The Primer: Week 1 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
Line: SEA by 1.5
Russell Wilson: If you haven’t heard of the hashtag #LetRussCook, you’re missing out on the bevy of fantasy enthusiasts who understand what it would be like if Wilson threw the ball 550-plus times. To give you a hint: Wilson has a 6.0 percent career touchdown rate, which is tied with Aaron Rodgers for second-most all-time (minimum 1,000 pass attempts). His 7.87 yards per attempt ranks sixth on that list. Add in his rushing totals and you have yourself what would be an all-time great fantasy quarterback. Does that happen in 2020? The Falcons are a team that allowed eight different quarterbacks to post 8.38 or more yards per attempt against them in 2019, and they’ll now be forced to start Isaiah Oliver, rookie A.J. Terrell, and Kendall Sheffield at cornerback. They also lost Adrian Clayborn in free agency, though they added Dante Fowler and Charles Harris to try and offset the loss. Wilson himself threw just 20 passes in their meeting last year, completing 14 of them for 182 yards and two touchdowns while Chris Carson/Rashaad Penny rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown. The final score was 27-20, though it was never that close. Why? Well, Matt Ryan didn’t play in that game. It was Matt Schaub who was under center. The Seahawks are projected for roughly 25 points in this game, which seems like it could be low when you consider what happened on just 58 offensive snaps last year. Wilson could explode against this defense if they “let him cook.” Given the turnover on the Seahawks defense and potency of the Falcons offense, it’s possible he throws the ball 35-plus times here. Start him as a QB1 who offers tremendous upside in the dome. The reason to fade him in cash is due to his playcaller’s tendency in positive gamescripts. Brian Schottenheimer has ranked 32nd and 30th in passing rates when his team is ahead. That could crush Wilson’s floor, though I do see this game as a competitive one.
Matt Ryan: There used to be a time where the Seahawks defense would make you back away and think twice about starting a quarterback. Not anymore. There were 10 quarterbacks who finished as top-18 options against the Seahawks last year and with at least 16.1 fantasy points. Ryan missed the game against the Seahawks last year, but Matt Schaub stepped in and threw for 460 yards and one touchdown, finishing as the QB9 that week. The Seahawks defense lost Quinton Jefferson, Al Woods, Jadeveon Clowney, Ezekiel Ansah, and Mychal Kendricks this offseason, all key members of the front seven. They aren’t going to generate pressure on a consistent basis with the players they have, which should allow Ryan to put up some numbers with his group of pass catchers. It’s worth noting that no quarterback finished with more than 24.7 fantasy points against the Seahawks last year, which is likely due to the fact that none of them threw for more than two touchdowns. That’s a fickle stat that can vary, though it’s noteworthy that this defense tightened up down in the red zone. They did, however, allow five different running backs to score multiple rushing touchdowns, so maybe that evens out in 2020. In what I’m projecting to be a high-scoring affair, Ryan should be a safe, high-floor QB1.
Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde: We don’t know how this backfield will shape out, but it’s hard to see the Seahawks taking the starting job away from Carson after the year he just had. With that being said, health can be a question mark after he suffered a season-ending hip injury that forced him to miss the playoffs last year. When you add in Hyde and the fact that they drafted a running back (DeeJay Dallas) in the fourth round, it’s clear they were preparing for the worst. The Falcons could be described as an average defense last year, as they were around the league average in every major statistical category to running backs: rush attempts (20th), rushing yards (19th), rushing touchdowns (24th), receptions (19th), and receiving yards (23rd). It makes sense that Carson totaled 90 total yards and a touchdown against them in last year’s meeting. He was one of 14 running backs who posted top-16 numbers against them. There were three running backs who totaled 100 yards on the ground last year, though nobody was able to eclipse 111 rushing yards. With Hyde on the roster, it’s possible they do some sort of 60/40 split, which would hurt both Carson’s floor and ceiling. I don’t see the Seahawks blowing out the Falcons (neither do oddsmakers), which would play more into Carson/Dallas’ role than Hyde’s, as Hyde isn’t a good pass-catcher. I feel Carson should be considered a mid-to-high-end RB2 in this game who has a little bit more touch concerns than he did in 2019, though not enough to move him out of RB2 territory, especially in a projected high-scoring game. There’s a good chance he scores here, though I wouldn’t bank on it with cash games now that Hyde’s in the mix. As for Hyde, he’s not someone I’d recommend starting in a game like this. He fits Seattle’s scheme well but will play more in games where the Seahawks jump out to a big lead. He’s nothing more than a low-ceiling RB4/5 this week.
Todd Gurley: The Falcons have come out and said they want Gurley to touch the ball between 15-25 times per game, depending on how much he can take. Being it’s early in the season, I’m guessing he’ll be fine with whatever they give him. The Seahawks only allowed two running backs to top 87 rushing yards last year, and despite Gurley playing them twice, he was not one of them. In the two games, he totaled just 130 yards on 38 carries (3.42 yards per carry) but managed to find the end zone in both games. Oddly enough, Gurley has scored 11 total touchdowns in his last five meetings with the Seahawks. Yes, those are real numbers. It’s all about opportunity against the Seahawks, as they appear okay on paper, allowing the 13th-most fantasy points to running backs, but when you look at it on a per-touch standpoint, it’s much worse. The 0.99 PPR points per opportunity (carry/target) they allowed was the third most in the league, behind only the Panthers and Jaguars. Knowing that Gurley will get as many opportunities as he can handle against a team he’s done well against in the past, I’d argue he’s a low-end RB1 in this game with multiple touchdowns in his range of outcomes. If you’re looking for his handcuff, it’s Brian Hill, though he won’t have weekly viability while Gurley is out there.
Tyler Lockett: The Falcons looked to be a pretty average team against wide receivers last year, allowing the 16th most fantasy points to them. But looking a bit closer, they were very bad. They allowed a 67.5 percent completion rate (fifth-highest), 9.52 yards per target (second-highest), and a touchdown every 17.3 targets (eighth-most often) to wide receivers. What does all that add up to? 1.97 PPR points per target, which ranked as the third-highest mark in the league. Not an average secondary now, eh? Lockett caught all six of his targets for 100 yards in their meeting with each other last year. Considering they lost long-time starter Desmond Trufant, it’s hard to say they’re going to get better. Start Lockett as a rock-solid WR2 who comes with plenty of upside in this matchup.
D.K. Metcalf: We watched Metcalf progress as the season went on in 2019, climaxing with a rookie record 160 yards in a playoff game. This offseason, Metcalf and Russell Wilson worked out together at Wilson’s private field and reportedly developed a “brotherly” bond. Now they get to start the season against the Falcons secondary? They lost long-time starter Desmond Trufant this offseason and replaced him with rookie A.J. Terrell in the first round of the NFL Draft. Their “top” cornerback is Isaiah Oliver, who allowed a massive 106.9 QB Rating in his coverage last year, including 794 yards in his coverage, which ranked as the eighth-most among cornerbacks. When you add in a rookie cornerback who’s taking in his first NFL game action, it could be a playground for Metcalf/Wilson. Knowing the Seahawks never added a true No. 3 wide receiver to syphon targets from Metcalf/Lockett, we should be able to rely on semi-consistent WR2 numbers with week-winning upside. This matchup is a great one and playing in a dome should only accentuate Metcalf’s speed.
Phillip Dorsett and David Moore: I don’t know which one of these receivers will start right away, but something to tuck away for the future… Dorsett makes sense as the Tyler Lockett handcuff. He’s been phenomenal in the slot over the last few years and could walk into a similar role if needed. However, he hasn’t been great on the perimeter, which is where he’d have to play with Lockett healthy. We watched Moore fall behind D.K. Metcalf last year, which had them kicking the tires on Josh Gordon, Antonio Brown, and then Paul Richardson. They signed both Gordon and Richardson but wound up cutting Richardson. My guess is that Moore gets the nod until Gordon is reinstated, though he’s clearly behind Lockett/Metcalf in the pecking order. This is a trio of receivers to pay attention to, as Russell Wilson‘s No. 3 receiver will sporadically just go off, though we can’t trust any right now.
Julio Jones: For having lackluster cornerbacks on the roster last year, the Seahawks secondary did well limiting opposing wide receivers. They allowed just 1.57 PPR points per target, which ranked as the fifth-lowest mark in football. They added Quinton Dunbar this offseason, which appeared to be a bad situation, but he was cleared of his offseason issues. The duo of Shaquill Griffin and Dunbar is a potent one, and the Seahawks also traded for safety Jamal Adams to beef up the back end of their defense. The Seahawks play a lot of zone coverage and stay on their sides, so there isn’t one cornerback Jones will see more than the other. Despite having to play with Matt Schaub last year, Jones lit them up for 10 catches and 152 yards last year. He was one of eight receivers who topped 100 yards against them. While the Seahawks cornerback unit is improving, their front seven isn’t going to generate a whole lot of pressure, which puts even more pressure on these guys to slow down Jones. Start him as a WR1 like you typically do.
Calvin Ridley: With the way Ridley lines up in the formation, he’s typically on the right side about 50-60 percent of the time, which tells us he’ll line up with Shaquill Griffin the most. Griffin has been their best cornerback, though there’s been some inconsistency to his game. If there’s one thing he consistently shuts down, it’s allowing receivers to get behind him. It’s likely because they play a zone-heavy scheme in Seattle, which makes it easier to keep the receiver in front of you, but it will also allow teams to complete a high percentage of their passes. Over the last two years, Griffin has allowed a 62.7 percent catch rate in his coverage. It’s not the greatest matchup for Ridley, but it’s also not one where he’ll struggle too much if the volume is there. He was on a 131-target pace once Mohamed Sanu left the team last year, so it’s possible he gets into the 7-10 target range. Let’s temper blowup expectations, but he should deliver stable WR2 numbers.
Russell Gage: Did you realize Gage saw 66 targets over the Falcons’ final nine games? That’s a 117-target pace over the course of a season. Sure, Calvin Ridley missed three games and Austin Hooper missed a few games, but Gage was involved and saw at least nine targets on four separate occasions. While developing the new relationship with Hayden Hurst, it’s possible Gage is one of Matt Ryan‘s favorites over the middle of the field. We don’t know for certain who will cover the slot for the Seahawks, though it appears that safety Ugo Amadi may be that guy. He played late in the season and allowed 12-of-13 slot targets to be completed for 97 yards. That’s a high catch rate, but just 7.46 yards per target. Still, given the strength of the Seahawks secondary, particularly on the back end, we could see Gage get funneled five-plus targets. If you’re in a PPR format and looking for a WR5-type floor, Gage can fill that role.
Greg Olsen and Will Dissly: This is one of the worst situations to project. Why? Because there’s going to be value to be had here, but we don’t know which player it will come from. Olsen is obviously new to the team with a strange offseason, while Dissly is coming off Achilles surgery, which is something players almost never come back from, especially less than a year later. Because of that, I’m tempted to say that Olsen will have the most value, but the word out of camp is that Dissly has been fantastic. Still, it’s a situation you approach with extreme caution when it comes to an Achilles. To be fair, the Falcons are a defense that allowed nine different tight ends finish with 10.7 or more PPR points last year, and Olsen was one of them when he caught 5-of-5 targets for 57 yards in Week 11. As you can tell, there are a lot of variables here. If you want to play one of them, I’d pick Olsen for now, though it’s likely to be Dissly in the long run.
Hayden Hurst: The Falcons gave up a second-round pick for him, highlighting just how valuable he was in their eyes. The Seahawks were the second-worst team in the league when it came to defending tight ends last year, but they did something about that this offseason. They went and snagged Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams. He saw 33 targets in coverage last year and allowed just 150 yards on them. While the scheme likely had something to do with it, the Jets (where Adams came from) were the third-best team against tight ends last year. Learning a new scheme can take time and this will be Adams’ first game in a Seahawks uniform, so we might see some time to acclimate, but the same can be said for Hurst in the Falcons offense. I’m still expecting a lot of pass attempts for the Falcons in this game, so Hurst should be in the 5-8 target range, leaving him in the low-end TE1 range, though there’s certainly some red tape surrounding this matchup.
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
Line: DET by 3.0
Mitch Trubisky: After all was said and done, the Bears will start Trubisky in Week 1. Fortunately for him, he’s played some of his best games against this Matt Patricia defense. He’s played three games against them under Matt Nagy. The results were 355 yards and three touchdowns (and other one rushing), 173 yards and three touchdowns, and then most recently 338 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. The Lions defense just lost their best player this offseason in Darius Slay. Not just that, but they also lost interior linemen Damon Harrison and A’Shawn Robinson, as well as edge rusher Devon Kennard. To be fair, they did draft cornerback Jeff Okudah at No. 3 overall and edge rusher Julian Okwara in the third round, so they tried to replace the important positions they lost, but we can’t expect rookies to walk into the lineup and have the impact those veterans did. There were just four quarterbacks who failed to finish as top-12 quarterbacks against the Lions last year, and two of them were rookies in their first four NFL starts. If you’re looking for a last-minute streamer, Trubisky is a solid play here as a mid-to-high-end QB2 with upside. In fact, he’s going to be in quite a few tournament lineups of mine.
Matthew Stafford: The start of last year was looking to be a career year for Stafford, though his back injury knocked him out for the year. He wasn’t on the field against the Bears last year, but this is a defense he’s struggled with for a few years now. These teams play each other twice a year, and you’d have to go all the way back to 2015 to find the last time he threw for more than two touchdowns or 300 yards against them. But again, the offense that Stafford is playing in was just installed last year, so the Bears haven’t seen this version of Stafford. It’s worth noting that Jeff Driskel and David Blough combined to throw for 549 yards and three touchdowns in the two games they played, both hitting at least 16.5 fantasy points. Darrell Bevell increased his pass attempts seemingly every year he was in Seattle, so it’s only natural to assume a progression in Stafford’s pass attempts this year. The Bears defense is relatively healthy, though, and that’s been a problem. Despite missing Akiem Hicks up the middle for most of the season and Roquan Smith for a quarter of it, the Bears defense allowed just one quarterback to average more than 7.7 yards per attempt against them last year. No quarterback threw for more than two touchdowns. I’ll like Stafford as a low-end QB1 in most games this year, but in this one, he’s probably more of a middling QB2. *Update* Kenny Golladay is listed as doubtful, meaning Stafford has to take a slight downgrade in the rankings. He’s not a recommended start.
David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Ryan Nall, and Cordarrelle Patterson: Considering the Bears showed no interest in the released Leonard Fournette or Adrian Peterson, and then cutting Artavis Pierce, I’m guessing that Montgomery will be available this week, though you should come back here Saturday morning to make sure (I always come back and update news at the bottom of the paragraphs). It’s worth noting that the Bears reportedly used Patterson as a running back in practice, so he may help ease Montgomery in. The Lions lost a few starters on the defensive line, including Damon “Snacks” Harrison, who was a plugger up the middle for them. With him on the field, they allowed 3.26 yards per carry last year and 2.95 yards per carry in 2018. Without him on the field? They allowed 5.53 yards per carry in 2018 and 5.29 yards per carry in 2019. Those seem like dramatic splits. Sure, they added Danny Shelton in free agency, but he doesn’t have the same reputation. In two games against the Lions last year, Montgomery was stable, totaling 60 yards on 17 carries in the first game, and then 75 yards on 16 carries in the second game, while chipping in with 12 yards and a touchdown through the air. The Lions opponents averaged 68.4 plays per game last year, which is why a lot of touches should be a near certainty, though his injury could cloud that. If he gets in some practices this week, Montgomery should be rolled out as a mediocre RB3 this week who comes with some risk. Cohen is one of my favorite RB3/flex plays for a few reasons. One is Montgomery’s potentially limited workload, while the other is the Lions’ inability to slow down pass-catching backs. They allowed 1.91 PPR points per target to them last year, and teams took full advantage, averaging 13.5 PPR points per game through the air alone to their running backs. Cohen caught four passes in each game against them last year, but with Trubisky on a short leash, I’m guessing he’ll be safer than usual and dump the ball off to Cohen. Nall would be the one who’d see a role if Montgomery can’t go, though he’d be a risky RB4-type option. Patterson could be involved with a handful of carries this week, too. All in all, this backfield should net 25-plus touches, but projecting them is a headache. Stay tuned for updates. *Update* Montgomery was a full participant in Thursday’s and Friday’s practice and appears to be on track to play. I still don’t know if he’ll be 100 percent, but if active, he should be considered an RB3-type play.
D’Andre Swift, Kerryon Johnson, and Adrian Peterson: On the Lions first depth chart, they listed Johnson as the starter, Peterson as second string, and then Swift fourth string behind Ty Johnson. Really. There are whispers that Peterson may actually start, though Johnson would be my bet for most impactful touches this week. The Bears allowed just 3.63 yards per carry, but that number went up to 3.89 yards per carry in 2019, which is still good. The loss of Akiem Hicks was a big part of the issue, as they allowed just 2.92 yards per carry with him on the field compared to 4.12 yards per carry without him. I know it’s not saying much, but Johnson’s best game of his two-year career came against the Bears in 2018 when he racked up 89 total yards and two touchdowns. But that’s where the issue lies… Those touchdowns are what made him useful, and with Peterson on the team, we know who’s getting the ball in goal-line situations. Running backs averaged 28.6 touches per game against the Bears last year, while the Lions backfield averaged 26.6 touches. When you factor in a neutral gamescript, we should see them get close to that number. Let’s plug in Peterson and Johnson for 10-12 touches apiece, which leaves Swift around 6-8 range, and not nearly enough to trust. Considering the Bears allowed 0.81 PPR points per opportunity, it’s unlikely that any of these backs offer much value without scoring. Johnson should be considered a back-end RB3/high-end RB4 while Peterson is in the touchdown dependent RB4 range. *Update* Swift was upgraded to a full practice on Friday and is expected to suit up this week. Still, Peterson is expected to get the start.
Allen Robinson: Coming off a season where he received 154 targets (and at least seven targets in 14-of-16 games), it’s hard to see that number dipping much considering the Bears didn’t add anyone of note to their receiving corps. He’s had success against the Lions over the last two years, tallying at least 86 yards in 3-of-4 games, including three touchdowns in them. The biggest thing to note is the loss of top-tier cornerback Darius Slay. The Lions traded him away and then selected Jeff Okudah at No. 3 overall. While Okudah is likely going to be a star in this league for a long time, I’m highly doubting they ask him to shadow Allen Robinson in his first NFL game. Because of that, I believe he’ll see a mix of Okudah and free agent signing Desmond Trufant in coverage. Trufant used to be very good, but has struggled mightily over the last three years, allowing a 62.8 percent catch rate, 8.45 yards per target, and a touchdown every 13.3 targets in his coverage. It’s also his first game in a new defensive scheme. Robinson should be in lineups as the sturdy low-end WR1 you drafted him as.
Anthony Miller: We’ve heard all the reports about how Miller was a new player this offseason and that he finally “got it” according to Matt Nagy. It’s time to see that put into effect, and there’s no better matchup to do it. Miller had the best game of his young career against the Lions last year, catching 9-of-13 passes for 140 yards. If you want to know the second-best game of his career, just go to 2018… against the Lions when he tagged them for 122 yards and a touchdown. This is clearly a defense he can win against, and it’s the same scheme. It’s likely to be Justin Coleman covering the slot for them, a cornerback who allowed eight touchdowns in his coverage last year, which ranked third-most in the league. If you want to play Miller as a WR3 this week, no one should be stopping you. He’s a sharp play in DFS this week.
Ted Ginn: He’s going to be walking into the Taylor Gabriel role, which netted more targets than most realize the last few years, though Ginn doesn’t have the top-end speed that he used to. Despite playing all 16 games indoors with Drew Brees last year, Ginn failed to top 50 yards in 15-of-16 games. He had just three plays of more than 30 yards, and none more than 45 yards. He’s the fifth option in the pecking order, so feel free to leave Ginn on waiver wires.
Kenny Golladay: He gets Stafford back under center, which will be welcomed, though Marvin Jones is also in the lineup, which has limited the target ceiling for Golladay. In the last two years where they’re both on the field, Golladay has averaged 6.9 targets per game while Jones is at 7.1 targets per game. By comparison, Golladay averages 9.0 targets per game when Jones is out. The Bears secondary will look a bit different in 2020, as they moved on from veteran Prince Amukamara and will be starting rookie Jaylon Johnson opposite Kyle Fuller. The Bears haven’t done a great job slowing Golladay down over the last two years, as he’s totaled at least 90 yards and/or a touchdown in each of the four games against them. He did rely on some big catches in most of the games, though, as he averaged just 4.5 receptions per game, and never had more than six receptions. We’ve learned to deal with the variance with Golladay considering the upside he presents. The Bears allowed just five receivers to finish as top-15 options last year, so it’s not the greatest of matchups, but Golladay should still be in lineups as a WR2. *Update* Golladay suffered a hamstring injury in practice on Wednesday and then missed practice on Thursday. This is not a good sign for his availability, though Matt Patricia is trying to downplay it. It’s something to monitor and it adds more risk to his already below-average matchup. New update suggests that Golladay is listed as doubtful for this matchup. That almost certainly means he’s out, so have alternate plans. His replacement in the starting lineup will be Quintez Cephus, who is a favorite of mine, though he hasn’t had much practice time with the starters.
Marvin Jones: We’re seeing a change of the guard as the top guy in the Lions offense, but you should know that Jones has actually averaged more targets per game than Kenny Golladay when they’re both in the lineup over the last two years. We’ve watched Jones’ yards per catch trend way down over the last few years, bottoming out at 12.6 yards per catch last year. Seeing as there were just nine receivers who tallied more than five catches against the Bears last year, a touchdown may be necessary to get him into WR2/3 territory. With the way Jones aligns most of the time (RWR 41.2 percent of the time), he’ll see Kyle Fuller more than anyone. Fuller has been a bit hit-or-miss throughout his career, though it helps that the Bears front seven continually gets pressure. Still, Fuller allowed 887 yards in his coverage last year, which ranked as the second most among cornerbacks. Knowing Jones has caught just three balls in three of his last four games against the Bears, there’s a lower floor than we’d like as fantasy players. Because of that, he’s a boom/bust WR3/4 option this week. *Update* If Golladay has to miss this week, Jones’ ceiling suddenly gets much higher, as he’d be locked into eight-plus targets. If Golladay sits, Jones would move into high-end WR3 territory. A new update on Friday suggests that Golladay is doubtful to play.
Danny Amendola: What would you say if I told you Amendola had as many targets as Stefon Diggs last year? Seriously, 96 targets. He saw at least five targets in 10-of-15 games last year, including eight-plus targets in seven of them. He played a big role in their offense. Unfortunately, it led to just four games with more than 47 yards, so he wasn’t a great fantasy asset. The Bears signed Buster Skrine before the 2019 season, and though I critiqued the move, he played well in his first season, allowing just 6.49 yards per target and a touchdown every 20.5 targets. As mentioned in the Marvin Jones paragraph, the Bears allowed just nine receivers to top five receptions all year, so it’s highly unlikely we see Amendola amount to much in fantasy this week. He should catch a few balls for those in really deep leagues, but he’s just a WR5/6-type.
Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet: Did you know that the Bears didn’t have a 100-yard tight end last year? Let me be clear… I’m not talking about one game. I’m talking about all season. Their leading tight end was J.P. Holtz, who caught seven passes for 91 yards. That will change with Graham, but it’s tough to get excited when you know that the most targets a Bears tight end saw last year was four. The Lions were a defense that I’d consider middle of the pack against tight ends last year, as they allowed the 15th-most fantasy points, 7.81 yards per target (10th-most), and 1.76 PPR points per target (14th-most) to the position. Despite there being 10 tight ends who saw five or more targets, they allowed just five top-12 tight end performances on the year. Graham is starting over with a new team and didn’t post more than 65 yards in a single game last year. He’s still a threat in the red zone, so there’s always a chance at a touchdown, but I wouldn’t bet on it just yet. He should be considered a TE2 who’s touchdown dependent. On top of my concerns with Graham, Kmet may eat into his snaps and get a few targets of his own.
T.J. Hockenson: We’ve heard conflicting stories on whether or not Hockenson is actually healthy heading into the season, but we do know the opportunity is there for him to produce. When he got hurt last year, he was top-12 in opportunity among tight ends. However, there were just two tight ends who topped 50 yards against the Bears last year. Do you know who those two tight ends were? Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce. As for Hockenson, he played against them twice and was a big part of the gameplan, though it didn’t net very good results. Over the two games, he saw 17 targets but caught just nine of them for 65 scoreless yards. Neither game was with Stafford under center, but knowing the Bears allowed just 1.67 PPR points per target to tight ends (eighth-lowest mark), you don’t need to go out of your way to play him. Hockenson should be in solid TE2 territory, but there are likely better streaming options.
Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals
Line: LAC by 3.5
Tyrod Taylor: With no preseason games, this was clearly Taylor’s team for Week 1. Going against the Bengals should only help him carry that crown into Week 2. Despite facing the second-fewest pass attempts in the league last year, the Bengals allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to the quarterback position. What benefits Taylor more than anything is that they allowed a league-high 489 yards and five touchdowns on the ground to quarterbacks alone. By comparison, the Bucs allowed just 907 yards and eight rushing touchdowns to running backs last year. There were five different occasions where they allowed 46 or more rushing yards, which is another passing touchdown, and then some. There were also eight quarterbacks who threw multiple touchdowns against them. Now, to be fair, the Bengals did make a big acquisition with defensive tackle D.J. Reader, though he’s going to be more of a force against running backs going up the middle rather than quarterbacks scrambling. Not only that, but they also added both Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander to their cornerback unit, which should be an upgrade over Dre Kirkpatrick, B.W. Webb, and Darqueze Dennard. This isn’t as good of a matchup as it was last year, but Taylor’s floor is solid enough to consider him a high-floor QB2 streamer this week who might sneak into the top-12. *Update* The Bengals will be without star defensive lineman Geno Atkins and safety Shawn Williams for this game.
Joe Burrow: It’s not the best way to be brought into the NFL, you know, with a matchup against a defense that’s probably top-five in talent. With that, the Chargers will be without superstar safety Derwin James, which is a huge break for the Bengals offense. They’ll now move to backup Rayshawn Jenkins, a former fourth-round pick who graded out as the No. 66 safety (of 98 who qualified) in Pro Football Focus’ safety rankings in 2019. Still, the Chargers have a heck of a pass rush with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, as well as one of the best cornerback duos in the league between Chris Harris Jr. and Casey Hayward. This is not an easy matchup for a rookie who’s walking into his first NFL game action with no preseason. There were just three quarterbacks all of last year who totaled more than 16.5 fantasy points against the Chargers, and all of them had to average at least 9.70 yards per attempt to get there. While I love Burrow and the upside he presents, this is ideally a week you lay off streaming him. I’m still okay with him in 2QB formats because he does have a rushing floor that not many people realize.
Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, and Joshua Kelley: The preseason was supposed to help us figure out which of Jackson/Kelley were going to be the No. 2 to Ekeler. Jackson is dealing with some sort of foot issue, so it could be Kelley. Whatever the case, Ekeler is going to be the guy. With Tyrod Taylor under center, this team won’t be throwing the ball close to 600 times like they did last year. That hurts someone like Ekeler who got 73.5 percent of his production through the air last year. No other top-20 running back eclipsed 48.5 percent. The injury to Mike Williams helps his potential target share, as the Chargers are lacking pass-catching options behind Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry. The Bengals are a team that were demolished by running backs last year, allowing a massive 4.58 yards per carry and even more importantly, 7.40 yards per target. The acquisition of D.J. Reader in the middle of the defense will surely help, but they do have two new starting linebackers as well, so this unit is far from familiar with one another. Running backs averaged 29.1 touches per game against the Bengals last year, which leaves plenty of room for Ekeler to get 16-plus touches even if Kelley/Jackson are involved. Start him as a low-end RB1/high-end RB2 who should come with a high floor. As for Kelley and Jackson, you can’t start either of them with any confidence this week. It’s Kelley’s first game action as a fourth-round pick with no preseason, while Jackson has nursed a foot injury the last week. If I were forced to play one, it’d probably be Jackson (if he practices in full), but neither are recommended. *Update* The Chargers will be without starting center Mike Pouncey, which is a downgrade to their already weak offensive line.
Joe Mixon: Now that Mixon is under contract, it’s business as usual. The coaching staff said they realized at the mid-way point last year that this offense needed to revolve around Mixon. The result? He totaled 214 touches over the final nine games. That’s a ridiculous 23.8 touches per game. Now you add a more potent offense alongside him? There’s massive upside here. The Chargers have one of the best pass-rush/secondary combos but haven’t been true showstoppers when it comes to the run. They allowed a healthy 4.29 yards per carry last year with 14 rushing touchdowns (one every 25.9 carries, ranked as the seventh-most often). The issue is that their opponents averaged just 57.7 plays per game in 2019, the second lowest in the NFL. There were just four running backs who topped 17 carries against them last year, and each of them finished with at least 17.8 PPR points and as a top-eight running back that week. The biggest worry about Mixon and the Bengals offense is the Chargers running their slow-paced offense draining the clock. It’s not a brutal matchup for Mixon and he can succeed here, so start him as you normally would. I might avoid in cash lineups just because of the low-play potential here if the Bengals fall behind and can’t get their defense off the field. I do think Mixon has tournament appeal, though.
Keenan Allen: The Chargers have a very shallow wide receiver depth chart. Seriously, after Allen, it’s Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton, Joe Reed, K.J. Hill, and Darius Jennings. You probably haven’t heard of most of them. Knowing that Williams is likely out for this game, Allen should be peppered with targets. The Bengals didn’t have William Jackson shadow last year and I doubt they’ll do that this year. They did snag both Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes in free agency, so they have a new look to them in the secondary, though Alexander has been away from the team for a lot of off-the-field issues, while Jackson and Waynes have been hit-or-miss in coverage through the years. The Bengals defense under Lou Anarumo allowed 9.48 yards per target to wide receivers last year, which ranked as the third-most, though teams didn’t pass all that much against them. Wide receivers averaged just 17.3 targets per game, though that’s more than enough when we know the state of pass catchers in the offense. Allen should see eight-plus targets in this game and be considered a high-end WR2. He’s worth considering in cash lineups.
Mike Williams: We’re going to assume that Williams will miss this game due to a sprained shoulder that has a 2-4-week timeline. When this game takes place, it will have been two weeks, which is not likely long enough, as the timelines are typically a best-case scenario. I’ll come back and update if he’s expected to be active. *Update* He’s listed as questionable after getting in limited practices all week, but I wouldn’t be relying on him in fantasy lineups.
A.J. Green: After dealing with a hamstring injury during training camp, it appears Green should be good to go for the opener. Unfortunately, it’s the first time he’s stepped foot on the field since 2018 and he has a matchup with a Chargers secondary that might have the best cornerback trio in the league. Casey Hayward has been very good the last few years but adding Chris Harris Jr. this offseason took them to a different level. Harris has been dominant for years and we wondered how he’d do transitioning to the perimeter last year, but he did a fantastic job in shadow coverage. He’s not Darrelle Revis in his prime good, but he’s good enough to downgrade a player. The ceiling isn’t high, either, as there were just two players who were able to eclipse 92 yards against the Chargers last year. Those players were Kenny Golladay and Hunter Renfrow, who both saw at least nine targets. Because of that, combined with it being Joe Burrow‘s first game, and Green coming off a long absence, he should be considered a risky WR3 this week. There will be plenty of weeks where I’ll recommend him as a WR2 but play it a bit safe here if possible. *Update* Green practiced in full on Thursday and is expected to be good to go, though it’s still a tough matchup.
Tyler Boyd: He saw 147 targets last year in his first year under Zac Taylor and people still wonder about starting him? He’s an every-week starter as far as I’m concerned. However, this week isn’t one where he’s going to have one of his best games of the season. The Chargers allowed just two slot-heavy receivers top four receptions all year and allowed just three of them to top 42 yards. To be fair, they didn’t play a lot of talented slot receivers, but it wasn’t an easily exploited matchup is the point. Desmond King has been one of the better slot cornerbacks in the league over the last few years, allowing just 816 yards and two touchdowns on 106 targets over the last two seasons. What he does though, is allow a high catch rate, as 87-of-106 passes have been completed. That’s a 82.1 percent catch-rate, so if Boyd gets the targets, he’ll produce in PPR formats, though he may not get many yards after the catch. Given his familiarity in the system and Green’s first appearance since 2018, Boyd is probably the best bet for production in this game. Start him as a WR3.
John Ross: I’ve been telling everyone to snag Ross with one of their final picks in fantasy drafts. Why? Well, you’ll find out what you have this week. If he’s on the field playing almost every snap, he’s going to have value in this offense that was extremely pass-heavy last year, even in neutral gamescripts. The downside is that he’ll play a defense that allowed just six passing plays of 40-plus yards last year, which ranked fifth-fewest in the NFL. We know Ross can turn a bust week into a WR2 week with just one play, but against this secondary, it’s probably unlikely. It helps that Derwin James will not be available, which could lead to some miscommunication on the back end of the defense, and it’s not like Casey Hayward or Chris Harris Jr. can keep up with Ross one-on-one down the field (they’re both 4.5-speed type players). With Joe Burrow under center, casual fans might realize that Ross is actually a good football player. It’s a tough matchup, so I wouldn’t bet on him producing here, but in a tournament, as a one-percenter, it could pay off.
Hunter Henry: I was down on Henry for most of the offseason, but given the injury to Mike Williams, I can see him living up to his draft cost to start the year. There were six tight ends who saw more than three targets against the Bengals last year, and five of them finished as a top-10 tight end that week, while Ryan Griffin caught five balls for 30 yards, so not a complete bust. The issue was volume against the Bengals, as they only faced 95 tight end targets all season long (5.9 per game). Heck, they faced just 30.9 pass attempts per game, which ranked as the second fewest in the league, though that will be more than enough for Henry to get six-plus targets with their lack of pass catchers available. Start Henry as a solid TE1 this week who’s in a plus matchup with a higher target share.
C.J. Uzomah and Drew Sample: With Tyler Eifert out of the picture, these two will wrestle with each other for snaps, though it likely won’t make a difference to fantasy owners. Despite the Bengals throwing 616 times last year and without A.J. Green on the field for all 16 games, the tight ends had just four performances with more than 10.6 PPR points, with three of them coming in the final two weeks of the season. Through 15 weeks, they had just one game with more than 10.6 PPR points. Now you have a healthy Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, and Joe Mixon? It’s unlikely that either of these two see more than three targets. You can’t consider starting them this week. Oh, and the Chargers allowed the ninth-fewest points to tight ends last year.
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
Line: SF by 7.0
Kyler Murray: It’s hard to fully trust Murray after closing out the season on a low note, as he didn’t top 16.36 fantasy points in each of the last five games), but Murray had two of his best games against the 49ers defense. Odd, right? In the two games against them, he completed 41-of-57 passes for 391 yards and four touchdowns, while rushing for 101 yards and a touchdown. And that was before he had DeAndre Hopkins added to his stable of receivers. The 49ers aren’t the same team, either. We watched Richard Sherman wear down during the playoffs (32 years old now), and then they traded away interior lineman DeForest Buckner to the Colts. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still going to be a very good defense, but I don’t think they’re getting close to the miniscule 5.90 yards per attempt they allowed last year. It sounds crazy, but there were just two quarterbacks all season who averaged more than 7.4 yards per attempt against the 49ers. Where Murray can benefit (and likely will) is on the ground, as the 49ers allowed the third-most rushing yards and the fifth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks on the ground. Knowing they’ve had a while to gameplan for this game, I’m guessing Kliff Kingsbury will have a few designed runs for the healthy Murray. It’s not a great matchup, but it might fit Murray’s strengths enough to get by. Consider him a low-end QB1 this week.
Jimmy Garoppolo: There were many who were going to look to Garoppolo as a streamer in Week 1 because of the matchup with the Cardinals, but enough is enough. His group of pass catchers has disintegrated, starting with Deebo Samuel, then with Jalen Hurd, and then he had both George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk dealing with some hamstring issues. We really don’t really know for certain which wide receivers will be out there in 3WR sets. The Cardinals are a team Garoppolo crushed last year. In fact, his two biggest games came against them. He threw for 300-plus yards just three times last year. Two of them were against the Cardinals. There were four times he threw for more than two touchdowns. Two of those times were against the Cardinals. Now, the Cardinals are a defense that’s added talent, and most notably first-round safety/linebacker hybrid Isaiah Simmons. It’s also their second year in Vance Joseph’s defense, so it should be a bit smoother. The biggest issue with Garoppolo this week is that he doesn’t have a healthy pass-catching corps and may be throwing to a starting trio of Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor, and Dante Pettis. Knowing he offers exactly zero stability with his legs, he has to throw a minimum of two touchdowns to provide decent streaming value. There were just five quarterbacks who failed to throw multiple touchdowns against the Cardinals last year, but again, they’ve improved this offseason. Garoppolo should be okay for a 2QB format, but I’m not willing to stream him in 1QB formats. I’m convinced Kyle Shanahan would like to run the ball a lot in this game.
Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds: From the time Drake joined the Cardinals last year, he was the No. 4 running back in fantasy football. One thing from that stretch that is unsustainable is his touchdown production, as he scored eight rushing touchdowns on just 123 carries. He still averaged 101.8 total yards per game, but there were three games where he totaled less than 70 total yards. It was a mixed bag against this 49ers defense, as he absolutely demolished them in their first game, racking up 162 total yards and a touchdown. That was one of just two games where the 49ers allowed a running back to crack the 20-point barrier in PPR formats (the other was Christian McCaffrey). In fact, there were just three backs who reached 100-plus total yards against them. The next meeting between the two, Drake finished with 80 total yards and no touchdown. The 49ers did trade away DeForest Buckner, who was a a big reason for their success up the middle of the field, even if he was a better pass rusher than anything. They drafted his replacement in Javon Kinlaw, but he’s a rookie with no experience. But again, knowing there were just eight running backs who finished better than the RB24 against the 49ers, we know it’s not a great matchup. Drake should still net 15-plus touches in this game and be treated as a decent RB2. Once Drake joined the team in Arizona, no other running back (David Johnson or Chase Edmonds) topped six touches, so they have no standalone value. Unless something changes, Edmonds is just a handcuff to Drake.
Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, and Jerick McKinnon: This backfield lost a member this offseason, as Matt Breida was shipped off to Miami. That also opened the door for McKinnon to take on a bigger role, though he hasn’t seen a regular season game since 2017. It’s crowded, sure, but this backfield totaled 501 total touches last year. That’s a massive 31.3 touches per game. When you factor in that running backs totaled 472 touches against the Cardinals last year (fifth-most in the NFL), you know there’ll be plenty of touches to go around. Here are their combined numbers from the two games they played last year.
This team did not run the ball well against the Cardinals last year, that much is clear. The only one who did was Breida. We did see them rack up a lot more receptions than they typically do, though. It makes sense because the Cardinals allowed the sixth-most fantasy points through the air to running backs. This favors someone like McKinnon, who’s clearly the primary receiver out of the backfield. I don’t think we can take anything concrete away from Mostert, who totaled just seven carries in a small sample size, but the fact that they stuck with Coleman despite his lackluster numbers is worrisome. Mostert should be considered a risk/reward RB3 this week who should be in the lead role, especially on the goal line. It does help that he’s a big home favorite, as that correlates very well. McKinnon can probably be played as an emergency RB4 in PPR formats, though they may ease him back into game action. Coleman is just a guy who is unexciting, even if he does get a dozen touches. I wouldn’t want to trust him as anything more than a RB4.
DeAndre Hopkins: I’m definitely worried about wide receviers going to new teams this year with no preseason games, though Hopkins is one I’m a bit less worried about. Why? Have you seen the quarterbacks he’s worked with throughout his career? Outside of Deshaun Watson, here’s the list: A.J. McCarron, Tom Savage, T.J. Yates, Brock Osweiler, Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum, Matt Schaub, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Despite all of that, he’s been a top-five receiver for as long as I can remember. The 49ers don’t shadow, so Hopkins will be most likely see Emmanuel Moseley in coverage most of the time. He’s a former undrafted free agent who was forced to step into the starting lineup after Ahkello Witherspoon failed to live up to expectations. The Cardinals targeted him seven times in their matchups last year, completing five passes for 132 yards and a touchdown. There’s likely going to be some growing pains with Hopkins and Kyler Murray, and knowing the 49ers defense is no pushover, it’s hard to trust Hopkins as anything more than a WR2 in his Cardinals debut.
Christian Kirk: Not many realize that Kirk was on a 132-target pace over a full 16-game season last year. DeAndre Hopkins puts a massive dent into that, but Kirk is clearly the No. 2 option in this offense that figures to be more pass-heavy in 2020. He played two games against the 49ers last year, though it was nothing to write home about. He totaled 14 targets and hauled in eight of them for just 49 scoreless yards. The question we don’t have answered is whether Kirk will move back to the slot with the acquisition of Hopkins, which is something we don’t know until we see game action. The 49ers allowed just 6.74 yards per target to wide receivers last year (third best in the NFL last year), so it’s a bad matchup in general, but if he moves into the slot, he’ll avoid Richard Sherman. To be fair, K’Waun Williams was very good covering the slot last year, but he’s been a bit hit-or-miss throughout his career to this point. With the uncertainty about where he’ll line up, as well as the uncertainty surrounding his target share, it’s best to approach with caution, though Kirk will likely be in the 5-7 target range for this game. Consider him a middling WR4 with limited upside.
Larry Fitzgerald: He saw 109 targets last year, but that was without DeAndre Hopkins, and Christian Kirk missed three games. We also watched his targets decline as the year went on. He topped seven targets just once in his final 10 games, and also failed to top 56 yards in nine of them. Now you add Hopkins to the mix, and we’re likely looking at a six-or-seven-target ceiling for Fitzgerald. He actually caught all nine of his targets against the 49ers last year, that amounted to just 75 yards, though one of them was for a touchdown. We could see Kirk move into the slot and Andy Isabella take the other perimeter spot in 4WR sets, which would also cut into Fitzgerald’s appeal as one of now two legitimate options over the middle of the field. He fell in fantasy drafts due to his lack of ceiling and nothing has changed. He’s more of a bye week option when you want a decent floor. Unless he scores here, I don’t think he gives more than a WR5-type floor.
Brandon Aiyuk: He’s been sidelined in training camp with a hamstring injury and has been ruled week-to-week, though Kyle Shanahan says that he “hopes” Aiyuk will be ready for the opener. It’s tough saying that you should want to play him, though. He’s a rookie coming off a soft tissue injury with no in-game experience. He’s going to see a lot of Patrick Peterson, too. The 49ers targeted their wide receivers just 228 times last year, which was the fourth-fewest in the league, so unless we know a player is going to get a big target share, we should probably proceed with caution. The Cardinals were a matchup to target with receivers throughout last year, which makes us take a second look at Aiyuk to ensure we aren’t missing opportunity. There were 20 wide receivers who finished top-30 against the Cardinals last year, and every single one of them saw at least six targets. There’s no way we can guarantee that for Aiyuk, as there were just eight times where a 49ers receiver saw more than six targets last year. With the risk of a soft tissue injury popping back up, Aiyuk is a risky WR4/5 option. *Update* Aiyuk did not practice Wednesday or Thursday and is starting to look highly questionable, though Shanahan said he has a better chance to play than Samuel.
Kendrick Bourne: It seems the 49ers will have Bourne in the starting lineup come Week 1, though it’s hardly something to get excited about considering he tallied more than 42 yards just once in 2019. He has scored nine touchdowns over the last two seasons on just 110 targets, which is impressive, but it’s hardly predictable. The Cardinals were a team that he scored in both matchups against last year, though he had just five total catches in the two games for 38 yards. He’s in line for a bigger role with all the injuries, but it could also mean less slot opportunities, which is where he’s played well. Let’s hold on contemplating Bourne for this week outside of deep leagues where he can be played as a WR5.
Dante Pettis/Trent Taylor: We have no idea what this 49ers depth chart is without any preseason action, as Pettis was in Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse last year and played just 316 total snaps. Meanwhile, Taylor is always someone who’s been talked up, but we’ve never really seen production on the field. Because of the talk, we have to believe that Taylor is starting over Pettis, though I’m not positive that’s a win for fantasy owners. Over Taylor’s 101 career targets, he’s averaged just 6.39 yards per target and scored just three touchdowns. It’s best to avoid the 49ers receivers this week because no one really knows what the target shares will look like, even in a plus matchup.
Deebo Samuel: I know they’re holding out hope that Samuel will be able to play, but don’t hold your breath. We talked to Dr. David Chao (former NFL physician) on the FantasyPros Football Podcast and he said it’s likely that Samuel is out until at least Week 3 with the type of injury he suffered. I’ll come back and update if Samuel is expected to play.
Dan Arnold: We’ve heard Arnold hype pieces this season on how he’s ready to break out, but we’re talking about an offense that often uses four wide receivers, and one that targeted the tight end position just 55 times last year. Keep in mind that was without DeAndre Hopkins on the team. The one game any Cardinals tight end saw more than three targets (seriously) was in Week 17 when Arnold turned six targets into 4/76/1. I’m not saying he can’t produce with volume. The issue is that Maxx Williams is likely the starter and volume is not guaranteed in this offense, let alone to a No. 2 tight end. The 49ers allowed a league-low 5.52 yards per target to tight ends last year, so it’s not a matchup to get cute.
George Kittle and Jordan Reed: What happens when you take one of the league’s best tight ends, remove all the wide receivers around him due to injury, and then put him up against the league’s worst defense against tight ends? We’re going to find out in Week 1. The Cardinals were historically bad at defending tight ends last year. Seriously, they allowed league-highs in yards per target (9.02), catch-rate (75.4 percent), and targets per touchdown (8.1). That all amounts to 2.39 PPR points per target, while no other team in the league was over 2.04 points per target. They allowed nearly 70 more PPR points to tight ends than any other team. Am I driving my point home yet? There were 13 tight ends who finished top-10 against them. Ok, I’m done. To be fair, the Cardinals did draft one of my favorite defensive players in the draft when they snagged linebacker/safety hybrid Isaiah Simmons at No. 8 overall. He’s going to help, that much is true. However, this is his first NFL game, with no preseason action. If you think it’s that simple to stop Kittle, don’t you think other teams would’ve gameplanned to do it? We talked to Jeff Fisher on the FantasyPros Football Podcast a few weeks ago and he told us tight ends are the hardest ones to gameplan against. Start him everywhere you can, including DFS. As for Reed, it’s his first game in a 49ers uniform, though the reports out of camp have been great. If both Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are held out, I’d consider him as a deep sleeper in deep leagues, but you don’t want to trust him when Kittle is at full health.