Fantasy Football Week 1 Rankings: Matchups and Projections for Players We Love

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistSeptember 8, 2017

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 26:  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers warms up before a Preseason game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 26, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Fantasy football's opening act on Thursday night provided plenty of fireworks.  

Granted, it wasn't easy to project the fireworks. Fantasy owners knew one of the New England Patriots backs would go off, but not necessarily that it would be Mike Gillislee. On the other side, most knew Kansas City Chiefs wideout Tyreek Hill would put up a big game. 

The trick now is understanding the rest of the week will require patience. Offenses clearly aren't going to fire on all cylinders and the favorites aren't going to always come out ahead. 

Let's nail down some projections to create a digestible guide to help along owners feeling barraged by last-minute decisions, with everything based on 12-team standard Yahoo leagues. 

         

Week 1 Schedule

Arizona at Detroit

Atlanta at Chicago

Baltimore at Cincinnati 

Jacksonville at Houston

N.Y. Jets at Buffalo 

Oakland at Tennessee 

Philadelphia at Washington

Pittsburgh at Cleveland

Indianapolis at L.A. Rams 

Carolina at San Francisco

Seattle at Green Bay

N.Y. Giants at Dallas 

New Orleans at Minnesota

L.A. Chargers at Denver 

            

Quarterbacks

PlayerProjected Points
Aaron Rodgers25
Drew Brees24
Matt Ryan21
Marcus Mariota19
Russell Wilson18
Cam Newton18
Derek Carr17
Matthew Stafford17
Ben Roethlisberger16
Carson Palmer14
Dak Prescott14
Kirk Cousins12
Eli Manning12
Andy Dalton12
Sam Bradford12
Author's projections. *If he plays.

One game really stands out this week when it comes to top-tier quarterback matchups. 

As one can see from the highlights above, it is all about Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson when the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks get together. 

Of course, both guys are dynamite threats in almost any matchup. But this one is especially juicy because the game figures to be a high-scoring affair as both take advantage of the defenses. 

Wilson's combination of passing and ability to take off as a rusher will be especially potent against a Green Bay defense that coughed up the sixth-most points to quarterbacks a year ago. 

And while it might sound scary that Rodgers has to take on the Seattle defense, keep in mind last December he dismantled the Seahawks in a win, casually going 18-of-23 for 246 yards and three touchdowns with no picks. 

             

Running Backs

PlayerProjected Points
Le'Veon Bell 23
David Johnson21
Ezekiel Elliott20
Todd Gurley18
Devonta Freeman17
Lamar Miller16
Jordan Howard15
LeSean McCoy*14
Melvin Gordon13
Marshawn Lynch12
DeMarco Murray12
Isaiah Crowell12
Carlos Hyde12
C.J. Anderson11
Dalvin Cook11
Christian McCaffrey11
Tevin Coleman10
Ty Montgomery10
Bilal Powell10
Mark Ingram10
Ameer Abdullah9
Jonathan Stewart9
Leonard Fournette8
Robert Kelley8
Joe Mixon8
Terrance West7
Adrian Peterson7
Frank Gore7
Danny Woodhead6
6
Author's projections. *If he plays.

Other than the obvious outbursts by Le'Veon Bell and David Johnson, Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams seems poised to have one of the bigger games of the week. 

Yes, Gurley had problems thanks to the offense around him a year ago, rushing for just 885 yards and six scores. But he has an upgraded line in front of him now and the passing game should be better thanks to weapons like Sammy Watkins. 

The matchup here puts it over the top—the Colts surrendered the sixth-most points to backs last year and didn't exactly make defensive leaps this offseason. 

Lamar Miller is another somewhat underrated name to know. The Houston Texans back went for 1,073 yards and five scores last year yet flies a bit under the radar going into this year. 

For now. Miller gets the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1, a team he hit for 63 yards and a score in one encounter last year and 83 on a 5.5 yard-per-carry average on only 15 looks in another. Healthy, he's poised for a big day given his ability to reel in catches as well. 

            

Wide Receivers

PlayerProjected Points
Antonio Brown18
Julio Jones18
Jordy Nelson16
Odell Beckham Jr.*16
Doug Baldwin15
A.J. Green14
Amari Cooper*14
Terrelle Pryor14
Kelvin Benjamin13
Michael Crabtree13
Larry Fitzgerald12
DeAndre Hopkins*12
Demaryius Thomas*11
Michael Thomas11
Stefon Diggs11
Dez Bryant11
Martavis Bryant10
Brandon Marshall10
Keenan Allen10
T.Y. Hilton10
Allen Robinson9
Golden Tate9
Davante Adams8
Sammy Watkins8
Emmanuel Sanders8
Pierre Garcon8
Alshon Jeffery8
Jamison Crowder8
Eric Decker7
Adam Thielen7
Jeremy Maclin7
Ted Ginn7
John Brown6
Randall Cobb6
Corey Coleman6
Author's projections. *If he plays.

Wideout is similar to running back, albeit with much more in the way of quantity—the big names should feast routinely despite the matchup. 

Rather than go over those guys, take a look at someone like Doug Baldwin. Wilson's favorite target doesn't nearly get the respect he deserves from a fantasy outlook, last year alone catching 94 of his 125 targets for 1,128 yards and seven touchdowns. That's a seven-touchdown regression from the year prior, but an uptick everywhere else. 

In a shootout with the Packers against a vulnerable defense, Baldwin should have another big day while reaffirming his fantasy relevancy. 

Though a bit riskier, it seems important to point out the stellar matchup for Kelvin Benjamin of the Carolina Panthers. He regressed as a sophomore, catching 63 passes for 941 yards and seven touchdowns while his targets dropped from 145 as a rookie to 118. 

Still, Benjamin is the No. 1 in Carolina and gets to pick apart the San Francisco 49ers to start the season, the team that allowed the fifth-most points to opposing wideouts a year ago. With more weapons soaking up attention than a year ago, Benjamin looks ready for a consistent year, starting with a bang. 

           

Tight Ends

PlayerProjected Points
Greg Olsen13
Jimmy Graham12
Zach Ertz11
Delanie Walker10
Kyle Rudolph10
Jordan Reed*8
Tyler Eifert8
Martellus Bennett8
Austin Hooper 7
Zach Miller 7
Charles Clay 6
Evan Engram6
Author's projections. *If he plays.

Tight end is the hardest position to project on a week-to-week basis thanks to the nature of the position and the fact it can be so touchdown-reliant from a fantasy standpoint. 

Hence the need to find someone like Greg Olsen, one of Cam Newton's favorite targets. 

Quietly, Olsen tallied his third consecutive 1,000-yard season last year, though his touchdowns dipped from seven to three. Still, it is unwise to omit him thanks to a juicy matchup against the 49ers. 

Under-the-radar names have a tendency to blow up at tight end. Few look as likely to do this as Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1 thanks to his matchup with the Washington Redskins.

Not only did Ertz get 112 yards on 10 catches against the Redskins in one of his two encounters with the defense last year, the unit finished the year permitting the 10th-most points to the position. 

           

Defense/Special Teams

UnitProjected Points
Pittsburgh Steelers12
Denver Broncos10
Houston Texans 9
Carolina Panthers9
Los Angeles Rams8
Cincinnati Bengals7
Buffalo Bills7
Jacksonville Jaguars6
Atlanta Falcons6
Arizona Cardinals6
Author's projections.

Too easy, right? 

The Pittsburgh Steelers by far have the best matchup of any defense this week thanks to the usual encounter with the Cleveland Browns.

In one of the two meetings between the two last year, the Browns mustered all of nine points. The other had bigger totals but came near the end of the year while Pittsburgh rested starters. 

The Browns should be improved in 2017 and not the same unit that allowed the third-most points to opposing defenses a year ago. But the unit will already miss Myles Garrett

             

Kickers

PlayerProjected Points
Matt Bryant12
Justin Tucker10
Dan Bailey9
Mason Crosby9
Sebastian Janikowski*8
Chris Boswell7
Brandon McManus7
Matt Prater6
Dustin Hopkins6
Adam Vinatieri6
Author's projections.

Matt Bryant is far from the biggest name on this list, but he does sit on arguably the best matchup of the week when his Atlanta Falcons take on the Chicago Bears. 

Bryant owners are lucky this contest falls in September and not over the course of the winter given the conditions at Soldier Field. 

Alas, now is a great time of year for Bryant to put up big numbers against a Bears team that coughed up the third-most points to kickers a year ago. 

            

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