The Primer: Week 1 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
Three years and almost 1.5 million words later, we’re still here. Oh yes, we’re here to stay. None of that’s possible without you, so thank you for every time you’ve read, shared, or talked about The Primer.
For those of you who are new here, welcome. Take a seat in your favorite chair, lounge on your bed, take a bathroom break, do whatever you have to do, but make sure you’re comfortable. We’re going on a weekly journey with this article, discussing the process that goes into deciding which players you’re going to start on your fantasy team.
It might seem like a bit much. Heck, it probably is. But in 2020, we need it now more than ever. I have people ask me all the time, “Do you want to keep doing this every week? Writing 30,000-plus words a week seems like a lot.”
My response to that question this year: “There’s nothing I’d rather be doing.” I mean that, too. It’s been an odd year to say the least, but we all need some normalcy to close it out. Football is an escape for many of us. If there were no football season, let’s just say I’d need to be checked into some sort of institution. Writing 30,000 words a week seems miniscule in the grand scheme of things.
I’m happy you’re here with me. We started something new last year where I’d share a personal story as the intro, and while I plan for that to continue (based on feedback), this week is all about business. There is so much uncertainty after not having any preseason games, we need to spend as much time as possible trying to figure out how each team’s depth chart will look.
NYJ at BUF | GB at MIN | PHI at WAS | CLE at BAL | IND at JAC | LVR at CAR | MIA at NE | SEA at ATL | CHI at DET | LAC at CIN | ARI at SF | TB at NO | DAL at LAR | PIT at NYG | TEN at DEN
So, what will The Primer offer? Anything you could ever want. Seriously, it’ll have wide receiver/cornerback matchups, recent history against each team, comparable player performances, unique stats, and most importantly, how they should be played that particular week. The idea here is to give you as much information and confidence as possible when you hit that ‘Submit Lineup’ button each week.
On top of all that, I’ll come back by Saturday morning to update once practice participation reports are posted. Still want more? We’ll be doing a livestream on our YouTube channel every Sunday morning from 11-12 EST, breaking down the inactives and letting you know which players benefit the most from them.
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
Line: BUF by 6.5
Sam Darnold: Through two years of Darnold’s young career, he’s posted 18-plus fantasy points on eight separate occasions. None of them have come against top-tier defenses. Four of those games came in 2019, which were against the Raiders (7th-most points to quarterbacks), Washington (9th-most), Giants (3rd-most), and Cowboys (20th-most). The Bills allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks last year. In fact, there wasn’t a single quarterback who finished better than the QB10 against them, so it wasn’t a fluke. You can also go back to the 2018 season where they allowed just 7.58 points per game to quarterbacks. Over the last 32 games, they’ve allowed just 30 passing touchdowns while intercepting 36 passes. That’s a big sample size, and they added talent to their defense this offseason. He played against them twice last year and threw 77 passes that netted just 374 yards (4.86 YPA) and two touchdowns. When you also factor in that Darnold will have two new starting wide receivers with no game experience together, he’s an easy fade in Week 1.
Josh Allen: There are some positive changes around Allen this year, as he’s got himself a new stud wide receiver in Stefon Diggs, as well as another stable option at running back with rookie Zack Moss. We know regression will hit him on the ground, as he scored nine rushing touchdowns while rushing for 510 yards. By comparison, Lamar Jackson scored seven rushing touchdowns while rushing for 1,206 yards. At the same time, we have room for growth with Allen through the air, as he struggled to complete the deep ball in 2019. The Jets weren’t a team that allowed many deep passes to be completed last year, but they’ve also lost the two centerpieces of their defense, as safety Jamal Adams is now with the Seahawks, and linebacker C.J. Mosley opted out. Their cornerback unit is one of the worst in football, too. So, when you look at Allen’s stats against this team last year, they won’t even make any sense because it’s a different team. Knowing there were just two games Allen totaled less than 15.96 fantasy points last year, there should be no concern starting him here as a high-floor option, especially when you know he averaged 6.7 more fantasy points when the Bills won last year. The only concern for his ceiling is lack of competition on the other side of the ball.
Le’Veon Bell and Frank Gore: When the Jets drafted Lamical Perine, it made sense. They didn’t have much running back depth and it’s likely this is the last year Bell is on the roster. Then they signed Gore. That move still makes no sense to me. It makes a difference for fantasy, too. Most fantasy enthusiasts admit: Gore will touch the ball 5-8 times per game which won’t affect Bell that much. I disagree. Over the last two years, Adam Gase’s running backs have totaled 827 touches over 32 games, which amounts to 25.8 touches per game. With Gore taking those measly 5-8 touches, we’re suddenly down to just 17-20 touches, and don’t pretend there isn’t a few touches here and there for someone like Perine. When your offense isn’t efficient with the running back position (they’ve scored 10 rushing touchdowns over the last 32 games under Gase), that’s an issue. Now, to be fair, the Bills have been a team to run on more than pass, but that would require the Jets to stay competitive in the game. Under Sean McDermott, they’ve allowed 44 rushing touchdowns to running backs over 48 regular season games. So, on the rare occurrence that Bell gets a goal-line carry (just five carries inside the five-yard-line last year), he might score against the Bills. In two games against them last year, he totaled 101 scoreless rushing yards on 33 carries, while racking up 11 receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown. Knowing the Bills opponents averaged just 61.6 plays per game last year (7th-lowest), combined with Gase’s lack of plays (59.8 per game) and the projected gamescript, I can’t say Bell 100 percent gets to 16-plus touches. Because of that, he’s just a low-end RB2 who needs to find the end zone. Gore isn’t a fantasy option.
Devin Singletary and Zack Moss: This is one of those backfields where we wished we could’ve seen some preseason action, as Moss has reportedly impressed coaches, particularly in the passing game. Knowing both were drafted as third-round picks, they may be on more of an even-level playing field than most believe. The Jets were not a matchup to attack with running backs last year, as they allowed just 1,060 yards on the ground, which ranked as the third fewest in football. They did, however, allow the 11th-most fantasy points through the air to running backs. The only time Singletary saw them was in his first NFL game where he totaled 70 yards on four carries, while totaling 28 yards on five receptions. The Jets defense doesn’t look quite the same this year, though much of their front seven remains intact. Linebacker C.J. Mosley opted out this year, though he didn’t play much last year. Losing safety Jamal Adams certainly won’t help anything, but a safety won’t change their projection too much. It does help to know that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams hasn’t had a defense finish as a top-12 run-stopping unit in back-to-back years since way back in 2003-2004. This is not a backfield you play in cash games, as there’s just too much uncertainty. My expectations are that Singletary should have a role that produces 12-16 touches, making him a safe high-end RB3 because we’ve seen him play at a competent level in the NFL. That would leave Moss with a role that nets 10-12 touches, and a bit more touchdown dependent. This week will tell us a lot, though.
Jamison Crowder: If you go and look at the games the Bills allowed to wide receivers last year, you’d see Crowder occupying two of the top three games. He crushed them for 22 receptions, 165 yards, and a touchdown in their two meetings. The other top game they allowed? Another slot-heavy receiver, Jarvis Landry. They are not a team that allows big passing plays, as just one receiver hit the 100-yard mark against them last year, but there were 14 wide receivers who caught at least five passes against them. They were consistent, that’s for sure. Not only do we have that, but we also have Crowder as the only receiver who’s returning to the starting lineup for Sam Darnold. It’s hard to see a scenario where Crowder doesn’t see at least eight targets in this game, and they’d be against the same cornerback (Taron Johnson) as last year. The Bills allowed just 10 wide receivers to finish as top-36 receivers last year, so it’s not great regardless, but Crowder is the best bet on the Jets this week. Consider him a WR3 who doesn’t have a massive ceiling, but he should come with a decent floor.
Breshad Perriman: He’s now on his fourth team in as many years, so it’ll be tough for him to make an immediate impact, especially when we had little-to-no offseason. It does help that he’s the only perimeter wide receiver with much appeal, but that also means he’ll see the most of Tre’Davious White, one of the best cornerbacks in the league. While I don’t think he shadows Perriman, it’s in the realm of possibilities. Just how good is White? On 84 targets in coverage last year, he allowed just 552 yards (6.6 yards per target) with no touchdowns and six interceptions. Everyone knows by now that Perriman relies on big plays, right? Well, the Bills allowed just one receiver (DeVante Parker) to collect more than three receptions while averaging more than 16.6 yards per reception. The Bills allowed just 34 pass plays of 20-plus yards last year, the fewest in the NFL. They allowed just four plays of 40-plus yards, again, the fewest in the NFL. There are reasons to like Perriman as a tournament play due to low ownership against a great defense, but he’s nothing more than a WR4/5 option this week. I’ll update his notes as the week goes on because he’s missed the last few weeks of practice with a knee injury, though they’re expecting him to play. *Update* Perriman was a full participant in all practices this week and appears to be good to go.
Chris Hogan and Denzel Mims: It seems very likely that Hogan will start over Mims, who missed almost all of training camp with a hamstring injury doesn’t bode well for his chances to get on the field right away. This is not a situation you want to take part in from a fantasy perspective, as the Bills allowed just 10 top-36 wide receivers all of last season. There are better plays on your waiver wire.
Stefon Diggs: The reports have been good on the chemistry between Diggs and Josh Allen, but when training camp comes around, almost all reports are. The connection they need is the deep ball, as Diggs led the league in deep ball yards last year (635 of his 1.130 yards came on passes that traveled over 20 yards), and all six of his touchdowns were on such passes. So, when you see that Allen completed just 18-of-68 passes that traveled over 20 yards, we have an issue. Fortunately, Allen should have a lot of separation this week, as Diggs can dominate any of Pierre Desir, Blessuan Austin, or Brian Poole. Not only has Desir been a hit-or-miss cornerback, but he’s also dealt with a hamstring injury throughout training camp. Poole is ideally a slot cornerback, while Austin is a depth chart cornerback, at best. It’s going to be harder for Diggs to have the explosion-type weeks he did with Kirk Cousins, as Allen never threw for more than 266 yards last year and had just four games with more than 34 pass attempts. My guess is that Diggs is a slightly better version of 2019 John Brown, who posted at least 9.2 half PPR points in 13-of-16 games but topped 13.4 points just three times. The matchup is good, so start Diggs as a high-floor WR3 with upside for more.
John Brown: He was a model citizen last year, posting at least 9.2 half PPR points in 13-of-16 games. That’s going to change with the arrival of Diggs. There were just three games last year where Brown didn’t see at least five targets. In fact, he saw eight-plus targets in 50 percent of the games. Losing volume will be damaging because he already lacked upside (finished with more than 13.4 half PPR points just three times last year). The Jets secondary is one that can be attacked as one of the worst in football, as they don’t have an above-average cornerback on the perimeter. Pierre Desir was their “big” signing in free agency, but he was continually torched with the Colts last year, allowing 46-of-72 passing for 676 yards and five touchdowns in his coverage. He’s also been dealing with a hamstring injury throughout camp while learning a new defensive scheme. Because of that, there’s an avenue to success for Brown in this game, though it would require him to do more with less. Given the Bills are big favorites, it’s unlikely Allen throws the ball more than 30-34 times. Because of that, consider Brown a boom-or-bust WR4 in a plus matchup.
Cole Beasley: I remember using Beasley in a pinch a few times last season, and it worked out much more than anyone realized. He scored at least 8.3 half PPR points in 11-of-15 games last year. To be fair, he also saw at least six targets in 11-of-15 games last year, a number that’s bound to come back down to earth with Stefon Diggs in town. The biggest strength on the Jets cornerback depth chart is Brian Poole, who routinely covers the slot for them. He allowed just 244 yards and one touchdown in his coverage last year, and that’s over a span of 53 targets. The Jets liked him enough to give him another one-year deal worth $5 million. I’ve said it in the Diggs/John Brown notes, but Josh Allen is unlikely to throw the ball more than 30-34 times in a game they’re nearly double-digit favorites. The Bills wide receivers averaged 19.4 targets per game last year. If we’re expecting 6-8 for Diggs and 4-6 for Brown, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for Beasley, who’s not exactly efficient with fantasy points on a per-target basis. It’s best to let him sit on the waiver wire right now, as he’d be useful if Diggs/Brown missed time or had a brutal matchup. Neither are true in this case.
Chris Herndon: There have been rumblings about Herndon’s role in the offense, saying he’ll be a focal point, and to be fair, they make plenty of sense. The Jets have two new perimeter receivers who have no chemistry with Darnold, and one of them (Perriman) is known to be a deep threat. Knowing the Jets are likely starting five new offensive linemen, it’s going to be a work in progress. We can’t automatically look at Herndon’s success in 2018 and think it translates, as that was prior to Adam Gase’s arrival in New York. We do have a history of success with the tight ends that Darnold throws to, however. Even Ryan Griffin was able to haul in 34-of-41 targets for 320 yards and five touchdowns last year. The issue is that the Bills are one of the better teams in the league against tight ends. They allowed just 35.9 yards per game to tight ends last year. Seriously. It helps that tight ends were only targeted 84 times (third fewest in the league), but that says something about their defensive scheme. But when we look at the projected pass attempts for Darnold this week, they have to go somewhere, meaning Herndon should be locked into five-plus targets, which means he can be considered as a streamer. Just understand that his ceiling isn’t likely all that high, as there was just one tight end who topped 48 yards against the Bills last year.
Dawson Knox: It seemed like Knox was on his way to fantasy relevance as 2019 went on, though the signing of Stefon Diggs certainly removed a lot of that appeal. There were just three games Knox totaled more than four targets last year (without Diggs on the roster). That’s not great for his projections moving forward, and neither is the matchup with the Jets, who completely shut down tight ends last year. They allowed just 1.50 PPR points per target, which ranked as the second-lowest number behind only the Vikings. The important part that last year’s numbers don’t show is the loss of Jamal Adams, who is/was one of the best cover safeties in the game, and the Jets traded him away to the Seahawks. That will be a massive change to adjust to and might take some time. Still, there aren’t enough targets to go around to start Knox with any confidence.
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Line: MIN by 3.5
Aaron Rodgers: Going into Minnesota to play hasn’t been a treat for quarterbacks over the last few years. Over the 16 games played there the last two years, they’ve allowed 331-of-515 passing (64.2 percent) for 3,335 yards (6.48 YPA), 12 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. Rodgers himself has played there twice and combined for 414 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and 18.22 fantasy points. Again, that’s over two full games. Here’s the wrinkle, though: The Vikings aren’t the same defense, as they lost five starters on that side of the ball, including defensive tackle Linval Joseph and edge rusher Everson Griffin. They also replaced all three of their starters at cornerback, as Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander are gone. They did recently trade for Yannick Ngakoue, which will help, but this is where the public perception may be able to be used to your advantage in DFS. On top of that, the Vikings will be without top pass-rusher Danielle Hunter, who was placed on IR earlier this week. Not many follow all the additions/subtractions throughout the offseason, but with all the moves on the defensive side of the ball, Rodgers may be able to exploit some miscommunication. This game is taking place in a dome, so weather won’t play any role in that, and Rodgers has a 70-15 touchdown to interception ratio indoors with a quarterback rating of more than 106.0. Given Rodgers’ struggles against Mike Zimmer’s scheme, there are some concerns for season-long leagues, so treat him as a middling QB2 in those formats. He’s a sneaky tournament play in DFS, though I wouldn’t touch him in cash.
Kirk Cousins: We watched Cousins have tremendous success against the Packers pre-Matt LaFleur, but what happened in 2019? He played two games against them, completing just 30-of-63 passes (47.6 percent) for 352 yards and two touchdowns. His completion rate against the rest of the league was 72.7 percent, so there was clearly an issue. I don’t think losing Stefon Diggs in the offense is going to help much, as his replacement, Justin Jefferson, missed much of training camp on the COVID list. The Packers didn’t allow a single quarterback more than 23.2 fantasy points against them last year, and Dak Prescott was the only one who finished better than QB10. The Packers didn’t lose anyone of note on their defense this offseason, and they upgraded the starter they did replace (Blake Martinez to Christian Kirksey). If the Vikings are smart, they’ll lean heavily on the run-game this week, similar to the way they did last year. Cousins should be considered a low-upside QB2 for this contest and not someone I’d consider for tournaments, either.
Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, and A.J. Dillon: This is a backfield that no one can tell you how it’ll shake out with 100 percent certainty. The Packers drafted Dillon with a second-round pick, so that means they’ll use him, right? Looking back over the last seven years, there have been 17 running backs drafted in the second round. Only four of them saw fewer than 123 touches and finished outside the top 46 running backs. So yeah, he likely matters. The Vikings allowed just the 12th-fewest points to running backs last year, but not because they were dominant or anything. The 4.39 yards per carry they allowed was the 11th-most in football, and they lost their best presence up the middle of the field in Linval Joseph. He recorded 19 run stops last year, while the runner-up Shamar Stephen totaled 10 of them. They snagged Michael Pierce in free agency to help fill the void, but he opted out for the season, leaving them to start Jaleel Johnson alongside Stephen. You should know that even with Joseph, Jones tagged this unit for 270 yards and three touchdowns on the ground alone last year in the two games they played. He did total 46 carries between the two games, a number he’s unlikely to get to with Dillon on the roster, but it’s clear LaFleur’s scheme works against a then-more-talented Vikings unit, so playing him as a borderline RB1 this week makes sense. I’d probably fade him in cash considering there still is risk attached, but in tournaments, he’s a go. As for Williams and Dillon, I’d take the wait-and-see approach. This may be a good matchup, but we don’t know who is getting the majority of reps behind Jones. My best-guess would be that Williams will play more of a third-down role when the team is behind while Dillon plays the clock-killing back when they’re ahead. This game should be closely contested, leaving me torn between the two.
Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison: There were six running backs who totaled at least 20 carries against the Packers last year. The only one who scored fewer than 16.4 PPR points was Adrian Peterson, who still tallied 76 yards and a touchdown. Cook was one of the running backs who crushed him when he ripped off 154 yards and a touchdown in their Week 2 meeting. That set the tone for the season with the Packers, as they allowed a massive 4.86 yards per carry on the season, which ranked as the fourth most in the league, behind only the Panthers, Jaguars, and Browns. The Packers have to be expecting a run-heavy attack from the Vikings, though that didn’t seem to matter last year. Among the nine running backs who totaled at least 15 carries against them last year, none of them averaged less than 3.80 yards per carry, and six of them scored at least one rushing touchdown. This tells us that Cook’s floor is extremely high in the matchup. Prior to his injury he suffered in Week 11, Cook had tallied at least 20 carries in 7-of-10 games. That’s not even factoring in his receiving upside, which is obviously high in Cousins’ first game without Stefon Diggs. Cook should be started as a high-end RB1 and can be placed in cash game lineups as one of the true gamescript-proof running backs. Mattison was fantastic when called upon last year, but let’s not pretend he was getting nearly enough touches to be relied upon in a fantasy lineup. With Cook healthy, there were just three games all season where he saw double-digit carries, and the Vikings won each of those games by double-digits. I don’t see that happening this week, making Mattison an RB4/5-type option.
Davante Adams: As someone who’s averaged 11.0 targets per game the last two years, you’re starting Adams every week. You don’t need me to tell you that. But if you’re playing DFS, you’ll want to know this… The Vikings will be starting three new cornerbacks this year. Former first-round pick Mike Hughes has been elevated to the No. 1 cornerback on the depth chart. He’s never been asked to shadow No. 1 receivers, as that was typically Xavier Rhodes‘ job, but it’s likely his job this week. Despite not covering the top receivers over the last two years, Hughes has allowed a 99.0 QB Rating in his coverage, including five touchdowns on 93 targets. The reason I’m assuming it’s his job to cover Adams is due to the fact that the Vikings may have two rookies filling the other starting slots, and you don’t want a rookie in his first NFL game getting schooled by Adams. The average WR2 performance last year was 14.5 PPR points. The Vikings allowed 19 such performances, which was tied with the Lions for the most in the NFL. We know why they moved on from their veteran quarterbacks, but this young unit will not be able to contain Adams. He’s a cash and tournament option this week.
Allen Lazard: It seems all but certain that it’s Davante Adams and Lazard on the field in 2WR sets for the Packers, which obviously offers some value, especially when facing a team like the Vikings who allowed 25 receivers to post at least 11.2 PPR points last year, which was the average amount of points required to finish as a WR3 in 2019. Lazard was on the field in a full-time role when they played in Week 16 last year where he caught 5-of-9 targets for 45 yards. The Vikings are going to have an all-new cornerback unit in 2020, which will feature Mike Hughes (who’s likely to see Adams the most), Holton Hill, along with rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler. With no preseason action, they’ll be walking into the fire in Week 1. It’s hard enough for rookie cornerbacks to start day one, let alone make a difference. Knowing the Packers are not allowing their media staff to disclose who’s been running with the first-team offense, we can’t start Lazard with 100 percent confidence, but he does have a plus matchup, making him an upside WR4/5 this week.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling: It’s hard seeing Valdes-Scantling make a big impact in his third season, as he has seemingly fallen behind Allen Lazard on the depth chart. It may not be a bad thing, though. Valdes-Scantling has played much better while in the slot over the course of his career, averaging 1.02 more fantasy points per target there than he has on the perimeter, which is the second-largest gap in the NFL over the last two years. He has had a lot of inconsistency in his game, which has led to Aaron Rodgers looking the other way, as evidenced by his target share as the season went on. From Week 6 forward, Allen Lazard out-targeted him 52-24. We have heard Rodgers give a lot of credit to Valdes-Scantling through training camp, saying he’s been one of the MVPs which is certainly a step in the right direction, though. We don’t know how the Vikings will align their cornerbacks, as they have a few rookies, but Jeff Gladney is likely the one covering the slot at 5-foot-10 and 191 pounds. He ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, which isn’t quite Valdes-Scantling’s speed (4.37), but it’s fast enough. I’d want to see him have a full-time role in the offense before fully trusting him anywhere near fantasy lineups.
Adam Thielen: After an injury-plagued 2019 season, Thielen returns to the lineup as the clear-cut target hog in this offense. Even with Stefon Diggs on the team back in 2017 and 2018, Thielen averaged 9.3 targets per game. Now dealing with a rookie (Justin Jefferson) who missed training camp, as well as a newly-acquired wide receiver (Tajae Sharpe). The defense has taken a step back after losing five starters, so we’re going to see more pass attempts this season. The Packers have Jaire Alexander sticking at left cornerback most of the time, but you have to wonder if they have him shadow Thielen considering the lack of surrounding talent on the Vikings wide receiver depth chart. Thielen moves all over the formation and won’t be at one position more than 40 percent of the time, but Alexander is a solid cornerback who’s constantly improving in his young career. He’s not untouchable, though. He allowed 8.22 yards per target last year while allowing a touchdown every 20.8 targets in his coverage. This game has the potential to go upside down for the Vikings, which would leave Thielen with plenty of opportunities. He should see a minimum of eight targets, with a ceiling well into the double digits. The matchup isn’t great, but it’s not bad enough to move Thielen out of the low-end WR1/high-end WR2 territory this week.
Justin Jefferson and Olabisi Johnson: It seems Johnson will be out there with Adam Thielen in 2WR sets, which made sense. He’s a veteran who has a year in the offense, while Jefferson was on the COVID list to start camp and was reportedly struggling early in camp. Johnson would likely see a lot of Kevin King in coverage, a cornerback who’s been really hit-or-miss throughout his career. If there’s been an area he’s been beat continually, it’s over the top. Johnson isn’t someone who’ll get behind the defense very often. Jefferson is the guy who can do that, though it won’t matter if he can’t get on the field. If you’re contemplating one of these receivers, I urge you to look elsewhere. If there’s one who I’d play as a one-percenter in a tournament, it’d be Jefferson due to his big-play upside.
Jace Sternberger: He is someone who should take a big step forward during his sophomore season, though starting out on the COVID list didn’t help build rapport with Aaron Rodgers or move him up the depth chart, as he was listed as the No. 3 tight end on their first one. Sternberger was a possession-style tight end while at Texas A&M and has a good set of hands on him, so we could see him succeed as a streamer throughout the year. There are a few issues, though. One – we don’t know for certain if he’ll be in an every-down role immediately. He’s never played more than 36 snaps in an NFL game. And two – the Vikings were the best in the league at slowing down tight ends in 2019. They actually ranked No. 8 against them, but that’s due to the volume. They allowed just 1.32 PPR points per target to tight ends, while no other team in the league allowed less than 1.50 PPR points per target. Despite playing against Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, Darren Waller, Austin Hooper, Evan Engram, and Noah Fant, they allowed just one touchdown on 128 targets. Let’s wait to see Sternberger in an every-down role and getting targeted before trusting him. As of now, Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan are ahead of him in the pecking order.
|Irv Smith Jr.||750||305||47||36||311||2|
As you can see, they were neck-and-neck throughout all categories except the one that fantasy owners pay a lot of attention to. Touchdowns. They have a high variance rate, and knowing it was Smith’s rookie year, this was not a good look for Rudolph. Neither were the two games he played against the Packers last year, as his finishing lines were 3/9/0 and 1/7/0. It was odd, too, as the Packers weren’t a team to avoid with tight ends. There were eight different tight ends who posted TE1 performances against them in 2019, though it’s fair to note that seven of them received at least six targets, a number that we’re unable to project for either of these tight ends. As long as they’re in a timeshare, it’s going to be very unpredictable and touchdown reliant, though Smith is naturally progressing in his career while Rudolph is on the declining arc. Smith would be my choice if I had to choose one, but you’re ideally waiting to see how the timeshare shakes out.
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Football Team
Line: PHI by 6.5
Carson Wentz: This is a new Washington team, something Wentz wishes wasn’t the case, as they’ve been a team he’s routinely dominated. Over the last three years, he’s played them five times, averaging 292.0 passing yards and 15.8 rushing yards, with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. Those are QB1 numbers. Under Ron Rivera, will those numbers change? Most likely, yes. However, it is their first game with the new scheme, and they’ve had no actual game experience. Their secondary has a brand-new look, as they’ve moved on from Josh Norman and Quinton Dunbar, and are moving forward with Ronald Darby, Kendall Fuller, and Fabian Moreau. There’s likely to be some miscommunications early on, though their front-seven is nasty, and may not offer Wentz a whole lot of time. Between Matt Ioannidis, DaRon Payne, Jonathan Allen, Chase Young, and Montez Sweat, they’re going to bring the pressure. It does help that the Eagles have one of the better offensive lines in football and that there will be no home-field advantage with crowd noise. Referencing stats about Washington last year won’t do us any good, but I can give you this about Wentz: He’s posted QB1-type numbers in at least 50 percent of his games in each of the last three years. The only other quarterback who can say that is Deshaun Watson. Knowing the variables on Washington’s defense, I’ll side with Wentz in this battle and say he can be started as a low-end QB1. The issue with relying on a massive performance? He’s down his top two receivers (Alshon Jeffery and most likely Jalen Reagor) and has even dealt with an injury of his own during training camp.
Dwayne Haskins: We got to see Haskins against the Eagles late last season where he had the best game of his young NFL career. He threw for 261 yards, two touchdowns, and then added another 26 yards on the ground. That’s all fine and dandy, though the Eagles have overhauled their defense and upgraded their cornerback unit tremendously. Darius Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman immediately offer veteran stability to a unit that allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers last year. The area to be concerned for Haskins is the fact that he’s running a brand-new offense with zero game action. The Eagles’ opponents averaged just 60.4 plays per game last year, which was the fifth-lowest mark in the league. We aren’t going to see much no-huddle from the Washington offense right out of the gate. Sure, there’s the element of surprise, but knowing he doesn’t have an offensive line to protect him from the Eagles pass-rush, it’s wise to leave Haskins out there for someone else to play.
Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Corey Clement: We all waited for the additions to the depth chart, but they never came. This is Sanders’ backfield in 2020. The matchup against Washington was a great one for running backs last year, as they averaged a massive 32.1 touches per game against them. That led the NFL. Part of the reason was due to their opponents averaging 67.4 plays per game, which was the third-most in the NFL. Under Ron Rivera, they’re going to change. The question is: What defense do we get? His rushing defense ranked top-12 against the run in 5-of-6 seasons from 2013-2018, but then fell off the map in 2019, allowing the 29th-most rushing yards. His first season in Carolina as the head coach, his defense allowed the 25th-most rushing yards, so maybe it’ll take some time for his new defense to come around. Washington’s front-seven is loaded with talent, though it didn’t show under the previous regime, as they allowed the third-most fantasy points to running backs. Sanders had the best game of his short career against them in Week 15 when he racked up 172 total yards and two touchdowns on 25 touches. It’s realistic to expect 20-plus touches out of him in this game, so start him as a rock-solid RB1. If last year’s numbers are even close to what running backs will average against Washington, Scott could be in line for 10-plus touches in this contest. After averaging 5.28 yards per touch in 2019, he might just offer last-minute flex consideration, particularly in PPR formats. *Update* In a shocking development, Sanders has been ruled OUT for this week’s game. Scott moves into low-end RB2 territory who’ll likely share a workload with Corey Clement, though Scott will be the primary back. If you need a last-minute flex player with Sanders out, Clement should be able to give you a semi-decent floor.
Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Peyton Barber, and Bryce Love: Do you know how many touches the Washington backfield averaged last year? 24.4 touches per game. Trying to project how the timeshare in Washington is going to work out might be a waste of time, as there’s not enough volume for any of them to be consistent. Can that change under a new offensive coordinator? Sure, but it’s hard to say that’ll happen without any actual game reps together. Teams like Washington are behind the 8-ball with the shortened offseason and non-existent preseason games. Their offensive line got worse when they traded away Trent Williams, as they’re likely to lean on fourth-round rookie Saahdiq Charles at left tackle. That’s… not great. Fortunately, the Eagles are not a team to attack with running backs. They ranked No. 7 against fantasy running backs last year and were No. 6 against them in 2018. They added interior lineman Javon Hargrave to the mix this offseason, which should only help matters (Hargrave is out this week). Gibson is a wild card where it wouldn’t shock me if he saw as little as five touches or as many as 15 touches, though I’d lean on the cautious side considering he saw less than 80 touches during his entire college career. The Eagles have been a very good unit against the run, and though Gibson is somewhat a hybrid running back/wide receiver, the Eagles allowed just 1.33 PPR points per target last year, which ranked as the fifth-lowest mark in the league. Gibson is a risk/reward RB3, but I’d play safer options until we know his role on this offense. He was technically listed behind McKissic on the depth chart, though that may mean nothing. McKissic is a four-year veteran who’s never touched the ball more than 16 times in a game. Seriously, he’s topped nine touches just once, so why not give Gibson more opportunity. Barber is going to cloud a lot of the early-down work because he obviously has experience as someone who can handle 10-12 touches per game, even if they do equal 30-50 yards. We’ve heard a lot of good things about Love from training camp, but he’s the No. 4 on the depth chart. The only one I’d want to consider is Gibson this week.
DeSean Jackson: You remember that one full game Jackson played with Carson Wentz? You know, the one where he caught 8-of-9 targets for 154 yards and two touchdowns? That was against Washington in Week 1, by the way. Will we get a repeat performance? Probably not. Washington has moved on from the rapidly-declining Josh Norman, though they brought in a similarly declining cornerback in Ronald Darby to replace him. The question now is where do the Eagles play Jackson? He ran 47 percent of his snaps from the slot last year, something that’s not likely to keep up with both Jalen Reagor and Greg Ward on the field, as they’re both receivers who likely fill the slot role a good chunk of the time. With Reagor out for Week 1, it could allow for a bit more slot usage for Jackson. But most of the time, we should see Jackson against a combination of Darby and Fabian Moreau. While Darby is aging, Moreau actually runs a 4.3-second 40-yard dash, so it’d be wise for the Eagles to line Jackson up against Darby, who’s also suffered a myriad of injuries over the last few years. If Jackson’s healthy, he’s someone to consider as a WR3 in your lineup because he’s offered WR3 or better numbers 50 percent of the time over the last three years. In what I’d consider to be a plus matchup, I’d say the odds are greater than 50 percent.
Greg Ward: It appears Ward will start in 3WR sets, which offers value in games the Eagles fall behind or drop back to pass a lot, though I’m not sure Washington fits that bill. Teams averaged just 33.7 pass attempts per game against them, and wide receivers accounted for just 17.1 of them. That doesn’t leave much for a No. 3 option at wide receiver (could argue No. 2 with Reagor out), and keep in mind that Zach Ertz and Miles Sanders are also ahead of him. We’re not sure just how Washington will deploy their cornerbacks yet, but we’re also unsure just how much Ward will play. He’s someone who certainly benefits with Reagor out of the lineup, and the matchup is a good one, so he should be considered a decent last-minute WR4/5 option in this game. It doesn’t hurt that slot cornerback Kendall Fuller has been ruled as doubtful.
Jalen Reagor: It appears that Reagor will suit up in Week 1 after suffering a shoulder injury during training camp. My concern is that this is an injury that’ll affect him throughout the season, though it appears he’s the anti-Alshon Jeffery and will play through injuries. He practiced in full on both Thursday and Friday, suggesting he’ll be a full go on Sunday. The Eagles staff has continually praised Reagor for being “better than they could’ve hoped.” He’ll likely start opposite DeSean Jackson in 2WR sets, and knowing Jackson isn’t a heavy volume receiver, we could see Reagor get five-plus targets in his first NFL game. Greg Ward came off the street and managed to see seven-plus targets in 4-of-6 games last year. And it’s not like Reagor has a tough assignment in his first game, as the combination of Ronald Darby and Fabian Moreau allowed 79-of-112 passing for 1,168 yards and eight touchdowns in their coverage last year. It’s a new coaching staff, sure, but that could lead to more problems than solutions, especially with no real game action together. You have to keep expectations in check for the rookie receiver, but there’s plenty of reason for optimism moving forward. I’ll consider him an upside WR4/5 in his first game, if active.
Terry McLaurin: From the time that Dwayne Haskins took over as the starting quarterback, McLaurin saw 47 targets, hauling in 30 of them for 461 yards and two touchdowns. He was the No. 36 wide receiver during that stretch. We have little concern about McLaurin’s talent, but more concern about lack of touchdown upside with Haskins under center. Now the clear-cut No. 1 receiving option for this team, he’ll surely see Darius Slay in coverage this week, a cornerback who’s continually among the best in the game. He allowed just a 58.3 percent catch-rate in his coverage last year, which again, isn’t great because McLaurin saw more than nine targets just once in 2019. In the game he did, it just so happens it was against the Lions (and Slay) in Week 12 when he turned 12 targets into 5/72/0. That’s a realistic finishing stat line for him this week, though he’ll have to do it on fewer attempts considering how few plays Eagles’ opponents run. Many will run to say that the Eagles allowed 10 different wide receivers hit the 100-yard mark in 2019 and that McLaurin accounted for two of them, but that doesn’t account for their massive upgrade with both Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman. As the clear-cut No. 1 receiver in a negative gamescript, McLaurin should still be played as a low-end WR2 who offers a solid floor.
Steven Sims: It’s tough to gauge who will get the touches in the Washington offense outside of McLaurin, but it appears that Sims is on the right track. After a season-ending injury to Kelvin Harmon, they went out and signed Dontrelle Inman, though he’s not someone who’ll siphon many targets. Sims took over as the full-time slot receiver over the final four weeks of the 2019 season, totaling 36 targets, 20 receptions, 230 yards, and four touchdowns. Clearly, Haskins found a target in him, and it’s not like they have a tight end who’ll be stealing a bunch of those targets over the middle of the field. The issue is that Nickell Robey-Coleman was signed in free agency and he’s quietly been one of the best slot cornerbacks in all of football. On 53 targets in the slot last year, he allowed just 32 receptions for 272 yards and one touchdown in his coverage. To better understand why it’s a problem, Sims played 79 percent of his snaps in the slot last year, so he’ll see a ton of Robey-Coleman. Sims is going to have some usable weeks, though this isn’t one where I’d want to rely on him.
Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert: Now this is what it’s like when worlds collide. Ertz and Goedert combined for 222 targets last year. Washington allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to tight ends last year. This is typically where you find an eruption. Ertz totaled 115 yards and a touchdown in two games against them last year, while Goedert chipped in with 71 yards of his own. While I like Jalen Reagor, we can’t pretend he’s not a rookie (he’s out this week). DeSean Jackson is 34 years old. Ertz is clearly in his prime against a team that allowed 1.90 PPR points per target last year (7th-most in NFL). Now, it is a new defense being installed, but that’s where the advantage really comes in for the Eagles, as Ertz/Wentz have played together for years in the same offense, while Washington is trying to learn how to communicate amongst each other. With tight ends, communication is paramount, as you’ll have one of a cornerback, linebacker, or safety assigned to him, and if one man misses his assignment, Ertz will take advantage. Over the last two years, there’s been eight games Alshon Jeffery has missed. Ertz has averaged 10.1 targets in them. Start him as a high-end TE1 in this contest and someone who’s an excellent tournament play. Goedert benefitted from all the injuries last year and received more playing time. With Jeffery and Reagor out, he’ll get more time than he typically would, but I can’t confidently say he’ll get the 60-plus snaps per game he played last year with the return of DeSean Jackson. Goedert actually totaled at least five targets in each of the last nine games, so it’s possible that we’re all overlooking him in fantasy, but it’s hard to say the Eagles have two top-12 tight ends, though with Washington’s stats against them, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities. Goedert should be considered a semi-risky TE2 but one who isn’t a complete dart throw.
Logan Thomas: It seems that Thomas is the primary pass-catching tight end for Washington, though I can’t say you should be excited about it. Washington’s tight ends combined for just 73 targets last year, the sixth-lowest mark in the league. On top of that, just one tight end reached 10 half-PPR points last year. It’s a new coaching staff, but it’s clear that Haskins isn’t deliberately targeting his tight ends (there were just three occasions where someone saw more than four targets). Thomas himself has been capped at four targets in all but one of his 42 NFL games. On top of all that, the Eagles have been one of the best in the league at stopping tight ends under Jim Schwartz. Throughout the entire 2019 season, they allowed just 681 receiving yards to the position, or 42.6 yards per game. They did lose Malcolm Jenkins, which will hurt, though moving Jalen Mills to safety will likely be a good thing for his efficiency. We’ll keep a close eye on Thomas’ targets and playing time in Week 1.