Fantasy faithful the wait is finally over. Week 1 of the 2017 NFL season is here alongside the hopes and dreams of real and fantasy teams across the country. Here are the Gazette's starts and sits for Week 1:
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
If you snagged the dynamic Stanford running back turned Carolina Panther in your fantasy draft, you’ll have a ripe opportunity to deploy him this Sunday. The 49ers had the most generous rush defense for fantasy backs last season. The niners allowed an average 166 rushing yards per game and 406 passing yards per game last season over the span of 16 games. Both of those averages were worst in the league.
This year the 49ers have a new defensive coordinator in Robert Saleh to go along with new head coach Kyle Shanahan. It’s the team’s third new defensive coordinator and head coach pairing since Jim Harbaugh and Vic Fangio in 2014. Four of the team’s defensive front seven are new starters. That all means that it’ll take time for this defensive unit to gel, start McCaffrey with confidence Sunday.
Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants
The tight end position in fantasy football is always a thin one. Fantasy owners who don’t shell out big draft capital to secure Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Jordan Reed, Delanie Walker and Jimmy Graham must then pick from a list of a much more questionable cast characters. If you didn’t get an elite option or even one of the “breakout” candidates like Hunter Henry and need a sleeper, Giants rookie tight end Evan Engram out of Mississippi seems poised for a big year as one of quarterback Eli Manning’s top red zone targets. At 6 feet, 3 inches and 240 pounds, Engram will be a force to be reckoned with on the field and a nice touchdown target for when the Giants get close to the end zone. The Giants face the Cowboys in a primetime Sunday night tilt (aren’t the Cowboys on every first Sunday night of the season? It’s actually every other season. I checked). Dallas allowed a healthy 1,132 yards and 8 scores to opposing tight ends last season. If that carries over to this season, Engram should have a good debut.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Los Angeles Rams
I’ve been low on Rams receiver this season but if he’s on your fantasy roster, Week 1’s matchup looks tantalizing. The Colts were awful last year against opponents’ top receivers allowing nearly 80 receiving yards a game to #1 wideouts, according to footballoutsiders.com. That’s not a bad floor to start from. Also, the Colts top cornerback Vontae Davis is expected to miss Sunday’s contest with a groin injury. That makes Indianapolis’ secondary even more vulnerable to quarterback Jared Goff and Watkins. The two should capitalize, making for a big fantasy day for Watkins.
Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears
Behind a solid offensive line, expect Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard to ball out Sunday against a Falcons team that allowed 15 rushing scores last season, 13 of those came from running backs. Backs also tallied 870 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns against Atlanta last season. The game plan favors a big day from Howard as receiver Cameron Meredith tore his ACL in the preseason and now the Bears are left with aged veteran Kendall Wright and second-year receiver Kevin White. Also, the Bears have two new quarterbacks on the depth chart, including starter Mike Glennon (who hasn’t started a regular-season game in two years) and second-overall draft pick Mitchell Trubisky (who is listed as third on the depth chart behind Mark Sanchez). With so many question marks at receiver and quarterback, I foresee the Bears relying on Howard and the run game.
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints
Ingram’s not someone I would have recommended drafting due to the fact that the Saints are always finding backs to compete with him for touches. This Monday the Saints host the Vikings in their opener and it’s looking like a bad outing for Ingram for a couple reasons. First, the Vikings were a pretty stout team defensively in 2016. Last year, they allowed just nine rushing scores on the year, against a league average of 13.8. Plus, the Vikings are the former team of Ingram’s new teammate, Adrian Peterson. If there are goal line carries to be had, my bet is that Peterson would be first in line to receive them. In 2016, Ingram saw just 29 percent of the Saints’ carries from inside the five-yard line and just 34 percent of the team’s share from inside the ten, according to Pro Football Reference. Backup Tim Hightower had more carries from both locations and scored more as a result. Play Ingram this Monday and you could wind up disappointed and upset like he was after he was pulled from the goal line against the Cardinals last year.
Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers
Fantasy owners and Broncos fans may remember the damage Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen did to Denver in Denver in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Allen had just 29 yards in Denver in 2013 but added two scores to his statline. The following year, he had nine catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. This was just before the Broncos’ dominant defense led by the talented “No Fly Zone” secondary reached its peak in 2015. Since then, the Broncos have become easier to rush on but not to pass on. Consider this mind-blowing statistic from last season, the Broncos allowed 2,972 passing yards last season, the fewest in the league. The closest team to that number was Houston who allowed 3,226, nearly 300 extra yards. That difference is the largest between two consecutive teams. Allen spent most of 2015 and 2016 on the injured reserve but returns to Denver Monday night in the Chargers’ season opener. Even without defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and safety T.J. Ward with the team this year, my money’s on the Broncos to shut down Allen and the Chargers passing attack either through its elite secondary or by sacking Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers who will be behind a questionable offensive line.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette will certainly get good volume Sunday but he faces one of the best defensive front sevens in the league in the Houston Texans. The Jaguars’ division rival hasn’t allowed the team to rush for more than 100 yards since December 2014. Quarterback Blake Bortles did little to impress in the preseason and nearly lost his starting spot to Chad Henne. I expect Bortles to provide little help to bolster the Jaguars offensively. Also, there is an emotional element to this matchup that simply cannot be overlooked. The game has been confirmed to be played at NRG Stadium in Houston which has been ravaged by Hurricane Harvey the past couple weeks. At home, in front of their fans who may have themselves suffered or know others who suffered untold losses due to the natural disaster, expect the Texans to come out on fire, looking to hand their division rivals a beating that will reverberate throughout the annals of NFL history. It may not be the magnitude of the Saints’ first home game at the Superdome against the Falcons in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina, but consider Atlanta’s box score after scoring just three points that fateful Monday night. Quarterback Michael Vick threw for just 137 yards with no touchdowns and rushed for 57 yards. No running back rushed for more than 50 yards and no receiver had more than 50 yards receiving.
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
I know most can’t afford to sit Dez Bryant but sometimes a “sit” is just calling out a bad matchup and the Cowboys’ star wideout gets a raw deal in Week 1. This offseason, it’s been a tale of two seasons for Bryant in fantasy projections. One camp of fantasy analysts says Bryant is healthy and has great rapport with quarterback Dak Prescott which should lead to multiple touchdowns (especially if running back Ezekiel Elliott serves a six-game suspension). The other camp is lower on Bryant because of the competition he’ll face this season. Bryant has a brutal first three weeks, with a matchup between him and Giants corner Janoris Jenkins to start, followed by a trip to Denver in Week 2 and then he faces the Cardinals and corner Patrick Peterson in Week 3. Sunday night’s opener against New York is troubling because Bryant caught just two of 14 targets for 18 yards through two games last season. In the second matchup, Jenkins shut Bryant down allowing just two catches on seven targets and creating two turnovers on those chances, one an interception, the other a Bryant fumble. Bryant vowed to “embarrass” Jenkins if he gets him in one-on-one in an offseason tweet, but with Elliott cleared to play this week at least, Bryant’s matchup looks unfavorable.