NFL

15 Fantasy Football Transactions for Week 1

Fantasy football managers spend weeks -- months, even -- prepping for their fantasy football drafts. All offseason, it's reading player analysis article after player analysis article. It's learning about different draft strategies that help optimize your potential win percentage.

And then the draft comes and goes. You sit there and seem ready for the regular season...but are you? Are you actually ready?

Managers will often think they're mostly done obtaining pieces for their team once the draft is over. That the team they drafted is the team they have to go to war with week in and week out during the season.

Nah.

The truth is, how you manage your team -- the adds you make, the drops you make, the trades you make -- is probably more important than how drafted it. It's not to say the draft isn't a key piece to a fantasy football championship. It's that we -- the fantasy football world -- just don't put enough emphasis on learning a process to dominate during the season itself.

Let me help you.

This 15 Transactions column is here for you each week during the fantasy football season. Inside, you'll get recommendations on who to add, who to drop, who to sell, and who to buy. It's pretty straightforward.

Now, I can't promise you that these weekly recommendations are going to be flawless. Things will end up being wrong. But by reading through them each week, you'll -- hopefully, at least -- start to develop a stronger process. You'll see the importance of strict in-season management. You'll start to see that the draft really isn't everything. It's far from everything.

It's just the beginning.

Note: The transactions each week are not in order of importance.

Buy Trey Sermon and Raheem Mostert

When looking at historical middle- and late-round running back breakouts, one thing is clear: they tend to come from ambiguous backfields. They come from teams where the top running back isn't really defined by average draft position (ADP). There isn't a clear-cut stud, which allows a player -- a breakout -- to emerge.

Maybe we'll see one of those breakouts happen in San Francisco this year. Both Raheem Mostert and rookie Trey Sermon ended up being middle-round picks in fantasy drafts this year, so the backfield is most definitely ambiguous.

But, yes, it's ambiguous for a reason. Even though the 49ers have ranked 14th, 17th, 1st, and 3rd in running back fantasy points scored during Kyle Shanahan's four seasons as head coach, those points haven't been gobbled up by one singular back. In fact, only one running back under Shanahan during this time (Carlos Hyde in 2017) has eclipsed a 42% running back rush share across an entire season. Hyde's the only back to come close to 200 rush attempts, too. (He exceeded the number with 240.)

This isn't just because of injuries in that backfield, either. On a weekly basis over these four Shanahan seasons, San Francisco has had just seven instances where one of their running backs accounted for at least 80% of the team's running back rushes. Across this timeframe, only three teams have had fewer occurrences.

To put this all more succinctly, Shanahan's offenses have utilized a split backfield quite a bit in San Francisco. And that shouldn't give us a lot of confidence that one of these backs can truly break out this season.

The beauty of the 49ers offense, though, is that despite objectively poor quarterback play during this four year chunk of time, they've still been quite good at scoring points on the ground. We know the scheme is good. So having two fantasy-reliable pieces out of that backfield isn't out of the question.

One of the reasons to target these backs now rather than later is because of the team's schedule. To open up the year, San Francisco will face Detroit and then Philadelphia. Per FanDuel Sportsbook, the 49ers are 7.5-point favorites over the Lions and 4.5-point favorites over the Eagles. As we know, favorable game scripts are great for running backs in fantasy football.

And, honestly, across the entirety of the season, San Francisco's schedule is looking hot. If you judge schedule strength by team win totals, courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook, no team has an easier schedule this year than the 49ers.

To reiterate, this favors running backs in fantasy football.

I prefer Sermon to Mostert since there's more uncertain upside surrounding the rook, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if both players get their fantasy seasons off to great starts.

Sell Kenny Golladay

It's tough to buy into a wide receiver who switched teams over the offseason and then got hurt. It's even tougher when that player is going to be catching passes from the questionable Daniel Jones in an offense that has some pretty legitimate pass-catching alternatives.

I love Kenny Golladay the player. Back when he was drafted, I quickly dubbed him "Babytron" because his size-speed combo alongside his skill-set made it seem like he could be an alpha at the next level. And he's flashed brilliance at times throughout his career thus far.

It's just, again, a tough sell. Golladay's not gotten many reps with his new quarterback, and he's even admitted that the Giants' offense could get off to a slow start this year. And why should we think otherwise? In Week 1, New York faces Denver, a team that could easily end up having one of the best defenses in the league this season. In Week 2, it's Washington, one of the best teams at getting to the quarterback.

Golladay could get off to a slow start. There's a chance that we'll shift to buying him after Week 2 is over, but for now, he's not someone I'd want to rely on to kick off my fantasy football season.

Add or Buy Elijah Moore

Rookie Elijah Moore was one of my favorite targets this year in fantasy football drafts, especially when his ADP dipped after sustaining a quad injury. The Jets only have one super reliable pass-catcher on their team in Corey Davis (who also wasn't a bad target this season), and Moore has a chance to be great. No, scratch that...he could be special.

My prospect model graded Ja'Marr Chase as a 99th percentile prospect. DeVonta Smith ranked in the 98th percentile. Those were the only two wide receivers my model clearly liked more than Elijah Moore, with Moore and Rashod Bateman coming in with 96th percentile scores.

The fear with Moore moving to the NFL was that he would be capped as a slot receiver, only because we didn't have a ton of college snaps from him in a traditional perimeter role. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Moore only played 38 snaps last season against press coverage, with 78% of his snaps coming from the slot.

But not only have the Jets already moved him around their offensive formation this past month and a half, Jamison Crowder recently tested positive for COVID-19. Crowder's a slot guy -- he played 72% of his snaps from that area of the field last year. If Crowder's not 100% or if he misses Week 1, then Moore will easily find the field, and he'll play a role he's already accustomed to playing.

Once a talented player like Moore finds the field, watch out.

Buy Jalen Hurts and Devonta Smith

It's understandable if you're hesitant to buy into the Eagles' passing attack. Last season, among 39 qualified quarterbacks, Jalen Hurts ranked 35th in clean-pocket passer rating, per PFF.

To look at that from a more optimistic perspective, Hurts was a rookie. And his teammate, Carson Wentz, ranked 37th. It's pretty obvious the Eagles weren't surrounding their quarterbacks with much help.

And what's funny is that even with Hurts' poor passing numbers last year, he was still a beast in fantasy football. In four starts (and, remember, he didn't even play a full four games), Hurts averaged 23 standard fantasy points per game. That points per game average was smack dab in the middle of QB1 territory in fantasy.

As long as Hurts is starter, he's going to provide fantasy points with his legs. And what if he just gets better as a passer? What if the newly acquired DeVonta Smith translates his game from college to the pros?

I've already mentioned that my model liked Smith quite a bit, and there's some ADP-related math on his side, too. When spotting breakout wide receivers in the middle and late rounds, it's best to target players who are the first pass-catchers being drafted from their NFL team. They hit at a much more significant rate than players who, by cost, are their team's second or third option.

Smith is that player for Philadelphia.

To top it off, the Eagles have a really awesome schedule for their passing game to start the year. Using Pro Football Focus' secondary rankings, no team has an easier passing schedule across the first half of the season than Philadelphia. And they kick off the season against Atlanta, the team with the lowest PFF secondary ranking.

Add Boston Scott

Sticking with the Eagles, Boston Scott's roster percentage over on Yahoo! of 13% seems too low.

The Eagles have a new coaching staff, and head coach Nick Sirianni wasn't afraid to rotate the runners in his backfields when he was offensive coordinator in Indianapolis over the last three seasons. He'd utilize a back like Marlon Mack or Jonathan Taylor in a clear early-down role, but Nyheim Hines was there to steal looks through the air. New running backs coach Jamel Singleton downplayed the idea of an every-down back a couple of months ago, too. And while I'm a believer that drops can be overrated, it's a thing for starter Miles Sanders. He's had issues with his hands in the receiving game.

What's this all mean? It means there's an opportunity for Boston Scott to see more work than most are anticipating. Especially as a receiver. If the Eagles are as bad as their win total suggests, then they'll be forced into more negative game scripts, which could throw a player like Scott on the field even more.

And if you want a deeper sleeper than Scott, you could add one of my 2021 NFL Draft favorites, Kenneth Gainwell. It's just that he's a rookie in the backfield, so it may take more time for him to develop a clear role.

Sell Josh Jacobs

There's no question that Josh Jacobs is a talented back, but that may take his fantasy production only so far.

Jacobs hasn't been utilized as a pass-catcher in the NFL. Period. He hasn't hit a double-digit percentage target share in his two years in the league, and he's seen one total target on third down. (Yes, you read that correctly.) The Raiders haven't used him as a receiving threat out of the backfield consistently.

Without that receiving production, Jacobs did still finish the 2020 season just outside the top-12 at the running back position in PPR points per game. He also did that on 12 rushing touchdowns, something that's not easily bankable year over year.

So, where's the upside coming from? At least last season we had the hope that Vegas would throw the ball Jacobs' way more often. This year, he's got Kenyan Drake likely stealing those looks.

And the Raiders could see a lot of negative game scripts this season. Their win total is just seven over on FanDuel Sportsbook, and when you use those win totals to generate strength of schedule, no team has a harder schedule this year than Las Vegas. Considering Jacobs has one third-down target in his entire career, he could struggle if the Raiders are in negative game scripts as often as we think they'll be this year.

To me, Jacobs is a low-upside RB2 this year. He'll see enough volume on the ground to be fine in fantasy football, but it's tough to see a path to a truly high ceiling.

Add Emmanuel Sanders

Last season, no team targeted their wide receivers at a higher rate than the Buffalo Bills. They finished the year with the second-highest wide receiver target share of any team over the last decade.

This season, Emmanuel Sanders is a Bill. More importantly, he's a starter. In the team's final preseason game, Sanders lined up all over the field and led the offense in first-team targets. Stefon Diggs was out, but Sanders looks like the second-best option in the passing attack. And it's an attack that's pass-heavy with one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

He's still out there in almost 80% of Yahoo! leagues, so go add him for cheap production.

Add Terrace Marshall

My feelings about Terrace Marshall are well documented. During the pre-draft process, he was my third-favorite wide receiver in the class. Post-draft, he ranked fourth. Both of those placements were much higher than the consensus.

So, sure, you can take this recommendation with a grain of salt: I love me some Terrace Marshall.

He's not in nearly as bad of a spot as you might think this year. The Panthers targeted their tight ends at the lowest rate in football last season, and even with the addition of Dan Arnold, that number isn't likely to dramatically change. That lack of target share to tight ends allowed three Carolina wide receivers to thrive and finish as top-30 wideouts in PPR points per game.

Marshall's going to have a role right away, too. He played the majority of his snaps during his final collegiate season from the slot, and during the preseason, Pro Football Focus marked Marshall as having played over 65% of his snaps from that area of the field. That'll be his place to start. (Oh, and by the way, PFF also gave Marshall a top-10 receiving grade among all NFL wideouts during the preseason.)

Marshall's a red-zone threat with better size than any other starter in the Carolina passing attack. He's worth a bench flier, and he's still out there in over 80% of Yahoo! leagues.

Buy Antonio Brown

Without getting many reps with the Buccaneers last season, Antonio Brown stepped in and was targeted a lot. He averaged a 20% target share per game from the time he became a Buccaneer through the end of the regular season, and even if you remove an outlier Week 17 performance, that target share is still 17.6%.

That wasn't in a full-time role, either -- that Week 17 contest was the only game where he played more than 80% of Tampa Bay's snaps. He was just being targeted at a high rate when he was on the field because he's good at football. On the year, only three offensive skill players across the NFL had a higher target per snap rate.

That alone should make you want Antonio Brown as a cost-effective piece of a studly passing attack. And then you factor in Tampa Bay's first two games of the season, where they get Dallas and Atlanta, and he becomes an obvious buy candidate to start the year.

Add Ty'Son Williams

You know that statistic from earlier about the 49ers splitting their backfield, and how they've had just seven instances of a running back seeing 80% of more of the team's running back rushes in a single game since 2017? Yeah, well, Baltimore is at the bottom of that list with three running backs hitting an 80% running back rush share in a single game over that timeframe. And since Greg Roman became offensive coordinator two seasons ago, guess how many times it's happened? Just take a wild guess!

Zero. It's happened zero times.

This Lamar Jackson-led Ravens offense is one that features multiple running backs. It's run-heavy, so plenty of ground volume can be had, but that volume is rarely going to one runner.

Enter Ty'Son Williams.

Maybe the Ravens do something to add to their running back depth eventually, but as of today, Williams looks to be the next man up behind Gus Edwards. In deeper leagues, he can have flex appeal, especially in games like the one he's got in Week 1 where Baltimore's a 4.5-point road favorite. Then, like we saw recently with Edwards, if anything happens ahead of him on the depth chart, Williams can jump into a starter role and become even more valuable.

Ravens' running backs in general have capped ceilings because of the lack of volume they're probably going to see as receivers, but when they're this easy to acquire, they're worthwhile to roster.

Sell Damien Harris

Damien Harris is fine. I've got him ranked as a top-30 running back entering the season, so it's not like I'm sitting here saying, "Avoid Damien Harris at all costs!"

The reason he's a sell as we head into Week 1 is because there are serious truthers out there who are much higher on Harris than I am. If one of those managers happens to be in your league, go for it.

Since 2011, the Patriots have had just four running backs hit the 200 carry mark in a single season. The highest target share of those four backs was just 3.4%.

What's interesting is that, over this timeframe, New England's ranked in the top-five in running back target share.

How is this all possible?

Quite simply, they don't utilize their early-down backs as pass-catchers. Or, at least, they haven't historically. Instead, they throw James White onto the field in passing situations. Or Shane Vereen. Or Danny Woodhead.

Harris recently got a deserved bump in rankings and average draft position with the Cam Newton release. He now has a better chance of capturing a higher touchdown share in that offense now that Newton's no longer a threat close to the goal line.

But that still doesn't get me there for Harris. Over the last 10 years, we've had 200 top-20 PPR running back seasons. Of those 200 campaigns, just 9 had target shares south of 5%. All but one had 200 or more carries.

Considering we haven't seen a Patriots running back have that combination of workload statistics over the last 10 years -- and those are 10 years with mostly a pocket passer in Tom Brady -- I'm certainly not ready to just assume Damien Harris takes that on.

If we make the assumption that Harris is a sub-5% target share player, then the way for him to be a top-20 running back -- which isn't even league-winning, mind you -- is through touchdowns. The average touchdowns scored of those nine low target share backs was 12.3.

Is a 13- or 14-touchdown season possible for Damien Harris? Sure. Is that something I'm buying into as a reasonable outcome? No, not really. Not only could New England still split the backfield close to the goal line, but Harris may also have to deal with Rhamondre Stevenson throughout the season.

For Harris to be a true difference-maker in fantasy football, he'll need to either see a workload that a Patriot back hasn't seen in over a decade, or he'll need to find the end zone at one of the highest rates in the league.

He can live up to his draft-day cost, but it's hard to see him far exceeding it.

Buy Michael Pittman

Michael Pittman's average draft position hasn't adjusted (on some platforms) for the things that have gone his way over the last week and a half.

First, you've got Carson Wentz's injury that looks like it wasn't as bad as initially thought. He currently feels optimistic that he'll be able to play Week 1.

And then second, you've got a T.Y. Hilton neck issue that'll sideline him for at least the first three weeks of the season.

Both of those things should give Pittman the opportunity to show that he's an alpha for the Colts.

Really, Pittman fits a lot of the criteria that my breakout wide receiver study laid out back in July. He's the first pass-catcher being selected from his team, the Colts, by ADP. He's a second-year player. He's part of an ambiguous wide receiver group. And while his previous-season target share isn't as high as we typically see from breakout wideouts, Pittman didn't completely lack a target share last season. It was still 11.4%, and it was over 14% on a per-game basis.

For most teams, Pittman's just sitting on the bench. He's the right kind of player to have there because there's breakout potential.

Add Dawson Knox

Finding a relevant tight end is tough in fantasy football, let alone finding a relevant one who's being drafted as late as Dawson Knox is. As it stands today, Knox is rostered in just 6% of Yahoo! leagues, so he's likely available in yours. And there's some interesting data that points to him being a potential breakout player this year.

The situation itself is a good one, clearly. I talked it up with Emmanuel Sanders above, but Buffalo became one of the most pass-friendly teams in the league last season both from a volume and efficiency perspective.

The Bills just recently released tight end Jacob Hollister, which means Knox is the obvious top tight end on the Bills depth chart. He technically was last year, too, but Tyler Kroft was around and Knox was just a second-year player.

And as I alluded to in the breakout tight ends episode of The Late-Round Podcast back in July, we typically see breakout tight ends come from teams with good quarterbacks. And by "good quarterbacks," I'm referring to quarterbacks who have high average draft positions. That's exactly what Knox has.

Taking that one step further, since 2011, my ADP database has 24 tight ends who were drafted after pick 150 while being attached to a quarterback with a top-5 ADP. Of those 24, we had 4 breakouts, which is defined by tight ends who exceeded ADP expectation by 75 or more fantasy points.

Dawson Knox fits that mold.

He's in a great offense. He's essentially free to acquire. If you're in need of tight end help, he's not a bad stash.

Add the Green Bay Packers Defense

Most of you playing in leagues with team defenses are probably feeling good with the lineup slot entering Week 1, but in case you aren't, feel free to look Green Bay's way. They're rostered in just 19% of Yahoo! leagues, and in Week 1, they'll face the turnover-friendly Jameis Winston as four-point favorites. Then, in Week 2, they'll be at home as 10-point favorites against Detroit. They make a ton of sense as a streaming option.

Add the Carolina Panthers Defense

If the Packers aren't available, you could look Carolina's way. They're a five-point favorite at home against a Jets team starting a rookie quarterback in Week 1, they'll face Jameis Winston and company in Week 2, and then they get arguably the best matchup on paper this year in Week 3 against the Texans. It's tough to find a better start to the season for a true streaming defense.