Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire
Have you ever found yourself saying, “There’s so much football, yet so little time”? Luckily, that is where I step in. This fantasy football season, I will be posting a weekly article highlighting some major things to watch for in the upcoming week of football. It could be position battles, players returning from injuries, break-out candidates, potential busts, or anything else. I will help you focus your attention on the important things to watch so each week does not seem so overwhelming. Let us take a look at the ten things to watch for in week 1:
1. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Backfield
The biggest story of the week has been Le’Veon Bell’s absence from team activities. He has missed training camp, preseason, and now, he is not reporting to regular season team activities. With only a few days until the Steelers’ first game of the season, we are left to wonder how the Steelers are going to handle the Bell situation. If Bell does not report at all, it is safe to say that James Conner will get the start. Conner should be considered a high-end RB2 with RB1 upside if Bell does not report. If Bell does show up, it is likely he would not see the field or his role would be extremely limited in Week 1.
This is a familiar sight for the Steelers. Last year, Bell skipped training camp as well. His first game back was against the Cleveland Browns, where he had his worst game of the year, only producing 47 total yards. If Bell holds out for longer than just one week, Conner should see some long-term value. It will be important to see how Conner is able to handle the workload of being a workhorse running back. Conner has had a good preseason and has reportedly worked well with the first team in practices. As the Steelers take on the Cleveland Browns in Week 1 this season, we should watch to see if Conner is given the same volume that the team gives Bell. If he is used in a similar fashion, it could prove to be a very fruitful time for those who bought Conner’s stock.
2. Cousins’ Target Share
Last year, the Vikings produced two top-tier wide receivers in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. This year could look very different. Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur is now the head coach for the New York Giants. Last year’s main quarterback, Case Keenum, is now under center for the Denver Broncos. Enter Kirk Cousins and the new era of the Minnesota Vikings’ offense.
It will be important to watch how the receivers work with Cousins in the new offensive scheme. The preseason was friendly to Diggs. He out-targeted Thielen 12 to 7. Diggs averaged 12.3 yards per reception compared to Thielen’s 6.5 yards per reception. As a result, Diggs has seen his average draft position rise while Thielen’s has fallen. Shurmur was rumored to be a big cause for Thielen’s break out and there is some worry that Thielen could fall into obscurity with the new offensive scheme. In the first week, Diggs will likely be matched up against CB Richard Sherman while Thielen will play the slot. We should watch the target share in this game to see if Cousins’ favor continues towards Diggs or if Thielen shows his chemistry with Cousins after all.
3. Jon Gruden’s Plan
Oakland was quite busy this offseason. The team signed former-Packer WR Jordy Nelson. They traded for WR Martavis Bryant at the draft and then released him in the preseason. Michael Crabtree was released and is now on the Baltimore Ravens. Marshawn Lynch is back for another year in the silver and black. Derek Carr is hoping to bounce back after an underwhelming 2017. Then there is the 100-million dollar elephant in the room: Chucky.
Jon Gruden left his job at ESPN to run the show for the Raiders. Gruden has been touted as an offensive guru. Unfortunately, that experience is slightly dated, and a lot has changed since he last coached. Week 1, it will be fun to watch how Gruden is able to coach in a real NFL game again. He will have stiff competition, as he will be playing against the Los Angeles Rams. A lot of fantasy owners are banking on WR Amari Cooper stepping up and becoming elite in Gruden’s scheme. It is important to temper expectations though. This offense is aging at the skill positions and it is the first year in a new scheme. Watch the first week to see what Gruden is up to and if his scheme fits in the modern NFL.
4. Saquon Barkley’s Debut
Every season tends to have a rookie running back at the top of fantasy draft boards. This year’s choice: Saquon Barkley. After an outstanding career at Penn State and some unbelievable SPARQ scores (96th percentile or better in the 40-yard dash, his speed score, his burst score, and the bench press), Barkley is set to light your fantasy league on fire. At least, that is what you drafted him to do. His current ADP is 1.06. He is your top running back option if you drafted him. In Week 1, it will be nice to see some return on your investment. Unfortunately, he is going up against one of the top defenses, Jacksonville. Watch to see how Barkley fits into the Giants’ offensive scheme and if he is able to produce despite playing the Jacksonville Jaguars. If he is able to put up some solid numbers, rest easy knowing you have one of the best building blocks for your team this season.
5. Running Back Committees
The blight of any fantasy football running back is being stuck in a committee. In the first week of the season, you will need to watch these backfields to see which running back gets more running opportunities, goal line carries, and pass-catching targets. In certain situations, one running back will establish himself as the favorite and get the majority of the touches. That is what we are watching for in the opening weeks. If you can buy the hot hand this early in the season, you could be set up well. Let us take a look at some of the committees to watch:
We will start with the Titans and their duo, Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. We can speculate that Henry will be the ground-attack back while Lewis will enter in passing situations. Both players will see their usage vary depending on game situations. Their Week 1 matchup is against Miami.
Next, the Denver Broncos pair Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker. After getting the starting nod throughout the preseason, Booker lost the job to rookie Royce Freeman. This might not be a committee for long and Phillip Lindsay might overtake Booker before the end of the season. For now, we are focusing on the first week and the Broncos’ running game against the Seattle Seahawks. We will watch to see how Freeman’s touches compare to Booker’s.
The Falcons have one of the best committees in football. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are both young and important pieces to Atlanta’s success. Freeman tends to get the bulk of the carries, but Coleman can still be fantasy relevant every week. The reason this committee is worth watching is a narrative that Coleman will see a rise in usage due to being in the final year of his contract and the team wanting to “run his wheels off.” I personally do not believe this narrative. I think the coach will do whatever is best for a team that is in contention for a Super Bowl, despite what contracts may be coming to an end. The Falcons face a tough Philadelphia team on opening night.
The 49ers found themselves in a bit of crisis after RB Jerick McKinnon landed on the injured reserve list last week. Now the stars of the show are Matt Breida and Alfred Morris. The 49ers face a tough Minnesota Vikings’ defense so neither RB is favored to have an extraordinary game, but this will be our first taste of seeing which running back gets the volume for San Francisco.
Finally, the Green Bay Packers will be using a committee in their opening game. With Aaron Jones serving a two-game suspension, it will be the Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery show. This backfield trio will be one of the more frustrating groups to predict in the early season. Williams figures to see most of the early season work on the ground. Things will get extra fishy when Jones comes back from his two game suspension. As for Week 1, we will watch and see what roles Williams and Montgomery carve out for themselves. The Packers face the Bears to start the season.
6. Trey Burton
After always being second fiddle in Philadelphia, TE Trey Burton finally has an opportunity to be a great fantasy asset. The Bears and their new offensive scheme should allow for the athletic Burton to flourish. This is the same scheme that helped Travis Kelce become a top three tight end in the NFL. Burton saw his draft stock sky rocket as the regular season approached, mostly due to his work in the preseason. Week 1 will help determine if Burton is worth his new ADP. We should be watching to see how involved Burton is in the offense and if it appears his connection with QB Mitchell Trubisky is legitimate. The Bears will take on the Green Bay Packers.
7. Is Deshaun Watson Elite?
Last season, QB Deshaun Watson took the league by storm. With his arms and legs, Watson soon became the top QB in fantasy once he started playing full time. And then disaster struck and Watson got injured. The hype train derailed hard. Fast forward to this season where Watson is being drafted as a top 3 quarterback. We should be watching to see if Watson is able to pick up where he left off last season. He has some incredible weapons that include WR DeAndre Hopkins and WR Will Fuller. He has also got a solid running game led by RB Lamar Miller. Last season, Watson averaged nearly 27 fantasy points a game when he started. If Watson is able to put up anywhere close to those numbers in Week 1 against the New England Patriots, everyone who drafted him as a top 3 QB can let out a big sigh of relief.
8. Flash Gordon
I will keep this one nice and short. As it stands right now, WR Josh Gordon is not starting for the Cleveland Browns. I am merely including this because if he does find his way on the field, it will be one of the most talked about moments of the fantasy season. After a long battle with personal problems, some thought that Gordon would never see the field again. He even stepped away from team activities earlier this preseason to focus on his mental health. Now, he has reported to the team and is apparently trying to get ready to play this weekend. Coach Hue Jackson said that Josh Gordon will not start, but the key word there is start. Gordon could find himself playing in special packages that take advantage of his game-breaking talents. It has been a long road that led us to this moment, but I will definitely be watching to see Flash Gordon’s return to the football field this weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
9. Rookie Wide Receivers
Every year a bunch of fantasy owners buy lottery tickets when they draft rookie wide receivers for their teams. More often than not, the wide receivers fail to make a major impact. On a rare occasion, you find an Odell Beckham Jr. The following receivers are going to be given an opportunity to play this weekend and, hopefully, they will leave a good impression. If you were able to snag one of these receivers late in your draft, you could be cashing in on a major victory. Here are some rookies we will be keeping an eye on.
Michael Gallup has the easiest path to success out of all the wide receivers in this rookie class. Not only does he face the least amount of competition to be the number one target on his team, but he is extremely talented. Watch to see if he has got a connection with QB Dak Prescott. If the connection is there, Gallup should see a major boost in terms of fantasy potential. The Cowboys are going up against the Panthers in Week 1.
Going up against the Cowboys is D.J. Moore. Moore was selected in the first round of the NFL draft. He figures to be another weapon for the Carolina Panthers and QB Cam Newton this season. He has got blazing speed that should be able to take advantage of Newton’s big arm. The Panthers have said they want to use Moore as a “chess piece” by placing him all around the field. He could run the ball, catch screen passes, run deep streak routes, etc. From the sounds of it, Moore could be seeing a lot of action for the Panthers this season. We will definitely be watching in Week 1 to see how he is used and how productive he can be for fantasy owners this season.
Courtland Sutton for the Denver Broncos has been getting rave reviews form the coaches during training camp. He has flown up the depth chart and landed himself the third starting spot. He will be lining up on the opposite side of the field as teammate Demaryius Thomas, with Emmanuel Sanders getting most of the work from the slot. Thomas should still command the opposing team’s top corner back, which should allow for Sutton to see some opportunities. There is a lot of new pieces in Denver, along with a new offensive coordinator, so Sutton’s role is undetermined. Based on talent alone, he is worth rostering. We will watch his first regular season game this week against the Seahawks. This game should help determine if he is going to get enough opportunities on that offense.
Calvin Ridley (Atlanta Falcons), Christian Kirk (Arizona Cardinals), and Anthony Miller (Chicago Bears) round out the highly drafted rookies. Like the previous wide receivers, monitor their roles in the offense and see if they get a decent amount of targets. Each player is talented enough to warrant a spot on your fantasy roster leading into the first week of the season. If one of them were to break out, like Beckham Jr. did a few years ago, then it will be well worth the stash on your bench.
10. Andrew Luck
After missing the entirety of 2017 and a few reports that he might not ever throw a football again, Andrew Luck is back! For the first time in nearly two years, Andrew Luck will be starting a football game. He will be going up against the Cincinnati Bengals. He was drafted, on average, as the QB9 in most fantasy leagues. Luck’s ceiling is QB1. He has got a major weapon in WR T.Y. Hilton and some pieces have been added to his offensive line. Luck could be a draft steal if he is able to produce like he did in the past. That is looking too far into the future though. Right now, let us just take a moment to appreciate the major comeback that Luck has undertaken to get to this point. It will be a major milestone for him to start in Week 1. We will be watching to see how he handles the speed of a regular season game and will be crossing our fingers as he gets up from his first knock down of the 2018 regular season.
That is what we should watch for this week. Plenty of unknowns going into this NFL season and I am sure I missed a few. Luckily, we will have at least 15 more weeks to try and sort it all out. Enjoy the opening week of football and good luck to your fantasy teams out there!