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The wait is finally over, and the gridiron is set to come alive once again. As the opening week of the NFL season approaches, all of us fantasy football diehards can hardly contain our excitement. The drafts are wrapping up, and hopes for a title are running high. Fantasy legends are ready to be born, and each snap of the ball holds the promise of fantasy glory or the agony of defeat. Oh, what a wonderous time of year. 

In this article, I dive right into the heart of the action and provide you with five key things to know as you prepare for kickoff. From marquee matchups to emerging stars, here are five essential points to keep in mind as you make those critical early-season decisions. So, grab your jerseys, fire up the grill, and get ready to immerse yourself in the heart-pounding, bone-crushing, and awe-inspiring world of fantasy football. It’s game time, baby!

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Let’s get right to it:

There’s a thought out there that RBs who miss training camp are more prone to injuries or slow starts. I found many examples throughout recent history both supporting and contradicting this point. However, one recent study tracked a sample of players who missed most or all of training camp only to return by the regular season. Those players played a combined average of 7.61 games per year without training camp. By contrast, those same players combined to average 12.48 games per year in all other seasons when actively participating in training camp.

  • With this in mind, I’m keeping an eye on snap counts for players like Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Dalvin Cook over the first few weeks. For comparison, the average early season snap counts in 2022 were Barkley (54), Jacobs (46) and Cook (43). Temper expectations for all three of these RBs until we get a better idea of their situations.   

The first week of the NFL season tends to be a sloppy one. Despite extensive work throughout training camp, teams are still getting their game-timing down and players, especially new players, are learning to work alongside new teammates. There is no more obvious position we see this than on the Offensive Line.

  • With a new QB under center, three new faces on the line, and shifting arguably the best RT over to LT this season, I fully expect the Tampa Bay Offensive Line to struggle in Minnesota. The Vikings Defensive Line also boasts a potential breakout interior defender in Khyiris Tonga (top 15 at his position) and solid edge rusher Marcus Davenport (top 20 at his position in three of the last four seasons). All signs point to a long day for Baker and the boys.   
  • The calamity that is the Jets Offensive Line has been displayed on Hard Knocks for all to see. Is it real or playing up for the cameras? Well, the Jets get a primetime audience on Monday Night Football to prove everyone wrong. I’m not buying. The Bills will likely be laying carpet and hanging pictures in Mr. Rodgers’s neighborhood all evening.     

Question: In 2022, which WR led the league with the most alignments in the slot? The answer: Christian Kirk of the Jaguars, with a whopping 781 snaps out of the slot. 

  • Follow-up question: In 2022, which TE led the league with the most alignments out wide? The answer: Evan Engram led with 61 snaps out wide.
  • Now, this question: Which team is projected to have one of the worst secondaries in all of football? The answer: That would be the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts lost Stephon Gilmore and Duke Shelley and returned three players who earned coverage grades under 57.4. Add in a new coaching staff and projected rookie starter, and I fully expect Christian Kirk, Calvin Ridley, Evan Engram and friends to eat well in Week 1.

Here is a stat for you: Since 2000, only four of 51 RBs drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft have scored more than 300 fantasy points as a rookie. Those four you ask are Saquon Barkley (2018), Ezekiel Elliott (2016), Najee Harris (2021) and Doug Martin (2012).   

  • What does that mean for Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs? Well, if they are going to join this exclusive club, they’ll need to average about 18 fantasy PPG for all 17 games. That doesn’t sound too imposing until you also consider this statistic: only 12 of those 51 first-round RBs since 2000 have averaged more than 14.9 fantasy PPG.    
  • Conventional wisdom says Robinson, playing in what’s expected to be a run-heavy offense, may have the best chance to achieve this. In week 1, the Falcons match up with Brian Burns (seventh among interior defenders) and the Carolina Panthers. Holes may be tight between the Tackles, but look for the Falcons to unleash their newest weapon in multiple ways.    
  • On the other hand, Gibbs will be sharing the rock with David Montgomery and competing for touches with one of the more explosive WR corps in the NFL. I break down the Lions-Chiefs game next, but let’s just say for now that I’m not as high on Gibbs lighting the league on fire next Thursday night.      

As your Thursday Night Football primer, let’s look at the Detroit-Kansas City matchup. 

  • Chiefs: The Chiefs return with their high-powered offense mostly intact, but I see a potential Achilles Heel looming. The Chiefs overhauled both tackle spots during the offseason. Jawaan Taylor came in from the Jags, and Donovan Smith joins from the Bucs.  Both are playing their “natural” position at RT and LT, respectively. Should the Lions’ edge rusher, Aiden Hutchinson, generate pressure and exploit the new Tackles a bit, Patrick Mahomes may be a bit slow to get into in-season form.   
  • Lions: The Lions offense has the potential to explode this year, anchored by one of the best lines in the NFL. The Jahmyr Gibbs – David Montgomery duo stand to be the primary beneficiaries. We don’t yet know what this timeshare will look like, but a combined 25 fantasy PPG is not unrealistic. I predict a 65-35 split in favor of the veteran in Week 1, though. The absence of Jameson Williams will certainly be a factor in how the Chiefs match up with Amon-Ra St. Brown. Defensively, the overhauled Lions secondary has a chore in slowing down Mahomes and Kelce. Rookie nickel corner Brian Branch has turned heads in training camp but will have a reality check against the likes of Kelce and the Chiefs WRs. Welcome to the NFL, Brian.
  • As of this writing, the Chiefs are 6.5-point favorites at home with a combined score of 54 points. I’ll take the Lions +6.5 and the under. I’d be slamming the over if this game were played next month. However, with so much time to prepare for this one game, I see too many mistakes by both teams (both self-inflicted and induced by the defenses) to keep the score down.      

There you go, five things I’m looking at during Week 1.  

Check back here all season for my football insight, and be sure to follow me on Twitter/X @Derek_Favret.  

Also, don’t forget to subscribe and tune into the one-and-only @RazzballNFL Start/Sit show on Sunday mornings. Right up to game time, @BobbyLamarco, @SkyGuasco, @Stiles08, and I will be answering all your fantasy football questions as you prepare for the start of your Championship season. Don’t miss it.    

Until next time, my friends.