The first NFL Sunday of every new season reminds me of the first day of school in College. It’s all on paper til that first day. Rate My Professor says your teacher is 4.5 stars and a guaranteed A, you have your books pre-ordered, pencils and pens sharpened, inked up and ready to perform. Classes aren’t anything new–you’ve taken Calculus, Physics, Geography and your strange Native Americans Studies class even looks handleable. And then comes the first day. Where you walk into the room next to the one you’re supposed to be in, your Physics teacher is a five-foot Guatemalan man who flies through sentences faster than Eminem in “Rap God,” your Geography teacher is good for one lengthy I fucking HATE Donald Trump tirade per week, and your last teacher walks in with two different shoes on and says “now, I’ve never owned one of these” as he grabs the computer in the classroom like a Nascar driver grabs the steering wheel (this guy currently teaches me).
In the NFL, we call these moments Case Keenum and the Deadskins are up 17-0 on Philly or Lamar Jackson just submitted the single greatest quarterbacking performance since the 2018 Super Bowl or even the 5’9 rookie quarterback and the HEAD COACH who was fired by a middling college football program nine months ago are struggling. Among the rubble of Week 1, who set themselves apart? Which players should you pick up for YOUR Fantasy Football team? Here are five guys who shined in week one and should be reliable fantasy options down the road.
LAMAR JACKSON (Ravens)
With Lamar Jackson finally proving he’s capable at quarterback, the Ravens’ receiver depth chart just opened up a little bit. Before his explosion the other day, Jackson was absolutely viewed as a receiver. In fact, pretty much everyone out there agreed Jackson made much more sense as a receiver. That’s why Baltimore and Louisville fans were so smitten on social media today. Did you know that everyone besides those two fanbases thought Lamar should be a receiver? Oh, wait, you thought he would be a good QB too? Krazy. So did I! …And so did everyone else? Wait…who didn’t? Oh, like Bill Polian, Booger McFarland and maybe Doug Gottlieb (not for certain, but it’s a take in his range of lunacy).
Guess what? NOBODY THOUGHT LAMAR SHOULD BE A RECEIVER. NOBODY! Were there concerns about how well he could throw the ball coming out of college? YES. But that’s because he is a QUARTERBACK and the QUARTERBACK’s primary job is to THROW the football. We get concerned whether quarterbacks who can’t move can throw the ball, so of course we’re going to question Lamar’s ability to throw the football, it was the only hole in his game! And guess what? He’s improved, GREATLY.
But hey, a good performance by Lamar at something he was always elite at (throwing the damn ball!) means you have to personally remind your Twitter followers that you have always thought Lamar could throw the ball. He won the fucking Heisman, of course, he can throw the ball! Maybe I should start tweeting facts that everyone aside from a few maniacs already accepts as true. I think I’ll find a picture of the Earth from one of our Space shuttles and tweet “tHe EaRtH iS fLaT” like I’m smarter than 80% of the world because I know Earth is not flat. I’m not. Everyone knows the shape of the earth (I know, Kyrie). Same goes for Lamar’s arm.
There’s a shot Lamar ends up being the top scorer in all of fantasy. With a refurbished Ravens offense built around a whimsical dual-threat athlete at quarterback rather than one built for Joe Flacco (who looks like the depressed third Grimm brother), Lamar strengths are highlighted and his number soared in week one against Miami. Caveat: Miami SUCKS. A quarter of their players asked for a trade after the game so it’s good to know they were locked in for the Baltimore matchup.
Either way, Lamar looked comfortable in the pocket and connected with several new receiving toys–rookies Hollywood Brown and Myles Boykins each reached the endzone. He didn’t need his scrambling theatrics Sunday and soared to lofty fantasy heights via his arm alone. Tougher defenses will tell a separate story down the line, but Jackson appears to have the decision-making, passing timing, and explosiveness to thrive in year two. He’s still an average passer but his legs make him one of the handful of most dangerous players in the entire NFL.
JOHN ROSS III (Bengals)
Veteran superstar wideout Adrial Jeremiah Green is OUT for the first handful of weeks for Cincinnati. Listen, that kind of setback, as monumental as it is, will not hold a passing juggernaut like Andy Dalton down. The Red Rifle was a godsend for fantasy owners this past Sunday as he posted career numbers almost across the board in a strange loss to the Seahawks (Cincy absolutely should have won). Third-year receiver John Ross III was a primary culprit of the tremendous Dalton outing, catching seven passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns–both over 30 yards. Ross looked incredible, flat out. He flashed his record-breaking speed on go routes, came up with several 50/50 balls, and finally looked comfortable in Cincy.
Without Green, Ross found a rhythm for the first time in his career. He was healthy and started as the number two option next to Tyler Boyd, which is easily the best position he’s been in with Cincinnati. With Green and Boyd usually starting, they fulfill the needs Ross brings to the table. In a way, the Bengals almost don’t need him with Boyd or Green. After those two, Dalton targets running backs, tight ends, and smaller slot receivers over a weaker version of his two aces. But with Green’s injury sidelining the star for weeks, Ross finally has an assured spot where he can develop and thrive within a revamped Cincinnati offense under Zac Taylor which aims to use him more liberally than Marvin Lewis.
The Cincy offense only scored 20 points but far out-performed that total. Look for a much improved Bengal offense controlled by a quality QB (Dalton) targeting Boyd and Ross primarily until Green returns. Even if he proves to be just a rental and his role is wiped off the plate once Green returns and takes back his leg of chicken at the Andy Dalton dinner table, John Ross is a strong fantasy option over the next few weeks. He had his longest leash this past weekend and submitted a monster performance.
T.J. HOCKENSON (Lions)
With the eighth pick in this past April’s NFL Draft, Detroit selected a freaking tight end. Not just any tight end, the second-best tight end for Iowa! So what was my reaction? To draft him in my Fantasy Draft. An occurrence in only 18% of leagues, according to ESPN’s Fantasy app at the time. Cool. What could wrong with starting a former Iowa backup on my fantasy team? Surprisingly, the answer was NOTHING. Hockenson debuted as the Lions top receiver, recording 131 yards and a touchdown in his first game. I love it.
I’m going to make the same case with Stafford as I did with Andy Dalton: these dudes are good quarterbacks. I know, years of busted playoff opportunities and delirious management are really working hard against Stafford and Dalton. But give them an innovative playbook and some weapons on the outside–holy cow! That’s an offense! Hockenson slid into Detroit’s offense so, so smoothly. Having a rookie on your fantasy team pop off BIG in his first game is such an amazing feeling…like being massaged by a supermodel. Hockenson is a pass-catching brute force. He’s here to stay.
GARDNER MINSHEW (Jaguars)
Last season, I covered the Oregon Ducks, which meant I watched A TON of Pac-12 Football in 2018–so yes, you could say I dabbled in self-destructive behavior last year. (By 2 AM on Saturdays, after 14 hours of West Coast nonsense, I probably looked like Robert De Niro at the movie theater in Cape Fear). Oregon’s quarterback, Justin Herbert is one of those elite passers who’s been able to throw the ball 60 yards since he was in first grade. He’ll be a first-round pick, a hopeful future franchise guy for whoever snags him. But Gardner, the grad-transfer at Washington State, was better than him last season, I swear. I used to write a weekly Best NFL Draft Quarterbacks article and I said this the very first time I put Minshew in the top five:
This dude is one of the NCAA’s leaders all passing categories and he just worked his sorcery against a ranked Oregon squad. He throws for 300-500 yards in pretty much every game and gets practically no help from his backfield. The situation is similar to the LA Rams and Jared Goff, aside from the running game. Sure, Sean McVay may be the brightest offensive mind in the league, but Goff still makes some special throws. It goes both ways. With Minshew, Leach extends the leash but Gardner works his own magic. I think it’s time to buy stock in this young man.
My guy just accumulates passing yards by the thousand. The Jaguars won’t suck with Minshew, I promise you. And he’ll sling it 45 yards into traffic. He’s a passing maestro with a mustache. Minshew takes risky chances and has no filter as a passer. Awesome! He’s a boom or bust guy that always booms in terms of raw passing yardage. Mike Leach has his pawn on the board. (He used to be Gardner Minshew II but the II pulled a D.B. Cooper I guess).
TERRY MCLAURIN (Redskins)
These are your Redskin wide receivers:
- Paul Richardson
- Trey Quinn
- Steven Sims
- Kevin Harmon
- Terry McLaurin
That’s it. That is the entire list of wide receivers on the Washington Deadskins. FIVE dudes. Pittsburgh plays with six wideouts on like half of their plays and Washington barely has enough to field a pickup basketball team. Even though Washington enlists only five wide receivers, Case Keenum (and possibly Dwayne Haskins) isn’t not going to throw the ball. Heck, the journeyman quarterback accumulated nearly 400 yards through the air on Sunday against a playoff-probably Eagles squad. This is a common case of Somebody Has to Catch the Passes.
SO, with a small portion of pass-catchers and a semi-frisky quarterback, who is the number one target? Well, Trey Quin, Steven Sims, and Kevin Harmon are essentially unknowns to me. They also only combined for six catches for 64 yards against Philly; not the greatest stat line in the world. But McLaurin and Paul Richardson are the “stars” if you’re courageous enough to use such gleaming vocabulary. Richardson…is really more of a beta/second option than a stud playmaker.
That’s where Terry McLaurin enters the fold. The rookie out of Ohio State (bookmark that) caught five passes for 125 yards and a touchdown–a 69-yard score actually. McLaurin looked good, fresh, and carried himself like a future alpha receiver. I love it. And I expect his confidence and numbers only rise as he matures during his first year and management shifts to his former college pal Dwayne Haskins at QB.