This article is part of our FantasyDraft NFL series.
The regular season is finally here, meaning we can stop guessing which backup comes through in the preseason. Make sure to check out RotoWire's review of FantasyDraft's game – with the main standout for me being two flex positions. While it's PPR and some will favor wide receivers, I'm taking the opposite route and going heavy on running backs this week.
Marcus Mariota, TEN vs. OAK ($12,700): The Titans may be one of the most-hyped teams coming into the season and open in a great spot. In addition to new tools for Mariota, he gets to face a West Coast team that had one of the worst pass defenses in the league last year. The Raiders pass defense ranked 25th in DVOA (according to Football Outsiders) and didn't do much to upgrade. With the Tennessee offensive line still elite to go with Corey Davis and Eric Decker in the passing game, Mariota should open the season on a good note.
Jordan Howard, CHI vs. ATL ($11,900): In the first week, I want to get guys that I know are going to touch the ball and that means bell-cow running backs like Howard. He'll likely see a minimum of 20 touches as the Bears try to keep Matt Ryan and company off the field as much as possible. Atlanta's rush defense remains suspect with most of its talent up front used to rush the quarterback.
Carlos Hyde, SF vs. CAR ($9,100): This may be my riskiest play of the week as Carolina has a decent rush defense, but the price is too good to pass up. The thought is that Hyde is going to dominate touches for the 49ers in Kyle Shanahan's offense. Getting touches as the top running back for Shanahan has never been a bad thing.
Antonio Brown, PIT at CLE ($16,600): Go big or go home is the method here. Brown and Ben Roethlisberger want to start the season on good terms and that should result in at least 10 targets for the receiver. Corner Jamar Taylor is set to shadow Brown and I'm not sure how that works in Cleveland's favor. Taylor was good last season, but he never had to deal with Brown by himself.
Michael Crabtree, OAK at TEN ($11,300): This game has one of the higher over/unders for Week 1, but I hesitate to go all-in on it due to last year's 17-10 result. Crabtree is in the same position as last season when he finished with 91 grabs and eight touchdowns. And even though this game was low scoring last year, he still came down with eight catches for 102 yards. The Titans secondary got some new pieces in the offseason (Logan Ryan), but that's not going to stop Derek Carr and his receivers from finding success.
Zach Ertz, PHI at WAS ($7,000): I was a bit surprised at the price as guys like Jason Witten ($7,700) and Hunter Henry ($7,200) come in at a higher rate, but I'll take it. While Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith will take targets, they'll also open the middle of the field for Ertz to do more damage. This offense loves to use tight ends and that was seen in backup tight end Trey Burton's nine receptions in three preseason games. Ertz will get his targets against a suspect Washington defense.
Melvin Gordon, LAC at DEN ($14,000): Some people may avoid this matchup because it's the Broncos, but that shouldn't be a detractor. The Broncos had the 21st-ranked rush defense last season according to DVOA and struggled to bolster that in the offseason, adding past-his-prime Domata Peko and subpar Zach Kerr. Gordon should see close to 25 touches after gaining 249 total yards on 54 touches against Denver in two games last season.
Todd Gurley, LAR vs. IND ($11,300): I'm not saying I like the Rams or Gurley in fantasy, but in what should be an ugly game, Gurley is going to see the ball a lot against a bad defense. The Colts revamped their entire unit, but they still have questions everywhere after getting gashed in the preseason by first-string offenses. Gurley remains a workhorse back for the Rams after 278 rushes and 43 receptions in 2016.
Los Angeles Chargers at DEN ($5,000): Here's another questionable pricing situation. The Chargers were a much better defense after adding Joey Bosa last season and scored 12 and 13 fantasy points in the two matchups against Denver. With Trevor Siemian still at quarterback, I'm willing to bet another solid outing for the Chargers defense.