Kickoff: Sunday, September 13th at 1:00 PM ET
Location: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Betting Odds: NO -3.5, 47.5 total via Oddsshark
Las Vegas Raiders
Derek Carr (Start, QB2)
The Raiders starting QB enters the 2020 season with a fun new set of weapons that should pair well with returning starters Josh Jacobs, Darren Waller, and Hunter Renfrow. On paper, this is the best offense the Raiders have had since Carr entered the league, but there’s a lot of uncertainty around the two rookie receivers being asked to take on a large role from the get-go. The Raiders also lost their #1 receiver, Tyrell Williams, for the season after a torn labrum sent him to IR, so despite how good they look now, they could have looked a lot better.
According to Pro Football Focus, Carr was the 11th best QB in the league and he played behind the 15th best pass-blocking offensive line. Las Vegas retained all five starters on the line, so they should improve with a year of working together under their belt. Carolina was ranked 16th in pass rush and 13th in coverage, but they invested heavily on defense both in the draft and free agency. They did, however, lose Luke Kuechly to retirement and they have always played poorly without their leader and stud linebacker in the lineup.
With that said, it’s a pretty good matchup for an above-average QB with an above-average offensive line and some fun new weapons that Jon Gruden will want to get the ball to. I like Carr as a solid QB2 with QB1 upside.
Josh Jacobs (Start, RB1), Jalen Richard (Sit)
On a per-game basis in 2019, Carolina gave up the second-most PPR points to RBs at 29.96. The worst team, Jacksonville, gave up 29.99 so Carolina was essentially the worst. They spent the 7th overall pick on Derrick Brown to shore up the defensive line, so theoretically they should be better against the run this season. Besides Brown, Carolina invested a lot in edge rushers and cornerbacks… not much in the way of run-stuffing there.
Josh Jacobs should be able to run all over Carolina on Sunday, but if Jon Gruden is to be believed Jacobs should also receive more passing down work. If that’s true, that should limit the snaps that Jalen Richard will see on Sunday. If it’s not true, then Richard could be in line for more targets now that he is the clear 2nd choice behind Jacobs. I love a 3rd down back in PPR but there’s a huge question mark hovering over Richard’s usage that prevents me from recommending him. Keep an eye on this in Week 1.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Henry Ruggs (Start, WR3), Hunter Renfrow (Start, WR3), Bryan Edwards (Sit), Darren Waller (Start, TE1)
I’m a little perplexed by the fantasy prospects for this receiving corps, so let’s start out with tight end Darren Waller: Carolina did give up the 4th fewest PPR points to tight ends in 2019, but Waller is a top 5 tight end and is Carr’s favorite target. Just start him.
Now that we have the obvious out of the way, there are a lot of question marks with the two rookie WRs and how they’re going to be used. I’m always hesitant to start a player in Week 1 when we don’t know what either their role or usage will be. We do know that Carolina allowed the 10th most PPR points to receivers last year so that defense is exploitable despite investing in the safety and cornerback positions in the offseason.
I do feel confident about 2nd-year wideout Hunter Renfrow, who developed obvious chemistry with Carr last season and should provide a solid PPR floor in most weeks. Five catches for 60ish yards seem easily attainable with upside for more volume, so feel free to throw him in as your WR3 or Flex option against Carolina’s weak defense.
Henry Ruggs is the Tyreek Hill-esque home run hitter that Jon Gruden has long coveted, and one has to imagine he’ll be schemed up for some big plays in his NFL debut. The volume of targets he’ll see on a weekly basis is definitely up in the air, which is why I’m pretty conservative on him with a WR3 designation this week, but he could easily pop off just like Marquise Brown did in Week 1 last season. I feel that he’ll be a boom-or-bust player most weeks but this week smells like a potential boom to me.
Now it’s time to talk (almost) everyone’s favorite training camp sleeper, Bryan Edwards. He’s the 3rd round rookie out of South Carolina who takes over the starting X receiver role now that Tyrell Williams is out for the season. That’s great for Edwards, right? Well, yes and no. A starting role is good, but Pro Football Focus’ Michael Renner found that Las Vegas doesn’t always utilize the X receiver in this offense.
The X role that he’d be taking over from Tyrell Williams is simply not one that Derek Carr has thrown to over the course of his career. Last season, he targeted split wide receivers 160 times all season, 25th among all quarterbacks in the NFL. Heck, Williams himself saw only 4.3 targets per game when healthy last season.
Yikes. If you compound that with the fact that he’s a rookie, and that the Raiders will already be spreading the ball around against a weak defense, it’s tough to see where Edwards is worth starting in his NFL debut. He should see the field but don’t expect a big day, so stash him on your bench until we see them run the offense through him.
Teddy Bridgewater (Start, QB2)
By all accounts, Teddy Bridgewater was an effective game manager in 2019. His 67.9% completion rate was 6th best among all QBs with four or more starts but his 6.2 aDOT (average depth of target) was among the lowest in the league. However, this was in line with what Drew Brees has historically done in New Orleans (usually around 7.0), so it could just be the offensive scheme that held Bridgewater back.
Now in Carolina, Bridgewater may not be throwing to Michael Thomas anymore, but D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, and some guy named Christian McCaffery are no slouches themselves. One major difference between Carolina and New Orleans is that this offense is built to throw the ball downfield. Michael Thomas had an 8.1 aDOT last season, which was much lower than Moore (11.2), Samuel (14.9), and Robby Anderson (14.8). All of the game manager talk around Bridgewater may be a bit overblown because in the past he’s shown that he can throw it downfield and be successful. In 2015, his second season as the Vikings starter, leading receiver Stefon Diggs had an aDOT of 10.8 and led the team in targets, receptions and yards. That offense wasn’t built to throw the ball downfield; it was instead built to run the ball with Adrian Peterson and his nearly 1,500 rushing yards. But Bridgewater is better downfield than you think.
With all of that said, what’s his projection for this week against Las Vegas? I like him a lot, actually. The Raiders allowed the 7th most fantasy points to QBs last season and, despite drafting cornerback Damon Arnette in the 1st round (who was likely a reach as he was projected as a late 2nd-early 3rd rounder), they didn’t do enough to really address the issue. There’s a huge question mark regarding first-year head coach Matt Rhule and how the Carolina offense will be run, but he liked to run Shotgun at Baylor and I would expect more of the same in Carolina. Pro Football Focus also ranks Carolina as having the 17th best offensive line heading into the season, so Bridgewater should have plenty of time to throw against a team with the 8th fewest sacks in 2019.
I love Teddy Bridgewater this year, and I think he’s going to turn a lot of heads in his first season in Carolina. The success will begin in Week 1 against a mediocre Raiders defense, so you should feel confident rolling him out there as a QB2 with QB1 potential.
Christian McCaffery (Start, RB1)
Vegas signed linebacker Cory Littleton in the offseason, one of the best coverage linebackers in the game. He should help the Raiders defend Christian McCaffery, but he won’t be able to stop him. Nothing I say here should sway your decision one way or the other regarding CMC – he’s 1.1 for a reason. Roll with him.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
D.J. Moore (Start, WR2), Curtis Samuel (Flex), Robby Anderson (Sit), Ian Thomas (Start, TE2)
As I mentioned in the Teddy Bridgewater blurb, the top three receivers in this offense are deep threats capable of taking the top off the defense on any given play. The Raiders gave up the 8th most receiving yards in 2019 and should be an exploitable defense again in 2020.
If you drafted D.J. Moore, you’re going to start him and you should be. Curtis Samuel isn’t as obvious of a choice at WR but, in what could be a shootout game between two subpar defenses, Samuel warrants flex consideration. It remains to be seen how Robby Anderson will be used, whether it’s as an occasional deep threat or more regularly, so treat him as a sit this week and see what he does. It should be a fun game to watch.
Las Vegas gave up the 8th most fantasy points to tight ends in 2019, but the addition of Cory Littleton could help in that department. Either way, it’s a decent matchup for Ian Thomas and he’s a TE2 with TE1 upside this week.
-Ben Brown (@FelixTheDog23 on Twitter, iamatechnician on Reddit)