News & Analysis

Jeff Ratcliffe's fantasy football focus: Facts, predictions, and tips for Week 1

Oct 29, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) runs out of the tunnel as he is introduced prior to the game against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Fantasy Focus is a weekly column that breaks down everything you need to know to set your fantasy football lineups. Make your start and sit decisions with fantasy facts, injury information, matchups stats, predictions for the week and more.

Week 1 of fantasy football is finally here. While Antonio Brown doesn’t look like he’ll be on the field, we do have 15 more games on this week’s slate. That’s certainly exciting, but it’s important to not get too excited by what we see this week. Remember, it’s only Week 1.

Hey, it’s easy to overreact at this time of year. We’re all starved for football after weathering the last seven months of the offseason. But a lot of what we seen in Week 1 won’t really tell us much about what we can expect for the rest of the season. Patience is key. You draft players for a reason, so give them a few weeks before you make any moves. Panic dropping or trading is almost never the right move.

Fantasy facts

We only have one game’s worth of data points to go off right now, and there wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about from Thursday night’s opener. However, if you drafted Allen Robinson, you have to be happy with his performance. Robinson was the clear No. 1 receiver with 55 routes run out of the Bears 57 passing plays. He’s trending up.

The same can’t be said for Anthony Miller, who ran just 11 routes. That’s seven fewer than Cordarrelle Patterson and eight fewer than Javon Wims. Yikes. Miller owners shouldn’t panic just yet, but it’s tough to have much optimism for the young wideout right now. That said, the Bears used Tarik Cohen heavily out of the slot with 43 routes run. Cohen caught eight balls and remains squarely on the PPR radar.

While it wasn’t a massive debut for Bears RB David Montgomery, fantasy owners shouldn’t get too carried away. It typically takes time for rookie runners, and this was a brutal gamescript, with the Bears running just 14 run plays.

On the other side of this contest, Aaron Rodgers owners knew this was going to be a tough matchup. Take a deep breath. Better days are ahead. Rodgers showed a good connection in this contested with Jimmy Graham and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Graham looked to be moving better than we’ve seen in recent seasons, and of course, saw the ever-important end zone target from Rodgers. Valdes-Scantling got downfield for a 47-yarder and was clearly ahead of Geronimo Allison in the pecking order. His fantasy value is on the rise, while Allison looks to be a drop candidate.

Aaron Jones looked like he’d open the season as the clear lead back in Green Bay, but Thursday night’s usage certainly muddies those waters. Jones played 37 snaps, with Jamaal Williams on the field for 24. While that isn’t 50:50, it’s a lot more than Jones owners hoped to see. If this usage continues, it’ll be tough to trust Jones as anything more than a boom-or-bust RB2.

Injuries

Questions abound on Julio Jones’ status entering Week 1. The star wideout was limited for Thursday’s practice, and the team classified this as a non-injury rest day. Jones briefly quipped to reporters that he might not suit up, but then said he planned to play. While this is certainly strange, it does sound like he’ll be on the field. Of course, this is the NFL, so anything could happen. Stay tuned.

On the other side of that contest, Stefon Diggs is trending toward playing after getting back on the practice field for limited work on Thursday. Diggs missed practice on Wednesday with a hamstring. If he’s able to suit up, Diggs will get a favorable draw against the Falcons this week.

Odell Beckham Jr. is still dealing with a hip injury and has yet to really open up to full speed. Beckham is practicing in full, and there’s no indication that he’s in danger of missing the open. That said, this isn’t the most encouraging news about the Browns receiver. Still, there’s no reason to fade him in fantasy right now.

Keep an eye on Alshon Jeffery’s status after the Eagles wide receiver popped up on the injury report on Thursday with a biceps issue. Mid-week adds to the injury report typically aren’t a good thing. If Jeffery ends up sitting, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside would be in play as a DFS option.

Amari Cooper was sidelined in the preseason with a foot injury, but he’ll be ready to go for Week 1. … The Bengals will be without A.J. Green for at least the first two weeks of the season, but they will have John Ross. The speedy wideout isn’t a fantasy option right now, but keep an eye on his performance. … Albert Wilson has a lot of buzz in fantasy circles right now, but don’t overlook the fact that he’s yet to get a full practice in this week. Wilson is dealing with a hip injury. … It looks like the Seahawks will have rookie WR D.K. Metcalf on the field this week. Metcalf had his knee scoped two weeks ago. … Redskins TE Jordan Reed remains in the concussion protocol after sustaining his seventh recorded concussion. Even if he’s able to get back on the field, it’s only a matter of time before his next injury.

Wide receiver matchups

The Odell Beckham era in Cleveland begins this week, and the star wideout will likely kick things off with shadow coverage from Adoree’ Jackson. While Jackson graded out fairly well in 2018, he did allow the second-most receptions among corners last season with 66. He also showed that he can be vulnerable against shift receivers, as T.Y. Hilton racked up 8 catches for 146 yards and two scores against Jackson in Week 11 last season.

The Buccaneers wideouts get an upgrade against San Francisco this week, and that means good things for Mike Evans. Evans figures to see heavy volume from Jameis Winston and should line up a fair share of the time against Ahkello Witherspoon. The 49ers corner graded out last out of 112 qualifiers last season, allowing five of the 37 receptions in his coverage to go for touchdowns.

A pair of Tylers have plus matchups in the Cincinnati/Seattle contest. Tyler Lockett will assume the main slot duties with Doug Baldwin out of the mix. That means he’ll see his share of Bengals slot CB B.W. Webb, who allowed a healthy 13.6 yards per catch last season. Likewise, we’re upgrading Tyler Boyd this week with a plus matchup against rookie Ugo Amadi. The former Oregon Duck held receivers in check last season with a 55.7% catch rate in his cover, but the NFL is a different beast. Rookie corners tend to get picked on, so look for volume for Boyd.

In the preseason, Emmanuel Sanders looked like he wasn’t coming off a major injury that he suffered in December. The veteran was spry and remains the top options in the Broncos wide receiver corps. Sanders is a sneaky good play this week with a plus matchup on tap against Lamarcus Joyner. The Raiders corner allowed 69.2% of his targets to be caught last season.

We’re upgrading the entire Detroit passing game this week with Patrick Peterson suspended. The duo of Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay should have no problem with Tramaine Brock and rookie Chris Jones on the outside. Both are very much in play for DFS purposes.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is now the top dog in Pittsburgh, but he could get off to a slow start in Week 1. On paper, the Patriots secondary is one of the league’s best with both Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty coming off impressive seasons. Smith-Schuster struggled in his previous meeting against the Patriots, posting just 40 yards on four catches in Week 15 last season.

Yes, Tyreek Hill is going to be shadowed by Jalen Ramsey this week. No, you should not look to fade Hill in redraft leagues. Ramsey did shadow Hill in Week 5 last season, and did a good job in the process, holding Hill to two catches on four targets for 46 yards. There’s no denying the fact that this is far from an optimal situation, but players like Hill need to be started regardless of the matchup.

Likewise, you never even entertain the notion of benching DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans wideout figures to draw a shadow from Marshon Lattimore this week. The Saints used Lattimore as a shadow in eight games last season. While he did perform well against Beckham and Jeffery, we also saw Lattimore struggle with Evans and Amari Cooper.

Speaking of Cooper, look for him to be tracked by Janoris Jenkins this week. These two teams met in Week 17, and Jenkins was on Cooper for 77.1% of his routes. In Jenkins’ coverage, Cooper managed just three catches on eight targets for 17 yards. You aren’t benching Cooper, but don’t panic if it isn’t a big week from him.

T.Y. Hilton’s fantasy stock dipped after Andrew Luck’s retirement, and his outlook doesn’t get any better thanks to his Week 1 matchup. Hilton figures to see plenty of Casey Hayward in coverage this week. Hayward has been one of the league’s better shadow corners in recent seasons. Last year, Hayward shadowed in nine games and allowed just 13 catches for 227 yards and zero scores when shadowing in those contests.

There’s some debate in the fantasy community as to which Panthers wideout is the one to own this season. Regardless of where you stand on that topic, it’s tough to get excited about either D.J. Moore or Curtis Samuel against the Rams this week. LA has one of the league’s best corner tandems in Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. These two veterans put a damper on the fantasy outlook for Moore and Samuels this week.

It looks like the Jets should have Robby Anderson on the field this week, but fantasy owners may want to fade him. We anticipate Bills CB Tre’Davious White shadowing Anderson in this contest. While Anderson did manage to score on White in Week 14 last season, he only saw four targets in White’s coverage. It could be a somewhat quiet day for Anderson.

Matchup stats to know

Only two teams allowed more than one rushing touchdown per game to running backs last season: Arizona and Buffalo. That means good things for Kerryon Johnson and Le’Veon Bell. But Johnson’s matchup is especially juicy, as the Cardinals also allowed the most rushing yards per game to the position. He should get out of the get fast.

Kenyan Drake looks to be locked into the lead role in Miami, but that doesn’t mean you should be starting him with confidence in fantasy. Drake faces a Baltimore defense that allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to running backs last season. Opposing backfields averaged just 18.3 carries and 64.4 rushing yards per game when facing the Ravens.

Looking for DFS upside at wide receiver? You may want to have a little exposure to Paul Richardson and Terry McLaurin. Neither player is appealing enough for season-long starting lineups, but they do draw fantastic matchups against the Eagles. In 2018, the Eagles allowed the most fantasy points per game to left wide receivers and the second-most per game to right wide receivers.

There’s a lot to like about the Bucs passing game this week. Evans is obviously in play in all formats, but those playing DFS will also want to hammer Chris Godwin. Last season, the 49ers allowed the most fantasy points per game to receivers out of the slot, and we expect Godwin to see his share of reps in the slot this week.

Tight end is always a tricky position, but look for Jared Cook and Hunter Henry to both get off to good starts in 2019. Cook faces a Houston defense that struggled against the position last season and allowed the most PPR points per game to tight ends. Likewise, Henry’s matchup is very favorable. Indianapolis surrendered an average of 74.6 receiving yards per game to tight ends, which was the highest in the league last season.

Don’t expect T.J. Hockenson to come roaring out of the gate in his professional debut. While we love the Lions wideouts this week, the matchup at tight end is a rough one against the Cards. Only two teams allowed fewer fantasy points per game to the tight ends in 2018.

No team in the league allowed over 300 net passing yards per game to quarterbacks last season, but the Chiefs were darn close at 295.1. While Nick Foles isn’t on the fantasy radar in most redraft leagues, he does have some moderate appeal as a punt in DFS. Stacking Foles with Dede Westbrook and/or D.J. Chark makes for an interesting play this week given the potential game script.

Kirk Cousins got no love from fantasy drafters this year, but his short-term fantasy outlook is bright. Cousins gets a favorable draw against a Falcons defense that allowed the most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks last season. Signal callers averaged 273.3 yards and 2.1 touchdowns through the air against Atlanta in 2018. Conversely, Matt Ryan gets a big-time downgrade this week against a stout Vikings defense that yielded the third-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks and was the only defense to surrender under one touchdown per game through the air.

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