Week 1 Offensive Sleepers

A look at the best under the radar plays for Week 1

Quarterback

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (at Indianapolis)

Dalton will open against one of the worst defenses in the league on the fast track in Indianapolis. The Bengals pass offense looked like a well-oiled machine against the Bills in Week 3 of the preseason. The Colts just don’t have the players to match up with AJ Green, John Ross, Tyler Eifert, Joe Mixon, and Giovani Bernard in coverage, and they don’t have the pass rushers up front to keep Dalton from getting comfortable. The Bengals running game looked as futile as the passing game looked fertile against the Bills, which gives Cincinnati even more reason to lean on Dalton in the opener.

Blake Bortles, Jacksonville (at New York Giants)

Bortles has given us another preseason of follies to remember him by, but at the end of last season, he was positively competent. The Jaguars open with a Giants defense in transition to a new scheme with their best two edge rushers from 2017 either traded or hurt. The Giants have some weak spots in their secondary and Janoris Jenkins can give up big plays with his gambling style. Austin Seferian-Jenkins has a plus matchup against a defense that has been very generous to tight ends. Bortles has a high ceiling in this Tom Coughlin revenge game.

Case Keenum, Denver (vs Seattle)

Keenum had a stretch as a solid QB1 last year with the Vikings and he arguably has a better wide receiver group from 1-3 than he had last year in Minnesota. Keenum opens with the Legion of Whom version of Seattle’s defense, likely without Earl Thomas, and he’ll be at home, where Denver usually plays very well early in the season.

Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago (at Green Bay)

The Packers have a young secondary unless you count Tramon Williams coming back and being a key member of the cornerback group at 35. Green Bay also has a hole at inside linebacker. Trubisky will get to roll out the Matt Nagy offense for the first time under the lights at Lambeau, and he has a plethora of weapons for Nagy to deploy and confuse the Packers toothless defense. With Aaron Rodgers on the other sideline, this could turn into a high-scoring game.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay (at New Orleans)

There could some Fitzmagic in fantasy lineups on Sunday with the Buccaneers facing an uphill battle in the Superdome. Even with Marshon Lattimore canceling out Mike Evans, Fitzpatrick will have a plethora of viable targets, and deficits have never made him timid. Fitzpatrick will likely be relied on to carry in the offense with solid, but average starter Peyton Barber leading the backfield.

Running Back

James White, New England (vs Houston)

Rex Burkhead will have to be eased in. Sony Michel’s ability to contribute for Week 1 is in question. Jeremy Hill has a very limited (but potentially valuable) application in the New England offense. White fits well in the short passing-based attack the Patriots will likely utilize, and we know he is effective in the red zone. He is set up for one of his biggest stat lines of the year in the potential shootout vs. the Texans.

James Conner, Pittsburgh (at Cleveland)

No matter what Le’Veon Bell decides about his playing schedule for 2018, Conner is going to be doing a lot of work on Sunday in Cleveland. He has looked fantastic in the preseason, and Conner is running behind a great line that powers a great offense. He should be considered an RB2 with upside basking in newfound value.

Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati (at Indianapolis)

Bernard had a larger role in the third preseason game than he had in the first half of last year when he barely touched the ball while Joe Mixon repeatedly met tacklers in the backfield. Bernard actually was more effective than Mixon when he took over in place of the injured starter last year. If he is involved in the passing game against the undermanned Colts linebacker group, Bernard could notch some plays in what might be a rare road romp for the Bengals.

Javorius Allen, Baltimore (vs Buffalo)

Allen has been a reliable part of the backfield for the Ravens, and that shouldn’t change in 2018. Alex Collins is the leader of this backfield, and Kenneth Dixon did enough to make the team, but Allen has proven his worth in short yardage and the passing game, two areas that can be very fertile ground for fantasy value to come to life. The Ravens should control the home opener against Nathan Peterman, and Allen will likely have a goal-line chance or two and numerous opportunities as a receiver.

LeGarrette Blount, Detroit (vs NY Jets)

Perhaps Blount will be overtaken by Kerryon Johnson by the end of the year, but for now, he’s firmly in place to get short yardage carries and be the finisher for a Lions team that is likely to roll to victory against the Jets on Monday night. Blount has multiple touchdown potential, and he could lead the team in rushing in the first game of a season that they are committed to rebuilding the running game.

Wide Receiver

Kenny Stills, Miami (vs Tennessee)

Stills probably wasn’t drafted as a starter for many teams, but he has a better outlook this week than many players taken in the 25-30 wide receivers selected. DeVante Parker is unlikely to play, Albert Wilson hasn’t been a big hit early in his Dolphins career, and the Tennessee edge rushers are banged up. Stills could be the big winner in the competition to inherit Jarvis Landry’s abandoned targets, and in a matchup that has been good to receivers with his skill set and ability.

John Brown, Baltimore (vs Buffalo)

Brown is healthy and he has been riffing with Joe Flacco like a #1 receiver in an offense that isn’t returning any of the key pass-catchers from 2017. The Bills defense has a very beatable CB2 and slot corner, and the Ravens offense should be better all around with a now healthy offensive line and starting quarterback. All Brown has to do is get one deep ball to make your week, and he also made an exceptional play on a Flacco fastball in the end zone during the preseason to build trust.

Keelan Cole, Jacksonville (at New York Giants)

When Marqise Lee went down, Cole became the most productive returning wide receiver, and he has also played in the most games with Blake Bortles of the current group. He was a WR1 for a stretch last year and faces a Giants defense with a gambling #1 corner and weakened edge rush group that could allow Bortles to have lots of time to throw deep to Cole. He is one of the most likely receivers to catch a 50+ yard touchdown this week.

John Ross, Cincinnati (at Indianapolis)

Ross might be the most likely to catch a 50+ yard touchdown with his blistering speed and the lack of strong pass rushers or cover corners in Indianapolis. In one half of preseason play in Week 3, Ross had one long score and dropped a quick slant that could have been a second. The Colts have no one that can run with Ross in their secondary, giving him a real chance to make a big Week 1 splash.

Courtland Sutton, Denver (vs Seattle)

Sutton is starting as the #3 receiver in Denver, but he should make them a three-wide heavy offense, and he’ll be drawing the weaker outside corner more often than Demaryius Thomas. Shaq Griffin looks like a budding shutdown corner in the making, but the Seahawks have a lot of inexperience in the secondary beyond Griffin. Sutton has the game in the air and after the catch to make big plays and the Seahawks lack the pass rushers to consistently make Case Keenum uncomfortable.

Tyrell Williams, Los Angeles Chargers (vs Kansas City)

The Chiefs secondary might be the easiest to beat in the entire NFL. This week, Philip Rivers and the Chargers get to take their shots against Kansas City. At least a few will go to Tyrell Williams, who is entering his prime and opening the year as the #2 receiver. In a few weeks, we might be urging everyone to play any starting wide receiver against the Chiefs. This is your chance to get ahead of the curve.

Bruce Ellington, Houston (at New England)

Ellington has never stayed healthy for long, but when he is on the field, he always shows he can play. This week, he gets to start at slot receiver for the Texans with Deshaun Watson back on the field against a middling-at-best Patriots defense. Ellington should draw one of the weaker members of the Patriots secondary in the slot. Will Fuller V is coming in off of a hamstring injury and DeAndre Hopkins could draw Stephon Gilmore much of the time, putting Ellington in the crosshairs in what could be a wide-open contest.

Tight End

Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati (at Indianapolis)

Is Eifert really a sleeper? He has lost a lot of standing in fantasy circles after attempting to and failing to get back on the field with any relevance last year. He is reportedly healthy now, even playing in the third preseason game and looking functional in the passing game. The Colts have a very young and unsettled group of linebackers and defensive backs, which should make things easier for the Bengals. When they get to the red zone, Eifert’s number is likely to be near the top of the list.

Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia (vs Atlanta) **Thursday**

Goedert will be the rare rookie tight end to have a big role in his offense right away. Goedert was dominant in camp, especially in the end zone, and that translated to preseason games. His play isn’t the only reason Goedert will be used heavily in the season opener. The Eagles will be without Alshon Jeffery, so Goedert is the best player the team has in contested ball situations. He might be the most likely Eagle to catch a touchdown from Nick Foles in the opener.

Ricky Seals-Jones, Arizona (vs Washington)

Washington was one of the worst defenses against tight ends last year, which gives Seals-Jones a chance to open 2018 with a lot of momentum. He has established himself as a worthy starter with Jermaine Gresham sidelined all offseason, and Seals-Jones big wide receiver profile will fit well in a short passing high percentage throw offense led by Sam Bradford. Seals-Jones should be the #3 target with youngsters Chad Williams and Christian Kirk as the #2 and #3 wideouts.

Ryan Griffin, Houston (at New England)

Griffin should be on your sleeper radar for a lot of the same reasons that Ellington is. Griffin should match up against one of the problem areas of the Patriots defense - linebacker - and he has experience with Deshaun Watson. Stephen Anderson has been released (and signed to the Patriots practice squad in a Belichickian twist), leaving two rookies to share tight end snaps and targets with Griffin.