Week 1 Starts and Sits
Before I get started, let’s start with an announcement.
Ladies and gentleman, football is back!
Man, it feels good to say that. Before we get rolling, let me give you a heads up. My goal for this article is to dig deeper into players you should start or sit each week. Obviously, if you drafted Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or an early round RB, you will be starting these players every week.
Andy Dalton (at IND)
Let’s get the ball rolling with a fun trivia question: Name 2 players in the Colts secondary…
If you were able to list Malik Hooker (coming off an ACL injury), Clayton Geathers (it would be easier to list what he hasn’t injured), Pierre Desir (on his 4th team since 2014 and coming off a season-ending injury), and Kenny Moore (I don’t even know who that is) then you are an excellent football fan. While supporting Andy Dalton usually has some risk attached, this should hopefully be a game he can shine in. He’s coming off an excellent pre-season (22-31 (71% completion) 324 yards (10.5 per completion) and a 4/1 TD/INT ratio) and has an improved offensive line and weapons around him (more on them later). I’m not suggesting you make him your yearlong starter, but if you need a fill in for Carson Wentz, you can do worse than Dalton in week 1. And it isn’t a primetime game, so we shouldn’t have to worry about the effects of external pressured Andy Dalton.
Case Keenum (vs SEA)
Case Keenum enters 2018 as a Denver Bronco with weapons that should allow him to build on the success from last season. He already appears to have established rapport with Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton. The Broncos should have a stable running game led by rookie Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker, and all 5 offensive lineman return from last season (offensive line cohesion cannot be understated). Aside from that, the Broncos draw a completely revamped Seattle defense in week 1. Gone are Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Richard Sherman. Given that variable and the fact that Keenum’s game should play well into the Seattle cover 3 scheme, we should be able to expect a solid opening week for the Denver signal caller.
Marcus Mariota (at MIA), Matthew Stafford (vs NYJ), & Kirk Cousins (vs 49ers):
Even though he didn’t have the most stellar preseason, I am a big fan of Marcus Mariota this year. He has a plethora of weapons (Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Dion Lewis, Delanie Walker) and what may be the most dominant offensive line in the NFL right now given the situation in Dallas. It doesn’t hurt that the week 1 defense he is playing against (Miami) had a bit of overhaul this offseason and may need more time to gel in the secondary. Matt Stafford is an excellent opportunity play. His defense draws Sam Darnold this week and the former USC signal caller is the youngest QB to ever start an NFL game and doesn’t really have many high powered weapons. If Detroit can generate a few turnovers, Stafford has the ability to put up monster points. Stafford also has the benefit of returning all his familiar weapons from last season (Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Theo Riddick). Finally, I think Kirk Cousins has the opportunity to have a big opening week with the Minnesota Vikings. He’s gelled well with Stefon Diggs thus far and has historically done well with tight ends. Outside of the defensive line, the 49ers have had quite a bit of overhaul to their defense, which is something Cousins should have no problem exploiting.
Ben Roethlisberger (at CLE)
There is no doubt Roethlisberger will go down as having a Hall of Fame caliber football career. However, over the past few seasons, a disturbing trend has started to hit the mainstream media. Ben Roethlisberger is a significantly different quarterback at home than he is on the road. Since 2015, Big Ben sees a drop in nearly every statistical category when he plays in road games. The most glaring are his completion percentage (68.2% to 64.7%), touchdowns (62 to 24), touchdown rate (7.3% to 2.7%), interceptions (20 to 23) and QB rating (109.5 to 85.3). The Steelers happen to be in Cleveland for the first week of the season facing against a Browns team that will have an energetic crowd and a defense run by Greg Williams, one of the most aggressive blitzing coordinators in the NFL. Pivot off Big Ben if you can help it.
Nick Foles (vs ATL)
Nick Foles is still an awesome story after his Cinderella-esque run to a Super Bowl championship last season. However, we can’t let that success cloud our judgment in a new season. Foles didn’t play particularly well in the preseason, a point that head coach Doug Peterson made abundantly clear. He will also be missing what could be considered the true “#1 receiver” in Alshon Jeffery for the first couple weeks of the season. Everything seems to point to the Eagles having a running game script that tries to manage Foles mistakes against an aggressive and talented Falcons defense. You can do better than Nick Foles in week 1.
Sam Darnold (at DET), Andrew Luck (vs CIN), & Dak Prescott (at CAR):
Sam Darnold earned the starting nod in New York with a solid preseason. However, people will probably forget that he was the second-best quarterback in New York this summer and was outplayed by the recently traded Teddy Bridgewater. I like Darnold in the long term, but you should have no problem pivoting off him in a primetime game on the road against Darius Slay and an aggressive Detroit front seven. Andrew Luck was probably an excellent draft value for a lot of fantasy teams. However, I would probably avoid his first significant game action since 2016. A lackluster preseason and a new look offensive line draws a difficult matchup against a stacked and disruptive Bengals front seven in week 1. If you can help it, give Andrew Luck a week to prove he’s ultimately back before rolling with him as a full-time option. Dak Prescott makes my sit list for one simple reason; we have no idea who he is going to throw the ball to. Can Cole Beasley shoulder the offensive load? Is Michael Gallup able to fill the shoes of Dez Bryant? Can Allen Hurns revert back to his 2015 season? Which tight end is going to try and step into the significant role left behind by Jason Whitten’s abrupt retirement? Will Zeke find enough running room behind an ailing offensive line? There are far more questions than answers for a week 1 team and I’m more than happy to wait it out.
Running Back: Starts
Christian McCaffrey (vs DAL)
I understand that I am somewhat violating my own rules above by discussing a player clearly drafted in the early second round, but I can’t help myself with McCaffery since I think he is a monster season. Last year, McCaffrey led all running backs in receptions (116) despite only getting roughly 12 touches per game. This preseason, the media scoffed when Norv Turner (the Panthers offensive coordinator) made the claim that the goal was to get the ball to McCaffrey 25-30 times a game. Based on this preseason, it might not be too ridiculous. McCaffrey carried the ball 21 times for 151 yards and 2 touchdowns while also catching 8 passes for 73 yards. The Panthers also showed a willingness to run him between the tackles, which was an area of perceived weakness coming out of college. If McCaffrey can stay healthy, he’s poised to run wild this year given his natural versatility.
Jay Ajayi (vs ATL)
I love Jay Ajayi this week given how much I don’t like Nick Foles. Given the absence of Carson Wentz and Alshon Jeffery, somebody has to become the top option in this explosive Eagles offense until all their other weapons are healthy. Given a full off-season to learn the playbook (remember he was traded from Miami partially through last season) and the absence of LeGarrette Blount vulturing red zone attempts, Ajayi should have ample opportunities to pay off all the fantasy owners he burned as a first-round pick last season.
Rex Burkhead (vs HOU), Joe Mixon (at IND), & Jordan Howard (at GB):
I will be the first to admit that I have a significant crush on Rex Burkhead this season. However, I think the time to really strike on him is the first four weeks of the season. Assuming Burkhead is healthy enough to play, you can plan on the Patriots using him as a runner or receiver out of the backfield and also in the slot to try and replace the suspended Julian Edelman (they did this quite a bit last year in the red zone). If his knee holds up, he has serious RB2 potential, especially with Sony Michel starting off the season injured. Joe Mixon had a very underwhelming rookie campaign which could be attributed to several variables. However, the Bengals made a concentrated effort to improve the offensive line which should give him ample opportunities to shine. It doesn’t hurt the Colts are rolling out a new defense (4-3 vs a 3-4) despite the fact that they have a bunch of questionable starters in the front seven. Mixon should have every opportunity this week to show his true 3 down back potential, especially if this game gets out of hand. Finally, Jordan Howard has done more than enough this offseason to prove that he can fit new head coach Matt Nagy’s scheme from Kansas City. He’s been a highly productive runner since his rookie season and if rumors are true, has worked on his hands enough to be an adequate receiver out of the backfield. I know Tarik Cohen may take some 3rd down work, but Nagy seems to be creative enough to utilize both options in this high scoring offense.
Running back: Sits
Alfred Morris (at MIN)
Undoubtedly, Alfred Morris is probably the most added player on the week 1 waiver wire. However, I am not completely sold with what his role is going to be in this offense. Yes, he had a good pre-season game and is familiar with the Shanahan offense, but I just don’t want to put all my eggs into that basket for the first week of the season. Shanahan also loves versatile receiving backs and has one of those in the form of (an albeit injured) Matt Breida. It also doesn’t help that the 49ers draw the 2nd rated defense in 2017 in the Minnesota Vikings.
Adrian Peterson (at ARI)
The name “Adrian Peterson” means much more than the player Adrian Peterson in 2018. Sure, he had a good game with the Cardinals in 2017 and in the preseason. And yes, he’s stepping into a backfield that has a clear role for a lead back. But we also need to remember that in an expanded role in Arizona last season, he ran 129 times for 448 yards (3.5 per carry) and only had 2 touchdowns. He also hasn’t caught more than 10 passes in a season since 2015. Given Alex Smith’s career love for pass-catching backs, are we really sold that Peterson will have a bigger role than anyone else in Washington? Hard pass for me until I see more.
Marshawn Lynch (vs LAR), Kenyan Drake (vs TEN), & LeSean McCoy (at BAL):
I like Marshawn Lynch as a player and think he has a very defined role in Oakland, but week 1 is probably not the week to trot him out unless you need a FLEX option early. His first task is trying to find running room against a terrifying Los Angeles Rams defensive front (don’t forget they roll Ndamukong Suh AND Aaron Donald out in the middle of that defense this year). On top of that, this game seems like it could get out of hand in a hurry, which means more passing for the Raiders and a steady diet of Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington in the passing game during the 2nd half. Much has been made of the potential timeshare between Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake for this upcoming season. While I don’t deny Drake will lead the team in rushing attempts barring injury, he has a really rough week 1 matchup. The Titans have a strong front seven (especially up the middle) with Jurrell Casey, Bennie Logan, and the linebacker combo of Wesley Woodyard and Will Compton. Drake should have a big year, but don’t be shocked if it gets off to a slow start. Even though he may be one of two viable options on offense in Buffalo, I’m out on LeSean McCoy this week. The matchup against a stout Ravens defense is bad enough, but having a quarterback who is known for throwing 5 picks in a half in 2017 (Nathan Peterman) does nothing on the surface to loosen up the box to provide running room. Peterman certainly looked improved in the preseason, but he will have to show it against a defense that is known for getting after the quarterback, which could significantly stymie the Bills run game in week 1 this year.
Wide Receiver: Starts
Keelan Cole (at NYG)
Keelan Cole was an undrafted rookie free agent, posting 42 catches for 748 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2017. He enters 2018 as the #1 receiver for Jacksonville after the Marquise Lee injury in the preseason. By all accounts, Cole has looked phenomenal in the preseason and stories of his work ethic are scattered across social media. He’s also versatile, meaning that against the Giants, he should be able to avoid Janoris Jenkins and find openings in the defense. A top-flight wide receiver is always going to have premium production in a run-first offense, and Cole should be considered a high upside option for week 1.
Stefon Diggs (vs 49ers)
Stefon Diggs gets the Vikings WR1 nod for me the first week of the season. Throughout the preseason, it seemed that Diggs had established the most rapport with new signal caller Kirk Cousins (as opposed to Adam Theilen). Also, the only knock against Diggs in his career is the simple fact that he plays less effectively when he’s injured. For all intents and purposes, he enters 2018 healthy and should be able to exploit defenses. His most likely matchup is an aging Richard Sherman coming off an Achilles injury, which seems like a match made in heaven.
Anthony Miller (at GB), Cooper Kupp (at OAK), & Kenny Golladay (vs NYJ):
In case you didn’t know, I am the conductor of the Anthony Miller hype train. I absolutely love this player and believe that he has a chance to be the best rookie receiver in the NFL this year. All of that aside, he should be walking into an excellent chance to have a great week against Green Bay week 1. The Packers are extremely young at the cornerback position, most likely starting rookies Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, or 35-year-old Tramon Williams in the slot. Given the weapons added by the Bears in the offseason, that should free up plenty of space for Miller to operate and do damage. Cooper Kupp isn’t going to set the world on fire with his big play ability, but he is an excellent security blanket for 3rd year quarterback Jared Goff. Given the addition of Brandin Cooks and the continued presence of Robert Woods, Kupp should have even more room to operate in 2018 than he did in 2017. He will end up being primarily covered by Rashaan Melvin or Gareon Conley week 1 against the Raiders, but he should have plenty of time to get open given the depreciation of defensive talent by the Raiders in the offseason. This offseason, the Lions lost their primary tight end option (Eric Ebron) and didn’t really do much of anything to replace him (unless you’re a huge fan of Luke Willson of course). Enter Kenny Golladay. Golladay had a solid rookie season (28 catches, 477 yards, 3 touchdowns). Of all the players to benefit from the opening in Ebron’s targets, Golladay seems like the most likely beneficiary. He is a big bodied receiver who should immediately fill into the red zone target role. Golladay draws a solid week 1 matchup against the Jets and should be able to exploit Morris Claiborne or Trumaine Johnson in the end zone.
Wide Receiver: Sits
Sterling Shepard (vs JAC)
Usually, when it comes to matchups of top-flight defensive backs and wide receivers, it is wise to give the benefit of the doubt to the offensive player. However, given the mouths to feed on the Giants, it’s easy to envision a way where Sterling Shepard is the odd man out this week. Whether he draws the primary matchup against Jalen Ramsey or AJ Bouye is irrelevant, he may very well end up being a decoy to keep the Jaguars off of Evan Engram or rookie Saquon Barkley out of the backfield.
Doug Baldwin (at DEN)
Doug Baldwin is an excellent player, but there are several potential red flags heading into the new season. For one, he has already acknowledged he isn’t healthy and his knee will require continuous maintenance throughout the course of the year. While no NFL player is ever truly 100% healthy, that does provide a level of concern for a 30-year-old wide receiver. Secondly, it isn’t hidden knowledge that Seattle wants to develop a more consistent run game with starter Chris Carson and first-round draft pick Rashaad Penny. And finally, he draws a rough week 1 matchup, most likely getting the Chris Harris shadow of the Denver Broncos. Given the strong Broncos pass rush and the tenuous offensive line situation in Seattle, there is potential for a week 1 letdown for any of his fantasy owners.
Marquise Goodwin (at MIN), Calvin Ridley (at PHI), & Kelvin Benjamin (at BAL):
It kind of feels like Marquise Goodwin is the victim of preseason overhype. Granted, he had an excellent 2nd half once Jimmy Garoppolo came into the fold, but he is still a fast yet undersized receiver filling the #1 role in San Francisco. He draws the unfortunate distinction of drawing Xavier Rhodes in the first week, and given that matchup, it’s hard to believe Goodwin will be able to find space. Calvin Ridley has an excellent chance to carve out a strong role in 2018 for what should be a high scoring Atlanta offense. However, he was unable to supplant incumbent #2 receiver Mohammed Sanu in the offseason and draws an extremely difficult week 1 matchup against the Eagles in the Thursday night game. Ridley may struggle to find space in week 1 and is probably just worth stashing at this point. I have a very solid rule of thumb for the early part of the season: if it is a receiver for the Bills I have no intention of playing them. Sorry Kelvin Benjamin, but based on Nathan Peterman being the quarterback and trying to find a way to operate against a staunch Ravens defense, I just can’t think of a reason to go with Benjamin over many, many other options. It’s hard to believe this roster made the playoffs last season, isn’t it?
Tight End: Starts
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (at NYG)
While Keelan Cole has the ability to be the big play beneficiary in the absence of Marquis Lee, Austin Seferian-Jenkins maximize his value in the red zone this year. ASJ seems to have gotten his life together off the field based on last season (50 catches, 357 yards, 3 touchdowns) and should give Blake Bortles an element he’s never had before; a tight end who has the size and athleticism to be a red zone weapon. ASJ is a good enough athlete to be put out wide or operate attached. Given the historical lack of talent within the Giants linebacker corp and their tendency to give up big points to the tight end, ASJ could end up with a fantastic week 1.
David Njoku (vs PIT)
Entering year 2, Njoku hopes to capitalize on his significant athletic gifts and draft status with the Browns. The weakness of the Steeler defense is the inside linebacker position (safety isn’t far behind) and Njoku has the athletic gifts to exploit this matchup. Secondary fun fact, while in Buffalo Tyrod Taylor and Charles Clay averaged 51 receptions (a high of 57), for 546 yards (high of 558) and 3 touchdowns (high of 4) in 3 seasons. Charles Clay is a solid tight end but doesn’t have the athleticism nor the draft pedigree of Njoku. Look for him to have a big season.
Greg Olsen (vs DAL), Charles Clay (at BAL), & Trey Burton (at GB):
Greg Olsen enters the season healthy and ready to reaffirm his place as one of Cam Newton’s favorite targets. With the emergence of Devin Funchess last season, the development of Christian McCaffrey, and the additions of DJ Moore and Torrey Smith, Olsen should have the space to operate in the middle and capitalize in the red zone. He will primarily be matched up against Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods at safety, which are matchups he should be able to win given his experience. The one skill position that I can support playing on the Bills is tight end, Charles Clay. Any time a young quarterback takes the helm, the tight end is usually the best beneficiary. Charles Clay is a savvy veteran presence who, despite a lack of talent around him, should be able to be productive regardless of the circumstances. Look for him to get primary red zone targets and to feast on check downs in the middle of the field. To this point in his career, Trey Burton is probably best known for his touchdown pass in last year’s Super Bowl. In Chicago, he should have a very defined role as the U or move tight end in new head coach Matt Nagy’s offense. In Kansas City’s offense, Travis Kelce was able to feast in this role, averaging over 80 targets for more than 1,000 yards and an average of 6 touchdowns the last two seasons. It would be irresponsible to suggest Burton is capable of that in his first season, but he should be able to exploit a young secondary and below average linebacking corp in Green Bay.
Tight End: Sits
Antonio Gates (vs KC)
It would be appealing to utilize Antonio Gates to fill Hunter Henry’s role in week 1, but we do have to remind ourselves that he is a 38-year-old tight end who had zero reps in the preseason. While it is possible that he can develop into a red zone threat once he gets his legs under him, week 1 against the Chiefs probably isn’t the best time to experiment with this.
Dallas Tight Ends (at CAR)
This is one of the most difficult position groups to decipher coming into the 2018 season. Right now the leading tight end is Geoff Swaim, who has a whopping 9 career catches and isn’t seen as anything more than a red zone target. Blake Jarwin is probably the better receiving option, but he is widely unknown and he may lose snaps due to a lack of blocking ability. Add in the nearly cut Rico Geathers and rookie Dalton Schultz and you have a rotation of suck that nobody knows how to figure out. Pivot off them until they figure it out.
Austin Hooper (at PHI), Jimmy Graham (vs CHI), & Jared Cook (vs LAR):
While Austin Hooper does have a strong upside for the Atlanta offense this season, his week 1 matchup against the Eagles could provide some challenges. Employing athletic linebackers and safeties, the Eagles are super aggressive against tight ends to try and force quarterbacks to beat them outside. Add in a fierce pass rush, and Hooper could have a really quiet week 1. It is nearly impossible for me to ignore the history of Green Bay tight ends, which makes Jimmy Graham a hard sell for me. Aaron Rodgers lack of concern about tight ends his prolific, and the Bears have the athletic linebackers and coverage safeties to neutralize the Jimmy Graham threat in week 1. Finally, I am off on Jared Cook against the Rams in week 1. The Rams have Mark Barron to range in the middle and Lamarcus Joyner to neutralize him in the middle of the field. Even though this game script could flip to the passing game in a hurry, Derek Carr has historically shown a preference to feed Amari Cooper when the team’s back is against the wall.