Football is back! Yahooooo! There are 13 games on the Yahoo main slate that begins at 1 p.m. ET.
This piece highlights my top overall plays, values, and best tournament plays for guaranteed prize pools (GPPs) at each position while using our Player Models. I will specifically be referencing the Bales Model.
As news breaks throughout the week and we adjust our projections, player ratings in our Player Models will change. For updates, visit the models directly.
My top play is Josh Allen. He’s pricey at $35, and the Bargain Rating is only 12%. That said, he has the highest Floor Projection by a full point over the next closest player, along with the fifth-highest Ceiling Projection, and the third-highest Median Projection.
Allen posted a 52.8% completion rate in his rookie year. That improved to 58.8% then spiked up to 69.2% last season. He attempted 572 passes, which was the sixth-most, and threw for 4,544 yards, the fifth-most. The 37 passing touchdowns were good for the fifth-most.
What separated him and placed him on the throne of the fantasy quarterback pantheon was the rushing prowess. He rushed 102 times for 421 yards and eight touchdowns. In his three-year career, he’s rushed 300 times for 1,562 yards and has scored at least eight touchdowns on the ground in every season.
Now for the matchup against the Steelers. They were 5th in rush defense DVOA last season. The Bills didn’t bang their heads against the wall last season. If they felt they had an advantage through the air, they would eschew the run game, spread out the defense, and let Allen do his thing. The Steelers have been vulnerable to offenses that spread it out, oftentimes leaving linebackers to cover slot receivers.
The Bills have an implied total of 27.5 on the Vegas Dashboard, and Allen should feast both through the air and on the ground.
My top value is Jalen Hurts, who is priced at $26. For perspective, Patrick Mahomes is the highest-priced quarterback at $40 while the cheapest quarterbacks go for $20. Hurts has a Bargain Rating of 88% and the highest Projected Plus/Minus at +5.63.
This game will be played on the fast track in Atlanta and, while the Eagles are only projected for 22.25 points, the Falcons are implied for 25.75, so Hurts and the Eagles will likely have to be aggressive in this one.
Hurts started four games last season and posted a 52% completion rate, which is #notgood. That should improve as he’s had a whole offseason to prepare and work with his receivers. That said, no one will ever confuse him with Tom Brady in the accuracy department.
Where Hurts makes his hay is on the ground. He rushed 63 times for 354 yards and 25 first downs. That is why he has the fifth-highest Floor Projection because he essentially provides a touchdown and a two-point conversion with just the yardage gained with his legs
Top Tournament Play
Zach Wilson is my favorite GPP play — he’s priced at $20 — the stone minimum!
Now, he’s a rookie, and it’s the Jets. That said, these are not the Jets that Adam Gase infected. Robert Saleh is the new head coach, and he brought Mike LaFleur with him from San Francisco to coordinate the offense. The offense should utilize tons of pre-snap motion and play-action passes. This should create confusion and open up plenty of seams in the defense for Corey Davis and Elijah Moore to run through.
Wilson could also bring some rushing ability to the equation, as he rushed 70 times for 254 yards and 10 touchdowns this past season at BYU. Some of that ability could be on display when the pocket breaks down, on designed quarterback runs, and/or the bootleg action off the outside-zone running plays that LaFleur will likely be the base of LaFleur’s offense.
Last season, the Panthers were 23rd in pass defense DVOA and 21st in adjusted sack rate. They blitzed at the ninth-lowest rate last season, so the matchup is potentially a good one for Wilson’s first game on the road in the NFL.
The Jets defense is a work in progress, and the Panthers are projected for 24 points. There’s uncertainty as to the makeup of head coach Saleh, but I’d imagine that he plays to win the game, unlike his predecessor. If so, then Wilson and the Jets will likely have to be aggressive on the offensive side of the ball to keep pace.
My top play is Dalvin Cook. He’s priced at $38, one dollar below Christian McCaffrey, but you will get what you pay for. He has the same Floor, Median, and Ceiling Projection as McCaffrey.
According to PFF, the Vikings had the second-best run-blocking unit last season. Mike Zimmer-led teams want to run the ball and play defense. Last season, the Vikings were eighth in rushing attempts per game, but the defense was porous, which limited them at times. This season, the defense should be improved, with slight alterations to the scheme and free-agent acquisitions to bolster that unit. They were fifth in rushing attempts two years ago, and I expect them to be in that range this season.
The Bengals are bad in the trenches on both sides of the ball. PFF had them graded as the eighth-worst run defense unit last season, while Football Outsiders had them 21st in rush defense DVOA. They will likely be towards the bottom in rush defense again this season. On offense, they had the sixth-worst pass-blocking unit. They could be slightly improved this season but should remain towards the lower third.
I’m surprised that the spread is only 3 points in favor of the Vikings. I guess it’s due to the uncertainty of the Vikings defense. I like them to wreak havoc on the Bengals offense. If so, then the correlation for Cook should be a good one. Last season, Cook was tied with Ezekiel Elliot for the most rushing attempted inside the five-yard line. There could be plenty of those for the Vikings in this one.
My top value is Najee Harris, priced at $20 with a 95% Bargain Rating.
From a Vegas perspective, this doesn’t seem like a good spot for Harris since the implied total is only 21 for the Steelers and they are heavy underdogs. That said, the role and expected volume are too much to ignore for the price. Harris should be the guy between the 20s, at the goal line, in the two-minute and hurry-up offense, and should catch a ton of passes. He should essentially be game-script-proof.
The Bills were middle-of-the-pack in defending running backs, on the ground and through the air. With the plethora of receiving options that the Steelers possess, Harris should have room to operate. In addition, PFF has the Steelers matching up well against the Bills defensive line.
Top Tournament Play
As for my top GPP play, this is a tough one because so much is going to depend upon the Projected Ownership. The two who stand out to me are Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Mike Davis since I’m assuming that most will focus on Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Kyle Pitts, and Calvin Ridley. They are priced at $18 and $17, respectively, and both should get the bulk of the work. I’ll focus on Edwards-Helaire, though.
First off, the Chiefs have the highest implied total on the slate at 30.5. Points are going to be scored. It’s just a matter of by whom. If the ownership levels are super high for Patrick Mahomes, Kelce, and Hill while Edwards-Helaire’s is depressed, I’m smashing this all day and night then when I wake up.
Edwards-Helaire had a down year last season, especially after the preseason expectations were so high. Maybe that’s left a bad taste in the mouths of many. He still rushed 181 times and garnered 54 targets in 13 games. He also had nine carries inside the five-yard line.
He was a rookie last year! In a COVID-infested season. He should be more comfortable now. The Chiefs also upgraded their offensive line. PFF had them as the eighth-best unit in run blocking last year.
Finally, the matchup is a good one. The Browns have a good defensive line, but they are more disruptive against the pass. PFF had them as the 18th-best run defense unit. Their base defense has two linebackers and five defensive backs, and they blitzed at the third-lowest rate, often leaving both safeties deep and keeping everything in front of them.
My top play is Stefon Diggs. It makes sense since my top quarterback play is Josh Allen. This stack is a juicy one since the Bills will likely be throwing a ton in this one due to the Steelers’ stout run defense.
There’s really not much to say here. Diggs is awesome, and he caught a whopping 127 passes on 166 targets last season for 1,535 yards and eight touchdowns. The Bills move Diggs all over the formation, and he has the advantage wherever he lines up.
My top value is Robby Anderson. At $14, he has a 99% Bargain Rating in the Player Model and is in the top 20 for Floor, Median, and Ceiling Projections. I have Zach Wilson as my top GPP play at quarterback, so points could be scored in this game. That would make the environment a good one for Mr. Anderson.
The Panthers are projected for 24 points, and Anderson reunites with Sam Darnold, his quarterback on the Jets. Now, both are Gase-less and could thrive in the Matt Rhule offense against a Jets team that has a long way to go to becoming a defensive force.
Last season, Anderson caught 95 passes on 136 targets for 1,096 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers will likely come down since Christian McCaffrey is returning to action, but that could also mean less focus on him and more room to operate in the secondary.
Top Tournament Play
My top GPP play is Adam Thielen. He’s priced at $24 and has a Bargain Rating of 86%. Additionally, Thielen is in the top 15 for Median, Ceiling, and Floor Projections.
Earlier in the Cook section, I went over why I think he and run game could feast in this one. Well, while the Bengals were bad against stopping the run last season, they were just as bad against the pass – 27th in pass defense DVOA and dead-last in adjusted sack rate.
The target distribution is very narrow for the Vikings, and I think most will flock to Justin Jefferson if grabbing a piece of the Vikings’ passing attack. Thielen was fourth in the NFL with 23 red-zone targets last season. If the ownership is low enough, he could provide leverage against Jefferson and Cook owners.
My top play is Travis Kelce. I’m not getting cute here. Despite the $33 price tag, he still has a 73% Bargain Rating and is head and shoulders above the second-rated tight end in Median, Ceiling, and Floor Projections.
Kelce garnered double-digit targets in nine games last season, with fewer than six in only one game. The Browns allowed 10 touchdowns to the position last year and were 28th in DVOA against the position.
My top value play is Gerald Everett. He’s priced at $10 and has a 96% Bargain Rating.
The Colts defend the run very well, and the Seahawks have a new offensive coordinator who wants to increase the pace and move on from the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense that the Seahawks employed in the past.
The Colts were fourth in DVOA to the position last season, but they allowed the eighth-most receptions to tight ends last season, and their defense is predicated on keeping things in front of them with off-man and zone coverages. New offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has also put more of an emphasis on getting the ball out quickly when passing. This should make passes to the tight end more conducive.
Top Tournament Play
My top GPP play is Zach Ertz. He’s expensive at $16, so people are either going to pay up $3 to Kyle Pitts or drop down a few dollars, where there are a ton of options. In addition, Dallas Goedert is at $16, so most will go there if choosing an Eagles tight end.
Ertz has been the forgotten man all offseason. Most thought that he would be traded, leaving Goedert to be THE man and soak up all the usage. Well, he didn’t get traded and, if the preseason was any indication, the split could be right down the middle. Last year, the Eagles utilized 2-TE sets 35% of the time, tied with the Titans for the most frequent.
Ertz had a terrible 2020, catching 36 passes on 72 targets for 335 yards. He did miss five games due to an injury and had offseason surgery to correct it. He’s healthy now and, prior to last year, he was a perennial top-five tight end for fantasy.
My top play is the Denver Broncos. They are priced at $13 and have the highest Median Projection and second-highest Ceiling Projection in the Player Model.
The Broncos were 5th in adjusted sack rate last season, while the Giants had the worst pass-blocking unit according to PFF. Last year, Daniel Jones took the fourth-most sacks, threw the 11th-most interceptions, and led the league with 11 fumbles.
Top Value and Tournament Play
My top value play and GPP play is the Minnesota Vikings. The unit is priced at the minimum of $10, and I think many will stack the Bengals due to their offensive weapons and the porous nature of the Vikings defense last season.
As mentioned previously, I think the unit will be much improved and could wreak havoc on the Bengals offense.
Pictured above: Dalvin Cook
Photo Credit: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images