This weekend witnesses all those freshly drafted fantasy teams taking their initial step towards league domination. It is our first chance to see regular season box scores that serve as owner manuals since they describe what it is that you actually own. No matter how much research and analysis was done for your draft, the reality of your team is about to unfold.
You have to take advantage of Week 1 by knowing what is new and how to treat the later results.
Rookies – Few have more unbridled optimism than a fantasy owner with rookies on his team. The reality is that almost all rookies open up to a dud first week and ones that explode in Week 1 more often fade starting the very next game. Last year Amari Cooper opened with just five catches for 47 yards. Todd Gurley ran for nine yards on six carries in his first game. Odell Beckham finished with just five receptions for 44 yards in his first action. They all got better.
Temper expectations about your youngest players in their initial games. If there is any best single source for legendary trade or waiver wire moves, it is acquiring rookie players that their original owner gave up on too early. Talent matters most and that often takes time to show up. Not all rookies turn into stars to be sure, but far too many of them are cast aside from impatient owners.
Kickers – Drafting kickers means either burning an early pick on Stephen Gostkowski or just waiting for the cattle call in the final rounds. There are two aspects you must consider from your kicker starting this week. First, aside from the top five kickers there is rarely a difference of more than one point per week between any of the next ten best. There is only one statistical similarity between the best kickers. Not home or away. Not “cannon for a leg”. They belong to winning teams. For the last three seasons, four of the top five kickers were on teams that won their division. That fifth guy was usually on a wild card team. Does your kicker still play for a winner or do you need to visit the waiver wire?
Week 1 also will start to confirm if teams are going to really start going for more two point plays or will they continue to try 33-yard field goals for one point after each touchdown? Last year roughly one in every three games had a missed extra point. There was a total of 71 such point-less attempts as opposed to only eight in 2014. If your kicker’s team is already going for two point plays in Week 1, it may already be time to consider another kicker.
Injury Report – The NFL made changes to the way injuries are reported and Week 1 will be our first glimpse of how that applies your roster. There will be no more “Probable” status. Instead, a player must be listed as either “Questionable” (uncertain to play), “Doubtful” (unlikely to play) or “Out” (will not play). The fantasy dilemma is that they have removed “Out” from practice reports. Your starting decisions that consider Thursday game players cannot be certain that another Sunday player may be “Out” since their final status is not reported until Fridays.
A player may not be listed on the final status report if they are certain to play though, and that could clear up the notorious lack of clarity by some teams. They can no longer have someone on a final status report that is actually in zero doubt of playing. They may list them in practice reports as having full, limited or no-participation but the status reports before games cannot list players certain to play. Assuming adherence to the rule, this is an improvement. Week 1 will indicate if the new rules will actually help or hurt determining the true playing status of a player.
Beware the Week 1 Wideout – Every season a few players will have big games to start the year and yet it may be their only notable performance. Last year, Nate Washington’s first game as a Texan saw him with six catches for 105 yards. That was more than his next three games combined. In 2014, Cordarrelle Patterson gained 128 total yards and scored once before disappearing. Perhaps the greatest of all was the Cowboys’ Kevin Ogletree who opened 2012 with eight catches for 112 yards and two scores. The next week he had one catch for 26 yards.
Week 1 will be the best game of the year for several receivers. Before running to the waiver ready to dump that unproductive rookie, make sure there is a reason why that “breakout” player will continue to produce. They must be one of the two starting wideouts for that team or you’re chasing inconsistent play at best. There is no better week for waiver wire finds than after the season opener but don’t let a single big game impress you more than it should.
Box Scores –The season opener is the time for some perspective. The only real goal in the preseason was to determine which 53 players made each team. Week 1 is the very first time that we’ll see reality. Several teams will roll out new offenses and new players with big fantasy implications.
The Bears, Bengals, Buccaneers, Chiefs and Giants have new offensive coordinators but promoted from within and don’t expect much change. But other teams will be showcasing all new situations that could yield fantasy advantages and must be followed for Week 1. These are the most interesting box scores of the year.
Cleveland Browns – Head coach Hue Jackson imports his offense from the Bengals and Robert Griffin III now passes to top rookie Corey Coleman and a converted quarterback in Terrelle Pryor while waiting for Josh Gordon to serve his suspension. On paper this is already a much-improved team.
Dallas Cowboys – While the coaches and scheme remain the same, rolling out rookie Dak Prescott as the starting quarterback alone is a major new slant. Drafting the best running back to follow a great offensive line could change everything as well plus help open up the passing offense.
Detroit Lions – Jim Bob Cooter’s first full season as the offensive coordinator kicks off without Calvin Johnson. But newly arrived Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin join Golden Tate in a new-look set of receivers. A plan to get Ameer Abdullah more work in the backfield only adds another layer of fantasy intrigue.
Miami Dolphins – A clean slate was given to the ex-Bears offensive coordinator of Adam Gase to run the team and work his quarterback magic on Ryan Tannehill. Kenny Stills worked his way up to a starting spot and Arian Foster seeks to continue his career. There should be much more offensive punch than the last few years.
Philadelphia Eagles – While Chip Kelly and crew are gone, the focus remains on the offense with head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich. The trading of Sam Bradford to the Vikings signals an earlier switch to the rookie Carson Wentz. Acquiring Dorial Green-Beckham upgrades the receivers while the release of DeMarco Murray means more work for Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles.
San Francisco 49ers – Chip Kelly’s quick-fire offense is certain to make big changes to the mundane offense of the last few years. The personnel are essentially the same but are in all new roles. Carlos Hyde works in an offense that ranked #1 in carries for the Eagles the last two years. Torrey Smith is the only receiver returning from starting all of 2015. There are bound to be surprises in an offense that will generate more plays and with a defense that could force them to play from behind in most games.
Tennessee Titans – Mike Mularkey was promoted to head coach but he’ll employ a run-heavy scheme along with offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie. With both Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry in the backfield, this is all new. And when they pass, second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota has all new starting wideouts plus a green light to run more when the receivers are not open.
The beauty of Week 1 is that we don’t have to guess anymore. It may just be the start, but all teams are finally showing how they intend to win games this year.