NFL

15 Fantasy Football Transactions for Week 1

We've gone through plenty of fantasy football seasons in the past. We know how wild and wacky the 16-week -- sometimes 17-week -- season can be.

But do we?

This year is undoubtedly going to be different. Us degenerates are always on top of things, but we're going to really have to be on top of our ish during this pandemic season. Things are going to change quickly, and we're going to have to put on our game theory hats more than we're used to.

That's where this 15 Transactions column comes in.

For those of you who have read this bad boy in the past, welcome back. To the newbies, here's a quick introduction: this column is a fantasy football brain vomit each and every week. I look at players who I'd be buying, selling, adding, and dropping in the fantasy football world in order for you, the fantasy manager, to compile the ultimate team. That's it. That's the column.

It's important to read the detail for each transaction. Sometimes -- a lot of times -- a recommendation will be made based on a chunk of a season with a tough or easy schedule. Each move needs some context. But the more you consume, the more you'll win.

Let's get this anxiety-filled season underway.

Note: Transactions are not in any specific order.

Buy Diontae Johnson

Is it just hype? I clearly don't think so.

Diontae Johnson has a chance to be really, really good. Everyone talks up last year's rookie wide receiver class, and for good reason: those first-year wideouts balled out. You know who finished with the most receptions among the class last season? Johnson did. With putrid quarterback play.

Ben Roethlisberger is now back, and over the last four healthy seasons with Roethlisberger, the Steelers have ranked in the top-10 in neutral script pass rate. That means if and when Johnson sees a high target share, it'll likely be in an offense that's going to throw the ball at a reasonably high rate.

And Johnson should hit a nice target share. Since 2011, of the rookie wideouts to have a target share at or above 15%, a solid 77% of them ended up increasing those numbers in Year 2. And of the group that reached Johnson's rookie-season target share, 80% saw an increase as Sophomores.

Breakout wide receivers are typically young, they come from ambiguous pass-catching situations (Do we know if JuJu Smith-Schuster will surely bounce back this season? What's James Washington's role?), and they rarely come from nowhere. Johnson's someone who fits the criteria.

Add Bryan Edwards

With Tyrell Williams on IR, the Raiders are likely going to be starting two rookie wide receivers. One of them is first-rounder Henry Ruggs, but the other is the lesser-known Bryan Edwards, who could honestly end up being a better fantasy producer than Ruggs.

Edwards' prospect profile was pretty damn complete. He had the best breakout age of anyone in this year's class, and when it was all said in done, my model ranked him as an 85th percentile prospect. That shouldn't mean much to you, but let me give you some context: despite being a third-round pick (the model cares about draft capital), his overall prospect score was close to second-rounders like Michael Pittman Jr., K.J. Hamler, and Laviska Shenault.

If not for an injury, Edwards could've been a first-rounder in April's draft. He fell, though, and he dropped to a spot where he now has a chance to see immediate production. He's the perfect player to stash.

Sell Daniel Jones

(Alert: This is one of those recommendations where the details are important. You know, like I talked about in the intro.)

Daniel Jones has season-long upside. The weapons in New York aren't hateful, and he flashed serious fantasy potential last year with four top-two performances. As a second-year player, things could get juicy.

The issue I have with Jones is the opening schedule. The Giants kick off the season against the Steelers, a team projected to have one of the best defenses in the league. Then they get a questionable matchup against the Bears, and then it's the 49ers.

If you have Jones and are able to hold onto him through the bumpy schedule, then great. If you're in a league with a shallow bench and plenty of quarterback options on the waiver wire, I'd look to sell.

Buy Jimmy Garoppolo

One player you could pair Jones with is Jimmy Garoppolo, who's got the opposite problem to kick off the year. The 49ers open their season against the Cardinals in a game with a 47.5-point over/under, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. In the two 49ers-Cardinals tilts from last year, Garoppolo combined for 741 yards and 8 touchdowns, putting together his two best fantasy performances of the season.

After Arizona comes the Jamal Adams-less Jets, then the Giants, Eagles, and Dolphins. None of those teams have a secondary that ranks in Pro Football Focus' pre-season top-10, with the Jets and Giants ranking in the bottom six.

Don't be surprised if Jimmy G is higher than expected in the fantasy quarterback rankings after the first chunk of the season is over.

Add Devine Ozigbo and James Robinson

With Leonard Fournette now on Tampa Bay, the Jacksonville backfield is up for grabs. You've got last year's athletic fifth-rounder in Ryquell Armstead fighting with last year's undrafted Devine Ozigbo fighting with this year's undrafted James Robinson. And then there's the pass-catching Chris Thompson prepared to steal targets out of the backfield, too.

According to Yahoo!'s percent rostered data, Armstead and Thompson aren't on many waiver wires. But Ozigbo (12% rostered) and Robinson (6%) are. If you're in a deeper format, it's not a bad idea to add both players to just see if one emerges in Week 1 because Armstead's currently on the COVID-19 list, and Thompson's not an early-down runner.

Most will probably say they prefer Ozigbo, but don't sleep on Robinson. He was a production freak at Illinois State, going for more than 1,900 rushing yards while capturing a 12% reception share and a 53% touchdown share in his offense last season. His athletic measurables don't jump off the page, but production is more meaningful than those measurables.

Sell Le'Veon Bell

Over the last nine fantasy seasons, just 4.4% of top-10 fantasy running backs have been selected in Round 4. And another 4.4% of them were drafted in the fifth round. When looking at the number of hits (top-10 seasons) versus the number of total running backs selected by round during this time, Round 6 running backs have actually produced top-10 seasons at a higher rate than Round 4 ones.

Sure, sure -- we still have to take each running back case by case. But there's some logic to the idea that traditional RB2s -- the players who are typically drafted in the RB13 to RB24 range -- are overrated in fantasy drafts. The position matters a lot in fantasy football, so when fantasy managers see them flying off the board early, they panic due to necessity. And they overpay.

There are some RB2s that I'm fine with (James Conner, Jonathan Taylor), but this general concept is a big reason why I'm not on players like Melvin Gordon, David Johnson, and Todd Gurley this year. Especially with the wide receivers you've got to pass on in order to obtain those players.

The same holds true for Le'Veon Bell. Except, in the case for Bell, there are even more red flags than some of the aforementioned number-two fantasy backs.

I'm worried about Adam Gase. There's already been tension between Bell and Gase over the last month with Frank Gore getting a lot of run in camp, and considering Gase's history of refusing to give the ball to the most talented backfield member, there's concern there.

There's also concern with the offense itself. The Jets tied the Steelers with the fewest touchdowns in the league last year, and while that's bound to regress, the team's personnel doesn't look great on paper. Pro Football Focus ranked the Jets 27th in their offensive line rankings, and Chris Hogan may start Week 1 at wide receiver for them.

The schedule looks rough, too. They'll face the Bills this weekend as 6.5-point underdogs, and then they get the 49ers in Week 2 as six-point dogs according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Really, they may not be favored in a game until November when they finally face Miami. You want positive scripts for your fantasy running backs, and those may be tough to find for Bell.

I'd be looking to get out now.

Buy DeSean Jackson

With rookie Jalen Reagor sidelined, there's a good chance DeSean Jackson will get a lot of love from quarterback Carson Wentz. Don't forget, that's what happened in Week 1 last year in this very same spot. It was a game against Washington, and Jackson went off for 8 catches, 154 yards, and 2 scores. He was then hurt for the remainder of the year, so we weren't able to see an encore.

That could happen this week against Washington, but I'm bullish beyond this week, too. Over the Eagles' first three weeks, they get the aforementioned Football Team, then the Rams, and then the Bengals. LA may be a tough-ish matchup, but it should be a higher-scoring game -- FanDuel Sportsbook has the over/under at 48.5 right now. If Jackson can hold onto a target share north of 18% or 19%, given his historical average depth of target marks, he should pay off big time early in the season.

Add Joshua Kelley

A piece from The Athletic about a week and a half ago said that Chargers' rookie running back Joshua Kelley "...might be having the best training camp of any player on the roster."

Sign me up.

Melvin Gordon's no longer on the Chargers, and that's a big deal, since he had a prorated running back rush share of 63.5% last year. To put that another way, at his 12-game pace in 2019, had he played all 16 contests, he would've captured over 63% of LA's running back attempts.

That's a huge void to fill. Perhaps Austin Ekeler will see a chunk of that, but Ekeler's season high in attempts is 132, and there's already lots of talk about a split backfield. Ekeler's upside comes as a receiver.

Enter Kelley, a 212-pound bruiser who can take on a lot of early-down work. With the other Chargers' running back, Justin Jackson, dealing with an injury, Kelley has an opportunity to see volume right away. And if he, as the biggest running back in the backfield, can take over as the goal-line guy, he'll be fantasy relevant throughout the 2020 season.

Buy Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf

Both Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf have more upside than their average draft position showed throughout the summer. With Lockett, we saw that upper end of his range of outcomes last season -- before a late-season leg injury, Lockett was the WR3 in fantasy football.

Metcalf's potential lies in the fact that he's a second-year stud coming off a rookie campaign where he saw 20% of the team's targets and led all players in end-zone targets. That should give us confidence that he'll have the ability to maintain a high touchdown total.

The reason Lockett and Metcalf were drafted where they were drafted this offseason is because the offensive environment isn't as friendly as it should be. The Seahawks have ranked 31st and 32nd over the last two seasons, respectively, in neutral script pass rate, so even a high target share in the Seattle offense may lead to little volume.

What if Seattle lets Russell Wilson cook a little more this year, though? What if there's some uptick in passing volume, since the offense really can't get much more run-heavy? If that's the case, then you captured values in Lockett and Metcalf in your draft, since they're being selected under the assumption that Seattle will continue to be obnoxious offensively.

There's plenty of upside with both Seattle receivers this year. (Yes, even with Josh Gordon back.)

Add Laviska Shenault

Jacksonville has the lowest win total this year over on FanDuel Sportsbook, which means they should be forced into a lot of negative game scripts. That means there's the potential for lots and lots of pass attempts.

And rookie Laviska Shenault is one player who could benefit from that. After having better-than-average marks in best-season receptions per game and yards per team attempt in college, my prospect model placed Shenault in the 88th percentile as a wide receiver prospect, giving him a good chance to hit over the next three years.

Meanwhile, the Jags only have one locked-in pass-catching target in D.J. Chark. There's a very real chance Shenault emerges as a top option in a pass-heavy O this year.

Sell Mark Ingram

The Ravens are unlikely going to be as potent offensively this year compared to last, where they tallied 58 touchdowns. As I alluded to in a regression-related article earlier this offseason, "Of the seven teams to hit that mark in a single season since 2011, none of them were able to increase that total the following year, with the average touchdowns scored among those teams at about 47. Extending that further, we've seen 25 different teams with 50 or more offensive touchdowns over this same time period, and 23 of the 25 watched their touchdown total dip year over year."

That could have big ramifications for Mark Ingram. ESPN Mike Clay's opportunity-adjusted touchdown metric showed that Ingram should've had 4.2 fewer touchdowns than he scored last year, and when you dig in, it makes total sense. In 2019, Ingram scored 5 touchdowns on just 30 targets, something no other running back has ever done in NFL history. Over the last nine seasons, a running back has averaged a touchdown scored through the air on every 37 targets. Ingram was doing it on every six looks.

So regression is undoubtedly coming, and to top it off, you've got a second-round rookie back entering the picture with pass-catching chops. And that rookie running back is reportedly going to have a "significant role" this year.

Ingram may be fine to start the year, but I'm not very high on his full-season potential to repeat as an RB1 in fantasy football.

Buy Zack Moss

It wouldn't be shocking at all if Zack Moss ends up outscoring teammate Devin Singletary this season. There are already rumblings that Moss could end up taking the lead back role for Buffalo because of Singletary's fumbling issues, but more importantly, Moss could just straight up see the more valuable touches in that backfield.

We need our fantasy football running backs to see targets and touchdowns. Targets are far more valuable than attempts, and touchdowns are the easiest way to score points in bulk.

Moss could end up getting both of those things for the Bills. He's shown off as a receiver in August, and that plays into the fact that he had a final-season reception share of over 12% in college, one of the better numbers in this year's draft class.

After Singletary had just two goal-line rushes last season, Moss, who's got 20 pounds on his teammate, could very easily become the goal-line back.

He's the back -- especially given price -- to grab in Buffalo.

Add Irv Smith

The vast majority of you won't have to stream the tight end position in Week 1 since you likely drafted a tight end you feel good about throughout the 2020 season. If you need some tight end help, though, you could look to Irv Smith Jr., who's rostered in just 16% of Yahoo! leagues.

Smith, as a rookie, essentially produced just as well as teammate and veteran Kyle Rudolph. Tight ends generally take a little time to acclimate to the NFL, so that's a plus for Smith.

As is the fact that he fits the breakout tight end criteria -- criteria I laid out this offseason -- pretty well. Breakout tight ends generally don't come from nowhere (Smith not only was a high draft pick, but he had a decent-enough target share last year), they're athletic (Smith had a 71st percentile Speed Score), they're tied to good quarterbacks, and they're typically Year 2 or Year 3 players.

Without a true, clear-cut second option in the Vikings' passing game, Smith has a legitimate chance to emerge. If you need tight end help, add him now.

Add Logan Thomas

If Smith is rostered in your league and you need to dig deeper, look to Logan Thomas. He'll be Washington's top tight end this year, and while he doesn't fit the mold of a breakout tight end perfectly, he definitely has the athleticism. His Player Profiler profile is off the charts. It's also understandable that he hasn't had a big season yet as a tight end, because he's only been playing tight end for a few years after transitioning from quarterback.

If there's one player who could be this year's Darren Waller -- considering the positional journey -- it's Thomas.

Add the Detroit Lions Defense

Hopefully you were able to plan ahead of get a defense like Philadelphia for Week 1. If not -- and if you're worried about your defensive matchup -- you could look to Detroit. They're facing Chicago in a game with a relatively low 44.5-point over/under and, most importantly, they're going up against Mitchell Trubisky. Trubisky was sacked over 2.5 times per game last year, and the Bears were an above-average opponent for opposing defenses when adjusted for strength of opponent. It's not the best streaming option in the world, but that'll happen during Week 1 in a fantasy football world where most fantasy managers rightfully play defenses by matchup.