SSSQ is a weekly look at under-the-radar fantasy players to consider starting and potential busts you should leave on your bench. We also identify breakout candidates to stash on your roster and players you can safely cut.
For the rest of your lineup decisions, consult our Week 1 rankings. You can also listen to the Week 1 preview episode of RunSportBet Fantasy Football Podcast.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Big Ben is back, but can you instantly trust him and his surgically repaired elbow in your lineup? By all accounts, Roethlisberger looked great throwing in training camp, and he’s just one year removed from leading the league in passing yards. Even the narrative about his home/road splits can be put to rest.
The Giants’ defense allowed the fifth-most passing yards and seventh-most passing touchdowns in 2019 while ranking bottom five in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA. Adding cornerback James Bradberry and linebacker Blake Martinez isn’t enough to solve New York’s issues through the air. With a young and talented crop of skill position players around him, Roethlisberger will start the season with a top-12 fantasy finish in Week 1.
Boone’s projection: 309 passing yards, 2 passing TDs, 9 rushing yards
Other QBs to start
- Cam Newton vs. Dolphins
- Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Cardinals
- Tyrod Taylor at Bengals
Mark Ingram, Ravens
Fantasy Twitter was quick to overreact when Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman recently told reporters, “We’ll definitely use three (running backs) every week, sometimes four.” But Roman also made it clear that Ingram is the starter and leader in their backfield. Though second-round pick J.K. Dobbins is the future of Baltimore’s rushing attack, Ingram remains the present, and the veteran will get a matchup he can capitalize on in the opener.
The Ravens are eight-point favorites against the visiting Browns, which means a positive game script on Sunday is likely. Ingram was at his best when Baltimore was in control in 2019, scoring 12 touchdowns during victories compared to just three in losses.
And if you’re worried about his workload, don’t be. Ingram produced a top-12 fantasy campaign at his position despite averaging just 15 touches per outing in his first season with Baltimore; the 30-year-old didn’t eclipse 20 carries in any of his appearances.
Boone’s projection: 73 rushing yards, 21 receiving yards, TD
Other RBs to start
- Aaron Jones at Vikings
- Raheem Mostert vs. Cardinals
- Jonathan Taylor at Jaguars
DeSean Jackson, Eagles
Jackson was a featured player in my Week 1 Waiver Wire column, yet he’s still available in 47% of fantasy leagues. Even with Jalen Reagor practicing and looking like he might be healthy enough to make his debut this week, D-Jax is the clear No. 1 receiver in Philadelphia and has the speed to cause significant problems for Washington’s secondary.
If last year’s eight-catch, 154-yard, two-touchdown performance against Washington isn’t enough to convince you, consider the fact Jackson has cracked the 100-yard mark six times in season openers. Or that he’s averaged 115.6 yards over his last five September contests.
Perhaps it’s foolish to expect a full season of production from the 33-year-old speedster, but he’s definitely at his best in the first month of the campaign. With the Eagles’ front office talking up its plans to push the ball downfield, everything is aligning for another monster Week 1 for Jackson.
Boone’s projection: 109 receiving yards, TD
Other WRs to start
- D.J. Chark vs. Colts
- Tyler Lockett/DK Metcalf at Falcons
- Stefon Diggs vs. Jets
Tyler Higbee, Rams
Higbee might be a little too obvious for this section after managers had to draft him in the first eight or nine rounds to secure his services. Still, there are some who are down on him, with doubts he’ll be able to pick up where he left off at the end of last season when he posted four straight 100-yard games before concluding the campaign with 84 yards and a touchdown in the finale.
Let me break the news to you: He’ll never have a five-week stretch like that again. But that’s fine – no tight end maintains such numbers. Instead, we’re hoping Higbee can provide 60-70% of that production, which would easily make him a high-end fantasy tight end in 2020.
His connection with Jared Goff appears to have continued into training camp. The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue recently referred to Higbee as “Goff’s guy,” noting the Rams quarterback is targeting him a lot in practice. In Week 1, the duo faces a Cowboys defense that gave up the third-most fantasy points to tight ends last year, and the Sunday night showdown has the highest point total on the slate at 52. Get Higbee in your lineup and leave him there for the rest of the season.
Boone’s projection: 72 receiving yards, TD
Other TEs to start
- Hayden Hurst vs. Seahawks
- Jared Cook vs. Buccaneers
- Dallas Goedert at Washington
Daniel Jones, Giants
There were a lot of positives in Jones’ first NFL campaign, but we also have to acknowledge that 54.2% of his passing touchdowns and 32.4% of his passing yards came in three games against weaker defenses.
Those types of choice matchups will appear on the schedule later this year. Unfortunately, the sophomore passer has to get through a gauntlet of challenging opponents before he can take advantage.
The Bears and 49ers await Jones in Weeks 2 and 3, assuming he can survive a battle with a Steelers unit that took its play to another level in 2019 following an early-season trade for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Among its many accomplishments, Pittsburgh led the league in sacks (54) and ranked second in interceptions (20). We should see plenty of both Monday night.
Boone’s projection: 214 passing yards, TD, 2 INTs, FUM
Other QBs to sit
- Aaron Rodgers at Vikings
- Baker Mayfield at Ravens
- Joe Burrow vs. Chargers
Ronald Jones/Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers
We may eventually see either Jones or Fournette take charge in the Buccaneers’ backfield, but this is not the week to go hunting for value on Tampa’s RB depth chart.
Jones should see the most touches, but head coach Bruce Arians has pegged the recently signed Fournette for an immediate role, making this an undesirable committee in Week 1. Fantasy managers must also factor in the presence of veteran LeSean McCoy, who’s expected to serve in a pass-catching role.
To make matters worse, the Saints owned a top-five run defense in 2019. If you’re starting one of these guys out of desperation, your only hope is a touchdown.
Boone’s projection – Jones: 35 rushing yards, 11 receiving yards
Fournette: 27 rushing yards, 6 receiving yards
Other RBs to sit
- Kareem Hunt at Ravens
- D’Andre Swift/Kerryon Johnson/Adrian Peterson vs. Bears
- Jordan Howard at Patriots
Odell Beckham Jr., Browns
Beckham’s days of posting stat lines of 8-222-2 against the Ravens’ defense – as he did in 2016 as a member of the Giants – are long gone.
Not only have the Ravens solidified their group of defenders, but Beckham has joined a Browns offense still trying to find its way. OBJ was held under 45 yards in each of Cleveland’s two contests with Baltimore last year.
Though injuries may have played a part in last season’s struggles, the arrival of new head coach Kevin Stefanski from Minnesota brings the promise of a more run-heavy scheme – threatening the already reduced volume Beckham had been seeing. With Jarvis Landry close to full health and expected to suit up in Week 1, both he and Beckham need to be viewed as fantasy WR3s in this matchup.
Boone’s projection: 47 receiving yards
Other WRs to sit
- DeVante Parker at Patriots
- A.J. Green vs. Chargers
- Christian Kirk at 49ers
Austin Hooper, Browns
We’ll stick with the Browns and recommend leaving Hooper on your bench for the first week of the season.
In addition to Beckham and Landry, Hooper will be competing for targets against running backs Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb, as well as fellow tight ends David Njoku and Harrison Bryant.
You may question my inclusion of the rookie Bryant since tight ends normally take time to acclimate to the pros. But after winning the John Mackey Award as college football’s top tight end, Bryant followed it up by taking home the Maurice Bassett Award as the top rookie at Browns training camp. He was listed ahead of Njoku on the team’s first depth chart and might have earned himself a role in Week 1.
He’s yet another pair of hands vying for targets in an offense that projects to have a low-volume passing attack and a strong emphasis on running the ball behind a revamped offensive line.
Factoring in the Ravens’ success against tight ends last year – they allowed the fewest fantasy points to the position – it’s clear you’re better off streaming one of the young breakout options over Hooper this week.
Boone’s projection: 28 receiving yards
Other TEs to sit
- Jack Doyle at Jaguars
- Mike Gesicki at Patriots
- Chris Herndon at Bills
Brian Hill, Falcons
For those who are worried about the health of Todd Gurley’s knees and his ability to hold up over the course of a 16-game schedule, allow me to present his immediate backup – who’s rostered in just 4% of leagues.
Hill has drawn praise from coaches and teammates for his improvement and appears to have distanced himself from Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison on the Falcons’ depth chart. There’s no guarantee Hill will produce if given the starting job, but he’s worth grabbing now until we see how Gurley is performing in 2020.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Packers
The Packers were disappointed with Valdes-Scantling’s play in 2019 and demanded more dedication, professionalism, and consistency from the talented 25-year-old. He responded to the challenge, earning acknowledgment from Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur for setting a new personal standard and putting together a strong training camp.
Green Bay is in desperate need of a reliable No. 2 option in the receiving corps behind Davante Adams, and it’s possible MVS (5% rostered) could end up filling that void after all.
Damien Harris, Patriots
Most fantasy managers should be moving on from Harris, who generated some momentum in August before a hand surgery sent him to injured reserve for at least the first three weeks of the season. With Sony Michel returning from foot surgery and likely to be in the lineup this weekend, Harris’ window of opportunity has temporarily closed. Unless you’re in a deep re-draft league, the sophomore runner can safely be dropped – especially with the wave of waiver wire activity that’s about to take place over the first few weeks.