“It’s noon on Peacock, but it’s five o’clock somewhere!”
That’s how I opened my very first show for NBC as I raised a glass and welcomed viewers to the bar where Fantasy Football Happy Hour is broadcast from. The show had originally been conceived to air in the late afternoon, hence the “happy hour” theme and setting. Somewhere between show creation and first air date the initial time slot changed, moving us to live at noon, however the idea of the show – buddies drinking at a bar and b.s.-ing about fantasy football and sports betting – remained the same.
So, in trying to solve the puzzle of how to explain why a lunch time show had a late afternoon name, I did what I have often done over the last 30 or so years.
I turned to Jimmy Buffett for inspiration.
Jimmy, of course, had a big hit with Alan Jackson on their song “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”, explaining that he really needed a drink after getting yelled at by his boss, even though “it’s only half past twelve but I don’t care… it’s five ‘o clock somewhere.”
I’m smiling as I write that last sentence.
Because, as any good Parrothead knows, it’s always five o’clock in Margaritaville.
And anyone that has ever read or listened to me knows I am a massive Jimmy Buffett fan.
And as the world knows, we lost Jimmy this past weekend when his family announced he had passed away peacefully on the night of September 1, “surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs.”
Words are inadequate to describe the sense of loss I feel, but for now just know that I am devastated to a level that you’d have thought we were closely related. But, as a fan of the man who once sang “Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a sad song” (from the aptly named “Growin’ older but not up”), this is not an obituary.
Because there’s a lot of stuff you already know. The more than 50 albums that spanned a 53-year recording career. The fact that he had only ONE top 10 hit out of those 50 albums (“Margaritaville”). But that it didn’t matter because he became one of the most popular touring acts of all-time. That his “Boats, Beaches, Bars, and Ballads” is one the best-selling box sets ever. That he was one of only six authors ever to top the nation’s best seller lists for both fiction AND nonfiction. That he was an accomplished pilot. And a shrewd businessman who turned his “laid-back playing hooky from school, beach bum attitude” into a massive business with restaurants, resorts, clothes, booze and more that resulted in Forbes estimating his net worth to be north of a billion dollars and among the top 20 among richest celebrities of ALL TIME. You likely know all that and more.
And you know how very much he meant to me for so, so many years.
But the part you don’t know is why.
Hold that thought.
I’ve told this part of the story before, but it was 1992 and I had just graduated Syracuse University, moving out to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a TV and movie writer. Among my friends in LA was my buddy Jon McDaid, who had graduated the year before me, and a few months after I had moved there Jon calls me up. “Hey, getting a group together to go see Jimmy Buffett. Wanna go?”
Me: The Margarita guy? I don’t know, man …
Jon: Yeah, the guy who sings “Margaritaville.” Come on, it’s a blast.
Me: No thanks. I don’t know any of his songs, I’m trying to save money and don’t people have to dress weird or something?
Jon just laughs. You don’t have to dress weird, he explains, though, yeah, a lot of people do. It just shows the passion of his fans. And you know more songs than you think you do. He explains a Buffett show is more than just a concert. It’s a whole-day, all-encompassing party with a spirit all its own. He’s getting a group to go and wants me to join. He says he’ll make me a mix tape of the best of Buffett, so I’ll know more songs. Plus, he’ll buy my ticket, and if I hate it, I don’t have to pay him back.
Me: Fine, I’ll go. But I’m not wearing some dumb Hawaiian shirt.
He wasn’t lying about it being an all-day thing. We get there at something like 10 a.m. and it turns out, we’re late. Many have spent the night in the parking lot, renting RVs they have decorated with giant shark fins, palm trees and pirate flags. After setting up our own tailgating camp, we take a long lap around the giant parking lot and it is a SCENE.
There are women (and men!) wearing grass skirts and coconut bras, giant inflatable sharks, mini beaches and filled kiddie pools, homemade (but elaborate!) tiki bars, mermaids and pirates in Hawaiian shirts and leis handing out jello shots and inviting us to limbo contests. There’s cornhole, spinning wheel type carnival games and parrot images everywhere. Lots and lots of parrots. It’s all silly and seemingly-bizarre behavior, but I notice two important things. One, there are a WIDE range of ages. You rarely see 20-year-olds partying with 70-year-olds, and all ages in between, but that’s what happens at a Buffett show. And smiles. Smiles and smiles and smiles. Just great, welcoming vibes from everyone.
Then that night I sat in the back on the grass lawn with my friends. Seemingly a zillion inflated beach balls are being hit back and forth in the crowd as Buster Poindexter’s “Hot Hot Hot” plays loudly over the speakers while the band makes their way to the stage. And then, with everyone else in place, out walks Jimmy Buffett, looking nothing like a rock star. Or a country star. Or anything other than a guy who literally just stumbled off the beach. He’s barefoot, wearing a T-shirt and shorts and he’s smiling as he kicks errant inflatable beach balls off the stage into a large, frenzied sellout crowd.
And with somewhere close to 20,000 people with their hands clasped over their heads putting their “Fins to the left” and Jimmy asking “Why don’t we get drunk and screw? It’s, ahem, a love song from a different point of view…” I turned to Jon and very simply said: I get it.
That was 46 Buffett shows ago.
I still have the cassette tape Jon made me back then and to my wife’s horror, the concert shirt I bought that night.
The atmosphere and community drew me in first. So fun, so welcoming, so different than anything else I got to do in my everyday life of running around, emailing, hustling, working, trying to network and make my way in Hollywood as a writer. It was an oasis, a feeling of sand between your toes and an ocean breeze lightly blowing your hair.
As Matt Hoggett sang in his viral song “Dear Jimmy Buffett”:
No sir, I’m not a sailor … but I feel like one now… because you put my heart in the sea…
Who doesn’t love going to the beach, basking in the sun, enjoying a cold drink as you watch the waves? That’s the vibe Jimmy and his music gave me and the more I listened, the more I appreciated not just the catchy and easy going, fun vibe of his music. But also his writing. The few “gimmicky” songs like “Cheeseburger in Paradise” overshadowed the much more robust, clever and thoughtful songs Jimmy wrote, expertly painting pictures of himself, his friends and of lives filled with fun. None other than Bob Dylan once said Jimmy was one of the five best songwriters ever.
I could do many columns just dedicated to the poetry – yes, poetry – that is Jimmy’s songwriting, but for now I’ll just mention that my favorite lyric of all time is from Jimmy: “Read dozens of books about heroes and crooks and I learned much from both of their styles.”
That specific world view — that it’s not all black and white — and that there is no judgment of someone but rather seeing value from all, and that there is something to be learned from both sides of the coin, as it were, spoke to me. In Jimmy’s world, being called a pirate was a compliment, not an insult.
My inspirations for what I do were never from the world of fantasy sports or even the world of sports in general. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from a wide variety of people, including yes, heroes and crooks but perhaps no one more so than Jimmy Buffett.
Like Jimmy, it took me a while to find myself. I’ve had a very weird career. Starting when I was 14 years old, I’ve been a newspaper delivery boy, a toy salesman, a babysitter, a radio DJ, a sitcom writer, a movie writer, an entrepreneur, a senior level executive at a large company and for the past 15 or so years I’ve made my living wearing makeup while talking about fake football on the internet.
That journey of going, well, from port to port, as Jimmy might say, reminds me of another verse from “Son of a son of a sailor”:
Where it all ends I can’t fathom my friends
If I knew I might toss out my anchor
So I cruise along always searchin’ for songs
Not a lawyer a thief or a banker.
As I went from job to job, city to city, restless to my core, knowing that what I was doing wasn’t exactly right for me, but also not knowing what my actual calling was, was disheartening and depressing at times, but, I thought, I should be like Jimmy. I didn’t know where this would wind up so I just kept crusin’ along, searching for my song, and realizing that learning what I didn’t want to be was just as valuable.
As Jimmy is quoted as saying “Searching is half the fun: life is much more manageable when thought of as a scavenger hunt as opposed to a surprise party.”
It took me quite some time, but eventually I realized what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to quit the high-paying Hollywood screenwriter job that I had spent so many years working hard to get only to try and pursue a career in fantasy football that literally no one was making a good living at. But I didn’t care. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to pursue happiness. That’s all that mattered.
But I was also filled with self-doubt. Who willingly quits show-business? And if you are going to quit, why would you do it for something as dumb as fantasy sports? Shouldn’t it be for something noble, something life-saving?
And I struggled with that – the ridiculousness of my career – until I watched, you guessed it, an interview with Jimmy Buffett who talked about how his job was escapism. I’m paraphrasing here, but he discussed how there’s so many serious things in the world and his job was to “help people forget their troubles for a couple of hours.”
If providing entertainment and a distraction was a good enough job for Jimmy Buffett, it’s a good enough job for me. Because I knew how important a role he played in my life, so if I could play a small fraction of that role in someone else’s life, that would be a goal worth shooting for.
As I started my journey, I was trying to find my voice. I crunched numbers as many hours as I could, but it didn’t matter. I knew I would never be as good at numbers and statistics as someone like Nate Silver. And I watched as much football as possible. But no matter how much I watched, read or studied game tape, I knew I would never be as insightful as an ex-player or coach that actually played the game. And I have a lot of sources around the league, more every year, but I knew no matter how much I worked the phones, I would never be as plugged in as someone like Mike Florio.
Wracked with self-doubt as I struggled to find my voice and find a way to provide value to people, I once again stumbled upon a quote from Jimmy. He was discussing his place in the music industry and the secret to his success.
“I’m not a great singer,” he said. “And I’m a so-so guitar player. But I’m great at being Jimmy Buffett.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have thought about that statement. And from the moment I read that, it changed my life.
I was never going to be the world’s greatest numbers guy, insider or X and O-er. But being Matthew Berry? That I could crush.
That one quote from Jimmy is as responsible for my career as literally anything else.
“Words can’t describe how much I am going to miss the incredible Jimmy Buffett. Fins Up Forever”
“Words can’t describe how much I am going to miss the incredible Jimmy Buffett. Fins Up Forever”
There’s lots of other stuff Jimmy has been an inspiration for me on. There’s small stuff, like my first ever fantasy football team being called The Parrotheads. (That league, filled with my buddies from college, continues to this day. We just had our 33rd annual draft. I co-own the team with Chris Lindsay, my college roommate.) There’s life stuff, like I had my 50th birthday party at a Buffett show. And there’s large stuff like my FantasyLife.com business. Seeing the success Jimmy had with Margaritaville, a lifestyle business inspired by his creative work, gave me the idea and inspiration for starting Fantasy Life and the lessons I’ve learned from the Margaritaville business influence a lot of the the ways I am trying to build Fantasy Life.
But truly, that light switch moment for me?
Don’t worry about critics, don’t worry about anyone else, just focus on being the best Matthew Berry you can be.
Great career advice, and honestly, it’s great life advice as well. Ignore everything else and just be you. Best as you can.
Through my career I have been so incredibly lucky to have experienced some incredible things. Events I have gotten to attend, experiences I’ve had, people I have gotten to meet, but there is nothing that has given me as much joy as the time, over a decade ago, when I got invited into a pre-show hospitality event at a Jimmy Buffett concert.
As I am getting in line for a margarita, I hear a voice. “Matthew Berry?”
I turn. “Yes?”
“I’m Heikki Larsen, Jimmy’s production manager and commissioner of the Margarillas Fantasy Football League. We’re all big fans.”
Well, over the years Heikki has become a dear friend and through him I have met and developed relationships with many people in Jimmy’s universe, have done things for Radio Margaritaville and Margaritaville TV, have met all of the Coral Reefer Band, and yes, even got to meet Jimmy himself a handful of times.
Quick story about that.
So, the very first time I met Jimmy was in 2015, when I was invited to be a guest on “The Bing and Bong” show, a pre-concert show that Jimmy and his musical director, Michael Utley, do before every show on Radio Margaritaville. So I do the interview, maybe it’s five minutes, we say hello after and do a quick picture and that’s that. Great. I’m over the moon about it, but for Jimmy it’s just another person he’s met that has told him he’s a big fan. Every day is a bunch of people telling Jimmy what big fans they are and how much they love him.
Ok, maybe six months later, Jimmy is playing a rare New Year’s Eve show in Brooklyn. I manage to get very good seats for this show and my wife and I and our friends are right up close. I am, as usual, going crazy, singing along, waving, everything, but at no point during the show does Jimmy look at me or even acknowledge me. Which is fine. Not expecting him to. He’s playing for like 20,000 people.
Cut to eight months after that. My family and I are taking a vacation at the Margaritaville resort in Hollywood, Fla., because of course we are. Anyways, randomly, Jimmy is there as well. The NY Times is doing a story on the Margaritaville business and Jimmy is there to take photos for the story.
So I see him and I walk up to him, hand extended.
“Jimmy, just wanted to say hi. I’m Matthew Berry from ESPN. I’m Heikki’s friend.”
And without missing a beat, Jimmy shakes my hand with a smile and says:
“Matthew Berry. Good to see you. Think the last time we saw you was New Year’s Eve in Brooklyn.”
I am blown away.
I’ve met this man ONCE. For five minutes. Over a year ago. And yet, he instantly remembers seeing me at the concert I was at, but didn’t interact with him at.
Incredible. We talk for five minutes or so about that show and then the Saints prospects that year (he’s a big New Orleans fan) and who knows what else. But he is charming, engaging and I feel like I’m the only person in the world to him, despite the demands of a million things and people who need his attention.
I called Heikki soon after, telling him the story. He just laughed and said he wasn’t surprised. He had heard stories like that all the time. “When Jimmy is on stage, he sees everything. He misses nothing and he has a mind like a steel trap.”
Special person. Really special person.
When I am at a Jimmy Buffett show I am at my absolute happiest.
“This is about as happy as I get.”
I am going to miss him so incredibly much.
As is the entire world. Everyone likes Jimmy Buffett. Even if they weren’t necessarily fans, they didn’t have a negative opinion of him. Who has ever of heard of someone being anti-Jimmy Buffett? That’s rare.
But it speaks to the kind of person he was and the impact he had on so many millions of people.
You know, in 2020 Jimmy gave an interview where he was asked how he wanted to be remembered. “I’d say ‘He had a good time and made a lot of people happy’ would be good. Yeah, that’d be good.”
No doubt, Jimmy. That’d be good indeed.
Fins Up Forever.
Which brings us, meandering very slowly, to life on the flip side where we have the first Love/Hate of the season. Good luck this year and as you go through the season remember the words of Jimmy.
“If life gives you limes, make margaritas.”
Here we go.
For more of my thoughts on players, strategy, theory and nonsense, please check out Fantasy Football Happy Hour with Matthew Berry on live every weekday at noon ET.
Quarterbacks I Love in Week 1
Justin Herbert vs. Miami
When Justin Herbert faced the Dolphins last December, he had season highs in both completions (39) and yards (367) in a Chargers victory on the way to putting up 19.4 fantasy points. That performance was without new OC Kellen Moore calling plays or rookie first-round WR Quentin Johnston at Herbert’s disposal, and with injured ribs. Miami’s bottom-six pass defense from last season won’t be significantly improved this season either, at least not yet – not with Jalen Ramsey sitting on IR. Add in the 51 Over/Under in this game, the second-highest on the Week 1 slate, and there’s every reason to believe this game will have points aplenty. You know I love Herbert to bounce back in a big way in 2023, and it starts in Week 1.
Geno Smith vs. Los Angeles Rams
If you had told me two years ago that Geno Smith would be one of my Week 1 Loves in 2023 against the Rams defense, I would have thought you were insane. I mean, what kind of time traveler goes into the future to tell someone about Week 1? Tell me who to draft in a dynasty league or who to play during the fantasy playoffs, not Week 1. Those are fantasy time traveling basics! What is this, amateur hour? Yet, here we are. Geno Smith is an NFL starter – and a pretty good one – and the Rams have a pretty bad defense. Pro Football Focus actually ranked the Rams as having the worst secondary in the NFL this season. With Ramsey gone, three of their top four cornerbacks are either rookies or second-year players. The Rams are basically rolling a good collegiate secondary out there against a quarterback who led the NFL in completion percentage last season (69.8%) and was tied for the most games in the NFL with two or more passing touchdowns (12). In addition to that, rookie first-round WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba is practicing in full for Seattle, which should only help Geno, and the Seahawks should see more possessions because the Rams offense will struggle without Cooper Kupp. Give me all the Geno Smith in Week 1. And please, fantasy time travelers, next time give me starters for Week 15.
Trevor Lawrence at Indianapolis
I’ll admit that I am a little worried that Trevor Lawrence, even if effective, simply won’t have enough time of possession in this game to put up big fantasy numbers, what with the Colts having an elite, chain-moving running back in Jonathan Taylor. Oh, wait … I briefly forgot that Jim Irsay is kind of nutty. Whoops. So let’s actually put Lawrence squarely on the Love list for Week 1. In two games against the Colts last season, Lawrence completed 45-of-52 passes – for an otherworldly completion percentage of 86.5% – and averaged 21.7 fantasy points. Now, thanks to Isaiah Rodgers’ gambling suspension, four of the top five Indianapolis cornerbacks suiting up on Sunday have two years of NFL experience or less. They will gain a lot of experience in Week 1 against Lawrence, who has every skill position starter back from last year AND added Calvin Ridley. Lawrence is an easy Top 10 quarterback in the opening weekend.
Others receiving votes: This week we learned through an ESPN profile that Sean Payton told Russell Wilson that in order to resurrect his career, he needs to “f—ing stop kissing all the babies. You’re not running for public office.” A) Hilarious quote. B) I guess I’m out on Wilson ‘24. C) I think I’m in on Wilson Week 1 against the Raiders. Last season, Vegas allowed the highest passer rating to quarterbacks and, believe it or not, to close his career-worst season in 2022, Wilson put up 23-plus fantasy points in three of his last four games. … During the preseason, future Hall-of-Famer Sam Howell (his official name as far as I am concerned) was 28-of-37 with 265 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT and 25 rushing yards on four carries. This week he gets a Cardinals defense that last season allowed passing touchdowns at the fifth-highest rate. I like this matchup for Howell almost as much as I like the Sam Howell jersey I’m wearing while typing this column with my two “Commanders #1” foam fingers. … The Titans allowed the most passing yards in the NFL last season and were tied for the second-most touchdown passes allowed. That means Derek Carr has the opportunity to get off to a great start in his first game as QB1 of the Saints.
Quarterbacks I Hate in Week 1
Deshaun Watson vs. Cincinnati
Dating back to Deshaun Watson’s return in Week 13 last season, he was 26th in passer rating, 23rd in yards per attempt and has averaged just 14.3 PPG (QB16 over that span). Which begs the question: Did Deshaun Watson actually return last season? Because whoever that person was playing quarterback for the Browns was NOT the dynamic player who used to be the quarterback of the Houston Texans. The bad news for Watson managers? The 2022 Watson seems to be back for 2023. Cleveland’s passing game was panned throughout the preseason, and there’s little reason to believe it will suddenly take flight during Week 1 in a divisional game against a solid defense. Maybe Watson returns to form, but I want to actually SEE it in a NFL game before trusting him as a Top 12 starter.
Kirk Cousins vs. Tampa Bay
If you watched “Quarterback” on Netflix this summer, you saw that Kirk Cousins is both incredibly thoughtful and very well-mannered. Whereas I am thoughtful, but not feeling all that well-mannered. Because I’ve thought long and hard about Cousins’ matchup this week and decided to put him on the Hate list. Cousins doesn’t really run so in order for him to finish as a Top 12 QB in Week1 he’s gonna need to throw for a lot of yards and touchdowns. And hey, call it a hunch, but the Bucs have a solid defense and I just don’t see this game turning into a high-scoring shootout. (As I write this it has a middling 45.5 Over/Under). I mean, the other quarterback is Baker Mayfield, who could even cause Minnesota to lose a possession or two via pick-sixes. Because Baker Mayfield is, well, on his third team in a year for a reason. (Did I mention that I am not feeling well-mannered?). Cousins is merely a mid-tier QB 2 this week.
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Running Backs I Love in Week 1
Tony Pollard at New York Giants
In folklore, giants are huge, powerful creatures who rule over all they survey thanks solely to their size and strength. But then there is the concept of gentle giants, creatures who – despite their size – are gentle pushovers. These storybook characters are often referred to as the run defense of the New York Giants. Last season they allowed the second-most YPC at 5.2, gave up the most YPR to running backs and surrendered the sixth-most rushing yards per game (144). So, as much as I may have recurring nightmares about Mike McCarthy eventually forcing Tony Pollard into a timeshare, as he did with Aaron Jones in Green Bay, I love this Week 1 matchup for Pollard. Remember: In his 13 career games with 15-plus touches, Pollard is averaging 19.6 PPG.
Joe Mixon at Cleveland
The good news this week is that Joe Burrow is practicing and expected to start in the opener. The better news (for Joe Mixon managers) is that the Bengals are likely to ease Burrow back in slowly. In the first four weeks of the 2021 season, when Burrow returned from his torn ACL, Cincinnati averaged only 26.8 pass attempts per game. That figure jumped to 34.4 per game from then on. A few extra touches per game will allow Mixon to make even more of a fantasy impact, especially against a Cleveland defense that allowed 22 rushing scores last season, tied for third most in the league.
David Montgomery at Kansas City
How does Travis Kelce’s absence help David Montgomery’s fantasy upside? First, thanks for the question. Now, for your answer: It reminds me that All-Pro DT Chris Jones is also out, which is good news for Montgomery and the Chiefs. And do we really think Detroit is going to give Jahmyr Gibbs a ton of work in his first career game, in the NFL opener, on the road, against the defending champs? This feels more like a David Montgomery game to me, especially as the visiting Lions try to limit possessions for Patrick Mahomes by running behind one of the best offensive lines in football. On top of that, KC’s defense allowed the most receptions to running backs last season and Montgomery is coming off three straight seasons with 300-plus receiving yards. I have Montgomery as a Top 17 back in Week 1 and like his odds to score here.
Others receiving votes: Yes, I realize that JK Dobbins topped my preseason RB Hate list, but maybe I was just … JK. Get it? Just joking? Ouch! Hey! Getting hit with tomatoes thrown from distance hurts, jerks! Okay, look, I was not just kidding about my concerns on JK’s season-long upside. But in Week 1? Against a Texans defense that last season allowed the most rushing yards and second most rushing touchdowns? Yes, please. … Raheem Mostert has already had a remarkable season without even playing a single game. Rumors of Ezekiel Elliott, Dalvin Cook and Jonathan Taylor landing on the Dolphins all came and went. Mostert also avoided a full-on committee thanks to Jeff Wilson landing on IR and De’Von Achane missing time with a shoulder injury (although Achane returned to practice this week). If Mostert can dodge tacklers half as well as he can replacements, he’s in for a huge season. Or at least a huge Week 1 against a Chargers defense that allowed a league-high 5.4 YPC last season. … Khalil Herbert played all of his preseason snaps with Justin Fields and the first team and led all qualified running backs with 5.7 YPC last season. In Week 1, he gets a Packers defense that last season allowed the fifth-highest YPC.
Running Backs I Hate in Week 1
Najee Harris vs. San Francisco
Pittsburgh’s offense has gotten a lot of hype this preseason. Everyone from Kenny Pickett, to George Pickens, to Pat Freiermuth, to Diontae Johnson and Jaylen Warren are getting love. Heck, even rookie TE Darnell Washington was a popular late-round pick in dynasty leagues. But one name failing to gain any traction? Najee Harris. And it’s because Harris has failed to gain yardage with any consistency in his short career, averaging just 3.8 YPC last season, while his teammate Warren averaged 4.9 YPC. Warren also averaged 9.6 touches over his final five games, including multiple red zone touches in three of his last four games. But even if Warren was out of the picture, I wouldn’t love Harris against a Niners defense that allowed the fewest rushing yards in total and per carry to running backs last season. Harris is outside my Top 20 backs for Week 1.
Jamaal Williams vs. Tennessee
Jamaal Williams averaged just 5.7 fantasy points in games in which he did not score a touchdown last season. As a fantasy expert, I have the experience and wisdom to tell you that is … not good! And that stat is especially significant against a Titans defense that allowed just six rushing touchdowns to running backs last season, tied for the second-fewest in the league. Meanwhile, Williams last season had just a 2.8% target share and posted nine games without a single reception. Not good! Again! I think he’s a better pass catcher than he was allowed to show in Detroit, but still. Until we see it, it’s tough to bank on it coming. So, if you’re looking to get off to a good start in your fantasy season in Week 1 – and I imagine that you are – you can’t exactly feel comfortable with a running back who has to score a touchdown to be a valuable contributor to your lineup. Even with Alvin Kamara suspended and rookie RB Kendre Miller banged up, my friend Sigmund Bloom put it best on the website formerly known as Twitter when he said 20 for 70 for Williams with Taysom Hill vulturing TDs incoming. Williams is outside my Top 25.
Pass Catchers I Love in Week 1
Amon-Ra St. Brown at Kansas City
Yes, so my 2023 Fantasy Ride or Die is on my Week 1 Love list because, of course he is. We good here? No? Alright, fine. FINE. I will break the 1 billion word barrier on the Sun God this offseason. But first, a reminder: Amon-Ra got at least eight targets in 13 of his 14 full games last season and had six-plus receptions in 12 of those games. He’s, as we say in the analyst business, awesome. Now, he opens with a Chiefs team that last season allowed the most receptions and yielded the second-highest catch rate to the slot. While those who worship the Sun God know He can be merciful, on Thursday night I see Him burning the Chiefs with the heat of a thousand suns (and/or fantasy points).
Chris Olave vs. Tennessee
Every season I share some bold predictions. My editors always change the copy to “old predictions” because, as they explain, “you are very, very old so I just assumed, plus people of your advanced age often can’t see well and therefore hit the wrong buttons on the keyboard.” My point: editors can be real jerks. But my other point: one of my bold predictions this season is for Chris Olave to finish as a Top 5 fantasy receiver. Olave had a huge target share (28%) as a rookie and is now paired with Derek Carr who, over the past two seasons, ranks Top 5 in deep ball rate and deep completions. But, if you don’t buy Top 5 on the season, how about Top 5 in Week 1? I think he’ll at least be close (technically I have him ranked as WR 8 this week) against a Titans defense that allowed the third-most yards to wide receivers last season and – on deep passes – the second-most yards and the most touchdowns.
Tyler Lockett vs. Los Angeles Rams
Tyler Lockett is a Love this week for much of the same reasons Geno Smith is a Love. Yes, it’s because the Rams secondary is at worst, horrible, and at best, hugely inexperienced. That makes me like a lot of Seattle’s pass catchers this week, but especially Lockett as a deep threat thanks to Smith’s accurate arm on deep passes (second in deep-ball completion rate in 2022). Lockett also had two big games against the Rams last season, averaging 21.6 PPG against them and scoring in each game, as well.
Darren Waller vs. Dallas
I’m not sure if the Giants got Darren Waller specifically to face the Dallas Cowboys twice per season, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea I’ve ever heard. Dallas allowed nine touchdowns to the slot last season, tied for sixth-most, while 60% of Waller’s routes came from the slot. Also, over the final 10 games of the season, Dallas gave up passing touchdowns at the fourth-highest rate last season, while Waller led all tight ends in end zone targets per game. It’s a great matchup for the Giants’ new pass-catching weapon. A trendy pre-season darling for me and a lot of others, Darren makes good on that hype starting in Week 1 as Waller fully returns to Baller status. He’s my TE 4 this week.
Others receiving votes: If Jerry Jeudy doesn’t go in the opener, get Courtland Sutton in your lineups. In nine games over the past two seasons without Jeudy in action, Sutton has a 25% target share and is averaging 15.2 PPG. Last season, Vegas also allowed the third-highest catch rate to wide receivers. … Over his final five games of the 2022 season, Jahan Dotson had a 23.8% target share and averaged 14.7 PPG. He also led Washington in end zone targets on the season. If that’s not enough to convince you, consider that Dotson might get extra targets if Terry McLaurin misses the opener, or is limited.… Skyy Moore played in 2-WR sets with Patrick Mahomes in the preseason and on Thursday night the Chiefs get a Lions defense that a season ago allowed the second-most yards to wide receivers. … While Jeudy and McLaurin are all up in the air for Week 1, my little Cooper Kupp is OUT. (Please give me 10 minutes while I sob uncontrollably.) Okay, I’m back. When Kupp was out last season, Tyler Higbee had a 21.5% target share. And this week he gets a Seahawks defense that gave up the most yards to tight ends last season. … Miami allowed the highest catch rate to tight ends last season, while Kellen Moore used Dalton Schultz heavily in Dallas. What do those seemingly unrelated things have to do with anything, anything at all? Well, Kellen Moore’s new team, the Chargers, are facing the Dolphins in Week 1, which means good things for Chargers tight end Gerald Everett… I’ve talked all offseason about my Luke Musgrave obsession and haven’t really talked a lot about Jayden Reed, but both should be involved early and often against the Bears this week with both Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs looking doubtful for the season opener.
Pass Catchers I Hate in Week 1
Terry McLaurin vs. Arizona
Savvy readers – or readers who possess even 60 seconds of short-term memory – will remember that Terry McLaurin was mentioned in the section above. You remember, the guy losing target share to Jahan Dotson? Yep, that guy. Last season, Dotson actually out-targeted McLaurin over the final five games, 35-34. Considering that the 38 Over/Under in this game is the lowest on the slate, and that McLaurin is day-to-day with a toe injury, I sadly have to lower expectations for one of my favorite players in the NFL, making him merely a Top 30 WR this week and more of a FLEX play than the normal sure-fire starter he’s usually been.
Gabe Davis at New York Jets
Jets cornerback D.J. Reed said this week that he thinks his team’s defense “can be historical, not just the best defense in the league, but I think we can be a historical defense like the ’85-’86 Bears.” Until the Jets release a dance video, I will not allow any ‘85 Bears comparisons. However, the Jets did allow the fewest fantasy points to wide receivers last season, as well as the fewest receptions and yards to wide receivers. One of those receivers they held in check? Buffalo’s Gabe Davis who, in two games against the Jets, combined for 5 catches and 64 yards on 9 targets. Woof. That’s somehow an even worse performance than every Chicago Bear who attempted to dance in 1985. Overall, I actually really like Davis this year, but think the redemption tour starts after Week 1.
Chigoziem Okonkwo at New Orleans
Mike Vrabel stated this preseason that Chigoziem Okonkwo’s blocking “has to improve.” Why is that of concern to us in the fake football world? Blocks don’t accrue fantasy points, right? Very true. Blocking shows hustle and we all know nothing good comes from hustling. But the thing is, some “real” football coaches value this “blocking” and keep players off the field if they don’t do it well. And that’s where it starts to concern us in the real real football: fake football. Also, even if Okonkwo plays every down in Week 1, he’s got an awful matchup against a Saints team that allowed the fewest receptions and yards to tight ends last season. In fact, only one tight end scored double-digit fantasy points against the Saints last season. He’s outside my Top 15 for the year.
And so concludes my Hates. And now for my biggest Love of all: Football season! It’s officially here! Let’s go!
This content was originally published here.