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Week 1 Fantasy Football Game-By-Game Breakdown

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It seems like only yesterday.

I was surrounded by friends and family, on one of the most important days of my life as a football fan, on the verge of tears of joy.

 

13 seconds later, Harrison Butker converted a game-tying field goal, the game went to overtime and the Buffalo Bills were defeated. From that moment, I was immediately ready for the 2022 season.

But after months of research, mock drafts, debates and anticipation, the 2022-23 season has finally arrived and I am ready. Every single Thursday here at FTN Fantasy, I will be going through every single game of the week, providing input on every last fantasy-relevant player. This column can be applicable to both season-long and DFS and I am so excited to bring it to you every single week.

Here we go.

Buffalo Bills @ Los Angeles Rams

Total: 53, BUF -2.5
Pace: LAR: 27.6 sec/snap (13th), BUF: 26.8 (8th)

What to watch for: Tre’Davious White was placed on the PUP list, keeping him off the field for the first four weeks. Also, what will the Rams backfield look like?

Rams

Quarterback

Matthew Stafford is coming off a memorable first season with the Rams, throwing 41 touchdowns and 17 interceptions while passing for nearly 4,900 yards. Oh, and he also won a Super Bowl. Stafford finished as a top-seven quarterback in fantasy, though his QB11 finish on a points-per-game basis was a little underwhelming. A matchup with the Bills could be tough, as Buffalo had the best pass defense in the NFL a season ago, sporting the league’s lowest passing touchdown rate against (2.3%), while allowing the fewest yards per pass attempt (5.7). No team coughed up fewer fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks (12.3) and while Buffalo’s defense is really, really good, they also didn’t exactly face the best passing attacks in football last season. Meanwhile, All-Pro defensive back Tre’Davious White will be inactive for this game. Stafford has been dealing with an elbow issue this offseason but has been practicing in full. I consider him a high-end QB2 to kick off the 2022 season.

Running Back

Both Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson are set to play in this game, which has the potential to be a headache for fantasy football purposes. We have seen Sean McVay rely on one running back during his time with the Rams, whether it has been Todd Gurley, Henderson, Akers or even Sony Michel. However, Akers and Henderson were splitting first-team reps during training camp, and while Akers was clearly the lead back during the Rams playoff run, Henderson was hurt up until the Super Bowl, where he recorded seven touches, while logging 32% of the snaps. I’d expect Akers to “start” and see more work, but it could very easily be a 55-45 situation, at least to start the season. The Bills were a massive run funnel defense last year, as 53.8% of the touchdowns scored against Buffalo came on the ground, the highest rate in football. They also allowed 2.66 yards after contact per rush, the fifth-worst mark in the league. And while Akers didn’t look fantastic in his return last season, he still broke tackles, as 156 of his 172 postseason rushing yards came after contact. He’s a pretty risky RB2, but there is obvious upside in this Rams offense.

Wide Receiver

After putting together one of the greatest seasons in NFL history, Cooper Kupp will look to get off to a hot start against a terrific Buffalo secondary. Kupp is obviously in your starting lineup and could cause the Bills problems with White out of the lineup. If you look at the games after White suffered a season-ending ACL tear, Buffalo allowed some strong games to opposing wideouts. Kupp will likely see plenty of coverage from Taron Johnson, who is an elite slot defensive back, but Kupp will be able to get his.

Allen Robinson is now in Los Angeles where he will play Robert Woods’ role as the WR2 for the Rams. Before an ACL tear ended his season ahead of Week 10, Woods was the WR12 in PPR formats and on a per-game basis, he was the WR23. Robinson has grown accustomed to seeing elite volume during his years in Jacksonville and Chicago and with the Rams, he won’t see anything close to that. However, he’ll have plenty of scoring opportunities in an elite offense that loves to throw the football. Robinson will see coverage from rookie Kaiir Elam, an aggressive, physical player who can make a ton of plays but will also be called for plenty of penalties, too. Buffalo does play a lot of Cover-2 on defense, while Robinson has been very underwhelming against zone coverage over the last two seasons, ranking 33rd and 93rd in yards per route run against the play type during that span. The veteran wideout is a low-end WR2 for opening week.

Van Jefferson recently underwent surgery and has been ruled out for Week 1.

Tight End

If streaming the tight end position already, I’d look for more upside somewhere else. Tyler Higbee is going to be on the field a ton, as he played over 80% of the snaps last season, while ranking ninth among tight ends in routes run (497) and passing snaps (562). The production, however, was middling, as Higbee finished as the TE14 in fantasy and was really inconsistent. Buffalo allowed the third-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends in 2021, making Higbee a middling TE2. 

Bills

Quarterback

Josh Allen Week 1 Fantasy Football Game-By-Game Breakdown

For the second consecutive season, Josh Allen finished as the QB1 in fantasy in 2021. He threw for 4,407 yards, 36 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last year, adding 763 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Allen averaged almost two red zone carries per game last year, and since 2018, he’s averaging nearly seven rushing attempts per game, recording three 100-carry seasons. Over the past two seasons, Allen has accounted for 35% and 37.5% of Buffalo’s carries inside the 5-yard line. The floor/ceiling combination is always high. Obviously, you aren’t benching Allen at any time, but this is a tough opening matchup. The Rams allowed the second-lowest passing touchdown rate last year (2.7%), while also coughing up the fifth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing signal callers (16.3). Los Angeles also played zone coverage 76.7% of the time, a top-five rate in the league, and while Allen is incredible, he has been worse against zone coverage in his career. Having said that, Allen went for 311 yards, four touchdowns and a rushing score against the Rams back in 2020. 

Running Back

This past season, Devin Singletary ranked 12th in FTN Fantasy’s elusive rating, forcing 41 missed tackles (11th) and averaging 4.4 yards per carry against stacked boxes, the eighth-highest mark in the league. Meanwhile, Singletary recorded 13 runs of 15-plus yards in 2021. The only players with more such carries? Jonathan Taylor, Nick Chubb and Dalvin Cook. And then there was his end of the season where Singletary ranked seventh among all running backs in both carries (105) and rushing yards (455) from Week 12 on. During that span, he also scored the second-most rushing touchdowns in the league (5), while his 29 red zone carries were good for third-most in football. Singletary posted a 74% snap share during the final seven weeks, while logging a total of 128 snaps during that stretch, the sixth-most among running backs. There is still some uncertainty as to how much work he’ll get to start the 2022 campaign and I’d feel much more comfortable starting him if Buffalo only has two running backs active. Singletary is a high-end flex for the time being. 

Wide Receiver

Stefon Diggs’ 164 targets were the fifth most in the NFL last year. No player in football saw more end zone targets than Diggs (23), who will continue to see as much volume as almost anyone in all of football. He has an interesting Week 1 matchup against Jalen Ramsey and the Rams. Ramsey shadowed five times last year and it was in games against some of the best wideouts in football (Mike Evans, Davante Adams, Deebo Samuel, DK Metcalf, Justin Jefferson) but in those contests, Ramsey only followed the receivers on an average of 59.6% of routes. Los Angeles played so much zone and as a result, Ramsey logged the eighth-most zone coverage snaps in the league (373) so even if he follows Diggs at times, it is unlikely to be for the entire game. Is this the greatest matchup in the world? No. But Diggs can be started with the utmost confidence. 

In 2020, Gabe Davis averaged 2.21 fantasy points per target (11th). Last year, that number dropped a bit but was still at 2.0 points per target (22nd). A huge reason behind Davis’ insane efficiency has been his touchdowns, as he’s scored 13 regular season touchdowns on just 70 career receptions. In fact, Davis’ 12 end zone targets were eighth in football, while a whopping 19.7% of his targets came in the end zone. And during his rookie campaign, Davis saw 11 end zone looks, still good for 16th most. Again, when Davis gets opportunities, he usually delivers. In fact, when Davis saw at least five targets last season, he averaged 14.5 PPR points per game, while averaging 11.25 during his rookie season. The Rams, meanwhile, surrendered the second-most targets (7.8), seventh-most fantasy points (12.1) and the most receptions (5.3) per game to opposing wide receivers on the right side of the formation last year, which is where Davis will line up 35-40% of the time. The breakout season starts Thursday, and Davis is a strong WR3. 

Isaiah McKenzie appears set to start the year as Buffalo’s starting slot wide receiver, which has been a fantasy-relevant role. Over the last two seasons, Cole Beasley hovered around a 20% target share in this rolem and because Buffalo plays out of so many three-wide sets, McKenzie should be on the field quite a bit. If Buffalo’s offense wasn’t so explosive, I wouldn’t have as much confidence in starting McKenzie as a WR3/flex in deeper formats. But he is on the radar and the matchup is solid, as Troy Hill allowed the eighth-most yards (432) and fifth-most touchdowns (3) in slot coverage last year.

Tight End

Dawson Knox is going to be a touchdown-or-bust TE1 in fantasy for most of the season. But there aren’t many better spots to depend on touchdowns. Knox finished last season with 10 end zone targets, the third-most among tight ends, while also missing two games. The targets were underwhelming, however, as Knox averaged less than five targets per game last season, which worries me a bit, especially if you project the touchdown rate to come down (it will). Allen and Knox are extremely close and have developed a strong rapport, while the touchdown upside is there in an elite offense. 

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals

Total: 44.5, CIN -6.5
Pace: CIN: 29.5 sec/snap (29th), PIT: 27.2 sec/snap (11th)

What to watch for: The revamped Bengals offensive line. Joe Burrow was under pressure on 37.7% of his dropbacks during the playoffs. Cincinnati added La’el Collins, Ted Karras and Alex Cappa this offseason.

Bengals

Quarterback

Cincinnati is coming off a stellar 2021 campaign where the offense led the NFL in explosive plays en route to a Super Bowl appearance. It’ll be interesting to see how much the Bengals regress in that department, as Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase combined to lead the league in vertical touchdown passes, while no quarterback threw more deep touchdowns than Burrow (13). Among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts last year, Burrow led the league in yards per attempt (8.87), while his 69 deep pass attempts were seventh. A matchup with the Steelers is going to be an immediate test for Cincinnati’s revamped offensive line, as the Steelers were seventh in football in pressure rate last season (26.1%). And while Burrow was elite in terms of yards per attempt and such for much of the year, he really struggled against the Steelers last season. In both meetings, Burrow failed to reach 200 passing yards, though it is worth noting he only attempted 42 passes in those contests. Pittsburgh was 16th in deep completion rate allowed in 2021 (38.5%), though they did allow the fifth-highest aDOT (8.56 yards). You aren’t benching Burrow in Week 1, but I am tempering expectations a bit.

Running Back

As for the ground attack, Joe Mixon is coming off a great season. He’s an obvious starter every week, and this could potentially be a blowup spot to start the year. The Steelers’ run defense fell off a cliff last season, as they allowed the second-most yards after contact per rush (2.75), most yards per rush (4.9) and most rushing yards per game (143.8). Only the Houston Texans missed more tackles than the Steelers last season, while 12.9% of the carries against this team went for 10-plus yards, the fourth-highest rate in the NFL. This is a good spot for Mixon, as his 102 rushes to the outside were easily the most in football last year, averaging a strong 4.7 yards per carry off the play type. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, allowed 6.7 yards per carry on runs to the left tackle last season and 5.83 yards per carry on runs to the right tackle. In two meetings with the Steelers last season, Mixon posted stat lines of 18-90-0 and 28-165-2. 

Wide Receiver

Ja’Marr Chase was selected in the first round of fantasy drafts and is a must-start every single week. But what should we expect from this matchup? Well, for starters, it seems likely that opposing defenses begin to deploy more two-high safety looks against the Bengals after watching them rip off so many long plays last season. Chase saw so many high-upside targets last season, ranking second in deep targets (26) and top-10 in end zone targets with 12 but his volume actually wasn’t as dominant as you’d expect, averaging a respectable 7.5 targets per game, while his 23.7% target share ranked 23rd among receivers. And while the long touchdowns aren’t sustainable, Chase could make up for it with an uptick in volume. Remember, during the first eight weeks of the season, Cincinnati posted the 11th-lowest pass rate in the NFL (56.9%), while Burrow averaged just over 30 pass attempts per game. However, as Burrow was more comfortable and fully recovered from his injury, the Bengals began throwing the football more. In Weeks 9-17 (the Bengals sat most of their starters in Week 18), Burrow averaged nearly 35 pass attempts per game, while the Bengals climbed to 13th in overall pass rate during that span at about 59%. In this matchup, Chase will see coverage from Ahkello Witherspoon, who had limited coverage snaps last season in nine games. However, he did surrender 16.5 yards per reception in coverage, the fourth-highest rate in football. As a team, the Steelers allowed 12.8 fantasy points per game to pass-catchers on the left side of the formation, tied for the most in the league.

Tee Higgins, meanwhile, will draw coverage from former Bills cornerback Levi Wallace. A solid defensive back, Wallace was targeted 81 times last season (20th), as teams steered away from Tre’Davious White on the outside and Taron Johnson in the slot. Wallace was solid but Higgins also has four inches and nearly 40 pounds on him. Look for Burrow to take some shots towards Higgins, who hauled in 9-of-14 contested targets from Week 10 on last season (64.3%), while his 16 contested catches on the season were the fifth-most in football. You can also make the argument that Higgins is the 1A when it comes to red zone usage. Despite missing three games, Higgins only saw one less end zone target than Chase last season. And because the Bengals scored so many long touchdowns, they didn’t get into the red zone as often as you’d think. In fact, Cincinnati ranked just 17th in red zone scoring attempts per game last season (3.1), while averaging the fourth-fewest plays per drive (5.7). Higgins is one of my favorite wideouts for 2022, and I’d pencil him in as a low-end WR2 for Week 1.

Finally, Tyler Boyd is also on my radar for the season, but Week 1 makes for a tough spot. Boyd benefited from Cincinnati’s uptick in passing rate down the stretch, as he was the WR27 in fantasy from Weeks 9-17. He’ll continue to primarily play out of the slot, where he lined up 89.7% of the time, the second-highest rate in football. If opposing defenses start showing a lot of two-high safety looks against the Bengals this season, Boyd could see more targets, but this matchup is a tough one. Steelers slot defensive back Cameron Sutton allowed just 0.19 fantasy points per route in coverage last year, which ranked 21st among all defensive backs with at least 50 routes against. Meanwhile, only Casey Hayward allowed fewer targets per route covered than Sutton in 2021 (0.10), per FTN Daily’s WR/CB Matchups Tool

Tight End

Hayden Hurst joins the Bengals after two seasons with the Falcons, but I would not rely on him as a fantasy option in the opening week of the season. At best, Hurst is fourth on this team in targets on a weekly basis.

Steelers 

Quarterback

Outside of superflex formats, you won’t be starting Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett in fantasy leagues all year long, let alone this week. When we last saw Trubisky as the starting signal caller in Chicago, he finished as the QB24, QB29, QB11 and QB29 in fantasy points per game from 2017 to 2020. He does present some rushing appeal, as Trubisky is averaging 21.6 rushing yards per game in 50 career starts. But, yeah, don’t start Trubisky this week.

Running Back

There have been some reports that Najee Harris’ volume will come down a bit in 2022. Well, considering he led the NFL in touches with 381, while logging 84% of the snaps, it probably wasn’t going to go up. Still, Harris should contend with the league-lead in touches again this season, while a slight drop in volume would be traded for an uptick in efficiency. His usage in the passing game will be interesting to track, especially after a season where he paced the running back position in targets (94) and receptions (74). If a change in quarterback doesn’t impact his role in the passing game too much, Harris could be busy on Sunday, facing a Bengals defense that surrendered the fourth-most receptions (6.4) fourth-most targets (7.9) and sixth-most receiving yards (45.2) per game to opposing backfields in 2021. It is highly unlikely Harris matches his 19 targets from Week 3 against the Bengals last year, but he should remain plenty involved. We’ll see how much the efficiency improves in his second year.

Wide Receiver

Diontae Johnson’s volume might also take a hit after the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, though he remains the clear WR1 in Pittsburgh. He is top-five in all of football in targets over the last two seasons, averaging 156.5 targets during that span. Last season, Johnson saw 169 targets, the second-most in the NFL, while his 147 first-read targets were tied for the third-most in football. Johnson handled 31% of the Steelers first-read targets last season, too. This matchup is interesting, as Chidobe Awuzie shadowed opposing wideouts at times last season, including in Week 12 where he followed Johnson on 58% of his routes. If he doesn’t shadow, Awuzie will line up as the right corner 60% of the time, which would mean he’d be covering rookie George Pickens for much of the game. That would draw Johnson against Eli Apple, who struggled at times over the course of the 2021 season. Of course, this is assuming Matt Canada and the Steelers do play Chase Claypool out of the slot more, as we know the Steelers want to run 11 personnel, which they have done 75% of the time in each of the last two seasons, placing them inside the top-five during that stretch. 

(Note: Johnson suffered a shoulder injury during Week 3 of the preseason and while it didn’t appear to be serious, Johnson was very limited in practice on Wednesday and is legitimately questionable to play Sunday. If he is ruled out, Claypool, Pickens and Pat Freiermuth see huge bumps.)

Last season, Claypool only lined up in the slot 19.5% of the time, after operating out of the slot 23.4% of the time in 2020. But when Claypool has had spike weeks, his production has often come from the slot. In Week 5 of last year, Claypool had 5-130-1, with two of those catches for 77 yards and a score coming from the slot. And during his breakout Week 5 against Philadelphia during his rookie season, Claypool recorded 110 yards and three touchdowns. 47 yards and two of those scores came while he was aligned inside. Week 1 may be too early to plug Claypool into your starting lineup but keep an eye on his usage this weekend.

Tight End

Pat Freiermuth was drafted in the TE10-12 range in most leagues, which is likely where he will be ranked for me this week. The Bengals allowed the seventh-most fantasy points (12.02), fourth-most receptions (5.6) and fifth-most receiving yards (63.7) per game to opposing tight ends last season. There is touchdown potential with Freiermuth, as his nine targets from inside the 10-yard line were the fourth-most among tight ends, while his 20 red zone targets were tied for the most at the position. 

Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans

Total: 45.5, Colts -7
Pace: HOU: 28.3 sec/snap (21st), IND: 29.9 sec/snap (31st)

What to watch for: After all the hype, how many records will Dameon Pierce break? Meanwhile, Colts LB Shaquille Leonard (back) remains sidelined. 

Colts

Quarterback

After 14 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, Matt Ryan is now the starting quarterback in Indianapolis. Once a yearly top-12 fantasy quarterback, Ryan has been more of a QB2 over the last few seasons, ranking 27th and 14th in fantasy points per game over the last two years. Ryan will be much better for the Colts offense than Carson Wentz was a season ago, but his fantasy upside will be limited. Wentz was the QB18 in points per game last year and didn’t see a ton of passing volume, averaging just over 30 pass attempts per game. A matchup with the Texans could lead to some upside, however, as Houston allowed the sixth-most points per drive last season (2.41). The Texans were also awful against play-action passing, coughing up the third-most yards per attempt (9.8), worst aDOT (10.1 yards) and eighth-highest touchdown rate (6.6%) off the play type. That bodes well for Ryan, who is now in a Colts offense that sported a 47.8% play-action rate a season ago. Ryan is a high-end QB2 for this divisional showdown.

Running Back

I mean, I would start Jonathan Taylor in fantasy, but that’s just me. You don’t need any motivation to place Taylor into your starting lineup, mainly because he should already be there. But expect a huge performance against a Texans team that led the NFL in missed tackles a season ago, while 14.5% of the runs against Houston went for 10-plus yards, the highest rate in football. That obviously bodes well for Taylor, as 15% of his carries last year went for at least 10 yards, the fifth-highest rate among running backs with at least 50 rushing attempts. In two meetings with the Texans last season, Taylor’s stat lines weren’t too bad: 14-145-2, 32-143-2.

Meanwhile, Nyheim Hines will be more involved this season, but I’m not sure it’ll be in Week 1. The Colts are eight-point favorites against a bad Texans team but in deeper PPR formats, you could do worse than Hines as a flex option. With Ryan in town, Hines should see more consistent work in the passing game, as he checked the ball down 9% of the time last season, which was above the league average. Hines was working with the wide receivers in training camp a bit and given the lack of depth the Colts have at wideout, Hines could play plenty of slot receiver this season. 

Wide Receiver

Michael Pittman was the clear top target in the Colts passing game last season, seeing 129 targets, 16th in the NFL. He was so clearly ahead of every other pass-catcher on this team that Pittman was responsible for a whopping 27% of Indianapolis’ total receptions this past season. Only two players in all of football sported a higher percentage of team’s receptions — Cooper Kupp (35%) and Davante Adams (30%). That is elite company for Pittman in terms of volume and entering his third season, I don’t expect much to change. The volume should continue in 2022 with Ryan under center for the Colts, as Ryan has hyper-targeted his top wideouts over the course of his career. Granted, he has been on the same team as Julio Jones, Roddy White and Calvin Ridley, but from 2016 to 2020, Ryan’s No. 1 receiver averaged just over 149 targets per season. As for the matchup, the Texans played man coverage at one of the highest rates in football last season, which means Pittman will see plenty of individual matchups. He should draw coverage from Steven Nelson, who is 5-foot-10 and 197 pounds. Pittman, meanwhile, is 6-4, 223. Advantage Pittman, who is a low-end WR1 for opening week.

After Pittman, things get a bit more difficult. Parris Campbell is currently healthy, and he and rookie Alec Pierce will start alongside Pittman in three-wide sets. But in an already low-volume passing offense as huge favorites, it is difficult to project enough work for Pierce or Campbell to warrant fantasy consideration right now, despite how favorable the matchup is. 

Tight End

Is it possible Mo Alie-Cox or Jelani Woods score a touchdown in this game? Absolutely. Despite logging under 55% of the snaps a season ago, Alie-Cox was 12th at the position in end zone targets with six. Tight ends have also accounted for at least 27% of the team’s targets in each of the last four seasons, ranking above the league average in all four seasons. We have also seen the tight end position score a healthy amount of touchdowns, as during that span, the tight end position has scored 26%, 33%, 31.8% and 51% of the Colts receiving touchdowns. But tight end is just far too deep (for now) to consider starting a Colts tight end. 

Texans

Quarterback

Davis Mills is coming off an impressive rookie season where he posted the fourth-best deep completion rate among signal callers with at least 100 dropbacks (45%). Of course, the quarterback position is so deep that Mills should not be considered in anything outside of superflex leagues, and even then, you can likely find a second quarterback with more upside. Especially in a matchup against a Colts defense that has made an effort to limit the deep passing plays for years now. Indianapolis has played a lot of Cover-2 over the years under defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. Gus Bradley is now the defensive coordinator, and he has run more Cover-3 than pretty much anyone in football. 

Running Back

It appears Dameon Pierce is the starting running back in Houston. After a stellar preseason, Pierce entered the RB2 discussion in fantasy drafts. Pierce hasn’t entered must-start territory, however, and remains in flex consideration, especially in a tough matchup with a Colts defense that allowed the fourth-fewest yards after contact per attempt (2.27) and fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing running backs (17.91). It is also possible that opposing defenses stack the box against the Texans, as Rex Burkhead saw stacked boxes on nearly 30% of his carries last season, while 38.7% of Mark Ingram’s carries were against stacked boxes, one of the highest rates in football. It will be interesting, however, to see the Colts defense without Shaquille Leonard, one of the best players in the league. Hopefully the Texans run-blocking unit can improve, as no team in football created fewer yards before first contact per rush than Houston last season (0.67). It does look like Leonard is unlikely to play in this game, which helps Pierce and Burkhead. In the one game Leonard missed last season, Chase Edmonds scored over 26 fantasy points, hauling in 8-of-9 targets for 71 yards, while scoring a rushing touchdown.

Wide Receiver

The only pass-catcher you are starting with any confidence is Brandin Cooks, who should continue to dominate the targets. Cooks has recorded 1,000 yards and finished as a top-20 fantasy wideout in six of his last seven seasons, accomplishing the feat with four different teams. In 2021, Cooks saw a 25% target share (top-10), while also seeing 37% of Houston’s air yards (6th) and 28% of the first read targets. He also saw at least 25% of the team’s targets in seven different games this past season. And while his quarterback situation certainly isn’t the greatest in football, Mills was fine last year. And in 12 games alongside Mills, Cooks still averaged nearly nine targets, 6.1 receptions, 65.5 yards and over 15 PPR points per game. The Colts, meanwhile, play a ton of zone, while Cooks was top-15 in yards per route run, targets, receptions and touchdowns against zone coverage in 2021. Cooks also posted a 30% target share when the Texans trailed by 9-13 points last season. Houston are eight-point underdogs for this game.

Tight End

Brevin Jordan is arguably my top sleeper for the upcoming season. He is a talented player with a legitimate chance of finishing second on his team in targets. That makes him relevant at the tight end position. Of course, I wouldn’t start him in more shallow formats but there is appeal here. We’ve seen the tight end position heavily involved in offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s past offenses, especially during his tenure with the Colts. In the three seasons Hamilton was in Indianapolis, tight ends accounted for 19, 21 and 25% of the team’s targets. And that was with the team lacking a top-tier tight end, but instead having Coby Fleener, Jack Doyle and Dwayne Allen all involved. Meanwhile, back when he was the offensive coordinator at Stanford in 2011 and 2012, tight ends accounted for 40 and 45% of the team’s receptions. The Colts, meanwhile, allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends last season (12.1) and the middle of the zone defense could be a spot where Jordan can make an impact.

 

Philadelphia Eagles @ Detroit Lions

Total: 48.5, PHI -4
Pace: DET: 28.8 sec/snap (26th), PHI: 26.7 sec/snap (5th)

What to watch for: Philadelphia’s pass rate. Will the Eagles pass rate resemble the first half of the 2021 season or the second half? 

Lions

Quarterback

Jared Goff was 29th in the league in fantasy points per dropback a season ago (0.38), averaging just over 14 fantasy points per game. He was extremely conservative, sporting the league’s lowest intended air yards per pass attempt (6.4), while his 3.0 completed air yards per pass attempt was the second-lowest mark in football. Just 8.5% of his pass attempts traveled 20 yards or more down the field, one of the lowest rates in the league. He checked the ball down 9% of the time, above the league-average rate of 7%. While his final five starts were encouraging (69.5% completion rate, 11 TDs, 2 INTs), Goff can be left on waiver wires ahead of a matchup with the Eagles improved defense.

Running Back

This is a really interesting spot for D’Andre Swift. The Eagles run defense has been among the league’s best for years, though they did take a bit of a step back last year. Still, just 32.6% of the yardage against the Eagles last year came via the run, a bottom-12 rate in the league. So on a per-carry basis, Swift could struggle in this game. However, given the makeup of this Philadelphia defense, Swift could catch a lot of passes in this game. The Eagles have two very good defensive backs on the outside, but the linebackers are a question mark, especially in coverage. In 2021, the Eagles coughed up the third-most targets per game to opposing running backs (8.2) to go along with 6.8 receptions per game to the position (third most). And according to our passing direction stats, 36% of the total pass plays against Philadelphia last year went to the short right part of the field, the third-highest rate of any pass direction. The Eagles also allowed a league-leading six touchdowns to the flat last season, the most in the league. We know Swift is going to live in that 10-14 carry range but in this game, he could legitimately see double-digit targets. Swift also saw a 25% target share when the Lions trailed by 9-13 points last year, the 11th-highest rate. 

Jamaal Williams, meanwhile, should not be counted on in Week 1. He’ll play a decent number of snaps and see 7-10 carries, but I don’t expect them to be high-value carries, despite how good Detroit’s offensive line can be. 

Wide Receiver

The Eagles asked Darius Slay to shadow opposing wide receivers on eight different occasions last season, though that could change this year now that Philadelphia has a reliable CB2 in James Bradberry. Regardless, Slay will likely be matched up with DJ Chark, who primarily plays on the outside, while Slay did not play a single coverage snap from the slot last season. Like Swift, Amon-Ra St. Brown has a favorable matchup here, as he’ll draw coverage from Avonte Maddox, who allowed the fourth-most targets (72) and receptions (52) in slot coverage last year. While it is highly unlikely St. Brown picks up where he left off to end the 2021 season (11.17 targets, 8.5 receptions, 93.3 receiving yards and 25.8 PPR points per game from Weeks 13-18); we did see Dan Campbell scheme touches for him when he took over play-calling duties. The floor should be strong most weeks, making St. Brown a rock-solid WR3 against the Eagles. 

Tight End

T.J. Hockenson appeared to be on his way to a massive season last year. Through his first two games, Hockenson hauled in 16-of-20 targets for 163 yards and two touchdowns. He was a bit inconsistent from then on. Still, in Weeks 1-13, Hockenson was the TE3 in fantasy, behind only Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce. A thumb injury cut his season short at that point, though. During that 12-game span, Hockenson saw at least eight targets eight times, something that won’t happen as often after St. Brown’s emergence. The Eagles added Kyzir White this offseason, who is one of the best coverage linebackers the team has had in a while. How much can he help a team that was destroyed by tight ends is the question, as the Eagles allowed the second-most fantasy points (14.29), most receptions (6.3) and third-most targets (8.1) per game to the position in 2021.

Eagles

Quarterback

Start Jalen Hurts. Every single week. 

Before hurting his ankle in Week 12 against the Giants, Hurts was the QB1 in fantasy, averaging 23 points per game. He rushed for 784 yards and 10 touchdowns on the year, while his 14 carries from inside the 5-yard line were sixth in football. Meanwhile, Hurts provided a strong weekly floor, rushing for at least 55 rushing yards in eight different games. Hurts averaged 0.63 fantasy points per dropback, good for the second-most among all quarterbacks and now the Eagles added an elite receiver in A.J. Brown to the fold. Detroit has made many moves this offseason, but I still project the defense to struggle. In 2021, the Lions allowed the second-most points (2.54) and third-most yards (35.7) per drive, while opponents scored points on 47.8% of drives against the Lions, a bottom-five rate in football. It’ll be interesting to see what the Eagles pass rate looks like this season. In Weeks 1-7 last year, Philadelphia passed 61% of the time. But from Week 8 on, the Eagles sported a massive neutral-script rush rate of 53.8%, while also running the football 72% of the time when winning by at least eight points. I’d expect the pass rate is somewhere in between, though Hurts did dropback to pass on every play in his lone preseason drive. Regardless, Hurts is a top-five signal caller for the year and a top-three play for Week 1.

Running Back

This is a tremendous spot for an Eagles running back but how confident can we be in Miles Sanders? Of course, the fact that he scored zero touchdowns last season is tough to forget, but Sanders was once again efficient. During his NFL career, Sanders is averaging 5.1 yards per carry, ranking seventh, 13th and 15th in yards per touch. He’s truly been one of the best running backs in football when it comes to ripping off long runs. In 2021, 35% of Sanders’ rushing attempts went for 15 yards or more, good for the sixth-best rate among qualified running backs. And in 2020 and 2019, Sanders ranked 11th and ninth in breakaway run rate. He should remain efficient behind the league’s best offensive line that generated a league-best 2.22 yards before contact per rush last season, while the Lions allowed seven different 100-yard rushing games last year. It’ll come down to the goal-line work, as Sanders only saw six carries from inside the 5-yard line last year, third on his own team. When these teams met last season, Boston Scott and Jordan Howard combined for four touchdowns inside the 5-yard line, so the upside is there for Sanders to post a top-15 performance here. But given some uncertainty with his role, consider him a low-end RB2.

Kenneth Gainwell is certainly going to be a viable flex play at times this season, but it is tough to start him early in the year because of the uncertainty. There have been reports that Gainwell would see some goal-line work this year, while we know the Eagles have used him on third downs and in the two-minute drill. In fact, per the FTN Data team, Gainwell played on 90 of Philadelphia’s 246 third downs this past season and 87 of the team’s 133 plays inside two minutes at the end of the first and second halves of games. And with the Eagles as favorites in this game, it doesn’t seem like the spot for Gainwell.

Wide Receiver

A.J. Brown comes over from the Tennessee Titans, a run-first offense, to the Eagles, also a run-first offense. Brown is one of the most efficient wideouts in all of football, ranking 12th, ninth and fifth among wide receivers in fantasy points per snap over the last three seasons. Brown is only averaging 6.8 targets per game over the course of his career, so he clearly hasn’t needed elite volume to post WR1 numbers in fantasy. Brown was selected in the second or third round of drafts this summer and you are starting him as a top-15 wide receiver against a very questionable Lions secondary that allowed the second-highest passing touchdown rate in football a season ago (5.7%). 

Meanwhile, DeVonta Smith is a rock-solid WR3 this week, and likely the rest of the season. He put together an impressive rookie season in 2021, hauling in 64 passes for 916 yards and five touchdowns. He made plenty of plays deep down the field, sporting the league’s sixth-highest aDOT (15.2 yards), while his 17 deep targets were eighth most. Smith hauled in 11 of his deep targets for over 300 yards and three touchdowns and the addition of A.J. Brown allows Smith to move into the slot more, which can’t hurt. As we discussed earlier, Smith only lined up out of the slot 11.7% of the time, which was the fifth-lowest rate among all wide receivers. Smith showed that he can be a star receiver in year one, as his 10 created receptions–which are receptions that require exceptional body control, hands, and/or acrobatics– were the second-most in football. There will be opportunities for Hurts and Smith to connect on some deep passes in this matchup, as the Lions coughed up the highest aDOT in football last year (8.69), while also allowing the sixth-highest completion percentage on deep passes (44.3%). The Lions also allowed the third-most yards after the catch per reception on deep passes (8.77).

Tight End

Dallas Goedert will enter the 2022 season as the Eagles full-time tight end. Goedert averaged around 12 PPR points, 6.27 targets and 64 receiving yards per game after the team traded Zach Ertz last season, while running a ton of routes. The four touchdowns were underwhelming, as Goedert only saw two end zone targets over the course of the entire season. With the Lions allowing the 10th-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends in 2021 (11.37), Goedert should be ranked as a top-seven player at the position this week.

New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons

Total: 42.5, NO -5
Pace: ATL: 27.8 sec/snap (14th), NO: 28.7 sec/snap (24th)

What to watch for: Alvin Kamara’s usage. Last season, the Saints had very little depth at wide receiver, while also having no depth behind Kamara at running back until Mark Ingram joined the team. As a result, Kamara posted a career-high 240 carries but career-lows in targets (67) and receptions (47).

Saints

Quarterback

Sure, the sample size wasn’t as high, but no quarterback averaged more fantasy points per dropback in 2022 than Jameis Winston’s 0.64. The 8.7% touchdown rate is obviously going to regress, but Winston was playing really well before his ACL tear. And now the Saints will have Michael Thomas, Chris Olave and Jarvis Landry catching passes from Winston, who is a very high-end QB2 against the Falcons, a defense that simply fails to generate pressure. Last season, Atlanta sported the league’s worst pressure rate (16.7%), while their 7.6% hurry rate ranked 31st in football. The Falcons also surrendered 2.52 points (third most), 36.3 yards (second most) and 6.7 plays per drive, the most in football. Atlanta also allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to opposing signal callers last year, as well as the third-most rushing yards per game to the position (25.3). Winston, meanwhile, quietly averaged 23.7 rushing yards and 4.6 rush attempts per game this past season.

Running Back

Alvin Kamara is unlikely to see the same usage he saw last year, which is probably better for fantasy. He posted career-lows in catch rate (66%), targets (67) and receptions (47), though his 240 carries were a career-high. The absence of Drew Brees clearly impacted Kamara, while his role in the passing game dipped with Winston out of the lineup. Kamara averaged around six targets per game when Taysom Hill wasn’t under center, compared to 4.8 per game with Hill at quarterback. For much of the season, the Saints had no one at running back behind Kamara, which led to six different 20-carry games. However, the team added Mark Ingram halfway through the season and Kamara’s numbers took a hit. In fact, in four games alongside Ingram last year, Kamara’s touches per game went from nearly 25 all the way down to 16.75, while he only averaged 12.5 PPR points per game in the split. Hopefully this is the start of Kamara returning to his elite pass-catching production, as the Falcons have struggled to cover opposing running backs for years. Last year, Atlanta allowed the ninth-most receptions (5.4) and targets (6.9) per game to opposing backfields.

Wide Receiver

The Saints wide receiver room is much different this season. For starters, Michael Thomas is back after hardly seeing the field over the last two seasons. New Orleans also added Chris Olave and Jarvis Landry during the offseason, giving the team the most depth it has had at wideout in quite some time. It’ll be interesting to see where all three wideouts line up this season, as well as in this game. Thomas did not play in the preseason, while Landry only played in one game. Landry played just three passing plays, lining up in the slot on all three, while Olave played in the slot 35% of the time during the preseason. I would guess that in three-wide sets, Thomas and Olave play on the outside with Landry in the slot. But we know the Saints are going to run so many bunch formations anyway. As long as Thomas is healthy, I’d play him as a WR3 in a tougher-than-you-think matchup with the Falcons, who quietly have one of the top defensive back duos in football. 

Olave starts his NFL career with one of the toughest assignments in all of football. Assuming he lines up on the right side of the field, Olave will draw plenty of coverage from A.J. Terrell, one of the best defensive players in football. Terrell only shadowed once last year, a Week 17 game against Stefon Diggs, so don’t expect him to follow Olave around the formation or anything. Last season, Terrell lined up on the left side of the field a whopping 89% of the time, per FTN’s WR/CB tool. And per the chart, Terrell allowed just 0.12 targets and 0.12 fantasy points per route, which ranked 14th and first in the league. He’s one of the five best defensive backs in football. Keep Olave on your bench to start the year. 

Tight End

Don’t start any tight ends from the Saints in fantasy. During the team’s second preseason game, the Saints used four different tight ends with the first-team offense, including Adam Trautman, Taysom Hill, Juwan Johnson and Nick Vannett. Johnson led the position in routes run and we did see some spike touchdown games from him last year but it is best to look elsewhere. 

Falcons

Quarterback

Both Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder played pretty well during the preseason. Of course, that isn’t enough to consider Mariota as a reliable starting quarterback in fantasy, especially against a Saints defense that allowed the third-fewest passing touchdowns last season (18), as well as the fourth-lowest passer rating (81.7). In his first season as the head coach of the Falcons, Arthur Smith saw his play-action rate plummet from what it was during his time with Derrick Henry in Tennessee. Smith’s play-action rate dropped from 57.1% during his final season in Tennessee to just 35.2% last year. We saw a massive point of emphasis on play-action/bootleg during the preseason, but this isn’t the spot, as the Saints allowed the eighth-lowest completion percentage off play-action in 2021 (64.5%).

Running Back

From a pure rushing perspective, a matchup against the Saints is as bad as it gets for opposing running backs. No team allowed fewer yards per rush last year than New Orleans (3.73), while also allowing the second-fewest yards after contact per rush (2.01). 51.4% of the carries against the Saints went for less than four yards and didn’t result in a first down or touchdown, the third-highest rate in the league. And finally, the Saints have only allowed one running back to rush for 100 yards against them over the last three years. So Cordarrelle Patterson may not have the most efficient production on the ground, but we know he’s involved in the passing game. Patterson saw a career-high 153 carries, while also catching 52 passes for 548 yards and five touchdowns in his first season with the Falcons. Atlanta used Patterson all over the formation, as he lined up in the backfield for 294 snaps, in the slot for 65 snaps and out wide 97 times. Listed as a running back, Patterson finished third at the position with an 18.1% slot rate, while no running back lined up out wide at a higher rate (31.7%). He should see enough work in the passing game to warrant flex consideration in PPR formats.

Wide Receiver

Drake London is in line for plenty of work during his rookie season. The Falcons selected him eighth overall in April’s draft and on a team that should be chasing points very often this season, London could see 120-130 targets right away. At 6-foot-4, London has great size and contested catch ability, playing both in the slot and out wide during his time at USC. Despite only playing eight games during his final season, London still led the nation with 18 contested catches, while his target share was well over 30% before hurting his ankle. London likely leads all rookies in targets this season and the majority of production against the Saints comes through the air. 70.6% of the yardage allowed by New Orleans last year came via the pass, the seventh-highest rate in football. As for the individual matchup, I’m sure London will see some coverage from Marshon Lattimore, but not exclusively. Lattimore only shadowed four times last season and I doubt he will in this matchup. London is also questionable to play in this game, as head coach Arthur Smith stated that the team won’t know until the end of the week if London plays or not.

Tight End

Kyle Pitts put together an impressive rookie campaign, hauling in 68 passes for 1,026 yards on 110 targets. He only scored a shockingly low one touchdown, to go along with five end zone targets. That number has to rise entering his second season and while the offense isn’t expected to be great, Pitts will remain the catalyst and will be used all over the field. During his rookie season, Pitts showcased the ability to win against zone and even against press coverage against some of the top defensive backs in the league. He is already arguably the league’s most dangerous vertical tight end, as he led the position in yards per reception (15.1), while ranking third in yards per target (9.3) and fifth in yards per route run (2.02). The Saints played man coverage nearly 37% of the time last year, one of the highest rates in football. Pitts should see some 1-on-1 matchups, especially since he saw coverage from a defensive back on 46.7% of his routes last year, the highest rate among all tight ends. And against man coverage last year, Pitts averaged 20.0 yards per catch and 2.35 yards per route run. No one in the NFL can cover Pitts. Start him. 

San Francisco 49ers @ Chicago Bears

Total: 40.5, SF -7
Pace: CHI: 27.9 sec/snap (16th), SF: 29.5 sec/snap (28th)

What to watch for: A change in the Bears offense. With a new regime in Chicago, look for the Bears to continue adding many more wrinkles to their offense. 

Bears

Quarterback

The Justin Fields breakout season starts Sunday.

Fields had an up-and-down rookie season, though it was largely due to the Bears failing to put him in successful situations. With a new regime, I expect great things. In 2021, Fields only ran 22 RPO plays, which ranked 31st among all quarterbacks. Given the fact that they have one of the worst receiver rooms in football, I fully expect the Bears to lean on the running game quite a bit this season, which should lead to plenty of RPO plays from Fields. He is one of the most athletic players in the NFL, but he’s also a very, very accurate deep ball passer, ranking 13th in adjusted completion rate on deep balls during his rookie season. That could set up plenty of play-action, which is something we didn’t see a whole lot of in 2021. Just over 17% of Fields pass attempts last season came off play-action and if you combined Fields, Andy Dalton and Nick Foles play-action pass attempts (81), that number would still have ranked just 26th in the league. As a team, the Bears sported a 26.2% play-action rate, which was 10% lower than it was during the 2020 campaign. Expect a rather large jump in both RPO and play-action plays from Chicago this season, which will put Fields in much better situations. 

A Week 1 matchup against San Francisco isn’t the most ideal but Fields did score 26.3 fantasy points against this team last year. He ran for over 100 yards in that contest and rushed for at least 35 yards in six of his seven starts last season, which is always enticing for fantasy purposes. Fields finished as a top-12 fantasy quarterback in four of his last five games, showing that upside. The 49ers also allowed the second-most rushing yards off scrambles last year (312). Fields is a high-end QB2 to start the year. 

Running Back

David Montgomery will at least open the season as the clear starting running back for the Bears. During his first three years in the league, he has averaged nearly 240 carries per season and that workload was fantastic once again this past season. Montgomery averaged over 20 touches per game and despite missing four contests, he still finished the year ninth among all running backs in carries (225) and 10th in snaps (258). The efficiency has been rough, however, and I don’t expect it to get much better, especially this week. Chicago has one of the league’s worst offensive lines, as the Bears generated just 1.35 yards before contact per attempt last year (seventh worst). I don’t envision Montgomery getting to the second level very often against San Francisco, as just 7.4% of the runs against them last season went for at least 10 yards, the second-lowest rate in the NFL. Montgomery is a low-upside RB2 in this spot.

Wide Receiver

Matchup aside, it’ll be difficult to bench Darnell Mooney in fantasy this season given the volume he should see. In 2021, he posted a 26% target share, which was the sixth-highest mark in all of football. Mooney also ranked ninth in receptions share (24%), ninth in receiving yards share (28%) and 10th in percentage of team air yards (35%). Meanwhile, Mooney saw a whopping 33% of Chicago’s first read targets, a number that trailed only Cooper Kupp, Davante Adams, DJ Moore and Justin Jefferson this past season. This matchup is solid for Mooney, as San Francisco allowed the 12th-most fantasy points per game to opposing wideouts last season (29.1). The secondary is the weakest point of this 49ers defense and Mooney’s projected volume should keep him in the top-32 range at the wide receiver position.

Tight End

Cole Kmet, meanwhile, has a pretty brutal matchup. San Francisco allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends last season, while Fred Warner and Azeez Al-Shaair are two of the top coverage linebackers in the NFL. Over 34% of Kmet’s targets last year came in the short middle area of the field, but just 17.3% of the total passing plays against San Francisco went to that area of the field, a below average rate in the league. However, tight end can be rough and Kmet is going to run a ton of routes and see plenty of targets, keeping him inside the top-12 at the position.

49ers

Quarterback

Trey Lance is one of the most exciting players in fantasy football. Lance saw some action during his rookie year, starting two contests and playing the second half of a game. In those contests, Lance averaged a solid 18.7 fantasy points per game, while ranking among the top quarterbacks in fantasy points per dropback for the season, though it is a small sample size. Still, it is difficult to overlook the massive ceiling Lance provides. In the aforementioned three contests, he averaged 10.3 rushing attempts per game. And of his 31 rushes during those games, 19 were designed. Lance gets the Bears to start the 2022 campaign, a defense that will be making some changes this year. Chicago is switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense and with Matt Eberflus coming over from the Colts, look for the Bears to play a lot of zone defense this season. The Indianapolis defenses under Eberflus played a lot of Cover-2 and didn’t allow teams to beat them over the top. San Francisco will welcome that with open arms, as the intermediate parts of the field are where they do the most damage. Last season, the Bears allowed 1.8 passing touchdowns per game to opposing signal callers (30th), while also sporting the league’s worst passing touchdown rate against 6.5%. I have Lance as a low-end QB1 to start the year.

Running Back

San Francisco’s backfield could be a headache over the course of the season. But in Week 1? Elijah Mitchell will lead the way and while I have some concerns for the entire season, he does set up as a solid RB2 in this game. For starters, the 49ers are touchdown favorites, which is the exact game script you want for Mitchell, who averaged 20 carries per game in contests where San Francisco won by at least 6.5 points. We know San Francisco will continue to run a lot of outside-zone, as Mitchell finished third in the league in outside runs (64), despite only playing 11 games, while over 30% of his carries went to the outside. Meanwhile, the Bears allowed 7.57 yards per carry on runs to the right end last season, as well as 6.5 yards per carry on runs to the left end. Mitchell averaged 6.1 yards per carry on outside runs last year and you know that this offense will produce an efficient ground game. In this game environment, Mitchell should flirt with 20 carries, making him a solid RB2. 

Wide Receiver

Deebo Samuel is coming off an incredible 2021 campaign and while some regression is obviously expected, Samuel is still an easy top-15 wideout. It’ll be interesting to see how much he is used in the running game, as Samuel carried the football 59 times for 365 yards and a whopping eight touchdowns. Samuel lined up in the backfield 80 times last year, as the usage in the rushing game increased during the second half of the season. He handled 21.2% of San Francisco’s carries from Week 10 on (including the playoffs), a number that is unlikely to repeat at any point this season. Still, Samuel gets a matchup with defensive back Kindle Vildor, who allowed almost 0.30 fantasy points per coverage route a season ago. Chicago, as a team, however, was one of the best defenses in football at limiting yards after the catch last season.

Brandon Aiyuk, meanwhile, definitely gets the tougher matchup here, as he’ll face Jaylon Johnson, an emerging corner in the league. Still, Aiyuk plays a little bit everywhere and he had a tremendous preseason. He started the 2021 season playing limited snaps but from Week 8 on, he played around 90% of the snaps and was San Francisco’s most-targeted player. Aiyuk was a top-30 fantasy wideout during that stretch and when the 49ers take shots down the field, he’ll likely be on the receiving end, as he led the team with a 10.4-yard aDOT last season. He’s a fine WR3 for Week 1.

Tight End

George Kittle has led all tight ends in yards per route run in each of the past three seasons (3.12, 2.84, 2.35). During that same span, Kittle has also ranked sixth, fourth and third in yards after the catch per reception. If he ran as many routes as some of the other elite tight ends in football, he could easily be the TE1 in all of fantasy. Still, you aren’t sitting Kittle under any circumstance and interestingly enough, no tight end in football saw a higher target share when leading by 9-13 points last season than Kittle (33%). Kittle missed Wednesday’s practice with a groin injury, so keep an eye on his status throughout the week (we’ve seen Kittle play many times without practicing during the week).

Baltimore Ravens @ New York Jets

Total: 44.5, BAL -7
Pace: NYJ: 27.4 sec/snap (12th), BAL: 28.5 sec/snap (22nd)

What to watch for: The Ravens backfield. Gus Edwards is out, while J.K. Dobbins may not be 100% healthy for a while. 

Jets

Quarterback

A Joe Flacco revenge game to kick off the season? You have to love it. Zach Wilson is out for Week 1 and Flacco knows the offense very well, making the Jets very comfortable with him as the starting quarterback. Of course, you are not starting Flacco in fantasy, but it is interesting to see some of the Jets splits with Flacco in the lineup last season.

Running Back

It’ll happen at some point this season, but at the moment, Breece Hall is not the lead back for the Jets. Michael Carter has been getting more reps with the starting offense, and I’d expect a 55-45 split to start the year. I do think both players will see work in the passing game and Carter was a lot more consistent in that department when Wilson was out of the lineup, as he averaged six targets, four receptions and 44.2 receiving yards per game in the split, compared to 3.2 targets, 2.1 receptions and 14.8 receiving yards per game with Wilson under center. Of course, this matchup is absolutely brutal, as the Ravens were an elite run defense last season, giving up just 1.19 yards before contact per rushing attempt, one of the best marks in the league. Meanwhile, 37.9% of the runs against the Ravens last year failed to result in a first down or touchdown, a top-three rate in football. Carter and Hall are low-upside RB2/flex plays in this tough spot.

Wide Receiver

Elijah Moore is probably the only Jets’ pass-catcher I’d be somewhat comfortable starting this week, and even then, I’m not ecstatic about the idea. Many times, when a new season starts, we have to throw the previous year’s numbers out the window. That is the case when it comes to the Ravens pass defense. Sure, Baltimore allowed the most yards per attempt (8.0), most yards per completion (12.6) and most passing yards per game (278.9). They also allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to opposing wideouts. However, Baltimore’s secondary was completely depleted last season, losing Marcus Peters before Week 1, while the rest of the secondary missed a ton of games. Baltimore will be healthy this season and even added to the secondary, bringing in Marcus Williams and Kyle Fuller. Moore is still immensely talented — in Weeks 8-13 of last year, Moore averaged 8.5 targets, 5.6 receptions, 76.5 receiving yards, 0.83 touchdowns and 18.9 PPR points per game, the fantasy WR4 during that stretch. Keep in mind that Wilson did not play in many of those games, as Moore still produced with Flacco and Mike White under center. 

Garrett Wilson, meanwhile, does not have any sample size of playing in the NFL, let alone with Flacco. He’s a tremendous fit in this Jets offense that will use pre-snap motion and scheme pass-catchers open. Wilson will likely play on the outside and in the slot, especially since Moore can play on the outside and inside. It’ll be interesting to see how the Ravens deploy their defensive backs this season. Marcus Peters primarily plays on the outside, but Marlon Humphrey has played inside and outside a lot over the course of his career. Meanwhile, Fuller primarily played on the outside before playing slot corner in Denver a season ago. Having said that, this Ravens defense is deep, and I wouldn’t feel great starting Wilson to start the season.

Tight End

The Jets added both Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah this offseason. Both players are terrific additions to the team but are unlikely to carve out a consistent enough role to warrant much fantasy attention.

Ravens

Quarterback

Lamar Jackson is healthy and ready to post an MVP-caliber season once again. Jackson was once again very good last season, averaging the seventh-most fantasy points per game (21.08). If you remove his Week 14 outing where he left early, Jackson was the QB5 in points per game. His 7.54 yards per attempt were eighth among all quarterbacks with 100 dropbacks, and while the depth at wide receiver is lacking on this Ravens team, Jackson should continue posting elite numbers. Over the last three seasons, Jackson is averaging 11.1, 10.6 and 11.7 rushing attempts per game, all of which have easily led the league during those years. The Jets, meanwhile, surrendered the most points per drive (2.67) in all of football last season and while they made some improvements this offseason, I don’t expect a huge transformation on that side of the ball. New York also played man coverage at a top-10 rate last year, which is something you just cannot do against the Ravens. When teams are playing man coverage, defenders backs are turned, giving Jackson plenty of room to operate when he runs with the football. 

The Jets were also a very bad play-action defense last season, coughing up the second-most yards per attempt (10.1), sixth-highest completion percentage (71.3%) and seventh-highest aDOT (7.3 yards) off the play type. Last year, Baltimore’s play-action rate dropped from 40% to 34%, mainly because Baltimore was trailing in games more than they had been in years. Expect way more play-action from the Ravens this year. 

Running Back

A matchup against the Jets is terrific for running backs. Last season, New York coughed up 2.18 yards before contact per rush, as well as the fourth-most rushing yards per game (138.3). No team allowed more rushing touchdowns per game than the Jets (1.6), which bodes well for a Ravens team that is running the football 46.5% of the time from inside the red zone over the last three seasons, the second-highest rate in the league during that span. And because Lamar Jackson only has 11 rushing attempts from inside the five-yard line in that stretch, Baltimore’s starting running back has massive touchdown upside. Of course, there is some uncertainty, as J.K. Dobbins is questionable to play, and even if he’s active, what does his usage look like? It is entirely possible that veteran Mike Davis gets the majority of the work for the Ravens in a stellar matchup. 49.1% of the touchdowns allowed by the Jets last year came via the run, the second-highest rate in football. If Davis is Baltimore’s starting running back, he’s a potential top-35 play for Week 1. Meanwhile, if Dobbins plays, it is still going to be difficult to trust his usage. If he were fully healthy, Dobbins would be on the RB1 radar but as of right now, it is tough to gauge just how involved he’ll be if he plays.

Wide Receiver

Rashod Bateman is set for a breakout campaign. He started his rookie year dealing with a groin injury that forced him to miss the first five games of the season. And when he returned to the lineup, his usage was all over the place, averaging just 5.6 targets per game. However, Marquise Brown is now in Arizona, paving the way for Bateman to operate as Baltimore’s clear top wide receiver. Brown saw a 26% target share this past season and while Bateman may not get to that level, most of the targets from this passing game are going to him and Mark Andrews. Bateman can win against man coverage but excels against zone coverage, which is so enticing when you consider that so many defenses have to play zone against the Ravens. Consider Bateman a top-30 wideout for opening weekend.

Tight End

Start Mark Andrews Sunday, Monday, Thursday and the occasional Saturday. Andrews was the clear TE1 in 2021, hauling in 107 passes for 1,361 yards and nine touchdowns. His 118 first-read targets from a season ago didn’t just lead all tight ends, but they were the 12th most in all of football. His 26.6% target share paced the tight end position, and this was with Marquise Brown seeing over nine targets per game last season. It is unlikely Andrews’ volume is as high as it was last season, but he will still be as involved as any tight end in all of football, while you know he will see plenty of looks in the red zone. He saw 12 end zone targets a season ago, while handling 32% of Baltimore’s end zone targets. The Jets, meanwhile, allowed the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends last year (12.13), as well as the fourth-most receiving yards per game to the position (65.5).

New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins

Total: 46, MIA -3.5
Pace: NE: 29.8 sec/snap (30th), MIA: 26.3 sec/snap (3rd)

What to watch for: Usage from both the Patriots’ and Dolphins’ backfields.

Dolphins

Quarterback

Miami’s offense is going to look very different from last year. Mike McDaniel joins the Dolphins and will bring parts of the San Francisco scheme with him. That means that Tua Tagovailoa’s job, in theory, should be much easier. More yards after the catch are on the horizon for the Dolphins, as just 49% of Tagovailoa’s passing yards from last year came after the catch, which ranked 21st in football. Jimmy Garoppolo, meanwhile, was at 54% with the 49ers a season ago. The Patriots, however, allowed the second-fewest yards after catch in all of football last year, so this may not be the greatest matchup. 78% of Tagovailoa’s passes were thrown to the first read, the second-highest rate in football, while just 62% of the passes thrown against the Patriots were to the first read, the second-lowest rate. Only the Buffalo Bills allowed fewer fantasy points per game to opposing signal callers than the Patriots in 2021 (13.86). Tagovailoa is a fine QB2 in superflex formats. 

Running Back

There is still some uncertainty about the Miami backfield, but Chase Edmonds appears to be at least the 1A. It would have been nice to see Edmonds and Raheem Mostert play in the same game during the preseason, but Edmonds should lead this backfield in touches. In 11 games where he’s seen at least 12 touches over the last two seasons, Edmonds is averaging a very solid 14.4 PPR points per contest. And this past season, 15% of Edmonds’ 2021 carries went for 10 or more yards, the fourth-highest rate in the league. He’s a tremendous fit for this outside zone scheme and the Patriots allowed a league-worst 8.65 yards per carry on runs to the left end last season. Meanwhile, no team in football allowed more yards after carry per rush last year than New England (2.81). It’ll be interesting to see if Edmonds gets the goal line work on top of the passing game usage, but I fully believe in the talent and the scheme fit. Edmonds is a top-16 running back for me in Week 1. Just make sure he’s good to go, as he was limited in Wednesday’s practice (groin).

RBs I’d start Edmonds over: Josh Jacobs, Travis Etienne, David Montgomery, Ezekiel Elliott

Of course, Mostert is an obvious fit for this running scheme that he is quite familiar with and because Edmonds isn’t likely to reach the 20-touch mark, there will be a decent amount of work for Mostert, especially after the release of Sony Michel. Mostert has been one of the most efficient running backs in football, especially on outside runs, which is what New England has struggled to defend. If Edmonds were to miss this game, Mostert would emerge as a top-20 running back for Week 1.

Wide Receiver

This is a very interesting matchup for Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, who should both be in starting lineups. The Patriots have been one of the most man-heavy defenses in the NFL for years, and I don’t expect that to change. Meanwhile, Waddle and Hill were third and 11th, respectively, in receptions against man coverage last season (38, 31). The Patriots are now without J.C. Jackson, leaving them with Jalen Mills, Terrance Mitchell and Jonathan Jones as the team’s top defensive backs. Mills has 4.61 speed, while Mitchell ran a 4.63, which is not ideal when facing two of the fastest players in football. Mitchell allowed 0.30 fantasy points per coverage route last year, the seventh-highest mark in the league. That will likely be Waddle’s matchup, while Hill will draw coverage from Mills, who allowed four touchdowns (third most) and 293 yards (15th) in man coverage last year, while playing man coverage over 45% of the time. If Tua’s deep passing numbers from last year’s limited sample size carry over (50% deep completion rate on just 26 attempts), Hill and Waddle can both go off in this spot.

Tight End

I’m not sure how anyone can have much confidence starting Mike Gesicki, even in Week 1. He does not fit the offense because he hasn’t been used in the blocking game to start his career, which is something you need to do in this offense. Gesicki operated out of the slot 62.5% of the time last year, the sixth-highest rate among tight ends, while he trailed only Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce in slot targets and receptions. But the Dolphins added Cedrick Wilson this offseason to play the slot, which makes you wonder how often Gesicki will even be on the field. I would stream multiple tight ends over Gesicki for the time being. 

Tight ends I’d start over Gesicki: David Njoku, Evan Engram, Irv Smith

Patriots

Quarterback

Mac Jones doesn’t present a high enough ceiling or floor to be considered in anything outside of superflex formats. He’s especially less viable against a Miami defense that allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing signal callers a season ago (16.3). They also allowed the fifth-lowest completion percentage (61.4%), while also sporting the league’s fifth-fastest time to pressure at 2.34 seconds. This is still a run-first offense in New England and Jones just doesn’t present a ceiling, as he averaged just 14 fantasy points per game in 2021 (25th).

Running Back

Odds are unless someone is out of the lineup, both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson will max out as flex plays for much of the season. Only Jonathan Taylor and James Conner saw more carries from inside the 5-yard line than Harris (14), while his 30 carries from inside the 10-yard line ranked second in the league. The floor is incredibly low because Harris is not involved in the passing game, as he saw just 20 targets. And if you look at the games where Harris failed to find the end zone, he only averaged 6.7 PPR points per game. Harris is a touchdown dependent flex play against a Dolphins defense that allowed the 12th-fewest rushing touchdowns from inside the 5-yard line last year (9). 

Stevenson, meanwhile, could have more RB2 upside in PPR formats if he handles the pass-catching work for the Patriots. James White is now retired, and Ty Montgomery is dealing with an ankle injury. The Dolphins did allow the eighth-most yards after contact per rush last season (2.58), which could bode well for Stevenson, who was 11th among qualified running backs in yards after contact per rush (3.26). Meanwhile, only Javonte Williams averaged fewer rushing attempts per broken tackle than Stevenson in 2021 (8.3). If I had to choose between Harris and Stevenson as a fantasy starter, it would be Stevenson.

Wide Receiver

If you aren’t starting any of New England’s wide receivers in fantasy, you are probably in good shape. Sure, Jakobi Meyers likely provides a solid floor, as he saw a target share just north of 24% last season, while averaging 7.5 targets per game. And he does get the best individual matchup of the Patriots wideouts, as Meyers lined up in the slot 66.3% of the time in 2021. Miami has two strong perimeter defensive backs so we could see the targets funnel to Meyers in the middle of the field.

Tight End

Hunter Henry’s usage in the red zone helped him score nine touchdowns last year, which kept him fantasy relevant. Henry accounted for 48% of the Patriots’ end zone targets in 2021, the highest rate in all of football, while his 12 end zone targets were the most among all tight ends. The weekly volume was inconsistent, and I do expect Jonnu Smith to have more of a role in the passing game this season. This is a middling matchup, as Miami allowed the 13th-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends last season, while also allowing the eighth-fewest end zone passing touchdowns (12). Henry remains a touchdown-dependent TE1 for fantasy.

Cleveland Browns @ Carolina Panthers

Total: 42.0, CAR -1.5
Pace: CAR: 28.6 sec/snap (23rd), CLE: 28.3 sec/snap (20th)

What to watch for: Carolina’s pace of play. In 2021, the Panthers ranked 23rd in pace. But new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has played up in pace. During his first two seasons with the Giants, McAdoo’s offenses ran no-huddle about 45% of the time. For reference, Carolina has operated out of the no-huddle 3.2 and 12% of the time during Joe Brady’s two seasons as the coordinator. And in 2014-2017, the Giants ranked 10th, second, fourth and second in seconds per play.

Browns

Quarterback

Jacoby Brissett will start at quarterback for the Browns for the first few months of the season. The quarterback position is far too deep to even think about starting Brissett in really any format, but it will be interesting to see how he impacts Cleveland’s pass-catchers. A matchup with the Panthers is not easy either, as Carolina blitzed at the third-highest rate in the NFL last year (33.7%), while allowing the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing passers (16.65).

Running Back

Over the past three seasons, Chubb has ranked second, seventh and second in rushing yards — in the year he finished seventh, Chubb missed four games. During that same stretch, Chubb has ranked first, second and third in yards after contact per attempt, often breaking off long runs. This past season, 18% of his carries went for 10-plus yards, the highest rate in the league among qualified running backs, while his 17% rate of 10-plus yard runs in 2020 was second-best in football. He’s simply been one of the most efficient running backs in football throughout his career, though his lack of work in the passing game has capped his upside, as Chubb has finished as RB13, RB11 and RB8 over the last three seasons. The addition of Kareem Hunt has really hurt Chubb’s potential upside as a pass-catcher, averaging less than two targets in games alongside Hunt over the last two years. Chubb finished 40th among running backs in routes run last year, too. This game is expected to be a slow, low-scoring game, which actually benefits Chubb. The matchup, however, is underwhelming, as the Panthers were top-10 against running backs last year. Carolina also led the NFL in rushing plays against where they stacked the box with 209. And after seeing stacked boxes on 26% of his attempts in 2021, I expect that number to rise in 2022. Chubb is a high-end RB2 for opening week.

Hunt, meanwhile, should warrant at least flex consideration on a weekly basis. In 20 contests alongside Chubb over the last two seasons, Hunt is averaging 14 PPR fantasy points per game. He’ll continue to play on passing downs and in two-minute situations, while seeing 12-14 touches. 

Wide Receiver

Outside of deeper formats, Amari Cooper is the only wideout from Cleveland who should even be considered in fantasy lineups. And even then, it would be nothing more than as a WR3. The Browns offense could struggle for a while this season, but Cooper should dominate targets, something he didn’t do last season. In fact, Cooper is coming off a career-low 6.9 targets per game in his final season in Dallas, while his 18.8% target share was also the lowest of his career. Cooper hasn’t eclipsed a 22% target share yet in his career, a feat that can easily be achieved in this Browns offense. It’ll also be interesting to see how Cooper transitions to playing more games outdoors. Since 2018, he has had some interesting indoor/outdoor splits, averaging nearly four more fantasy points and 21.5 more fantasy points per game when playing indoors.

Tight End

David Njoku has been one of my top tight end sleepers all offseason, and I would start him as a top-12 player to start the season. After the departure of Austin Hooper, the Browns gave Njoku a four-year, $56 million extension, and there is some serious post-hype sleeper appeal here. With Hooper gone, the Browns aren’t going to use as many three-tight end sets, which could lead to more playing time out of the slot for Njoku, who operated out of just over 31% of the time last season. I expect him to be plenty involved this season as during Kevin Stefanski’s first two seasons in Cleveland, tight ends have accounted for 27.3% and 28% of the team’s targets, above the league average rates of 25.4% and 25.6% during those seasons. And quarterback Jacoby Brissett has targeted the tight end position over nine times per game since the start of the 2017 campaign. 

Panthers

Quarterback

If your fantasy leagues reward bonus points for revenge, Baker Mayfield should be a QB1. He returns to Cleveland for the first time since being traded and he’ll want to prove to the Browns that they should have remained committed to him. Of course, you don’t actually get fantasy points for revenge games, so Mayfield projects as a middling QB2. Cleveland allowed the ninth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing signal callers last season (16.8), while also allowing the fourth-fewest yards per pass attempt (6.46). I do think, however, that when healthy, Mayfield is a top-15 quarterback in the league. Remember, he played through multiple injuries in 2021 — back in 2020, Mayfield threw 26 touchdowns to just eight interceptions, ranking 10th in air yards per attempt (8.3) and sixth in deep completion rate (46.6%). Don’t get it twisted. This is a significant quarterback upgrade for the Panthers. 

Running Back

If Christian McCaffrey stays healthy, he’s the best player in fantasy. The problem? He’s played just 10 games over the last two seasons. During that span, he’s played eight full games without leaving early and, as expected, he’s been an elite fantasy running back. McCaffrey is averaging over 22 PPR points per game over the course of his career and while the Panthers could scale back his workload a little bit this season, he should still see insane usage in the passing game, giving him 100-catch upside. You’re starting him. 

Wide Receiver

One of the most talented wideouts in the league, DJ Moore has shown flashes of WR1 status in fantasy but hasn’t quite been able to make the leap. He has eclipsed 1,100 yards in each of his last three seasons, but the lack of touchdowns has been a concern. Moore has yet to eclipse four touchdowns in a season — if he can reach even the 6-8 mark, a top-12 finish is extremely likely. Volume is clearly on Moore’s side, as he is coming off a season where he finished fifth in the league with 143 first read targets. Meanwhile, Moore handled 35% of Carolina’s first read targets, tied with Justin Jefferson and Davante Adams for the highest rate in the league. The addition of Mayfield could help with Moore’s lack of touchdowns, as Mayfield has a 4.8% career passing touchdown rate, which is a nice jump from Sam Darnold’s 3.3% rate. Cleveland is a solid offense but struggled in the red zone, allowing opposing offenses to score touchdowns on 65.4% of red zone trips, the sixth-worst rate in football. The Browns have a top-10 defensive back in Denzel Ward, but he did not shadow once all of last season. Cleveland played zone coverage over 72% of the time last year, a top-five rate, while Moore finished third in targets (96) and 10th in yards (712) against zone coverage.

Robbie Anderson, meanwhile, should have an every-down role and can’t be less efficient than he was last year. Anderson converted his 110 targets into just 53 receptions for 519 yards and five touchdowns, finishing as the WR49 in fantasy. Among qualified wideouts, Anderson’s 0.83 yards per route run ranked third worst in the league. To be fair, just 68% of the passes thrown Anderson’s way were deemed catchable, the third-lowest rate among receivers with at least 70 targets, but he also ranked last in yards per target (4.72). He could emerge as a viable WR3 at some point this season, but you shouldn’t start him until further notice.

Tight End

Tommy Tremble’s playing time increased once the Panthers traded Dan Arnold, but it didn’t result in anything close to fantasy relevance. Sure, Mayfield has relied on the tight end position over the course of his career, but that was also in a Cleveland scheme that heavily utilized the position. 

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Washington Commanders

Total: 44, WAS -2.5
Pace: WAS: 28.1 sec/snap (17th), JAC: 26.9 sec/snap (9th)

What to watch for: The usage of Jacksonville’s running backs.

Commanders

Quarterback

Carson Wentz is a good fit for what Washington’s offensive coordinator Scott Turner wants to do — throw the ball deep. While Wentz made plenty of head-scratching throws last year, his deep ball was still above average, as he completed 42.6% of passes 20 yards or more down the field, good for the ninth-highest rate among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts. He also posted an on-target percentage of 47% on deep passes last year. Last season, just 9% of the passes against the Jaguars went for at least 20 yards, the third-lowest rate in the NFL. But when teams did throw the ball deep against Jacksonville, they found success, completing 46.9% of passes, the second-highest rate in football. Wentz should throw the football more in Washington than in Indianapolis, while the Commanders have more depth at wide receiver. He’s a solid QB2 ahead of this matchup.

Running Back

Antonio Gibson Week 1 Fantasy Football Game-By-Game Breakdown

With Brian Robinson recovering, Washington’s backfield will likely look very similar to the past two seasons. Antonio Gibson will play on early downs and at the goal line, while J.D. McKissic works on passing downs. Gibson averaged nearly three more fantasy points per game with McKissic out of the lineup last season, which limited his upside. Gibson projects best in games where the Commanders are home favorites, which is the exact case here. In seven wins last year, Gibson averaged just over 20 carries per game, while his 71% rush share when leading by 9-13 points was the third-highest mark among all running backs. This should be a good game environment for Gibson, while Jacksonville allowed 14 rushing touchdowns from inside the 5-yard line last year, the fourth-most in the NFL. That bodes well for Gibson, who saw 12 carries from inside the 5-yard line last year (seventh). He’s a low-end RB2.

McKissic, meanwhile, is a weekly low-ceiling flex in deeper PPR formats. Before his Week 12 injury, McKissic was the RB23 in PPR leagues, averaging 11.6 points per game. In a healthy 2020 campaign, he led all running backs in routes run (399), while he averaged nearly 20 routes per game in 11 contests this past season.

Wide Receiver

One of the best receivers in football, Terry McLaurin has now posted consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns despite sporadic quarterback play. This past season, McLaurin was constantly gaining separation, only for Washington quarterbacks to either airmail the ball out of bounds or underthrow it, forcing him to make crazy adjustments. Just 71.5% of Taylor Heinicke’s passes were deemed on target last season, the seventh-lowest rate among quarterbacks with 100 dropbacks. No player in the NFL saw more contested targets than McLaurin this past season (41), though he still hauled in 22 of those targets for a league-lead in terms of contested catches. McLaurin has proven he can win at all levels of the field, especially down the field. Among qualified wideouts last season, McLaurin’s 13.9 average depth of target ranked 15th, while his 33 deep targets were the fourth most in football. 42% of Washington’s air yards went McLaurin’s way, the second-highest rate in the league. Wentz will be able to connect on deep passes to McLaurin at a higher rate and the Jaguars allowed the fifth-most yards per pass attempt last year (7.6).

Jahan Dotson has impressed during the preseason and is in line for a relatively large role in his rookie season. However, it is far too early in the season to consider starting him outside of 14-team leagues, potentially.

Tight End

Logan Thomas’ status for Week 1 has been up in the air, but he started off the week with a limited session. If active, limitations are possible, but Thomas did not have any setbacks during the offseason, which is obviously a good sign. We have seen Carson Wentz target the tight end position at a very healthy rate over the course of his career. 

Jaguars

Quarterback

Trevor Lawrence is coming off a tough rookie season where essentially nothing went right. However, the situation in 2022 is lightyears better, as Doug Pederson is now the head coach, who is going to implement an RPO-heavy, West Coast-style offense, which Lawrence is familiar with. Lawrence, who played in an RPO-centric offense at Clemson, was effective when throwing out of such sets in 2021, completing over 73% of his passes and averaging 8.7 yards per attempt, compared to a 58.3% completion rate and 5.8 yards per attempt on non-RPO plays. Entering Week 1 of 2022, Lawrence is one of my top QB2 candidates in fantasy. Washington was a pass funnel offense last year, as 70.9% of the yardage allowed by the Commanders came via the pass, the 5th-highest mark in football. 66.6% of the touchdowns scored on this defense came through the air, the fifth-highest rate, while allowing the second-worst passing touchdown rate (5.7%). Finally, Washington allowed the most fantasy points (22.1) and rushing yards (28.0) per game to opposing signal callers. That could bode well for Lawrence, who averaged 4.3 rush attempts per game last year, while his 73 total attempts were the fifth most among all quarterbacks.

Running Back

The Jacksonville backfield is one of the more interesting storylines in fantasy this season. James Robinson is working his way back from a torn Achilles, while Travis Etienne missed his entire rookie campaign with a foot injury. In this offense, Etienne should provide weekly low-end RB2 production in PPR formats, especially alongside college teammate Lawrence, who checked the ball down 11% of the time last season, one of the highest rates in the NFL and well above the league average rate of 7%. If Robinson isn’t quite ready to play in this game, Etienne flirts with top-12 upside, especially since he’ll likely see the goal line work, giving him all of the high value touches in this offense. 

Robinson, meanwhile, is extremely risky if he plays, especially given the fact that the Commanders did a great job of slowing down the run last year. In 2021, just 29% of the yardage allowed by Washington came via the run, the fifth-lowest rate in the league, while just 27.5% of the touchdowns against this team came on the ground, a bottom-six rate in football. 50% of Robinson’s runs went up the middle last year, which aren’t high value touches. It is entirely possible that he sees the goal-line work but projecting his snaps and usage is very difficult ahead of opening week.

Wide Receiver

Christian Kirk joins the Jaguars after a career-best season in Arizona. He was the WR25 in fantasy from Week 9 on, though most of those games came with DeAndre Hopkins sidelined. Kirk primarily played out of the slot last season, lining up inside nearly 79% of the time. Expect Kirk to line up in the slot at a very high rate again this season, which would give him a matchup against Kendall Fuller, a solid slot defensive back. Still, Fuller allowed 0.23 fantasy points per route covered, while also allowing a reception every 7.3 coverage snaps from the slot, the ninth-worst mark among qualified defensive backs. Kirk should remain plenty involved and settles in as a viable WR3.

Meanwhile, don’t be surprised if Marvin Jones or Zay Jones have a good game here. Washington’s secondary is extremely exploitable and both wideouts are going to see vertical targets. Marvin Jones averaged nearly 10 yards before the catch per reception last year, ranking 13th in the league in deep targets. Washington, meanwhile, allowed 10 passing touchdowns of 20-plus yards, the fourth most in the league, while nearly 12% of the passes thrown against the Commanders defense went for 20 yards or more. The Commanders also coughed up 17 end zone passing scores (fourth most), while Jones was third in the entire NFL with 15 end zone targets last season, while accounting for 46% of the team’s end zone targets, the second-highest rate in the league.

Tight End

We know that the tight end position is going to be involved in Jacksonville with Doug Pederson in town. During his final two seasons in Philadelphia, tight ends sported a target share just north of 30%. That’s good. The problem, however, is that the Jaguars have both Evan Engram and Dan Arnold on the roster. It appears, though, that Engram is the starter, as he played 26 snaps and ran 20 routes with the first team in Jacksonville’s second preseason game, while Arnold played just six snaps and ran one route. If that usage carries over into the regular season, Engram should be viewed as a top-15 tight end in fantasy.

 

New York Giants @ Tennessee Titans

Total: 43.5, TEN -5.5
Pace: TEN: 28.7 sec/snap (24th), NYG: 28.2 sec/snap (18th)

What to watch for: Brian Daboll’s impact on the Giants offense. Will we continue to see more spread formations, three-wide sets and pre-snap motion? If so, it will do wonders for the players in this offense.

Titans

Quarterback

Ryan Tannehill was one of the league’s most efficient quarterbacks in 2019-2020, ranking second and third in fantasy points per dropback, while also ranking top-five in intended air yards per pass attempt and completed air yards per pass attempt. However, he struggled in 2021, throwing for just 21 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, which were more than his two previous seasons combined. Entering the 2022 campaign, Tannehill has a questionable supporting cast around him, while the Titans offensive line has taken a huge step back. As for his Week 1 matchup, the Giants sported the league’s third-lowest pressure rate (20.1%) but that should improve in 2022 under new defensive coordinator Don Martindale. During Martindale’s tenure in Baltimore, the Ravens ranked sixth, first, first and first in blitz rate so, yeah, expect the Giants to apply more pressure this season. New York has hovered around league average in blitz rate over those four seasons. Tannehill was solid against the blitz last season, sporting the league’s 12th-highest completion rate (64.9%) and 11th-highest yards per attempt (8.21) against the play type. Still, there isn’t much upside considering he is barely averaging 30 pass attempts per game over the last two years. Keep an eye on the status of both Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari, who are both listed as day-to-day. 

Running Back

Derrick Henry played in eight games last season. He still finished 10th in the NFL in carries with 219. Henry paced all running backs in fantasy points per game before suffering his foot injury (24.2), while he was also quietly on pace for career-highs in both targets and receptions. The Giants were fifth in the league in missed tackles last season (59), while 11.7% of the runs against this defense went for 10-plus yards, the sixth-highest rate in the league. Start Henry. Duh. 

Wide Receiver

If I can help it, I’d avoid starting Tennessee pass-catchers this week. Robert Woods is the safest option — he could easily see a 22-25% target share after seeing a 22% target share last year in Los Angeles, despite competing for targets with Cooper Kupp. But the matchup isn’t great, as Adoree’ Jackson was one of the best defensive backs in football last season. Jackson only allowed 0.12 fantasy points per coverage route, a top-five number in the league, while allowing a reception every 14 coverage snaps, which ranked 13th among qualified defensive backs. And with Martindale coming over from the Ravens, expect the Giants to play more man coverage this season, which isn’t great for Woods, who has been more effective against zone coverage. 

Treylon Burks, meanwhile, has had an up-and-down offseason and isn’t even starting the season in two-wide sets for the Titans. We know the talent is immense, but we will need to see him consistently get on the field before he becomes trustworthy in fantasy. And because the Titans operated out of three-wide sets at the seventh-lowest rate in the league last season (58%), Burks needs to pass Nick Westbrook-Ikhine on the depth chart. 

Tight End

If you really waited on tight end in your drafts this summer, you could do a lot worse than Austin Hooper. During Arthur Smith’s final two seasons in Tennessee, the Titans targeted the tight end position 27% and 29%, both comfortably above the league average rate during that span. And in Todd Downing’s first season as the team’s offensive coordinator, the Titans targeted tight ends just over 26% of the time. I’d expect the tight end target rate to hover around the 25-28% mark again this season, which could bode well for the veteran tight end.

Giants

Quarterback

Daniel Jones definitely has some untapped fantasy upside. Averaging 26.3 rushing yards and 4.5 attempts per game over his career, Jones provides plenty of value in the rushing department and now he is in the best scheme of his career. He is also sixth among all signal callers in rushing yards since the start of the 2018 season. With Brian Daboll in town, the Giants offense will be much more creative, deploying more 11 personnel and pre-snap motion. These are things that should help Jones but until further notice, he shouldn’t be viewed as a starting fantasy quarterback in traditional 1QB leagues. Tennessee’s defense was strong last year, allowing the sixth-fewest points per game (20.7), while ranking top-12 in points, plays and yards per drive allowed. The pressure rate skyrocketed after struggling to get to the quarterback in 2020, as the Titans were 10th in hurry percentage (11.2%) and sacks last season. That is bad news for Jones, who completed just 50.5% of his passes when under pressure in 2021, which ranked 16th in the league. 

Running Back

No team in football surrendered fewer fantasy points per game to opposing backfields than the Titans in 2021 (16.06). That’s cool, you are still starting Saquon Barkley. This new offense should do wonders for Barkley, who saw stacked boxes on 46-of-165 carries last season (27.8%). Between that and a poor run-blocking offensive line, Barkley was stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage on 51% of his rushing attempts, the eighth-highest rate among running backs with at least 70 carries. However, when opposing defenses face four receiver sets, it forces them to play more defensive backs, while often playing two deep safeties, leading to fewer stacked boxes. The Titans, meanwhile, used stack boxes on just 71 rushing plays last year, the third fewest in football. Barkley is going to flirt with 25 touches very often this season, while those touches will be of higher value. He’s a top-10 RB in season-long leagues and a potential building block in DFS.

Wide Receiver

It’ll be interesting to see if Sterling Shepard is active for this game, who surprisingly was not placed on the PUP list after tearing his Achilles last season. He recently stated that he expects to play but how much is the real question. The Giants are going to run more three-wide sets under Daboll and Mike Kafka, which means Shepard or Kadarius Toney will have to play on the perimeter. During his rookie year, Toney played out of the slot 60% of the time, while lining up out wide just over 38% of the time. And while Shepard started his career primarily playing out of the slot, he played out wide 67% of the time back in 2020. If Toney remains on the inside, I love this spot for him, as the Titans allowed the second-most targets per game to the slot last season (9.4), per FTN Fantasy’s Advanced DVP Tool. They also allowed the most yards (85.1) and touchdowns (0.7) per game to the slot. Toney would, however, take a hit if Shepard is active, as he’s averaged 8.1 targets and over six receptions per game alongside Daniel Jones since 2018.

With Kafka expected to call plays this season, we should expect the Giants to draw up more screen passes going forward. Patrick Mahomes ranked second in screen attempts last year (89), while throwing a screen pass on 12.1% of his dropbacks, the ninth-highest rate among qualified quarterbacks. Daniel Jones, meanwhile, has ranked outside of the top-20 quarterbacks in screen attempts in every season of his career. The Titans allowed the second-most receiving yards off screens in 2021 (532). 

Of course, Tennessee’s issues defending the slot could also bode well for rookie Wan’Dale Robinson, who was ninth in college football in slot receptions in 2021 (73), while also ranking third in screen catches (35), fifth in screen yards (268) and 12th in slot yards (925). Because Toney is perfectly capable of playing on the perimeter, Robinson has a path to a large role as the slot receiver for the Giants, which is more valuable than in years past due to the uptick in three-wide sets in Daboll’s offense. 

Have you watched Kenny Golladay play football over the last year? Don’t start him.

Tight End

If you are relying on a Giants tight end for fantasy points, your team is in huge trouble.

Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings

Total: 47.0, GB -1.5
Pace: MIN: 26.7 sec/snap (5th), GB: 31.1 sec/snap (32nd)

What to watch for: Life without Davante Adams for Green Bay and Minnesota’s passing volume with Kevin O’Connell.

Vikings

Quarterback

There is a lot of excitement surrounding Minnesota’s passing game in 2022, and it’ll be interesting to see how the new regime looks in Week 1. Kirk Cousins has played against the Packers three times over the last two seasons, averaging a respectable 19.1 fantasy points per game. He is only averaging 253.3 passing yards per game in the split, but also consider that he’s averaging just over 24 pass attempts per game during that span. In Kevin O’Connell’s offense, Cousins will be throwing the ball a lot more. The matchup is still tough, as Green Bay has one of the best secondaries in football and now Jaire Alexander is healthy. Cousins has QB13, QB18, QB11 and QB11 in fantasy since joining the Vikings, while eclipsing 4,200 passing yards three times, while throwing at least 30 touchdowns in three of those four years. Cousins is on the QB1/QB2 fringe in this divisional showdown.

Running Back

Dalvin Cook is in your starting lineup every single week and is due for some serious touchdown regression. Cook averaged 19.1 carries and 2.6 receptions per game this past season but the touchdown totals took a dip. On his 12 rushing attempts from inside the 5-yard line last season, Cook only scored three touchdowns, while scoring four touchdowns on 26 carries from inside the 10-yard line. Coming off a career-low 3.7 targets per game, an uptick in that department is absolutely in play in what should be more of a pass-heavy offense, while the touchdowns should return to the median. You can run on Green Bay, as just 12% of carries against the Packers last year were stuffed at the line of scrimmage, the second-lowest rate in football.

Wide Receiver

We’ve seen 88-1,400-7 as a rookie followed by 108-1,616-10 as a sophomore, it’s clear that Justin Jefferson is already arguably the best receiver in the game. He is used all over the field, leading the league in air yards (2,071), while handling 45.7% of Minnesota’s air yards, the highest rate among all wideouts in football. Green Bay’s pass defense is good. Jefferson is amazing. I’d probably start him.

Adam Thielen is going to be a touchdown-dependent WR3 most weeks this season. Touchdowns are always going to be a huge part of his game, as Thielen has scored a healthy 24 touchdowns over the last two seasons, including 10 through the first 11 weeks of the 2021 campaign. And in 2020, Thielen paced all receivers in both end zone targets (20) and end zone touchdowns (13). The Packers saw the fourth-most end zone targets in football last season (43).

Tight End

Irv Smith missed the entire 2021 season but is ready to go for Week 1. The last time we saw Smith on the field, he was posting TE1 numbers. During Weeks 14-17 of 2020, Kyle Rudolph was sidelined and during that span, Smith was the TE4 in fantasy, averaging just under 13 fantasy points per game. He also ranked second among all tight ends in end zone targets during that span with four, while Smith ran a route on nearly 89% of Minnesota’s passing snaps. He was also eighth among all tight ends in routes run during that four-game stretch. There is nothing special about this matchup, but Smith now has the Tyler Higbee role in O’Connell’s offense, which resulted in a snap share over 80% and the ninth-most routes among all tight ends. 

Packers

Quarterback

Life without Davante Adams begins for Aaron Rodgers Sunday. Rodgers has played in seven games with Adams sidelined since 2019, averaging 292.7 passing yards, 2.7 passing touchdowns and 24 fantasy points per game. Of course, that doesn’t mean that is what we should expect from Rodgers throughout the 2022 campaign, but this is still one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. The Vikings secondary can be beat, especially when you consider they played zone coverage 72% of the time last season, the seventh-highest rate in football. Rodgers, meanwhile, was top-five in completion rate against zone in 2021, while the defense is a lot easier to complete passes to running backs against, which is going to be the focal point of this Green Bay offense this year. Despite the lack of excitement surrounding him this season, Rodgers is a top-12 quarterback for Week 1, especially if All-Pro tackle David Bakhtiari is back in the lineup.

Running Back

I’m starting both Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon every single week. Both players were going to be heavily involved in the Packers offense regardless of Adams’ departure. Running backs have handled at least 19% of the Green Bay targets in three of the last four seasons. And Jones, meanwhile, is averaging 5.8 targets, 4.5 receptions and 48.5 receiving yards in eight contests without Adams since 2018. And in that same split, Jones is averaging just over 23 PPR points per game. Adams saw 28% of Green Bay’s targets from inside the 10-yard line last year, one of the highest rates in football. It is entirely possible Jones leads the Packers, as well as all running backs in football, in red zone targets. 

You can run on the Vikings, too, as they stuffed just 11% of carries against them at the line of scrimmage last year, the lowest rate in football. And now they are going to be playing more 3-4 defense, which can be more inviting to opposing ground attacks. Dillon was more involved down the stretch last season, averaging 16.3 touches per game over the final eight weeks of the year. He saw 11 carries from inside the 5-yard line to lead the team, but he was also a very efficient pass-catcher, hauling in 34-of-37 targets, while his 1.57 yards per route run ranked 12th best at the running back position. Dillon averaged 10.9 PPR points per game in contests Jones played in last season, but that went up to 15.8 points per game from Week 10 on as he got more usage.

Wide Receiver

There is a huge opportunity available for Allen Lazard this season. With Adams now in Las Vegas, Lazard could legitimately lead Green Bay in targets this season, while there is serious touchdown potential. Over the final five weeks of the year, Lazard was the WR8 in PPR leagues, averaging a touchdown per game during that span. He also saw six end zone targets over those final five weeks, tied with Adams for the fifth-most among all receivers. Lazard ultimately finished the season with 11 end zone targets, good for the 12th-most among all wideouts. And that was with Adams. The touchdowns could start as early as Sunday, as Minnesota coughed up the fourth-most touchdowns per game to opposing wideouts on the left side of the formation (0.4). Lazard had his ankle stepped on during practice and has yet to participate in practice since. He will likely be questionable to play on Sunday. If active, he’s a solid WR3.

If Lazard is ruled out, it doesn’t necessarily vault Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb, Romeo Doubs or Christian Watson into top-35 status among wide receivers. But in deep formats where you start three wideouts, all Green Bay pass-catchers become a lot more intriguing. 

Tight End

If active, Robert Tonyan has shown touchdown upside in this offense before. Tonyan scored 11 touchdowns on just 59 targets back in 2020 and as expected, he regressed in a huge way before tearing his ACL in Week 8. I’m not starting Tonyan, or even picking him up off waivers, but he is a player I am watching very closely as the season rolls on.

Las Vegas Raiders @ Los Angeles Chargers

Total: 52.5, LAC -3.5
Pace: LAC: 25.8 sec/snap (2nd), LV: 27.8 (14th)

What to watch for: Davante Adams’ impact on the Raiders offense and how Josh McDaniels will rotate the running backs.

Chargers

Quarterback

Justin Herbert is my QB2 for the season and is clearly an every-week starter. Herbert continued his ascension into one of the game’s elite in 2021, throwing 38 touchdowns and passing for 5,014 yards. Only Josh Allen and Tom Brady scored more fantasy points at the quarterback position than Herbert, who averaged over 22 fantasy points per game. Los Angeles was insanely pass-heavy last year, as Herbert attempted 672 passes, averaging just under 40 pass attempts per game. A home matchup with the Raiders should kick off the fireworks. Las Vegas allowed the eighth-most points (2.30) and third-most plays (6.4) per drive last season. They were also the worst red zone defense in football, allowing opposing offenses to score touchdowns on a whopping 81.4% of red zone trips. That bodes well for Herbert, who was actually outside the top-15 signal callers in red zone completion rate in 2021 (57.1%). 

Running Back

Austin Ekeler destroyed the Raiders last year, averaging 29.2 PPR points per game. He also averaged 122 scrimmage yards per game, while scoring four total touchdowns. Las Vegas coughed up the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs (24.6), while also allowing the seventh-most receptions (5.9), sixth-most targets (7.6) and third-most receiving touchdowns per game (0.4) to the position. Sure sounds like a great spot for one of the best players in all of fantasy.

Wide Receiver

It’ll be interesting to see how the Raiders defense changes this season. Gus Bradley, who has run more Cover-3 than anyone in football, is now in Indianapolis, while Patrick Graham is now the defensive coordinator. The Raiders played more zone coverage than any team in football last season, but we could see a lot more man coverage in 2022. If that is the case, Keenan Allen could get off to a hot start, as he sported the 10th-best win rate against man coverage last season, according to Player Profiler. Allen also finished fifth in receptions (36) and fourth in targets (56) against man coverage. The Raiders secondary isn’t very strong and Allen, who lined up in the slot 63% of the time last year, will see coverage from Anthony Averett and Amik Robertson, who have played a combined 169 career snaps at slot corner in the NFL. 

Mike Williams, meanwhile, is basically a must-start wide receiver. Williams still enjoyed the best season of his career, hauling in 76 passes for 1,146 yards and nine touchdowns. Williams’ 12 end zone targets were the sixth-most among all wide receivers, while he saw nearly 25% of Los Angeles’ targets from inside the 10-yard line. In such a pass-heavy offense, Williams has the upside to lead the entire league in end zone targets, while his overall targets were a lot more consistent with Joe Lombardi as the offensive coordinator in Los Angeles. Over the last two seasons, Williams has only converted five of his 24 end zone targets into touchdowns. I like his chances of finding the end zone against the league’s worst red zone defense. 

Tight End

If you are streaming the tight end position this season, Gerald Everett could be a strong candidate to open the year. The Raiders allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends last season (12.45) to go along with the third-most touchdowns per game to the position (0.6). 

Raiders

Quarterback

The Chargers defense was a huge disappointment last season, coughing up the fourth-most points (2.45) and third-most plays per drive (6.4), while opponents scored points on 45.3% of drives against the Chargers, the fourth-highest rate in the league. Of course, adding Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson will help a lot but in a game with a relatively high implied total, it is difficult to not like Derek Carr as a top-12 quarterback this week. The Chargers were the seventh-worst red zone defense last year, allowing opponents to score touchdowns on 64.7% of red zone trips. Carr’s 3.7% touchdown rate, meanwhile, was his lowest since 2018 and the third lowest of his career, while his 55.8% red zone completion rate ranked 19th in the league. His 51.4% completion rate from inside the 10-yard line ranked outside of the top-25 quarterbacks but now Carr has Davante Adams to help in that area. 

Running Back

Volume has helped Josh Jacobs tremendously over the years. He averaged over 18 touches per game last season, while averaging 20.4 and 20.1 touches per game in 2020 and 2019. However, he’s ranked 37th, 54th and 23rd in yards per touch through three seasons. Jacobs also doesn’t rip off a ton of long runs, as he’s ranked 54th and 53rd in explosive rush rate over the last two seasons (15.4% and 17.6%). With Josh McDaniels in town, the Raiders are likely to use multiple running backs but Jacobs still projects as the lead back. The Chargers were an atrocious run defense last season, stuffing just 14% of runs at or behind the line of scrimmage, the seventh-lowest rate in the league. Meanwhile, according to our advanced rush defense stats, just 39.5% of carries against the Chargers went for less than four yards and didn’t result in a first down or touchdown, the second-worst rate in football. The Chargers allowed 4.6 yards per carry, while 38.5% of the yards surrendered by this defense came via the run, a top-five rate in the league. They should be much improved in 2022, however, after adding Khalil Mack and Sebastian Joseph-Day to the defensive line. He’s a tremendous run defender, as 14.5% of his defensive snaps in 2020 led to a stop, per PFF, the highest rate in the league. Still, Jacobs projects as a solid RB2 in this spot. 

Wide Receiver

Davante Adams may not be as dominant as he was with Aaron Rodgers, but he’s still a must-start every week. The Chargers played man coverage at a top-10 rate last season, and with J.C. Jackson on the team, they should continue to play plenty of man coverage. However, Jackson is still recovering from Aug. 23 ankle surgery and is reportedly not expected to play in this game. Adams was 10th in the league in yards per route run (2.96) and first in receptions (40) against man coverage last season. 

Hunter Renfrow, meanwhile, is coming off a breakout 2021 campaign where he hauled in 103-of-128 targets for 1,038 yards and nine touchdowns. ultimately saw 30% of the Raiders red zone targets last season, the fourth-highest mark in all of football. His targets will come down a bit with Adams in town and Waller healthy, but he should thrive in this system and if the Raiders throw as much as they did last year, Renfrow will be a consistent WR3 in PPR leagues. 

Tight End

If Darren Waller is active in Week 1, you are starting him. With the addition of Davante Adams, Waller will not see bracket coverage like he did for so much of last season. No team in football coughed up more fantasy points per game to the tight end position than the Chargers last season (14.31), while Los Angeles also allowed the most yards per game (68.8) and second-most touchdowns (13) to the position. 

Kansas City Chiefs @ Arizona Cardinals

Total: 54, KC -6.0
Pace: ARI: 27.0 sec/snap (10th), KC: 28.2 sec/snap (18th)

What to watch for: Chiefs passing game without Tyreek Hill and Cardinals passing game without DeAndre Hopkins.

Cardinals

Quarterback

Not that you are considering sitting him anyway, but this is a really good spot for Kyler Murray. The Chiefs allowed the second-most fantasy points (20.2) and sixth-most rushing yards (22.9) per game to opposing quarterbacks last season. 13% of the passes against Kansas City went for 20 yards or more, the third-highest rate in football, while they coughed up seven deep passing scores (seventh most). That bodes extremely well for Murray, as 14.3% of Murray’s pass attempts traveled 20 yards or more down the field, the fourth-highest rate among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts. Murray also posted the second-best completion rate on deep passes last season (49.3%) and with the addition of Marquise Brown, the Cardinals could attack defenses vertically at an even higher rate this season. Finally, Kansas City played man defense at one of the highest rates in the league in 2021 (34.5%), which often results in more room for quarterbacks when they take off and run with the football. Murray is a top-five signal caller for Week 1.

Running Back

James Conner finished as the RB5 in PPR leagues, finding the end zone 18 times. Only Jonathan Taylor had more carries from inside both the 5- and 10-yard line this past season, and with Chase Edmonds now in Miami, Conner could be in line for a more consistent role in the passing game this season. In five games with Edmonds out of the lineup last season, Conner averaged 15.8 carries, 5.4 targets, 5.0 receptions and 23 PPR points per game. No team in football allowed more yards per drive than the Chiefs in 2021 (37.0), while Kansas City also coughed up the fourth-most receptions per game to opposing backfields (6.4). 

Wide Receiver

With DeAndre Hopkins suspended for the first six games of the season, Marquise Brown should be extremely busy to start his time with the Cardinals. Brown saw a target share north of 26% with the Ravens last season and it’ll be interesting to see how many targets he sees with Hopkins out of the lineup and Christian Kirk in Jacksonville. Hopkins actually averaged just 6.1 targets per game last year, the lowest mark of his career, but was heavily involved in the red zone, seeing 12 end zone targets (6th-most). Brown has a terrific rapport with Murray and should be on the receiving end of many deep passes, starting as early as this week. Consider Hollywood Brown a high-upside WR2 until Hopkins is back in the lineup.

Rondale Moore’s usage during his rookie season was very frustrating. Moore had zero downfield usage, as he averaged a comical -0.1 yards before the catch per reception, easily the lowest mark among all wide receivers. Playing alongside DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk and A.J. Green, Moore’s usage and playing time was very inconsistent each week. He ended up playing just under 37% of the offensive snaps and when the Cardinals added tight end Zach Ertz, it really hurt Moore, who operates in the same areas of the field. However, with Kirk gone and Hopkins out, Moore should be an every-down player for this Arizona offense, while moving into the slot more often. I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable starting Moore in Week 1, but Kansas City defensive back L’Jarius Sneed allowed the fourth-most yards after the catch in slot coverage last season (303). Moore was originally expected to be a game-time call for this game but was not on the team’s injury report on Wednesday, putting him on track to play.

Tight End

Zach Ertz dominated targets with Hopkins out of the lineup, averaging nine targets, 6.1 receptions, 59.1 receiving yards and 13.7 PPR points per game in seven contests without Hopkins since joining the team in Week 7. He was the TE4 in fantasy once he joined the Cardinals, despite lacking great efficiency. The volume should be very, very strong, at least for the first six games of the season. Ertz had been dealing with a calf injury but returned to practice Wednesday. Start Ertz with confidence, especially in full PPR leagues.

Chiefs

Quarterback

While Patrick Mahomes is no longer the unquestioned QB1 in fantasy, he’s still elite. Yes, Tyreek Hill is now in Miami, but for what it’s worth, Mahomes has played in four games with Hill out of the lineup since 2018. In those games, he’s averaged 363.2 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and 25 fantasy points per game. While that type of production shouldn’t be expected on a weekly basis, there is still so much upside with Mahomes, especially in Week 1 against an Arizona team that plays at one of the fastest paces in football, while operating out of no-huddle just over 35% of the time, easily the highest rate in the league. It’ll be interesting to see how often Arizona blitzes Mahomes in this game, as the Cardinals have ranked fourth, fourth and third in blitz rate since 2019. These teams last met in Week 10 of the 2018 season and in that contest, Arizona blitzed Mahomes on 11-of-35 dropbacks (31.4%). Teams didn’t blitz Mahomes very often last year, as his 109 dropbacks against the blitz ranked outside of the top-25 signal callers. But if Arizona does blitz, Mahomes will thrive, as no quarterback posted a higher completion rate (73.8%) against the blitz last year, while ranking second in yards per attempt (10.49) against the play type. 

Running Back

Clyde Edwards-Helaire should be the lead back in Kansas City, but I’d be lying if I said I felt great about it. After seeing six carries from inside the 5-yard line during his first career game back in 2020, Edwards-Helaire has seen six such carries in the 22 games since. There could be a path to CEH finally seeing consistent work in the passing game this year, however. Williams is now in Arizona and the Chiefs’ only running back that will compete for that pass-catching role is Jerick McKinnon. Of course, McKinnon did play over Edwards-Helaire in the playoffs, which simply adds to the volatility. Still just 23 years old, Edwards-Helaire is in an elite offense behind an offensive line that generated the second-most yards before contact per rush in 2021 (2.08). The Cardinals, meanwhile, allowed 1.9 yards before contact per rush last year, while also allowing the 3rd-most yards after contact per rush (2.74). If CEH gets the goal-line work, he’ll be a viable RB2 in fantasy. If not, he’ll be in the flex range. 

Wide Receiver

After Tyreek Hill’s departure, JuJu Smith-Schuster is now the top wide receiver in Kansas City. He didn’t play in the preseason, but Smith-Schuster will likely play out of the slot a ton, but not as often as he did in Pittsburgh, giving him more upside than with the Steelers where he was basically used as a tight end. We’ve seen Smith-Schuster targeted very close to the line of scrimmage over the last two seasons, averaging 4.61 and 6.49 yards per target during that span. A matchup with the Cardinals is solid, as Arizona coughed up the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opposing wideouts in 2021 (31.8). Smith-Schuster projects as a high-end WR3 this week.

If you are in a deep league and perhaps need some upside, Marquez Valdes-Scantling should be on your radar. Valdes-Scantling has been a vertical target for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, ranking 10th and third in yards before the catch per reception over the last two seasons (13.6, 10.9). It’ll be interesting to see if teams play less Cover-2 against the Chiefs now that Tyreek Hill is in Miami and if they do, Valdes-Scantling will see plenty of opportunities down the field from Mahomes. The Cardinals, meanwhile, allowed the second-most passing touchdowns of 20-plus yards last year (11) and MVS has a favorable individual matchup against Marco Wilson, who allowed seven touchdowns in coverage last year, the second-most in the league. Wilson also allowed 0.30 fantasy points per coverage route and well over 2.0 fantasy points per target. Valdes-Scantling is a high-upside WR3 in deep leagues and an intriguing GPP play in DFS lineups.

Meanwhile, Mecole Hardman and Skyy Moore are in flex territory for the time being, and only in deep leagues. Moore has only been playing in three-wide sets with the Chiefs’ starting offense during the preseason, a sign he won’t be a full-time player just yet. Hardman had been operating as the WR3 behind Smith-Schuster and Valdes-Scantling, but his floor is just so low, even with Hill in Miami. 

Tight End

Start Travis Kelce. Arizona was actually the second-best defense at limiting fantasy points to opposing tight ends last season (6.04) but Kelce has now eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in each of the last six seasons, while reaching the 90-reception mark in four of those years. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Dallas Cowboys

Total: 50.5, TB -2.0
Pace: DAL: 25.5 sec/snap (1st), TB: 26.2 sec/snap (3rd)

What to watch for: Multiple adjustments from the Cowboys. Tyron Smith and Michael Gallup are out, while Amari Cooper is now in Cleveland. 

Cowboys

Quarterback

This is a rematch of last year’s Week 1 game, one that featured plenty of fantasy fireworks. Both teams were top-three in terms of pace last year and when these teams last met, the Cowboys (wisely) completely abandoned the run game against Tampa Bay’s vaunted run defense. Dak Prescott attempted a whopping 58 passes in that game, ultimately throwing for 403 yards and three touchdowns. Dallas called pass 25 times on first down in that game, and I anticipate a similar approach this time around. 72.8% of the yardage allowed by Tampa Bay last year came through the air (third highest), while opposing teams threw the ball 66.2% of the time against the Bucs, the highest rate in the league. No, Dallas’ offense isn’t as loaded as it has been, but Prescott is still going to post QB1 numbers. Tampa Bay loves to bring the blitz, doing so at the highest rate in football last year (40.8%). Prescott, meanwhile, destroyed the blitz in 2021, leading the league in touchdown passes against the blitz with 19. Meanwhile, his 1,210 passing yards against the blitz were the fifth most in the NFL. Tampa Bay blitzed Prescott over 50% of the time in their Week 1 meeting last year and I’d expect a heavy dose again this time around.

Running Back

Of course, if the Cowboys implement a similar strategy on offense this time around, Ezekiel Elliott could disappoint to start the season. Elliott carried the ball just 11 times and scored 5.9 PPR points against the Bucs last season, while eight of his snaps came in pass-blocking situations. If the running back position had more depth, I’d probably bench Elliott without much hesitation ahead of this daunting matchup. 40% of the short-yardage runs against Tampa Bay last year failed to result in a first down or touchdown, while 26% of the carries against this defense were stuffed at the line of scrimmage, the highest rate in football. Just 27.1% of the yardage allowed by Tampa Bay came on the ground, the third-lowest rate in the league, while teams didn’t even try running the football against them. If you don’t have viable players after Elliott and are forced to start him, I’d seriously temper expectations, especially when you consider that left tackle Tyron Smith is out. 

Realistic RBs I’d start over Elliott this week: Dameon Pierce, Antonio Gibson, Tony Pollard, Chase Edmonds, Kenneth Gainwell (if Miles Sanders is out).

Tony Pollard was outstanding last year, averaging 5.5 yards per attempt, tied for the second-best mark among qualified running backs. 31% of his carries went for 15 yards or more, which was one of the highest rates in the league, while Pollard also averaged 0.42 fantasy points per snap, tied for 10th among all running backs. It sounds like he is going to play more out of the slot, at least to start the season, so I’d expect an uptick in his 10.2% slot rate from a season ago. In 2021, Tampa Bay allowed the sixth-most targets (8.4) and 10th-most receptions (5.5) to players lined up in the slot and we know Dallas is going to throw the ball a lot here. And with Gallup inactive, Pollard could legitimately see 7-10 targets in this game, while also seeing a handful of carries. If you ask me, he’s the Cowboys running back to start in fantasy this week, especially in PPR formats. We just need Dallas to play Elliott and Pollard on the field together more than the 33 snaps from a season ago.

Wide Receiver

CeeDee Lamb is the only Cowboys wide receiver to start in fantasy. Lamb has yet to surpass a 20% target share so far in his career, but he should be closer to the 25% range with Amari Cooper no longer with the team. Lamb hauled in seven of 15 targets for 104 yards and a touchdown in Week 1 last year and simply out, no one in Tampa Bay’s secondary can match up with him. Sean Murphy-Bunting allowed 0.32 fantasy points per coverage route last year, the fourth-most on the slate and while Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean are both strong defensive backs, it won’t matter. Lamb is an easy top-five wideout this week and very likely for the entire season.

Tight End

Dalton Schultz’s 78 receptions trailed only Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce among all tight ends, while also only trailing both tight ends in fantasy points at the position. He was insanely consistent all season long, recording at least 45 receiving yards in 12 games, while seeing at least six targets in 11 contests. Despite playing alongside Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup for much of the season, Schultz still saw 17% of Dallas’ first-read targets last season, while his 81 overall first-read targets were the sixth-most among all tight ends. He’s an every-week starting tight end and should provide one of the safest floors at the position. And if Dallas falls behind in this game, that is great news for Schultz, who saw a 26% target share when the Cowboys were down by 9-13 points last year, the second-highest rate among tight ends and 10th-highest rate in all of football in the split.

Buccaneers

Quarterback

After a brief retirement, Tom Brady is back after throwing for 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns at age 44, the QB3 in all of fantasy. The volume was insane for Brady, who attempted the second-most regular season passes in the history of football (719). Dallas’ defense was impressive last season, but they are going to regress in terms of takeaways. The Cowboys aren’t going to slow down Brady and Tampa Bay’s elite passing attack, just like they didn’t last season when Brady threw for 379 yards and four touchdowns. 

Running Back

Leonard Fournette emerged as not only the Bucs best running back, but one of the best running backs in all of fantasy. From Week 4 on — when he emerged as the lead back — Fournette was the RB3 in all of fantasy before sitting out the final three regular season games. During that span (Weeks 4-15), Fournette averaged 14.1 rushing attempts, 6.36 targets, 5.18 receptions and 20.6 PPR points per game. He is a must-start running back against a Cowboys defense that allowed a rush of 10-plus yards on 11.8% of carries last season, the fifth-highest rate in the league. Playing in this Tampa Bay offense will continue to benefit Fournette, as just 13.3% of his carries were against stacked boxes, the seventh-lowest rate among all running backs.

Wide Receiver

Mike Evans Week 1 Fantasy Football Game-By-Game Breakdown

When these teams met back in Week 1 of last season, Trevon Diggs shadowed Mike Evans on the perimeter. He followed Evans on 81% of his routes, resulting in just one catch for 10 yards on three targets. While it might not be to that extent, I do think Diggs follows Evans around again in this matchup. Diggs has a boom-or-bust play style, as he led the NFL in interceptions last season with 11 but also allowed the most yards in coverage (1,016). And among qualified defensive backs, Diggs allowed the most yards per reception at 18.5. Evans, meanwhile, is going to see targets down the field, as his 25 deep targets were top-12 in football last year, while his 13 receptions on vertical routes ranked fourth in the league. 

Chris Godwin, meanwhile, continues to recover from last year’s torn ACL. He is trending toward playing in this game — if he does, I am starting him without hesitation unless we get definitive word that he will be limited. Over the last two seasons, he has ranked seventh and 15th in fantasy points per game, while also averaging a healthy 8.13 targets, 5.9 receptions and 72.5 receiving yards per game during that span. When he is on the field, Godwin will be one of the 12-best receivers in all of fantasy football and likely leads this team in targets. Despite missing the final three games of the season, Godwin caught a whopping 98 passes last year, while seeing 127 targets. But if Godwin is ruled out, it only solidifies Evans as a top-10 wideout. In eight games with Godwin out of the lineup since 2020, Evans is averaging 9.25 targets, 6.38 receptions, 86.7 receiving yards, 1.1 touchdowns and 21.8 PPR points per game. Perhaps he is limited if active, which puts him more in the WR2/WR3 range. 

Godwin’s potential absence would also thrust Russell Gage into WR3/flex territory. The Cowboys allowed the 10th-most fantasy points per game to opposing wideouts last season (29.3), while Jourdan Lewis allowed the seventh-most receiving yards (461), seventh-most targets (62) and ninth-most receptions (39) in slot coverage. Julio Jones would also emerge as a viable starter in deep leagues. 

Tight End

Tampa Bay likely deploys a tight end by committee approach with Rob Gronkowski gone. Cameron Brate appears to be ahead of Kyle Rudolph, however, as he played eight snaps to Rudolph’s three alongside the starters in the team’s final preseason game, while running five routes to Rudolph’s three. Brate also scored 31 fewer fantasy points than his expected fantasy points total indicated last season, the second-highest difference at the position. 

Denver Broncos @ Seattle Seahawks

Total: 44, DEN -6
Pace: SEA: 26.7 sec/snap (6th), DEN: 29.3 sec/snap (27th)

What to watch for: How much of a split will there be in the Broncos backfield? Will it be 50/50 like last season or closer to 60/40?

Seahawks

Quarterback

Geno Smith will start at quarterback for the Seahawks to start the season. Smith started three games in the absence of Russell Wilson in 2021, tossing five touchdowns and averaging 16.2 fantasy points per game during that stretch. There clearly isn’t much upside in fantasy here.

Running Back

Many fantasy championships were won due to the brilliant play of Rashaad Penny to end the 2021 season. From Week 14 on last year, Penny led the NFL in rushing yards (671), rushing touchdowns (6), 100-yard games (4), yards per attempt (7.29), yards after contact per attempt (5.27) and fantasy points (110.2). When healthy, Penny has been extremely efficient and that was evident last season when he led all running backs in yards per touch (6.4). A matchup with Denver is nothing to get excited about, as the Broncos allowed the 10th-fewest yards after contact per rush last year (2.34), while missing the seventh-fewest tackles. Penny is not going to play on many passing downs, which limits his upside, so you need Seattle to keep this game relatively close. Of course, if Kenneth Walker (groin) doesn’t play, Penny will get 80-90% of the carries in a run-first offense. 

If Walker does play, however, I’d lower expectations for Penny. He’d go from a risky RB2 to a flex play in half PPR leagues. Walker, meanwhile, shouldn’t be trusted in a starting lineup for a little while, especially since Travis Homer has been playing all of the third down snaps for Seattle during the preseason. 

Wide Receiver

DK Metcalf remains one of the most talented players in the NFL but his upside and floor aren’t as high with Russell Wilson no longer in Seattle. He was, however, still very productive in his four total contests alongside Geno Smith last season, averaging 19.6 PPR points per game. However, the usage wasn’t insane, as he only averaged 5.75 targets per game during that stretch. Metcalf really made his impact in the touchdown department, averaging a gaudy 1.25 touchdowns per game alongside Smith. Metcalf primarily plays on the left side of the formation, which gives him the more favorable matchup of the Seattle receivers. Ronald Darby allowed nearly 0.30 fantasy points per coverage route last season, while also coughing up the 18th-highest aDOT in coverage (13.4 yards). And as a team, Denver allowed the fourth-most air yards per pass attempt on passes to the deep left part of the field (26.97), so don’t sleep on Metcalf this week. He’s a low-end WR2 for me.

Tyler Lockett, meanwhile, could really struggle without Wilson under center. His splits alongside Smith were not as favorable, as he averaged just over 11 PPR points per game and 61.5 receiving yards per game, compared to 16.3 points and 77.4 receiving yards per game alongside Wilson. Interestingly enough, however, Lockett actually averaged more targets per game alongside Smith (8.25) but alongside Wilson over the years Lockett had seen some of the highest value targets in all of fantasy football. For what it’s worth, Lockett saw a 35% target share in games where the Seahawks were down by 14-plus points last year, the highest rate in football. Lockett will play on the right side of the formation, as well as some in the slot, which makes this a tougher matchup. He’s a boom-or-bust WR3 until further notice.

Tight End

Week 1 revenge game? On Monday Night Football? Just throw stats and matchups out the window when it comes to Noah Fant this week. All jokes aside, Fant will face his former team, who allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends in 2021 (6.62). I do think Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron will scheme ways for Fant to make plays after the catch, especially considering Waldron was the tight ends coach with the Rams and dialed up screens for Gerald Everett. Fant has ranked first, second and 15th among tight ends in yards after the catch per reception over the last three years. He’s a top-15 fantasy tight end against his former team. 

Broncos

Quarterback

Russell Wilson has been one of the league’s most efficient quarterbacks for years, ranking top-10 in fantasy points per dropback in eight of his last 10 seasons in Seattle. We’ll see how much more he throws in Denver this season, but he remains at least a top-12 signal caller with his new team. He gets his former team to kick off the season, a Seattle defense that sported the league’s seventh-lowest pressure rate at 22.1%. The Seahawks simply couldn’t get off the field last season, as opposing offenses averaged a league-leading 70.6 plays per game against the Seahawks last season. As a result, Seattle’s 56.1 plays per game on offense were easily the lowest in football. That bodes well for Wilson and the Broncos offense.

Running Back

Javonte Williams is coming off a successful rookie campaign where he did exactly what he did in college — break tackles at an alarming rate. Williams forced 53 missed tackles this past season, good for fifth in football. However, that number is even more impressive when you consider that he was essentially in a full 50/50 split with Melvin Gordon and the four running backs with more missed tackles forced finished the season with 25, 14, 129 and 104 more rushing attempts than Williams. Williams broke a tackle every 6.5 rush attempts, the best rate in all of football. This isn’t the greatest matchup, as Seattle’s run defense was very strong last season, allowing the seventh-fewest yards after contact per rush (2.32) and second-fewest yards per attempt (3.8). Still, Williams’ upside in this offense is high, even if he’s splitting work with Gordon. Consider him a high-end RB2.

Gordon, meanwhile, should be able to get enough work to warrant flex consideration here. Even if Williams gets more work in his second season, Gordon should see 10-12 touches per game, especially if Denver’s offense is on the field early and often in this game.

Wide Receiver

Courtland Sutton is coming off a very frustrating season where he hauled in just 58-of-98 targets for 776 yards and two touchdowns. His splits when Jerry Jeudy was active were very troubling, as Sutton averaged just 3.8 targets and 19.1 receiving yards in 10 games alongside Jeudy last season. Jeudy will be active for this game, but the Denver offense is going to be so much more efficient with Wilson under center, while we’ve seen him support two very good fantasy wide receivers during his time in Seattle. Sutton meshes with Wilson so well as he projects to be the deep target in this offense, and we know Wilson has been one of the league’s premiere deep ball passers. Over his last two fully healthy seasons (2019, 2020), 14.3% of Wilson’s pass attempts have traveled 20 yards or more down the field, while he’s been among the league-leaders in end zone throws. And using FTN Fantasy’s passing direction stats, you will find that 13.4% of Wilsons’ pass attempts last year were to the deep left part of the field, the highest rate among all qualified quarterbacks. Meanwhile, 14.3% of Sutton’s targets last year came from that area of the field, 10th in football. 

Sutton should also be the clear top red zone target for Wilson, especially without Tim Patrick, who accounted for 36% of the Broncos’ end zone targets last year, the sixth-highest rate in the NFL. Wilson, meanwhile, has ranked first or second in end zone passes in three of the last four seasons. Sutton is an easy top-20 wideout this week.

Jeudy, meanwhile, can also be comfortably started as a high-end WR3. There were some concerns of how much Jeudy would be on the field in two-wide sets but with Patrick out for the season, Jeudy’s playing time is solidified. During his rookie season, just 57% of Jeudy’s targets were deemed catchable, which was the third-highest rate among all receivers with at least 50 targets, so the addition of Wilson is especially exciting for him. This is a solid spot for Jeudy, especially if he plays a good bit out of the slot. Last year, Jeudy played in the slot 76.4% of the time, but it is unlikely it is that high with Patrick out for the season. Seattle, meanwhile, allowed the fourth-most targets (8.8), fourth-most receptions (6.0) and eighth-most fantasy points per game (14.5) to the slot last year. 

Tight End

During the preseason, Albert Okwuegbunam was playing late in the fourth quarter of some games. Apparently it was just to get him more reps and with rookie Greg Dulcich sidelined for the first few games, Okwuegbunam’s role will be pretty solidified. He’s shown flashes so far during his career, especially last season where he led all tight ends in yards after the catch per reception (7.4). That could bode well for him here, as no team in football coughed up more yards after the catch than the Seahawks last season, while Seattle also surrendered the eighth-most fantasy points (11.79) and fourth-most touchdowns (9) to the position. The third-year tight end is a low-end TE1 in this spot.

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