Upgrades

Recent news and/or performance has made us more optimistic about these particular players for fantasy purposes.

Quarterbacks

Matthew Stafford (Det) – Stafford had an absolutely masterful performance in the season opener, albeit going against a depleted Colts defense. He completed 31/39 passes for 340 yards and 3 TDs, tossing scores to TE Eric Ebron, RB Ameer Abdullah, and RB Theo Riddick. The only negative from the opener is that 6 of his 8 incompletions went in the directions of new WR Marvin Jones, who still had 4/85 receiving in his first game with Stafford. The usually sure-handed Golden Tate put his drop issues from the preseason behind him by catching all 7 of his targets. Stafford suddenly has a diverse and deep set of receivers at his disposal this season, and he’s going to spread the ball out most weeks. Weirdly, Calvin Johnson’s retirement could actually be a good thing for Stafford, as he’ll actually go through his progressions more this season instead of leaning on a star WR. We do have to take Stafford’s performance with a grain of salt considering the opponent, but he’s trending in the right direction and has a nice matchup this week against the Titans.

Jameis Winston (TB) - What a fast start for the Bucs’ passing attack in Week 1. Granted, the Falcons have a bottom-3 defense even with shutdown CB Desmond Trufant, but Jameis absolutely torched the “Dirty Birds” in his opener. Tossing for 281 yards and 4 touchdowns on 33 attempts, Winston was sharp in the second half after a slow start to the game. Unfortunately, his positive momentum may be stymied in the coming weeks. The Bucs next three opponents are: at Cardinals, vs. Rams, vs. Broncos. Nonetheless, it’s hard to consider this anything but a positive as Jameis and Mike Evans look to take the next step together this season.

Matt Ryan (Atl) - After being partially left for dead, Ryan showed well in Week 1. It’s too bad his solid play (27-of-39, 334 yards and 2 touchdowns) couldn’t translate into a Falcons win, as the Atlanta defense couldn’t slow down Jameis Winston and the Buccaneer offense. At the least, it appears Mohamed Sanu provides Atlanta with a solid option in the passing game alongside Julio Jones. Instead of being just a weekly streamer for 12-teamers, Ryan may continue his path to fantasy relevance in the next three weeks (at Raiders, at Saints, vs. Panthers).

Upgrades from the Waiver Wire:

  • Brock Osweiler (Hou)
  • Joe Flacco (Bal)
  • Josh McCown (Cle)
  • Carson Wentz (Phi)

 

Running Backs

C.J. Anderson (Den) – This was what people drafted CJA to do last year. Against a tough Panther defense in Week 1, Anderson was the focal point of the defending champs’ offense in Trevor Siemian’s first career start, and the major cog in a big win. CJA carried 20 times for 92 yards and a 1-yard TD, while also adding 4/47/1 as a receiver, including a 25-yard TD on which he bounced off defenders. Anderson looked spry and strong, and did not resemble the out-of-shape, banged-up back we saw in the first half of last season. Additionally, he played a whopping 83% of the Broncos’ offensive snaps, which may have been as high as it was because rookie Devontae Booker fumbled on his first career carry (that was a big problem for Booker in college). Perhaps most surprisingly, the Broncos’ rebuilt OL looked good against a nasty front, and Anderson also get help from FB Andy Janovich as well. Whether the QB is Siemian or Paxton Lynch (and Lynch will play at some point this year), expect CJA to continue as the Broncos’ offensive focal point. He looked every bit of an RB1 in Week 1.

David Johnson (Ari) – So much for all that Chris Johnson talk. The Cardinals played 61 offensive snaps in their loss to the Patriots on Sunday night. D. Johnson was in on 58 of them – 95.1%. With those snaps, DJ posted 16/89/1 rushing and 4/43 receiving on 6 targets. His best run was a highlight-reel 45-yarder that resembled his ridiculous run in Philadelphia last year, when he bounced off several defenders and managed to pick up more yards than should be possible within the scope of human limitation. Johnson also flashed the NFL’s most violent jump cuts, so he’s both elusive and powerful. Most importantly, he’s dynamic. While the game script in this one – Arizona trailed for most of the game – wasn’t what we expected, it’s clear DJ is their back in crunch time, and was also playing in goal-line situations. Perhaps CJ2K gets more work when the Cardinals have the lead, but as it stands now, it’s hard to believe there’s a better fantasy RB out there than DJ.

DeMarco Murray (Ten) - After a nightmarish season in Philadelphia last year, Murray is back where he is comfortable. 10 of Murray’s 13 (76.9%) carries in Week 1’s loss to the Vikings came from under center. Just 14% of Murrays carries with the Eagles came with the quarterback under center. He was able to parlay his comfort level into 13/42 rushing and 5/35/2 receiving on 7 targets. Murray’s job (20 opportunities in Week 1) is safe for now; he played 75% of Tennessee’s offensive snaps, while Derrick Henry played on just 31.3% of the Titans’ offensive snaps and garnered just seven opportunities.

Lamar Miller (Hou) - It’s amazing what Miller can do when he gets the ball! Here is an excellent stat, courtesy of Pro Football Focus’ Scott Barrett: “Miller had 32 touches (against the Bears). In 61 career games with the Dolphins, Miller never reached even 25 touches in a game.” Miller saw a robust 91% of the Texans running back touches in Week 1’s win over the Bears, parlaying that into 28/106 rushing and 4/11 receiving. He played 80% of the Texans’ offensive snaps, while #2 back Tyler Ervin played just 15%. With his workload, Miller is a locked-in top-8 back, regardless of matchup.

Danny Woodhead (SD) – Melvin Gordon had perhaps the best game of his NFL career in Week 1 against the Chiefs, but the fact of the matter is that Woodhead remains the Chargers’ crunch-time back. Woodhead posted 16/89 rushing and 5/31/1 receiving on 7 targets against the Chiefs. Though the Chargers lost a crushing game that they led by three TDs in the second half, keep in mind that Woodhead was on the field for 50/73 snaps (68.5%), while Gordon played just 23/73 (31.5%). Moreover, with Keenan Allen (knee) almost certainly out for the season, Woodhead’s receiving ability will be even more important to the hard-luck Chargers than we previously thought. He has the trust of QB Philip Rivers, and even if Gordon continues to perform well, Woodhead is at bare minimum a solid RB2 in PPR, with a ceiling to be better than that.

Spencer Ware (KC) – How could the Chiefs take Ware off the field, even when Jamaal Charles returns? Ware played just 48% of the Chiefs’ snaps in Week 1 – actually tied with Charcandrick West – but was insanely productive, both as a runner and a receiver. Ware posted 11/70/1 rushing and – the big surprise – a ridiculous 7/129 receiving on 8 targets in a comeback win over the Chargers. Ware came into this game with 5 yards on 6 receptions in his career, so something he made a big focal point of his offseason has become a big part of his game. A physical runner who pushes the pile forward, he’s also excellent in short yardage. We have to admit, given his production, we were surprised to see how few snaps he played, but for his future it’s actually a good sign. It’s clear Ware can produce even without a workhorse’s load, and that means he could hold down flex value when Charles returns.

Carlos Hyde (SF) – If there was one good thing to take away from last night’s awful nightcap, it was Hyde’s usage. Playing 70% of the snaps in Chip Kelly’s offense, Hyde was perhaps the only offensive player who actually looked good in the Niners’ shutout of the Rams. He carried 23 times for 88 yards and 2 TDs, while adding 2/5 receiving. Hyde looked elusive and powerful, and Kelly’s stagnant offense showed some wrinkles that he didn’t show in Philadelphia, at least in regards to the run game. Remember Hyde blew up in Week 1 last year, and there’s reason to believe Shaun Draughn (26% snap share) will have a sizable role, but this is overall a really positive takeaway from Week 1, because we know well that Kelly wants to run the ball above all.

Matt Forte (NYJ) – The Jets are rolling with 2 running backs right now after cutting Khiry Robinson just before the start of the season, and Forte was the clear #1 RB in Week 1 ahead of Bilal Powell. While playing 76.1% of the snaps, Forte posted a workmanlike 22/96 rushing and 5/59 receiving on 7 targets in Week 1 to the Bengals. The best part about the performance is that the 30-year-old Forte showed no signs of a drop off, as he looked spry going against a pretty tough defense. Obviously, Forte won’t be able to keep up a 400+ touch pace for the season, so Powell will have more of a role going forward, but we do like what we saw from Forte in the opener. One spot where Powell could be more active going forward is near the goal line, a place where Forte has struggled in the past, and he got stonewalled on his one chance in Week 1. Forte would obviously be an RB1 if he keeps up this kind of workload, which we don’t think is possible and could change as soon as this week with a Thursday night showdown with the Bills.

Jeremy Langford (Chi) – We gave Langford some love in the preseason once it became clear to us that he was going to be their workhorse back. Well, he was the clear top back for the Bears in Week 1, as he played on 96.4% of the snaps, running 17 times for 57 yards and 1 TD, scoring from a yard out. It was great to see him get the goal-line work ahead of Ka’Deem Carey and Jordan Howard, but we were slightly disappointed in his work in the passing game, with just 2/6 receiving on 4 targets. Langford has potential in the passing game, and he’s the clear three-down back right now, so he’s locked in as a low-end RB1 until Carey and Howard see more playing time.

Jeremy Hill (Cin) – Hill had a scary matchup going against a ferocious Jets front seven, but he came through for his owners that were willing to put him in the lineup. He finished with 9/31/1 rushing and didn’t see a target in Week 1, as he scored on a powerful 12-yard run in which he carried defenders with him into the end zone. New OC Ken Zampese didn’t have the best first game as an NFL playcaller, as he basically abandoned the run – the Bengals finished with 19/57 rushing – and QB Andy Dalton absorbed 7 sacks because of it. Hill ended up playing 50.9% of the snaps while Bernard saw 49.1% of the snaps, so it was a pretty even distribution. Hill has two tough matchups coming up against the Steelers and Broncos, but we think Zampese will show more of a commitment to running the ball going forward.

Ameer Abdullah (Det) – The Colts defense couldn’t keep up with the speed of Lions RB Abdullah and Theo Riddick, as they got to the edges and ran by defenders all game long. Abdullah finished with 12/63 rushing and 5/57/1 receiving on 5 targets in Week 1, scoring on an 11-yard pass from Matthew Stafford. Abdullah saw the majority of the snaps, playing on 61.5% of the snaps while Riddick saw 36.9%. However, rookie RB Dewayne Washington could be thorn in Abdullah’s side this season down at the goal line, as he vultured a 1-yard TD and played on 11% of the snaps. Despite the presence of Washington at the goal line, we liked Abdullah’s involvement in the passing game in Week 1, as he had 20% of the catches he had all of last season – he had 25 catches as a rookie. Abdullah is still more of a low-end RB2 or flex option at this point, but he has some upside if he can continue his involvement in the passing game.

LeGarrette Blount (NE) – The Patriots came into Sunday’s night game as 9-point underdogs, which is usually a recipe for disaster for Blount, who usually does his best work as a closer in blowouts. Well, the Patriots came out and stunned the Cardinals, playing with a lead for much of the game, which kept Blount very involved. He finished with 22/70/1 rushing in Week 1, scoring on one of his longest runs of the night from 8 yards away. The Patriots don’t want Jimmy Garoppolo to throw the ball 40+ times a game for the next three weeks, so Blount should stay awfully involved – he played on 59.2% of the snaps in Week 1. The Patriots are going to run the ball plenty with Blount once again this week, especially since they’re 6.5-point favorites, so ride him while Tom Brady is out of the lineup.

Tevin Coleman (Atl) - One of the biggest Week 1 surprises was Coleman’s usage and involvement when the Falcons trailed for most of the game against the Bucs. Coleman averaged 49% of the Falcons snaps and he nearly split opportunities with Devonta Freeman (Coleman had 14, Freeman: 15). Coleman also produced big-time as a receiver, with 5/95 on 6 targets (he had just 2/14 in all of 2015). That said, neither he (8 carries, 22 yards) or Freeman (11 carries, 20 yards) produced much as a runner. Coleman will be on the RB3 radar versus the Raiders next week.

Upgrades from the Waiver Wire:

  • Tevin Coleman (Atl)
  • Theo Riddick (Det)
  • Travaris Cadet (NO)

 

Wide Receivers

A.J. Green (Cin) – We showed plenty of love to Green in the preseason, moving up to the #4 overall spot in our rankings, and he paid some early dividends in Week 1. Green enjoyed his Revis Island, torching the former top CB for 12/180/1 receiving on 13 targets, scoring on a 54-yard bomb from Andy Dalton. No one else in the offense really did much outside Green, except for WR Brandon LaFell (4/91) who had a bounce-back performance after a shaky 2015 campaign with the Patriots. Green is going to see close to double-digit targets every week, especially while Tyler Eifert is out of the lineup for the next couple weeks, and he could be headed toward a career year if he can stay on the field.

Julian Edelman (NE) – We had our concerns for Edelman heading into Week 1, as we didn’t know if Jimmy Garoppolo would pull the trigger quick enough to get Edelman heavily involved. Of course, we also had to be a little worried about Edelman coming off a second foot surgery in the off-season. Jimmy G did his job in his first start, and Edelman caught all 7 of his targets for 66 yards and added 3/16 rushing against the Cardinals in Week 1. Edelman played on 85.9% of the snaps, and he looked quick and elusive like he did before his foot injury last year. Obviously, Edelman is much better off with Tom Brady in the lineup, but it looks like Edelman will stay afloat while Garoppolo is in the lineup the next three weeks.

Stefon Diggs (Min) – Diggs is in a tough spot to succeed right now, as he’ll likely move on to his third QB in less than month’s time with Sam Bradford likely to take over the offense in Week 2. However, no matter who is at QB, Diggs continues to look impressive, including in Week 1 with QB Shaun Hill. Diggs posted 7/103 receiving on 9 targets against the Titans, as he moved the chains for this offense while playing 88.9% of the snaps. Diggs does appear to have a connection with Hill, but we also think that Bradford will feed the ball to Diggs like he did with WR Jordan Matthews last year. OC Norv Turner also will move Diggs around the field to get him in the best spots. It is a little scary since we’ve never seen Diggs and Bradford play together, but we still think he should be a rock-solid WR3 going forward.

Larry Fitzgerald (Ari) – How good was Fitz on Sunday night? The Cardinals looked out of sync in a game they should not have lost – at home against Jimmy Garoppolo in his first career start. But it wasn’t Fitz’s fault. Fitz posted 8/82 receiving on 10 targets, including 2 TDs, and was QB Carson Palmer’s go-to guy in crunch time and in the red zone. Fitz almost single-handedly won the Cardinals the game with his performance late, picking up big yards in Arizona’s final drive, which including a catch on a pass he wasn’t even ready for, with Palmer getting rid of it under siege. That’s not even bringing up his ridiculous catch for his second TD. The Cardinals, again, looked a little “off” offensively, and perhaps that had something to do with the fact that WR John Brown missed most of the preseason with a concussion. Whatever the case, Fitz is the guy Palmer trusts most, and in this offense, that makes him a rock-solid WR2 every week, though Brown and Michael Floyd will get theirs eventually.

Doug Baldwin (Sea) – It was a terrible day for the Seahawks’ offense overall against the Dolphins. Russell Wilson didn’t play a great game and got injured (ankle), but Seattle managed to pull out magic at the end. That was Wilson and Baldwin’s magic – the two hooked up for a 4th-down conversion on the Seahawks’ game-winning drive and then hooked up for the game-winning TD with just 31 seconds left. Overall, it’s hard to get a read on Seattle’s offense in what was clearly a poor performance. But what we do know is that Baldwin, with 9/92/1 receiving on 11 targets, is the team’s #1 WR. Baldwin’s 85% snap share tied Jermaine Kearse for #1 among the team’s WRs, while breakout candidate Tyler Lockett played 76%. The snaps weren’t divided ridiculously, it just seems that Wilson likes to go to his most reliable target when the going gets tough.

Jordan Matthews (Phi) – The Eagles’ offense looked very promising in Carson Wentz’s first career start. Aside from Wentz, it’s hard to be more encouraged by anyone than by JMatt. Targeted a whopping 14 times on Wentz’s 37 throws, Matthews posted 7/114/1 receiving. He had a couple drops, which have been his biggest bugaboo in his career thus far, but he also played a more diverse game than he ever played under Chip Kelly. Matthews’ TD was on Wentz’s first drive as a pro, as Matthews beat CB Tramon Williams on a slot fade for 19 yards (a perfect throw), then Matthews also had a couple catches on top CB Joe Haden, while working outside. Matthews has talked up Wentz these last couple weeks, and it appears for good reason – the two seem to have a real rapport. Matthews’ ceiling may be higher than we initially thought.

Travis Benjamin (SD) – It was another awful break in Week 1 for perhaps the NFL’s unluckiest QB, Philip Rivers. With Keenan Allen (knee) on IR again, Rivers yet again has to navigate a season without his top option. But at the very least, the Chargers made a sharp signing this off-season with Benjamin. In his first game as a Charger, Benjamin was targeted 8 times. He gained just 32 yards on 7 catches, but moving forward, Benjamin should have far more looks down the field given his speed. And his target volume will obviously have to go up, simply by nature of the Chargers having barely anyone else at the WR position. At the least, Benjamin is working with one of the best QBs in the game in Philip Rivers.

Kelvin Benjamin (Car) - So much for a Week 1 “pitch count.” Benjamin played on 71.2% of the Panthers’ Week 1 snaps and led Carolina in target share (36.4%). We don’t want to overreact to a one game sample, but it’s certainly possible we were wrong on Benjamin this season, and a little too aggressive on Devin Funchess. After torching a stout Denver secondary (6/91/1), Benjamin’s 2016 stock is well on the rise, especially if his snap count can continue to go up.

Willie Snead (NO) - Over his past eight regular season games, Snead has averaged 5.4 catches and 78.1 yards (on 7.1 targets per game). After dropping a monster 9/172/1 line on the Raiders Week 1, hopefully fantasy folks have realized just how good Snead is. He is a low-end WR2 play every single week, regardless of matchup, because of the volume the Saints offense projects to have. The trust QB Drew Brees is showing in him is huge, and he and Brandin Cooks form one of the most dynamic WR duos in the NFL. He can get it done in both the short and long area.

DeSean Jackson (Was) – It was an ugly night overall for the Washington offense, but DJax showed why we liked him at his cheap preseason price. On 10 targets from Kirk Cousins, DJax hauled in 6 passes for 102 yards, and was an inaccurate throw or two away from an even bigger line against Pittsburgh. The point is that he’s the only Washington receiver who can really run, at least until Josh Doctson gets his feet under him, and that makes him and Jordan Reed the most dynamic options in one of the league’s more talented passing games. To hit his ceiling, however, he’ll need Cousins to be better than he was.

Eli Rogers (Pit) – While Sammie Coates made a couple of catches, it was Rogers who was Ben Roethlisberger’s second-most active target, behind Antonio Brown. Rogers posted 6/59/1 receiving on 7 targets in the Steelers’ win over Washington. The only target he had that he didn’t haul in turned into an INT, as there was a bit of miscommunication with Roethlisberger. Nevertheless, the Steelers’ slot receiver played a nice 69% of the offensives snaps, more than any WR outside of Brown, and showed great aware on his TD, which went off Coates’ face and bounced into the air. He’s a viable PPR option on a team that, all of a sudden, needs weapons.

Upgrades from the Waiver Wire:

  • Will Fuller (Hou)
  • Mohamed Sanu (Atl)
  • Tajae Sharpe (Ten)
  • Tyrell Williams (SD)
  • Michael Thomas (NO)
  • Mike Wallace (Bal)
  • Victor Cruz (NYG)

 

Tight Ends

Jason Witten (Dal) – The Cowboys didn’t ask rookie QB Dak Prescott to do too much in their Week 1 game against the Giants. That meant Witten was heavily involved. He caught 9 of his 14 targets of 66 yards, and was easily Prescott’s preferred receiver on the day (Witten couldn’t haul in a target on the Cowboys’ final drive, perhaps because of the sun). Prescott was very ineffective throwing the ball down the field, though Dez Bryant nearly hauled in a couple of TD passes. If this remains a trend until Tony Romo gets back, Witten should continue to have big-time PPR value, though – and this is no surprise – he can’t run anymore. He’ll need volume to produce, but it looks like he may get it.

Gary Barnidge (Cle) – This might be a first for us to include a player coming off a 0.0 FP performance in the “Upgrades” category. Barnidge dropped both of the targets that he saw in Week 1 against the Eagles. He played on 98.1% of the snaps and it’s clear that he’s just a terrible match for Robert Griffin III’s style of chucking it deep every play. The good news is that Barnidge now has a better chance at success going forward after the Browns placed QB RGIII on injured reserve with a broken bone in his non-throwing shoulder. Josh McCown certainly isn’t a starting-caliber QB, but he’s at least an upgrade for them at the position and Barnidge had plenty of success with him in 2015. With McCown as the starter in Weeks 3-8, Barnidge was the #1 fantasy TE with 35/512/6 for 20.5 FPG. Barnidge has a chance to bounce back quickly, and he’s a great guy to target in a trade this week.

Upgrades from the Waiver Wire:

  • Eric Ebron (Det)
  • Virgil Green (Den)

 

Team Defenses

Minnesota Vikings – We hope that you drafted the Vikings defense in the final round of your drafts because they paid off big time in Week 1. MLB Eric Kendricks had a 77-yard interception return TD and DE Danielle Hunter added a 24-yard fumble return TD to essentially win the game against the Titans. The Vikings defense also may have won you a fantasy matchup or two, as they allowed just 16 points, forced 3 turnovers, and recorded 2 sacks. The Vikings have some significantly tougher matchups the next three weeks (vs. GB, at Car, vs. NYG), but this unit is for real and the Vikings will lean on their defense this season.

 

Downgrades

Recent news and/or performance has made us less optimistic about these particular players for fantasy purposes.

Quarterbacks

Philip Rivers (SD) – When all is said and done, we wouldn’t be shocked if future generations never really know how damn good Rivers was. Arguably the most effective QB of his generation in the presnap phase of the game (behind Peyton Manning), Rivers has also had awful luck with the players around him. It appears that Rivers lost his #1 receiver, Keenan Allen, to a knee injury in Week 1’s heartbreaking loss to the Chiefs. With Allen healthy last year, Rivers was an elite fantasy QB. Without him, he was barely on the backup radar. With Travis Benjamin at his disposal, Rivers may have a little bit more in the way of weapons, especially if the Charger offensive line can continue to hold itself together. But the loss of Allen is a major one for this offense, and for Rivers specifically.

Tyrod Taylor (Buf) – Taylor and the Bills offense had a dreadful season-opening performance, and the news around the team hasn’t improved since Sunday. Star WR Sammy Watkins is dealing with severe discomfort in his surgically-repaired foot. HC Rex Ryan confirmed Monday that Watkins is dealing with soreness in his foot, but he said the team has no plans on shutting him down. Taylor needs his only true weapon in the passing game going forward after he completed 15/22 passes for just 111 yards and no TDs or INTs against the Ravens in Week 1. Taylor couldn’t even salvage his fantasy value with his feet, adding just 5/11 rushing. Watkins is going to be a true boom-or bust option as he tries to play through the soreness, and this passing game won’t be helped by an ankle injury to LT Cordy Glenn, so the vibes around Taylor right now aren’t great.

Robert Griffin III (Cle) – The RGIII experiment may be over already. On the Browns’ final offensive play of a blowout loss to the Eagles (in which RGIII played very poorly), Griffin scrambled to the sideline, but instead of going clean out of bounds, he tried to truck Eagle DB Jalen Mills. It was a violent collision, and Griffin suffered a fractured bone in his left shoulder. Griffin was put on IR, and while he could return, Josh McCown may not relinquish this job. It was an unnecessary injury, which makes it all the more frustrating.

 

Running Backs

Devonta Freeman (Atl) - The biggest takeaway from Week 1 regards Freeman’s usage. He played on just 55% of the Falcons snaps and saw 15 opportunities (11 rushes, 4 targets) versus the Bucs. Last year, Freeman was in on 71% of the Falcons’ offensive snaps and he averaged a mammoth 24 opportunities per game. While that type of workload was never sustainable in back-to-back seasons, Freeman may not be the dialed-in “RB1” (top-12) we expected, especially with Tevin Coleman (5 catches, 95 yards) looking much stronger as a receiver than he ever did last season.

Latavius Murray (Oak) – No doubt about it, Latavius was just fine in a Week 1 exciting Raider win in New Orleans. He posted 14/59/1 rushing and 1/13 receiving. But the bad news is that while his snap share was relatively high (62%), he lost hurry-up work to two different backs – 5th-round rookie DeAndre Washington (11%) and UDFA Jalen Richard (14%). Richard, in particular, made a big impact with a long TD run against the Saints’ horrific defense. Murray is still an RB2, but that status could fluctuate throughout the year. The Raiders will work in passing-down backs, as they wanted to do last year but couldn’t.

Jay Ajayi (Mia) – Ajayi didn’t even make the trip to Seattle in Week 1 as he was reportedly upset about losing his starting job to Arian Foster. It also doesn’t help that Ajayi doesn’t contribute on special teams, so they decided to roll with Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake for the season opener. The Miami Herald reports that Ajayi isn’t a lock to be active in Week 2. You can certainly cut Ajayi loose if you own him, but he could still lead this backfield when Foster eventually gets hurt.

Matt Jones (Was) – Perhaps it was the fact that Jones entered this game with a shoulder injury, but he played just 33% of Washington’s offensive snaps in the loss to Pittsburgh, carrying 7 times for 24 yards and catching his long target for 9 yards. Meanwhile, Chris Thompson played 67% of the offensive snaps, and while he touched the ball just 6 times, he was also Washington’s back in a goal-line situation. We’ll see if Jones’ involvement goes up in a game with a better script, but he’s a low-end flex until further notice.

 

Wide Receivers

Keenan Allen (SD) – In the biggest downer of Week 1, Allen suffered a non-contact knee injury in the first half of the Chargers’ loss to the Chiefs. Initial fears of a torn ACL have been confirmed, and he’s officially on IR. He was taking the Chiefs to school, including top CB Marcus Peters, and had 6 receptions on 7 targets prior to the injury. This is obviously a bummer for fantasy, but more so for Allen, who is a great player who has had terrible luck thus far. It’s a major downgrade for the entire offense.

Dez Bryant (Dal) – The Cowboys’ offense was not very good in Week 1 against a revamped Giant defense. The Cowboys were very conservative with QB Dak Prescott, who barely attempted a pass more than 10 yards down the field. While a couple of those were to Dez for potential TDs, Dez wasn’t able to haul them in. He ended up with just 1 catch for 8 yards on 5 targets. He saw just 11% of Prescott’s attempted throws, and on most of Prescott’s attempts he barely even looked the way of Dez. It was one game against a much-improved Giant secondary, with a rookie QB who is more of a project than his preseason performance might indicate. But for those who downgraded Dez based on the loss of Tony Romo, the Week 1 outcome indicates those people were right to be skeptical.

Brandon Marshall (NYJ) – Marshall had a forgettable opening game against the Bengals, catching just 3 of his 8 targets (37.5%) for 32 yards. At least Ryan Fitzpatrick did target him heavily down by the goal line. Fitz had three straight incompletions to Marshall inside the 10-yard line in the second quarter, and Marshall finished with 4 red-zone targets. He also had a drop down the seam on the Jets’ final drive, which obviously hurt his bottom line. An area for Marshall and Eric Decker to be concerned about is the heavy involvement of third-year WR Quincy Enunwa, who saw 8 targets out of the slot against the Bengals. Enunwa plays mainly on the inside, so he’s could bump Decker and Marshall to the outside more often, which isn’t great news since Fitz likes to throw it between the numbers. We have to worry about the target distribution here going forward, which was a huge advantage for Marshall and Decker last year, as Marshall averaged 10.8 targets per game in 2015.

Sammy Watkins (Buf) – The Bills were a total trainwreck in Week 1, and it got even worse when it came out that Watkins is dealing with severe discomfort in his surgically-repaired foot. HC Rex Ryan confirmed Monday that Watkins is dealing with soreness in his foot, but he said the teams has no plans on shutting him down. QB Tyrod Taylor and the Bills passing game sputtered all day long in Week 1 against the Ravens, and Watkins recorded just 4/43 receiving on 6 targets with Taylor throwing for just 111 yards. This situation with Watkins is clearly one to be monitored in the coming weeks, and it could be an ugly situation if the Bills head south quickly and decided to shut Watkins down since he is just 23 years old. In the short term, Watkins is going to be a true boom-or bust option as he tries to play through the soreness, and this passing game won’t be helped by an ankle injury to LT Cordy Glenn.

John Brown (Ari) – It was a rough Week 1 for Brown against the Patriots, who had just 1/8 receiving on 4 targets, and played just 57.4% of the Cardinals’ snaps. While this was a concerning game for sure, keep in mind that Brown did miss most of the preseason with a concussion, so he may well still be in “preseason mode” when it comes to getting into shape. That being said, Brown is downgraded to just a big-play flyer until he gets more involved in the offense.

Devin Funchess (Car) - The hype was unsurprisingly a bit earlier on second-year receiver Funchess. He was fourth in Panthers’ snaps among WRs in Week 1, behind Kelvin Benjamin, Ted Ginn and Corey Brown, in Carolina’s season-opening loss to the Broncos. He managed to catch just 1 pass for 9 yards on 4 targets. We expect he’ll do more at some point, but Funchess can be dumped for the flavor-of-the-week waiver add with potentially more upside.

Tavon Austin (LA) – This game was ugly for the Rams, it goes without saying. While downgrading Case Keenum is all too obvious, chances are no one was using him for fantasy anyway. Instead, we have to look at Austin, who played 93% of the Rams’ offensive snaps and saw 12 targets in the passing game, but posted just 4/13 receiving. Again, Keenum made sure a lot of those targets were completely hopeless, but Austin averaging just over 1.0 yard per target is one of the worst bottom lines we can ever remember seeing from a receiver with over 10 targets. The worry is that the Ram QB play isn’t going to improve anytime soon, even if they go to top pick Jared Goff.


Tight Ends

Delanie Walker (Ten) - Coming off of a career year (94/1088/6), Walker was a natural candidate for regression after a volume-driven 2015. What wasn’t expected: Walker saw just five targets in Week 1’s loss to the Vikings, and posted just 3/42 receiving in what was overall a poor game for QB Marcus Mariota. We’re imagining Walker will be more involved, especially if the Titans are top-3 in trail rate once again in 2015, but this wasn’t a particularly a great start for Walker.

Coby Fleener (NO) - To be fair, Fleener’s slow start in Week 1 should have been expected. August reports indicated Fleener was struggling to pick up the Saints’ offense and it showed during Week 1’s loss to the Raiders. Fleener was barely involved, seeing just four opening day targets (posting 1 catch for 6 yard) in a game that featured 42 Drew Brees pass attempts. Fleener, however, did play 81% of the snaps, more than any Saint WR outside of Brandin Cooks (90%). Fleener should be off the “TE1” (top-12) radar until he is more involved as a receiver, but he did play a lot.

Martellus Bennett (NE) – With Rob Gronkowski out of the lineup for Week 1 because of his hamstring injury, Bennett looked like a strong option to plug into fantasy lineups for those looking for some late TE help. Well, his Patriots debut was a big dud as he saw just 5 targets and caught 3 of them for 14 yards against the Cardinals. He did play on 97.2% of the snaps, but the Patriots used him primarily as a blocker, which is an area he excels in. Gronk’s hamstring should be good to go by Week 2 against the Dolphins, so Bennett’s chances for fantasy relevance could diminish going forward. We’re still interested to see how many 2-TE sets the Patriots will use this season, but it’s going to be tough for Bennett to emerge as a consistent fantasy option.

 

Holding Steady

These players have been in the news in one way or another, but we think their fantasy stock remains largely unchanged. 

Quarterbacks

Cam Newton (Car) – After absorbing numerous, questionable big hits in the Panthers’ opening loss to the Broncos, we’re making note that while Cam is an excellent scrambler, he is prone to taking dangerous shots. Once more, even in spots where his passing floor is lower due to a tough matchup – Newton only threw for 194 yards against Denver – his legs (11/54/1) can always make up the difference. Newton remains an every week top-5 option, and you didn’t draft him to bench him.

Eli Manning (NYG) – Eli has been a little uneven against the Cowboys the last few years, as pace of play is an issue – the Cowboys try to play really slow, and it throws the generally fast-paced Giants off their game. Eli went 19/28 for 207 yards and 3 TDs in a win in Week 1, though, managing to come through despite little volume and a mediocre performance from Odell Beckham. Eli had 1 pick on a miscommunication with rookie Sterling Shepard, but also hit Shepard for a TD. Perhaps most importantly, Victor Cruz was productive in his first game in almost two full years, scoring a TD of his own. Eli remains a QB1, especially when he gets a good matchup – like next week against the Saints.

 

Running Backs

Ezekiel Elliott (Dal) – It was a mediocre Week 1 for Zeke, but at least he scored to make fantasy players somewhat satisfied. Zeke posted 20/51/1 rushing and 1/1 receiving while playing 62% of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps. Elliott didn’t have much room to run against a Giants’ improved defensive front, but it’s also a concern that the offensive line didn’t get much of a push, and teams will continue to zero in on slowing down the run game until Dak Prescott proves he can stretch the field effectively. The snap share and touch ratio in comparison to Alfred Morris was a positive (18%, 7 touches), but Zeke needs to be more effective on a per-touch basis. Improvement from the rookie Dak would help.

Adrian Peterson (Min) – Peterson had a miserable season opener in 2015, with just 10/31 rushing and 3/21 receiving, but he still went on to post the second-most FPs with 266.7. Well, his 2016 season-opening performance was even more miserable, as he posted just 19/31 rushing and he didn’t catch either of his targets. AP had nowhere to go in the second half with the Vikings playing with a lead most of the time, with just 10/11 rushing. He did play on 60.3% of the snaps, as top backup Jerick McKinnon saw limited work after dealing with a foot injury leading up to the game. The Vikings do need to iron out some issues with their O-line, and hopefully a switch to Sam Bradford at QB in Week 2 will back opposing defense off of the line of scrimmage. AP’s performance in Week 1 is a little disconcerting, but he’s also has done very little work the last two preseasons, so he could just need some time to play himself into game shape.

Eddie Lacy (GB) – Lacy came into the 2016 season in much better shape than he did in 2015, but his conditioning was immediately put to the test in extreme heat in Jacksonville during Week 1. The Fox broadcast of the game showed temperatures at close to 110 degrees at field level, but Lacy looked elusive again on limited touches. He finished with 14/61 rushing and added a 17-yard catch against the Jaguars. Lacy played on 56.3% of the snaps, as James Starks saw limited work with only 5 touches. The Packer offense still looked to be a work in progress in Week 1, which isn’t surprising since Jordy Nelson is just getting back on the field. He has a tough matchup this week against the Vikings, but the Packers are going to ride their workhorse back as long as he looks good.

DeAngelo Williams (Pit) – This is exactly what you drafted DeAngelo to do. With Le’Veon Bell suspended, the Steelers’ back posted a ridiculous 26/143/2 rushing and 6/28 receiving on 9 targets in a win over Washington, looking every bit the part of the best handcuff in football. Hell, you could argue he looked like the best back in football. His workload also resembled last year’s when he was the starter – he played 82% of the Steelers’ offensive snaps, and there’s no indication that should go down until Bell returns. He’s a slam-dunk RB1 any time he’s projected to start.

Arian Foster (Mia) – Foster predictably had a tough time moving the ball on the ground against a stout Seahawks front seven. He salvaged his fantasy day by breaking off a long run on a 50-yard catch, as he finished with 3/63 receiving on 5 targets and added 13/38 rushing. Before the game, the Dolphins decided not to fly out backup Jay Ajayi to Seattle as he was disgruntled about losing the starting job, and he also doesn’t contribute on special teams. Foster ended up playing 86.8% of the snaps ahead of Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake. We certainly don’t think Foster will be able to be used at his current rate and hold up for the entire season, so you better use him for fantasy while he’s still healthy and on the field.

Isaiah Crowell (Cle) – Crowell’s final statline looks a lot better than it actually was, but he still he came through for his fantasy owners. He finished with 12/62/1 rushing and 2/16 receiving against the Eagles in Week 1, as he scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter. However, Crowell did rack a lot of his production with the game well in-hand in the final two minutes, racking up 40 of his 62 rushing yards with the Eagles in a prevent defense. On the positive side, he did play on 57.7% of the snaps, even with the Browns trailing for most of the game. Also, the Browns offense now has a better chance at success going forward after the Browns placed QB Robert Griffin III on injured reserve with a broken bone in his non-throwing shoulder. Josh McCown certainly isn’t a starting-caliber QB, but he’s at least an upgrade for them at the position.

James White (NE) – The Patriots pulled off an unexpected upset in Week 1 against the Cardinals, which actually hurt White’s chances at production. Coming in as 9-point underdogs, it looked like White could be heavily involved if the Patriots were in catch-up mode in the second half. The Patriots instead led most of the way and rode LeGarrette Blount with Jimmy Garoppolo making his first career start. White posted 5/40 receiving on 7 targets and he added just 1/4 rushing while playing on 36.6% of the snaps. White actually looked quite elusive when he had the ball in his hands, but his role in the offense could be limited until Tom Brady gets back. The Patriots are 6.5-point favorites this week against the Dolphins, and we’d expect Jimmy G to hand it off quite a bit to Blount once again next week.

Ryan Mathews (Phi) – Mathews played just 48% of the Eagles’ snaps in their win over the Browns in Week 1 (actually fewer than Darren Sproles’ 49%), but he’s clearly their lead runner. Mathews posted 22/77 rushing, and got a TD with about minute left in the game to salvage a solid fantasy game. Mathews ran very hard, and looked better than his final line – the Browns played the run pretty well overall, and Mathews had to fight his way through tackles. In a good matchup with a projected decent game flow going forward, Mathews will continue to be a solid RB2 or high-end flex with DFS appeal.

Melvin Gordon (SD) – In terms of snap share and rushing yards (32%, 57 yards), Gordon’s 2016 debut looked a lot like his performances during the 2015 season. But Gordon also scored 2 TDs in Week 1 against the tough Chief defense, which means he now has 2 more than he had in his entire rookie year. Gordon looked good behind an offensive line that at least gave him hope, and he ran hard through several tackles (he’s a tougher runner than people give him credit for). The bad news is the Chargers are still bad, and with Keenan Allen (knee) likely out for the year, that means Danny Woodhead’s role remains important. And even though the Chargers led for most of the game against KC (and big, for some of that time), they didn’t grind the clock out with Gordon. The usage was odd, but suggests the Chargers don’t fully trust the youngster yet.

Mark Ingram (NO) - While Ingram had a decent opening day (10.7 PPR points), he was out-targeted by Travaris Cadet (7:2) against the Raiders. This data point may just be random variation, but it is still worth mentioning Ingram only played on 42% of the Saints’ snaps in Week 1 (Cadet was at 38%, while preseason “superstar” C.J. Spiller was inactive). Ingram played on 62% of snaps in 2015, so this usage needs to be monitored, because his fantasy production was hugely credit to his receiving last year.

Doug Martin and Charles Sims (TB) - We knew Martin would lead Bucs’ backs in rush attempts, his five Week 1 targets were a welcome sight. Sims saw three targets. Tampa led for most of this contest against the Falcons, which always helps Martin’s rushing floor, but perhaps he is in line for a few more passing looks than expected. Martin played on 69% of the Bucs’ Week 1 snaps, posting 18/62 rushing and 5/34 receiving. But even though Martin is the key cog in Tampa’s rush attack, Sis’ role was exactly what we expected, too. He handled nine opportunities touches (4 attempts, 5 targets) and converted his passing looks into 3/32/1. He’s still on the low-end RB2, high-end RB3 radar every week due to his involvement in the passing game regardless of game script.

 

Wide Receivers

Jordy Nelson (GB) – Nelson didn’t get off to the hottest start in his first game back since tearing his ACL in the 2015 preseason, but we didn’t really expect Jordy to look all the way back in his first game at 31 years old. He finished with 6/32/1 receiving on 9 targets against the Jaguars in Week 1, as he showed some of his long-time chemistry with Aaron Rodgers on his 6-yard TD on a scramble play. Nelson saw a pretty hefty 84.4% of the snaps in his first game back, which is a great sign given the extreme heat the Packers played through in Jacksonville. Nelson said after the game that he had no issues with his knee and that wasn’t thinking about it, and we think his YPC average will steadily climb the next couple weeks.

 

Tight Ends

None of note.

 

Watch List

Keep an eye on these players and situations. It may be too early to make a call one way or the other on them, but they are situations worth watching.

Quarterbacks

Russell Wilson (Sea) – Wilson was not particularly good in Week 1 against the Dolphins, posting 27/43 passing for 258 yards with a TD and a terrible pick, on which he ran around in the pocket and chucked the ball up to no one in particular. But Wilson led a last-second TD drive for the win, finding his boy Doug Baldwin for the game-winning score. The concern is that Wilson suffered an ankle injury during the game, which could be of the high ankle variety, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Wilson is expected to play in Week 2, coach Pete Carroll says, but if Wilson’s mobility is limited, so could be his fantasy upside. The whole offense looked like a mess.

Kirk Cousins (Was) – Cousins did go 30/43 for 329 yards in Washington’s loss to the Steelers on Monday night, but he didn’t throw a TD, and had two really bad INTs. It’s one of those games in which his stat line actually looks better than he played – Cousins was inaccurate for most of the night, and could have been picked off on several more throws. The Steelers were very content playing deep and allowing Cousins to dink and dunk. Moreover, Washington was just 3/10 on third down, and Cousins was unable to sustain drives and put the ball in the hands of his talented playmakers. Again, he has a lot of weaponry at his disposal and there’s no real reason to panic, but Cousins did not play well in this game.

 

Running Backs

Todd Gurley (LA) – This 28-0 loss to a bad San Francisco team was not at all Gurley’s fault, but you have to wonder exactly how much more upside he has with Case Keenum playing QB. Gurley carried 17 times for 47 yards against the 49ers, and also lost 5 yards on his only reception of the game. He played 61% of the Rams’ snaps, and when he was in the game, the Niners did absolutely everything in their power to shut him down. Keenum was totally incapable of making them pay. It’s a refrain we expect to hear more than once, and the most disturbing thing is that better QB play doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.

Christine Michael and Thomas Rawls (Sea) – The Seahawks’ backfield looked pretty much like we expected in Week 1 against the Dolphins. Michael played 63% of the snaps, posting 15/66 rushing and 2/5 receiving, while Rawls managed just 12/32 rushing, though he had 3/26 receiving. The problem is that neither guy looked great, and as Rawls (ankle) gets healthier, the split could become even more confusing. Moreover, rookie C.J. Prosise was in and out of the lineup with a wrist injury, while the Seahawk offense in general was out of sync. So exactly how much can we glean from this game? Michael and Rawls are RB3/flex options until further notice.

Chris Ivory (Jac) - After missing Week 1 due to illness (hospitalization), Ivory’s physical health is something to monitor. Per Adam Schefter on Monday morning, Ivory “remains in the hospital and in pain.” We’ll know more in the coming days, but right now we’re just hoping Ivory can get himself healthy.

LeSean McCoy (Buf) – Outside of the Chargers, no team came out of Week 1 worse than the Bills. Sammy Watkins is dealing with severe discomfort in his surgically-repaired foot. HC Rex Ryan confirmed Monday that Watkins is dealing with soreness in his foot, but he said the team has no plans on shutting him down. LT Cordy Glenn also reinjured the ankle he had an issue with this summer when he missed the entire preseason with a high-ankle sprain. McCoy obviously really needs Glenn in the lineup to open up some running room for him, and Shady could find tough sledding if Watkins isn’t around to stretch opposing defenses out. McCoy was the best part of a dismal day for the Bills, as he had 16/58/1 rushing and 4/12 receiving on 4 targets. He scored from a yard away and played on 85.7% of the snaps, with Reggie Bush essentially a non-factor. McCoy would see the ball a ton if Watkins would eventually miss time, but he could have a tough time being productive if Watkins and/or Glenn are out for extended time.

Gio Bernard (Cin) – New OC Ken Zampese didn’t have the best first game as an NFL playcaller, as he basically abandoned the run – the Bengals finished with 19/57 rushing – and QB Andy Dalton absorbed 7 sacks because of it. You would think that Bernard would’ve been more involved as a receiver but that wasn’t the case, as he had just 2/5 receiving on 4 targets and 3/7 rushing. Hill ended up playing 50.9% of the snaps while Bernard saw 49.1% of the snaps, so it was a pretty even distribution. With the Bengals struggling to slow down the Jets pass rush, Bernard was forced to stay in and help with pass protection while A.J. Green went wild on Darrelle Revis downfield. This Bengal offensive line should be much better going forward, so Bernard should be much more involved in this offense, especially with the lack of weapons surrounding Andy Dalton at the moment.

Duke Johnson (Cle) – Johnson now has much better chance at success going forward after the Browns placed QB Robert Griffin III on injured reserve with a broken bone in his non-throwing shoulder. Josh McCown certainly isn’t a starting-caliber QB, but he’s at least an upgrade for Duke in the passing game. Johnson didn’t have a chance at much success in the season opener playing with RGIII. The second-year RB had 3/22 rushing and 3/28 receiving on 5 targets against the Eagles in Week 1 while playing 44.2% of the snaps. HC Hue Jackson will make Johnson a bigger part of the offense going forward, and McCown is a professional QB who will check it down to him in the passing game. Johnson still has a less than ideal QB situation for the rest of the season, and we do have to worry about McCown holding up for 15 games – Cody Kessler is next in line at QB. Still, this Browns passing game has a much better chance at success now with McCown in charge.

 

Wide Receivers

Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman (Cle) – The Browns WRs now have a much better chance at success going forward after the Browns placed QB Robert Griffin III on injured reserve with a broken bone in his non-throwing shoulder. Josh McCown certainly isn’t a starting-caliber QB, but he’s at least an upgrade for theses WRs at the position. Coleman didn’t have a chance at much success in the season opener playing with RGIII. He posted 2/69 receiving on 5 targets, as he caught what looked like a fair catch for a 58-yard gain. Gordon and Coleman still have a less than ideal QB situation for the rest of the season, and we do have to worry about McCown holding up for 15 games – Cody Kessler is next in line at QB. Still, this Browns passing game has a much better chance at success now with McCown in charge.

Demaryius Thomas (Den) – Thomas had a mediocre showing in Week 1 against the Panthers, in rookie QB Trevor Siemian’s first career start. He posted 4/48 receiving on 6 targets, and scared fans when he left action with a hip injury that reportedly required an MRI. Fortunately, our friend Adam Schefter reported on Monday that the injury doesn’t appear to be serious, and Thomas appears on track to play this week. We’ll keep you updated, but it appears the hip injury is nothing to be concerned about.

Tyler Lockett (Sea) – Lockett had a poor game in Week 1, like most of the rest of the Seahawks’ offense. He saw 8 targets, but posted just 3/17 receiving. He did operate as Seattle’s #3 WR, but played just 8 fewer snaps than Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, who worked ahead of him. It’s hard to get a huge read on Lockett since the Seahawks’ offense was so bad in general, and Russell Wilson got banged up with an ankle sprain. But it appears Lockett, at this point, is a flyer flex/WR4 until further notice.

 

Tight Ends

Zach Ertz (Phi) – Ertz had a great game in Week 1, providing the “security blanket” (clichéd as that may be) for rookie QB Carson Wentz. Against the Browns, Ertz posted 6/59 receiving on 7 targets, including making a ridiculous one-handed catch for Wentz’s first NFL completion. But unfortunately, coach Doug Pederson revealed on Monday that Ertz played through a “displaced rib” underneath his collarbone, which sounds very painful. Ertz needs doctor’s clearing to play, considering the rib (which is not broken) is in a dangerous spot, and it looks like he could miss a game or two. If so, Brent Celek will be ol’ reliable yet again, but look out for athletic Trey Burton, if Burton is able to return from the calf injury that sidelined him in Week 1.

Julius Thomas (Jac) - Unfortunately, ankle/foot injuries just can’t escape the Jaguars’ starting tight end. Julius Thomas dropped a beautiful 5/64/1 (on five targets) receiving line on the Packers in Week 1, but per HC Gus Bradley, Thomas sprained his ankle on the Jags’ opening day. We don’t know the severity of Thomas’ injury yet, but it is fair to consider him questionable for Week 2 against the Chargers.