The Primer: Week 1 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
Line: BAL by 7.5
Baker Mayfield: It was a bad season for everyone involved on the Browns last year, and Mayfield was no exception. The crazy part about this matchup, however, is that Mayfield has thrown for 342 or more yards in three of his four career games against the Ravens. He’s also thrown seven touchdowns in those four games, so he hasn’t been useless like many quarterbacks have against John Harbaugh’s defense. As crazy as it may sound, Mayfield had two of the top six quarterback performances the Ravens allowed last year. That’s not saying much, as they allowed just one quarterback more than 15.8 fantasy points, but it’s still noteworthy. The Ravens defense is loaded with talent, though losing Earl Thomas is going to hurt. The Ravens have gone from Tony Jefferson and Thomas, to now starting DeShon Elliott and Chuck Clark. Their cornerback unit is one of the best in the game, and they held Odell Beckham to just six catches for 64 yards over the two games combined last year. Knowing Jarvis Landry is coming off hip surgery, the top two options that Mayfield has may struggle against these cornerbacks. Under Kevin Stefanski, we should be expecting a run-heavy attack, though that will need to be abandoned if they fall behind, like the line suggests. There are too many unknowns here to start Mayfield with any confidence in this matchup, especially considering the way this team looked last year. If you want to play Mayfield, do it in tournaments, as the over/under is higher than expected.
Lamar Jackson: Here’s a crazy stat on Jackson that I thought was interesting. He didn’t throw for more than 238 yards after Week 3. It just goes to show that he doesn’t need to do much through the air to produce elite numbers. He tagged the Browns for 485 yards and six passing touchdowns last year and chipped in another 169 yards on the ground. That’s all irrelevant in 2020, though, as the Browns defense is now under Joe Woods. He was the defensive coordinator in Denver for both the 2017 and 2018 seasons, then went to San Francisco for the 2019 season to be the defensive backs coach. We don’t have a large sample size to draw from, as his time in Denver was a bit up-and-down, but what most don’t understand is that this Browns defense has a lot of talent. One thing that I want to mention about Woods’ defense is that his defenses in Denver ranked No. 1 against mobile quarterbacks in 2018 and No. 5 against them in 2019. They allowed fewer than 130 rushing yards to quarterbacks in each season. Still, learning a new offense and defense with virtually no offseason while your opponent has everyone returning is a problem. Jackson is a problem. When we have a quarterback who scored 19.8 or more fantasy points in 14-of-15 games last year, he’s an elite every-week starter when on the field. The Browns defense might be improved, but I think it takes some time to develop chemistry. As always, Jackson is in play for both cash and tournaments.
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt: It was a tale of two tapes when Chubb saw the Ravens last year, turning in a ridiculous 183-yard, three-touchdown performance in Week 4, but then falling flat on his face in Week 16 when he finished with just 45 yards on 15 carries. What changed? Defensive tackle Brandon Williams was out for the Ravens in their Week 4 meeting, and he’s been a difference-maker when on the field. The Ravens did lose Michael Pierce and Chris Wormley on the interior of their defensive line this offseason, though they tried to make up for that, trading for Calais Campbell, a player who’s continually one of the best in the league. The big change for Chubb will be the Kevin Stefanski offense that should fit his skill set extremely well. The Browns added both Jack Conklin and first-round pick Jedrick Wills to the offensive line, which should be massive upgrades over Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard. Still, it may take some time for them to finesse the scheme and develop chemistry together. The biggest issue for Chubb (and Hunt) this week is that the Ravens opponents averaged just 22.3 running back touches per game. No other team allowed their opponents less than 23.1 touches. That’s because they control the clock and allowed their opponents just 57.6 plays per game. If the Browns defense can’t slow down Lamar Jackson, we’re unlikely to see Chubb and Hunt total more than 25 combined touches. Chubb averaged 6.0 fewer PPR points per game in games the Browns lost last year. He’s more of a middling RB2 this week than the RB1 you thought you drafted. Hunt should be an interesting play this week, as the Browns are heavy underdogs in this game. His splits in wins/losses weren’t nearly as bad as Chubb’s. Still, you worry about the potential lack of plays for the Browns offense this week, as Stefanski averaged just 60.4 plays per game in Minnesota last year, combined with the Ravens opponents averaging just 57.6 plays per game. It seems somewhat unlikely that Hunt winds up with more than 10-12 touches this week, and it’s not a great matchup against a defense that allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points in 2019. Because of that, Hunt should be considered a somewhat low-upside RB3/flex play.
Mark Ingram and JK Dobbins: This backfield was more of a mess last year than most realize, simply because Ingram scored a lot of touchdowns. But get this… based on how many touches he received and where they took place on the field, Ingram “should have” finished as the No. 23 running back instead of the No. 8 running back where he did. If you combined Gus Edwards and Justice Hill as one running back, this backfield was a 52/48 split. Seriously. Ingram had 228 touches while Edwards/Hill combined for 206 touches. Now you add Dobbins to the mix? The Browns allowed a robust 4.96 yards per carry last year and are extremely light on talent at the linebacker position. Their starters are currently B.J. Goodson, Sione Takitaki, and Tae Davis. They lost last year’s fourth-round pick Mack Wilson (linebacker), as well as second-round pick Grant Delpit (safety) during training camp. This is a new defensive scheme, but it’s hard to see them turning things around right away, especially given the injuries they’re dealing with. The biggest question mark is how this timeshare shakes out, though Ingram should resume his 12-16 touch role to start the season. Knowing the Browns allowed the fifth-most fantasy points per opportunity last year, you can start him as a stable RB2 this week, though he doesn’t have a massive ceiling. As for Dobbins, you can’t start him with any confidence, as the Ravens continue to say Edwards will be involved, and we know they’ll run with the veteran Ingram out of the gate. I’ll just make my prediction: I don’t think Dobbins totals more than 7-10 touches in his first NFL game, leaving him outside starting range.
Odell Beckham Jr: After playing through a groin injury last year, and in Freddie Kitchens’ offense, many are worried about Beckham in fantasy. Guys, he’s posted at least 1,035 yards in 5-of-6 seasons despite playing 16 games just twice. However, this week does present some real concern. It’s the Browns’ first game under the expected run-heavy approach of Kevin Stefanski, and the Ravens just happen to have one of the best cornerback units in all of football. Despite them facing the third-most targets to wide receivers, they allowed the 14th-fewest points to them. It’s not to say they can’t be beat – they can. It’s just understanding expectations. There were just three receivers who finished top-12 against them last year, and all of them were slot-heavy receivers (Jamison Crowder, Jarvis Landry, and Mohamed Sanu). There were another nine wide receivers who finished in the WR2 range, and though many of them were also slot options, there were some perimeter receivers. This is not a week to get excited about Beckham in such a tough matchup but know that there will be better days. He should still be locked into six-plus targets and considered a low-end WR2.
Jarvis Landry: He’s coming off hip surgery and was just cleared to come off the PUP list a few weeks ago, so there could be a slow start to his season. That’s the concern. The reason for optimism is that he played extremely well against this tough defense last year. In two games, he piled up 15 receptions for 241 yards, finishing as the WR5 and WR27 in those games. That was under the previous coaching staff and if the Browns are moving towards more 12 personnel (1 running back, 2 tight ends) under Stefanski, it would mean less slot duties for Landry. That means he’ll see one of Marcus Peters or Marlon Humphrey in coverage, which is not ideal. The two of them combined to allow just 1,075 yards on 165 targets in coverage, which amounts to just 6.5 yards per target. I’d like Landry more if he weren’t coming off the hip injury, as he’ll still play inside the slot more than Beckham and get away from Peters/Humphrey, but given the nature of the injury and the run-heavy offense, I’m a bit more cautious. I’d say he’s a WR3 this week who has a wide range of outcomes, though I don’t see a much of a ceiling here.
Marquise Brown: After seeing 34 targets over the first four games last year, Brown saw just 37 of them over the final 10 games. Injuries mounted up and his performances suffered. Now, after a healthy offseason, we’ll see what he’s capable of. The matchup with the Browns should be a decent one, as they figure to go with a zone-heavy scheme under Joe Woods (if he carries over what the defensive backs did in San Francisco). Brown crushed zone coverage last year, catching 22-of-31 targets for 310 yards and four touchdowns. When targeting Brown in zone, Lamar Jackson posted a 142.3 QB Rating. On top of that, it appears that Greedy Williams will not be available for this game, as he’s nursing a shoulder injury. The Browns cornerback depth chart is not deep. The Ravens have talked about throwing the ball a bit more this year, so knowing how well the matchup aligns for Brown, you should be starting him as a high-upside WR3. Does he come with some downside? Sure, but he offers game-breaking/week-changing upside. He should be a tournament favorite this week in a game that’s projected for nearly 50 points.
Miles Boykin: The fact that the Ravens brought in Dez Bryant for a workout might tell us that they believe Boykin has a ways to go before being a sturdy contributor, though it helps that they didn’t sign Bryant. Boykin figures to be on the field in 2WR sets opposite Marquise Brown, but knowing they targeted wide receivers just 10.8 times per game last year, it’s tough to say there’ll be one consistent wide receiver, let alone two of them. Boykin did do a good job with the limited opportunity he got in 2019, hauling in 198 yards and three touchdowns on just 22 targets. But again, once you think you want to trust him, don’t forget they gave Seth Roberts and Willie Snead more targets than him in 2019. The Browns themselves weren’t a matchup you needed to attack with wide receivers last year either, as they allowed the ninth-fewest points to the position. Boykin did have the best game of his 2019 season against them (3/32/1), though that’s not saying much. As the No. 3 option (at best) in a low-volume passing attack, take the wait-and-see approach with Boykin.
Austin Hooper and David Njoku: There are a lot of rumors about who will be used and how they’ll be used in Kevin Stefanski’s offense. After paying Hooper the money they did, you’d think he’d have a large role, but if you recall, the Vikings paid Kyle Rudolph a lot of money prior to last season, then split the targets 50/50 with Irv Smith Jr. Nothing is promised to Hooper, though I do expect him to lead this timeshare. Against the Ravens, I don’t know if you necessarily want to start him to find out. They allowed just two tight ends to top 10 PPR points against them last year. One was Travis Kelce, who totaled 7/89/0 on eight targets, and the other one was Ricky Seals-Jones, who caught a long 59-yard touchdown. Hooper caught just two passes that traveled over 20 yards in the air last year, which ranked 15th among tight ends. I wouldn’t feel comfortable playing Hooper as a TE1, especially given the matchup, though the loss of Earl Thomas does help the matchup. He should be considered a TE2 who’s not even guaranteed more than five targets. Njoku is probably the better red zone threat of the duo, which removes some upside from Hooper, especially if they’re running more 2TE sets. Update: The Browns listed Njoku as third on the depth chart, highlighting there’s certainly some issues between the two sides.
Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle: It may not seem like much, but the exit of Hayden Hurst clears room for more Andrews snaps/targets in 2020. Why would that be? Did you know Andrews played just 31.1 snaps per game last year, or that Hurst played 29.2 snaps per game? Fun fact: Andrews ranked 25th in routes run among tight ends last year. If that were to remain the same, we’d have issues. However, with Hurst gone, we should see a lot more of Andrews on the field, as Boyle was already playing 70 percent of the snaps. In two games against the Browns last year, Andrews finished as the TE1 and TE8, catching 10-of-17 passes for 124 yards and three touchdowns over the two games. He was one of the seven tight ends who finished with top-eight numbers against them, largely in part to do with the 10 touchdowns they allowed to tight ends, which ranked as the second-most in the league. If Andrews picks up even half the snaps that Hurst used to play, he’ll be in line for a huge bump in routes run, so the regression some are expecting would be compensated for with more volume. Start Andrews as a high-end TE1 and expect results against a team that’s light at safety and linebacker. Boyle and Hurst combined for 82 targets last year, so it’s possible that Boyle becomes a Dallas Goedert-type player in fantasy, though I wouldn’t bank on it, because he was already playing 70 percent of snaps to begin with.
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars
Line: IND by 7.0
Philip Rivers: Have we hit the point with Rivers where he’s on the decline in his career? I mean, not everyone is Tom Brady or Drew Brees playing well into their 40s. Rivers will turn 39 in December, so it’s possible we’ve already witnessed the beginning of the end. Now insert an offseason that includes no real game action to build chemistry with the receivers, and you might have a disaster. If there’s hope, it’s the Jaguars defense. Actually, if you wanted to find one game where Rivers played extremely well last year, he completed 16-of-22 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns against them in Week 14. They were bad enough then, but the Jaguars lost Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, and A.J. Bouye this offseason. Sure, they tried addressing the defense in the draft, but relying on rookies to start is never a great thing, especially with no NFL preseason action. Rivers has experience in Frank Reich’s offense (2014-2015), so it’s not all new to him. You can also hang your hat on the fact that the Jaguars allowed 10 quarterbacks to post at least 15.1 fantasy points against them last year. The Colts are projected for 26.5 points in this game, so there’s a shot he delivers more value, but as is the case with most players on new teams, I’m approaching with caution. He should offer a decent floor as a middling QB2, but this is likely to be a run-heavy gameplan.
Gardner Minshew: I’ve said it all offseason… Minshew has been underrated by the fantasy community. He posted top-18 type numbers in 71.4 percent of his games, which ranked 12th among quarterbacks. While that doesn’t highlight a ceiling, it does highlight a floor, especially for those who like to stream the position. Keep in mind that floor was intact while he rushed for 344 yards without a single touchdown. With Jay Gruden as his offensive coordinator, you can all but guarantee him a few rushing touchdowns, especially with Leonard Fournette now gone. Kirk Cousins never rushed for more than 179 yards but scored 13 rushing touchdowns from 2015-2017 under Gruden. He’s scored just two of them over the last two years since leaving Gruden. The Colts are a defense Minshew crushed last year, pouring on 295 yards and three touchdowns on 39 attempts. Even going back to Nick Foles in Week 11, he was able to throw for 296 yards and two touchdowns against them, so the Colts defense clearly didn’t match up well against the Jaguars skill position players. There were nine quarterbacks who threw for at least 295 yards against them last year. The Colts did add DeForest Buckner to their defensive line, but also lost safety Clayton Geathers and cornerback Pierre Desir in the secondary. In a game that’s supposed to be one-sided, we should see Minshew rack up some pass attempts/dropbacks, which does offer fantasy viability. I like him as a solid high-end QB2 this week who can be streamed. There were two quarterbacks who tagged the Colts defense for more than 28 fantasy points over the final four weeks of the season, so he has tournament appeal as well.
Jonathan Taylor, Marlon Mack, and Nyheim Hines: We didn’t get any preseason games, so we don’t have any clue how this timeshare will work, but I’m going with talent. The Colts selected Taylor in the second round of the draft because they felt they had a void at the position, period. They’re now about to go and face the defense that allowed 10 running backs to post top-12 performances against them in 2019. Keep in mind they had Calais Campbell on the roster the entire season and Marcell Dareus for half of it. They’re no longer on the defensive line. To highlight the issue, the Jaguars allowed 5.20 yards per carry with Dareus off the field last year. They allowed 5.76 yards per carry when Campbell was off the field. Teams should be able to run wild on this defense, especially one with a top-three offensive line. Again, going back to last year, they allowed 205.2 total yards per game to running backs, which allows for multiple producers. I’m expecting around 15 touches for Taylor in his debut and that’s good enough for an RB2 start, even with the uncertainty in his role, as this defense is just too giving. Mack will likely garner 8-12 touches himself, though there’s a possibility for more against a defense that he tore up last year. In two games, he finished with 186 yards and three rushing touchdowns, though he didn’t catch any passes in those games. Hines was an afterthought, catching three passes in each game and totaling 10 carries between the two of them. If you want to start Mack as a RB3/flex option, I think this matchup has enough potential for it, just don’t get used to it. Hines is just an emergency RB4/5 whose pass-catching services shouldn’t be needed in this contest.
James Robinson, Chris Thompson, and
Devine Ozigbo: We all talked about Leonard Fournette losing targets in the passing game under Jay Gruden, and now that he’s out of the picture, we must figure out where they’re going to go. In a game where they’re big underdogs, there will be plenty of dropbacks. Thompson has averaged 7-10 touches per game over the last three years, so it’s not like he’s getting crazy involved. Running backs averaged 26.9 touches per game against the Colts last year, so even if we go high-end with Thompson, it’s likely we see 17-plus touches for Robinson. Since Frank Reich and Matt Eberflus came to the Colts, they have allowed just one 100-yard rusher against them, and that was Derrick Henry during his late-season domination. The Colts also added DeForest Buckner to the defensive line which is clearly an upgrade. They slowed Fournette down big-time last year, as he totaled a season-low 23 yards on just eight carries in Week 11. He did chip in with seven receptions for 34 yards, but it was one of his worst games all year. Those are the negatives for Robinson behind the same offensive line. Is a late-game goal-line plunge out of the question? It may not look likely considering the Colts allowed just four rushing touchdowns during the entire 2019 season. Robinson should be considered an RB4 this week who needs to score in order avoid busting Thompson is a flex/RB4-type player in PPR formats, and it’s worth mentioning the Colts allowed the most running back receptions (109) in the league last year. The 1.55 PPR points per target was very middle of the pack, but given the expected game flow, there could be more volume than normal. *Update* With both Ryquell Armstead and Devine Ozigbo inactive for this game, we should see Robinson tally 15 touches. Because of that, he’s automatically in RB3 territory. Knowing they won’t have many scoring opportunities, he doesn’t have much of a ceiling, but he is a fine floor play.
T.Y. Hilton: After missing the start of training camp with a hamstring, Hilton came back and reportedly became Philip Rivers‘ favorite target. The Jaguars used to be a team to fear for wide receivers, as Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye were potentially the best duo in the league. Those days are gone. The starting cornerbacks for the Jaguars this year will be first-round rookie C.J. Henderson and Tre Herndon. We know that Henderson has never seen NFL game action, not even preseason. Herndon is someone who played well in a pinch last year, allowing 643 yards and four touchdowns on 76 targets in coverage, though he never saw opposing No. 1 receivers. They’re likely going to play sides here, so Frank Reich and Rivers can pick/choose their matchup for Hilton. He’s the one sturdy presence in the passing game and should see six-plus targets here, though you have to wonder how much the Colts need to drop back and pass while heavy favorites. If Hilton is healthy, which it appears he is, you want to start him as a WR3. It’s best to be cautious in DFS, as it’s his first game action with a new quarterback.
Parris Campbell: It’s unclear whether or not Campbell will be on the field for 2WR sets, as T.Y. Hilton and Zach Pascal/Michael Pittman appear to be the perimeter options. With Chester Rogers gone, Campbell will play a role that netted 224 routes in 11 games last year. By comparison, Hilton ran 276 routes in 10 games, so Campbell can have a big role in the offense despite being the No. 3 receiver. Rivers has loved his targets over the middle of the field throughout his career and Campbell might be the most explosive one yet. The Jaguars have D.J. Hayden covering the slot, which might be their most stable cornerback for the time being. He allowed just 195 scoreless yards on 38 targets in coverage last year. Sure, it’s a small sample size with the Jaguars, but he has held opposing quarterbacks below a 87.0 QB Rating when targeted in each of the last four seasons. You didn’t draft Campbell as a starter, so sit back and watch how he’s used in this game before trusting him.
Zach Pascal or Michael Pittman: I know the Colts said the plan was for Pittman to start as the “X” receiver in the offense, but given the lack of preseason, we could see him eased into that role and share time with Pascal, who’s already shown the ability to play in this league. On top of that, Pascal was listed ahead of Pittman on the first unofficial depth chart. No matter which way you lean on the debate, you must admit there’s concern. The Jaguars cornerback unit isn’t one that I’m fearful of, as C.J. Henderson is a rookie, and Tre Herndon is just a guy. But again, Pittman is a rookie, so it’s not like him matching up against Henderson will be an advantage. There’s just too much uncertainty here to consider playing either of them. For now, we have to consider Pascal the superior option, but you’re not using him as anything more than a WR6. *Update* The Colts depth chart listed Pascal ahead of Pittman, highlighting the concerns we had.
D.J. Chark: We’ve been hearing the Chark hype train started since Jay Gruden became the coordinator and said he’d be moving Chark around the formation a lot more. Fast forward to camp and everyone (I mean everyone) has been saying Chark’s dominating camp. Now, to be fair, the Jaguars defense isn’t a hard one to dice up, but neither is the Colts. In fact, Chark had his second-biggest game of the year against them, totaling eight receptions for 104 yards and two touchdowns in their Week 11 meeting. On top of that, the Colts lost their top cornerback Pierre Desir after voiding his contract. They’ll be hoping sophomore cornerback Rock Ya-Sin takes a step forward after allowing nearly 10.0 yards per target in 2019. They signed Xavier Rhodes, who’s likely to start, but he was among the worst cornerbacks in football last year with the Vikings, allowing a 127.8 QB Rating in his coverage. He’s trended down over the last two years, so there’s little reason to think he’ll be able to keep up with the young Chark. Start Chark as a borderline WR1 this week, who should see eight-plus targets against the team that allowed the third-most fantasy points per target to wide receivers last year.
Chris Conley and Laviska Shenault: This seems to be a trend in this game with rookies and the veterans they’re trying to replace. From reports, Shenault looks like the real deal but do they give Conley the reps to start the season? It seems likely they’ll split the two, erasing any clear value that might be had between them, though it helps that Dede Westbrook appears buried on the depth chart. The Colts are full seven-point favorites in this game, so there’s a scenario where the Jaguars throw the ball 40 times, which would present value, but our hands are somewhat tied with these two until we see how they’re used. We’ve already seen Conley in a full-time role and given he’s a captain who saw 90 targets in this offense last year, he’s the “safer” play, but he lacks upside. So, if you’re left choosing one looking for upside, it’d be Shenault for me, who just might get a few handoffs in a versatile role. Still, I’d prefer to wait until we see how many snaps they have him on the field before trusting him as anything more than a WR5.
Dede Westbrook: The first depth chart the Jaguars released this year had Westbrook listed as the team’s No. 5 receiver behind D.J. Chark, Chris Conley, Laviska Shenault, and Keelan Cole. That’s… not good. It seemed like he was headed for a role that was beyond slot-only, but after missing much of their training camp in the new offense, he’s fallen behind. It’s clear that he’s not rosterable right now, though we’ll pay attention to trends in his snaps because he was a favorite of Gardner Minshew last year.
Jack Doyle: Many have seemingly overlooked the Colts tight end room, even though both Frank Reich and Philip Rivers have proven to love the position throughout the years. Over the last two years under Reich, tight ends have averaged 9.5 targets per game, which is a massive number. If you were a tight end and saw more than four targets against the Jaguars last year, you finished as a top-13 tight end that particular week. There were nine tight ends who finished with at least 11.1 PPR points against them last year, though Doyle wasn’t one of them. In their first matchup, he didn’t receive a single target, but it’s important to note he was battling shoulder issues and didn’t practice all week. In their second matchup, he saw four targets and caught just one for six yards. Even going back to 2018, Doyle totaled just 3/36/0 against them. So, maybe Doug Marrone knows how to keep Reich’s tight ends in check? Still, it’s hard to pass on Doyle completely when you know that Trey Burton is starting the year on IR. Consider Doyle a streamer who should come with a decent floor despite his struggles in the past while sharing time with others.
Tyler Eifert: After hearing that Josh Oliver would be out for the season, we now know this is Eifert’s job. The Colts didn’t allow a single tight end more than 73 yards last year, which says a lot about their consistency with the position. They did allow 16 tight ends record at least 22 yards, including 10 of them with four or more receptions. What this highlights is that they’re willing to give you the dink-and-dunk completions to the tight end. Through Jay Gruden’s nine years as a coach, he’s offered a top-16 tight end six times, so Eifert is in a position to succeed in this scheme. Still, Eifert topped 49 yards just twice last year and has scored just four touchdowns over his last 22 games. In his first game with a new team, I’m okay fading him, as there are safer options out there to stream.
Las Vegas Raiders at Carolina Panthers
Line: LV by 1.5
Derek Carr: He’s got a whole new surrounding cast, though it certainly would’ve helped if he’d had some time to work with them against real competition. It also would’ve helped us project them. The Panthers defense was straight-up middle of the pack last year from an efficiency standpoint and the performances against them backed that up. No one finished higher than the QB7, though just two quarterbacks finished worse than QB22. It’s a new defense there under Phil Snow, a coordinator with minimal experience in the NFL. He was a linebackers coach with the Lions back in 2006-2008 but has been in college since then. The Panthers defense lost so many players this offseason, it’s hard to imagine the starters that’ll be out there. Here’s the list of starters from 2019 that are gone: LB Luke Kuechly, CB James Bradberry, S Eric Reid, DL Gerald McCoy, DL Dontari Poe, DL Vernon Butler, EDGE Mario Addison, and EDGE Bruce Irvin. That led to the Panthers drafting five defensive players in the first five rounds of the draft. It’s going to take some time for the rookies to acclimate to the NFL. I’m expecting the Raiders to ride Josh Jacobs this week, which limits Carr’s ceiling, which never really is that high anyway, especially on the road where he’s thrown more than two touchdowns just six times during his six-year career. He’s a fine floor play for those looking for 15 points but there are likely streamers out there who are just as safe with a higher ceiling.
Teddy Bridgewater: Many talk about the Panthers falling behind in games this year, leading to many pass attempts. While I won’t disagree with that sentiment, the line on this game suggests it’ll be closer than most believe. On top of that, the Raiders games averaged just 122.0 plays per game in total, which was the second-lowest number in football and limited overall upside. The did allow a ridiculously high 6.27 percent touchdown rate, as well as 8.28 yards per attempt. Based on passing attempts alone, they allowed 0.57 fantasy points per attempt, which ranked as the second-most to only the Dolphins. But again, there were just five quarterbacks who threw more than 31 pass attempts against them due to the turtle-pace they move at. If Bridgewater can be efficient with his passes, he has a good chance to be a streamer, as 9-of-16 quarterbacks finished as top-12 quarterbacks against the Raiders despite the low volume. Given the new offense, it may be difficult to come out extremely efficient, but Joe Brady’s offense should be considered a net-positive overall. Bridgewater should be considered a solid QB2 play this week.
Josh Jacobs: The Panthers were the team you wanted to play running backs against in 2019. They allowed a massive 5.32 yards per carry and allowed a touchdown every 14.0 carries. We can talk all day about how Jacobs doesn’t catch as many passes as he should, but in this game, it won’t matter. The Panthers allowed 363.1 fantasy points on the ground alone last year. No other team was above 297.8 points. The Panthers allowed 18 percent more fantasy points on the ground than any team in the league, think about that for a minute. Now, to be fair, they did hire a new defensive coordinator, but this team is clearly lacking talent to be an elite run-stopping unit. They also lost a lot of the talent they did have. It led them to an all-defense draft. Seriously, they didn’t draft a single offensive player. That’s a lot of young players in the starting lineup. Trust Jacobs as an RB1 this week and expect big results. He’s worth both cash-game and tournament consideration.
Christian McCaffrey: The RB1 comes back to reclaim his throne atop the running back rankings. Did you know there was just two games all last year where he finished with fewer than 19.0 half-PPR points? Crazy, right? He’ll start against the Raiders who allowed the eighth-most fantasy points per opportunity last year. They also allowed 205.7 PPR points through the air alone to running backs, which ranked as the fourth-most. There were just five teams in the NFL who allowed more fantasy points through the air to running backs than on the ground. The Raiders were one of them. This matchup appears tailormade for someone like McCaffrey, as most are expecting the Panthers to fall behind and throw the ball. The Raiders are also working with a brand-new group of linebackers, which could lead to some miscommunications. You don’t need me to tell you to start McCaffrey as an RB1 every week. If you want to play him in DFS, go right ahead.
Henry Ruggs: Most think Ruggs is just a deep threat with his 4.2-second speed. That’s not his game. He’s a guy who does well in the open field. The idea is to get him the ball quickly and let him do his work with elusiveness after the catch. The matchup in Week 1 is a good one, as opposing wide receivers averaged 14.2 receptions per game against the Panthers secondary last year, which ranked as the third-most in the league. On a per-target basis, they allowed just 1.67 PPR points, which was actually better than the league average. They were so bad against the run, teams were able to simply dink-and-dunk their way down the field, as evidenced by the 12.39 yards per reception to wide receivers. Their opponents averaged 65.1 plays per game, which is why we saw so many receptions available. Meanwhile, the Raiders only averaged 61.8 plays per game in 2019. Knowing they have the same coaching staff, we could see them increase the no-huddle approach this season. Ruggs isn’t a locked-and-loaded WR3 in fantasy just yet, but the upside to finish as a top-20 wide receiver is there. I’ll consider him a volatile WR4 for his first NFL game.
Bryan Edwards: If you missed it, Tyrell Williams suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder during training camp. His season is over. With a lot less competition last year, Williams never saw more than seven targets in a game and didn’t see more than four targets after Week 12, so we don’t know how big Edwards’ role can be, but he’s fantasy relevant due to the injury. He’s a third-round rookie who Derek Carr has reportedly fell in love with during training camp. It’s still hard to trust a rookie wide receiver, especially when he’s the third option on his team, at best. Edwards is a perimeter wide receiver who’ll be the big-bodied target that Carr could look towards in the red zone, as he’s 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds. The Panthers cornerback unit is questionable, at best. After losing James Bradberry this offseason, they replaced him with free agent Eli Apple and fourth-round rookie Troy Pride Jr. Pairing Apple with Donte Jackson, the Panthers have one of the worst cornerback depth charts in the league. They then lost Apple to injured reserve during training camp. Jackson allowed a touchdown every 10.0 targets in 2019, while Apple was on his third team in three years. Edwards will likely present value this season, but it’s difficult to say how much right now, especially in a game where they should be able to run the ball rather efficiently. Consider him a WR5 for this week, but one who could have a bigger role than you think. If you have room on the end of your bench, add him before the games begin.
Hunter Renfrow: When the Raiders said that Henry Ruggs would play in the slot, it crushed the value of Renfrow, who played 71 percent of his snaps in the slot last year. Because of that, it was going to be interesting to see how they got Renfrow on the field. Now that Tyrell Williams is out for the season, it’s unlikely they can get Ruggs into the slot as much as they wanted. The Raiders had three wide receivers on the field just 54 percent of the time last year, which was the eighth-lowest mark in the league. The Panthers are one of the weaker depth charts in the league when it comes to cornerback, and particularly the slot, as they’re slated to have rookie Troy Pride Jr. take over that role. But again, until we know how often Renfrow will be on the field, you cannot play him in fantasy right now. Even before all these questions, he played just 34.2 percent of the snaps last year. Now adding Ruggs and Bryan Edwards, it gets a bit dicier, but Renfrow is the stable veteran. He should be considered a mediocre WR5 this week. He’s not someone I’m excited to play, but he should offer a semi-decent floor.
D.J. Moore: Most of the time, we can say that those who have experience with the quarterback and/or offense, they have a leg up on the rest of the receivers. That’s the odd thing about the Panthers this offseason. They have a new offense being installed, as well as a new quarterback. Moore saw 135 targets last year, but does the addition of Robby Anderson hurt his ceiling? Anderson does have experience under Matt Rhule. I’m still siding with Moore, who’s easily the best receiver on the roster. The Raiders allowed a massive 1.94 PPR points per target last year (fifth-most) but saw just 281 wide receiver targets on the year (eighth fewest), making them look better than they were. The 9.54 yards per target they allowed was the most in the league. They acknowledged the issue and added both free agent Prince Amukamara and first-rounder Damon Arnette to their cornerback unit this offseason. They wound up cutting Amukamara because they were impressed with Arnette, though just a week later, Arnette fractured his thumb. He’s reportedly going to play with a cast on, which is far from ideal when covering someone as slippery as Moore. They don’t do any shadowing, so Moore should see a mixture of Trayvon Mullen, Arnette, and Lamarcus Joyner. Knowing the changes and how it may take time for the new cornerbacks to acclimate, I still feel confident starting Moore as a solid high-end WR2 this week who presents WR1 upside. I wouldn’t play him in cash lineups considering all the changes on his own team and that we haven’t seen how the target share will play out, but he does deserve tournament consideration.
Robby Anderson: It’s a welcomed change of scenery for Anderson, as he moves on from Adam Gase, and back with his former college coach, Matt Rhule. He’s the No. 3 option at best on the team, though, and maybe fourth option. It does help that they have a new quarterback who hasn’t developed a favorite just yet. This matchup actually suits Anderson’s strengths well, as the Raiders allowed 15.4 yards per reception to wide receivers, which ranked as the third-most in the league. The downside here is that Teddy Bridgewater only attempted a deep ball on 7.1 percent of his attempts last year, which ranks as the second-lowest mark in the league. Anderson offers one-play upside but relying on it in his first game is a tough task, especially considering we don’t know where he lands on the pecking order. It is noteworthy that he had one of his best games against this secondary last year, posting 4/86/1 in Week 12. He’s more of a tournament play this week where you’re looking for the Panthers to exploit the Raiders’ weakness downfield. He should be considered a boom-or-bust WR4/5 option in season-long.
Curtis Samuel: We saw the Panthers force the issue getting Samuel targets last year, though his efficiency was among the worst in the league. Was it due to the quarterback play? Maybe, though there are a lot of receivers who have to deal with poor quarterback play. New offensive coordinator Joe Brady should get creative with Samuel and find ways to utilize him closer to the line of scrimmage, though we have to project that to happen, as we haven’t seen it with Samuel in the NFL just yet. The most consistent cornerback on the Raiders last year was Lamarcus Joyner, who covers the slot, which is where we should expect Samuel to play most of his snaps. Looking at the wide receivers who did well against the Raiders last year, not many of them were smaller receivers. The best game a sub-5-foot-11 receiver had against them was Mecole Hardman‘s 4/61/1 when Tyreek Hill was out of the lineup. I don’t think Samuel offers so much upside that you can’t pass on starting him, especially considering the negative reports that were coming out of camp. I’d rather sit back and watch how he’s utilized in the new offense.
Darren Waller: There are a lot of questions surrounding the wide receivers and running backs in the Raiders’ offense and how they’ll be deployed, but Waller is the lone constant. The Panthers were the No. 4 defense against tight ends last year, but not because they were so good against them or anything. In fact, the 8.99 yards per target they allowed was the second-highest number in the league behind only the Cardinals. The reason they allowed so few of fantasy points was because tight ends were targeted just 83 times all season (5.2 times per game) against them. Waller had just two games last year with fewer than five targets, including 10 games with seven or more targets. The yardage should be there, and given the new defensive scheme with more than a handful of new starters, Waller should offer a very stable TE1 floor in this game. He can be considered in cash games if you need to save some money from the elite options.
Ian Thomas: With Greg Olsen off to the Seahawks, Thomas gets his shot at the starting lineup. There have been 10 games where Thomas has seen four-plus targets in his short two-year career. In those games, he’s totaled 62 targets, 41 receptions, 397 yards, and three touchdowns. Those are numbers that can be streamed, though it’s obviously worth noting that this is a brand-new offense. The Raiders allowed just a 64.0 percent completion rate to tight ends last year. That’s about all they did that was above average, as they allowed 10 touchdowns (second-most), and 1.94 PPR points per target (fourth-most). Now that the Panthers have three legitimate receivers and the best pass-catching back in the league, it’s tough to say Thomas will have a respectful target share. With so many moving parts, it’s hard to say you should take any chances with him as a streamer this week, even if the matchup is a good one.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
Line: NE by 6.5
Ryan Fitzpatrick: It was always going to be Fitzpatrick for Week 1. Going against the Patriots, it made even more sense. The Patriots aren’t going to be the same defense they were last year, as they lost interior lineman Danny Shelton, edge rusher Kyle Van Noy, as well as linebackers Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts to new teams. That’s not it, either. They also had linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung opt out for the season. With that being said, Fitzpatrick is now behind an offensive line with what might be five new starters. The Dolphins are also in a new offense this year, though Fitzpatrick has experience with Chan Gailey from back in his Bills/Jets days. The Patriots defense was the best in the league last year, allowing just 10.97 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks (no other team allowed less than 12.02), but again, there are so many changes for both teams, you don’t want to rely on anything that was done last year. But looking at the last time Fitzpatrick and Gailey played Bill Belichick’s defense (2015), Fitzpatrick did throw for 591 yards and five touchdowns in two games. There are safer options to stream this week, though Fitzpatrick might not be as bad as some think given all the losses to the Patriots defense.
Cam Newton: There are a lot of question marks surrounding the former NFL MVP. Not only did he have multiple surgeries and is starting over in a new offense, but he’s now 31 years old and might lose some of his mobility that made him so valuable in fantasy football. The Dolphins as his first opponent should be interesting, as they’re a team with many changes on the defensive side of the ball. Oddly enough, most of those changes include former Patriots. On top of that, Brian Flores is their head coach, who knows Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels all too well. In two games against the Dolphins last year, Tom Brady threw for 485 yards and four touchdowns, so it wasn’t like they couldn’t gameplan efficiently against Flores’ defense. Knowing the Patriots running back situation is questionable at best, they’re likely going to lean on Newton a bit more than they’d like in Week 1. The Dolphins did allow a league-high 39 passing touchdowns last year, including at least two passing touchdowns to 14-of-16 quarterbacks, but their secondary has been overhauled and now has legitimate talent. The scheme also limited the rushing totals of quarterbacks, as they allowed just 128 rushing yards to quarterbacks all season long. Almost half of them were to Josh Allen, someone who’s often compared to Cam Newton. For what that’s worth, Allen crushed this defense for 256 passing yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for 56 yards and a touchdown. Newton has many variables, but he should produce low-end QB1/high-end QB2 numbers. We know there’s upside for more, though they’re not likely to be a well-oiled machine out of the gate.
Jordan Howard and Matt Breida: It seems the Dolphins are happy with the duo they’ve assembled this offseason, though not many are talking about the biggest variable they’ll be dealing with. They Dolphins have replaced every member on the offensive line (which really isn’t a bad thing considering who was there last year), including three rookies. Knowing they have zero game experience together, it’s likely to be an issue. Howard isn’t someone who’s super elusive, but rather relies on his blocks being set up and hitting the hole. The Patriots allowed just four running backs to finish as top-24 options last year, though the biggest reason was due to them allowing just one running back touchdown the entire season. The Patriots defense has lost interior lineman Danny Shelton, edge rusher Kyle Van Noy, linebackers Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts in free agency, and then had linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung opt out for the season. So, it’s fair to say they won’t be the same elite unit. They did allow a stable 4.06 yards per carry with those players, so it’s not a flat-out zero for Howard, but I’m more worried about his offensive line and lack of scoring opportunities. I would rely on him for anything more than RB3/4 production. Breida is the better pass-catching option of the two and will likely be mixed in throughout the game on early downs. He’s also more elusive and may not rely on his offensive line as much as Howard. Because of that, he may be the better option of the two this week, though Howard will be the goal-line back. No matter the case, it’s not one to be excited about for Breida, an RB4 who gets a slight bump in PPR formats.
Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead: If anyone tells you they know what is going to happen with this backfield, they’re lying. Well, unless it’s Bill Belichick and/or Josh McDaniels. Michel just returned to practice a couple weeks ago after having ankle surgery this offseason. White lost one of the best parts of this offense (Tom Brady‘s screen passes) and volume is coming down in the passing game. Burkhead is always there lurking around for 6-10 touches per game, taking away the upside of others. And lastly, Damien Harris, who was last year’s third-round pick, seemed to have a shot to be the starter, but wound up going to IR with a wrist injury. The good news is that opponents averaged a league-high 27.1 running back carries per game against the Dolphins, so there’s likely to be plenty of carries to go around. What doesn’t help is that the Dolphins have Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts on their roster now (were both on the Patriots last year), so they likely know the weaknesses of each back. Still, it’s a different offense with Cam Newton under center, so it’ll be tough to gameplan against last year’s Patriots offense. The Dolphins allowed a league-high 2.01 PPR points per target, which is huge for someone like White. He caught three passes and a touchdown in each game against them last year. He should be considered a RB3/flex option while Newton tries to build some confidence early on. He’d also be the only one I’d consider in tournaments. Michel played well against the Dolphins last year, totaling 21/85/1 in the first meeting, then 18/74/1 in the second meeting. They were two of his top-four games last year. But knowing Michel was behind in camp and that they’ve said he’ll be eased in, he should not be relied upon for more than RB3/4 production, especially knowing Newton may steal some of his goal-line opportunities. Burkhead is a wildcard for RB-needy teams, as there’s a scenario where he sees 12-plus touches in this game. He’s an emergency RB4-type option.
DeVante Parker: There were a lot of factors that led to Parker getting 128 targets last year, but maybe none more obvious than Preston Williams getting hurt and missing the second half of the season. There were just three games where Parker didn’t total at least 55 yards last year, and one of them was against the Patriots. In fact, he totaled exactly zero yards on seven targets in their first matchup. He got payback in Week 17, though, racking up eight catches for 137 yards. I had to double-check that Stephon Gilmore played in that matchup, and he actually allowed almost all of it in his coverage. That was the only game all year where Gilmore allowed more than five catches or 86 yards in his coverage. My bet would be that Gilmore shadows Parker again in this game, and that Parker comes back down to earth. Gilmore has allowed a 56 percent or less completion rate in his coverage in 5-of-8 NFL seasons, including just a 46.6 percent catch-rate over the last two seasons. Parker should be considered a risky WR3/4 this week. It surely doesn’t help that he’s missed practice time throughout the last week, and has been limited throughout practice this week. *Update* After participating on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday, Parker got in a full practice on Friday.
Preston Williams: He was considered a long shot to make it back on the field for Week 1 after a Week 9 ACL tear, but Williams has apparently been balling out in training camp. He’ll be out there in Week 1 and while DeVante Parker deals with Stephon Gilmore, he’ll deal with Jason McCourty. That’s not an easy task, as McCourty allowed just 5.31 yards per target in his coverage last year and didn’t allow a single touchdown on 49 targets. Williams did catch four passes for 63 yards in their meeting last year, so it wasn’t a completely useless performance. With it being the first game he’ll play off his ACL, you should probably play it safe, especially when you consider there were just four wide receivers all of last year that finished as a top-24 option against the Patriots. Three of them were slot receivers. Williams is going to have some starter-worthy performances this year, but betting on one here to produce anything more than WR4/5-type numbers would be going against the odds. There’s just not enough upside to justify playing him here over other sturdy options.
Isaiah Ford or Jakeem Grant: We don’t know which of these two will play the majority of slot snaps in 3WR sets, but Ford looked very good down the stretch, catching 21-of-29 targets for 235 yards over the final four games of the season. Knowing the Patriots allowed just 125.9 receiving yards per game to wide receivers last year, it’s easy to fade these guys in Week 1. Still, it’s a situation to monitor for snaps, as one of them might become fantasy relevant when Parker/Williams have tough matchups on the perimeter.
Julian Edelman: The Patriots go from a team that threw the ball an average of 600.7 times over the last seven years, to one that’ll likely go towards a more run-heavy attack under Cam Newton. Edelman loses that connection that he and Brady had, which led to him averaging 9.6 targets per game over that time. Newton has tended to target big-bodied wide receivers over his time in the league, though he’s never had a slot receiver like Edelman. The Dolphins suddenly have a very talented cornerback unit, though we could see Edelman match up with the weakest of the bunch, rookie Noah Igbinoghene in the slot. He’s obviously never played a snap in the NFL, so we could see the Patriots exploit that area of the field. Edelman played 68 percent of his snaps in the slot last year, so he’s clearly the one with the best matchup on the field. Slot receivers Jarvis Landry, Tyler Boyd, and JuJu Smith-Schuster all posted 103-plus receiving yards against this defense last year, even if the cornerback unit does look different. Edelman can be played as a semi-high floor WR3 this week.
N’Keal Harry: There are many who are gravitating towards Harry considering Cam Newton has continually targeted big-bodied wide receivers, allowing them to try and win their one-on-one battles. The issue with that this week is that Harry will be matching up against two of the better cornerbacks in the league. Not only did the Dolphins have Xavien Howard, but they also added Byron Jones in free agency, giving them one of the better 1-2 punches at cornerback. Both of them are at least 6-feet tall and weigh over 190 pounds, so they’re not smaller guys that Harry can bully. It appears that Harry will be the No. 2 option among wide receivers, as the team moved on from Mohamed Sanu. Julian Edelman will always be the safety valve in Josh McDaniels’ offense, but we could see Harry as the red zone target. With that said, it’s best to sit back and watch how much playing time/targets Harry gets before trusting him as anything more than a touchdown-reliant WR5 option, especially against this cornerback duo.
Mike Gesicki: There have been a lot of people suggesting Gesicki will be the “big slot” receiver in Chan Gailey’s offense, though that’s a straight-up guess. Is it possible? Sure, though far from a guarantee. The Patriots were a brutal matchup across the board last year, and that included tight ends, as there were just three of them who topped 44 yards against them. Gesicki played against them twice, totaling just 1/11/0 on two targets in the first meeting but then 4/34/1 on seven targets in the second meeting. The Dolphins were lacking receiving options in the second game, leading to Gesicki’s high target total. It also didn’t hurt that the Dolphins threw the ball 41 times in that Week 17 game. The Patriots opponents averaged just 59.2 plays per game last year and knowing their offense will slow the pace down with Cam Newton, we could see a low-volume game for the Dolphins offense in general. The changing Patriots defense does make the matchup more appealing, especially knowing safety Patrick Chung opted out, so if you want to play Gesicki as a low-end TE1/high-end TE2, go ahead. He’s one of the tight ends in that range I feel somewhat confident saying he’ll see at least five targets, though it’s not a lock in a new offense, especially knowing he was listed as the No. 2 tight end on the depth chart.
Ryan Izzo, Devin Asiasi, and Dalton Keene: We’ve heard that Asiasi has caught on quickly as a blocker and that’s what will get him on the field right away. Izzo is not a good blocker, but he does at least have some experience in the offense. It’s always risky trusting a rookie tight end in general, especially one who’s in what looks to be a three-way timeshare. Do yourself a favor and find another streamer this week. Sit back and watch what the Patriots do this week before rostering any of them. If Asiasi is on the field in an every-down role, he’ll have appeal moving forward.