Welcome to Vantage Points, a column I will be writing weekly during the NFL season as a window into every game of the week. With access limited more than ever this year and with no preseason games for us to put our own eyes on, I have the utmost respect for sportswriters covering the NFL on a daily basis, giving us a window into what these teams might look like and where their strengths and weaknesses — beyond the obvious — lie.
The purpose of this column is to highlight the work of those writers, but to also turn some of their observations into actionable fantasy advice. The goal isn’t just to highlight obvious angles, but perhaps some of the lower-end ones that could lead to fantasy advantages.
I will publish this column twice weekly — on Wednesdays to preview the Thursday night game, and on Fridays to preview the Sunday slate.
Indianapolis at Jacksonville (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Colts…
Coach Frank Reich has repeatedly said that Marlon Mack will start over rookie Jonathan Taylor in Week 1. As for their relationship, ESPN’s Mike Wells and The Athletic’s Zak Keefer wrote about how tight the two are — Mack was not slighted by the Taylor pick. Reich calls his backfield a “one-one punch.” QB Philip Rivers compared Taylor to former Charger teammate Michael Turner.
Keefer also said the Colts think Taylor can keep Mack fresh… but also that the Colts will ride the hot hand. So yeah. Taylor is going to have to earn this, but he has the talent to do so.
The Colts were a heavy “12” personnel team last year (1 RB, 2 TEs), running it sixth-most out of every NFL team, but their plans for that attack this year have already been thrown asunder. With Eric Ebron gone to Pittsburgh, the Colts were counting — perhaps foolishly — on oft-injured vet Trey Burton to line up alongside Jack Doyle. Burton is on short-term IR with a calf injury.
One of the main reasons the Colts were a heavy 12 personnel team last year, though, is because of a lack of depth at receiver. They hope 2020 rookie Michael Pittman can immediately line up at X opposite of TY Hilton, and that 2019 rookie Parris Campbell can be a speedy slot weapon for Rivers. But Stephen Holder of The Athletic told readers to watch out for 2020 sixth-round pick Dezmon Patmon from Washington State, calling him “one of the surprise standouts of camp.”
It stands to reason the Colts can play more “11” personnel this season if their receivers can stay healthy. As for Hilton, he thinks Rivers’ prowess against zone coverage could lead to some PPR goodness, while he says he feels as good physically as he did in 2016, when he led the NFL in receiving.
We know the Colts have perhaps the best offensive line in football, but ESPN’s Mike Wells cautions that the depth has thinned out — backups Joe Haeg and Josh Andrews left in free agency. That’s important, because RG Quenton Nelson, perhaps the best interior lineman in pro football, missed practice on Thursday with a back injury. That would be a massive loss, though it could be mitigated against the Jaguar defense, and Nelson did return to practice on Friday.
Holder also writes about how deep the Colts’ front seven is, which could be problematic for a young Jacksonville offense. The Colts have kept seven linebackers on their roster because they like their combination of downhill speed and coverage ability.
What They’re Saying About the Jaguars…
The Jags have made a lot of noise in the backfield for a team on which it may not matter, because they’re gonna stink (by design). Following the release of Leonard Fournette, Ryquell Armstead’s ADP rise was short lived, as he was placed back on the COVID-19 list. He clearly has struggled to recover from the virus.
So now everyone was drafting Devine Ozigbo and James Robinson, the latter of whom is an intriguing UDFA rookie out of Illinois State — and the former of whom is on IR with a hamstring injury. Coach Doug Marrone said both can play on all three downs, but Ozigbo going on IR likely explains why Robinson was listed as the first-team RB on the team’s initial depth chart. (Usually, these official depth charts mean nothing, but when a UDFA is up there, it’s worth noting.)
The problem is that RBs never play on all three downs with OC Jay Gruden. In his eight seasons as a head coach or offensive coordinator, his leading rushers average about 15 receptions per season. Expect scatback Chris Thompson, a Gruden favorite from his time in Washington, to play a ton with the Jags likely to be behind a lot. And with Ozigbo going on IR, the Jags signed Dare Ogunbowale, who also can play on third downs. That said, Gruden has specifically commented on Robinson’s ability to catch the ball and block.
ESPN’s Michael DiRocco reports the obvious — expect a committee approach here.
The player I’m really excited to watch this week is rookie WR Laviska Shenault. With all the RB injuries for the Duval boys, I’m wondering if we’ll get some carries from Shenault. The Jags are apparently getting funky in practice with him.
For what it’s worth, the Jaguars’ defense is gonna suck. They traded DE Yannick Ngakoue to the Vikings, S Ronnie Harrison to the Browns, and put LB Quincy Williams (core) on short-term IR.
I’m cool playing both Taylor and Mack this week. I think there’s an outside chance they both can go for 100 yards against this abominable defense and projected positive gameflow. If choosing between the two, I think I prefer Taylor, as I have all off-season, though downgrading both if Nelson is out is defensible (I think he’ll play).
If I can avoid it, I’ll eschew playing any Colts WRs aside from Hilton until I see how this rotation shakes out.
I know everybody is excited about Robinson, but I was really hesitant to use him… until Ozigbo went on IR. I think Robinson is the overwhelming favorite — and perhaps the only option — for early-down carries. But if the Jags are as bad as expected and Gruden’s usage history remains problematic, it’s possible he won’t be all that useful. If I have to play a Jags back this week — have to — I would prefer it to be Thompson.
I’m not playing Shenault — only DJ Chark is an early-season option here — but he could end up being one of the most intriguing players in Week 1 in terms of usage. There’s no reason for the Jags to not use him.
Philadelphia at Washington (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Eagles…
Philly is banged up! What else is new? But they got a bit of good news on Wednesday, when all of RB Miles Sanders (hamstring), RT Lane Johnson (lower body), and WR Jalen Reagor (shoulder) all returned to practice. There appears to be optimism on all three — Johnson lined up at first-team RT in the Eagles’ offensive install. Johnson, our Adam Caplan reports, is recovering from ankle surgery related to a high-ankle sprain in 2019.
Reagor is the biggest surprise — even the optimistic timeline our Adam Caplan gave us suggested he could be ready in Week 2. But the Eagles didn’t put him on IR (he would miss three games), and Reagor has been very active in practice so far, getting upgraded to “full” for Thursday practice. If he plays, my expectation is he will probably be limited, but this is a great sign for people who got a discount on Reagor in draft season.
For what it’s worth, Sanders could still be limited Week 1 — coach Doug Pederson acknowledged that possibility given how much camp Sanders missed. Though the situation is clearly different (i.e. Jordan Howard is gone), it’s worth noting that Sanders was limited early in 2019 after missing much of his rookie training camp with a hamstring injury too. More work for Boston Scott and Corey Clement isn’t hard to envision. However, with Clement (quad) added to the injury report on Thursday as a limited participant, perhaps Philly will be more aggressive with Sanders.
Johnson’s injury might be the most significant for Philly, because if Washington can wreck this game, it will be from the defensive line. Philly at least has stabilized its left tackle situation with Jason Peters moving to that spot (he was initially slated to play right guard).
What They’re Saying About the Football Team…
The thing everyone wants to know, of course, is how this backfield rotation will shake out following the release of Adrian Peterson. Veteran JD McKissic was listed as the starter on the team’s official depth chart, but coach Ron Rivera basically told reporters to ignore that.
“JD we just happened to put on the chart first,” Rivera said, acknowledging the committee approach. But fantasy players are most excited about rookie Antonio Gibson, who was one of the stars of training camp and his development, The Athletic’s Rhiannon Walker reports, was one of the reasons the Team released Peterson. Expect the young guy to play, especially with Washington as touchdown underdogs. Eagles DC Jim Schwartz admitted that he isn’t sure if Gibson will be used as a running back or receiver — he played both at Memphis — and that makes him hard to gameplan for.
While I don’t expect to see QB Alex Smith this week, it’s just remarkable that Rivera is comfortable putting him in the game, if need be.
One more note: in two games against the Eagles last season, WR Terry McLaurin posted an outrageous 10/255/2 on 12 targets. In one game against the Lions — and new Eagles top CB Darius Slay — McLaurin also saw 12 targets, but had just 5/72 receiving (he matched up with Slay on 19 snaps, directly). The Eagles accounted for McLaurin’s two biggest-yardage games of the 2019 season (130 and 125), and he was clearly a major reason they traded for Slay.
If Reagor goes as expected, I’m probably sitting him. The Eagles will want to get his feet wet at maximum, and this is a blowup spot for DeSean Jackson, who destroyed Washington in Week 1 last year.
I think downgrading Sanders is fair, but I’m still starting him (presuming he’s active). Scott is a little more appealing as a lower-end FLEX or DFS dart throw. Obviously, Scott and Clement become DFS options if Sanders in inactive. Scott and TE Zach Ertz could benefit from shorter passes if RT Johnson can’t play.
I think Washington is going to try to unleash Gibson, so I’m cool playing him as a low-end RB2. I think he could get a ton of targets in this game, especially if Slay does a good job locking up McLaurin. I’m still on McLaurin, obviously, but this isn’t the same secondary he roasted last year — only S Rodney McLeod is a returning starter in the same position (Jalen Mills moved to safety).
Miami at New England (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Dolphins…
Things got off to an inauspicious start for Miami this week — all of DeVante Parker (hamstring), Preston Williams (knee), and Mike Gesicki (glute) were limited in practice. That’s at least an upgrade for Parker, who missed significant time late in training camp.
For Gesicki, this comes on the heels of Durham Smythe being listed as Miami’s top TE on the official depth chart, but this is probably just a reward for Smythe having a good camp — he’s the better blocker than Gesicki, and Gesicki is probably a glorified slot receiver. Gesicki should still play a ton, but Smythe’s status is almost certainly because the Dolphins want to improve their league-worst run game from 2019.
Top Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore — the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year — acknowledged Parker had his number last year… at least once. With Ryan Fitzpatrick starting in Week 17, Parker posted 8/137 on 11 targets in an upset victory. In Week 2, with both Fitz and Josh Rosen at QB, Parker posted no catches on 7 targets in a blowout 43-0 loss. In that game, Parker actually saw the coverage of CB Jason McCourty, who was out in the second game.
Fitzpatrick is starting this week over rookie Tua Tagovailoa. Gilmore, though, is dealing with a hamstring injury (he was added midweek, which is never good). Could it be a battle of two gimpy stars? Or will McCourty shut down Parker?
ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe reports that while Parker is wearing a compression sleeve on his hamstring, he is expected to play. Unfortunately, Wolfe also reports that coach Brian Flores acknowledged some banged-up players might not play a full slate of snaps.
That includes Williams, who is coming off an ACL tear, but he told reporters he feels close to 100%.
A huge question mark for Miami is the offensive line. It will have four new starters, with two rookies slated to start in Week 1 and second-round pick Robert Hunt potentially pushing the only returning starter, RT Jesse Davis, at some point this season. It’ll be hard for this line not to be improved from last year, but growing pains are almost a guarantee.
What They’re Saying About the Patriots…
With second-year RB Damien Harris (finger) going on short-term IR, ESPN’s Mike Reiss told our Austin Webster on Twitter that he wouldn’t be shocked to see a three-man even split in the backfield among Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead.
Reiss also noted that the Patriots really like UDFA JJ Taylor, but he’s likely a rotation player at best given his stature (5’6”, 185). Still, it appears the Patriots want Taylor active on gamedays. Bill Belichick wants to see him in live action.
The Athletic’s Jeff Howe thinks Burkhead could be more involved than we think — he said Cam Newton “wore out” Burkhead with targets in camp. And he also reports that the Patriot coaches believe Cam is healthy enough to be a very effective runner, which would obviously be massive for his fantasy value.
Howe also noted the Patriots kept 10 offensive linemen because they are still working through depth, extra important this year with LT Marcus Cannon opting out of the season. The Pats have to replace Cannon but, perhaps more importantly, legendary OL coach Dante Scarnecchia.
Howe also noted that WR Jakobi Meyers made a strong push late in camp to make the roster over Mohamed Sanu.
Doug Kyed of NESN did a very interesting breakdown, looking at the Patriots’ two third-round rookie TEs, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene (the latter of whom is more of a fullback). Using historical data for the Pats, rookie TEs in general, and Cam Newton’s history throwing to TEs, Kyed spits out a ceiling of 40 catches, 500 yards, and 6 TD. That seems reasonable — the Pats are listing vet Ryan Izzo as their starting TE.
It’s no secret the Patriots have been hit worse than all other NFL teams by opt-outs — apparently coach Bill Belichick tried to sign the recently retired CB Aqib Talib, but was rebuffed. Talib said that Belichick wanted him to be a TE stopper — just like the opted-out Patrick Chung.
I’m downgrading all of Miami’s WRs to more low-end WR3s given the matchup and the chance that Parker and Williams are limited. This obviously also hurts Fitzpatrick for QB streamers/superflex players.
I’m a little more intrigued by Gesicki, presuming he’s OK — the fact that Belichick wanted Talib to come in to slow down TEs suggests Belichick finds that a weakness on his defense. Gesicki scored a TD in Week 17 against the Pats last year, with 4/34/1 on 7 targets. He’s a viable low-end TE1 this week.
I’m OK using Howard and Breida as RB3/FLEX plays.
As for the Patriots, the only three players I’m considering for Week 1 are Newton at QB, White at RB, and Julian Edelman at WR. The Dolphins might have the league’s best perimeter CB duo in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, and the Patriots’ outside WRs are abominable, as CLNS’ Evan Lazar saw in practice. Even with Howard (knee) and Jones (Achilles) dinged up, there are absolutely no appealing outside WR plays for New England.
I probably want to wait to see how the backfield shakes out beyond White, who has a guaranteed role here. Deep-league gamblers could see some value in Burkhead, though — he’s the guy here who doesn’t go away. Keep in mind LB Kyle Van Noy — a former Patriot — has been limited in practice with a hand injury. That could be good news for this backfield and Newton, who is a low-end QB1 this week.
Las Vegas at Carolina (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Raiders…
The story of training camp for Vegas has been rookie WR Bryan Edwards, who will presumably be the “X” to Henry Ruggs’ “Z” and Hunter Renfrow’s slot in Week 1. The Athletic’s Vic Tafur wrote a cool feature on Edwards’ history, and why he appears poised to already make it look foolish that he fell to the third round of April’s draft (foot injury).
I found it funny in that piece that QB Derek Carr — who also had a good camp by all accounts — talked about how he loved making 50/50 throws to Edwards, comparing it to how he used to throw to Davante Adams at Fresno State. I’d argue that Carr does not like throwing 50/50 balls, but maybe his new arsenal of weapons will help.
And it’s not just me who thinks that! Our Greg Cosell said on one of our Premium livestreams that TE Darren Waller caught a lot of passes last year because Carr wouldn’t turn it loose on throws that were open down the field. Carr has more explosive receivers this year, but is his conservative nature just in his DNA?
Anyway, this is an excellent matchup for Carr and the boys. With the Panthers putting Eli Apple on IR, an underwhelming trio of Rasul Douglas, Corn Elder, and rookie Troy Pride will compete for CB snaps opposite Donte Jackson.
What They’re Saying About the Panthers…
I think the entire world expects the Panthers’ defense to be abominable and that QB Teddy Bridgewater will have to throw it a lot, so it should be pointed out that Raiders first-round rookie CB Damon Arnette will have to play with a club on his hand after fracturing his thumb in training camp. Cornerback is still a problem spot for the Raiders — only nickel CB Lamarcus Joyner has been in the league earlier than 2019.
I was disappointed we didn’t hear more about TE Ian Thomas in training camp, as he has a pathway to a breakout season. A toe injury is perhaps a reason for that, but the good news is that he’s practicing in full and looks ready to go for Week 1.
I’m typically of the mind that we shouldn’t expect a lot from rookie receivers right away, but damn, is there a better matchup to use Edwards and Ruggs in their first game? I wouldn’t mind a low-end dart throw on Hunter Renfrow in a deep league given the Panthers’ lack of talent at corner.
For Carolina, I’m playing DJ Moore as a high-end WR2 as I expect the Panthers will be one of the most heavy passing teams in the NFL as dictated by gamescript. I’m probably just monitoring everything else here (aside from Christian McCaffrey, of course).
Cleveland at Baltimore (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Browns…
Yikes. After requesting an off-season trade, apparently fourth-year Browns TE David Njoku isn’t making much of an impact in practices despite the Browns likely playing a lot of “12” personnel this year. While preseason, team-issued depth charts mean just about nothing in most cases, the fact that a rookie — Harrison Bryant — is ahead of him. Will Bryant outsnap Njoku, alongside Austin Hooper?
What They’re Saying About the Ravens…
The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec reports that rookie RB JK Dobbins “should have a role immediately.” Dobbins was listed as 4th-string on the Ravens’ initial depth chart, which obviously is rookie initiation of some kind. Ravens beats have been raving about Dobbins all summer. Dobbins’ stat line could be helped if Justice Hill (thigh) can’t play.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun’s Daniel Oyefusi reports that OC Greg Roman plans on using at least three backs pretty much every week. Good thing there’s a lot of volume to go around here.
Of course the Ravens’ offense will be built on the run game and the explosiveness of QB Lamar Jackson, but it’s no secret the Ravens want to expand their passing game and take the next step in Jackson’s development. It could be good news this week for now-healthy WR Marquise Brown — Cleveland could be down two corners, Greedy Williams (shoulder) and Kevin Johnson (liver). Of course, that could mean a shadow matchup from top dog Denzel Ward.
I’m avoiding the Browns’ TE situation until we get more clarity. I’m downgrading Landry to a low-end WR3, especially how nasty this Ravens secondary is.
For Baltimore, I’m still fine with Mark Ingram as a RB2, but the beat writers appear convinced Dobbins will have a role, giving him some FLEX appeal.
I’m putting Hollywood into every lineup where I have drafted him.
New York Jets at Buffalo (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Jets…
The biggest problem for the Jets during training camp was the injuries to their WRs — well, vet Breshad Perriman (knee) is practicing in full this week, which is good news. The bad news is that Denzel Mims, who missed much of camp with a hamstring injury, hurt his other hamstring this week, and coach Adam Gase doesn’t expect him to play.
It should still, of course, be a great matchup for Jamison Crowder, since Perriman will likely draw the coverage of top CB Tre’Davious White, and the other outside WR is expected to be Chris Hogan. Crowder benefitted from White patrolling the perimeter last year — he had 22 catches in two games against Buffalo last season. For what it’s worth, the Bills could be missing their other projected starting corner, Josh Norman (hamstring).
With the Jets having only two healthy outside WRs, as The Athletic’s Connor Hughes reports, I wonder if TE Chris Herndon will have to play some “X” receiver. Gase called Herndon “a game-changing type player” this week.
I thought Greg Cosell gave an extremely interesting tidbit on our Fantasy Points Premium livestream — Greg talked to former NFL star Carson Palmer about the hardest defensive coaches he’s played against, and Palmer mentioned Bills coach Sean McDermott immediately. It’s a really rough spot for Jets QB Sam Darnold to try to get off on a positive foot.
ESPN’s Rich Cimini reports veteran RB Frank Gore will get every Thursday off from practice.
What They’re Saying About the Bills…
There are two main things I’m watching in Buffalo, aside from the obvious (Josh Allen’s development). The Athletic’s Matthew Fairburn reports that Allen basically had a serious off-season reflection with his mechanics and decision-making after both failed him in the Bills’ playoff loss to Houston last year.
Camp reports indicated this will be a much more even split than early ADP would have had you believe between RBs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss. Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic reported that Singletary had fumbling problems in camp, and Moss apparently stood out as a receiver (where we obviously want our fantasy RBs to succeed).
Also, our Adam Caplan told us that WR John Brown was awesome in training camp. Brown’s ADP took a nosedive after the Stefon Diggs trade, but he had an awesome year last year despite not making many of his signature big plays, with Allen struggling with his deep accuracy.
I’m benching Perriman. I need to see it in an actual game first, and the matchup here is brutal. However, I’m playing Crowder just about everywhere. He’s an awesome option for PPR formats. The fact that Norman is out doesn’t do anything for me since the other outside receivers here blow. It could mean more targets for TE Chris Herndon, though, who may have to play WR out of necessity.
I think both Bill RBs, Singletary and Moss, are FLEX plays. Allen is a fine QB1, while Diggs is a solid WR2 with this weak Jets secondary (sans Jamal Adams). Brown is going to be an intriguing WR3/FLEX play and potentially a cheap DFS option.
Chicago at Detroit (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Bears…
I don’t know if anyone on planet earth — including the Bears — think this Mitchell Trubisky thing is going to go well. But our Greg Cosell opined that Trubisky — who has had success against the Lions in his career — is comfortable against Detroit because coach Matt Patricia does not disguise much. The Lions are a pure execution defense, and Trubisky sees and breaks things down well against them. It’s a very comfortable spot for him to be in. If he struggles this week? Well, that would be something different.
Our Adam Caplan is reporting that the Bears are “optimistic” RB David Montgomery (groin) will be able to play in Week 1, though there’s still the chance he’s limited and Tarik Cohen plays more snaps. Montgomery practiced in full from Thursday on, so it looks like he’s going to go.
Keep in mind that Lions rookie CB Jeff Okudah picked up a hamstring injury in practice this week, which would be good news for star WR Allen Robinson. Of course, it’s hard to know if it’s a real hamstring injury, or a Matt Patricia “I’m putting him on the injury report because I came from the Belichick coaching tree” hamstring injury.
It’s worth noting that the Lions bracketed Robinson when these two teams played last year on Thanksgiving Day, and that led to a huge game for Anthony Miller — 9/140.
What They’re Saying About the Lions…
Rookie RB D’Andre Swift missed some training camp time with a leg injury, and now he’s been limited in practice this week with a hip injury. That, obviously, opens up the door for new addition Adrian Peterson to contribute right away. Obviously, Peterson won’t have to learn too much of the offense — not only will he likely play a limited package, but he’s already familiar with OC Darrell Bevell’s attack. Bevell was the offensive coordinator in Minnesota for Peterson’s first four years in the league.
“The Lions plan to share carries in their backfield in an attempt to keep everyone fresh and propel this Lions rushing attack into respectability and consistency,” longtime writer for the Lions’ official website Tim Twentyman reports. That includes Kerryon Johnson, who is now kind of the forgotten man here.
WRs Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola have each been limited in practice this week with hamstring injuries, with Golladay getting a Thursday downgrade to no practice. Coach Matt Patricia told reporters that Golladay’s injury is new, but is chalking it up more to general soreness. It seems Patricia is putting forth a veneer of caution with regards to the injury, but remember he comes from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, so expecting explosive honesty here would be foolish.
The Bears’ defensive line could be limited this week — DE Robert Quinn has missed practice time with an ankle injury. That’s something to monitor, and would be good news for Lions QB Matthew Stafford. But the offensive line could also be shorthanded — RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai has missed practice this week with a foot injury. If he can’t go, and he’s trending in the wrong direction, the Lions are going to need to play #2 blocking TE Jesse James more, limiting their formational creativity, The Athletic’s Chris Burke reports. Obviously, Quinn being out and LB Khalil Mack (knee) being limited would help this line.
The big news here is Golladay — he’s listed as doubtful so I’m going to bench him wherever I drafted him. It’s an early game, so you’ll have plenty of options to fill in for him if you want to wait for some reason. If he doesn’t go as expected, I think Marvin Jones and TE TJ Hockenson could get a ton of targets.
I’d prefer to avoid the Detroit backfield until further notice, and I’m downgrading Stafford into QB2 range based on my expectations with Golladay.
For Chicago, I’d still rather play Cohen than Montgomery coming off of injury. Cohen is a PPR RB2 and Montgomery is a middling FLEX. Robinson is locked into my lineups as a WR1 with Okudah dinged and Darius Slay in Philly. Miller probably won’t find a way into your lineups, but he’s viable as a low-end WR3 in deeper leagues based on how things worked out here.
Trubisky is a DFS dumpster dive and shouldn’t be played in 1-QB season-long formats.
Seattle at Atlanta (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Seahawks…
Here’s a hell of a tidbit on RB Chris Carson from NBC Sports Northwest’s Joe Fann. Fann says he’d “be shocked” if Carson sees as many touches and snaps as he did last season — Fann notes that the Seahawks are very much taking into account how things went down for them last year when Carson, Rashaad Penny, and CJ Prosise all went down in a short time.
Though the Falcons defense sucks, it’s bad news that the Seahawks only really good lineman — T Duane Brown — was downgraded midweek to no practice with a knee injury. Brown doesn’t have an injury designation heading into the game, but he’s probably not 100%.
What They’re Saying About the Falcons…
One of the most popular memes on Fantasy Twitter references WR Julio Jones seeming inability to score touchdowns as much as other top receivers — indeed, despite leading the NFL with 519 receptions over the last five seasons, his 31 receiving TDs are tied for just 10th over the same span.
Well, the Falcons have noticed, reports ESPN’s Vaughn McClure. OC Dirk Koetter blames it on teams double-teaming Julio in the red zone, so he wants to dial up more shot plays and quick hitters like slants and screens to get him in the end zone more. The problem is QB Matt Ryan really has struggled with the deep ball lately. I’m skeptical of how much this should work, but it should make fantasy players starting Julio at least a little warm and fuzzy that they’ve acknowledged the “issue.”
Obviously, one of the major appeals of Carson is his potential to have a massive role in a run-heavy offense. If his carries are limited and he continues to be just “meh” in the passing game, his fantasy value will take a hit. For now, I am fine firing him up as an RB2 since that’s what you drafted him as, but the potential for this game to be a shootout gives me some pause.
Things are pretty quiet with the Falcons…. But obviously, you’re playing Julio, and hopefully the TD equity improves.
Green Bay at Minnesota (Sun, 1 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Packers…
One player who has gotten a metric ton of camp hype at a notable position for Green Bay is WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling. QB Aaron Rodgers has been effusive in his praise, while fellow WR Davante Adams has noticed MVS’ improvement, as well, according to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky.
The forgotten man in the Packers’ backfield, following Aaron Jones’ huge season last year and the drafting of AJ Dillon is Jamaal Williams. But Williams is strong on third downs, and Rodgers has noticed his improvements in the passing game, 247’s Zachary Jacobson reports. This could mean Dillon is the #3 early in the year.
Given the lack of additions at key skill spots this year for Green Bay, one player we might get a look at is speedster Tyler Ervin. I seriously doubt people want another back in the mix to take touches away from Aaron Jones, but it appears the return specialist with just 22 career touches on offense has caught the eye of Rodgers.
Both the Packers and Vikings have problems up front — RT Billy Turner could miss for Green Bay with a knee injury, while Minnesota put DE Danielle Hunter on short-term IR with a neck injury.
What They’re Saying About the Vikings…
While RB Dalvin Cook didn’t do much more than threaten a holdout given the lack of leverage he has thanks to the NFL’s new CBA, he has admitted that he’s seen the recent deals signed by other star RBs. There’s no reason to think Cook’s role will be purposely reduced by his whims or the whims of the team, ESPN’s Courtney Cronin reports, but I do have to wonder if the Vikings have bigger plans for Alexander Mattison this season.
With Green Bay, I’m mostly in monitor mode, beyond locking in Jones as a RB1. I guess Rodgers is a fine low-end QB1, but Minnesota’s defense should be good enough.
You have to play Cook if you drafted him in Round 1, but I wouldn’t blame you if you’re looking a little bit scared for more Mattison carries. This is definitely a snap split to monitor.
LA Chargers at Cincinnati (Sun, 4:05 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Chargers…
The biggest news for the Chargers’ offense is the shoulder injury to WR Mike Williams. The Athletic’s Daniel Popper reported that he could miss much of September, but coach Anthony Lynn is calling him a game-time decision. Obviously, against a bad Bengal defense, Williams being out or limited could mean a lot of targets for the recently extended Keenan Allen.
RB Justin Jackson (hamstring) should be good to play, Lynn also said.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter is also reporting that C Mike Pouncey (hip) is unlikely to play, which could help offset Cincinnati’s potential loss of DT Geno Atkins (shoulder). The Chargers also have RT Bryan Bulaga (hamstring) dinged up, but he looks like he has a chance to play.
What They’re Saying About the Bengals…
Some good news for Cincinnati — WR AJ Green (hamstring) wasn’t even listed on the team’s first injury report. That’s obviously awesome news against a Charger defense missing S Derwin James (knee) for the year.
That James injury has a domino effect on the Chargers’ defensive backfield, where the impact of new slot CB Chris Harris will now have a little bit less gravity. That said, Harris’ presence isn’t the greatest of news for Tyler Boyd.
Some bad news for Cincinnati — on the same injury report, DT Geno Atkins was listed as having missed practice with a shoulder injury. On an already thin defense, Atkins’ loss could be a big one against a Chargers team that’s expected to run the ball as its foundational offensive attack.
I think the Bengals’ defense is going to absolutely suck, so I’m firing up Allen as a strong WR2. Williams is on the bench for me even if he plays. I think the Bengals’ defensive problems also make Hunter Henry a viable TE1 play.
I’ll be in monitoring mode with this Chargers’ backfield behind Austin Ekeler, with Ekeler perhaps getting a little reprieve from Pouncey not playing with Atkins being dinged up. Ekeler is a slam-dunk RB1.
I don’t expect the Chargers will be in base personnel much against these Bengals, who can go 4-wide, so my expectation is that will put Harris into the slot against Boyd, so I’m downgrading Boyd to WR3 range. I think this is as appealing a spot for Green as we could imagine given the circumstances — he’s the healthiest he’s been in years, and the Chargers will still be reeling from the loss of James. He’s a WR3 in the event his snaps are limited.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans (Sun, 4:25 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Buccaneers…
There’s no need to dance around it. While the Buccaneers made a lot of recent noise with their signing of Leonard Fournette late in camp, the biggest news from this game is the potential for WR Mike Evans to miss the game with a hamstring injury. Head coach Bruce Arians is calling Evans a game-time decision, according to PewterReport. Evans struggled with the Saints and top CB Marshon Lattimore last year, posting 4/69 receiving on 11 targets in two games, including getting shut out once. But Evans being down would limit QB Tom Brady in his first Bucs game, it goes without saying. And Evans having a hamstring injury at this stage isn’t exactly heartwarming news, given he ended last year on IR with a hamstring injury.
Evans returned to practice on Friday, so he’s at least trending toward possibly playing.
If Evans can’t play, look for second-year speedster Scotty Miller to get some more reps after being one of the most hyped players from Bucs camp.
As for that backfield, NFL Network’s James Palmer believes Fournette will have a significant Week 1 role… but as part of a committee with Ronald Jones and LeSean McCoy. Palmer indicated that pass protection — an area where Jones and Fournette have struggled in their careers — will be a big factor. To me, that indicates McCoy will play a not-insignificant number of snaps.
Some potential good news for Brady — Saints DE Marcus Davenport missing multiple practices this week with an elbow injury.
What They’re Saying About the Saints…
Our Greg Cosell noted that WR Michael Thomas had two massive games against the Bucs in two different ways last year. In the first contest, he destroyed CB Vernon Hargreaves and the Bucs’ man coverage (11/182/2). In the second game, DC Todd Bowles played more zone, and the Bucs’ defense “contained” Thomas to 8/114/1. I expect this Bucs defense to be very good this year, but Thomas is still a stellar play — I expect Bowles to play more zone.
After like 12 hours of panic a few weeks ago, it appears the Saints are close with RB Alvin Kamara on an extension. The deal isn’t signed yet, but Kamara (back) has been practicing in full and isn’t even on the injury report. However, the Saints could be without rookie C Cesar Ruiz, who missed practice this week with an ankle injury.
Prepare to bench Evans. He struggled with Lattimore last year, and he won’t be 100% if he goes. I get playing him if you drafted him as a WR1, but this isn’t a great spot. If he’s out, expect Chris Godwin to get absolutely peppered with targets — he’s harder for Lattimore to shadow because he moves around everywhere, way more than Evans.
If Evans is out, I’m upgrading TE Rob Gronkowski too, but downgrading Brady to a low-end QB1 despite this game’s shootout potential.
In the Bucs’ backfield, I’m considering Fournette and Jones both FLEX plays, with a lean to Jones in a potential shootout game. But I’ll be watching McCoy closely, too.
Obviously, Thomas and Kamara are in your lineups.
Arizona at San Francisco (Sun, 4:25 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Cardinals…
Some good news — though he missed some camp time and was in a walking boot for some of it, RB Kenyan Drake was not listed on the Cardinals’ first injury report of the season.
There is some bad news for the Cards, though — rookie T Josh Jones, expected to be the Cards’ right tackle, has missed practice this week with an ankle injury. That’s not good against Nick Bosa and this nasty 49ers front, for either Drake or Kyler Murray. The line is still a weakness.
What They’re Saying About the 49ers…
Though our Greg Cosell confirmed that top Cardinal CB Patrick Peterson wasn’t his normal dominant self in 2019, it might not matter in Week 1, with both WRs Deebo Samuel (foot) and rookie Brandon Aiyuk (hamstring) up in the air to play. Aiyuk, who practiced on Thursday, seems to have a better chance than Deebo.
The Athletic’s Matt Barrows thinks Aiyuk looks good, but would expect him to be limited if he plays because he missed so much of training camp.
I found this Q&A with The Athletic’s 49ers beat fascinating for multiple reasons, but mostly in regards to the San Francisco backfield. Three of the four polled expect Raheem Mostert to start fewer than four games (he has no NFL starts, for the record) and all four expect Jerick McKinnon to top 550 yards from scrimmage, barring injury (which is, of course, the biggest problem).
Drake not being on the injury report is great news — in two games against the 49ers last year, he had 31/177/1 rushing and 10/65 receiving, surprising against a defense many consider elite.
Jones being out would be a lower-end downgrade for Murray, but a rookie RT going up against this front isn’t exactly inspiring anyway.
For the 49ers, I’m probably avoiding the entire WR corps. If I want some exposure to this passing game — beyond George Kittle, of course — I’ll just play Jimmy Garoppolo.
I’m cool with Mostert as a RB2 and Tevin Coleman as a FLEX, but McKinnon has become one of my favorite RB stashes after the glowing reports from camp. He’s not in play for Week 1, though.
Dallas at LA Rams (Sun, 8:20 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Cowboys…
Last year, Amari Cooper faced off against top CB Jalen Ramsey of the Rams and posted just 1/19 receiving on 2 targets, though the Cowboys ran the hell out of the ball in that game. That said, Cooper has typically struggled with high-level CBs, and he’s dealing with a minor hamstring issue (he’s practicing in full).
My question is if Ramsey will follow Cooper, or will he selectively match up? My expectations from everything I’ve read this off-season is Michael Gallup will be Dallas’ predominant “X” receiver, typically what you refer to as the “#1” receiver. If Cooper goes in motion as the “Z” or lines up in the slot, what does Ramsey do?
Obviously, the Cowboys have built a lot of their offense around their elite OL, but there’s a potential for a big step back here. C Travis Frederick retired this off-season, and the Cowboys put RT La’El Collins (hip) on short-term IR. The Rams don’t have a great outside pass rush, but this Dallas line has more cracks in it than we’ve seen in a long time.
Take this for what it’s worth, but RB Ezekiel Eliott expects to be more involved as a receiver this year, the Dallas Morning News’ Michael Gehlken reports. My question — where are these targets coming from?
What They’re Saying About the Rams…
One injury that could really benefit Kupp — Cowboys slot CB Jourdan Lewis (ankle) has missed practice time this week. That raises an interesting but good dilemma for coach Sean McVay.
In the matchup with the Cowboys last year, TE Tyler Higbee went nuts, with 12 catches for 111 yards as part of the Rams’ aggressive midseason switch to more “12” personnel. The Cowboys have serious problems at safety, where Xavier Woods and Darian Thompson are the projected starters. But they’re also weaker at CB following the departure of Byron Jones to Miami, and if Lewis is out or limited, “11” personnel could be a massive win for the Rams, and especially for Kupp.
Of course, the backfield is where the whole fantasy community will have its eyes. The Rams seem committed to a committee approach, and second-year man Darrell Henderson (hamstring) is back in practice. But The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue, who has had her finger on the pulse of this situation all summer, thinks rookie Cam Akers is eventually going to lead the way.
I’m waffling on whether I should downgrade Cooper. He didn’t have success in this matchup last year, but I’m not sure Ramsey is going to shadow him given the Cowboys’ loaded receiving corps. On the other hand, he’s also dinged up. I think I’m leaning toward calling him a low-end WR2, with Gallup similarly ranked and CeeDee Lamb a WR3.
I think Kupp could explode in this game with Lewis injured — I have him as a high-end WR2. I’m playing Higbee as a TE1, and if I’m playing one back for the Rams, it’s Akers.
Pittsburgh at NY Giants (Mon, 7:10 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Steelers…
We loooooove when we get beat reporters giving fantasy tips, especially when they extrapolate them from the mouth of a team’s own QB. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has been talking up WR Diontae Johnson, according to ESPN’s Brooke Pryor. “The sky’s the limit,” Ben opined.
Unfortunately, Johnson didn’t practice on Thursday (the Steelers’ first day of Week 1 practice) with a foot injury. This must be monitored — the injury is new, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Our Adam Caplan reports the Steelers are just being cautious and making sure Johnson is ready for Monday.
Meanwhile, it’s good news that coach Mike Tomlin called RB James Conner a “bell cow” and the Steelers’ “primary toter,” Pryor reports. Conner could have a little tougher sledding if G David DeCastro (knee) can’t go.
Our Greg Cosell wonders if the Giants will use the recently signed Logan Ryan on JuJu Smith-Scuster in the slot. This isn’t a very good Giant secondary, but Ryan is likely the best player in it.
What They’re Saying About the Giants…
With the exception of the reporting about coach Joe Judge’s antics, things seem pretty quiet from a Giants’ perspective.
However, one player who you definitely don’t want to go into Monday night needed 15 PPR points from is WR Golden Tate. While Tate has returned to practice this week, he “doesn’t seem 100 percent,” according to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan.
I’m optimistic about Johnson playing, so I’m using him against this Giants secondary as a WR3. JuJu is in the WR2 range, because I’m not sure the Steelers will need a ton of passing volume here — I expect them to romp.
That’s why the positive reports on Conner have me so excited. He’s a hammer RB1 with the Steelers big favorites.
With the exception of Saquon Barkley and TE Evan Engram, I’m probably avoiding this entire Giants’ offense, with WR Darius Slayton potentially drawing a Joe Haden shadow.
Tennessee at Denver (Mon, 10:20 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Titans…
Our guy Greg Cosell is the best at what he does in the industry, and he brought up one of the most interesting points about this game that I’ve seen yet. Last year when the Titans played the Broncos, coach Vic Fangio held RB Derrick Henry to his worst game of the season — 15 carries for 28 yards.
He did this by creeping his safeties — Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson — into the box, at almost linebacker depth. The big difference? That was Marcus Mariota at QB, and Fangio clearly didn’t think Mariota could beat him deep.
Don’t be shocked, Cosell said, if Titans OC Arthur Smith anticipates this and dials up some play action down the field with QB Ryan Tannehill, a far better thrower than Mariota. Even though Tannehill is a better thrower than Mariota, the Titans’ offense still runs through Henry, and Fangio will probably view him as the guy to stop.
What They’re Saying About the Broncos…
Clearly, the Broncos’ defense is devastated by the season-ending injury to star OLB Von Miller. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the Broncos reached out to Clay Matthews to fill the void, but Matthews rebuffed their offer. He still wants to play, but apparently not for what Denver offered. Coach Vic Fangio knows how big a loss Miller is and wants to try to mitigate that as much as possible.
The Broncos seem to have dodged another massive bullet — WR Courtland Sutton went down in practice on Thursday with an AC joint sprain in his shoulder. Though he didn’t practice on Friday, it looks like he will have a shot to play on Monday.
Obviously, you’re still playing Henry, but the Broncos’ strategy last year is worth noting. However, if the Broncos do employ that strategy and OC Smith anticipates it, this is a blowup spot for Tannehill, Brown, and even TE Jonnu Smith.
I think I’m benching Sutton wherever I have him — this game being on Monday doesn’t help, given the lack of lineup flexibility. I’m willing to fire up rookie Jerry Jeudy as a WR2 this week.