- Start’Em Sit’Em Week 1
In the past eight months, the absence of regular season NFL football created a vacuum that defied measurement, due to its unquestioned magnitude. It permeated the fantasy community almost immediately upon the completion of New England’s relentless comeback against Atlanta, which prompted a memorable conclusion to Super Bowl LI. Many of us chose to diminish the void through unremitting preparation for the 2017 season. By boundlessly pursuing an expansive collection of mock drafts, while constructing rosters for our teams in redraft, dynasty and MFL 10 formats (among others). All designed to usher impatient owners through the summer. However, only the genesis of a new season could truly satisfy our collective need to embrace another year. Which will be comprised of the euphoric highs and disappointing lows that annually define our fantasy football experience.
But now… here we are. For many of you, there is no longer the fervent need to build the strongest possible rosters for your beloved fantasy teams. As it is finally time to focus your efforts on how to best utilize the rosters that you have assembled. Meanwhile, some of you reading this still have final drafts remaining, and can deploy this information as a tiebreaker in your decision making. Since you might be inclined to make your selections with an emphasis toward jump starting your season successfully in Week 1.
One year ago, ten quarterbacks exceeded 300 yards through the air during their Week 1 encounters, while two running backs bolted for 100+ yards, and a massive 11 wide receivers accrued at least 100 yards. Some of you will soon experience the pure elation that arises when players that you entrusted in your starting lineups deliver equally dazzling numbers. Which is why you are spending time meticulously examining your options in these final days before the season commences.
The goal of this Start’em Sit’em column is to reward you for choosing to make it a destination, by assisting your efforts in finalizing your roster. As it is designed to provide a strategic approach toward recommending your best starts, along with the players that should be excluded from this week’s lineups. Since you are already depending upon the performers that were selected at the onset of your drafts, this column will not confiscate your precious time by discussing them here. Instead, it will deliver advice regarding players whose status is less certain heading into this week’s contests. Kickoffs are approaching, so let’s get started. Hope you enjoy Gridiron Experts Week one Start’em Sit’em featured piece for the 2017 NFL Season.
Start Marcus Mariota vs. Raiders
From Weeks 5-12 of the 2016 regular season, Mariota assembled an impressive 21:3 touchdown to interception ratio, while averaging 281 YPG through the air between Weeks 6-11. However, the positive momentum that surfaced during that auspicious sequence of games was stymied by a combination of Tennessee’s Week 13 bye, followed by two formidable matchups in Weeks 14-15 (Denver/Kansas City), and his unfortunate leg injury in Week 16. But he returns with his health intact, for his initial opportunity to connect with the enhanced weaponry that was added to the Titans’ offensive arsenal during the offseason. Which should escort him even further down the path toward stardom in his third season.
Mariota should also benefit from a highly appealing matchup, that will provide an immediate opportunity to locate new options Eric Decker and Corey Davis and incumbent targets Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker. As Mariota should spend his Sunday afternoon exploiting Oakland’s pass defense. Which ranked 24th last season, while allowing 22.5 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks, and permitting six signal callers to eclipse 280 yards. After having an offseason to address this unit’s inadequacies when facing both wide receivers and tight ends, the Raiders displayed an even larger degree of futility during the preseason. In their first three contests, a combination of four opposing quarterbacks completed a borderline unfathomable 73.5% of their passes, along with four touchdowns. Rookies Gareon Conley, Obi Melifonwu, and Shalom Luani will be melded into a secondary that still does not contain a reliable presence at the cornerback position. David Amerson has been equally capable of performing effectively or surrendering significant yardage. T. J. Carrie has been overmatched on the perimeter, yet could start opposite Amerson. Unless Conley can make his NFL debut after missing nearly 2 ½ months during the summer (shin injury).
The Raider coaching staff also has failed to discover a solution for their ongoing ineptitude in coverage versus tight ends. Which should enable Mariota to connect repeatedly with Walker during this matchup. While he a did struggle against Oakland in Week 3 last season (214 yards / 0 touchdowns / two interceptions), Mariota is now a more proficient quarterback. Plus, his freshly fortified collection of receiving options should create space against a substandard unit that remains susceptible to yielding big plays. That will usher Mariota owners into the season with outstanding Week 1 production.
Sit Dak Prescott vs. Giants
Rayne Dakota Prescott will begin his second season under center for Dallas, during a high-profile prime time contest. But he will do so without the benefit of a favorable matchup. Even though he accrued nearly 3,700 yards through the air, fashioned an exceptional 23:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and supplemented those numbers with six rushing touchdowns in 2016, his output in two encounters with the Giants resulted in vastly inferior production within an otherwise effective rookie season. As Prescott averaged just 196 yards through the air while being restricted to only 165 when they met in Week 14. His touchdown-to-interception ratio in those contests was equally substandard (1:2), and he manufactured a grand total of 13 yards on the ground. Sadly for owners, the forecast for Sunday Night’s matchup is equally unattractive. Prescott’s most potent receiving weapon is a prime candidate to be thoroughly neutralized, in a dubious replication of both 2016 encounters with the Cowboys’ division rival last season.
When Janoris Jenkins limited Dez Bryant to one meager reception for eight yards in Week 1, then contained Bryant yet again in Week 14 (1 reception/10 yards). This was consistent with the restrictive coverage by the Giants last season, as breaches in the security that personified their secondary were difficult to find. Only the Broncos allowed fewer fantasy points to opposing signal-callers, and this unit begins the year firmly entrenched among the NFL’s elite. As Landon Collins, Jenkins, and Dominique Rodgers- Cromartie are securely established as difference makers, while spearheading Big Blue’s uncharitable coverage against enemy passing attacks. Owners who drafted Prescott as their QB1 after choosing to painstakingly fortify other roster positions, can still utilize him frequently during the season. But his production will be sub standard this week.
Start Bilal Powell at Bills
The Jets ranked just 26th in total offense during the 2016 regular season, and Gang Green’s talent starved attack retains the potential to perform even less proficiently this year. However, that possibility has not prohibited Powell from inclusion within the group of backs who can be considered viable starting options. As a result, he enters Week 1 as the most enticing member of New York’s roster for fantasy owners. Matt Forte has already logged 2,770 career touches and remains a candidate to confiscate touches during the season. But the 31-year old veteran missed the majority of training camp with a hamstring issue, and his presence should not prohibit Powell from garnering a sizable workload during this matchup. This provides his owners with a justifiable reason for optimism, that he will supply highly productive numbers as the season launches. He will line up against a division rival that has sustained an escalating number of talent deficiencies on its own roster. This should help the Jets avoid a situation in which they will trail by a significant margin, and are forced to decrease their reliance upon Powell and the overall ground game. Which should enable him to perform proficiently versus a Bills defense that ranked a lowly 29th against the run in 2016, while being gashed for 133 YPG. They also surrendered the second most touchdowns on the ground (21), yielded 4.6 YPC, and permitted the fourth most fantasy points to opposing runners. This unit was also ravaged for over 200 yards twice by Jay Ajayi (214/206), and astronomical 236 yards by Le’Veon Bell. In their two matchups with the Jets, Buffalo surrendered 100 yards and three touchdowns to Forte in Week 2, with Powell amassing 122 yards, and averaging 5.5 YPC in Week 17. Schematic adjustments by head coach Sean McDermott, along with his flexibility toward utilizing the strengths of his players, could improve the effectiveness of this unit as the season unfurls. But anyone who selected Powell can start him with confidence during this contest.
Christian McCaffrey / Jonathan Stewart at 49ers
After months of conjecture, we are about to witness the first installment of Carolina’s 2017 offensive strategy, and how it will apply the intangibles that Christian McCaffrey can provide. There has certainly been massive ambiguity surrounding the manner in which both McCaffrey and incumbent Jonathan Stewart will be deployed. Particularly in terms of whether Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula possesses the acumen, and Cam Newton has the flexibility, for the team to maximize McCaffrey’s atypical skill set. While still employing Stewart sufficiently to maintain the veteran’s viability for his owners. There is a degree of inherent risk to inserting either back into your starting lineup prior to your initial experience in watching how the retooled Panther offense will function. However, this matchup is far too enticing to ignore, and it is reasonable to believe that Shula has allotted time toward planning the most efficient ways in which to exploit it. To be clear, upgrades in San Francisco’s decision makers and personnel have already constructed the foundation for improvement, and this will be demonstrated increasingly as the year evolves. But no proverbial switch can be flipped to instantly elevate the 49er run defense beyond the ranks of the highly vulnerable. The fact persists that the 49ers were historically bad in that category last season (third worst in NFL history), while easily ranking dead last, and permitting an astronomical 166 YPG, and 25 touchdowns. The 49ers also were also shredded for the most fantasy points by opposing backs, who stockpiled an average of 28 fantasy points per game. 11 different rushers also bolted for 100+ yards during that process. Including Panther teammate
Fozzy Whittaker in Week 2, when Stewart was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Owners should be buoyed by Carolina’s ideal opportunity to deploy McCaffrey in multiple roles. That should boost his snap count, which presents him with a legitimate chance to deliver favorable output during his professional debut. Stewart should also garner a sufficient number of touches to register at least one touchdown, and accumulate a respectable number of yards for his equally satisfied owners.
Sit Joe Mixon at Ravens
If you made the early fourth round investment that was necessary to draft Mixon, then you have been anxious to deploy him in your lineup. He will eventually reward your investment and has sufficient talent to accomplish that sooner rather than later during the course of the year. But you have no assurance that he will garner enough opportunities in this season opener to warrant trusting him as a starter. Because great uncertainty surrounds the workload distribution between the talented rookie and the other options within Cincinnati’s primary stable of runners (Jeremy Hill / Giovani Bernard). There is also a legitimate reason for apprehension about the inadequacies that exist within the Bengals’ offensive line. Which appears destined to regress following the departures of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. Their Week 1 opponent has the capability of exploiting what could be a serious weakness, regardless of who Cincinnati deploys in their backfield. As Baltimore’s formidable rush defense possesses the potential to be even better this season. The Ravens ranked fifth against the run in 2016 (89.4 YPG), while also tying for fourth in YPC allowed (3.7), and fifth in rushing touchdowns (10). This unit will now be bolstered further by the presence of former Cardinal
The Ravens ranked fifth against the run in 2016 (89.4 YPG), while also tying for fourth in YPC allowed (3.7), and fifth in rushing touchdowns (10). This unit will now be bolstered further by the presence of former Cardinal Tony Jefferson, whose run stopping acumen enabled him to register 92 tackles in 2016 (including 13 for a loss). He now joins Eric Weddle to form a tenacious tandem at the safety position, which will reinforce what is already a staunch unit for runners attempting to navigate yardage. While Rex Burkhead did generate 119 yards on the ground versus Baltimore in Week 17, incumbents Hill and Bernard have generally produced poor results against their division rival. In five matchups, Hill has managed only 3.37 YPG, while Bernard has averaged just 3.39 YPC in six contests, along with 33 YPG as a receiver. While it may be difficult to withstand the temptation to start Mixon, it is wise to remember that you didn’t draft him for the sole purpose of using him in Week 1. He will deliver better numbers as the season unfolds.
Mark Ingram / Adrian Peterson at Vikings
Typing the phrase “Adrian Peterson at Vikings” was certainly a strange experience. Yet, the 32-year old who led the NFL in rushing three times during his ten years with Minnesota, will now join 27-year old Mark Ingram, in a backfield that includes gifted rookie Alvin Kamara. This consortium of backs will be the recipients of what is currently an ambiguous workload distribution, even as the Saints embark upon their regular season schedule. Which begins with a tough road assignment versus a Viking run defense that remains anchored by Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes in the defensive backfield, with Linval Joseph, Eric Kendricks, and Danielle Hunter among the staunch run stuffers within the front seven.
The Vikings should continue to make the generation of yardage an arduous task, as this unit permitted only nine rushing touchdowns all season. Which was the third lowest total among all teams. The Vikings did yield 100+ yards on the ground to an opposing runner in four different contests, including Jordan Howard in both matchups versus the Bears (153/135). But Howard was allotted a gargantuan 49 carries during those encounters. Which is sizably more than owners should count on from either Ingram or Peterson, when they are confronted by AP’s former teammates. It is conceivable that Sean Payton will opt to deploy one his backs extensively, but that is an unlikely outcome of a game script that will evolve as this season opener develops. Payton’s track record with Ingram strongly suggests that the veteran tandem is destined for a rotation. This only adds to the risk in attempting to forecast the precise dispersal of carries and targets for both Ingram and Peterson. Which should compel owners to temper expectations, or locate an alternative during this unfavorable matchup.
Start Terrelle Pryor vs. Eagles
After performing in less than 20 games during the first five seasons of his professional career, Pryor locked down a starting slot in 2016, accrued over 1,000 yards – amid an abysmal situation at quarterback – and ultimately become Cleveland’s most productive wide receiver in every major category. He began that process by amassing 68 yards versus the Eagles in Week 1, and Pryor should flourish once again in this matchup with Washington’s long-time rival. Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz’s unit is sturdy up front, and efforts were made to upgrade what was a major shortcoming at the cornerback position. But this specific matchup will become problematic for the Eagles when attempting to neutralize Pryor’s blend of size, speed, and athleticism. Last season,
Last season, DeSean Jackson scorched the Philadelphia secondary for 157 yards and a touchdown during two encounters with his former team. Pryor will be functioning in the same role within Jay Gruden’s aerial attack and should gain separation while working the perimeter. Ronald Darby should be Philadelphia’s most effective cornerback. But the former Bill is 5’11”, and will be susceptible to yielding big plays when contending with the 6’ 4“ Pryor’s sizable height advantage. As is 6’0” Jalen Mills, who will join Darby in protecting the perimeter. This could easily result in a scenario that will be similar to what we witnessed in Week 3 of the preseason when Darby was burned on a 72-yard bomb to DeVante Parker. This should compel Kirk Cousins to target Pryor frequently during his first performance as a Redskin, as he will also provide an appealing red zone presence. He is a strong candidate to register a touchdown and should assemble excellent numbers during this matchup.
Start Kelvin Benjamin at 49ers
One year ago, Benjamin was returning from an ACL tear that forced him to miss the entire 2015 regular season. Despite his absence, and growing conjecture that Devin Funchess would commandeer a larger role within the Panther offense, Benjamin’s ADP established an ongoing presence in the third round. But he had not engendered the same level of passion during this year’s draft process until his widely discussed touchdown reception during Carolina’s first preseason contest elevated him essentially one full round.
One contributing factor to the delayed interest, was the fact that he accumulated respectable numbers last season (63 receptions / 941 yards /seven touchdowns) but was unable to build upon the output that he assembled as a rookie in 2014 (73 receptions /1,008 yards / nine touchdowns). However, he should reward those who maintain their confidence in his ability to deliver as a viable starter, by delivering high-quality production this week.
As mentioned previously San Francisco’s defense should perform more effectively as the season advances, but their secondary will maintain vulnerability as the year begins. Only three teams surrendered more fantasy points to wide receivers than the 49ers during the 2016 regular season, and their inability to contain Benjamin contributed to that unwanted distinction. As he collected seven receptions, while establishing season highs in receiving yards (108) and touchdowns (2) when they met in Week 2. This made him one of nine receivers to accumulate at least 90 yards against this unit, while he also ascended into the group of four wideouts who generated multiple scores. The 6’5″ Benjamin will operate as the X on Sunday and maintains a sufficient size advantage over beatable cornerback Rashard Robinson to create a torturous matchup once again.
Sit Allen Robinson vs. Texans
As we progressed through the summer of 2016, owners were sufficiently enamored with Robinson’s stellar production during the 2015 regular season (1,400 yards /14 touchdowns), that his ADP elevated into the top 10 (9). That number has plummeted to 53 as we reach the threshold of Week 1, in the aftermath of last year’s statistical degeneration (883 yards/6 touchdowns). Which occurred in great part because Robinson was victimized by nightmarish performances from Blake Bortles. Whose career freefall poses a continued threat to his primary receiving option once again. Anyone who opted to select Robinson has already decided to accept the distinct possibility that Bortles’ deficiencies could derail Robinson’s output, along with the fact that the signal callers’ shortcomings have the potential to emerge during virtually any matchup this year.
There is also growing reason for apprehension regarding Leonard’s Fournette’s effectiveness, following his foot injury. Plus, the offensive line also remains a concern. However, this week’s challenging matchup versus a formidable Houston pass defense should provide the final increment of incentive to consider another option. In 2016 the Texans ranked an impressive second overall in pass defense while allowing 202 YPG. Only four teams permitted fewer touchdowns through the air (20), and the Texans also yielded the fifth fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. Robinson’s new teammate A.J. Bouye was spearheading the secondary, although he shared coverage of Robinson with Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson during their 2016 matchups. Of course, an enormous obstacle that could impede Robinson’s production still lies within. As he is capable of gaining separation, but can his owners trust Bortles to launch an accurate throw in his direction? This problematic quarterback play has the potential to place shackles on Robinson’s numbers throughout the season. Even if Bortles can occasionally elevate his performance, affixing the additional layer of stingy pass defense into the equation plunges Robinson into high-risk status for this week’s season opener.
Sit DeAndre Hopkins at Jaguars
When Robinson and the Jacksonville offense are not on the field, his counterpart Hopkins will face an arduous task of his own during this AFC South matchup. During his exceptional 2015 regular season, Hopkins tortured the Jaguars by collecting 17 receptions, amassing 237 yards, and scoring twice. But in 2016, his path toward replicating those massive numbers was impeded by first-year corner Jalen Ramsey, who intercepted and broke up a combined 17 passes during his rookie year. Mixed results on the field during those matchups, and several off-field comments from both players afterward, combined to build the potential for a budding rivalry. This week, Hopkins’ will not only be confronted by Ramsey, but his chances for success will also be negatively impacted by an emerging Jacksonville secondary that has been fortified during the offseason. The Jaguars ranked fifth overall against the pass in 2016, yielded the sixth fewest fantasy points to wide receivers, and will be bolstered by the additions of former Cowboy Barry Church, and Hopkins’ former teammate Bouye. Who was the second highest graded cornerback by Pro Football Focus in 2016, and parlayed his outstanding performance into a mammoth contract with Jacksonville. Ramsey shadowed Hopkins in coverage last season, but the Jaguars now have the option of utilizing both highly proficient corners to patrol opposite sides of the field. Both are fully capable of containing Hopkins, and the fact that Houston does not possess another receiver that is worthy of concern will only serve to facilitate their efforts. As does the fact that he will be dealing with an unfavorable situation at quarterback for yet another season. While the thought of sitting Hopkins is understandably unsettling, he will only deliver moderate production in this contest. Leaving those of you who don’t have a preferable alternative to lower your expectations for during this difficult opener.
Start Zach Ertz at Redskins
During Philadelphia’s last nine games of the 2016 regular season, Ertz averaged 9.5 targets, and 74 YPG, while collecting 63 receptions, and generating all four of his touchdowns for the year. He eclipsed 100 yards twice within that span, including Week 14 when he accumulated 112 against Washington. Ertz also collected 10 receptions during the encounter, which was his second highest total for the year. Owners have a genuine reason to affix him into their starting lineups when he faces Philadelphia’s NFC East rival on Sunday. As he should be utilized as a frequent target by Carson Wentz once again. In part because the Redskins surrendered the third highest yardage total to opposing tight ends last season (1,130). Their coverage against the position was particularly egregious during a seven game stretch (Weeks 8-15), in which they surrendered over 100 yards to Ertz, Tyler Eifert (102), and Jared Cook (105), along with noteworthy totals to Kyle Rudolph (69), and Greg Olsen (85). It is feasible that this unit could provide more resistance this season. But that potential factor is offset by the prospects of a substantial role for Ertz within Philadelphia’s passing attack, which should manifest itself during this contest. That favorable development was virtually inevitable when Philadelphia’s 2016 target leader It is feasible that this unit could provide more resistance this season. But that potential factor is offset by the prospects of a substantial role for Ertz within Philadelphia’s passing attack, which should manifest itself during this contest. That favorable development was virtually inevitable when Philadelphia’s 2016 target leader Jordan Matthews – who was the only Eagle to surpass Ertz’s 106 targets last season – was jettisoned in early August. No time should be squandered explaining why Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor are not destined to lead the team in targets, nor can they be expected to improve their reliability to a level that even remotely resembles what Ertz can provide. Which leaves Alshon Jeffery as the only true candidate to garner a significant percentage of targets (beyond Ertz). However, even if the former Bear can rekindle anything approaching the dependability and proficiency that he attained in 2013-2014, owners should expect Ertz to be targeted heavily, in what should be a productive outing this week.
Jack Doyle at Rams
Some tight ends who will be confronted with difficult matchups in Week 1 are unquestioned starters that you will not remove from your lineups (Rob Gronkowski/Travis Kelce/Jordan Reed). While others either should not ever be included in your lineup in the first place (Marcedes Lewis/Mychal Rivera) or have recently excelled against the formidable unit that they will be facing (Martellus Bennett – 7 receptions/102 yards versus Seattle last November). All of which pivots the focus toward Jack Doyle. Who enters the season in the aftermath of establishing new career highs in receptions (59), yardage (584) and touchdowns (5), after averaging just 11.6 catches, under 70 yards (69.6), and one score during his first three seasons with Indianapolis. This made him a logical target for many owners who waited beyond the initial rounds to secure their tight end, as a result of their optimism that he could assemble favorable numbers on a weekly basis. Now that Erik Swoope is no longer a threat to pilfer targets, Doyle can function as a viable starting option during appealing matchups. However, that does not apply this week, when Scott Tolzien makes his season debut under center versus the Rams. The absence of Andrew Luck has temporarily demolished the concept of deploying Doyle on a weekly basis until Indy’s top signal caller returns to the lineup. Plus, any remaining urge to start Doyle should be outweighed by the realization that he will be contending with a Ram defense that ranked 10th versus the pass in 2016, and was among the league’s eight stingiest units against opposing tight ends. Only two exceeded 59 yards against Los Angeles in 2016, while only five were able to discover the end zone. Even without Aaron Donald in the lineup, the Rams can limit Tolzien’s effectiveness, which can quash Doyle’s output. As Wade Phillips begins his tenure as defensive coordinator in full possession of an extensive track record for improving each unit substantially once they are under his leadership. Making this a matchup that Doyle owners should eschew when determining their starter.