Why You Should Start 49ers, Jaguars Players in Week 1
The pandemic-altered 2020 season threw a wrinkle in the typical home-field advantages that mean as much for fantasy as they do for real football. But we are (hopefully) back to normal in 2021 and therefore back to the normal confidence of our venue, weather, and opponent adjustments that identify the players with the best and worst matchups each week. This year, I've also added some discussion on the best and worst DFS values in DraftKings and FanDuel. Those values are in reference to player salaries, so keep in mind that players with good matchups may be bad daily options if their salaries reflect greater matchup advantages than we project.
The following tables feature the players with the best and worst matchups of the week. Each listed player shows a true-talent (TT) ranking that represents how I would rank him within a perfectly neutral game context. Then, that ranking is adjusted by adding the context of the venue (Ven)—home and road, and dome and outside—the forecasted weather (Wea), and opponent tendencies (Opp). The line beneath those rankings shows how much those contextual factors move projected PPR fantasy points. That total (Tot) number gives you a comprehensive estimate of how many fantasy points the player will score this week more or less than his typical total.
You can see our full weekly projections with projected stats, matchup adjustments, and fantasy points by subscribing to FO+. A DFS Value Plays FO+ page will be available soon.
|Best Week 1 Matchups - Quarterbacks|
Jimmy Garoppolo may not be a quarterback to target in drafts in his run-heavy 49ers offense and with No. 3 pick Trey Lance a threat to take his job any week, but he headlines the list of contextual risers in Week 1. The Lions enter the season as top-five boosters of completion percentage (5%), yards per pass (17%), and touchdowns per pass (42%), and as a top-five cutter of interceptions per pass (44%). New head coach Dan Campbell seems to want to rebuild the Lions roster from the trenches out, but it will likely take a season or two to flip the script for a team that has tended to fall behind and increase their opponent's run plays by 13% per game. Playing in the dome in Detroit, Garoppolo could not ask for a better start to his comeback season. My only concern is that his teammates may take too many of his potential touchdowns on their carries, Lance included as a possible red zone package player. Still, I'd happily start Garoppolo in two-quarterback formats this week when I normally wouldn't. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan, Trevor Lawrence, and Tyrod Taylor—the latter two against each other in a battle of bottom-four pass and overall DVOA defenses from 2020—enjoy matchup boosts from their true-talent standings as lesser QB2s to confident ones this week.
For players in shallow formats, Lamar Jackson jumps two spots to become my No. 1 quarterback this week on the road against the Raiders. The Ravens have lost a lot of important offensive players this preseason, from J.K. Dobbins to first-round rookie receiver Rashod Bateman, but I wouldn't overthink this fantasy decision. Despite their attempted investments, the Raiders remained in the bottom five fronts in adjusted sack rate in 2020. Behind a healthy and talented offensive line, Jackson should have time and space to operate. And he'll enjoy the benefits of the Raiders' new dome stadium in Las Vegas. Domes increase completion percentage and yards per pass by 2% and 4%, even for visiting quarterbacks.
Best DraftKings Values: Joe Burrow ($700 underpriced at $5,700), Matt Ryan ($300 underpriced at $6,000), Russell Wilson ($100 underpriced at $7,000)
Best FanDuel Values: Trevor Lawrence ($800 underpriced at $6,800), Russell Wilson ($500 underpriced at $7,800), Joe Burrow ($500 underpriced at $7,200)
Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson are two of the best veteran quarterback choices for daily formats in Week 1. The former is at home in the dome in Atlanta and facing an Eagles defense that is a top-five booster of completion percentage (6%) and top-five cutter of interception rate (40%). And while the latter is away from Seattle where he has scored 3.2 more fantasy points than on the road in recent seasons and facing a capable Colts defense, he suffers too severe a pricing penalty for it, especially in FanDuel. There, his $7,800 salary is just sixth-highest at the position and a full $1,000 short of the most expensive choice, Patrick Mahomes.
For the risk-takers, Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence pair higher expected values over their modest $5,700 and $6,800 price tags in DraftKings and FanDuel with much lower performance floors. Burrow played all of three snaps this preseason in his return from a torn ACL and MCL. But if comfortable, he looks like a low-end QB1 with the benefit of a home game against a Vikings team that boosts passing yards and touchdowns by 11% and 18%, respectively. And Lawrence has even less to fear than Burrow to fear from his Week 1 opponent behind a similarly suspect offensive line. The Texans lost J.J. Watt from a front that even with him was average with a 6.9% adjusted sack rate. The Jaguars-Texans game may not be watchable, but it could have surprising fantasy implications.
|Worst Week 1 Matchups - Quarterbacks|
For the full season, I'm as optimistic for Ben Roethlisberger and Justin Herbert as anyone. But they seem unlikely to be their usual mid-tier QB2 and QB1 selves this week on the road in Buffalo and Washington. Neither has weather concerns—every game this weekend has a forecast in the 70s or higher with little chance of precipitation. But Roethlisberger won't be at home in Heinz Field where he has averaged 1.3 more fantasy points than on the road in recent seasons. And both players face defenses that are top-10 cutters of completion percentage, yards per pass, and touchdowns per pass. Herbert thrived on the road (3.3 more fantasy points per game there than at home) and under pressure (-14.4% passing DVOA, fourth best) as a rookie, but I need to see more than a season of that unusual trend to trust it.
Josh Allen and Dak Prescott face difficult defensive tests, the former at home against the Steelers and the latter on the road tonight in Tampa Bay. But neither matchup costs them their typical QB1 status. Allen's fall from first in true talent to third this week is as steep of one as you can expect from him this season, assuming he can maintain his unprecedented third-year passing efficiency improvements that netted him a $258-million extension.
Worst DraftKings Values: Kyler Murray ($1,000 overpriced at $7,600), Patrick Mahomes ($800 overpriced at $8,100), Ben Roethlisberger ($400 overpriced at $6,100)
Worst FanDuel Values: Kyler Murray ($400 overpriced at $8,400), Patrick Mahomes ($400 overpriced at $8,800), Aaron Rodgers ($200 overpriced at $8,000)
It's unsurprising to see the elite fantasy quarterback options priced at a surplus. But if I were going to pull the trigger on Kyler Murray or Patrick Mahomes in DFS, I'd at least want them to have plus matchups. Neither does this week. Murray travels to Tennessee, and while the Titans increase their opponents' passing touchdown rates by 15%, Murray has scored 4.8 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road in his career. For me, he is an Arizona-only DFS option. Mahomes plays well everywhere and against every team, but the Browns at least have a chance to disrupt him with Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney up front. And they may be the team best equipped to consistently challenge the Chiefs' No. 31-ranked run defense (2.5% DVOA) and keep the ball out of Mahomes' hands.
|Best Week 1 Matchups - Running Backs|
The 49ers backfield could be a difficult one to handicap once rookie Trey Sermon finds his NFL footing. But at least in Week 1, I am confident in the veteran Raheem Mostert. He has led all backs with 150 or more carries with 5.4 yards per carry and an outrageous 3.5 yards before contact per attempt the last two seasons, and he has the speed and run-blocking to sustain it into 2021 behind standout blockers such as Trent Williams, George Kittle, and old newcomer Alex Mack. Like Garoppolo, Mostert should benefit from a matchup with the Lions, who increase run plays by 13% per game and touchdowns by 41% per carry. With the boost, Mostert comes close to the top 20 at his position. And hopefully for the stackers, Garoppolo will throw to Mostert for a score or two.
Gus Edwards and James Robinson should enjoy similar plus opponent matchups with the Raiders and Texans this weekend. Those defenses are the No. 1 and No. 2 boosters of rushing touchdown rate. But as it's Week 1, it may be more important to take note of Edwards' and Robinson's true-talent rankings of 16th and 18th at the position. With the season-ending injuries of teammates J.K. Dobbins, Justice Hill, and Travis Etienne, Edwards and Robinson strike me as safe RB2 choices every week. This week with their matchup boosts, they are slam-dunk lineup inclusions.
Best DraftKings Values: Joe Mixon ($600 underpriced at $6,200), Mike Davis ($400 underpriced at $5,400), Gus Edwards ($300 underpriced at $5,600)
Best FanDuel Values: James Robinson ($800 underpriced at $4,800), Mike Davis ($600 underpriced at $6,200), Gus Edwards ($500 underpriced at $6,500)
I can buy an argument that Mike Davis has yet to prove his full-season merits. After a journeyman start to his career, he set a career high with just 224 touches in relief of an injured Christian McCaffrey in 2020. But while he is healthy in Week 1, I'm baffled by his low DraftKings and FanDuel prices. Davis was a force with 2.5 yards after contact per attempt in 2020, a rate that landed him just between Nick Chubb (2.8) and Dalvin Cook (2.4). He produced a positive YAC+ (1.2) as a receiver. And he has absolutely no one behind him in Atlanta. The Falcons rushed to sign Wayne Gallman after he failed to make the 49ers, and they open the year with returner Cordarrelle Patterson as their official No. 2 running back. With his likely workload, Davis should be a frequent daily option. And I love him at his prices this week with a boost from a home game in the dome in Atlanta.
|Worst Week 1 Matchups - Running Backs|
The Bucs will be a difficult defensive challenge for every Cowboys player. But against last year's No. 1 run defense (-31.4% DVOA), Ezekiel Elliott is destined to struggle the most. His loss of a projected 1.2 PPR points doesn't knock him out of the top 10 at the position, but don't expect your usual return on an Elliott investment.
Josh Jacobs and David Montgomery are the backs whose matchups could conceivably threaten their placement in your weekly lineups. The former faces real workload concerns with the Raiders' addition of Kenyan Drake, ostensibly a better pass-catching choice whatever their respective YAC+ rates would suggest. Jacobs does enjoy the home dome boost, but the Ravens are the No. 1 decreaser of rushing touchdown rate (44%) and a top-five decreaser of run plays per game (12%). Jacobs will likely have to lean on rushing volume and rushing touchdowns for his fantasy value this season. With threats to both, he falls outside of my top 20 at the position this week.
Andy Dalton is under more scrutiny with exciting rookie Justin Fields behind him, but Montgomery faces a compelling test in the Rams defense as well. The latter's apparent breakout at the end of last season was overwhelmingly a function of the teams he faced. The Lions, Texans, Vikings, Jaguars, and Packers in Montgomery's final five weeks were all in the bottom half of teams in run defense DVOA in 2020. The Rams were third and project to cut yards and touchdowns by 9% and 31% per carry. Montgomery won't have to deal with Tarik Cohen siphoning off catches until he returns from the PUP list, but this is not the week to expect a workload bump for Montgomery and an easy 100 yards because of it. I rank him 15th at the position for the week.
Worst DraftKings Values: David Johnson ($2,200 overpriced at $5,700), Miles Sanders ($1,700 overpriced at $5,800), Alvin Kamara ($1,700 overpriced at $8,600)
Worst FanDuel Values: Alvin Kamara ($1,100 overpriced at $8,600), Ezekiel Elliott ($1,000 overpriced at $8,000), David Johnson ($900 overpriced at $5,700)
David Johnson and Alvin Kamara stand out as poor values in both DFS platforms, but the reasons are different. Johnson was a decent fantasy producer on volume in 2020, but his placement behind Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram on the Texans' depth chart at worst indicates a demotion and at best suggests a three-back committee. The Texans have an appealing stacking matchup at home against the Jaguars, but I wouldn't attempt it with Johnson as my running back.
Kamara has a high floor if he stays healthy. Still, I'm skeptical he can maintain his status as a top-five back without Drew Brees under center. With his conservative approach to offense, Brees checked down to his backs constantly. Kamara may be Jameis Winston's most talented receiver until Michael Thomas returns from his ankle surgery, but Winston has historically pushed the ball down the field and could cut into Kamara's PPR points with that approach. Don't assume Latavius Murray's release will put more work on Kamara. Tony Jones is a capable backup. As such, I prefer to wait a week and see how the Saints play before I build any lineups around Kamara.
|Best Week 1 Matchups - Wide Receivers|
After averaging 11.3 targets, 109 yards, and 0.43 touchdowns in seven games with Julio Jones sidelined in 2020, Calvin Ridley makes his debut as the Falcons' No. 1 receiver in fact in a perfect situation. He'll enjoy the home dome boost and an Eagles opponent that is the No. 1 increaser of catch rate (22%) and yards per target (30%) for No. 1 receivers. Cornerback Darius Slay just suffered his worst professional season with bottom-10 rates of 9.6 yards allowed per target and a 39.4% coverage success rate. Now on the wrong side of 30 years old, Slay's best days may be behind him.
It isn't totally clear which Jaguars receiver is their No. 1 and likely major beneficiary of the Texans matchup. But DJ Chark was a top-20 PPR receiver in 2019 before myriad back, rib, and shin injuries cost him three games in 2020 and limited his effectiveness in the others. I expect a bounce back with better health and a better quarterback, and he may enjoy his best DFS discount this week because of the tepid public expectation and because the Texans are a top-five increaser of touchdowns per target for No. 1 receivers (43%).
Best DraftKings Values: Cooper Kupp ($1,000 underpriced at $5,500), DeVonta Smith ($900 underpriced at $4,500), Tee Higgins ($900 underpriced at $4,700)
Best FanDuel Values: DeVonta Smith ($900 underpriced at $5,300), Cooper Kupp ($700 underpriced at $6,200), Tyler Lockett ($400 underpriced at $6,800)
DeVonta Smith missed a chunk of August with an MCL sprain that put concerns for his smaller stature back in the forefront of people's minds. I can't claim I don't have long-term fears. But for Week 1 this season, I think he's an excellent play in both daily platforms. Next to similarly unproven Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins, Smith should see a No. 1 receiver target volume from Day 1 as a rookie. That should play well this week against sophomore No. 1 cornerback A.J. Terrell and a Falcons defense that is the No. 2 booster of pass plays by virtue of the disparity of the run (-20.7% DVOA, 6th) and pass defenses (11.6%, 19th).
The Bears are a more extreme version of the Falcons defensively with the No. 4 run defense and No. 13 pass defense. That could skew the Rams toward pass plays this week, and they may already have been leaning that way after running back Cam Akers went down for the season with a torn Achilles. I like Cooper Kupp to benefit. Some missed time in 2018 and 2020 has obscured the fact that Kupp has a top-15 average of 15.7 PPR points over those three seasons. That may even improve with Matthew Stafford in town. His addition and those of DeSean Jackson and rookie Tutu Atwell seem geared toward an increase in play-action rate and deep targets, but Stafford featured Golden Tate with between 120 and 144 targets per season in four full years with the Lions. Kupp will be a mainstay in the top 20 of wide receiver salaries if this offense finds its stride. Take advantage while he is outside the top 30.
|Worst Week 1 Matchups - Wide Receivers|
You shouldn't bench Keenan Allen or Davante Adams in any traditional formats despite their difficult road matchups with Washington and New Orleans, last year's second- and third-best pass defenses by DVOA. But you may should consider sidelining JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cole Beasley, or Kenny Golladay depending on your receiver depth. The Bills underwhelmed as a pass defense in 2020 (2.2% DVOA, 12th), but they will likely improve after adding pass-rushers Gregory Rousseau and Boogie Basham with consecutive early draft picks. Meanwhile, the Bills have their defensive strength in speed at linebacker and safety, traits that inform their top-10 cutting of slot receiver catch rate (6%), yards per target (10%), and touchdowns per target (20%). Across the field, the Steelers are strong at every aspect of defensive play. But most importantly for Cole Beasley's fantasy potential, the Steelers cut slot receiver catch rate by 15%, the highest rate in football. And if you preferred to wait a week and see with Kenny Golladay, his new team, and his bad hamstring, the matchup should motivate that decision even further. The Broncos were already the No. 1 cutter of yards per target for No. 1 wide receivers (29%), and their pass defense has a chance to become terrifying with Von Miller back from his ankle injury and top-10 cornerback selection Patrick Surtain II impressing with his readiness for the professional game. Golladay falls from 22nd in my true-talent receiver rankings to 27th, a precarious placement for flex consideration.
Worst DraftKings Values: Adam Thielen ($1,600 overpriced at $7,000), Davante Adams ($1,200 overpriced at $8,300), DJ Moore ($1,100 overpriced at $6,100)
Worst FanDuel Values: Davante Adams ($1,300 overpriced at $8,600), Adam Thielen ($1,000 overpriced at $7,300), Keenan Allen ($700 overpriced at $7,400)
I'm not positive that Adam Thielen will suffer a precipitous decline in his touchdown-scoring. He scored 5.0 more touchdowns than his expected total from where he saw his targets in 2020, but he also saw 20 targets in the end zone, tied for the most at the position. He may simply have a nose for the end zone—he is bigger than you likely realize at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. Still, that may not be a recipe for success this week against a Bengals defense that is a 7% increaser of opponent run plays and that has made some underdiscussed improvements to their pass defense with players such as Trey Hendrickson, Larry Ogunjobi, Chidobe Awuzie, and Trae Waynes. I doubt those additions will transform the Bengals into a top-10 pass defense. But they may be enough to render Thielen overpriced at over $7,000 in both DFS platforms.
I can listen to an argument that Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady can unlock Sam Darnold after three seasons in Adam Gase purgatory. But you still can't convince me that will lead to more than six touchdowns for DJ Moore. Moore has just 10 touchdowns total in three seasons, and it's not a fluke based on his usage. Last year, he saw just 5.5 expected touchdowns on excellent volume of 118 targets. Just 11 of those targets came within 5 yards of the end zone. Look for Christian McCaffrey and newcomers Terrace Marshall (6-foot-3 and 200 pounds) and Dan Arnold (6-foot-6 and 220 pounds) to further cut those totals and render Moore's Week 1 salary of $6,100 in DraftKings excessive.
|Best Week 1 Matchups - Tight Ends|
I'm not sure how to project Kyle Pitts for the season with his unusual talent and pedigree but the long history of underwhelming rookie tight end seasons. But if you are more bullish than I am with his true-talent ranking of 10th at the position, then he is a no-brainer start this week at home against the Eagles. The Eagles love to underspend at linebacker, and that approach has netted them top-10 boosts for their opponent tight end catch rates (12%), yards per target (9%), and touchdowns per target (39%).
Tyler Higbee and Blake Jarwin are two of the more compelling TE2 sleepers, and I think they could enjoy quick starts to the season, the former at home in the dome in Los Angeles and the latter on the road in Tampa Bay. The Bears have bodies to throw at tight ends, but their relative effectiveness against outside receivers increases their projected boosting of tight end touchdown rate to 46% over average, fifth most in football. Higbee scored five times in six games split between the end of 2019 and Week 2 of 2020 when former teammate Gerald Everett was sidelined. With Everett now in Seattle, Higbee could be a featured target this season and is a strong bet to score in Week 1.
Jarwin missed all of 2020 with a torn ACL and had to watch his teammate Dalton Schultz enjoy a career year with 63 catches and 615 yards from the sidelines. That makes him a riskier play in Week 1, but Jarwin looks like the Cowboys' No. 1 tight end to me. And while the Bucs are neutral in defense of tight ends on a per-target basis, they do tend to build leads and spark an increase of their opponent's pass plays by 3%. That could bode well for a near-TE1 day.
Best DraftKings Values: Kyle Rudolph ($1,300 underpriced at $2,800), Blake Jarwin ($900 underpriced at $3,400), Tyler Higbee ($400 underpriced at $3,900)
Best FanDuel Values: Blake Jarwin ($900 underpriced at $4,500), Kyle Rudolph ($700 underpriced at $4,500), Jonnu Smith ($400 underpriced at $4,900)
Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney have stolen the injury headlines in Giants training camp, but Evan Engram seems the likeliest teammate to miss the opener. Confirm on Sunday before you lock your lineups in, but Kyle Rudolph looks like a strong play with just Kaden Smith healthy at his position behind him—and only relatively so since he has been missing practice with a knee injury.
|Worst Week 1 Matchups - Tight Ends|
Higbee's former teammate Gerald Everett is not so fortunate with his Week 1 opponent in Indianapolis. Darius Leonard and company are top-five cutters of tight end yards (15%) and touchdowns per target (48%). Everett is a decent TE2 sleeper in his own right, but his fall from 15th in true talent to 18th at the position this week should likely keep him out of your lineups. Anthony Firkser and Mark Andrews suffer similar projected losses of half a PPR point, but the former starts too low (21st at the position) and the latter starts too high (sixth) to be in or to move them out of your typical lineups.
Hunter Henry has missed time with a shoulder injury, and I'm not sure he's the Patriots' No. 1 tight end with Jonnu Smith in the mix. His true-talent ranking of seventh keeps him in the top 10 at the position, but with the uncertainty, it may be a week to wait and see. The Dolphins have their greatest coverage strength at cornerback, but they still are a top-10 cutter of tight end touchdown rate at 44%. Mac Jones will likely throw way more than Cam Newton would have, but look for the Patriots to rely on their ground game this week to take advantage of the Dolphins' relative weakness at run defense (-2.3%, 22nd).
Worst DraftKings Values: Darren Waller ($1,300 overpriced at $7,500), Mark Andrews ($600 overpriced at $5,300), Dallas Goedert ($400 overpriced at $4,800)
Worst FanDuel Values: Travis Kelce ($700 overpriced at $8,500), Dallas Goedert ($500 overpriced at $5,900), Mark Andrews ($500 overpriced at $6,200)
Darren Waller tends toward matchup immunity, but the Ravens are strong enough in defense of tight ends to scare me toward a different top-tier option, at least in DraftKings where he costs $7,500. The Ravens cut tight end touchdown rate by 44%, the sixth highest rate in football. Travis Kelce has his expected early-season markup, but as just a $700 overpay in FanDuel, I wouldn't rule him out as an option with so much uncertainty outside the top 10 at the position.
Speaking of that uncertainty, Dallas Goedert has top-six tight end prices in both DFS platforms that, like me, must have assumed that Zach Ertz would be wearing a Bills uniform this season. He isn't, and with Ertz set to suit up in Week 1, Goedert seems unlikely to take full advantage of the Falcons top-10 boosting of tight end touchdown rate (33%). Ertz missed a chunk of 2020 with an ankle injury, but when both players were healthy in 2019, he out-targeted Goedert 9.0 per game to 5.8. Add in quarterback Jalen Hurts' poor rookie accuracy and I prefer to look elsewhere for my daily lineups.