Kickoff: Sunday, September 12th at 1:00 PM ET
Location: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN
Betting Odds: TEN -3, 52 total via Oddsshark
Kyler Murray (Start, QB1)
When Arizona selected Kyler Murray with the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the immediate concern was his ability to survive the rigors of the NFL season at 5′10″ and 207 pounds. After 32 consecutive starts, the concern now is how opposing defenses can stop him. Murray finished among the top 10 fantasy QBs that rookie season then followed it up with a top-three finish last year. Murray improved in all statistical categories from 2019 to 2020, amassing nearly 4,000 passing yards with 26 TDs and more than 800 rushing yards with 11 TDs on the ground. Murray benefits from HC Kliff Kingsbury’s up-tempo offense and the team added A.J. Green in free agency and Rondale Moore in the NFL Draft. Kingsbury’s job may be in jeopardy if the wins don’t come, but Murray is firmly entrenched as a fantasy superstar for the foreseeable future. Fantasy managers might have to hold their breath every time Murray takes off to run, but the reward is worth it. Plug Murray into your starting lineup and reap the benefits.
Chase Edmonds (Start, low-end RB2), James Conner (Sit, possible Flex)
When the Cardinals elected to let Kenyan Drake test the waters of free agency, fantasy managers were excited about seeing what Chase Edmonds could do with the backfield virtually to himself. Edmonds has never been given the reins to the offense despite his dual-threat ability as both a runner and a receiver. Edmonds had career-highs across the board last season, totaling 850 yards from scrimmage and five TDs which included 53 receptions. Murray will dampen the rushing TD totals but Edmonds could easily cross the 1,000-yard threshold this season if he’s given the majority of the touches out of the backfield. Therein lies the problem, however, as Arizona brought in James Conner to replace Drake at a much cheaper price.
Conner has been trusted with a lead-back role while in Pittsburgh as he averaged nearly 21 touches per game in 2018. Conner is a bigger back than Edmonds, so he may see some of the goal line looks at Edmonds’ expense. If Arizona doesn’t fully trust Edmonds to carry the majority of the workload in the backfield, we may see a split similar to what Edmonds and Drake had last year or Conner could take over the lead back duties. The only clues we have to go on are from Arizona’s two preseason games. In those games, Edmonds was the first RB on the field.
Until we can get a firmer grip on how the coaching staff intends to use these two backs, I’m going to assume Edmonds is going to see the bulk of the workload, and Conner will spell him and see the short-yardage work. As a result, I think Edmonds can finish Week 1 in the RB2 ranks and Conner will be a solid RB3 or Flex option for fantasy managers.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
DeAndre Hopkins (Start, WR1), A.J. Green (Sit), Christian Kirk (Sit), Rondale Moore (Sit), Maxx Williams (Sit)
Heading into the 2020 season, DeAndre Hopkins was joining a new team and had virtually no offseason to prepare. All Hopkins did was match a career-high in receptions (115), post more than 1,400 yards, and found the end zone six times. With a full season and a proper offseason under their belts, expectations are sky-high for Hopkins and Murray. Hopkins is still an elite WR and is simply a set-and-forget WR1 week in and week out. Start him with confidence this week.
Arizona made some moves in the offseason and draft to take some of the pressure off Hopkins by signing A.J. Green away from Cincinnati and drafting Rondale Moore out of Purdue. The veteran Green has seen a marked decline the past two seasons as injuries robbed him of seven games in 2019 and general ineffectiveness robbed him of meaningful statistics in 2020. Perhaps a new home will rejuvenate Green and with an elite #1 on the opposite side of the field, Green should get favorable coverage matchups. A consistent drumbeat from reporters out of Arizona’s camp has been Green looks like his old self. If Green can recapture his old form, he will represent a draft-day steal. I’m taking a wait-and-see approach for Week 1 and recommending fantasy managers leave him on the bench.
Moore was phenomenal as a freshman at Purdue hauling in 114 receptions for 1,258 yards and 12 TDs along with 213 yards and two TDs on the ground. Injuries limited him to seven total games in 2019 and 2020 but he did return for the final three games of the 2020 season and had 35 receptions for 270 yards showing he was back to full strength after the hamstring injuries. Moore may be battling Christian Kirk for snaps, but early indications are that Moore will surpass Kirk sooner rather than later. Playing alongside two veteran talents in Hopkins and Green should provide Moore with invaluable advice and techniques to unlock his full potential. Until the depth chart shakes out and either Moore or Kirk establishes himself as the clear #3 WR, I recommend sitting both for this week.
The Cardinals elected to not re-sign Dan Arnold who signed with Carolina so the starting TE role now appears to be the sole possession of Maxx Williams. Williams was a second-round pick in 2015 but his career has been less than stellar to this point as he has compiled just 86 receptions for 801 yards and five TDs. Williams is likely fourth in line for targets and is not expected to be a viable option for fantasy managers this season. He is an easy sit for Week 1.
Ryan Tannehill (Start, low-end QB1)
When Ryan Tannehill took over as Tennessee’s starting QB in 2019 he had an incredible 10-game run. Tannehill then had poor performances in the playoffs and questions began to bubble up about if Tannehill could sustain that level of success in 2020. Tannehill promptly quieted his critics with a season that landed him in the top 10 fantasy QBs. Despite helming a team that skews run-heavy, Tannehill has shown an efficiency that overcomes the low volume. The Titans let Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith leave in free agency, but Julio Jones is a nice consolation prize and Anthony Firkser has shown he can be a capable replacement for Smith. Can Tannehill cobble together another top 10 fantasy season? That remains to be seen but he should be able to produce as a low-end QB1 in Week 1 for fantasy managers.
Derrick Henry (Start, RB1)
Over the past two regular seasons, Derrick Henry has amassed an incredible workload that totals 718 touches. If you include Tennessee’s four playoff games that number jumps to 827 touches. Henry showed no signs of slowing down last season as he became just the 18th player to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a season with 2,027. Henry is the engine of Tennessee’s offensive train but fantasy managers have to be concerned with the workload heading into the 2021 season. It would be silly to expect another season like 2020 from Henry, but there is an exception to every rule. Is Henry that exception? We’ll have to let this season play out for the answer, but for Week 1 at least, Henry is an automatic start and should return RB1 numbers for fantasy managers.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
A.J. Brown (Start, WR1), Julio Jones (Start, WR2), Josh Reynolds (Sit), Anthony Firkser (Sit)
Following a surprisingly good rookie season, A.J. Brown improved in every statistical category in 2020 despite playing in two fewer games. Oh, and reports are indicating he did that while nursing knee injuries for the majority of the season. Brown had offseason surgery to correct the issues and, despite missing several practices last month, is on track to start in Week 1. Brown drew the defense’s best cover guy week in and week out and still produced and now has Julio Jones drawing attention on the opposite side of the field. Brown is not known as a finesse guy but is hard to bring down in the open field and has enough speed to get past defenders. There is a chance Brown will see a dip in targets with the arrival of Jones, but he should still see enough opportunity to be a weekly starter for fantasy managers. Pencil Brown in for WR1 production to kick of the 2021 season.
Jones is going to be in an offensive game plan that is unfamiliar to him as he departed an Atlanta team that finished fourth in passing attempts in 2020. The Titans were on the opposite end of that spectrum as they finished with the third-fewest attempts in 2020, a difference of 143 attempts or nearly nine per game. Jones is also going to be in an unfamiliar situation on the field as he no longer will be required to be the #1 WR for his team. Nagging injuries have been a concern for Jones for years, but he’s really only missed time in two seasons throughout his career (2013 and 2020). Jones still has the ability to turn in a big performance as he topped 125 receiving yards three times in his nine games last season. The low-volume passing attack and presence of Brown on the other side dent his upside some but Jones should still be able to provide fantasy managers with a solid WR2 performance this week.
Before the acquisition of Jones, it looked like Josh Reynolds was going to be tabbed with the #2 WR role after Tennessee signed him away from the Rams this offseason. Reynolds now becomes the #3 option on the team and that has historically not been a very good position to be in. The combination of few attempts and the presence of two legitimate #1 WRs puts a serious damper on Reynolds’ outlook for this season. Unless injuries strike above him on the depth chart, fantasy managers likely won’t get much in the way of production from Reynolds. He needs to be on fantasy benches in Week 1.
One of the biggest surprises for the Titans last season was the emergence of Jonnu Smith. Smith developed into a legitimate red-zone threat last season as he hauled in eight TDs for Tennessee. Smith was allowed to test the free agency waters and almost immediately signed with the Patriots on a four-year deal worth a staggering $50 million. Replacing Smith’s production won’t be easy, but the Titans are confident Anthony Firkser can at least come close. Firkser only had two fewer targets than Smith last season and just 61 fewer yards but only managed one TD because of the prowess of Smith and the presence of Henry. Much like Reynolds, Firkser suffers from being the third or fourth option on a low-volume passing team. As such, unless Firkser displays the kind of TD-scoring acumen Smith showed last season, it’s hard to recommend Firkser for fantasy managers in Week 1.
-Bryan Sweet (@FantasyFreakTN on Twitter)