Updated: Thursday, Aug. 16, at 12:50 p.m. EDT
Anyone with experience playing daily fantasy sports understands the value of a well-timed “stack” of a quarterback and one of his receivers. The same tactic can be successfully deployed in traditional gaming, with varying degrees of risk-reward ratios.
Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown
Big Ben is always an injury risk to a degree, but he also has posted starter-worthy numbers when on the field. Nothing is perfectly safe in fantasy football, but in an league with so few “plug-and-play” options at quarterback, Roethlisberger can offer several boom games to go along with reasonable baseline production for owners who miss out on the “set and forget” types. Big Ben has averaged nearly two TDs per game over his last two seasons.
Brown is coming off five straight seasons with at least 100 receptions, which includes missing three games in the past two seasons. While he turns 30 before the season and is returning from a scary leg injury, Brown should pick up where he left off and once again has a viable sidekick to provide some coverage draw.
Matt Ryan and Julio Jones
Ryan drastically regressed, stats wise, after his glorious 2016 season. An offensive coordinator change following the devastating Super Bowl loss led to the entire passing game taking a step backward. Entering his second year in the offense, Ryan should rebound into being a low-end QB1 with routine playability.
In seven seasons, Jones has just one year with double-digit touchdowns. He presents some injury risk, yet his big-play ability offsets it to a large degree. Jones is a yardage monster, posting no fewer than 1,409 yards in the past four years. Even though his TD totals aren’t where gamers want them, the stability of what he brings to fantasy lineups is a game-changer.
Drew Brees and Michael Thomas
It isn’t too often (almost never, really) a 39-year-old quarterback has a bounce-back year. In fact, Warren Moon and Brett Favre are the only players immediately coming to mind. The Saints didn’t need to rely heavily on the passing game last year — a situation liable to change in 2018 with a bolstered receiving corps and a four-game suspension of Mark Ingram. Brees should return to solid No. 1 status.
Thomas lived up to the billing of being a perceived WR1 after the Saints traded Brandin Cooks a year ago. The Saints bolstered the receiving corps to help alleviate some pressure on Thomas, which should free him up in the red zone. The only knock on his marvelous 2017 season was his lack of touchdowns (5 on 104 catches).
Matthew Stafford and Golden Tate
Seven straight seasons of at least 4,000 yards and 20-plus TDs, starting every game in that time, Stafford has become the epitome of stability, especially under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. He hasn’t approached his masterful 2011 season since, though Stafford isn’t going to hurt fantasy owners who like to wait on quarterbacks.
Mostly allergic to scoring touchdowns, Tate provides unbelievable consistency for PPR owners. Four years in Detroit have resulted in as many campaigns with at least 90 receptions. Marvin Jones has emerged to help free up Tate, and a new contract is looming for the former Seattle Seahawk.
Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen
This one very well could slide into the next segment with Allen’s extensive injury history. Rivers is as stable as they come in fantasy, mastering Ken Whisenhunt’s offense. He has shown a penchant for targeting Keenan Allen throughout the years, and the well-seasoned Rivers has not missed a game since taking over in 2006.
The only reason this duo shouldn’t be firmly entrenched in the safest choices is because Allen has completed a single 16-game slate in five NFL season. But was it ever a good one! He finished with 1,393 yards on 102 catches, scoring a half-dozen times. Losing Hunter Henry means more chances for Allen. Still just 26 years old, Allen is in the prime of his career and ready for another huge season.
Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin
A season after a marvelous fantasy showing as the team around him crumbled, Wilson mustered elite fantasy numbers behind a suspect line and without a running game to take pressure off of him. Oh, and Baldwin wasn’t at 100 percent, battling a lingering groin strain, plus a hip injury. Better line play, a healthy Baldwin, and a hopeful outlook in the backfield all help Wilson’s stability.
Baldwin, as mentioned, regressed in 2017 due to lower-body ailments. The veteran is currently dealing with a knee injury that could cost him all of the preseason. If healthy, he is the top target in an offense begging for more weapons, especially after Jimmy Graham departed. While it could work against him in terms of drawing doubles, Baldwin will see a high volume of looks and has a knack for exploiting soft spots in the end zone. Be wary of the long-term effects of his knee injury, and make sure to check the status of him close to your draft.
More reward than risk
Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams
The two biggest risks here are can Rodgers remain on the field, and will Adams be able to ascend to an elite level as Green Bay’s No. 1 receiver. Assuming both come to fruition, this duo could easily be the most prolific in fantasy in 2018. The running game remains unproven, and Green Bay’s best shot at winning is through the right arm of No. 12. The defense has regressed, which tends to lead to more passing situations. Adams has proven his 2016 season wasn’t a fluke.
Tom Brady and Julian Edelman
Provided Brady can stay healthy and productive, the biggest hurdle is whether a 32-year-old Edelman is himself after knee reconstruction upon his return from a four-game suspension. It happened early enough in 2017 to give him the benefit of the doubt. He looked unfazed by the injury in summer practices. Should Brady fall off the map, Edelman probably won’t miss much of a beat with Brian Hoyer’s preference for the underneath game.
Derek Carr and Amari Cooper
Carr could put it all together with new coaching staff with an offensive-minded head coach who has professed Cooper will be the focus of the passing game — there is plenty to like here. To the contrary, Cooper has battled nagging injuries and couldn’t catch a cold in two of his three NFL seasons. Oakland boasts balanced but aging line. Improved concentration and the dogged hustle of Jon Gruden could turn things around in a big way.
Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins
Will Watson recover enough from a torn ACL to trust the knee early on? Does Houston baby him and limit his mobility to start the year? Hopkins has proven he can ball with any quarterback not named Brock Osweiler, meaning most of the risk falls on Watson’s health. Thus far, he looks the part in offseason practices.
Jared Goff and Brandin Cooks
The new guy in town isn’t unfamiliar to Goff. He and Cooks worked together prior to the trade from New England. The Rams have an array of weapons and a multi-level offensive attack, being able to abuse defenses on the ground, out of the backfield, in the slot, and over the middle. Cooks, a downfield demon, could get lost in the shuffle some weeks, and Goff may occasionally take a backseat to Todd Gurley. Otherwise, this pairing could be highly flammable in 2018.
Taking a flier
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green
As one can tell by the trend in this section, star receivers need a quarterback, and Dalton has been too streaky to earn the benefit of the doubt. In their best years together, the Red Rifle was a serviceable fantasy starter. Green is mostly immune to quarterback play, so the risk lies solely with Dalton.
Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton
Absolutely everything positive to say about Hilton’s fantasy prospects hinge on the right arm of Mr. Andrew Luck. No. 12 has recovered well and looks like he should be fine, barring a setback or reinjury during the year. He and Hilton have tremendous chemistry, making it likely they won’t miss a beat.
Jameis Winston and Mike Evans
Evans’ career has produced four consecutive 1,000-plus-yard seasons, staggering his best years. He and Famous Jameis have obvious rapport. Winston’s 2017 effort was mostly negative, and after his first two seasons, it is only fair to give him a break. However, his suspension aside, concerns about maturity and doubts surrounding Dirk Koetter’s efficacy as a head coach cast an ominous shadow over what should be a promising offense. Winston is no better than an extremely perilous QB2 gamble.
Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr.
The selection of Saquon Barkley should take some looks from Beckham in terms of overall reliance on running the offense through the star receiver. The said could be same over the emergence of Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram from a volume perspective. Eli’s ability at this stage of his career has come under great scrutiny. He’s good enough to buoy Beckham’s individual value, but there is little reason to expect Manning to have fantasy utility more than a handful of games.