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Week 1 Fantasy: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

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Thumbs Up of the Week: Trevor Lawrence (@ WAS)

Lawrence was someone I highlighted as both a draft target and Week 1 play in the podcast, and it feels like he can do damage as a runner on Sunday as Jacksonville tries to start 1-0 under Doug Pederson. When creating my first DFS lineup of the season, Lawrence was the first player I added; we’ll see if he comes through surrounded by an upgraded supporting cast.


Thumbs Up: Dak Prescott (v TB)

Anyone with Prescott is almost certainly playing him without needing a recommendation, but he’s surprisingly ranked as the QB12 in consensus weekly rankings. While Dak won’t have Michael Gallup, he shredded Tampa Bay’s defense for 403 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s opener with Dallas airing it out 58 times. I doubt the Cowboys will be testing the stout run defense of the Bucs to open the year, so Prescott is a top-eight play.


Thumbs Up: Jameis Winston (@ ATL)

There is always a gamble with starting Winston, but it sounds like New Orleans will have Michael Thomas in the lineup, and the lack of pass rushers for Atlanta—combined with a balanced group of weapons for the Saints to avoid cornerback A.J. Terrell—puts him in good position this weekend. Jameis also might be more open to “chuck it” as the no-doubt starter (which wasn’t the case in 2021).


Thumbs Up: Carson Wentz (v JAX)

Wentz is another guy that fantasy owners might feel shaky about, but Jaguars-Commanders has shootout potential due to the firepower added by both offenses. Aside from Terry McLaurin and impressive rookie Jahan Dotson, Wentz has a healthy Curtis Samuel, a recovered Logan Thomas, and a couple of very good receiving options out of the backfield. He can exceed expectations if Josh Allen and the pass rush isn’t in his face all game.


Thumbs Down of the Week: Trey Lance (@ CHI)

Lance is sort of a mystery box that could be completely unleashed as a runner to begin 2022—but I’m higher on the Chicago defense than I thought I’d be after watching them in the preseason, so the matchup is a bit concerning. Overall, the Bears might be able to contain San Francisco’s offense with Roquan Smith leading the run defense and a young (but impressive) secondary hoping to contain Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Lance is more of a high-end QB2 than QB1 for this week.


Thumbs Down: Kirk Cousins (v GB)

He threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns in a win over the Packers last season, but Cousins didn’t face the defense at full strength—so Jaire Alexander and company might have something to say about another big performance. Although I believe in Kevin O’Connell’s offense being a positive for the long-term outlook of Cousins, Green Bay has the bodies on the backend to slow them down on Sunday.


Thumbs Down: Justin Fields (v SF)

Fields got a shot at the 49ers last season and rushed for 103 yards and a score in a 33-22 loss, but that only leads me to believe that San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans will have a game plan in place to make sure a performance like that doesn’t happen again. While the rushing upside for Fields will make him worthy of consideration every week, I have him as more of a low-end QB2 for what could be a slugfest.


Thumbs Down: Mac Jones (@ MIA)

I feel better about Jones’ Week 1 outlook with cornerback Byron Jones (ankle) on injured reserve, but New England could still come out with a run-heavy strategy to churn the clock and give their defensive maximum rest as they chase around Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. It’d be a surprise if New England had Jones throw it 40 times per game this month like they did last September.


Running back


Thumbs Up of the Week: Travis Etienne (@ WAS)

The defensive line is the strength of Washington’s defense, but Etienne just needs a small crease to break a big run—and I could see the aggressiveness of Kamren Curl leading to a poor angle that Etienne takes advantage of. It might only take 12-15 touches for the speedy back to pay dividends in a given week, but he could be in for a larger workload with James Robinson not being featured coming off a torn Achilles.


Thumbs Up: Damien Harris (@ MIA)

Harris has been an overlooked RB2 option all summer, but he scored 15 touchdowns last year and should again hover close to 200 carries despite increased work for Rhamondre Stevenson in 2022. For this week, Harris can be the focal-point of the offense versus a Miami defense he rushed for 100 yards against in last season’s opener.


Thumbs Up: Rashaad Penny (v DEN)

Health is really the lone concern for Penny (especially with Ken Walker III out of the lineup to start the year), so why shouldn’t he be viewed as a weekly RB2 option? The run to end last season was remarkable (92 attempts for 671 yards and six touchdowns over his final five games), and Seattle wants to establish the run more than ever. If it’s a close game versus Russell Wilson and the Broncos, Penny should carry a high floor with underrated upside on Monday night.


Thumbs Up: AJ Dillon (@ MIN)

The status of Allen Lazard (undisclosed) is uncertain, so Dillon could be in for a heavier workload this weekend—and he’s already set to see more action in general as another “1A” option alongside Aaron Jones. The Vikings have a new coaching staff, but Dillon was excellent in two matchups against them last season—turning 17 touches into 97 yards in Week 11 and 16 touches into 83 yards and two scores in Week 17.


Thumbs Down of the Week: Ezekiel Elliott (v TB)

I’d be surprised if we saw the Cowboys give Elliott significantly more work than they did last season versus Tampa Bay (11 carries for 33 yards and two receptions for six yards), so fantasy owners might want to consider their options if possible. I’m high on Zeke for the season, but he’s more of a low-end RB2/FLEX for this week against a run defense that has ranked in the top three for each of the past three years.


Thumbs Down: J.K. Dobbins (@ NYJ)

Dobbins has sounded very determined to suit up for the opener, but handling a featured workload sounds like an improbability based on what’s been reported about his injury. Baltimore’s moves—adding Kenyan Drake and keeping Justice Hill on the roster—also suggest Dobbins will be eased back into things to start the season. This has the makings of game where Dobbins will see a very limited workload if the Ravens can start fast in New York.


Thumbs Down: Breece Hall (v BAL)

On the flip side of the Ravens-Jets matchup on Sunday, Breece Hall is still behind current starter Michael Carter on the depth chart, and it’s a very risky proposition to bet on a backup running back for a team that’s the biggest underdog of the week (+7.5) despite playing at home. It might take some underneath targets from Joe Flacco for Hall to reach RB2 status in his debut.


Thumbs Down: D’Andre Swift (v PHI)

Swift is locked into lineups when healthy, but I’d downgrade him ahead of a matchup versus a stingy Philadelphia run defense that added the monstrous Jordan Davis at defensive tackle. In last season’s matchup, Swift was limited to 12 carries for 27 yards (2.3 YPC), and Detroit not having starting guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai (back) forces them to do some shuffling up front. Swift is a mid-to-low RB2 for me.


Wide receiver 


Thumbs Up of the Week: Amon-Ra St. Brown (v PHI)

The area where the Lions should best attack the Eagles is with St. Brown out of the slot—as Darius Slay and James Bradberry will be stationed on the perimeter as options Jared Goff wants to avoid. The second-year wideout was on a scorching pace to end his rookie season (average of 8.5 receptions, 93.3 yards, and 0.8 touchdowns over his final six outings), and Detroit will lean on him in the opener.


Thumbs Up: Marquez Valdes-Scantling (@ ARI)

Patrick Mahomes recently apologized to fantasy owners about the Chiefs being more of a spread-the-wealth offense this year, but the shootouts Kansas City gets in—like what’s expected in Arizona—should give everyone a chance to eat. Valdes-Scantling is the best downfield threat of the group, and I’d expect at least one or two vertical shots in addition to increased work underneath with a new team. MVS is an excellent high-upside FLEX and DFS option.


Thumbs Up: Sammy Watkins (@ MIN)

“Week 1 Sammy Watkins” has turned into a legend over the past three years—averaging 6.7 receptions, 125.3 receiving yards, and 1.3 receiving touchdowns with the Chiefs and Ravens. Now catching passes from Aaron Rodgers, Watkins can do it again against a Minnesota defense that had absolutely zero answers for Davante Adams since Matt LaFleur was hired as head coach. If Allen Lazard doesn’t play, I don’t think it’d be crazy to rank Watkins as a top-24 option.


Thumbs Up: Jahan Dotson (v JAX)

Dotson is one of my main targets of the year, and he should get a great opportunity to start fast as the No. 2 wideout for Washington. The rookie already earning the trust of Carson Wentz based on their work together in practice can make him the guy who’s looked to if the pass rush for Jacksonville brings consistent pressure, and Dotson can be both a downfield threat and run-after-catch weapon for the Commanders.


Others: Christian Kirk (@ WAS), Noah Brown (v TB)


Thumbs Down of the Week: Adam Thielen (v GB)

Thielen has had some huge games versus Green Bay throughout his career, but he’s also had quiet ones—including when shadowed by Jaire Alexander. I’m not sure what the game plan will be for the Packers on defense this week, but they have a loaded secondary to make sure Justin Jefferson and Thielen both don’t beat them, and I’d lean towards the former being the better candidate for a big game.


Thumbs Down: DeVante Parker (@ MIA)

Again, Byron Jones won’t be available for Miami, but that might mean Xavien Howard ends up following Parker—his former teammate—to force Mac Jones elsewhere. While we’ve seen Parker overcome difficult matchups in the past (as the Patriots know well), I don’t think Jones will test Howard too often with plenty of other targets in a very balanced New England offense. It’d probably be wise to wait on getting Parker in lineups.


Thumbs Down: Kadarius Toney (@ TEN)

Sterling Shepard (Achilles) is set to be active this weekend, so the crowded wide receiver room for New York could really lead to frustration for fantasy owners. Toney is the best bet to emerge, but the new coaching staff might not be willing to feature him after missing a chunk of the summer. Also, Toney may be matched up with impressive rookie cornerback Roger McCreary—who could quickly become a defender to avoid in 2022.


Thumbs Down: Tyreek Hill (v NE)

You aren’t benching Hill, but the Patriots have had the entire offseason to game plan how to stop him on Sunday—and it’s something they’ve had more success doing in recent matchups when Hill was still in Kansas City. A big reason for that (as pointed out by New England’s preseason broadcast team) is the speed of cornerback Jonathan Jones, and at least two sets of eyes should be on Hill at afternoon. He’s still a top-20 option just needs one touch to break the game open, but Hill is off the WR1 map for me on Sunday.


Others: Drake London (v NO), Garrett Wilson (v BAL)


Tight end


Thumbs Up of the Week: Taysom Hill (@ ATL)

The usage might be frustrating and inconsistent, but people don’t seem to realize how much Hill will be used this year considering he’s ranked as the TE48 in FantasyPros draft rankings and TE45 in weekly rankings. Some even seem to be completely dismissing him as an option, but Hill caught six touchdowns in 2019 and can bust out with a multi-score game in any given week. I’d consider him as a starting option in 12-team leagues against an Atlanta defense he’s routinely had success against.


Thumbs Up: Hayden Hurst (v PIT)

Cincinnati will continue to run things through the wideouts (and Joe Mixon) this season, but Hurst should see single coverage between the numbers against a Pittsburgh defense that wants to stop Ja’Marr Chase in particular (39 scoreless yards in last year’s rematch after he scored twice in the first meeting). Hurst has been talked up by various members of the organization, and he has the athleticism to reach another level catching passes from Joe Burrow.


Thumbs Up: Isaiah Likely (@ NYJ)

Likely could open the season as the No. 3 option on offense behind Mark Andrews and Rashod Bateman, so he’s at least worth a look in DFS lineups as a cheap option for Week 1. If the Jets don’t fix some of the coverage busts they’ve had dating back to last year, Likely could be someone that sneaks into an open hole in the secondary to get loose for a big gain and/or touchdown.


Thumbs Down of the Week: Tyler Higbee (v BUF)

Buffalo linebacker Matt Milano and the star safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer makes them a tough matchup for opposing tight ends, so Higbee isn’t a highly recommended play despite Van Jefferson (knee) looking unlikely for tomorrow night. I’ll be interested to see how involved rookie running back Kyren Williams is and how much his role might impact Higbee for 2022.


Thumbs Down: Albert Okwuegbunam (@ SEA)

Okwuegbunam appears to be as low as the No. 6 or No. 7 option on offense (depending on if he holds off rookie Greg Dulcich at tight end), so he’ll be heavily dependent on chunk plays to return value as a TE2 option this week and for the entire season. My concern listing Albert O here would be Denver making it a point to “Let Russ Cook” on Monday night, but I think there are safer options to play in Week 1.


Thumbs Down: Cole Kmet (v SF)

Only the Patriots (440) allowed fewer yards to opposing tight ends than the 49ers last season (582), and Kmet was included in that by catching three passes for 24 scoreless yards with 90% of the snaps played against the Niners last Halloween. If he doesn’t find the end zone—after being held out of the end zone in all 17 games last year—Kmet could disappoint in the opener.