All of that research and draft prep is over. Draft day has come and gone. Training camp and preseason is behind us. It is finally time for real football. Of course, this means we now have to make those difficult lineup decisions every week. I am going to do my part in helping make those decisions a bit easier for you with my lock-button starts of the week. These are players that are primed for success and should be in your Week 1 lineups. My selections are based on player usage and opportunity, match ups, and advanced metrics and analytics data. Let’s assume PPR scoring with four points per passing touchdown.
Carson Wentz, QB, Eagles
Carson Wentz is back, baby! He is finally healthy and, with Nick Foles out of town, ready to reclaim his job as the Eagles starting quarterback. With the offseason additions of DeSean Jackson, Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Wentz enjoys a cast of weapons as good as any in the league. Veterans Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz will continue to be the leading options in the passing game, while Jackson, who was No.2 in yards per reception (18.9) in 2018, will bring the deep threat the Eagles were desperately missing last season. The Washington defense isn’t bad (at least compared to their offense), but they are no match for this loaded Eagles attack.
Jameis Winston, QB, Buccaneers
If you like lots of scoring (who doesn’t?), then this is a matchup for you. Both of these offenses are expected to be good while their defensive units won’t play up to the same level, to say it nicely. That will lead to a lot of yards and touchdowns, which equals a bunch of fantasy points. The 49ers allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to quarterbacks in 2018 and are unlikely to see much improvement in 2019. Jameis Winston is in the best situation of his career with Bruce Arians guiding the way and a healthy group of talented pass-catchers. Mike Evans remains the top target but tight end O.J. Howard is healthy and third-year receiver Chris Godwin is poised for a breakout campaign.
Let’s not forget, Tampa Bay ranked second in air yards per attempt and third in passing touchdowns in 2018. Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick combined for the second-most fantasy points from the quarterback position. Case in point: the Bucs are going to throw it a ton and they are going to throw it deep.
Tyler Lockett, WR, Seahawks
The Bengals gave up the most passing yards and fifth most passing touchdowns in 2018, and top cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has been banged up all summer. With Doug Baldwin retired and David Moore sidelined, there is zero target competition in Seattle’s offense. Another benefit of Baldwin’s absence is Tyler Lockett will see more snaps from the slot, where he thrives.
Lockett was incredibly efficient in 2018, scoring 10 touchdowns with nearly 1,000 yards despite only 71 targets. He was top-three in True Catch rate and Target Premium while leading all WRs in yards per target, Production Premium, fantasy points per target, and had a perfect quarterback rating when targeted. He may not match his 2018 efficiency, but his targets will be up significantly. I am locked-in on Lockett for this juicy Week 1 matchup.
Julian Edelman, WR, Patriots
The Patriots will unveil championship banner number six prior to Week 1’s battle with the Steelers. Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman torched the Steelers for 90 yards on seven receptions and 16 fantasy points in their Week 15 matchup last season. Tom Brady has averaged 37.7 pass attempts against the Steelers going back to the 2016 season. Over that same span, Edelman averaged 8 receptions. In 12 games in 2018, Edelman finished outside the top-30 WRs just once while averaging 17.3 fantasy points per game. He is the most consistent WR in fantasy and as long as he is tethered to Brady, that will continue.
Kenny Golladay, WR Lions
As expected, Kenny Golladay had a breakout 2018 campaign. He finished with 70 receptions on 119 targets for 1,063 yards and five touchdowns. The 2019 season kicks off with a challenging matchup for BabyTron. The Cardinals allowed the fourth-fewest passing yards and seventh-fewest passing touchdowns last season.
Check out Kenny Golladay on PlayerProfiler’s Updated Weekly Rankings & Projections:
In their Week 15 matchup, Arizona’s star cornerback Patrick Peterson held Golladay to just two receptions for five yards on four targets. The good news for Golladay, though, is that Peterson will not be on the field for this one as he is serving a six-game suspension. With free agent-signee Robert Alford on injured reserve, it will be a combination of Byron Murphy, Tramaine Brock, and Chris Jones charged with covering the third-year wideout. Golladay will surely take advantage of the opportunity to feast in this one.
Chris Carson, RB, Seahawks
Even if you believe Rashaad Penny will eat into Chris Carson’s touches more this season, the latter is in great position to have a top-10 finish in Week 1. The Seahawks are a run-heavy offense and are favorites at home against a poor defense, so game script will be in his favor. Cincinnati gave up the fourth most rushing yards and seventh most rushing touchdowns last season, while allowing the most PPR fantasy points to running backs. They did little to improve on that side of the ball during the offseason. The Seattle coaching staff has been adamant about giving Carson a larger role in the passing game. When Mike Davis departed for Chicago, he left behind 42 targets. If the majority of those go to Carson, he is in line for a great season, starting with Week 1.
Austin Ekeler, RB Chargers
Austin Ekeler becomes the Chargers’ RB1 with Melvin Gordon holding out for a new contract that isn’t coming. While he will surely share the backfield work with Justin Jackson, Ekeler will lead the way. In the three games he played without Gordon in 2018, Ekeler held 96-percent, 78-percent, and 68-percent snap shares. He averaged 13 carries and nearly seven targets in those games. In the preseason, he was on the field for 40 of the team’s 60 (67-percent) first-team snaps.
Fantasy gamers remember his poor Week 13 game against the Steelers when he averaged just 1.62 yards per carry on 13 attempts, but they seem to forget that he actually had an incredibly efficient season as a whole. In 14 games, Ekeler was No. 8 in True Yards Per Carry, No. 1 in Big Run Rate, and fourth in yards per touch. He also finished in the top-40 in Juke Rate and top-30 in Yards Created per carry.
O.J. Howard, TE, Buccaneers
O.J. Howard is in line for a mega breakout season. Before missing the final eight games of 2018 with foot and ankle injuries, Howard was having a terrific sophomore campaign. He led all tight ends in a number of efficiency metrics including yards per reception, yards per target, fantasy points per route, and fantasy points per target. He was No.2 in average target distance and No.4 in Target Premium. He will kickoff the season against a bad 49ers defense in a game that projects to see a ton of points
Vance McDonald, TE, Steelers
Vance McDonald is healthy (for now) and is in prime position to receive a healthy target volume. He saw 73 targets in 2018. With Antonio Brown and Jesse James out of town and little else for target competition outside of Juju Smith-Schuster, that number is expected to go up substantially. McDonald is a talented receiver that dominates after the catch. His 369 (No.4) yards after the catch were 60.5-percent of his total receiving yards. He could realistically lead the Steelers in receptions against New England.