Start your studs! Any RB you drafted in the first two rounds are must-plays, except Damien Williams (whose situation changed dramatically with McCoy trade), who I’m still likely playing. Any WR you drafted in the first three rounds are must-plays as well.
Mark Ingram – The Ravens are going up against a Dolphins team that allowed the 3rd most rushing yards, the 2nd most attempts, and the 4th most TDs on the ground in 2018. They added Christian Wilkins in the first round, and he’ll make a dent, but they need a lot more if they’re going to stop this rushing attack of the Ravens. Baltimore is favored by 7 points in Miami, which tells you how much the differential between these two teams actually are. Ingram will have as many touches as the Ravens are willing to give him.
Leonard Fournette – As of right now, he’s pretty much a start every week just in case you weren’t sure. 3-down bell-cow is a matchup proof play.
Chris Carson – Seattle’s favored by 9.5 points at home, and with them being the most run-heavy team last year, expect Carson to get as much of a workload as they are willing to give him. More work on 3rd down and in the passing game only increases Carson’s floor. He’s almost in must-start territory this week.
Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida – The share between these two seem to be getting closer as we inch our way towards Week 1, and Kyle Shanahan’s RBs usually thrive. Even if this is a 50/50 split, both can be started as low-end RB2s or flexes at the very worst because of the zone scheme Shanahan runs. Breida has looked better than Coleman this preseason, but Coleman will likely get the start and more touches if preseason usage was any indication. It’s possible Breida becomes the Devonta Freeman of this backfield, while Coleman becomes the… Coleman of the backfield that Shanahan had while OC in Atlanta. The matchup itself against the Bucs shouldn’t scare anyone (2nd to last DVOA last season), and the implied total of 50 is what we like to see.
Austin Ekeler – With ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reporting that Melvin Gordon will not report for Week 1, Austin Ekeler will be the Chargers primary back with Justin Jackson rounding out the rotation.
The Colts were pretty good against opposing teams’ rushing attacks, but struggled to cover RBs out of the backfield. Austin Ekeler’s best attribute is catching the ball out of the backfield, and when you consider the Charger’s subpar offensive line, we can see them take advantage of short, quick passes to potentially overcome that deficiency.
Jackson will likely get the majority of their short yardage and goal line work, but we should still see Ekeler in on non-goal-line red zone snaps. Jackson’s a flex play at best, and doesn’t carry enormous upside. Ekeler and Jackson will likely have a similar amount of touches on early downs, but Ekeler’s real value will come in the pass game.
In three games last year, Ekeler plays 68% of snaps or more, and averaged 20 opportunities per game. In this past preseason, the numbers were almost identical. The Chargers targeted their RB at a rate of 27.9% in 2018 (3rd in league), but that should go down in Week 1 with the rotation being between Ekeler/Jackson instead of Gordon/Ekeler.
Marlon Mack – The Colts will likely be more dependent on the run, and the Chargers run defense is probably their weakness when you compare to their secondary and pass rush ability. He’ll likely get his touches, and is their goal line guy. He can even see some opportunity on third downs, which we saw some more usage of in preseason and towards the end of last season. He doesn’t have the same upside he had with Andrew Luck under center, but the offense will likely revolve around him.
Sony Michel – Michel is the Patriots clear ball carrier, and might even add some receiving skills to his repertoire this season. With him being the clear guy in preseason and camp, he’s back as a solid RB2 in what should be a high scoring game with Pittsburgh. 20+ carries along with goal line opportunity is what we’re hoping for from Michel in any given game this season, and he’s delivered more often than not once given the opportunity.
Christian Kirk – Kirk is the favorite to lead the Cardinals in targets this year out of the slot, and we know how much Kingsbury favors his quick slot receivers. He’ll be back in his comfort zone after playing in the slot in college, and if you take a look at Kingbury’s past inside WRs, the production is massive. With the Air Raid offense going into 4-WR sets more often than not, newly added slot corner Justin Coleman (formerly of Seattle) will have to pick his poison between him and Larry Fitzgerald, who will likely man the other slot position. Darius Slay hardly went into the slot last year, and didn’t move inside to cover Larry Fitzgerald when they played last year (same defensive coordinator). As a team, Detroit allowed the 6th most fantasy points to the slot WR position last year. PPR Preferred.
Allen Robinson – Robinson is a year removed from his ACL injury and has apparently looked like his old self in camp. He moves around the formation a bunch, but unless CB Jaire Alexander takes a big step forward, Robinson can have a big day. The Packers were in the bottom-12 in fantasy points given up to WRs on either side of the field and the slot. The scheme is what I trust in this offense, not necessarily the QB, and this is a matchup the Bears should be taking advantage of with a healthy Robinson.
Tyler Boyd – Without AJ Green in Week 1, Boyd will demand a high target share coming out of the slot. The matchup is sweet too, as the Seahawks are probably starting rookie Ugo Amadi in the nickel after losing Justin Coleman to Detroit. Boyd should have his way in this matchup, and get plenty of targets in a game that Vegas projects Seattle winning by 9.5 points.
Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones – Patrick Peterson is suspended and Robert Alford broke his leg, so these Lions WRs will be going against Tramaine Brock and Christopher Jones. Who? Well, Jones was an undrafted free agent in 2018 who initially failed to make the Lions roster, and played zero snaps so far in the NFL. Brock played for the 49ers for most of his career, and is now on his third team in three years. I don’t care that the Lions are a run-heavy team; I would find a way to have these two in my lineup this week.
Dede Westbrook – The Chiefs weren’t great against slot WRs last season, and Dede has likely emerged as the clear #1 in the Jaguars pass-happy offense under new OC John DeFilippo. He claims Dede is the best route runner he’s been around, and since he’s in the slot, we should expect him to be heavily targeted.
Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp – The Panthers were vulnerable on the outside, mostly because they mostly play zone coverage. They gave up the 5th most points to perimeter WRs last year, so both Woods and Cooks are in my lineup. Rashaan Gaulden will likely get the start at nickel after playing safety as a rookie last season, and the inexperience will favor Kupp. Even with Kupp coming off the ACL injury, it seems as though he’s good to go and will likely continue to be Goff’s favorite target.
Julian Edelman – The Steelers were torched in the slot last season, and it’s Julian Edelman’s turn in Week 1. Pittsburgh gave up the 2nd most fantasy points to slot WRs. Leave him in your lineups.
Chris Godwin – Yes, start the most hyped WR of the entire offseason. He’ll see a lot of K’Waun Williams, who contributed to San Francisco giving up the 10th most fantasy points to slot WRs last year, and the 5th most over the last 8 games of the season. The breakout shall begin Week 1.
Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard – Both RBs should have plenty of opportunity at home against the Redskins. Philly is favored by 9.5 points, and game script should be in a position where they can pound the rock all game long. Sanders is the preferred play out of the two; he will likely get the start and have more opportunity. I can see him getting more opportunity in the pass game as well. Howard is a flex play at best, and I would play him if I’m happy with about 15 touches. This matchup can provide these two with 30+ touches. The Redskins are decent up-front, so there will be a challenge on a per-touch basis, but volume should cover these two.
Chris Thompson – The Redskins are the biggest underdogs of the week, with the Eagles favored by 9.5 points at home. Game script probably isn’t going allow Washington to establish a run game, and we might see Thompson a lot more in this game, and he would be the preferred start out of the three RBs in this backfield – especially in PPR leagues. Thompson does not need a lot of touches to be successful in PPR; he’s healthy right now, and he’s been efficient when healthy. Not too many veteran playmakers on this offense. The Eagles did give up the 2nd most receptions and the 6th most receiving yards to RBs last season.
CJ Anderson – Detroit’s going run-heavy if they can, and preseason gave us a good indication that CJ will be a regular part of this backfield rotation. Kerryon Johnson will likely out-snap and out-touch him, but there might be enough carries and looks in the passing game to keep Anderson afloat as a fantasy option. If you add the fact that he’s likely their goal line back, he can have some real value. Arizona was only team last year to give up over 2000 yards rushing, the only team to give up 20 rushing TDs, and one of two teams to allow over 400 rushing attempts against them.
Phillip Lindsay – Lindsay seems to still be the starter for the Broncos, even though the split might be even closer between him and Royce Freeman this year. Devontae Booker should take away a bunch of passing downs, but Lindsay had a similar situation last year in which he was able to produce with efficiency. With Antonio Brown potentially suspended for Week 1, there’s a good shot that the Broncos will be in control of this game, allowing more volume for this backfield. The Raiders gave up the 2nd most rushing yards last season, so Lindsay has a chance to still do his thing on 15 touches.
Larry Fitzgerald – Larry will likely man the other slot WR position in Kingsbury’s 4 WR Air Raid offense. Like I mentioned with Christian Kirk, newly acquired Justin Coleman is an effective slot corner, but he will have to pick his poison between Kirk and Larry since there will likely be two WRs on the field at once. Darius Slay is the corner to be wary of, and since he rarely moves inside, these two shouldn’t have to face much tough coverage corner-wise. With the slot WRs preferred in this pass-heavy offense, and Larry being the veteran who still seems to have it, he’s a desperate flex play this week if you need it. As a team, Detroit allowed the 6th most fantasy points to the slot WR position last year. PPR preferred.
Geronimo Allison and Marquez Valdes-Scantling – There’s no doubt the Bears have a very stout defense, but outside WRs tend to okay against them. We know Davante Adams will be fine, but even against other WRs, both Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller can give up fantasy points on their respective side of the field; as a team they’ve allowed the 7th most fantasy points to WRs lining up on the perimeter. The Bears’ strong suit at CB was in the nickel, but they just downgraded from Bryce Callahan to Buster Skrine, who helped the Jets give up the 3rd most fantasy points to slot WRs last season… so Allison should be fine as well. It’s worth noting that Matt LaFleur’s Titans targeted the slot at the 5th highest rate last year without a solid slot WR; Allison would be the preferred play out of the two in PPR leagues this week.
Will Fuller – We know Fuller gives you a ton of upside anytime he’s on the field and Deshaun Watson is his QB. His splits with Keke Coutee on the field aren’t great, but it’s a small sample size in between injuries. The Saints gave up the most fantasy points to WRs lining up on the perimeter, so Fuller has a good shot at making a big play with Marshon Lattimore potentially shadowing DeAndre Hopkins.
DeSean Jackson – Josh Norman shadowed Alshon Jeffery in the last game of the season, and if that happens again, that leaves Quinton Dunbar on DeSean Jackson on the other side. Dunbar gave up 0.36 fantasy points per route run against him last year (not good), and he can be beat over the top. He’s a nice boom/bust start in deeper leagues.
Dante Pettis – The Bucs corners haven’t been upgraded, so they will continue to be beatable. Pettis will likely move around, and wherever he ends up, he’ll likely have an advantageous matchup.
David Montgomery – The potential role for Montgomery this season is for him to be the Bears’ 3-down back with Mike Davis taking a backseat, and Tarik Cohen playing more of a satellite role. Cohen will likely be placed in better positions to make plays, but not touch the ball as much as he did last year as a result of Jordan Howard being incapable in the pass game.
Montgomery’s ability has impressed most of us and the Bears, so all that talent just needs to meet the desired opportunity. Too bad Matt Nagy has decided to completely hide his hand this preseason when it comes to his backfield. Playing Montgomery in Week 1 no doubt comes with some risk at this point; we are just following the signs pointing in the direction of him being their guy. I’m playing him Week 1 because of his draft capital with him at home against a Packers defense that doesn’t scare anyone.
Aaron Jones – Bears were simply stout against the run last season, giving up the 4th fewest yards rushing and the fewest rushing TDs with only 4 all season. They specialize in stuffing the run, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Jones started the year on a bad foot. Aaron Rodgers can beat this team through the air, and that’s probably what we’ll see more of. Chicago was pretty good at limiting RBs in the passing game as well. He might be your 3rd or 4th round pick, but I wouldn’t mind considering other options. Vic Fangio is gone, but the personnel remains. Combine that with an alleged shared backfield, let me see what else I have on my roster. Spoiler alert… you’re probably going to end up playing him. Don’t get too cute.
Damien Williams – Before LeSean McCoy signed with the Chiefs, this Jacksonville matchup didn’t look as daunting. Williams has Patrick Mahomes! He has Andy Reid! He’s unstoppable! But now that Shady’s in town, if he plays, it’s not as ideal. Reid doesn’t give his RBs a ton of touches, they’ve just been efficient on them. If Williams can get 15 touches, we’re relatively happy, but are we happy with that against the Jaguars? I’m still starting Williams with the implied total of 52 on an elite offense, but know that McCoy can take enough touches away to make him a non-factor. Let’s hope McCoy doesn’t eat into too much after only one week of practice; apparently Andy Reid doesn’t run the same offense in Kansas City that he ran in Philly.
Tarik Cohen – Cohen started last season with 8 touches, then 5 touches, then 8 touches. That was Matt Nagy’s gameplan coming into 2018. He wanted Jordan Howard to be his 3-down back, and that experiment failed. Cohen then saw an uptick in touches that made him viable for fantasy on an every-week basis. We can a similar start to this season, except David Montgomery might actually be what Nagy is looking for. Cohen can score at any point with the ball in his hands, so you’ll likely have to pray for the home run. Also, the Packers were actually pretty stout against pass-catching RBs, allowing the 2nd-least receptions to the position in 2018.
Duke Johnson – Johnson is a good flex play this week, simply because he’s likely the main back on all three downs for the Texans. The matchup isn’t that great though, especially in the run game. The Saints gave up the least amount of rushing yards last year, and Houston’s offensive line is deefinitely questionable. Duke’s value will come in the pass game if they use him correctly, and with Houston probably going pass heavy in New Orleans, Duke goes into Week 1 with a safe floor. Not worried about Carlos Hyde taking a considerable amount of snaps away.
Josh Jacobs – Antonio Brown potentially being suspended for Week 1 definitely hurts this offense, but they will likely lean on Jacobs more. His touches might go up, but the quality of those touches might go down if AB isn’t on the field. Denver gave up a ton of rushing yards last year, but they can make a sneaky improvement this season because of their talented defensive front taking a step forward. He’s still a volume play RB2.
Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley – Julio will likely be shadowed by Xavier Rhodes, and while you’re still playing Julio, it’s still a more challenging matchup against one of the better shadow corners in the league. On the other side of the field, Calvin Ridley has the better matchup against Trae Waynes, but Waynes actually goes into zone coverage about 50% of the time. Whatever they’re doing in Minnesota is working; they are extremely stout against WRs, and they have the same personnel at each corner position that they did last season.
Amari Cooper – Cooper will likely be shadowed by Janoris Jenkins, and he didn’t fare well against him the last time the played in Week 17 last season. According to PFF, Jenkins shadowed Cooper on 77% of his routes, on which Cooper caught only 3 of 8 targets for 17 yards. With Michael Gallup coming on and improving, along with getting a ton of reps as Dak’s #1 throughout camp, he might actually be the one to perform this week; the Giants are likely playing their 1st round rookie Deandre Baker and special-teamer Antonio Hamilton opposite Janoris Jenkins, who Gallup can take advantage of. I’m not sure I’d trust him in season long, but he’s a nice dart throw in DFS tournaments.
Keke Coutee – New Orleans actually was pretty stout against slot WRs last year after starting the season cold. They ended up allowing the 9th least fantasy points to slot WRs, and that was with P.J. Williams as their nickel corner. It’s either Williams or Patrick Robinson, who didn’t look particularly good this summer. Either way, it seems like the Saints have schemed up a way to limit slot WRs while giving up a ton on the outside. I would wait and see to see how this target distribution plays out between these four WRs in Houston.
TY Hilton – Casey Hayward, one of the best shadow coverage corners in the NFL, will likely shadow Hilton on the outside, and when Hilton escapes into the slot, he’ll face Desmond King, one of the best nickel corners in the NFL. With Luck gone and Jacoby Brissett taking over, we might have to look to Week 2 to see Hilton’s first good game of 2019. I don’t like getting cute, but this is one situation where I just might. I’m looking for other options personally.
Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins– Even though Jalen Ramsey will likely shadow Hill, I won’t be sitting him. He can easily break through any defense for a long TD, and Andy Reid has had months to game plan for this defense. Ramsey might be one of the best shadow corners in the game, but I’m not betting against Patrick Mahomes, Hill, and Andy Reid. As far as Sammy Watkins goes, he’ll be going up against another great corner in AJ Bouye. Even when these guys move inside, whether it’s Ramsey or not, the Jaguars have locked that down too in 2018. Andy Reid and this offense definitely have their work cut out for them. Watkins might be someone I don’t find necessary to play in Week 1.
Robby Anderson – Coming off a calf injury, getting shadowed by Tre’Davious White.. not the best way to start the season. That being said, Robby has had White’s number, beating him for a TD in the past, and getting open on the wild Sam Darnold scramble at the end of last season for a TD. Late last year in White’s coverage, Anderson caught 3 for 4 for 51 and a TD, and he shadowed him on 91% of routes. Anderson has the speed to get past White, and because of that he’s still worth a start in your flex.
Juju Smith-Schuster – Juju has played more outside this past preseason, and it’s likely that continues with Antonio Brown out of town. If that’s the case, it’s very possible he draws a shadow from Stephon Gilmore, in which case we would have to temper our expectations. He’s in your lineup, no doubt, but Juju hasn’t faced #1 corner coverage in the NFL yet, and he might get his first dose of that in Week 1.
Derrius Guice – According to HC Jay Gruden, Washington’s run game will go through Derrius Guice, with Adrian Peterson playing behind him. The actual split on early downs remains unknown; we do know that Chris Thompson will come in on passing downs, and in this matchup there might be a lot of that. The Redskins are the biggest underdogs of the week, with the Eagles favored by 9.5 points at home. Game script probably isn’t going allow Washington to establish a run game, and we might see Thompson a lot more in this game, and he would be the preferred start out of the three RBs in this backfield – especially in PPR leagues.
It was great that Guice returned to game action this preseason, but he didn’t look great in that first game. With how the Redskins have managed injuries as an organization, it wouldn’t surprise me that Guice is being rushed back. It’s also hard to believe that Peterson will just take a back seat in Guice’s first regular season game. Guice is preferred to be on your bench, and is a desperate start at best, but at least Gruden has the intentions of playing him as long as they don’t have to abandon the run. Either way, this Eagles defense was very stout against the run last year, and there’s no reason to think they can’t be as good in 2019.
Devin Singletary, Frank Gore – These two are obviously very desperate plays in Week 1 for a few reasons. Gore can get his obligatory 13 carries in this game, with Singletary rounding out the rotation, but we just don’t know what this split will look like. I don’t want to test it and try to find out against this Jets front. They lost Avery Williamson, but they have a little bit of depth there with Neville Hewitt and the rookie Blake Cashman, who’s looked great, to fill in. That defensive front is nasty, you got CJ Mosley in the 2nd level, and Jamaal Williams sneaking in from the 3rd level. Let’s see what the share looks like before I start one of these two. Regardless of the split, Singletary is the guy to own in this backfield; he has to be rostered.
Kenyan Drake, Kalen Ballage – Not the backfield I want to start in Week 1. Drake is first on the depth chart with Ballage sucking bad in his opportunities this preseason while Drake was sidelined. It’s so interesting that while Drake has all the tools to be a workhorse back, there’s something that’s not letting these coaches let him become one. Ballage is going to be involved, and because of the ambiguity combined with the fact that they’re going up against the Ravens with the lowest implied total of the week at 37.5, makes me want to stay away. The Ravens did lose some pieces, but they still have a solid defensive line made for run-stopping. Let this backfield sort itself out, and then revisit when we have a better idea of the split. If you’re playing anyone, it’s Drake because of his passing-down role.
Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones, Dare Ogunbowale – It’s going to be a three-headed attack at home against San Francisco. It’s a great matchup for the run game, but the work can go in any direction. Barber will likely start and lead the backfield in touches, so he’s the desperate start out of the three, but there might not be enough opportunity for any individual to make it worth a spot in your lineup in Week 1. There’s a chance this backfield makes a little more sense going into Week 2. If you’re looking for some upside at the bottom of your bench, Ogunbowale is an option, as he’ll likely open up as their passing down back with potential opportunity to seize some early down work if the other two guys continue to be sub-par.
Justin Jackson – The Chargers offensive line and the Colts run defense doesn’t add up to a great game for Jackson. He might have a little bit of opportunity in the pass game, but I don’t think it’ll be enough for him to sustain value. He can save your day with a goal line TD, because that’s ultimately where his value will come from, but with Ekeler being the guy on 65% of snaps, passing downs, and splitting with him on early downs, I don’t see much of a floor or upside for Jackson. OC Greg Roman said he’s willing to see who has the hot hand behind Ingram, so Jackson has an opportunity to carve out a real role.