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Week 1 Fantasy: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

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Thumbs Up of the Week: Derek Carr (v TEN)

Carr will begin his first game with New Orleans by playing at home versus a Tennessee defense that often lines up in man coverage—which is something that can be exploited with the matchups likely favoring the Saints. Last September, Carr threw for 303 yards and two touchdowns (one interception) against the Titans, and it feels like Chris Olave, Michael Thomas, Rashid Shaheed, Juwan Johnson, and Foster Moreau can all have success in a balanced attack. We have Carr as a top-ten option for Week 1.


Thumbs Up: Geno Smith (v LAR)

Cooper Kupp (hamstring) almost certainly being out might limit the shootout potential of Rams-Seahawks, but Los Angeles has a very exploitable secondary with the trio of Derion Kendrick, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Cobie Durant trying to contain DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Remember, Geno finished as the overall QB5 in 2022, and his biggest game of the year came in a victory over LA when he threw for 367 yards and three touchdowns (one interception).


Thumbs Up: Kirk Cousins (v TB)

I might be too low on Cousins for the season with Minnesota gearing up to throw the ball at a high clip, but he makes the low-end QB1 ranks for this week—as it’s easy to imagine Justin Jefferson being completely uncoverable similar to last year’s opener with a 9/184/2 line against Green Bay. If the pass protection holds up versus whatever pressure Todd Bowles brings, there should be multiple chunk plays to connect on.


Thumbs Up: Sam Howell (v ARI)

Howell is another option that I’m generally not as high on as others, and the stretch for Washington after this week (@ DEN, v BUF, @ PHI) is daunting. That said, he gets a dream matchup to kick off his first year as the starter, and weaponry isn’t a problem for the Commanders with Terry McLaurin (assuming he plays with a toe injury), Jahan Dotson, and Curtis Samuel. Plus, new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy might want to be aggressive to set the tone for 2023, and Howell is a very willing runner.


Thumbs Down of the Week: Tua Tagovailoa (@ LAC)

The Chargers gave Tagovailoa and the Miami offense more trouble than anyone last season—limiting Tua to ten-of-28 passing for 145 yards and one touchdown in a 23-17 victory for Los Angeles. Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel will have had a few months to prepare for the rematch, but running the ball more might be the solution, as the Chargers will be doing what they can to not allow Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle to get behind them. Tagovailoa is a midrange QB2 for the opener.


Thumbs Down: Daniel Jones (v DAL)

Jones has an upgraded supporting cast with Darren Waller joining the team and various moves at wide receiver, but Dallas made some additions, too—most notably acquiring Stephon Gilmore to give them perhaps the NFL’s best cornerback duo. Both matchups against the Cowboys last season were modest showings for Jones with fantasy point totals of 13.74 and 14.52, and I think he’ll need to produce on the ground this week to reach QB1 numbers.


Thumbs Down: Aaron Rodgers (v BUF)

A brief appearance in the preseason finale showed Rodgers is ready for the real games, but will the Jets start hot versus a stout Buffalo defense? Although Von Miller (knee) being out helps, New York still has questions up front, and Garrett Wilson should draw coverage from Tre’Davious White and/or face heavy double coverage. If you have two quarterbacks, it might be wise to consider keeping Rodgers on the bench rather than automatically starting him.


Thumbs Down: Mac Jones (v PHI)

The Eagles can be even better defensively this season than they were in 2022, so Jones gets a difficult draw in the opener, and New England is another squad with definite questions on the offensive line. I’d expect the Patriots to play conservatively by featuring Rhamondre Stevenson, and Ezekiel Elliott should get a fair share of touches as well. Jones isn’t a recommended start to open the season.


Running back


Thumbs Up of the Week: Jahmyr Gibbs (@ KC)

Gibbs is perhaps the most intriguing player of Week 1, as the game-breaking talent is undeniable, and there have been recent comments about his role for Detroit being a bit of a mystery. Based on the big-play ability, plus matchup, and shootout potential, we have Gibbs ranked as our No. 5 running back for this week, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him come out with a takeover performance like Kareem Hunt had on opening night way back in 2017 with 148 rushing yards, 98 receiving yards, and three total touchdowns.


Thumbs Up: James Conner (@ WAS)

The Cardinals’ best chance of moving the ball and staying in games is to play through Conner—who was a stud down the stretch last year with a season-long pace of 1,736 total yards and 17 total touchdowns over his final seven games. Washington can be stingy against the run based on their front four, but there are concerns about linebacker play behind them if Arizona’s solid offensive line can open holes. Conner should be a volume-based RB2.


Thumbs Up: Raheem Mostert (@ LAC)

As stated, I’m anticipating an increased emphasis on the running game being the difference from last year’s loss to the Chargers, and Mostert is locked in as the lead back for Miami with Jeff Wilson Jr. (finger) on IR and rookie De’Von Achane (shoulder) only recently returning to practice. Mostert somewhat quietly had 891 rushing yards last season, and he’ll have a case for RB2 value for as long as he’s healthy.


Thumbs Up: Jerick McKinnon (v DET)

Another veteran option for this week, McKinnon should be relied upon more with Travis Kelce (knee) either out or less than 100%, and the Lions will probably allow underneath targets to prevent big plays connecting over the top. Last year’s scorching finish might be difficult to pick back up, but McKinnon is at least a strong FLEX in full PPR leagues, and he’s trusted to be on the field in any situation for Kansas City.


Thumbs Down of the Week: Breece Hall (v BUF)

It’s been suggested that Hall—coming off a torn ACL—will have a 50/50 split with Dalvin Cook before being unleashed after a few games, so we have him downgraded to the FLEX ranks for a matchup versus the Bills. Overall, New York has a stable of backs that can contribute with Michael Carter and rookie Israel Abanikanda on the roster, and Hall might need a long run and/or score to pay dividends for Week 1.


Thumbs Down: Dameon Pierce (@ BAL)

Baltimore’s defense was perhaps the best in the league after acquiring All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith at last year’s trade deadline, so Pierce could face tough sledding versus a group that allowed just 3.9 yards per carry in 2022. The second-year runner is still projected to handle a heavy workload that makes him worth a start, but his ceiling and floor should both be lowered to put him towards the back of the RB2 rankings on the road.


Thumbs Down: Alexander Mattison (v TB)

The run defense of Tampa Bay took a step back in 2022, but a lot of it had to do with injury issues and the general struggles for the team. Following an offseason to refocus and reestablish an identity, the unit should be much more stout, and Mattison might not come out of the gates with 20+ carries if Minnesota has the success through the air that I expect them to. Consider him more of a FLEX than RB2 option.


Thumbs Down: Deon Jackson (v JAX)

It sounds like Zack Moss (arm) has a chance to suit up this week, but if not, Jackson shouldn’t be overvalued based on the opportunity as a starting running back. Not only is there concern about the matchup with Jacksonville set to take a leap defensively, but also about Anthony Richardson not being eager to take his checkdowns because of his own ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands. Jackson falls outside the top 40 at the position for us.


Wide receiver


Thumbs Up of the Week: Jahan Dotson (v ARI)

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Dotson’s game, and he opens the year with a tremendous matchup against the Cardinals and with Terry McLaurin potentially drawing coverage away but playing at less than 100%. Dotson is a proven touchdown threat, and the cornerback trio of Marco Wilson, Antonio Hamilton, and rookie Kei’Trel Clark could have trouble containing him up and down the field. We have Dotson as a borderline WR1/WR2.


Thumbs Up: Chris Godwin (@ MIN)

Godwin showed a quick connection with Baker Mayfield in their “dress rehearsal” last month, and it’s always felt like he would be the preferred target based on the game of the former No. 1 overall pick. Last year, Godwin—who was coming off a torn ACL—looked more like himself down the stretch with a season-long pace of 132/1,315/6 over the final eight games, and Minnesota could struggle covering him on short/intermediate throws out of the slot, which puts him as our overall WR9 for Week 1.


Thumbs Up: Odell Beckham Jr. (v HOU)

Beckham is the representative of veteran wideouts on new teams that I like this week (Adam Thielen and Brandin Cooks are also listed below), as the Ravens passing attack could be primed for an immediate explosion with Lamar Jackson often going off in September. And unlike most players returning from a serious injury, Beckham might be fresh following a year off to recover; he’s the preferred option out of the Baltimore wide receivers.


Thumbs Up: Kadarius Toney (v DET)

Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub revealing that Toney won’t be the team’s punt returner until maybe later in the season signals to me that Andy Reid has a big role expected for him on offense—and it can get started tomorrow night. Travis Kelce being out for a potential shootout would make it even more important for Toney to be involved to add juice/playmaking to the attack, so he’s an upside FLEX to begin 2023.


Others: Adam Thielen (@ ATL), Brandin Cooks (@ NYG)


Thumbs Down of the Week: Jaylen Waddle (@ LAC)

Again, the Chargers did an exceptional job of containing Miami’s high-powered offense last season, and Waddle was very quiet with two receptions for 31 scoreless yards in the loss. All it takes is one play for the speedster to be worth a start, but he’s also coming off an abdominal injury that kept him out for much of training camp. I’d view Waddle as more of a low-end, risky WR2.


Thumbs Down: D.J. Moore (v GB)

The Packers were willing to use Jaire Alexander in shadow coverage down the stretch last season, so a repeat of last year’s aforementioned explosion by Justin Jefferson probably won’t be happening for Moore in his first game with Chicago. There should be designed touches that the former Panther can capitalize on, but Alexander is a matchup to avoid, and I’d push him outside the top 30 in 0.5 PPR leagues.


Thumbs Down: Drake London (v CAR)

London was able to come away with a touchdown against them last year, but Carolina limited him to yardage totals of 31 and 38 in two matchups—and cornerback Jaycee Horn is simply a difficult draw for the big-bodied wideout. I know his stock has fallen, but I could see Kyle Pitts being the top target based on the matchup, and Atlanta will want to play through Bijan Robinson and the running game if possible. London is a shaky FLEX.


Thumbs Down: Michael Pittman Jr. (v JAX)

Going off in last year’s opener (9/121/1) and in the lone 2022 matchup versus Jacksonville (13/134) might cause fantasy owners to strongly consider Pittman in lineups, but I’d rather get a look at Anthony Richardson and the team’s offensive philosophy before feeling confident about starting anyone for the Colts. Over his final 11 games last season, Pittman averaged 5.7 yards per target with 46.2 receiving yards per game.


Others: Terry McLaurin (v ARI), Allen Lazard (v BUF)


Tight end


Thumbs Up of the Week: David Njoku (v CIN)

Njoku caught a touchdown from Deshaun Watson in the preseason and has shown chemistry with him dating back to last year, so there is no reason to hesitate about getting the star tight end in lineups versus a Cincinnati defense he went for a 7/59/1 line against with Watson in 2022. If Travis Kelce ends up sitting, Njoku will be a top-five play for Week 1.


Thumbs Up: Dalton Schultz (@ BAL)

For those that didn’t hear it on the national FOX broadcast during Houston’s preseason finale last month, it was noted that C.J. Stroud highlighted Schultz as the guy he has trust in to begin his career, so the former Cowboys starter should be a key part of the game plan versus Baltimore’s fierce defense. At the very least, Schultz should be a high-floor TE1 that would be boosted by finding the end zone.


Thumbs Up: Juwan Johnson (v TEN)

Johnson is a top breakout candidate at tight end, and the man coverage that Tennessee should play will give him plenty of mismatch opportunities to open the year. Ideally, the former college wide receiver will pick up where he left off last season when he caught seven scores over the final ten games, and field-stretchers Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed should open things up underneath.


Thumbs Down of the Week: Pat Freiermuth (v SF)

In general, the 49ers won’t be as feared of an opponent if Nick Bosa’s holdout results in him sitting out on Sunday; but their ability to defend opposing tight ends probably wouldn’t be impacted much, so Freiermuth is an option to avoid with plenty of worth fill-in candidates you can go with while keeping Pittsburgh’s starter on the bench. We have him as our TE19 for this week.


Thumbs Down: Chigoziem Okonkwo (@ NO)

The Saints are also expected to remain an opponent to avoid for fantasy tight ends, so Okonkwo might face a slow start—especially if Treylon Burks (knee) plays to push him to fourth in the team’s offensive pecking order. I’d wait for things to lighten up before Okonkwo is used in fantasy lineups.


Thumbs Down: Engram Engram (@ IND)

We’ll move up Engram a bit if Shaquille Leonard (concussion) is unable to get cleared by Sunday, but Indianapolis will be a much tougher opponent if he’s in the lineup—and Jacksonville is better off attacking with Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk to begin 2023. While he should remain a TE1 option this season based on last year’s finish, Engram might be more of a matchup-dependent play in a crowded attack.