Alvin Kamara finished as the RB3 on just 201 touches last season. That’s astounding. For context, RB1 Todd Gurley got the ball 343 times. RB2 Le’Veon Bell, 406. Kamara scored a touchdown once every 15.5 touches. That’s ridiculous scoring efficiency. It also won’t be repeated in 2018. But you already knew that. The question is, will Kamara’s inevitable regression be offset by an increased workload? At least while Mark Ingram is suspended for Weeks 1-4, the answer should be a resounding yes. Maybe Mike Gillislee will convert a few goal-line bunnies, but Kamara already out-touched Ingram in the second half of last season. He’s the new centerpiece of Drew Brees’ offense. He’s also a special player, one who can still win weeks even if he’s getting “just” 16-18 touches. For Week 1, Kamara’s matchup could scarcely be better than a soft Bucs defense he gutted for 280 yards on only 31 touches in 2017.
Week 1 Quarterbacks
QB Notes: Chicago’s defense was feisty even without Khalil Mack. With him, it has a chance to be special under elite DC Vic Fangio. Nevertheless, Aaron Rodgers ripped it for four touchdowns on just 26 attempts on a short week last September. Including the playoffs, Rodgers has averaged three scores over his past 12 home starts. Mack will be on a Week 1 pitch count. … We are all waiting for Drew Brees’ 4.3 2017 touchdown percentage to normalize closer to his career rate of 5.3. The Bucs, who surrendered the league’s most passing yards last season, would be a great place to start. … Last year’s QB2, Cam Newton enters 2018 with what should be an improved supporting cast and play-calling. The Cowboys’ defense, meanwhile, remains thoroughly unimposing. … The Texans allowed the second-most quarterback fantasy points last season, but that was with each of J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Kevin Johnson missing extended time with injury. The Texans will be as healthy as they’ve been since last Week 1 when they venture to New England to take on Tom Brady.
Amidst talk of his certain regression, Deshaun Watson opens 2018 in the stadium where he became an NFL star. Although the Patriots’ defense lacked for notable offseason additions, it improved down the stretch in 2017. (Maybe throw out the Super Bowl tape, though.) Watson’s performance will be a telling opening chapter in his quest to move beyond his ACL injury and repeat his supposedly unrepeatable rookie year. … Matthew Stafford has grown more efficient while remaining prolific. He enters 2018 with his most impressive supporting cast since Calvin Johnson’s retirement. The Jets’ defense could be an on-the-rise unit but was smashed for the third-most quarterback fantasy points last season. … Kirk Cousins did not exactly hurt for weapons in Washington, but he has the best supporting cast of his career in Minnesota. The 49ers are an appetizing matchup for Cousins’ Vikes debut. … The Broncos are not their stay-away matchup of yore, but Mile High Stadium is still a difficult place to open the season. Russell Wilson’s offensive line has not improved while his weapons have thinned. The “hunger games” feel of his past two seasons figures to remain.
I’ve been known as a Jared Goff “hater.” Admittedly, I enter 2018 wondering if 2017 was the outer limit of what Goff can accomplish in the NFL. None of that matters in a Week 1 matchup that is simply too good to ignore. The Raiders’ defense was bad with Khalil Mack. Now it could be unwatchable. … With Le’Veon Bell on the couch, Ben Roethlisberger will have to take to the air. The Browns were a walkover 2017 unit, but Myles Garrett is looking to change that overnight. … Coming off his worst season since his rookie campaign, Andy Dalton opens the year on the road against the Colts’ severely undermanned defense. He will be doing so with a healthy Tyler Eifert and John Ross. It should be a good day. … Andrew Luck’s arm appeared “under construction” during the preseason. Luck’s 2018 upside remains high, but he is best approached skeptically for Week 1 as he looks to knock off the rust and re-acquaint himself with the hard-hitting world of NFL football.
The Chiefs bled 2017 fantasy points to quarterbacks … except to Philip Rivers. Phil posted a 1:6 TD:INT ratio in his two matchups with the Chiefs’ beleaguered defense. Going back to 2014, that number is 6:13 in eight starts against Andy Reid’s squad. Hopefully Marcus Peters being gone will make a difference. … Choosing between Alex Smith and Marcus Mariota, I have decided to go with Smith, the player we are basically hoping Mariota will be this season. … You probably remember Matt Ryan having to scratch and claw against the Eagles in last season’s playoff loss. What you may have forgotten was Ryan doing the same thing in the midst of his MVP 2016. Ryan can hit his floor against anyone. Thursday will be a poor bet for his ceiling. … No quarterbacks excited the offseason imagination more than Jimmy Garoppolo and Patrick Mahomes. They are genuinely ascendant players, ones with strong supporting casts and excellent coaching. They also have daunting Week 1 road matchups. We are hoping Garoppolo and Mahomes are about to become the kind of players who cut through any defense. Jimmy G already has in his limited-career sample size. We still need to treat them with opening-week caution at fantasy’s deepest position.
Tyrod Taylor will probably have a normal Tyrod Taylor day, which more often than not is in the QB16-22 range. … Blake Bortles was hot down the stretch last season … then passed for 87 yards against the Bills in the Wild Card round. He managed to rebound against the Steelers and Patriots. I’m counting on something in the middle. … Mitchell Trubisky is the kind of player just calling out for puff pieces, but he struggled to generate them this summer. He will be breaking in a new coach and supporting cast against the Packers. … Dak Prescott has severe offensive line concerns on top of his weapons issues. The Panthers are a tough 2018 opener. … Bad 2017 regular season Nick Foles showed up in the preseason, with the Eagles generating zero points on his 10 drives. It could be hard for Playoff Foles to show up without Alshon Jeffery (shoulder) in Week 1. … On-the-spot quarterbacks Derek Carr and Eli Manning have awful Week 1 matchups. Manning was throwing hospital balls during the preseason. … Nathan Peterman is being thrown to the wolves. Better him than Josh Allen.
Week 1 Running Backs
RB Notes: The Raiders had a replacement-level run defense with Khalil Mack. Without him, there will be no speed limit for Todd Gurley. … David Johnson’s 2,118 yards from scrimmage in 2016 are the most by any player over the past three seasons. He did that in essentially 15 games. Johnson is still gunning for 1,000/1,000 in 2018. All the offseason talk was about Larry Fitzgerald, but the Cards’ offense is going to operate through its running back. … Only (currently AWOL) Le’Veon Bell has averaged more weekly touches than Ezekiel Elliott since the start of the 2016 season. The Cowboys have no Plan B on that formula for 2018. The Panthers are a rough matchup, but Elliott overcomes rough matchups with blunt-force usage. … Speaking of usage monsters, Melvin Gordon will be the back for a 3.5-point home favorite in a game with a 48 over/under. … One of the reasons Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing as a rookie is the 327 yards he piled up across two games against the Chargers. The Bolts are still built to shut down the skies and bend but not break on the ground.
Is Christian McCaffrey going to win fantasy leagues? His preseason usage matched the Panthers’ summer rhetoric of a greatly-increased role. Beginning the year as a three-point home favorite against the Cowboys’ talent-limited defense could make for an auspicious start. … Leonard Fournette took encouraging offseason steps to correct his rookie durability and stamina woes, namely slimming way down. Despite their Blake Bortles extension, the Jags want to remain a ball-control offense. 20 will be Fournette’s weekly over/under for touches. … The Jaguars’ run defense took a big step forward following last season’s acquisition of Marcell Dareus. The work will be there but do not be surprised if Saquon Barkley looks like a rookie in his NFL debut. … The Eagles routinely erased opposing running games last season. Devonta Freeman will be hanging his opening-night hat on volume. … Even if — when? — the Bills go off the rails in Baltimore, they will not have the luxury of abandoning LeSean McCoy and the running game. It might not be pretty, but McCoy should receive a minimum of 18 touches.
Dalvin Cook is one of Week 1’s biggest question marks. The Vikings have telegraphed they want to ease Cook in coming off his ACL tear while keeping Latavius Murray involved after his serviceable 2017 as a short-yardage back. You can’t keep a Ferrari in the garage forever, but Cook could have a quiet September. … The Dolphins listed Kenyan Drake “or” Frank Gore as their starter, but coach Adam Gase tipped his hand when he said he wants Drake to get 6-8 weekly targets in addition to 15-20 carries. That would be Jamaal Charles-type usage for a Charles-ian talent. … Will James Conner slide seamlessly into Le’Veon Bell’s every-down role? At least in the preseason, the answer was yes. There’s been nary a peep about fifth-round rookie Jaylen Samuels. Browns DC Gregg Williams goes to extreme lengths to eliminate the run, but Conner will be an RB2 as long as he gets the 15-20 touches that seem to be coming. … It’s going to be a telling week for Jordan Howard’s 2018 usage. 7.5-point underdogs in Green Bay, the Bears could have to abandon the run early. Will Howard get mothballed, or will he actually see expanded passing-game work, as coach Matt Nagy has claimed he might?
Jamaal Williams is not the most explosive runner, but he turns in his homework. Coach Mike McCarthy has said he’s “poised to have a big year.” How big will depend on how many passing-game snaps Ty Montgomery siphons. The Pack have typically liked to stick with one back. … After a mysterious summer, Jay Ajayi appears fully locked in on early downs in Philadelphia. … Rex Burkhead is poised to lead the Pats’ Week 1 backfield, though he did miss most of the summer with a “slight tear” in his knee. Even if Sony Michel (knee) sits, it’s possible some patented Patriots frustration develops, specifically in the form of Jeremy Hill goal-line carries. … It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Dion Lewis seizes control of the Titans’ backfield. For Week 1, however, Derrick Henry should have a decisive touch advantage. Henry will be hurt whenever the Titans have to play from behind. … Unlike last season, Carlos Hyde should be a strict two-down back in Cleveland. Nick Chubb will be waiting in the wings whenever Hyde picks up one of his inevitable ailments. … Peyton Barber should barely come off the field against the Saints. … It’s possible no coach talked about a player more this summer than Pete Carroll did about Chris Carson. If Rashaad Penny becomes a concern, it’s unlikely to be in Week 1.
Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson and Alfred Morris comprise the old guy brigade. Game flow could be an issue for Lynch against the Rams. A boat racing is possible. As for Peterson, there’s almost no reason to expect the Redskins to ration his reps. Caution will be thrown to the wind. Morris should get the first crack on early downs in San Francisco, but coach Kyle Shanahan has been candid about planning a “hot hand” system between Morris and Matt Breida. We are guessing Morris will usually “have the cards,” so to speak. … Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker’s workload delineation was a little too close for comfort in the preseason, but Freeman had the summer the Broncos were looking for out of their rookie power back. … Isaiah Crowell appeared miles ahead of Bilal Powell to begin the summer, but Powell seemed to have the upper hand by the end of the preseason. It’s a Week 1 situation to avoid if possible. … With Marlon Mack (hamstring) looking doubtful, Jordan Wilkins and Christine Michael will throw darts until someone gets a bullseye. … A similar dynamic is at play in Detroit. Kerryon Johnson is the fun own, but ex-Pat Matt Patricia could order the LeGarrette Blount code red.
Week 1 Receivers
WR Notes: Both Antonio Brown’s 582 catches and 7,848 yards since 2013 are the most ever over a five-year span. With Le’Veon Bell out of the picture, Brown’s targets are, uhh, not going to go down. … Patriots No. 1 CB Stephon Gilmore really upped his play down the stretch last season. It’s unclear if he will shadow DeAndre Hopkins, who posted a modest 7/76/0 in last year’s shootout. … The Colts do not have the corners to hang with A.J. Green. … Matt Ryan struggled in last year’s postseason loss to the Eagles, but Julio Jones still managed to hang 9/101 on Jim Schwartz’s defense. Jones enters 2018 with 30 catches for 424 yards over his past four games. OC Steve Sarkisian got the idea. … The Chiefs allowed the second most fantasy points to wide receivers last season. That was with Marcus Peters. Welcome, Keenan Allen. … The Bucs’ vanilla defense was no match for anyone in 2017. That includes Michael Thomas, who went 14/159 in the sides’ two meetings.
Odell Beckham proved his health in the summer. It’s his nerve that will be put to the test against league-best corner Jalen Ramsey. Beckham has pledged not to let Ramsey take up residence in his head. … Davante Adams is just the fourth wide receiver in NFL history to post back-to-back sub-1,000-yard 10-touchdown seasons. With Jordy Nelson out of the picture, the yardage should go up. With Jimmy Graham in the picture, the touchdowns will be harder pressed to increase. … Stefon Diggs seems so close to a Keenan Allen-style breakout. He needs to avoid the soft-tissue injuries that have slowed him. The 49ers will provide the opportunity for a statement game. … Increased slot usage should fortify Adam Thielen’s floor while positive touchdown regression would up his ceiling. … T.Y. Hilton has averaged 90 yards per game over Andrew Luck’s past two full seasons. That number dipped to 65.3 the two years Luck largely missed. Luck’s arm strength is an open question after a shaky summer, but his No. 1 target is not.
Tyreek Hill was the best receiver in the NFL this preseason, catching 14-of-14 targets for 182 yards. The Chargers are a tough matchup, but Hill dusted them for 10/165/2 in 2017. Hill’s speed is one of the league’s least-defensible attributes. … Larry Fitzgerald is expected to square off with “Fabian Moreau” in the slot. Best of luck, Fabian. … Mike Evans struggled with Marshon Lattimore last season, though he did draw a season-high 13 targets against him in Week 17. Gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick never shies away from peppering his No. 1. … Chris Hogan is Tom Brady’s unquestioned No. 1 receiver. His floor is that of a rock-solid WR2. The question is, how high is his upside? Hogan has only two career 100-yard games. … The biggest beneficiary of Le’Veon Bell’s absence could be JuJu Smith-Schuster. With Vance McDonald’s (foot) status uncertain, the Steelers should have a narrow target tree in Cleveland. … The Rams love Brandin Cooks. Coach Sean McVay could not stop talking about him this summer. They also love Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Is a Jared Goff-led offense big enough for the three of them? For now, I will keep red zone dynamo Kupp ahead of Woods.
Golden Tate will try to exploit the Jets’ slot vulnerability on Monday Night Football. … Doug Baldwin has already said he will never be 100 percent healthy this season. That’s going to make Week 1 life tough against Chris Harris in the slot. … Case Keenum will be Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders’ best quarterback since first-half-of-the-2014-season Peyton Manning. Marinate on that for a minute. … Tyrod Taylor has a good deep ball but is conservative at heart. He should be as comfortable as Ryan Tannehill was targeting Jarvis Landry in the middle of the field. … As for Landry’s teammate, Josh Gordon, the Browns are claiming he won’t start against the Steelers. He should still play enough snaps for a WR3 day. … Robby Anderson should be a good fit with aggressive rookie Sam Darnold’s skill-set. … You’ve probably already read about Marvin Jones’ 2017 splits with and without Kenny Golladay. Golladay will be out there against the Jets, who have some tough cornerback personnel on the boundary. … I’m waiting and seeing with Allen Robinson. He’s coming off major injury, was disappointing in his most recent full season and has a question mark at quarterback in an offense that is remaking everything.
The Vikings are one of the best defenses in the league at taking away big plays. Week 1 will be a good barometer for how much Marquise Goodwin’s skill-set has evolved beyond lifting the lid. … Kenny Stills will be the Dolphins’ No. 1 receiver while DeVante Parker is sidelined, and perhaps beyond. … Alshon Jeffery’s (shoulder) absence will make it easier for Nelson Agholor to pick up where he left off in his surprising 2017. … I had a friend in a fantasy draft compare 2017 Will Fuller/Deshaun Watson to 2007 Tom Brady/Randy Moss. He was kidding … sort of. Fuller is not going to score seven touchdowns on 28 catches again. That does not mean he can’t break out if his health finally allows it. … Keelan Cole could go completely bonkers this season and we spent almost no summer time talking about it. Josh Norris once likened him to an “undrafted Marvin Jones.” … Corey Davis has the skill-set to make a sophomore leap. He also has a quarterback at a crossroads and a tough Week 1 matchup in Xavien Howard. … If you’re chasing Week 1 upside, start with John Brown, Mike Williams and John Ross. If you need a legit dart throw, Michael Gallup’s target share could be bigger than it has any right to be. In Arizona, second-year third-rounder Chad Williams quietly won the No. 2 job after a summer full of Christian Kirk chatter.
Week 1 Tight Ends
TE Notes: Rob Gronkowski finished as the TE2 going away last season despite appearing in just 13 games. … No. 1 was Travis Kelce, though he got there in spite of his performances against the Chargers. Kelce caught just seven balls for 47 yards against the Bolts. This rank is all about Kelce’s weekly upside. … Depending on how much time Alshon Jeffery (shoulder) misses, Zach Ertz could make a run at his first 1,000-yard campaign. … The Dolphins got ripped to shreds by tight ends last season. First up for 2018 is Mr. Consistent Delanie Walker. Walker was slowed by a summer toe issue, but he is not listed on the Week 1 injury report. … It would be a major upset if Jimmy Graham did not post the fifth 10-touchdown campaign of his career. … Greg Olsen’s 2017 is why the phrase “lost season” exists. By all accounts, he was “back” this summer. The Panthers’ offense doesn’t need him any less than it did last year.
Jordan Reed enters 2018 as healthy as he’s been in at least two years. Alex Smith is no stranger to targeting the tight end position. … The Bengals are going to live in the moment with Tyler Eifert. Right now, he’s healthy. The Colts’ defense, meanwhile, is not good. … The 2017 Jags did not quite erase tight ends the way they did receivers, but they were hardly inviting up the seam. Evan Engram is going to need a touchdown to have a TE1 day. … If Kyle Rudolph surpasses 532 yards this season, it will be just the second time he has done so. The upside is not there. … Heavily targeted in the preseason, Trey Burton could operate as a pair of training wheels for sophomore Mitchell Trubisky. … Jack Doyle is one of Andrew Luck’s favorite humans. That could ring extra true as Luck tries to rebuild his arm strength.
David Njoku and George Kittle are there for the big-shot takers at tight end. Njoku had a Kelce-ian preseason. Kittle — as he’s been known to do — missed time with injury. Now healthy, he has an extremely tough matchup in the Vikings. Kittle quickly formed a 2017 connection with Jimmy Garoppolo. … Ageless Ben Watson will score a non-trivial amount of touchdowns for the Saints. … It’s not out of the question that Jared Cook ends up as the Raiders’ No. 2 “receiver.” … Charles Clay should be an upside TE2 streamer most weeks, but the Ravens are the wrong way to start the season. … Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be a catch-and-fall guy for Blake Bortles. … Ricky Seals-Jones gobbled up first team snaps for the Cardinals this summer. Jermaine Gresham (Achilles’) isn’t ready to return yet. … Ready or not, Mike Gesicki will handle a “starter-like role.” … With Hunter Henry on the shelf, Antonio Gates should easily improve on last year’s TE27 finish.
Week 1 Kickers
Week 1 Defense/Special Teams
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