Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em is geared toward season-long leagues but can also be used for daily fantasy purposes. Anybody can tell you to start the Lamar Jacksons, Joe Mixons, and Chris Godwins of the world. That’s not what I’m doing here. I’m looking deeper at legitimate mostly-borderline candidates who managers may truly be contemplating using in lineups.
Start of the Week: Dak Prescott at Rams -- Fantasy’s overall QB2 last season, Prescott set career highs in passing yards, touchdowns, completions, and pass attempts, while matching his previous career best with a 5% touchdown rate. Only five quarterbacks attempted more passes than Prescott, and he was top-five in attempts of 20-plus yards, finishing eighth in passer rating on such throws. The Cowboys were No. 1 in yards per play. Coach Mike McCarthy is now on board as Jason Garrett’s replacement, but OC Kellen Moore retained his duties and will continue calling the plays. This offense is one of the most talented in the sport after replacing Randall Cobb with first-rounder CeeDee Lamb alongside Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup out wide while also giving athletic TE Blake Jarwin a four-year extension and letting dinosaur Jason Witten leave in free agency. Prescott should be in the conversation for MVP honors at the end of the year, and he gets a blowup spot Week 1 on Sunday night. This game’s 52-point total is the highest of the weekend, as both the Cowboys and Rams were top-three in offensive pace and top-eight in offensive plays per game. L.A.’s defense was bottom-eight in opponent plays per game and underwent an offseason makeover where it replaced DC Wade Phillips with ex-Broncos LBs coach Brandon Staley. Sacks leader off the edge, Dante Fowler, was replaced with former Bears bust Leonard Floyd, Eric Weddle retired, stud ILB Cory Littleton left for more money in Vegas, and Clay Matthews wasn’t re-signed. Slot CB Nickell Robey-Coleman was also released in a money-saving move. Troy Hill and some combination of David Long and Darious Williams will soak up the cornerback snaps alongside Jalen Ramsey. This defense has two elite players in Ramsey and Aaron Donald and not a whole lot else in terms of playmaking. Prescott should carve up this unit thanks to his wealth of talent in the supporting cast.
Matt Ryan vs. Seahawks -- Always at or near the top of the league in pass attempts, Ryan finished 2019 third in attempts (616) and first in completions (408) while coming in at No. 5 in passing yards, eighth in completion rate, and eighth in touchdown passes. Ryan finished the year as the overall QB10 in fantasy points per game. Now 35, Ryan remains firmly in the prime of his career, and Atlanta returns Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley as the Nos. 1 and 2 receivers, replaced Austin Hooper with an athletic Hayden Hurst, signed Todd Gurley, and has all five starting offensive linemen back in the fold. Seattle was middle of the road in fantasy points surrendered to quarterbacks a season ago, checking in at 17th, but this defense has no semblance of a pass rush after letting Jadeveon Clowney walk as a free agent. Clowney didn’t have the raw sack numbers last season but is one of the best disruptors in the sport. 2019 first-rounder L.J. Collier, Rasheem Greene, Benson Mayowa, and Bruce Irvin are being relied upon to key this edge rush. Good luck. Seattle is going to need its improved secondary, with the additions of SS Jamal Adams and CB Quinton Dunbar, to be sticky in coverage this season. And Dunbar is already in hot water with the law after a summer robbery incident. This game features the week’s fourth-highest total at 49 points and has shootout written all over it. The Falcons were No. 2 in offensive plays per game and No. 9 in offensive pace a year ago.
Kyler Murray at 49ers -- Murray’s rookie fantasy season was full of ups and downs, but he was still able to clock in as a top-12 quarterback en route to Rookie of the Year honors. He posted five sub-200 yards passing games and five 300-yard games with multiple touchdowns in four of those. Despite finishing ninth in attempts, Murray was a disappointing 18th in yards per attempt, but this offense left a lot of big plays on the field. The sheer nature of Murray entering his second NFL season in the same up-tempo offense with coach Kliff Kingsbury and the addition of alpha-dog No. 1 wideout DeAndre Hopkins has the sky as the limit for Murray. He’s a dark horse for overall QB1 numbers. Last year’s 49ers were legitimately elite against the pass, but they did surrender the third-most rushing yards to quarterbacks. Murray actually experienced plenty of success against San Francisco, posting the QB6 and QB7 finishes in Weeks 9 and 11 in his two matchups with DC Robert Saleh’s group. Murray posted a 4:0 TD:INT mark with 101 rushing yards and a fifth touchdown on the ground across those two contests. And this Niners defense looks worse on paper in 2020 after trading stud DT DeForest Buckner to the Colts and battling some injuries across the front seven. Richard Sherman is now 32 years old, and things are totally up in the air at the corner spot opposite him. Slot CB K’Waun Williams also missed all of camp with a strained calf. Nick Bosa has a “muscle strain” in his leg, and Dee Ford is coming off offseason knee surgery. There are a whole lot of question marks. The Cardinals are seven-point road underdogs, but there’s a path to a win on Sunday. Murray will have to be a big part of it. I’m rolling Murray out there with confidence as a QB1 with obvious upside.
Cam Newton vs. Dolphins -- After being released by the Panthers in March, Newton sat around on the open market for three-plus months before latching on with the Patriots on an incentive-laden one-year deal in late-June. Newton missed 14 games last season thanks to a foot injury, and he’s also battled shoulder issues in the past. But by all accounts, he’s been everything the Patriots could have hoped for and more since putting pen to paper. Already voted a team captain, Newton has a man-on-a-mission feel to him this year. He knows he’s been gifted the opportunity of a lifetime to play for Bill Belichick. Newton left Jarrett Stidham in the dust at Patriots camp and will open the season in a dream spot against the Dolphins. While Miami has one of the best cornerback duos in the league in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, this defense still looks extremely weak from a pass-rushing and front-seven standpoint. The Dolphins are going to be better in 2020, but this isn’t a matchup to fear, as New England’s offensive line should hold a distinct advantage over Miami’s front. Julian Edelman and James White, the Patriots’ top pass-catchers, will both avoid Jones and Howard on the boundaries. And with Damien Harris (finger, I.R.) hurt and Sony Michel (foot) likely not 100 percent, Newton is as good of a bet as anyone to find the end zone on the ground for the Patriots. Only the Cardinals gave up more fantasy points to quarterbacks than the Dolphins last season. Drafted outside the top-12 quarterbacks in fantasy, Newton is one of the week’s better streamers.
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Matthew Stafford vs. Bears -- Stafford was well on his way to arguably the best season of his career when he went down with a season-ending back injury in Week 9. Halfway through the season, Stafford was the overall QB6 and was on pace for 38 touchdowns, which would have led the league. His 6.5% touchdown rate was a career best, and his 1.7% interception rate was well below his career average. Stafford was averaging a robust 312.4 yards per game at the time of his injury and was second to Ryan Tannehill in yards per attempt. Stafford was a legit MVP threat. Stafford is still somehow just 32 years old and remains smack-dab in his prime. He’s long past the back issue while the Lions return all of their key offensive playmakers out wide and at tight end. With all of that said, this doesn’t look like a blowup spot on paper. The Bears were No. 4 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. Stafford missed both matchups with the Bears last season. Chicago did lose No. 2 CB Artie Burns to a season-ending injury in camp, but overall there remains a ton of talent on that side of the ball. This game’s 44-point total is one of the lowest of the weekend.
Kirk Cousins vs. Packers -- Few quarterbacks take more unnecessary heat from the public than Cousins, and he actually improved on some important numbers in year two with the Vikings, even though coach Mike Zimmer took the ball out of his quarterback’s hands more than he did in 2018. Cousins’ pass attempts nosedived from 606 to 444 in just one less start, but his touchdown rate climbed to 5.9% while his interception rate was an elite 1.4%. His yards per attempt also bolted up to 8.1 from 7.1 the year before, but Cousins’ problems were 10 fumbles and ill-timed turnovers. He clashed a bit with Stefon Diggs at times and only had Adam Thielen for 10 games. Overall, Cousins was the QB19 in fantasy points per game, but Weeks 5-13, Cousins was the overall QB7. A sleepy start and finish to the season included just seven touchdowns in seven games. Both of Cousins’ matchups with the Packers came in that seven-game span. In two matchups with DC Mike Pettine’s group, Cousins completed just 30-of-63 passes (47.6%) for 176 yards per game and a 2:3 TD:INT mark. He was the QB28 and QB32 those weeks. The Vikings have since removed Diggs from the offense, sending him to Buffalo, and replaced him with first-rounder Justin Jefferson, who is expected to open the year behind Bisi Johnson. Only three teams ran the ball at a higher clip than Minnesota last season, and only five teams ran fewer offensive plays. On the flip side, Green Bay was top-eight in opponent plays per game and No. 5 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. Cousins’ offensive line also remains a weak point. Cousins is not on the streaming map for Week 1.
Baker Mayfield at Ravens -- Mayfield had a truly horrific sophomore season, coming in at 34th in completion percentage, 18th in yards per attempt, and 38th in interceptions among qualified passers. His 3.9% interception rate was off-the-charts bad. Mayfield and Odell Beckham never were on the same page after OBJ rarely practiced last summer due to a groin issue, and then David Njoku and Rashard Higgins missed a bunch of time to injuries, leaving Jarvis Landry as the only trusted weapon. Freddie Kitchens was also way in over his head as a first-year coach, while Mayfield truly looked shell-shocked at times behind a horrid offensive line. Cleveland cleaned house in the offseason, and OBJ was able to build chemistry with his quarterback after having sports-hernia surgery. Austin Hooper was signed, and the Browns also got a new pair of tackles in LT Jedrick Wills and RT Jack Conklin. Mayfield has a great shot at rebounding from his QB25 finish last season, but the Week 1 matchup with the Ravens doesn’t look like one to attack. Cleveland’s implied team total of 20 points is fifth-lowest on the board, and the Ravens were No. 1 in opponent plays per game and No. 2 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks last season. Baltimore fields one of the best cornerback groups in the sport and added Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe to its defensive line. Mayfield will be in a better position for success Weeks 2 and 3 when the Browns have the Bengals and Washington on the schedule.
Start of the Week: Marlon Mack at Jaguars -- Running behind one of the league’s best run-blocking lines, Mack was merely ordinary despite posting his first 1,000-yard season in 2019 and finishing as the RB19 in fantasy. He erupted for 174 yards in Week 1, which wound up as 15.9% of his season total. He had only two other 100-yard days on the ground, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Mack missed two games with a broken hand, but that was not the reason he caught only 14 passes. He is simply not an asset in the passing game. Many have written off Mack following the Colts’ selection of Jonathan Taylor with the No. 41 overall pick in April. However, the coaching staff has constantly talked up Mack’s position as the returning starter, and by all accounts, Mack had a terrific camp. Taylor is going to be involved right away, but this looks like one of our best chances to use Mack this season. In two games against the Jaguars last season, Mack posted terrific 14-109-1 and 15-77-2 rushing lines. Jacksonville surrendered the second-most fantasy points to running backs, and this defense got a whole lot worse over the offseason. Gone are DE Calais Campbell, DE Yannick Ngakoue, S Ronnie Harrison, DT Marcell Dareus, CB Jalen Ramsey, CB A.J. Bouye, and LB Austin Calitro, who all played significant snaps for last year’s Jaguars. Campbell’s loss will definitely be felt in the run game. The Colts are eight-point road favorites and could conceivably run the ball 35-40 times Sunday. Drafted as an RB4/5 by many, Mack should immediately be positioned in starting lineups as an RB2 with a good shot at the end zone. An 18-15 carry split between Mack and Taylor is something that could easily happen.
Mark Ingram vs. Browns -- Ingram averaged a robust 5.0 yards per carry as the Ravens’ lead back last season, finishing as fantasy’s overall RB8 with 15 total touchdowns. A capable receiver in years past, Ingram caught just 26 passes from Lamar Jackson, but five of them went for scores. His weeks seemed frustratingly TD-dependent, though. Ingram had five multi-touchdown outings and six with no scores. The Ravens ended up taking Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins in the second round of April’s draft, ripping out the safe floor from under Ingram. The veteran will at least begin the year as the starter, however, despite Baltimore consistently talking Dobbins up as a three-down back. Touchdowns shouldn’t be hard to come by in the league’s top rushing offense, and Ingram gets a glorious Week 1 draw with the Ravens hosting the Browns as eight-point favorites. Cleveland was 25th in fantasy points allowed to running backs last season, and Ingram averaged a crisp 6.3 yards per carry in two games against the Browns. Cleveland’s front seven also took a hit over the offseason with the loss of MLB Joe Schobert to the Jaguars in free agency. Fire Ingram up with confidence as an RB2 with RB1 upside.
James Robinson vs. Colts -- I don’t know if Robinson is any good, but the Jaguars sure seem to think he’s at least good enough after the team released Leonard Fournette partly because of how good of a camp Robinson was having this summer. The undrafted rookie out of Illinois State stands 5’9/219 and was a physical three-year college starter who led the nation in yards after contact last season. His hefty college workload (855 carries) and lack of speed (4.64 forty) were knocks against him coming out. But with Fournette gone, Devine Ozigbo (hamstring) on I.R., and Ryquell Armstead back on the COVID-19 list, Robinson has no competition for early-down work. Chris Thompson and recently-signed Dare Ogunbowale are third-down, pass-catching backs. While the Jaguars may get beaten pretty solidly by the Colts in this one, there’s at least a path to some volume for Robinson. Jacksonville is surely going to try and establish the run early Sunday, and Robinson should be the one getting all the carries. This is solely a volume-based play, as the Colts were No. 9 in fantasy points allowed to running backs last season and then went out and acquired DT DeForest Buckner from the 49ers and also have MLB Darius Leonard back healthy. I feel comfortable projecting Robinson for 15-plus carries, and that’s enough for me if I’m desperate for an RB3/FLEX play.
Tarik Cohen at Lions -- One of the least efficient players in football last season, Cohen turned 64 carries into just 213 yards (3.3 YPC) and zero scores and 104 targets into a pitiful 79-456-3 line. His yards per catch deflated all the way to 5.8 from 10.2 the year before. Of course, quarterback and offensive line play had a role in Cohen’s down season, and the Bears didn’t add a single body to their backfield over the offseason, again leaving it to David Montgomery and Cohen. And with Montgomery (groin) coming off a multi-week injury that didn’t allow him to get his condition up to snuff this summer, there figures to be more snaps for Cohen this Sunday. The Lions were annihilated by opposing running backs last season, giving up the fourth-most fantasy points to the position. Only three defenses surrendered more receiving yards to running backs, and nobody gave up more touchdowns through the air to opposing backs. Mitchell Trubisky has historically dominated the Lions, so there’s more reason to like this offense in this spot. Cohen isn’t exciting and comes with a scary floor, but he’s on the radar as a FLEX in PPR formats.
Kareem Hunt at Ravens -- Suspended for the first eight games last season, Hunt immediately slotted in as the Browns’ third-down back and pass-catching specialist upon his return. He averaged 5.5 targets per game but wasn’t used much as a runner, seeing four or fewer carries in 4-of-8 appearances. Hunt was given a two-year contract extension earlier in the week, but his role hasn’t changed from last season. He’s merely a change-of-pace option behind volume-hog Nick Chubb. Hunt has some standalone PPR value but is more of an in-case-of-injury bench asset who would be a league-winner in the event Chubb goes down. Hunt missed last season’s first date with the Ravens and was the overall RB41 for the week when these teams met in Week 16. He managed 2-8-0 as a runner and 4-33-0 on four targets in the pass game. And Baltimore was dominant against pass-catching backs a year ago, holding the position to the fewest catches and third-fewest receiving yards. The Ravens were also No. 1 in opponent plays per game thanks to the ball-control nature of their offense. Hunt is a no-go this Sunday, even if the Browns project to be playing from behind as eight-point road underdogs.
Jordan Howard at Patriots -- Howard began taking command of the Eagles’ backfield in October last season and ended up seeing 44 combined touches across Weeks 8 and 9 before a shoulder injury that seemed minor in nature at the time ended up ruining his year. He never carried the ball again in 2019. Allowed to walk in free agency, Howard is on his third team in as many years. While there’s less competition in Miami, trade pickup Matt Breida has the better all-around skill set, and Myles Gaskin allegedly had a strong camp. Howard is what he is, and that’s an early-down between-the-tackles grinder who is going to have some blowup games when the Dolphins stay in it on Sundays. This may not be one of those weeks, as the Dolphins head into Foxboro as six-point underdogs. That’s not a recipe for success for Howard. He doesn’t catch passes, and this game could get away from Miami. Breida is the better bet for Week 1, but neither is particularly exciting. The Patriots were No. 1 in fantasy points allowed to running backs last season and remain stout enough despite all their COVID-19 opt-outs.
Leonard Fournette at Saints -- Fournette piled up the third-most touches (341) among running backs last season but failed miserably in the touchdown department with just three rushing scores. He also turned a whopping 76 catches into only 522 yards. The Jaguars continued to feed him the ball every week, but he never was able to truly break through. And almost a fifth of his rushing production came in one game against the Broncos when he ran for 225 yards. Tired of his act, the Jaguars ended up cutting Fournette deep into training camp. He latched on with the Bucs via a one-year deal on September 2. Coach Bruce Arians has continued to insist Ronald Jones is the team’s starter, and LeSean McCoy and rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn remain as third-down, pass-catching options. Fournette’s Week 1 role is as clear as mud. He simply can’t be trusted in fantasy lineups until we see how this backfield rotation shakes out. The Saints were also dominant against the run last season, giving up the fifth-fewest fantasy points and second-fewest rushing yards to running backs. Fournette managers need to sit tight for now.
Start of the Week: Julian Edelman vs. Dolphins -- Edelman appeared in all 16 games for just the third time in his career last season and finished with a career-best 1,117 yards on 153 targets. He averaged at least nine targets per game for the sixth straight season and ended the year as fantasy’s overall WR13 in half-PPR points per contest. Edelman was very clearly banged up throughout the fantasy playoffs, too, but he continued to crush his ADP. Gone is BFF Tom Brady, so Edelman will be catching passes from a new quarterback for the first time in his career. Things were looking bleak when it was just Jarrett Stidham atop the depth chart, but the Patriots made a splash signing by scooping up Cam Newton on the cheap. By all accounts, Edelman and Newton have had a tremendous connection all summer. And with Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett gone, there isn’t a whole lot of competition for targets. Sophomore N’Keal Harry can’t separate, and Damiere Byrd is a low-volume deep threat. The passing offense figures to go through Edelman and James White. Edelman should avoid the Dolphins’ dynamic outside cornerback duo of Byron Jones and Xavien Howard in this one, instead running most of his routes inside against rookie Noah Igbinoghene. Edelman was playing hurt in the finale against the Dolphins last season and went just 4-51-0 in their previous meeting. That was the lone game Antonio Brown played for the Patriots. Edelman is a rock-solid WR2 play this week.
DK Metcalf at Falcons -- Pigeon-holed as a straight-line speed guy coming out of Ole Miss, Metcalf’s route tree and usage expanded with each passing week during his rookie season. The second-rounder closed the season on a tear with 6-81-1, 8-160-1, and 4-59-0 Weeks 15-17. Ultra-consistent, Metcalf had at least 50 yards or a touchdown in 13-of-16 games. He finished the year as the WR42 in half-PPR points per contest and had just one 100-yard outing. Many are expecting a big second-year leap from Metcalf now that he’s had a full offseason in the NFL. The Seahawks also didn’t bring in any legitimate competition on the outside. Metcalf just needs OC Brian Schottenheimer to loosen the reins on Russell Wilson more this season and let this offense cook through the air after Seattle ran the ball at the third-highest clip in 2019. Even if the Seahawks remain run-heavy, this passing offense is pretty condensed at the top with Tyler Lockett and Metcalf locked in as the top two targets. Metcalf is likely to remain somewhat boom-or-bust week to week, but this has the makings of a “boom” spot in Week 1. Seahawks-Falcons has the fourth-highest total of the week at 49 points, and Metcalf found the end zone twice in these teams’ lone matchup a year ago. Set it and forget it with Metcalf as a WR2. Atlanta appears to be dealing with some injuries at cornerback, too. First-round rookie and new No. 1 CB A.J. Terrell popped up on the injury report with a hamstring issue this week. Trying to cover Metcalf’s 4.33 jets on a bum hamstring isn’t recommended.
Jamison Crowder at Bills -- In his first year with the Jets, Crowder secured a career-high 78 catches for 833 yards and six touchdowns, commanding a whopping 24.2% of the targets in Sam Darnold’s starts. Crowder finished the year as the overall WR41 in half-PPR points per game, but that included a combined 8-75-0 line in three games with David Fales and Luke Falk. He was the WR26 in Darnold’s starts, and the Jets did very little out wide to help Crowder in the slot. Second-rounder Denzel Mims missed 99% of training camp with a pulled hamstring, returned to practice last week, and now pulled his other hamstring. He’s out for Week 1, leaving the shell of Chris Hogan and former first-round bust Breshad Perriman as the starters outside. Perriman missed most of camp with swelling in his knee. Most of Darnold’s targets figured to be funneled inside to Crowder, Chris Herndon, and Le’Veon Bell. In two games against the Bills last season, Crowder turned in 14-99-0 and 8-66-1 lines on a mammoth 27 targets. He’s a real threat for 150-plus targets this season. And the way to beat coach Sean McDermott’s zone defense is on the interior because they don’t allow big plays on the outside. Crowder should be penned into lineups as a strong WR3 play based on volume. A touchdown would be the cherry.
Anthony Miller at Lions -- A strong second half that included games of 6-54-0, 6-77-0, 9-140-0, 3-42-1, and 9-118-1 from Weeks 11-15 propelled Miller onto the fantasy map after a sleepy start to his sophomore season. Unfortunately, Miller injured his shoulder in the Week 17 finale and had to spend a good chunk of the offseason rehabbing. But by all accounts, he’s 100% headed into Week 1 after suffering no setbacks at camp. Miller is now the unquestioned No. 2 behind Allen Robinson operating in the same system with plenty of opportunity for increased target share. The only thing that could hold him back is the quarterback play. But Miller did dust the Lions for that 9-140-0 in Week 13 last season and will again match up with Lions slot CB Justin Coleman. Coleman is a playmaker on the inside but gives up a ton of big plays due to being aggressive. Miller was way too overlooked in fantasy drafts this summer and shapes up as a fine WR3/FLEX play with a chance at eight-plus targets. Only the Bucs and Dolphins surrendered more fantasy points to opposing wideouts than the Lions.
A.J. Green vs. Chargers -- Whether it was the ankle or a behind-the-scenes holdout, Green didn’t play a single snap last season after getting hurt at the end of training camp with one year left on his contract. Cincinnati then slapped the franchise tag on Green this offseason, and he didn’t practice during camp. Wednesday was his first registered full team practice since 2018. Green is now 32 and has missed 29-of-64 games over the last four years. He’s a very risky fantasy bet this season, but everyone is saying he’s healthy. The matchup for Week 1 isn’t very inviting. Having not played since 2018, Green now gets a date with Chargers stud No. 1 CB Casey Hayward on the outside. No. 1 pick Joe Burrow has certainly heightened everyone’s floor and ceiling in Cincinnati, but the smart move is to take a wait-and-see approach with Green this week. There’s word he may not play a full complement of snaps. The Chargers allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to wideouts a season ago, and with Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, Auden Tate, and Joe Mixon, Green has more competition for targets than he’s had in a while.
Preston Williams at Patriots -- As an undrafted rookie last season, big-bodied Williams was the talk of Dolphins camp all the way back to OTAs. He eventually became Ryan Fitzpatrick’s favorite target, leading the team in targets, catches, yards, and air yards before tearing his ACL in Week 9. Williams ended up crushing his rehab and was full go for training camp. However, he recently said he doesn’t feel all the way back to 100%, calling it about 85% last week. Williams is worth stashing on rosters as a WR4, but it would be nice to see him get all the way back to his previous self before thrusting him into fantasy lineups. His date with the tandem of Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty is all the more reason to avoid him this week. The Patriots were No. 1 in fantasy points allowed to wideouts last season, and coach Brian Flores has already suggested Williams and DeVante Parker (hamstring) could be on snap counts for Week 1.
Darius Slayton vs. Steelers -- Slayton became just the 14th rookie wideout to score at least eight touchdowns since 2010. He showed that his worst-case scenario is as a boom-or-bust field-stretching receiver with blowup 5-154-2 and 10-121-2 performances against the Eagles and Jets, respectively. Only A.J. Brown (12.5 yards per target), Deebo Samuel (9.9), Terry McLaurin (9.9) and DK Metcalf (9.0) were more efficient than Slayton (8.8) among 10 rookie receivers with at least 50 targets in 2019. Slayton didn’t test exceptionally well coming out of Auburn in the pre-draft process, but he played fast at times as a rookie. Slayton deserved to be the first wideout drafted from the Giants after finishing as the overall WR34 in half-PPR points per game across 14 contests last season. And after the Giants did nothing at wideout in the offseason, Slayton should be locked into three-wide sets as the lone field-stretcher of the group. Slot types Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate don’t have that skill in their bags. The Week 1 draw against the Steelers, however, is one to avoid for Slayton managers. Pittsburgh was No. 7 in fantasy points allowed to wideouts last season, and Slayton will see a whole lot of Joe Haden and Steven Nelson on the outside Monday night. With all of the Giants’ pass-catchers healthy for the first time in Daniel Jones’ career, I also want to see how the targets shake out.
Start of the Week: Hunter Henry at Bengals -- After missing all of 2018 with an ACL tear, Henry returned to play in 12-of-16 games last season, missing four with another knee issue. Injuries have been his downfall through four seasons. But when healthy, Henry is a legit playmaker in the red zone and down the seams. He was last year’s overall TE10 in half-PPR points per game. With Mike Williams (shoulder) out, all of the targets are going to be funneled to Keenan Allen, Henry, and Austin Ekeler. All three should provide extremely safe floors at their respective positions. In Tyrod Taylor’s previous stops, he’s shown a desire to make the safe throws, taking the easy middle-of-the-field completions. That’s where Henry makes his dough. The Chargers will likely be a bit more run-oriented and play things safer this season with Taylor under center, but that was baked into Henry’s draft cost. He’s a very safe play as a locked-in top-12 tight end.
Ian Thomas vs. Raiders -- Thomas had one catch through 11 games last season, but another Greg Olsen injury opened the door for him in the second half, and Thomas took over as the starter and averaged five targets per game while catching passes from Kyle Allen. Olsen is now out of the picture, and Thomas is the unquestioned starter. With new coach Matt Rhule and OC Joe Brady in town, Thomas is expected to see more looks off the line and out of the slot as a way to feature his athleticism. He also gets an upgrade at quarterback from Allen to Teddy Bridgewater. Thomas should be in on nearly every snap. The Raiders were creamed by tight ends last season, surrendering the sixth-most fantasy points and second-most TDs to the position. We can do a lot worse than Thomas if we’re looking for streamers with upside.
Hayden Hurst vs. Seahawks -- With Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle also in the Ravens’ TEs room last season, former first-rounder Hurst played fewer than half the offensive snaps. He was deemed expendable in the offseason and was sent to the Falcons for a second-round pick. In Atlanta, Hurst will replace Austin Hooper as the Falcons’ every-down tight end. This staff obviously believes in Hurst given the cost to acquire him, and the athletic tight end has a ton of room for growth from a statistical standpoint. Hooper left 97 targets to fill and wad fantasy’s overall TE3 in points per game last season. Hurst should immediately become one of Matt Ryan’s favorite weapons in the red zone at 6’4/245. Seattle was plastered by tight ends last season, giving up the fourth-most catches for the second-most yards and second-most fantasy points to the position. This game’s 49-point total has definite shootout appeal.
Blake Jarwin at Rams -- The overall WR38 in half-PPR points per game last season as the Cowboys’ No. 2 tight end, Jarwin is in line for a major leap forward now that Jason Witten has left town. His departure vacates 83 targets. While first-round WR CeeDee Lamb could be funneled a chunk of those, there’s more than enough here for Jarwin to produce top-15 fantasy numbers at the tight end spot this season. He’s a better-than-average athlete playing in one of the elite offenses with a solid set of hands. Even at his old age with the movement skills of a refrigerator, Witten was able to post the TE16 finish last year. Younger and better, Jarwin can do much more and is fresh off signing a four-year extension with the team. The Rams were 20th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends last season and have since subtracted stud ILB Cory Littleton and S Eric Weddle from the defense. This game has a 52-point total, highest of the weekend.
While tight end is deeper than it’s been in recent years, it’s hard for me to argue against anyone at the position. It’s a crapshoot, and all we’re looking for are tight ends who can find the end zone and/or see volume in terms of targets. Predicting touchdowns is the hardest thing to do in football. Just finding a tight end who is on the field enough and runs plenty of routes is difficult enough. It’s why having Travis Kelce, George Kittle, or Zach Ertz is such an advantage.