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The Primer: Week 1 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Sep 9, 2020

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints

Total: 49.5
Line: NO by 4.0

Tom Brady:
It’ll be weird seeing Brady with the Bucs uniform on in a real game, but this is what 2020 has brought us. It’s not an easy one, though. The Saints defense is one of the best in the league, and they’ve only gotten better this offseason. They’ve added safety Malcolm Jenkins, as well as third-round linebacker Zack Baun to their potent defense that allowed just a 61.5 percent completion-rate and 6.92 yards per pass attempt in 2019.  Don’t forget about the addition at the end of last season either, as Janoris Jenkins was added to the cornerback unit. They did allow 26 passing touchdowns, though a lot of that comes from volume, as they faced 602 pass attempts last year. It is worth noting that the Saints defense allowed 23.2 points per game while at home compared to just 19.8 points per game on the road. Playing in the dome does typically help quarterbacks, and the Saints do score more there, leading to some garbage time stats for opponents. The 49.5-point over/under doesn’t suggest this will be a crazy high-scoring contest, though. As a divisional game, it’ll probably be tight. Jameis Winston completed 45-of-78 passes for 517 yards and four touchdowns during the two meetings last year, so it’s not a must-avoid matchup or anything with Bruce Arians’ offensive scheme. Still, there’s some downside risk to this being a tough matchup in Brady’s first game as a Bucs player. I’d consider him a mid-to-high-end QB2 for this week. I don’t really want to play him in tournaments and don’t think he’s safe enough for cash. It does help matters that edge rusher Marcus Davenport has been ruled out for this game.

Drew Brees: Now entering what he dubbed as his final season, Brees will look to start the year off with a bang against a Bucs team that’s now led by Tom Brady. The Bucs pass defense played better down the stretch, though the strength of this team’s defense is clearly stopping the run. They allowed just 907 rushing yards last year, while no other team allowed fewer than 1,039 yards. The Bucs didn’t have many changes on defense, either. They added Antoine Winfield at safety, which should help the back end, as that’s one area they were severely lacking. We know Brees as a quarterback who typically throws for 300 yards, right? Well, he’s hit the 300-yard mark just once in his last seven games against the Bucs. In the lone game against an Arians-led team, he completed 28-of-35 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns, so it’s not like you should be too worried. Brees also has an additional weapon at his disposal this season with Emmanuel Sanders being added. I don’t think the Bucs have an answer for Michael Thomas, which is where we should see Brees go early and often. With how tough the Bucs are against the run, Brees should be expected to carry the Saints to victory here. With a team total of 26.8 points, he’s not a bad bet for low-end QB1 production.

Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette, and LeSean McCoy:
This backfield has continually become harder and harder to project, but the matchup this week might make you want to avoid them all together. The Saints allowed just 3.65 yards per attempt in 2019, and it forced teams to get away from even trying. They faced just 285 carries all of last season, which amounts to just 17.8 carries per game, the lowest in the league. When you see that number with a timeshared backfield, it makes you cringe. In the first meeting between these two teams last year, the Bucs rushed 18 times for 63 yards and a touchdown. The second meeting led to just six carries for 13 scoreless yards. I don’t know how that is possible, but it is. Teams struggle to run the ball against this Saints defense that’s only improved this offseason. Bruce Arians has said that Jones is “the guy” at running back and that he’ll have the job unless he screws it up. Against the Saints, not many will succeed, as no running back topped 83 rushing yards against them last year. Jones is the best play on the Bucs this week, but that’s not saying much. Consider him a mediocre RB3 who has a low floor. The only way he finishes better than an RB3-type option is scoring. With the limited touches to go around, I wouldn’t bank on it. Fournette has only been with the team for a week, so you can’t expect much. He’s nothing more than an emergency RB4-type option who you’re hoping gets a goal-line plunge. Don’t worry, there will be better weeks. McCoy is the passing-down back, which carries some value in this matchup. The Saints allowed the 10th-most fantasy points through the air to running backs last year, as the 95 receptions they allowed ranked as the fifth-most. Still, McCoy is sharing a lot of snaps and is clearly the No. 3 on this team. He may be usable in deep PPR formats that utilize multiple flex spots as a semi-decent floor play, but he doesn’t come with any upside.

Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray: It seems like Kamara will be on the field for the Saints in Week 1, though nothing is set in stone until they agree to that contract extension. I’ll come back on Saturday and update these notes if needed, but we’ll plan like Kamara will be out there. The Bucs are a brutal matchup for running backs, as evidenced by the league-low 907 rushing yards they allowed in 2019. They allowed a league-low 3.02 yards per carry, and also contained running backs through the air, allowing just 4.21 yards per target, which was also the best in the NFL. It’s rare to see a team accomplish elite numbers against both, and it’s even more impressive when you know they played both Christian McCaffrey and Kamara twice. In the meetings last year, Kamara was able to remain decent, finishing as the RB17 in Week 5 and then the RB3 in Week 11. The latter performance was largely in part to his 10 receptions that only netted 47 yards. Murray didn’t fare so well, totaling 55 yards on 17 carries in the two games with no touchdowns, finishing as the RB48 and RB52 in those games. Have the injuries piled up for Kamara to the point where they lessen his workload? Rumors have surfaced that he had an epidural injection in his back just a few weeks ago. There’s certainly enough risk between that and the matchup to downgrade Kamara’s expectations to low-end RB1/high-end RB2 territory. As for Murray, we’ll consider him just an RB4 with minimal upside in this matchup.

Chris Godwin:
It’s been rumored in camp that Godwin looks good, but that he’s lacking something. He also missed a few practices throughout training camp, so it’s something worth monitoring early in the season. The Saints cornerback unit is extremely good, especially since they added Janoris Jenkins at the end of the season. He’ll replace the inconsistent Eli Apple opposite Marshon Lattimore. It’s a tougher matchup than last year when Godwin hung 7/125/2 on them in Week 5, then 3/47/1 in Week 11. The Saints may not decide to shadow Mike Evans with Lattimore anymore considering Godwin’s success, though Jenkins surely changes things. The combination of Lattimore and Jenkins allowed 87-for-159 passing in their coverage for 1,205 yards and seven touchdowns while intercepting six passes. That amounts to a QB Rating below 80. It is worth noting that Godwin’s big game last year came while in New Orleans, but it was also before Jenkins was there. You’re going to start Godwin in season-long leagues as a WR2 at worst, but it’s not a week to feel very confident in cash games. I do like him better than Evans in tournaments, though. *Update* Evans has been ruled doubtful, which means he’s not going to play. Godwin should be a lock for eight-plus targets, so even though the matchup is tough, he’s a must-start high-end WR2. 

Mike Evans: Ever since Marshon Lattimore became a member of the Saints, Evans has struggled against them. There have been times where he escaped shadow coverage and put up some numbers, but it hasn’t been great. Over the last six matchups with the Saints, here are his marks:

YEAR Tgts Rec Yds TD PPR Pts
2017 6 1 13 0 2.3
2017 13 5 55 0 10.5
2018 7 7 147 1 27.7
2018 6 4 86 0 12.6
2019 3 0 0 0 0.0
2019 8 4 69 0 10.9

To give you context to these numbers, it took an average of 14.5 PPR points to finish as a WR2 or better in 2019, and 11.2 PPR points to finish as a WR3. The question is whether the Saints decide to shadow him with Lattimore anymore, or if they simply play sides now that Janoris Jenkins is there. Knowing Evans doesn’t move into the slot, he won’t evade either of their coverage in this game. Because of that, you should approach with caution, particularly in DFS. In season-long, I’d consider him a low-end WR2. *Update* Evans is now dealing with a hamstring injury that’s kept him out of practice all week. He was listed as doubtful on Friday, which typically means he’s almost surely not going to play, but was then updated to questionable on Saturday. If he is active, I’d consider him a high-risk WR3.  

Scotty Miller: We’ve heard a lot about the connection between Tom Brady and Miller during training camp, as he’s made it clear he’s the No. 3 receiver in this offense. The question now is how often does he get on the field, as the Bucs have talked about using more 12 personnel, which allows just two receivers on the field. The Saints have strengths everywhere, though you could say the slot is where their “weakest” point is. They’re likely to have a mix of Malcolm Jenkins and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson covering the slot, which is where Miller figures to be, though some have suggested he’ll play on the perimeter because of his 4.3-second speed. He’s just 5-foot-11, which is small for a perimeter wide receiver, and Brady hasn’t thrown the ball deep very much over the last few years. It’s best to wait on Miller to see what role he’ll be in before trusting him in fantasy lineups.

Michael Thomas: It’s time to build on his 2019 season that had him finish with almost 100 more PPR points than any other wide receiver. The Bucs are a team he’s torn up over the course of his career. He’s played them seven times, racking up 94 or more yards in six of them, including 180 or more twice. Against a similar secondary to the one he’ll face this week, he smashed them for 19 receptions for 296 yards and three touchdowns in two games last year. Sure, Carlton Davis played better down the stretch, but he’s never shown the ability to hang with Thomas. With how dominant the Bucs run defense is, the Saints will look to move the sticks with Thomas. Similar to last year, he should see double-digit targets in this game en route to a WR1 finish. If you want to use him in cash lineups, I won’t stop you.

Emmanuel Sanders: He’s now 33 years old and starting with a new team. It’s not going to be an easy transition but playing with Drew Brees should make it a tad easier. It’s also good to know that Sanders won’t have to go against top-tier cornerbacks anymore. The Bucs are likely going to play sides and not shadow, but I’d expect Sanders to see the most of Sean Murphy-Bunting in coverage most of the time. He allowed 51-of-71 passing in his coverage last year, which is a high 71.8 percent catch-rate, but they only went for 10.4 yards per reception. That’s right in Sanders’ wheelhouse, but it’s unlikely he gets enough targets to make a big impact in your fantasy lineup. He should be good for 4-6 targets and WR4/5-type production, though he doesn’t come with a massive ceiling.

Tre’Quan Smith: For a former third-round pick, it’s odd to see a receiver used so seldomly, especially when his team lacks other receivers. Smith is now clearly the No. 3 receiver behind Thomas and Sanders, which means he’ll offer even less consistency than he did last year, which produced exactly one game with five targets. Unless there’s an injury to one of Thomas or Sanders, there’s zero chance you can play Smith with any confidence. If Sanders were to miss time, Smith would be a waiver wire add.

Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard:
According to Peter King, it should not be a surprise if Gronkowski ranks third among the Bucs tight ends in snaps. That’s worrisome considering King is plugged in much more than most. Gronkowski’s average draft position was inside the top-12 tight ends, so most are looking to use him as a starter. Meanwhile, Howard has been the forgotten man. The Saints aren’t a matchup to get confident with your tight ends, either. They allowed the 10th-fewest fantasy points to them last year, and they beefed up their safety unit this offseason with the acquisition of Malcolm Jenkins. The Eagles were continually one of the best teams in the league at defending tight ends with Jenkins there, so he’s surely not going to hurt. If you look, you’ll see that Cameron Brate caught 10 passes against them last year, but they were for minimal gains, as he totaled 73 scoreless yards on 14 targets. If they’re really going to split up the snaps, this is a situation that’s best avoided given the matchup. There’s just too much uncertainty with Gronkowski out of the game for a year and now in a new offense. Gronkowski would be my preferred play of the two, but he’s just a mediocre TE2 this week who’ll be touchdown dependent. *Update* With Mike Evans appearing to be out, this could mean more targets for the tight ends. Gronkowski moves into high-end TE2 territory while Howard is an emergency TE2. 

Jared Cook: Regression is going to hit Cook hard this year, as he won’t average 16.4 yards per reception or score a touchdown every 7.2 targets. Will he get more targets per game? Hard to say yes when they signed Emmanuel Sanders, adding another quality option to the pass catchers. The Bucs did allow the seventh-most fantasy points to tight ends last year, and it was definitely a safety unit to target. The Bucs did add one of my favorite safeties in the draft when they took Antoine Winfield in the second round, but it’s still his first NFL game with no experience. Is there a hole in the Bucs defensive scheme? Teams targeted tight ends 129 times against them, which ranked as the seventh-most in the NFL. Knowing how well the Bucs stop the run, the Saints could resort to a west-coast, quick-hitting offense this week that produces a lot of pass attempts. Cook’s lines against them last year were 4/41/1 and 2/33/1, so nothing massive. He’s going to be touchdown-dependent throughout the year, but given the fact that he scored in both matchups against them last year, it might not be the worst bet. Consider him a high-end TE2 who comes with a lower floor than most would like. He’s not a tight end to consider in cash lineups.

Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams

Total: 52.0
Line: DAL by 3.0

Dak Prescott:
He’s got weapons galore and while many argue over which one is the most valuable, one thing is for sure… Prescott is the one supporting all of them. The Rams weren’t the kindest of matchups to quarterbacks last year, allowing just three of them to finish better than the QB12 on the week, and Prescott was not among them. They played in Week 15 where Prescott threw the ball just 23 times, though he made them count, totaling 212 yards and a touchdown on them. It surely limited his production knowing that Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard combined for 248 rushing yards and three touchdowns in that game, something that’s probably unlikely to happen again. And if anything, the Rams defense will likely be worse this year after losing cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, safety Eric Weddle, and linebacker Cory Littleton. The Cowboys are projected for 27.5 points and both these teams ranked in the top-six for total plays per game. Start him as a QB1 and expect results.

Jared Goff: If you were to go through Goff’s games where he had great success last year, you’d notice a trend. The Cardinals twice (32nd), Falcons (25th), Bengals (27th), and Bucs (23rd) were the teams he had his best games against. Where did the Cowboys rank? 13th. We saw Goff drop back a massive 51 times against them in Week 15 last year where he completed 33 passes for 284 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. This game is likely to be very fast paced, just as that game last year was when the teams combined for a massive 142 plays. It was a common theme, too, as both teams ranked inside the top-six in total plays per game. The Cowboys defense did lose their best cornerback in Byron Jones this offseason, as well as edge rusher Robert Quinn and interior lineman Maliek Collins, but they tried to make up for those losses by adding cornerback Trevon Diggs in the second round, interior lineman Neville Gallimore in the third, and signing Everson Griffin in free agency. They should improve, though it’s hard to say they come together as a unit right away with so much turnover. Knowing how many pass attempts Goff had their last meeting when the Cowboys ran all over them should make you feel better about his floor, though the concern is that Goff has only been producing against bottom-12 defenses. Are the Cowboys that? We’ll see, but I’d consider Goff a middling QB2 until we know for sure. He does have appeal in tournaments with such high play volume.

Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard:
Will the Cowboys start to divvy up the workload between Elliott and Pollard now that Mike McCarthy is in town? We watched him use Aaron Jones/Jamaal Williams, Eddie Lacy/James Starks, and Ryan Grant/James Starks in timeshares over the last decade, so why not Elliott/Pollard? I just it to be known that it’s possible this is more of a timeshare than it’s been in years past. This duo crushed the Rams defense in Week 15 last year when they combined for over 300 total yards and three touchdowns (Elliott 160/2, Pollard 143/1). It’s odd they demolished them the way they did, as the Rams allowed just 0.79 PPR points per opportunity to running backs in 2019, which ranked as the 11th-lowest number in the league. I went back and looked, and there were no major injuries that caused anyone to miss that game on the Rams defense, either. Given all the talent the Cowboys have at wide receiver, it’s difficult to say the Rams can put any emphasis on shutting down the run, and it’s clear their run game under Kellen Moore worked against the Rams talent. However, there are some unknowns in this game, as the Rams are under a new defensive coordinator (Brandon Staley), and one we know nothing about. We’ll get information as we see the games played on both the Rams defense and the Cowboys potential timeshare, but for now, Elliott is the only one you can play with confidence as an RB1 while Pollard is more of an emergency RB4/5 option.

Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson, and Malcolm Brown: This backfield was always going to be a mess to predict, but Henderson’s injury in training camp certainly helps clear things for this week. He missed multiple weeks of practice and is considered questionable for this game, so we can remove him from consideration for a massive role. The Rams have been giving both Akers and Brown reps with the first-team offense, so it’s unclear which running back will actually start. Sean McVay has talked about using a backfield similar to Kyle Shanahan’s with a timeshare approach. That’s not great against a defense that allowed just two 100-yard rushers last year. The Rams completely abandoned the run in their game against the Cowboys last year, as Todd Gurley rushed for just 20 yards on 11 carries. He did score two touchdowns in that game, but it was far from a success as a team. Knowing the Rams have drafted both Henderson and Akers with Brown already on the team indicates that they don’t want Brown shouldering the load, so I’m giving the best odds to Akers, though it may be a closer touch count than most want to believe. I’ll come back and update once we have more clarity on Henderson, but for now, Akers should be considered a risk/reward RB3 while Brown is a low-upside RB4/5-type option. *Update* Henderson practiced in full this week and McVay said he’s highly optimistic that he’ll be out there on Sunday night. This clouds the outlook for everyone involved, though Akers remains the one who has the most appeal. 

Amari Cooper:
The Cowboys have allowed Cooper to take some practices off leading up to the season, which has caused panic among fantasy land. Mike McCarthy said they’re simply trying to lessen his reps as a veteran, though it’s a bit worrisome considering Cooper’s injury history. Another thing that’s worrisome about this week is a potential shadow date with Jalen Ramsey. These two met last year where Cooper saw just two targets, catching one for 19 yards. Both targets were in the first 10 minutes of the game and that was it. He may have been masking an injury through that game, too, as he took a big hit from Ramsey on his lone reception. Cooper is talented enough to get open against any cornerback, but with all the options in the Cowboys offense, there’s no need to force it. The Rams cornerback unit behind Ramsey isn’t what you’d call good, so if Ramsey doesn’t shadow, Cooper can go bananas. Under a new defensive coordinator in 2020, we don’t know how the Rams defense will approach this trio of wide receivers. When you combine the potential shadow situation with his undisclosed injury, Cooper has the looks of a boom/bust WR2/3-type option this week. *Update* Despite being listed on the injury report, Cooper practiced in full all week and appears to be good to go. 

Michael Gallup: We don’t know if Amari Cooper will be shadowed by Jalen Ramsey, but if he’s not, Gallup will see plenty of the shutdown cornerback. That’s because we typically don’t see Ramsey move into the slot, and it’s a similar story with Gallup, as he was in the slot just 11 percent of the time last year. It appears that it’ll be Ramsey and Troy Hill on the perimeter, which is less-than-ideal for Gallup. Hill played very well when promoted into a full-time role last year, allowing just 23 catches for 304 yards and a touchdown on 51 targets in his coverage. Was it a flash in the pan? He’d been extremely below average in his prior four years in the league. There are a lot of changes to the Rams, including their defensive scheme, so it’s difficult to take much away from last year when they allowed just 11.97 yards per reception, which was the sixth lowest in the league. Until we know the pecking order in the Cowboys offense, Gallup should be looked at as a mid-to-low-end WR3, though it does help that Cooper may be dealing with some sort of ailment that could lessen his involvement in the gameplan.

CeeDee Lamb: I’m playing it safe with rookies in their first game, as they’ve still yet to play against an NFL team other than their own. There’s going to be a transition that must occur. Think about someone like A.J. Brown last year who took a solid 6-8 games before he was used in a full-time role. That’s not going to be the case with Lamb, but it’s more about the learning curve. It does help that the Cowboys are supposedly going to play him in the slot (we have no concrete proof, but it makes sense), as that’s a much easier transition than going to line up on the perimeter against Jalen Ramsey in his first game. The Rams moved on from slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman this offseason and appear to be moving forward with Darious Williams, a third-year former undrafted free agent. He’s played just 225 snaps in his NFL career and has seen just 16 targets in coverage, so we don’t have much to go off, though he did have two pass breakups and two interceptions on those 16 targets. Still, he’s 5-foot-9 and 187 pounds, so we could see Lamb (6-foot-2 and 198 pounds) take advantage of his size. Again, exercise caution with rookies in their first NFL game, but Lamb may have the best matchup of the Cowboys receivers. He’s a risk/reward WR4.

Robert Woods: There are a lot of questions about the running back and tight end positions, and even some with Cooper Kupp, but there’s no question about Woods’ involvement in the Rams offense. He’s now played 43 games under Sean McVay and has seen at least seven targets in 33 of them. He saw a ridiculous 79 targets over the final seven games in 2019, too. The Cowboys lost their best cornerback Byron Jones this offseason and have a new defensive coordinator, so it’s not wise to look at Woods’ lack of a stat line last year against the Cowboys as proof he’ll struggle. He caught just 4-of-9 targets for 17 scoreless yards in their meeting last year. The new coordinator for the Cowboys is Mike Nolan, and the last three years he was a defensive coordinator, his units finished 32nd, 27th, and 24th in total yards allowed. Start Woods as a WR2 this week who should fare much better this time around.

Cooper Kupp: Last year was a tale of two tapes with Kupp and it’s left a lot of fantasy enthusiasts to question the role he’ll have in 2020. When the Rams started using more 12 personnel (two tight ends), it left Kupp playing fewer snaps because he’s in the slot 67 percent of the time. Was he that much worse when he played on the perimeter?

  Targets Rec Yds YPT TD PPR Pts PPT
Slot 99 69 853 8.62 5 184.3 1.86
Perimeter 35 25 308 8.80 5 85.8 2.45

As you can see, he was perfectly fine on the perimeter. Still, there was a shift in where the targets were going at the end of the year, as the tight ends went from non-existent the last two and a half years under Sean McVay, to very active over the second half of the 2019 season. Jourdan Lewis is likely the Cowboys slot cornerback if healthy, which is nothing to worry about, as he allowed 9.1 yards per target on his 41 targets in coverage last year, including two touchdowns. However, Lewis was dealing with an injury during training camp, so Anthony Brown might take his place. Brown had the job from 2016-2019 but allowed a 100.8 QB Rating in his coverage over that time. The Kupp hate is likely overblown, though him dealing with a lower leg injury (some say ankle) does add a bit more risk. You can start him as a high-end WR3 and should get a decent floor. I would probably stay away in cash games until I know he’s 100 percent.

Josh Reynolds/Van Jefferson: Going by the reports, it’s possible that the rookie Jefferson starts over Reynolds, though I’m expecting McVay to ease the rookie into action. Still, Jefferson was reportedly the most impressive player in Rams training camp, rookies or veterans. The Cowboys are likely starting rookie Trevon Diggs at cornerback, so whatever way McVay goes, there may be a spot to attack this defense. Under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys ran a zone-heavy defense that prevented massive performances, while they are now moving towards a hybrid scheme under Mike Nolan. You can’t play either of these guys not knowing what their snap counts will look like, but I promise you, one of them will be fantasy relevant this year, and my money would be on Jefferson at some point.

Blake Jarwin:
If you’ve been paying attention to the reports out of camp, Jarwin has been phenomenal and is expected to be a weapon over the middle of the field. Dak Prescott said in an interview the other day that Jarwin is just as explosive as the wide receivers. Considering he’s turned 77 career targets into 58/672/6, you may want to pay attention. To give you an idea as to how good that is… 77 targets would’ve ranked 12th among tight ends last year. His 58/672/6 line would’ve had him as the No. 8 tight end, so his efficiency is top notch. The Rams also happened to allow 8.5 yards per target to tight ends last year, which ranked as the third-highest mark in the league. Half of the tight ends they played last year finished as top-10 options, including Jason Witten who caught 4-of-5 targets for 36 yards and a touchdown. Considering how many plays we’re expecting in this game, there should be plenty of targets to go around, and the Rams have one of the weakest linebacker/safety units in the league. Jarwin should be considered a low-end TE1 with upside for this contest.

Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett: Remember when Higbee posted 84-plus yards in five straight games to close out the season? He was the first tight end to ever do that. We can’t automatically assume that’s how things will be going forward considering Everett was hurt during that time and Brandin Cooks was non-existent, but it’s hard to remove someone from the gameplan when he produces like that. The Cowboys were absolutely crushed by Higbee last year, as he caught 12-of-14 targets for 111 yards in their Week 15 meeting. There were three tight ends who totaled at least 91 yards against the Cowboys last year, but it needs to be noted that they all had at least 12 targets, a number Higbee’s unlikely to reach in this contest. There was surely something about the Cowboys scheme that invited targets to tight ends, as they saw a league-high 146 of them last year. In a new scheme, things will change this year, so we can’t assume anything. Higbee’s the same player this week as the one you drafted, which is a mid-to-low-end TE1 with risk built in. Everett had some fantasy relevant performances last year before being injured but he never came close to what Higbee did to close out the year despite totaling eight-plus targets on four occasions last year.

Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants

Total: 47.5
Line: PIT by 5.0

Ben Roethlisberger:
Almost a full year removed from shoulder surgery, Roethlisberger will try to get back on track at 38 years old against a porous Giants defense that allowed a massive 20.7 points per game in 2019, which was the third-most in the league. And it’s tough to say they got any better this offseason. They snagged James Bradberry and Blake Martinez in free agency, but lost Alec Ogletree and Antoine Bethea in the same process. They are now under a new head coach and defensive coordinator, so things can change, but the talent in the room just isn’t there. They also drafted just one defensive player in the first two days of the draft, and that player (safety Xavier McKinney) is on injured reserve. The issue with Roethlisberger is that the home/road splits are a real thing that’s been around for the last six years, as he’s averaged 22.2 fantasy points at home, but just 15.2 fantasy points on the road. Here are the splits:

  PaAtt PaCom YPA Yds/gm TD/gm INT/gm
Home 39.4 26.5 8.3 318.1 2.6 0.9
Away 37.6 24.3 7.6 281.3 1.3 1.0

Knowing it’s over a span of 75 games, there’s something to it. But are the Giants bad enough where we should look past those? They allowed All but two quarterbacks (both rookies) finish with at least 17.1 fantasy points. In his first game back off surgery in what’s not expected to be a close contest, I think they exercise caution with him and ride James Conner quite a bit. Consider him a mid-to-high-end QB2 who can have a big game if they unleash him, but it’s tough to see that in Week 1.

Daniel Jones: Some will tell you that Jones is a breakout candidate due to the flashes he showed in 2019. But the reason I advocated to draft someone else is due to the matchup that started his season. The Steelers allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks last season, and that’s even with them throwing touchdowns on 4.5 percent of their passes. Let’s take a look at the teams Jones did well against last year, shall we? The four games he tallied 28-plus fantasy points were against the Washington Football Team (24th), Bucs (23rd), Jets (16th), and Lions (28th). Outside of those four explosion games, Jones was a train wreck, finishing with 14.7 or fewer fantasy points in the eight other games he started. Meanwhile, the Steelers allowed just three quarterbacks to finish as top-15 options against them last year. Two of those quarterbacks came in the first two weeks, before they acquired Minkah Fitzpatrick. Outside of their two games against the Ravens, the Steelers didn’t allow a quarterback to rush for more than 28 yards, including Josh Allen and Kyler Murray. There will be times to use Jones in fantasy, but I don’t think it’s this one. He’s a middling QB2 at best against this top-five defense.

James Conner, Benny Snell, and Anthony McFarland:
I’m pretty sure Conner and the other running backs will be happy to have Roethlisberger back under center, as it’ll surely force defenses to be honest. The Giants defense was horrendous last year, but their run defense was better than the pass, as they allowed just 0.78 PPR points per opportunity last year, which ranked as the seventh fewest in football. They actually held opposing running backs to just 3.96 yards per attempt, making them one of just eight teams who allowed fewer than four yards per carry. It’s a new defense under Joe Judge, so we can’t automatically assume that all remains status quo, especially considering how bad their secondary was last year. It’s possible they place more emphasis on slowing down teams through the air this year, though they may not have the talent to do so. Whatever the case, it’s a near-certainty that Conner touches the ball 18-plus times in a game they’re favored, automatically bumping him into RB2 territory. Knowing the Steelers will likely take it slow in Roethlisberger’s return, we could see them lean on Conner even more than normal. He’s a safe low-end RB1/high-end RB2 this week with multiple touchdown potential. Snell is more of a handcuff who might get some garbage-time work if the Steelers are up big in the second half, though the spread on this game isn’t as high as you’d expect. McFarland likely has a role as a passing-down specialist who gets mixed in on early downs, but we don’t know that for certain. Let’s see how this backfield is split before trusting anyone outside of Conner.

Saquon Barkley: It’s not the start to the season that you’d hope for with Barkley, as the Steelers defense is about as good as it gets. Fun fact about them: Just one running back scored more than 14.2 PPR points against them last year. The only running back that did was Kareem Hunt, and he totaled 17.5 PPR points, and finished as the RB14. Seriously, that’s the best performance the Steelers allowed last season, and that’s despite 12 different running backs totaling at least 15 touches, including six running backs with 21 or more touches. Fortunately for Barkley, he’s someone who has one-play upside. He didn’t break many long runs last year, which may have had something to do with his ankle injury that he rushed back from. Fresh off the offseason, his chances of breaking one of those long plays goes up. You’re starting Barkley every week, so this point is moot, but do yourself a favor and make him tournament-only in DFS.

JuJu Smith-Schuster:
It was a down year for the now-23-year-old in 2019 as he battled through injuries and incompetent quarterback play. All that changes in 2020 as he’s healthy and has Ben Roethlisberger under center. Not just that, either. They’re moving him back to the slot almost full time, which will help his efficiency. The Giants secondary might be the worst in the league, even though they did acquire James Bradberry as a free agent. Outside of him, their cornerback depth chart goes Corey Ballentine, Brandon Williams, Darnay Holmes, and Isaac Yiadom. They recently added Logan Ryan, who can cover the slot, but might be listed at safety due to the recent injury to Xavier McKinney. Even if he were to come down into the slot, it’s not as if it’s a matchup you’d avoid. Ryan allowed 69-of-97 passing last year for 766 yards and five touchdowns in his coverage. He was the slot cornerback who was most targeted in the NFL with the closest seeing 85 targets. It’s Roethlisberger’s first game back, so we have to be a little cautious, but the matchup is too good to pass up playing Smith-Schuster as at least a WR2 with true WR1 upside.

Diontae Johnson: This will be Johnson’s first full game with Ben Roethlisberger under center, as he played just 24 snaps in the first game last year (but still saw five targets), and then 26 snaps in the second game where Roethlisberger was hurt halfway into the contest. Did you know that even as a rookie, Johnson led the NFL in yards of separation at target for perimeter wide receivers? Keep in mind that’s despite horrendous quarterback play. Johnson will play the Antonio Brown role in the offense, so if he’s getting separation, he has massive target potential. The downside is that he’ll probably see a lot of the Giants top cornerback James Bradberry. He’s had some ups and downs in his career, but overall, he’s a rock-solid cornerback. He was the bright spot in an otherwise horrendous Panthers defense last year, allowing just two touchdowns on 80 targets in his coverage. However, if the Giants play sides and keep him at RCB, it could be a free-for-all against Corey Ballentine, who was tagged for 392 yards and four touchdowns on just 43 targets and 180 snaps in coverage. Johnson has true breakout potential this year, and depending on how the Giants approach him, it could start this week. Consider him a low-end WR3 with some volatility baked in. *Update* Apparently, Johnson is dealing with some sort of toe injury that kept him out of practice on Thursday. They say it’s not an issue, but we must monitor it as the weekend approaches. He practiced in full on Friday, so it appears he’s on track to play. 

James Washington and Chase Claypool: It’s going to be a battle between these two to see who can get on the field in 3WR sets, as JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson are locked in. Considering there was no preseason games and that Washington led the team in receiving last year (735 yards), he should get the nod, though Claypool has reportedly impressed in practices. But again, knowing the Steelers don’t run 4WR sets, these two will likely share some of the snaps. The Giants have a new coach in Joe Judge, but it’s worth noting that their secondary allowed 15 plays of 40-plus yards last year, which ranked as the second most in the NFL. The 2.03 PPR points per target ranked also ranked as the second most in the league. We don’t know exactly how their cornerbacks will line up yet, but outside of James Bradberry, they’re weak. If we knew Roethlisberger was 100 percent and that one of these receivers would play 80 percent of the snaps, I’d probably recommend one as a WR4, but we don’t know if either of those are true. Let’s wait and see how this plays out, though if forced to pick one for showdown tournaments, it’d be Washington.

Sterling Shepard: Reports out of Giants camp say that Shepard has distanced himself as the best receiver on the field. I don’t know why that wasn’t considered to be the case from the beginning, but it’s good to see sanity prevail. The Steelers don’t play any shadow coverage, so it doesn’t really matter who the No. 1 receiver on the team is in this matchup. Their secondary is a problem for wide receivers. There were just two wide receivers all season who tagged them for more than 18.6 PPR points last year. They allowed just one receiver to reach 100 yards (Tyler Boyd, who had 101 yards). Where they were beat was in the slot, an area Shepard won’t play very much with Golden Tate on the field. When Tate played, Shepard was in the slot just 31.6 percent of the time last year. Again, this is a new offense, but we’re at the point in Tate’s career where he’s slot only. Bottom line for Shepard is that this is a tough matchup in a new offense. Temper expectations, especially when it comes to his ceiling. He’s just a high-end WR4 this week but should be considered a buy-low after the game. If Golden Tate were to miss this game, I’d move Shepard up in the ranks, as he’d play a lot more slot snaps.

Golden Tate: He apparently suffered a hamstring injury in camp last week, so he’s someone to monitor as the week goes on. The matchup with the Steelers is a brutal one for wide receivers, but it’s better for those who play in the slot. There were 12 wide receivers who were able to eclipse 13.0 PPR points against the Steelers last year and eight of them were receivers who play a lot of slot snaps. With Joe Haden and Steven Nelson on the perimeter, it funnels a lot of targets over the middle of the field against Mike Hilton. This is a week to play it safe with fantasy lineups, and knowing Tate’s been battling a hamstring injury, he’s best avoided, even if his matchup is the best among Steelers receivers. If he’s out, it would really boost Sterling Shepard‘s projection. *Update* He’s been limited in practice this week, but appears to be on track to play. It seems some beat reporters think he’ll be playing at less than 100 percent. 

Darius Slayton: He was a lot like Daniel Jones last year, where he’d explode one week and then disappear the next. A lot of it came down to not seeing consistent targets, as there were five games where he saw fewer than five targets. With so many viable pass catchers in the offense, that’s going to happen. The Steelers are not a team to rely on big plays against. They allowed just six plays of 40-plus yards in 2019, and half of those came in the first couple weeks before they traded for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. As a team, they allowed just 7.58 yards per target to wide receivers, which ranked as the seventh fewest in the league. Slayton will see a lot of Joe Haden and Steven Nelson, two cornerbacks who were lights out in coverage last year. They combined to allow just a 71.5 QB Rating in their coverage, including just 6.46 yards per target. As mentioned in the Shepard/Tate notes, the Steelers biggest weakness is in the slot, an area that Slayton doesn’t go very often. He has one-play upside that Shepard and Tate don’t, but I wouldn’t bank on it against this defense. He’s just a boom-or-bust WR5.

Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald:
It’s going to be very interesting to see how the Steelers get Ebron on the field a lot this year, as they are a team that run 3WR sets 70 percent of the time. That means they’ll either have one tight end on the field, or they’d have to go without a running back to have two tight ends on the field. So, why can’t that be Ebron as the one tight end? Well, he’s a horrendous blocker, and that’s an issue for a lot of teams, as it makes them predictable when he’s on the field. The Giants weren’t bad against tight ends last year, as they allowed just 63.2 percent of passes to them be completed, which ranked as the second-best mark in football. That doesn’t bode well for Ebron, who’s caught just 62.9 percent of passes in his career. The silver lining for Ebron is that the Giants lost their starting safety Xavier McKinney to IR just two weeks before the season, which can expose their lack of depth. Again, my concern is how and when they get Ebron on the field. Hey, they could surprise me and have him out there as a full-time player, but they decided to pay McDonald $5.1 million to be on the team this year. I’m going to see how the snaps play out before trusting them in season-long leagues, though Ebron is clearly my favorite option.

Evan Engram: Did you know that Engram was on pace for 136 targets last year before going on season-ending IR? To highlight how rare that is – Travis Kelce had 136 targets last year. Engram had just one game with fewer than 40 yards, highlighting a floor that not many players have. There’s a new coaching staff in town, which can drastically change things, but Daniel Jones showed the willingness to target tight ends consistently, as he even did it with backup Kaden Smith last year. The Steelers were rather dominant against every position but tight ends last year. Sure, they allowed the 11th-fewest points to them, but on a per-target basis, there’s cracks in the foundation. They allowed a 69.9 percent catch-rate (11th-highest), a touchdown every 11.6 targets (fourth most often), and 1.93 PPR points per target (fifth-most) to tight ends. On top of that, you have Golden Tate, who might be playing through an injury. Engram should be considered a solid TE1 for this game.

Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos

Total: 41.0
Line: Pick ‘Em

Ryan Tannehill:
Was 2019 a fluke? Was the contract they gave him too much considering the small sample size? We’ll find out this season, though Tannehill has a tough matchup on his hands to start the year. The Broncos defensive front is littered with talent, as Tannehill will have Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Jurrell Casey, and Shelby Harris coming after him. That’s scary considering Tannehill was sacked every 10.8 dropbacks last year, which ranked as the third-most often in the league. He also lost his starting right tackle in Jack Conklin. He’s going to be under pressure quite a bit in this game. If his line can buy him time, the Broncos cornerback unit is their weak spot. Sure, they acquired A.J. Bouye this offseason, but he’s replaced a better Chris Harris Jr. But after Bouye, their top cornerback is likely Bryce Callahan, who didn’t play at all last year and has been known as a slot cornerback. If the Broncos can’t get pressure on Tannehill, he should carve them up, but in a game with a 41-point over/under, it’s expected to be extremely low scoring. Consider him just a middling QB2 for this game. Update: Defensive end Von Miller has suffered a season-ending injury, which will surely make the Broncos defense a bit less threatening. It’s still expected to be a low-volume game, so it doesn’t change Tannehill’s projection that much.

Drew Lock: The opening line for this game was Broncos by 1.5, but that changed once oddsmakers learned about Jadeveon Clowney signing with the Titans. Suddenly, they have one of the best defensive fronts in football. At the same time, we haven’t seen Lock with his new set of weapons, and they’re equally as good. He now has Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, Noah Fant, Melvin Gordon, and Phillip Lindsay at his disposal. He also has a new offensive coordinator in Pat Shurmur, who’s been better as an offensive coordinator than a head coach. His passing offense hasn’t finished outside the top-18 in passing yards since way back in 2012, which bodes well for Lock. With that being said, he’s still under Vic Fangio, who may be stuck in the old school mentality where if you’re winning, you run the ball. In neutral gamescripts, the Broncos passed the ball just 57 percent of the time last year, which ranked as the ninth-lowest mark. In fact, both teams were low in that category (Titans had the third-lowest mark), so this could be a slow-paced, low-volume game. You likely didn’t draft Lock to be your QB1 in season-long leagues, so you don’t need to risk it here. If he plays well, that’s the best-case scenario, as you might have yourself a starter moving forward.

Derrick Henry:
The last nine games we’ve seen Henry on the field, here are the numbers he’s produced: 222 carries, 1,342 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns. Those would be elite numbers over the course of a whole season. We’re talking about nine games. It’s going to be tough against the Broncos though, who were already a good run-stuffing defense in 2019 when they allowed the ninth-fewest fantasy points to running backs. Now you add in interior lineman Jurrell Casey and get edge rusher Bradley Chubb back from injury? There was one game where the Broncos were absolutely crushed last year (Leonard Fournette rushed for 225 yards on 29 carries), but outside of that game, they allowed just 3.68 yards per carry. Henry himself was among the casualties against them last year, as he totaled a season-low 28 yards on 15 carries. Henry also lost his starting right tackle this offseason, though they did draft Isaiah Wilson in the first round to take Jack Conklin‘s place. If Henry wants to get into RB1 territory this week, he’s going to need to be involved in the passing game more than he was last year (never saw more than three targets), so it’s not looking great. You’re starting him with the way he’s played with Tannehill under center, but temper expectations to the high-end RB2 area this week in a tough matchup.

Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay: All we’ve heard out of Broncos camp is that they may be regretting their decision to pay Gordon all that free agent money, as Lindsay has looked like the better back. It’s not surprising to those who’ve watched Lindsay over the last two years. There have been just nine running backs who’ve totaled 2,000 rushing yards over the last two years: Ezekiel Elliott, Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, Christian McCaffrey, Chris Carson, Saquon Barkley, Joe Mixon, Todd Gurley, and Lindsay. It’ll be interesting to see if this is a true 50/50 timeshare under Pat Shurmur. The Titans allowed the 13th-most fantasy points to running backs last year, with much of that production coming through the air, as they allowed 194.7 PPR points through the air alone, which ranked as the eighth-most in the league. I was guessing we’d see Gordon as the starter and getting a 55/45 split from the start, though it’s also worth noting Gordon has reportedly had trouble adjusting to the Denver altitude. This could benefit Lindsay in the early going. Lindsay did total 70 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries against the Titans last year, too. For now, we must consider them both RB3s until we see what the true split is. Gordon likely gets first shot at goal-line work, so I’ll say he has the slight edge, but it’s not much.

A.J. Brown:
He’s no longer a rookie or a secret. Brown is clearly a top priority of defensive coordinators, so let’s hope the Titans move him around the formation a bit more, as he was in the slot on just 10.4 percent of his snaps in 2019. The Broncos used Chris Harris Jr. to shadow opposing No. 1 receivers last year, but he’s gone. They brought in A.J. Bouye, though it’s unclear whether he’ll shadow opposing No. 1 receivers or if he’ll just play a side. Bouye is just 29 years old, so it’s difficult to imagine he’s dropped off, but his 2019 season was not good. He allowed 772 yards and three touchdowns on 80 targets in coverage, which amounts to 9.65 yards per target. Among the 127 cornerbacks who saw at least 25 targets in coverage last year, that ranks as the 20th-highest mark. The concern is the slow game pace and limited attempts to go around, as we saw Brown targeted just 20 times over his final five games of 2019 (playoffs included). It’s why he shouldn’t have been considered a WR1 this year, as it’s got nothing to do with his talent as a player. This matchup might be a great one if the Broncos don’t shadow him with Bouye, but the lack of guaranteed volume keeps him in low-end WR2 territory.

Corey Davis: We saw the numbers with A.J. Brown dramatically increase when Ryan Tannehill came on the field, but why didn’t we see a bump from Davis? Well, it does help that Tannehill and Brown were working together as backups prior to the 2019 season in training camp. Now that Davis has had some time to work with Tannehill, we could see a bump in production. If the Broncos are going to use A.J. Bouye to shadow anyone, it’d be Brown, and that would leave Davis against Devontae Harris, who was destroyed in coverage last year, allowing 31/296/3 on just 44 targets in coverage. The Broncos cornerback depth is one of the biggest weaknesses on their team, and the Titans should be exploiting that, depending on who’s lined up against Harris. Here’s something that could blow your mind: Davis has totaled 21 targets over his last five games, while Brown saw 20 targets in that span. You can’t start Davis knowing how bad he was throughout 2019, but don’t be surprised if he makes a splash now that Brown is seeing a lot more attention. *Update* He’s apparently dealing with a hamstring injury that had him limited in practice on Thursday, though he returned to a full practice on Friday. 

Courtland Sutton: Coming off a breakout season where he finished with 125 targets, Sutton suddenly has a lot more competition for targets in the offense. With that being said, we didn’t have any preseason action, so it may be difficult for the new acquisitions to carve out a big role from the start. Sutton played against this defense last year, catching 4-of-8 passes for 76 yards, though that was with Joe Flacco under center and in a game where they threw the ball just 28 times. That’s a realistic possibility in this game between two teams that are run-heavy in neutral gamescripts, but Sutton should be highly efficient when targeted. The starting cornerback duo for the Titans are Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler, two guys who have been mediocre over the last couple years. Jackson has been hurt quite a bit and that’s affected his production, while Butler has allowed 11 touchdowns on his last 142 targets in coverage. If Sutton gets the targets, he should produce. He should be in lineups as a solid WR2 this week. *Update* Sutton injured his shoulder in practice on Thursday and is headed for an MRI to determine the severity. This is a situation that we’ll continue to monitor, but an MRI indicates he’s going to be highly questionable for this week. New update: They’re saying it’s a sprained AC Joint, which means it’s a pain tolerance issue. He may play this week, though there’s nothing certain about his status. 

Jerry Jeudy: If you haven’t heard what Broncos reporter Cecil Lammey has had to say about Jeudy, you need to pay attention. He said, “No matter how high you’re drafting Jeudy, it’s probably not high enough.” That’s high praise. The Broncos have been using him in many different ways and he’s getting open at will. Now, we must dial back expectations with it being his first NFL game, but it’s hard not to get excited about the potential. Another thing going in his favor is that he’s a moveable chess piece that will likely go into the slot a lot more than Courtland Sutton. The Titans lost Logan Ryan this offseason, meaning they’ll have to figure out a new solution in the slot. Adoree Jackson has the athleticism, but he’s expected to be on the perimeter. But again, Pat Shurmur’s offense has traditionally highlighted the slot receiver, which is where Jeudy should be at least 30-40 percent of the time. There are so many weapons in this offense, it’s going to be tough to project consistent targets, especially in his first NFL game, but he can win in this matchup. Consider him a WR4 with upside.

KJ Hamler, DaeSean Hamilton, and Tim Patrick: We don’t know if Hamler will be available for this game yet, which throws off everything about the third wide receiver spot. Will they just insert Hamilton into the slot and have him take that role that he struggled to fill last year, or will they move Jerry Jeudy into the slot and play Patrick on the outside? My guess is that they’d make Patrick the starter outside and move Jeudy into the slot considering Patrick was listed ahead of Hamilton and Hamler on their Week 1 depth chart. It’s best to avoid this group until we know more.

Jonnu Smith:
The Broncos faced the seventh-most targets to tight ends last year but allowed the 21st-most fantasy points. That highlights the efficiency they had. That’s a problem for someone like Smith, who hasn’t seen much volume in this offense. Despite Delanie Walker missing over half the season, Smith saw more than five targets just twice all year. He was highly efficient with those targets, averaging 10.0 yards per target. Are there more targets to go around in this offense this year? Teams averaged just 33.6 pass attempts per game, and a large part of that is due to their games averaging just 122.3 plays per game, which was the third-lowest mark in the league. The Titans also ranked in the bottom 12 for total plays per game, and it’s why you’re seeing the game total as low as it is. Because of the projected low-scoring/low-volume affair between these two, I’d prefer to hold off on Smith as a streamer. He’s a TE2 this week.

Noah Fant: For those counting at home, Fant averaged just 2.8 targets per game with Fant under center after averaging 4.7 targets per game with Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen. There is a new offense installed, but there are also a bunch of other weapons that have been added, highlighting the concerns about his volume. The matchup this week is a great one though, as the Titans allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends last year. There were 12 different tight ends who finished as top-15 options against them, meaning three-quarters of the time, they allowed a streaming-worthy performance. Keep in mind there were only two times a tight end saw more than eight targets, too. Unfortunately, Fant was one of the tight ends who failed to finish as a top-15 tight end against them, as he caught 2-of-3 targets for a measly 16 yards in their Week 6 matchup that was with Flacco under center. Still, tight ends grow rapidly in their first three years, so we should expect him to take a step forward this year. There are a lot of unknowns, but Fant should be considered a high-end TE2 for this plus-matchup.

Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs

Total: 54.5
Line: KC by 10.0

Deshaun Watson:
Life without DeAndre Hopkins begins for Watson. We don’t know what that looks like, as it’s never happened. Watson’s QB Rating when targeting Hopkins last year? 107.8. When targeting Will Fuller? 96.7. Both are good, but let’s not pretend Hopkins didn’t draw some coverage away from Fuller and the rest of the receivers. The Chiefs were surprisingly one of the best pass defenses in the league last year, allowing the 12th-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, which included just a 3.61 percent touchdown rate, 6.62 yards per attempt, and 60.4 percent completion rate. That’s the bad news. What might seem like more bad news is Watson’s 280-yard, one-touchdown, two-interception performance against them last year, but there’s more to it than the stats. I’m not kidding when I say that Fuller dropped three touchdowns. Watson also played well against them in their playoff loss, totaling 388 yards and two touchdowns, though it did take him 52 attempts to get there. It’s hard to gameplan against the Texans right now, as you’re unsure what their primary choice of attack will be, though if there’s one thing I’ll bet on, it’s that Watson will run more this year, which raises his weekly floor. In the two games against the Chiefs last year, he rushed for 68 yards and three touchdowns. Start him as your QB1 in what should be a high-scoring game. He’s a good tournament option in DFS but play it safe in cash lineups until we see more on how losing Hopkins affects his game.

Patrick Mahomes: With all the lack of preparation this offseason, any changes to a team can have a bigger impact than they normally would. That’s why I think it’s possible Mahomes breaks records this year. The team has had almost no changes on offense, outside of adding a better running back behind Mahomes. They did have right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opt out for COVID, though he is far from a superstar on the offensive line. Meanwhile, the Texans defense lost stud defensive tackle D.J. Reader, edge rusher Barkevious Mingo, cornerback Johnathan Joseph, as well as safety Tashaun Gipson. That’s a lot of changes. The replacements are going to be rookies Ross Blacklock and Jonathan Greenard. While I like both of them as prospects, it’s their first NFL game. Mahomes smacked this defense in the mouth last year, completing 42-of-70 passes for 594 yards and eight touchdowns last year, and tossed in another 53 yards rushing. It wasn’t just Mahomes, either, as quarterbacks put up the fourth-most fantasy points against the Texans last year. Losing Reader is going to cause the most harm, as he was a force up the middle of the field. Mahomes is the QB1 this week and should live up to the price you paid for him in drafts, wherever that was.

David Johnson and Duke Johnson:
When you trade away DeAndre Hopkins for a running back, you’re going to hear an uproar from the fan base, especially when that running back is coming off an injury-plagued season. The last time we saw Johnson on the field, he didn’t look good, there’s no denying that. He totaled 81 yards on his last 30 carries (2.70 yards per carry). That’s been the story for him as of late, as he hasn’t topped 3.7 yards per carry over a full season since 2016 and is now 28 years old. With that being said, the Chiefs are a team to attack with fantasy running backs. They allowed 28.4 fantasy points per game to them last year, which ranked as the fourth most in the league. Carlos Hyde, the Texans starting running back last year, totaled 116 yards and a touchdown on a season-high 26 carries against them in Week 6 last year. It’s worth noting he was limited to just 44 yards on 13 carries during their playoff meeting, but that was more to do with lack of volume. The Texans are reportedly working on getting Johnson work in the slot and as a receiver, so it’s realistic to say he should see at least 18 opportunities in this game. Against a team that allowed 0.93 fantasy points per opportunity, he should deliver an RB2 performance, at the very least. There were 14 running backs who finished top-24 against the Chiefs last year. If for whatever reason David Johnson isn’t the player they’d hoped, Duke Johnson has been extremely efficient when asked to step into a big role. Unfortunately, he’s never been asked to do that in a non-injury setting. The most opportunities he had last year was 14, where he turned them into 90 total yards. But knowing David is around, it’s unlikely he sees the 3.9 targets per game he saw last year. If you believe David won’t be the same player he once was, Duke remains a solid stash on benches, but I wouldn’t be starting him outside of an emergency as an RB4.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams: After learning that Damien Williams had opted out for the season, the arrow went through the roof for Edwards-Helaire. Despite mixing-and-matching running backs throughout the year, the Chiefs running backs tallied an average of 25.6 opportunities per game. Knowing the Chiefs drafted Edwards-Helaire in the first round and that Andy Reid said he was better on film than Brian Westbrook, he’s going to get a large share of that. If you don’t know who Edwards-Helaire is as a player, my player comp for him was Ray Rice, who was continuously a top-five back. The Texans were a defense that many feared for running backs for a long time, but that’s not the case anymore. Not only did they allow 0.97 fantasy points per opportunity last year, which ranked as the fourth-most in the league, but they also lost their monster up the middle of the field, D.J. Reader. He’s continually been one of the best interior linemen on the field. The Texans allowed 4.61 yards per carry with him last year, and his replacement is a second-round rookie who didn’t even get any preseason action. Edwards-Helaire needs to be in lineups as an RB1 with minimal risk. This should be a “Oh, that’s why people were taking him in the first round” type performance. Williams may mix in but it’s hard seeing him getting anything more than a handful of carries. The only concern is that he would steal some of the goal-line opportunities from the smaller Edwards-Helaire. After all, Williams had five carries inside the five-yard line last year, which was more than Damien Williams.

Will Fuller:
Despite DeAndre Hopkins seeing 10.1 targets per game over the last two years, Fuller has seen at least six targets in 11-of-18 games. He’s also totaled at least 51 yards and/or a touchdown in 10 games. Now that Deshaun Watson has a new running back and two new receivers, Fuller is the only one who’s continually played with him, so it’s not like he’s going to get targeted less often. If you look at the boxscore from the matchup against the Chiefs last year, you’d see that Fuller finished with five catches for 44 scoreless yards. What you won’t see is that he had three drops that would have all been touchdowns. It would have been a week-winning performance. You then fast forward to the postseason and see that Fuller saw eight targets and turned them into 5/89/0, you can say he has the Chiefs’ number. You then factor in that Bashaud Breeland, one of the Chiefs starting cornerbacks will be out for this game (suspended), and you have yourself a plus matchup. While the Chiefs did allow just 154 receptions to receivers last year (lowest mark in the league), Fuller isn’t someone who relies on a lot of receptions to provide value. The Texans are also big underdogs in this game, which should lead to 35-plus pass attempts. Knowing the Watson/Fuller connection is already established, he should be in your lineup as an upside high-end WR3 while healthy, even if it is a tougher matchup than most know.

Brandin Cooks: If there’s a player who’s proven to be able to work with multiple quarterbacks over the course of his career, it’s Cooks. He’s now been a top-24 receiver with three different quarterbacks in the last five years. With that, it’s tough to say there will be much chemistry between him and Watson right out of the gate due to the lack of offseason. The Chiefs were a much better secondary than anyone wanted to give them credit for last year, as they allowed fewer yards to wide receivers than any team in the league, including the Patriots. Seriously, they allowed just 122.3 receiving yards per game to wide receivers. Granted, they only saw 277 targets (fourth fewest in the league) but it’s going to affect fantasy numbers. There were just six wide receivers who topped 15.6 PPR points against them all of last year, so expecting Cooks to come out of the gate with a big performance may not be wise. It helps that Bashaud Breeland is going to miss the game after being suspended, as he was a stable presence at cornerback last year, allowing just a 77.4 QB Rating in his coverage. Consider Cooks a WR4 who’s likely to get more targets than most in that area. *Update* Cooks has missed some practice time with a quad injury and is listed as questionable for Thursday’s game. This is a concern, especially in his first game with the team. He’s become a very risky WR4 this week who they’re calling a game-time decision. If he were to be ruled inactive, Kenny Stills would step into his role, and it helps that he’s been in the offense with Watson. Stills would be a low-end WR4/high-end WR5 in this matchup if Cooks were held out. 

Randall Cobb: There are many expecting Cobb to just continue the production he had last year while moving from Dak Prescott to Deshaun Watson. Unfortunately, Watson hasn’t targeted his intermediate wide receivers nearly as much. Before Cobb, there was Cole Beasley with Prescott who racked up some big games. We haven’t had many big slot performances with Watson, as he’s continually buying time and looking down the field. Will that change now that DeAndre Hopkins is gone? The Chiefs did lose starting slot cornerback Kendall Fuller this offseason, though they likely allowed him to walk due to how well the combination of Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorenson played during the playoff stretch. My guess is that Mathieu will be covering Cobb most of the day, though some things may depend on safety Juan Thornhill playing (recovering from a torn ACL). Mathieu allowed just 5.39 yards per target in coverage last season. Cobb is far from a can’t-miss player, especially in this offense, so it’s likely best to take the wait-and-see approach with him. *Update* He would get a bump in targets if Brandin Cooks were ruled out, though not too many, as Kenny Stills would sneak into that role and he already knows the offense. 

Tyreek Hill: After suffering a hamstring tweak in training camp, it seems like Hill is good to go for the matchup with the Texans. That’s good because you don’t want to miss a potential explosion. Hill tagged this secondary for five catches, 80 yards, and two touchdowns last year. There were three receivers who had bigger performances than that against the Texans. In fact, there were 16 wide receivers who totaled 15.2 or more PPR points against them last year, and they just watched their long-time starter Johnathan Joseph become a free agent. It’ll be Gareon Conley, Bradley Roby, and either Lonnie Johnson or Vernon Hargreaves at cornerback. The only one of them who allowed less than a 104.2 QB Rating in their coverage last year was Roby, though he’s been so hit-or-miss throughout his career. Hill plays all over the formation and will see a mix of all of them. If the Texans can’t get pressure on Mahomes, Hill is going to eat them alive down the field. The 13.9 yards per reception they allowed to wide receivers last year did rank as the ninth most in the league. Start Hill as you normally would. Knowing about the hamstring, you may not want to fully trust him in cash games, but he’s 100 percent in play for tournaments (as always).

Sammy Watkins: It wasn’t only Tyreek Hill who dealt with an injury during training camp; Watkins also missed time with a groin injury. I’ve wondered if Watkins played through injury much of last year, as he’s always been an efficient receiver, though there was certainly a lull in his production last year. He stepped up in the playoffs, but now that we have another soft tissue injury, the concerns are back. The matchup against the Texans leaves little concerns, as they were below average in nearly every metric against wide receivers last year. There’s not one cornerback Watkins would see in coverage, as Andy Reid moves him around quite a bit (perimeter half the time, slot half the time), so you can’t automatically upgrade or downgrade his matchup based on that. Watkins wasn’t available last year when they played the Texans during the regular season but was on the field for the playoff game they played. He only saw two targets in that game but turned them into two catches for 76 yards. You didn’t draft Watkins as a starter, so it’s unlikely you want to trust him as a WR3 in this matchup, especially knowing about his soft tissue issues in camp. He’s more of a tournament option in DFS, as he’s shown week-winning upside, and the matchup is about as good as it gets.

Mecole Hardman: We’d heard conflicting reports on Hardman and whether he’ll return kicks and punts this season. It seems that he will based on their first unofficial depth chart, which would certainly limit his involvement in the offense. There was always a question mark surrounding his role, as Hardman has never totaled more than 40 offensive touches over the course of a season, both in the pros and college. Highly efficient? Oh yeah. But the issue is that when Tyreek Hill is on the field, there may not be a big role for him. In games Hill played last year, Hardman didn’t see more than four targets. Heck, even without Hill, he never saw more than six targets in a game. It’s tough to rely on a player like that in fantasy lineups, as the odds are stacked against him producing top-36 numbers. There was only one wide receiver who finished with more than 10 PPR points against the Texans with fewer than five targets, making Hardman a bench stash for the time being. His one-play upside does keep him in the showdown conversation, but tournament only.

Jordan Akins and Darren Fells:
It seemed that Fells would be moving on this offseason, but the Texans brought him back on a one-year deal. He was the one streamers looked at last year because of the seven touchdowns he scored, but would it shock you to know Akins had more targets (55-48), receptions (36-34), and yards (418-341). We talk about touchdown volatility all the time, so what if it were Akins who scored the seven touchdowns? He would’ve been a legitimate streamer. Now you remove DeAndre Hopkins‘ 150 targets from the offense, and you may have a higher weekly floor. We don’t know that for certain with all the moving pieces in this offense, and we can’t ignore that there were 12 games last year where Akins saw fewer than five targets. The Chiefs weren’t a matchup to attack with tight ends, as just two of them scored more than 12.9 PPR points against them all season. Fells and Akins combined for nine catches for 108 scoreless yards in their Week 6 meeting with both Will Fuller and Hopkins in the lineup, so maybe there’s something they know how to exploit in the scheme. If I were to play one, it’d be Akins considering the trajectory of his career, as well as the higher target total from last year. In a game that has an over/under of more than 54 points, it’s not a bad one to target for streamers who are desperate.

Travis Kelce: Fun fact: Kelce has delivered TE1-type numbers in 28 of his last 32 games. He’s the most consistent tight end in the game, though the Texans are one of the five teams who’ve held him below 60 yards in that time. To be fair, the Texans allowed just two tight ends to record more than four receptions last year (Austin Hooper 6, Jonnu Smith 5). They also allowed just six touchdowns to the position. Still, they allowed the 11th-most fantasy points per game to tight ends, which highlights that they consistently allowed decent production, even though there weren’t many ‘boom’ performances. There is a change in the secondary that can change that, though. Their starting safety last year was Tashaun Gipson, who is no longer on the team. He was very good in coverage last year, allowing 269 scoreless yards on 26 targets in coverage, while intercepting three balls. It seems that Jaylen Watkins will step into the starting role, a former fourth-round pick who hasn’t ever played more than 387 snaps in a season and is now on his third NFL team. You’re always starting Kelce, let’s be clear about that. When talking about someone like him, it comes down to DFS. Knowing he’s part of the showdown slate, you probably can’t leave yourself without him in a cash lineup, and given the variables, I wouldn’t hesitate to use him in tournaments as well.

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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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