I am not a daily fantasy football newbie. I’ve been covering fantasy football in general for years and have taken down many season long fantasy championships in the process. Everyone says these things, I know, and you don’t yet have any reason to trust me. All I can do is tell you that starting with this week one FanDuel NFL picks column, I’m going to look at my favorite plays and try to come up with the best possible daily fantasy football lineup I can find.
Whether you play GPPs or cash games strictly, it doesn’t matter. Whether you want this specific NFL DFS lineup as it stands or want to make changes – that doesn’t matter either. This is at the very worst an exploration into some of the better plays (whether they’re safe or have high upside) and how they can come together to formulate an ideal team.
I’ve done this for daily fantasy baseball lineups for much of the year and we’ll gradually be shifting our full-time focus to the NFL side of things. Join me for week one and if I help you at all, I hope you keep coming back each week to talk daily fantasy football with yours truly.
With that intro out of the way, let’s use FanDuel’s roster to build out a team of some of my favorite week one NFL DFS picks:
QB: Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers ($8.3k)
You’ll see as you move along that this week 1 roster as a whole doesn’t look/feel overly contrarian. Even so, with A-Rod leading the charge, I think as a whole it certainly could be. There are two reasons. For one, as good as Rodgers is, a lot of people will get scared off by him facing Seattle in week one. Other fantasy passers (Matt Ryan, Big Ben, Derek Carr, etc) have flat out better matchups, too.
But they’re not all necessarily better players, themselves. A-Rod has actually been quite good against Seattle at home (500+ yards, 5 TD, 0 INT in his last two home starts vs. Hawks) and he has a loaded arsenal to go to work with. Betting against Rodgers at Lambeau Field just hasn’t been a good practice in general, either.
The other thing is other DFS gamers love to stack their quarterbacks with receivers or running backs. Again, riding that “Seattle is scary” narrative, pairing Rodgers with Jordy Nelson and the like feels, well, not safe.
All of this makes a very playable A-Rod possibly very contrarian. He might not “meet” his price tag in terms of value, but we just want a good quarterback who should be safe and also has the ability to drop an awesome line. That’s A-Rod in a nutshell.
RB: Todd Gurley – Los Angeles Rams ($7.3k)
Gurley is becoming pretty popular for a few reasons. First, he’s not a bad player. He showed us that as a rookie and now with bright offensive mind Sean McDermott leading the way, he has a chance to post his best numbers yet. The news that Andrew Luck won’t play this week also favors the Rams greatly, as they can run all day or really do whatever they want, knowing full well they don’t need to fear Scott Tolzien.
There is also the fact that Gurley has an amazing matchup on paper and is a pretty nice price. Gurley is a potential stud RB1 every single time he hits the field, but in week one he’ll be in a good system, has Sammy Watkins to stretch the defense out and gets an Indy defense that ranked 27th against opposing running backs a year ago. Maybe they’ll be better, but dang.
Last year was torture for season long Gurley owners and picking the right spot in DFS wasn’t any better. Week one gives us the right spot. Don’t miss out.
RB: David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals ($9.4k)
It’s way too easy in week one to stack DJ and Le’Veon Bell together. Because a lot of people can do it (and will), we should consider not doing it. Nice values like Gurley, DeMarco Murray and even LeSean McCoy give us outs, but if we pick the right side and the other guy performs well below expectations, that’s a pretty nice advantage over huge GPPs.
I’m not saying Bell will stink. You can flip-flop them here if you want. But he held out and could very well be rusty or winded. That, and the Browns got better in terms of sheer talent on defense and it could be hilarious to see them stop him a little more than many are banking on.
The other big reason to go DJ is that he’s also amazing and there is an argument for him being the flat out better DFS option. Bell is probably going to be more popular because he’s playing on the better team, has the better matchup and dropped a fat 30.1 fantasy points on Cleveland the last time he faced them. But Johnson is just as talented, arguably more explosive and just as involved in his team’s offense.
DJ didn’t hold out, either. His straight up matchup with a Lions run defense that ranked 10th against running backs last year is way tougher than Bell’s, but some might not realize that the Lions struggled against backs in other ways. The biggest area was catches, where the Lions ranked 24th in receptions allowed and 22nd in receiving yards for running backs.
It’s also pretty arguable the Lions benefited from some pretty bad rushing offenses in the NFC North. Green Bay didn’t even try to run for most of 2016, Minnesota had nothing going on the ground and Jordan Howard (surprise, surprise) was actually just fine with 12 and 14 fantasy points in two starts against this scary Lions run defense.
David Johnson is a beast and his role will reflect that. It’s the Lions and anyone considering fading him in week one that should be scared.
WR: Larry Fitzgerald – Arizona Cardinals ($6.4k)
Fitz is going to be chalky. If you’re afraid of chalk, maybe pivot to another option. But while he should be fairly high owned, he’s also going to be quite good. John Brown is there for the long balls and David Johnson is going to get the ball a ton, but when Carson Palmer drops back, he’s going to this ageless wonder quite a bit.
We saw as much the last two years, when Fitz racked up a ridiculous 109 and 107 catches. Unless he randomly gets hurt, I don’t expect that trend to dip in week one. Palmer and Fitz have a strong connection and the Lions don’t have a scary defense.
More specifically for DFS purposes, Detroit ranked just 21st against wide receivers in 2016 and just 26th when we only look at receptions. Fitz is as crafty as it gets. He’s going to get open, he’s going to catch balls and then he’ll get some yardage. Whether or not he can find the end-zone in week one will really tell us how profitable of a pick this is, but he offers some serious value in a great spot.
With a few of the top-end wide receivers either hurt, having their game PPD or looking at brutal matchups, this feels like a major “don’t get cute” spot. I want Fitz and the exposure is going to be fairly heavy for me.
WR: Kelvin Benjamin – Carolina Panthers ($6.5k)
You can pivot from Fitz to Benjamin or you can pair them. I want them together, as they both represent killer value at what should be a pretty overrated position in week one.
There is just so much to not feel comfortable about up top that I’d much rather pay at running back than pay at wide receiver. Benjamin helps us do that, as he’s going to be out to make up for a “meh” 2016 and he has the matchup to feast right away. Not only do the Niners have a suspect defense in general (28th vs. wide receivers last year), but they also were especially bad at letting WRs find the end-zone (29th).
The rankings aren’t good and things haven’t improved enough for us to be afraid. There is the mild concern that Cam Newton isn’t going to be fully himself, but I’m not really buying it. Benjamin is a great value and has a terrific matchup against a team he produced a sick 7-108-2 line against in week two last year. I don’t know if he scores twice again, but a similar line would not be shocking.
WR: Terrelle Pryor – Washington Redskins ($6.2k)
Pryor was on the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and he still managed to end the year as fantasy football’s 18th best wide receiver. That was his first full year as a starting NFL wide receiver and he was on the Browns.
The lack of preseason chemistry between Pryor and Kirk Cousins was worth noting, but that shouldn’t concern us that much. The Eagles offer an awesome matchup on paper (30th against WRs in 2016) and Pryor is Cousins’ number one wide receiver. With Jordan Reed facing a defense that has been tough on tight ends (not to mention his lingering toe ailment), Pryor projects to be fed targets in an enticing home date.
The other nice thing is he’s a legit #1 wide receiver right now in terms of role and look what we’re paying for him. Actually, all three of our wide receivers are legit #1 receivers in terms of role, yet none are even $6.6k. That should make for high ownership for these guys, but perhaps not everyone will be on them together.
TE: Delanie Walker – Tennessee Titans ($6.1k)
Tight end isn’t good in week one. Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce are both off the board and even they couldn’t muster 10 fantasy points on Thursday. We’re left with scraps and maybe 4-5 legit options to turn to that we can actually feel somewhat good about.
Jordan Reed is the most expensive option at the position. He’s facing an Eagles defense that finished 2nd against tight ends last year. He could explode, but I’m not into paying up to find out. Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham seem pretty legit. I like them both a good deal, but they’re more expensive than Walker and seem to have roles that can often be touch and go.
Walker feels locked in. Not only is he a nice price and sporting a tasty matchup with an Oakland defense that ranked 25th against tight ends last year, but he’s Marcus Mariota’s safety net. Eric Decker and Corey Davis could be big for this offense, but how soon? They’re new to this passing game, so given the matchup, talent and chemistry, it makes a lot of sense for Mariota to confide even more in a guy he always has, regardless. Oh, and the last time Walker took on the Raiders (2015) he roasted them for 91 yards on six catches. Add a score to that and we should get his week one production.
K: Phil Dawson – Arizona Cardinals ($4.5k)
Full disclosure, this is where my roster build started this week. That happened for several reasons. For one Dawson is the bare minimum and I don’t like wasting time on kickers. Secondly, he’s a really good kicker despite being 42 years old and everything points to him this week.
You can’t go through every position just thinking the player you pick is going to be the top-scoring option. With Dawson it’s just that there is too much logic. Maybe Justin Tucker ($5k) really is the best option at kicker, but who cares? The point differential in the end will likely be small and who knows, Dawson might be the stud I think he is.
Even if he’s not, Dawson is one of a few kickers I don’t think is going to burn us in week one, and that’s the first thing I look for.
Dawson is safe. Even with the 49ers and Browns for his entire career, he’s proven to be a reliable maker of field goals. Now he’s in Arizona, where Chandler Catanzaro missed four extra points and 7 field goals a year ago.
The scoring opportunities are there for Dawson to contribute and in week one especially, the Cards have a beautiful matchup indoors against a weak Detroit defense. Whether Arizona is piling on touchdowns or stalling drives in Detroit territory, I expect Dawson to be pretty busy.
I like other kickers, but there is nothing wrong with Dawson and he feels like a free square this week.
DEF: Houston Texans ($5.1k)
This is the second spot I figured out in our lineup build because I don’t want to dance back and forth and I want to know exactly how much cash I have to work with at the important positions.
There are maybe 7 team defenses I’d seriously consider for week one. The Bills and Ravens are two of them and something about them feels dicey. The Falcons, Panthers and Steelers are three more and the feeling is similar. They all should be fine, but there is some real game flow concerns with all of them.
I have no real qualms with the Texans. This was a stout defense in 2016 and they didn’t even have J.J. Watt for most of the year. Now they get to play at home during an emotional time and they face Blake Bortles? Come on, this is about as safe as it gets.
Bortles, to put it lightly, has not fared well in this matchup. And considering the guy got benched during the preseason, I’m not overly afraid of him coming out and lighting up one of the better defenses in the league. Jacksonville’s offense might surprise later in the year, but not in week one. Bortles has never hung more than 21 points on the Texans, he’s never defeated the Texans and in six career games against Houston, he’s produced 8 interceptions and been sacked 20 times.
Whether it’s sacks, picks, fumble recoveries, defensive touchdowns or just not giving up many points, I love Houston in week one and I absolutely deem them worth paying up for.