Week 1 Overview
This is always one of the most fun weeks of the season. Pricing is inevitably looser given how early the salaries come out. We are guessing on how usage will play out in many more situations than normal, especially in today’s NFL where many starting offenses hardly saw the field in the preseason. With that in mind, here are some keys to the slate:
Trust your offseason research and gut: We know less than we do in Week 12, when this becomes more of a numbers game. Your favorite redraft targets? Get them in your lineup for all the reasons you liked them during your drafts. This is a week where those with general NFL and fantasy knowledge have an edge on the algorithm crowd.
Be aware of percent rostered projections: More than most weeks, there are a few players priced well below where they should be who are going to be very popular. The loose pricing is also going to lead to some big percent rostered numbers on expensive stars. A lot of roster builds are going to look very similar in terms of the price points. Look for leverage plays in the same price range or go against the current and spend up at wide receiver and down at running back to add uniqueness.
Josh Allen ($8,100) We should start with the fact that Allen averaged a whopping 25.3 FanDuel points per game last season. His combination of passing ability (4,546 yards) and rushing production (420 yards and 8 touchdowns) gives him unmatched weekly upside. As with any player who has a historically great fantasy season, we should be wary of Allen coming back to earth a bit. That being said, we should also be open to the possibility that he is still an ascending player and we have not actually seen his ceiling yet. He has made major leaps in each of the last two offseasons and recent camp reports have him looking better than ever. This is also the best supporting cast Allen has had, with the addition of Emmanuel Sanders and expected improvement from Gabriel Davis along with Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley giving Buffalo a dangerous quartet of receivers.
There are three negatives worth mentioning. First, Allen is facing a good Pittsburgh defense. However, this game still has serious shootout potential. My hunch is that this Steelers offense is being underrated due to concerns about the offensive line and the rough end to 2020. Second, Allen will be a popular pick this weekend. However, there are enough other attractive options in the same price range that he should not get over 15%. Lastly, Allen is the third-highest priced quarterback on the slate. However, one of the themes for Week 1 is that we can afford to pay up for some elite players given the higher-than-normal number of strong low-priced options. Add it all up and Allen is the best quarterback play on the slate and a player worth building your rosters around.
Jalen Hurts ($7,600) FanDuel scoring favors quarterbacks with rushing upside. Over the final four games of 2020, Hurts rushed for 272 yards and 3 touchdowns. That is a full-season pace of 1,156 rushing yards and 12.8 touchdowns. Those numbers are eerily reminiscent of Lamar Jackson’s monster 2019 season. In tournaments, we would be hoping for 12+ rushing points from Hurts and he has a fairly easy path to get there. He is more likely than not to score a rushing touchdown and 60+ rushing yards is not out of the question. From a roster-construction standpoint, Hurts opens up some interesting possibilities. You can stack him with rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith or you can play Hurts alone, given that much of his upside is tied to his rushing performance. You can also “run it back” with either Calvin Ridley or Kyle Pitts and be well-positioned if this game shoots out.
Other QBs to consider:
Kyler Murray ($8,400) I suspect Murray will be the most popular quarterback on the slate given his matchup. Pairing him with Rondale Moore ($4,900) gives you a fun stack and plenty of cap space to work with. Just be aware you will not be alone in going this route.
Patrick Mahomes II ($8,800) There is not a whole lot of explanation needed when it comes to recommending Mahomes as a GPP option. He will be popular, but deservedly so.
Najee Harris($6,500) The reason to be high on Harris, aside from his talent, is that he is rarely going to leave the field. We are getting a true every-down back who should be virtually game script-proof. What does that mean? Most running backs need a positive script to have a big fantasy day, which means the team is winning and the running back is getting extra carries late as they sit on the ball. If the Steelers go out and control this game against Buffalo, Harris is going to get a boatload of touches. Unlike most backs, Harris has the potential for a big fantasy day even if the Steelers fall behind early due to his expected involvement as a pass-catcher. Do not be shocked if Harris has Austin Ekeler-type usage as a receiver when Pittsburgh is behind. In Le'Veon Bell’s last prime season in Pittsburgh (prior to the holdout), he averaged 7.7 targets per game in Steelers losses.
Chase Edmonds ($5,900) When we talk about percent-rostered and trying to gain leverage on the field with a lower-owned play, we should be wary of getting “too cute.” We want to avoid players who, even in a realistic best-case scenario, do not have the potential for 100+ yards and multiple touchdowns. We also need to calibrate our contrarian roster choices to target the less-popular players with the best chances of having big games.
Odds of a Cardinals player scoring two touchdowns against the Titans, per @FanDuel:— Kyle Odegard (@Kyle_Odegard) September 7, 2021
DeAndre Hopkins +650
Chase Edmonds +900
Kyler Murray +900
James Conner +2500
A.J. Green +2800
Rondale Moore +3500
Christian Kirk +3600
Our friends at FanDuel, have Chase Edmonds at +900 to score at least two touchdowns. Adjusting for the house cut, that probably puts his true odds a bit under 10%. Imagine we get a multiple-touchdown game from Edmonds and factor in how involved he is expected to be as a pass-catcher and we have a good proxy for the percentage chance he is a GPP-winner. It is easy to see realistic paths for him to be in the million-dollar lineup, especially since his salary helps you fit in the top options at other positions. It is easy to make the case for many of the chalky, expensive options. Fitting one or two of them is easy to do when you can roster a sub-6K back like Edmonds alongside of him. Edmonds also gives you leverage on the field at the same price point as James Robinson, who is likely to be much more popular.
Other RBs to consider:
Christian McCaffrey ($10,400) Not a lot of explanation needed here. We all know how good McCaffrey is and the Panthers are home favorites. He might be less popular than normal given the other top backs are at least $1,000 cheaper.
Alvin Kamara ($8,600) Kamara is the best points-per-dollar running back on the slate. If I had to bet money on it, he would also be my pick for the highest-rostered player on the entire slate. Sometimes the chalk is just the right play, however. A great matchup, a bunch of targets, and an expectation of more carries than past seasons are all factors in Kamara’s favor.
Derrick Henry ($8,900) Pay attention to where final roster projections end up on Henry. If the expectation ends up that he will be less than 15% rostered (as many outlets are projecting), he is one of the top leverage plays on the slate. If he is in the 25% range, he is still fine but that’s where he should be, which means there are probably better options when taking popularity into account.
Joe Mixon ($7,200) The Vikings were dreadful against the run last year and the Bengals desperately want to get Mixon going so Burrow doesn’t have to throw 40 passes in his first game back. The only question is if the offensive line is good enough to make it happen.
Terry McLaurin ($6,900) The fantasy community does not yet have a consensus on how to treat McLaurin this season. Is he an elite fantasy WR1 or just a solid WR2? It is sometimes interesting to view Week 1 pricing through the lens of redraft ADP and when doing so, McLaurin stands out. In Underdog best ball drafts, McLaurin is going off the board approximately 20 picks ahead of Adam Thielen (who is $500 more expensive), 15 picks ahead of Julio Jones (who is $100 more expensive), and 6+ picks ahead of Jarvis Landry (who is only $500 cheaper).
Marquez Callaway ($5,200) Without looking it up, who do you think led the NFL in passing yards in 2019? The question falling under the heading of a Saints wide receiver probably gives away the answer: Jameis Winston led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards in his last season as a starter. The reason Winston found himself out of a job was almost 100% due to his turning the ball over because he has never had an issue racking up big passing numbers. Do we expect that to change with him playing in a dome and getting play calls from Sean Payton?
Even though it's Jameis Winston, not Drew Brees at quarterback, and WR Michael Thomas is out, did you see some of the catches #Saints Marquez Callaway made during the preseason? Impressive. #Packers https://t.co/EWGjd1SJmK— Mike Clemens (@MikeClemensNFL) September 8, 2021
If we operate under the premise the Saints should be at least a league-average passing yardage team (250+ yards per game) and try to distribute that yardage amongst the Saints pass catchers, it quickly becomes obvious that Callaway projects very well for a $5,200 pass catcher. Aside from Alvin Kamara, the competition for targets is almost non-existent. Tre'Quan Smith has been struggling with a hamstring injury throughout camp and did not practice on Thursday. Adam Trautman is dealing with a leg injury and was used mostly as a blocker in the preseason. While the potential matchup against Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander is a bit concerning, Callaway is unlikely to fail at this price given the expected number of target he will get.
Calvin Ridley ($8,100) Does Vegas know something we don’t? When I saw this game on the schedule, my initial read was that the Eagles would be slight road favorites. Instead the game opened with the Falcons as a 3.5-point favorite and has stayed in that range. On closer examination, this game has shootout potential and is a better matchup for the Falcons offense than it looks on the surface. The Eagles have some veteran defenders with strong reputations but who are on the wrong side of 30. Take Darius Slay for instance. He has a reputation as a shutdown cornerback but gave up the 12th-most receptions of any cornerback. Even if Ridley was going to see the 30-year old Slay all day, that should not scare us away. However, under new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, it is expected that Slay will not shadow Ridley, which means Ridley should see some favorable matchups against Avonte Maddox and the other Philadelphia corners.
In Calvin Ridley's 8 games without Julio Jones, he has averaged 11.1 targets.— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) September 9, 2021
In those 8 games, he has never had fewer than 9 targets.
In his 17 career games with 9+ targets, Ridley has averaged 102.1 yards and 0.71 TDs.
However much you like Ridley, you don't like him enough.
Ridley’s splits without Julio Jones are hardly a secret but worth noting again because of the sheer volume we can expect him to see. Everyone is excited see Kyle Pitts in action but Ridley is far and away the top target in this offense, especially early in the season.
Other WRs to Consider:
Laviska Shenault Jr ($5,600) The Jaguars know the offensive line is shaky and they will need plenty of plays to get the ball out quickly. We could see Shenault peppered with targets on quick screens and short crossing routes. While everyone is focused on Robinson and the Jaguars running game, Shenault may be the better option.
Stefon Diggs ($7,900) You do not have to stack Diggs with Allen given Allen’s rushing upside and the other strong options. That being said, Allen-to-Diggs is a great way to start your tournament roster and a combined price of $16,000 is not prohibitive.
Tee Higgins ($6,000) With Joe Burrow entering his second season, there is a good chance one of the Bengals wide receivers has a big Week 1. Ja'Marr Chase has had some rookie jitters and Tyler Boyd is less likely than Higgins to catch a long touchdown, which makes Higgins the preferred option (though all three are in play).
Travis Kelce ($8,500) Last season, this article listed players in certain categories like “good chalk.” Kelce was the definition of good chalk last year and there is no reason to believe that won’t be the case again in Week 1. No, he won’t be sneaky. He is also priced $1,500 more than the second-most expensive tight end. However, price is always less of a limiting factor in Week 1. The pricing is released early in the preseason and there are many more strong value options than in a normal week. You do not have to sacrifice too many projected points elsewhere to roster Kelce. Don’t galaxy brain yourself out of including Kelce on at least 20% of your rosters if you are multi-entering and he should be a core piece if you are only building a few tournament lineups.
Kansas City has the highest team total on the slate by almost three points. The Chiefs are facing a team who has traditionally struggled against tight ends. Kelce ended last season on as hot a streak as we have ever seen from a tight end. He averaged 114.5 receiving yards per game in his final eight regular season games. He then had 31 catches for 360 yards and 3 touchdowns in three playoff games. Nobody at the position has anywhere near the same floor or upside.
Other TEs to consider:
Kyle Pitts ($6,000) He will probably be a superstar in this league sooner than later. Will it happen Week 1 of his rookie season? The matchup is nice and the price is solid but check projected exposure on Sunday morning. He might be more popular than is justified.
T.J. Hockenson ($5,700) Getting a team’s best offensive player at a sub-6K price is always attractive. If San Francisco jumps on Detroit early, the Lions could be forced to go pass heavy and there are not too many receiving options outside of Hockenson.
George Kittle ($7,000) The suspicion here is that Kittle ends up being less popular than he should be. People are either going to want to pay all the way up to Kelce or grab one of the handful of strong options in the $5,500 to $6,000 range.
Bengals ($3,000) In the handful of series Cincinnati’s starters played in the preseason, the unit was dominant. New additions have solidified the secondary and added some juice to the pass rush. The main attraction here is the bargain-basement price.
Broncos ($4,100) At a mid-tier price, you can get a talented, well-coach defense against a shaky quarterback (Daniel Jones) and potentially awful offensive line. This would be a slam dunk if the Broncos were at home.
49ers ($5,000) If price was not a factor, this would be the top defense on the slate. The high price could lead to relatively low popularity here.