With all of the top fantasy players at your disposal each week, it can be tough to decide between guys like A.J. Green and Julio Jones 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.
FanDuel NFL Week 1 Picks: Top QBs, RBs, WRs and TEs
Matt Ryan (ATL, $8,500) at Chicago Bears
Atlanta enters Week 1 with the highest implied team total of 27.5 (as of Thursday morning). Matty Ice will face a Bears defense that allowed the 12th most FD points to opposing QBs and finished 17th in DVOA against the pass. Ryan will have all of his same weapons returning from 2016 that led to the most efficient offense in football, and new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has expressed interest in picking up the offensive pace and throwing more frequently. With a high implied run total and talent all around him, I’m happy to roster Ryan this week against a below-average pass defense.
Russell Wilson (SEA, $8,000) at Green Bay Packers
Seattle vs. Green Bay has highest game total of the week at 51 as of Thursday morning. I like what Russell Wilson brings to the table here in Week 1, as Green Bay allowed the seventh-most 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 as he’s over the ankle and knee injuries that hampered him in ‘16.
Marcus Mariota (TEN, $7,800) 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. The Raiders allowed the eighth-most FanDuel (FD) 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 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, $9,300) 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 30.1 FD points and his third highest output of the season. Pittsburgh is the second-largest favorite of the weekend with an eight-point cushion, so Bell should see plenty of work as the game progresses. 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.
LeSean McCoy (BUF, $8,500) vs. New York Jets
If McCoy can stay healthy this season, he’ll likely rival David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell for the most touches at the RB position. Head coach Sean McDermott has made it very clear Shady will see plenty of touches this upcoming weekend, stating “Whatever it takes to win the game that’s what we’re going to do. If it means he’s got to play every snap, that’s what we’ll do.” Buffalo led the league in rushing yards per game with 164 last season. They return all five starters on the offensive line and are expected to have the same offensive gameplan. The Jets run defense rated as the first overall in DVOA last season, but still gave up the 15th most FD points to running backs. Also, they traded DT Sheldon Richardson to the Seahawks, weakening their defensive line, basically the only plus positional group they had. As an 8-point favorite at home, I expect the Bills to hand it off to McCoy more than 20 times, giving him a great floor for fantasy production.
Todd Gurley (LAR, $7,300) vs. Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck’s scratch from the opener puts backup Scott Tolzien at QB, which should be welcome news for Rams fans and anyone who bet L.A. at +3. The line swung by nearly a touchdown and now favors the Rams by 3.5. Indianapolis got torched on the ground last season, finishing dead last in DVOA against the rush and allowed the sixth-most FD points to opposing RBs. I expect Gurley new Rams head coach Sean McVay will get Gurley more involved in the passing game, helping his floor and assuring 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 $7,300.
A.J. Green (CIN, $8,300) vs. Baltimore Ravens
As a Cincinnati native, I’ve seen Green consistently carve up Ravens defenses en route to big offensive performances when playing 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.
Doug Baldwin (SEA, $7,500) 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 most FanDuel points to opposing wideouts. Baldwin saw the most targets of any Seattle WR last season with 133, and the departure of Jermaine Kearse may create even 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).
Larry Fitzgerald (ARI, $6,400) at Detroit Lions
It’s a match made in heaven for Fitzgerald this weekend in Detroit. He’ll face a defense that allowed the second most receptions to opposing slot receivers in 2016. Fitzgerald finished with 63 receptions in the slot, second most of any receiver last season, and figures to line up there plenty this Sunday with Darius Slay lurking on the outside. Detroit finished dead last in DVOA against the pass last season, so Fitzgerald should have no problem racking up receptions after leading the league last year with 6.8 per game. He’s extremely affordable at just $6,400 and should be a staple in cash games and GPPs alike this weekend.
Zach Ertz (PHI, $5,900) at Washington Redskins
The Redskins struggled defending tight ends last season, allowing the fifth-most FD 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.
Delanie Walker (TEN, $6,100) vs. Oakland Raiders
This could possibly be Walker’s highest scoring week of the season, as he’ll face a Raiders defense that’s served as rainmaker for opposing tight end scoring. TE’s exposed Oakland’s linebacker and safety coverage in the preseason, including Jason Witten who caught 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.
Houston Texans ($5,100 on FD,$3,800 on DK) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Texans come in as my top play among defenses for the week. This game enters with the lowest total of the week, as the Jaguars have an implied point total of just 17 (above only the Jets). In three of their last four games against Jacksonville, Houston has registered a pick-six. They allowed the fewest yards per game of any team in ’16 and will have J.J. Watt returning from injury, who I’ve heard is pretty good at football. Houston is also playing at home for a city just devastated by hurricane Harvey, so I expect them to come out with even more passion and intensity than normal. It won’t be a fun week for Blake Bortles and Co.
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.