Benny Ricciardi offers a game-by-game breakdown for the NFL DFS Main Slate!
Every week, I analyze NFL matchups using readily available information from multiple sources in order to paint the clearest picture possible. I use a combination of offensive and defensive metrics from Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus, Fantasy Pros, and our own proprietary stats from Fantasy Guru and Elite Fantasy in order to identify the best and worst options to use for NFL DFS purposes.
The article relies heavily on statistics to drive the analysis. Every statement is backed up by some tangible fact(s). The goal is to take a week’s worth of research and consolidate it in one place for you to consume easily without including any personal bias of my own. It takes a lot of time to put all of this together, and I hope you guys enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Vegas: Lions -3, 44.5 Total
The Bears finished 25th in offense DVOA in 2019, almost 10% worse than your baseline NFL offense. It was a big regression for a team many thought was ready to take a step forward. A lot of things went wrong for the Bears offense last year, but we have to start with the offensive line. It was not considered the strength of the team coming into the season, but it was not supposed to be a liability either. Everything starts upfront, and the Bears just had some normally solid players who played really bad. David Montgomery was not very good after being handed the keys with just a 3.7 yard per carry average. Mitch Trubisky was dreadful, finishing near the bottom of the league in most positive categories and towards the top in negative things like uncatchable balls. You can not blame all of that on the offensive line, but it can explain some of the underperformance. Luckily, they drew a Lions defense that also was not great last year, ranking 23rd DVOA. They did try to improve in the offseason; adding Jamie Collins to one of the worst linebacking corps in the league is definitely going to help, but he can only play one position. They did lose Darius Slay but addressed that need by adding the top CB in the draft in Jeff Okudah and also adding Desmond Trufant. They should be better, but it was a low bar from last year and many of those players are still here.
They made a big splash acquisition of Nick Foles to improve on the horrid play of Mitch Trubisky last year and decided to stick with the youngster.
PFF Ranked Trubisky 27th last year at the position. Nick Foles had slightly better grades but not enough playing time to qualify for a ranking. Foles is no top 10 talent either, but I really have nothing great to say about Trubisky except for this…..
Mitch Trubisky has a history of beating up on bad defenses. Here’s a prime example. The Lions were a bad defense last year, and Trubisky lit them up for a combined 45 completion on 61 throws for a 74% rate vs. 60% in games against all other opponents. He threw for 511 yards and six touchdowns in those two games, more than 50 yards and 2+ touchdowns over his seasonal average. He averaged 200 yards passing and less than a TD per game against the other 13 opponents, but he lit up Detroit twice. He’s one of the cheapest QBs on the slate. It’s a hold your nose and believe the stats kind of play, but the stats do back it up.
The David Montgomery Era began last year in Chicago, and it wasn’t all that great. He averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. The line was horrible, and he did flash some ability to break tackles, but it was disappointing. Even more disappointing is he’s now likely to miss the first 2-4 weeks of this season. Chicago does not have a lot on paper here behind him. The talk coming out of Chicago is they are going to use a committee approach. After sending Artavis Pierce to the practice squad, it looks like they are set to go with Tarik Cohen, Ryan Nall, and Cordarelle Patterson. Cohen and Patterson are very dynamic, but they are really more passing down type threats. Nall was a special teamer who saw a handful of carries last year, like under 10, so you actually could count them on your hands. I would expect they use all three guys with Cohen seeing the most touches, followed by Patterson, and maybe a couple for Nall. This has been one of the worst years for camp gossip getting out, and even as I write this, I’m not sure how it plays out. The good news is all of them are discounted, so they are viable for fantasy.
Allen Robinson is an absolute stud. He had one of the least accurate quarterbacks and one of the least pass-friendly offenses yet still ended up with over 1100 yards and seven touchdowns. He had 98 catches but saw 150+ targets. That is not a great catch rate, but I do not blame him for that. A Rob finished as a top 15 WR, according to the PFF rankings. He played all 16 games last year, scored double-digit PPR points in 13 of them, and had 20+ PPR points in seven of those 13. He sees nine targets per game and gets red zone looks. Guy’s a stud and one I will play on any Trubisky lineup and also as a standalone, as well.
Anthony Miller in weeks 11-15 played almost every snap opposite Allen Robinson. He out-targeted Robinson 52-50 during that stretch, as the two alternated top target getters each of those five games. He suffered through some injuries, but when things were good, he was the clear WR2 or arguably WR1A. Allen Robinson is far and away the better choice here, but Miller is not someone to ignore either. We saw him go 9/140 alongside Robinson’s 8/86/1 last year, so they can do it in the same game. Guess who was the opponent for the dynamic duo that day? These same Detroit Lions.
As for the third WR spot, I am not sure who wins that battle. It may be Ted Ginn, or it may be Riley Ridley. They released Taylor Gabriel, so they are looking for that outside speed guy to replace him. At best, one of these guys catches a long pass for a TD to make value, but the volume is going to be with Robinson, Miller, and the RBs most likely.
Jimmy Graham was added in the offseason to be the new receiving TE. They also drafted a young TE in Cole Kmet, but he’s more likely to do some of the blocking work. Both guys could see snaps together, but if I had to play either, it would be Graham. I much prefer the other skill players, so this is not a spot to expect much.
Top Plays: Allen Robinson, Tarik Cohen
GPP Only: Cordarelle Patterson, Anthony Miller
Deep Flyer: Mitch Trubisky
The Lions ranked 18th DVOA offensively in 2019. That’s a bit misleading though. They played the second half of the season without Matthew Stafford. Stafford was lighting teams up before his injury. In just eight games, he threw for 2499 yards and 19 touchdowns. Play that out over 16 games, and he was on pace for 5000 yards passing and 38 touchdowns, which would have been MVP caliber numbers. With that being said, he missed both matchups with this Bears defense that ranked 10th DVOA, about 5% better than your average NFL defense. The Bears were very stingy to pass games, allowing just the 25th most fantasy points to QBs and the 28th to Wide Receivers. Both RB and TE produced slightly better, but they also were in the bottom half of the league. This will be no easy task, which is why we see such a low total.
Matt Stafford is a stud. We just mentioned the numbers above. Am I expecting 300 yards with two or three touchdowns against the Bears? No, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Stafford is by no means a core player, and this game has such a low total, but he was setting the world on fire and has all his toys to play with here. He will go low owned and his ceiling could be a GPP winning one.
The Lions addressed running back by adding Kerryon Johnson in the draft last year and went back to the well for DeAndre Swift this year. Both guys graded out well, and they should split the reps in this game. Remember, the Lions also added Adrian Peterson on Sunday. Will Peterson be a factor? The coach speak coming out of Detroit is they expect him in uniform. The original plan was for Swift and Johnson to split the workload, and I think we still see that in Week 1. By next week, we could end up with a three-headed monster, and those are the worst for fantasy. Luckily, this is not a soft spot I want to chance with either of these guys in a timeshare. Both are explosive, but I want guaranteed volume and I have no idea how this ultimately plays out. Just avoid it and move on to the next RB.
The WR group also needs to be looked at in sections. We can call them Pre and Post Stafford. With Stafford at quarterback, Kenny Golladay was emerging as a true NFL superstar. He had five games of 20+ fantasy points over the first eight and just one during the second half of the season without Stafford. He was solid all season long, ending up with 65 catches, 1190 yards, and 11 touchdowns, but his splits were better in terms of catches, yards, and touchdowns with Stafford. Golladay has a tough matchup but not an impossible one. He is reasonably priced, and with Stafford back, possibly even underpriced compared to what they did the first half of last season.
Marvin Jones also had better numbers with Stafford, but he too was good even without him. He did miss the last few games with an injury but was averaging just under five catches per game on seven targets for 60 yards. He had nine touchdowns in 13 games as well, also flashing a lot of upside. Jones and Golladay had a few weeks under Stafford where both went off, and neither of them is super highly-priced. In a better matchup, I would not have a problem stacking those three up together, but in a low scoring game against the Bears, I’m not sure I want to do that in Week 1. Either guy could end up at 4X or better rather easily. Neither of them are core plays for me, but I also would not X them out of an MME build on some lineups at low ownership.
Danny Amendola deserves some mention here as a cheap high upside Milly Maker type winning play. I know that sounds crazy, but in eight games with Stafford, he had 7+ catches for at least 95 yards three times. He even did it once later in the year without Stafford for good measure. This play is a dog 10-12 weeks out of the year, but the other four weeks, you get a guy putting up 20+ PPR points and priced as a WR3. A 25% chance of going 4X in PPR is a big deal, and he’s more useful on DraftKings than FanDuel because of that skill set. You really need the TDs in half-point PPR on FanDuel, and Amendola is unlikely to get those.
TJ Hockenson had a few flashes of brilliance last year but is coming into 2020 still not 100%. At least early on in camp, they did not think so, and I’m honestly a bit concerned. They do still have Jesse James, and this is no easy matchup. He had plenty of chances with some high target number games when he was healthy, but only really paid off once or twice. The talent is there, but at best, he ends up as a second pass catcher on my Lions stack until he becomes more consistent to play on his own.
Top Plays: Kenny Golladay
GPP Only: Matt Stafford, Marvin Jones
Deep Flyer: Danny Amendola
Vegas: Ravens -8, 48.5 Total
Last year’s trendy Super Bowl pick crashed and burned. The Browns finished 20th DVOA on the offensive side of the ball, despite having some of the best skill players in all of football. The drawback was a 23rd ranked offensive line. They addressed the problem in the offseason by grabbing one of the best right tackles on the free-agent market in Jack Conklin and also using the 10th overall pick on Alabama left tackle, Jedrick Wills. The offensive line should be much better, and that should benefit the entire offense. It’s a brutal Week 1 matchup though, facing the Baltimore Ravens defense that finished 5th DVOA on the defensive side last year, 11% better than your average NFL defense. The Ravens were the stingiest defense to tight ends in 2019, second stingiest to quarterbacks, seventh stingiest to RBs, and the only position where they gave up even a little production was at WR and even they scored in the bottom half of the league for fantasy points. Some quick math also tells us the Browns project for just 20 points, so do not expect massive upside here.
Is Baker Mayfield as bad as he showed in 2019? His numbers coming out of college and his first season in the NFL would argue against it, but he was not good last season. People over exaggerate how bad he was because of the expectations. He finished around the middle of the league. Again, not good for a former #1 overall pick, but still better than almost half the other QBs in the league. I do expect a better year from him, but this is not the game he’s likely to prove it.
Nick Chubb was awesome in 2019, grading out as the #1 RB on PFF. He averaged over 110 yards per game and ended the season with over five yards per carry, amassing just shy of 1500 yards rushing on just shy of 300 carries. He played about 70% of the snaps last year and had his biggest and also worst games against this same opponent. He lit up the Ravens for 20/165/2 on the ground with three catches for 18 yards in the first matchup. The second time around the Ravens held him to just 45 yards on 15 carries late in the season. Chubb has a big upside, although this is not the softest spot for an RB.
Chubb also has a solid #2 in Kareem Hunt. Hunt has a troubled past, but he produces on the football field. He graded out as the 11th best RB according to PFF, despite seeing only about 30% of the Browns snaps. Hunt was suspended until Week 10 and was always the change of pace guy last year. He opened a lot of eyes though by scoring double-digit fantasy points in six straight games, despite seeing only 10-12 touches in each. He was priced very low when he burst back onto the scene in 2019. The price is no longer a cheap bargain where a dozen fantasy points will cut it though. Hunt is uber-talented but would need to see a Chubb injury or benching in order to get enough volume to justify paying up. If Chubb ever does go down, Hunt could end up as a top 5 back in the NFL though.
Odell Beckham did not live up to the hype, but he still had 74 catches and over 1000 yards. He also saw 133 targets, which is just shy of nine per game, in 2019. Of course, those numbers also mean a low catch rate, but some of that was on Baker and some of it was also on the offensive line. Beckham still made explosive plays last year. He had a bunch of 30- and 40-yard gains. The problem was his volume of catches. Not so much volume of targets, as he had plenty of them, but he only had more than six catches in two games, and many games it was more like three or four. At this point, I view him as more of a GPP type guy. He can always break a slant for 50-60 yards and a TD, but I wouldn’t expect him to do that often. He did not have enough TD equity or a high enough volume of targets and receptions last year to count on a safe floor. Of course, he’s also seen major price drops. Beckham was routinely one of the top 2-4 priced WRs on every slate for the past couple years, and now you have to scroll down to find him on the main slate.
Jarvis Landry had more catches, yards, and touchdowns than Odell Beckham did in 2019. Landry is extremely underrated and is just a consistent producer game after game, year after year. Both of these guys played over 90% of the snaps last year and clearly are the top 2 options on this offense. At this point, I actually prefer Landry in every format. I’m not saying don’t play Beckham, but Landry grades out slightly better for me and they are basically the same price. This is not a week I’m going all-in on Baker and his pass catchers, or even in on Baker much at all, but I have no problem with anyone who sprinkles either of these guys in a multi-entry pool. I’m not on either heavily enough to play on my single entry lineup.
Rashard Higgins seems to have won the #3 WR role, but the Browns did not have a third receiver play over 25% of snaps in 2019. My guess is that stays the same in 2020.
One of the reasons I do not care about the #3 WR is I expect a lot of two TE sets. The Browns already had a solid young TE in David Njoku and added Austin Hooper in the offseason. As a fantasy option, I prefer Hooper, as we have seen his hands as a security blanket for a QB. He had a monster year playing between WRs who drew a lot of attention in Atlanta in 2019. My fear is the volume of targets he will see. The Browns run game is stout, and even if they fall behind, you have two highly targeted WR options and very good pass catching running backs. Hooper will have some big games, but will the targets be as big as they were in Atlanta for him to be a PPR darling? Just based on pace and play calling numbers, I would have to say no.
David Njoku could still see a decent number of snaps in 2 TE sets, but the fantasy production is unlikely to be high. Maybe he catches a long one here and there, but to be a relevant TE again, I would need to see an injury to Hooper.
Top Plays: Nick Chubb
GPP Only: Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham
Deep Flyer: None
This offense was unbelievable last year, ending the season ranked #1 DVOA, 28% above your typical NFL offense. The run game set up everything else for them. The dynamic MVP QB is a major part of that. They return all the skill players from that offense, which was tailored around him, and teams could not stop it in 2019. It’s tough to repeat the sheer dominance this team had on the offensive side of the football last year. I know the old adage is teams will eventually figure you out, but this scheme is less about figuring it out and more about having the horses to stop it. Cleveland did not play well on the defensive side of the ball in 2019, ranking 24th DVOA. They have a lot of young pieces in the secondary and linebacking core that need to come along for this unit to be really good. They do have one of the best coverage guys in Denzel Ward and one of the most dominant defensive lines with superstar Myles Garrett alongside Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson, who are both talented playmakers. They were much tougher against the pass than the run. They gave up the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing RBs last year, and that is the path of least resistance against this defense.
Lamar Jackson won an MVP and takes on a team that allowed the 12th most fantasy points to the position last year. He had almost 3500 yards passing but had 37 touchdowns during the regular season. He also ran for a ridiculous 1349 yards and seven more touchdowns. A rushing yard is worth 2.5 times a passing yard and a TD is 1.5 times more valuable on the ground. When you translate his stats to passing yards in order to compare his season, you would be looking at a guy who threw for the equivalent of almost 6800 yards and 48 touchdowns. Those numbers are as absurd to read as they were for me to write, but it just goes to show you how insanely profitable those rushing stats are for fantasy. Jackson had eight games where he went for 30+ fantasy points last year. He had only one where he failed to score at least 20. To put that in perspective, most top-end QBs had maybe two weeks of 30+ fantasy points and a half the games played in the 20s. That means the standard game for an average top-end QB is about the floor for Jackson. Can he continue his assault on the NFL and put up video game numbers again? He averaged 30 fantasy points on 225 yards passing and 80 yards rushing with 3+ total touchdowns against the Browns in 2019, so I would say it’s a good bet he keeps that going.
This is the hardest part of the Ravens to break down. I like Mark Ingram, and he’s been underrated for fantasy dating back to the Saints days. Ingram is the main RB for the Ravens. He finished with over 1000 yards last season with 10 rushing touchdowns. He was not a huge catch guy but did have 27, five of which ended him up in the end zone. He had a ridiculous 15 touchdowns on 235 touches. He was a very hit or miss kind of player last year, as he had five games with 23+ fantasy points as well as about an equal number of bad games with below 10 and pedestrian games with around 12-18. One out of three games he was GPP winning worthy, one out of three he was good enough not to hurt you, and one out of three he killed your rosters. At best, that makes him a GPP option for me.
The Ravens will use multiple backs, as they did last year, and the one everyone is excited about is JK Dobbins. Eventually, I see him being the #2 back, but I’m not sure it’s a one-man job. Gus Edwards actually saw twice as many snaps as Justice Hill did last year, and both of those guys are still in the mix too. They played just over half the snaps last year, with Ingram leading the team with 48%. I expect all of these guys to mix in again this year, and that means too many chefs in the kitchen. Maybe Dobbins emerges as the #2 behind Ingram, but that would mean he is Gus Edwards from 2019. Edwards had only two fantasy-relevant games last year, and that would probably be Dobbins unless we get an injury to Ingram. I think the Ravens backfield, as a whole, will remain super productive, but the spreading around of touches is killer for fantasy production.
Marquise Brown was amazing with what he did in how little chance he had to do it. He played just 50% of snaps last year but ended up with 53 catches for over 700 yards and seven touchdowns. He saw just 82 targets, which breaks down to about 5.5 per game. People played him a lot last year after a monster 33 point PPR showing in the first game of the season, but he never reached that peak again. In fact, he only had 20+ points in two of the other 14 games he played, with just a handful of even decent 15ish point showings. Now, he was injured and was babied in 2019, but he’s going to need to play a lot more snaps and somehow see more targets in a low volume passing attack to justify the love he gets weekly. He has absolute home run upside and is the only relevant WR option on this team in terms of production and opportunity. He will have one or two big weeks during the season and win someone a GPP, but that same person may lose all that money back taking him the other 14 weeks. At best, he’s a GPP option here and frankly not one who you will get low owned to be a massive difference-maker.
This is a low volume passing attack, for sure, but Mark Andrews led that attack in catches and yards in 2019. He played on just 41% of snaps, but that is very misleading. He is not a blocking TE and was never used that way, so when he was on the field, he almost always ran routes. Andrews was in a TE room that also had Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst last year. Boyle was the blocker and played the most snaps of any of them at 69%, and he returns this year. Hurst, though, is gone, and that could mean a few more snaps for Andrews. The guy was a big upside play much of last season, and the 10 touchdowns he scored had a lot to do with that. Touchdowns are always something that reverts to the mean, so I would expect less from him this year, as the rate he scored in 2019 was ridiculous for the target and catch numbers he had. He’s no longer cheap and will not be sneaking up on anyone at low ownership this season. Maybe he is able to retain that high TD rate on low volume, but it’s not something that is statistically likely to happen. At the higher price, I’m not a huge fan of chasing his 2019 breakout.
Top Plays: Lamar Jackson
GPP Only: Mark Ingram, Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews, Ravens D
Deep Flyer: None
Vegas: Vikings -2.5, 45.5 Total
Green Bay Packers
The Packers relied on defense more last year than in year’s past, but the offense still finished eighth overall DVOA, about 6% better than your baseline NFL offense. After years of relying on the passing game to carry the load with Aaron Rodgers, the running game behind that offensive line led the way for this offense in 2019. They enabled massive rushing totals from Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, who also added a lot of passing game production. Those two accounted for about 2400 yards last year when you add the rushing and receiving production. They are on the road here in a low total game against the fourth-best DVOA defense from last season. The Packers did win both meetings last year, but the totals were just 33 and 37 in those games with the Packers averaging just 22 points. This does not shape up to be a massive spot for fantasy production on either side.
Aaron Rodgers did not have a bad year, but he also did not carry the team as he had in year’s past. In 18 games played, he had just six above 20 points. He had three ceiling type games with 30+ twice and 40+ once, so he can dial it up when they need him to, but they are not that kind of team anymore. The Packers would rather rely on the running game to control the clock and keep the defense in advantageous situations. Gone are the days they need 40+ throws from Aaron Rodgers to win football games. This is especially one of those matchups, as last year in two games, he threw for just 209 and 216 yards with two touchdowns and one interception against the Vikings.
Aaron Jones was the reason the Vikings lost both games against the Packers in 2019. He had 23 carries in each, for over 100 yards both times, and found the end zone in both games. He had a couple catches as well, giving him 27 touches for 150 total yards and a TD in game 1 and 25 touches for 160 yards and two touchdowns in the second game. Minnesota was not an easy team to run on, but that just shows you how good the Packers O-Line and rushing attack were in 2019. Aaron Jones should get a ton of looks in this game, and I am very high on his chances to produce another big game.
Jamaal Williams was a very solid #2 RB in GB last year, and he also had some big games. Williams saw a few carries but did more of his damage through the air. He is worth a flyer, as he did score some touchdowns and had some catches which helped his PPR rankings. Jones was the big TD getter for this offense last year, so he should be the guy we like a lot more on FanDuel. Rookie draft pick AJ Dillon is a big, strong bruiser of a back but currently is behind the dynamic 1-2 punch that carried the offense last year. I am not expecting much out of him early this season.
Davante Adams is one of the top receivers in all of football. He saw some of the best corners in the league on a weekly basis and absolutely dominated them anyway. He played in 14 games last year and saw double-digit targets in 10 of them, including 10 of the last 11. He caught 100 balls for almost 1300 yards in just 14 games with seven touchdowns. That’s an average of over seven catches and 90 yards per game on 11.5 targets. He had seven and 13 catches in the two games against the Vikings as well, going for 100 yards each time. WR was the position that gave the Vikings the most trouble last year, so it is a weak spot you were able to target. The Vikings entire secondary is gone, and the names left on the list are a mix of journeymen and young unproven guys. This could be a feast for Adams. He has a high floor for cash and upside for GPPs if he finds the endzone to add to his huge target, catch, and yardage totals. The rest of the receiving core is very suspect, which only makes him more exciting as a focal point.
Coming into the season, Allen Lazard was being talked about as the #2 WR in Green Bay. He had one or two decent games last year, mostly when he had a TD and some long gainers, as the targets were not really consistent. Marquez Valdes-Scantling was a bigger part of the team earlier in the season, and word is he is pushing or passing Lazard for the #2 WR spot in camp this year. I am not expecting big volume for either guy here, but I do like MVS as a flyer in Week 1. Many may not even realize he is in line for as many or more snaps than Lazard. He’s very cheap around the industry too.
I was excited for Jace Sternberger to make an impact here, but Covid setbacks have him on the outside looking in right now. Robert Tonyan is scheduled to start with Mercedes Lewis also in the mix. I would not be shocked to see all of these guys get some playing time here, and that’s a killer for fantasy production. You can chance this if you want, but the TE position has too many pieces and too many questions for me to really feel confident playing any of them. The TEs on this team led by Jimmy Graham averaged a combined 6+ targets per game last year. Graham had under four with guys like Lewis and Tonyan each a shade over one. I see that being the case here too, as those three tight ends mentioned are likely fighting for maybe 5-7 targets with no one seeing more than four.
Top Plays: Aaron Jones, Davante Adams
GPP Only: Aaron Rodgers, Jamal Williams, Packers D
Deep Flyer: Marquez Valdes-Scantling
The Vikings offense was solid, ranking 10th DVOA last season. They are weaker in personnel with the trade of Stefon Diggs, who was their top receiver last year. This offense relied heavily on the run game and efficiency from their quarterback in 2019. We should expect more of the same in 2020. I am a little concerned here though. The Packers were solid defensively, finishing slightly ahead of an average defense at 15th overall DVOA. They have a huge advantage on the pass rush side, which would be terrible for the Vikings if they fall behind. Minnesota’s best bet to win this game is to rely on the run, as that is where they have the advantage here. The Packers held the Vikings to just 10 and 16 points in the two meetings last season, although Dalvin Cook was injured and missed the second game.
Kirk Cousins is an above-average NFL quarterback. He’s not an elite-level guy like his contract suggests, but he’s efficient and productive as a bit of a game manager. That sounds like a dirty word, but it really isn’t. Cousins was the sixth-highest rated QB by PFF last year, despite that game manager tag. Due to the nature of this offense, you will not see many huge games from Cousins. He did have a pair of 30+ point showings, but for the most part, he was around 20 points or below most games last season. He’s a better solid real-life QB than one we love for fantasy production, and this Packers pass defense can create a ton of pressure. They allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to QBs in 2019, so this is not the spot to go heavy on Cousins.
Dalvin Cook was an absolute monster last season. He had 14 straight games with at least 13 PPR points, accumulating 20+ touches in all but three of them before the injury. After sitting out a week the last couple games of the year, he bounced back with a monster showing, touching the ball 31 times and racking up 130 total yards and two touchdowns to help the Vikings upset the Saints in the playoffs. Cook averaged 21 fantasy points on the year and scored 27 or more in half his games, including 31 against the Packers in Week 2 (PPR). He routinely saw 20 carries and added a handful of targets while racking up yards on the ground and through the air. He had 15 rushing touchdowns in 16 games and was the key to this offense. The Packers were very tough on the pass last year but did allow the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing RBs. Game script may turn against him eventually here, but Cook is a key piece of the passing attack and the Vikings have targets available with Diggs shipped out of town. He’s as safe as can be with high upside. You have to like him here.
Alexander Mattison is a nice compliment but will not get enough touches unless Cook goes down. We will cross that bridge at some point this season, as Cook does have a negative injury history, but when he’s healthy, he is a true workhorse who leaves little for secondary pieces.
Adam Thielen struggled with injuries in 2019 and saw just over 500 snaps. He did grade out well despite missing time, although he graded out elite in 2018 and did see a drop. He was PFFs 24th ranked WR last year, but that was down from #7 overall in 2018. With Diggs out of the picture, he should step back into that coveted #1 option role. GB was stingy against WRs in 2019, even if a lot of that was because of the pressure caused by that defensive line. Theilen did have a couple big games in 2019, but he averaged just over 3.5 catches on just over five targets. This is a run-first offense that is lower volume. At best, he’s a GPP type play.
One final note on the WR group here. The Vikings traded away Diggs and then used a first-round pick on Justin Jefferson. Ultimately, I think Jefferson ends up seeing more snaps, but right now, he’s listed behind Olabisi Johnson. Johnson filled in admirably for Thielen last year when he went down but was barely a part of the offense. He routinely saw just 2-3 targets, and even when he caught them, it’s tough to produce with so little of an opportunity. He is ahead of Jefferson on the depth chart if you want to take the flyer on him, but it’s high risk and low reward even if it works out.
The Vikings ran a lot of two TE sets last year, which is why you see Kyle Rudolph with nearly 80% of snaps and Irv Smith with around 60%. The only way that happens is if both are on the field together. Both guys saw about 50 targets with Rudolph only having slightly more looks and catches than Smith. Rudolph had the much bigger fantasy production due to the high number of touchdowns he caught with seven. I like both guys, and both are cheap and likely to see 3-5 targets each. I side with Rudolph based on the TD equity, but both are at least on the radar this week.
Top Plays: Dalvin Cook
GPP Only: Adam Thielen
Deep Flyer: Kyle Rudolph
Vegas: Colts -8, 44.5 Total
Indy finished 19th in 2019, slightly below the average NFL offense in DVOA rankings. The offensive line was absolutely outstanding, so that was not their fault. The drawback was weak quarterback play and a limited number of NFL weapons on the outside. Jacoby Brissett was 32nd of 37 ranked quarterbacks in 2019. That is why the Colts decided to bring in Philip Rivers, who was at least middle of the pack at 17th behind an absolute garbage offensive line in LA. No skill position players really scored off the charts for the Colts, but they had a slew of guys who were solid. They added some help at RB and WR in the draft to go along with Rivers, so they look stronger on paper to start this season. The good news here is they face the 29th ranked Jaguars defense, and from all accounts, it does look like the Jags are in full tank mode for 2020. Jacksonville was tougher against the pass last year, but that is not really the headline. They were shredded on the ground, allowing the second-most fantasy points to opposing RBs. The Colts have one of the best offensive lines in football with two solid running backs behind it. Guess how the game plan is going to read for them in Week 1?
Philip Rivers is an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett, even at this stage of his career. He may even be a massive upgrade, as we have not seen what he can do with some real solid protection in a long time. Rivers is not going to have to carry the offense here for the Colts. They just need him to be slightly more productive on third down and maybe lead a comeback or two if they fall behind. Those are things Jacoby Brissett proved unable to do, and he still won a lot of games here in Indy. The Colts are big favorites here, and the advantage is on the ground, so I wouldn’t be shocked if the Colts throw it very little. Therefore I’m not super high on the prospects for any pieces of this passing game.
Marlon Mack ran for 1000+ yards and over four yards per carry last year. Those are not bad numbers at all. He even had a couple big games, although he saw massive carry numbers of 20+, which is unlikely to happen here. The good news for the running game is it should be heavily featured here. They are a big favorite that should play with the lead, and they are likely to run a lot against a poor run defense behind their top tier offensive line. Mack is scheduled to be the main option, but he’s not likely to sniff 20+ carries at all this year with top draft pick Jonathon Taylor also in the mix. If you could play the Colts team fantasy running back as one entity, I would be all over them here. We could see 30+ carries in this game out of them and a handful of targets, as well. The main problem I have with all of this is they have three guys who each eat into each other’s production. Mack is likely to get the bulk of the carries here, but that’s probably something like 15-18. Taylor is also likely to see 10-15 carries. Mack has some receiving upside and Taylor has very little, but both guys are likely to lose third-down work to Nyheim Hines. We like RBs in fantasy who get all the positive plays for a team. A guy who could see 15+ carries, grab 3-5 passes and also get goalline touches. The Colts may give Mack the bulk of the carries, the bruising Taylor the goalline touches, and Hines the passing game plays. If you split the RB production amongst three guys, none of them have multiple avenues to upside. I fully expect the Colts running game to dominate the day here but worry that spreading the production around limits the upside for all three.
The Colts have talent but a lot of question marks with this receiving core. TY Hilton is clearly the #1 option here. He is said to be fully healthy after missing some preseason time, so that is obviously great to hear. If anyone is going to have a big game for the Colts this season, it is likely to be TY. He played just 10 games last year, fighting injuries and bad quarterback play to still finish as a top 30 WR on a down year. He’s finished higher and been better in years past. He’s the only vet amongst a room full of young guys in Indy and should continue to dominate snaps, targets, and production as long as he stays healthy. I do not hate him here, but it doesn’t project to be a massive upside spot for him.
Behind TY, you have some interesting options. Zach Pascal actually graded out fairly well in 2019 when he was called into duty for a beat-up WR group. The spot opposite TY was supposed to be held down by Paris Campbell, but he had trouble staying healthy. This year, Campbell is back to full speed, and the Colts also added a talented WR in Michael Pittman through the draft. Pittman saw a lot of first-team reps in practice and should be ready to see them in the first game, as well. I can see all three of these guys playing and seeing some work in this game, but they are on a team with a highly targeted RB in Hines, a highly targeted TE in Doyle, and a #1 WR in Hilton likely to see work ahead of them. They project for a low volume of passes in this game anyway, and with all those guys to chew them up, I’m not sure we see more than three catches from any of these secondary WR options. If I had to choose one as a flyer, give me Pittman, but it’s no slam dunk. He does anything but disappoint here in his debut.
Jack Doyle saw 75% of the snaps last year. He saw 4.5 targets per game on average as well, despite having other TEs like Ebron and Cox get snaps and looks as well. Ebron has moved on to Pittsburgh, but the Colts did bring in Trey Burton. They also like to use two TE sets often, so you will have more than 100% on the snap count for this group, as we saw last season. The good news for Doyle lovers is Burton is likely out for a few weeks, meaning Doyle could see even more targets. Mo Alie-Cox likely gets more run, but he’s a blocking TE that played 30% of snaps last year and saw like one target per game at most. Ebron saw a little over three targets per game on average, but the interesting thing was when he was out for a few weeks. Doyle had an 11 target game and six the following week without Ebron in the middle of last season. Without Burton, we may see Doyle get near his max in targets, which translates to around 6-8 here if you add his average of 4.5 to Ebron’s 3.3 from 2019.
Top Plays: None
GPP Only: Marlon Mack, Jonathan Taylor, TY Hilton, Jack Doyle, Colts D
Deep Flyer: Michael Pittman
The Jags offense last season ranked 24th DVOA, and they let their most productive piece walk out the door a few weeks ago when they cut Leonard Fournette. On top of that, they are playing without the guy who was supposed to be the new #1 when Ryquell Armstead was put on the Covid-19 list. The Jags are in full-on tank mode this year, and I’m not expecting much out of this offense at all. The Colts defense was nothing special last season, finishing 19th in DVOA and below that of a standard NFL defense. They did add some help on the back end to bolster the secondary, and a huge addition was made to the defensive line with the trade for DeForest Buckner from San Francisco. He should pay instant dividends for this defense, especially against a soft opponent. It’s going to be a rocky year for the Jags offense.
Nick Foles was replaced by Gardner Minshew, and despite the mustache hysteria and uncle Rico comparisons, Minshew was not really that good in his rookie season. He definitely has the expectation of taking a step forward here, but he ranked just 21st of 37 last year according to the PFF rankings. In 14 games played, he threw for 300 yards only twice and had just four games over 20 fantasy points with 27 his career-high. He was under 20 in 10 of 14 games, and that is just not good enough. Indy was easier to throw on last season, and that is why they addressed some of those problems by bulking up the corners and defensive line to get more pressure. The good news is they should be trailing and forced to throw, so the volume may be there, but I’m not looking for this to be one of the few big games Minshew has in 2020.
So, this turned into a horror show for the Jags and likely will not be a position manned by one person in 2020. Fournette was not super-efficient, but the guy did continue to see massive volume since the day he was drafted by Jacksonville. The Colts have a stout run defense, thanks to elite linebacker play, and that has not changed in 2020. They gave up just the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs last year and are arguably more stout this year.
The one thing I am sure of is Chris Thompson will have a big passing down role. That’s a good thing, given the Jags are likely to be trailing in this game and playing from behind. On FanDuel, you can’t really play Thompson, but on DraftKings, he is viable. He is only $4000 and the full PPR nature over there gives him a nice fantasy points floor. He could even factor into some of the carries as the only veteran who projects to play here. He is probably more of a high floor PPR play than anything else, but we’ve seen him pay off his salary when given the chance plenty of times in Washington over the years with Jay Gruden, his current coach in Jacksonville, calling those plays.
The ground work is likely to fall on either James Robinson or Devine Ozigbo. Robinson seems to have the inside track on the first-team reps and will likely be the starter here. I’m not sure we get much in the way of passing down work, but Fournette did have plenty of 14-15 carry games even when the Jags were trailing. Someone has to step in and take those carries now. Much like the problem we spoke about with Indy, the Jags have too many guys and each has a specific role. If Thompson is going to take the passing down work and Robinson and Ozigbo split the carries, I’m not sure any of them get enough of the pie to justify using. They are all cheap, but if I have to take a shot on any of them, I’m going Thompson and only on DK with the full PPR. The game script and shared carries do not spell upside against this stout defense.
I am not a huge fan of Minshew here, but I do think we can get a game from one of his receivers. Xavier Rhodes was the “Big Addition” to the Colts offseason secondary, and he was hot garbage last season, ranking near the bottom of all graded CBs in 2019. They do have some young talent at CB, but the Jags’ strength on offense is probably this receiving core.
DJ Chark emerged as the main guy here last year, and he had a solid statistical season for a bad passing offense. He caught 73 of the 118 balls thrown his way for over 1000 yards and eight touchdowns. He was slightly behind Chris Conley for snaps last year, but it was like 79% to 78%. Chark saw more targets, made more catches, and had more yards and touchdowns, so he is clearly the #1 option. He had a couple big games and a few very pedestrian ones, so he’s not an elite level WR, but he’s the best one they have and is likely the best matchup against this defense.
Chris Conley will still start, but they have Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, and rookie Laviska Shenault, who are also expected to get some run. Chark is the alpha here, and that means the reps for those secondary options are likely to come from Conley. Dede Westbrook is banged up and reportedly behind all of these other guys on the depth chart, yet is the second priciest WR on the team. If you get a TD from Conley, Shenault, or Cole, they would hit value at the low prices without needing to do much more. They are intriguing cheap WR flyers, but nothing I would use in a core. While I am not high on Minshew, he could end up with a ton of attempts here and that at least gives these guys an opportunity to make a big play or two and pay off the salary with one scoring play.
I was excited about Tyler Eifert here, but he apparently lost the preseason competition to James O’Shaughnessy. My guess is we see a bit of both guys, but that fact alone has me not interested in either of them. This is not where the targets are likely to go, which means at best you are hoping for a TD catch and that’s not a winning strategy.
Top Plays: None
GPP Only: DJ Chark, Chris Thompson
Deep Flyer: Laviska Shenault, Chris Conley
Vegas: Raiders -3, 47.5 Total
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders were 16th DVOA on offense last year, just 0.6% above the baseline average NFL offense. They did make a bunch of moves to upgrade the skill positions this year. They added two WR options in the first three rounds, a veteran TE, another veteran WR, and really did not lose much outside of the injury to Tyrell Williams in camp. The offensive line was solid last year, ending in the middle of the pack overall, but they do have individuals who have graded out well from one side to the other in year’s past. To see them take a step forward is not only reasonable, it is expected. They take on a Carolina defense that ranked 26th last season DVOA. I do not want to put much stock into that though, as the Panthers went crazy on defense in the draft and added tons of guys all over. The defense was not good last year, so I get why the overhaul was needed. It is not out of the question they could be even worse this year with so many young and unproven players being inserted. It’s probably a pretty soft spot for the Raiders here, but maybe these young Panthers surprise us (unlikely).
Derek Carr did not have more than 23 fantasy points in any game last season, so his GPP ceiling was non-existent. Even for cash games, he missed value more often than he hit it. In his defense, the WR core was decimated by injuries at times and just flat out lacking talent at other times. They did add some rookies and some vets who project to be on the field around their standout WR from last year, Hunter Renfrow. Of course, that is partially tongue in cheek, but he is arguably the best returning option they have. If the Raiders win this game, it’s likely to be on the ground. The Carolina secondary is littered with rookies who are burnable by the speedy receivers they added, and Gruden will probably help Carr with a lot of play action to catch the eager youngsters out of position, but I still would not be expecting huge upside from a guy who never showed us any last year.
Josh Jacobs was having a very strong rookie season before injuries stopped him. In 13 games, he had 1150 yards rushing. He did so averaging around 18 carries a game. You can see a clear distinction between his best games when the Raiders had a lead and his sub-par ones where they played from behind. Jacobs routinely saw 20+ carries in the games where the Raiders played with a lead and should continue to do that in 2020. This is one of those games that projects to go that way, so we could see him have one of his better days of the season here.
Jacobs saw just 27 targets in 13 games last year, giving way to Jalen Richard on a lot of passing downs. This is likely going to happen again in 2020, although we do hear rumblings of Jacobs having a bigger passing game role. If it happens, that would be a boost to his already high projections based on the likelihood of a lot of carries here, but it’s not something I will believe until I see it. Richard is not interesting in games where the script projects to be favorable for the Raiders, so stick to Jacobs only.
I have absolutely no idea how the snaps are going to pay out here. Zay Jones saw a ton late in the season after he was traded. Tyrell Williams saw over 70% of snaps to lead the team, but he’s on IR and out for the season. They did bring in Nelson Agholor to go along with rookies Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards. Plus, they return Hunter Renfrow who also saw 40% of snaps, mostly on passing downs, and did produce the best numbers of those returning receivers in 2019. In games when the Raiders had a lead, we saw 20+ carries from Jacobs and under 30 attempts on average from Carr. That does not leave a lot of passes to go around here. Without knowing exactly where any of them go and how any of the snaps and targets play out, at best, you can look here as GPP plays. Henry Ruggs is obviously explosive with that sub 4.3 speed, so he’s a viable flyer based on that. Zay Jones was productive and saw snaps after joining the team at the trade deadline, plus he is super cheap and could end up a nice flyer, as well. Overall though, they target the RB and TEs a decent amount and do not throw the ball a ton. That doesn’t leave a lot to go around.
Darren Waller was a nice late-round steal and low priced and low owned option earlier in 2019. He led the team with 90 catches and 1100 yards, topping double-digit fantasy points in five of the first six weeks and cracking upside of 30+ twice during that stretch. He then had a little bit of a lull midseason, before having a few more big games towards the end. I can only hope the upgraded WR core opens things up a bit for him to work as well.
The team also went out and added Jason Witten. Witten is a shell of his former self, blocking and pass catching, but they need someone who can block. Waller is strictly a pass catching threat, as his blocking grades leave a lot to be desired. He’s basically a glorified WR in a TEs body and was even used as a field stretcher. The Raiders will likely use multiple TE sets more often this year, but you really can not pay me to take Jason Witten even if he sees 40-50% of snaps. Waller is no longer cheap, but the guy is good. You do not catch 90 balls for 1100 yards if you aren’t.
Top Plays: Josh Jacobs
GPP Only: Darren Waller
Deep Flyer: Henry Ruggs, Zay Jones
Despite having the most dynamic player on the offensive side of the football, this team ranked 27th DVOA on offense. They were 14% below your typical baseline NFL team. The QB play had a lot to do with it, as Cam went down and was ultimately released, which opened the door for Teddy Bridgewater to come into town. Bridgewater is not the guy who wins games for you by himself, but he was a steady hand for the Saints when Brees was banged up in 2019. They also added some help at WR with former Jet, Robby Anderson, and moved on from Greg Olsen at TE. The one saving grace for them is this Raiders defense was dreadful in 2019. They ranked 31st DVOA on that side of the ball, and I am not sure they are any better this year. They added a few nice pieces to the defense but overall are still going to need massive improvement out of a host of young guys at multiple positions to even be competent, let alone good. The total here is a tad elevated and maybe this defense is bad enough to make a slightly improved bad offense look good.
Teddy Bridgewater was ranked 19th of 37 starting QBs who qualified in 2019, so that is an improvement over the play they got from the position last year. It is a new team, a new system, and a year without a preseason to work out some of the kinks, so I’m not looking for this to be a smash spot for him. With that said, we do have some intriguing things that could make this a large field GPP home run play. The Raiders’ young defense is not good, the total for this game is slightly higher than many others on this slate, and this Carolina team has weapons galore. While it is not likely, I can envision a scenario where Bridgewater throws for a ton of yards, even if a lot of the damage is done by his skill position players. Sometimes just getting the ball in the hands of playmakers is enough, and guys like Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and Curtis Samuel are all major playmaking threats.
Christian McCaffrey is an absolute monster in DFS. He played 93% of snaps last year and was the main ball carrier, the main pass catcher out of the backfield, and got the goalline touches. That’s the trifecta of what you look for in a back, and it’s a wonder he finished #3 overall in PFF Rankings. C-Mac had only two games under 20 fantasy points all season and averaged an absurd 31 PPR points. He had 403 touches last year with 287 carries and 116 catches. He had 1387 yards rushing and added another 1000+ receiving with 19 total touchdowns. He takes on one of the worst defenses in the league from last year and should have no problem carving them up for another massive fantasy day. If you took away all the passing down work, he was still one of the top rushing threats in the league, and if you took away the rushing work, he’s a pass catcher with 116 receptions and over 1000 yards. I would pay $7000 on DraftKings and $7500 on FanDuel just to get either of those skill sets. Rostering McCaffrey is like rostering a WR1 and an RB1 while only taking up a single roster spot. He’s super expensive, but rightly so, as that production was unmatched in the history of the NFL. He could regress and still justify being the clear #1 option in fantasy football for 2020.
This is a deep, talented, young pass catching group with dynamic upside. DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel were in on over 80% of the snaps in 2019, and that should be the case this year, as well. They added a very good deep field stretcher in Robby Anderson, so the three wide set for the Panthers is as dynamic as you will find on any team in the league.
The QB situation was obviously a problem last year from start to finish, yet DJ Moore emerged as the true #1 on this team with 85 catches for 1,175 yards on 135 targets. He only had four touchdowns too, so the positive regression for more this year is warranted. I have no idea how the new offense will suit him or what his level of trust is with Bridgewater, but he was clearly the most talented pass catching option they had last year.
Curtis Samuel saw over 100 targets as well and played roughly the same number of snaps as DJ Moore, but he had a very low catch rate with just 54 receptions. Again, the QB play was garbage in 2019, so maybe that was a big factor in it. Moore ranked as the #11 overall receiver in 2019, and Samuel was way down at 87th. Robby Anderson actually graded out higher at 61st and may cut into the snaps, targets, and production of Samuel. I expect to see a lot of three wide sets in Carolina, so all three should be on the field together quite a bit, but it will be interesting to see the way the pecking order plays out. You have a very highly targeted RB in C-Mac and are now adding a third WR who will demand some looks, as well. Do the Anderson targets come from McCaffrey or Moore, two highly efficient explosive young guys, or would they be better to come from a guy like Samuel, who had a catch rate barely north of 50% and saw 100+ targets last year?
Moore is a stud and deserves to be the most used of the three. Anderson has that deep ball home run ability against a young secondary, so he is definitely a GPP option for me, as well.
Ian Thomas is slated to take over for Greg Olsen. It would seem you have some targets and yards here to replace, but I’m skeptical they stay at the TE position. Greg Olsen got those looks because he’s Greg Olsen and a proven pass catching threat. Ian Thomas will get some of them but probably not the same volume and not with the same type of results. On top of that, Thomas is also dealing with a toe injury, so he may not be 100% for the opening game. Too many questions for me to feel good about this at all, and if he sits, I want no part of his backups, either.
Top Plays: Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore
GPP Only: Teddy Bridgewater, Robby Anderson
Deep Flyer: None
Vegas: Patriots -6.5, 43 Total
Miami was bad last year. They had the fifth-worst offensive rank, almost 15% below league average. They also really did not do much to get better right away. They lack skill at almost every skill position, although they are better at every position than they were last year, so it’s a step in the right direction. They also added a big piece on the offensive line with Ereck Flowers. That entire line graded out horribly last season, so at least he’s a legit NFL option and a step in the right direction. The offense was pretty much carried by two players who scored well last season in quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and WR DeVante Parker. They take on what was one of the best defenses in the league last year in the New England Patriots, but they played them tough last year. The other thing I want to point out is the Patriots have a lot of turnover coming into this year. A few key pieces of the defense opted out, so they may not be as strong this year right out of the gate. It’s still the Patriots though, and they will be coached up with a good game plan.
Ryan Fitzpatrick ranked 14th of 37 QBs last season, which is pretty good considering he had one of the worst offensive lines in the league and very few quality skill players to work with on the field. He played in 15 games, and in seven of those 15, he had 20+ DK points. Many of those games came towards the end of the season too, as they struggled early on out of the gate. Fitz is cheap here, and remember, he lit the Patriots up for 27 fantasy points to end the 2019 season. I’m not saying he’s a must-play, but he’s really cheap on DK and you can build some fun stacks around him. The Dolphins run blocking is garbage, so I can’t imagine they are going to be successful there, and the Patriots are favored, so they could be forced into a throw heavy game script. Fitz could throw for four touchdowns or four interceptions and neither would surprise me, but he’s cheap and his offense does have slightly more skill and slightly better blocking this year.
The running game was trash in Miami last year, which was part of the reason we saw a lot of Fitzmagic. The two guys they acquired in the offseason are professional running backs. I say that because neither of them is very exciting or likely to put up big numbers. Jordan Howard and Matt Breida will handle the work out of the backfield here. Howard is most likely going to be the pounder between the tackles, while Breida will be the change of pace and third down type back. My guess is Howard gets the goalline touches, so you may have a little bit of value from that. I doubt either guy puts up a monster game here, and Howard could even get a TD and still miss value for lack of other stats. This is not likely to be the way Miami wins this game, so I’m more interested in the passing attack.
DeVante Parker finally lived up to the hype last season, and he was very good for fantasy purposes. He finished 18th of 122 qualified WRs in the PFF rankings. He averaged eight targets per game, which put him in the top 25 in the NFL. He had 72 catches for 1200+ yards and nine touchdowns. He had 20+ fantasy points in five of the last seven games, and after being held catchless the first time he faced the Patriots, he reeled off double-digit PPR points every game but one from Week 4 on. In six of the last eight games, he saw double-digit targets and he became the #1 option for Fitz and this passing attack. With that being said, he is likely to draw Stephen Gilmore shadow in this game and Gilmore is one of the best in the business. He was blanked in the first meeting between these two teams, so this is a very risky play.
Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns both opted out, which thins out the remaining WR options the Dolphins have. Preston Williams is a guy who showed flashes before being injured last year and is a name being talked about a lot in camp. Williams could slide into a 90% snap share eventually this season, but the Dolphins may limit him early on, as he rounds into shape from missing a lot of time. Behind him, they have guys like Isiah Ford and Jakeem Grant. Without Hurns and Wilson, a lot of snaps, targets, and production are available for whoever wants to get some of it. Williams is cheaper and has the much softer matchup with Gilmore likely to shadow Parker.
Mike Gesicki started to figure things out a bit late last season. He had a sub-par rookie season after being highly drafted and then started last year, doing much of the same through 8 weeks. Something happened in Week 9 though, as he started playing better and producing like many thought he would, coming out of Penn State. He caught 6-of-6 for 95 yards against the Jets and had his first double-digit fantasy game of the season. Then, he had a couple down games before catching a touchdown in each of the next two games and finishing with double-digit fantasy points for the second and third time in the season. He finished the year off with his season-high of 20+ and followed that up against this Patriots team with 4/34/1. He is not elite, but he’s pretty cheap all around and was consistently seeing 7+ targets per game on average over the last two months of the 2019 season.
Top Plays: None
GPP Only: Ryan Fitzpatrick, DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, Mike Gesicki
Deep Flyer: Jordan Howard
New England Patriots
I am so excited to see how this plays out. Is it the system, or was it Tom Brady all those years? This is a rather underwhelming set of skill players, yet we can say that most years. I know the defense was elite last year, but the offense was serviceable too. They ranked 11th DVOA, which had them as an above baseline average NFL offense. The Miami team they face was dead last in defense DVOA last year. They should be better this year, but I doubt it’s going to turn into a top tier defense overnight. You really can not ask for a better opening test here, especially as they break in a new quarterback.
Cam Newton couldn’t run and was inaccurate throwing last season before eventually being shut down. Word out of camp is he looks a lot more athletic than the last time we saw him. Brady was not athletic, but he was very accurate and very cerebral, doing a lot of his work before the snap and always making the correct reads and throws. That is not Cam’s game. The Patriots are the smartest guys in the room and have always been willing to adjust the system to fit the personnel. Most projection systems I know are having a hard time grading Cam because the range of potential outcomes is massive here. I’m personally taking a wait and see approach. Brady had a few 20+ point games to start the year in 2019, but from Week 7 on he had just one, as the Patriots let the defense do a lot of the heavy lifting. If Cam drops 30 fantasy points and blows Miami’s shaky defense up, I will tip my hat to those with the balls to play him, but really we have no idea how to know what is going to happen here.
A recent finger injury to Damien Harris really throws a wrench into our expectations here. My guess is Sony Michel takes the lead back role, although the plan was to ease him back slowly. The Patriots have James White, who handles a lot of passing down work, and Rex Burkhead, who is also that same mold of RB. They have a third guy with that same skill set as well in JJ Taylor, who they just added to the active roster. Michel is the only one of those four guys who is a between the tackles type runner though.
Season-long players will understand this adage better than daily guys do, but Patriots RBs are like playing Russian Roulette. One week you see 20+ Sony Michel carries, and the next he plays 20% of snaps as James White catches seven balls. Just when White looks like the play, Rex Burkhead gets a TD and some of those targets. You had White lead them with 42% of snaps last season, but you also had 36% to Michel and 23% to Burkhead. You never actually know where the production is coming from with the Patriots.
Finally, I want to add that part of the problem is the way they split things up. Michel likely gets the goalline work and carries between the 20s. White will get few carries but be the third-down back type. Burkhead will do a little of both. Catches, TDs, and volume are what we like in RBs. When a guy has all three, that is great. No one on the Patriots has more than one of the qualities we look for in a back. It’s tough to back any of them confidently. Michel at least has TD upside, so he’s my choice.
Julian Edelman was the only Patriots wideout to have more than 50% of the snaps last season. He played a team-high 87.2%. Edelman had 103 catches and 1100+ yards last season with the incredibly accurate Tom Brady. Cam Newton did love Greg Olsen in the middle of the field, so hopefully, some of that translates to Edleman working out of the slot. He led the team in targets and catches and has a solid PPR floor.
N’Keal Harry started to get some work late last season. His first game was Week 11, and by the end of the year, he had a couple seven-target games. He was a highly-touted rookie, and he has elite size at 6’4” 225 and athleticism. He is definitely a high ceiling guy who could be a huge red zone threat. I like him more in GPPs for upside than I do Edelman.
The third WR is likely to be Damiere Byrd. He’s a small guy and likely to play on the outside, as Edelman mans the slot in 3 wide sets. His job will be to stretch a defense, and he has blazing speed. Byrd is the kind of guy who gets 2-3 targets a game downfield and could smash his value when he catches one for like 75 yards and a TD. BUT he will also have more games with one catch for 20 yards on those same 2-3 low probability deep targets. That does make him at least a flyer though in GPPs.
The Patriots went out and drafted not one, but two highly rated TEs. Devin Asiasi appeared to have the inside track, taking most of the first-team snaps. He did have an ankle issue that kept him out of practice and saw his fellow rookie Dalton Keene take a lot of those snaps. To compound the confusion, Ryan Izzo is listed as the starter here on depth charts. My guess is we see more of Izzo if the run game is featured and a combination of the two rookies used more as pass catchers. That gives them more fantasy potential, but the jumbled playing time situation is one I want to see worked out before I invest in any of them. Asiasi is the guy who I think emerges as the best of the bunch for fantasy.
Top Plays: Julian Edelman
GPP Only: Cam Newton, Sony Michel, N’Keal Harry
Deep Flyer: Devin Asiasi
Vegas: Bills -6.5, 39.5 Total
New York Jets
As a lifelong fan of the team, I know this stat well. The New York Jets were dead last in the league offensively in 2019. This offense performed more than 25% below the league average offense. Not 25% below the Chiefs or the Ravens, but 25% below the baseline average NFL offense. The offensive line was bottom 5 in the league, although they did bring in a lot of new faces. I’m not sure if those faces are true difference makers though. The bad line held back the running game, mono kept Darnold from playing early in the year, and injuries and lack of talent did not help at the pass catching spots either. To add insult to injury here, they face a Buffalo defense that was seventh DVOA in 2019 about 10% above the baseline NFL defense. It’s been a rough life as a Jets fan, and I don’t see things improving for me this week.
Sam Darnold has never really lived up to the projection. The Jets have not done him any favors with the team they built around him, but he deserves blame as well. He finished 31st of 37 qualifying quarterbacks in 2019; even backup Joe Flacco was ranked better than that. Buffalo gave up the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing QBs last year and have a very good secondary. Nothing about this is positive.
Le’Veon Bell has talent, but all the talent in the world at RB does not matter if the guys blocking for him suck. Last year, they sucked bad. The Jets added bodies on the line but not really proven ones. The good news is Bell had plenty of volume with 245 carries and 66 receptions, but he averaged just 3.2 yards per run. The volume gave him a good enough floor, especially as the price dropped. He did not score enough touchdowns to be relevant often in fantasy though. The offense needs to perform a ton better for him to approach value, and this year, we have another problem to worry about.
Last year, Bell saw nearly 80% of the Jets snaps with Bilal Powell and Ty Montgomery each seeing under 20% of snaps. This year, we throw in Frank Gore. Gore had about 175 carries last year and averaged only 3.6 yards. The two are said to be splitting work in camp with Bell having the larger portion of a roughly 60/40 split. If that’s the case, it means less volume for Bell, which was the one saving grace for him. Gore will see less than he did last year and was not relevant then, so I can’t see either being a good play here. Running on Buffalo is the game plan you would expect to work better, but I’m not confident this line or these backs can get it done.
Jamison Crowder was the highest-rated pass catcher on the Jets in 2019. He’s a very solid short-yardage type guy. People got excited after he caught 14 of 17 targets in Week 1, but the volume dropped back to earth pretty quickly after that. He still had plenty of opportunity though. Even if you back out that 17-target first game, he saw 105 targets in the other 15 games or seven per contest. He had 78 catches for 833 yards and six touchdowns. It was a fine season for a passing offense that was not very good and had some horrendous weeks without their starting QB.
Robby Anderson moved on and is being replaced by Breshad Perriman. Perriman is a deep threat and graded out better than Anderson did last year. Volume is always going to be an issue, but he has that deep threat ability that wins GPPs when he connects. He is not going to be consistent, but you are likely to get a few spike weeks out of him. This is not the secondary I would be expecting to see him do that on, though.
Finally, we have the other WR spot. Anderson saw 90% of the snaps last year, and Perriman should eat up much of that. Crowder played about 80% of snaps, and then the Jets had a couple guys at 30-50% of snaps. They definitely have snaps for WRs to play here. Chris Hogan has emerged as the #3 guy with Denzel Mims struggling to get healthy and up to speed. I’m not expecting that to be the case all season, but we should see a healthy amount of snaps for Hogan in Week 1. DraftKings just added him to the player pool at like $3400. It’s not a good spot at all, but at that price, one big TD catch and he’s a solid cheap option for value.
Chris Herndon is super talented but battled injuries and suspensions that cost him all of 2019. If he can round back into form, he could give the Jets a legit pass catching threat in the middle of the field. I would still expect Ryan Griffin to get some snaps, as well. Griffin actually had one of his best seasons as a pro, which led to his resigning. On a graded scale, it wasn’t really a top-end season for the position, so hopefully, Herndon can get them better production. With that said, Darnold did use Griffin and he put up a couple of fantasy-relevant weeks in 2019. Hopefully, the volume is not split because Herndon is more explosive and could arguably do even more with those targets than Griffin did.
Top Plays: None
GPP Only: Lev Bell, Jamison Crowder
Deep Flyer: Chris Herndon, Chris Hogan
They won a lot of games based on the strength of that defense because the offense ranked just 21st DVOA. They faced a Jets team that was solid and ranked 11th DVOA on defense, but the pieces of the puzzle did not come together. They traded their best D-Lineman and DB and their top LB opted out. They did add a few pieces, but I’m not sure it is going to improve. The Bills may not be the talented team that eventually exploits the Jets defense though.
Josh Allen was 30th of 37 QBs in 2019. They won despite him, not because of him. As a drop-back passer, he leaves a lot to be desired. His saving grace was his ability to run, though. Those rushing yards helped to raise his floor, but the real boost came from his nine rushing touchdowns. Rushing TDs are worth 1.5 times the value of a passing one, so that is how he was able to get his upside when he did. This game has a very low total under 40 points. Even as the favorite, the Bills only project for about 23 points. He will have a game or two where he puts up some big numbers, more likely in a shoot out with a better offense that forces them to keep up. The Jets do not fit that description.
Very intrigued to see the RB situation play itself out. Devin Singletary is talented, but they drafted Zack Moss to handle some of the short-yardage stuff and probably the pounding of late-game running with a lead. Singeltary played about 50% of snaps last year, giving away about 35-40% to Frank Gore and a few more to TJ Yelden. My guess is we see Singletary expend the role a bit and Moss slide into some of those Frank Gore carries. Moss likely gets the goalline work with Singletary being a bigger part of the passing game, so the two main drivers of upside are split between them. Moss is TD dependent, although cheaper. More of the kind of guy who has a big day on FanDuel when he gets multiple TDs. Singletary should be more of a passing game threat, so he’s more likely to pop on DraftKings or when the game script is negative and they are throwing it more. This sets up more for Moss based on projections, but it’s not a high powered offense and both guys will get some touches.
John Brown was sneaky good last season. He finished 32nd of 122 ranked WR options at PFF. For fantasy, he only flashed a ceiling once or twice but was a consistent double-digit scorer in PPR. His biggest games came when he saw massive volume, and with the Bills adding Stefon Diggs, I am not sure he will get that this year. Diggs was great in Minnesota and finished 19th ranked at the WR position from PFF. Even Cole Beasley out of the slot was ranked 36th of 122, so they have one of the better WR trio’s here.
This is a low volume passing attack, so the real upside is going to be from the TD equity. Diggs is my favorite to get that, as he can take the top off a defense and will likely catch a long one or two on a scrabble play from Allen this season. He has the GPP winning ceiling that we really only saw maybe once or twice from Brown last year.
Beasley relies on volume, and the game script does not point to that being the case here, so I’m not touching him this week.
Last year, Dawson Knox emerged as the main TE for this team, but the numbers were nothing special. They added Tyler Kroft as well and have a blocking TE in Lee Smith. Short of a TD catch, none of these guys are going to be relevant, and even if they get that TD, the volume may be so low they still do not justify the price.
Top Plays: Buffalo D
GPP Only: Stefon Diggs
Deep Flyer: Zack Moss
Vegas: Eagles -5.5, 42.5 Total
Carson Wentz is a solid quarterback with a high floor, but he does lack upside. His two best games were topped out at 28 fantasy points last year, and they came against the dreadful Miami defense and this Washington defense in the opening week of the season. Washington ranked 27th DVOA on that side of the ball last year, although they did add some pieces in the offseason. Philly finished 14th DVOA offensively, just slightly above a baseline NFL offense. They are favored and projected to score about 24 points here. The Eagles are dealing with a rash of injuries already too, so I’m not expecting this Eagles offense to fly high out of the gate.
Carson Wentz is a solid cash game option at QB. He lacks upside to win you a GPP, but he had a lot of useful games for fantasy. He averaged 25 fantasy points with 580 yards and six touchdowns in two games against Washington in 2019, so this was one of his better matchups. The boys from our nation’s capital allowed fantasy points freely to every position on the field. Qbs had the 10th most, RBs 4th, WRs 16th, and TEs were 2nd. That last stat is a big deal, as we should see a lot of Ertz and Goedert in two TE sets with the WR corp so banged up. I like Wentz, just more for cash games.
Miles Sanders had a big end to the 2019 season and looked primed for a huge expanded role in 2020. The problem is he is not practicing and even if he plays it may be on a snap count. He is a dynamic back. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and is a solid runner. He already led the team with 53% of snaps last year and should lead them again, although maybe not in Week 1.
If Sanders is limited as expected, look for Boston Scott to take a bigger role. He played just 16% of the snaps last year, but the 23% Jordan Howard played are now up for grabs. Even if Sanders handles the same half of the snaps he saw last year, we could still get 40% out of Scott. Scott was solid, averaging four yards per carry on his 67 chances last season. I was more impressed with his receiving ability, as he caught 27 of 29 passes for over eight yards per reception. He’s a discount to Sanders in terms of price as well, so keep an eye out for that injury information. Corey Clement may also factor in, but I would expect him to see a much smaller snap share if Sanders plays at all. If Sanders is out, then we can revisit him.
Alshon Jeffrey has not been practicing, although he did avoid the PUP list. I would not expect him to play, and if he does, I would not expect him to play a lot. Rookie Jalen Reager also is limited in practice with a shoulder injury and in jeopardy of not playing.
One guy who is active will be DeSean Jackson. He played in just three games last year, but one of them was an eight catch, 154 yard, two-touchdown performance against his former team and current opponent in Week 1 of 2019. D-Jax has long been a boom or bust fantasy option. He still has that blazing speed, and with the WR corp so banged up, he is the defacto #1. I never play him in cash, and I would not go all in, but that game he had in 2019 is no fluke. D-Jax does that a few times a year, although his down weeks can be very low scoring.
The Eagles will use JJ Artega-Whiteside and Greg Ward as the other two main receivers in this first game if Reager and Alshon are not able to go. JJAW did nothing with his opportunities in a banged-up WR group last year, so I’m not expecting that to change. Greg Ward was actually better in small doses, especially working out of the slot, so I would rather take the flyer on him.
Not only do the Eagles have one viable TE in Zach Ertz, but they actually have two with Dallas Goedert, as well. Ertz is a no brainer top tight end option in the NFL. He saw almost 140 targets last year in 16 games. That’s just shy of nine per game and a top 20 overall target number in the entire NFL for any position. He had 90 catches for 960 yards and six touchdowns. That was actually not even a great year for him. He’s still in that small elite tier of TE options and is always in play.
Dallas Goedert had a slow start to the season, but as the WR injuries piled up, the two TE sets started to get used more often and all of a sudden Goedert was putting up double-digit PPR points on a weekly basis. This week, the main problem for the Eagles is the WR depth looks shallow, so that would point to more of the two TE sets also being deployed here. Over the last eight games of the season when the WR depth was thin, Goedert saw 6+ targets each game and averaged just shy of eight targets himself. The Eagles threw 15-20 passes per game at their tight ends to end the season. That kind of volume is how they are able to support two guys at the position. Ertz played 80% of snaps and Goedert was in for 66% of them, and those numbers are skewed down by some early season formations that were not two TE heavy.
Top Plays: Carson Wentz, Zach Ertz
GPP Only: Dallas Goedert, DeSean Jackson
Deep Flyer: Boston Scott (If Sanders is limited or out)
Washington Football Team
They ranked 30th DVOA on the offensive side of the ball and now are without Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice. They had only one player on the entire offense who graded out well at all in Terry McLaurin. This is a young group with a second-year QB, a couple first and second-year options at RB, a second-year #1 WR and a few other young additions with a couple discarded veterans looking for a second chance to round out the roster. The Eagles defense was slightly above average, ranking 12th DVOA in 2019. It is not an elite group, but they may look elite against this poor offense.
Dwayne Haskins was a rookie, and it was only nine starts with a lack of skill position talent and a bad offensive line, but I do not even have any positives to really point to here. He did finish ranked 23rd of 37 qualifiers at the QB position and should improve in his sophomore season, but it is a very low bar for which he starts. He attempted over 30 passes only once, threw for over 200 yards only once, and was pretty inaccurate much of the rest of the time. They tried to lean on the running game last year, but now enter this season without Adrian Peterson (42% snaps), Chris Thompson (33% snaps) and Derrius Guice (10%) of snaps.
The late release of Adrian Peterson now creates a mess in the Football Teams backfield (They really need a nickname). Peyton Barber is expected to handle the first couple snaps, but you will see JD McKissic, Bryce Love, and Antonio Gibson all see some touches too. Remember, 90% of the snaps handled last season were by guys no longer here to take them.
The Eagles front seven is the strength of this defense. Last year, they were a team that bottled up running backs and forced teams to beat them through the air. They gave up just the 26th most points to the RB position out of 32 teams. When you factor the matchup with the large group of guys expected to split carries, it doesn’t project to be a good spot for any of them.
If you forced me to pick one, I’ll go with Gibson who may also see some WR work or some screen passes to get the ball in his hands.
Terry McLaurin totally outplayed all expectations last year, and they were high after he had a solid camp. He finished #6 overall in PFF WR rankings, the only legit plus player that was on this roster. He saw over 6.5 targets per game in a dreadful offense. He averaged over four catches for about 66 yards and caught seven touchdowns in 14 games. If Haskins can improve his accuracy and the offense is opened up to throw 30+ times more often this year, McLaurin could even take another step forward from a very productive rookie year. The Eagles secondary was hot garbage last year, allowing the third-most fantasy points per game to the WR position. McLaurin caught five of seven passes for 125 and a score in the first matchup, and he caught all five passes thrown at him for 130 and a score in the second game. So, he’s had this Eagles matchup circled on his calendar since the day it was announced.
Washington has quite a few new faces to break in opposite Terry this year. McLaurin played 81% of snaps, but no other receiver saw over 51%. Steven Sims is one of those guys returning who did have some playing time. He was in on about a third of the offensive plays. Sims and Dontrelle Inman are both vying for that other WR spot, and both should have some opportunities. Both guys seem well clear of Antonio Gandy-Golden, the rookie who was expected to push them for playing time. Sims is likely the guy who sees the most time in the slot, but the real question I can not answer is whether he or Inman see more time on the outside. If it is Sims in two wide sets and then Sims in the slot for 11 personnel, he could really take that next step and be a viable low end option. For Week 1, at best you can say he is a flyer against a secondary that has a lot to prove in 2020.
This is a throwaway position until further notice. The word out of camp is that no one even pushed Logan Thomas for the starters spot. Maybe I am too down on Thomas, but he has never shown us anything to even give a glimmer of hope we are wrong about him. If he does, I’ll tip my hat, but I won’t be using him anywhere.
Top Plays: Terry McLaurin
GPP Only: Antonio Gibson
Deep Flyer: Steven Sims
Vegas: Seahawks -1.5, 49.5 Total
It was not always pretty, but the Seahawks did end up #5 DVOA offensively last year, 17% better than your league-average offense. It was a heavy dose of the run game again, but they did flash some brilliance through the air, as well. Most of the offensive line was well below average, nothing new for Russ Wilson. The skill position players did a tremendous job though, as Wilson was the #1 ranked QB, Chris Carson was #9 at RB, Tyler Lockett ranked #13 at WR, and his new teammate DK Metcalf was also a respectable 38th. They are arguably better this year with additional talents like Carlos Hyde, Greg Olsen, and Josh Gordon entering the mix. They face an Atlanta team that QBs picked apart with equal distribution to all the playmakers last year. Giving Russ Wilson a weak defense to pick on in a high total game seems like a good spot to target for fantasy production.
Russ was the #1 ranked QB in 2019 according to PFF. He threw for 4,700 yards in 18 games and had another 450 with his legs, accounting for 33 passing and three rushing touchdowns. He had a very efficient game last year against the Falcons, going 14/20 for 180 yards and 2 TDs. It was a very low volume game they led throughout with Carson doing much of the damage on 20 carries. Wilson was able to pass when needed, but he was not needed in that one. Hopefully, the Falcons can put up more of a fight and more points here to force Russ to keep his foot on the gas.
Chris Carson is a volume guy. He played in 15 games last year and saw 20 or more carries in eight of them. The word was he was going to be more involved in the passing game too, but after seeing seven targets in Week 1, he never had more than four in any other game. He does his best work when the Seahawks play with a lead and is very effective, averaging 4.4 yards per carry and rushing for nearly 1,300 yards. He played on 65% of snaps last year with guys like CJ Prosise and Rashad Penny seeing the rest of the work.
This year, they added a solid veteran back in Carlos Hyde to take some of the pressure off of him. I would still expect to see Carson on about two-thirds of the snaps like last year, but he does have some help. Carson was more a high floor guy than a ceiling guy, but he can rip off 100 yards and a couple TDs to give you upside occasionally too. Hyde is more an insurance policy here and maybe a change of pace guy, so I would not worry about it too much.
Tyler Lockett saw seven targets a game last year and did a lot with his chances. He ended up with 95 catches or over five per game. He averaged just shy of 70 yards per contest and did catch nine touchdowns in 18 games. He was in the slot for about 70% of his snaps last year, playing a team high 89% of the WR snaps on offense. He caught six balls for 100 yards against the Falcons last year when the two teams met up on just 20 overall passing attempts for Wilson. That was a 30% target share for over 16.5 yards per reception. He’s definitely in play again here.
DK Metcalf also played over 80% of the snaps for the Seahawks last year. He saw over six targets per game, catching about four per contest. He finished with 11 yards too, over 62 yards per game with eight touchdowns of his own. That’s some very solid volume for a #2 WR and a very solid TD rate, as well. Metcalf was more volatile than Lockett but had a couple big 100+ yard and 30+ fantasy points games during the season, so his upside is legit, even if it’s only seen sporadically.
The third WR for the Seahawks is interesting. Josh Gordon was reinstated, but it happened so recently I am not sure we see much, if any, of him in Week 1. Guys like David Moore and Philip Dorsett are in line for the WR snaps when they use a third guy for now, but none of them are interesting to me in Week 1.
The Seahawks used quite a few tight ends last year with Will Dissly playing well before being injured and Patriots cast off Jacob Hollister finishing out the season with some solid production, as well. Those two accounted for nearly 70% of the offensive snaps, most of which I assume go to the newly acquired Greg Olsen. They combined for 71 catches, over 770 yards, and seven touchdowns. The TE is a position Russ Wilson utilized a bit last year, and if that production is consolidated into Greg Olsen alone, he could be in for a big year. He will probably be touchdown-dependent, but that’s a lot of TD equity that went the way of the Seattle TEs last year and Olsen is a more accomplished route runner and receiver than those guys were.
Top Plays: Russ Wilson, Chris Carson, Tyler Lockett
GPP Only: DK Metcalf
Deep Flyer: Greg Olsen
The Falcons offense ranked middle of the pack at 15th DVOA, slightly ahead of your league average baseline. They added Todd Gurley at RB and swapped Austin Hooper for Hayden Hurst at TE. They return the trio of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley. Julio was the #2 overall receiver, and Ridley was top 30 as well, giving the Falcons one of the most talented 1-2 punches in the league and a solid QB in Matt Ryan throwing them the ball. The Seahawks did not have a stout defense in 2019, ranking 21st overall, below your league-average defense. They tried to make some changes in the offseason, including the addition of Jamal Adams, who anchored the back of a surprisingly stout Jets defense last season. The Seahawks do have some holes on that defense, and it was already a weak unit from last year, so I would expect a middle-of-the-road kind of performance from them in 2020. It’s honestly not the worst spot for the Falcons offense to put something together either. The Seahawks were middle of the league in terms of fantasy points allowed to almost every position. The TE position being the one exception where they were crushed, giving up the fourth-most fantasy points. Jamal Adams alone is going to erase that advantage and bring them back to the pack; maybe even make them a plus defense vs. the position, so I’m not looking to exploit that former weakness anymore.
Matt Ryan had some high highs and some low lows in 2019. He played in 15 games and averaged 297 yards passing per game. He threw for 300+ in 11 of the 15 games he played. His TD number of 26 felt a bit low for the success they did have throwing the ball, but the high 14 interceptions may have something to do with that also. Austin Hooper had a ton of targets and catches for this offense last year, and he left for Cleveland. They signed Hayden Hurst from Baltimore, and he should slot into a lot of that production. The addition of Todd Gurley is a move that may or may not work out well, but at the very least, he’s a capable pass catching threat that gives Ryan another weapon. The Falcons are a home dog here against a suspect defense, and the path to victory for them is likely through the air against a weakened pass rush and secondary that was not great last year, to begin with. Matty Ice has upside and is definitely in play here.
I have no idea what to expect from Todd Gurley. I do not think we will ever see him at the peak he was a few years ago, but he can still be productive. He had over 250 touches and over 1000 total yards last year with a massive 14 touchdowns to help keep his fantasy production relatively high. His ceiling type games were gone, but he did rip off a couple 20+ point efforts, mostly on the back of those touchdowns. Atlanta is also a high scoring offense like he played for in LA in year’s past, so the TD numbers could remain elevated, but that is not a stat you want to count on, year after year. If anything, I would expect that to regress downward, meaning he needs to be more productive with his touches or get a lot more passing-down work to remain a top-end performer. I like Gurley but am not playing him with other options in that price range way more appealing on this slate.
Julio Jones finished as the #2 ranked WR by PFF in 2019. He saw over 150 targets in 15 games for 10+ per game on average and caught 99 balls for almost 1,400 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged just shy of 20 PPR points on the year. He had 10 catches for 150+ yards against Seattle last year, so he can absolutely toast this secondary for a monster game. He had 4 TDs through three weeks to start the year and caught two more in Week 15 against SF to give him his six on the year. He had a bunch of high target games and a ton of yards in between, but the TD regression has to come eventually for a guy putting up these types of catch and yardage totals. Julio is an absolute stud and in play every week no matter the matchup.
Calvin Ridley benefits from the main coverage being on Julio. He is a lot like DK Metcalf for the Seahawks. He had a lot of solid games last year and a couple of big ones where he went off. His best days have GPP winning upside, but he more often plays a solid yet unspectacular #2 WR role. The Seahawks did go out and make some moves in the secondary, so I’m interested to see if they improved from last year. If not, expect Julio and/or Ridley to feast.
I assume Russell Gage will be ready to go as the #3 WR after being in practice on a limited basis recently. He saw 44% of snaps last year as that WR3, behind only Julio and Ridley, who were in the high 60 – low 70% range. Remember, they traded Sanu to the Patriots mid-year and he played 30% of snaps before that happened, meaning the Gage numbers post-trade were closer to 60%. I am not high on him as more than a flyer, and even then, he’s at best the fourth or fifth option on any given play.
Austin Hooper averaged six catches for 60 yards on 7.5 targets for the Falcons in 2019. He also had six touchdowns in 13 games. It was awesome production from the position. He played over 60% of snaps with Luke Stocker getting about 30%. Stocker was a blocking TE though, so most of the fantasy production was for Hooper.
The replacement they have is Hayden Hurst, a former high draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens. Hurst was in a timeshare with other TE options in Baltimore but managed to carve out a nice season in limited snaps. He finished as the #12 overall TE according to PFF. In Atlanta, they should give him more snaps, targets, and production than he ever had in Baltimore. I would not be shocked if he steps up and has a big year in this offense. With the outside receivers being so talented and demanding coverage, he should have plenty of room to operate over the middle, as Hooper did in 2019.
Top Plays: Julio Jones, Matt Ryan
GPP Only: Calvin Ridley, Todd Gurley
Deep Flyer: Hayden Hurst
Vegas: Chargers -3.5, 43.5 Total
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers were pretty solid offensively last year, finishing 12th DVOA on that side of the ball. Of course, this team let go of long time starters Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon, so things will be very different in 2020. Former Buffalo starter Tyrod Taylor gets recycled to start the year as the QB for the Chargers, and Austin Ekeler earns a promotion to full-time starter after filling in for Gordon and outplaying him much of last year. The line is shaky but probably better than it was last year. They have talent, but we need to see how the offense changes with Tyrod instead of Rivers under center. They get a soft spot here, as the Bengals were the 30th DVOA ranked defense in 2019. The Bengals gave up the seventh-most fantasy points to QBs, fifth-most to RBS, and were middle of the pack against WR and TEs, as well.
What to expect from Tyrod Taylor? Phillip Rivers averaged 37 pass attempts last year for this Chargers team. Tyrod has never attempted over 30. Now, Tyrod can make plays with his legs, something you never saw Rivers do. That at least gives Tyrod a bit of a higher floor, as those rushing yards and TDs are worth more than passing yards and TDs. It might be good for his production, but the fewer passes are not positive for the rest of this team. This team has weapons everywhere in the passing game too. Austin Ekeler graded out as one of the best pass catching backs in football last year. Keenan Allen ranked 15, Mike Williams was 33 at WR, and even in a short season due to injuries, Hunter Henry was ranked 11th at TE. Throwing the ball less in today’s NFL with those kinds of weapons seems like a huge step in the wrong direction.
Austin Ekeler took over for Melvin Gordon when he held out and was awesome. He had seven games of 20 or more fantasy points, including five of the first seven when Gordon was stuck holding out. What has me most excited is the number of touches he saw in those games. 18, 23, 16, 23, and 18 touches per game to start the season, with almost a this of those being more valuable passing down touches as you get a higher yard per play on those and a full or half point for the reception too. Ekeler had only three rushing TDs, but he had eight through the air. The receiving touchdowns are likely to regress, but so are the rushing touchdowns. If they meet in the middle, he’s a projected 0.75 TD per game guy. He showed us what he can do early last season with a lead back role and he drew a defense that was horrendous last season to show off. I’m a little worried the catches will be down here, but I’m still expecting him to see 16-20 touches.
Justin Jackson is the other guy likely to have a big role here. They said that last year Ekeler took the big piece and left him the crumbs. I think Ekeler can still do that and Jackson also gets a few more touches as we expect the Chargers to be more run heavy this year. I worry Jackson could end up the goalline back but still think they had a lot of success throwing it to Ekeler to get in the end zone last year and can probably do more of that type of stuff with a more athletic quarterback in Tyrod.
Mike Williams is likely out for the start of the season, and that is a big blow. The depth at WR here is thin, so this will be a huge downgrade. He’s listed as questionable, but other reports said he could miss 2-4 weeks, so I’m not expecting him to be near 100% even if he tries to play.
The good news is they still have Keenan Allen. Allen played in all 16 games, averaging 6.5 catches on nine targets for 75 yards in 2019. My guess is the whole team sees a 25% reduction in passing attempts, but that still gives Keenan about seven targets per game. He had 6 TDs in 2019, and that is when you get the best returns from him. He’s always going to make catches and back up some yards, but when you can add the touchdowns, you get the upside. When he scored a TD, you got your 18+ fantasy points from him every time. When he did not score a TD, you got your 12-14ish. I actually do not love this week for Keenan though. No Mike Williams might help keep the targets high, but I can’t make a case for liking him more with Tyrod than I did with Rivers and he didn’t have the ceiling or access it enough for me to like him even with Rivers slinging it.
If Williams can not go, I’m honestly not sure what the Chargers do here. You have KJ Hill, Jason Moore, and Joe Reed as options. Reed is kind of a swiss army knife guy who can run a little, play some WR, and return punts and kicks. He’s dynamic. Moore has also been spoken of as a field stretcher type. Hill is a guy they tacked up a few days ago as #3 on the depth chart, but word is changing about who will see more snaps daily. Honestly, whoever plays if Williams is out is option #4 behind Ekeler, Allen and Hunter in an offense that is likely to see a 25% reduction in targets anyway. At best, you are hoping for 3-4 targets and one of them to be a long bomb touchdown from any of these guys, and that’s a low probability play even at cheap prices.
Hunter Henry, when healthy, has been one of the most productive TE options for fantasy. In 12 games last year, he averaged 4.5 catches on six targets for 54 yards and scored five touchdowns. No Mike Williams actually helps him, as more targets could funnel his way, in and out of the red zone. Henry gives you a highly targeted TE who has the athletic ability to do things after the catch and also comes with TD equity in the red zone. Again, the whole team probably loses some upside with the projected lower total pass attempts, but these guys are all highly efficient options and having this much to worry about for a defensive coordinator makes life easier for all of them.
Top Plays: Austin Ekeler, Chargers D
GPP Only: Hunter Henry
Deep Flyer: None
The 2-14 Bengals had the fourth-worst offense last year, and it was bad enough for them to bag the big prize. No. 1 overall pick, Joe Burrow is going to be handed the keys from day one with the Bengals moving on from Andy Dalton. He probably had a better line at LSU than he does here in Cincy, so it will be interesting to see how that affects his development. A bad offensive line against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram with the stud secondary featuring Chris Harris and Casey Hayward is probably not the softest spot for a QB to make his debut (avoids Derwin James due to knee surgery). The Chargers were so stingy to QBs last year that they put up just the sixth-most fantasy points against them.
The Chargers are much easier to attack on the ground than they are through the air. They allowed the 12th most fantasy points to RBs and bottom 25% production to every other position. That bodes well for Joe Mixon here. Mixon ranked 16th for RBs last season. From Week 10 on, he had no less than 15 carries per game the rest of the way and rewarded the coaching staff with multiple 100-yard games and an uptick in touchdowns. I know everyone is anxious to see Burrow, but the Bengals would be smart to give the Chargers a heavy dose of Mixon if they want to stay in this game.
Gio Bernard remains the lightning to Mixon’s thunder. Mixon was not a big piece of the passing game, so when the Bengals fall behind, you tend to see more Gio. He had one of his worst seasons in 2019, but he’s always been an above-average change of pace guy. I’m not super high on him this week though.
The depth at the WR position for the Bengals could be insane. AJ Green looks ready to come back to the NFL after battling injuries for the better part of the last two years. He was a top 5 WR in football, and if he returns to anything close to that, it is going to be a huge addition to this offense.
Tyler Boyd had a very good year without Green. He drew a lot of attention and could find even more room to operate and softer matchups if Green is drawing #1 coverage again.
Then you have former high draft pick and speedster, John Ross, highly drafted Tee Higgins from the past draft, and a surprisingly solid Auden Tate, who finished with a respectable grade of 50th of 122 WR that qualified in 2019 filling in for the injured Green.
This pass rush is elite, and so is the secondary, which is why they did not allow a lot of production to WRs last year. With a rookie QB, I’m not expecting this to work out positively for this group of pass catchers. They will have better weeks to target them.
Nothing to really see here. Both TEs expected to see time are more blocker types in CJ Uzomah and Drew Sample.
Top Plays: Joe Mixon
GPP Only: None
Deep Flyer: John Ross
Vegas: 49ers -7, 48.5 Total
The Cardinals ranked 13th DVOA and did put up some points in 2019. They did it in a multitude of ways at different points of the season. The line play was not great but should be improved this year. They were better blocking for the pass than the run, but the scheme did help a bit for production. The real changes are the addition of Kenyon Drake for a full season and DeAndre Hopkins, who was stolen from the Texans for David Johnson. Those moves give this Cardinals offense a lot of skilled weapons to play with in their playbook. They are going to need them, facing a stout San Francisco defense that ranked #2 DVOA in 2019.
Kyler Murray and the air raid offense was not as explosive as advertised in year 1. They averaged just 232 yards passing and produced 20 touchdowns through the air. San Fran did allow more production to QBs and WRs than RBs last year, but it was all bottom of the league kind of production against them. Murray did manage to lead his team to 25 points and 26 points against them last year with a couple of touchdown passes in each game and no interceptions. He did not throw for a ton of yards but did add over 10 with his legs when you add the two games together. He was actually productive in this matchup, so I can’t dismiss him, but I really do not want to pick on this defense.
Kenyon Drake was great after being traded over to Arizona. He had double-digit carries every week from Game 9 on and added an average of four catches to that. He was routinely around 15-25 touches and had a couple hundred-yard games. Regression caught up to him positively at the end of the season, as he closed with 7 TDs in the last three games after scoring only one up to that point in the season. From Week 9 on, he basically played 80%+ of the snaps, and I would expect that to be the case this year, as well. Drake has a tough matchup, but he also has everything we like to see in a back. He gets the bulk of the carries, a lot of the passing down work, and is the touchdown scorer in the red zone. You play him for the volume and hope he falls on the right side of variance for the matchup.
DeAndre Hopkins is a stud, but he also draws what was arguably the best corner in the league last year in Richard Sherman. Does Sherman shut down Hopkins? No, but he probably does not make life easy on him either. They will move D-Hop around, and I do think he balls out in Arizona, but it’s no easy matchup for the debut. Even if he moves to the slot, the 49ers had one of the best guys there in K’Waun Williams. Again, he won’t shut down Hopkins, but he’ll make life difficult for him.
Last year, Christian Kirk averaged over eight targets per game. Larry Fitzgerald was slightly under seven, and then you had about four each for KeeSean Johnson and Damiere Byrd. The backs saw a few, and you had maybe 1-2 per game go to TEs. If you insert Hopkins at the top of that item pole and give him at least Kirk’s targets from 2019, that means you have to bump down Kirk to Fitz level and maybe Fitz to what Johnson or Byrd saw. I mention this because both Kirk and Fitz had weeks last year where they were useful fantasy options for upside and a lot of solid cash game weeks based on that volume. I would expect Fitz to suffer more than Kirk with volume, but you have to think they both drop down the pecking order a bit. Both were solid fantasy options throughout the year, but Fitz had only one upside game in Week 1 and Kirk had a 20 and 40 point game in his 13 starts with neither guy having any other games above 20 all year. It just underscores the fact the narrative of the air raid offense was not the reality of the Arizona Cardinals last year. These guys were not winning people GPPs left and right, although the 28 from Fitz in Week 1 and the 40 from Kirk in Week 10 against Tampa might have.
Maxx Williams is the TE likely to see the most snaps this year with Charles Clay gone. He is more of a blocking tight end, although that is a bit of an insult, as he can make some plays in the passing game. He just did not and likely will not get a ton of chances to do so in this offense. Even on passing downs, I can see them going four wide with Fitzgerald acting as a defacto TE out of the slot. It is good news for the WRs, as that likely means a few more targets in the pool to spread around between them.
Top Plays: Kenyon Drake
GPP Only: Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins
Deep Flyer: None
San Francisco 49ers
They finished the season ranked #7 DVOA on the offensive side of the ball, about 8% above your baseline team. They graded out insanely well on that side of the ball. Jimmy Garrapolo was the #13 overall ranked QB. They had the top-ranked FB and TE. Raheem Mostert ended up the #6 overall back, and Tevin Coleman was #24. Deebo Samuel ended up at 21 overall for WR. They had talent everywhere on the offensive side of the ball. They do not have great players on the line, but they have a lot of above-average ones who played well together. They are well coached, deep, and versatile. It’s a tough offense to slow down even for the best defenses. Arizona ranked 20th DVOA on that side of the ball, so this was not one of the best defenses. They gave up the most fantasy points in the league to opposing QBs and TEs, with running backs and wide receivers also ending up in the top half against them. This is about as soft a spot as a good 49ers offense could ask for in the opener.
Jimmy Garapolo did not have a monster statistical season, I get that. You have to dig a little deeper though sometimes. He attempted less than 30 passes per game, threw for an average of 232 yards, and 1.5 touchdowns per start. Not great numbers. He had just three games all season with 300+ yards passing and big upside, BUT two of them came against the Arizona Cardinals. He attempted 37 passes in Arizona and threw for over 310 yards with four touchdowns for 30+ fantasy points. Two weeks later, these two teams met again in San Francisco and he threw for over 420 yards this time with another four touchdowns and another 30+ point game. The casual fan will gloss over this fact, but in two games against the Cardinals, he threw for 740 yards and eight touchdowns. He should fly a bit under the radar and give you a low owned option that can go for 5X.
Raheem Mostert is the lead back in this offense, but they will use multiple guys. Mostert ranked #6 on PFF’s RB list last year, so he deserves first crack at it in a talented backfield. From Week 12 on, he had double-digit fantasy points on double-digit carries, including a couple 20+ point games and the monster 50+ point, four-touchdown effort against GB in the NFC championship game. He should end up with the most touches on the team, but not by a wide margin.
Tevin Coleman was also very productive last year when called upon. He ended up with 190 touches, 170 of which were carries. He scored nine total touchdowns, which is a rate that is likely to regress a bit. This backfield has plenty of touches to support multiple backs, but I’m not expecting them to both go off in the same week. This isn’t Brian’s Song, and Tevin Coleman is not Piccolo to Raheem Mostert’s Gale Sayers. They are not just going to follow a run left with Mostert by running right with Coleman all day. The 49ers are likely to ride the hot hand during the game. We saw them do this a bit last season when these guys were all healthy. It is a good and bad thing overall. It makes things a little tougher to figure out for fantasy, but this offense produced enough to feed a lot of mouths in 2019. Either of these guys could have a big game, but Mostert likely gets the bigger chance to do so.
This could be a very interesting spot here against a team that was toasted in the secondary last season. As of Wednesday, neither Deebo Samuel nor rookie WR Brandon Aiyuk practiced (Editor’s note: Aiyuk returned to a limited practice Thursday and reportedly “looked like his usual self.”). If one or both of them sit, it opens up a lot of targets in a game where they project for 27 points and Jimmy G threw a ton of touchdowns last year. Kendrick Bourne is the top-rated returning pass catcher that would be remaining, and he would be in for a huge week at a discounted price as a #1 WR. The 49ers would then have Trent Taylor back as well, and he would be in line for more targets and snaps too. Dante Pettis is technically the #5 WR right now, and even he would see some work if both of the injured wide receivers can’t go.
Even in a low volume game, you still would expect 27 passes or so. Kittle is likely to see the bulk, around 7-8 like he did in 2019. The RBs could account for 4-5 more, which would still leave another 12-18 that need to go somewhere. Remember, this was actually a higher volume passing game than most for the 49ers, so we might even be looking at the higher end. If Aiyuk and Samuel both miss, splitting 15ish targets up among any combination of Bourne, Taylor, and Pettis could mean nice upside for dirt cheap prices.
Kendrick Bourne is my favorite here, and I like Trent Taylor next most. I’m a little worried about snap counts for either of the other two if they play, so I will be avoiding them.
George Kittle is an absolute beast. He graded out as the #1 overall TE in football. He is not only one of the best receiving threats, but also one of the best blockers in the game. He averaged 5.5 catches on seven targets per game for over 66 yards. He scored five touchdowns, as well. He only played in one of the two Arizona games last year, putting up a solid 6/79/1 stat line. He is pricey and not easy to justify without a TD or maybe even two. I am on the fence about it now, but I would think he benefits a ton if Samuel and Aiyuk are out and the 49ers need pass catching threats. I may revisit this if we get the information, but for now, he’s more of a GPP play.
Top Plays: Jimmy Garapolo, Raheem Mostert
GPP Only: Kendrick Bourne, George Kittle
Deep Flyer: Tevin Coleman, Trent Taylor
Vegas: Saints -3.5, 49.5 Total
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa ranked 23rd DVOA offensively in 2019, 7% below a league-average offense. That is crazy to think with the weapons they have. Winston is gone and replaced by Tom Brady. They also added Leonard Fournettte off the scrap heap and Rob Gronkowski out of the booth for this run. They face a Saints defense that ranked 8th DVOA last year. The Saints did not allow a lot of rushing production last year, but they gave up a ton of big games to wide receivers and solid ones to opposing quarterbacks. Tampa is built to score on this defense if they are able to gel quickly with quite a few new pieces.
Tom Brady is surrounded by weapons. For the first ten games of the season last year, he was pretty good. He looked like his old self, completing passes well into the high 60%/low 70% range. That is until about Week 11. After that point, we saw the completion percentage plummet down into the barely over 50% range. I know the Patriots did not have a lot of skill players last year, but that is very unlike him. Was it the first signs of age slowing him down, or do you think he bounces back to early season form? I do not have the answer to this; I’m just asking the question. It’s been over 20 years since we watched Tom Brady in a new system with a completely new set of teammates, and I’m not sure how quickly they gel. Brady went for 20+ fantasy points in five of the first six games last year but then did it just once the rest of the season. Maybe I am overreacting, but I’m not touching him in this game.
A week ago, we were talking about how Ronald Jones was going to be the guy for this Tampa team, and now, we have a wrench thrown in that plan. After Jacksonville released Leonard Fournette, he ended up joining the dream team offense they are putting together in Tampa.
At least for this week, it looks like Fournette will be used in certain packages. Most likely things like goalline and short yardage. He has not had enough time to learn the whole playbook, so Ronald Jones should still be a big part of the game plan. This is a dreadful spot to attack with the run though, so at best, I think you are hoping for TD equity from either of these guys here. Neither of them is cheap, so I’m avoiding it in Week 1.
Chris Godwin and Mike Evans are one of the best 1-2 punches in the NFL. Godwin was the #1 ranked WR by PFF Rankings, and Evans was not far behind in 6th. Two of the top six receivers on the same team is just a wealth of riches for the passing game. When healthy, these two guys played a ton of snaps for the Bucs last year. Godwin had a team-high 8.6 targets per game, and Evans was not far behind with 7.9. The offense was powered by the production of these two guys. It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out with Brady. Brady is known to be more accurate than Winston, so that is positive. He is also known to not have as big an arm, which is definitely a negative.
The interesting wrinkle to all of this is Mike Evans has missed the last couple practices and is now in jeopardy of not playing. We will have to monitor this situation closely. It would make Godwin the focal point and push him up my list against a secondary that was demolished by wide receivers last season. Godwin had 7/125/2 in the first meeting at the Superdome in 2019. He was held to a more pedestrian 3/47/1 in the second game. Mike Evans did not play well against the Saints last year, because they concentrated on stopping him, which allowed Godwin to go off. If Evans sits this one out, that coverage may roll to Godwin and make him tougher to justify. The guy was absolutely amazing last year though, and he’s got one of the softer matchups on paper.
Perriman leaving the team opened up opportunities for a new #3 WR to emerge. If Evans also sits, then everyone else moves up on the depth chart. The two guys fighting for that #3 and #4 roles are Justin Watson and Scotty Miller. Miller has the inside track to work out of the slot, but you may need to see one or both of them on the outside here. Of course, the Bucs also have two solid pass catching tight ends, so we could see them get increased runs if Evans is out too. Both Miller and Watson are dirt cheap options and ones we may have to discuss again on Saturday if Evans continues to miss practice. They would make interesting cheap options against a defense that bled fantasy production to the position.
Rob Gronkowski joins OJ Howard and Cameron Brate in a now crowded TE room. Brate and Howard each averaged about three targets per game last year with Howard seeing about 68% of snaps and Brate around 37%. That means they were on the field together a little bit as well in two TE sets. Now, we add Gronk to that mix and he’s penciled in as the #1, which means the snap share will drop for both of the other guys. I expect to see all of them on the field at some points during the game, and if Evans misses, you could see one or two of them used in a WR role, as well. It is a very talented group, and they should see some production, but I really do not see Howard or Brate having much value in a secondary role to Gronk. Gronk is always in play due to TD upside as well, but I’ll pass, as that wouldn’t be enough by itself to justify the price.
Top Plays: Chris Godwin
GPP Only: Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski
Deep Flyer: Scotty Miller
New Orleans Saints
The Saints had the fourth-best offense DVOA last year and added weapons in the offseason. The only major changes were Ted Ginn and Teddy Bridgewater walking out the door, but they replaced them with Jameis Winston and Emmanuel Sanders, so this offense should continue to hum along. They also added Ty Montgomery as well, so the skill positions are arguably even better than in 2019. Those guys still have Drew Brees pulling the trigger and one of the top 5 lines in the NFL in front of them. All the pieces are in place for the Saints to have a top offense again, even if they have a few injuries. This Tampa Bay defense they take on here actually finished up the season pretty strong. They climbed all the way up to sixth in DVOA on that side of the ball. Like New Orleans, they were tough on the run and league-worst to WRs against the pass. QBs and WRs feasted on them last year, and that means a big day is likely for Brees and Thomas/Sanders.
Drew Brees ranked #2 on PFF for the QB position last season. He played in just 12 games but threw for a ridiculous 28 touchdowns in those games, more than 2.3 TDs per contest. We have a big total here, and this is a game against a team that shut down the run and was gashed by the pass in 2019. Brees could end up having a monster night. Brees and the Saints lit up the Bucs in his only start against them last year. He played well in a 17-point win. He only needed to throw for 228 yards that day, but that also included 3 TDs to build that big lead.
Alvin Kamara is an explosive running back who they use in many different ways. He averaged a respectable 10-12 carries a game for 54 yards and also added six catches on seven targets for about 35-40 yards. The big thing for me is the potential TD regression to the upside for him. He had a rushing and receiving TD in Week 3 and then did not find the end zone again until the last three games where he scored twice, twice, and once to end up at seven total. I am not expecting him to get a ton more, but that number should be higher for a guy who touches it as much as he does.
He does give up a couple carries to Latavius Murray, but Murray was strictly a second-tier back with Kamara healthy. I do not play Kamara on a weekly basis, but he does have the kind of skill set and usage where he could see 10 carries, 10 targets, and get into the endzone multiple times and put up a smash score for the week. He also has as many or more weeks with 12-15 fantasy points though.
Michael Thomas was an absolute monster in 2019: 156 catches on 193 targets for 1,795 yards and nine touchdowns. Are you f@#$ing kidding me with that statline. He averaged nine catches on 11 targets for 105 yards. Not including TD equity that is about 20 points on a PPR site. With TDs included, closer to 25. We saw the Bucs get lit up on the back end before. Thomas went 11.182/2 on 13 targets in the first game and 8/114/1 in the second for a 36 fantasy point per game average against the Bucs. Dude is an absolute monster in fantasy football and someone who could continue that domination here.
Emanuel Sanders is an interesting addition to this team. He plays a lot of slot, which may conflict with Thomas, who plays some also. He’s a possession type over the middle receiver, a very different type of guy than Ted Ginn who they let walk. They do still have a deep threat at WR3 in Tre’Quan Smith. He is unlikely to see big target numbers, but he does have the speed to make catches down the field. I do not know exactly what to make of Sanders’ contributions to this team. I’m sure he will make some as a talented WR on a high scoring offense, but it just feels like he lacks upside as a third wheel behind Thomas and Kamara touches at best.
Jared Cook averaged a little over three catches on a little under five targets with a solid 50 yard per game average and nine touchdowns. The touchdowns are the big thing here. In terms of volume, you can normally find better options on any given week, but in terms of TD equity, you won’t have many in his league. Cook is obviously a good weapon and one they use a lot near the red zone. He is also a seam stretcher though as evidenced by the high yard per catch average. If you are open, Brees will find you and I expect him to spread the love.
The Saints also have Taysom Hill and Josh Hill, who I did not write up here. These guys get on the field and do play a role, but they are unlikely to generate enough fantasy production to justify me wanting to even take a shot on them right now.
Top Plays: Drew Brees, Michael Thomas
GPP Only: Alvin Kamara
Deep Flyer: Lat Murray
Earlier in the week, I gave my take on the NFL DFS Primetime Slate… catch it here!