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NFL Draft

Fantasy Football Week 1 Sneaky Starts

  • The Draft Network
  • September 11, 2020
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Week 1 has arrived and it’s finally time to set our starting fantasy football lineups for real. Since it’s so early in the season, there are no bye weeks and only a few injuries to navigate around. Still, that doesn’t mean that you should always start the players you drafted in order, particularly in deeper leagues. Let’s take a look at some players flying under the radar who are sneaky starts in Week 1:

QUARTERBACK

Mitchell Trubisky (QB - CHI)

Those who read my Locks of the Week article know where I’m going with this one. Trubisky had two of his best games of the season against the Lions, throwing for 173 yards and three touchdowns in the first matchup and 338 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception in the second. Trubisky’s career completion percentage is higher against the Lions (70.1%) than any other opponent he’s played more than once. He’s thrown 23% of his career touchdowns against the Lions despite Detroit accounting for only 12% of his starts. His quarterback rating (106.3) and adjusted yards gained per pass attempt (8.83) against Detroit are far above his career averages. Trubisky has all of his top pass-catchers at his disposal and is a top-18 quarterback this week. 

Philip Rivers (QB - IND)

I’d like you to look at the starting secondary for the Jaguars. Aside from corner C.J. Henderson, a rookie, it’s extremely bleak. Most of the defensive unit is a wasteland, aside from a couple notable players. The Colts’ offensive line should handle what is left of Jacksonville’s pass-rush and give Rivers enough time to distribute the ball to T.Y. Hilton, Michael Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell, Jack Doyle, etc. The Jaguars were a league-average team against fantasy quarterbacks last season and have stripped away their defense since then. Rivers had his best fantasy performance of the season against Jacksonville in 2019, going 16-of-22 for 314 passing yards and three touchdowns. Like Trubisky, Rivers is also a top-18 quarterback this week. 

RUNNING BACK

James White (RB - NE)

After White failed to live up to lofty PPR expectations last season–and after Tom Brady’s departure—he’s been a bit of an afterthought in the fantasy community. He’s being drafted in more than 85% of leagues, sure, but few are actually excited about rostering him. I know many fantasy managers would rather eat chalk than deal with the Patriots’ running back situation, but White could be a solid play this week.

Sony Michel isn’t expected to see a full workload, Damien Harris is starting the season on IR, and Lamar Miller was cut a few days ago. That leaves White and Rex Burkhead to shoulder most of the Week 1 load. Miami ranked near the middle of the pack in receiving yards allowed to running backs last season but allowed the third-most receiving touchdowns to the position. Cam Newton targeted running backs on 27% of his passes in 2017 and 25% of his passes in 2018. That means we should expect about 8-9 targets to go to running backs in Week 1 and the vast majority, if not all of them, should go to White. 

Marlon Mack (RB - IND)

While Jonathan Taylor will be the Colts back you want in the second half of the season, Mack’s the back you want in Week 1. The Jaguars were the worst team in the NFL against fantasy running backs last season and allowed the fifth-most rushing yards. Mack averaged 6.4 yards per carry against Jacksonville last season, compiling 186 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns on 29 total carries. He’s Indianapolis’ Week 1 starter and should see plenty of work, even with Taylor worked into the game plan. 

Matt Breida (RB - MIA)

An under-the-radar trade that got lost in the hoopla of the draft and all the big-name free agent signings that preceded it, Breida’s move to Miami fills an immediate pass-catching need for the Dolphins. New offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has worked with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets and hasn’t shied away from getting running backs involved in the passing game. Bilal Powell, Matt Forte, C.J. Spiller, those are only some of the names that have had pass-catching success with Fitzpatrick and Gailey. Over the last nine games of the 2019 season (post-Kenyan Drake trade), Fitzpatrick targeted running backs 6.7 times per game. However, those running backs were mostly Kalen Ballage, Patrick Laird, and Myles Gaskin. Breida is far more talented and will be far more successful in that role—I mean, Jordan Howard ain’t catching 30 balls. Breida has averaged 7.2 yards per target with an 87% catch rate over the last two years. If the Dolphins go throw-heavy trying to play catchup against the Patriots, Breida could be on the field a lot and provide a sneaky 10-plus point game. 

WIDE RECEIVER

John Brown (WR - BUF)

Brown absolutely demolished the Jets in his first game with the Bills in Week 1 last season. He had seven catches for 123 yards and a touchdown and did not play in the Week 17 rematch. The Jets were one of the worst teams in the NFL against outside wide receivers in terms of fantasy points allowed last season. While Stefon Diggs is the best Bills play on Sunday, Brown should receive plenty of looks against a porous Jets secondary as well. Slot receiver Cole Beasley has a much tougher matchup against Brian Poole than either Diggs or Brown has, so targets may be funneled to the latter two more than usual. 

Marvin Jones Jr. (WR - DET)

My one carryover from my start/sit column, Jones is starting in only about 20% of lineups right now despite having a sneaky good matchup. Jones is averaging 12.9 PPR fantasy points per game in his last five games against the Bears (18/343/2). He averaged nearly 10 fantasy points per game against the Bears last season with Jeff Driskel and David Blough throwing him the ball, and now Matthew Stafford is making his return. The Lions love to score points in September (the over is 4-1 in the Lions’ last five September games), and I have Jones ranked as a top-25 wide receiver this week. I expect Kenny Golladay to play Sunday, but this is beyond a sneaky start if Jones enters as the WR1.

Diontae Johnson (WR - PIT)

Johnson is in fewer than 10% of starting lineups this week but has a very juicy matchup as Ben Roethlisberger’s No. 2 wide receiver against one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL. The Giants were one of the five-worst defenses against fantasy wide receivers and Johnson could be matched up against fourth-round rookie corner Darnay Holmes for significant portions of the game. Johnson averaged more than 15 fantasy points per game over the final four weeks of last season and now gets a big upgrade at quarterback. He’s a sneaky low-end WR3 this week, but keep an eye on his foot injury as we get closer to you setting your final lineup. 

TIGHT ENDS

Mike Gesicki (TE - MIA)

Everyone on Twitter freaked out when Miami’s official unofficial depth chart was released and showed Gesicki listed as the No. 2 tight end. What many seem to be forgetting is that Gesicki isn’t going to play in the traditional tight end role for Gailey. Instead, he’ll serve as a big slot, a role he thrived in last season. The matchup with New England out of the gate isn't ideal, but it’s not a death sentence, either. Opt outs and players lost to free agency at both the second and third levels of the Patriots defense makes the unit less formidable than it once was. Plus, if you view Gesicki as a slot receiver, New England’s defense was a mixed bag defending receivers lined up in that position last season. Cole Beasley had 14 receptions for 183 yards in two games against New England in 2019. Randall Cobb had 4/86/1 against them as well. They did shut down Tyler Boyd and Jamison Crowder (twice), but Gesicki had some success with a 4/31/1 game to end the season. I have Gesicki as a TE1 this week. 

Blake Jarwin (TE - DAL)

The Rams simply aren’t going to be able to cover everybody. Amari Cooper vs. Jalen Ramsey will be a fun matchup to watch, with the Michael Gallup-Troy Hill matchup serving as a nice side dish. But then there’s CeeDee Lamb and, of course, making sure Ezekiel Elliott doesn’t get loose in the backfield. Jarwin could potentially be the beneficiary, filling the spot vacated by Jason Witten. In Witten’s three years with Dak Prescott, he averaged 88.3 targets per season. Those are now up for grabs and Jarwin may have the best matchup on the field enough times on Sunday night to be a fantasy contributor.

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