Fantasy Football Predictions
It has been said in many walks of life that fortune favors the bold, and I have found this to most certainly be true in fantasy football. Whether it’s season-long leagues or DFS tournaments, it’s rare for winning teams not to take risks, either out of necessity or in order to gain a strategic advantage.
In 2018, Gridiron Experts will be offering a handful of bold predictions before each week of the fantasy football season. These projections are meant to highlight sleepers and lesser-owned players who could put you over the top in a given week, or guide you toward fading a popular fantasy option who is poised to disappoint. Questions about our bold predictions or your own weekly lineups are encouraged and appreciated via the comments section or on Twitter.
And with that, here are 9 bold fantasy football predictions for week one of the 2018 season.
1. James Conner will be a bust filling in for Le’Veon Bell
It’s becoming increasingly unlikely that Bell will play in Week 1, as his holdout has extended beyond Labor Day and into the Steelers practice schedule ahead of Sunday’s game against Cleveland. Bell’s potential absence has fantasy owners rushing to waiver wires to pick up Conner and insert him into starting lineups this weekend. And while I’m on board with him as a player to add, I expect Conner to struggle against an underrated Browns defensive front that allowed just 3.4 yards per carry (second-best in the NFL) and a league-best 0.88 yards before contact in 2017. Conner will get his touches if he’s filling in for Bell, but I’m expecting this game to be mostly in the hands of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, leaving those that started Conner in fantasy very disappointed.
2. Danny Amendola will be a WR3 in PPR formats this week
Going from Tom Brady to Ryan Tannehill as your quarterback is a downgrade to say the least. But the Dolphins brought Amendola in to fill some of the void left by the departure of Jarvis Landry, and the team is painfully thin at wide receiver in general. With DeVante Parker struggling to get back on the field after a broken finger in mid-August, Amendola and Kenny Stills should see a heavy target volume in Week 1, with the former-Patriot likely to step into Landry’s slot-receiver role. While he may not match the more than 10 targets per game Landry saw in 2017 – tied for third-most among all NFL wide receivers – Amendola reportedly established chemistry with Tannehill this summer and draws a potentially favorable matchup with a Titans defense that ranked in the bottom-10 of the league last season in receptions allowed to opposing wide receivers.
3. Andy Dalton will outscore 15 quarterbacks selected ahead of him in 2018 drafts
Dalton generally fell in the QB25 range in fantasy drafts this year following a disappointing 2017 that saw the lowest completion percentage since his rookie season in 2011. But Dalton was a fantasy QB1 just two years ago and still has a talented receiving corp with A.J. Green, emerging second-year receiver John Ross, and healthy-for-the-time-being Tyler Eifert. The Colts gave up the sixth-most passing yards to opposing quarterbacks last season and figure to have one of the more susceptible secondaries in 2018, making them a defense to potentially exploit this year. With tough matchups for guys like Matt Ryan, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Patrick Mahomes, Dalton looks like a top 10-12 fantasy quarterback in Week 1 despite his relatively-low draft position.
4. Tyreek Hill will be a Week 1 bust
Hill racked up 1,183 receiving yards and caught seven touchdowns during a breakout campaign for Kansas City’s offense in 2017, and the move from Alex Smith to big-armed Patrick Mahomes at quarterback this year has a lot of fantasy owners mesmerized by what Hill might do in his third NFL season. But let’s pump the breaks on that a little, at least for Week 1. Hill ranked just 22nd in wide receiver targets last year and was rarely utilized in the redzone, reducing the likelihood that he matches his 2017 statistics. And his target share could be further reduced by the arrival of Sammy Watkins and the continued presence of Travis Kelce. But the thing that cinches Hill’s bust status for me this week is a matchup on the road against a Chargers team that boasts premier edge rushers in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, and one of the deepest groups of cornerbacks in the league, even after a season-ending injury to Jason Verrett. Hill is always one play away from making a big fantasy impact, but with Mahomes likely to be under duress and a talented group of corners to contend with, I think it’s more likely that Hill flops in his 2018 debut.
5. Ben Watson will be a top-12 fantasy tight end
I’ve been hyping Watson as a cheap TE1 all summer and I’m not backing away from that assessment in Week 1. The Coby Fleener experiment of the last two years was a failure in New Orleans, but from 2011 to 2015 the Saints were consistently generating top-10 fantasy tight ends. Watson himself was among those players when he last played with Drew Brees in 2015, collecting 74 receptions for 825 yards and six touchdowns. After quietly leading the Ravens in receptions a year ago, Watson will be part of a considerably better offense in New Orleans this season and should get off to a quick start against a Buccaneers team that ranked last in the league in defending the pass in 2017. With Mark Ingram serving a four-game suspension to start the season, look for Watson to be among the players that picks up the slack near the goal line, further solidifying his spot as a top fantasy option at the tight end position.
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6. Keelan Cole will be a WR2 this week
Following a season-ending knee injury to Marqise Lee in the preseason, Cole is poised to assume the role of Jacksonville’s top pass-catcher in 2018. He already led the team in receiving yards as a rookie last season and was slated to start alongside Lee entering his sophomore campaign. The 23 catches for 475 yards and three touchdowns that Cole flashed across five December games last season demonstrates his ability, and the increased volume Cole should see with Lee sidelined should vault him into fantasy lineups when the matchup is right. Facing a Giants defense that gave up the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers in 2017, with the second-most passing yards allowed per game in the NFL and a league-leading 32 touchdowns ceded through the air, this Sunday’s season-opener qualifies as one of those attractive matchups.
7. Evan Engram belongs on fantasy benches to start the season
On the opposite side of the aforementioned Jaguars/Giants game, Engram enters 2018 off of an impressive rookie season a year ago. Only Travis Kelce saw more tight end targets than Engram last season, contributing to a top-five finish at his position and making Engram a desired commodity in fantasy drafts this summer. But Engram’s breakout year came as the Giants top-three receiving options (Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Brandon Marshall) missed a combined 28 games with injury, leaving the rookie as the last man standing and subsequent target hog.
The return of Beckham and Shepard this season, along with the addition of rookie phenom Saquon Barkley in the backfield should dramatically cut into Engram’s opportunities in 2018. A matchup with Jacksonville’s league-leading pass defense from a year ago cements for me Engram’s place on fantasy benches in Week 1.
8. Kyle Juszczyk will be the top-scoring 49ers running back this week
In the wake of the season-ending injury to Jerick McKinnon, fantasy owners have been rushing to draft or add Alfred Morris and Matt Breida. But a Week 1 matchup against a Vikings defense that allowed the fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs in 2017 should temper expectations for the more popular options in the San Francisco backfield. Meanwhile, Juszczyk racked up 17 receptions for 195 yards in the five games Jimmy Garoppolo started to end 2018 and he should step in as the pass-catching back for the 49ers to start the year. Morris has just 57 receptions in six NFL seasons and while many seem to assume Breida will be the third-down back, he only caught 22 passes over three seasons at Georgia Southern. I’m expecting Juszczyk’s activity in the passing game to make him the top-scoring fantasy option among San Francisco’s running backs this week, which also puts him on the radar as a sneaky DFS play.
9. Jacksonville’s defense is merely a fringe fantasy play
The Jaguars have a terrific real-life NFL defense and that translated to the number-one fantasy unit in 2017. But Jacksonville’s year-end numbers were propped up at least in part by huge fantasy days against teams like Houston, Cleveland, and the Jets, which helped to overshadow lackluster or even poor fantasy scoring in other weeks. Because at the end of the day, fantasy output from your defense and special teams is as much about the matchup as it is personal. And the Jaguars’ Week 1 matchup doesn’t excite me, as Jalen Ramsey and company travel to New York for a date with a re-tooled Giants lineup that includes Saquon Barkley, a healthy Odell Beckham, and a cast of nice supporting pieces. Given this less-than-optimal pairing to start the season (as well as some particularly favorable matchups for other teams), there are at least five or six fantasy defenses that I’m easily ranking ahead of Jacksonville this week and it won’t surprise me at all if the Jaguars end up in the D/ST 10-15 range.
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Good Luck This Week!