15 Fantasy Football Transactions for Week 1
Hans Zimmer is my best friend when I write.
Seriously, lyric-less music is all I can listen to when I'm trying to string together thoughtful sentences for a column. That means my go-to song choices when putting an article together are movie scores.
And, look, I've written a lot of pieces, so I've also listened to a lot of movie scores. None of them are better than Hans "the GOAT" Zimmer's Time, which is the top score for the movie Inception.
Time takes you on a journey. It starts soft and slow, and despite the same melody repeating over and over again throughout the song, when peak Time hits, it makes you want to get out of your seat and conquer something right away. (No, really, I once listened to Time and was able to chug a beer in under three seconds immediately after.)
Now, everyone, go listen to it. And while you do, think back to all we just went through from February until now with the National Football League.
The Broncos won the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning retired. Calvin Johnson did, too. Hue Jackson took a head coaching gig in Cleveland. Josh Norman left Charlotte for DC. The Cowboys spent a fourth-overall pick on a running back. Eddie Lacy did P90X. Deflategate sort of finally ended. Ryan Fitzpatrick got a new contract. Tony Romo hurt himself again. Teddy Bridgewater tore up his knee. The Vikings then traded for Sam Bradford.
Are you still listening? Hopefully you just got to the epic part. Because that's where we're at now.
We did it. We made it. The regular season is here. And that means two things: you're back to managing your fantasy football squad, and I'm back writing 15 Transactions. While listening to Hans Zimmer, of course.
Despite the fact that zero meaningful games have been played, there are some ways to improve your roster before the season begins. So, as is the case with every 15 Transactions column, let's dive into who you should add, drop, sell, and buy in fantasy football.
Sell Carlos Hyde
Despite the fact that volume will be friendly in this Chip Kelly-led 49ers' offense, the efficiency is frightening to think about. And the lack of efficiency and top-tier play on defense means San Francisco is bound to see a crap ton of negative game scripts.
That's awful news for Carlos Hyde, who has a grand total of 23 receptions in 21 career NFL games.
The dude who should benefit from being behind in contests could be Shaun Draughn, not Hyde. That's the first ding on the 49ers' starting running back.
The other piece that hurts is the 49ers' strength of schedule to start the year. They get St. Louis in Week 1 (projected to be 2nd against the rush this season according to our numbers), then Carolina (12th), Seattle (6th), Dallas (27th), and Arizona (3rd). Any of those teams -- aside from Dallas -- could finish in the top five at stopping the run this year and no one would flinch.
Given the probable abomination that is the 49ers offense and that the early-season schedule doesn't set up well for Hyde, he's firmly in "sell" territory.
Buy or Add Derek Carr
You don't have to be a big Derek Carr fan to be into what's about to happen during the first portion of the 2016 NFL season. Take a look at the Raiders' schedule to start the year: New Orleans (32nd against the pass according to our projections), Atlanta (19th), Tennessee (26th), Baltimore (17th), and San Diego (20th). Not only are those secondaries below average (or way below average), but given the opponents, they also could provide high game totals. And as we know, games with high projected totals are great for fantasy quarterbacks. That means Carr could be in store for another hot start.
Add Terrance West
Reading between the lines of this Justin Forsett saga -- he was cut and re-signed over the last few days -- shows (to me, at least) that he's lower down on the running back totem pole than many would've believed entering the season. At the very least, he's obviously not the top dog that'll be lined up behind Joe Flacco.
This is legitimately a guessing game, but judging by the preseason, Terrance West is the most intriguing option to get playing time right now. Kenneth Dixon is sidelined with an injury -- he's worth a stash, by the way, if your league has an IR spot -- while Javorius Allen played with third and fourth stringers during the preseason. And, as I already said, Forsett was released and then re-signed this past week.
That leaves West as the potential primary ball-carrier. He's owned in fewer than half of ESPN.com fantasy leagues -- if he's on your waiver wire, snatch him up. If he doesn't see volume, you can send him right back.
Buy Donte Moncrief
With Andrew Luck healthy a season ago, Moncrief averaged more receptions per game than Hilton, and was on pace to be a top-20 fantasy wideout.
|With Luck in 2015||Targets/G||Rec/G||Yards/G||TD/G||FP/G|
The Colts' offensive line issues may hurt Hilton more than Moncrief, too, as Hilton's the downfield threat in the offense. Hilton's the one who needs time for plays to develop.
And speaking of the offense, it's one that's bound to throw lots of passes this year -- Luck had 627, 570, and 616 attempts in his three full seasons played and last year, he was on pace to toss nearly 670. That would've ranked first in the NFL.
There's a good chance the owner in your league drafted Moncrief because, you know, he or she wanted Moncrief. But there's also a chance that this is the lowest Moncrief's value will be all year.
Add Jared Cook
Save your jokes for when Jared Cook inevitably flops. For now, let's take a look at the upside.
Cook has seen 70 or more targets in five of his seven NFL seasons (I feel old). He's yet to score more than five touchdowns in a single campaign, and he's never finished as a top-10 tight end in PPR formats.
But Cook also has had Austin Davis, old Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker, and Kellen Clemens throwing him the rock. He's never had any sort of reliable passer under center, which is going to change this year with Aaron Rodgers.
Last year, Richard Rodgers -- a man who ran a 4.87 40-yard dash at the Combine and profiles physically to a log -- finished as the 11th-best fantasy football tight end. Because the tight end position is so replaceable, that's not all that usable, but it was also Richard freaking Rodgers. His spider chart on MockDraftable.com is atrocious.
If we're being real, Cook is the first athletic tight end Aaron Rodgers has had since Jermichael Finley. And when Finley was a Packer, he was able to muster together an eight-touchdown campaign. People also didn't mock you for drafting him, either.
Cook has upside, and that's all you need out of a tight end off the waiver wire. If he doesn't pan out, does it really matter?
Sell Markus Wheaton
The Steelers want Sammie Coates to be a thing. His physical measurables are the closest thing the team has to the suspended Martavis Bryant, and report after report talked up Coates as the preseason started.
Then he laid a couple of stinkers in the Steelers' first two preseason games, which then led to his not playing with the first-team offense in the all-important third preseason game.
Here's the deal, though: there's absolutely, positively no doubt that Coates has more upside than Markus Wheaton, who's starting on the outside for this Pittsburgh Steelers' team in Week 1.
But what's so great about Markus Wheaton? He's shown flashes -- remember that Seattle game last year? -- but he's also been below the league average efficiency-wise according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric in two of his three NFL seasons. And he lacks the size to be a real threat on the outside.
If Coates steps up, Wheaton will be pushed to the slot, which is a more natural fit for him. The problem is that Eli Rogers is emerging as a nice option there, which could limit Wheaton's upside even further.
I'd expect Wheaton to post WR4 or so numbers, especially to start the year. But if and when things start to unfold at the position in Pittsburgh, Wheaton could be left with very little volume.
Buy Rashad Jennings
Last year, among the 44 running backs with 100 or more carries, Rashad Jennings ranked first -- that's number one -- in Success Rate. What this means is that he was gaining positive plays (per NEP) on a more consistent basis than any other back in the NFL.
So why wasn't he better in fantasy football last year?
Well, one problem was that Jennings was never consistently being used -- he played 50 percent or more of the team's snaps in just two games last year. That resulted in just two contests with 15 or more carries and zero RB1, top-12 fantasy performances at the position.
Another reason Jennings didn't have upside last year, though, was because of touchdowns. Or, I should say, a lack of touchdowns. He scored just three times on the ground across the entire season -- considering the number of yards he rushed for, a quick regression analysis says that number should've been closer to six.
And it wasn't closer to six because Jennings' close-to-the-end-zone opportunities were split with the now-released Andre Williams. The Giants didn't run many rushing plays close to the goal line last year, but Jennings saw just 10 carries from his opponents' 10-yard line or closer. Williams saw eight. Even if half of those attempts go Jennings' way, that's opportunity for more scores.
The Giants start the season off against the Cowboys and Saints, two rush defenses that shouldn't scare anyone this season. It wouldn't be shocking to see Jennings as a fringe RB1 by the time Week 3 rolls around.
Add Joe Flacco
My true take on Dak Prescott in fantasy football is that the position is deep enough to the point where you don't have to feel forced to pick him up. But Prescott is also owned in far more leagues right now than Joe Flacco is, when Flacco could actually be the better option to roster.
Chances are, you're fine with your Week 1 quarterback. Otherwise, why did you draft him? (Sorry, Cam Newton owners.) Adding Flacco now -- if you have space -- could give you two straight games of production at the conclusion of the first week. Because the Ravens will face Cleveland (a potential disaster this year on defense) in Week 2 and Jacksonville (improving, sure, but ditto) in Week 3.
We shouldn't be super high on Flacco here in Week 1, though I'd expect him to produce QB2 numbers. Once the week concludes? He'll be a top streamer. I'm just thinking ahead.
Sell Kelvin Benjamin
On top of Kelvin Benjamin having one of the most inflated average draft positions in fantasy football this summer, he'll be opening the season with limited playing time. According to head coach Ron Rivera, the Panthers will be targeting just 35 snaps for Benjamin in Week 1.
And, again, this is in addition to Benjamin already being overrated in fantasy football. When he was a rookie in 2014, Benjamin saw the sixth-most targets in the NFL, resulting in the 16th-ranked PPR wide receiver finish on the season. His high 25.75% market share was able to be sustained because his biggest competition was Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant.
Not only that, but Carolina threw the ball more in 2014 than they had in any season since 2001. A big reason for that was negative game scripts, something they shouldn't see a ton of this season as they're still projected to be a strong NFC contender.
So, bringing this all together: Benjamin's going to be limited to 35 snaps to start the year, his competition is fiercer than what he's used to, and the Panthers won't be throwing as much as they did during his rookie year.
This situation certainly isn't trending up.
Add DJ Foster
We know there's a need for a pass-catching scatback on a Bill Belichick-run team. We saw it for a few years with Shane Vereen, and then Dion Lewis emerged last year. Even James White got into the mix when Lewis went down for the season, becoming one of the most efficient receiving running backs our database has ever seen.
Belichick gonna Belichick, though. New England decided to keep DJ Foster when trimming their roster down to 53, and that's a little scary for James White owners. In the preseason finale, Foster caught 9 balls for 110 yards, and he looked like an animal in doing so. It's not like this is coming from nowhere, either -- he actually played wideout during his senior year in college at Arizona State after serving as a running back for three years on the team.
If you're in a deep league, Foster's at least worth a look off the waiver wire. I fully expect White to take on the Dion Lewis role until Lewis is back from injury, but if White can't handle it, Foster has the upside to run away with the gig.
Buy Tajae Sharpe
Here's what we know about Tajae Sharpe: he had nice production during his Junior and Senior years at UMass, he's now in line to be a starting wideout for the Titans after being selected in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and he has small hands.
The first and second things there are important -- college production matters and in fantasy football, opportunity does, too.
While the Titans will more than likely try and be this run-first, exotic smashmouth offense, they still will have to throw the ball not only to keep defenses honest but also because the Tennessee defense itself isn't overly good. The Titans' receivers aren't incredibly deep, either, with newcomer Rishard Matthews being Sharpe's biggest competition for targets aside from tight end Delanie Walker. Sharpe, then, as a starter, could end up seeing close to triple-digit targets this year as a result. And there's loads of upside with that volume combined with the ambiguity associated with the rookie.
Sell Matt Forte
Matt Forte's been, to me, an overvalued asset in fantasy football this offseason simply due to the fact that the Jets' are planning on splitting backfield touches. Bilal Powell is going to be involved, limiting Forte's upside.
But what could limit it even further is the team's start-of-season schedule. In Week 1, the Jets get the Bengals, who have a formidable front seven led by Geno Atkins. They'll then face the Chiefs in Week 3 (projected to be top-10 against the run according to our numbers), followed by Seattle (a top-10 run defense) in Week 4. Then, once Week 6 hits, the Jets get Arizona.
In between these four contests are games against the Bills and Steelers, which shouldn't be much of a problem. But four tough opponents over the first six games of the season for Forte? It's just another reason to sell, sell, sell.
Add Jesse James
The Ladarius Green situation -- remember the reports of his potential retirement? -- is interesting not because of the vagueness surrounding his injury(s), but because of how fantasy owners have reacted.
Back when everything was butterflies and rainbows for Green, he was a single-digit round pick in 12-team drafts. Now that we know he won't be suited up for a while, his replacement, Jesse James, is being drafted...not at all.
Make no mistake, guys: Jesse James is the Steelers' starting tight end. There's a lack of athleticism behind him on the depth chart, too, which means he should see the field a good bit as a receiving asset to the offense.
And the Steeler O really lacks size in the red zone. Of the current three starting wideouts, none are taller than 5'11''.
Jesse James is 6'7''.
In an offense that should score points, we should all be intrigued by James. And in Week 1, he's not a bad streaming option whatsoever.
Buy Marvin Jones
I hope you didn't think you could make it through this first 15 Transactions column without a little Marvin Jones touting.
Maybe you did your draft before the preseason started, though -- prior to the Marvin Jones hype train getting a little out of control. That means the Jones owner in your league may not be aware of the fact that he's got far more touchdown upside than Tate (Jones ranks sixth in the NFL in touchdowns per target in the red zone over the last three years), that he'll be running more intermediate and deep routes than Tate this year (he's picking up fantasy points in larger chunks), and that he could actually end up being the number-one wideout on the Lions in 2016 (after all, Tate's never played that role at the NFL level).
I've profiled many reasons to love Jones this season already, and with a fairly soft schedule to open the year, the time to buy Jones is now, not later.
Add the Philadelphia Eagles Defense
As you all know, your team defense choice in fantasy football has just as much to do with opponent as it does the defense itself. And there's a set of simple criteria to look for when using a waiver wire-esque defense: Does the defense have home-field advantage? Is the defense a favorite? Does the game have a low Vegas total? Does the opponent turn the ball over a lot?
The answer to each of these questions is a favorable "yes" for the Eagles this week. They're at home as four-point favorites against a turnover-friendly Cleveland team that has the third-lowest implied team total on Week 1's slate.
If the Eagles are out there on your waiver wire, you know what to do.