This is the first edition of a series I'd like to call "Injury Watch", where I'm going to look through the injury report heading into the week and giving my take on whether or not I think it's worth putting that player in your lineup. If the player is "out", I'll offer other options at the position who are owned in under 60% of leagues (per yahoo) just in case you aren't pleased with your other options on the bench. Without further adue, let's jump into this.
Nobody this week has the "questionable" designation this late in the week, which is good (Andrew Luck looks like he's a full go as well). Obviously, Carsen Wentz is "out" so if you have him, here are a few options to stream week 1.
ANDY DALTON (29%) - CINCINNATI BENGALS
MATCHUP - @ INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Dalton draws the Colts week 1, which should be a great matchup for not only him, but those that need a streaming option. Indy gives up a shit ton of points, 25.3 last year, 3rd most in the NFL. This should be a high scoring game, as the Bengals D isn't good to begin with and are without LB Vontaze Burfict, and the Colts' defense isn't much improved. With Dalton's multitude of weapons all over the field in what could be a shootout, I can see Andy sneaking into the top 12 this week.
RYAN TANNEHILL (7%) - MIAMI DOLPHINS
MATCHUP - TENNESSEE TITANS
Sure, Tannehill may not be the best QB, but if you're desperate, consider looking into him. The Titans defense has improved, but so has the Dolphins' o-line, so it's not like he's going to get blown up on every drop-back. His weapons aren't all that bad and adds a ton of value in the running game. If the Titans can score on this terrible Miami D, the Dolphins will have to play catch-up, creating a gamescript that will bode well for Tannehill owners this week. All things considered, he's not a terrible option week 1, especially when fringe guys like Patrick Mahomes and Jimmy G have matchups against top pass defenses.
MARLON MACK - INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Mack has missed a ton of time this preseason and it looks like Jordan Wilkins has surpassed him thus far because of it. Marlon returned to practice Thursday, coming off a hamstring injury, and because of this, I'm not confident playing him week 1 (if he suits up). Firstly, I doubt he'll get starting duties if he does return, which would relegate him to 2nd or 3rd in this backfield with Christine Michael and Nyhiem Hines in play. Hines should get some passing-down usage and Christine Michael figures to get some volume running between the tackles, where he was used fairly heavily in the preszn. Even Jordan Wilkins, who mustered up 26 receptions during his final year in college, could contend for some work in the passing game, further diminishing Mack's role. For me, he's a no play this week, and if one of these other 3 backs stands out Week 1, I'm not sure Mack will be able to reclaim the duties we all thought he would have heading into 2018.
DALVIN COOK - MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Cook is making a return from his ACL tear, one which derailed his rookie campaign. He got off to a great start, showing he is an elite young talent more than deserving of a starting job. Reports came out saying the Vikings aren't sure whether or not Cook will be on a pitch count for Week 1, but for all we know, this could just be "coach talk", trying to hide their gameplan. My concern here is the other weapons they have on this team, namely their backup RB, Latavius Murray. If Cook does look slow and needs a rest, their backup has shown the ability he can handle the load and be quite serviceable in that role, which would give confidence to the Vikings if they needed to resort to that option. With that being said, I still think Dalvin Cook is a startable option this week. Sure, he may not be in perfect health or demand a workload that he would get if he was, but they're playing the 49ers this week, a team who has historically struggled vs the run (ranking dead last in rush yards allowed/game in 2016 and 22nd in 2017). I personally don't see Cook as a top-10 option this week, but if you're debating whether to start him or a guy like Jamaal Williams, I'd feel confident playing Cook as he has incredible upside in a plus matchup with pass-catching ability, especially if the "pitch count" rumors are just #fakenews.
REX BURKHEAD - NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Burkhead was reported as having a "slight tear in his knee" earlier this preseason, which brings about nothing but worry. They were already dealing with Sony Michel, who had to get his knee drained like a maple tree, making the Pats backfield one to avoid. Now, he is off the injury report, but it's being reported he may be eased into the offense week 1. For the Pats, the regular season is a marathon, not a sprint, which worries me for his week 1 playability. The Pats have one goal every year: winning the Super Bowl, and by overworking one of their valuable pieces, they are risking losing him for the year. The Pats already have an elite pass-catcher in James White and a goal-line back who has proven he can get the job done in between the tackles in Jeremy Hill (and won the job over Mike Gillislee). Because of this, I think the reports are actually somewhat true in that Burkhead may not get the volume we would expect if he had no injury concerns. The Texans have a high-powered offense, making this game a potential shootout, which bodes well for James White's value, meaning, although Burkhead is a good pass-catcher in his own right, won't be a necessity in the Pats' offense Week 1, especially since they want to keep him in good health. Burkhead isn't a "must-sit" for me, but there's a lot of options I'd rather play over him, especially in week one, where we can only speculate the volume (or lack thereof) he will receive.
WAIVER WIRE RB OPTIONS
BILAL POWELL (58%) - NEW YORK JETS
MATCHUP - @ DETROIT LIONS
I love Powell in this spot. The Lions' defense is nothing special and I see a potential for a shootout. Yes, I may be putting too much faith into Sam Darnold, but I feel that if he gets comfortable, he has the talent (paired with his weapons) to give the Lions a run for their money. Powell also ran as the starter this preszn and looked good, and has pass-catching ability that sets him apart from Isaiah Crowell. Sure, Crowell may have the GL job, but Powell could split carries on other areas of the field and receive passing down work. Because of this, I'm confident in starting him as a FLEX this week, especially playing the Detroit Lions.
JAMES WHITE (48%) - NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
MATCHUP - HOUSTON TEXANS
If you read the Burkhead section, you'll understand why White is here. If this game is high-scoring, White has the potential to lead the team in RB snaps, especially with the uncertainty of Burkhead's injury. Last year, in games where Burkhead didn't play, he had added value and volume in the passing game (although he didn't record a receiving TD).
Sure, it's a small sample, but White has shown rapport with Tom Brady in the past, and with the lack of WR depth on the Patriots' roster, I don't see a situation where White doesn't get 7+ targets in a game which is shaping up to be an offensive battle. If you're in a PPR or .5 PPR, White provides good value as a FLEX option in Week 1.
DOUG BALDWIN - SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Baldwin came out and said that there won't be a point during this season where he's at 100% and will likely be playing in the 80-85% range. Now, Doug is a smart guy, Stanford grad, so is it possible he's trying to undersell his health so other coaches don't focus on him as much when gameplanning? Who knows. It was reported he has been practicing in full, which makes me think my theory is more valid than it really may be. Either way, I think week 1 will be a good test for Baldwin, facing one of the elite slot corners in the NFL, Chris Harris Jr. Because of this, I wouldn't list him as a WR1 or high-end WR2 heading into this week just because we aren't sure about his health, and even if it was guaranteed he was 100%, this will be one of the toughest matchups of the year. If you have another solid option on your bench, I'd think about sitting DB89 just to be safe, and if he does produce, then he's a locked-and-loaded WR1 for the rest of the szn as the rest of his schedule will be a breeze compared to his matchup vs the Broncos week one and we'll have a better idea of the severity of his injury after watching him play. Be patient my friends.
ADAM THIELEN - MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Long story short, Adam Thielen is a top 15 option heading into this week. For those of y'all scared about the reports that came out last week concerning Thielen leaving practice, I'd advise you not to be. They were a week and a half out of regular szn action, meaning if he stubbed his toe they'd be cautious and take him out. He's no longer on the injury report and should see plenty of volume running valuable routes out of the slot, making an easy target for newcomer Kirk Cousins. The 49ers defense is nothing to worry about either, making Thielen a great play in what should be a relatively high scoring game (Vegas has over/under set @ 46). Put your concerns of his injury to the side and fire Thielen up as a low-end WR1/high-end WR2 heading into week 2.
JOSH GORDON - CLEVELAND BROWNS
Gordon popped up on the injury report a couple weeks ago for a hamstring injury he suffered in practice. It wasn't considered to be serious, and he's been practicing as of late, but Hue Jackson still wants to keep him on a pitch count. Now, if we know one thing, it's that Hue Jackson is one wrong move away from losing his job, and if he knows what's good for him, he'll play Gordon to his full extent week one. Then again, Hue may not know what's good for him, as he's 1-31 over the past 2 szns, and hasn't won a Sunday matchup since December 13th, 2015. Anyway, I don't buy into the pitch-count narrative that's been surfacing recently as they're facing a divisional rival at home with the potential of keeping it close with Le'Veon Bell sitting out. I'm not as confident as Josh Gordon week 1 as Thielen mostly because JG has the combination of a recent injury AND negative coach speak (as far as snap count), but his upside is nearly unmatched facing a middle of the road Steelers pass defense that sadly lost Ryan Shazier late last szn. Because of this, I'd put Gordon as a high-end WR3.
WILL FULLER - HOUSTON TEXANS
Fuller has been dealing with a hamstring injury, one which has kept him sidelined from preszn and limited in practice as recent as Wednesday. He draws a nice matchup against the Pats, a game which has the highest over/under of the week at 51. Obviously Fuller won't be able to keep up the production he had with Watson on the field in 2017, as he averaged 1.75 TD/game with DW behind center, but still has the potential to score from any position on the field. These week, though, I'm not sure I have confidence in rolling out Will Fuller, even as a FLEX option, and here's why:
In 2017, Fuller caught touchdowns of the following distances: 59, 48, 39, 20, with his other 3 all inside the 16. He only averaged 5.5 targets/game with Watson in, even when those game totals were 71, 76, 50, and 79 points, so he likely won't have the volume to produce even though it's the highest total of the week. Along with the lack of volume, Fuller may be slowed down by his hammy, which hampers his greatest asset, his speed. On top of all that, the Patriots' corners all have wheels recording 40 times of 4.40 (Gilmore), 4.33 (Jonathan Jones), 4.45 (Eric Rowe), and 4.35 (Jason McCourty), so if Fuller's route-running is impacted with his hamstring scare, he likely won't be able to finnesse a deep route, one which typically makes him a value. With all this being said, he's a WR4 for me heading into week one with huge boom/bust potential, where, if he doesn't find the end-zone, will likely disappoint fantasy owners.
WAIVER WIRE WR OPTIONS
KEELAN COLE (55%) - JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
MATCHUP - @ NEW YORK GIANTS
Let me say it louder for the people in the back, IF KEELAN COLE IS ON YOUR WAIVERS, PICK THAT LOVELY MF'ER UP!!!! He's now the WR1 on an offense that is bound to increase their passing percentage from last szn, and with the loss of Marqise Lee, his volume WILL increase. He finished off 2017 as one of the better WRs, racking up the most yards at the position over the last 5 weeks, all while Blake Bortles was slinging the rock and Marqise Lee was on the field. Against a Giants' defense that struggled last year, Cole is almost a must-start, no matter what format, and is a WR2 for me heading into Week 1.
TYLER LOCKETT (51%) - SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
MATCHUP - @ DENVER BRONCOS
With Baldwin seemingly banged up and being covered by Chris Harris Jr., Wilson might have to look another receiver's way in their opening night against the Broncos. With Aqib Talib gone, the Broncos secondary isn't as intimidating as it was in the past, and with Russell Wilson behind center, the Seahawks may be able to exploit the holes left from Talib's departure. Bradley Roby is no slouch, but he has big shoes to fill heading into 2018. I'm not sure the Seahawks will be able to get anything going on the ground, as the Broncos are an elite run defense facing a bottom-tier offensive line, so to move the ball up the field, Seattle may need to do so through the air. Lockett offers the same upside Fuller presents, the only difference is he hasn't been dealing with any health issues and just signed a pretty big contract, showing the team has confidence in him being a dynamic weapon on their offense. With the volume he's likely to see, along with his talent/big play potential, I'd confidently slot him into my FLEX position, even against a seemingly stout Denver secondary.
AUSTIN SEFERIAN-JENKINS - JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
If his health wasn't a concern, ASJ would be a must-start this week against the Giants D, as they gave up a league-leading 12 TDs to the position in 2017. The former Jet proved last year he could be a dominant redzone threat, and in this offense, could monopolize targets inside the 20 due to his sheer size alone. ASJ missed practice this week for a core muscle injury, which is concerning, but reports are saying he's good for week 1. If you have the ability to do so, I'd wait until gametime to see whether or not he's playing because his upside is so high it's worth waiting until the last minute to find out. Personally, I think he's gonna suit up, and if he does, he's locked in as a low-end TE1 this week. Now, if you're streaming the position and don't have a backup readily available and are paranoid he's gonna sit out, I'd suggest looking to the wire for different players with exploitable matchups.
WAIVER WIRE TE OPTIONS
RICKY SEALS-JONES (31%) - ARIZONA CARDINALS
MATCHUP - WASHINGTON REDSKINS
The first of these waiver wire gems is my boy Ricky Ticky Tabby. Last szn, the tight end position averaged a 4.9/60.6/.5 line against the Skins, and with RSJ's skillset, he could dominate the porous Washington defense. Firstly, RSJ is a great athlete at the position, being a converted WR. His athleticism isn't the only thing that intrigues me, he also will likely be the Cardinals' 3rd best pass-catching option behind DJ and Fitz in an offense headed by Sam Bradford, who LOVES to use his tight ends. With Pat Pete likely focusing on Larry, RSJ should see plenty of volume in the passing game, making him a fringe TE1 heading into the first week of 2018. All things considered, Seals-Jones should produce as a streaming option and may even have season-long value in an offense devoid of targets. If you have a TE in a bad matchup, or one with an injury scare (ASJ), I'd recommend looking into Ricky, who has volume and RZ usage upside, for week 1 value at the tight end position.
JESSE JAMES (3%) - PITTSBURGH STEELERS
MATCHUP - @ CLEVELAND BROWNS
Similar to the Redskins and Giants, the Browns have STUNK against the tight end position. Last szn, they gave up 89 receptions for 868 yards and 10 TDs to the position, including a 6/41/2 line to Jesse James week 1 last year. Vance McDonald was a DNP in practice this Thursday and is looking like he won't suit up against the Brownies. With McDonald out and Bell sitting, there's enough volume to go around to make Jesse James an interesting streaming option week 1. He won't be a guy who'll rack up catches and yardage, but if you want someone with major TD upside (standing at 6'7), look no further than James. I'm not saying slot him in as a TE1, but if it's coming down to the wire, and you're not confident in who you have locked in, you could always pick up the outlaw, who is available in 97% of leagues.
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