One of the harder things to do is project players to start and sit in Week 1 of the NFL season, because we are not operating with complete information. The easy way to go is just look at the fantasy rankings from 2016 and assume that if the San Francisco 49ers gave up the most points to fantasy running backs last year, that they are likely to be that bad again this year. However, the 49ers switched GM, head coach, coaching staff and drafted two defensive players in the first round, Stanford DE Solomon Thomas and Alabama LB Reuben Foster. That could make them a much more formidable opponent against fantasy running backs in 2017.
Conversely, the Minnesota Vikings had the fifth most points by fantasy running backs, led by RB Adrian Peterson and many people thought they would run the ball well again in 2016. The problem is that in 2015, they had a much better offensive line and the combination of a bad offensive line in 2016 and injuries and age decline by Peterson led to them being the 30th ranked fantasy running back offense. Many thought Peterson would have a strong Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans. Peterson had 19 carries for 31 yards in that game.
I think the best rule to follow in Week 1 is that if you drafted a player in the first five rounds, you should probably be playing him, unless the player is injured or suspended. If the player is healthy and playing in Week 1 and you are not playing him, you probably drafted him too high. Elite players should be able to excel against any matchup, so you play your star players, make educated guesses on the other players and try to gain a feel in the first few weeks for how the 2017 season will unfold. If you are looking for some players to start and sit in Week 1, here are my recommendations.
Start of the Week
Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley: I know Gurley had a disappointing year last year, but his ADP at Fantasy Pros is in the teens to low 20s, so he is still going in the second or third round in most fantasy leagues. He is a player that had a great rookie year, but struggled with a rookie quarterback and a bad offensive line. He went from 1,106 yards rushing and 10 rushing touchdowns as a rookie to 885 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns in his second year.
I think the combination of a new head coach (Sean McVay) that is more versed in modern offense than Jeff Fisher, an improved offensive line and a second-year QB Jared Goff having a year under his belt will all help make Gurley’s job easier this year. It also helps to play an Indianapolis Colts team that allowed the sixth most fantasy points to running backs last year and does not look significantly better on paper against the run in 2017. I think Gurley should have a big opener in what should be a rebound season.
Players to Start
Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook: Cook has seen a lot of work in the preseason and he debuts at home against a New Orleans Saints team that allowed the third most points to fantasy backs last year and has not significantly improved in the front seven. I like Cook to flirt with RB1 value in his debut.
Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer: Palmer had a disappointing year in 2016, but he closed the season strong and goes against a Lions team that allowed the fifth most points to fantasy quarterbacks last year. Palmer is not without risk, but he is a high upside QB1 in the opener. My only concern is the game is on the road, where Palmer had a 77.0 QB rating. I think how he has looked in the preseason and the injuries to the Lions D trumps that bad road performance rating from last year.
Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota: The Titans open the season at home against an Oakland Raiders D that allowed the sixth most points to fantasy quarterbacks. Mariota has a ton of new weapons in the offense, led by WR Corey Davis and WR Eric Decker. Even though the Raiders added some rookie secondary help in the NFL Draft, I think Mariota will have a big day at home in the opener.
Carolina Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin: The 49ers allowed the fourth most points to fantasy wide receivers last year and Benjamin had seven receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers last year. I think he is destined for a rebound year and he starts the season strong in San Francisco.
Seattle Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin: The Green Bay Packers were the worst fantasy wide receiver defense and even though they should be improved with two rookies in the secondary that were high draft picks, I do not know if those guys are ready to go against a seasoned veteran in Week 1. Look for Baldwin to have WR1 value against the Packers rebuilt secondary.
Tennessee Titans TE Delanie Walker: The Oakland Raiders allowed the eighth most points to fantasy tight ends last year and Walker should still be a big part of the Titans offense this year. He is an older player that may be at risk to decline down the stretch, but I like Walker to open the season with a big game at home in a contest that figures to be high scoring.
Sit of the Week
Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott: Prescott was great as a rookie quarterback, he had 22 touchdowns, just four interceptions and a QB rating of 104.9. However, the one team that had an answer for him in 2016 was the New York Giants. He had only 227 yards passing and no passing touchdowns in Week 1 against the Giants and he had only 165 yards one touchdown and two picks in the rematch.
Those games were with RB Ezekiel Elliott, who will likely be suspended for the season opener. I like the Giants to win this game and I like them to frustrate the Cowboys offense. They had the formula for slowing down Prescott in 2016, I would be hesitant to play him even if Elliot was playing. I think without their best offensive weapon, Prescott has very low QB2 appeal with very little upside. If Elliot does play, Prescott is still probably only a mid-QB2.
Players to Sit
Los Angeles Chargers QB Philip Rivers: Rivers will have another big passing season this year, but the Broncos were the stingiest fantasy defense against quarterbacks last year, there is not much upside to playing him on the road against the Broncos in Week 1.
Seattle Seahawks RB Eddie Lacy: Lacy has not looked very explosive in preseason and the Packers were eighth against fantasy running backs last year. I think the matchup is tough for him, his carries too unpredictable in a RBBC and he should not be trusted to put up big numbers this week.
Oakland Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch: Lynch has been out of the league since 2015 and his opening preseason game is against 2016’s second stingiest run defense against fantasy running backs. I would pass on him in a tough matchup.
Houston Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins: Hopkins has a terrible matchup against the Jaguars sixth ranked fantasy wide receiver defense and he will be catching balls from QB Tom Savage, who has never started a Week 1 opener. I would pass on Hopkins having a big impact in Week 1.
San Diego Chargers WR Keenan Allen: The Denver Broncos allowed the fewest points to fantasy wide receivers, I think the only player that has a chance to do much in the passing game is TE Hunter Henry. I would pass on Allen against last year’s best secondary in the NFL.
Green Bay Packers TE Martellus Bennett: I do not have a ton of expectations for him against a Seattle D that was fourth against fantasy tight ends last year with S Earl Thomas missing most of the season. Bennett always has a chance playing with QB Aaron Rodgers, but it is not the most favorable matchup he will have in 2017.