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Fantasy Football Mailbag: Week 1 fantasy football start 'em or sit 'em

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With the 2020 NFL season having finally kicked off, it's time to discuss all Week 1 fantasy football start ‘em or sit ‘em questions. This week’s questions come courtesy of @profootballfocus on Instagram and @PFF_Fantasy on Twitter.

12-man PPR: Jamison Crowder or Sterling Shepard in the FLEX?
— @dunnbrit24

Even factoring in that  Golden Tate may be limited in this matchup because of a hamstring injury, it's still not enough to move Sterling Shepard ahead of Jamison Crowder.

Crowder saw 25 targets in his two games last season against the Buffalo Bills, which totaled 21% of his total target share on the season. Meanwhile, Shepard has a much tougher matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After the Steelers acquired safety Minkah Fitzpatrick last season, they allowed the fourth-fewest catches and receiving yards to opposing wide receivers, in addition to the seventh-fewest receiving touchdowns. 

We also won’t know until Monday night whether Tate will play, so it’s better to just go with Crowder, who is the clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver for the New York Jets. We can’t expect to see much of an impact from either newcomer Breshad Perriman or rookie Denzel Mims considering all the practice time they've missed.

Would you start Jarvis Landry or Diontae Johnson (PPR)? — @Mambomarr

I have Jarvis Landry (WR27) ranked significantly ahead of Diontae Johnson (WR42), so Landry is my start here. The Cleveland Browns receiver was a machine against the Baltimore Ravens in 2019, averaging over 19 fantasy points per game despite catching zero touchdowns. 

Johnson will face a revamped New York Giants secondary headlined by newly acquired outside cornerback James Bradberry, who allowed a 59% completion percentage in coverage last season.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is in a better spot against slot cornerback Logan Ryan, who allowed the most touchdowns in slot coverage last season. The last time we saw Ben Roethlisberger healthy in 2018, he ranked No. 3 among quarterbacks in touchdowns to slot receivers. 

Which New England Patriots back is the safer bet this week? Sony Michel or James White? — @yallgottathink

We're always entering uncharted territory when it comes to safety with running backs on the New England Patriots, but the play here is Sony Michel. All signs indicate Michel is healthy and locked in as the lead back, and he should produce against the Miami Dolphins. In his last two games against the Dolphins, Michel has averaged just under 20 carries per game, one rushing touchdown and 79 rushing yards.

Sep 29, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New England Patriots running back Sony Michel (26) runs the ball during the fourth quarter against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

With the Patriots favored at home, a touchdown score is well within Michel’s range of outcomes. He should reprise his role as the goal-line back — he ranks fifth in carries inside the 5-yard line since 2018. In his last two games against Miami, he has totaled nine carries and two rushing touchdowns inside the 10-yard line. Cam Newtons mobility should also open holes for Michel in the running game. 

Because I'm high on Michel this week, that naturally means I'm low on James White. Their production is negatively correlated; Michel puts up numbers in positive game scripts when the offense can pound the rock and White scores fantasy points in negative game scripts when the team needs to pass. Eighty percent of White’s receptions last season (72) came when the team was trailing by at least seven points.

In two games last season against Miami, White averaged just three receptions but also just happened to catch two touchdowns as well. The passing volume is going to be significantly down without Tom Brady running the offense. With the Patriots establishing the run, White is going to see little usage.

Michel is my RB22 and White is RB31 in my Week 1 rankings

Is Antonio Gibson worth starting as a flex? It’s either him or A.J. Green for me. — @lancepicton

Gibson is definitely worth a start in this plus-matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles defense ranked bottom-nine in both targets and receptions to the running back position in 2019. In their first game against Washington last season, ex-Washington running back Chris Thompson had seven receptions on 10 targets with the team playing catch up.

Washington is a home dog in Week 1, and the team could easily be faced with a negative game script, which would be extremely favorable for Gibson in the passing game. Current offensive coordinator Scott Turner showed a strong affinity to target the running back position during his four-game tenure as the play-caller with the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers increased their rate of targeting the running back (28.8% vs. 24.4%) once he took the reins.

You may be hesitant to start a rookie running back — the coaches already said they wanted to use a running-back-by-committee approach — but if Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s usage on Thursday night is any indication of how teams will split backfields with talented rookies, his upside is well worth slotting into the FLEX. 

And remember that Ron Rivera’s comments completely contradict what Adrian Peterson said about Washington wanting one guy to do it all and Gibson being that player, so don’t be so sure Gibson won’t lead this backfield in total touches in Week 1.

I'd much rather start Antonio Gibson over A.J. Green, despite the reports that the veteran WR has a clean bill of health. We aren’t sure who Joe Burrow is going to favor in the passing game or how Green will play after so much missed time. 

Unfortunately for Green, his Week 1 matchup is against one of the league’s top cornerbacks in Casey Hayward, who isn’t necessarily an absolute shutdown corner but will be able to handle his own versus Green on the outside.

There are just too many question marks to rely on Green as an option in Week 1.. 

Preston Williams or Diontae Johnson? — @aidendilmanian

Preston Williams is the play for me here, and he's the only Miami Dolphins player I would consider starting in Week 1. He was the most productive Miami receiver the last time he played New England. 

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore is going to be all over DeVante Parker, which could create more opportunities for Williams.

Jonathan Taylor or Marlon Mack in Week 1? — @adrianpl97)

Ideally, I'd start both of them, but I lean slightly toward Marlon Mack. I have Mack ranked at RB18  — three spots ahead of Jonathan Taylor

The Jacksonville Jaguars have one of the league’s worst run defenses. In two games against Jacksonville last season, Colts running backs averaged 26 rushing attempts, 174 rushing yards, 6.7 yards per attempt, two rushing touchdowns, 5.4 yards after contact per attempt and four carries of 15-plus yards.

Dec 29, 2019; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack (25) runs the ball in for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field. Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Just keep in mind that the Colts had three of their starting offensive linemen (Quenton Nelson, Anthony Castonzo and Ryan Kelly) listed on the injury report on Thursday. Should any be out, you need to temper expectations for both of these running backs. Be sure to check the PFF rankings after the inactives are announced on Sunday morning to adjust lineups accordingly.

Quick Hitters

D.J. Chark outlook without Leonard Fournette? — @Mattagrestaa

Leonard Fournette’s release is a tell-tale sign that the Jaguars are content with taking Ls this season. It also means they are going to have to throw more, which is great for D.J. Chark Jr., who can build off his 21% target share from 2019.  Fournette commanded a 17.5% target share last season. 

Also, Chark has one of the best schedules for wide receivers for the first half of the season. 

Cam Newton or Kyler Murray start/sit? — @sawyerhmaddux

Cam Newton is my start of the week at the quarterback position. I'm concerned about Kyler Murray against the San Francisco 49ers’ pass rush. Last season, Murray had the 21st-ranked passer rating when under pressure (62.1) and took the third-most sacks (47). 

D.K. Metcalf or Terry McLaurin Week 1? — @Fritzontour

Terry McLaurin is set up to smash this week against the Eagles and is one of my favorite wide receivers to target in DFS. I like D.K. Metcalf just a bit less — I think his cornerback matchup is not being considered enough. Isaiah Oliver more than held is own against Metcalf when the two faced off in 2019. If I'm playing DFS, Metcalf is going to be a fade for me in favor of Tyler Lockett to get leverage on the field. 

Start Robert Woods or D.J. Moore? — @santi.rt

Robert Woods ever so slightly, because I expect the Los Angeles Rams to test the new-look Dallas Cowboys’ secondary absent Byron Jones. There’s just a bit more uncertainty with the Carolina Panthers in their first game with a new head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterback. 

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