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Graham Barfield and Scott Barrett are here to help you out with all of your Start / Sit needs with a deep rundown of their favorite and least-favorite plays every single week. This article will be continually updated with news throughout the week, so make sure you keep it locked on our projections and on this column all the way through to kickoff on Sunday.
For the context of this article, any Start / Sit recommendation for “Shallow” leagues refers to 10-team leagues while “Deep” is 12- or 14-teamers.
Let’s get to it.
Note: Graham will be in our Discord channel every Thursday afternoon and on Sunday mornings answering all of your start/sit questions. Make sure you come hang out!
Start: Ryan Tannehill vs. Cardinals
The Cardinals could not possibly be in a worse spot at cornerback ahead of matchup with A.J. Brown and Julio Jones in Week 1. Their top two corners heading into this season — CB Darqueze Dennard (IR) and CB Malcolm Butler (retirement) — are both gone. So, the team will have to rely on Byron Murphy (who previously lost his starting job to Dennard and Butler) and Robert Alford (who has not played a snap since 2018) to slow down Ryan Tannehill and the Titans trio of weapons. Good luck with that! Further enhancing the Tannehill and the Titans outlook in this spot is the fact that the Cardinals are the fastest team in the league to the line of scrimmage, which usually makes their drives go by faster and gives their opponents the opportunity to run more plays and score more fantasy points. Tannehill should be treated as a strong QB1. (Graham Barfield)
Start: Jalen Hurts vs. Falcons
You might not have drafted Hurts as your QB1 (though we told you all offseason you should feel confident in doing so), but you’re certainly starting him as a QB1 this week. We’re projecting 22.6 fantasy points, which ranks 6th among QBs this week, even ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Dak Prescott. Read here if you want to learn more about why we love Hurts so much across the full-season. As for why we love him so much this week? That’s easy. Per PFF, the Falcons have the league’s worst secondary and the league’s 2nd-worst defensive line. Last season, they gave up a league-high +3.5 schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing QBs and ranked 5th-worst in rushing FPG allowed to QBs. And there’s a good chance they’re going to be even worse this year. (Scott Barrett)
Sit: Justin Herbert at Washington
OK, OK. This isn’t so much of a straight up “sit him at all costs” situation by any means because you drafted Herbert in the top-100 to be your QB1 all season long. It’s more just a note to beware that Herbert’s ceiling is drastically lowered in what is an extremely difficult road draw against the league’s best defense. Granted, the Chargers much-improved offensive line will help stem the tide, but this is still a brutal opening matchup. Washington’s front-seven generated pressure at the seventh-highest rate (43%) and permitted the fourth-fewest YPG through the air (222.4) last season and might be even better this year after adding the underrated former-Bengal CB William Jackson in free agency. You probably don’t have a better option on the waiver wire, but on the chance you paired Herbert with Jalen Hurts or Ryan Tannehill, I’d roll with one of those two over Herbert in a heartbeat. (GB)
Start: Kirk Cousins at Bengals
Cousins is the top streamer on Opening Day with a gorgeous road draw out of the gates against the Bengals. Now, Cincinnati did make a concerted effort to improve their depth on defense this offseason, but they are going to be heading into this game down their best cornerback in Trae Waynes (hamstring). The Bengals gave up the 10th-most fantasy points per pass attempt (0.488) last season and, historically speaking, Cousins has feasted in layup matchups in his Viking career. Over the previous three seasons, Cousins has averaged 19.6 FPG against bottom-12 passing defenses and just 15.2 FPG in all of his other matchups. We’ve got Cousins ranked ahead of a few notable passers that were drafted as QB2-types like Trevor Lawrence, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Matt Ryan. (GB)
Start: Baker Mayfield at Chiefs
Despite losing Odell Beckham Jr. in Week 7… And despite captaining the league's 6th-most run-heavy offense (+4% above expectation)… Mayfield was a lot better for fantasy than his full-season numbers imply. On-paper, Baker Mayfield’s 2020 schedule was fine: about average or slightly better than average (+0.16). But his schedule was both brutal and incredibly unlucky in a less obvious way. A whopping five of his 16 games came with winds measuring between 16 and 35 mph. If only excluding the two games where winds were measured between 25 to 35 mph, his FPG average jumps from 16.0 to 17.4 (+1.4).
The good news is, this week, the weather should be fine. Surely very little chance of Arrowhead being smited with hurricane-like winds. But the matchup is favorable as well. Kansas City ranked perfectly neutral against QBs last year (+0.1), but, more importantly, as 6.5-point underdogs, the Chiefs should force Mayfield to keep his foot on the gas. We have him projected to finish as a fringe-QB1 this week. (SB)
Sit: Joe Burrow vs. Vikings
I’m in wait-and-see mode on Burrow for Week 1. After only playing 3 snaps in the preseason and being limited coming off his knee injury in Training Camp, it would shock literally no one if Joe Burrow and the Bengals passing offense got out of the gates slow. We picked on the Vikings secondary at will in this Start / Sit space last year, but HC Mike Zimmer’s unit is much-improved on paper coming into the season. Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland and Mackensie Alexander provide a much-needed veteran presence at cornerback alongside Cameron Dantzler. Burrow was the QB17 in fantasy points per game in his starts last year and we are treating him as a very low-end option in our projections (QB22). I’m fine with firing Burrow up as your No. 2 QB in SuperFlex formats, but there are better options in 1-QB leagues for Week 1. (GB)
Start: Miles Sanders at Falcons
Despite his usage last season (72% snap share, 4th-best)… Despite his 5.29 YPC average while battling multiple injuries (hamstring, knee)… And although we heard some great things coming out of Philadelphia all offseason, we still weren’t very high on Sanders. And neither was the rest of the fantasy community (ADP: RB18). Mostly, we were worried about HC Nick Sirianni employing a RBBC-approach, possibly using rookie Kenneth Gainwell as his new Nyheim Hines. That’s still a concern, but it shouldn’t be a major one this week. The Eagles are underdogs, but the line is still fairly close (+3.5), and the matchup is phenomenal against Atlanta’s defensive line, which ranks (projected) 2nd-worst in the league. We like him as a high-end RB2 this week. (SB)
Sit: Saquon Barkley at DEN
On one hand: Start your studs. You spend a first-round pick on the guy, he’s playing, and you’re going to bench him in Week 1? It’s Saquon freaking Barkley. He may only need 8 touches to go off.
On the other: The RB position is far-and-away the most volume-dependent position in fantasy. We know he’s probably going to be active. But we don’t know that he’s 100%. We don’t know how much he’s going to play. We don’t know how careful the Giants are going to be with him in his first game back. (They’ve been exceedingly cautious and “my mom”-levels of overprotective all offseason.) He’s barely practiced, and he’s taken contact maybe only a handful of times this entire offseason.
For this reason, Barkley is fairly benchable in shallow leagues. We like him as a mid-range RB2, behind names like Gus Edwards, Miles Sanders, and Chris Carson. For what it’s worth, recent comments do make it seem like the team’s priority is managing his workload and getting him back to full health. And I have a strong hunch HC Joe Judge doesn’t care about Week 1 or your fantasy teams nearly as much as you do. (SB)
Start: Raheem Mostert at Lions
Let’s call a spade a spade: The 49ers have massive advantages on both sides of the ball over the Lions. With Jimmy Garoppolo starting and Trey Lance likely mixing in on certain packages and against an over-matched Lions defense, HC Kyle Shanahan will likely dial up an extremely run-centric game-plan on Opening Day. The Lions had a sub-par run defense last year — they allowed 96.9 YPG on the ground to RBs (fifth-most) — and are relying on former-Ram Michael Brockers and rookie NT Alim McNeil to bolster their defensive line this season. It remains to be seen how this backfield split shakes out between Mostert and Trey Sermon, but at least for Week 1, Mostert is the “1A.” Mostert got starter treatment all preseason (by resting) and then got the start in the 49ers final preseason game before being put in bubble wrap after one drive. Mostert looked electric on that one drive, too. As massive 7.5-point road favorites, we have Mostert projected to touch the rock 16.5 times and he is locked as a low-end RB2, high-end FLEX option in our projections. (GB)
Start: Kareem Hunt at Kansas City
Throughout the bulk of the offseason, I’ve maintained that although Hunt’s ADP isn’t terrible (RB22), I think it’s unlikely he gives you that level of production on a week-to-week basis. Mostly, the reason you were drafting him where you were was due to the league-winning upside he offers should Nick Chubb suffer an injury. However, this would be one of the weeks Hunt would be worthy of a start (as a low-end RB2).
By a landslide, this game offers the highest over/under of the week (54.5), and projected game-script is right in Hunt’s wheelhouse. The Browns are 6.5-point underdogs, and Hunt has out-scored Chubb in 5 of 7 career losses the two have played together (averaging 14.7 FPG to Chubb’s 12.8). And, as the preferred passing-down back, the matchup is also in Hunt’s favor. Last season, Kansas City gave up the 2nd-most receiving FPG to enemy backs (13.0) but just the 21st-most rushing FPG (12.7). (SB)
Start: Chase Edmonds at Titans
Edmonds was a tricky player to evaluate all offseason. Based on HC Kliff Kingsbury’s comments (in May and then later in August), he made it clear this was going to be a committee backfield. But what was unclear to me was whether he viewed James Conner as merely the new Kenyan Drake in this offense, and thus, Edmonds’ scatback-plus role would remain unchanged. Or, if Edmonds would be the one to receive the bulk of that missing work. (Last season Drake ranked 14th and Edmonds ranked 36th in XFP per game.)
All of this is still unclear to me, though I should mention, Edmonds’ preseason usage was highly encouraging, albeit in a limited sample, as he played on 7 of the team’s 10 first-team snaps. If Conner is the new Drake, and Edmonds is merely just the same old Edmonds, that would certainly be unideal for those of you who drafted him at his ADP (RB28), but that shouldn’t be a major concern this week. This matchup sets up excellently for Edmonds and that scatback-plus role, in what should be a pass-heavy shootout. The Cardinals are 2.5-point underdogs against the Titans, in a game which boasts the 2nd-highest over/under of the week. Tennessee ranked 5th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing RBs (+3.5). We like him this week as a fringe-RB2. (SB)
Sit: Josh Jacobs vs. Ravens
For his career, Jacobs has been unbelievably game-script dependent because he doesn’t have a role on third- and passing-downs. And that lack of work as a receiver has made Jacobs extremely volatile in fantasy from a scoring perspective. When the Raiders win, he’s awesome! Jacobs averages 21.1 fantasy points per game in wins. But when the Raiders lose, he puts up just 10.3 FPG. In fact, 17 of Jacobs’ 19 career TDs have come in wins. Over the last two combined years, Jacobs ranks 80th (!) in routes run on third-downs among RBs and, as a result, Jacobs has one third-down target in this span. One. Now with $11-million man Kenyan Drake added, just how much burn is Jacobs going to get in the passing game? HC Jon Gruden has gone around all offseason saying that Drake is going to be heavily utilized as a receiver. Plus, Drake is a more than capable short yardage back. Last year, Drake had the third-most carries inside of the five-yard line (22) and he turned those totes into 9 TDs. So, Jacobs doesn’t have a pathway to a larger passing down role and he might see his goal-line carries cut into by Drake. If you ended up with Jacobs on your team, it wasn’t on our advice. And now, he gets a tough draw as an underdog — which is the exact situation you don’t want to play Jacobs in. He’s a complete boom-or-bust FLEX for Week 1. (GB)
Start: Adam Thielen at Bengals
You might have drafted Thielen as your WR3 (seriously, his ADP never made any sense whatsoever), but he’s been a WR1 for four straight seasons when healthy,
And he certainly should be started as a WR1 this week. The Bengals gave up the 7th-most FPG to opposing outside WRs last year, and now William Jackson III (PFF’s 20th highest-graded CB last year) is in Washington, and Trae Waynes is also out (hamstring). Look for Thielen to dominate long-time DFS targets Eli Apple and Chidobe Awuzie. (SB)
Start: Diontae Johnson at Bills
It’s as simple as this: last year, when Johnson played a full game, he performed like a top-5 fantasy WR.
From 96 Stats:
1A. Diontae Johnson fell under 50% of the team's snaps in Weeks 3 (injury), 5 (injury), and 14 (drop-related benching). He played on 76% of the team's snaps in Week 8 but clearly wasn't quite right after spending some time in the medical tent with an injury suffered in the first quarter. Including the postseason, but excluding those four games…
1B. Johnson saw double-digit targets in 11 of 12 games, with the lone exception being Week 17, the one game QB Ben Roethlisberger didn't play.
1C. Over this span, Johnson averaged 12.3 targets, 83.0 yards, 19.6 XFP, and 19.4 FPG. If extrapolated over the full season, those numbers would have ranked best (+1.7 more than next-closest), 8th-, 2nd-, and 4th-best among wide receivers.
Johnson was mispriced in drafts all summer, as just a low-end WR2. But he’s a fringe-WR1 this week. Yes, the matchup is tough on paper, but only on paper. Look for Buffalo to shut down Chase Claypool, but for Johnson to feast in the short to intermediate levels of the field — his bread and butter — against a Sean McDermott defense that always shuts down the deep passing game and funnels volume closer to the line of scrimmage. (SB)
Start: Brandon Aiyuk at Lions
This is an absolute smash spot for the 49ers as a whole, but whether or not the passing game really goes off depends on how much they’ll have to throw the ball against the undermanned Lions. It also remains to be seen just how the target distribution will play out here between Aiyuk, George Kittle, and Deebo Samuel — but you have to be willing to go to the well with Aiyuk as a high-end WR2 in what might be one of his best matchups of the season. Aiyuk might only need 6-7 targets to go off here. The Lions did little to improve in the secondary this offseason after permitting the second-most yards to receivers (206.3) and giving up over 20 fantasy points to an individual wideout in 11-of-16 games last year. (GB)
Sit: Allen Robinson vs. Rams
Robinson isn’t quite a “bench”, but he is in line for a significant downgrade. There’s the Andy Dalton Effect, of course, but the major concern is Jalen Ramsey — the league’s No. 1 cornerback — shadowing Robinson. Historically, that means we should be shaving off about 40% from Robinson’s FPG average. Still, Robinson can always make up some ground working out of the slot (which, we’ve heard, he’ll be doing a lot more of this year), and so, he shouldn’t be benched outside of 4-team leagues. (SB)
Start: Marquez Callaway vs. Packers
This preseason, Callaway turned 9 targets (23 routes run) into 8 catches for 165 yards and 2 scores. Of 288-qualifying WRs, he ranked first in both PFF grade (95.9) and YPRR (7.17).
Callaway, a Greg Cosell-favorite, a training camp darling, and New Orleans’ likely No. 1 receiver with Michael Thomas out, has since vaulted up fantasy draft boards. By ADP, he’s now the WR43, though that may still be too low. With Thomas out and TE Adam Trautman still at least a little banged up, we like him this week as a low-end WR3.
On paper, the matchup is fairly tough, but it’s also not insurmountably bad. Jaire Alexander hasn’t shadowed since Week 7 of last season, and this game offers massive shootout-potential — 49-point over/under, Green Bay only favored by 4.5. (SB)
Start: Jakobi Meyers vs. Dolphins / Elijah Moore at Panthers
If you listened to us this offseason, you probably have a lot of Meyers and Moore on your rosters. But do you start them this week? Well, it depends on your roster. We like Meyers as a borderline WR3 and Moore as a high-end WR5. Although the matchup isn’t ideal, Meyers gets a massive boost from Mac Jones replacing Cam Newton (explained in more detail here). And, although I’m personally a lot higher on Moore this week, I get the ranking, and probably won’t be starting him on too many of my — totally stacked (humble brag) — teams. But because he’s minimum priced on DraftKings, I will have a lot of money riding on him this week, and I will be getting my exposure to him that way. (SB)
Start: Marvin Jones at Texans
After trading away CB Bradley Roby, the Texans now sport arguably the worst outside CB duo in the NFL. Desmond King is a little more competent in the slot, but Terrance Mitchell and Vernon Hargreaves III (on the outside) have long been weekly targets for DFS players. In this matchup, look for Jones to pick up right where he left off in the preseason, as Trevor Lawrence’s favorite target. DJ Chark may one day regain his WR1-status, but, I suspect, not for a while, as he’s missed almost all of the preseason and QB-rapport isn’t something that happens overnight. But Lawrence has already shown a great deal of trust and rapport in Jones, who averaged an impressive 4.04 YPRR (5th-best) and 0.49 targets per route (6th-best) this preseason. He’s a high-end WR4 this week. (SB)
Start: Michael Pittman vs. Seahawks
With T.Y. Hilton (neck) sidelined indefinitely and Parris Campbell (Achilles) nursing another injury, second-year receiver Pittman gets his chance to take over as the alpha receiver in Week 1. The Colts ideally want to run the ball and “hide” Carson Wentz in his first start in Indy, but might not be able to if Russell Wilson and the Seahawks push the scoring pace. Seattle is a 4.5-point favorite over Indianapolis. If the Colts are trailing, Pittman has underrated upside as a volume-based WR3 in what was a matchup we were attacking all of last season. The Seahawks secondary coughed up the most receptions (17.7) and the third-most fantasy points (43.3) per game to wideouts last season. (GB)
Sit: Ja’Marr Chase vs. Vikings
Chase is a stud, no doubt. He feels like an inevitability. He’s going to take the league by storm at some point, maybe even this season. But I have a hard time imagining that happening in Week 1. Chase looked rusty in the preseason, after sitting out the entirety of his 2020 season, dropping 4 of his 5 total targets. And though the Vikings may look like a favorable matchup on paper (looking at last year’s numbers), they have an entirely revamped secondary which ranks 16th-best (projected) after a bottom-10 finish last year. And, so, he’s just a fringe-WR4 this week. (SB)
Start: Kyle Pitts vs. Eagles
It’s his first ever NFL game, after being kept under wraps for much of the preseason. Sure, but if you drafted him at his ADP, I don’t know how you don’t start him. And good news! This week’s matchup is very favorable — Philadelphia gave up 8th-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing TEs last year (+1.8). Although Calvin Ridley should get the better of Darius Slay, that’s still a matchup that’s more difficult than not, and could help push more volume towards Pitts. (SB)
Start: Tyler Higbee vs. Bears
Higbee was my favorite late-round tight end target all summer and gets a great matchup out of the gates to get rolling quickly with a Bears secondary and linebacking group that gave up the second-most FPG (17.8) and the third-most TDs (12) to the position last year. While many ignored it, Higbee was simply road-blocked by Gerald Everett last year as the duo split targets 65 to 57 (in favor of Higbee) across their 17 games played together in the regular season and playoffs. With a quarterback upgrade in Matthew Stafford, a more pass-heavy gameplan, and the starting role all to himself — Higbee is an exciting low-end TE1 on Sunday Night Football. (GB)
Sit: None of note. Every TE in our top-15 is in play for shallow leagues.
Start: Austin Hooper at Chiefs
We like Hooper this week as a fringe-TE1. Kansas City struggled against TEs last season, ranking 7th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to the position (+1.8). But really, we’re just excited about all of the fantasy potential in this game, which sports the highest over/under of the week (54.5, +2.5 more then next-closest). (SB)
Sit: Jared Cook at Washington
Until we see how the Chargers tight end usage shakes out in Week 1 between Cook and Donald Parham, neither tight end is trustworthy in fantasy. Cook played in a part-time role with the Saints and will likely carry that over with his new team, especially considering he followed Joe Lombardi from New Orleans to L.A. Plus, this matchup isn’t great! Washington permitted the fifth-fewest yards per game to tight ends last year and gave up 5 or more receptions to a single TE just four times. (GB)