The NFL got off to a roaring start on Thursday, with the Buccaneers squeaking out a two-point win vs. the Cowboys. It was the perfect appetizer for Sunday’s main course, including a 13-game main slate starting at 1 p.m. ET.
Let’s dive into some of the top plays at each position using the FantasyLabs Tools.
Patrick Mahomes is the most expensive option on both DraftKings and FanDuel, and he’s always a viable option in DFS. He’s the best quarterback in the league in the prime of his career, and he’s set up for another monster season in 2021-22. The Chiefs invested heavily in their offensive line during the offseason, which was their lone weakness on offense. If they can give Mahomes a bit more time in the pocket, he should be able to dissect opposing defenses all year long.
He opens the year in a solid spot vs. the Browns. The Chiefs lead all teams with an implied team total of 30.0 points, and Mahomes has historically averaged a Plus/Minus of +5.71 with a comparable implied team total (per the Trends tool).
The Browns ranked just 25th in Football Outsiders’ pass defense DVOA last season, and they were just 19th in adjusted sack rate. The Chiefs offense only put up 22 points in their playoff game vs. the Browns last season, but they racked up 438 yards and didn’t have a single punt. The Browns defense should be better after overhauling the unit during the offseason, but Jadeveon Clowney is questionable.
Overall, Mahomes leads all quarterbacks in median, ceiling, and floor projections in our NFL Models.
You probably don’t need to pay down too far at quarterback this week, but Jalen Hurts seems underpriced across the industry. He was a fantasy superstar in his three full games last season, averaging just under 30 DraftKings points per game. He averaged nearly 80 rushing yards in those three contests, and rushing production is the Konami Code for fantasy QBs.
Hurts should have no problems shredding a Falcons defense that was extremely generous towards opposing quarterbacks last season. They allowed the sixth-highest yards per attempt, eighth-highest adjusted completion rate and third-most passing touchdowns, and they return virtually the same unit.
If you’re looking to go dumpster-diving at QB, Sam Darnold has some appeal vs. his former squad. He’s priced at just $5,000 on DraftKings and $6,500 on FanDuel, and Billy Ward highlights a few reasons why he should be on your radar in this week’s Quarterback Breakdown.
Ryan Tannehill is one of my favorite tournament quarterbacks of the week. The Titans own the second-highest implied team total, and his price tag is similar enough to Hurts’ that he should carry reduced ownership. Tannehill is known as more of a game manager than a fantasy superstar, but the Titans did give him another weapon this offseason in Julio Jones. The Cardinals are a fantastic matchup, ranking first in the league in neutral pace last season.
On the other side of that matchup, Kyler Murray should draw plenty of attention. That said, it is fully deserved. He was arguably the best quarterback in fantasy last season before getting injured, and no one at the position has averaged more fantasy points over the past year.
Josh Allen is a much stronger play on FanDuel, where his $8,100 salary comes with a Bargain Rating of 85%. That’s simply too cheap for Allen, who has historically averaged a Plus/Minus of +5.34 with a comparable salary.
Running back is loaded at the top this week, but Alvin Kamara is my favorite option. He has the potential to carry a massive workload for the Saints given their current injury situation. Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith are both out, leaving the team without many viable pass catchers. Kamara has historically feasted in games without Thomas, averaging nearly 4.5 additional opportunities per game. He’s averaged more than 31.5 DraftKings points in those eight contests, so this is a potential smash spot.
The matchup vs. the Packers is also excellent. They ranked 27th in DVOA against pass-catching running backs last year, and they allowed the third-most receiving yards and receiving touchdowns to the position.
The Packers also employ one of the best corners in the league in Jaire Alexander, who should be able to blanket Marquez Callaway. That could funnel even more targets to Kamara in the passing game.
After Kamara, Dalvin Cook would be my next choice if paying up at the position. His 11 Pro Trends are tied for the most at the position on FanDuel, and he also owns an excellent matchup. The Vikings are taking on the Bengals, and they’re currently listed as 3.5-point favorites. Cook has historically crushed as a favorite of at least a field goal, posting an average Plus/Minus of +3.23 on FanDuel. He also averaged a career-best 20.6 FanDuel points in that situation last year.
Finally, don’t forget about Christian McCaffrey. He was limited to just three games last season, but he still averaged over 30 DraftKings points in those contests.
Darnold is also the perfect quarterback for McCaffrey on paper. He averaged just 4.6 air yards on completed passes last season, which was the sixth-lowest mark in the league. He should lean on McCaffrey against a Jets’ defense that is expected to be one of the worst in football this season.
James Robinson stands out as one of the best values of the week on FanDuel, where his $5,900 salary comes with a Bargain Rating of 99%. His stock took a hit in the offseason after the team drafted Travis Etienne in the first round, but an injury to Etienne has opened the door for Robinson to step right back into a monster role this season.
He draws a strong opening matchup vs. the Texans, who are massive favorites to finish with the worst record in the league this season. The Jaguars are unsurprisingly favored in this matchup, which is a role that Robinson is largely unfamiliar with. He was a favorite in just one game last season, but he responded with a massive 27.9 FanDuel-point performance vs. the Dolphins. His Opponent Plus/Minus of +5.8 also ranks sixth at the position in our NFL Models, so there’s plenty to like about Robinson this week.
Derrick Henry is always in play, especially on FanDuel. He owns a Bargain Rating of 96% this week vs. the Cardinals, who were merely middle of the pack in terms of rush defense DVOA last year.
Joe Mixon is primed for a career year for the Bengals, and his 87% Bargain Rating on DraftKings is one of the top marks at the position. Billy Ward breaks down Mixon in-depth in the Running Back Breakdown.
Chase Edmonds is one of the best options if you’re paying down at the position on DraftKings. He owns a Bargain Rating of 95%, and he should thrive in the projected environment vs. the Titans. The total on that game sits at 54.0 points – the second-highest mark of the week – and he’s averaged a Plus/Minus of +1.90 in games with a comparable total.
Raheem Mostert could have the best game script at the RB position this week. The 49ers are listed as eight-point road favorites vs. the Lions, and large favorites tend to dominate at the position. Favorites of a touchdown or more who are projected for at least eight points have historically averaged a Plus/Minus of +2.17 on FanDuel, and Mostert has averaged a Plus/Minus of +7.16 in that situation.
The top of the wide receiver position could actually be a bit undervalued this week. I would expect most people to pay up for the stud running backs and go with the values at receiver, which there are plenty of.
Calvin Ridley is one possible exception. He’s taking over as the Falcons’ top receiver this season after they traded away Julio Jones, and he has historically thrived in that role. He’s averaged more than 11 targets in eight career games without Jones, and he’s responded with 107 receiving yards per game. Ridley also scored three touchdowns in those contests, resulting in an average of 21.88 DraftKings points per game.
His matchup vs. the Eagles is also a good one. He’ll likely spend most of his time opposed by Darius Slay, who was dreadful last season. He surrendered a 77% catch rate to opposing wide receivers, resulting in 0.31 fantasy points per route run. The Eagles’ other corners – Avonte Maddox and Steven Nelson – are arguably even less imposing.
Davante Adams also deserves heavy consideration at the top of the position. He turned in one of the most impressive seasons in the history of the position last year, finishing with 115 catches, 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns in just 14 games. He ultimately scored a touchdown in all but three games last year, and he had at least 100 receiving yards in seven of them. That kind of consistency is typically reserved for running backs, not receivers.
He’ll draw a matchup vs. an undermanned Saints secondary this week. They lost Janoris Jenkins in the offseason, and Ken Crawley was recently placed on the IR. Newly acquired Bradley Roby also won’t be available to debut while serving the final game of a suspension. That doesn’t leave them with a ton of bodies to throw at Adams, who is nearly impossible to cover, to begin with.
There are some excellent values available at receiver this week. It’s hard to pick a true favorite, but Marvin Jones stands out on DraftKings given his Bargain Rating of 99%. He’s priced at just $3,600 in his first game with the Jaguars, but Jones has always seemed to outperform his preseason expectations. He owns a strong matchup vs. the Texans, resulting in an Opponent Plus/Minus of +4.3.
Rondale Moore is another potential source of value on DraftKings. He’s even cheaper than Jones at just $3,000, but the Cardinals featured him heavily during the preseason. They manufactured touches with bubble screens and reverses, and Moore has the athleticism to take any touch to the house. The Titans were also the best matchup for wide receivers last year, giving him a position-high Opponent Plus/Minus of +5.9.
Tee Higgins is another option. Ja’Marr Chase has gotten off to a slow start as a rookie, and there’s been talk that he could split snaps with Auden Tate to start the year. That leaves Higgins and Tyler Boyd as Joe Burrow’s likely top options vs. the Vikings. Higgins averaged 15.3 DraftKings points in nine games with Burrow last year, despite the fact that he didn’t catch a single pass in Week 1. That makes him an awesome value at just $4,700 on DraftKings.
Tyreek Hill is another elite option at wide receiver, and Mahomes zeroed in on him as the season progressed last year. He averaged nearly 11.5 targets over his final seven regular season contests, and he responded with just under 28.0 DraftKings points per game. Read more on Hill in this week’s Wide Receiver Breakdown.
Callaway is expected to draw the highest ownership at the position on DraftKings, and it’s hard to argue against him too hard at just $3,400. That said, the potential shadow matchup vs. Alexander scares me. He allowed just 0.15 fantasy points per route run last season, so Calloway does have some downside.
Brandon Aiyuk is one of my favorite GPP plays on this slate. He should be a bit overlooked at the position, but he owns the best matchup of the week per Pro Football Focus. The Lions possess quite possibly the worst cornerback trio in the league in Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, and A.J. Parker.
DeVonta Smith is another playing I’m eyeing in GPPs. He’s a bit more expensive than the true punt plays like Jones and Moore, but he possesses more upside. He should step right into the top receiver role for the Eagles this season, and the Falcons’ corners are another unit we can exploit this season.
Tight end is pretty easy this week. Paying up for Travis Kelce is certainly a viable option, and it might be advised given the number of strong values at receiver. Like Hill, his role only grew as the season progressed last year. He averaged 11.25 targets over the final eight regular season games last year, and he racked up nearly 115 yards per game in those contests. He wasn’t quite as prolific as Hill in terms of touchdowns, but he still averaged a stout 0.75 per game over that time frame. Overall, he averaged more than 26 DraftKings points per game in that stretch, and that kind of production is basically unfair at tight end. It basically gives you a second WR1 in your lineups.
Kelce starts the season with a cupcake matchup vs. the Browns. They were 28th in DVOA against opposing tight ends last season, and they allowed the eight-most receiving yards and fourth-most touchdowns to the position.
If you’re not paying up for Kelce, you’re almost certainly going to be paying down for Kyle Pitts in cash games. Anything other than those two options and you’re probably getting too cute. Pitts is priced as just the eighth-most expensive option at tight end on DraftKings, but he owns the third-highest median and ceiling projections at the position.
Pitts enters the league as arguably the most hyped tight end in history. He was selected with the fourth pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and many believed he was the best player in the draft pool. He possesses an elite combination of athleticism and collegiate production, and the Falcons clearly have big plans for him. They kept him in bubble wrap during the preseason, despite the fact that tight end is historically a hard position for a rookie to make an impact. Expect to see him used split out wide and in the slot, and his blocking assignments should be minimal.
The Eagles were 26th in DVOA vs. tight ends last year, so it’s a solid matchup as well.
George Kittle is the only other tight end who should garner double-digit ownership on this slate. He battled injuries for much of last year, but he was still quite good when on the field. He trailed only Kelce and Darren Waller in terms of targets per game at the position, and he’s priced at a discount compared to Kelce on this slate (Waller isn’t available). The Lions ranked dead-last in pass defense DVOA last year, so Kittle could be looking at a big day.
T.J. Hockenson is a player I’m bullish on this season. He’s quite literally the last man standing for the Lions, who let Kenny Golladay and Jones depart during the offseason. He’s also an extremely talented player who is entering his third NFL season. Tight ends historically take longer to break out than players at other positions, so this could be Hockenson’s year.
If you’re looking for an absolute punt play at the position, consider Dan Arnold. Billy Ward makes the case in the Week 1 Tight End Breakdown.
The lineup construction for cash games comes down to one simple question this week: How comfortable do you feel with the value wide receivers? We have six receivers projected for a Plus/Minus of at least +5.00 on DraftKings, and all of them cost $4,700 or fewer. I like the idea of grabbing at least two of them, and possibly three if you want to go with Kelce.
The Pitts vs. Kelce question is an interesting one at tight end, and I really don’t think there’s a wrong answer at the position. Pitts is the better points-per-dollar play, while Kelce gives you a bit more ceiling.
If you go with Pitts, it allows you to absolutely load up at running back. Something like Kamara-Cook-Robinson is one possible trio if you utilize one of them in the flex. If you replace one of Kamara or Cook with someone like Mixon, then you can pay up for a stud at wide receiver.
If you want to go with Kelce, it does make it much tougher to get the Kamara-Cook combos.
For tournaments, paying up for a pair of wide receivers should result in a unique lineup construction. You could also look to stack the passing attack for a team like the Vikings since most will flock to Cook. Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are both projected for minimal ownership, but both players have displayed elite ceilings in the past.
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter and I’d be happy to get back to you. Good luck this week!