Welcome back for Year 3 of Yays and Nays!
As always, our rankings and projections can be found on the website each week. They will be updated every week throughout the season and should always be your starting point for deciding between who to pick up off waivers or who to start each week.
Remember, we’re highlighting the players our fantasy football models point to as being ranked too high or low compared to industry consensus.
Here is a refresher of how our model works. Otherwise, with the Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions kicking off tonight, let’s get right to it.
Week 1 Yays
Note: We’re comparing our rankings to the expert consensus rankings (ECR) from Fantasy Pros. These rankings update throughout the week (we pulled these numbers from Wednesday). Once again, we are using PPR unless noted otherwise.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB (LV) vs DEN (ECR: 29, Our Rank: 15, Projected Points: 16.35)
Starting our Yays and Nays off with a bang this year!
Jimmy G is coming off his best season as a pro, throwing for 16 touchdowns against only four interceptions before coming down with injury and seeing Brock Purdy take over the position. His wellthrown percentage was 82.3%, a notch behind Patrick Mahomes’ 82.4%. And he’ll be throwing to some elite targets, such as Davante Adams (16 catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns in two games against the Broncos) and Josh Jacobs (eight receptions for 82 yards).
Our model is projecting a perfectly normal stat line for Jimmy G this week; 269.9 yards passing and 1.60 passing touchdowns. Perfectly solid is all that’s required to reach QB2 status, and unlike his industry rating, our model thinks Garoppolo is perfectly suited to provide real value this week, just behind quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins, Geno Smith, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, and Daniel Jones and just ahead of quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson, Anthony Richardson, Jared Goff, Aaron Rodgers, and Kenny Pickett.
James Conner, RB (ARI) vs. WSH (ECR: 21, Our Rank: 10, PP: 13.92)
We highlighted Conner in our preseason piece, so it only makes sense that the model expects Conner to pay immediate dividends in Week 1.
The main reason for the model’s optimism in Conner? Only Josh Jacobs, Nick Chubb, Christian McCaffrey, Derrick Henry, Bijan Robinson, and Cam Akers are projected to receive more touches than Conner in Week 1. In short, that’s a who’s-who of running backs who were drafted in the first or second round of your fantasy drafts, and Akers.
See, the Arizona Cardinals might have the league’s worst offense for the first part of the season. All signs indicate that they’ll be starting a quarterback they acquired two weeks ago and the best way to build a safe gameplan around a new QB is to hand the ball off to your running back. In the four games Conner played without Kyler Murray last season, his total touches were 21, 19, 22, 19.
Conner has top-10 potential this week based entirely around the volume he’s likely to receive.
Cam Akers, RB (LAR) vs. SEA (ECR: 20, Our Rank: 11, PP: 13.62)
Speaking of Akers, he and Conner are in nearly identical situations. They’re both lead backs on offenses that, well, let’s just say don’t feature dynamic passing attacks. Especially with Rams’ star Cooper Kupp ruled out for Week 1, Akers is likely to be the focal point for the Rams offense against the Seahawks.
For Akers’ fantasy managers, they don’t have to go very far into the depths of their brains to remind themselves of what an Akers-centric offense can look like. From Week 13 onwards, only McCaffrey, Jerick McKinnon and Austin Ekeler scored more fantasy points and only Jacobs, McCaffrey and Najee Harris had more total touches.
More than a year removed from his injuries, Akers is a potential breakout candidate and beginning his season against a team that allowed the third most rushing yards in the NFL last season is a good place to start.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR (TEN) vs. NO (ECR: 22, Our Rank: 11, PP: 13.71)
The interesting thing about great players at the backend of their prime is that we have a tendency to forget just how great they are, especially when coming off an injury-plagued season. Keenan Allen is one of those players our model thinks will significantly outperform his average draft position. For this week, Hopkins is another.
Here’s the entire list of players that saw more targets per game than Hopkins last season: Ja’Marr Chase, Kupp, Justin Jefferson. Those same three players are the only ones that averaged more receptions per game, and of the receivers that finished in the top 10 in receiving yards per game, only Kupp, Chase, and Hopkins – all who dealt with injuries last season – finished outside the top 10 in PPR points.
In his career, Hopkins averages 77.9 receiving yards per game. Hopkins is going to immediately become Ryan Tannehill’s top target in the passing game, and when the ball is thrown to Hopkins, good things happen. You should feel confident plugging him into your lineups in a sneaky potential shootout game against the New Orleans Saints and their new QB, Derek Carr.
Christian Kirk, WR (JAC) vs. IND (ECR: 31, Our Rank: 19, PP: 12.95)
Kirk finished last year as WR12. He plays in an extremely fantasy friendly Jacksonville Jaguars offense, with a potential superstar at QB in Trevor Lawrence and he was one of only 10 players to record at least 1,100 receiving yards and eight or more touchdowns last season. And as a result, his ADP for this season was 78, being drafted as the 30th wide receiver off the board? Again, for those in the back, he finished as WR12 last season!
Sure, Calvin Ridley is the shiny new toy, but this offense was prolific enough last season to accommodate two wide receivers with at least 80 receptions, and there’s no reason to think they can’t become an even better offense this year. Ridley was awesome when he last played, so he’ll be sure to draw lots of attention. But Kirk has already been awesome in this offense, with this quarterback.
Tyreek Hill, Jefferson, Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, A.J. Brown, CeeDee Lamb, DeVonta Smith, and Chase are the only receivers who recorded more burns than Kirk in 2022. He’s legitimately good, and he’s a solid WR2 against the Indianapolis Colts this week.
Week 1 Nays
Matthew Stafford, QB (LAR) vs. SEA (ECR: 22, Our Rank: 29, PP: 12.73)
If Akers is a Yay for the way he finished down the stretch last season and because he enters this season as the Rams top option without Kupp, Stafford is a Nay for the exact opposite reasons.
Stafford enters Week 1 of this season after spending the offseason dealing with arm and spinal injuries. He does it without the services of Kupp, meaning his top targets this week figure to be Van Jefferson, Tyler Higbee and Tutu Atwell. Meanwhile, after entering last season as the defending Super Bowl champions, Stafford showed signs of potential decline. In the nine games he played, he had only two in which he threw more than one touchdown pass, and only one in which he threw for 300 yards. During the Super Bowl run, he only had four games in which he didn’t throw multiple touchdown passes and seven games of 300+ yards passing.
The consistency that he showed in 2021 is why he finished the year as QB5, behind only Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Tom Brady, and Mahomes, and ahead of players like Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts, two of the first five QB’s going off the board this year.
Of course, unlike some other quarterbacks that still provide excellent fantasy value because of their rushing ability, Stafford offers no such floor. He had nine rushing yards last season, for an average of a cool, 1.0 rushing yards per game. Until the model sees signs of life from this offense, Stafford won’t be receiving the benefit of the doubt. He should only be started in an emergency situation in a SuperFlex league, and definitely not in a one quarterback league.
Saquon Barkley, RB (NYG) vs. DAL (ECR: 4, Our Rank: 12, PP: 13.45)
Again, as a reminder, Barkley being on our Nay list doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t start him. You should! It just means that our model projects he is likely to perform worse than industry expectations. And in this case, our model suspects that Barkley will struggle to return top-10 value. Why?
There are 23 running backs that our model has assigned a higher likelihood of scoring a rushing touchdown than Barkley. Without touchdowns, it’s hard to climb into the top-10 and facing a Cowboys team that only allowed nine rushing touchdowns last season – only the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers had better marks – is a tough Week 1 assignment.
Drake London, WR (ATL) vs. CAR: (ECR: 20, Our Rank: 50, PP: 8.83)
This has nothing to do with London the player, and instead, everything to do with his team and his circumstances. Only the Justin Fields-led Chicago Bears ran the ball more than Atlanta last year, and the Bears didn’t just spend the eighth overall pick in the most recent Draft on a running back.
Overall, this Atlanta offense is loaded with talent, armed with a premier first round pick now at running back (Bijan), tight end (Kyle Pitts), and wide receiver (London). They have all the makings of being an exciting and productive fantasy offense. But… with Desmond Ridder at QB, and with an offensive philosophy that involves running the ball, and then running the ball again, the fear is that Robinson and Tyler Allgeier consume 50-60% of the touches.
To that end, our projections have London hovering around four receptions in this matchup against the Carolina Panthers, which means unless he scores a touchdown, he won’t provide enough value to belong in your lineup. And London, as the top outside target on this team, will be seeing a lot of Jaycee Horn at cornerback, which will make that task of scoring even more difficult.
Don’t forget to check out our complete fantasy football rankings and comparison tool, as well as our NFL predictions and statistical leaderboard. Happy exploring. And follow us on Instagram and Twitter.