Week 1 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Advice on Top Fantasy Football Stars in Opening Games

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistSeptember 7, 2017

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 19:  Sammy Watkins #2 of the Los Angeles Rams warms up during pregame warm ups prior to playing the Oakland Raiders in an NFL preseason football game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on August 19, 2017 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Like offenses in Week 1 trying to click after a few exhibitions, fantasy football owners have rust of their own to shake off in the opening week.

Unlike those offenses, owners don't have a good way to prep for the tough start/sit decisions ahead, as draft prep is a different animal compared to actual lineup decisions. The mentioned potential offensive struggles of NFL teams trying to get on the same page only makes the task facing owners even more difficult.  

The eventual winning owners in Week 1 use a combination of last year's data and projections—with a dash of luck—to pick up a win. And the best find a way to snowball it into more. Let's help get the ball rolling by comparing some of the top player's best matchups and notable start/sit decisions based on standard Yahoo 12-team leagues.  

              

QB

Matchup ComparisonVerdict
Russell Wilson (@GB) vs. Tom Brady (KC) Tom Brady
Aaron Rodgers (SEA) vs. Matt Ryan (@CHI)Matt Ryan
Marcus Mariota (OAK) vs. Andy Dalton (BAL)Marcus Mariota
Kirk Cousins (PHI) vs. Derek Carr (@TEN)Kirk Cousins
Matthew Stafford (ARI) vs. Cam Newton (@SF)Cam Newton
Author's opinion

Star to Know: Cam Newton (@SF)

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 31:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers watches on against the Pittsburgh Steelers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on August 31, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

To say Cam Newton struggled last year would be an understatement, but there is a reason he had an average draft position of 7.9 (seventh round, ninth pick). The Carolina Panthers quarterback is one of the safer fantasy options at the spot thanks to his ability to pick up yards in different ways. 

Newton seems healthy heading into a matchup with the San Francisco 49ers, which gives him a shot at being the week's top scorer. 

While San Francisco is better on paper this year thanks to names like Reuben Foster and Solomon Thomas, we're still talking about the defense that coughed up the 10th-most points to opposing quarterbacks last season on average. 

Oh, and Newton played the 49ers last year—and threw for 353 yards with four touchdowns. 

            

Star to Sit: Andy Dalton (BAL)

LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 27: Quarterback Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals looks to pass against the Washington Redskins in the first half during a preseason game at FedExField on August 27, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty I
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

First, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is absolutely a fantasy star.  

Dalton doesn't get the credit he deserves in this arena, but playing on an offense with A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard and others has a way of helping him post reliable numbers each week.  

Dalton flies under the radar heading into this year, though, because while he threw for 4,206 yards a year ago, he only managed 18 touchdowns. For now, savvy owners should keep him under said radar as he goes into a matchup with an elite Baltimore Ravens defense. 

Weapons or not, Dalton only tossed two total touchdowns against the Ravens in as many games last year and the defense only permitted an average of 16.36 fantasy points to quarterbacks. After adding Joe Mixon, it's clear Cincinnati will use a run-first approach on Sunday. 

           

RB

Matchup ComparisonVerdict
Le'Veon Bell (@CLE) vs. David Johnson (@DET)Le'Veon Bell
Lamar Miller (JAX) vs. Devonta Freeman (@CHI) Devonta Freeman
LeSean McCoy (NYJ) vs. Todd Gurley (IND)Todd Gurley
Ezekiel Elliott (NYG) vs. Melvin Gordon (@DEN)Ezekiel Elliott
Ty Montgomery (SEA) vs. Jordan Howard (ATL)Jordan Howard
Author's opinion

Star to Know: Todd Gurley (IND)

Aug 19, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (30) rushes against the Oakland Raiders during the first half of a NFL football game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It is more than understandable for owners to have trust issues with Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley.  

Not that it is any fault of his own. The Jared Goff-led offense hasn't shown an ability to air the ball out, which leaves Gurley exposed to stacked front sevens each time out.  

This finally hurt Gurley a year ago, when he only managed 885 yards and six touchdowns on a 3.2 yards-per-carry average. Sunday gives him and owners alike a huge bounce-back opportunity, though, against an Indianapolis Colts defense that coughed up 120 rushing yards per game a year ago and the sixth-most fantasy points to the position. 

              

Star to Sit: Leonard Fournette (@HOU) 

FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 10: Leonard Fournette #27 of the Jacksonville Jaguars celebrates his touchdown with Tommy Bohanon #40 at the end of the second quarter against the New England Patriots during a preseason game at Gillette Stadium on August 10, 2017 in
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Fantasy owners really, really like the idea of Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Leonard Fournette, hence his ADP of 2.7. 

Patience is a big requirement with Fournette as he heads into his NFL debut facing a defense like the Houston Texans, though. 

Fournette looked solid in the preseason and doesn't seem hampered by a slight foot issue, but the J.J. Watt-led Texans only allowed an average of 19.4 points to backs per game a year ago and Jaguars backs haven't scored a touchdown against Houston in years while the Blake Bortles-led passing attack struggled. 

Fournette's time is coming, but expecting a big debut is risky. 

          

WR

Matchup ComparisonVerdict
A.J. Green (BAL) vs. Antonio Brown (@CLE)Antonio Brown
Sammy Watkins (IND) vs. Doug Baldwin (@GB)Sammy Watkins
Odell Beckham (@DAL) vs. Brandin Cooks (KC)Odell Beckham
DeAndre Hopkins (JAX) vs. Jordy Nelson (SEA)DeAndre Hopkins
Julio Jones (@CHI) vs. Kelvin Benjamin (@SF)Julio Jones
Author's opinion

Star to Know: Sammy Watkins (IND)

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 19:  Sammy Watkins #2 of the Los Angeles Rams warms up during pregame warm ups prior to playing the Oakland Raiders in an NFL preseason football game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on August 19, 2017 in Oakland, California.  (Phot
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

It might seem odd to recommend two Rams players during the first week of the season.  

But it is more a recommendation to exploit the Colts than anything else.

Sammy Watkins's arrival in Los Angeles makes him the top target on an offense without much in the way of targets, which is a great sign going up against a defense that permitted the sixth-most passing yards a year ago and just outside the top 20 in terms of points allowed on average to wideouts. 

Timing will pop up as an issue between Watkins and Goff, but at home against a struggling-to-rebuild defense, he'll have one of the more notable days. 

             

Star to Sit: Tyreek Hill (@NE) 

KANSAS CITY, MP - JANUARY 15:  Wide receiver Tyreek Hill #10 of the Kansas City Chiefs catches a pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Matthew
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Kansas City Chiefs wideout Tyreek Hill broke onto the scene last year with three rushing touchdowns, six more as a receiver and three total on returns, earning himself an ADP of 5.0. 

While deserved, Hill should be a no-go for most owners against the New England Patriots this week. 

Look at it this way—not only did the Patriots allow the sixth-fewest points to opposing wideouts on average last year, they added Stephon Gilmore to a secondary that boasted Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourty. 

Hill should have one of the bigger years at wideout if he stays healthy, but few encounter a tougher Week 1 task. 

           

TE

Matchup ComparisonVerdict
Rob Gronkowski (KC) vs. Jimmy Graham (@GB)Rob Gronkowski
Jordan Reed (PHI) vs. Tyler Eifert (BAL)Jordan Reed
Zach Ertz (@WAS) vs. Greg Olsen (@SF)Zach Ertz
Martellus Bennett (SEA) vs. Travis Kelce (@NE)Martellus Bennett
Delanie Walker (OAK) vs. Eric Ebron (ARI)Delanie Walker
Author's opinion

Star to Know: Delanie Walker (OAK)

Aug 12, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker (82) runs the ball after making a reception against the New York Jets during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker continues to be one of fantasy football's most underrated players. 

Despite 800 yards and a career-high seven touchdowns a year ago, Walker had an ADP of 7.8. 

Those who did make the investment should see a big return right away thanks to Walker's rapport with Marcus Mariota and a matchup against the Oakland Raiders, a team that permitted the ninth-most points to opposing tight ends on average a year ago.  

Consistency is rare at tight end, yet it is a factor that has made Walker so valuable over the years. 

          

Star to Sit: Eric Ebron (ARI)

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 26: Eric Ebron #85 of the Detroit Lions is pursued by Jack Crawford #58 of the Dallas Cowboys  during the first half at AT&T Stadium on December 26, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Unlike Walker, owners slotted Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron with a fair ADP of 13.5 coming off a season in which he played in 13 games and tallied 711 yards and one touchdown. 

Not only is Ebron a shaky option because he has to fight with Marvin Jones, Golden Tate and likely Kenny Golladay and his running backs for targets, he has to deal with the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1. 

Those Cardinals permitted the fewest points on average to opposing tight ends a year ago. The athletes on that elite unit will have no problems sticking with Ebron, who as of late has had injury issues once again. 

             

All scoring info, points-against info and ownership stats courtesy of Yahoo standard leagues. ADP courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.