15 Fantasy Football Transactions for Week 1
Nothing's been the same since my daughter was born in late July.
I used to be able to eat a meal whenever I wanted to. Not anymore -- if baby is hungry, baby eats first.
I used to nerd it up and play video games during my free time. Now, I'm changing diapers and preparing bottles when I've got even just a minute to spare.
My wife and I stop and start TV show episodes regularly these days. We nap instead of getting a full eight hours of sleep. We walk around with stains on the shoulders of our t-shirts from burping our reflux-filled baby.
To a non-parent, this all probably sounds awful. I promise you it isn't. It's legitimately magical.
But, like I said, nothing's been the same.
Today, there's some normalcy. Another fantasy football season is about to begin, which means it's another year of 15 Transactions. It's another year where I put all of my strategic fantasy football-related thoughts onto paper for your consumption.
Will these transactions be right all the time? Definitely not. Will they be logical and processed? As logical and processed as they can be.
And that's really what matters. In fantasy football, you're not always going to have all the answers. You'll make mistakes. If you're using sound logic and you're making moves in a reasonable way, though, then you've already won. You may not win your championship this year, but you'll beat out your leaguemates in the long run. I can promise you that.
It's a process-over-results game. And while my home life process will be different this year, my fantasy football one will remain the same.
It'll just be a little more sleep deprived.
Note: The 15 transactions are not in any particular order.
Sell LeSean McCoy
Trust me, I recognize the importance of volume in fantasy football. It's everything, especially at the running back position. And LeSean McCoy is projected to see a boatload of it in 2018.
There are plenty of red flags here, though. The Bills offense could be one that struggles (they're a bottom-of-the-barrel one according to numberFire's forecast), which will limit scoring opportunities for McCoy. And that's a big deal -- of the top-50 running back seasons in fantasy football during the last five years, the average number of touchdowns scored in those runners' respective offenses has been 42.12. The NFL league average during this time has been 36.90. The Bills could end up scoring closer to 30, which lowers the probability of Shady ending the year as a top-10 back. While you're not drafting him as that right now, you still want upside from a third-round pick, no?
Perhaps the biggest reason to sell McCoy is his early-season schedule. Your goal in fantasy football is to obtain as much value as possible, and you'd ideally not want that value to diminish at any point in the season. In McCoy's case, it could fall off right away. Because in Week 1, the Bills get a tough Ravens defense in Baltimore. In Week 2, they'll face the Chargers, who own one of the most talented defensive units in the league. Then, the following week, they get the Vikings, who may have the most talented defense in the NFL. Even Weeks 4, 5, and 6 feature not-so-easy contests against the Packers, Titans, and Texans.
There's a good chance your league isn't viewing McCoy the way they are now when we hit Week 7. So now's the time to get rid of him.
Buy Emmanuel Sanders
This shift could end up making Sanders a super relevant fantasy football piece this year. If you recall, Adam Thielen did serious work from the slot last year -- the Vikings were eighth in the NFL in slot receiving yards in 2017. Case Keenum, their quarterback for the majority of the season, is now in Denver. See the connection?
Sanders has averaged 8.57 targets per game over the last four seasons, so he'll get love regardless of where he's lined up on the field. If his volume is mostly coming when lined up in the slot, where he'll face easier cornerback matchups, watch out.
Add Alfred Morris and Matt Breida
As it stands, Alfred Morris and Matt Breida are owned in over 50% of ESPN leagues, which is good, because that means fantasy owners are paying attention and know that Jerick McKinnon is out for the year with a torn ACL. The two backs enter a plus situation in San Francisco -- with Jimmy Garoppolo under center last year, the 49ers were first in yards per drive and first in scores per drive. And as a group, San Francisco running backs finished 14th in PPR scoring last season. Not bad for a team that was without a true starting quarterback for most of the year.
The big question with Morris and Breida isn't whether they'll be involved without McKinnon in the mix, it's how they'll be involved. And, really, the two backs complement each other well. Morris has never been much of a pass-catcher, having hauled in just 57 grabs while running the ball 1,262 times across his career. Since Morris entered the league in 2012, he's one of 11 players with 1,000-plus attempts. He ranks dead last among that group in receptions, and the player ranked 10th, Adrian Peterson, has fewer attempts during this span (1,168) with 58 more receptions.
It's safe to say that Morris won't be on the field much on passing downs.
Meanwhile, Breida ranked 9th in Reception Success Rate (the percentage of catches that went for positive expected point gains) last year among the 59 backs with 20 or more catches. He was strong in a change-of-pace role in 2017, too, finishing the season with by far the highest rushing efficiency rating on the 49ers, per numberFire's metrics.
In a PPR format, I'm of the belief that prioritizing Breida over Morris makes the most sense. Projecting Morris for more early-down work is probably right, and he'll most likely get the edge close to the end zone as well. But Breida is the clear passing down back on the team, and a target is much more valuable than a rush in today's fantasy football world. It's not like Breida won't see first- and second-down rushes, either.
Morris is still a strong add, especially in a standard league. Breida just holds a higher overall ceiling.
Sell Mark Ingram
There's obviously a lot of fantasy potential with Mark Ingram, but I'm a little confused by the fourth- to fifth-round pricetag fantasy football owners spent to acquire him in August.
He's suspended for the first four games of the season, so at the very least, you'll be holding onto a dead asset on your bench for a month. And that month is during the hottest waiver wire period of the season.
But look at the Saints' schedule, too. When Ingram returns in Week 5, they'll face Washington, which, sure, should be a fine matchup for Ingram. They've got a bye in Week 6, and then Week 7 and 8 features contests on the road versus tough Baltimore and Minnesota defenses.
Is it possible that we only get one or two reasonable outings from Ingram during the first eight weeks of the season? I'd say so.
Is there also a chance that he doesn't get a guaranteed workload when he returns? That's more unlikely, but it's part of Ingram's range of outcomes given it's a contract year for him, running back is fairly replaceable in actual football, and New Orleans is arguably the easiest place for a back to thrive.
Even if Ingram comes back and sees a similar workload as he did last year, you're not guaranteed production for a few weeks after rostering him for over a month. Getting a return on Ingram now would be smart.
Add Mike Gillislee and Boston Scott
If you still want a piece of that New Orleans backfield -- and you should want a piece of the backfield -- you could always add Ingram's Week 1 through 4 replacement, which may end up being newcomer Mike Gillislee, Boston Scott, or a combination of both. Alvin Kamara will see lead duties for the Saints, but in 2017, he never carried the ball more than 12 times in a single contest, and even when Adrian Peterson left town, Kamara finished out the year with just a 30.95% rushing share.
We should see an uptick in rushing volume for Kamara this year, but that doesn't mean Gillislee or Scott won't see work while Ingram's sidelined. The Saints were the 13th-most run-heavy team in the league last year, and in Weeks 1 and 2, New Orleans will be heavy favorites at home against Tampa Bay and Cleveland. A positive game script means more rushing, and more rushing means more secondary runners.
It's hard to say how the backfield will be split with Ingram out. As someone who was telling folks to spend a last-round pick on Jonathan Williams (I'll take that L) for the situation, Gillislee would be the reasonable replacement given he's more of an early-down bruiser, similar to Williams. That's how head Sean Payton described him, too. Scott's a shorter, shiftier back with more ambiguous upside, and he seems to have a duplicative skill-set to Kamara.
Overall, both are decent bench stashes -- if one emerges, he could buy you a few weeks of fantasy production.
Add Ricky Seals-Jones
A popular late-round dart throw of mine this year ended up being Ricky Seals-Jones, who ended his rookie campaign a season ago with the highest yards per reception rate that we've seen from a first-year tight end since 1996. And among all tight ends with 50 or more routes run last year, according to Pro Football Focus' data, Seals-Jones was first in yards per route run.
Seals-Jones just wasn't on the field all that much, playing more than 30% of Arizona's snaps in just two games last year. This year, things should be different. He played a high percentage of first-team snaps in the preseason, and Arizona's target distribution is pretty open, with David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald being the only proven pass-catchers in the offense. There's real opportunity for RSJ in 2018.
Buy Rex Burkhead
Some fantasy owners are afraid to invest in the New England backfield because of unpredictability, but yours truly isn't one of them. The Patriots are tied with the Panthers for most goal line rushes in the league over the last three years combined and, as a team, New England's ranked second, sixth, and fourth in running back scoring during this time.
Enter Rex Burkhead. The Patriots drafted Sony Michel in April's draft, but he's banged up and is no lock to play in Week 1. Even if he was going to suit up, fantasy owners should have faith in Burkhead, who outproduced Dion Lewis when the two backs played significant snaps together last year. In fact, during a five-game stretch where the Patriots featured both runners in 2017, Burkhead averaged nearly 17 PPR points per game while ranking third in the NFL in goal line rushes.
Sure, Michel may steal work from Burkhead when he's healthy, but Burkhead will still be involved as a receiver (he averaged four targets per game in that Lewis split last year, and Julian Edelman is sidelined for four games to start this season). And he'll more than likely handle goal line work, as he did a year ago. In an offense that's bound to score points, sign me up.
Drop Dez Bryant
According to ESPN's ownership data, Dez Bryant is rostered in 40% of leagues. Considering most of those leagues are 10- or 12-team ones with regular-sized benches, that number's...pretty high.
I understand the allure with Dez, but if we're being objective here -- and that's the goal -- his journey to potential fantasy relevancy will be a long one. He first needs to find a team. That team, then, also needs to have a starting wide receiver opening. And that team should ideally have a decent quarterback to enable fantasy production. Oh, and that team should have a simple-enough offensive playbook for Bryant to learn in a week.
If he were on a roster and was getting reps throughout the summer with a new squad, that'd be one thing. As a free agent with no deal in place, you're better off holding onto a running back handcuff. And it's not like he was super productive last season anyway.
Add Mike Wallace
The good news for fantasy owners is that Alshon Jeffery isn't starting the season on the PUP list. The bad news is that he'll be sidelined for at least the first two weeks of the season. That's not ideal.
Nelson Agholor will benefit from his absence, but so will Mike Wallace, who's sitting on about 80% of waiver wires. Wallace is new to Philadelphia, and his skill-set fits nicely with Carson Wentz, who threw it 15-plus yards down the field on nearly 22% of his passes last year, fifth-most among relevant quarterbacks. The Eagles, as a team, ranked eighth in percentage of passes that were deep balls. As we know, Wallace can beat defenders deep, as he's had an average depth of target north of 13.00 in 6 of 9 seasons in the NFL.
So not only will Wallace see a ton of snaps and potential targets for the Eagles while Jeffery is out, but he'll also see deeper ones. That's enough for an add in leagues with 12 or more teams.
Sell Ronald Jones
Selling Ronald Jones may seem obvious after his miserable preseason performance -- he finished with 28 rushes for 22 yards -- but it goes beyond the performance. There's a game theory component here, too.
If you drafted Jones, you probably think that, at some point in the season, he'll dig into starter Peyton Barber's workload and become part of the fantasy football conversation. That may happen, but it won't happen quickly. The Bucs start their season off against the Saints, Eagles, and Steelers, three teams who should be strong favorites versus a Jameis Winston-less Tampa Bay team. Given Jones' struggles with pass protection and a college reception share that was below average, it's unlikely Jones finds himself on the field in a negative game script situation.
So, more than likely, you're not going to get anything from Jones until at least Week 4. Even then, we have no idea.
And it's not like Tampa Bay is some super attractive destination for running backs. The line is an average one, and Tampa Bay, as a team, has ranked in the bottom seven in fantasy points scored at the running back position in each of the last two seasons.
Chances are, if Ronald Jones happens this year, it'll be late in the season. Since there's a cost in holding a player on your bench who's doing very little, you're better off selling low on Jones for a secondary asset who will see more immediate production.
Buy Tyler Lockett
Clearly any evaluation linking those two guys looks silly here in 2018, but it does tell us that Lockett was once a highly sought after prospect. There's skill there. And, this year, he should have plenty of opportunity to showcase that skill.
The Seahawks want to run the football and be more balanced offensively. That may be easier said than done given the departures on the defensive side of the ball -- they may be trailing more often than we think. They're actually favored in just 3 of their first 15 games this year.
On top of this, Seattle's without Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham this year, who gobbled up more than 31% of the team's targets in 2017. And then there's Doug Baldwin, who's been sidelined with a knee injury and claims to be just 80% to 85% healthy.
If Lockett can stay healthy -- and that's a big if -- he could hit WR2 status this season.
Add Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Streaming the tight end position in Week 1 is alway strange, because you should've been looking at plug-and-play guys during your draft. You shouldn't really need to look at the waiver wire yet.
If you are, then Austin Seferian-Jenkins isn't a terrible option. Marqise Lee is out for the year with a knee injury, which opens things up a tad for Jacksonville pass-catchers. ASJ could see more volume than usual in Week 1, though, because the Jags will be facing the Giants, a team that struggled mightily against the position last year, allowing the most fantasy points per game to the position. That spilled over into the preseason, too, as David Njoku scored a pair of touchdowns against them earlier this month.
Add Andy Dalton
If you punted quarterback during your draft (fist bump), Andy Dalton is looking like the perfect streaming candidate for Week 1. Owned in fewer than 20% of ESPN.com leagues, Dalton will take on numberFire's lowest-rated secondary, Indianapolis, inside a dome. The Bengals should see a rebound offensively this year after running the fewest plays in football last year. They improved the offensive line, Joe Mixon has a year under his belt, and John Ross has flashed big-play ability in the preseason. It's a passing offense to buy, but keep in mind that their Week 2 opponent, Baltimore, is a matchup you'll want to avoid with Dalton.
Add Tyrod Taylor
If you can't snag Dalton, Tyrod Taylor's also an option at quarterback this week. There's been line movement favoring the Browns since the initial 6.5-point spread opening against Pittsburgh, and it makes sense as to why: Cleveland's at home, it's a divisional matchup, and the team's roster is looking much stronger than it did a season ago.
Taylor's the starter, and he'll be going up against a Pittsburgh defense with plenty of holes, especially down the middle of the field at inside linebacker and safety. The Browns have a lot of pieces to exploit that weakness, whether it be with Jarvis Landry, Duke Johnson, or David Njoku. With his rushing ability added to the mix, Taylor has an interesting Week 1 ceiling.
Add the Packers Defense
When finding a defense to stream, you want to look for a team who's playing at home as heavy favorites. That's the start. And you're getting that with Green Bay in Week 1, as they're taking on Chicago at Lambeau as eight-point favorites. The Bears will have a new-look offense this year and may end up being a tougher matchup than some expect, but the Packers should look better on the defensive side this year as well, especially if they're playing in positive game scripts with Aaron Rodgers back and healthy. They're fine to stream.