Week 1 of the NFL regular season is here, bringing with it a full 12-game main slate on Sunday, Sept. 9, that kicks off at 1:00 pm ET.
For analysis on the smaller slates, consult Chris Raybon’s premium strategy pieces (released throughout the week).
In writing this piece, I’ve relied primarily upon the FantasyLabs Models. Please think of this breakdown as less of a comprehensive analysis of each wide receiver and more of an introduction to this week’s players via our large suite of analytic DFS Tools. We’ll start with the six wide receivers at the top of the salary scale, then touch on 19 players who have caught my eye (for good or bad) and finish with two pass-catchers at the top of our individual Pro Models.
For updates on Vegas spreads and over/unders, check out The Action Network Live Odds page.
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The Big Six
There are six wide receivers at the top of the salary scale.
- Antonio Brown: $8,600 DraftKings; $9,000 FanDuel
- DeAndre Hopkins: $8,300 DraftKings; $8,800 FanDuel
- Michael Thomas: $7,800 DraftKings; $8,500 FanDuel
- Keenan Allen: $7,500 DraftKings; $8,000 FanDuel
- A.J. Green: $7,300 DraftKings; $8,400 FanDuel
- Odell Beckham Jr.: $7,000 DraftKings; $7,800 FanDuel
Antonio Brown: Pittsburgh Steelers (-4.5) at Cleveland Browns, 44 over/under
Since becoming the planet’s best wide receiver in 2013, Brown has led the league with 858 targets, 582 receptions, 7,848 yards receiving and 52 touchdowns through the air. He’s his own Ambassador of Quan. He has the highest ceiling, median, and floor projections among all wide receivers. He leads the position with eight Pro Trends. He’s the No. 1 FanDuel wideout in every Pro Model except for one (Raybon), thanks in part to his receiver-best 89% Bargain Rating. And he’s even the highest-rated DraftKings receiver in the Bales and SportsGeek Models.
He’s basically this generation’s Jerry Rice.
On top of that, starting running back Le’Veon Bell seems increasingly likely to miss Week 1 — we’ve removed him from our Models — and since Bell entered the league in 2013, Brown has been an otherworldly points-per-reception (PPR) producer when Bell has missed games.
- Brown with Bell (61 games): 20.4 PPR points, 10.6 targets, 7.2 receptions, 93.8 yards, 0.64 touchdowns
- Brown without Bell (16 games): 27.2 PPR points, 12.9 targets, 9.1 receptions, 130 yards, 0.81 touchdowns
In a Bell-less Week 1 offense, Brown could dominate usage for the Steelers.
Additionally, the Steelers have a favorable matchup against the Browns, who enter the season with Pro Football Focus’ No. 30 secondary. The unit was terrible last year — Brown torched it on 11-of-11 receiving for 182 yards in just one game — and although it has been entirely reconstructed and might be better this year, the Browns defensive backs could struggle in Week 1 due to their unfamiliarity with each other and their scheme.
- No. 1 cornerback Jason McCourty is now with Patriots and is replaced by No. 4 overall pick Denzel Ward.
- No. 2 cornerback Jamar Taylor is now with the Cardinals and is replaced by E.J. Gaines (80.0 PFF grade).
- Slot cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun is now a backup safety and is replaced by T.J. Carrie (75.4 PFF grade).
- Free safety Jabrill Peppers is now a strong safety and is replaced by Damarious Randall (2015 first-rounder).
- Strong safety Derrick Kindred is now a backup and is replaced by Peppers (2017 first-rounder).
All it takes is one blown assignment for Brown to score a long touchdown — and the same can be said for JuJu Smith-Schuster ($5,900 DraftKings; $7,000 FanDuel) and second-round rookie James Washington ($4,000 DraftKings; $5,100 FanDuel).
Having said all of that, I’m unsure about this situation. As of writing, the Browns-Steelers game is forecast for a 68% chance of precipitation with winds approaching 20 miles per hour. This should go without saying, but bad weather is not good for passing games.
Additionally, Brown (like quarterback Ben Roethlisberger) has severe home/road splits. He’s been an All-Pro every year since 2014, so it’s not as if his away production has been poor — Antonio on the road is still better than most wide receivers anywhere — but his numbers have been subpar relative to his standard.
- Brown at home (32 games): 28.2 DraftKings points, +7.01 Plus/Minus, 71.9% Consistency Rating
- Brown away (33 games): 20.7 DraftKings points, -0.76 Plus/Minus, 48.5% Consistency Rating
For more on Brown vs. the Browns, check out Ian Hartitz’s piece on Week 1 wide receiver-cornerback matchups.
DeAndre Hopkins: Houston Texans (+6) at New England Patriots, 50.5 O/U
Let’s say that it’s possible quarterback Deshaun Watson will regress this year after having perhaps the greatest rookie passing season of all time. Even if that happens, Hopkins should be fine.
Hopkins opened his career with a slew of subpar chuckers who heaved rocks at him, and he still managed to accumulate 4,487 yards and 23 touchdowns receiving in his first four seasons. And last year — when he led the league with 2,243 air yards — he was dynamic regardless of whether Watson, Tom Savage or T.J. Yates threw him the ball.
- Watson starts (6 games): 21.5 PPR points, 10 targets, 6.3 receptions, 91.8 yards, 1 touchdown
- Savage-Yates starts (9 games): 20.5 PPR points, 12.8 targets, 6.6 receptions, 92.4 yards, 0.78 touchdowns
And here’s what’s amazing: If Watson returns this year and proves himself to be the Michael Jordan of fantasy football, Hopkins could be even more productive.
During the four-game span (Weeks 4-8) when Watkins and playmaking sidekick Will Fuller ($5,100 DraftKings; $6,400 FanDuel) were both healthy, Hopkins was easily the fantasy WR1 — and that was with Fuller seeing enough action to be the fantasy WR2.
- Hopkins: 26.6 DraftKings points, +9.96 Plus/Minus, 75.0% Consistency Rating
- Fuller: 21.7 DraftKings points, +12.52 Plus/Minus, 100% Consistency Rating
Hopkins is basically a matchup-proof player, but it doesn’t hurt that he’s facing a Patriots defense that allowed the fifth-most DraftKings points per game (36.8) to opposing receiver units last season. Both Hopkins and Fuller are GPP options.
Michael Thomas: New Orleans Saints (-9.5) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 49.5 O/U
A star in the making, Thomas leads all NFL receivers in history with 196 receptions in his first two seasons, and he’s likely to improve this year given that in 2017 he had a paltry 3.36% touchdown rate, resulting in just five touchdowns, all of which were scored within the 10-yard line (on nine targets).
With similar volume in 2018, Thomas could approach double-digit touchdowns, especially if he breaks a couple of long ones and is targeted more often near the goal line. Before Thomas registered his team-leading five receiving touchdowns last year, the Drew Brees-led Saints had never failed to produce a pass-catcher with at least eight touchdowns. Thomas is locked in as the No. 1 receiver and should benefit from individual and institutional progression this season.
And most importantly for this game, Thomas is at the Coors Field of fantasy football, otherwise known as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. A shootout-friendly venue, the Superdome has a 54-39-2 over/under record with Brees at quarterback. Thomas, field-stretcher Ted Ginn Jr. ($4,300 DraftKings; $6,200 FanDuel), slot man Cameron Meredith ($4,400 DraftKings; $6,600 FanDuel), and high-upside third-rounder Tre’Quan Smith ($3,500 DraftKings; $4,500 FanDuel) could collectively ball out against a Buccaneers defense that allowed a league-high 39.5 DraftKings points per game to opposing wideout units last season.
Keenan Allen: Los Angeles Chargers (-3.5) vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 48 O/U
Allen has missed all but nine games of the 2015-16 seasons, but he’s been a star for the past three years, averaging 18.1 PPR points and 10.2 targets per game — numbers that only the league’s elite receivers have surpassed.
- Receivers who have averaged more than 18.1 PPR points: Brown (22.2), Beckham (19.7), Julio Jones (19.2)
- Receivers who have averaged more than 10.2 targets: Brown (11.3), Hopkins (11), Beckham (10.5), Jones (10.4)
With Allen’s 102-1,393-6 receiving campaign last season, he produced like a near-elite player, and there’s no reason he should regress this year — especially since promising third-year tight end Hunter Henry (knee) is on reserve/PUP and time-fighting Hall-of-Famer Antonio Gates is a slow-motion version of his former self. Henry and Gates saw a combined 19 targets inside the 10 last season. While Gates will retain some of those targets, and Tyrell Williams ($4,200 DraftKings; $5,500 FanDuel) and Mike Williams ($3,900 DraftKings; $5,400 FanDuel) will get some, Allen as the No. 1 receiver is likely to steal a few — and he was already second in the league last year with 15 targets inside the 10.
Even though the Chargers have no home-field advantage at the 27,000-seat, half-filled StubHub Center, they are in a good spot as home favorites against the divisional-rival Chiefs, who last year allowed the second-most DraftKings points per game (39.2) to opposing receiver units. The Chiefs could also be without All-Pro safety Eric Berry (heel, questionable) and traded No. 1 cornerback Marcus Peters away to the Rams this offseason.
The Chargers have the slate’s fourth-highest implied total (25.75 points): You might want to use our Lineup Builder to stack Allen with quarterback Philip Rivers. Since 2014, No. 1 wide receivers have had a 0.45 correlation with their quarterbacks. For the last three seasons, Allen and Rivers had averaged an exploitable 0.86 correlation.
A.J. Green: Cincinnati Bengals (+2.5) vs. Indianapolis Colts, 48 O/U
Entering his age-30 season, Green is at a pivotal threshold. Despite leading the league with a 0.46 market share of air yards, last season he was the least productive he had been since his first year, looking like a less explosive version of his peak 2012-16 self.
- 2017 (16 games): 14.8 PPR points, 9.1 targets, 4.8 receptions, 69.7 yards, 0.5 touchdowns
- 2012-16 (70 games): 18.3 PPR points, 9.9 targets, 5.9 receptions, 86.8 yards, 0.6 touchdowns
Did Green slow down last season because he’s getting older, or was 2017 just a down year?
We’ll find out in 2018.
It’s possible that Green’s decline last year had less to do with him than with everything happening around him. The offensive line disintegrated after left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler left in free agency. Playmaking tight end Tyler Eifert made just two appearances, so opposing defenses could focus more on Green, who has actually been better with Eifert than without since the tight end entered the league (18.4 vs. 16.4 PPR points per game).
Last year’s No. 9 overall pick John Ross ($3,900 DraftKings; $5,100 FanDuel) failed to develop, scoring literally -0.8 fantasy points for the season while failing to catch a pass. And the team fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese after starting 0-2.
Maybe Green is still the same player he’s always been.
If he is, he should have no problem putting up points in Week 1. The Bengals are road dogs, which seems negative, but Green has been better on the road and as a dog throughout his career. When the two have coincided, he’s been dangerous.
- Green as a road dog (28 games): 18.8 PPR points, 9.7 targets, 5.9 receptions, 91.5 yards, 0.61 touchdowns
- Green in all other situations (73 games): 16.6 PPR points, 9.3 targets, 5.4 receptions, 77.9 yards, 0.55 touchdowns
Most importantly, Green will be in a dome, out of the elements and on the fast track at Lucas Oil Stadium, facing a Colts pass defense that last year was 32nd in the league with a 28.5% mark in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Even Ross is in play, and Green is the No. 1 DraftKings wide receiver in the Levitan Model.
Odell Beckham Jr.: New York Giants (+3) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 43 O/U
Unsurprisingly, Beckham has more receptions (313), yards receiving (4,424) and DraftKings points (1,043.9) than any other wide receiver in history in his first 47 career game. And as good as everyone thinks Beckham is, he’s probably better. Just look at quarterback Eli Manning‘s splits with and without Beckham since the receiver entered the league.
- Manning with Beckham (47 games): 21.7 fantasy points, 271.5 yards and 1.9 touchdowns passing, 0.85 interceptions
- Manning without Beckham (16 games): 16.0 fantasy points, 222.4 yards and 1.3 touchdowns passing, 1.06 interceptions
Beckham is good enough to make Manning look like a functional quarterback, when without the receiver, Manning is a sub-Bortles player. That on its own is worth a Hall-of-Fame induction.
Returning from a season-ending injury that cost him 12 games last year, Beckham (ankle) has an incredibly tough matchup in Week 1 against a Jags secondary that is PFF’s No. 1 unit. Specifically, he’s likely to spend most of the game in the shadow coverage of third-year superstar cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who leads his position with a 91.3 PFF grade. Supporting Ramsey in coverage will be safeties Tashaun Gipson (81.4 PFF) and Barry Church (83.2), and occasionally even cornerback A.J. Bouye (88.0 PFF).
Even so, Beckham has some factors in his favor.
First of all, his salary is reduced: He hasn’t been $7,000 on DraftKings since his rookie year (Nov. 30, 2014). Additionally, he still has a low projected ownership rate. Rostering him won’t be overly onerous. And on top of that, he’s still himself, which means that he has a reasonably high ceiling projection because he can take a short slant for a long touchdown against any team. Because of his projected ownership and ceiling, Beckham leads all wide receivers with leverage scores of 79% and 88% on DraftKings and FanDuel.
In nine career games as a home dog, Beckham has averaged 26.5 DraftKings points per game with a +7.36 Plus/Minus and 88.9% Consistency Rating. If you’re ever to roster a receiver against the Jags, this is probably the spot.
Here’s a quick rundown of 19 wide receivers who have caught my eye (for good or bad). I know that’s almost all of the fantasy-viable wideouts in the slate. It’s Week 1: I’m paying attention to everything.
Adam Thielen & Stefon Diggs: Minnesota Vikings (-6.5) vs. San Francisco 49ers, 46 O/U
- Thielen: $6,900 DraftKings; $7,600 FanDuel
- Diggs: $6,300 DraftKings; $7,400 FanDuel
- Thielen and Diggs headline a wide receiver corps that enters the season as PFF’s No. 1 unit.
T.Y. Hilton: Indianapolis Colts (-2.5) vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 48 O/U
- $6,800 DraftKings; $7,200 FanDuel
- Since becoming the team’s No. 1 receiver in 2013, Hilton has averaged 18.0 PPR points per game in his 22 contests as a home favorite with Andrew Luck at quarterback.
Mike Evans: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+9.5) at New Orleans Saints, 49.5 O/U
- $6,700 DraftKings; $7,700 FanDuel
- Evans is one of three players in NFL history (along with Randy Moss and Green) to open his career with four straight 1,000-yard receiving campaigns.
Larry Fitzgerald: Arizona Cardinals (-1) vs. Washington Redskins, 43.5 O/U
- $6,600 DraftKings; $7,300 FanDuel
- Old Man River is one of just two players (along with Antonio Brown) to have 100 receptions in each of the past three seasons.
Tyreek Hill & Sammy Watkins: Kansas City Chiefs (+3.5) at Los Angeles Chargers, 48 O/U
- Hill: $6,500 DraftKings; $7,300 FanDuel
- Watkins: $5,100 DraftKings; $6,500 FanDuel
- The Chargers have PFF’s No. 2 secondary, led by shutdown cornerback Casey Hayward (96.4 PFF) and bolstered by first-round safety Derwin James.
Doug Baldwin: Seattle Seahawks (+3) at Denver Broncos, 42.5 O/U
- $6,200 DraftKings; $7,500 FanDuel
- Baldwin (knee) opens the season less than 100% healthy, and in a matchup with All-Pro corner Chris Harris Jr. — PFF’s No. 1 slot defender.
Chris Hogan: New England Patriots (-6) vs. Houston Texans, 50.5 O/U
- $6,100 DraftKings; $6,700 FanDuel
- Hogan averaged 13.93 DraftKings points per game last year before his Week 8 shoulder injury and now is the top wide receiver on the No. 1 team in The Action Network Power Rankings.
Josh Gordon & Jarvis Landry: Cleveland Browns (+4) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 44 O/U
- Gordon: $5,800 DraftKings; $6,900 FanDuel
- Landry: $5,500 DraftKings; $6,600 FanDuel
- Gordon last year tied for first with a 0.46 market share of air yards, while Landry led the league with 112 receptions. Get ready.
Demaryius Thomas & Emmanuel Sanders: Denver Broncos (-3) vs. Seattle Seahawks, 42.5 O/U
- Thomas: $5,700 DraftKings; $7,000 FanDuel
- Sanders: $5,000 DraftKings; $6,300 FanDuel
- The addition of high-upside second-rounder Courtland Sutton ($3,600 DraftKings; $4,700 FanDuel) shifts Sanders to the slot and Thomas toward obsolescence.
Michael Crabtree & John Brown: Baltimore Ravens (-7.5) vs. Buffalo Bills, 40.5 O/U
- Crabtree: $5,400 DraftKings; $6,600 FanDuel
- Brown: $3,700 DraftKings; $5,500 FanDuel
- Over the past three years, Crabtree has averaged 847.7 yards and 8.3 touchdowns per year while JoBro has averaged 15.7 PPR points per game with 4+ targets.
Kelvin Benjamin: Buffalo Bills (+7.5) at Baltimore Ravens, 40.5 O/U
- $5,000 DraftKings; $5,800 FanDuel
- Someone has to be targeted on quarterback Nathan Peterman’s interceptions.
Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola & Jakeem Grant: Miami Dolphins (+1) vs. Tennessee Titans, 45 O/U
- Stills: $4,700 DraftKings; $6,000 FanDuel
- Amendola: $4,200 DraftKings; $5,100 FanDuel
- Grant: $3,400 DraftKings; $4,500 FanDuel
- Stills and Amendola will have Week 1 access to the 257 targets from last season vacated by Landry and DeVante Parker (finger, doubtful) while the speedy Grant, a 2016 Freedman favorite, averaged a Tyreek Hill-esque 0.54 fantasy points per route last season and is a GPP dream.
The Model Wide Receivers
Besides Brown and Green, there are two wide receivers atop the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
- Marquise Goodwin: $4,600 DraftKings; $6,600 FanDuel
- Keelan Cole: $3,800 DraftKings; $4,500 FanDuel
Marquise Goodwin: San Francisco 49ers (+6.5) at Minnesota Vikings, 46 O/U
Over the month of December 2017, when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo started five games for the 49ers, Goodwin was amazingly the fantasy WR11. Of course, it helps that teammate Pierre Garcon ($4,900 DraftKings; $6,200 FanDuel) was out for all of those games with a neck injury, and it’s possible that Goodwin’s production had more to do with Garcon’s absence than Garoppolo’s presence in the starting lineup: When Garcon was out and C.J. Beathard was the starting quarterback in Weeks 9-12, Goodwin was comparably productive, especially relative to what he did in the first half of the season when Garcon was playing as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver.
- Weeks 1-8 (with Garcon): 7.31 DraftKings points, +0.86 Plus/Minus, 37.5% Consistency Rating, 5.8 targets, 2.5 receptions, 43.6 yards, 0 touchdowns
- Weeks 9-12 (without Garcon, with Beathard): 12.6 DraftKings points, +5.68 Plus/Minus, 100% Consistency Rating, 5.3 targets, 2.3 receptions, 76.3 yards, 0.33 touchdowns
- Weeks 13-16 (without Garcon, with Garoppolo): 16.3 DraftKings points, +5.19 Plus/Minus, 60.0% Consistency Rating, 8.6 targets, 5.8 receptions, 76.1 yards, 0.2 touchdowns
Goodwin clearly did better with Garoppolo than without him — especially since Garoppolo targeted Goodwin more, because the 49ers were better with Garoppolo than Beathard and thus able to run more offensive plays — but the splits in Goodwin’s yardage and touchdown totals are notably linked to Garcon, not the team’s quarterback situation.
But that’s not to say that Goodwin doesn’t have upside this year. His world-class speed (4.27-second 40 time) makes him a threat to score whenever he touches the ball, and the 49ers offense might be prolific enough to grant weekly fantasy relevance to both Garcon and Goodwin. In the preseason, even with Garcon active, Goodwin picked up where he left off last year, turning his 10 targets into seven receptions for 119 yards.
The 49ers have a tough matchup against the Vikings pass defense, which last year was fourth with a -11.8% DVOA. But as a tournament play, Goodwin carries plenty of upside at his reduced salary on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 receiver in the CSURAM88, Koerner and Freedman Models.
Keelan Cole: Jacksonville Jaguars (-3.0) at New York Giants, 42.5 O/U
Because of the season-ending injury to Marqise Lee (knee), Cole looks like the No. 1 receiver in Jacksonville — a role he actually assumed in the final five games of last season, when as an undrafted rookie receiver out of Kentucky Wesleyan, he emerged from obscurity to play as the fantasy WR7 with 18.7 DraftKings points per game, a +10.82 Plus/Minus and 80.0% Consistency Rating.
- Cole in Weeks 1-12: 4.3 targets, 1.7 receptions, 24.8 yards, 0 touchdowns
- Cole in Weeks 13-17: 7.4 targets, 4.8 receptions, 95.6 yards, 0.6 touchdowns
There’s nothing exceptional about Cole’s size/speed profile at 6-foot-1, 194 pounds with a 4.59-second 40 time — especially when he’s compared with his more athletic teammates.
- Dede Westbrook ($3,900 DraftKings; $5,300 FanDuel): 6-feet, 174 pounds, 4.34-second 40 time
- Donte Moncrief ($4,000 DraftKings; $5,200 FanDuel): 6-feet-2, 221 pounds, 4.40-second 40 time
- D.J. Chark ($3,000 DraftKings; $4,500 FanDuel): 6-feet-3, 199 pounds, 4.34-second 40 time
But Cole does have elite stop-start agility (6.69-second three-cone drill), and he was outstandingly productive in his three final college seasons.
- 2016 (redshirt senior, age 23): 57-1,401-15 receiving, 3-50-0 rushing, 2 return touchdowns, 60.7% receiving market share
- 2015 (redshirt junior, age 22): 73-1,345-17 receiving, 11-60-1 rushing, 1 return touchdown, 47.3% receiving market share
- 2014 (redshirt sophomore, age 21): 75-1,557-21 receiving, 3-8-0 rushing, 46.5% receiving market share
Cole might not become the next Antonio Brown, and it probably doesn’t help that Cole is on a team that last year was last in the league with a 50.5% pass rate.
But Cole’s late-season production was probably not a fluke. As mentioned on the midweek edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, he’s a receiver to roster in Week 1. He’s the No. 1 wideout in the Raybon Model for both DraftKings and FanDuel.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 1 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
After this piece is published, FantasyLabs is likely to provide news updates on a number of players. Be sure to stay ahead of your competition with our industry-leading DFS-focused news blurbs.
Photo credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Pictured above: Antonio Brown