With all of the top fantasy players at your disposal each week, it can be tough to decide between guys like Julio Jones and Antonio Brown when building your lineup. In this weekly article, I’ll take a look at guys on the upper or middle range of salaries at each position (‘”retail prices”), identifying my favorite plays for the week. Make sure to complement these players with “value plays,” and as always be mindful of the different strategies that apply for GPP versus Cash contests.
DraftKings NFL Week 1 Picks: Top QBs, RBs, WRs and TEs
Russell Wilson (SEA, $6,900) at Green Bay Packers
Seattle vs. Green Bay has highest game total of the week at 51 as of Wednesday morning. I like what Russell Wilson brings to the table here in Week 1, as Green Bay was one of seven teams to allow an average of 20+ DraftKings (DK) points to opposing QBs a season ago and will return their entire secondary. The Seahawks enter with a weak offensive line and a jumbled backfield, so I expect the Seahawks to throw plenty to keep up with the Packers. Also, Wilson has averaged 36 rushing yards against the Packers in four career games, which only increases his floor. And he enters completely healthy since he’s over the ankle and knee injuries that hampered him in ‘16.
Marcus Mariota (TEN, $6,800) vs. Oakland Raiders
I like both QBs in this game, but lean towards Mariota because he’s at home and has the higher implied point total, and the Titans defense should be much better than last season. The Raiders allowed the eighth-most DK points to opposing QBs last season and face a Titans offense that is loaded with talent. New additions Eric Decker and Corey Davis are both healthy and will suit up, offering Mariota more options alongside proven targets like Delanie Walker, Rishard Matthews, and DeMarco Murray out of the backfield. Oakland finished 25th overall in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) against the pass last season despite finishing 4th against WR1s. Mariota loves spreading the ball, so a defense that can only stop one position doesn’t scare me away from him.
Le’Veon Bell (PIT, $9,800) at Cleveland Browns
The Steelers’ lead back tore apart the Browns last season in Cleveland, rushing for 146 yards and a touchdown while catching eight passes for 55 yards. This amounted to 37.1 DK points and his second highest output of the season. Despite playing on the road, Pittsburgh is the second-largest favorite of the weekend, laying 8 points, so Bell should see plenty of work on the ground with a Steelers lead. He and the Steelers have both stated he’ll get as much work as he can handle, so Bell lines up as one of the top cash game plays of the week.
Devonta Freeman (ATL, $7,000) at Chicago Bears
Atlanta enters the weekend with the highest projected team total at 28.3 and as a 7-point favorite. Chicago allowed over 24 combined DK points per game to opposing running backs last season, and finished with the 29th ranked DVOA against the run. Atlanta should score early and often against the Bears, which will offer Freeman a ton of opportunities in the second half. Freeman also caught 62 passes last season and was Matt Ryan’s most targeted player in the red zone, which always helps his floor in DK’s PPR format.
Todd Gurley (LAR, $6,000) vs. Indianapolis Colts
The news of Andrew Luck officially being out for Week 1 helps us a lot for fantasy projections. With backup Scott Tolzien at QB, the Colts offense will be much less potent and L.A. has a much better chance of winning, as the line swung by nearly a touchdown and now favors the Rams by 3.5. Indianapolis struggled against the run last season, finishing last in DVOA against the rush and allowed the sixth-most DK points to opposing RBs. I expect Gurley will be more involved in the passing game with Sean McVay as head coach (no more “middle school” offense), helping his floor and solidifying his involvement even if the Rams are trailing. I still expect Gurley to do most of his work running the ball, and against a weak Colts defense, he makes a solid value at $6,000.
Doug Baldwin (SEA, $6,700) at Green Bay Packers
Seattle’s WR1 makes a great correlation play with Russell Wilson (remember the importance of stacks), but I like him on his own just as much. Green Bay finished 28th in DVOA to opposing WR1s last season and allowed the second-most DK points to opposing wideouts. Baldwin saw the most targets of any Seattle WR last season, and the departure of Jermaine Kearse may create more looks in the offense. Not a single corner for Green Bay finished in the top 90 in terms of coverage rating on Pro Football Focus. They did gain experience last season but Baldwin can exploit most cornerbacks. I love his floor this week as he’ll get plenty of targets, and the upside is always there with his touchdown potential (21 in his last two seasons).
A.J. Green (CIN, $8,000) vs. Baltimore Ravens
As a Cincinnati native, I’ve seen Green consistently carve up Ravens defenses en route to big offensive performances when playing in Baltimore. He didn’t face Baltimore in 2016 due to injury, but in three games since 2013, Green has averaged eight catches and 169.7 receiving yards per game, and has scored four touchdowns in those three games. Not much should change this time around, as Andy Dalton is still his QB and he’s still the most talented WR on the Bengals by a large margin. The peripheral numbers don’t look great as Baltimore finished 10th in DVOA against the pass and 7th against WR1s, so Green should be lower-owned compared to the other top-tier receivers, making for one of my favorite GPP plays on the slate.
Kelvin Benjamin (CAR, $5,900) at San Francisco 49ers
Benjamin’s best game in 2016 came against the 49ers, where he caught nine passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. He returns as Carolina’s top option at WR without much proven depth behind him, with Devin Funchess being the only other receiver to catch a pass from Newton in a regular season game. San Francisco finished 31st in DVOA against WR1s last season, and if Benjamin sees coverage from their top corner Rashard Robinson, he’ll have a huge size advantage. He’s four inches taller and outweighs Robinson by 70 pounds, lining him up for red zone targets by the bunches.
Delanie Walker (TEN, $4,300) vs. Oakland Raiders
This could possibly be Walker’s highest scoring week of the season, as he’ll face a Raiders defense who has shown little resistance to opposing tight ends. Tight ends exposed Oakland in the preseason, including Jason Witten catching all six targets for 74 yards and a TD in Week 3. Walker is a tougher cover than Witten, and has proven to be one of Mariota’s favorite targets. He’s finished in the top two on the Titans in terms of overall targets and red zone targets in each of the last three seasons, and I don’t anticipate that changing in Week 1. The Raiders allowed the ninth-most DK points to opposing tight ends last season.
Zach Ertz (PHI, $3,500) at Washington Redskins
The Redskins struggled defending tight ends last season, allowing the third-most DK points to the position. Ertz took advantage of this weakness, catching 10 balls for 112 yards in their Week 14 matchup in ‘16. Carson Wentz doesn’t have much game experience with his wide receivers, as Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery are new additions, and Nelson Agholor caught just 36 passes last season and suffered a case of the dropsies. Therefore, Ertz will enter as Wentz’ most familiar target against a defense that struggles against tight ends. He’s cheap at just $3,500, so fire up Ertz confidently.
Mark Dankenbring (affectionately known as Dank) graduated from Miami University (OH) with degrees in Sports Management and Business Analytics. He’s been playing fantasy sports for nearly 10 years and has started to invest much of his time playing DFS since his graduation in May of 2017. He’s a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan and currently lives in Cincinnati, OH. Follow him on Twitter @MarkDank.