FanDuel’s Week 1 Main Slate features a whopping 15 games. It is a tricky lineup of games because the six teams with the highest implied team totals (Nebraska, Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Georgia, Texas and Washington) are each favored by more than 20 points. Balancing the risk of blowouts limiting the playing time of the top stars versus the obvious upside of the talented players in great matchups may end up being the key to the slate.
We have some fairly obvious values under $5,000 at each position, which also adds to the intrigue and opens the door to a stars and scrubs type of lineup build. On the other hand, there is also a ton of value in the mid-priced range and we can build lineups with seven players each capable of posting huge fantasy totals.
This slate breakdown will go through the slate position-by-position. Each positional breakdown will start with a big-picture view of the options on the slate. We will then go in-depth on the top options, which are broken down into two categories. Players listed as “core play”s are those who you can play with high confidence in both cash games and tournaments. Players listed as “others worth considering” are viable as cost-saving options in your main lineup or high-upside options for tournaments
This slate looks like one in which we will want to pay all the way up for an elite fantasy quarterback or all the way down for an extreme value. At the top, it features four of the top overall fantasy quarterbacks in college football this season. Justin Fields (Ohio State), Sam Ehlinger (Texas), and Adrian Martinez (Nebraska) are premier dual-threat passers in high-powered offenses. Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) is less of a runner but could put up monster passing numbers. Each of these top four have cake matchups in Week 1. However, the difficulty comes both in determining how much playing time they will see and whether the dual-threat guys will have their number called fewer times as runners given the matchups. Nebraska (-36), Alabama (-35), Ohio State (-27.5), and Texas (-21) are each heavy favorites. On the opposite end of the salary scale, Jacob Eason (Washington) and Sam Howell (North Carolina) are both minimum-priced at just $4,000. They are tough to beat on a point per dollar basis but there may be enough value at other positions to make it unattractive to cap our overall upside by using a valuable quarterback or Superflex roster spot on a player without 40-point potential.
Justin Fields, Ohio State ($10,100) One of the biggest riddles of this slate is trying to figure out how much Fields might run against Florida Atlantic. Fields is an incredible athlete, running a 4.38-second forty-yard dash in summer testing. He could put up huge numbers as a runner and passer if he is fully unleashed upon Florida Atlantic. However, the Buckeyes are four-touchdown favorites and face a much tougher opponent (Cincinnati) next week. The quarterback depth is non-existent, so they have to keep Fields healthy. Ohio State is loaded with NFL talent at wide receiver and projects to score almost six offensive touchdowns. Fields will get his through the air. If he also gets 10 or 15 carries, he could easily be the high scorer on the slate. If his rushing attempts are limited, he is likely to disappoint from a fantasy perspective.
Adrian Martinez, Nebraska ($10,300) Nebraska has the highest implied team total on the slate at just over 50 points. Martinez has the potential to put up video game numbers with his elite dual-threat skill set in the Cornhuskers wide-open spread offense. We saw McKenzie Milton put up huge numbers in this scheme in 2017. However, the Cornhuskers are also 36-point home favorites against South Alabama, so we may not get a full four quarters from Martinez and it wouldn’t make sense for Scott Frost to put his star passer in too much harm on designed QB-run calls. As with Fields, we have to balance the blowout risk with the massive upside of the very favorable matchup.
Sam Ehlinger, Texas ($10,400) The matchup for Ehlinger isn’t nearly as favorable as those of Fields and Martinez but that may actually work in his favor. Louisiana Tech has played it close against blue blood opponents in the past and enters the game as less than three-touchdown underdogs. We should get a full four quarters from Ehlinger. The Longhorns come into the game with both of their top running backs banged up and almost no depth behind them. We could see Ehlinger shoulder a heavy load on the ground and Texas especially loves using the quarterback run down around the goal line. Ehlinger rushed for 16 touchdowns last year and is a good bet every week to find the end zone as a runner. He arguably has the highest floor at the position on the slate and has plenty of upside to boot.
Others to Consider
Jacob Eason, Washington ($4,000) Eason is obviously mis-priced. An NFL talent facing an FCS school, Eason should be able to put up solid numbers. Eastern Washington isn’t the typical FCS patsy either, so we could see four quarters from Eason. The Washington offense is run-heavy, so don’t expect a ton of attempts. Eason also doesn’t bring much with his legs. Still, he is capable of passing for 250+ yards and at least 2 touchdowns (18+ fantasy points). In terms of points per dollar, it is hard to beat Eason who should projects to score about 5x his salary. The question you have to ask is if a couple of the top dual-threat quarterbacks go off for 35+ points, can you make up the difference at other positions with the extra $6,000 in cap space? It is certainly possible because Eason’s minimum-price makes it possible to roster almost whoever you want at running back and wide receiver.
Sam Howell, North Carolina ($4,000) As with Eason, Howell is mis-priced as a $4,000 starting quarterback. North Carolina has an implied-team total of just 27 points, which is below-average on the slate. Howell is also a true freshman making his college debut as a road underdog at South Carolina. It is not out of the question he crashes and burns. Don’t ignore the upside, however. Howell is a decent runner new offensive coordinator Phil Longo’s uptempo version of the Air Raid offense has been a fantasy goldmine in the past — most recently at Ole Miss the last two seasons. In a 48-44 shootout against South Carolina last season, Longo’s Ole Miss offense put up over 600 total yards. His quarterback threw for 379 yards and rushed 21 times for 66 yards and a touchdown.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama ($10,400) Tagovailoa will be a popular option on this slate. The fact Alabama’s top two running backs are expected to be held out of the first half helps his case because an extra pass-heavy approach to start the game looks possible. Tagovailoa threw for 43 touchdowns last season despite leaving the field regularly to keep Jalen Hurts involved. Nick Saban won’t have to worry about keeping a starting-caliber backup involved this season, so Tagovailoa should play a bit deeper into games. The passing floor here looks very solid. However, the ceiling isn’t quite as high as the dual-threat passers on the slate. Tagovailoa managed just 190 rushing yards and 5 rushing touchdowns last season.
This is a fun slate at the running back position because there are so many intriguing options at every conceivable price point. At the top, JK Dobbins and Patrick Taylor, Jr. should both see 20 touches in great matchups. A.J. Dillon and Scottie Phillips are also in play at the top of the salary scale. In the mid-priced range, Salvon Ahmed, Ricky Person, Zach Charbonnet, and Kenny Gainwell are each strong options. Jerome Ford also stands out as a cheap option with plenty of upside given the likely suspensions of Alabama’s top two backs.
JK Dobbins, Ohio State ($9,800) 2018 was a down year for Dobbins. He went from averaging 7.2 yards per carry as a freshman to just 4.6 yards per carry as a sophomore. Ohio State struggled to get the running game going playing without a dual-threat quarterback for the first time in many years. With Justin Fields and his 4.38-speed sharing the backfield, Dobbins should again find more room to run He is also going to be leaned on more heavily now that he no longer has to share a backfield with Mike Weber, especially since none of the backup options really emerged as a trusted option in fall camp. Ohio State is a big favorite over Florida Atlantic and Dobbins has a great chance to get his 2019 season started off on the right foot. Unless the game really gets out of hand early, he should see 20 carries and also get some prime opportunities in the red zone.
Salvon Ahmed, Washington ($8,100) With Myles Gaskin finally off to the NFL, Ahmed will get a shot to be the lead back. It will be a big test for Ahmed, who is a bit undersized and faces questions as to whether he can handle an expanded role or if he is best suited as a change-of-pace back. Ahmed is a burner, running a 4.32-second 40-yard dash in spring testing. FCS opponent Eastern Washington isn’t a pushover. This is a team that made the FCS finals last season and who has been able to hang in games against FBS opponents in past seasons. How long Eastern Washington can stay in the game will be a determining factor as to how many touches Ahmed will see. There is some risk here but plenty of upside as well given the favorable matchup and Ahmed’s big-play speed.
Patrick Taylor, Jr. Memphis ($10,000) Taylor shared the backfield with Darrell Henderson (3rd-round draft pick of the Rams) and Tony Pollard (4th-round draft pick of the Cowboys) last season and still managed to put up 1,319 yards from scrimmage and score a whopping 18 rushing touchdowns. Memphis was top-5 in all of football in S&P+ rushing offense in 2018. Week 1 opponent Ole Miss was the 110th-ranked rushing defense according to S&P. The Tigers are 5.5-point home favorites against Mississippi and Taylor is now the clear go-to player on offense.
Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis ($6,500) While Taylor is the go-to back for Memphis, Gainwell will also be heavily involved and may provide more bang for your buck. There is clear precedence for more than one Memphis back putting up big numbers. Last season, the top three backs for the Tigers combined for 4,533 scrimmage yards and 52 touchdowns. Gainwell played in only four games last season to preserve his redshirt and touched the ball just 10 times but showed his explosiveness by averaging 14.3 yards per touch. He will step into the hybrid role vacated by Tony Pollard and should be heavily involved as both a runner and receiver.
Others to Consider
Dedrick Mills, Nebraska ($8,300) Mills is a no-nonsense power back in the mold of last year’s starter, Devine Ozigbo. If Maurice Washington plays, Mills is just a solid play as part of a backfield by committee. If Nebraska holds Washington out, Mills will be the clear lead back and an excellent fantasy option. The Cornhuskers are giving nothing away regarding Washington’s status. “The ball’s not in his court, it’s in our court for the university and football program to decide,” head coach Scott Frost said. “But he’s been doing a great job doing everything we ask him to in fall camp. So he’ll be ready if that’s the decision that’s made.” Washington is accused of sending a 10-second video to an underaged ex-girlfriend depicting her performing a sexual act. He faces a felony charge in California with a hearing set for September 3rd. Keep an eye out for news on Washington and try to get Mills into your lineup if Washington can’t play.
Jerome Ford, Alabama ($4,500) Alabama’s top two running backs, Najee Harris and Brian Robinson, are suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game against Duke. Ford goes from an afterthought as the third back to the starting lineup. This isn’t a slam dunk play. Ford should see 8-12 carries in the first half but might not be on the field much after that. Still, 8+ carries behind one of the nation’s best offensive lines and a full half of being the goal line back gives Ford some real upside given his near-minimum price tag. In GPPs, Ford is worth a shot. If he breaks off a long touchdown, he could be the slate’s top point per dollar player.
Zach Charbonnet, Michigan ($7,000) Charbonnet is the most talented back Michigan has had in a long time. The true freshman was a consensus top-50 overall recruit and the No. 4 running back in the class. He won’t be handed the starting job without a battle but should emerge quickly as the lead back. Tru Wilson is a solid veteran but doesn’t have anywhere near the combination of size and speed that Charbonnet boasts. Christian Turner is also in the mix for the Wolverines but has been banged up and missed some recent practices. This week, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said Charbonnet “has stood out and done extremely well.” Earlier this month, during camp, Harbaugh said he was “coming on like a freight train.” There is potential for Charbonnet to make a big early impact and Michigan’s 44-point implied team total against Middle Tennessee State is enticing. However, he looks like more of a GPP-only option because there are still a lot of unknowns, both in terms of Charbonnet’s place on the depth chart and how run-heavy the newly revamped Michigan offense will be.
We have a number of legitimate WR1 options at the top of the salary range. Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hill, and JD Spielman are talented No.1 wide receivers in offenses projected to score 40+ points. Alabama, Ohio State, and Nebraska each feature intriguing WR2 options in the mid-range of the pricing as well with Jaylen Waddle, Chris Olave, and Wan’Dale Robinson, respectively. If looking for value at the WR3 spot, the Georgia offense is a good place to start the search. The three starters are each priced between $4,000 and $6,100 and at least one of the three is likely to provide a great point per dollar return on investment.
Jerry Jeudy, Alabama ($9,900) If you follow college football even casually, you know all about Jeudy. As a true sophomore he caught 68 passes for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has an incredible combination of speed, quickness, and refined route-running ability that should make him an early first-round pick next March. Jeudy is an impossible cover for Duke and could see a couple extra targets due to the rumored first-half suspensions of three of the Crimson Tide’s top offensive weapons.
KJ Hill, Ohio State ($9,300) Hill had to share the slot position with Parris Campbell last season and still managed to catch 70 passes for 885 yards and 6 touchdowns. Campbell and two other veteran starters, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon, moved onto the NFL. Hill could have joined them and would have likely been a mid-round pick. However, he decided to come back to school to get his chance to be the true No. 1 for the Buckeyes. Hill has reportedly been Ohio State’s top offensive player throughout much of fall camp and should be the go-to target for Justin Fields on Saturday against Florida Atlantic.
JD Spielman, Nebraska ($9,400) Spielman shared the lead receiving role with Stanley Morgan Jr Jr. last year, catching 66 passes for 818 yards and 8 touchdowns despite missing a couple games and being limited in another. He averaged 6.6 receptions and 82 receiving yards per game last season and is one of the highest floor plays on the slate at receiver. His elite speed and ability to make the first man miss also gives him plenty of big-play potential and upside.
Others to Consider
Wan’Dale Robinson, Nebraska ($6,500) Comparisons to Rondale Moore may feel a bit cliche, but there are so many similarities between Moore and Robinson that it does make for a good starting point to the analysis. Moore was a 5-foot-8, 175-pound Kentucky star who passed up offers from schools like Alabama and Ohio State to go star in Jeff Brohm’s wide-open Purdue offense. Robinson was a 5-foot-9, 175-pound Kentucky star who passed up offers from teams like Alabama to go play in Scott Frost’s wide-open offense. Like Moore, Robinson has elite explosiveness and can take it the distance on any play. The presence of JD Spielman means Robinson won’t instantly become the go-to star like Moore did but that doesn’t mean he won’t make an instant impact. He should start the season as the No. 2 receiver for Nebraska and has a chance to makes waves in his debut on Saturday against South Alabama. If you cannot fit Spielman into your lineup, Robinson is a nice consolation prize at nearly $3,000 cheaper.
Jaylen Waddle, Alabama ($7,700) Waddle was second behind only Jerry Jeudy in receiving yards for Alabama last season with 848. Some of those were racked up in garbage time early in the season but by late in the year, he was one of Tagovailoa’s go-to targets. Waddle is listed as the co-starter at the H-receiver position with Jeudy but both should see the field together regularly. Waddle is especially intriguing because starting X-receiver Devonta Smith is rumored to be suspended for the first half on Saturday, which should open up a few extra snaps for Waddle. If you can’t afford to squeeze Jeudy into your lineup, Waddle is a strong Plan B at a savings $2,200.
Tyler Simmons (6,100), Demetris Robertson ($5,200), and Matt Landers, Georgia ($4,000) Georgia is starting over at wide receiver. Tyler Simmons leads all returning receivers from 2018 despite catching just nine passes. He will start at one outside spot and Jake Fromm named him as the player who he thinks will shoulder the land. Demetris Robertson will start in the slot. He put up big numbers as a freshman for California but didn’t do much last year for Georgia (109 rushing yards but no catches). He has reportedly had a strong offseason and Georgia should try to get it in his hands anyway they can — similar to how they used speedster Mecole Hardman last year. Landers played in four games last year but didn’t make a catch but is locked into a starting job outside. He is a big-bodied receiver who can go up and get it. Expect a couple deep balls in his direction. All three of these Georgia wide receivers are underpriced against Vanderbilt. Simmons looks like the safest bet. Robertson may have the most upside due to his big-play potential. Landers is the riskiest but that $4,000 price tag lets you do almost whatever you want with the rest of your lineup. If you want to fit in some of the elite players at other positions, you have to save somewhere. Taking a shot on one of these three underpriced Georgia options as your WR3 is a good way to do it.