By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
Week 1 is finally here. I’m so excited that my undiagnosed ADHD is keeping me from conjuring a catchy introduction to reel you into wanting to read my picks. Screw it. You get four sentences. Okay, maybe five. And that gag went 5 sentences too long. The season is just beginning folks. It probably gets worse.
I’m introducing a new format this year. No more Start/Play/Bench. We’re simply going with Play and Fade. I think the meanings will be pretty simple. Play offers up a series of players that, based on my rankings, outperform their preseason rankings and draft positions. They may be obvious names but some may be diamonds in the rough. Fade focuses on the obvious players that were taken higher in drafts and won’t put up numbers relative to their norm or players with absolutely atrocious match ups. My choices are based off my weekly FLEX rankings. Go ahead, take a quick gander before making your way back to the main event.
QB Tom Brady (NE) – Last season at home to Houston, Brady threw for 378 yards and 5 TDs. Sure, J.J. Watt is healthy this year and the Patriots offensive line isn’t great, but you can’t tell me Brady isn’t throwing for at least 325 and 3 TDs even with a receiver corps that rivals the dilapidated neighborhoods in the unflattering parts of town. I mean, you can, but it’d be like voicing your frustrations to a brick wall.
QB Kirk Cousins (MIN) – The Vikings offensive line didn’t look great in preseason. But the Cousins to Stefon Diggs connection sure did. The 49ers allowed the 3rd most fantasy points to QBs last season. And since all they did was sign an old and slow Richard Sherman this offseason to man one corner spot, I’m thinking Cousins to Diggs should be a popular phrase on Sunday.
QB Jared Goff (LAR) – Why people are sleeping on Goff is beyond me. He was a top 10 QB last year and they actually improved at wide receiver in the offseason. Against a Raiders secondary that was obliterated by just about every receiver last season, I’m thinking that Goff should have a field day going deep to Brandin Cooks and over the middle to Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. And you saw the Raiders trade Khalil Mack this week, right? A top 10 week for Goff awaits.
QB Philip Rivers (LAC) – Kansas City traded their number one corner in the offseason. Their best defender is returning from a season-ending injury. The Chiefs also allowed more than 20 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks last year. That’s the plus side. The downside is that Rivers had a total of 12.6 fantasy points against the Chiefs last year. In two games! He also threw six interceptions in those two games. Not good. The good news though? Marcus Peters, the number one corner the Chiefs traded in the offseason who had three of those six interceptions, is now playing for the other Los Angeles team. Rivers bounces back in 2018 and Kansas City gets off to a rough start.
RB David Johnson (ARI) – He’s my number one running back this week. The Redskins gave up almost 26 fantasy points per game to RBs last season, though they did well to limit receiving yards to backs. David Johnson cares not for your stats. He’s out to prove he’s the running back that dominated in 2016. I’m in this week for sure.
RB Jordan Howard (CHI) – Howard has compiled over 2,400 rushing yards over the last two years — good for 3rd in the league. He also spent this offseason learning how to catch the football because he tends to drop it. A lot. Pro Football Focus credits Howard with 14 drops over the last two seasons, the most among running backs. Matt Nagy loves to throw to running backs and the Packers allowed almost 49 receiving yards per game to RBs last year, 4th worst in the league. They also allowed the 7th most fantasy points to RBs in 2017. With all the improvement the Packers made on defense — new defensive coordinator and rookie additions to the secondary — I’m not sold on any results until I actually see some. Howard is top 10 for me this week.
RB Kenyan Drake (MIA) – Tennessee brought on a coach who specializes in defense. They also only had only four draft picks to supplement a terrible defense from a year ago. The one thing they could do was hold running backs to the 10th fewest fantasy points. But they can’t stop pass catching RBs. They allowed almost 60 yards receiving to backs last year. Drake is a big play threat every time he touches the ball — three 30+ yard plays in the preseason alone — and I fully expect Drake to be the center of attention for the Dolphins come Sunday. Remember, Drake was a top 10 RB in fantasy from Weeks 9 through 16 last year. I expect more of the same in 2018, starting this week against the Titans at home.
RB Joe Mixon (CIN) – Mixon looked awful last season. Hesitant, skittish, he just couldn’t find the hole. I’m aware of the sexual connotation there but we’re just going to breeze right by it. He had only one performance last year exceeding 20 fantasy points. And yet, here he is as a breakout candidate in 2018. Why? I don’t know. But what I do know is how talentless the Colts defense is. Seriously, they’re just bad. They allowed over 120 rushing yards per game and over 45 receiving yards to backs per game last year. I don’t see a reason other than Andy Dalton why Mixon shouldn’t have over 100 total yards and a TD on Sunday. Seriously.
RB Alex Collins (BAL) – Alex Collins was Pro Football Focus’ highest graded running back last year. Not bad for a guy that bounced around practice squads the last couple of years. His reward? A date with the Buffalo Bills and their league-worst rush defense from a year ago. Well, 4th worst in terms of yards but they allowed a league high 22 rush TDs and the most fantasy points per game to RBs as well. I have Collins as a top 15 option with the expectation he has zero catches. I honestly think Collins can rush for 140 yards and 2 TDs this week. Big week ahead for Collins.
RB Isaiah Crowell (NYJ) – Crowell is better than people think. The Jets haven’t really had a consistent ground game in some time and Crowell should be able to help with that. The Lions allowed the second most fantasy points to RBs and the second most rushing TDs (18) last season. Even if Crowell has only 60 yards and a TD, that’s good enough for RB2/FLEX numbers. Get Crowell in your lineup this week.
RB Lamar Miller (HOU) – Remember how amazing Deshaun Watson was in 2017? Remember how underwhelming Miller’s season was? Well, when Watson played, Miller was pretty solid, averaging 15.4 fantasy points per game, good for 12th among RBs. I don’t think too highly of the Patriots defense and with D’Onta Foreman on the PUP list, this is Miller’s backfield for at least the next six weeks. Miller is a solid RB2 this week.
RB James Conner (PIT) – With Le’Veon Bell choosing to preserve his personal value over that of the team, Conner should get the start against the Browns. The Browns actually play solid rush defense, allowing the 2nd fewest yards per carry (3.4) a year ago. But if I were the Steelers, I would force feed Conner just to prove a point to Bell and his agent — we don’t need you. Conner should be a solid FLEX option based on volume alone. Oh, and there’s that whole “Big Ben sucks on the road” narrative playing in his favor.
WR DeAndre Hopkins (HOU) – Um, he’s a beast. It’s pretty simple. Stephon Gilmore may be solid and shut down Alshon Jeffery in the 2nd half of the Super Bowl, but that was last year and Jeffery isn’t Hopkins. Again, I expect Texans-Patriots to be a shootout and that bodes well for Hopkins. 9+ catches for over 100 yards and at least one score should easily get him top 5 numbers at WR. He’s my number one receiver this week so I’m clearly thinking he does a little better than that.
WR Julio Jones (ATL) – The last two times Jones played against the Eagles, he’s topped 100 yards and totaled 19 catches in the two affairs. As an Eagles fan, Jones is the equivalent of Kryponite for us. Needless to say, I’m not looking forward to Thursday night.
WR Chris Hogan (NE) – I mentioned the Texans-Patriots game will be a shootout, yes? Quick, name another Patriots wide receiver. Exactly. Hogan is their number one option outside of TE Rob Gronkowski so I don’t see a scenario where Hogan doesn’t have at least 7 catches and a touchdown this week. I have Hogan as a top 10 guy this week.
WR Marvin Jones Jr. (DET) – The Jets have half of a good secondary. Their safeties are great. But not their corners. The Jets ranked 5th worst in DVOA covering number one WRs last year. On Monday night, Matthew Stafford is going to feed Jones quite a bit. 5 catches for 100 yards and a TD feels like his floor this week.
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT) – Antonio Brown is banged up but he’ll still have 15 targets and 9 catches. JuJu will help over the middle to try and open things up for James Conner. He’s not a WR2 all year like people want him to be, but he will be this week against the Browns. Remember, in Week 17 without AB, he went off for 9 catches for 143 yards and TD. He knows how to beat the Browns. He’ll do it again this week.
WR Kelvin Benjamin (BUF) – Who do you think is going to get the ball for the Bills? The Ravens have a solid defense and while we know LeSean McCoy is going to get his — the Ravens allowed almost 25 fantasy points per game to RBs last year — someone has to catch passes. I’m not saying Benjamin is a WR1 or even a WR2 for you this week, but he can be a viable FLEX option with star Ravens CB Jimmy Smith out for the next 4 games due to suspension. I don’t see why Benjamin can’t have 6 receptions for 60 yards. I’ll take that from a FLEX. Hell, give him a Ravens jersey and you know Nathan Peterman will find him at least five times. (That never gets old.)
WR Nelson Agholor (PHI) – Fun fact: Agholor actually led the Eagles receivers in receptions last year with 62. Alshon Jeffery is already ruled out for Thursday’s game. Who else is Nick Foles going to throw to? I expect a heavy dose of the run game against the Falcons but Agholor should be close to 10 targets this week. Dial him up as a FLEX as the Falcons primary slot corner, Brian Poole, allowed 222 yards after the catch last year. Agholor averaged 5.1 YAC per reception last year. Advantage, Agholor. Solid FLEX play this week.
TE Delanie Walker (TEN) – The Dolphins allowed the 2nd most fantasy points to TEs last year. Walker had four straight seasons over 800 yards receiving. I mean, I can keep connecting the dots for you but at a certain point, you have to learn that connecting the dots isn’t a hard exercise.
TE Jack Doyle (IND) – The last time Andrew Luck was fully healthy, Jack Doyle was a top 12 TE. Safe to say, Luck likes TEs. The Bengals were the third worst team in the NFL in covering TEs last year according to Football Outsider’s DVOA rating. Eric Ebron couldn’t dominate when he was the only TE of note in Detroit so how do you really think he’s going to perform when he has legitimate competition? Doyle is top 10 for me this week.
TE Jordan Reed (WAS) – He’s healthy. For now. That means he’s a top ten option. It’s that simple. Alex Smith had a great TE in Kansas City in Travis Kelce. A case could be made that Reed is more talented than Kelce. Give me some Reed this week.
TE Tyler Eifert (CIN) – Same as Reed, Eifert’s healthy. For now. While I don’t have much faith in Eifert whether he’s healthy or not, he plays the Colts this week who can’t cover an inch of space with a five foot blanket. Dalton should be able to find him often this week.
Streaming defenses to target this week include the Ravens D/ST (vs BUF), the Lions D/ST (vs NYJ), and the Bengals D/ST (at IND).
QB Russell Wilson (SEA) – Denver added a standout defensive end with the 5th pick in the draft to pair with Von Miller and the Seahawks forgot to improve their offensive line for the 180th season in a row. They also have a solid cornerback tandem in Bradley Roby and Chris Harris. Not to mention, Doug Baldwin is playing this season at about 85 percent. He’ll need another Houdini act to put up top 10 numbers this week.
QB Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) – Road Big Ben is barely a top 20 QB in fantasy. He’s on the road this week. Pass.
QB Patrick Mahomes II (KC) – The Chargers have once again been hit with a slew of injuries this offseason. But they still have two elite pass rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram to get after young Mahomes. He’ll have high upside games this season, but I don’t think the ceiling is very high this week for Mahomes.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo (SF) – Jimmy G(Q) has been great to start his career. But he’s on the road against a standout Vikings defense that somehow improved this offseason by drafting UCF CB Mike Hughes. Jimmy G(Q) played well against some tough defenses down the stretch last year but I’m not expecting heavy TD production this week which severely limits his upside.
RB Ezekiel Elliott (DAL) – I still have him as a top 10 RB this week, but he was my number one RB for the season so he lands here this week. The Panthers allowed the 3rd fewest rushing yards and the 3rd fewest fantasy points to RBs last year. Zeke led the NFL in rushing yards per game last year so while I think he’ll get his yards, I don’t think he scores. If they get close, I think Dak Prescott steals the opportunities, limiting Zeke’s upside this week.
RB Saquon Barkley (NYG) – A rookie’s first game against arguably the best defense in the NFL? Pass. Barkley will get his touches — I still have him as RB12 — but the Jaguars rush defense drastically improved the second half of last year after the addition of Marcel Dareus. Barkley will do the bulk of his damage in the passing game this week, but I don’t think he scores.
RB Devonta Freeman (ATL) – The Eagles had the number one rush defense in the NFL last year. When Freeman played the Eagles in the playoffs, he had 10 rushes for 7 yards. Yes, you read that right. He salvaged his day with 5 catches for 26 yards and a TD but my point is the Eagles can keep his rushing yards limited. He’s a low RB2 for me this week.
RB Tarik Cohen (CHI) – I want to see how Matt Nagy deploys Tarik Cohen before I consistently rank him in the top 25 every week. I think they’ll feed Howard a lot this week, limiting Cohen to maybe 10 touches. Not a recipe for a solid fantasy performance.
RB Chris Carson (SEA) – Carson is likely to start the season as the Seahawks starter but it won’t get off to a shiny start against a Broncos defense that allowed the fewest yards per carry last year (3.3). He’s not a starting option for me this week.
RB Alfred Morris (SF) – Maybe Matt Breida starts, but Morris will get the bulk of the early down carries. He just isn’t going to do much with them this week. The Vikings are not a happy bunch after getting waxed by Philadelphia in the playoffs and I presume they’ll be playing with an edge this season. Not the week for Morris to show he can perform better than Jerick McKinnon in the same role.
WR Odell Beckham Jr. (NYG) – Number one WRs against Jalen Ramsey are like plankton to a whale: they just get gobbled up. I still have OBJ in the top 10 out of respect for his talent, but I also won’t be surprised if he has only 2 catches for 13 yards. Tread carefully this week.
WR Davonte Adams (GB) – You’re starting him this week — I have him as a WR2 instead of a WR1 — but I’m not expecting big numbers for the new number one receiver for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. In his only game against the Bears with Rodgers at QB last year, he had only 2 catches for 13 yards and a TD. I think he either goes for 5-7 catches with 60-80 yards or 2 catches and a TD. I don’t think there’s an in between this week. You may not know this, but the Bears have a good defense that got even better when they traded for Khalil Mack.
WR Jarvis Landry (CLE) – Landry will be heavily targeted this week, but I don’t think it turns into a standout fantasy performance. The Steelers defense is pretty underrated in coverage and led the league in sacks a year ago. I can see 7 catches for 60 yards, but he’s not hitting pay dirt. He’s a low WR2 for me this week.
WR Doug Baldwin (SEA) – He’s banged up and will be blanketed by Chris Harris and/or Bradley Roby. Not loving the matchup but Wilson doesn’t have anyone else to throw to. Volume will be his saving grace. That and hopefully playing catch up.
WR Amari Cooper (OAK) – Cooper is going to have a great 2018. It just won’t start this week. He’ll either draw Marcus Peters or Aqib Talib, two corners he’s familiar with from their days in the AFC West. He had Michael Crabtree then. He now has a past-his-prime Jordy Nelson. Advantage: Rams.
WR Corey Davis (TEN) – On the surface, the Dolphins corners aren’t great. But Xavien Howard got better and better as the season went on last year. He’ll likely be tasked with containing Davis this week. I give the advantage to Howard with the Titans having a better matchup with Walker than Davis.
WR Marquise Goodwin (SF) – He’ll be the 49ers number one receiver this year but while he’s on his way there, he’ll hit a few speed bumps. This week awaits a big sign: “Rhoades Closed.” I really do love that moniker. Fading Goodwin this week.
WR Josh Doctson (WAS) – Doctson is young and supposed to vault to the top of the Redskins depth chart. You don’t get there when you have to line up against Patrick Peterson. Better luck next week, kid.
TE Evan Engram (NYG) – With OBJ back and the addition of Barkley to the offense, the jury is out on how effective Engram will be this year. I’ll pass this week against the best defense in the league.
TE Trey Burton (CHI) – I love Burton’s potential this year, but the Packers allowed the 8th fewest fantasy points to TEs a year ago. Let’s see young Trubisky in action with his new weapons before going all in on them. (Too late for me on Burton.)