They say love makes the world go round, but here in America, football is probably more accurate. With opening kickoff for the regular season still a few months away, social media is already flooded with NFL content, banter, takes and analysis. Even though the NFL season ends in February, the interest in the sport stretches year-round.
In this Way Too Early edition of Week 1 NFL analysis, a group of the industry’s finest were kind enough to assist in analyzing the slate that is so close yet so far. It’s never too early to start talking football and this article is a prime example. First, here are a few players I will be targeting in the opening week of the NFL season:
Derek Carr – Did you know that the team whose offensive line grades the best in terms of average grade per starter is not the Dallas Cowboys (per Pro Football Focus)? With the addition of Kelechi Osemele, replacing the weak link J’Marcus Webb, the Raiders now have the most balanced offensive line in all of football. While Derek Carr already was equipped with solid assets in both the backfield (Latavius Murray) and in the passing attack (Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Clive Walford), the protection has now been furthered assured as well. The combination of all those factors equals a scary proposition for opposing defenses and could be the perfect elixir for Carr to take the next step this season. Last season, only the Giants allowed more passing yards than the Saints, as the Saints were just toast as a defense in all aspects. Sure Delvin Breaux is an imposing force at cornerback (CB) but the Saints secondary is still susceptible overall. With the team slated to start on the road in the Superdome, this game projects as a shootout. Choosing which pass catcher will go off is a bit of a toss-up at this point but Carr sure feels like a player who will exceed value from the get-go.
Duke Johnson – Isaiah Crowell certainly didn’t help his cause by posting an inflammatory post on Facebook that he was inevitably forced to apologize for. Prior to the post, Duke Johnson was already the leader in the clubhouse to finish first among Browns backs in touches. In fact, ESPN reporter Pat McManamon recently reported the plan was to use him as a workhorse last season before he succumbed to injuries. Although there is a different regime this season, Head Coach Hue Jackson has already praised Johnson, and the run game coordinator Kirby Wilson called Johnson “an ultimate weapon.” Johnson caught 61 passes last year so his game pretty clearly translates better to FantasyDraft (PPR format) than Crowell’s. When all said and done, Johnson should be carrying the load for this backfield, and the progression should start Week 1 in Philadelphia. The Eagles not only allowed the 10th most rushing TDs last season but they ranked middle of the pack in terms of DVOA allowed to opposing running backs (RBs) in the passing game. Johnson has an excellent chance to score and rack up receptions with new quarterback (QB) Robert Griffin III creating a diversion for him with his legs.
Kevin White – My favorite wide receiver (WR) breakout candidate this season is Kevin White for a plethora of reasons. First, he’s incredibly talented and was considered the best receiver from the 2015 class…even over Amari Cooper. Next, the loss of Martellus Bennett opens up a gigantic need for a second option in the passing game beyond Alshon Jeffery. Finally, Jeffery’s health isn’t exactly a staple so White could emerge as the top option at any point if the track record holds true. In 2014, Jay Cutler threw a career-high 28 touchdowns (TDs) when he possessed the twin towers of Jeffery and Brandon Marshall in the passing game. Fortunately for White, the Texans only possess one upper-echelon CB and he’ll likely focus on the proven commodity (Jeffery). Therefore, White will match up against a very average talent (probably Kevin Johnson) with average safeties over the top. Week 1 is the time to get ahead of the curve on White because it won’t be long until everyone knows his name and considers him on a weekly basis.
…and additional, fantastic analysis with a little help from my friends (by position):
Kype Soppe of ESPN.com – Matt Ryan – Listen, I get it. Not a sexy pick. ESPN has him ranked outside their Top 20 in QBs this season, but that’s the beauty of DFS. With Aaron Rodgers in a plus matchup, Russell Wilson/Drew Brees at home, and a battle of NFC East QBs in Dallas, I have a hard time seeing Ryan’s ownership reflecting how well he projects in this spot. In his last three home games against the Bucs, Matty Ice is completing over 82-percent of his passes and averaging nearly 320 yards through the air. Volume is never an issue for the Falcons signal-caller (second most completions over the last four seasons) and while the Bucs focused on the defensive side of the ball in the draft, it is hard to imagine them immediately curing their issues in defending WR1s. This is a great spot for Julio Jones and I’ll take my chances on that meaning strong value for Ryan in Week 1 in all of my tournament lineups.
Jake Ciely of FNTSY Sports Network – Lamar Miller – When looking at the first week of the season, I want to lean towards the home teams. It’s a fresh start with several assumptions made, and home teams tend to perform better. I see a golden opportunity in Houston, specifically in the backfield. Lamar Miller was Top 10 in fantasy points per touch for both standard and PPR scoring. Gone is the misuse we saw in Miami. Miller should see 20 touches per game, and the Bears defense was by far the worst against the run last year. They’ve made a few changes but not enough to stop Miller from being a top-end play in Week 1.
Chris Mitchell of RotoExperts – Doug Martin – The Atlanta Falcons are a unique opportunity in Week 1 of the DFS season because their defensive struggles haven’t been so much between the twenties, but inside the red zone. The Falcons ranked 19th (aka 12th worst) in rushing yards allowed and dead last in rushing TDs allowed in both 2014 and 2015 and that is why I love Doug Martin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1. The Bucs finished fifth in the NFL in rushing yards per game in 2015 and Martin had five TDs and four 100-plus yard rushing games. Combine a good RB with a team like the Falcons that say “OLAY” in the red zone and you have yourself one of the DFS plays of the week.
Evan Cheney of Daily Fantasy Bootcamp – Amari Cooper – After a rookie year that left us excited for this season, I expect Amari Cooper to have a field day week one against the New Orleans Saints. After doing absolutely nothing to bolster a historically bad secondary (and defense all around), they are setting themselves up for disaster against the young and improving Oakland Raiders. Cooper is a deep threat that can and will shred a team like the New Orleans Saints apart. If you aren’t stacking Cooper and Derek Carr Week 1, then you are saying no to winning tournaments in the first week of the NFL season.
Joe Pisapia of Fantasy Football Black Book – Tavon Austin – When you’re looking at WR3 or even a FLEX in DFS week one, look no further than Tavon Austin. He’s a dual threat out of the backfield and in the slot. The 49ers are still in rebuild mode and Chip Kelly has never been a defensive-minded coach. Expect Austin to find the end zone Week 1 with an opportunity to rip off a big gain or two.
Shane Barnard of FanVice – Travis Kelce – I know, I know, Andy Reid… I’m willing to risk Andy’s antics though because “Zeus” is just too talented. To Reid’s credit, he was one of the best in the league last year in creating mismatches for his tight ends. The problem was they simply didn’t feed Kelce enough. This is the year that finally changes. With a reality dating show behind him, a new contract in hand, and a QB and coach that, hopefully, finally realize they need to feed him, I expect Kelce to go bananas Week 1 in a plus matchup against the San Diego Chargers!