Opening week in the NFL is upon us, which means your fantasy season is officially and irrevocably underway. We’re all done talking about draft values around here. It’s time to focus on winning weekly matchups. At the start of each week during the regular season, we offer six priority pickups for fantasy owners (all under 50 percent ownership), plus a streamable defense. Let’s get to it…
Jordan Wilkins to have prominent role in Indy
Wilkins is going to get plenty of run in the opener for the Colts, following his solid (if not spectacular) preseason. Marlon Mack entered camp as the presumptive starter in the Indianapolis backfield, but he’s been sidelined by a hamstring issue for multiple weeks. Mack didn’t practice on Monday and seems unlikely to be active against the Bengals in Week 1.
If you’re any sort of believer in the Colts with Andrew Luck at the controls, then you’ll want a few shares of Wilkins. He’s the best bet to lead this team’s backfield in touches on Sunday, and he’s available in 70 percent of Yahoo leagues. Wilkins averaged a whopping 6.5 YPC at Ole Miss last season, producing impressive stat-lines against the toughest SEC defenses on his schedule (including 101 yards at Alabama). He should have been a prime target for ZeroRB drafters.
Schedule, next three weeks: Cin, at Was, at Phi
FAAB bid ($100 budget): $21
John Ross is healthy, ready to roast defenses
Ross was a notable fantasy bust as a rookie, playing just 17 total offensive snaps for the Bengals and failing to record a catch. A shoulder injury sidelined him at the start of camp, then a knee issue derailed his season. Not an ideal way for the ninth overall pick to launch his NFL career.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that Cincinnati expects Ross to be an important contributor in 2018. He’s had a productive, healthy summer by all accounts, and he delivered what may have been the preseason’s most impressive highlight. (RIP, Vontae Davis’ reputation.) Ross still has those 4.22 wheels, in case you were wondering. Brandon LaFell has relocated to Oakland, so Ross won’t lack opportunities opposite A.J. Green.
Schedule, next three weeks: at Ind, Bal, at Car
FAAB bid: $16
Andy Dalton opens with a dream matchup
Dalton’s season-opening performance in 2017 was legendarily poor (170 yards, four INTs), setting the stage for the firing/scapegoating of the team’s offensive coordinator. This year, things are certain to improve. Cincinnati opens with a trip to Indianapolis, where the Bengals will face a defense that allowed a league-worst 8.0 yards per pass attempt last season. He’s expected to have all key receiving weapons at his disposal, including Tyler Eifert, and he’ll operate behind an upgraded offensive line. Dalton is an excellent one-week placeholder for those of you who drafted Carson Wentz. Just make sure to find a different QB option next week, when Cincy hosts Baltimore.
Schedule, next three weeks: at Ind, Bal, at Car
FAAB bid: $3
Danny Amendola is curiously under-owned
OK, maybe the fantasy community suffers from Amendola fatigue at this point. We’ve all drafted/added/dropped him a few times over the years. This might actually be his tenth or twelfth appearance in Pickups of the Week, dating back to 2010. And here we are again. Amendola has clicked with Ryan Tannehill during camp and preseason play…
Ryan Tannehill to Danny Amendola for a 16-yard TD!pic.twitter.com/sC3JlFxijY
— LeadingNFL (@LeadingNFL) August 26, 2018
…which is not at all surprising, considering the strengths and limitations of each player. Jarvis Landry’s departure from Miami leaves 160 targets available for redistribution. As the team’s primary slot receiver, Amendola is set up for a huge PPR year (unless/until injuries hit). He should have been drafted in any reception-friendly format, yet at present he’s only owned in 28 percent of leagues. Stream away. New York is just $10 in our daily game, too.
Schedule: Ten, at NYJ, Oak
FAAB bid: $7
James Conner is Plan B for Pittsburgh
No one seriously expects Le’Veon Bell to forgo game checks, but we do need to pay close attention to the Steelers’ depth chart at running back. Conner averaged 4.5 YPC on 32 attempts last season, then drew positive reviews throughout the spring and summer. He passed the eye test during preseason action, too. The team seems to have full confidence in the second-year back. He’s the clear handcuff to Bell and could see double-digit touches if Le’Veon is limited in the opener at Cleveland. Conner is a reasonable what-if add, available in two-thirds of Yahoo leagues.
Schedule, next three weeks: at Cle, KC, at TB
FAAB bid: $6
John Brown has turned back the clock
It feels like forever ago, but Brown is just a couple years removed from a 1003-yard, seven-touchdown season in Arizona. He’s still only 28 years old and he’s been a serious play-maker in camp for the Ravens. Few players have been as buzzy. Brown wasn’t on the radar in leagues of traditional size back in June, but he’s forced his way back into the fantasy conversation. He had the full attention of his quarterback in preseason play. Brown is a good bet to make noise in the opener against Buffalo. Injuries and availability have been his issues, but he’s healthy at the moment. Use as needed.
Schedule, next three weeks: Buf, at Cin, Den
FAAB bid: $4
New York Giants host Bortles in opener
Among the various defenses that are widely available heading into opening week, the Giants might just be the most appealing in the short term. This D has talent at each level and a home matchup with Blake Bortles on the schedule. Generally speaking, that’s a recipe for useful fantasy production.
Schedule, next three weeks: Jax, at Dal, at Hou
FAAB bid: $1. Let’s not blow the budget on a D/ST in Week 1.
Also recommended: QB Tyrod Taylor, Cle (vs. Pit), RB James White, NE (vs. hou), RB Ty Montgomery, GB (vs. Chi), RB Matt Breida, SF (at Min), RB Mike Gillislee, NO (vs. TB), WR Quincy Enunwa, NYJ (at Det), WR Courtland Sutton, Den (vs. Sea), WR Michael Gallup, Dal (at Car), WR Donte Moncrief, Jax (at NYG), TE Antonio Gates, LAC (vs. KC), TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (at NYG), D/ST Chicago Bears (at GB)