Although the start of every NFL season offers its typical share of intrigue as teams welcome new stars, last year’s breakout performers aim to deliver an encore, and rookies work to shine on the big stage. Superstars like Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Donald, Odell Beckham Jr. and Khalil Mack celebrate their lofty contracts. In addition, a flux of quarterbacks changed teams during the off-season, including Kirk Cousins, Alex Smith, Case Keenum and Tyrod Taylor, look forward to making a great first impression in their new digs. Most importantly, every NFL team begins at the same starting line with ambitious expectations.
Hopefully, you share the same optimism for your team (or teams) after completing ample research and executing each of your draft picks with acumen and strategy. Welcome to the ninth season of “The Dive.” This weekly column will guide you preparing your lineup each week by analyzing a quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end and defense/special teams who may be in line for a superb performance. Factors reviewed will include but not limited to opponent matchup, recent trends, workload factors, depth chart changes, track record versus opponent, weather and other variables. Since fantasy studs are generally always started, “The Dive” will highlight players on the fringe or even off the radar, which can be even more helpful in deeper or daily leagues.
Take a dive with me as I review several players and a defense ready to shine in Week 1!
QB Kirk Cousins, Minnesota
With all of the quarterback movement in the off-season, Kirk Cousins landed in the most favorable situation with the Minnesota Vikings, who won the the NFC North with a 13-3 record last season, fell one game short of a Super Bowl appearance, and competed at the highest level despite numerous injuries to key players. With a talented receiving corps of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, sophomore superstar running back Dalvin Cook returning from ACL injury, and a tenacious defense, Cousins and the Vikings’ ceiling couldn’t be higher! With a home matchup against the San Francisco 49ers (who allowed the fourth-most points to opposing quarterbacks last season) Cousins is a must-start in Week 1 and should be considered a QB2 with high upside!
Week 1 forecast: 225 passing yards, 2 passing TD
RB Matt Breida, San Francisco
Second-year running back Matt Breida appeared to be a strong handcuff behind newcomer Jerick McKinnon. After McKinnon tore his ACL during practice last weekend and now will miss the entire season, Breida’s value rose exponentially! Although he appears to be splitting carries with Alfred Morris initially, Breida had a strong finish to last season, averaging over 6 yards per game in his final two games and should gradually see his workload increase. Minnesota was strong against the run last season, but Breida’s upside is “too hit to sit” and can be considered a low-end RB2 or flex this weekend.
Week 1 forecast: 80 total yards, TD
WR Allen Hurns, Dallas
The Dallas Cowboys receiving corps has welcomed a couple of new faces this season, including former Jacksonville wide receiver Allen Hurns. With Dez Bryant released and Jason Witten retired, Hurns appears to be the clear-cut top wideout for quarterback Dak Prescott. Although Dallas’ offensive line is expected to be weaker this season, Ezekiel Elliott leading the ground attack should open up opportunity for Hurns. In Week 1, the Dallas Cowboys visit the Carolina Panthers, who gave up the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers last season. Look for Hurns to make a solid first impression with his new team in Week 1!
Week 1 forecast: 75 receiving yards, TD
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jacksonville
After showing potential with Tampa Bay and the New York Jets, Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a prime breakout candidate for Jacksonville. With the loss of Marqise Lee in the preseason, he joins a young receiving squad and should see plenty of time on the field with Jacksonville’s shutdown defense. Seferian-Jenkins will debut against the New York Giants, who struggled mightily guarding tight ends in 2017, allowed the most touchdowns and second-most points to the position. Consider him a low TE2, but with major upside!
Week 1 forecast: 60 receiving yards, TD
Baltimore Ravens D/ST
Although the Jacksonville Jaguars and a handful of other defenses were likely taken in drafts earlier than Baltimore, the Ravens have the juiciest Week 1 matchup. Only five teams allowed less points per game than Baltimore’s defense last season. With Buffalo Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman handling the reins with a depleted offensive line, the Ravens’ Week 1 home matchup may be one of the most intriguing defensive starts to begin the season.
Week 1 forecast: 12 points
Good luck in week 1!