:: Note: Players in a given tier are not listed in any particular order.
Audio thought on Fournette // Dede, and whether or not they can be paired:
Cam Newton :: Whenever Cam Newton is healthy (and by all accounts, the ankle is not going to be an issue this week), he is one of the safest, highest-upside quarterback plays on the slate. His “clearest path to a poor game” tends to be situations in which the Panthers take an early lead and don’t need to rely on him for as much of the heavy lifting, and with the Rams coming to town, this shouldn’t be an issue. Cam is right in the middle of “optimal build” status for me as we close in on Sunday.
Carson Wentz :: I won’t have much of Wentz myself; but with the Eagles carrying the highest Vegas-implied team total on the slate and Fabian Moreau out for the Redskins, Wentz has a clear path to a high-floor game, with plenty of opportunity for ceiling. Last year, only eight teams allowed fewer rushing touchdowns than Washington, but they were middle-of-the-pack against quarterbacks. With a full stable of explosive weapons, Wentz should have no trouble putting up a solid score in this spot, with enough upside to be considered in all styles of contests.
Lamar Jackson :: The thing likeliest to hold back Jackson in this spot is the simple fact that he may not be needed to do a whole lot against the hapless Dolphins. Miami is shaping up to be a bottom-barrel run defense this season, and even four or five designed runs and three or four scrambles from Lamar would give him enough floor to matter. With an improved backfield and weapons at wide receiver who can score from anywhere on the field, Jackson also has the ceiling for tourneys — especially as John Harbaugh is exactly the type of coach who can be expected to keep the pedal to the metal fairly deep into a game (see last year’s 47-3 deconstruction of the Bills in Week 1 as an example).
Patrick Mahomes :: We aren’t alone in our respect for the Jaguars’ defense, as our advanced odds page shows the game total in this spot dropping by 1.5 points, while the Jags have moved from four point underdogs to three point underdogs. Yet even with that, the Chiefs are expected to be among the highest-scoring teams in the league this weekend, and Mahomes will be the vessel through which this production flows. Generally speaking, I have a “don’t use players against the Jaguars’ defense” rule myself, and I won’t have Mahomes on any core builds this week; but if we play things by-the-book, he belongs in Tier 1 every week, and I wouldn’t argue with you if you were set on playing him here.
Leonard Fournette :: The Jaguars’ depth chart is a black hole behind Fournette, who showed up to camp this year with a renewed focus and a new emphasis on conditioning and preparation. Fournette costs only 12% of the salary cap on FanDuel and 12.2% of the salary cap on DraftKings, and with what is expected to be a three-down role in a matchup that boosts expectations, Fournette comes with a high floor and a high ceiling. Even if the Chiefs jump out to a lead, Fournette will remain involved in both the run game and the pass game.
Saquon Barkley :: Saquon is especially attractive on FanDuel, where he costs only 15.3% of the salary cap (compared to 18% on DraftKings) — yet even on DraftKings, he remains in Tier 1 in this spot. The Giants’ offense right now really consists of only Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard — and Shepard has a difficult matchup against a Cowboys team that allowed the ninth fewest receptions to wide receivers last season, while giving up the fifth most catches to running backs.
Curtis Samuel :: At 9.83% of the salary cap on FanDuel, Samuel isn’t quite as attractive as he is on DraftKings (8.4%), and should probably be moved down to the Tier 1/3 borderline (which is different from Tier 2 — as you know, because you obviously read The Player Grid: Explained). But here we have an underpriced receiver in one of the highest-total games on the Week. Samuel is either the 1a or 1b to D.J. Moore, and he should settle in at around seven to eight targets per game this year on average (with a deeper aDOT than his more fantasy-favored teammate). Unless you just arrived on the site, like, today, you know we love Samuel this year. He carries a strong price-considered floor in this game, and he has outside-shot upside at a truly week-winning score.
Dede Westbrook :: Behind Dede, the Jaguars have a rotation of spare parts including Marqise Lee (barely got cleared in time for the season), Chris Conley (best suited to a gadget-type role) and D.J. Chark (still very raw). New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has raved about Dede’s route-running in camp (remember: DeFilippo coached Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen last year — the best route-running tandem in the NFL), and the Jags want to pass the ball more this season (and will likely have to against the Chiefs). At under 10% of the salary cap on both FanDuel and DraftKings, Dede is one of the safer, higher-upside price-considered plays on the slate.
Chris Godwin :: Chris Godwin is really good; and now he is going to really get to play. It’s fair to give Godwin a 30% shot at outproducing Mike Evans this year, and the gap in price is big enough on FanDuel (Godwin comes at a 12.7% discount) and huge enough on DraftKings (21.5% discount) that I’m comfortable prioritizing Godwin in Tier 1 builds.
Travis Kelce :: The one place where my “no players against the Jags” rule is sometimes broken is at tight end; and with the Chiefs likely to score at least three touchdowns (with potential for four or five), Kelce maintains a high floor and ceiling in this spot. With tight end pricing more condensed on FanDuel than it is on DraftKings, he is especially attractive there; though I wouldn’t fault you for taking him in cash games on either site, and his ceiling is high enough to be used in tourneys all over.
George Kittle :: The Buccaneers don’t really have anyone who can hang with Kittle, and as of Friday night, this game has the highest total on the Main Slate, as it has gone up 1.5 points since it opened, while Chiefs/Jags and Rams/Panthers have trickled down. Kittle should be a focal point, and he carries slate-breaking ceiling. (Though I should note that as his greatest value comes in the YAC department, and “YAC prevention” is one of the few things the Bucs did well last year on defense, I prefer him in tourneys over cash games.)
Evan Engram :: In addition to allowing the fifth most catches to running backs last year, the Cowboys allowed the fourth most catches to tight ends. Pure volume in this spot (he should see at least seven targets) gives Engram plenty of floor; and even with the Giants carrying a fairly low scoring expectation here, Engram has the on-his-own upside to be one of the better point-per-dollar bargains on the slate. With Kelce and Kittle coming at a discount on FanDuel, it’s not as necessary to pull the trigger; but on DraftKings, Engram pops as an extremely strong value play this week — a guy who would go at least 3x salary 70% of the time if we played out this slate a hundred times, and who could hit for 5x+.
Bills Block :: (Josh Allen, John Brown, Cole Beasley || Zay Jones large-field tourney alternate) :: If you didn’t think I was crazy, you’re free to start thinking that now. Individually, these guys are all Tier 3 plays; but if you play them in a three-player block (28.6% of the salary cap on FanDuel; 27% on DraftKings), you give yourself an 80%+ chance of grabbing 2.5x salary on FanDuel and 3x salary on DraftKings; and if we swing to the other side (what will happen 20% or 15% of the time on the high end), you can grab well north of 3.5x/4x (FD/DK), giving yourself a clear path toward the top of the slate. I’m considering these guys to be Tier 3 as isolated plays; but as a block, this group would fail from a salary-considered standpoint less than 10% of the time in this spot, making it attractive for all contest types. (Note: Beasley is my preferred play over Zay Jones, as he’ll be in the slot where Zay had most of his high-target usage last year; I’ll be mixing Zay into some large-field play. If isolating this game and trying to bring back some players from the other side in tourneys, Jamison Crowder and Le’Veon Bell could also be included. I’m likely only playing these two on large-field tournament rosters with Bills (and I won’t have much exposure), but there are paths to one or the other putting up 20+ on FD, 25+ on DK.)
Ravens :: Paying up for high-owned plays at the most volatile position in fantasy is not necessarily “recommended”…and yet, this spot feels similar to last year when the Ravens opened against Nathan Peterman. With pricing flexible this week, I’ll be overexposed to Baltimore in tourneys, and it’s easy enough to use them in cash games without feeling like you’re sacrificing much elsewhere that I expect to end up there myself. The Dolphins had one of the worst lines in football, and then traded Laremy Tunsil. Come on.
Eagles :: The Eagles have one of the strongest defensive lines in the NFL, and the Redskins are without Trent Williams at left tackle, and are starting Ereck Flowers at guard. Flowers played poorly enough in training camp that he would have been cut if Washington had any other options, but here he is: making a doomed transition from tackle to guard, and sure to be targeted all game by Jim Schwartz. Look for the Redskins to open this game trying to slow things down and lean on the run; but if the Eagles jump out to a lead, it will be Case Keenum and the weakest group of weapons in football trying to drop back and play catch-up.
Christian McCaffrey :: I struggled with where to place this one in the Player Grid. CMC’s role always makes him one of the higher-floor plays on a slate, but given the Rams’ ability to tighten up near the goal line (and their very real ability to limit yardage from running backs through the air), McCaffrey didn’t quite feel like a true Tier 1 play at his price. If we played out this slate a hundred times, a slight edge goes to Saquon; but it’s close enough that I don’t mind anyone leaning CMC. There are also ways to fit them together as part of a fairly optimal build.
Cooper Kupp :: Kupp’s Tier 2 placement shouldn’t imply that he has no ceiling (as explored in the NFL Edge, he has paths to a big game). But from a price-considered standpoint, there are simply better ways to target ceiling in tourneys. In cash games, on the other hand, Kupp makes sense as one of the higher-floor plays — especially on DraftKings, where his PPR skill set fits best.
Mike Evans :: This Tier 2 placement is purely price-driven — and on FanDuel, where the highest-priced players take up less of your cap space, I’d be fine sliding him up to Tier 1 — but in order for Evans to be a “slate-winner” at his salary in tourneys, he would need to put up 30+ on DK or 25+ on FD; and in order to do that, he’ll likely need this game to turn into a shootout (as noted in my OWS Collective note on this game). Evans should have a high floor in this game, making him attractive in cash games and smaller-field single-entry play, and his ceiling is obviously high enough that you can make a clear case for him as a Tier 1 option this week.
Jared Goff :: Goff could easily be in Tier 1, as his chances of going for 30+ are as high as any of the quarterbacks listed above. But on the road, traveling west-to-east and taking on a new-look defense that will be tougher to study for, his floor is lower than the Tier 1 plays. Goff is a strong tourney option, though I’m avoiding him in core builds myself.
Todd Gurley :: The Panthers are strongest against the run, and we have questions about Gurley’s workload. But we also have a player who could legitimately post the highest score on the slate. I’m fading Gurley in any contest type where I want to make sure I have safety at “higher-priced running back,” but the upside still makes Gurley attractive in tourneys. (If including Gurley on a roster for smaller-field tourneys, I would pair him with otherwise-safer plays. For example: you could blend some Gurley risk onto a roster that was otherwise primarily Tiers 1 and 2, as the rest of the players would provide enough floor to go with their ceiling, and Gurley would provide additional ceiling boost. In large-field tourneys, Gurley can be blended with additional high-upside risk to find a unique path to the top of the slate.)
Chris Thompson :: Only the Falcons allowed more running back receptions than the Eagles (who have been bottom-three in rush attempts faced in each of the last three years), and Washington should be playing from behind in this one. This is a DK-only play, but in PPR scoring — with Thompson only $3500 — a 12- to 14-point game is reasonable to hope for, and there is at least a 15% chance of Thompson going 6x+.
Dalvin Cook :: I expect that just about anyone else in the industry would put Cook in their Tier 1, so feel free to do the same yourself if you feel comfortable here. Here’s what I’m thinking with the Tier 3 placement :: Although the Vikings have a below-average offensive line, the arrival of Kubiak is enough for me to believe they’ll find a way to get things done this year. The real concern for me is simply that I’m not convinced Cook settles in as more than an 18 to 20 touch player, as Minnesota insisted last year on feeding touches to Latavius Murray, and they drafted Alexander Mattison with apparent intentions of doing the same. You could make a case that Minnesota was just protecting Cook’s knee last year, but I’m not comfortable enough with that to play Cook as a true Tier 1 option myself. The upside is mouthwatering in tourneys…and frankly, with only two running backs in my own Tier 1, I’ll likely end up with someone from this list on my core build. All that to say: I like Cook. And I would be shocked if he were to crater in this game. But there are enough question marks for him to be barely bumped down to Tier 3 for me. Consider him the “highest-ranked” (if you will) Tier 3 play of the group.
Mark Ingram :: I wanted to put Ingram in Tier 2, just because the Ravens are so likely to melt the Dolphins. Ingram is as strong a bet for a touchdown as any running back outside the top tier; but as noted in the NFL Edge: he could also go 2-25 through the air and 65 on the ground. That wouldn’t kill you, of course, but you’d like to do better. He’s Tier 3, but I like the upside in tourneys.
Austin Ekeler :: Ekeler is likely a 60/40 player in this offense, which makes him fundamentally overpriced for his floor. But he had games last year with Melvin Gordon on the field that you would have been happy with at his price, and given his score-from-anywhere skill set in an offense that will get him the ball in space a few times, his ceiling is worth considering.
Brandin Cooks || Robert Woods :: I like the ceiling on each guy. But as we touched on in the Angles Pod, there’s no guarantee that either hits; and if things do go well, it will likely be one or the other who pops. At their price tags, a floor game from either of them this week wouldn’t get it done in cash games; but the ceiling is there for tourneys. (For the reasons laid out in the NFL Edge, I have quite a bit more Cooks exposure than Woods in the MME block I’m in the process of building; but I’d be comfortable with either if you wanted to swing the other way. The margins that favor Cooks here are slim. 55/45ish.)
D.J. Moore :: On FanDuel, Moore and Samuel are practically priced the same, and they really both belong just south of whatever line divides Tier 1 from Tier 3. On DraftKings, Samuel is clearly Tier 1, while Moore is a strong Tier 3. I give Samuel the slight edge in terms of raw points (deeper aDOT and slightly better route running vs Moore’s after-catch ability), but it’s only maybe 55/45 (same as the receivers opposite in this game).
Stefon Diggs :: Diggs’ splits “when on the injury report” vs “when off the injury report” are dramatic; and yet, that isn’t some sort of definitive, scientific proof that his ceiling has disappeared in this spot. There are already ways this game could turn somewhat boring; we know the Vikings would prefer to lean on the run; just add the whole “injury report” situation to the list of items that lower Diggs’ floor. But as we looked at in the NFL Edge: if we’re talking ceiling (and it’s Tier 3, so that’s exactly what we’re talking about), Diggs has potential to break the slate.
Tyreek Hill :: I’ll have less of Hill than I imagine many of you will, as — again — I don’t like taking players against the Jaguars (unless they are elite tight ends; and even then, I remain wary — depending on a variety of other factors). But Hill will literally be on this list every single week for as long as he is healthy and on the field this year. He has not yet proven to have a Tier 1 floor in his career; but in any matchup, he has potential to post the highest score on the slate. That potential is lessened in this spot, but it’s like herpes; it never goes away. (Note: the end of that last sentence is just hilariously off-brand for me; but it made me laugh, so it gets to stay.)
Odell Beckham :: I broke down my thoughts on this spot earlier in the week in my Collective, but to summarize: there is a chance the Browns don’t get fooled by the Titans’ disguises, and they end up having a decently easy time through the air. And there is a chance that this team with a predator mentality and Freddie Kitchens as their coach decides to play with the pedal down. And there is a chance this team tries to get Beckham heavily involved in his first game. And all of that could lead to a big coming-out party. Though…because of all the research-driven reasons we had in the NFL Edge for not being too terribly excited about the Browns’ spread-the-wealth passing attack, this should be sneaky (as in, people shouldn’t be looking for a big OBJ game, and this really should be the alternate angle) — yet early ownership projections from UFCollective indicate this may not at all be the case. (In which case: the leverage play would be to fade OBJ, or go underweight against the field, and hope that the scenario laid out above does not come to pass.) But I’ll have some exposure to Beckham, simply because I sort of like the play; and if Saturday night ownership projections show him as a lower-owned option, I’ll try to make sure I have a little more exposure than the field. To put all that another way: a big game from OBJ is not the likeliest scenario here; so if the field is treating it like the likeliest scenario (i.e., high ownership), the +EV play is to be underweight, or even to fade altogether. But if the field is treating this “less likely” scenario as super unlikely, and Beckham is going under-owned the +EV play is to take the bet that others aren’t taking.
Hunter Henry :: Hunter Henry has more question marks on role and usage than any of the Tier 1 guys; but especially on DraftKings, where he is so much more affordable than Kittle/Kelce and almost $1k cheaper than Engram, his upside is enticing. From a price-considered standpoint on DK, Henry also really pops in the GPP Ceiling Tool this week.
All the rest :: I like both the Bills and the Jets for the turnover potential of the quarterbacks in this game. As noted in the NFL Edge, I don’t think it’s crazy in a tournament to play Allen and the Jets’ defense on the same roster, as point-prevention is such an irrelevant element in DST scoring, and Allen could give up a fumble-six and take four sacks and still have a big game himself. || I like the Browns as an elite unit taking on a really bad offense. They’re Tier 3 because the Titans know they have a bad offense and try to slow down games and play from a shell (which leads to fewer turnover opportunities than we get from bad, aggressive offenses), but this unit, at home, definitely has a shot to force some mistakes.
Bengals // Seahawks :: As I talked about on the Angles Pod this week :: both of these teams want to score. Zac Taylor wants to be aggressive on offense; and while Seattle runs a lot, they run in part to set up deep passing. The Seahawks — run-heavy as they are — played in eight games last year that would have had a shot at being the highest-scoring contest on a slate like this one; and while the loss of A.J. Green from this game lowers the chances of a shootout, we do have the right mix of elements in place: two teams that want to score, and two teams that have at least one player who can score from anywhere on the field. In large-field tourneys, I like Mixon quite a bit for his upside and low ownership (as laid out pretty much everywhere on the site throughout the week); in the Angles Pod, I talked about why I don’t love Carson in more optimal builds, but he’s also strong in large-field play. You can also target the quarterbacks, Tyler Eifert, Damion Willis, John Ross, Tyler Lockett (Lockett has the upside to be played outside of game stacks as well; consider him a solid Tier 3 option), and DK Metcalf. Sure, this game could easily miss. But it has a better shot at a shootout than most will realize, making this spot very +EV in large-field tourneys as part of an MME block.
Ravens // Dolphins :: There is a chance the Ravens fully send this game (for the boys…), playing pinball with the scoreboard from start to finish; and there is a chance that one or even two of Miles Boykin, Marquise Brown, and Mark Andrews have a score you would really want at their respective prices. This is large-field tourney only, but is definitely worth considering in an MME block.
49ers // Buccaneers :: The 49ers spread the ball around too much for me to want their players outside of Kittle in more optimal builds, but if you want to take a shot, at least one of Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Matt Breida, or Tevin Coleman is likely to have a strong price-considered game. Jimmy Garoppolo and Jamies Winston are also in the conversation. If you think this game could really shoot out, either of these guys could outscore all the Tier 1 plays.
Giants // Cowboys :: The Cowboys could just truck the Giants in this spot, and also play Ezekiel Elliott the entire game. If that happens, he could have a shot at blowing past the other running backs. The Cowboys’ defense could also be viable in this spot. Because: Eli.
Lions // Cardinals :: As noted in the NFL Edge, you could play this game as a slow-paced affair that the Lions control, but you could also play it as a shootout. If this game does shoot out, any number of guys could pop off for a big game; and even in isolation — separated from other players from this game — you could target upside individually from Kerryon Johnson, Kenny Golladay, Kyler Murray, or David Johnson. Kerryon and Golladay are solid Tier 3 plays this week; and Kyler and DJ can be considered if you lean toward this game shooting out. (If this game does shoot out, it has enough of the right elements that it could turn into the highest-scoring contest on the slate.)
Hopefully this gives you a great opportunity to compare your thoughts against my own.
Note :: So…FantasyDraft has a rake-free model now, where you essentially pay a membership due, but then all contests are rake-free. That’s pretty cool, as it will save you enormous amounts of money in the long run. But since people don’t really get that, or understand it, most of these huge Week 1 contests they’re running probably won’t fill. I’ve talked to sharp guys who are planning to hammer volume over there this week, so that’s something to consider as a not-inconsiderable edge. (Also: OWS might still have an affiliate partnership with them — in which case, you could help us out by using the code oneweekseason when you sign up. I’m not 100% certain that affiliate partnership is still active, and after a full week of work, I don’t care enough to look. So use the code, or don’t. It may not matter. In any case…)
I’ll see you at the top of the leaderboards this weekend; and I’ll see you on the site next Thursday morning for the Week 2 edition of the NFL Edge!
If playing the Full-Sunday slate on FantasyDraft:
If you watch the games, dig into the numbers, or even just look at the game logs, you’ll notice that the Patriots spread the ball around too much for them to generate many week-winning scores. If looking at this game in regards to the Main Slate, then, nothing stands out; though when week-winning scores do come from the Pats, those are typically through Sony Michel (multi-touchdown games) or James White (via a big workload through the air). With Joe Haden likely to spend plenty of time on Josh Gordon, we could see both Michel and White heavily involved. If you think the Steelers put up points and force the Pats to stay aggressive, White would be the preferred play; if you think the Patriots can control this game, Michel is your better bet. (Each would be considered deeper Tier 3 plays if this game were on the Main Slate.)
On the Steelers’ side, there is nothing I would be looking to play on the Main Slate myself, though in the Patriots’ man-heavy coverage scheme that will look to isolate/neutralize JuJu Smith-Schuster, you could take a shot on the upside of James Washington and feel that you are at least giving yourself a path to a week-winning score. JuJu will have a difficult time exceeding salary-based expectations, and would be unattractive to us on the Main Slate outside of hoping and praying. James Conner is an interesting option, as the Steelers will have to move the ball, and the Pats are generally okay giving up yards on the ground; though New England tightens up significantly against the run near the goal line, which will make it difficult for him to post one of the highest scores on the slate.