For those of you readers returning to TheFantasyAuthority.com from last season, you might remember my weekly article focusing on the under and overvalued fantasy players each week. This season, I take on a new beast in the form of the classic Start or Sit. These are the lineup questions we each wrestle with on a weekly basis and I’m here to help you out! Who should you bet on for week 1 of the 2017 NFL season? Let’s dive in.
Marcus Mariota, Titans
The Tennessee vs Raiders game should be exciting to watch and represents the highest potential for a shootout this week (so, play Derek Carr too). Finally, fantasy owners get to see how the Titans plan to use their many offensive weapons. Last season, Oakland gave up the 5th most fantasy points to the quarterback position and we expect more of the same from the Raiders defense in 2017. Mariota’s inconsistent performance in preseason may have a few owners worried. However, he played without his main weapons during his week 3 performance and still managed 193 yards and a TD on 21 passes. In week 2 of the preseason, he excelled, throwing 6/8 for 46 yards and a TD. He led scoring drives (field goal, TD) on both series that he completed. Mariota looks healthy and holds serious top 10 fantasy upside. Fire him up in week 1.
Sam Bradford, Vikings
I went a little deeper here to a quarterback that many may need this week as they adjust to Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, and Jay Cutler all being non-options. He’s not shiny or overly exciting, but he is playing a weak New Orleans secondary who gave up the 8th most fantasy points to quarterbacks last season. They aren’t going to be much better this season with their first round pick Marshon Lattimore (minor knee issue) and Delvin Breaux (broken fibula) battling injuries.
Bradford held the highest completion percentage among all quarterbacks (71.6%) and finished 3rd in number of pass completions per game (26.3) in 2016 according to Profootballfocus.com. In a game where the Vikings have to keep up with Drew Brees et al., Bradford gives fantasy owners a decent floor and will look to his favorite targets, Stephon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph (who together made up 42% of the overall target share and 50% red zone target share in 2016) early and often.
Honorable Mention: Jared Goff, Rams vs Colts
Kareem Hunt, Chiefs
There’s been some disagreement in the fantasy community regarding how much owners should trust Kareem Hunt in week 1. The doubters cited a comment made by Chiefs Offensive Coordinator, Matt Nagy as reasoning that Hunt would be part of an RBBC with Charcandrick West and CJ Spiller. Nagy simply stated, “…We have a group of guys that can all play well and we trust them at all positions.” Head Coach Andy Reid recently described Hunt as the “featured back”, so hopefully all of this analysis of one comment can stop. Start Kareem Hunt.
Even before the season started, rumbles began regarding Hunt’s ability to usurp the starting RB position from Spencer Ware during the 2017 season. Now, he possesses a clear path to heavy usage, including in the passing game. Anyone that watched Hunt in preseason or his Toledo highlights knows his quickness, vision, sharp cuts, and elusiveness. Though the Patriots represent a solid run defense (gave up 11th fewest fantasy points to RBs in 2016), Hunt is a solid RB2 with upside due to his ability to break off for long runs. The Chiefs seem committed to seeing what their rookie can do, and I’m excited to watch. If you bench him and he goes off, you’ll be kicking yourself.
Bilal Powell, Jets
Yes, I know the Jets are a dumpster fire. It doesn’t mean there aren’t fantasy points to be made and that’s just the reason I needed to emphasize starting Bilal Powell in Week 1. He faces one of the worst run defenses in the league, the Buffalo Bills, who gave up the 9th most fantasy points to running backs in 2016. In his last game facing the Bills, Powell rushed 22 times for 122 yards and added 3 receptions for 15 yards and a TD. Now that Matt Forte is healthy (for the time being), the two will share carries. No one really knows how this shakes out, but Powell’s heavy involvement in the passing game (McCown will need him) and solid preseason performance locks him into RB2 range, especially in PPR.
Don’t forget, this is a running back who finished as the #17 fantasy RB in PPR formats, topping Forte at #21 in 2016. Powell did this on just 133 carries and was much more efficient than Forte (5.5 YPC compared to 6.7 YPR). I’m putting my money on Powell to get the majority of the touches this week.
Eric Decker, Titans
First, see Marcus Mariota above. Then, note that fellow wide receiver Corey Davis missed the entirety of preseason with a hamstring injury. It sounds like Davis will only be played in “specific situations” in week 1, which to me means definitely limited snaps. Rishard Matthews should be involved, but look for Mariota to target his red zone monsters Eric Decker and Delanie Walker in this shootout with Oakland.
Before his major injuries last season, Decker represented one of the healthiest and most consistent wide receivers in the game. He reached 1000+ yards receiving and double-digit touchdowns in 3 out of his last 5 seasons. In 2015, 2013, and 2012, Decker ended the fantasy season as a top 3 red-zone receiving targets and saw 34% of red zone targets for the Jets in 2015. He finished in the top 30 fantasy WRs during seasons 2013-2015 (#8, #28, #11, respectively). I’ve never hidden my love for Decker as a fantasy player, so I won’t start now. He’s a great WR2-3 option or flex this week, with major TD upside.
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
Fitzgerald looks to continue his target domination in 2017 and draws the Detroit Lions in Week 1. Heading into possibly his final NFL season, Fitz represents a solid redraft and DFS play for fantasy owners this week. According to ProFootballFocus.com, the Lions allowed the most fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers in the slot. In 2016, Larry Fitzgerald ran the majority of his routes out of the slot (63.3%) and Quandre Diggs is most likely covering him. Diggs didn’t fare so well last season and ranked in the bottom 10 for fantasy points allowed per target.
Fitz led the league in receptions (107) and finished seventh in targets in 2016. He also received a whopping 27% of the overall target share. So, seems like a likely conclusion that Carson Palmer locks onto his favorite target in this season-opener. This becomes an even juicier play if for some reason John Brown can’t stay healthy and on the field.
Zach Ertz, Eagles
With Jordan Matthews gone, Carson Wentz needs to find a new best friend. Look no further than Zach Ertz, his runner up in overall target share in 2016. If Matthews was Wentz’s most trusted target, Ertz wasn’t far behind. He received just 10 fewer targets than Matthews last season and earned a higher completion percentage as well (75% vs 61%). With chemistry still building between new acquisitions Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith, Ertz looks to be the first to benefit from a bump in targets.
Washington gave up the 6th most fantasy points to tight ends in 2016, so Wentz should be able to find an open Ertz often in this contest. In addition, Josh Norman should shadow Alshon Jeffery, making him a more difficult target. Ertz ended last season as the eighth overall fantasy tight end, in just 14 games. If he can stay healthy, Ertz could turn out to be one of the top targets for his developing QB in 2017.
Let’s be honest, there aren’t a lot of quarterbacks that fantasy owners can afford to sit this week with three already off the board before we even begin. So, I acknowledge you may have no choice but to play these guys; however, if possible (in 2 QB or Superflex leagues) look into other options.
Phillip Rivers, Chargers
Phillip Rivers draws one of the hardest match ups in week 1 versus the Denver Broncos. The Broncos defense gave up the fewest amount of fantasy points to quarterbacks last season. Though he was without his number one wideout Keenan Allen, Rivers earned his lowest quarterback rating in his week 8 contest versus Denver in 2016. He threw three interceptions in that matchup and had a 43% completion rate. When he faced them two weeks earlier, he faired better but certainly wasn’t what fantasy owners look for: 178 yards and one TD.
Look to see more of the same in week 1, though Keenan Allen gives him a better shot than last year to earn some fantasy points through the air. Rivers will have to be more careful with the ball to find even minimal success, but it isn’t a good sign that he led the league in interceptions in 2016 (21). It could be a hard week for his fantasy investors.
Dak Prescott, Cowboys
The Giants defense is no joke and Dak might have some issues in week 1. Prescott faces one of the toughest schedules for quarterbacks this season and the Giants defense isn’t going to make his opener an easy one. The Giants gave up the 2nd fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in 2016 and are even better defensively this season. Prescott scored two of his lowest fantasy point totals in his two games versus the Giants in 2016 (10 fantasy points in week 1; six fantasy points in week 14). So, they’ve shut him down in the past.
The Cowboys also will have Ezekial Elliott for this contest, which is good for the offense as a whole but he is obviously a focal point. They may rely on him in general, but especially if the passing game struggles. Prescott may be one quarterback that you’ll need to have streaming options available for, especially in the initial weeks of 2017 (Giants, Denver, Arizona).
Jeremy Hill/ Joe Mixon
I’m not thinking this pick will surprise many, though some may not have a choice on Mixon depending on how much draft capital they spent. If you have other choices, play them. No one really knows how this backfield will turn out, especially with the Bengals listing Jeremy Hill as their RB1. Though I am guilty of being on the Jeremy Hill train in the past, my feet rest firmly at that station these days. After struggling the past two seasons, Jeremy Hill looked to be left out to pasture with the drafting of rookie Joe Mixon. That does not seem to be the case, at least at week 1.
No one is doubting Joe Mixon’s talent or even that he should take over as the lead back early in this season. We just don’t know how much opportunity he receives with Gio Bernard stealing receptions and Jeremy Hill getting early down work and most likely vulturing touchdowns. He also didn’t blow us away in preseason (though was decent) and gave up a fumble in Week 3. Add in the tough match up with the Baltimore Ravens (gave up the 9th fewest fantasy points to RBs in 2016) and I had to warn owners to steer clear this week.
LeGarrette Blount, Eagles
I know it might be hard to accept that I’m telling you to sit the overall #7 fantasy RB in 2016 that led the league with 18 TDs. Maybe even more difficult to believe given their easy matchup with Washington who gave up the 5th most fantasy points to running backs last season. But, trust me, bench Blount unless you have no better choice.
Blount didn’t have a good training camp and preseason surely didn’t get better. He gained 36 total yards on 13 carries, good for a 2.8 average and added two catches for 15 yards. He also lost a fumble. Yeah, it wasn’t pretty. Most likely due to this disappointing performance, Eagles coaching staff is noncommittal about their RBBC and the division of labor between Blount, Darren Sproles, and Wendell Smallwood. He’s a bruiser of a back, so you’d be counting on a short yardage TD to save you if you started him. I didn’t see enough to trust him even as a flex, so fantasy owners beware.
Tyreek Hill, Chiefs
I like Tyreek Hill as an overall pick this season and think he will be one of Alex Smith’s favorite targets; however, I don’t advise starting him this week. Or if you have to start him, temper your expectations and put him as a flex if you have a better WR option. Hill’s preseason performance was subpar, to say the least (2 receptions for 20 yards, three drops). This matchup is the other factor. Hill faces a negative match up with Malcolm Butler and New England gave up the 2nd fewest points to WRs in 2016. They also led the NFL in fewest yards after the catch allowed per game last season.
I project Hill to fall out of the top 30 fantasy WRs for week 1, so move forward with this in mind. He always possesses big play ability with his explosiveness, but his quarterback is still Alex Smith. Though Smith tried more deep throws in preseason, I’m a hard sell on seeing him become a quarterback that goes to the deep threat often. This limits Hill’s overall upside and definitely will impact his opportunities during Thursday Night Football.
Tyrell Williams, Chargers
I know many might be hurting in week one with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Jarvis Landry, and Devante Parker out. Williams might look like a perfect plug-in since he took over as WR2 for the Chargers when rookie Mike Williams suffered a back injury this summer. However, this isn’t the week he will be clutch for you.
Williams ended the preseason without a catch and nursing a groin injury to boot. He most likely will face Aqib Talib in this week’s match up with a solid Denver defense, which also isn’t good news for fantasy owners. Talib, of course, can be beaten, but I have more faith in Keenan Allen to be the one to come through for fantasy owners than Williams. I’m rooting for Williams this season and he’s a great play next week versus Miami, but let him ride this one out on the bench.
Martellus Bennett, Packers
The addition of Martellus Bennett in Green Bay certainly adds another viable weapon to an already dangerous offense, but the chemistry is still building between Bennett and Rodgers. Bennett snagged a pretty three-yard touchdown in the preseason and showed his palpable end zone presence by pulling down the contested catch. I definitely like his red zone potential moving forward, but just not in week 1.
Seattle defense gave up just four touchdowns to tight ends in 2016 and gave up the fourth fewest fantasy points to tight ends overall. Wide receivers were more successful in beating the Seattle defenders, so I bank more on Jordy Nelson, Devante Adams, and Randall Cobb making the plays this week (Nelson the most). There’s definitely a chance that Bennett comes down with a TD, but he stood out to me as one higher ranked tight end that might disappoint fantasy owners in week 1.
Please return weekly to catch my Start or Sit and use #AskTFA on Twitter for any lineup questions you have!