Fantasy Football Week 1: Start 'Em, Sit 'Em
On Thursday evening, the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs will kick off the 2020 NFL season at Arrowhead Stadium—and with it, another season of fantasy football.
The time for preparation is over. Drafts are done. Now it's time to set your lineups for Week 1 and get after the task of winning a championship.
Some of those lineup decisions make themselves. If you were fortunate enough to land Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, you'll be starting him in Week 1. The same goes for New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
But even in Week 1, many fantasy managers must make tricky decisions. Whether it's filling a third wide receiver spot or who to play as a flex, we're here to help.
Each week during the 2020 fantasy season, I'll be sorting through start/sit questions submitted by Bleacher Report app users and offering up advice on players to target and others to avoid.
Let's get to work.
Starting Off on the Right Foot
If it makes you feel any better, my aggregate Week 1 record looks like the 2018 Baltimore Orioles.
But let's buck history and get you off to a good start.
Each of these running backs faces significant question marks. Sony Michel of the New England Patriots is coming off a foot injury and is looking at an uncertain role in Week 1. Phillip Lindsay of the Denver Broncos and Zack Moss of the Buffalo Bills open the season as the No. 2 back for their respective teams. So is Washington's Antonio Gibson, although who knows how the pecking order in D.C. will shake out.
Many fantasy managers were alarmed to see that J.D. McKissic was listed as the first-string running back on Washington's initial depth chart. But team depth charts are not exactly known for their accuracy. As Peter Hailey of NBC Sports Washington reported, McKissic himself was taken by surprise when he heard he was the "starter."
McKissic might get the first carry Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, but Gibson remains a good bet to lead the Washington backfield in touches in Week 1. The fact that he should get most of the passing-down work is a plus as well, since the odds of Washington playing from behind in this game are, um, substantial.
There are no home runs here, but Gibson is your best shot of hitting a double off the wall.
The Call: Antonio Gibson (DraftKings DFS Value: $4,000)
Bucking Conventional Wisdom
Early in the season, conventional fantasy wisdom suggests to start your early-round picks. There's a reason why you drafted the players you did when you did. Don't overthink things.
But for every rule, there's an exception. And this is that exception.
From the moment the Arizona Cardinals acquired DeAndre Hopkins, the hype around Kyler Murray has been building. The second-year quarterback spent much of fantasy draft season being selected as a top-five option at his position. Like Patrick Mahomes in 2018 and Lamar Jackson last season, many foresee a second-year breakout from Murray in 2020.
But in Week 1, Murray faces a stout San Francisco 49ers defense that allowed fewer than 170 passing yards per game in 2019. The Niners were 24th in fantasy points per game allowed to quarterbacks.
In his two meetings against the 49ers last year, Murray averaged less than 200 passing yards per contest. He did throw four touchdown passes without an interception and ran for another, but his fantasy production was just OK.
Conversely, Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers draw a New York Giants team on Monday night that was 28th in the league in pass defense last season and fourth in fantasy points per game given up to quarterbacks.
If you believe a healthy Roethlisberger is a solid rebound candidate in 2020, then the difference in matchups here is too big to ignore.
The Call: Ben Roethlisberger (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,400)
Flying the Coop(er)
We'll start this one off by ruling out one player right off the bat. Kareem Hunt of the Cleveland Browns faces a Baltimore Ravens team that ranked fifth in the league last year in run defense and gave up the fourth-fewest PPR points to running backs.
With Hunt also facing an uncertain workload playing behind Nick Chubb, he's out. This is all about the wide receivers.
DJ Chark Jr. of the Jacksonville Jaguars is an easy "yes." The third-year pro is coming off his first 1,000-yard season and is the best offensive weapon for a Jags team that will be playing catch-up in approximately 64 quarters this season.
Keenan Allen of the Los Angeles Chargers is also a go. There's legitimate concern about what the changes at quarterback in Los Angeles will do to his fantasy value. But Allen has averaged more than 1,200 receiving yards per season over the past three years and gets a favorable matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1.
That leaves Amari Cooper of the Dallas Cowboys and Tyler Boyd of the Bengals, neither of whom has an especially good Week 1 matchup. Both the Rams (who the Cowboys face in Los Angeles) and the Chargers (who travel to Cincinnati) were in the bottom half of the league in PPR fantasy points surrendered to wide receivers in 2019.
But Cooper is the No. 1 receiver for the Cowboys, while Boyd gets a Chargers defense that gave up the third-fewest fantasy points to the position.
Nervousness aside, Cooper is the better fantasy play.
The Call: Amari Cooper (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,400)
I included this question largely because this league uses a format that's becoming more popular—ditching the kicker position altogether in favor of an extra flex spot.
With all due respect to the NFL players who make a living with their feet, kickers are an afterthought in fantasy. Outside of the occasional fluke week, they have no real impact on how leagues play out.
Generally speaking, I favor running backs in flex spots for one simple reason—touches. Players can't rack up fantasy points without the ball, and running backs touch it more often than wide receivers. But while Bills rookie running back Zack Moss may have a bright future, he's currently stuck behind Devin Singletary in the backfield pecking order.
With an uncertain Week 1 carry-share, Moss is out.
That leaves a new wide receiver and a not-so-new one. CeeDee Lamb is an explosive young talent who was a great get for the Dallas Cowboys in Round 1 of the 2020 draft. But the youngster from Oklahoma is also third on the depth chart behind Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup.
There's no telling how long veteran DeSean Jackson will be able to stay healthy in Philadelphia. But with the Eagles wide receiver corps all kinds of banged up entering the regular season, the 33-year-old is essentially the No. 1 wide receiver for the Eagles heading into the season opener in Washington.
Last year, Jackson played in all of one full game—Week 1 against Washington.
He had eight catches for 154 yards and two scores.
The Call: DeSean Jackson (DraftKings DFS Value: $4,900)
Rookie RB Roundup
The 2020 rookie class was replete with talent at running back. Clyde Edwards-Helaire of the Kansas City Chiefs, J.K. Dobbins of the Baltimore Ravens and Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts all have the potential to become NFL and fantasy stars.
The question is when, as only Edwards-Helaire has a clear path to consistent weekly touches from the get-go. And he isn't one of the available options here.
Cam Akers of the Los Angeles Rams is the first back to rule out here. He's a talented rookie in his own right, but the RB depth chart in Los Angeles is a muddied mess, and I don't trust the Rams to run the ball effectively against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.
James Robinson of the Jacksonville Jaguars is out as well. The RB depth chart in Jacksonville is a disaster zone. So are the Jags as a whole. If you can avoid that dumpster fire, do so.
It wasn't long ago that Ronald Jones II of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would have been an easy (if uninspiring) call. But that was before Leonard Fournette landed in Tampa. Given how recently Fournette signed, Jones remains a good bet to lead the Tampa backfield in touches this week. But the Bucs draw a bad matchup for running backs—the New Orleans Saints were 27th in PPR points per game given up to the position in 2019.
That leaves Dobbins against the Cleveland Browns. The former Ohio State star is behind Mark Ingram II on the Ravens depth chart, but after an impressive camp, Dobbins is going to get work against a Browns defense that ranked 30th in run defense last year.
The Ravens could easily get a big lead here and give the rookie significant touches late as they grind the clock.
The Call: JK Dobbins (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,000)
Youth vs. Experience
At first glance, this doesn't appear to be an overly inspiring array of flex options. But there's actually some intrigue present within this group.
Kareem Hunt of the Browns could be a league-winner if something happens to Nick Chubb. Until then, he's going to be high-variance from week to week. In Hunt's one game against Baltimore last year, he had only six touches for 41 yards, which rules him out here.
Christian Kirk of the Arizona Cardinals is going to see a lot of single coverage in a loaded WR corps in 2020. But the San Francisco 49ers aren't a good matchup for wide receivers, and Kirk's target share is uncertain. In two matchups with San Fran last year, Kirk had only eight catches for 49 yards.
Golden Tate is part of what could be a sneaky good group of pass-catchers for the New York Giants. And the Giants will likely be playing from behind Monday night. But Tate is also a tertiary passing-game option heading into a bottom-10 fantasy matchup for his position.
That brings us to Emmanuel Sanders, who will serve as the No. 2 wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints this year. Sanders will take a clear back seat to Michael Thomas in the Big Easy, but no team allowed more PPR points to wide receivers in 2019 than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Call: Emmanuel Sanders (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,700)
This is a three-part question, and it deserves a three-part answer.
At tight end, this is a relatively easy call. Noah Fant of the Denver Broncos showed some flashes down the stretch last year. But from Week 12 on, Tyler Higbee of the Rams was the second-highest scoring tight end in fantasy.
With the Rams hosting a Dallas team that was third in fantasy points per game allowed to tight ends in 2019, Higbee needs to be in the starting lineup.
At wide receiver, Michael Gallup of the Cowboys is an ascending young talent who was a better draft value this year than batterymate Amari Cooper. Gallup will also probably dodge Jalen Ramsey in coverage Sunday night. But Courtland Sutton of the Denver Broncos is a No. 1 wideout who will have a steadier target share this season. Add in that Sutton has the better fantasy matchup in Week 1, and he gets the nod.
At running back, we have two former superstars who are trying to recapture their past glory in Le'Veon Bell of the New York Jets and David Johnson of the Houston Texans.
This one isn't close. Bell didn't look any better in training camp this year than he did while averaging 3.2 yards per carry last year, according to Brian Costello of the New York Post. He also faces a Buffalo Bills team that landed in the bottom half of the league in fantasy points allowed to running backs last year.
Texans head coach Bill O'Brien will be motivated to show the trade that brought Johnson to Houston wasn't as bad as it appeared. That's going to mean lots of touches, starting with a Chiefs team that was a top-five fantasy matchup for the position last year.
Kerryon My Wayward Son
First off, being confident in Saquon Barkley is reasonable. His Week 1 matchup with the Steelers isn't great, but as a talent, he certainly is.
Marlon Mack of the Indianapolis Colts potentially carries a fantasy expiration date in the form of rookie Jonathan Taylor. Most fantasy pundits believe Taylor will usurp Mack as the lead back in Indy at some point. But that hasn't happened yet, and in Week 1, the Colts face a Jacksonville Jaguars team that led the AFC in fantasy points given up to running backs in 2019. That makes Mack a rock-solid RB2 play.
That leaves Leonard Fournette of the Buccaneers vs. Kerryon Johnson of the Detroit Lions in the flex spot. Fantasy managers who drafted Fournette in the hopes of landing a high-end second weekly starter may well still get their wish if he assumes featured-back status with his new team at some point.
But with Fournette having just arrived in Tampa and a matchup with the Saints that smells like a shootout, this isn't the week that happens.
Johnson has been quite the fantasy tease over his brief NFL career. He's shown flashes of game-breaking talent, but he just can't stay on the field.
However, he's healthy this week. Rookie D'Andre Swift is nursing a foot injury, and veteran Adrian Peterson only recently joined the Lions. That sets Johnson up for plenty of touches at Ford Field on Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
The matchup isn't great, but this is a situation where you have to follow the touches.
The Call: Kerryon Johnson (DraftKings DFS Value: $4,400)
DraftKings DFS Question of the Week
This is a loaded question—and one that doesn't have a set answer.
Just as in season-long formats, there's more than one way to build a winning lineup in DFS. Given how awful the Arizona Cardinals were at covering tight ends in 2019, the position to pay retail for in Week 1 might be tight end with George Kittle of the 49ers.
But if forced to choose between spending big on running backs or wide receivers, the wisest course of action will be the former more often than not.
Wide receiver is a much deeper position than running back. As a result—just as in season-long leagues—it's easier to find upside values at wideout than at running back.
For example, there are a few wide receivers available in Week 1 for $5,000 or less at DraftKings who have the potential for robust stat lines.
I already mentioned DeSean Jackson (DraftKings DFS Value: $4,900) of the Philadelphia Eagles, who topped 150 receiving yards and found the end zone twice the last time he faced Washington.
Anthony Miller of the Chicago Bears (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,000) was a top-20 fantasy option at his position over the final month-plus of the 2019 season and stars off 2020 against a Lions team that sported the NFL's worst pass defense last year.
Allen Lazard of the Green Bay Packers (DraftKings DFS Value: $4,900) is a clear second fiddle to Davante Adams. But he should still get a decent target share Sunday against a Vikings team that was a top-10 fantasy matchup for wide receivers in 2019 and then lost their top three corners in the offseason.
It's possible to find bargains in the backfield, too. But most weeks, it's significantly more difficult.
We'll close this week's column out (as we always do) by firing off some answers to Bleacher Report App users in rapid-fire style.
kylemurdaugh needs some wide receiver help. "(Robert) Woods, T.Y. (Hilton), (Mike) Evans. Pick 2."
Mike Evans would have occupied one of the starting slots here, despite less-than-impressive numbers against the Saints last year. But now that he's dealing with a hamstring injury and may be a game-time decision, it's best to stay away unless he gets practice time in on Thursday or Friday. That leaves Woods (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,500) and Hilton (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,800) by default, but as Plan Bs go, that isn't a bad one.
JM301 has to choose between a pair of uninspiring running backs. "Cam Akers or James Robinson PPR?"
Neither of these rookie running backs should be trusted as more than a flex option given the uncertainty about their Week 1 workload. But of the two, Akers (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,600) is the better play. There's no one in Jacksonville outside of wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. who has any business being in fantasy lineups this week.
richardcarter has a flex question. "(Jarvis) Landry, (Darren) Waller or (Tarik) Cohen in a half-PPR?"
Jarvis Landry has some potential given that the Cleveland Browns will probably be playing from behind in Baltimore. So does Waller as the de facto No. 1 receiver for the Raiders. But with David Montgomery banged up, Cohen ((DraftKings DFS Value: $4,900) could lead Chicago in backfield touches against a Lions defense that was fourth in fantasy points allowed to running backs in 2019.
andrewray1 needs help at running back. "(Mark) Ingram or (Le'Veon) Bell?
Bell doesn't face the competition for touches in New York that Ingram does in Baltimore. But J.K. Dobbins or no J.K. Dobbins, Ingram (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,500) also has the far superior fantasy matchup, and he didn't look terrible the last time we saw him running the ball.
KeyserSoze has a quandary at quarterback. "Tom Brady at New Orleans or Matt Ryan vs. Seattle?"
There's no shortage of enthusiasm surrounding Brady's first start for the Buccaneers, and that game could be a shootout. The thing is, so could Seattle's trip to face the Atlanta Falcons. Matt Ryan (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,700) has years of rapport with most of his passing-game weapons, while Brady is still getting to know his. It's close, but Ryan has the edge.
It's back to the flex spot with Jjpfarley23. "(Le'Veon) Bell, (Melvin) Gordon or (Will) Fuller. PPR?"
Again, I usually defer to running backs in flex spots. But I don't necessarily trust Gordon's carry share in Denver, and Bell's matchup is ugly. Fuller (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,200) probably has the lowest fantasy floor of the trio. But when he's been healthy, he and Deshaun Watson have combined for some gonzo stat lines. Roll the dice.
DaBearz26 has a question regarding a starting defense. "Chicago Bears (at DET) or Indianapolis Colts (at JAX)?"
Most weeks, the answer to this question would be the Bears, who should bounce back in fantasy leagues after a down 2019 campaign. But in Week 1, the Colts (DraftKings DFS Value: $4,900)—who have quietly assembled a pretty good defense of their own—travel to take on what's left of the Jaguars. Go with the matchup play and Indy.
Finally, rkfirst needs starting running backs. "Need to choose two between Raheem Mostert, Jonathan Taylor and Le'Veon Bell. .5 PPR."
The easiest call here is Mostert (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,800), who opens the season in a top-10 fantasy matchup for running backs with the Cardinals. The second spot is a matter of tolerance for risk. The safer, low-ceiling play is Bell (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,600), who will see a full workload as long as the Jets can keep the game relatively close. Taylor (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,700) faces an uncertain workload, but in a prime matchup, he also has the better chance of a huge game. I'd lean Mostert and Taylor—no guts, no glory.
DFS player salaries courtesy of DraftKings
Fantasy scoring data courtesy of FFToday
Fantasy points against data courtesy of My Fantasy League
Gary Davenport is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association Football Writer of the Year.