Exploiting the Matchups: Week 1 Start/Sit

Exploiting the Matchups: Week 1 Start/Sit

This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.

Redraft leagues with 10-to-14 teams are what originally put fantasy football on the map, and they remain the most popular format of the game to this day. For at least the past few years since I've been writing this column, RotoWire's Start/Sit has largely focused on the type of players who are frequently involved in difficult lineup decisions in those so-called standard leagues (e.g. Tyler Boyd, Mike Williams, Ronald Jones, Mike Gesicki).

That'll still be the case this year, to some extent, but we'll also broaden our horizons, considering fantasy players have done the same in recent years with the increasing popularity of dynasty, superflex and various other iterations of the game. Personally, this will be my first year playing in as many dynasty leagues (six) as redraft, which means there's really no such thing as a "typical" start/sit decision anymore.

In one league, Gus Edwards is my far-and-away RB1*. In another, Dalvin Cook is my RB2. Lineup decisions in that first league will look much different from those in the second, no doubt. The goal below is to write a column that's useful for both leagues (and hopefully for yours as well).

While the write-ups may still lean toward name-brand players most weeks, we'll also include honorable mentions for each position, plus streaming recommendations sorted by league size at the bottom.

Note: Unless otherwise noted, references to 'fantasy points' are based on PPR scoring with 25/10 yards per point and 4/6 points for TDs.

*Nevermind.

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Quarterback

  

Jalen Hurts at ATL

56% started on Yahoo

As far as road games go, a trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium is about as good as it gets. The Falcons have a patchwork secondary with minimal upside beyond 2020 first-round pick A.J. Terrell, while Dante Fowler is the closest thing they have to a threatening edge rusher, coming off a three-sack 2020 campaign that leaves him with 30.5 sacks through 77 career games.

The Eagles have plenty of issues of their own, including Hurts' accuracy, but they also have promising young pass catchers and a veteran O-line that gets RG Brandon Brooks and RT Lane Johnson back from last year's season-ending injuries. Plus, we all know the deal by now with quarterbacks who have wheels and like to use them. Despite completing less than 55 percent of his passes last year, Hurts scored 19.3, 37.8 and 18.6 fantasy points in his three full games, averaging 12.7 carries for 79.3 yards.

  

  

Running Back

   

Raheem Mostert at DET

62% started

Mostert, Darrell Henderson and Miles Sanders all make for strong Week 1 starts despite being untrustworthy in the bigger picture. Concerns regarding durability, team context, ball security, etc. can temporarily be put to the side when a guy is locked in for double-digit carries behind a solid offensive line facing an overmatched defense.

That last part doesn't necessarily apply to Henderson against Chicago, but it should be the case for Mostert, who will start the season by sinking his teeth into Game 1 of the Lions' rebuilding project. There may even be enough meat on the bone for both Mostert and Trey Sermon to feast, but the rookie's a riskier play, especially after Mostert ripped off seven carries for 53 yards on the opening drive of San Francisco's preseason game (with Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle and Deebo Samuel all playing).   

   

Damien Harris vs. MIA

55% started

I'm on the record as an opponent of Harris' late-summer, sixth-round ADP in PPR leagues. He's perhaps a safer choice than Mostert, Henderson and Sanders, but even low-end RB1 status feels like a pipe dream more so than a ceiling when Harris is stuck in an offense with a rookie QB and an established passing-down back (James White). There will be plenty of misses to go with the hits, and likely more of the former than the latter if the Pats are mediocre or subpar again.

Week 1, however, should be one of the hits, with Harris facing a Miami defense that was built to stop the pass. Dismiss that as cliche at your own risk, as the Dolphins back it up with numbers, rostering the same number of defensive backs (13) and front-seven players (13). They also list a 3-3-5 nickel for the starting lineup on their online depth chart, and they finished last season ranked sixth in DVOA against the pass but just 22nd against the run. Meanwhile, New England has the heaviest O-line in the NFL, plus two prominent tight ends (Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry) and a traditional fullback (Jakob Johnson). 

  

Wide Receiver

   

Robby Anderson and Friends vs. NYJ

58% started

Anderson and Sam Darnold start their reunion tour with a revenge game, but more important, they'll be facing an undermanned defense that has a host of late-round picks and undrafted players competing for playing time at cornerback. The Jets don't have a single Day 1 or 2 pick at the position, while Carolina trots out Anderson, DJ Moore and Terrace Marshall for three-wide sets. Upgrade all of them, including the rookie. Especially the rookie, actually. 

   

DJ Chark at HOU

11% started

Chark recovered from his preseason finger surgery and ducked the Week 1 injury report, cleared to make his first appearance alongside rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Expectations for Jacksonville are modest, to say the least, but it could work out alright from a fantasy standpoint if the offense is heavily concentrated around James Robinson and the three wide receivers. Until we see evidence otherwise, the Texans can be treated as a matchup upgrade for every position.

   

  

Tight End

   

Dallas Goedert at ATL

45% started

Goedert tumbled down draft boards once it became clear Zach Ertz was staying in Philadelphia. Fair enough, at least to some extent, but it might not matter if Goedert ultimately occupies a three-down role. He was already the better blocker of the two tight ends, and at this point he might be the better receiver too (he's certainly more of a downfield threat). Even if the target distribution is tough to predict ahead of time, we can upgrade all of Philadelphia's pass catchers for a Week 1 trip to Atlanta.

   

    

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Quarterback

   

Ben Roethlisberger at BUF

7% started

The best hope for Roethlisberger is a junior version of the playoff loss to Cleveland, which was the seventh time last year he topped 45 pass attempts. That might sound like it comes with upside, but he reached 20 fantasy points in just three of those seven games, only clearing 30 in the wild-card loss.

He's unlikely to be efficient this week, heading on the road to Buffalo behind a young, remade O-line that will look up to see a veteran Bills defense that didn't lose any starters in the offseason. A calf injury has DT Star Lotulelei looking questionable in what would've been his first game back after a 2020 opt out, but the Bills otherwise look healthy and loaded for Week 1. Watch out, Kansas City.... (said the jealous Ravens fan).

   

  

Running Back

    

D'Andre Swift vs. SF

58% started

Swift is a good prospect who looked great as a rookie, and it's seemingly common sense to build an offense around him when the other options are so limited. But that also means opponents will be able to focus on Swift and TE TJ Hockenson, whereas the majority of higher-functioning offenses feature at least one wide receiver who demands extra attention.

It might work out in Swift's favor long term, but both workload and matchup look like concerns for Week 1. The Lions did sign Jamaal Williams this offseason, and he stayed healthy throughout the summer while Swift missed a bunch of practice time with a groin injury (he's since been declared healthy). Good luck if you're counting on Dan Campbell to play the more talented guy over the durable, grizzled veteran. Double good luck if you're counting on Campbell's team to score points against a defense led by DE Nick Bosa and LB Fred Warner.

   

Devin Singletary vs. PIT

9% started

Singletary is the likely starting RB for a 6.5-point favorite coming off an AFC Championship Game appearance. But he's also an ordinary player, and one who still appears stuck in a committee within a lightly used backfield (344 cumulative touches last year).  

On top of that, Singletary opens his season against a Pittsburgh front seven led by T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and Devin Bush, i.e., there's plenty of talent even with Stephon Tuitt on IR. The Steelers have a three-year streak in the top 10 for run-defense DVOA, and they finished 2020 allowing the second-fewest fantasy points (18.7 per game) to RBs, as well as a league-low 51 receptions. 

If you're hoping for cheap PPR points, note that the Bills used Singletary as a blocker on a season-high 39 percent of pass snaps (nine of 23, per PFF) in last year's win over Pittsburgh, giving Josh Allen extra protection against a defense that annually ranks top five in blitz rate. Expect something similar this weekend.

   

  

Wide Receiver

   

Brandin Cooks vs. JAX

34% started

This is probably about team context more so than matchup if we really get down to it, but there's also a chance the Jaguars have decent cornerbacks this year, combining 2020 first-round pick CJ Henderson with high-priced offseason signing Shaquill Griffin. Sure, Cooks has target share working in his favor, but it might be 25 percent of an awfully small pie if the Texans are running a slow-paced, run-first offense with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. Even if they're eventually forced to air it out while playing from behind, completing passes downfield will be a challenge.

     

Sterling Shepard vs. DEN

6% started

Shepard had some late ADP momentum after his healthy summer amidst an otherwise banged-up receiving corps, but Uncle Mo may now be halted by a Week 1 date with the Broncos. Slot corner Bryce Callahan is one of the league's best at his craft, while Ronald Darby, Kyle Fuller and first-round pick Patrick Surtain give Denver three strong options on the perimeter. Shepard will see targets, but don't expect them to amount to much this week, regardless of Kenny Golladay's status with the hamstring injury.

   

     

Tight End

  

Jonnu Smith vs. MIA

17% started

As previously mentioned, Miami is built to stop the pass, prioritizing speed and coverage ability over size and power on defense. Smith should still run some of his routes against a beatable group of linebackers, but he'll also square up with Miami's excellent secondary, and volume is another big concern in an offense with two highly paid tight ends. 

Sure, the Pats will use a lot of multi-TE formations, but they also have a competent No. 3 receiver in Kendrick Bourne and a traditional fullback in Jakob Johnson. And even if Smith does finally handle a three-down role, it could be in an offense that's bottom five in pass attempts. Too many question marks when the matchup isn't good anyway.

  

    

Streaming Picks

For Shallow Leagues (40-69 percent rostered)

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (vs. LAC)

RB Phillip Lindsay (vs. JAX)

WR Marvin Jones (at HOU)

WR Marquise Brown (at LV)

WR Cole Beasley (vs. PIT)

TE Austin Hooper (at KC)

D/ST Carolina Panthers (vs. NYJ)

   

For Medium-depth Leagues (10-39 percent rostered)

QB Sam Darnold (vs. NYJ)

QB Zach Wilson (at CAR)

QB Carson Wentz (vs. SEA)

RB J.D. McKissic (vs. LAC)   

RB Ty'Son Williams (at LV)

RB Justin Jackson (at WAS) - if Austin Ekeler is out with a hamstring injury

WR Terrace Marshall (vs. NYJ)

WR Emmanuel Sanders (vs. PIT)

WR Tyrell Williams (vs. SF)

WR Jalen Reagor (at ATL)

TE Zach Ertz (at ATL)

TE Anthony Firkser vs. ARZ

K Jason Myers (at IND)

K Matt Prater (at TEN) 

D/ST Minnesota Vikings (at CIN)

   

For Deep Leagues (under 10 percent rostered)

QB Jimmy Garoppolo (at DET)

RB Salvon Ahmed (at NE)

RB Devontae Booker (vs. DEN)

WR Sammy Watkins (at LV)

WR Zach Pascal (vs. SEA)

WR Gabriel Davis (vs. PIT)

WR Darius Slayton (vs. DEN)

WR Donovan Peoples-Jones (at KC)

WR KJ Hamler (at NYG)

WR Adam Humphries (vs. LAC)

TE Tyler Conklin (at CIN)

TE Dan Arnold (vs. NYJ)

K Ryan Santoso (vs. NYJ)

D/ST Jacksonville Jaguars (at HOU)

  

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Donabedian
Jerry was a 2018 finalist for the FSWA's Player Notes Writer of the Year and DFS Writer of the Year awards. A Baltimore native, Jerry roots for the Ravens and watches "The Wire" in his spare time.
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