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Fantasy Football Start/Sit Week 1: Start Antonio Gibson & Brandon Aiyuk, Sit Breece Hall & Dameon Pierce

Fantasy Football Start/Sit Week 1: Start Antonio Gibson & Brandon Aiyuk, Sit Breece Hall & Dameon Pierce article feature image
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Mitchell Leff/Getty Images. Pictured: Breece Hall.

Welcome to Week 1!

With draft season in the rearview mirror, we are closing in on the first NFL Sunday of the year. Below are some players at each position you should start in fantasy football for Week 1 of the NFL season, as well as some players you should consider sitting based on matchups, injuries and trends.

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Week 1 Start ‘Em

Quarterbacks to Start

Jameis Winston, Saints at Falcons

Winston finished as the QB4 for fantasy in his final season with the Buccaneers and enters the season as the Saints’ starting quarterback. Although New Orleans deployed a watered-down, conservative version of the 28-year-old former No. 1 overall pick last season, he was still effective for fantasy before suffering a torn ACL. He started seven games and was QB14 on a per-game basis. Winston could easily drop a 3+ touchdown, 300-yard game in his season debut against the Falcons, whose defense ranked 29th in pass DVOA and gave up the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks last year.

Wide Receivers to Start

Marquise Brown, Cardinals vs. Chiefs

Brown was a solid WR3 during drafts heading into the 2022 season. The former Raven is coming off of his best season to date in which he finished as the WR22 in half PPR. The move was viewed as slightly negative given the Cardinals’ depth, though he has a number of things going for him — especially early season. For one, five-time Pro Bowl wideout DeAndre Hopkins will miss the first six games of the year due to suspension. Arizona is also dealing with injuries to Rondale Moore (hamstring) and Zach Ertz (calf). Moore has already been ruled out for Week 1 and Ertz is listed as questionable. Brown will likely see a hefty target share in this game and should be considered a high-end WR2 with WR1 upside against the Chiefs. 

Rashod Bateman, Ravens at Jets

Bateman was a disappointment in his rookie season and finished as the WR71 in half PPR. He failed to break out behind Marquise Brown, but with Brown off to Arizona, Bateman should be the incumbent No. 1 on Baltimore’s wide receiver depth chart. He has great upside against the Jets in Week 1 as a WR3/flex play.

Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers at Bears

Aiyuk burned many fantasy managers last season (including me) after he fell out of head coach Kyle Shanahan’s good graces. Once he was utilized from Week 9 onwards, he was the WR13 in half PPR. Aiyuk offers significant upside against a below-average Bears defense — especially if tight end George Kittle misses Week 1.

Running Backs to Start

Antonio Gibson, Commanders vs. Jaguars

Gibson’s fantasy stock has been on quite the rollercoaster since the beginning of the offseason. His ADP plummeted during training camp amid concerning reports that he would be returning kicks and that rookie Brian Robinson Jr. had been making strides. Many expected at least somewhat of a timeshare between Gibson and Robinson would develop. Unfortunately for Robinson, the former Crimson Tide running back was involved in a shooting and will miss significant time which puts Gibson back into fantasy relevance.

Gibson gets a cupcake matchup against a soft Jaguars run defense. He is a high-end RB2 with RB1 upside in Week 1.

Rashaad Penny, Seahawks vs. Broncos

Penny was the RB1 in half PPR from Week 12 onwards last season. He went on an absolute tear over the final five games and tallied 671 yards over Seattle’s final five games. Many faded Penny during drafts because of the Seahawks’ addition of rookie Ken Walker III. I expect this to be somewhat of a running back by committee favoring Penny towards the start of the season. He could have an even more significant role in Week 1 if Walker sits due to a hernia which sidelined him at practice on Friday.

Penny should be considered a low-end RB2 with upside on Monday night against the Broncos.

Melvin Gordon III, Broncos at Seahawks

Much to the dismay of Javonte Williams managers, Gordon could actually be the steal of the draft this season. Broncos insider Ben Allbright and Ryan Edwards predict the workload split to be closer to 55/45 than 75/25 and stated that Gordon will have a situational role carved out — specifically in the passing game. Both running backs should feast on the Seahawks’ run defense, which ranked second-to-last in fantasy points allowed to the position last season. Gordon is a low-end RB3 with RB2 potential in Week 1.

Tight Ends to Start

Pat Freiermuth, Steelers at Bengals

There’s not much to love on this Steelers team but Freiermuth and Najee Harris are the exceptions. I have been a fan of this rising star since the beginning of last season. He finished as the TE14 in half PPR — an impressive feat for a rookie at the position — and was drafted as a fringe-TE1 this year. I like him this week against the Bengals, who ranked seventh-worst against fantasy tight ends in 2021. He is a top 12 tight end with top 5 upside in a favorable Week 1 matchup.

Defenses to Start

Titans D/ST vs. Giants

The Titans D/ST was a solid unit in 2021, ranking 9th in fantasy points for the season. They get a mouthwatering matchup against a Giants offense, which I expect to pick up where they left off last season. New York finished second-to-last in points scored and total yardage with Daniel Jones, whose fifth-year option was declined by the Giants, at the helm. Vegas has this game with a point total of 44 and the Titans favored by 5.5 points, which gives the Giants an implied team total of about 19. Tennessee is a top 5 unit based on matchup alone in Week 1.

Week 1 Sit ‘Em

Quarterbacks to Sit

Derek Carr, Raiders at Chargers

Carr was one of my favorite late-round quarterback selections so there is a good chance he’s not the only quarterback on your roster. I believe he’ll finish top 12 for fantasy at the position this year, but he is not a plug-and-play locked-in starter each week, including this one. Carr has downside facing the Chargers, against whom he has struggled, finishing as the QB24 and QB18 in their two meetings last season. Treat him as a high-end QB2 this week.

Wide Receivers to Sit

Amari Cooper, Browns at Panthers

The Panthers defense wasn’t anything to write home about last season (much like the rest of their squad) but they were fairly decent against opposing receivers. The unit allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to the position in 2021, which they achieved without first-round selection, Jaycee Horn, for the majority of the year. Cooper is concerning, both for the season opener and beyond catching passes from Jacoby Brissett for the first 11 games with Deshaun Watson out. He is a WR3 with a near-zero floor in this difficult Week 1 matchup in Carolina.

Tyler Lockett, Seahawks vs. Broncos

Lockett has quietly been a stud for fantasy over the last four seasons. He has finished as the WR17, WR18, WR13 and WR19 in that span, during which caught passes from nine-time Pro Bowler Russell Wilson for the most part. The Seahawks will be starting Geno Smith in Week 1 which immediately hurts both Lockett’s and D.K. Metcalf’s fantasy value. My concern is compounded by the matchup: Lockett, et al. will be up against the Broncos, who were a top 10 unit against fantasy wide receivers last season. He is a boom-or-bust play this week outside of the WR3 tier.

Hunter Renfrow, Raiders at Chargers

Renfrow is fresh off of a breakout campaign in which he reeled in over 1,000 yards and finished as the WR13 in half PPR. This season, however, he will have to compete for targets with five-time Pro Bowler Davante Adams, which will hurt his fantasy stock significantly. His Week 1 matchup isn’t great either, as the Raiders will face off against the Chargers, who ranked third-best against fantasy wide receivers in 2021. Renfrow is a risky WR3 with downside this week.

Running Backs to Sit

Breece Hall, Jets vs. Ravens

There’s certainly a lot to like about Hall, who was one of my favorite prospects from this year’s draft class. He has a strong college resume, superhuman athleticism, and a well-rounded skill set that should serve him well in the NFL. That said, I am wary of starting him in the first week of the season. The matchup isn’t ideal against the Ravens, who ranked 11th in fantasy points allowed to running backs last year. The Jets’ offensive line remains a pain point, especially after the loss of tackle Mekhi Becton for the year and Hall will still need to contend with Michael Carter for touches. It’s hard to say if Joe Flacco will be an upgrade or downgrade from Zach Wilson, who will be sidelined for the first four games. Either way, Hall falls out of the RB2 tier this week with too many variables at play.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs at Cardinals

Edwards-Helaire has yet to live up to his lofty rookie hype. In his first two NFL seasons, he finished as the RB18 and RB39 in half PPR, respectively. The Year 3 back was plagued with injuries last year and only appeared in 10 games. It’s unclear how this backfield will shake out with the offseason additions of Jerick McKinnon, Isiah Pacheco and Ronald Jones — especially amid Edwards-Helaire’s durability concerns. The matchup is unfavorable this week against the Cardinals, who allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to running backs in 2021. Edwards-Helaire is a RB3 with downside in Arizona.

Dameon Pierce, Texans vs. Colts

It’s no secret that I have not been on the Pierce hype train. He was good value if you drafted him before his preseason explosion and is now listed as the No. 1 on the Texans’ depth chart. That said, I would have reservations about starting most non-top 10 running backs against the Colts’ run defense, which ranked fourth-best in fantasy points allowed last year. The fact that Pierce is a rookie only adds more uncertainty to the equation. The Texans are touchdown-underdogs to the Colts in this matchup which doesn’t bode well for positive, run-friendly game scripts. Consider Pierce a RB3 with a near zero floor against Indianapolis.

Tight Ends to Sit

Cole Kmet, Bears vs. 49ers

There’s a decent chance that Kmet ends up being good value based on where he was drafted. The Year 3 tight end has minimal competition for targets and he is likely due for some positive touchdown regression after reeling in zero last season over 17 games. That said, Kmet is a risky Week 1 play against the 49ers, whose defense allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to tight ends in 2021. There may be better options on your waiver wire than Kmet in this yucky matchup.

Defenses to Sit

Buccaneers D/ST at Cowboys

The Buccaneers’ defense has been rock-solid over the last two seasons, finishing seventh in fantasy points in both years. I am wary of trusting this elite unit against the Cowboys, however, who tacked on the most total offensive yards and total points in the NFL last season. There are likely better options available to stream than Tampa Bay in Week 1.

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