Week 1 Fantasy Football Start/Sit Candidates
Wondering how to manage your roster ahead of Week 1? Here's a position-by-position look at some of the best players to start and some guys to leave on the bench.
Quarterbacks - Starts
Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams vs. Buffalo Bills
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford kicked off 2022 with a Super Bowl victory but the year took a downturn with amorphous news reports about an elbow issue that is expected to stick with him throughout the upcoming season. Although a date with the vaunted Buffalo Bills defense looms, Stafford-drafters have reason for optimism as the Los Angeles quarterback has managed to practice far more than the coaching staff ever expected. Stafford even proudly proclaimed that he has “no limitations” with the elbow, moving forward.
The unexpected practice reps have allowed Stafford to build chemistry with his new X-wide receiver, former All-Pro Allen Robinson while continuing his record-setting rapport with slot receiver Cooper Kupp. Though Buffalo’s pass rush is one of the league’s stronger units, Stafford should stay upright for much of the night as Los Angeles retained three of their five Super Bowl starters and managed to replace the retired left tackle Andrew Whitworth with the blossoming Joseph Noteboom, who has developed as one of the league’s best rotational pass protectors over the last two years. Los Angeles’ offensive line came in as the sixth-best unit in Justin Edwards’ 2022 rankings.
Buffalo’s No. 1 cornerback Tre’Davious White remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list (ACLR) so the Bills’ secondary will be keyed by the underwhelming second-year cornerback Dane Jackson, ho-hum slot cornerback Taron Johnson, and Round 1 rookie Kaiir Elam. While Elam is a promising prospect, the Rams’ veteran trio should have little issue imparting their wisdom unto the young defender. Stafford also has the added passing benefit of repeated opportunities; both Los Angeles and Buffalo finished 2021 top-10 in neutral passing rate, per the RotoViz NFL Pace App, and when two passing-centric offenses meet, it typically makes for fruitful, spiked passing totals. Expect Stafford to put on a QB1 performance on Thursday night.
Justin Fields, Chicago Bears vs. San Francisco 49ers
Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields has one of the scariest on-paper matchups an NFL quarterback can have; the San Francisco 49ers. The matchup was just as frightening last season though and Fields was playing for a far worse coach, behind an equally awful offensive line, yet Fields produced the single-best fantasy score of his 10-start rookie year; 25.3 fantasy points.
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The 49ers ranked top-10 in both quarterback pressure rate, 43%, sack rate, 25.9%, and sacks per game, 2.8, per SportsInfoSolutions, and four of their 48.0 sacks had Justin Fields’ name on them. Despite the fearsome front, Fields came into his own, carrying the ball 10 times for 103 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown, and completing a season-best 70.37% of his passes, among his 10 games as a starter. With a new coaching staff who is better prepared to utilize Fields’ unique ability, Fields should be deployed in the proper manner from start to finish.
Quarterbacks – Sits
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings enter 2022 born again under the tutelage of new head coach Kevin O’Connell with a pair of now-healthy pass rushers in Danielle Hunter and offseason acquisition Za’Darius Smith. O’Connell brings with him a passing-game emphasis on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football and the two pass rushers are set to rejuvenate a Minnesota defensive front that ranked 23rd in quarterback pressure rate, per SportsInfoSolutions. Both latter two men have earned Second-team All-Pro honors and a pair of Pro Bowl trips in recent seasons, bringing the juice necessary to push Aaron Rodgers off his spot.
Rodgers will be playing behind a pair of offensive tackles who are still rehabilitating from their respective ACL reconstructions, David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins. Bakhtiari’s is particularly concerning as the tear occurred back in 2020 but his recovery has been hampered by numerous setbacks. He was downgraded to "out" on Sunday morning and is said to be unlikely to play in Week 2 as well. Jenkins is also "dealing with a pectoral injury as well".
Making matters worse, Rodgers’ pass-catching corps is in shambles. Perennial All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams forced his way out via trade this offseason and has been replaced by a questionable cast. Notable names include the fifth-year, unaccomplished Allen Lazard, who is notably battling an ankle injury, has-beens Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb, a pair of rookies Christian Watson, who missed most of training camp with an injury, and Romeo Doubs, and tight end Robert Tonyan, who is also recovering from an ACL tear of his own. Doubs has been the lone bright spot in training camp but rookies often have to earn Rodgers’ trust over time. Rodgers is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but this is a near-worst-case scenario for him.
Baker Mayfield, Carolina Panthers vs. Cleveland Browns
As detailed in this week’s Fantasy Football Streaming Defense Week 1: Browns Face Former QB piece, Cleveland’s defense/special teams fantasy unit is set to steamroll Carolina quarterback Baker Mayfield. Among NFL players with at least 100 targets in a season, 4for4’s NFL Player Stat Explorer, wide receiver D.J. Moore has finished 15th and fourth in yards after the catch per reception over the last two years and Christian McCaffrey finished second in his last healthy season in 2019. Both men should help Mayfield inch his way to a reasonable fantasy floor but Mayfield’s struggle with the deep ball pairs too nicely with Cleveland’s ball-hawking secondary, aided by a ferocious pass rush, for fantasy managers to fire up Mayfield this week.
Wide Receivers – Starts
Marquise Brown, Arizona Cardinals vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Marquise Brown-drafters were already planning on starting “Hollywood” in Week 1, but his upside is far more promising than initially expected and it is worth diving into his top-12 potential this week. 32-year-old tight end Zach Ertz has been dealing with a calf injury for over a month now and started the week off unable to practice. Typically the latter occurrence is not a cause for concern in a vacuum but the duration of the injury is a massive red flag and the team did spend the 55th overall pick on Mackey Award winner Trey McBride this year. With DeAndre Hopkins out (suspension) and electric run-after-catch wide receiver Rondale Moore working through an undisclosed injury, Brown should moonwalk to double-digit targets as quarterback Kyler Murray tries to keep pace with Kansas City’s top-tier passing attack. Fortunately for this duo, Kansas City was dreadful against opposing passing games last year, surrendering the third highest explosive pass rate, per 4for4’s NFL Team Stats Explorer, which is a boon to Brown’s downfield prowess. Expect Murray and Brown to pick up where they left off at the University of Oklahoma in 2018 when Murray won the Heisman and Brown landed First-team All-American honors.
Christian Kirk, Jacksonville Jaguars @ Washington Commanders
Christian Kirk, Jacksonville’s $72 million man, should gobble up targets this week, debuting as Jacksonville’s starting slot receiver/de facto No. 1 pass catcher. New head coach Doug Pederson was impressed with Kirk’s training camp performance and even felt comfortable enough to ship out the Jaguars’ 2020 second-round pick, slot receiver Laviska Shenault. Kirk should have little issue putting some veteran moves on 2021 third-round pick, slot cornerback Benjamin St. Juste, who had a downright awful rookie season. Kirk can be started as a fantasy WR3 with easy WR2 upside.
Wide Receivers - Sits
Allen Lazard, Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings
Allen Lazard entered 2022 as a possible replacement for No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams but the issue with this idea is that Lazard has failed to meaningfully produce through four straight years, despite minimal competition for No. 2 wide receiver duties. Lazard managed to post career highs in targets, 60, receptions, 40, receiving yards, 513, and receiving touchdowns, 8. Even with this mediocre breakout, Lazard only produced 1.3 yards and a 15% target rate on a per route basis, per SportsInfoSolutions. Both numbers are well below the respective 1.9 and 22% thresholds that one would look for in the potential fantasy WR2 range. The poor production combined with an ankle injury makes Lazard an awfully risky prospect both for Week 1 and beyond.
Kenny Golladay, New York Giants at Tennessee Titans
New York Giants beat reporter Jordan Raanan Giants/post/_/id/63942/the-giant-enigmas-at-wide-receiver-can-kenny-golladay-and-kadarius-toney-turn-the-corner-this-season">recently described Keny Golladay to have “been running routes this summer with the stiffness of a mannequin”. Not a great sign for a 28-year-old wide receiver who should still have something left in the tank. On paper, this is a fantastic matchup as the Titans allowed the eighth-most receiving yards in the NFL last year, per SportsInfoSolutions, and the defense has only gotten weaker with the loss of 2021 Pro Bowl pass rusher Harold Landry (ACL). Still, Golladay’s rickety ways make him a full-fade as the potential No. 4 option in the passing game behind the now-healthy wide receiver Kadarius Toney, rookie slot receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, and running back Saquon Barkley.
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Tight Ends - Starts
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Detroit Lions’ promising fourth-year tight end T.J. Hockenson has yet to produce a truly dominant season thus far, but Week 1’s date with the Philadelphia Eagles brings an outstanding opportunity for him to announce his presence in 2022. Philadelphia’s team-building philosophies lead them to deprioritize the interior of the field on the defensive side of the ball. Last year that resulted in the allowance of 13.6 half-PPR points per game, second most in the NFL, keyed by a league-high 6.3 tight end receptions per game. Hockenson Bears top-three tight end upside in this one.
Albert Okwuegbunam, Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks
Special emphasis was placed on Albert Okwuegbunam’s development this offseason, after Denver’s front office jettisoned starting tight end Noah Fant to Seattle in the league-shifting Russell Wilson trade. The only individuals who know why Okwuegbunam was kept under the microscope are those who made that call; the Denver coaching staff. Despite the young tight end’s preseason work with the backups, Wilson has effusively praised Okwuegbunam’s development. If one takes a walk down narrative street, it is easy to see why the team wanted Okwuegbunam ready as Denver is taking a trip to Seattle to play a bragging rights bout against the Seahawks. Tight end coverage has long been an issue for Pete Carroll and with rookie receiving tight end Greg Dulcich on the Physically Unable to Perform list, Okwuegbunam should Hoover up targets en route to a TE1 outing.
Tight End – Sits
Zach Ertz, Arizona Cardinals vs. Kansas City
Zach Ertz is nearing 32 years old and has been battling a calf injury for almost a month now. As mentioned in the Jerick McKinnon section below, this is a great matchup from a fantasy perspective as both teams opt for an up-tempo style of play. Ertz opened the week unable to practice but returned on Wednesday. It’s a promising sign that Ertz will be active but one should not depend on a tight end at elevated risk of an in-game setback, who also might be playing on a snap count. At a position where upside means everything, Ertz does not look like a winning candidate entering Week 1.
Logan Thomas, Washington Commanders vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Logan Thomas broke out as a quarterback-to-tight end convert in 2020 but his encore campaign was derailed by an early-season hamstring injury, followed by a gruesome ACL, MCL, and double-meniscus tear in early December. The talented tight end is practicing in a limited capacity right now, but this is an injury nearly on par with what Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow suffered in 2020. Thomas Bears immense upside as head coach Ron Rivera loves to deploy his starting tight end at shockingly high snap rates, but this injury is likely to keep Thomas limited to a rotational role for much of the season’s initial month.
Running Backs – Starts
James Cook, Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Rams
As mentioned above, in the Matthew Stafford section, both the Bills and Rams finished top-10 in neutral passing rate last year. In fact, the Bills, with a neutral passing rate of 64%, finished second only to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their unholy 66%. Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane made it a point to equip quarterback Josh Allen with a true passing game weapon out of the backfield, initially signing pass-catching maven J.D. McKissic to a top-20 running back contract, worth $3.5 million per year. McKissic withdrew at the last second, when Washington offered a matching deal, which prompted a determined Beane to draft running back James Cook out of the University of Georgia, a bonafide running back factory, with a Round 2 pick, the highest such pick Beane has spent on a running back in his six-year tenure in Buffalo.
Cook will have to siphon carries away from veterans Devin Singletary and Zack Moss as the year progresses, but this pass-catching role was being crafted for Cook well before he arrived, and this Week 1 matchup is as perfect as it gets. Buffalo at Los Angeles offers high-scoring potential and Los Angeles’ defense is built to generate pressure up the middle, keyed by interior defensive lineman Aaron Donald. Cook gives Allen the option, for the first time in Allen’s career, to seek out a safety blanket when under pressure. The combination of first-look targets, coupled with Cook’s checkdown value locks him in as a premier flex option in the NFL’s Week 1 inaugural game.
Jerick McKinnon, Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals
Kansas City at Arizona should be one of the higher totaled games on the slate, as both offenses embrace a high-volume nature that’s allowed them to finish top-eight in plays per game in each of the last two years. Though Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Isiah Pacheco have drawn the most media hype through training camp, it is pass-catching specialist Jerick McKinnon who stands to benefit the most. At the end of last season, Edwards-Helaire suffered a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the two final regular-season games and the first of Kansas City’s three preseason games and McKinnon ended up emerging as the playoff hero. Averaging over 100 scrimmage yards per contest, McKinnon stormed his way to a three-game playoff stat line of 150 rushing yards on 34 carries plus 165 receiving yards and 1 touchdown on 14 receptions. The offseason departure of superstar wide receiver Tyreek Hill sprinkles added target potential across all positions and the impending back-and-forth nature of this bout primes McKinnon for a PPR-friendly receiving workload.
Running Backs – Sits
Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts
As detailed in the Depth Chart Battle: Texans Running Backs (Fantasy Football) piece in early August, Dameon Pierce has a complete three-down profile, but unfortunately, he does not yet have reliable access to a three-down workload. Journeyman pass-catching specialist Rex Burkhead dominated passing downs, when active, in Houston’s preseason games despite Pierce running roughshod over opposing defenders and performing exceptionally well in pass protection. Pierce will have to slowly earn the trust of the coaching staff before Burkhead can be demoted in pure passing situations. Although Indianapolis is unlikely to run up the score via an aerial assault, the Colts should be able to control the game with their eighth-ranked offensive line and tough-as-nails defense. Houston will likely be playing from behind all day, which will limit Pierce to a paltry early-down rushing workload.
James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars @ Washington Commanders
James Robinson has made an incredible recovery, returning from a late-December Achilles rupture but fantasy managers need to approach the big-bodied running back with hesitancy in Week 1. The injury has a long and storied history of derailing otherwise promising NFL careers, especially at the running back position. The two most notable success stories are D’Onta Foreman, who effectively spent over two years rehabbing, and Minnesota Vikings backup running back Kene Nwangwu. Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers made a triumphant in-season return from the injury last season, but the jury is still very much out on that one.
Head coach Doug Pederson has been non-committal on Robinson’s expected Week 1 usage, beyond saying that Robinson is expected to suit up. Washington’s commanding defensive line had underperformed defensive line coach Sam Mills III and head coach Ron Rivera made him the subject of an unexpected firing in early August, signaling the performance of Chase Young and Co. is of paramount importance for the defensive-minded head coach. Coupling all of this with the impending debut of do-it-all running back (and collegiate sidekick of quarterback Trevor Lawrence), Travis Etienne, it is difficult to see Robinson succeeding out of the gates.
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