Football is back, in more ways than one.
Thursday night isn’t just the kickoff to the 2017 NFL regular season. It’s also opening night for fantasy football leagues across the country.
After an exciting opening week of college football, it’s easy to forget that the NFL is already here, with the Kansas City Chiefs taking on the defending Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots Thursday. But true fantasy fans have been counting the days since they drafted their teams for the season to begin.
Whether you’re in an 8-team standard league or a full-scale auction, 14-team PPR, fantasy football has something for everyone. Without further ado, let’s take a look at Week 1’s “Boom or Bust” players.
Note: Tampa Bay vs. Miami has been postponed this week.
Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Martavis Bryant is one of the more dynamic, downfield threats in the NFL when he’s on the field. The problem with Bryant is that he has rarely been on the field.
With suspensions over the last couple of season, Bryant’s ability to showcase his talents on the football field has been overshadowed by his inability to stay eligible.
But now that his suspension is over and he has, hopefully, learned from his mistakes, he becomes a viable No. 2/No. 3 receiver in your starting lineup.
What do you expect from Martavis Bryant this season? https://t.co/vFma5SV2Ft— ESPN Fantasy Sports (@ESPNFantasy) September 6, 2017
In his first two seasons in the NFL (2014-2015) Bryant hauled in 14 touchdowns on 76 receptions for 1,314 yards. That’s not too bad considering he only played in 22 games during that period.
The troubled 25-year-old is expected to be a focal point in the Steelers offense next to Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. With Markus Wheaton out of town and only Darrius Heyward-Bey threatening to take away his touches, Bryant could be in line for a breakout performance in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns, who just traded away All-Pro cornerback Joe Haden to, ironically enough, the Steelers.
Without Haden, the Browns are looking to start cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Briean Boddy-Calhoun in the secondary, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Start Bryant with confidence that he’ll haul in a score or two on Sunday.
Eric Decker, WR, Tennessee Titans
One of the more underrated moves this past offseason was wide receiver Eric Decker getting cut by the New York Jets, eventually joining forces with the Tennessee Titans and quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Because Decker played for the Jets over the past three years, it’s possible that many football fans forgot all about him after he left the Denver Broncos for, supposedly, greener pastures. After a season-ending shoulder injury in 2016, Decker has become an afterthought for most fantasy players. However, don’t overlook one of the most consistent wideouts in all of football just yet.
Before his injury-ridden 2016 season, Decker hauled in 80 receptions for 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns. The season before that, he had 974 yards on 74 receptions for five scores.
Over a four-season stretch between 2012 and 2015, the 30-year-old recorded three double-digit touchdown seasons, scoring 41 times in total, becoming one of just four receivers during that period to score 40-plus times behind former teammate Brandon Marshall and Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys. He also has success in the slot position, despite his 6-foot-3 inch frame.
When healthy in 2015, new Titans WR Eric Decker was third in the NFL with seven touchdowns from the slot. pic.twitter.com/cqNCaV9AKT— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 19, 2017
Now that he’s in Tennessee, flanked by receivers Rishard Matthews, rookie Corey Davis and a rushing attack led by DeMarco Murray and former Heisman winner Derrick Henry, Decker will have the space he needs in opposing secondaries.
Teaming up with Mariota also allows Decker to give Tennessee a new wrinkle in its offense, as Decker has been a frequent target in the red zone over the past few years. It also doesn’t hurt that Mariota has been the NFL’s most efficient red zone quarterback since entering the league in 2015, according to Pro Football Focus.
With 32 red zone touchdowns since 2012, ranking second in the NFL during that span despite missing 13 games in 2016, Decker will be Mariota’s new favorite target when it’s time to score.
Decker and the rest of the Titans offense will be tested early by the Oakland Raiders, but don’t be frightened by the pass rush of Khalil Mack to threaten Decker’s touches downfield. Start him and don’t look back.
Buffalo Bills, DEF
This pick doesn’t have much to do with the pass-rush ability of the Buffalo Bills’ defense or its opportunistic secondary. But playing the Bills defense is a must in Week 1 for the simple reason that they’re going up against the Jets and their pitiful offense.
The Jets are tanking and aren’t interested in winning games this season, despite what their front office may tell the media. When a franchise goes into a new season with a quarterback controversy surrounding Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty, disaster is inevitable.
The Bills have a solid, not great, defense Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer and E.J. Gaines manning the secondary. But playing against the Jets in Week 1, the Bills defense doesn’t have to great. They probably don’t even have to be that good.
Besides the backfield pair of Matt Forte and Bilal Powell, the Jets have no playmakers on offense. New York traded defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson for wideout Jermaine Kearse, but Kearse is not a No. 1 option by any means.
The Jets don’t have a starting caliber quarterback, a shaky offensive line and a group of wide receivers who should not be starting. The Bills, even if defensive lineman Marcell Dareus isn’t available to play, will have a field day on Sunday.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Nothing against rookie running back Leonard Fournette, but at the end of the day, he still plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The former LSU Tigers tailback will fill the void in Jacksonville’s backfield for years to come, but he’ll struggle to find much elbow room between the tackles in his rookie year, as the Jaguars will have difficulty creating running lanes for him due to a poor offensive line.
Fournette was hailed as the best running back prospect coming out of high school since Adrian Peterson and showcased his game-changing speed and power at LSU. But in Jacksonville, he can’t do everything on his own.
And some pundits are starting to come around on the idea that Fournette's value in fantasy leagues is blown out of proportion.
Leonard Fournette is ranked above Christian McCaffrey in almost every fantasy league. But I'm starting to think McCaffrey will be better.— Henry McKenna (@McKennAnalysis) August 24, 2017
Sure, the Jaguars have Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns at the wide receiver positions, but the quarterback situation leaves a lot to be desired. With Blake Bortles struggling to keep his poise in the pocket throughout training camp and the preseason, the door is wide open for veteran signal caller Chad Henne to take over the offense.
Without a clear leader on offense, Fournette will be asked to do much in the run game to make up for the offense’s deficiencies. Despite a foot injury in the preseason, it appears that Fournette will make his debut against the Houston Texans on Sunday.
Going up against a healthy defensive front-seven featuring J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, Fournette would be lucky to get past the line of scrimmage for a gain. Keep him on the bench until the Jaguars prove they can move the ball on offense.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Why should you bench last season’s leader in receiving yards? Because Andrew Luck won’t be on the field for the foreseeable future.
While it can be argued that Hilton’s production hasn’t, historically speaking, dropped off much with Luck off the field, his absence will be felt this season with the likes of Scott Tolzien and newcomer Jacoby Brissett under center, as neither will be looking far downfield to complete a pass which, unfortuntely for Hilton owners, is his calling card.
Hilton will have a sneaky tough matchup in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams, even with Aaron Donald not on the field due to his holdout. Los Angeles will still have Michael Brockers providing a pass rush along with Trumaine Johnson making life difficult for Hilton in the secondary.
While Hilton is projected to score 9.88 points in standard Yahoo Fantasy Leagues this Sunday, that number could easily drop if Tolzien isn’t able to drop back and find Hilton downfield in double-coverage. If you have to play Hilton, don’t make him your No. 1 receiver.
A spot in the FLEX or No. 2 slot is as far as you should go with him.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos
Similar to Hilton’s situation in Indianapolis, Emmanuel Sanders will have a tough time getting his hands on the football for the Denver Broncos with their fluid quarterback controversy.
With the likes of Trevor Simien and Brock Osweiler battling for the starting spot as Paxton Lynch heals from injury, it’s hard to imagine either player putting up big numbers after both quarterbacks had underwhelming 2016 seasons.
Sanders, to his credit, was able to haul in 79 receptions for 1,032 yards and five scores, but playing alongside Demaryius Thomas hurts his value in Week 1 a little bit, especially going up against the Los Angeles Chargers who will have cornerback Jason Verrett back healthy.
Look for Verrett to follow around Sanders for the majority of the game and blanket him. Don’t pay Sanders unless you have to.
All stats are courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.
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