Every team (except for the Jets) is enveloped by optimism entering Week 1. I’ve been tasked to take a flamethrower to that optimism on a weekly basis, highlighting a handful of upcoming “busts” for the forthcoming slate of games. Typically names will be selected in accordance with Yahoo Start %, but that information is not available ahead of Week 1. Let me be clear - I like fun, I prefer to focus on positives and, most of all, do not hate any of these players. I simply believe they will perform below their normal output.
Bust of the Week:
Giants QB Daniel Jones & WR Darius Slayton vs Steelers (-6)
Total: o/u 47.5
Jones surpassed expectations during his rookie season, showing a willingness to create big plays by throwing downfield. This culminated in four spiked weeks, qualifying as the overall QB1 or QB2 against the Bucs, Lions, Jets and Washington - sense a theme? Four bottom table secondaries. In his other eight starts, against league average or better secondaries, Jones failed to hit the 15 fantasy point mark. At worst, the Steelers will finish league average defensively this season and have a ceiling of the top overall unit in the NFL. Jones had a tendency to don blinders in chaos as a rookie, leading to sacks and turnovers. The Steelers will capitalize on that tendency this weekend.
As for Slayton, another player who performed well above his fifth-round expectation, his outlook for Week 1 is concerning. Obviously he is attached to Daniel Jones, and Slayton’s 2019 was very similar in terms of producing spiked weeks versus questionable secondaries (Lions, Jets, Eagles) - six TDs in three games versus two TDs in the other 11 contests. It also extends to yards, as those three games combined for 44% of Slayton’s yardage total. Don’t get me wrong, I love spiked week players - those ceiling scores win you matchups. But a crucial component is identifying when those massive stat lines are possible. This is not one of those weeks.
Prediction: Jones - 21-of-38 for 200 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT… Slayton - 3 catches, 47 yards, 0 TDs
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Bills (-6.5) RB Devin Singletary vs Jets
Total: o/u 39.5
A fifth-round pick in most fantasy drafts this summer, Singletary’s early-season expectations should be closer to RB3 rather than the RB2 he was selected to be. On paper, the Bills have a dream opening schedule: the Jets twice, the Dolphins and the Raiders in four of the opening seven games. The reason for concern - rookie Zack Moss securing opportunities near the goal line and in the passing game - two pillars of fantasy scoring.
Singletary was fantastic to end 2019, averaging nearly 19 touches in the back half of the season and producing a high rate of 15-plus yard runs (14 in total, tied for 4th among all RBs). He is dynamite between the 20s. Yet, Singletary is unlikely to receive more opportunities inside the 5-yard line, handling just 2-of-18 last year. For comparison, Frank Gore received 11-of-18 inside the scoring zone. Factor in Moss’ successful receiving résumé and the fact that the Jets were No. 2 in Run Defense DVOA last season, and Singletary’s Week 1 output could be carried by yardage totals alone. Granted, that could hover near the 100-yard mark with the Bills as -6.5 point favorites. Maybe the Jets run defense collapses without Jamal Adams, and maybe we have a horribly wrong read on Moss’ immediate impact in important chances, but I’m in wait-and-see mode with the Bills’ split backfield to start the season.
Prediction: 13 carries for 55 yards, 1 catch for 5 yards
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Bengals WR A.J. Green vs Chargers (-3)
Total: o/u 43
Simply put, I did not want to invest in Green this summer and would hesitate to do so in Week 1. Although coach Zac Taylor stated Green would be a “full go” against the Chargers, the receiver has not played in a game since December 2, 2018 and dealt with a hamstring issue for large portions of camp. This vision keeps entering my brain that the Bengals could shock us all with offensive fireworks beginning this weekend. The skill group points to that being a possibility. But the porous offensive line, facing off against Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Jerry Tillery and others is one of the most unbalanced matchups of the opening slate. And on an individual level, with Tyler Boyd operating in the slot, A.J. Green should draw plenty of Casey Heyward, who allowed just 27 receptions last season.
Prediction: 8 targets, 5 catches, 58 yards, 0 TDs
Dolphins WR Preston Williams vs Patriots (-6.5)
Total: o/u 43
Even with important pieces departing for huge deals elsewhere and other veterans opting out, the Patriots should still rank among the league’s best secondaries after boasting the No. 1 Pass D DVOA in 2019. The expectation is for Stephon Gilmore to travel with post-hype breakout DeVante Parker across the formation. That means Preston Williams will face a lesser corner, but potentially more attention from the totality of the defensive backfield. Williams was on a rocket ship trajectory before tearing his ACL in Week 9, including a 63-yard effort versus the Pats in Week 2. In his absence, Parker emerged as a go-to force. With so receiver injuries riddling Dolphins camp, my fear is the Patriots will ask Gilmore to lockdown Parker and devote more eyeballs on Williams - forcing Chan Gailey and ancillary pieces on the Dolphins to beat them.
Prediction: 7 targets, 4 catches, 42 yards, 0 TDs
Jaguars RBs vs Colts (-8)
Total: o/u 45
Every week you are told to “chase volume” at running back. Why? Because opportunity, not success/efficiency, is the most predictable facet of running back play. Featured backs in positive gamescripts, pass catching backs in negative and neutral gamescripts, usage based on previous games - these are most predictable. To that end, the Jaguars backfield is wide open after Leonard Fournette’s departure, as the former top-five pick owned 86% of Jacksonville’s backfield carries and 18% of all targets in 2019. No team leaves more opportunity on the table heading into Week 1. Avoid it this week. A complete lack of preseason gives us little confidence in the ability of undrafted rookie James Robinson and second-year Devine Ozigbo. You are going in blind. Chris Thompson should see a handful of catches with the Jaguars as +7.5 underdogs versus the Colts, but your season is already in trouble if he’s an immediate FLEX option.
Prediction: Robinson and Ozigbo combine - 16 carries, 71 yards, 0 TDs… Thompson - 6 catches, 1 carry, 46 total yards, 0 TDs