The Player Models are the lifeblood of our NFL product. They house our projections for each player, but that’s just the beginning of what you’ll find inside. After all, a projection is just part of the equation: salary, ceiling and projected ownership all factor into which players stand out as the best plays each week.
Let’s dive into our models and look at a few players with the highest ceilings, value ratings and projected ownership for the Week 1 NFL slate. We’ll use the Koerner Model as the foundation.
Top Ceiling: Patrick Mahomes vs. CLE — $8,100 on DraftKings, $8,800 on FanDuel
Patrick Mahomes kicks off the 2021 season, hosting the Cleveland Browns in a matchup with a 54.5-point total. As one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the league, Mahomes was consistently implied to score above 20 DraftKings points in every game last season based on salary expectations. He easily met those standards as he averaged a +5.0 Plus/Minus last year.
Despite the hefty price tag, Mahomes can easily reach value through the air, averaging 316 passing yards per game and correlates well with his primary weapons Tyreek Hill (0.47) and Travis Kelce (0.14). Historically, in matchups at home with game totals above 50, Mahomes averages 26 DraftKings points (per the Trends tool).
Top Value: Mac Jones vs. MIA — $4,400 on Draftkings, $6,200 on FanDuel
New England will turn to rookie Mac Jones to handle under-center duties against the Dolphins. Jones had an impressive preseason, throwing 36 passes for 389 yards and one touchdown and looks to provide a spark to the Patriots passing game, which had the third-least passing yards per game, averaging 180.6 yards per game.
Jones should also benefit from the updated receiving corps of Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor facing a Dolphins defense that gave up the 10th-most passing yards, averaging 251.1 yards per game. With a sub-$5K salary on DraftKings, it may not take a lot for Jones to reach fantasy relevance and could open opportunities for more expensive, lower rostered options in your lineup.
Top Ownership Projection: Josh Allen vs. PIT — $7,400 on Draftkings, $8,100 on FanDuel
Josh Allen takes the top spot in the most likely rostered quarterback in our models. The dual-treat quarterback hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers, a rematch from a Dec. 13, 26-15-win last season. Allen recorded 19.32 DraftKings points, going 24-for-43 with two touchdowns and one interception. Look for Allen to rely on his primary target, Stefon Diggs, who led the Bills with a 29% target share.
Last season, the Steelers allowed 19.5 points per game and limited quarterbacks to just 194 yards through the air, which might prove to be a tough challenge for Allen. That said, Allen still boasts tremendous upside with his legs and doesn’t need to air it out to be successful.
Top Ceiling: Christian McCaffrey vs. NYJ — $9,500 on Draftkings, $10,400 on FanDuel
When Christian McCaffrey is healthy, you can almost guarantee he will be one of the top scorers on the slate. Week 1 proves to be a prime matchup for the star running back, who missed most of the season due to injury, with the Jets allowing the ninth-most yards to opponents, averaging 387.6 yards per game.
The Panthers are a 4-point favorite, and McCaffrey should make things difficult for the Jets, both on the ground and in the passing game. CMC should see upward of 15+ carries and be utilized through the air since he’s averaged 8.84 targets per game in his career.
The workload and porous defense create a perfect environment for a 75th percentile output, especially if the Panthers keep the lead going into the fourth quarter.
Top Value: Joe Mixon vs. MN —$6,200 on Draftkings, $7,200 on FanDuel
With Giovani Bernard headed to Tampa Bay, the Cincinnati Bengals backfield belongs to Joe Mixon. Last season, Mixon handled 30% of the team’s carries, averaging 3.35 yards per carry. Granted, he only played six games. Mixon should see close to 20 touches as the lead back and is also a choice in the passing game, catching 21 passes for 138 yards last season.
The Vikings rush defense allowed 134 yards per game, the sixth-highest in the league last year and Week 1’s matchup could be a prime opportunity for Mixon to reach fantasy relevance, especially with receiving yard bonuses on DraftKings.
Top Ownership Projection: Alvin Kamara vs. GB — $8,600 on Draftkings, $8,600 on FanDuel
McCaffrey and Mixon look to be the top two rostered running backs on DraftKings but look for Alvin Kamara to appear as a popular choice in many lineups this week.
Facing the Packers in a Week 3, 30-37 loss last season, Kamara recorded 47 DraftKings points, going 6-for-58 on the ground and catching 13 of 14 targets for 139 yards and two touchdowns.
A key factor is the absence of Michael Thomas. According to the RotoViz Game Splits App, When Thomas does not play, Kamara sees more targets (6.56 vs. 8.62 per game) and almost doubles his receiving yards (43.5 vs. 70.25 per game). Expect Jameis Winston to depend heavily on Kamara against the Packers in what looks to be a high-scoring 49.5-point affair.
Top Ceiling: Davante Adams vs. NO — $8,100 on DraftKings, $8,600 on FanDuel
Davante Adams is one of the more consistent wide receivers in the league and the preferred target for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Adams saw 10 or more targets in 10 games last season, finding the end zone in all but three games and recording more than 100 receiving yards in seven games. Adams also led the Packers with a 34% target share.
Despite a stingy Saints defense who allowed the fifth-least passing yards, averaging 217 yards per game, Adams provides upside every week, especially finding the end zone. Among all wide receivers, he led the league in red-zone targets with 27.
Top Value: Marquez Callaway vs. GB — $3,400 on Draftkings, $5,200 on FanDuel
With Michael Thomas out for the start of the season, Marquez Callaway looks to benefit with added targets in Week 1. Playing 11 games last season, Callaway caught 21 passes for 213 yards and was responsible for 8% of the Saints’ target share. With Emmanuel Sanders and Jared Cook no longer part of the receiving corps, Callaway should compete with Tre’Quan Smith in the passing game as the primary target.
The high volume of targets and a $3,400 price tag on DraftKings should give salary relief to rosters while providing a higher correlation to Davante Adams. According to our correlations tool, opposing wide receivers have a 0.37 positive correlation—perfect for bring-back or secondary stacks in your lineup.
Top Ownership Projection: Tee Higgins vs. MN — $4,700 on Draftkings, $6,000 on FanDuel
Callaway looks to be the top rostered wide receiver this week, but at 22%, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins should be another popular choice on DraftKings.
Last season, Higgins was responsible for 18% of the Bengals’ target share, only behind Tyler Boyd. As a 3-point underdog, expect Joe Burrow to play catchup against the high-powered Vikings, giving way to more targets for Higgins, especially against a Vikings defense that allowed 30 passing touchdowns last season.
Top Ceiling: Travis Kelce vs. CLE— $8,300 on DraftKings, $8,500 on FanDuel
Even as the most expensive tight end on the slate, Travis Kelce has the potential to be the top scorer for the position, regardless of matchup. Kelce ranked fifth in touchdowns last season (11) and was second in receiving yards (1,416), responsible for 25% of the Chiefs’ target share and targeted 10 or more times in nine games.
The Browns had a tough time against tight ends last season, and the trend should not end with a matchup against Kelce. Cleveland allowed the eighth-most passing yards to tight ends last season, averaging 56 yards per game and 10 touchdowns.
Top Value: Kyle Pitts vs. PHI — $4,400 on Draftkings, $6,000 on FanDuel
Making his NFL debut, Kyle Pitts looks to be a salary relief option, benefitting from Matt Ryan, who tends to move the Falcons offense through the air, throwing for more than 4,500 yards last season. New Falcons head coach Arthur Smith will likely use multi-tight end schemes in the play calling, a carryover from his time with the Tennessee Titans, equating more looks for Pitts and Hayden Hurst.
The big question is surrounding the Falcons receiving corps in distributing targets with Julio Jones now on the Titans. Jones was responsible for 20% of the target share, and with the Falcons facing a Philadelphia defense that allowed 52 yards per game to tight ends last season, expect a heavy allotment of targets headed Pitts’s way.
Top Ownership Projection: George Kittle vs. DET — $6,300 on DraftKings, $7,000 on FanDuel
With a $6,300 price tag on DraftKings, George Kittle is the logical spend-down option from Kelce, and the current ownership projections confirm he may be a popular option at the every-volatile tight end position.
Despite a foot injury that kept him out of action for eight games last season, Kittle led the San Francisco 49ers with a 24% target share, averaging 10 yards per target. And although 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has been lukewarm on naming a starter, all signs point to Jimmy Garoppolo taking the under-center duties Sunday.
The Lions’ defense allowed nine touchdowns to tight ends last season, the seventh-most in the league. With the San Francisco favored by 7.5-points, expect Kittle to see plenty of looks as the 49ers move effortlessly down the field.
Pictured above: Patrick Mahomes
Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images