Fantasy Football Sleepers Week 1
I don’t know about you, but it feels like the 2019 offseason flew by. I seriously can’t believe the regular football season is just days away, which means the fantasy football campaign is set to begin as well. And you can’t effectively play fantasy football without reading my fantasy sleepers column — I’ve been told — which is why you are here for the third consecutive year of me writing it here at Gridiron Experts.
While it is Week 1, you may still have to use sleepers in your lineups, especially if you are an Ezekiel Elliott or a Melvin Gordon owner, or an owner of a player in a tough Week 1 matchup that you want to avoid — see Baker Mayfield against the Titans.
In my column, you will find players with a low-start-percentage at ESPN, some of which, who can be picked up off the waiver wire or you may have stashed on your bench for a rainy day. You won’t find the obvious starters. This way, you know the right players to pivot to if you are in a jam. Last-minute injury-inactive? I got you covered too. I write my column ready for a Friday publish so I can have the latest injury updates ready and waiting for you to get the most up-to-date and relevant information you need to set a winning lineup.
Now without further adieux, here are my 2019 Fantasy Football Sleepers for Week 1.
Disclaimer: This is where you will normally find my weekly full-disclosure. A weekly disclosure is a breakdown of the top overall fantasy producers from the week that was as well as the point totals of my sleeper picks. This way, we can keep track of my success as well as my shortcomings. What can I say, I try to keep it as real as I can. You can find an example of what this will look like here.
Don’t enter Week 1 wondering who the top players to insert into your fantasy football lineups are. Dive into Mike Hauff’s Week 1 Start/ Sit column right here.
Week 1 QB Fantasy Sleepers
ESPN Start-Percentage: 4.9
We haven’t seen much of Jimmy Garoppolo lately. However, in the nine games the oft-injured signal-caller has played in for the 49ers, he’s looked the part — omitting the 2019 preseason. In the 2019 season opener, Garoppolo will get one of his easiest matchups of the year in the form of the Buccaneers, who surrendered the fifth-most points to quarterbacks in 2018. And while you shouldn’t put much stock into the last campaign, the Buccaneers didn’t exactly do very much to help their cause.
While they landed Ndamukong Suh in free agency, they also lost Kwon Alexander to the 49ers. Pair that with the fact that Jason Pierre-Paul will miss the first six games of the year — at least — with a neck injury, and you can safely assume Tampa Bay’s defense will once again be a train wreck, which is great for their fantasy football adversaries, but no so much for their fan base or Bruce Arians.
Garoppolo will face a Buccaneers defense that is coming off of a dismal showing in 2018, especially when it comes to containing the opposing passing attack. They yielded the most yards (5,125), yards/ game (320.3) and the third-most touchdowns through the air (36). Garoppolo and his cast of weapons that include Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin, George Kittle and a pair of capable pass-catching backs should slice and dice Tampa’s defensive backfield.
ESPN Start-Percentage: 20.7
While most scoff at the notion that Jameis Winston is a sleeper, he is only being statted in 20.7 percent of leagues hosted at ESPN. So there’s that.
Similar to how I feel about Garoppolo in the blurb above, Winston will open the year with a cake matchup in the form of the 49ers in the same damn game, which is primed to be a high-scoring affair. San Francisco’s defense is another one that was over-giving to opposing quarterbacks in 2018, surrendering the eighth-most fantasy points to the position. And while they made personnel moves to improve their defensive unit, adding Kwon Alexander, Nick Bosa, Dee Ford to bolster their pass-rush, their secondary looks very much the same led by an aging, but reportedly resurged Richard Sherman. Despite the additions, the Buccaneers should be chasing points due to their defunct defense, which means Winston will be dropping back a ton. Additional opportunities lead to additional fantasy points because garbage time matters.
While the Buccaneers lost Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson this offseason, I believe their passing attack will be even stronger this season with Chris Godwin sliding into a prominent starting role for the first time in his young career. Pair that with the fact that O.J. Howard is healthy — and I didn’t even mention Mike Evans yet — and the Buccaneers could be one of the most deadly passing offenses in the NFL in 2019, especially with Bruce Arians roaming the sidelines. Winston also has history on his side in this one. In two career games against the 49ers, he’s thrown for a combined 581 yards, five TDs and a pick with at least 25.4 fantasy points in each outing. Unless you have a top-end QB option on your roster, you’re starting Winston in Week 1.
Week 1 RB Fantasy Sleepers
ESPN Start-Percentage: 30.8
I’ll admit, I didn’t gush over the Duke johnson trade to Houston, especially after his ADP sky-rocketed following the Lamar Miller season-ending preseason knee injury. However, in the season opener, I can’t deny the fact that he has an outstanding matchup in New Orleans. In a primetime spot in the early game on the Monday night slate, the Texans at Saints matchup has an over/ under of 52.5 points. While this will be a shootout with a ton of passing, I very much expect the Texans to trail at some point early, which means Johnson could be busy as a receiver out of the backfield.
One of the most efficient backs in the game on a yards per touch basis in the past two seasons, Johnson could break a big play at any moment. However, even if that doesn’t happen, Johnson should still compile enough opportunities, which translates to receptions and yards to garner RB2 upside in any type of points per reception scoring format. While the Saints were a top-five unit in fantasy production surrendered to running backs last season, I’m banking on Johnson to do his damage as a receiver more so than your every-down back.
ESPN Start-Percentage: 30.7
If you cant tell, I love the 49ers at Buccaneers matchup for fantasy this week. A pair of suspect defenses and a 50.5 over/ under… can you blame me? I understand that Matt Breida appearing as the RB1 on the 49ers’ depth chart may have spooked some of Coleman’s fantasy owners, but I believe that there will be enough production to go around for both backs to thrive, especially in a projected high-scoring matchup like the one we will enjoy in Week 1.
While the Buccaneers have a pair of run-stuffers across the interior of their defensive front in the form of Vita Vea and the aforementioned Suh, San Francisco’s offensive line is entering the year ranked 15th by Pro Football Focus with room to improve. Not to mention the fact that the 49ers front-five were the 10th most efficient run-blocking unit in the NFL in 2018. I expect the 49ers’ line to dominate on Sunday, which translates to gaping holes for Coleman to run through. Oh yea, Coleman is outstanding as a receiver as well and is already familiar with Kyle Shanahan’s system from their days together in the ATL.
What’s more, in his last four games against the Buccaneers while still a member of the Falcons, Coleman has scored double-digit fantasy points with a 10.1-point floor. Despite the RB2 nod on the depth chart, I’m confidently starting Coleman in Week 1, especially if I was still considering putting Tony Pollard in my lineup in the wake of the Ezekiel Elliott signing. Don’t risk it!
Week 1 WR Fantasy Sleepers
ESPN Start-Percentage: 27.6
It is time to roll out Dede Westbrook, who is poised for his breakout season. Only being started in 27.6 of fantasy leagues at ESPN this week with a phenomenal home matchup with the Chiefs, Westbrook is looking like a no-brainer. Not only is he getting a significant boost in quarterback play going from Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler to Nick Foles, but his new signall caller targeted him on seven of his 10 preseason throws with the remaining three going in Leonard Fournette’s direction.
While I expect Jacksonville to be an improved team in 2019 on either side of the ball, I am worried about their fortunes in the season opener. After all, it’s the Chiefs, it’s Patrick Mahomes, it’s going to be a tough out. In the event the Jaguars are trailing — and I fully expect them to — Westbrook will be targeted in the slot early and often. Facing a Kansas City defense that surrendered the third-most yards passing (4,955) and the most touchdowns passing (50) in 2018, Westbrook should start the new year fast with a strong Week 1 outing.
ESPN Start-Percentage: 11.7
My second time attacking this Monday night matchup — see the Duke Johnson blurb above — I will once again err on the side of Houston. This time in the form of Will Fuller. While he is oft-injured, Fuller is absolute money when he is active and healthy. Although he is coming off of an ACL injury, he is expected to open the season in his “normal” role. Whatever that means — you have to love coachspeak — Fuller has scored 11 touchdowns in his last 16 games. Add that with the fact that he is getting a Saints defense that was smoked for the most fantasy points allowed to wide receivers position last season, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Fuller broke open the Saints secondary for a big Week 1 score, especially taking in consideration that DeAndre Hopkins will draw Marshon Lattimore in coverage leaving the big-play threat to feast on Eli Apple.
Week 1 TE Fantasy Sleepers
ESPN Start-Percentage: 14.3
There are a lot of good things to say about Lamar Jackson. However, when it comes to his passing efficiency, the jury is still out. And while Jackson is surrounded by underwhelming, relatively unknown or unproven pass-catching assets at receiver that includes Miles Boykin, Marquise Brown, Chris Moore, Seth Roberts, and the pseudo-, Willie Snead, it is not a stretch to say his most reliable option remains TE Mark Andrews.
While Andrews finished his 2018 rookie campaign as the TE16, he was the TE10 from Weeks 11-17. The significance? Lamar Jackson took over as the Ravens’ QB1 in Week 11 and Andrews was easily his most-reliable pass-catcher, a trend that should continue into 2019. Facing a Dolphins defense that has surrendered the ninth-most fantasy points to tight ends last season and more or less gutted their defense — okay you got me, their entire team including their longtime long-snapper — I like Andrews’ odds to reach double-digit PPR points in Week 1.
ESPN Start-Percentage: 3.2
I am all-in on my guy, my Cowboy, Jason Witten in Week 1. Why? he is playing the Giants. In 31 career games, Witten has absolutely dismembered New York, compiling a 161/1,649/15 stat line and an 8.2 FPPG average. What’s more, in his last two games against the Giants with Dak Prescott under center dating back to 2017, Witten combined for an 8/79/2 line, scoring in each outing.
While I understand that Witten was in the ESPN Monday Night Football booth a year ago, he is still the best tight end on the Cowboys’ roster. And after Blake Jarwin dropped seven receptions for 119 yards and a hat trick of scores on the Giants in Week 17 of last season, it is clear that the Giants have glaring issues stopping Dallas tight ends no matter who is out there. With the possibility of a pitch count for Ezekiel Elliott, his usage in the red one comes into question. It wouldn’t shock me to see a play-action pass to Witten for a touchdown in Week 1. In fact, I might even bet that. Witten comes out of retirement, goes for double-digit PPR points and scores in his first game back? You heard it here first.
Two Week 1 Sleepers In Case You’re Desperate
ESPN Start-Percentage: 3.8
Why not one more from my favorite fantasy matchup of the week for good measure right? Dante Pettis is only being started in 3.8 percent of fantasy leagues at ESPN and he is the 49ers’ WR1. While Marquise Goodwin has an existing rapport with Jimmy Garoppolo, let’s not forget that Pettis had a short fling with the QB1 pre-injury in 2018. Yes, Pettis shined with Nick Mullens under center, but in last year’s season opener, the second-year wideout caught 2-of-5 Garoppolo targets for 61 yards and a score in a loss to the Vikings. The Tampa Bay secondary is clearly not Minnesota’s.
Although there were reports this offseason suggesting that Pettis needed work and wasn’t a lock to open the year as the WR1, I said it all along on the FF Faceoff Podcast that it was just coach speak. Pettis is a top route-runner in the league and appears to be the real deal. Likely facing one of Vernon Hargreaves or Carlton Davis in coverage, Pettis should start the year with a big road outing in Tampa Bay.
ESPN Start-Percentage: 0.7
If you really want a dart-throw with touchdown upside, C.J. Anderson is your guy. While Kerryon Johnson is fully expected to take on a greater portion of the workload this season, I don’t think Anderson will be completely non-existent. In fact, the veteran rusher has touchdown vulture written all over him and it will begin in a favorable Week 1 encounter with the Cardinals, whose defense surrendered the most fantasy production to opposing backs in 2018. And while their front seven could be improved in the wake of the Terrell Suggs and Jordan Hicks acquisitions this offseason, I don’t think it will be enough to offset a Lions’ offense that is showing signs that it wants to convert to a more run-first base and take the pressure off of Matthew Stafford. Anderson finds the end zone in Week 1 much to the dismay of Kerryon Johnson fantasy owners.