After a statistical fast that lasted more than eight months, the NFL was kind enough to give fantasy football fans a nibble of numbers Thursday night. Beginning on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET, we are going to gorge ourselves on fantasy stats all the way through Monday Night Football's doubleheader on ESPN.
There are plenty of big questions heading into the weekend fantasy feast after an offseason of speculation, and we are here to give you some answers. Each week throughout the season, I will posit five of the week's most intriguing fantasy questions to a rotating panel of experts from ESPN, ESPN Fantasy and NFL Nation. Five questions for five analysts, thus, Nickel Coverage.
Responses this week come from NFL Nation Giants reporter and frequent NFL Insiders contributor Dan Graziano, Tim Hasselbeck from Fantasy Football Now and NFL Live, ESPN Fantasy analysts KC Joyner and Jim McCormick, and NFL Nation Dolphins reporter James Walker.
Which rookie will make the biggest Week 1 impact?
Graziano: Amari Cooper. I'm not loving any of the matchups for the rookie running backs this week, and I think Cooper is going to be the real deal -- a monster from the get-go as Derek Carr's No. 1 option in Oakland.
Hasselbeck: Tevin Coleman. It's tough to figure out a rookie's impact before he even plays in a regular-season game, so I'm going with the rookie who I believe will receive the most touches Week 1. Coleman is the starting running back for the Atlanta Falcons, and because of Devonta Freeman's hamstring injury, he may be the only option that the Falcons want to use at the position in Kyle Shanahan's offense this week. Nearly 20 touches will be hard to beat for any rookie.
Joyner: Ameer Abdullah. He ranked in the top 10 in college last year in rushes of 20 or more yards (18, tied for eighth) and 40 or more yards (7, tied for sixth). Detroit drafted him to be its home run back and will give him every opportunity to do so against a San Diego defense that ranked 26th in rushing yards allowed last season.
McCormick: Cooper. I'm guessing the tight point spread we see for the slightly favored Bengals is off, and the game flow could see the Raiders down early, pushing the passing game to the front burner (even as Oakland would likely prefer to pound the ground and eat up the clock). I'm also placing stock in Cooper's massive preseason target share as an indicator he could be among the league's upper echelon in such usage. Even if this isn't the boldest call, it's undoubtedly the most fertile fantasy situation among incoming professional freshmen.
Walker: I assume most are going to pick Raiders receiver Amari Cooper, and that's a good and easy selection. But I'm going to go a little deeper with Jacksonville running back and second-round pick T.J. Yeldon, who is a former college teammate of Cooper's at Alabama. I sense the Jaguars are still in "protection mode" with quarterback Blake Bortles. I expect Jacksonville to try to hang in games by playing it safe and running the ball a lot with Yeldon with a hint of Denard Robinson. Carolina has a tough front seven, but it takes only one touchdown and a few good runs for a fantasy tailback to get solid points.
What are your expectations for Davante Adams in Week 1: WR1, WR2, Flex, or are you going to wait to see how he fares against the Bears before using him?
Graziano: I'd have no problem running Davante Adams out there as one of my wide receivers in my three-WR league, because I think he'll produce in the Packers' offense. But if I had a more proven option who was ranked similarly or had a great matchup (Golden Tate? Vincent Jackson?), I'd sit Adams and wait to see. He's not going to just replicate Jordy Nelson's production, because he doesn't have Jordy Nelson's exact skill set.
Hasselbeck: He's a solid WR2 for Week 1 in my opinion, and I most certainly do not need to see him versus the Bears to figure out how I feel about him. Chicago was an absolute disaster on the defensive side of the ball a year ago, and with the Nelson injury, Adams is scheduled to play nearly every offensive snap for Green Bay.
Joyner: Nelson racked up 154 targets last year (9.6 per game), a total that ranked fourth highest among wide receivers. Green Bay won't expect Adams to shoulder that workload level, but in a matchup against a very weak Chicago secondary, it won't take a high target volume for Adams to post numbers worthy of a starting fantasy wide receiver. He is pegged squarely as a WR2 on my board this week.
McCormick: In gauging the risk/reward returns on deploying Adams in a new role after a largely inefficient rookie effort, I'm pricing Adams as a WR2 given a healthy predicted point total for the game and what should be a valuable share of the Packers' passing game. Rodgers has proved to be somewhat of a star maker already in his career, helping to coax special fantasy seasons from Greg Jennings and James Jones in previous campaigns. The Bears' retooled defense didn't make many appreciable upgrades in the secondary, while Rodgers dropped 10 TDs and zero picks on the Bears last season.
Walker: Plug and play Adams right now and don't look back! There are too many factors in Adams' favor. First, the No. 2 option at receiver in Green Bay's offense is better than half of the league's first options when it comes to fantasy points. Second, Chicago's secondary is nothing to write home about, and even head coach John Fox isn't expressing much confidence in his team this week. Finally, you never know how a veteran signing like James Jones will eventually impact a young receiver like Adams. Once Jones gets reacclimated to Green Bay's offense in a couple of weeks, his opportunities could increase and naturally impact the amount of balls thrown to Adams. Owners of Adams need to cash in now in the event the dynamics eventually change in Green Bay.
Which player do you think will make an unexpected splash this week?
Graziano: I think it's a big week for Rueben Randle of the Giants. Odell Beckham Jr.'s getting all of the attention, Victor Cruz probably isn't playing, and Dallas doesn't have enough corners to account for all of the receivers offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo wants to put on the field. Randle had six catches for 74 yards on nine targets in the game in Dallas last October. And while that was before Beckham blew up, it's a reminder that Eli Manning likes to spread the ball around and believes in his secondary targets.
Hasselbeck: Stevie Johnson. Even though he is on the depth chart as the No. 3 wide receiver for the Chargers, Johnson has a unique skill set that allows him to play both inside and outside. And with no Antonio Gates in the lineup because of a suspension, that likely means more snaps for Johnson, who will be playing with, by far, the best quarterback he has ever had.
Joyner: Eli Manning. He was a QB2 in most draft rooms, but the matchup against a Dallas secondary that is now without its best cornerback (Orlando Scandrick) gives Manning high-tier QB1 upside this week. Don't be surprised if he scores more points than nearly every quarterback on the board this week.
McCormick: Danny Woodhead isn't a surprise nomination to provide solid PPR profits for the coming season. But predicting a solid RB2 effort (even in standard scoring) versus Detroit's stingy defense, which allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing backfields last season, should qualify as unexpected. While it's difficult to predict game flow, we can imagine Melvin Gordon having issues finding space on early downs, and Woodhead could be the prime beneficiary of elite coverage linebacker DeAndre Levy's injury-induced absence on third downs. Eighty total yards and a share of meaningful red zone touches aren't out of the question here.
Walker: It stuns me the number of fantasy football players who overlook a good defense. Just like in real football, defense can win championships. With that said, I expect the Miami Dolphins' defense to quietly rack up a lot of points against the Washington Redskins. I watched Miami's defense dominate in training camp and hold opponents to just three points this preseason when the starters were on the field. Miami's defensive line against Washington's offensive line might be the biggest position mismatch you will see in Week 1. The Redskins' quarterback situation also has been a mess all summer, and the Dolphins' defense is catching Washington at the right time.
In what order do you rank the running backs in each backfield for the Giants-Cowboys game on Sunday night and why?
Graziano: Giants: Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Andre Williams. I still think Jennings gets more carries than Williams as long as he's healthy, but Vereen is going to see the field a lot on passing downs, and I think this will be a shootout. Put Vereen No. 1 on this list if you're in a PPR league. Cowboys: Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar, Christine Michael. I think Randle gets the first shot to be the starter, and behind that line there's a chance he literally runs with it.
Hasselbeck: Giants: Jennings, Vereen, Williams. Jennings is the most versatile and reliable back in their minds. Vereen will have opportunities in the passing game, and the game could easily turn into a shootout. Williams may get the goal-line work, but there is certainly no guarantee that there is a goal-line opportunity.
Cowboys: Randle, McFadden, Dunbar. It's been pretty evident that the Cowboys want to give the first legitimate crack at the job to Randle because of age and potential. McFadden looks like he will be given a role, even if he isn't the starter. And I basically see no value for Dunbar, based on how much I am anticipating he plays. In fact, I would guess that either Dunbar or Michael will not be active for the game.
Joyner: For the Giants, it would be Jennings, then Vereen and Andre Williams. Jennings is still the workhorse back of this group, so he'll likely end up with more carries/targets than the other two. Vereen is a pass-catching specialist facing a defense with pass-coverage issues, so he'll place a close second. Williams could get goal-line work, but outside of that, he may not see a lot of playing time.
For Dallas, it's Randle, then McFadden followed by either Dunbar or Michael. Randle and McFadden could end up as a platoon combination and rank well ahead of Dunbar and Michael.
McCormick: With Jennings and Williams potentially sharing early downs, the pass-catching Vereen could prove interesting in what could be a pass-happy shootout. If determining rushing touches -- especially at the goal line -- is difficult even for the beat writers, I'll focus on Vereen as the one player with a fairly predictable usage pattern of 10-12 third-down touches. As for the Cowboys, I can't identify a trustworthy usage pattern. Sure, Dunbar should assume a share of third-down duties, but without the production pedigree Vereen brings to the Giants. My guess is Randle sees the most early-down touches and has the most valuable (a relative term here) outing. Randle, to me, is the incumbent leader in the clubhouse until we see otherwise. The scary part? We might just see "otherwise" play out.
Walker: For the record, I wouldn't play any of these running backs as my first or second option. A lot of fantasy teams around the country are going to lose this week rolling the dice with tailbacks from this game. Michael is a wild card who is hard to rank because he has to quickly pick up a new offense. I don't expect much from him for at least two weeks. My ranking for the Cowboys is Randle, Dunbar, McFadden, then Michael. For the Giants it is Jennings, Williams, then Vereen.
Among Week 1 quarterbacks, where do you rank Ryan Tannehill against Washington?
Graziano: Tannehill is solidly in the top 10 for me. The Redskins have issues in the secondary, as always, and the Dolphins have a lot of receiving options with which to spread them out. All reviews of Tannehill from camp point to a big year, and I think his second year under Bill Lazor starts with a big Week 1.
Hasselbeck: I have Tannehill as the No. 9 fantasy quarterback in Week 1. The Redskins were one of the worst teams in the NFL versus the pass last year, and Tannehill may have seen the most improvement in his game among all quarterbacks. Plus, the creativity of Miami's offensive system will bring about plenty of opportunities in the passing game. And don't be surprised if Tannehill has more than 50 rushing yards.
Joyner: Got Tannehill pegged seventh on my quarterback board this week. He could rate even higher against a terrible Washington secondary, but Tannehill's downfield throwing prowess is still a question mark. That question doesn't keep him out of the QB1 conversation this week, however.
McCormick: I have Tannehill ahead of -- gasp! -- Andrew Luck this week in my quarterback rankings. While that would normally be a truly ringing endorsement, Luck is in a uniquely unfavorable setup in Orchard Park versus a Buffalo Bills defense that has allowed just four passing touchdowns over the past eight games (no, really). I am relatively high on Tannehill, though, as he's my No. 8 fantasy arm in a week with some really well-positioned signal-callers. As a counter to the elite defensive foe Luck faces, the Redskins allowed the most passing touchdowns over the second half of last season, setting Tannehill up to feast on what might be an even more exploitable Washington secondary than last season's generous group.
Walker: Here is where fantasy football can be tricky. No NFL scout or personnel expert will tell you Tannehill is a top-10 quarterback. But I like his chances to be a top-10 fantasy quarterback this year, and he's an especially good play in Week 1 against Washington's shaky secondary. I know the Dolphins as well as anyone, and in their system, they are going to throw the football a ton. Tannehill had more pass attempts (590) than Tom Brady (582), Philip Rivers (570) and Aaron Rodgers (520) last season. The issue is Tannehill's yards per attempt (6.86) needs to improve. The Dolphins have the right receivers to fit Tannehill's skills and be better with yards after the catch. Unless you have an elite quarterback on your roster, Tannehill is a good option in Week 1.