This week we are going to look at some Week One sleepers and busts. But first I want to talk about September. The best month of the year. It finally stops being 100 degrees every day. My birthday is in September. College football starts. But the opening weekend of the NFL season is the best thing that happens in September. Week One brings with it so much excitement and uncertainty. So much change happens in the NFL during every offseason. Teams get new coaches and new players and change both offensive and defensive schemes. This makes Week One challenging to predict. Luckily for us, I have the data from FFStatistics to look at past performances and decide how teams will perform in Week One. Today I want to highlight some guys that might surprise you (for better or for worse) during Week One.
Week One Sleepers and Busts
Let’s start by looking at some Week One sleepers.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Running Back, @ Miami.
Derrick Henry is the lead back in Tennessee now that Demarco Murray is gone. The Titans run the ball a lot (8th most in the NFL last year) and last year, Henry (with Demarco Murray in the picture) saw the most red zone carries for the Tennessee offense. The matchup with Miami is favorable to Henry. Let’s look at two graphs: the Miami heatmap on the top, and the league average on the bottom. The top row shows average yards-per-carry, and the bottom row shows the number of rushing attempts.
As we can see from the heat maps, in five of the seven zones, Miami allows above average yards-per-carry. Miami also allows above average rushing attempts. And this was last year, when they still had Ndamukong Suh. I also expect the Titans to be winning for most of the game, meaning they will run the ball more. Henry should be able to exploit the Dolphins’ run defense and give you a solid Week One performance.
Cooper Kupp, LA Rams Wide Receiver, @ Oakland.
The Rams have a lot of mouths to feed, but Cooper Kupp showed last year that he is their main red zone target. Last year Kupp had 26 red zone targets – the next closest wide receiver (Robert Woods) had 12! Goff trusts Kupp, especially in the red zone. Below is a heat map of the Oakland pass defense (on top) and league average defense (on bottom). The numbers in the heatmap show the completion percentage allowed. The Oakland defense allows above average completion percentage on five of the six zones. The Raiders defense only intercepted five passes last year – last in the league. Goff trusts Kupp and will look for him in the red zone, so look for Kupp to rack up some fantasy points in Week One.
Jordan Reed, Washington Tight End, @ Cardinals.
Call me crazy but I love Jordan Reed in Week One. When healthy, he’s one of the top tight ends in the game. The Cardinals defense is weaker this year with the loss of Tyrann Mathieu. Jordan Reed has a new quarterback this year – Alex Smith. Smith has a history of supporting top fantasy tight ends (Travis Kelce, Vernon Davis). And as we can see below, Jordan Reed has a high Points per Opportunity. Providing Reed makes it through Week One healthy, he should deliver on Sunday.
Week One Busts
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Quarterback @ Cleveland.
I’m sure you’ve heard it before – Big Ben is terrible on the road. He is. He throws less (300 attempts at home, 261 on the road), his completion percentage is worse (66.3% at home 61.7% at home), and he scores fewer fantasy points. As shown in his lifetime home/road split chart below, Big Ben averages 8 fewer fantasy points on the road. Because of this, I stay far away from Big Ben for half the season.
Rex Burkhead, New England Running Back v. Houston.
When I started playing fantasy football, my friend told me there was one rule to fantasy: never play New England running backs. And so far, that advice has served me well. Belichick doesn’t stick to one guy, so it’s anyone’s guess how many carries Burkhead gets. Additionally, Burkhead is not reliable to finish in the top-36, as we can see in his consistency data below. This is a graph showing his career finishes in the top 12, 13-24, 25-36, and 37 and below. He has only finished above the top-36 11 times in his career, while finishing below the top-36 23 times. The Houston defense is good, and the return of J.J. Watt will make the Houston run defense even better. Burkhead is a risky start in Week One.
Odell Beckham Jr., NY Giants Wide Receiver v. Jacksonville.
Odell is great. I think he will have a great season. But I don’t think he will have a great Week One. This is his first game back after breaking his ankle last season. The Jacksonville defense is also one of the most dominant defenses in the league, as is evident in their heatmap. They allow below average in all but one zone, and that zone is only 0.37% above average. Jalen Ramsey will be on Odell, and Ramsey had 18 passes defended last year. I’m not saying Odell will be terrible – just that he will underperform his ADP of 12 in Week One.