I love football. I really, really, really do. I love football so much that I’ve ruined relationships and lied about my whereabouts to watch NFL Redzone on Sunday. I listen to as many fantasy football podcasts and read as much news as I can in the offseason just to be near the sport in some way. Fantasy football is another way for me to be overwhelmed by the sport I love so much. So, why do I tell you this? It’s certainly not to convince you that I’m crazy, that much I know. I tell you this so you can ask yourself one thing: why do you play fantasy football?
Whatever your reason, just remember it’s a game and is meant to be enjoyed. As a writer and as someone who prides himself on knowing a thing or two about fantasy football, I get caught up in the competition and forget that fantasy football is a game and isn’t cut-and-dry. If you want to take Jimmy Graham in the second round because you love the Green and Gold and think it would be more fun, more power to you. Enjoy the game how you want to.
That being said, feel free to take what I say with a grain of salt but just be aware that I have put in a lot of research (and take pride in knowing a thing or two about fantasy football). Since it’s Week 1, we don’t have any prior knowledge of the 2018 season to draw from. Therefore, a lot of my analysis will be based on 2017 numbers and statistics and matchups.
Just like my waiver wire series last season, each edition of this series will be a little different – each one theoretically better than the last. In case you haven’t noticed, Eli Weiner is not writing this year’s start/sit. He has moved on to greener pastures and is taking his fantasy expertise to new heights! Drop him a follow on Twitter (@EWeinerFantasy).
Who to Start
Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions
In 2017, Matthew Stafford finished as the QB #7 and averaged 17.1 fantasy points per game. He and the Lions start the season at home against the 30th-ranked defense against fantasy quarterbacks in the New York Jets. Granted, the Jets’ defense features Jamal Adams, a defensive back out of LSU who was taken sixth overall in the 2017 draft. The Lions have the weapons to allot Stafford a good fantasy week: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, and even rookie Kerryon Johnson.
Matthew Stafford has also gotten better at protecting the football. Last season, he only threw 10 interceptions, tying the career-low he set the season before. If you don’t believe me yet, take a look at Detroit’s offensive line. The Lions singed T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner before drafting center Frank Ragnow 20th overall to make them the eighth-best line in Pro Football Focus’ rankings.
Kirk Cousins – Minnesota Vikings
Sunday versus the San Francisco 49ers will mark the beginning of Kirk Cousins’ journey in the North, and it should be a good one. Last season, the Washington Redskins finished 16th in total points scored with 342 points and 12th in passing yards per game with 234.4 passing yards. Just imagine what he could do with a solid, consistent receiving corps and a powerhouse in the backfield. Even with a mediocre offense, Kirk Cousins finished with these numbers:
- QB #6 in fantasy, averaging 17.4 fantasy points per game
- Seventh in passing yards: 4,093 yards
- Eighth in touchdowns: 27 touchdowns
- Eighth in completions: 347 completions
This Sunday will be no different. According to ESPN, the 49ers are ranked at fourth-worst against fantasy quarterbacks. To pile on, Cousins’ current receivers, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph, finished as the WR #10, WR #19, and TE #7, respectively, in 2017.
Alex Collins – Baltimore Ravens
In the last 12 of his 15 games, Alex Collins got double-digit carries for the Ravens. In eight of those games, Collins got the rock 15 or more times. In those games, Collins averaged 4.4 yards per carry. The third-year pro had 23 receptions in his last nine games and scored six touchdowns in his last seven games. In the last two of the three games where he didn’t get double-digit carries, he rushed nine times for 82 yards – one was against the Jaguars, the other against the Steelers.
The numbers aren’t great, but what intrigues me is that first stat: In last 12 of his 15 games, Alex Collins got double-digit carries for the Ravens. Volume is king in fantasy football. While his numbers aren’t phenomenal, they’re good and helped him to finish as the RB #18 in 2017. To sweeten the deal, the Buffalo Bills rank as the worst defense against fantasy running backs as they gave up 124.6 rushing yards per game in 2017, good for fourth-most in the NFL. If that hasn’t convinced you, remember how Collins scored six touchdowns in his last seven games and how the Buffalo Bills defense gave up a league-most 22 rushing touchdowns in 2017.
Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals
2017 was a rough season for the Cincinnati Bengals. If you’re a Bengals fan, you might want to look away from the following analysis. In case you don’t believe me, look at these numbers reflecting how, in 2017, the Bengals offense were…
- 29th in rushing attempts (377 attempts)
- 32nd in plays from scrimmage (927 plays)
- 32nd in total yards per game (280.5 yards per game)
- 27th in turnover differential (-9 turnovers)
- 26th in points scored (290 points)
I don’t care who you are, that’s some bad football. My point is, the 2017 was so bad as a whole for the Bengals offense that you should have been able to get some value for Bengals pieces (like our friend, Joe) in your drafts. Joe Mixon’s rookie campaign didn’t quite live up to the hype, as he finished as the RB #33 last season. Therefore, if the Bengals offense bounces back in 2018, so too should Mixon. He has the talent and volume now that Jeremy Hill has shipped off.
As for their Week 1 opponents, the Indianapolis Colts, look forward to the matchup and have confidence in Mixon. Indianapolis ranks 25th against fantasy running backs and gave up 120.4 rushing yards per game in addition to 15 rushing touchdowns (T-fourth-most).
Will Fuller V – Houston Texans
Will Fuller only got four games with Deshaun Watson: Weeks 4, 5, 6, and 8. In those four games, Fuller caught 13 passes off 22 targets for 279 YARDS AND SEVEN TOUCHDOWNS. In those five weeks, Watson was the top quarterback and Will Fuller was the second-best wide receiver in half-point scoring. Another thing worth noting is that DeAndre Hopkins was the top wide receiver in those five weeks. Also, the Texans had a bye Week 7 and all three players were still at the top at their positions in those five weeks. Hopkins scored 22.1 fantasy points per week and Fuller scored 19.3.
Don’t get it twisted, those numbers aren’t sustainable over a longer period of time. This week, however, keep in mind that the Patriots’ defense gave up the third-most passing yards per game in 2017 (251.2 yards), rank 28th against fantasy wide receivers (according to ESPN), and don’t have their best defensive back, Malcolm Butler, after losing him in free agency. In addition, over those four games, Will Fuller averaged 21.5 yards per catch. The Patriots gave up 49 plays of 20+ yards.
Stefon Diggs – Minnesota Vikings
Stefon Diggs gets the edge over Adam Thielen in this matchup simply because of the rapport we’ve seen him possess with quarterback Kirk Cousins in the preseason. Yes, Thielen finished as the WR #10 compared to Diggs’ WR #19 finish, but Thielen played 16 games compared to Diggs’ 14. Kirk Cousins and Stefon Diggs have connected on passes thrown through tight windows and caught in traffic. Cousins has the ability to place the ball in the right place in Diggs’ route to burn defenders. Remember, also, that the 49ers rank 22nd against fantasy wide receivers, according to ESPN, and gave up 27 passing touchdowns (T-eighth-most) in 2017.
Quarterback – Philip Rivers – Los Angeles Chargers vs Chiefs (24th against fantasy QBs)
Running Back – Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans @ Dolphins (23rd against fantasy RBs)
Wide Receiver – Brandin Cooks – Los Angeles Rams @ Raiders (15th against fantasy WRs)
Who to Bench
Patrick Mahomes – Kansas City Chiefs
I would say that this “isn’t a knock on Patrick Mahomes”, but it is, as a fantasy quarterback anyway. Look, he played in one game last season and it was Week 17! Week 1 is his first true start as Kansas City’s quarterback and it’s a horrid matchup: going on the road to face the Los Angeles Chargers, who are ranked as fourth-best against fantasy quarterbacks. In 2017, the Chargers gave up the third-fewest passing yards per game (197.2 yards) and forced more interceptions (17) than they did allow passing touchdowns (18). Just do yourself a favor and bring the Mahomes hype train to a screeching halt this week.
Dak Prescott – Dallas Cowboys
If you’re gonna bench Dak Prescott at all this season, it’s Week 1. The receiving corps is in total chaos and the offensive line is riddled with injuries. After losing top pass catchers Dez Bryant and Jason Witten after the 2017 season, it’s hard to say who the Cowboys are going to throw to in 2018. Players are standing out, like Michael Gallup, but it’s not 100 percent certain how the Dallas offense is going to proceed. That, combined with a matchup on the road against the Carolina Panthers, who rank 14th against fantasy quarterbacks, makes for a good week to leave Prescott on the bench.
Jay Ajayi – Philadelphia Eagles
In five of his last games in 2017, including the postseason, Ajayi got double-digit carries. The only exception was the Super Bowl, where he rushed nine times. In three of those games Ajayi rushed for more than four yards per carry (including one where he averaged 5.2 yards per carry). Those numbers aren’t awful and Ajayi got double-digit carries, so why bench him? Let’s focus on the last seven games of the 2017 season, as those are the ones Ajayi spent in Philadelphia after being traded.
Bench him because those numbers were only good enough to make him RB #37 in those weeks in half-point scoring. I’m interested to see what Jay Ajayi can do with an entire season, but I don’t think he gets it together this week – not against a defense that’s fifth against fantasy running backs and only gave up 104.1 rushing yards per game and nine rushing touchdowns last season.
Peyton Barber – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Peyton Barber got double-digit carries in his last five games in 2017, including a 23-carry overtime game in Green Bay. In only one of those games did Barber average less than four yards per carry. In those five games, Barber rushed 78 times for 335 yards (averaging 4.3 yards per carry) and is listed first on the Bucs’ depth chart. So, why bench him? Bench him because the Buccaneers’ offensive line sits at 22nd on Pro Football Focus’ offensive line rankings. In addition, the Buccaneers rushed for 90.6 yards per game, good for 27th in the league. Keep in mind, too, that Tampa Bay goes down to New Orleans to face a defense that’s 15th against fantasy running backs.
Marquise Goodwin – San Francisco 49ers
In the six games Jimmy G was the starting quarterback in San Francisco, Marquise Goodwin was the WR #9 in half-point scoring. The problem, however, is that in the final two games against the Jaguars and Rams, two team with good secondaries, Goodwin caught five passes on ten targets for 65 yards and one touchdown. His numbers obviously weren’t great. To be fair, Goodwin left the Week 17 game with a concussion. So, if his numbers in the other games were good, why bench him? Bench him because of the terrible matchup in Minnesota versus a defense eighth against fantasy wide receivers, and at least give the San Francisco offense a week to get hot.
Sammy Watkins – Kansas City Chiefs
With the Rams in 2017, Sammy Watkins caught 39 passes for 593 yards and eight touchdowns to finish as the WR #38. Watkins never had a game with more than seven receptions in 2017, and now he and his new quarterback, Pat Mahomes, haven’t exactly been on the same page this preseason. The preseason hype for Sammy Watkins wasn’t through the roof, but it was enough to keep Watkins drafted. My message is: don’t buy into the hype, at least not yet. As I mentioned before, the Chiefs go into Los Angeles to face a defense ninth against fantasy wide receivers.
Quarterback – Derek Carr – Oakland Raiders vs Rams (Eighth against fantasy QBs)
Running Back – Kenyan Drake – Miami Dolphins vs Titans (Eighth against fantasy RBs)
Wide Receiver – Michael Crabtree – Baltimore Ravens vs Bills (Seventh against fantasy WRs)
Who to Stream
Quarterback – Andy Dalton – Cincinnati Bengals – 18.7% Owned in ESPN leagues
Quarterback – Blake Bortles – Jacksonville Jaguars – 11.6 Owned
Quarterback – Jared Goff – Los Angeles Rams – 65.0% Owned
Tight End – Charles Clay – Buffalo Bills – 56.6% Owned
D/ST – Detroit Lions – 29.2% Owned
D/ST – Tennessee Titans – 55.2% Owned
Stats courtesy of ESPN, Pro Football Focus, FantasyPros, NFL.com, and Pro Football Reference