Fantasy Football Week 1: Awards Predictions Heading into the Regular Season
Every time I see a random "702" phone number pop up on my phone, I know it's almost football season. I also know to never answer those calls. From what I hear, accurately projecting and predicting the outcomes of NFL games is a difficult venture. Thus all the phone calls from Vegas.
Predicting fantasy football outcomes isn't so much different or easier than reading the spread—although I won't be calling you later. What I will do is share projections and predictions for some of the top fantasy performances to come in Week 1.
After months of arduous mock drafts, we fantasy football nerds deserve a respite—a moment to simply gaze at the fantasy rosters we've drafted and envision the best-case scenarios for the first weekend of professional football. Please join me as we delve into a collection of predictive Week 1 Fantasy Football Awards—a grand event that absolutely will not include any sales calls.
Is your top pick not on this list? Do you think Tom Brady is an un-ideal martyr? Simply want to share your entire fantasy roster with a bunch of strangers? Please discuss your Week 1 fantasy football MVP candidates with us in the comments.
DeMarco Murray Eyeing Top Fantasy Tailback Honors in Week 1
The Falcons were among the softest rush defenses in the league last season, allowing the third-most fantasy points per touch to opposing running backs with a wildly generous .88 per-touch clip (using ESPN PPR scoring). DeMarco Murray averaged a robust .78 fantasy points per touch (again using ESPN PPR scoring) in his epic 2014 effort. These levels of production efficiency at such insanely high volume is rare, for both parties involved.
While so much is made of Murray's brilliant offensive line in Dallas, keep in mind the Eagles line actually graded out better according to Pro Football Focus' perspective last season. Even as Murray is leaving the wide-open pastures the Dallas line created, a valuable share of the Eagles' snap-happy scheme is more than enough to offset any inherent doubts over his 2015 fantasy value.
Let others decry durability concerns and false usage curses. Murray is healthy entering Week 1 and faces a soft-serve front seven that simply can't be saved by the infusion of Dan Quinn at the schematic helm.
I'll set the floor at 100 total yards and a score for Murray, with efficient passing work proving gravy.
If Murray is "vultured" by Ryan Mathews or simply underwhelms, it wouldn't be surprising to see Jeremy Hill thrive in the East Bay this coming Sunday afternoon. The Raiders allowed the second-most fantasy points per touch to opposing backfields last season, while Hill is due for 20-plus touches in the season debut.
Similarly, Denver's C.J. Anderson could enjoy a fantasy feast thanks to heavy high-leverage usage in one of the week's highest point totals according to Vegas.
Does Fantasy Football's Top Arm in Week 1 Belong to Tom Brady?
The good times continue this Thursday night in Foxborough, as Tom Brady is at the helm of an offense taking on a generous Pittsburgh Steelers pass defense that allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game and the sixth-most passing yards per game in 2014.
Without LeGarrette Blount pounding away, as he sits out a potential revenge bid due to suspension, and with serious depth concerns at wideout, Brady will heavily target his remaining weapons Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and a diminutive dynamo we discuss later, Danny Amendola.
Of course Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning or even Sam Bradford could make sense as big-game options in scenarios with healthy predicted point totals hovering around 50, but we will stick with narrative street on this one and go with the 199th pick of the 2000 draft as the top fantasy arm of Week 1.
Even though Roger Goodell won't be attending the game, Brady and Bill Belichick will likely approach this as if he's playing cornerback for the Steelers (which, honestly, is a position of need for them).
Divisional Shootout Could Make Dez Bryant the Top Fantasy Wideout in Week 1
You might have noticed the New York Giants were not very good at pass defense last season. Opposing signal-callers enjoyed the league's fourth-highest yards-per-attempt clip in the league at a generous 7.98 in facing the Giants last season. Opposing arms also enjoyed the seventh-highest average fantasy production versus New York last season.
You might have noticed Dez Bryant has six more receiving touchdowns than any other player in football since 2012 with a gaudy 41 "X" celebrations over that span. An absolutely decimated Giants secondary could deflate their division hopes while raising statistical expectations for aerial enemies.
It's less than bold to predict Bryant is the top fantasy wideout in Week 1, but we should heavily value the game's rich point total and the very real potential for the Cowboys to go truly pass-heavy.
Considering offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's Lions posted the first- and fifth-most passing attempts of all time in his stint in Detroit, as well as the Cowboys' well-publicized search for tailback talent, a pass-heavy, Dez-focused offense could emerge sooner rather than later for Dallas.
Sweet Matchup Could Lead to Jordan Cameron's Breakout Miami Debut
Predicting the top fantasy tight end is fairly easy each week—Rob Gronkowski gets the nod outside of his bye, but what fun is that?
Let's instead discuss the biggest breakout candidate among tight ends for Week 1. The Washington Redskins allowed opposing tight ends to haul in nearly 70 percent of their targets last season on the way to surrendering 11.4 yards per reception to the position. The Miami Dolphins' Jordan Cameron faces this soft setup while assuming a valuable market share of the Miami passing offense.
Ryan Tannehill targeted the combination of his tight ends Dion Sims and Charles Clay more than either of his top two wideout targets last season—Mike Wallace and Jarvis Landry. Cameron ranks fourth among NFL tight ends since 2013 with at least 120 targets in yards per reception, with a healthy 12.9 rate, setting him up to gash a suspect secondary in his Dolphins debut.
Real durability concerns factored into Cameron's reasonable average draft position this summer (87th overall on average and seventh among tight ends), but with a fresh slate and a strong target share of a rising offense in Week 1, DFS and redraft managers with shares of Cameron will enjoy Week 1's returns.
Predicting Fantasy Football's Top Freshman in Week 1: Amari Cooper
While both were historically inefficient and ineffective as NFL rookies behind center, Derek Carr (5.46) finished more than 12 percent worse in yards per attempt than Blake Bortles (6.12) last season.
A good portion of this can be blamed on cripplingly conservative play-calling in addition to a poor arsenal for Carr, but legitimate concerns continue over his viability as a NFL starter. More than anything, the fake football jury can't make a reasonable decision until seeing Carr work with star-caliber targets.
Enter Amari Cooper and his wondrous route-running acumen. This coveted and polished wideout is ready to assume a massive market share of the Raiders passing offense. I'm willing to bet Cooper tops 130 targets if he plays a full season. No matter the scheme, Vegas is calling for the Raiders to score around 20 points in the season opener given the details of the spread and total.
With Cooper set for a volume of targets, even those thrown at the line of scrimmage, he should be able to enjoy nice "RAC" (run after the catch) numbers on the way to a productive professional debut.
Can Danny Amendola or Kamar Aiken Be the Waiver Wonder of Week 1?
We've covered the big names already. Now it's time to delve deeper into the waiver-wire realm and discuss who might just be free and fabulous in fantasy football in Week 1.
We'll start with the diminutive dynamo for the Patriots, Danny Amendola. Once a heralded PPR gem, Amendola has an average draft position of 360th overall, if that's even possible (he's going as WR113). The call here is essentially grounded in our belief Tom Brady drops back to pass over 40 times in Week 1, with at least a fifth of those targets allocated for Amendola.
Is he small, injury-prone and without a real touchdown pedigree? You betcha, but Amendola is also positioned to produce as a strong flex candidate (especially in PPR formats) against one of the league's most porous pass defenses from last season (a group that admittedly didn't make many upgrades this offseason).
Limiting the group to only undrafted or late-round commodities, what widely available skill position player do you believe will be the waiver-wire warrior in Week 1?
Does Kamar Aiken eating soft yards in a shootout in Denver make sense? Will Dion Lewis get the rock enough to run to fantasy glory? Will we see Leonard Hankerson streaking past whoever the Eagles found on Craigslist to play the second outside corner spot?
No really, let us know so we can set some winning DFS lineups.