Start your studs is one of the slogans in fantasy that needs to go. Not because you should overthink and potential avoid weekly matchup for the elite players in the NFL, but because this often leads to a complacent way of think, or just not thinking.
We fantasy players often assume we know too much, when in reality, the players we can truly count on from week-to-week start evaporating earlier in drafts than we think. Oftentimes, we draft with the confidence that we're securing every-week assets throughout the single-digit rounds. In all reality, we're acquiring multiple weekly options, not players we're locking in as starters the majority of weeks as soon as even the fourth round. Chaos coming in waves, whether it be underperformance or injuries, and the influence of weekly matchups makes the thought that we are rather laughable.
In some cases, the reality that these players may not be sure bets week-in-and-week-out hits as early as Week 1. There are at least four players going in the first four rounds in ADP (Fantasy Football Calculator) who, for one reason or another, I'm nervous about deploying in the first week of the season.
Leonard Fournette at Houston Texans
The Jaguars offense suddenly found itself immersed in chaos after Week 2 of the preseason amid and all too predictable Blake Bortles collapse. The coaching staff then launched the team into what might be the latest starting quarterback competition in NFL history. Chad Henne drew the top nod in Week 3 of the exhibition season but as of press time, we don't know who will trot out in Week 1 against the Texans
No matter who lines up behind center we need to face reality; all predictions about what the Jaguars offense will look like are officially on hold. Jacksonville is in chaos mode offensively, until we see any real evidence that the career disappointment of Chad Henne is ready to end in a Cinderella story as this team's savior.
Such a lack of confidence in the overall direction of this offense should cause us to cast doubt beyond just the passing game and into the backfield. Leonard Fournette in his own right, hasn't done much to inspire confidence this preseason. The No. 4 overall pick sat out the last two games with the same toe injury that severely hampered him at LSU. Not that anyone believes it, but the Jaguars have certainly pushed the idea that they'll split his touches with Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. Again, that's not going to last but the Jaguars might be incentivized to keep his touches low in Week 1 as he gets back into gear from an injury. Even without that, Fournette is no lock for passing game usage and the Jaguars should be favorites to see negative game script in this contest.
So, to recap: this rookie running back, with an uncertain workload playing on dysfunctional offense heads into a Week 1 road tilt with one of the best defenses in the NFL. With Fournette costing a second or third-round pick in drafts right now, his owners will feel they must start him in the season's launching game. However, they can't possibly feel too good about that.
Sammy Watkins vs. Indianapolis Colts
When the Rams welcome the Colts in Week 1, it will be just shy of a month since Sammy Watkins arrived in Los Angeles via a trade with the Bills. It's an awful tall task to expect him to be ready to rock as a target hog in Week 1. Never mind the questions we have about what targets in the Rams passing game are worth, despite their solid showings in the preseason.
Even more questionable that his own role or the overall passing game effectiveness, it's worth wondering just how much the Rams will need Watkins in this spot. It's not outrageous to suggest the Rams should be favored to beat the visiting and talent-bereft Colts, who look likely to be quarterbacked by Scott Tolzien. Make no mistake, the Colts without Andrew Luck are a few sneezes short of an all-out disaster.
Should the Rams hold onto positive game script throughout the game, this could easily be a 30-touch outing for Todd Gurley facing a defense that allowed 4.7 yards per carry last season. When the Rams do look to pass in favorable scenarios with the lead, Jared Goff might look to play it safe by targeting rookie Cooper Kupp out of the slot. It's what he's defaulted to throughout the exhibition games. We could easily be looking at a three to four target Week 1 line for Sammy Watkins.
Joe Mixon vs. Baltimore Ravens
We still have no guarantees that Joe Mixon will be the Week 1 starter and we should expect both Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard to get a good amount of work in the early going. That's been the tenor from the team throughout training camp. Now, everyone and their mother believes Mixon will usurp that backfield in due time, but penciling it in for Week 1 is a bit more than a stretch.
If Mixon is merely taking work as a between the 20s committee rusher who loses goal-line and receiving snaps, we really have no reliable way to project him as a top-24 fantasy back for the Bengals first game. You'll be purely banking on the talented rookie to rip off a big play or two to return value. Of course, he's certainly capable of that, but it's a razor thin margin for error.
Making matters worse, the Bengals will welcome the Baltimore Ravens who return one of the best fronts in the NFL. The Ravens allowed just 10 rushing touchdowns throughout 2016 and were a top-five run defense overall. With the Bengals breaking in a new, and likely underwhelming offensive line in Week 1, Mixon certainly presents a likely case for delayed gratification.
Mike Gillislee vs. Kansas City Chiefs
With Mike Gillislee dealing with a hamstring injury Rex Burkhead got the starting back treatment in the first two preseason games. Burkhead got rest with the top players in the first game and then saw the majority of the rushing and pass-catching duties with the Tom Brady-led unit in the second game. Of course, no one would pretend to interpret that to mean Burkhead is the Patriots season-long featured back, but it could indicate that Gillislee's missed time in August paved the way for Burkhead to hold that job in the season-opener.
If Gillislee isn't in line for 15-plus carries in Week 1, he becomes a pure touchdown or bust flex play in the opener. New England's face-off with Kansas City in Foxboro looks like the type of game that the “LeGarrette Blount” role back would not be a big factor, anyway. The Chiefs look like one of the teams that the Patriots would want to spread out and attack with multiple wide receivers and a passing game threat in the backfield. Cornerback depth was an issue for the Chiefs last year and the team didn't sink major resources into beefing up that spot this offseason. Burkhead far exceeds Gillislee in terms of passing game chops.
At different points of the offseason, Gillislee's fifth-round ADP certainly made sense. Given the way the last month has gone for him and the natural way of the Patriots unpredictable backfield, it's fair to question that placement. It certainly looks like Week 1 won't be one of the spots to roll out the talented New England back.