News & Analysis

Erickson's Week 1 fantasy football rankings: Who stands out?

The time has finally come: My Week 1 fantasy football rankings are LIVE, and it's time to break down the players who stand out — whether positively or negatively — in their first matchups of the 2020 season.

It's important to remember that our drafts are over — it's time to start making in-season sit/start decisions. Draft capital can't deter us from making the right call based on matchups. So even if you drafted DeSean Jackson as a WR4, you need to find a way to play him in Week 1. He always starts the season hot, with six 100-yard receiving outings in Week 1 games over his career.

For those yet to draft, consider these matchups when moving players up and down your draft board.

Quarterback

Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers

Coming in as my No. 12 overall quarterback for Week 1 is my man Jimmy Garoppolo. I have been eyeing Jimmy G all summer long (he’s handsome) so I could start him in this matchup against his NFC West rivals the Arizona Cardinals.

In his two games against Arizona in 2019, Garoppolo averaged four passing touchdowns, 370 passing yards and 9.0 yards per attempt — good for a grand total of 29.25 fantasy points per game. And one of those games came without PFF’s highest-graded tight end from 2019, George Kittle, in the lineup.

The Cardinals added safety Isaiah Simmons in hopes of slowing down opposing passing attacks, but expecting him to affect Kittle in his first NFL game is nothing more than a pipe dream.

There are reports suggesting that both second-year wide receiver Deebo Samuel and rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk are trending toward being available for Week 1.  

Last season, the 49ers’ offense led the NFL in explosive pass play percentage (18.8%) and yards after the catch per completion (6.8). The Cardinals’ defense ranked 30th in explosive pass play percentage allowed (17.4%) and 23rd in yards after the catch per completion (5.5).

Running Backs

Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

Aaron Jones enters the ranks as the No. 5 overall running back on the week. This is a big step up from his RB14 ADP and may seem like an extremely bullish ranking based on his matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.

But Jones wreaked havoc on his NFC North rivals in his two matchups against them in 2019. He averaged 28 fantasy points per game, rushed for 5.8 yards per carry and saw a total of 10 targets.

The Vikings’ have lost Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen, arguably their two best defenders on the defensive line. Joseph was the team’s highest-graded interior defender (71.2), and Griffen was the team’s second-highest-graded (77.6) edge defender in 2019. They brought in former Baltimore Ravens interior defender Michael Pierce to serve as Joseph's replacement, but he opted out of the 2020 season.

Packers beat report Jim Owczarski doesn't expect a huge role for rookie running back A.J. Dillon to start the season; we should see a full workload out of Jones as both a receiver and rusher in the season opener.

Jordan Howard, Miami Dolphins

Jordan Howard is someone many will be considering for an RB2 or FLEX spot Week 1 against the New England Patriots, but my projections say otherwise. I have the Miami Dolphins bruising back ranked at RB55; 20 spots lower than his ADP (RB35).

The Patriots allowed the third-fewest fantasy points and just one rushing touchdown to the running back position in 2019 and bolstered the defensive line after losing several defensive players this offseason. They added one of the best run-stuffers in the NFL draft in Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings in addition to veteran Beau Allen, who will be filling the large (very large) void left by interior defensive linemen Danny Shelton.

Howard is going to be running behind PFF’s lowest-ranked offensive line in Week 1. With 38% of his PPR fantasy points last season coming from touchdowns — tied for the most in the league with Todd Gurley — I'm not confident he will be able to find the end zone to salvage any fantasy production.

The Patriots are also favored in this game. Playing from behind will crush Howard’s fantasy upside because he's a non-factor as a receiver. I would much rather take a shot with Matt Breida, who I have ranked at RB41.

Wide Receivers

Terry McLaurin, Washington Football Team

McLaurin has been one of my favorite wide receivers all draft season, and the love continues into Week 1 even in a “tough” matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.

McLaurin roasted the Eagles’ defense last season for his two highest PFF graded games (84.7, 84.2). He averaged 23.8 fantasy points per game while having zero targets in the end zone. He also averaged over 25 yards per catch and over 10 yards after the catch per reception.

The Eagles aimed to improve their secondary this season with the addition of cornerback Darius Slay. Slay and McLaurin faced off in 2019 when Slay played for the Detroit Lions, and McLaurin posted five receptions for 72 receiving yards on 12 targets, proving that he can overcome difficult defensive back coverage.

Dwayne Haskins was the quarterback for Washington in that game, and he was locked in on targeting McLaurin even with Slay in coverage — a whopping 41% of Haskins’ passing attempts went to McLaurin.

With Haskins entrenched as the Week 1 starter against the Eagles, expect him to hyper-target McLaurin once again. Haskins could even be a sneaky play in DFS — his best fantasy performance last season came against the Eagles (21 fantasy points).

Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders

I had to adjust Ruggs' projection with the news that Tyrell Williams is being placed on injured reserve, and he came out as a top-24 option for Week 1. The Raiders’ first-round pick is sure to be involved early, and I expect him to do some damage to a Carolina Panthers secondary that has been overhauled completely.

The Panthers' two projected starting cornerbacks, Donte Jackson and Eli Apple, are going to have their hands full. Apple has allowed a passer rating of at least 104.9 in three of his four seasons in the NFL and has never earned a PFF coverage grade above 65.0. Jackson graded at 65.0 overall as a rookie before regressing to 55.6 last year and allowing a 111.9 passer rating into his coverage.

Ruggs is simply a big play waiting to happen with his 4.27, 40-yard dash speed. With ample opportunity to see targets in Week 1, it would be wise to at least get him in that FLEX spot. After all, Ruggs was one of my favorite rookies to target even before the Williams injury because defenses might be slow out of the gates when it comes to tackling.

The rookie wide receiver used his speed to make defenders look silly at the college level — his YAC per reception mark (10.5) ranked eighth in 2019. It doesn’t hurt that the Panthers in 2019 allowed the second-most receptions and third-most receiving yards to the wide receiver position. 

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