Fantasy Football Predictions
The first week of the NFL season is always a tricky one since we are making a lot of assumptions about how players will be used, offensive strategy, and defensive capabilities. Not surprisingly, my bold predictions from last week were a mixed bag of successes and failures. I nailed Ben Watson as a TE1, Kyle Juszczyk as the top-scoring 49ers running back, benching Evan Engram, and the Jacksonville defense as a lackluster fantasy play (the Jags finished just seventh in fantasy points at the position, which was actually buoyed by a fluky tipped-ball interception return for a touchdown). And while Andy Dalton finished just outside of the top-12 among fantasy quarterbacks, he certainly outperformed a number of the guys drafted ahead of him this summer (Watson, Stafford, Ryan, Garoppolo, etc).
Having said that, I think my Week 1 prediction will (rightfully) be remembered for missing badly on James Conner and Tyreek Hill. But hey… we live and we learn. It’s on to Week 2!
The below projections are meant to highlight sleepers and lesser-owned players who could put you over the top in season-long and DFS contests, 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.
1. David Johnson will disappoint fantasy owners
Johnson is a great running back, but this year’s Cardinals offense is a far cry from the Bruce Arians/Carson Palmer-led unit that bolstered DJ’s 2,000-yard, 20 TD season of 2016. Arizona managed just 213 total yards from scrimmage in Week 1 against Washington and has a date with Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and the Rams defense on Sunday. Running behind a terrible offensive line and complemented by a lackluster passing attack, Johnson managed just 37 yards rushing last week (adding another 30 yards receiving) and his prospects aren’t much better in Week 2. Generally a top-five selection in fantasy drafts this summer, owners likely aren’t benching Johnson but expectations need to be adjusted down, particularly in a bad matchup.
2. Josh Doctson is a WR3/Flex play this week
To say Doctson’s NFL career to date has been disappointing is an incredible understatement, and three yards on a single catch in the 2018 opener didn’t do much to improve his fantasy standing. But the former first-round draft pick from 2016 played 70 of 79 offensive snaps on Sunday, leading all Washington receivers in time on the field, and some of his poor Week 1 outing can be attributed to matching up often against Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson. It also didn’t help Doctson that the Redskins easily handled the Cardinals and Alex Smith only attempted 30 passes in the game. Smith projects as a strong fantasy option in Week 2 against a porous Colts secondary and Doctson’s involvement in the passing game should allow him to flourish, particularly in the red zone where he led the team in targets in 2017.
3. Ben Watson is STILL a TE1 for fantasy purposes
Just because I said it last week doesn’t mean it’s not still a bold prediction since Watson remains unowned in more than 60% of ESPN leagues. The Saints clearly don’t want to give Alvin Kamara a ton of carries, so the offense will continue to go predominantly through Drew Brees at least until Mark Ingram returns in Week 5. The target distribution is likely to go Michael Thomas, Kamara, and then everyone else, but with Brees throwing the ball a ton in a potent offense there is plenty of fantasy production to go around. Watson caught all four of his targets last week and draws a favorable matchup on Sunday against a Browns team that has been one of the most generous defenses in the league against opposing tight ends over the last two seasons.
4. Robby Anderson is a fantasy bust
A 41-yard touchdown in Week 1 masked an otherwise ugly outing for Anderson, as he played just 58% of the Jets offensive snaps and was out-targeted not only by Quincy Enunwa but also Terrelle Pryor and Neal Sterling. Part of Anderson’s fantasy success has been his ability to make the big play, as evidenced by seven of his ten career touchdowns covering at least 33 yards. But this year’s Jets offense isn’t likely to take as many down-field shots as last season’s Josh McCown-led aerial attack. Rookie quarterback Sam Darnold played well in his NFL debut in Week 1 but whereas McCown was particularly adept at the long pass, Darnold found most of his success on short routes.
Excluding the one bomb to Anderson, Darnold averaged just 5.6 air yards per attempt against Detroit, which would have placed him in the bottom-five of Week 1 quarterbacks that attempted at least 15 passes. Anderson is therefore likely to be even more boom-or-bust than a year ago and his limited involvement in the passing game tilts the probability in favor of bust.
5. Matthew Stafford is a QB1 in 12-team leagues this week
It doesn’t seem like this is a bold prediction, but rankings across the industry generally have Stafford outside of the top 12 with some even pushing him to the backend QB2 range. This feels like an overreaction. Sure, Stafford looked about as bad as possible in Week 1, with four interceptions and a quarterback rating of 47.9, but there are plenty of reasons to keep the faith. Stafford has been a top-10 fantasy quarterback in six of the last seven seasons, he still has a lot of weapons at his disposal in Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay, and Detroit’s running game remains nonexistent. In Week 2, Stafford should be throwing early and often against a San Francisco pass defense that was terrible last season and gave up 244 yards and two touchdowns on just 20 completions in the 2018 opener. If you paired Stafford with the likes of Patrick Mahomes or Alex Smith, it’s not absurd to bench him. But don’t get carried away and play someone like Tyrod Taylor over Stafford in what should be a bounce-back week.
6. Tom Brady is NOT a QB1 in 12-team leagues this week
I know I just encouraged you to rely on some of Stafford’s history in sticking with him, but now I’m telling you to bench the GOAT?!? Look, these aren’t meant to be lukewarm predictions, and the bold play is to bench Brady. He had a nice Week 1, but was only the ninth best fantasy quarterback and draws a tough matchup in a visit to Jacksonville on Sunday.
The Jaguars boast the best secondary in the NFL, allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in 2017, and just limited the Giants passing game to 224 yards without a touchdown in Week 1. Outside of Rob Gronkowski, Brady’s weapons remain limited to start the season and the Patriots backfield has been banged up, as well. Brady has made a career of elevating the players around him regardless of who they are, but there are a lot of things pointing toward a poor fantasy effort in Week 2.
7. Bilal Powell will put up RB2 numbers in PPR leagues
Isaiah Crowell stole the show in the Jets backfield in Week 1, with a 62-yard touchdown run on his way to 102 yards and two scores against Detroit on Monday night. But Powell actually matched Crowell in snap count and saw more carries, even in a game script that would seem to have favored the running back perceived to be the primary rushing option. Excluding the big run by Crowell, Powell was the more effective runner for New York last week and his ability to outpace Crowell in carries in a blowout victory bodes well for future usage rates. Powell is the clear choice for work in the passing game out of the backfield and if he is going to get a sizeable share of the carries as well, he should be on the fantasy radar for the balance of the season. With the Dolphins giving up over 100 yards rushing and six receptions to running backs in Week 1, this Sunday’s matchup is one to exploit for Powell owners or savvy DFS players.
8. Jimmy Graham belongs on fantasy benches this week
Including his two catches for eight yards in Week 1, Graham has now gone seven consecutive games dating back to last year with Seattle without more than three receptions. The touchdown prowess he has exhibited throughout his career, including ten scores over his last 12 games a year ago, and the fact that he is playing this season with the best quarterback in the game makes Graham a popular name at the fantasy tight end position. Unfortunately, his skill set has diminished considerably in recent years, to the point that Graham is pretty much a touchdown-or-nothing play for fantasy owners. With a Week 2 matchup against a Vikings defense that has given up just three scores to tight ends in its last 20 games including last year’s playoffs, not to mention allowing the fewest fantasy points to the position in 2017, Graham is an easy fantasy sit for me this week. Oh, and let’s not forget that Aaron Rodgers will be less than 100% after suffering a knee injury in Week 1.
9. Devante Parker is going to make a splash in his season debut
It’s risky to bet on a player returning from injury, but Parker got in a full practice on Thursday and is more than a month removed from breaking his finger on August 12. The former first-round draft pick was expected to step into the lead-receiver role in 2018 following the departure of Jarvis Landry, and he should have the opportunity to do just that on Sunday. Landry averaged ten targets per game for the Dolphins last season and that workload was largely absorbed by Danny Amendola and Jakeem Grant in Week 1, with Kenny Stills maintaining almost the exact same target share as his average from a year ago. Assuming Parker takes on a chunk of the 13 targets Amendola and Grant saw last week, he should be positioned to do well against a Jets defense that stifled Detroit’s deep passing game in Week 1 but gave up a lot of catches and yardage on short-to-intermediate routes. At 6’3” and 216 pounds, Parker is Miami’s biggest receiver and gives Ryan Tannehill a different kind of weapon, particularly in the red zone.
Thanks for reading
Self-described fantasy degenerate that has been participating in fantasy sports leagues since the spiral notebook scoring era. If you can make a fantasy league out of it, I’m in.