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Stealing Signals: Week 1, AFC

Identifying and acting on underdiscussed early-season trends can be a huge boost to building a championship fantasy football roster. Here are the moves I’m considering and the things I’m watching in Week 1. 

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers

There are a lot of reasons not to handcuff in fantasy football; a couple years ago we discussed some of them and why it makes some sense later in the season. Part of the reason is not knowing who the true handcuff is, as the Charcandrick West/Knile Davis example in that 2015 post illustrates.

One of the most discussed backup situations this season is Le’Veon Bell’s, as it has been a fruitful role in recent years. Given the extended holdout, it’s fair to wonder how heavily they lean on him early in the season. If not, keep an eye on Terrell Watson’s workload, or in the potential absence of it, James Conner’s effectiveness. We might glean important information in these early weeks about whether Conner will really be the backup to own later on.

Baltimore Ravens

The backfield split will be very notable in the early going here as well. I’ve noted my opinion on Terrance West, who has averaged 10.9 carries per game in 22 games since he first took the field for the Ravens in Week 12 of the 2015 season. Danny Woodhead will have his role, but has never handled 25 percent of his team’s carries in a season and is 32. West is 26 and has been one of my favorite RBs to target.

I’m also keeping an eye on the run/pass splits in the early going for any indication of whether the addition of previously rush-heavy offensive assistant Greg Roman changes the distribution of a team that had the largest discrepancy of pass attempts versus rush attempts in 2016 by a wide margin.1

Cleveland Browns


How quickly DeShone Kizer can assimilate will play a big role in determining the value of the assets in an offense that scored just 28 TDs last season. If you’re expecting Dak Prescott-type productivity, remember that Prescott not only had the best passer rating for a rookie QB in NFL history, he also posted a 137.8 rating in the preseason before that run. Kizer’s was 72.7, which shouldn’t be taken as anything more than a reminder that he’s a rookie and Prescott was a rare breed.

Keep an eye on the tight end snap counts in Week 1 between David Njoku and Seth DeValve, the latter of which has some sneaky potential this season if Njoku is brought along slowly.

Cincinnati Bengals

The backfield split is the obvious question, but Tyler Boyd is a name who is likely available in a lot of leagues, and who Shawn Siegele sees as a breakout candidate. I noted in my AFC North preview that Boyd’s splits with and without Green didn’t increase much while Brandon LaFell and Cody Core saw huge surges on the outside, suggesting he was pigeon-holed a bit into a slot role that had a capped ceiling.

Boyd Split

With John Ross out for Week 1, keep an eye on whether Boyd’s role has expanded at all and how his targets compare to LaFell’s and Tyler Eifert’s.

AFC West

Denver Broncos

How much will Jamaal Charles play? How effective will he be?

If the answers are a decent amount and anything resembling his old self, he’ll be a popular acquisition target early. If he stays healthy, it wouldn’t be crazy to see his workload gradually expand.

Kansas City Chiefs

Tyreek Hill played 39 percent of the Chiefs snaps last year, while not only Jeremy Maclin, but also Chris Conley and Albert Wilson played 50 percent or more.

Tyreek Hill

Hill was unsustainably productive for that amount of playing time; if you’re invested, you want to see him play a higher percentage of snaps in the Thursday night opener than any week last year.

Kareem Hunt’s ADP skyrocketed after Spencer Ware’s injury, but just how much Charcandrick West plays will be interesting. Even if it’s a chunk, we could see Hunt earn a higher percentage as the season wears on. For example, Ezekiel Elliott played 62 or 63 percent of the snaps in three of 2016’s first four weeks; he didn’t play a lower percentage until Week 16, when Dallas was clinching the conference’s top seed.

The real signal here would be if Hunt sees a ton of playing time. That would mean big things.

Los Angeles Chargers

After an injury-plagued 2016, the Chargers enter 2017 with a lot of names and uncertainty surrounding who will see the most volume. Whether Hunter Henry truly usurps Antonio Gates, Tyrell Williams’ role vis a vis Travis Benjamin’s, and whether Branden Oliver could be used as a consistent passing-down back that cuts into Melvin Gordon’s upside are all important situations to keep an eye on.

Oakland Raiders

Red zone opportunities will have my eye early in the season, as I’ve suggested Amari Cooper’s lack of production there shouldn’t be as emphasized as it has been.

AFC South

Houston Texans

Who’s the No. 2 WR? Is it Braxton Miller? Bruce Ellington? Jaelen Strong’s suspended Week 1 but will be back Week 2.

There’s a decent chance one of these guys is usable at some point before Will Fuller’s back. Miller or Ellington might even be in play as super contrarian Week 1 DFS plays, given how the early release of pricing limits the need for punt plays.

As for No. 2 RB, keep an eye on D’Onta Foreman and Alfred Blue, assuming the former’s health. Maybe I’m hoping, but Bill O’Brien’s comment that Foreman “has a chance to play” Week 1 would seem an odd clarification if he wasn’t already expected to be ahead of Blue.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Allen Hurns is listed fifth on the depth chart, so how the targets shake out in Week 1 will be really interesting. Without a strong TE presence, it could be the Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee show, with some Dede Westbrook sprinkled in.

Leonard Fournette’s ADP has been too high for me, and one reason why is uncertainty about his passing-down role. Keep an eye on how the Jaguars use T.J. Yeldon and what type of work Chris Ivory gets.

Indianapolis Colts

It’s going to be really hard to trust any Colts until Andrew Luck is back. If I wasn’t deep at WR, I’d consider TY Hilton. I am off Donte Moncrief, who is incredibly TD dependent, with just five 70-plus yard receiving games in his 44-game career.2 I don’t see the benefit to playing Frank Gore.

The situation to watch here is backup RB, where Robert Turbin was praised all offseason,3 but Marlon Mack flashed in the preseason. I expect Turbin to still be ahead of Mack, and similar to the commentary on Kareem Hunt above, that wouldn’t spell disaster for Mack’s season. It would be very notable if Mack saw significant time, though.

Tennessee Titans

The big questions for the Titans are all workload related. How much does Derrick Henry get? Does Eric Decker play a full load of snaps after missing 2016 with serious shoulder and hip ailments, or do they use their depth to rotate? How many snaps does Corey Davis play after an August hamstring injury, and does fellow rookie Taywan Taylor get any run if Davis is limited?

AFC East

New England Patriots

It’s all about Chris Hogan. Wes Welker burst onto the scene with 112 catches for 1,175 yards and 8 TDs in 2007, after being drafted as the WR43 in the 11th round. Dion Lewis was undrafted in tons of fantasy leagues in 2015 but posted 17.5 PPR points per game before being lost for the season in Week 9.

An efficiency dynamo, Hogan has this type of upside if the Patriots choose to feature him heavily. It’s not likely, but there’s a precedent. If he has a big Week 1 — specifically in terms of snaps and targets, rather than a spike of efficiency — I’d be looking to buy high.

Buffalo Bills

Things have become a sad state of affairs in Buffalo, but the degree of LeSean McCoy’s workload and whether Jordan Matthews dominates targets or leaves some for other pass-catchers like Zay Jones to potentially have value are things to watch.

New York Jets

I just called the last team sad, but this division is just awful. I’m expecting Matt Forte and Bilal Powell to be the top two fantasy producers in this offense, but there is opportunity at WR and the snap counts will be notable, especially as the team integrates recent additions Jermaine Kearse and Jeremy Kerley.

Miami Dolphins

It’s looking like the Dolphins might not even have a Week 1 game, on account of Hurricane Irma. They certainly won’t have one in Miami, where it was previously scheduled.

If they do play, the biggest thing I’m watching is the split of targets between Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker with Jay Cutler under center.

  1. Marc Trestman was removed as Ravens offensive coordinator at mid-season.  (back)
  2. Including playoffs.  (back)
  3. In June, Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star said to “count on” Turbin playing a bigger role, while offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said he was having a “hell of a spring.” In August, Keefer said he’d “been terrific” in camp, and had earned an “expanded role.”  (back)

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