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The Best of Week 1

Matt Waldman scouts our in-season content and shares five must-knows and his takes on each.

You guys have a ton of articles. 

This statement about Footballguys is a blessing but it can feel like a curse. Our staff delivers insights that change seasons for the better yet realistically, no fantasy owner has the time to read everything we publish in a week. 

If this describes you, let me be your scout. Here are five insights from Footballguys articles that I find compelling for the weekend ahead. I'll share what should help you this week, touch on the long-term outlook, and sometimes offer a counterargument.  

Sleeper Tight ends

While many novices (and even long-time players with limited experience outside of a few leagues) fear the idea of going 0-4 in September, seasoned fantasy managers understand that the first month is an evaluation period of the league, matchups, and your best roster and lineup combinations. This is why I generally recommend fantasy owners not to get cute with their starting lineups during the first 3-4 weeks of the season. If there's a position where I'll experiment a little more often during the opening weeks of the year, it's tight end. 

Sigmund Bloom's Sleeper's column provides many compelling options who are flying under the radar this week and two of them are skilled tight ends with strong matchups: 

Austin Hooper (at CHI) - Hooper will inherit the targets and snaps vacated by Jacob Tamme in the season opener against a Bears defense that gave up big games to some nondescript tight ends like Trey BurtonCameron Brate, and Dwayne Allen. The Bears defense will have its hands full against the Falcons and if Hooper isn’t productive it will only be because the Falcons chose to lean on others of their plethora of their options to move the ball and score.

Evan Engram (at DAL) - Engram is the rare rookie tight end who should get the majority of snaps for his team right away. He presents matchup problems for a Cowboys defense that already is going to have problems getting pressure on the quarterback and covering outside receivers. The first-round pick’s speed and toughness after the catch could create big plays in his debut.

My Take: If you're seeking upside from the tight end position, these two options offer red zone opportunities that you may not find with more established fantasy favorites with tougher matchups. If you're a regular reader of my work, you'll know that Hooper and Engram are a pair of options that I have drafted together when I adopted an aggressive, high-risk strategy.

Hooper will benefit greatly from Atlanta's use of misdirection—especially with the Bears' weak run defense that will be susceptible to play-action. Engram could earn more targets this week due to Odell Beckham's injury and it could also mean more work on the perimeter. Hooper is the safer of the two, but Engram has more big-play upside as a breakaway threat. 

An early look at Week 2's impending waiver Wire madness

This week's Roundtable included an excellent discussion about how to approach the waiver wire during the early weeks of the fantasy season. Opinions ranged from a cautious approach to going all-in on one player. Here's part of that discussion:

Matt Waldman: What advice do you have for fantasy owners about the upcoming waiver wire madness that will ensue after the weekend? 

Tietgen: If anything, spend less money in Week 2 than other weeks.  There will be one-week wonders that folks overpay for.  Don't blow your entire budget the first week.  There will be those that give up on stars or almost-stars after a couple/few weeks that you will want to jump on come Week 4 or 5.

Adam Harstad: I definitely view this differently than Tietgen. In almost all of my leagues, I'm basically spending 100 percent of my budget on one big acquisition in the first few weeks and living on free adds the rest of the year.

Hicks: People can overreact to one or two weeks of results. You have to weigh each player against the whole picture. Last year, Will Fuller looked like the second coming of Randy Moss after 2 weeks. As Adam mentioned, you will see a shooting star or two come out of nowhere early in the season, but there will be more fool's gold around. If an unexpected 20-carry a game running back presents himself, then, by all means, dive in, but a third- or fourth-string receiver who breaks it for a long touchdown run, maybe not so much. 

Parsons: I am one to be proactive with free and low-cost pickups preemptively than to spend most of my funds on a single pickup. Being realistic about the opportunity spectrum for Week 1 specifically optimizes the bench spots on a fantasy roster.

Simpkins: I bid more aggressively in Week 2, especially when I’ve seen something that I’m pretty sure is going to stick all season. Last year, it was picking up Tyrell Williams with a more aggressive bid than most were willing to make after Keenan Allen’s injury. That certainly paid off for me. There have been other moves I’ve made that have fallen flat, but I would much rather whiff because I was bold and took a chance than to miss out because I was too conservative to embrace the new reality. 

Waldman: I love the hubris that Harstad brings to his answer. And I call it "hubris" because it presumes that you've identified the "it" player who will alter the landscape within the first two weeks of the season. If the player you've identified is truly that obvious, then I understand the strong bid. However, if you aren't one player away from turning your season around, this strategy may not be the best one. I've certainly altered the fortunes of my squads with 3-5 cheaper waiver selections between October and November. It's a counterpoint to his viable theory that's worth considering. Know your team and act accordingly.

Harstad, can you give us a little more detail behind your super-aggressive stance?

Harstad: Three very important things to keep in mind.

  1. The most talented players break out quickly, not slowly. Because they're talented.
  2. The earlier you get someone, the more weeks you can use him.
  3. The quality difference between free acquisitions and mid-price acquisitions is pretty minimal, historically.

Policy prescription based on the above: if at any point you see a waiver prospect that you really like, and you're in a league with blind-bid waivers, do not be afraid to blow your entire budget to acquire him, (assuming your league allows you to make free moves later in the season if your budget is gone). If your league has a minimum transaction cost (say, minimum $1 bid with no first-come, first-serve free agency), then save $10-20 for minimum-cost adds later on in the year and spend the rest on a big splurge.

Hindery: I get what Harstad is saying, but it's always difficult to separate the one-week wonder from the player who can make a long-term impact on your team....

Here are a few rules of thumb that I use to determine who is worthy of a strong bid:

  • Focus on usage instead of the result: If Antonio Gates catches two touchdowns on three targets and Evan Engram doesn’t score but has seven catches on 12 targets, it’s probably smart to target Engram over Gates. We want running backs who touch the ball a lot and pass catchers who see a lot of targets.
  • Err on the side of young players with true breakout potential: If Brandon LaFell puts up a 6-90-1 line in Week 1, I’m not too excited. We basically know what LaFell is based upon the previous 7 seasons. However, if Kenny Golladay puts up the same 6-90-1 line in Week 1, I’m much more excited.
  • Look for situations where there has been a material change since your draft: If Jeremy Hill plays 40 percent of the snaps Week 1 and has a good week, it isn’t a reason to rush out and bid on him. However, if Joe Mixon goes down with a season-ending injury, that’s a whole different ballgame and makes Hill an attractive target. We are mainly looking for events that change a player’s role on his team. 
  • Take into account game script to determine how repeatable a performance is:  If the Cowboys jump out to a 21-0 early lead over the Giants and Shane Vereen catches eight passes late in the game because the Giants are in a come-from-behind mode, that usage may have been game script dependent. If the Giants are in a close game against the Cowboys and Vereen has eight catches, then his usage is much more difficult to dismiss as a fluke.
  • Look for situations that were unsettled before Week 1 where we actually got some possible answers. Here are a couple situations I'm watching closely:
    • Bears receivers. With Cameron Meredith out for the season, we don't know who the go-to receiver for the Bears will be. If one player (Kendall Wright) has a big share of the targets, it could be a player worth targeting for receiving depth. 
    • Patriots running backs. While New England is notorious for changing their game plans and player usage from week-to-week, it is still a situation worth watching. If one running back (Rex Burkhead) gets all of the goal line touches and plays half the snaps, for example, I'd be willing to roll the dice to try to get a slice of what could be a huge pie in a high-scoring offense.

Some of the players the staff recommended to keep an eye on this weekend who may fit their criteria as a hot waiver wire option include Wright, Zay Jones, Orleans Darkwa, Cooper Kupp, Brandon Coleman, Danny Amendola, Paul Richardson, Travis Benjamin, and the Raiders tandem of DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard

My Take: Harstad's aggressive nature can make fantasy owners league winners if they hit on the right player, but fantasy owners have to exhibit great self-awareness with the talent of their squads or else they will be kidding themselves that they are one player away from dominating their league. As I Hindery mentioned, a potential stud running back qualifies as a team and league-changing player.

However, one huge game could be a false reading. Kareem Hunt is a possible example that I'll discuss in more detail in Monday night's Top 10 but using him as an example, Hunt did nothing that should shock fantasy owners if they had a good scouting report on his abilities: He's good at navigating tight creases, quick enough to reach the second level, has the balance to earn yards after contact and break arm tackles, and he is a competent receiver.   

What we didn't see are the things that will determine just how good Hunt really is as a pro. Hunt had one rep all night as a pass protector and because New England was most concerned about Travis Kelce and forcing Alex Smith to take deep shots that he's not always been comfortable doing without hesitating and incurring the pass rush, the Patriots didn't stack the box against Hunt.

Until we see Hunt produce against eight- and nine-man boxes and prove that his pass protection can help the Chiefs deliver greater scheme flexibility between run and pass with Hunt in the backfield (more on this Monday), Hunt is a fantasy player to continue using with gusto but riskier to buy/sell until we see more exposures.

If Hunt were hypothetically on the waiver wire, I would not be likely to go all-in on him based on Thursday night's game unless I lose a starting RB this weekend and my depth chart is thin at the position while I'm super strong elsewhere. If my team appears to need 3-5 players that I don't have, Hunt doesn't help me as much as a cautious approach on the waiver wire where I spend smaller, moderate amounts on multiple players.

Dynasty news you Can use in re-drafts this year

Jeff Tefertiller's Dynasty News You Can Use is a fine run-down from a fantasy owner I compete with regularly in long-term formats. One of the notes that I think bears watching this year is about the Cleveland Browns receiving corps: 

The Cleveland Browns showed that the team was not happy with the depth of the wide receiving corps.  First, the team traded a 2018 sixth-round pick to Pittsburgh for a 2019 seventh-round pick and receiver Sammie Coates.  Coates was drafted in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft but failed to live up to expectations.  He is athletically gifted but has failed to put it all together.  Maybe, the trade will provide him a fresh start.  Then, the team claimed Kasen Williams off waivers from Seattle.  Williams flashed big potential this preseason and was a surprise cut.  Holding the first spot in the waiver process, Cleveland claimed him before any other team could have a chance.  He and Coates are expected to battle for the third-receiver position. 

My Take: Kenny Britt is the front runner to lead the Browns in receiving yards this year, but only recently has he overcome the knucklehead label, and I'm not sure he has completely earned that change in fan perception. He was part of a Rams receiving corps that refused to spend extra time with Jared Goff. I would not be surprised if he underwhelms. 

Coates has fantastic athletic talent. He was one of Bruce Feldman's "freaks" of college football. However, Coates cannot consistently track the football over his head when his back is to the quarterback and he still has issues with the consistency of his hand-eye coordination on other targets.

Williams was once a terrific athlete who wrecked his leg with a horrific fracture during his career at Washington. He's still a fluid player who can get downfield, but he's not as explosive as he was as a collegiate underclassman. Even so, Williams' impressive work came against Vikings' top cornerback Xavier Rhodes so don't sleep on him as a preseason wonder.

Williams may need some time to get acclimated to the Browns' offense, but he's a terrific match for DeShone Kizer's prowess with perimeter and red zone routes. These are targets where the Browns could use Williams as a situational receiver with high impact. If the Browns media mentions Williams as a potential contributor heading into a weekend of games, it might be wise to pick him as a first-come, first-serve option if you have room to speculate.

go early with Gurley

Footballguys Matchups columns have a new trio of writers (Justin Hower, Devin Knotts, and Keith Roberts) and it's a nice format of combining a variety of information. One of the more polarizing players in the preseason was Rams running back Todd Gurley. The trio's summation of Gurley's great matchup deserves some discussion about his season-long outlook. 

Todd Gurley had a season to forget in 2016 after his breakout season as a rookie in 2015. Gurley averaged just 3.2 yards per carry last season and while he did become more involved as a pass receiver catching 43 passes, he was largely a disappointment. Heading into the 2017 season Gurley is expected to improve, but the big concern is the offensive line as Matt Bitonti has the Rams rated as the 26th best offensive line in the NFL heading into the season. This was the same issue that the Rams had last season as they were rated 28th last season towards the end of the year.

The good news for the Rams is that the matchup is one of the best matchups that they will see all season. The Colts were 25th against the run last season allowing 120.4 yards per game and ranked 30th in yards per carry at 4.7 yards per carry. The Colts lost D’Qwell Jackson in the offseason, and while he was not a great linebacker his specialty was stopping the run. The Colts signed veteran inside linebacker Sean Spence only to cut him a few weeks later, and also signed Jon Bostic who has not started since 2014. Bostic will be starting alongside fifth-round rookie Anthony Walker at middle linebacker. There are a lot of unknowns for the Colts heading into this game and with largely inexperienced middle linebackers this could pose a problem for the Colts in what is already a bad run defense.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.

My Take: This is the week you test Gurley as your fantasy starter. If you picked him at his usual ADP then he's your obvious choice, but you're wise enough to have reserves who could take over his spot in your lineups if the Rams' offensive unit looks as bad as it did last year. This is the game that should give you an effective reading of what to expect from the offense.

If Gurley is reaching the linebackers without getting touched on at least 6-8 of his carries, the Rams line had a good day and there's hope that they can do this to a lesser degree against better defensive units. If he's reaching the linebackers but has to run through wraps or make more than one defender miss for him to do so, a strong fantasy performance from Gurley on Sunday may be a false reading of what will happen in future weeks.

If Gurley isn't reaching the linebackers on more than 3-5 of his touches this week, you better hope he had one breakaway run and a strong stat line where you can sell him at a reasonable price. One caveat to this thought is if Gurley earns enough touches in the receiving game that you have time to use him as a consistent producer due to the versatile ways the Rams target him and hope that the offensive line improves.  

DFS Corner

Footballguys has as fantastic DFS staff and if you want to get into this segment of the hobby, we have the best quality and best value of analysis of any site you will find. Whether you're a beginning looking for great advice on how to approach DFS or a seasoned veteran who has hidden in your cave and hasn't checked out our analysis, use the link I supplied above.

One of the topics that caught my eye was advanced metrics; which ones the staff uses and why. Phil Alexander listed several by position, and it's a list that is worth exploring because it provides a lot of intel. However, I'm also looking for wisdom and the meat of that wisdom was in the ensuing conversation. 

Jeff Pasquino: I like a lot of what Phil said here, but at a certain point I think the metrics can lead you astray.  While I will definitely look at CB/WR and TE/defense matchups and the like, as well as game scripts for kickers and defenses, overall I like the simpler numbers.  Targets and percent of team targets are great numbers to use for receivers, and volume of touches is key for performing well.  You need the ball to rack up fantasy points, so touches are key for me.  Finding those weak corners can really help, however, when you are looking for the wide receiver that might get two touchdowns and win you a tournament.

David Dodds: This isn't an official stat, but I like to look at target/opportunity distribution after injury.  A star player goes down and will miss next week.  What happened in this week's game and how will that translate to targets/opportunities for everyone else in the games without the star player.  Did the team run more?  Did the pass/run ratio stay similar?  Who got the red zone looks?   In DFS, it's all about predicting what will happen next.  

My other advanced stat I like to look at is what I would call similar players.  Two weeks in a row the slot WR has torched the Indianapolis defense.  Can this week's player do the same?  Is he similar to the two players who excelled before him?  Can he run the routes that were wide open in previous weeks?  The NFL is a copy-cat league.  When one coach exploits a weakness, expect the next week's coach to try to as well.

Justin Howe: I once heard a great quote from the incomparable Bill James that I've mostly forgotten, so I'll paraphrase: If you run across a metric that tells you Willie Mays wasn't very good, you can confidently disregard that metric, regardless of how sexy it is. Don't fall for some obscure stat that tells you to play Dirt-Cheap Quarterback X. Examine it closely. It needs to be remembered that there's a wide gulf between predictive stats and "stats for stats' sake." Don't merely tell me that Matthew Stafford has been great lately and expect me to apply it to this week. Tell me he's dominated against the blitz, and that this week's opponent relies heavily upon the blitz. Don't just tell me Melvin Gordon has been great on the goal line; tell me why you expect him to be in the red zone a lot this week, and why you're confident he'll get a lot of those chances against Opponent X.

The metric also needs to be sticky. There are helpful-looking measures out there like yards-per-target, deep-ball success rate, and several others that don't carry over well from one week to the next. In my experience, the stickier ones are the matchup-based offerings that David mentioned. How often do teams run the ball against Defense X? How well does this defense cover premier slot receivers?

And, as Jeff Pasquino pointed out, look for numbers that are rooted in volume. In both DFS and season-long football, we're all much better and more consistent in projecting volume than efficiency. Yardage and touchdown rates tend to vary wildly, but the top dogs in an offense typically don't. It's much safer to invest in a guy because he projects to a high workload than due to an expected/hoped-for swing in efficiency.. 

My Take: I'm always looking for data that has context and there are numerous examples above that meet my standard. 

Good luck this weekend! For more excellent fantasy work, check out our Week 1 In-Season and DFS pages.