Fantasy Football Week 1 Sneaky Starts

Photo: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 has finally arrived! There’s already one regular-season game in the record books with 15 more on tap for Sunday and Monday. Opening week is a time for optimism in the fantasy football community. Everyone is 0-0, everyone likes their team (to varying degrees), and everyone thinks they have a shot at bringing home a fantasy championship when the calendar flips to 2022. 

Let’s take a look at some players flying under the radar who are sneaky starts in Week 1 (please note, all players below are currently starting in fewer than 20% of leagues):

Quarterbacks

Tyrod Taylor (QB - HOU)

I don’t truly understand why Taylor has been so disrespected in fantasy football circles. Is he an every-week starter? No. But in his starts dating back to his time in Buffalo in 2015, Taylor has averaged just a shade under 17 fantasy points per game (FPPG). For context, that mark would’ve made him the QB21 last season in average FPPG, between Derek Carr and Jared Goff. Taylor has a good matchup against a Jaguars defense that’s expected to be quite porous this season. Last year, Jacksonville allowed fantasy quarterbacks to score 14.64% more points than the league average.

OwnersBox Price: $5300

Jimmy Garoppolo (QB - SF)

While we’re all waiting for the inevitable switchover from Garoppolo to rookie passer Trey Lance, Garoppolo will be the Week 1 starter for the 49ers in an absolutely fantastic matchup against the rebuilding Lions. Detroit allowed fantasy quarterbacks to score 24.7% more points than the league average last season, and are even more in flux this year as they make the stark transition away from Matt Patricia’s style of defense. There’s a risk the 49ers get up big and don’t throw often in the second half, but I can easily see Garoppolo flirting with a 20-point day.

OwnersBox Price: $5700

Deep Sleeper: Sam Darnold (QB - CAR)

Running Backs

Melvin Gordon (RB - DEN)

Everyone is excited to see rookie running back Javonte Williams live up to his potential—myself included—but the starting running back for the Broncos to begin the season is Gordon. Vic Fangio and Co. are going to make a concerted effort to run the ball as much as possible, and a Week 1 home matchup against a banged-up Giants team is the perfect opportunity to pound the rock. Plus, this matchup isn’t as bad as it may appear on the surface, as New York allowed running backs to score 7.56% more points than average last season. There’s a good chance Gordon finds the end zone in this one and is only in 13% of lineups right now.

OwnersBox Price: $5400

Nyheim Hines (RB - IND)

Hines’ role will be limited this season now that Jonathan Taylor is getting a full workload, right? Not so fast, my friend. From Weeks 11-17 last season, with Taylor as the clear lead back in every game except the one he missed on the COVID list, Hines averaged 11.43 FPPG, good enough to rank as the RB28 in that time frame. Hines should continue to have a significant role in Indianapolis’ passing game, particularly with T.Y. Hilton out. Plus, Seattle was one of 13 teams to allow more than five receptions per game to the running back position last season.

OwnersBox Price: $4100

David Johnson (RB - HOU)

I know, I know. I don’t want to start any of the Texans’ running backs either. However, Johnson has been pushed so far down the board that he’s hard to leave off of this list. I fully expect Johnson to be used in an almost exclusive passing-down role, with Phillip Lindsay being the “lead back” and Mark Ingram getting short-yardage and goal-line work. But that role can still be fairly productive for Johnson given how often the Texans could be forced to throw because of their poor defense. In a deeper, multi-flex league, I can see Johnson returning top-30 RB value.

OwnersBox Price: $4400

Deep Sleeper: J.D. McKissic (RB - WSH)

Wide Receivers

Tyler Boyd (WR - CIN)

WHY DOES EVERYONE HATE TYLER BOYD?!? 

OK, I’ve calmed down. Look, Boyd is a perpetually overlooked player in fantasy and I’ve been on a crusade to help change that all offseason. My tour continues in this Sneaky Starts column.

Boyd should lead the Bengals, a team we presume will have a ton of passing volume, in targets, receptions, and receiving yards—while also being in the mix for the receiving touchdown lead as well. In other words, he’s the No. 1 target on a team poised to throw nearly 40 times per game. The Vikings’ defense made some improvements over the offseason, but that likely only brings them back down into neutral matchup territory for fantasy wide receivers. Boyd should be an every-week starter in most formats and should be in your lineup this week.

OwnersBox Price: $4600

Deebo Samuel (WR - SF)

Health is the biggest concern, in my estimation, when it comes to Samuel’s fantasy value and he’s good to go right now to begin the season. As mentioned in the Garoppolo section above, it’s hard to ask for a better matchup than the Lions in Week 1. Detroit allowed wide receivers to score 17.69% more points against them compared to the average total. Head coach Kyle Shanahan will manufacture the ball into Samuel’s hands early and often and may even lean on him slightly more this week with Brandon Aiyuk coming off an injury. I expect Samuel to return top-25 WR value this week.

OwnersBox Price: $5200

Marvin Jones Jr. (WR - JAX)

While his shoulder injury is a little bit concerning, there’s no doubt Jones will be on the field for Trevor Lawrence’s regular-season debut on Sunday. I’m of the mind that Jones is the No. 1 receiver in Jacksonville:

Darrell Bevell is the team’s new offensive coordinator and play-caller and he’ll have a familiar pass-catching weapon to work with. Jones comes over from Detroit with Bevell as a trustworthy veteran with a nose for the end zone. In Jones’ two years with Bevell, he received a 19.69% target share. That’s particularly notable considering Jones played alongside Kenny Golladay the majority of the time. With no receiver of Golladay’s caliber in Jacksonville, I expect Jones to be heavily involved in the offense on a team that may be forced to throw a lot when trailing late in games.

The Texans are a favorable matchup—they allowed 6.62% more points than the average team against fantasy WRs in 2020, and that should only get worse this year—and I expect Lawrence to put on a show. Jones should be in strong flex consideration in all formats. 

OwnersBox Price: $4100

Deep Sleeper: Zach Pascal (WR - IND)

Tight Ends

Austin Hooper (TE - CLE)

While Hooper didn’t quite have the strong debut season in Cleveland many hoped for, he wasn’t as bad as his current fantasy stock indicates. Once he got healthy and wasn’t playing in doomsday-like weather conditions, Hooper averaged 11.32 FPPG in his final five games of the 2020 regular season. He’s the top tight end option for Baker Mayfield, a passer who loves throwing touchdowns to the TE position more than life itself. Including the playoffs, Kansas City allowed fantasy tight ends to score 30.07% more FPPG than average last season. Hooper is one of my favorite WFS/DFS plays of the week.

OwnersBox Price: $3700

Eric Ebron (TE - PIT)

It’s easy to make fun of Ebron—and he’s usually good to give you a reason to at least once per game—but the fact is he’s a major part of the Steelers’ offense. In the 15 games he played last season, Ebron received a 14.87% target share. That number should not be hard for him to repeat in 2021. Only the Jets were worse against fantasy tight ends last year than the Bills, so this matchup is juicy too. Ebron should be a TE1 this week.

OwnersBox Price: $3500

Deep Sleeper: Dan Arnold (TE - CAR)


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Written By:

Jaime Eisner

Managing Editor

Managing Editor of The Draft Network. He’s a former editor for Sports Illustrated, FanRag Sports and Arizona Sports. He’s the co-host of the TDN Fantasy Podcast and has an extensive background covering fantasy sports and sports betting.

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