It’s hard to believe the 2020 NFL is season is upon us, but believe it or not, we will have real football to watch tomorrow night! With no preseason and limited training camps, it is hard to tell what we can expect from particular players or teams – especially the rookies and free agent pickups – but the joy of watching football and playing fantasy football will be just as great.
That being said, predicting the 2020 Week 1 “Studs, Duds, & Sleepers” is going to be even more of a crap shoot than in years past. So, what to do/expect in this most unpredictable Week 1? I expect tackling to be bad, but overall, I expect defenses to be ahead of offenses, and I expect passing games to be more out of sync than the running games. As a result, I expect more reliance on the running games. Therefore, my advice for Week 1 is two-fold: 1) Lean on players (and teams) with continuity from 2019. The less continuity/familiarity from 2019, the more unpredictable the Week 1 performance will be. 2) Lean on running backs…particularly those with continuity in their offensive lines and offensive systems. As a result, my Week 1 “Studs” and “Sleepers” are very heavy with running backs and very light on players involved in the passing game.
Joe Mixon, RB, Cin:
2019 was a tale of two seasons for Joe Mixon. Through the Bengals first eight games, Mixon had a total 320 yards and zero touchdowns, including a game against the Jaguars where he totaled two yards on 10 rushes. In fact, Mixon didn’t score a rushing touchdown until Week 10. However, over the last eight games, Mixon piled up 817 yards, five touchdowns and averaged more than 4.6 yards per carry….all despite no A.J. Green, no John Ross and a bad offensive line. Green and Ross are back and while the line isn’t great, it is improved. Throw in the fact that the Bengals will be starting a rookie quarterback with limited training camp and no preseason, and it is a safe bet Mixon will be touching the ball early and often. If the game is close, 30 touches for Mixon would not be shocking.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Car:
McCaffrey was a machine in 2019, hitting the 1,000 yard mark in rushing and receiving yards and ranking second in receptions to Michael Thomas. Believe it or not though, with the departure of Cam Newton and Greg Olsen, McCaffrey could actually see his touches go up in 2020. Either way, like Mixon, I see him getting 30+ touches in what should be a favorable Week 1 matchup against the Raiders.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dal:
The Cowboys have a ton of offensive weapons in 2020 and Dak Prescott will be looking to put up big numbers to secure a new contract, but in Week 1, against a Rams team which ranked in the bottom half of the league in 2019 against the rush, expect to see a lot of Elliott on Sunday night.
Chris Carson, RB, Sea:
Carson ended 2019 ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing yards, and over the last two seasons has nearly 2,400 yards and 16 touchdowns, but somehow, he still seems to fly under the radar of most. Not here my friends! In 2019, only the Baltimore Ravens (596) and San Francisco 49ers (498) ran the ball more than the Seahawks 481 attempts, and I expect that trend to continue, especially Week 1 against a high-powered Atlanta offense whom the Seahawks will want to keep off the field.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, KC:
The Super Bowl champs will be opening up at home on Thursday night in front of what will likely be the rowdiest small crowd to ever attend a football game. Given the excitement, plethora of offensive weapons and his new dual-threat rookie running back, Mahomes should make a lot of fantasy owners happy in Week 1.
Cam Newton, QB, NE:
Writing “NE” next to Newton’s name just seems weird, but here we are. I’m not sure how I think the season as a whole will go for Newton. To me, he just doesn’t seem to be a fit for Bill Belichick. Regardless, here’s what I do know. When the Dolphins and Patriots kickoff on Sunday, it will have been exactly one year and one day since Cam last played a football game. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since December 2nd, 2018. He hasn’t been healthy for about two years and hasn’t looked like anything more than an average quarterback – at best – since his MVP season of 2015. Cam is a big man, but, at age 31, and the injuries he has had, does he have anything left? We will find out soon.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, AZ:
I love Hopkins, but a new team, new offense, new quarterback, limited training camp and no preseason is not a recipe for big numbers for a wide receiver, no matter how good he is. I expect Hopkins to be on the “Studs” list soon enough, but not Week 1.
Allen Robinson, WR, Chi:
This has zero to do with Allen Robinson and everything to do with who is throwing him the ball. I don’t trust Mitchell Trubisky to get him the ball – especially with little time to get on the same page.
Courtland Sutton, WR, Den:
Much like Robinson, I have Sutton on the Week 1 “Duds” list because I don’t just the guy throwing him the ball. I know Drew Lock played pretty well last year, but it was five games and exactly 156 passing attempts, not exactly a huge sample size. With teams having more film on Lock, and Lock having less time to get on the same page with his receivers – combined with a shaky offensive line and a new running back, I wouldn’t expect much from the Broncos passing attack in Week 1.
Evan Engram, TE, NYG:
Engram is a great talent, and when healthy is one of the most dangerous tight ends in the game, but he hasn’t played an entire season, and in fact, his games played has gone down every year he has been in the league. While he appears healthy to begin the season, I don’t like his Week 1 matchup with a young quarterback going up against one of the best defenses.
The Patriots defense carried many fantasy teams in the first half of 2019, but came back down to earth in the second half. Now, they will be without Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Kyle Van Noy and Danny Shelton. Those players accounted for 22 of the team’s 47 sacks and over 300 tackles. While the 2020 Dolpins aren’t going to be packing one of the most potent offenses, they should still be able to put up points against this Patriots defense.
David Johnson, RB, Hou:
Back in 2016, Johnson had more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns, and while that seems like a century ago, it isn’t impossible for Johnson to get back some of that form this year in the Texans offense. He should have every opportunity to be the lead back, and coming off a season with only 94 carries, he should have fresh legs and plenty of motivation. Not to mention, with trading Watson’s favorite target – DeAndre Hopkins – there is a very good chance the Texans offense will run through Johnson if he shows he is up for it.
Jordan Howard, RB, Mia:
After a disappointing season in Philadelphia, I expect Howard to return to the form we saw in Chicago. While he will certainly split carries with Matt Brieda, the 224 pound Howard is likely to get the bulk of the goal line carries.
Marlon Mack, RB, Ind:
Yes, the Colts took an exciting rookie running back in Johnathan Taylor. And, yes, Taylor will take some of the carries and may eventually be the starter for the Colts, but as of this moment, Mack is listed as the starter, and when he has been healthy, he has been a top fantasy back. Running behind one of the best lines in the NFL and going against a rebuilding Jaguars team, could mean good things for Mack owners this week.
Tyler Boyd, WR, Cin:
Despite back-to-back seasons of 1,000+ yards and 75+ receptions, Boyd seems to still be under the radar. With the return of A.J. Green, John Ross and the addition of Tee Higgins, one may expect Boyd’s role in the Bengals offense to diminish. I disagree. Word out of camp is the he and Joe Burrow have a great connection, and I look for Boyd to be Burrow’s safety blanket.
Hayden Hurst, TE, Atl:
Hurst was a first round pick in 2018, but found himself as TE2 in Baltimore. In Atlanta, however, with the departure of TE1 Austin Hooper, Hurst will finally get his shot to shine and in what should be a high-powered offense.
O.J. Howard, TE, TB:
All the talk on the Bucs will be the two big-time receivers – Mike Evans and Chris Godwin – and of course, the return of Gronk, but Howard could be the big surprise in Tampa, especially if they run a lot of two tight end sets. With all the other weapons Brady will have, the 2017 first round pick should have a ton of one-on-one opportunities.
Greg Olsen, TE, Sea:
This is a flyer – especially for Week 1 – but here is what I do know about Olsen. When healthy, he has been one of the best tight ends in the league. I also know that Russell Wilson loves throwing to his tight ends. So, if Olsen is healthy, and he and Wilson have been able to gel quickly, anyone who took a late round flyer on Olsen could end up with quite the steal.