15 Fantasy Football Transactions for Week 1
“That’s really a job?” they’ll say to me.
“It is,” I respond. “A good chunk of my day to day work life is spent analyzing fantasy football.”
Sometimes, saying that aloud puts a smile on my face. I’m obsessed with fantasy football. I love analyzing the game. And I’m annoyingly passionate about it.
But there are times when saying that aloud forces a tough realization: what the hell am I doing with my life?
“Are your, like, parents cool with that?” someone once asked me when I told them what I do for a living. “Like, are they OK that you took that career path?”
Thanks, man. Appreciate the positivity.
I get it, though. Some people don’t get it. They have no idea that there’s a massive fantasy sports industry out there, or that every other working adult is seemingly in a fantasy football league.
And they’re missing out.
Fantasy football isn’t just about camaraderie. It’s not just about winning and obnoxiously bragging about it.
Fantasy football is an escape from reality, something every human needs.
What the hell am I doing with my life? I’m embracing your escape. I’m (hopefully) helping you win, but I am, above all else, giving your mind a break from the insanity of the everyday life.
My goal with this 15 Transactions column – a weekly series that started at numberFire years ago and has become the place where I can vomit my fantasy football thoughts – isn’t just to guide your team to a championship. It’s to entertain, educate, and give you that deserving 10-minute disconnect from reality.
The trophy at the end of the year will just be the cherry on top.
Sell Jordan Howard
My apologies if you're reading this after taking Jordan Howard in the second round of your fantasy draft this past month. But, for real, try to deal him before the season starts.
Howard finished 2016 with a 66.32% rushing attempt market share in the Bears' backfield, which ended up being the third-highest total in the league. What's even more impressive is that he accumulated the majority of his 252 touches in just 13 games.
Nothing wrong with a running back who's set to see a lot of volume, right? Yes, that's a big part of the game, but so is scoring. Only the Rams, Browns, and Jets scored fewer points than the Bears last year, and just six teams ranked worse in touchdown rate per drive. Heading into this year, the Bears are projected to be the fifth-worst team in football according to our metrics, and Vegas has them pegged with an over-under win total of 5.5. That's with Mike Glennon, a backup throughout his career, as starter, and top wideout Cam Meredith sidelined for the year with an ACL injury.
Few wins within a poor offense means negative game scripts and less opportunity. And that's another thing: when games get out of hand, are we sure Howard will be on the field this season? He had a strong-enough 50 targets out of the backfield a year ago, but there's hype surrounding rookie Tarik Cohen -- a smaller back who weighs just 179 pounds -- as an electric player who can be used as a pass-catcher. Utilizing Cohen would make sense, as Howard caught just 29 of those 50 targets last year, ending his rookie campaign with a 14.00% drop rate, the worst in football at the position.
A lack of touchdown upside and the potential for fewer targets? Even though Howard was impressive last year, there are just too many red flags surrounding him this season.
Add Carson Palmer
The top quarterback that streamers should be targeting to start the year has to be Carson Palmer. In Week 1, the Cardinals get a pathetic-looking Detroit Lions defense, where the game's over-under is already set at 48 points. The next week features a contest against a struggling Colts defense that may be Vontae Davis-less. Then they'll get the Cowboys and 49ers -- two beatable secondaries -- at home in Arizona.
Palmer could have season-long upside this year, too. After being an MVP candidate in 2015, he followed up the campaign with a season that featured the fourth-most air yards in the league. (He led the league in air yards in 2015.) The biggest difference was that he threw just 6 15-plus air yard touchdowns, down from 13 the previous season. Given his air yards total, we should've expected him to throw 3.80 more deep ball touchdowns than he actually had last year.
In an offense that loves to toss the rock vertically with strong weapons, Palmer could be pretty fantasy relevant this season.
Buy Ted Ginn Jr.
There's no better place for Ginn than with Drew Brees and the Saints. Over the last two seasons in Carolina, Ginn averaged 11.11 air yards per catch. Among 92 wideouts with 50 or more targets in 2016, that rate -- his average over a two-year span -- would've ranked 18th-highest in football.
This isn't a shock: Ginn is a deep-ball specialist who's honed in on his skillset as a wide receiver as his career has matured.
Brees, meanwhile, was eighth in the NFL in pass attempts that travelled 15 or more yards through the air a season ago, finishing with the most passing yards in football on those types of throws. And as you'd guess, this isn't anything new: he ranked third in yards on passes that went 15-plus air yards in 2015, second in 2014, first in 2013, fourth in 2012, and second in 2011.
Without Brandin Cooks in the mix -- and with Snead's suspension -- there's opportunity in New Orleans. Ginn has played number-two wide receiver snaps for the Saints in the preseason, and while that's not the biggest deal in the world for a Saints team that rotates personnel (Cooks, who led the team in wideout snaps last year, still ranked 33rd in the NFL at the position in percentage of snaps played), it's still a little something extra for the speedster.
The Saints have averaged -- averaged! -- 664 pass attempts per season over the last six years. In order for Ginn to reach triple-digit targets -- assuming they'll be around the same mark this season -- he'll need just a 15.06% target market share in the offense. With 57 receivers hitting that mark last season league-wide, that's certainly feasible for Ginn.
I'll take 100 targets from a deep ball threat in a Drew Brees-led offense all day long.
Add Coby Fleener
Owned in just a quarter of ESPN fantasy leagues, Coby Fleener could end up being the one who benefits most from the aforementioned Willie Snead suspension.
Snead was set to be the Saints' slot receiver this year, having run 77.05% of his routes last season from the slot, which was the 11th-highest rate in the league among 50-plus target wideouts. That notion is only strengthened by the whole "Ted Ginn's been playing in two-wide sets" thing.
The one New Orleans skill position player who lines up in that area of the field is Fleener. While they'll have to place someone in the slot -- perhaps newly acquired Austin Carr -- no one on the roster has much (legitimate) NFL experience there.
Though it's a small, small sample, Snead did miss a game last year when the Saints faced the Falcons in Week 3. During that game, Fleener played 77% of New Orleans' snaps (second-highest rate of his season) while catching 7 of 11 targets (20.37% market share) for 109 yards and a touchdown. It was his second-best fantasy performance of the season, and the third-best of his entire career.
Maybe it was all just a coincidence. But there's enough logic here -- a slot receiver's production being replaced by a pass-catching tight end's -- to warrant a look off the waiver wire, at least over the first three weeks of the season while Snead's suspended.
Sell Jarvis Landry
And that's on top of some other on-the-field issues.
Landry finished 2016 with 94 receptions, but after Jay Ajayi's breakout in Week 6, his catches per game dropped from 6.80 to 5.45. He caught 4 or fewer passes in 5 of his final 11 games as the Dolphins became the third-most run-heavy team in football over this time. A volume-dependent receiver on a team that ran the fewest plays in football is no bueno.
And then there's the DeVante Parker angle working against him. New quarterback Jay Cutler seems to have a strong connection going with Parker, which could result in a higher target market share for Parker this season. Last year, his target market share sat at 18.45%, which allowed Landry to see more than 27% of Miami's targets.
Cutler also plays into Parker's skillset more than the now-injured Ryan Tannehill did. When Smokin' Jay was quarterbacking the Bears under Adam Gase (this was back in 2015 before Gase was hired on by the Dolphins in 2016), he threw the ball 15 or more yards down the field on 18.84% of his passes. Under Gase last season, Tannehill's rate was 15.94%. Landry, who's a low average depth of target player, naturally benefits from quarterbacks who don't take those chances.
That may not be Jay Cutler.
If there's a buyer out there, I'd field some offers as a Landry owner for all of the above reasons.
Add Chris Carson
Seahawks' rookie running back Chris Carson didn't pop from a production standpoint in college. He averaged just 9.11 carries per game during his final season at Oklahoma State, tallying a 16.70% rushing attempt market share. That type of college workload is rarely, rarely seen from successful NFL running backs.
With that being said, we have to always remember that prospecting is about probability, not certainty. And if Chris Carson becomes something after getting lots of love in the preseason, this could be the backfield to breakout in.
From strictly a football perspective, you've got Lacy who hasn't shown much of anything since joining the Seahawks, Rawls who had one of the most ineffective seasons last year our database has ever seen, and Prosise who's carried the ball a grand total of 30 times in the NFL.
There's plenty of ambiguity in this backfield.
And to be honest, if one back does emerge, he could be in store for fantasy production. When a Seahawks running back saw 60% or more of the team's snaps in a game last year (9 instances), on average, the running back ranked as RB19 in that given week. Four of the nine games resulted in top-12, RB1 performances, with another two ranking in the top-24. Those are basically RB1 numbers.
The chance that everything falls in place and Carson is a workhorse this season isn't great. I'll totally admit to that. But he's worth a bench stash given the question marks surrounding the Seattle backfield at this moment.
Sell Sammy Watkins
If you're buying into the Rams' offense this year, I can't totally blame you. The offensive line is upgraded, they drafted a new slot weapon in Cooper Kupp, and they traded for stud wideout Sammy Watkins. That, of course, is in addition to hiring offensive mastermind Sean McVay as head coach.
In the Rams' range of outcomes is at least an average offense this season.
But we also can't lose sight of the negatives. Jared Goff is still under center, and he was really, really bad last year. Like, the-series-finale-of-Dexter bad.
Over the last 10 years, among quarterbacks who threw the ball 100 or more times during their first season in the league, Goff's adjusted net yards per attempt ranks fourth-worst. If you change that filter to passers with 200 or more passes, he's the absolute worst.
His poor play resulted in an air yards per attempt rate that was lowest in the league last year.
Meanwhile, Sammy Watkins is known to stretch the field and make big plays. Over the last two years, there've been 179 wide receiver instances where a wideout had 50 or more targets during a season. Watkins' 2015 and 2016 ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in air yards per catch.
Sammy's going deep, but now he's paired with a dude who was one of the worst at getting the ball down the field last season.
Things can certainly change, and Goff should -- hopefully -- see some progression.
We can't ignore the floor, though.
And that's why I'd be looking to sell Sammy Watkins, as long as there's an owner in your league who believes in him and the potential progress this Rams' offense could see. You can risk this transaction a bit for after Week 1, for what it's worth, as the Rams will face a Colts' defense that will probably be without, as noted earlier, cornerback Vontae Davis.
Add Buck Allen
One of the best ways to find unknown running back value in fantasy football is simply by targeting backfields with ugly starters. Not that Terrance West isn't handsome -- just that he's not close to the best starting running back in the NFL.
Last season, per our Net Expected Points (or NEP, which you can read more about in our glossary) model, West had a -0.04 Rushing NEP per rush average with a 36.79% Success Rate. Translation: he was losing points for the Ravens with every rush (that's not uncommon for running backs, since running isn't efficient) while producing a positive play on 36.79% of his carries.
Those are both below-average numbers. The average running back had a -0.02 Rushing NEP per rush last season, and ordinary Success Rates generally hover the 40% mark.
What may be most important here, though, is how his teammates performed in the same situation. Kenneth Dixon actually did very well within our expected points algorithm last year, and he finished with a higher discrepancy in production versus his teammates (Terrance West) than any other running back in the NFL. In other words, Dixon either balled out, or Terrance West was not great, Bob.
The chance of the latter being true is decent when you consider West has bounced around teams during his brief career, and he has a career 3.9 yards per carry average. So if that's the case, then keep your eye on the man who'd take over West's role as the early-down bruiser in Baltimore's offense: Buck Allen.
Allen's been standing out in the Ravens backfield this month, and he does have experience carrying the ball for Baltimore. If you recall, in 2015, Allen toted the rock 138 times and saw a strong 62 targets out of the backfield within the Ravens' -- thanks to Joe Flacco's injury -- completely ineffective offense. That season, though, he had better per-rush efficiency and Success Rate numbers than teammate Terrance West had.
There's no reason we should automatically assume West will keep the early-down job in the Ravens' backfield all season long. Perhaps the role will turn to Buck Allen.
Buy Eric Ebron
Hate on Eric Ebron all you want. Despite scoring just one touchdown through the air last year, he still finished with six top-12, TE1 performances, which was matched by just 12 other tight ends. And he missed three games. It was a down year for tight ends, but at the very least, he put together a typical high-end TE2 or low-end TE1 season with just one freaking touchdown reception.
Ebron's never been a huge end zone guy, even back when he was playing for North Carolina. He scored just eight times in three years there, and he's now got just seven in three years as a pro.
This could finally be the year, though.
Gone is Anquan Boldin from the Lions' offense, which frees up the 23 red zone targets -- tied for second-most in the league -- that he saw last year. Boldin also ranked third in targets from within his opponents' 10-yard line, so those are up for grabs, too.
There were only six wideouts with 50 or more targets who ran a higher percentage of their routes from the slot than Boldin did last season. That's the area of the field where Ebron will be.
We know Ebron will have a decent-enough floor for your fantasy squads this year. He's missed time over the last two years, but when you prorate his market share to a 16-game season, then you're looking at 12.66% of the team's targets in 2015 and a whopping 17.61% in 2016. Whopping is being used there not because I've got dad-like tendencies and use terms like whopping, but because that share would've ranked eighth within the tight end position last year.
This could really be the year for Eric Ebron.
Sell or Drop Jamaal Charles
When Jamaal Charles was cleared to practice with the Broncos in July, the team was very clear about his potential 2017 usage. They wanted to get him the ball 8 to 10 times per game if he could stay healthy.
That's why I'm struggling to find any sort of upside in holding onto him in fantasy football. He's one of the greatest running backs we've ever seen, I get it, but he's also 30 years old who's played a combined 8 games since the start of the 2015 season. And he's playing in a Denver offense that scored a touchdown on only 16.4% of their drives last year, scored the 11th-fewest points, and has a backfield full of competition in C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker, and sleeper De'Angelo Henderson.
With capped usage in a subpar offense, what's the reason to keep him on your fantasy roster?
Add Sam Bradford
The main reason you want to add Sam Bradford prior to his Week 1 game is because he gets the Saints, a team that's been dreadful against signal-callers dating back to Kanye West's Graduation days (read: good Kanye West). For real, though -- over the last three seasons (Week 17 aside) quarterbacks against the Saints have averaged 20.33 standard fantasy points per game. They've basically been 2016 Andrew Luck. And only three of them (6.67%) posted fewer than 12 points.
But, guys, I mean this: Bradford kind of has intriguing season-long value in deeper leagues, too. He had the sixth-lowest air yards per attempt rate among passers with 200 or more attempts last year, but -- but! -- only Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Dak Prescott had a higher completion percentage on passes that travelled 15 or more yards through the air.
Maybe -- just maybe -- Minnesota's pathetic offensive line played into this. And maybe moving Stefon Diggs to a more permanent role on the outside (he ran over 62% of his routes from the slot last year) to stretch the field will allow Bradford to toss the ball deep more frequently.
Get Bradford if you need a streamer for Week 1. If you're just in a deep league that hoards quarterbacks, he's still not a bad addition.
Sell Frank Gore
The allure with Gore back then was that he had a floor that you couldn't find with other backs in the middle rounds. No running back has carried the ball more than Gore has over the last two years, and in 2016, he finished tied for the 8th-most top-24 performances at running back in PPR formats.
There goes Frank Gore's floor. And, in turn, there goes Frank Gore's value.
Add Austin Hooper
In deeper leagues, it's more than likely that Austin Hooper is owned. In shallower ones, he's probably not. After all, he's available in over 60% of ESPN fantasy leagues.
Hooper's a high-upside target in fantasy football this year. As a rookie last season, among the 56 tight ends with 20 or more targets, Hooper's air yards per catch rate was fifth-best in football. And his 4.42 yards after the catch per reception was above-average for that type of air yards rate.
As is the case with most tight ends, touchdown potential is key. That could be there for Hooper this year. Running back Devonta Freeman saw 18 targets in the red zone in 2016, while Tevin Coleman saw 11 more. Only 14 players -- not just running backs -- saw more volume in the red zone through the air than Freeman last year.
Because those numbers are so high for running backs, we should expect some regression, which could help Hooper take away looks close to the end zone. And it's not like Julio Jones is a huge red zone threat -- he actually only had 10 red zone targets last year, and despite averaging 9.84 targets per game over his career, he's averaged fewer than 7 touchdowns per season over his last three.
If you've got a deep bench to stash a second tight end or are generally just looking for potential, Hooper's your guy.
Add the Bills' Defense
For those of you who are still playing the same defense week in and week out without factoring in matchups: let me introduce you to defensive streaming.
There are a few bird's-eye view questions to ask in order to see -- again, at a high level -- if a defense is worthy of a stream. Is the team a strong favorite? Are they at home? Does the opponent have a bad quarterback who turns the ball over?
An answer of "yes" to these three things means the defense -- no matter how bad it might be -- should be considered. That's what we've got with the Buffalo Bills this week. They're eight-point favorites against the New York Jets, so they're projected to see a positive game scripts. They're at home. And the Jets are starting Josh McCown, who started three games last year and threw five interceptions.
Add the Rams' Defense
The Rams are optimistic that Aaron Donald will suit up in Week 1, and that'll be big against the previously mentioned Colts offensive line. With Andrew Luck sitting this one out, LA will go up against Scott Tolzien, who has three career NFL starts. In his single start last year against Pittsburgh, he threw two picks and was sacked three times. There's no reason to believe he'd light up the Rams, making them a pretty safe streaming option.