This article last updated 8/30/2018 – Featured image © Getty Images North America / Joe Robbins
Week 1 of the 2018 NFL regular season is upon us, and I want to take a moment to kind of set the tone for what these weekly positional analysis articles should look like. I will be primarily looking through the lens of playing in DFS on FanDuel or DraftKings. If a player has a strong matchup and is in a position to succeed, this will obviously be applicable to both a DFS roster and a season-long roster, but the players identified here will often be ranked based on the value they provide for DFS. I’ll be considering things like value (projected points vs. salary), volatility (player may have great upside, but also great downside), stacking opportunities, exploitable matchups, positive game scripts, and other things that make for a smart play on a DFS lineup.
I primarily play large field tournaments with large, guaranteed prize pools in DFS, so my analysis will also be aimed towards high-risk, high-reward plays. If you were playing a lineup where you only had to beat one other person, or only had to be in the top half of the field to win, you would typically want to target safer plays that are consistent. The same would be true in a season-long league. What I’m saying is that, in a vacuum, where a salary is not in play and you simply want to choose the player most likely to give you a better score than your opponent, these plays may not be the ones I would choose.
Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints | $6800 DK Salary – $8400 FD Salary)
Drew Brees is in a really nice spot to succeed in Week 1. He is playing in the game with the second highest Vegas over/under of the day (50) and his team is the biggest favorite of the day (9-1/2 point favorite) over a poor defensive team. He’s also playing at home, where he has historically played better than on the road. All of the buzz last year for New Orleans was around their running game, with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram both having terrific seasons. Because of that, I think people are overlooking the fact that Drew Brees was the most accurate QB in the league last year with a 72% completion rate for the regular reason, throwing for over 4300 yards and only throwing 8 interceptions on the season. The biggest drop-off last year for Brees was in the touchdown department. He threw a career-low 23 touchdowns in 2017.
I believe, based on the fact that Brees has thrown over 30 touchdowns in 9 out of 12 NFL seasons (over 40 twice!) that last year’s low TD number was an anomaly and that he will exceed 30 this year. He got an upgrade at WR this year with the addition of Cam Meredith. Kamara is a great pass catching back, and with Ingram suspended to start the year, will be getting a heavy workload in week 1. While Ben Watson is ancient by NFL standards, TE is a position that seems to get better with age, and he’s definitely an upgrade over Fleenor. Michael Thomas maintained his 12+ yards/reception number from his rookie season while increasing from 92 to 119 catches and increasing his receiving yards from 1137 to 1461. The Saints have a slightly above average, but not elite, offensive line. They finished the year ranked 18th in run blocking and 3rd in pass blocking, and bring most of their line back.
I’m not sure yet what ownership is going to look like for Brees. He always carries some ownership because of his name recognition, but I think there will be a few things holding it down. Firstly, the only game with a higher Vegas total than the TB@NO game is HOU@NE. Tom Brady and Deshaun Watson are both going to command massive amounts of attention from an ownership perspective. Brady is in a terrific spot against a suspect Houston defense, and people have been dying to play Watson since he went down with a season-ending injury in practice last year after exploding onto the scene. I don’t think Brady or Watson are bad plays, as both have tremendous upside, but my feeling is that Brees has the best matchup of this group, and at least at this point, I also think he is likely to carry the lowest ownership of the 3. My biggest fear with Brees is that Tampa Bay may not be able to keep this game competitive, so New Orleans may decide to go run heavy towards the end of the game. With Mark Ingram out, though, I think this is unlikely, and that they’ll be throwing the ball throughout the entire game.
Kirk Cousins (Minnesota Vikings | $6500 DK Salary – $7600 FD Salary)
Kirk Cousins is interesting to me. He doesn’t have the “look and feel” of a game-breaker, and it’s hard to believe this is his 7th NFL season, but he is very productive. He has passed for more than 4000 yards and 25 or more touchdowns in 3 straight seasons. In 2016, he almost eclipsed the 5000-yard mark. At age 30, he seems to be in the middle of his prime, and the Vikings feel like a good situation for him. While I’m not nearly as high on Adam Thielen as most of the folks in the industry, he is a good wide receiver. I believe Stefon Diggs is going to have a breakout season, and if Dalvin Cook stays healthy, the Vikings could be a force to be reckoned with this year. I actually really like this entire game, and think there’s a good chance of a shootout, so I don’t mind playing Jimmy G or even stacking this game for tournaments, but, if choosing a side, I favor the Vikings side because I think their defense is much better and will have a better chance of stopping the 49ers than the other way around.
I like the idea of pairing Kirk Cousins with one of his wide receivers (I lean toward Diggs, but wouldn’t blame you for choosing Thielen) and inserting a correlation play with a wide receiver from San Francisco. As we get closer to the game and start to hear which 49ers receiver is likely to have to deal with Xavier Rhodes more often, I would choose the other WR for my correlation play. Marquise Goodwin seems to have a good rapport with Jimmy G, but I think Pierre Garcon is going to have a great year as well and am comfortable with either of them. If this does turn into a shootout, I like Kirk’s chances of having a big day.
I like Cousins more on FanDuel than on DraftKings. He’s priced much more closely to the top tier on DK, and I would rather have Brees for $300 more unless there is likely to be a huge projected ownership gap to take advantage of.
Tyrod Taylor (Cleveland Browns | $5400 DK Salary – $6600 FD Salary)
Tyrod’s biggest production game last year took place in week 9 against the New York Jets. He threw the ball 40 times with 29 completions for 285 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. He also had 4 rushing attempts for 19 yards and a touchdown that week. Those numbers aren’t unbelievable, but if we could get that kind of production consistently for fantasy purposes, we would certainly take it. The problem is, that was his best game. At his worst, we’ve seen passing numbers in the low 100’s and even double-digits. His passing production has come down each of the past 3 years (3035 yards/20 TD in 2015, 3023 yards/17 TD in 2016, and 2799 yards/14 TD in 2017) but he’s been playing on a horrible team who clearly didn’t want him there.
Tyrod has joined a new terrible team in the Cleveland Browns, who have won just 1 game in the past 2 seasons. This team just used the number 1 overall draft pick on a confident young Heisman-trophy winning Quarterback, and they’ve done a decent job of assembling talent at the offensive skill player positions. David Njoku looks poised to have a big year at TE, Jarvis Landry has been out there blessin’ ’em in training camp, and Josh Gordon might play some football this year (and if he’s on the field playing his best football, he’s an ELITE talent). It is now or never for Tyrod Taylor.
With Baker Mayfield chomping at the bit to get into the game and prove himself, Tyrod cannot afford to make mistakes. He was drafted in 2011, and while it may not be the end of his career if he loses the starting job to Baker this season, it certainly could mean that he spends most of the rest of his career as a journeyman or a backup. I like Tyrod as a week 1 DFS play because I think we will see a sense of urgency we’ve never seen from him, and we’ll see the best version of him. He comes at a nice discount to let you fit some other key pieces in at other positions, and this game could really mean a lot for his season. This is definitely not a safe play, but he’s the low priced QB I like the most on this slate.
Interesting Storylines or Information
- Aaron Rodgers fractured his left clavicle on November 4, 2013. He missed the next 7 games but came back the next year to win his second NFL MVP award. Last year he fractured his right clavicle. Now he’s coming back, fresh off of signing a huge contract extension that once again makes him the highest paid player in the NFL. Is he going to win the MVP award again? Possibly so. I’m not going to be playing him (much) in DFS in week 1, and I haven’t targeted him in many season-long or Best Ball drafts, but he definitely has the potential to put up gargantuan numbers. I don’t particularly like the team he is playing with, offensively or defensively, but if there is a QB who is a “rising tide that lifts all boats” — it’s this guy.
- I try very, very hard not to let my passion for Clemson University create bias in my analysis and selection of fantasy sports plays. There are times, though, when I have to take a step back and say to myself: “Yes, this former South Carolina Gamecock is the best player to plug in here, you should play him.” or “No, Sammy Watkins is not going to catch 4 touchdown passes in his first game with the Chiefs.” — Being plugged into all of the Clemson message boards, though, and having lots of friends and sources with boots on the ground in that area, I do tend to have a generally deeper knowledge of former Clemson players than players from other schools. Before Deshaun Watson was drafted, Dabo Swinney said: “If they pass on Deshaun Watson, they’re passing on Michael Jordan.” That’s the highest of praise from a coach who knows Watson very well. I watched when he tore his left ACL back in 2014 against South Carolina. He went through surgery and recovered much more quickly than anticipated. When he was back on the field, it wasn’t just that he hadn’t lost a step. He seemed to be better. His carries actually went UP after he came back. He led us to the promised land on that surgically repaired robot knee!
He is a fantastic football player and a really great leader. His teammates buy in and I think he is going to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league for a long, long time. I’m not worried about his health – he’s going to be fine. And I will have him on a few teams for week 1. All of that being said, everyone in the world is grading Houston as the worst offensive line in the NFL. DeAndre Hopkins and the Clemson connection there is legitimately one of the best QB/WR combos in the league, but I worry about Fuller’s ability to stay on the field. Lamar Miller is serviceable, but not great. Ryan Griffin is not the world’s best safety blanket at Tight End. In my season-long and Best Ball leagues this year, so far I have zero shares of Deshaun Watson on my rosters. It is not because I don’t believe in him. I think he’s truly fantastic, but I think the hype train is dangerously close to coming off the rails. People are reaching way too far to get him, and leaving so much value at other positions on the board.