Week 1 Sleepers And Busts
It is here! The 2019 NFL season is finally here and even though you may have just drafted your team in the last week or so or had months to prepare, things change all the time and finding the right fill in piece with upside or avoiding landmines can be the key to pulling out a W. It is time for the Sleepers and Busts for Week 1. Finding these players in Week 1 can be a little tough as we do not have real game samples from the teams to see just how they are going to play. We have last season, the preseason games (for what they are worth), and the offseason activity to base our choice on.
Identifying these two situations is every bit as vital in Week 1 as it is in Week 13 or 14 and can be the difference between playing for the “ship” or looking on from the outside. So, without further ado. Here we go!
Dede Westbrook vs Kansas City
Now Dede Westbrook at this point in the year for season-long value is not exactly a sleeper but when one team that is expected to be very good plays a team that is not expected to be very good, fantasy players can be scared off a certain player. This does not need to be the case with Westbrook and the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs. although the Chiefs are four-point favorites in the game and handled the Jags in Week 5 of last season with a 30-14 victory. Vegas currently has the game projected for 52 points which means they expect plenty of offense from both sidelines. Jacksonville will have to score to keep pace.
There is one glaring difference between the 2018 meeting between these two teams and the upcoming matchup in Week 1. The presence of a comparable quarterback under center in Jacksonville. Blake Bortles was the man in 2018 and despite throwing for 430 yards and 1 TD in the game, it was the 4 interceptions and the pick-6 that stand out the most. Nick Foles is not the best but we have seen him have plenty of success in some of the biggest situations on the biggest stages.
Dede did not score in the 2018 meeting but did have 3 receptions on 5 targets for 55 yards. Five players saw more targets than Westbrook in the game and three of them are no longer on the team. The Chiefs also allowed 39.5 pass attempts a game last season and are an opportunistic defense that will take risks. This can lead to some big-time pass plays from their opponent. Jacksonville threw the ball 61 times and Bortles was sacked 5 times in 2018 (66 QB Dropbacks). The 6’0, 178 Lbs Westbrook ran by far the most routes in any game all season (51, also led all primary slot receivers in routes ran in 2018).
The Chiefs allowed 250 targets (sixth) to the slot compared to 199 (fourth) to receivers on the outside (55.7%) last year. Now the percentage may not be close to the highest in the league (26th) but the sheer number of passes they force teams to throw provides a ton of opportunity. Based on last season, KC was much better against the outside (ninth) compared to the slot (17th). The Chiefs also picked up premiere pass-rusher, Frank Clark. Westbrook could be in line for some quick dump-off passes with the rush of KC.
If you could have hand-picked someone from the quarterback market heading into 2019 that focuses on the slot WR, Foles may be just the guy you would have wanted. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, the former Philidelphia Eagle has averaged more passes to players lined up in the slot than to players lined up outside. Last season in the five games he started for the Eagles, slot receivers Nelson Agholor and Golden Tate saw 43 targets combined. You can see below by using the FFStatistics Splits Tool that Agholor was far more productive with Foles than when Carson Wentz was in. Most people tend to think Westbrook is a better receiver than Agholor.
|QB||WR||Targets||Receptions||Yards||Touchdowns||Interceptions||QB Rate when Targeted|
|Nick Foles||Nelson Agholor||36||25||270||3||0||119.0|
(Data via FFStatistics)
Not to mention, Jacksonville has nothing close to what the Eagles do at the tight end position. Tate and Agholor had to share route running space with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert who are both great tight ends and warrant the targets they receive.
Now Dede is the primary pass catcher and yes, this is not Philly, but they did add a new offensive mind in John DeFilippo who was the OC last season in Minnesota where Adam Thielen did crazy things in the first half of the season. In the Week 3 dress rehearsal, Foles targeted his new weapon six of the first seven pass attempts against the Miami Dolphins, completing four for 29 yards (first quarter) and connecting on a ten-yard touchdown. Westbrook is being ranked as a backend WR3 or lower in Week 1 by a lot of people and he has t0p-15/20 WR potential. This could be your upside play if you are the AJ Green owner. Start with some confidence.
Peyton Barber vs San Francisco
To say Barber has been anything more than average to this point in his career would be a stretch but situation can be just as important in when determining value as talent. Barber is in a great situation heading into Week 1. Tampa Bay will take on the San Fransisco 49ers in their first real test with Bruce Arians at the helm of the ship. Arians has a great history of being able to produce fantasy-relevant RBs in his offenses and the Bucs did nothing in the offseason to change the situation for Barber outside of pumping up the other guys on the roster from time to time. Everyone’s new favorite deep sleeper Dare Ogunbowale and last years draft pick Ronald Jones may play a part but it is Barber that will get the majority particularly early in the season.
In 2018, the 49ers may not have been the best matchup for running backs but they were definitely not the worst either. San Francisco was one of 12 teams in 2018 to allow over 20 standard fantasy points per game to the RB position last season. Of course, things change, but in the preseason Week 3 dress rehearsal, we got a preview while the starters were on the field. They allowed 4 receptions for 82 yards and a TD. You are probably thinking that Barber is not a pass catcher and by definition, you would be correct. Barber hauled in 21 of his just 29 targets in 2018, both career highs and not impressive ones but these teams did play in Week 12 last season and Barber totaled 20 touches for 63 yards and a touchdown (2 receptions on 2 targets).
Speaking of catching passes out of the backfield, San Francisco allowed the fifth-most targets (132) and the sixth most receptions (99) to the position. Last years numbers may not be a perfect model to base analysis off of but as I mentioned above, in the most important preseason game of 2019, the defense gave up a lot through the air to the RBs while the starters played. Also, opposing teams totaled over 100 rushing yards in 10 of 16 games played with five of those games over 125 yards in ’18. They allowed 16 total RB TDs.
You can see above that Bruce Arians actually averages a top 24 RB in his offenses and this includes 8 inside the RB2 range and 2017 when David Johnson was injured Week 1. When you take out 2017, he averages better than the RB22 (21.23). There could even be value in PPR leagues as Arians offenses have targeted the top two running backs an average of 70 times since he arrived in Pittsburgh in 2007. Only once did they fail to reach 50 targets combined during the head coaches one year stint with the Indianapolis Colts. The RB1 or 2 eclipsed the 200 carry mark nine times in that span. There is work to be had.
If you are one of the many that will be looking for a replacement in Week 1 for Melvin Gordon because you did not get Austin Ekeler or Justin Jackson, Barber could provide just what you need.
Another To Consider
Vance McDonald vs New England –
The New England Patriots have historically been pretty good against TEs and allowed just the 17th most receptions (71) to the tight end position in 2018 per Pro Football Reference. This is not a reason to be excited. We all know about all the vacated targets left behind by Antonio Brown and Jesse James. Targets should not be an issue. McDonald has top-five TE upside in Week 1 because the Pats allowed the fourth-most TDs to the position in 2018 (8). McDonald could be in for a big game.
Joe Mixon vs Seattle
As we approached the 2019 season, there was nothing but positive vibes and thoughts of a potential surprise offense surrounding the Cincinnati Bengals. Following the injury to their top draft pick Jonah Williams (and his replacement who is in the concussion protocol heading to Week 1), who was supposed to bolster the offensive line as well as the injury to their most explosive offensive weapon, AJ Green, the vibes have turned much less positive. The loss of Green only hurts the offense as a whole. The Seattle Seahawks defense is no longer the “Legion Of Boom” of old but they do still have a solid front seven. More so, following the trade for Jadeveon Clowney. The weakness of the Hawks defense is undoubtedly the secondary and with no Green in the lineup, the pressure is greatly decreased and more focus can be put towards the run.
Matchup And Situation
Certainly, Mixon is one of the most talented all-around backs in the league but as we covered above, situation and matchup can be key. We do not have anything from the preseason to go off of as Mixon totaled 1 carry for 3 yards over the four weeks and nothing surrounding his situation really improved. If there is one place the front seven for Seattle has been weak, it is against pass-catching backs. Last season the once-vaunted defense allowed 99 receptions (seventh) on 125 targets (seventh) for 906 yards (third) and 6 TDs (tied for the most allowed in 2018).
This seems like a perfect setup for the running back on a team that will likely be trailing in the game and potentially by a lot. They should have to pass to try and keep up. There are some issues though.
In theory with Mixon’s skill set, he should smash here but so far in his career, the Bengals have been reluctant to give this man a full workload when his fellow backfield-mate Giovani Bernard is healthy. Drafting two running backs in 2019 also suggests they do not want to give him more than he can handle. Even without Gio, the increase is not what we would expect but an increase of 24 targets projected would be a fairly decent increase.
Now am I telling you to sit Joe Mixon? NO! I am merely saying this might be a game to temper expectations and not expect that possibly top-12 running back you drafted in the second or third round. Maybe you are a real believer and took him in the first, this will not be a reason to panic but instead, if the Bengals look really bad on offense, use it as a potential buying opportunity. There is always that fantasy player that overreacts to soon.
Other Potential Busts
Marlon Mack vs Los Angeles
By now everyone knows that Andrew Luck has retired and the entire Indianapolis Colts team is going to take a hit. The step back to Jacoby Brissett is great and without the threat that Luck provides, the Chargers can focus more of their attention at stopping Mack and the run game. Mack has also not been the Colts primary pass-catcher during his tenure and we saw very little from him in the preseason to suggest a change in that. In fact, they added another running back that can catch passes following the two they drafted last season. Spencer Ware has been placed on the PUP list but it still means something if they felt the need to add a piece.
Let us not forget that even though the Chargers lost their star safety, the defense will still be one of the best in the league. Mack could be in for a rough week to start the season and you may need to find an upside play if you are worried about the matchup. The opportunity will still be there to some capacity and the Colts do have a great O-line but the Charges front seven rivals their talent and production may be sparse.
Ok, call me crazy because this one is a stretch and based on 2018’s performance by Tampa Bay’s defense, #BOLD…
Jimmy Garoppolo vs Tampa Bay
Whoa, wait… Tampa Bay’s defense is baaaad right? Well, yes it is but we have still yet to see just who Jimmy G is as a quarterback. He is going to be traveling across the country about as far as he can go to play a prime-time game in front of millions. Everyone wants to remember a five-game stretch when he led the Niners to wins but really was not a fantasy starter. Tampa was an all you can eat buffet for pass catchers last year but Arians has historically had a scrappy defense. Garoppolo could feast in Week 1 or we could see another one of the “next Tom Brady’s” come up small. Both possibilities are there.
Let us close out the Week 1 Sleepers and Busts with this. Treat Week 1 like any other week that you need to win. A victory now can mean that you do not need one later and can relieve a lot of stress the playoff push can bring. Do not panic over a bad performance or go nuts over a great one. This is Week 1 and a lot is going to change. Instead, be the one that takes advantage of someone doing just that by making a move to help you with your path to the “ship.” Good luck everyone!