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Week 1 Sleepers and Busts: Oh Henry!

We often forget that fantasy football is a weekly game. Sure, preseason rankings and positional tiers are fun when trying to forecast the upcoming season. But essentially, we compete in a series of micro exercises rather than a macro one. The talent disparity between NFL players is razor-thin. Matchups and scheme are often what separates a “start” from a “sit” in any given week. When I posted my Week 1 rankings, I noticed that there were several players I was considerably higher or lower than the Expert Consensus Rankings on. Here are some of the Week 1 sleepers and busts based on the consensus rankings and my rationale for where I have them ranked.

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Week 1 Sleepers: QBs

Jared Goff (My rank: QB6; Expert Consensus Rank: QB12)

The Los Angeles Rams just extended Jared Goff and gave him the most guaranteed money in NFL history. They would not have done this if they did not think he was ready to take his game to the next level. His current level is not too shabby, either. Last season, Goff finished fourth in the NFL in passing yards and was seventh among signal-callers in fantasy points. Los Angeles will likely to scale back Todd Gurley’s workload to some degree this season. I think that Goff and the passing game will benefit. The Rams travel to Carolina to take on the Panthers this in the season opener. Carolina has a solid defense. But the Rams have so many weapons that I think Goff will produce at a high level. I am fully confident that Jared Goff will be an elite fantasy quarterback in Week 1.

Ben Roethlisberger (My rank: QB9; ECR: QB14)

Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers face a tough task when they travel to take on New England. I think Big Ben and company will be out to prove that they can thrive without Antonio Brown and his drama. Expect the Steelers to get their new number-one receiver, Juju Smith-Schuster, in open space. Smith-Schuster lined up in the slot on 62 percent of snaps last year. If that continues, he should avoid cornerback Stephon Gilmore most of the time. Gilmore manned the slot on just 17 percent of plays in 2018. Jason McCourty is no slouch, but he is ten years older than Smith-Schuster. I expect the youngster to win this matchup. I also believe game flow will call upon Pittsburgh to throw the ball quite a bit. It may not be the prettiest or most efficient stat line, but I believe Big Ben will crack the top-10 this week.

Matt Ryan (My rank: QB11; ECR: QB17)

This is another instance where we have a tough road matchup, and I am not in love with the idea of starting Matt Ryan this week. However, there are a couple of reasons I am willing to do so. I do not expect the Falcons to generate much on the ground. They are likely starting two rookies on the right side of their offensive line. Both are talented and should develop nicely but playing on the road in a dome against a talented front four is going to be a bit of baptism by fire. I expect Atlanta to pepper the Vikings with short passes to try to move the chains when the running game fails them. Julio Jones also has an outstanding matchup against Xavier Rhodes. As is the case with Roethlisberger, I think Ryan will do just enough to be considered starter worthy in this game.

Week 1 Busts: QB

Lamar Jackson (My rank: QB13, ECR: QB8)

I do not think it is a mistake to start Lamar Jackson this week by any means. Miami has a terrible defense and Jackson’s rushing ability raises both his floor and ceiling. I just think that his rushing numbers will not be as prolific as they were last year. Jackson averaged 17 carries over his seven starts last season. John Harbaugh does not want to subject Jackson that amount of pounding for 16 games. I believe Jackson’s rushing attempts will be cut about in half in the season opener. Also, Baltimore should dispose of Miami rather easily. It’s not as if Jackson will have to throw the ball a ton to help his team win this game. Again, I have Jackson as my QB13, so it is not as if I hate him. I just think he will finish a touch outside QB1 range in 10 and 12-team leagues this week.

Russell Wilson (My rank: QB15; ECR: QB7)

This ranking of Russell Wilson is the result of the expected game script and game plan. Seattle ran the ball more than any team in the league last season, and they want to again this year. They should be able to do so in a game with the second-highest point spread of the week. Cincinnati’s biggest weakness on defense is their linebacking corps. I think that Seattle will soften Cincinnati up with an unrelenting rushing attack and let their revamped defense finish the Bengals off. Wilson will not need to air it out 40 times in this game. I think that Wilson’s lack of volume will keep him from being a fantasy QB1 in this matchup.

Kirk Cousins (My rank: QB20; ECR: QB13)

Kirk Cousins has an intriguing Week 1 matchup at home against the Atlanta Falcons. I just do not trust the coaching staff to take advantage of it. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is an old-school coach who does not want to chuck the ball all around the yard. Minnesota brought in Gary Kubiak who is known for installing a zone-running scheme. I think this is an offense that will run through Dalvin Cook provided the young running back can stay healthy. The Falcons do not have a great defense, but they do have a trio of solid corners. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs is also on the injury report this week. He is expected to play, but it all adds up to Kirk Cousins being a “sit” for me this week.

Week 1 Sleepers: RBs

Justin Jackson (My rank: RB31 in PPR; ECR: RB38)

I have been pounding the Justin Jackson drum for weeks, and Week 1 will be no different. Despite Austin Ekeler being very much involved, I just do not envision Jackson fighting for scraps behind him. The Chargers are going to want to prove that they do not need holdout Melvin Gordon to strengthen their bargaining position. To do that, they will need to showcase Jackson as well as Ekeler. I anticipate this will be close to a 50/50 split between Ekeler and Jackson. The matchup itself is not ideal. Indianapolis has a pretty solid run defense and the Chargers have a suspect offensive line. However, I am of the belief that Jackson gets 15 touches in this game. That makes him worthy of Flex consideration in most formats this week depending on your other options.

Giovani Bernard (My rank: RB40 in PPR; ECR: RB50)

My ranking of Giovani Bernard is the other side of the Russell Wilson expectation. I see the Bengals playing this game from behind quite a bit. That stands to benefit Bernard, who specializes as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield. Pounding the ball 20-25 times with Joe Mixon is not going to work in a hostile environment against a revamped Seahawks defense. My projection for Bernard is in line with preseason reports that suggested he could see 11-13 touches per game. I expect that to be the case especially early in the season with star wideout A.J. Green sidelined. The fact that Cincinnati just extended Bernard’s contract also points to more work for Bernard. That puts him squarely on the fantasy radar, particularly in PPR formats.

Jalen Richard (My rank: RB44 in PPR; ECR: RB57)

I have several receiving backs higher than most analysts do. Among this group is Bernard, Ty Montgomery, Dare Ogunbowale, Dontrell Hilliard, and Jalen Richard. Richard is in a prime position to be a massive value this week. While I expect rookie standout Josh Jacobs to acclimate himself to the NFL quite nicely, I do not think he will be overworked in his NFL debut. Richard should still have a prominent role in this game. That is especially true with Antonio Brown out on Sunday. Derek Carr will need to spread the ball around, and Richard has always been one of his favorite targets. Denver’s pass rush will likely force Carr into quick throws and dump-offs. That is Richard’s bread and butter. Richard had 81 targets last year, and he should see a similar target share in this matchup.

Week 1 Busts: RBs

Derrick Henry (My rank: RB28 in Standard; ECR: RB17)

My relatively low ranking on Derrick Henry is not an indictment of him per se. It is more based on the expectation that Tennessee will lose this game. Henry’s splits in Titans wins versus losses are well documented. Cleveland is a healthy favorite in this game. If Tennessee falls behind, we will see more of Dion Lewis than Derrick Henry. Cleveland’s defensive line is also quite adept at stopping the run. I expect them to sell out to stop Henry early and make Marcus Mariota beat them. The Titans have some decent matchups in the passing game, but that does not favor Henry either. Henry’s best chance for success is for Tennessee to use the pass to get ahead and have Henry wear Cleveland down in the second half. While possible, that is not an outcome I would expect this week.

Rashaad Penny (My rank: RB54 in PPR; ECR: RB35)

I want to go along with the consensus. The matchup is solid, and I already explained that I expect Seattle to run the ball against Cincinnati and play with the lead. However, I just can’t bring myself to rank Rashaad Penny any higher. Pete Carroll can talk up Penny all he wants, but this is still Chris Carson’s backfield until proven otherwise. To me, Penny is the clear number two in this backfield. Penny averaged less than seven touches per game last season. He caught a grand total of nine passes last year. That is not a running back I want to play in PPR leagues, especially in Week 1 when most available options are on the table. If Penny goes off and beats me this week, so be it. I want to see that workload increase first before I buy into Penny as a weekly fantasy option.

Week 1 Sleepers: WR

Albert Wilson (My rank: WR35 in PPR: ECR: WR51)

Miami’s offensive line taking on Baltimore’s defensive front is like the proverbial one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. It is not going to be pretty. And it’s not as if Miami has favorable matchups in the running game or on the outside, either. Enter Albert Wilson, slot receiver extraordinaire. Wilson was a preseason darling of mine. In this game, he might be the only player on the entire Dolphins offense with a decent individual matchup. Wilson figures to square off Brandon Carr. Carr is solid, but Wilson will get plenty of looks from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick loves targeting slot receivers and should be under enough duress to make him get rid of the ball early. Wilson’s expected high volume and big-play ability make him a start for me in all formats this week.

Tyrell Williams (My rank: WR37 in Standard; ECR; WR46)

This is pretty straightforward for me. No Antonio Brown means that his targets will have to go elsewhere. His absence will likely benefit all other options in Oakland’s passing attack. That includes Tyrell Williams. Williams lined up all over the formation during his tenure in Los Angeles. With Brown out, I would imagine Williams lines up outside with Hunter Renfrow manning the slot. Oakland would be wise to try to match Williams up against Isaac Yiadom. The second-year corner is much more likely to give up a big play than the all-world Chris Harris and Denver’s new slot cornerback, Bryce Callahan. Williams should get enough looks to make him viable this week.

Keke Coutee (My rank: WR43 in PPR; ECR: WR57)

Keke Coutee has been limited with an ankle injury in recent weeks. Perhaps that is the reason he is lower in the consensus rankings. It may also be due to Houston’s acquisition of Kenny Stills. Either way, I am willing to take a chance on Coutee this week. The matchup is too good. If Coutee suits up, he should face off against P.J. Williams. Williams graded out last season as the 107th rated cornerback according to Pro Football Focus. He also surrendered a catch on 70 percent of targets. Houston has a subpar offensive line and projects to play from behind in a shootout under a dome. All of these factors make Coutee worthy of Flex consideration for me this week. If reports are good regarding Coutee’s health in the next 48 hours, I may bump him up even higher.

Week 1 Bust: WRs

Amari Cooper (My rank: WR18 in Standard; ECR: WR12)

Strangely, there are not many wide receivers I consider to be bad values this week. My biggest discrepancies versus ECR are Adam Humphries (my WR61 v. ECR WR54) and D.K. Metcalf (my WR80 v. ECR 70). So I’ll briefly discuss Amari Cooper here instead. I have Cooper inside my top 20 and cannot imagine a scenario where I would not start him. However, Cooper has been out for a month dealing with plantar fasciitis. That is always a red flag for me. He did return to practice this week, but I am still hesitant to jump in with both feet. I also expect the Giants to shadow him with Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins is a solid corner who can keep Cooper out of the end zone. Again, I think benching Cooper is probably getting too cute. I would just temper expectations a bit.

Week 1 Sleepers: TE

Jordan Reed (My rank: TE12 in PPR; ECR TE22)

Jordan Reed expects to play this week after suffering another concussion during the preseason. I realize that betting on Jordan Reed’s health is usually not a winning proposition. But if he suits up, he should be featured in the passing game. Washington does not have a ton of other options, so this is more a bet on volume than anything else. The good news is that Washington plays Philadelphia at 1:00 PM EST. That means that we will know before lock whether Reed will play. If he plays, I would start him. If not, you should be able to find a suitable replacement. Perhaps…

Will Dissly (My rank: TE18 in Standard; ECR: TE26)

Will Dissly was a popular add after he had 105 yards and a touchdown in the season opener a year ago. I would not expect a full repeat this year, but Dissly can certainly make some noise this week. As I mentioned earlier, Seattle is painfully thin when it comes to receiving options. Ed Dickson was placed on Injured Reserve this week which should cement Dissly’s role in the offense. Cincinnati was abysmal versus tight ends last season, so Dissly is worth a dart throw this week.

Week 1 Busts: TE

David Njoku (My rank: TE14 in PPR; ECR: TE10)

David Njoku is one of my favorite young tight ends in all of football. He showed above-average consistency last season, which is something you rarely see from a 22-year old. I am not particularly down on him this week or in season-long leagues by any means. It just so happens I have him ranked lower than most. I expect Cleveland and Tennessee to take part in a knockdown, drag-out affair this week. This should be a low scoring game and Cleveland is favored by nearly a touchdown. I am not opposed to starting Njoku depending on the circumstances. I just think there are better options out there.

Greg Olsen (My rank: TE19 in PPR; ECR: TE14)

This is another case where I like the player just fine. Greg Olsen has been a great fantasy tight end for many years. I am just not in a rush to put him in my lineups this week. Given his age and recent injury history, I would expect Olsen to be brought around slowly. Carolina also has several credible receiving options available to Cam Newton. This is not the same offense where Olsen was the primary target for so long. The Rams also have a pair of stellar safeties that Olsen will have to contend with in Eric Weddle and John Johnson III. I just do not see the desired volume for Olsen this week that I would want out of my starting tight end.

Who are your favorite Week 1 sleepers? Also, be sure to check out Mick’s Week 1 Rankings for more help in PPR, Half-PPR, and Standard leagues.

Mick Ciallela has been writing for FantraxHQ since July 2017. He has also written for Bleacher Report. He is a lifelong sports fan and has been an avid fantasy sports player for many years. Mick was the Overall Champion of both the 2016 Football Challenge – Roto and 2017 Play 3 Football contests hosted by CDM Sports. Mick was born and raised in Mount Vernon, New York and currently resides in New London, Connecticut.

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