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Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em

Week 1 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em

by Nick Mensio
Updated On: September 12, 2021, 3:05 am ET

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Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em is geared toward season-long leagues but can also be used for daily fantasy purposes.

 

QUARTERBACK

 

Start of the Week: Jalen Hurts at Falcons -- As a second-round rookie, Hurts started and finished three games in Year One. Those three starts spanned Weeks 14-16 against the Saints, Cardinals, and Cowboys, and in that time, only Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson scored more fantasy points among quarterbacks. Hurts went over 300 yards passing in two of the three outings and posted rushing lines of 18-106-0, 11-63-1, and 9-69-0. In Week 17, Hurts wasn’t able to finish the game in a contest the Eagles tanked, but he added two more rushing touchdowns in that one. The rushing upside is undeniable. Voted a team captain, Hurts’ leash is probably longer than the new Eagles’ coaches are letting on, and he gets a cupcake Week 1 draw. Last year’s Falcons allowed the most fantasy points to quarterbacks and made no substantial, if any, upgrades on that side of the ball. Or any side of the ball for that matter. Being played in a dome on fast-track turf, this game has big scoring upside despite its middling 48.5-point total. Rushing upside plus Atlanta’s brutal pass defense locks Hurts in as a QB1.

 

Starts

 

Ryan Tannehill vs. Cardinals -- Last season’s overall QB9 in fantasy points per game, Tannehill is off the COVID list for a juicy Week 1 date with the Cardinals. This game’s 52-point total is the second-highest of the weekend, trailing only Browns-Chiefs at 54.5 points. The Cardinals let Patrick Peterson walk as a free agent and signed CB Malcolm Butler as his replacement only to watch Butler surprisingly retire ahead of final cuts. Arizona will now trot out the corpse of Robert Alford, who hasn’t played a snap since 2018 due to catastrophic injury after injury, alongside Byron Murphy and fourth-round rookie Marco Wilson. This is a secondary to attack all season in fantasy. Tennessee’s implied team total of 27.5 points is second only to the Chiefs’ 29.75 total. This game’s back-and-forth potential and Arizona’s on-paper leaky back end easily make Tannehill an exciting QB1 both in season-long and DFS formats.

Trevor Lawrence at Texans -- The No. 1 overall pick in April, Lawrence “competed” with Gardner Minshew for the starting job all summer, finally winning it after a strong preseason finale. Minshew was then traded to the Eagles, leaving C.J. Beathard as Lawrence’s backup. Just as he did at Clemson, Lawrence showed this summer that he can make the big-time throws while displaying sound decision-making. Behind an offensive line that returns all five starters with an improved skill group that now features Marvin Jones, D.J. Chark, and Laviska Shenault at receiver and facing the league’s worst team right out of the gates, Lawrence is a comfortable streaming option and back-end QB1 type in his debut. Houston traded No. 1 CB Bradley Roby to the Saints this past week and let star pass-rusher J.J. Watt walk in free agency over the offseason. This defense doesn’t have a prayer all year and will be one to attack each week. Lawrence is also an underrated athlete who added over 30 rushing yards per game in college.

Matt Ryan vs. Eagles -- Now 36 and obviously in the twilight of his career, Ryan was gifted offensive-minded Arthur Smith as the Falcons’ new head coach this offseason. Smith coaxed big years out of Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee and resurrected his career with play-action while featuring his strengths. He’ll likely do the same for Ryan in Atlanta. Despite losing Julio Jones, Ryan added Kyle Pitts to his arsenal via the No. 4 overall pick in April’s draft after the team signed RB Mike Davis in free agency. Davis is an above-average pass-catcher out of the backfield. There’s enough weaponry here for Ryan to post some big stat lines, and with the Falcons’ defensive woes, the expectation is Atlanta will be in catch-up mode most weeks. With no rushing output to speak of, we’re going to need Ryan to produce through the air. The strength of the Philly defense is its defensive line. As mentioned above, this game has some sneaky shootout appeal. Ryan is a strong two-QB league play with top-12 upside.

 

Sits

 

Justin Herbert at Washington -- 2020’s overall QB7 and Rookie of the Year, Herbert gets a brutal Week 1 draw against a relentless Washington front-seven. The Football Team then signed No. 1 CB William Jackson in free agency to bolster its back end. Washington should field one of the premier defenses this season after checking in at No. 2 in pass-defense DVOA and No. 7 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks last season. This game’s 45-point total is the week’s fourth-lowest, and only seven teams have a lower implied team total than the Chargers’ 21.75 as 1.5-point road underdogs traveling to the east coast for a 1 PM ET kickoff. Herbert will be back in the elite QB1 mix when the Chargers take on the Cowboys in Week 2.

Joe Burrow vs. Vikings -- Burrow is coming off complete knee reconstruction after tearing his ACL and a number of other ligaments last Week 11. Reports out of Bengals camp most of the summer had the offense struggling to get things going, so it could take a few weeks to knock off the rust. Minnesota fields elite talent at all three levels of the defense and should have no issue manhandling Cincinnati’s cellar-dwelling offensive line group that will trot out veteran warm bodies Quinton Spain and Xavier Su’a-Filo at the guard spots. After fielding an overwhelmingly young cornerback group last season, the Vikings signed veterans Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland, and Mackensie Alexander in the offseason and added Xavier Woods at safety next to Harrison Smith. Vikings-Bengals has a 47-point total that is a candidate for the “under.” Cincinnati is implied to score a mediocre 22 points. They may not reach that. Burrow will get the Bears and Steelers in Weeks 2 and 3, so it won’t be any easier the rest of September.

Ben Roethlisberger at Bills -- Big Ben essentially begged the Steelers to let him come back in 2021, saying he’d basically play for free. The two sides made something happen, but the Steelers’ ownership group insisted the team gets back to its running ways. The first-round pick of RB Najee Harris came from above the coaching staff and front office. It’s clear the people writing the checks in Pittsburgh want Roethlisberger’s number of pass attempts to come way down. It’ll be tough if the Steelers are playing from behind, but look for new OC Matt Canada to make every attempt to feature Harris early and often. With no mobility and playing behind a ravaged offensive line that is welcoming a host of new starters, Big Ben may absorb a new career-high in sacks this season. He’s barely in the QB2 mix for Week 1. Pittsburgh is implied to score just 21 points on the road against the Bills. Only five teams have a lower Week 1 total.

 

RUNNING BACK

 

Start of the Week: James Robinson at Texans -- First-round rookie Travis Etienne is done for the year before it even started after suffering a season-ending Lisfranc foot injury during the preseason. That has vaulted Robinson right back to the top of the depth chart in Jacksonville after he posted the overall RB6 season as an undrafted rookie last year. Carlos Hyde will be Robinson’s backup/change-of-pace running mate. Look for the Jaguars to try and play much faster under new coach Urban Meyer, so it should give the Jaguars a chance to run far more plays than a year ago when they were 26th in that department. Robinson opens against a Texans defense that was dead last in fantasy points allowed to running backs last season and checked in at 29th in run-defense DVOA. Robinson went 25-99-1 on the ground against Houston last Week 9. Against the NFL’s worst team, Robinson is a lock-and-load RB1.

 

Starts

 

Mike Davis vs. Eagles -- After producing a top-15 fantasy season in place of an oft-injured Christian McCaffrey last season, Davis landed a two-year deal from the Falcons to be new coach Arthur Smith’s RB1. Davis went virtually unchallenged for the top spot all offseason as Atlanta cycled in backs behind him, settling on Wayne Gallman after his release from the 49ers at final cuts and hybrid RB/WR Cordarrelle Patterson. Davis should dominate the touches of the Falcons’ backfield and has already shown to be a more than capable pass-catcher with 59 catches on 70 targets in Carolina last year. The Eagles play stingy run defense, but Smith knows how to maximize his players’ strengths. Davis should be a weekly threat for 15-18 touches, and Week 1 projects as a potential shootout with a 48-point total on the Atlanta turf. Fantasy players should show no hesitancy trotting Davis out there as a strong RB2 option.

Miles Sanders at Falcons -- Sanders’ 2020 was ruined by injuries which led to the former coaching staff to lower his snap share and rotate in more backs. The new staff could do the same, but Philly elected to keep just pint-sized pass-catching specialist Boston Scott and rookie Kenneth Gainwell on the roster behind Sanders. In what should be a run-heavy offense, Sanders will get the lion’s share of the work. In three starts with Jalen Hurts at the end of last year, Sanders produced rushing lines of 14-115-2, 17-64-0, and 15-57-1 while catching at least four passes in two of those three contests. Sanders was the overall RB6 in that span. Similar to Davis above, Sanders’ managers shouldn’t think twice about slotting him in as a strong RB2.

Damien Harris vs. Dolphins -- This spot was initially pegged for Gus Edwards against the Raiders Monday night, but Edwards was the latest Ravens running back to go down after tearing his ACL in Thursday’s practice. I was tempted to roll with Ty’Son Williams, but he’s too much of an unknown right now. Instead, we’ll roll with Harris, who has conquered RB1 duties in New England following the trade of Sony Michel to the Rams. Rhamondre Stevenson and J.J. Taylor should see action this season, but Harris is going to be a weekly threat for 18-plus carries, even if the Patriots aren’t going to be as run-heavy with Mac Jones as they were projected to be with Cam Newton. Harris isn’t going to catch many passes at all, but he’s in that old LeGarrette Blount early-down pounder role and goal-line specialist. The release of Newton should also open up a whole lot of those inside-the-five carries after Newton kept many to himself last year. If Jones has success and can move the ball, Harris has double-digit touchdown upside every time he takes the field.

 

Sits

 

D’Andre Swift vs. 49ers -- Swift’s rookie-year playing time was all over the map under ex-OC Darrell Bevell, who wanted to feature multiple backs, including Adrian Peterson, instead of letting Swift run and showcase his playmaking ability. After missing Weeks 11-13, Swift returned to score four touchdowns over the final four games of the season. The coaching staff was fired, and the new regime brought in Jamaal Williams to pair with Swift. New OC Anthony Lynn has already hypEd Williams as a potential three-down back and could view Williams and Swift as his new Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler tandem from Lynn’s time with the Chargers. Swift then missed most of training camp and the preseason with a groin issue. Playing in a timeshare and potentially even second fiddle to Williams early on makes it real tough to trust Swift out of the gates. He’s a risky RB3/FLEX play with the Lions as significant Week 1 underdogs against a stout San Francisco defense that was top-10 in run-defense DVOA and fantasy points allowed to running backs a year ago despite losing several key defensive pieces. Detroit’s implied team total of 18.5 points is easily the lowest of the week. I’m out on Swift for the opener.

Javonte Williams at Giants -- The Broncos traded up to draft Williams in April but may have done so with an eye on the future more than the immediate present. The expectation is Melvin Gordon will get the start against the Giants and, at worst, split the work evenly with Williams. Gordon is coming off a strong finish to last season and is as fresh as he’ll be all year. With Gordon still in the way and the Broncos facing a tough Giants front in what is expected to be one of the lowest scoring games of the weekend, Williams is best left on fantasy benches Week 1. The 42-point total for Broncos-Giants is easily the lowest of the week.

David Johnson vs. Jaguars -- The Texans threatenEd Johnson with his release over the offseason only to let him come back via pay cut. Houston then signed veteran RBs Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, and Rex Burkhead. This new regime in Houston has no ties to Johnson after the previous one traded DeAndre Hopkins for him. Johnson is now entering his age-30 season and playing for the league’s worst team. That’s something I want no part of in fantasy, even in what could be one of the Texans’ softer matchups of the season.

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WIDE RECEIVER

 

Start of the Week: Marquise Brown at Raiders -- Rashod Bateman (core muscle surgery) and Miles Boykin (hamstring) are on I.R. and will miss at least the first three weeks of the season. Brown battled a hamstring issue of his own over the summer but is practicing in full for Week 1’s Monday night affair. With the Ravens gutted by knee injuries at running back, there’s a real chance they put a little more on Lamar Jackson’s plate as a passer. The coaching staff has already hinted at wanting to open the playbook up more this season after being a bit too predictable last year. Brown should have a commanding share of the Ravens’ air yards and will square off with a Raiders defense that was 26th in pass-defense DVOA in 2020. Few receivers have the sheer big-play potential of Brown. The Ravens’ implied team total of 26.75 points is the fifth-highest of Week 1. Brown has the ability to post a top-20 week in a plus matchup.

 

Starts

 

Robby Anderson vs. Jets -- This is a #RevengeGame for Anderson after spending the first four years of his career with the Jets. Fresh off signing an extension with the Panthers following his breakout 2020 season, Anderson and old-new pal Sam Darnold will be looking to drop bombs on a New York secondary that has nobody capable of covering Anderson or D.J. Moore. The Jets also lost two of their top pass rushers to season-ending injuries over the summer. New coach Robert Saleh has his work cut out for him to turn this defense around. New York was 28th in pass-defense DVOA a season ago and just cut starting CB Bless Austin last week. Anderson is a strong WR3 with WR1/2 upside if he can build on his three touchdowns from a year ago.

Tee Higgins vs. Vikings -- Tyler Boyd is a good bet to pace this Bengals team in targets and catches in 2021. And while Ja’Marr Chase sorts through his drops issues after not playing football last season while trying to adjust to the NFL-sized ball, Higgins is looking like an even better weekly WR2/3 play. He already has a strong rapport with Joe Burrow from last season, and the coaching staff and Burrow have all taken turns to hype Higgins up headed into Year 2. Higgins will likely see a lot of 31-year-old Patrick Peterson and slow-footed Bashaud Breeland in this one. As a rookie, Higgins was able to produce in the toughest of matchups. While the Bengals will likely struggle as a whole, Higgins’s size-playmaking combo keeps him in lineups.

Laviska Shenault at Texans -- 22-year-old Shenault went 58-600-5 as a rookie, adding 91 rushing yards on 18 attempts, and is being hyped as one of the premier second-year breakout candidates in football. He’s expected to fill slot duties in Jacksonville with Marvin Jones and D.J. Chark on the outside. And with the loss of pass-catching playmaker Travis Etienne (foot) for the season and the Jaguars’ utter lack of talent at tight end, it makes Shenault even more attractive as a WR3 with upside. Big and strong with the ball in his hands at 6’1/227, Shenault has been compared to Brandon Marshall by some in the industry. The Texans surrendered the eighth-most fantasy points to wide receivers last season and have only gotten worse.

 

Sits

 

Kenny Golladay vs. Broncos -- Inked to a big-ticket contract as a free agent to be Daniel Jones’ new alpha wideout, Golladay went on to miss the summer with a pulled hamstring. He didn’t develop any chemistry with Jones and even admitted the offense could start slow this season, inspiring zero faith for fantasy players. Strapped with Jones as his quarterback and OC Jason Garrett calling the plays, I want no part of Golladay until we actually see him produce on the field with this offense. Sterling Shepard is the best play among Giants’ WRs out of the gates. Broncos-Giants has the lowest total of the week at 42 points and is a game to avoid.

Mike Williams at Washington -- Williams was hyped early in the offseason as a breakout candidate headed into his second year with Justin Herbert and searching for his next contract, but Williams ended up missing most of the summer with an injury. There’s a chance Jalen Guyton and Josh Palmer cut into Williams’ snaps behind target-vacuum Keenan Allen. Even so, this is a brutal spot for the L.A. offense against Washington’s elite defense. A boom-bust type of wideout, Williams is going to have to hit a big play to pay off. There are safer options for fantasy players at the WR3 spot with the Chargers implied to score just 21.75 points on the road.

Darnell Mooney vs. Rams -- Following the trade of Anthony Miller and the Bears’ decision to do virtually nothing else at wide receiver, Mooney is being viewed as a second-year breakout candidate, especially when the Bears decide to go to Justin Fields under center. Fields’ deep-ball ability should play well with Mooney’s straight-line speed, among other things. But Mooney is expected to see a lot of CB Darious Williams Sunday night with Allen Robinson locked up in Jalen Ramsey’s coverage. It could lead to more passes coming Mooney’s way, but Williams was a top-six corner at Pro Football Focus last season and is no slouch. With Andy Dalton under center and offering no ability to raise the play of those around him, it’s a good week to hold off on Mooney. Chicago’s implied total of 19.25 points is the week’s second-lowest. And the Rams were No. 1 in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers last season.

 

TIGHT END

 

Start of the Week: Tyler Higbee vs. Bears -- The Rams let Gerald Everett walk as a free agent over the offseason, vaulting Higbee back into the unquestioned No. 1 spot on the depth chart after the two essentially split the pie right down the middle last season. Higbee should be on the field for over 70% of the snaps this year and is a popular pick to enter the top six or eight spots among fantasy tight ends. Right out of the gates, Higbee gets a Chicago defense that surrendered the second-most fantasy points to tight ends in 2020. With a monster upgrade at quarterback with Matthew Stafford and in an offense that wants to get back to playing aggressively, Higbee is a locked-in top-10 play at the tight end spot for the foreseeable future.

 

Starts

 

Noah Fant at Giants -- Fant tweaked his knee late in camp but is practicing in full this week and will be out there against the G-Men. While this game doesn’t have a whole lot of fantasy appeal with a 42-point total, easily the lowest of Week 1, Fant’s strengths as a pass-catcher in the middle and short areas of the field line up perfectly with Teddy Bridgewater’s strengths as a dink-and-dunk passer. Fant is a player most expect to take a leap forward after his TE12 finish last season. He needs better quarterback play to do so and has to take over in the red zone.

Tyler Conklin at Bengals -- With Kyle Rudolph gone to the Giants and Irv Smith now done for the year with his knee injury, it’ll be Conklin and newly-acquired Chris Herndon handling the tight end duties for the Vikings. Herndon doesn’t know the playbook yet, so Conklin should get all he can handle as a three-down player. He’s an underrated athlete and will essentially function as the Vikings’ third receiver behind Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. We’re not expecting Conklin to draw heavy targets in a run-first offense with the Vikings as solid Week 1 favorites, but Kirk Cousins has long had an affinity for throwing to his tight end in the red zone.

Anthony Firkser vs. Cardinals -- Jonnu Smith left for New England in free agency, leaving tight end duties to some combination of Firkser, Geoff Swaim, and Tommy Hudson for the Titans. Firkser caught 39 passes on 53 targets last season as the No. 2 to Smith and is expected to function as the Titans’ primary pass-catching tight end this season. In a game with a 52-point total and big-time shootout potential, Firkser is definitely in play as a back-end TE1.

Nick Mensio

Nick Mensio has been covering the NFL for NBC Sports Edge since 2012. He can be found on Twitter at @NickMensio.