Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 1
I love a witty, well-thought-out introduction as much as the next guy, but sometimes you just have to get to work.
By that, I mean we already have start/sit decisions to make entering Week 1 because the NFL continues to be enigmatic and unpredictable.
Should you start James Conner? Absolutely. It depends. Possibly no.
The context matters. Do you have David Johnson and Dalvin Cook on your team? Then you probably don't want to start James Conner. Are you asking "James Conner, Lamar Miller, or Dion Lewis?" Then we have more of a discussion.
For this -- and many other reasons -- I like to bucket players into groups when deciding who we should start or sit in a given week. No player is ever a must-sit, but there are players you should want to sit if you have any other viable options. That's the goal here.
So, based on market shares, snap counts, betting lines, and defensive matchups, I'll be grouping players into three tiers this season: players we should be confident about starting, players we can consider playing whenever we don't have better alternatives but who aren't must-plays, and players we should try to bench whenever we do have alternatives.
For the most part, these players are listed in order of confidence, and the groupings reflect a 12-team, single-quarterback league with the following hypothetical in mind: if I had other viable options on my bench, should I start this player this week? Players not listed should be presumed sit-worthy.
Start With Confidence
- Drew Brees: Brees' touchdown regression seems inevitable in 2018. He ranked second among 35 passers with at least 200 drop backs in Passing Success Rate and fourth in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, via our metrics. The Buccaneers ranked 32nd in Passing Success Rate allowed after Week 8 in 2017.
- Tom Brady: The Texans' defense is revamped but still has questions in the secondary. The Patriots' 28.25-point implied total is second on the week. Brady led the NFL in expected points added per drop back in 2017.
- Aaron Rodgers: The Bears were a middling pass defense down the stretch in 2017. If you drafted Rodgers, you're playing him, so it's just a plus that the Packers own a 27.25-point implied total as a 7.5-point home favorite.
- Matthew Stafford: Stafford's Detroit Lions are 6.5-point home favorites on the Jets, who were susceptible to the big play in 2017, ranking 31st in explosive pass rate allowed. They were also 25th in adjusted yards per attempt against passers from Week 10 on last season.
- Cam Newton: Newton ran 10.8 times per game after Carolina's Week 11 bye last year, including another 8 attempts in a playoff game, and his 65 carries in that span were at least double all but one other quarterback. After the bye, he posted just 6.29 yards per attempt through the air, but the Cowboys ranked 25th in Passing Success Rate allowed after Week 10 last season.
- Kirk Cousins: Cousins has completed only 24 of 40 passes with his new teammates in Minnesota for just 5.9 yards per attempt. The Vikings' line is a concern, but the 49ers ranked 25th in success rate allowed on blitz downs in 2017.
- Deshaun Watson: The Pats ranked 7th in quarterback rating and 11th in adjusted yards per attempt allowed from Week 9 on last season. Watson has thrown just 15 times in the preseason for 6.1 yards per attempt. If you drafted him, you're starting him, but he's not a slam dunk in Week 1.
- Russell Wilson: The downside is that the Seahawks own an implied total of just 19.75 points and are road underdogs against the Broncos. The bright side is that Denver was actually a pretty generous pass defense down the stretch in 2017, ranking 28th in quarterback rating and 25th in Passing Success Rate allowed starting in Week 9.
- Jared Goff: Goff's Rams boast a 26.5-point total against the Raiders, who were bottom-eight against the pass in the second half of 2017 by just about every metric. The Raiders, now without Khalil Mack, already ranked 29th in success rate allowed on blitz downs, while the Rams were 4th offensively.
Consider If Needed
- Andrew Luck: Luck underwhelmed in the preseason (20 of 32 for 204 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception), and just 7 of those passes traveled more than 10 yards downfield. The Bengals project to be a neutral passing matchup early on.
- Andy Dalton: The Colts' pass defense improved down the stretch but still was a below-average unit overall in the final eight games. Dalton ranked outside the top-24 on a per-play basis in our metrics last season, but the Colts didn't generate much pressure last year, ranking 30th in blitz-down success rate.
- Philip Rivers: Rivers' Chargers own a nice 26-point implied total as 3.5-point home favorites on the Chiefs, and Rivers was still the second-most efficient passer on a per-play basis, via our metrics, last season.
- Matt Ryan: The Falcons are 1.5-point road underdogs against the Eagles and boast an implied total of just 21.5, but Ryan led the league in Passing Success Rate in 2017, and Philly lost slot corner Patrick Robinson.
- Blake Bortles: Bortles, the QB4 from Weeks 9 through 16, hugged the league-average efficiency from a passing standpoint in 2017, and he has quiet upside with his legs, ranking seventh in rushing among quarterbacks last season. The Giants ranked 26th in adjusted yards per attempt over the final eight fantasy-relevant games, as well.
- Marcus Mariota: The Dolphins ranked 21st in adjusted yards per attempt from Week 9 onward last season, a saving grace for Mariota, who struggled in 2017, ranking 21st in Passing NEP per drop back. Mariota never topped 18 fantasy points last season and had just four games with more than 14.
- Alex Smith: The Cardinals were a top-five pass defense over the final eight games last season and own a solid pass rush. They need to replace Tramon Williams, but a ton of quarterbacks are in more promising spots than Smith is for his debut with Washington. But if you need to replace an expected starter, you could do worse than Smith this week from a process standpoint.
Sit If Possible
- Ben Roethlisberger: Roethlisberger has to battle his infamous road splits against an up-and-coming defense. Roethlisberger actually averaged 7.7 yards per attempt on the road in 2017, but heavy rain and potentially nasty winds push Roethlisberger out of the trustworthy tier. Sit him if you can and go with a safer option at quarterback.
- Tyrod Taylor: The Steelers got thrashed down the stretch last season, ranking 29th in adjusted yards per attempt allowed. They added a few pieces to help, yet Taylor's floor -- double-digit fantasy points in 10 of 14 games excluding Week 17 -- plus the cake matchup puts him on the streaming radar. However, the weather is expected to create awful conditions.
- Jimmy Garoppolo: Jimmy G was numberFire's most efficient passer last season on a smallish sample, but the Vikings limited passers to 5.7 adjusted yards per attempt from Weeks 9 through 16 last season.
- Patrick Mahomes: The Chargers allowed just 4.5 adjusted yards per attempt to passers from Weeks 9 through 16 (a league-best) and have the depth to overcome the loss of Jason Verrett, which they had to do last season. They boast one of the best pass rushes in the league. You can do better than Mahomes in Week 1.
- Dak Prescott: A 2.5-point road underdog, Prescott faces a leaky pass rush and front seven in Carolina, who ranked 30th in adjusted yards per attempt allowed after Week 8 last season. There are just so many quarterbacks in play that you don't need to risk it until we see Prescott, who averaged 12.2 fantasy points over the final eight games, return to form.
- Mitchell Trubisky: Trubisky posted single-digit fantasy points in 7 of 11 games and maxed out at 15.9 last season. He had just 18 preseason attempts in the Bears' new offense. The Packers ranked 32nd in second-half adjusted yards per attempt allowed, yet they invested heavily this offseason. The unknowns should win out.
- Ryan Tannehill: A year removed from injury, Tannehill ran just once in the preseason, a big part of his fantasy output.
- Nick Foles: Starting for the injured Carson Wentz, Foles shouldn't start for your fantasy team against the Falcons' deep secondary. Foles has back spasms of his own.
- Derek Carr: Carr topped 18 fantasy points just twice last season and faces what should be one of the toughest quarterback matchups in 2018, as the Rams' pass rush and secondary is elite.
- Sam Bradford: Bradford was 8 of 11 in the preseason for 73 yards but lacks a tertiary pass-catcher and a sturdy line.
- Joe Flacco: Flacco's Ravens are heavy favorites against a weak run defense, suggesting a low-volume game from him in Week 1.
- Eli Manning: The Jaguars let up points to passers late in 2017, but Manning didn't take advantage of even weak matchups last season, surpassing 17 fantasy points only three times.
- Sam Darnold: The youngest Week 1 starter ever, Darnold faces a tough road test against a solid string of defensive backs in Detroit.
- Nathan Peterman: A road opener as a heavy underdog doesn't bode well for a quarterback who won the starting job in the final week, regardless of how he looked in the preesason.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick: Fitzpatrick's Bucs are double-digit underdogs on the road against a loaded secondary and problematic pass rush.
Start With Confidence
- Alvin Kamara: Kamara played at least 47% of snaps in his final five games including playoffs, averaging 15.6 touches and 17.3 half-PPR points. The Buccaneers drafted Vita Vea 12th overall to help with a defensive front that ranked 21st in Rushing Success Rate to backs after Week 9, but they were also bottom-three against backs out of the backfield.
- David Johnson: Johnson passed the eye test in the preseason and had 3 of his 8 rushes go for at least 10 yards. Washington allowed a whopping 4.92 yards per carry and a league-worst 47.4% Rushing Success Rate from Week 9 on last season. For what it's worth, they drafted defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne with the 13th pick this season.
- Todd Gurley: The Rams are a 4.0-point favorite on the Raiders, who were a mid-range rush defense in the second half of last season, and Gurley's workload is essentially unmatched.
- Ezekiel Elliott: Excluding a 4.2-point performance in Week 2, Elliott averaged 21.3 half-PPR points in his 8 other games, excluding Week 17. Zeke averaged 26.4 touches per game, second-most at the position.
- Melvin Gordon: Gordon averaged 21.3 touches and 16.2 half-PPR points per game, and his Chargers open as 3.5-point home favorites against a run defense that ranked 27th in Rushing Success Rate allowed over the final nine games.
- Dalvin Cook: The Vikings are favored by 6 with a heavy implied total of 26.25 points. Cook played 79%, 56%, 73%, and 48% of snaps in his four games last season, with corresponding touch counts of 25, 14, 32, and 14. The offensive line is banged up, and he may lose goal-line work, but overall, Cook is a locked-in weekly play.
- Leonard Fournette: Fournette averaged 16.8 half-PPR points last year and played at least 44% of snaps in every game. The Giants did rank ninth in Rushing Success Rate allowed after Week 8 last season, yet Fournette had multiple receptions in all but one game and is anticipated to have a larger third-down workload this season.
- Kareem Hunt: Hunt's production waned in the middle of the season, but he ended the fantasy season with 21.3, 36.1, and 18.6 half-PPR points. The Chargers were 24th in Rushing Success Rate allowed after Week 8 last season.
- Christian McCaffrey: CMC gets a juicy matchup to open the season, as the Cowboys ranked 28th in Target Success Rate against running backs after Week 8 and 18th in Rushing Success Rate allowed. He topped 14 touches just three times in the fantasy season last year, but the preseason suggests he'll get plenty of work this season.
- Saquon Barkley: Barkley is working back from a hamstring injury and faces a tough test in his NFL debut against a top-12 rush defense by Rushing Success Rate in the second half of 2017. A 3-point underdog at home, the Giants are best served to feed Barkley out of the backfield, as the Jags were 20th in Reception Success Rate allowed to backs in the back half of 2017.
- Joe Mixon: From Weeks 3 through 12 last year (once his playing time ramped up and prior to a Week 13 concussion), Mixon averaged 17.2 touches per game. The line is bolstered in Cincinnati, and those touches should have value against a Colts defense that lost Johnathan Hankins this offseason.
- Jordan Howard: Howard averaged just over 20 touches per game from Week 3 on last season, and talk of extra third-down snaps only helps quell concerns of the Bears' status as a 7.5-point underdog.
- Devonta Freeman: Including playoffs, Freeman averaged 18.7 touches and 14.6 half-PPR points over the final seven games last season, while playing at least half the snaps in each. He's an underdog (1.5 points) against a top rush defense, but the workload should win out.
- Lamar Miller: Miller played at least half of Houston's snaps in every game until Week 16 last season, averaging 17.7 touches in that span. He averaged 14.1 half-PPR points in six games started by Deshaun Watson.
- Alex Collins: Collins' Ravens are 7.5-point favorites on the Bills, who were notoriously dreadful against the rush last year ("improving" to 28th in Rushing Success Rate allowed after Week 8). They made moves to patch things up, but Collins averaged 19.9 touches per game after his Week 10 bye in 2017.
- LeSean McCoy: This will be an ugly one for the Bills, who are 7.5-point underdogs with an implied total of 16.5 points, a Week 1 low against a top-eight rush defense after Week 8 in terms of Rushing Success Rate allowed. Still, McCoy averaged 21.4 touches after a Week 6 bye. You drafted him for the volume.
- Kenyan Drake: Drake took over in Week 9 last year and averaged 16.9 touches per game. In his final five, he averaged 21.6 touches. He's a start until we learn that we can't trust the workload.
- Jamaal Williams: Williams will be the guy in the Packers backfield while Aaron Jones serves his suspension. Williams averaged 20.4 touches per game in the eight contests with at least a 50% snap rate last season. The Bears ranked 29th in Rushing Success Rate against running backs in the back half of the year, and Roquan Smith's Week 1 status still is up in the air.
Consider If Needed
- Royce Freeman: Freeman's Broncos are 3.0-point favorites on the Seahawks, who were 17th in Rushing Success Rate allowed after Week 8 and lost a lot up front. Freeman averaged 5.6 yards per carry on 15 preseason attempts, including 2 carries of longer than 10 yards.
- Derrick Henry: The Titans and Dolphins are in a pick'em, with the Titans on the road. Assumption would indicate that Henry suffers from a neutral game-script more than Lewis, but Henry closed the season out with 93% of snaps or more in his final three games last season.
- Dion Lewis: Lewis is tougher to trust even though the game script could easily roll in his favor. He averaged 13.5 half-PPR points in 10 games with even a 30% snap rate. He loses luster in a new offense, of course, but the talent is there to produce on his opportunities.
- Rex Burkhead: Burkhead missed time in the preseason while the Pats were "overcautious" with him, implying he's their lead back. In five games with at least 30% of snaps, he averaged 14.7 half-PPR points, which is absurd. Houston's front-seven projects to be difficult, but Burkhead also averaged 4.0 targets in his games with at least a 30% snap rate.
- Jay Ajayi: Ajayi's injury puts him in the questionable territory for now, and the Falcons were actually the fourth-toughest rush defense in terms of expected points per carry to running backs after Week 8.
- Marshawn Lynch: Lynch looked explosive in the preseason on his lone touch and averaged double-digit fantasy points last season, playing 40% of snaps in 12 games. The Rams' interior is loaded but lack much else in the front seven, so the volume can carry Lynch in Week 1.
- James Conner: Conner's Steelers are road favorites, but the line is slipping, and the Browns' defense is much improved. He should have unquestioned volume based on how the Steelers have used backup rushers in the past, but the production may not be a guarantee given the weather.
- Carlos Hyde: Hyde was treated as the Browns' RB1 in the preseason, though a 4.0-point underdog stats with a 19-point total isn't exciting. However, last year's usage of the running back committee indicates that Hyde will play about half of the snaps for Cleveland. Again, just consider the weather.
- Ty Montgomery: Montgomery has been an efficient rusher and receiver at the NFL level and projects to see third-down work for a team with a 27.25-point implied total. We'll get a feel for the workload split in Week 1, making Montgomery someone to consider at best.
- Duke Johnson: Johnson gets a boost in PPR formats, as he averaged 4.6 catches per contest last season. Pittsburgh was vulnerable to backs out of the backfield last season, as well, ranking 24th in Reception Success Rate to the position after Week 8.
- Tevin Coleman: Coleman topped a 43% snap rate just once over his final six games, averaging 11.8 touches in that span. Negative game script could lead to more snaps for Coleman, who ranked 12th in the preseason in routes run among running backs, via ProFootballFocus.
- Giovani Bernard: Bernard's Bengals are 2.5-point road underdogs, a game script that should put him in play. Bernard averaged 5.5 catches per game over the final five, though he could be an afterthought with Mixon thinning down.
- Latavius Murray: Murray's Vikings are 6.5-point favorites with a 26.25-point total, suggesting that he could see reps so that Dalvin Cook doesn't get burnt out early.
- Mike Gillislee: Gillislee is set to take over the Mark Ingram role early on, and the Saints are heavy favorites with a 29.5-point implied team total. Game script sets him up to be a low-end start if you're thin at running back.
- Chris Thompson: Thompson had a 40% snap rate in all but one game last year (Week 11, when he got hurt), and he averaged 13.6 half-PPR points in those. Arizona was the top rush defense in the second half last year, so Thompson should see extra opportunities out of the backfield.
- Adrian Peterson: Peterson very well could soak up as much work as possible while he stays healthy, but the Cardinals boasted the top rush defense in the second half of 2017. They're undergoing a scheme change, but they're still talented. Peterson is a volume bet in Week 1.
Sit If Possible
- Matt Breida and Alfred Morris: The 49ers are road underdogs, and the line keeps trending in Minnesota's favor. That's not the script you're seeking out, especially for backs whose value stems not from winning a starting job but rather from injury. Breida's pass-catching work makes him the better option if you're desperate.
- Kerryon Johnson, Theo Riddick, and LeGarrette Blount: The Lions are 6.5-point home favorites on the Jets, a typical "Blount Game" type of game script. The problem is that Johnson could see early-down work, Riddick could see third-down work, and Blount could see short-yardage work. If possible, avoid this backfield against a tough front seven (second in Rushing Success Rate allowed after Week 8) until we see how the committee shakes out.
- Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Ronald Jones: Barber's the starter, yet the matchup is rough: Tampa is a 9.5-point road underdog with a paltry 20-point total. The Saints' rush defense is leaky because of a weak linebacking corps, but this is not the script to chase with a patchwork backfield that will feature multiple backs.
- Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell: Touchdown underdogs on the road with an implied team total of below 20 points doesn't leave a lot to get excited about for this committee. The Lions were soft against the rush last season, yet the offense projects to struggle. Powell's receiving work out of the backfield in negative game script should give him the edge.
- James White, Jeremy Hill, and Sony Michel: One of these players will probably surpass double-digit fantasy points this week, but knowing which is difficult, and you're leaving yourself open to a disappointing Week 1. White's pass-catching could be mitigated, as the Pats are 6-point favorites. Michel's injury kept him out of the preseason. Hill is a dice-roll for a touchdown.
- Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny: Denver ranked 7th in Rushing Success Rate allowed to backs after Week 8 last season and return one of the best defensive fronts in the league. A road underdog with a total below 20 isn't where you should be trying to find a fantasy starter if you can avoid it.
- Frank Gore: Provided that Drake gets the workload that he's supposed to, there isn't much left over for Gore in a game where his offense has an implied total of just 22 points.
- Tarik Cohen: As a 7.5-point underdog, Cohen should see reception chances in negative game script, but he maxed out at 4 catches after Week 2 last season.
- Jordan Wilkins, Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, and Christine Michael: Having four backs listed together is why they're just in the "sit" tier. Despite being home favorites against a below-average rush defense, there's no guarantee how the touches get dispersed. Wilkins is set to be the lead back -- at least nominally -- but he's a desperation play until we see what the Colts actually do with this situation.
Start With Confidence
- Antonio Brown: Brown notched 162 targets, 12 off the pace of the league lead, in just 14 games, giving him a 30.7% target market share in his starts, as well as a 44.5% air yards market share, according to FantasyADHD.com. The Browns' secondary is revamped, but Brown notched double-digit half-PPR points in 9 of 14 games last season. The weather is a big concern, but you're almost certainly not in a place to bench Brown in Week 1.
- A.J. Green: Green could wind up as the WR1 in the opener, as he faces a terrible Colts secondary that projects to be one of the worst in football. Green commanded a 29.2% target market share and a 46.6% air yards market share, both elite rates. He's still got WR1 upside.
- DeAndre Hopkins: Nuk paced the league with a 33.7% target market share last season and also had 43.0% of the Texans' air yards. Last year, Hopkins caught 7 of 8 targets for 76 yards against New England.
- Julio Jones: Jones had one of the best workloads in football last season, including a 28.7% target market share and 45.4% of the Falcons' air yards. The Eagles' corners don't present us with a reason to worry about Jones.
- Michael Thomas: Thomas' Saints have massive total, and the Bucs' secondary is very exploitable. Thomas had a 28.1% target market share and 41.6% of New Orleans' air yards. He's a stud.
- Davante Adams: Adams had at least 5 targets in all 14 games last season, totaling a 24.4% market share, and a 34.2% air yards share. That volume overcomes matchup, and the Bears aren't anything to worry about.
- Adam Thielen: The 49ers' secondary could cause problems this year, yet Thielen's 27.6% target market share trumps any matchup concerns.
- Stefon Diggs: Diggs could lock up with Richard Sherman, who is returning from a torn Achilles. Diggs' target share (18.0%) wasn't incredible in 2017, but he drew 22 targets in two playoff games.
- Larry Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald owned a 27.3% target market share last season and gets a slot matchup with Fabian Moreau, who got torched for 2.75 yards per snap on 48 coverage snaps in 2017.
- T.Y. Hilton: William Jackson III is a top cover corner, but he rarely traveled into the slot last season. Hilton should square up with Darqueze Dennard instead. A 23.1% target market share ranked him 14th last season, and he averages 12.7 half-PPR points per game with Andrew Luck, compared to 9.5 without him, via Rotoviz.
- Odell Beckham: You're starting Beckham, despite his matchup with the Jaguars' elite pass defense. OBJ averaged 10.3 targets in his four games, ranking third at the position last year.
- Tyreek Hill: Hill, who caught all 14 targets this preseason, does face a tough test in Week 1 against the Chargers, against whom he totaled 10 catches (14 targets) for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns last season.
- Keenan Allen: Allen had at least 7 targets in all but one game last season and topped 10 in 9 different games. Unfortunately, he managed just 134 air yards and 115 receiving on 17 targets against the Chiefs last season. Start him because of the volume, but temper your expectations.
- Demaryius Thomas: Thomas drew a 26.9% target market share and a 33.4% air yards share in the 12 games that Emmanuel Sanders also played last season, compared to 22.3% and 27.1%, respectively, for Sanders. Against Seattle's depleted secondary, Thomas is a safe start.
- Chris Hogan: Hogan's market share was just 16.9% in healthy games last season, but he wasn't the top receiving option at the time. By default, he is now. He moved around enough last year to see targets against Kevin Johnson, who projects to be the weak link in the Houston secondary.
- Golden Tate: Tate paced the Lions with a 21.4% market share and draws Buster Skrine in the slot, which should lead him to be the top target man for Detroit in the opener.
Consider If Needed
- Mike Evans: It'll take a great team to be able to bench Evans so I don't want to be naive, but know that Evans averaged a terrible 3.6 yards per target on 19 targets against the Saints last year. Marshon Lattimore is no joke.
- Doug Baldwin: Baldwin was drafted to be a weekly starter, but Week 1 will be a test given his knee injury and matchup with Chris Harris, who allowed just 0.95 yards per snap in slot coverage last season.
- Amari Cooper: Cooper, no matter where he lines up, will have a tough go against Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, and Nickell Robey. In a perfect world, you could bench him or have safer receiver choices.
- Allen Robinson: Robinson played only 11 preseason snaps but draws Kevin King and/or Tramon Williams in Week 1, putting him in play.
- Emmanuel Sanders: Sanders played from the slot a lot in the preseason and already averaged a healthy 7.7 targets per game in 2017.
- JuJu Smith-Schuster: JuJu is close to a lock, but we do need to wait and see how James Washington impacts his usage. JuJu played 58.0% of his snaps from the slot last season, via PFF, generating an elite 2.15 yards per route run. He'll have a tough inside matchup against Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who allowed just 0.61 yards per route covered. Monitor the weather.
- Jarvis Landry: Landry's draft cost likely means you're plugging him in regardless. Landry projects to see the most volume on his offense in Week 1 while they play catch-up (as a 4-point home underdog). That suggests a big workload for Landry, but the 19-point implied team total doesn't suggest much touchdown equity. Monitor the weather.
- Josh Gordon: Gordon is an enigma this week, given his lack of preseason work. Gordon's 8.98 yards per target ranks him 15th since 1992 among players with at least 300 career targets, so the upside is always present despite a tough secondary matchup against Pittsburgh. Monitor the weather.
- Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp: All three are viable against the Raiders, who lost Khalil Mack. That should generate plenty of passing efficiency and upside for the Rams. However, 2017's target splits suggest none of these three will emerge as the go-to option, leaving all in the lukewarm territory in the opener.
- Marvin Jones: Jones finished 8th in air yards last season with a 19.1% target market share. Trumaine Johnson and Morris Claiborne on the outside should force volume to Tate, and in games with Kenny Golladay, Jones saw jut a 15.8% market share (5.3 targets per game).
- Corey Davis: Davis will have a hard time getting into the "Start With Confidence" section, as he never hit a 25% target share in any single game last season, which is how the Titans operate. Still, Davis moves around enough to take advantage of Miami's weak corners.
- Jamison Crowder: Crowder avoids Patrick Peterson in the slot and owned a 19.3% target share (but just 17.5% of the air yards in Washington). He's got a floor but not much upside.
- Nelson Agholor: Agholor gets a bump while Alshon Jeffery is out, and Agholor will run from the slot, avoiding the tougher matchups on the outside that the Falcons present. Agholor led the Eagles in red zone targets last season.
- Randall Cobb: Cobb averaged 6.5 targets per game in 2016 even on a more crowded Packers depth chart. He had 6.6 per game last season. Since 2015, Cobb has averaged 9.8 half-PPR points with Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback.
- Michael Crabtree: The Bills' secondary should prove tough this season, but positive script should be in order for Baltimore, making Crabtree's red-zone prowess enticing. He produced 59 yards on his 3 preseason targets, thanks to an average depth of target of 21.3 yards.
- Marquise Goodwin: In a perfect world, you won't have to start Goodwin, but given his draft cost, you're likely in a spot where you need to, given how difficult a matchup with the Vikings will be. In the five games started by Jimmy Garoppolo, Goodwin maintained a 24.9% target market share and a 36.6% air yards market share, with a 13.3-yard average depth of target.
- Will Fuller: Fuller didn't face the Pats last year, but his 16.4-yard average depth of target and 19.1% market share when healthy puts him in flex consideration, as the Texans should be forced to throw.
- Keelan Cole: Cole drew 21 targets in Weeks 16 and 17 last season without Marqise Lee, a 25.0% target market share. The Giants' pass defense has enough holes, and Cole projects to be the lead target man for the Jags.
- Kenny Stills: Stills faces a tough group of defensive backs (Tennessee) but is the WR1 for Miami and ranked ninth in air yards last season.
- Pierre Garcon: Garcon is a positive touchdown regression candidate but has no rapport with Garoppolo from last season. He did command a 21.3% target market share in his eight healthy games, however.
- Devin Funchess: From Weeks 12 through 17 (without Kelvin Benjamin and with Greg Olsen), Funchess still commanded a 23.8% target share and 37.4% of Carolina's air yards. Dallas does boast some strong corners, and Funchess' volume could dip with the arrival of D.J. Moore.
- Kelvin Benjamin: The low total caps Benjamin's upside, yet Benjamin reeled in 7 of 10 preseason targets for 105 yards and a score on an aDOT of 14.7. As the WR1 for a heavy underdog, he could get 10 targets in the opener.
- John Brown: Brown caught 2 of 3 preseason targets for 24 yards and a touchdown, with an aDOT of 25.7 yards. It's a tough secondary matchup, but Brown is a low-end Week 1 play who can make a splash, given the anticipated downfield targets.
- Allen Hurns: Hurns didn't play a ton in the preseason (just 29 routes) and projects as Dallas' WR1 to start the year. Carolina's secondary is a weakness, so the volume and matchup make Hurns a low-end play in Week 1 if you need him.
- Mohamed Sanu: This is a deeper cut, but Sanu is the starting slot receiver for Atlanta, and the Eagles lost a stellar slot corner, and Sanu owned an 18.6% market share last season.
- Mike Wallace: Wallace is a dart throw. The Eagles are without Alshon Jeffery's 21.6% target market share, yet Atlanta has speed on the outside, with both Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford running sub 4.40-second 40-yard dashes.
- Danny Amendola: DeVante Parker may not play, and Tannehill has peppered the slot in the past. Amendola's aDOT is a nearly invisible 5.0, but he's a volume bet in Week 1.
Sit If Possible
- Robby Anderson: Anderson's Jets own a low total, and he'll face Darius Slay often enough to worry. He's a big play threat, but Darnold had a lowly 6.8-yard aDOT in the preseason.
- Sammy Watkins: Watkins had a massive 20.4 aDOT in the preseason but caught just 1 of 7 targets for 15 yards. As the third option against tough corners, Watkins should be on the bench in Week 1 if you can replace him.
- Jordy Nelson: Nelson, like Cooper, has tough matchups to overcome, and he's played 10 preseason snaps.
- Sterling Shepard: Shepard had a 12.8% target market share when Beckham was healthy last season, and the matchup couldn't be worse against Jacksonville.
- D.J. Moore: Moore was a re-draft pick yet has uncertain status in the Carolina passing hierarchy, as he's listed fourth.
- Mike Williams: Williams was drafted in a lot of leagues, but he ran 45 preseason routes, compared to 20 or fewer for Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, and Travis Benjamin, indicating that he's not a lock to be the second option. It's Tyrell who is listed as the WR2 on the depth chart and would be the preferred punt play if needed.
- Anthony Miller: Miller gets an easy matchup in his NFL debut, and the Bears are heavy underdogs. That could lead to volume, but Miller could be the third option at best on an offense expected to be held under 20 points.
- Kenny Golladay: Golladay averaged only 4.4 targets per game last season (a 13.0% target share) and has tough coverage on the outside.
- Tyler Lockett: I love Lockett from a full-season standpoint, but the cornerback matchups are not in his favor, and Baldwin's ability to play puts Lockett's volume in question.
- Ted Ginn Jr., Cameron Meredith, and Tre'Quan Smith: They're in a primo spot against the Bucs with a high total, but we can't be sure how the snaps ultimately shake out. All are fine in deep leagues, but in shallower formats, you should be able to do better.
- Dede Westbrook: Westbrook saw 19.0% of targets in the final two regular season weeks last year without Lee, yet added competition from Donte Moncrief and possibly D.J. Chark make him a tough Week 1 trust.
- DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin: With an implied team total below 20 points and against a tough secondary, the Bucs' tertiary options are dart throws at best against a stout defense.
- Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson: Doctson was an end-zone and red-zone threat last season and each should get snaps against Jamar Taylor, who allowed a 113.1 quarterback rating last season (via PFF), but the pecking order is unclear, making them hard to trust out of the gate.
- Michael Gallup: Gallup played a lot in the preseason (running 64 routes), but we can't know what his Week 1 usage will be, putting him on the can't trust list.
Start With Confidence
- Rob Gronkowski: Gronk's 22.7% target market share and 28.2% air yards share is more wide receiver than tight end. Houston allowed 8.7 yards per target and ranked 31st in target success rate to tight ends after Week 8 last year.
- Zach Ertz: Ertz averaged 7.9 targets per game last season, third among all tight ends and only 0.2 per game behind the top two. Alshon Jeffery is out and dominated end-zone looks last season with 18. Atlanta held tight ends to 6.3 yards per target after Week 8, but you're starting Ertz.
- Travis Kelce: Kelce caught 7 of 8 targets against the Chargers last year for 47 yards and no touchdowns, but you can't think of benching a tight end with a 23.0% market share.
- Jimmy Graham: Graham's status as a 7.5-point home favorite with a high total makes him a strong bet to score, and that's what you're looking for from last year's red zone target leader.
- Jack Doyle: Doyle had a 22.9% market share last season and faces a Bengals team that's softer inside than out, giving up 7.5 yards per target and a 29th-ranked Target Success Rate after Week 8.
- Evan Engram: His 7.7 targets per game flirt with top-tier usage, and even with Beckham healthy, he had 4, 7, 7, and 11 targets. Jags were tough even on tight ends, but few tight ends will have Engram's workload.
- Delanie Walker: Walker's 23.0% target market share puts him in play each week, and the Dolphins allowed nearly 9.0 yards per target to the position down the stretch.
- Greg Olsen: Olsen averaged 5.4 targets per game in 2017, and Dallas ranked bottom-five in Target Success Rate allowed to the position.
- Jordan Reed: Reed averaged 5.8 targets per game in 2017 and faces a pretty neutral matchup against the Cardinals.
- Trey Burton: Burton should be the focal point of the Bears' passing game as heavy underdogs against the Packers.
Consider If Needed
- Kyle Rudolph: Rudolph faces a tough Week 1 opponent in the 49ers, who boast Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Clayborn. The 49ers allowed only 4.9 yards per target to tight ends after Week 8 in 2017.
- David Njoku: The Steelers got torched for 8.6 yards per target after Week 8 last year, and Njoku projects to build on his 3.8 targets per game, at least early on while Josh Gordon gets back up to speed.
- Tyler Eifert: He's expected to have a snap limit, but the Colts allowed 7.5 yards per target down the stretch to tight ends, and Eifert has 25 red zone targets over his past 23 games.
- Ricky Seals-Jones: Elite efficiency last year should earn RSJ more snaps in an offense that lacks weapons. Washington ranked 23rd in half-PPR points per target allowed to tight ends.
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins: ASJ faces a Giants team that ranked 21st in half-PPR points per target to tight ends after Week 8 last season.
- O.J. Howard: Hyper efficient down the stretch (8.5 half-PPR points per game on just 3.4 targets). Indications are that he's going to have more volume early on.
- Jared Cook: We should expect the Rams' tough corners to funnel passes to the middle of the field, and Cook had a healthy 15.6% target market share last season.
Bench If Possible
- Charles Clay: Baltimore allowed just five tight ends to net double-digit half-PPR points last season, and Buffalo's total is too low to bank on a touchdown from Clay, despite his 5.8 targets per game.
- George Kittle: The Vikings allowed only 4.5 yards per target to tight ends after Week 8, and San Fran is a road underdog, a bad script for tight end production.
- Eric Ebron: Ebron is a question mark in Week 1. He has a good matchup, but we're simply guessing at volume.
- Antonio Gates: Gates will play limited snaps and has had no offseason reps. You'd be hoping for a touchdown at best.