I’ve always felt that correctly identifying the worst/toughest matchups is easier than accurately predicting the most favorable ones. That’s certainly how it played out Week 1, with five of the six players written up under ‘downgrades’ in Exploiting the Matchups finishing south of 10 PPR points.
The bad part? While WR Brandin Cooks was the lone bust among our ‘upgrades’, not even one among the bunch had a huge game. Four of six reached double digits, and five of six were right around their typical/expected scoring range, but only QB Trevor Lawrence and WR Mike Evans came close to 20 PPR points under normal scoring (neither quite got there).
So, the goal this week is to not only dodge grenades but also unearth some true gems, though we’ll kick things off below with a QB who is more of a safe pick than a ceiling play.
Unless otherwise noted, references to ‘fantasy points’ are based on PPR scoring with 25/10 yards per point and 4/6 points for TDs. Start % comes from Yahoo, as of Wednesday night / Thursday morning.
Brock Purdy (at LAR) — 20% started
The Rams looked great last week, no doubt. They might even be on to something in terms of offense, with QB Matthew Stafford and his starting O-line healthy and a mixture of Puka Nacua, Tutu Atwell and Kyren Williams offering a little more non-Kupp punch at the skill positions compared to last year’s mess. But I’m not buying the defense, even with a healthy Aaron Donald, as the Rams essentially are relying on him, S Jordan Fuller, LB Ernest Jones, journeyman corner Akhello Witherspoon and then a slew of young guys that weren’t early draft picks and haven’t played much. While unlikely to provide 40 pass attempts or significant rushing stats, Purdy should be good for another efficient day with well over 200 passing yards and at least one or two TDs.
Running Backs 👍
James Cook (vs. LV) — 69% started
The Bills are favored by more than a touchdown and I’d bet on Latavius Murray getting the clock-killing work over Cook if the Bills are up by multiple scores late. Of course, there’s no guarantee the game becomes a blowout, and even if it does there’s a good chance Cook will have put up some points to help the Bills get there. His snap share against the Jets last week wasn’t overwhelming, 60 percent, but he saw 12 carries and six targets while Murray and Damien Harris combined for three and four, respectively. The likelihood of at least 12-15 touches in a home game against Vegas makes Cook a strong start this week, even though he’s mostly looked average for the Bills in non-fantasy terms.
Jamaal Williams (at CAR) — 39% started
Williams was in the ‘downgrades’ section last week when he opened his season against a pass-funnel Titans defense that allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league last year thanks in large part to linemen Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry and Teair Tart. The Panthers also have a couple standouts along the LOS in OLB Brian Burns and DT Derrick Brown, but their run defense was middle of the pack last season and gave up 26-130-2 to Atlanta last week. Williams, meanwhile, handled 77 percent of snaps, 60 percent of routes and 20 touches for New Orleans, i.e., the type of workload that makes one an RB2 even if the efficiency is poor. Williams should be started as such for the next two weeks until Alvin Kamara returns from suspension.
Wide Receivers 👍
Mike Williams (at TEN) — 65% started
Week 1 brought some encouraging signs for Williams even as he finished with a modest 4-45-0 receiving line on five targets. For starters, offseason chatter about moving around the formation more came to fruition, with Williams’ rate of perimeter snaps dropping from 83 percent last season to 53 percent last week. Meanwhile, No. 3 Joshua Palmer got 2.3x as many snaps as rookie Quentin Johnston, who is probably more of a threat to get the downfield targets Williams relies on.
Johnston is no real threat to Williams if he’s playing less than one-third of snaps, and this is a good matchup in general for the Chargers passing game against a pass-funnel Tennessee defense that lost S Amani Hooker (concussion) and CB Kristian Fulton (hamstring) in the Week 1 loss to New Orleans. Now we just need QB Justin Herbert and OC Kellen Moore to cut it loose.
Tyler Boyd (vs. BAL) — 4% started
Baltimore’s original slot man last week was Geno Stone, a fourth-year pro who played 671 snaps on defense and 626 on special teams the past three seasons. It wasn’t ideal, nor was losing S Marcus Williams to a torn pectoral in the first half, which pushed Stone back to a traditional safety spot and allowed 2021 UDFA Ar’Darius Washington to get his first significant playing time on defense (as the slot cornerback). Washington held up alright and even sacked C.J. Stroud on a blitz, but it’ll probably look a lot different if the 23-year-old has to match up with one of the league’s best slot receivers for an entire afternoon. Even if Washington doesn’t get the assignment, Baltimore’s secondary iss soft in general with Williams and possibly Marlon Humphrey (foot) out of the lineup.
Tight Ends 👍
Dalton Kincaid (vs. LV) — 28% started
While rather ordinary in his NFL debut Monday night, Kincaid became the third player of Week 1 to handle unusually large snap/route shares by rookie-TE standards, joining Green Bay’s Luke Musgrave and Detroit’s Sam LaPorta. Time will tell if this was truly a great draft for the position, but it at least seems clear the teams that used early picks on TEs in 2023 are of that belief. Kincaid played 79 percent of snaps and ran a route on 70 percent of Josh Allen‘s dropbacks last week, with Buffalo running 12 personnel a league-high 63 percent of the time. There’s actually room for Kincaid to play a bit less this week and still put up good numbers, playing at home against a Raiders team that has to travel cross-country for a 1:00 ET kickoff.
Dak Prescott (vs. NYJ) — 51% started
A matchup with New York’s impressive defense lowers Prescott’s floor, and the presence of Zach Wilson under center for the opponent means Dak has a lower ceiling. If the Cowboys score a bunch early, we’re probably looking at a blowout and a lot of run plays in the second half. If the Cowboys don’t score a bunch early, it probably means Prescott doesn’t have many fantasy points. The loss of Aaron Rodgers does make the Jets more likely to punt/throw/fumble the ball back to the Cowboys’ offense quickly, but it also makes Gang Green less likely to score quick points with big plays and far less likely to get involved in a shootout.
Running Backs 👎
Alexander Mattison (at PHI) — 74% started
The defending NFC champs are favored by a touchdown Thursday night, but it isn’t just game script issues standing between Mattison and Week 2 success after his Week 1 featured 14 touches (including a TD catch) on 73 percent snap share. There’s also the matter of Minnesota not having C Garrett Bradbury (O – back) and possibly LT Christian Darrisaw (Q – ankle), which is especially bad against an Eagles defense with three edge rushers that had seven or more sacks last year and an interior-DL trio of Jalen Carter, Fletcher Cox (Q- ribs) and Jalen Davis.
This is also a tough spot for Kirk Cousins and the rest of the Minnesota offense, though perhaps not quite as bad for T.J. Hockenson and Jordan Addison given that the Eagles won’t have CB James Bradberry (concussion) and LB Nakobe Dean (foot). Addison and Justin Jefferson both ran about three-fourths of their routes from the perimeter last week, so we’ll likely see the latter do battle with Darius Slay a lot while the rookie gets more chances against Bradberry’s replacement, Josh Jobe.
Khalil Herbert (at TB) — 32% started
A lot of people wrote the Bucs off once Tom Brady retired, which is perfectly fair if we’re talking about aspirations for playoff success. But they’ve still got a solid roster besides the QB room, especially on defense with veteran stalwarts Vita Vea, Lavonte David, Devin White, Shaquill Barrett, Carlton Davis (toe), Jamel Dean and Antoine Winfield.
Those guys overwhelmed Minnesota’s run blockers last week and shut down Mattison even as he fought hard for yards, so Herbert is unlikely to find much success facing the same defense on the road as part of a three-way timeshare with D’Onta Foreman and Roschon Johnson. A blowout last week meant more work for Johnson and less for Herbert, but even when the game was still close the third-year pro took less than half of Chicago’s snaps.
Wide Receivers 👎
Terry McLaurin (at DEN) — 47% started
As much as it hurts me to bench my favorite players, especially guys with rock-solid track records, there’s a strong case for taking McLaurin out of lineups if there’s another option available projecting for 6-7 targets or more. He’ll likely be shadowed for at least part of the afternoon by CB Patrick Surtain, who gets support from veteran safeties Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson. Running mate Jahan Dotson should see a lot of Damarri Mathis, the guy Jakobi Meyers wrecked last week, but it’s still not the best environment for production given Denver’s impressive safeties and league-best homefield advantage (because of the altitude, not the fans… for the record).
Puka Nacua — 22% started
I’m on board in general, as noted in Target Breakdown earlier this week, but what’s promising in the long run isn’t necessarily promising in a road matchup with the 49ers defense. Nacua did most of his damage against Seattle on routes that started on the perimeter and worked toward the middle of the field, with PFF charting him at 11 targets over the middle of the field despite getting only two looks from a slot alignment.
That bodes well for long-term success under a coach who prizes the ability to get open on crossing routes and in traffic, but it might not work out so great against a defense that’s relatively weak on the perimeter and extremely strong in the middle, led by LBs Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw (groin) and S Talanoa Hufanga. The Niners present a bad matchup for every offensive player; in this case I think it’s to an even greater extent than usual and will warn that a poor receiving line from Nacua doesn’t necessarily mean he was just a one-week wonder. We’ll probably need 2-3 more weeks to figure out if his debut was the real deal, a fluke or somewhere in between.
Other Tough Matchups: Drake London (vs. GB), Garrett Wilson & Allen Lazard (at DAL), Christian Kirk (at KC), George Pickens & Allen Robinson (vs. PIT), Odell Beckham (at CIN), JuJu Smith-Schuster (vs. MIA), Tutu Atwell (at SF)
Tight Ends 👎
Hayden Hurst (vs. NO) — 12% started
Hurst was the only pass catcher who did anything in the Panthers-Falcons game last week, finishing at 5-41-1, but don’t expect it to continue this Sunday against a Saints defense that has LB Demario Davis and safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye guarding the middle of the field. The Saints held Chigoziem Okonkwo to two targets and no catches last week, and he actually got more playing time than Hurst, taking on 81 percent snap share and 76 percent route share while his Carolina counterpart was at 51 and 68 percent, respectively.
For Shallow Leagues (40-66 percent rostered)
QB Russell Wilson (vs. WAS)
RB Justice Hill (at CIN)
RB Kyren Williams (vs. SF)
WR Treylon Burks (vs. LAC)
WR Zay Jones (at KC)
WR Rashid Shaheed (at CAR)
TE Hunter Henry (vs. MIA)
K Cameron Dicker (at TEN)
D/ST Cleveland Browns (at PIT)
For Medium-depth Leagues (16-39 percent rostered)
QB Sam Howell (at DEN)
RB Zack Moss (at HOU)
RB Chuba Hubbard (vs. NO)
WR Tyler Boyd (vs. BAL)
WR Kendrick Bourne (vs. MIA)
TE Luke Musgrave (at ATL)
K Jake Moody (vs. LAR)
D/ST Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. CHI) / New York Giants (at ARZ)
For Deep Leagues (0-15 percent rostered)
QB Ryan Tannehill (vs. LAC)
RB Tyjae Spears (vs. LAC)
RB Salvon Ahmed (at NE)
WR DJ Chark (vs. NO)
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones (at PIT)
WR Darius Slayton (at ARZ)
TE Cade Otton (vs. CHI)
K Brandon Aubrey (vs. NYJ)
D/ST Indianapolis Colts (at HOU)