workhorse, but we’ve also heard Bernard will be involved more than most realize. The contract extension they just gave Bernard on Wednesday highlights they value him more than most thought (two years, $10.3 million). Under new head coach Zac Taylor, no one really knows until we see them in a regular season game. While Sean McVay used a one-back system, we watched Matt LaFleur employ a full-blown timeshare. Them drafting two running backs suggested they do want depth at the position, though rookie Rodney Anderson blew out his ACL in the fourth preseason game. Some will say that Bernard is the better third-down back, though I’d argue that Mixon’s been severely underused in the passing game and has the skill-set of someone like Le’Veon Bell. This is important because it’s unlikely the Bengals are able to rack up the carries in this game, as I’d consider Mixon lucky to hit 15 carries in a game they’re nearly double-digit underdogs. If there’s a weakness to the Seahawks defense, it’s on the back end, so it’s not a week to get excited about either of the Bengals backs. Mixon has the better shot to score and should see at least 15 total touches, so he’s still in the RB2 range, though he’s not a cash-game option and lacks tournament upside. Bernard could accumulate some targets, especially with A.J. Green out, so he can be used as an emergency RB4 who should net at least five targets with a few carries mixed in.
Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny: You thought you saw a lot of carries per game out of this team last year? Just wait until you see them in Week 1. Bengals opponents averaged 67.8 plays per game, with 29.1 of them being carries, the fourth-most in the league. The Seahawks ranked second with 32.8 attempts per game. If you do the math, the Seahawks should run the ball 450 times this week. I’m kidding, though there is 40-carry potential in this game. Many tried to say Penny would leapfrog Carson as the lead back this year, though reports out of camp was that there’s a clear difference between them. Carson is going to get 20-plus carries in this game against a Bengals defense that allowed 4.95 yards per carry last year, including 14 rushing touchdowns. They suffered some injuries last year and are under a new coaching staff, but losing Vontaze Burfict won’t make them better. They also allowed 901 yards and six touchdowns through the air to running backs, which is significant considering the lack of options Wilson has to throw to. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Carson is the RB1 this week. He’s in play for both cash and tournaments. Oddly enough, I think Penny can be played as an RB3 as well with how many carries there will be to go around. Did you know Mike Davis was an RB2 or better 40 percent of the time in 2018? With him gone, Penny should net 8-12 touches per game. He could be an interesting pivot off Carson in GPPs.
Tyler Boyd: How many targets can Boyd get in a single week? We’re going to find out this week. With A.J. Green out of the lineup, Boyd is locked-in for eight-plus targets. We don’t know who the Seahawks starting nickel cornerback is, though it’s likely we see Akeem King, who played in a part-time role for them last season, allowing 61 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 targets in coverage. With the pressure that’s headed Dalton’s way, we should see Boyd peppered over the middle of the field. He should be in lineups as a strong WR2 this week and someone who can be considered in cash lineups as well.
John Ross: It’s fair to say that everyone’s called Ross a bust at this point, right? He was the most inefficient wide receiver in the league last year, though some of it wasn’t on him, as he and Dalton never got on the same page. We know what a difference an offensive scheme can make, so it’s time to hit the reset button on him. To be fair, his counterpart in this game was also extremely disappointing last year. Shaquill Griffin was supposed to fill Richard Sherman‘s shoes, but failed miserably, allowing 677 yards and four touchdowns on 77 targets in coverage last year, good for a 100-plus QB Rating. One of his weakest routes to cover? The go-route. He allowed 5-of-8 to be completed for 209 yards and two touchdowns. In a game where the Bengals are likely to fall behind early, the Bengals should take a few shots down the field. Ross should be nowhere near a redraft lineup just yet, but as a dirt-cheap tournament option, he kind of makes sense.
Tyler Lockett: He’s walked into what looks to be a ton of targets, though it’s important to remember that he’s never seen more than 71 targets in a season, and he had just one game where he totaled more than six targets last year. But yes, Doug Baldwin is gone, and the Seahawks have no other proven receiver who can play in the NFL. Because of that, Lockett should be one of the few receivers who’s guaranteed seven-plus targets this week, though you have to wonder if the Seahawks throw the ball more than 25 times in this game. When the Seahawks go three-wide, Lockett moves into the slot, which is where B.W. Webb is going to play for the Bengals. He wasn’t all that bad for the Giants last year, as he was forced to play in a pinch and allowed just a 59.1 percent catch-rate with one touchdown on 66 targets in coverage. With the lack of receivers, Lockett needs to be a WR2/3 option in fantasy lineups, though I don’t think he’s someone you should trust in cash lineups due to game-flow concerns.
D.K. Metcalf: It seems like the Seahawks are expecting Metcalf to be ready to play in this game, though his matchup isn’t a good one. William Jackson is one of the bright spots on the Bengals defense, and though he’s slipped at times, Metcalf is a raw receiver who doesn’t quite run the full route tree. While Metcalf is the type of receiver who can have one play turn him into a WR2, we know he’s coming off a knee scope a few weeks ago, combined with a tough cornerback matchup, and game-flow concerns. He’s someone you need to take a wait-and-see approach with. If someone drops him onto the waiver wire, I do highly suggest snagging him as someone to stash on your bench. His opportunity to play in the starting lineup with Wilson is massive. *UPDATE* Metcalf says he’s a full-go for this week and that the Seahawks can use him as much as they’d like, though it’s not a game there’ll be many pass attempts.
Jaron Brown: He was re-signed to the team just a day after they released him for salary cap reasons, though on the first depth chart, it shows Metcalf ahead of him. Knowing they won’t need to run many three wide receiver sets, Brown isn’t on the radar as someone who needs to be played this week.
Tyler Eifert: There hasn’t been much talk about Eifert this offseason, which is likely a good thing. He’s been a force when on the field and knowing they won’t have A.J. Green, it should lend to a higher target share for the oft-injured tight end. The Seahawks weren’t a matchup to target with tight ends last year, though their roster does look a bit different. Their starting safeties and linebackers are still intact, which is the ones who’ll match-up with Eifert most often. There wasn’t a single tight end who scored 15.0 PPR points against the Seahawks in 2018, something only seven teams could say. It’s probably best to monitor how Eifert is used before plugging him in, especially knowing how tough the matchup is.
Will Dissly and Nick Vannett: We felt like there’d be a lot of opportunity for the Seahawks tight ends last year, though none of them really stepped up. Many remember Dissly doing well in Week 1 but he started trailing off before getting hurt and winding up on injured reserve. He didn’t see more than five targets in any of his games, while Vannett did just once. The Seahawks have lost more talent in the receiving corps, so we’re expecting volume again, though as mentioned in Wilson’s paragraph, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Seahawks total less than 25 pass attempts in this game. Dissly would be the one with the most appeal against the Bengals, who allowed the most fantasy points per game to tight ends in 2018, including a touchdown every 11.2 targets, which was the worst in the NFL. If the Bengals key-in on slowing down Tyler Lockett, it’s possible we see Dissly get free in the end zone. He’s on the streaming radar given the lack of options in the Seahawks passing game. We’ve watched Vannett on the field without Dissly and it wasn’t impressive, so leave him where he is.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
Line: DAL by 7.0
Eli Manning: Returning to the field for his 16th season, Manning looks to hold off impressive rookie Daniel Jones for the starting job. He’ll have to do it without Odell Beckham, which hasn’t been an easy task throughout his career. Here are his career splits with/without Beckham:
Not just Beckham, either. The Giants went out and snagged Golden Tate to replace him in the lineup, but he’s been suspended the first four games of the season. The Cowboys defense took a big stride in the right direction last year and aren’t a defense you aim to target in fantasy matchups. There was just one quarterback who totaled more than 21 fantasy points against them last year. 9-of-16 quarterbacks threw just one or zero touchdowns against them. In a game where the Giants implied team total sits at just 19.3 points, you’re able to find a better streamer on the waiver wire.
Dak Prescott: There are many fantasy players who snagged Prescott late in drafts due to his great streaming schedule to start the season. The Giants defense is lacking talent, as they lost Olivier Vernon, Landon Collins, and B.W. Webb this offseason. We also can’t forget about how they looked after trading away Damon Harrison last year. It wasn’t good. There was one quarterback who posted more than 25 fantasy points against the Giants last year, and it was Prescott, who racked up 387 yards and four touchdowns in Week 17. That was without Ezekiel Elliott on the field, so the results aren’t likely to look the same, though the Cowboys may not give Elliott his usual 25-plus touches in a game like this. The Cowboys are big home favorites here, and home is where Prescott has been slightly better throughout his career. The state of the Giants defense isn’t equipped to handle much right now, making Prescott a solid streaming option. He was someone you should’ve been considering for cash lineups, though Elliott’s return puts a damper on things.
Saquon Barkley: We’re going to find out just how much of a problem it is for Barkley to have no other weapons on the field. Sure, he produced over the final four games without Odell Beckham in the lineup, but he also averaged sub-2.5 yards per carry in two of them. He also didn’t top 34 yards through the air, highlighting how much of the focal point he was of the opposing teams. Without Golden Tate in the lineup, it surely won’t help. The Cowboys run defense was solid last year, allowing just 3.83 yards per carry with a young core of players. They shut down Barkley in the first matchup, holding him to 28 yards on 11 carries, though Barkley got the best of them in the second matchup (that was Week 17 with some starters resting) posting 109 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. It’s understood that Barkley is likely going to run into a wall on many of his carries, but it’s the big plays you yearn for. He had 20 runs of 15-plus yards last year. You also know he’ll be targeted out of the backfield, which was a weakness of the Cowboys defense last year, as they allowed 101 receptions to running backs (fifth-most). You’re always playing Barkley as an RB1 in your season-long leagues, but he’s strictly tournament-only for DFS.
Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard: Some actually believe Pollard would be the workhorse. Did you know Pollard totaled double-digit carries just twice in his three-year college career? He was more of a hybrid running back/wide receiver than anything. After paying Elliott $90 million on Wednesday morning, it’s clear to say they knew that all along. The matchup is about as good as it gets, as the Giants allowed 11 running backs to finish as top-18 options last year, many of which came after they traded away Damon Harrison. In the seven games with him, they allowed 597 yards and six touchdowns on 151 carries (3.95 yards per carry), but then allowed 984 yards and 10 touchdowns on 218 carries (4.51 yards per carry) in the 10 games without him. It’s a great spot for any running back, and while some may be concerned about Elliott being eased-in, don’t be. Remember when Adrian Peterson went to the Cardinals a few years back? After being with the team for a few days, he rushed for over 100 yards and two touchdowns. Elliott is very familiar with the team and offensive line. Put him in lineups as a high-end RB1 who should crush. Meanwhile, Pollard should be mixed in for 5-8 touches, giving him RB4 potential in a plus matchup. With the Cowboys being seven-point favorites, they don’t need to pull out many tricks in this game.
Sterling Shepard: He’s the only show in town at wide receiver, as Odell Beckham is gone, Golden Tate is suspended, and Corey Coleman tore his ACL in training camp. Shepard himself broke his thumb and missed most of camp, but he’s good to go for this game. The Cowboys play sides, so Shepard will see a mix of Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones, and Anthony Brown at cornerback. The trio did a great job last year holding wide receivers in check, as just four receivers finished as top-12 options against them, while just seven more finished as top-24 options. Shepard totaled just 3/24/0 in their first meeting and then 4/67/0 in the second one (Beckham was out). Those aren’t impressive numbers by any means, but knowing Shepard saw 31 targets in the four games without Beckham is. When the other starting wide receivers are Russell Shepard and Cody Latimer, you’re going to be targeted quite heavily. The matchup isn’t great, but he’s still on the WR3 radar this week as someone who’s locked into eight-plus targets.
Russell Shepard/Cody Latimer: These two will rotate into the lineup with Golden Tate sidelined for the first four games, though they’re not appealing fantasy options. The Cowboys were better than average in every statistical category against wide receivers last year, including completion rate (61.8 percent), yards per target (8.05), and PPR points per target (1.67). If you wanted to pick one for the sake of it, Latimer would be my choice, as he did well with the Giants in a limited role last year (11/190/1 on 16 targets) and looked solid in the preseason (5/105/0 on eight targets).
Amari Cooper: It’s been reported that Cooper is dealing with plantar fasciitis in his foot, which is definitely not ideal. He said he’s played through it before, including his rookie year when he totaled over 1,000 yards, though there was plenty of inconsistency. The Giants defense has a lot of holes, though if there’s been one player who’s shown superstar ability at times, it’s Janoris Jenkins. He got better as the year went on in 2018, as he was coming back from ankle surgery. He saw Cooper most of the time in their Week 17 matchup where Cooper netted just 5/31/0 on 11 targets. Oddly enough, Prescott threw four touchdowns in that game, so the Giants may be rethinking their strategy. Jenkins has been inconsistent enough throughout his career that you don’t run from him in a matchup, but he’s good enough to remove a player from a cash lineup. Cooper should be considered a volatile WR2 until we see him play through his current injury.
Michael Gallup: There’s been plenty of buzz surrounding Gallup this offseason, as he’s been coming down with everything thrown his way and getting open with ease. Some have called him the most improved player on the roster. If Janoris Jenkins covers Amari Cooper, that’d likely leave Gallup matched-up with rookie cornerback DeAndre Baker. He’s a bit undersized at 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds, though he was drafted at the end of the first round for a reason. He was solid in man-coverage while at Georgia, though it’s quite the transition for some cornerbacks to the NFL. Knowing that Cooper is dealing with an injury and matched with Jenkins, Gallup might be the biggest beneficiary. He has the looks of someone who can be a WR4 against the Giants.
Randall Cobb: Many believe he’s walking into the old Cole Beasley role in the offense, though it’s important to note there’s been a completely new offense installed this offseason. He’ll come on the field in three wide receiver sets, though you have to wonder how often that happens in this game when they’re favored by a touchdown. He’ll have a good matchup when he does come on the field, as 2018 undrafted Grant Haley is the nickel cornerback for the Giants. He was asked to play last year and allowed a 142.3 QB Rating in his coverage. Granted, it was just a 33-target sample size, but he could struggle with the veteran Cobb. I’d like to see his role in the offense before trusting him, though he may have a better matchup than both Cooper and Gallup. We just don’t know how many snaps he’ll play in this game, as sub-50 percent is possible.
Evan Engram: Remember when I said Eli Manning suffered mightily without Odell Beckham in the lineup? Well, Engram has been the exact opposite. In 15 career games without Beckham, Engram averages 7.8 targets, 4.7 receptions, 59.1 yards, and 0.40 touchdowns (13.3 PPR points). In the 11 games with Beckham, his totals were just 5.6 targets, 3.5 receptions, 37.6 yards, and 0.27 touchdowns (8.9 PPR points). The Cowboys struggled to keep Engram in check last year, as he destroyed them for 7/67/1 in the first meeting and then 5/81/1 in the second meeting. In four meetings against them in his career, his worst outing was 4/44/0, which would still be worthy of starting most weeks. The Cowboys did allow the seventh most fantasy points to tight ends last year, though that was inflated quite a bit by Zach Ertz‘s 14-catch, 145-yard, and two-touchdown performance. Engram should be locked into lineups as a rock-solid TE1 who could post big results. He’s someone who can be considered in both cash and tournament lineups.
Jason Witten: He’s back. It’s kind of fitting that he’s playing the Giants, too, as he’s scored nine touchdowns in his last 10 games against them. It’s obviously a different team, but he always performed against the divisional rival. The Giants also have a brand-new safety duo in Antoine Bethea and Jabrill Peppers, and though both are above average players, miscommunication is a real thing when safeties haven’t played together for a long time. Knowing the Cowboys aren’t going to have to throw much in this game, it takes appeal away from Witten in his first game back. Let’s see how he looks in his first game back before trusting him in lineups.
San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Line: TB by 1.0
Jimmy Garoppolo: Judging by his preseason performance, Garoppolo still hasn’t overcome the mental portion of his ACL injury. There have been doctors who’ve watched his film that say he simply doesn’t trust it yet. That’s obviously not ideal coming into a game with the high-powered Bucs offense. What is ideal for Garoppolo is the Bucs defense they’ll be fielding. Not only did they allow the fourth most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks last year, but they also lost quite a few notable starters this offseason. Brent Grimes, Kwon Alexander, Gerald McCoy, Adarius Taylor, Chris Conte, and Vinny Curry are all gone. Some will say that may be a good thing considering the lack of performance last year, but there are some talented players in that group. They also appear to be without defensive tackle Vita Vea for this game. The Bucs allowed a league-high 8.21 yards per attempt last year. Just how bad is that? Matt Ryan averaged 8.1 yards per attempt last year. Aaron Rodgers averaged 7.4 yards per attempt. There were just two quarterbacks who finished outside the top-18 against them in all of 2018. With all the lost talent on the defense, it’s hard to see them keeping Garoppolo out of the streaming range, even with his preseason troubles, though it was encouraging to see him play well in the third preseason game. He should be considered a high-end QB2 who does come with some risk, but also comes with plenty of upside.
Jameis Winston: Let the fireworks begin. The Bucs have still yet to find a running back who can carry the ball competently, so much like last year, they should be relying on their pass-game to move the ball. Many are worried about Winston, though he was a different quarterback after being benched. Before being benched, he threw six touchdowns with 10 interceptions in four games. After returning to the lineup, he threw 13 touchdowns with just four interceptions in seven games. His backup, Blaine Gabbert is hurt. The Bucs will ride or die with Winston in 2019. The 49ers added Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Kwon Alexander to their front seven, which will likely present problems, though their secondary is where their problems lie. Richard Sherman is not a shutdown cornerback anymore, and though he’s competent, his counterpart Ahkello Witherspoon has been a walking mat for opposing wide receivers. The 49ers also recently cut Adrian Colbert, which leaves Tavarius Moore, last year’s third-round pick, to play alongside Jacquiski Tartt at safety. Moore played cornerback for them last year, allowing a 123.7 QB Rating in his coverage. 10-of-16 quarterbacks posted at least 19.0 fantasy points against the 49ers last year, including 12-of-16 to throw multiple touchdowns, making Winston a solid QB1 option here, provided the weather in Florida cooperates.
Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida: The backfield lost one of its members to injured reserve last week, as Jerick McKinnon re-injured his surgically repaired knee. That allows us to better project this backfield that’s averaged 26 carries per game over the last two years under Kyle Shanahan. This is your reminder that Breida doesn’t need an injury to be relevant, considering Coleman has carried the ball more than 14 times just eight times in his four-year career. The Bucs are a good matchup to see how the timeshare will work, as their opponents averaged 26.7 carries per game last year, and that’s before they lost six starters this offseason. They are also unlikely to have defensive Vita Vea, so the 49ers should have very little issues running the ball against a team that allowed 4.61 yards per carry last year. They also allowed a league-high 22 total touchdowns to running backs. In fact, Breida totaled 106 yards on 14 carries against them in Week 12 against them. Coleman played them in Week 17 (with the Falcons) and totaled 35 yards on 10 carries. While the 49ers made it a point to go out and get Coleman this offseason, this might be closer to a 50/50 timeshare than most think, though we’ll give Breida the slight edge due to his place on the depth chart as the top option. Breida can be played as a low-end RB2/high-end RB3, while Coleman should still be able to provide solid RB3 numbers. Not knowing the timeshare information, I’d avoid both in cash lineups.
Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones, and Dare Ogunbawale: We thought there’d be value in this backfield throughout the offseason, though none of them have stood out like we’d hoped. Because of that, this has the looks of a three-way timeshare to start the season. The 49ers have a new front-seven, which makes it difficult to rely on any numbers from last season, as they have three new starters, including former Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander. A lot of the points they allowed to running backs last year were based on volume, as the per-touch numbers they allowed weren’t bad, so to know they improved this offseason doesn’t make it a matchup you need to attack, especially when we don’t know what the exact split will be. As of now, Barber will likely handle most early-down work with Jones mixed in and Ogunbawale being mixed in on third downs. It’s a situation to avoid until we gather more information, though Barber would be the best play here as a middling RB4.
Marquise Goodwin: There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the 49ers wide receiver corps, which is a shame considering we have the matchup of a lifetime in Week 1. It would appear Goodwin is a locked-in starter, though there’s a lot of questions about those behind him. The Bucs will be starting a combination of Vernon Hargreaves, Carlton Davis, and M.J. Stewart at cornerback, a trio that may be the worst in football. If the alignment remains the same as last year, Goodwin will see the most of Hargreaves, a former first-round pick who’s been a massive disappointment to this point, allowing a 102.9 QB Rating on 174 career targets in coverage. The safety duo covering the top of the defense consists of Justin Evans and Jordan Whitehead, who were part of the defense that allowed 56 plays of 20-plus yards last year, the 12th highest mark in the league. Knowing Goodwin played just 11.5 snaps per game this preseason, he is a starter and the one 49ers receiver you can knowingly say that about. It’s still difficult to trust him as anything more than a big-play WR4/5 type option given his boom/bust nature. He’s not a bad play in tournaments, however.
Dante Pettis/Deebo Samuel: We watched Pettis play into the fourth quarter of a preseason game, something that doesn’t typically happen with a starter, though I’m still penciling him in as a starter. Samuel played twice the number of snaps Pettis did, suggesting they wanted him to get more work to acclimate to the NFL. It wouldn’t shock me to see Kendrick Bourne run ahead of Samuel for the time being. It does help eliminate some uncertainty with Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd doubtful. Pettis would be a problem for the Bucs, as he’s a natural route runner who can be used all over the field, while the Bucs don’t have an above-average cornerback on the roster. Pettis played against this secondary last year and tagged them for 4/77/1 on seven targets. He doesn’t come without risk, but Pettis is someone I’ll start over most of the other WR4 options available/in his range. Samuel is someone who should be on waiver wires until further notice.
Mike Evans: With all the talk surrounding Chris Godwin, Evans has somewhat slid under the radar this offseason. He did say that it’s no longer a clear-cut situation at wide receiver, but that he and Godwin are 1A and 1B. Knowing Godwin will play in the slot most of the time, Evans will match-up with both Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon, though if Bruce Arians keeps Evans where he usually is, he’ll be on Witherspoon’s side more than Sherman’s. He’s been a mess for the 49ers as a former third-round pick, allowing eight touchdowns on 120 targets in coverage in his two years in the league. The 49ers did add Jason Verrett, though he’s not completely healthy, which is why Witherspoon is expected to start. Evans played against them last year (with Winston under center) and piled up six receptions for 116 yards, though he didn’t score. He should be played as a WR1 this week and has cash-game appeal, though there’s some risk with the new offense.
Chris Godwin: He’s going to be playing the Larry Fitzgerald role in Bruce Arians’ offense, which has a lot of benefits. For one, he’s going to get targeted quite heavily. And two, he’s not going to be covered by the opponent’s top cornerback because he’ll be in the slot quite often. That means he’ll see K’Waun Williams in coverage, who is competent, though beatable. Against the Arians offense in Arizona, Williams allowed 11 catches on 11 targets for 90 yards the last time they played (Week 4 of 2017). This is not far from what he allowed last year, keeping the play in front of him, but allowing a 73.3 percent catch-rate in his coverage. Godwin should rack up the catches and be used as a solid WR2 who has cash-game appeal as a cheaper alternative to Mike Evans.
Breshad Perriman: He’s going to draw Richard Sherman in coverage, so it’s not the week to get cute and play him. He’s going to be the No. 3 receiver for the Bucs, though he’s going to need a big play to be fantasy relevant, and even though Sherman may not be the player he used to be, he’ll give someone like Perriman fits.
George Kittle: All the uncertainty surrounding the 49ers receivers simply means more certainty about Kittle as the No. 1 option on the field. It also just so happens he’s going against a Bucs defense that allowed a massive 9.15 yards per target to tight ends last year, including a 72.4 percent completion rate. They held Kittle somewhat in check during their Week 12 meeting where he finished with six catches for 48 yards (TE12) on 12 targets, though I’m not banking on that again with the loss of talent on that defense. They allowed 11-of-16 tight ends to finish as top-12 options against them, highlighting just how high his floor should be. He’s cash-game viable and can obviously be used in tournaments as well, though some of the other top-tier tight ends have great matchups as well.
O.J. Howard: When on the field, Howard has arguably been the best tight end in the game. Why? Did you know his career-mark of 11.5 yards per target is the best in NFL history at tight end? I’m not saying he’s the best of all-time, but to do this during your first two years in the NFL is quite ridiculous. When looking through the 49ers game logs last year, it was shocking to see they played just three tight ends all year who saw more than five targets. Travis Kelce (8/114/0), Jimmy Graham (5/104/0), and Ricky Seals-Jones (that’s a story for a different day). While some have said Bruce Arians doesn’t use tight ends, I can make the argument that you wouldn’t either if you had Jermaine Gresham as your starter. Arians will use Howard and best of all, he stays on the field for all plays due to his superior blocking, which makes him a rock-solid TE1. He’s not the greatest cash-game play considering all the good matchups available to the Bucs, though he has plenty of tournament appeal.