We know fantasy football hasn’t been a priority for everyone this summer the way it has been in the past, but the NFL season is upon us, and if you’re going to draft a fantasy football team, this is the weekend to do it.
If you haven’t been paying as much attention as you usually do, we’re here to help you catch up to make sure you make the best picks this weekend. This is a team-by-team look at the stuff you absolutely need to know before you print out your fantasy football cheat sheet for your draft. And if you still haven’t done so, there’s still plenty of time to sign up for a team or create a league.
Arizona Cardinals: DeAndre Hopkins’ arrival should only increase coach Kliff Kingsbury’s tendency to use four-wide-receiver sets, which he did a league-leading 33% of the time in 2019. There’s growing chatter that Christian Kirk or Andy Isabella should receive enough of a role for either to finally break through.
Atlanta Falcons: The departure of Austin Hooper has paved the way for March acquisition Hayden Hurst to step into an every-down role, which could provide the targets necessary to fuel a top-10 tight end campaign.
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has committed to a 15-touch weekly floor for Todd Gurley II, but can the veteran running back hold up to that large a workload? The problem is deciphering his understudy: Brian Hill appears to be in the lead over Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison, but that could be a fluid situation all season.
Baltimore Ravens: J.K. Dobbins‘ arrival clouds the Ravens’ running back picture, as head coach John Harbaugh publicly committed to the rookie having a Week 1 role, alongside starter Mark Ingram II and ahead of backups Gus Edwards and Justice Hill, during the early days of September.
Buffalo Bills: Frank Gore’s exit had seemingly cleared a path for Devin Singletary to shine in the featured role. Then the second-year running back’s fumbling issues opened the door for rookie Zack Moss to emerge in a partnership. Moss, who already figured to get most of the goal-line work, got enough preseason raves that he might have weeks early on where he receives the larger carry total.
Carolina Panthers: While Ian Thomas has been touted as a potential tight end sleeper, he hasn’t had a standout preseason and has to contend with Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, Robby Anderson and potentially Curtis Samuel for targets.
Chicago Bears: A strained groin has cast doubt upon David Montgomery‘s Week 1 status, as at the time of the Aug. 26 injury, a timetable of two to four weeks was issued, placing his return squarely between Weeks 1 and 3. Artavis Pierce, a suddenly viable late-round flier in deeper leagues, could see a fair amount of early rushing work if Montgomery misses time, as Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson are more known for their pass-catching ability.
As Week 1 dawns, we await head coach Matt Nagy’s proclamation of his starting quarterback: Mitchell Trubisky or Nick Foles. Fortunately, the uncertainty hasn’t harmed the draft appeal of Allen Robinson II, going 14th among wide receivers and talented enough to warrant an earlier pick.
Cincinnati Bengals: Check one of the big preseason holdouts off as “case closed,” as Joe Mixon came to terms with the Bengals on Sept. 1 and is now set for another 300-touch, potential top-10 RB fantasy season.
The No. 18 overall pick as recently as two seasons ago, A.J. Green appeared in only nine games total in 2018 and ’19 but appears healthy as Week 1 approaches. Hamstring troubles did cost him a chunk of the preseason, so while he’s probably deserving of his WR29 current ADP, he’s one of the biggest risk/reward picks at his position.
Cleveland Browns: Head coach Kevin Stefanski’s tight-end-friendly offense, coupled with the offseason addition of Austin Hooper, has boosted the rebound prospects of third-year quarterback Baker Mayfield, sneaking through as a relative bargain as QB21 on average in ESPN drafts.
Dallas Cowboys: Expect rookie CeeDee Lamb to slide right into a fantasy-relevant role in new coach Mike McCarthy’s system, being that the team vacated a league-high 164 targets and McCarthy utilized three-wide-receiver sets a league-leading 80% of the time in his final three full seasons coaching in Green Bay.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos plan to use tight end Noah Fant in a variety of ways in his sophomore season, giving him a realistic chance at a top-eight fantasy season at his position. He was targeted 47 times in his final 10 games as a rookie.
Head coach Vic Fangio indicated in mid-August that both of his top running backs, offseason acquisition Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay, would effectively share the starting role. The ADPs aren’t reflecting it: Gordon is going 20th among running backs, Lindsay 32nd, making the latter a prospective bargain.
Detroit Lions: D’Andre Swift has been a popular fantasy breakthrough pick (RB25 ADP), but a leg injury that cost him a chunk of August has cast some doubt upon his early-season availability. Kerryon Johnson stands to start for the Lions in Week 1 and perhaps for as long as he can stay healthy (he has missed 14 of 32 games in his first two seasons).
Green Bay Packers: The Packers didn’t draft a single wide receiver, and the only one they signed off free agency, Devin Funchess, opted out of the 2020 season in July. That thrusts Allen Lazard into sleeper territory, and it’s a big reason we rank Aaron Rodgers so unexpectedly low, at QB15.
Houston Texans: Will Fuller V appears primed for a breakthrough following the trade of DeAndre Hopkins and Fuller’s own commitment to improving his strength and conditioning during the offseason. Fuller, who had eight touchdown catches of at least 20 yards from 2017 to ’19, simply needs to stay healthy, having missed a combined 20 games during that same three-year span.
Don’t let David Johnson‘s arrival convince you that Duke Johnson can’t also have a role in the Texans’ backfield. Head coach Bill O’Brien has hinted at an increase in two-running-back, one-tight- end sets in 2020, which could help boost the latter’s reception total to a relevant level in PPR formats.
Indianapolis Colts: Marlon Mack might begin the season as the Colts’ starting running back, but head coach Frank Reich has declared the position a “hot hand” arrangement, opening the door for rookie Jonathan Taylor to quickly emerge. Taylor’s speed gives him the advantage of potentially quickly capturing the role for himself, and reports out of camp say he could be a capable enough pass-catcher to steal some of that work from Nyheim Hines, too.
Things are converging for tight end Jack Doyle to have an under-the-radar solid season. Trey Burton is expected to miss the first two weeks with a calf injury, and Reich and new quarterback Philip Rivers are extremely tight-end-friendly — Rivers, in 2014-19, targeted the position a league-high 36% of the time.
A car accident resulting in a concussion won’t shelve Parris Campbell for Week 1, as he was cleared on Sept. 3 and is ready to step in as the Colts’ primary slot receiver.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette’s Aug. 31 release opened up another starting running back job, though the Jaguars project to rank near the bottom in total rushing attempts in 2020. Head coach Doug Marrone declared Devine Ozigbo and James Robinson capable three-down backs, signaling their stake in this battle that should extend deep into the season. Chris Thompson should be a factor on passing downs, and Ryquell Armstead, once he gets back to full strength after a preseason stay on the COVID-19 list, should factor into the mix somewhat quickly.
Kansas City Chiefs: Wondering how a rookie, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, could soar in terms of ADP, settling at seventh overall entering the preseason’s final weekend? It’s simple: Damien Williams’ opt-out cleared the starting job, and Edwards-Helaire’s combination of elusiveness and pass-catching prowess seems a perfect fit for Chiefs head coach Andy Reid’s offense. This is a golden opportunity for the freshman.
If a first-round Edwards-Helaire pick causes you angst, know that the battle for his understudy role appears to have landed in the lap of Darrel Williams, just RB64 in terms of ADP entering the preseason’s final weekend.
Mecole Hardman, a popular breakthrough pick in the preseason’s early weeks, has captured the role of primary punt and kick returner, chores that might detract from his usage in the receiving game. Hardman, incidentally, totaled 10 targets in the Chiefs’ final 10 games of 2019 (postseason included), during which time he returned 22 kicks and 12 punts.
Las Vegas Raiders: Tyrell Williams’ season-ending labrum injury opens up 64 targets for a young receiving crew that could see any of Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow or Henry Ruggs III, their projected Week 1 most common three-receiver set, step up. Edwards has been running as the team’s “X” receiver during the preseason.
Los Angeles Chargers: Hints have been dropped that Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley could see larger-than-projected roles in the rushing game, which has all offseason been assumed to be in the capable hands of Austin Ekeler. Kelley began seeing work with the first-team offense during the week of Aug. 17, signaling some degree of committee in this backfield.
Safety Derwin James’ season-ending meniscus injury was a severe blow to the Chargers’ defense, currently ranked 11th and facing a handful of streaming-caliber matchups during the season’s first month.
Rookie Justin Herbert hasn’t looked at all ready to start at the NFL level, perhaps additionally set back by the limited preseason due to the pandemic, seemingly locking Tyrod Taylor into the starting quarterback job for the foreseeable future.
Los Angeles Rams: The Cam Akers/Darrell Henderson Jr. starting running back battle appeared destined to extend into the regular season’s early weeks, until Henderson’s late-August hamstring injury set him back in the race. Akers’ projected timetable to emerge as the team’s go-to back might have moved up in the process, making him a relative bargain at his RB27 ADP.
All preseason indications are that Brandin Cooks’ departure solidified Tyler Higbee‘s targets in the Rams’ passing game, and they were already plentiful: four straight games of double-digit targets and 62 total in his final six games of 2019.
Miami Dolphins: Offseason acquisitions Matt Breida and Jordan Howard remain projected to split the team’s backfield chores this season, though Howard has the slight fantasy edge due to his greater likelihood of goal-line work.
Rookie Tua Tagovailoa, who suffered a dislocated hip in college last season, has shown enough mobility this preseason to make the roster as the clear backup to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and while a Week 1 starter hasn’t yet been announced, it appears Tagovailoa’s emergence will wait until later in the season.
Minnesota Vikings: Dalvin Cook, the No. 4 player being selected overall in ESPN leagues entering the preseason’s final weekend, broke off talks with the Vikings in late August and will play out the final season of his rookie contract. While he seems ready for a big year, the holdout threat, plus his own bumps and bruises at the NFL level, makes it a wise choice to pair him with his understudy, Alexander Mattison.
If you’re waiting on tight end and need a sleeper, bear in mind that Irv Smith Jr. has been lining up wide frequently this preseason, and the Vikings should again be one of the most reliant teams on two-tight-end sets in 2020.
New England Patriots: Bill Belichick won’t grant you the luxury of a formal announcement, but we now know that Cam Newton will be starting under center for him come Week 1. While Newton has missed a combined 16 games the past three seasons, he has also averaged the sixth-most fantasy points per game among quarterbacks during that time span (18.7). He’s currently being drafted as QB14.
Their quarterback battle might’ve been easy to predict, but the Patriots’ running back race isn’t. Sony Michel missed early-preseason time with a foot injury, Damien Harris reportedly underwent surgery on his pinkie finger at the beginning of September and Lamar Miller was signed as insurance in mid-August. Patriots running backs have given you fits this entire century; it seems it’ll be a theme again in 2020.
New Orleans Saints: Alvin Kamara‘s contract negotiations have overshadowed the Saints’ preseason, and while he’s expected to come to terms in time for Week 1, it’d be wise to pair him with his plug-and-play understudy Latavius Murray where you can.
New York Giants: It won’t be easy to trust Evan Engram after he missed a combined 13 games due to injuries the past two seasons and endured Lisfranc surgery in 2019, but he has practiced without restrictions during the preseason and has been talked up within the organization as absorbing a larger role this season.
The buzz of Giants camp has been Sterling Shepard, who has put some space between himself and the team’s other receivers atop the depth chart. That’s big news, especially considering the roster redundancy with slot-type Golden Tate.
New York Jets: Le’Veon Bell continues to get most of the attention in Jets camp — what’s new? — but the team’s beat reporters hint that offseason acquisition and age-defying dynamo Frank Gore could cut into Bell’s carries by as much as 40%.
Philadelphia Eagles: After failing to come to terms on an extension with Zach Ertz, the Eagles might be signaling they are entering transition time, with Dallas Goedert ready to be groomed as the team’s tight end of the future. Expect Goedert to absorb a larger portion of the team’s tight end target share in 2020.
Alshon Jeffery is expected to miss Week 1 with a foot injury, continuing the year-over-year pattern of absences, and rookie Jalen Reagor (partially torn labrum) might join him on the sidelines for the opener. Consider it opportunity time for fantasy dart throws DeSean Jackson, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, John Hightower and Greg Ward.
A hamstring injury slowed the Miles Sanders hype train late in the preseason, though all indications are that he should be ready for Week 1. Considering the setback prospect of that specific ailment, it’s a wise move for late drafters to pair him with Boston Scott.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had elbow surgery during the offseason, admitted in late August that he had dealt with nagging pain in the joint for the past 13-14 years. He has reported much improvement with the ailment and could bounce back to borderline QB1/2 fantasy numbers.
San Francisco 49ers: Deebo Samuel, who averaged 16.1 PPR fantasy points the final 10 weeks of 2019 (15th among WRs in that span), suffered a broken left foot on June 16 that was projected to sideline him for three to four months. He’s likely to be questionable for Week 1, but with some optimism he could be back before September ends, making him a worthwhile gamble at his current WR36 ADP.
What was projected as a running back rotation has seemingly shifted in Raheem Mostert‘s favor this preseason, as the 49ers have been giving him the bulk of the first-team snaps to hint that he’s in the lead on first and second downs.
As Carson does have a checkered injury history, it’s important to note that Carlos Hyde, not Rashaad Penny, has been running as the team’s No. 2 back during the preseason and is the recommended insurance policy of choice.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tom Brady‘s now in town, and he brought Rob Gronkowski out of retirement and along for the ride. There’s a good share of optimism surrounding both in the fantasy community, as Brady is QB7 and Gronkowski TE7 in ADP entering the preseason’s final weekend.
Leonard Fournette hopped aboard the bandwagon on Sept. 2, casting the Buccaneers’ backfield into a prospective committee, in which he and Ronald Jones II will duke it out for early-down work and LeSean McCoy will reportedly still be kept around for third-down and receiving chores.
Washington Football Team: The releases of both Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson have left the Washington backfield a probable committee of Antonio Gibson/J.D. McKissic/Peyton Barber/Bryce Love. Gadget player Gibson’s value has picked up the most steam; he’s now a viable top-40 running back pick.