There are those who will say Labor Day marks the end of the summer; some even say that earlier in August, when youths across America go back to school, marks the end. If you want to get technical, the real end of the summer season in the Northern Hemisphere is Sept. 23. But for millions across the country, the real end of summer is when our attentions can be turned to Week 1 on the NFL gridiron.
Hot Girl Summer is over, and Megan Thee Stallion has officially dubbed the next few months as Hot Nerd Fall and this unofficially means us, too, fantasy nerds. We’ve modified our spreadsheets, adjusted our tiers, and went deep on sleepers all offseason in order to prepare for this fall.
When the Packers play the Bears on Thursday night, there will be plenty to keep an eye on. Who pops in the new Matt LaFleur offense? Is David Montgomery worth the hype? Whose defense will provide the best cap on an opposing player’s game potential? We’re here to address which players can be comfortably started and which ones deserve to sit out Thursday’s action.
Aaron Rodgers, QB
Look, chances are you don’t have much of a choice to play Aaron Rodgers, so consider this a statement on relaxing your anxiety of playing him against the Bears. Eddie Jackson is a tide that can lift all boats in the secondary and Khalil Mack is still someone to worry about, but I’ll take Davante Adams (more on him in a minute) against Kyle Fuller any day. Additionally, Prince Amukamara isn’t striking fear in me, while Ha Ha Clinton-Dix inspires amusement. The Bears new defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, hasn’t had a top-10 team in takeaways since 2014 as head coach in Indianapolis. Subsequent Pagano teams following that ranked 12th, 26th, and 20th in that category. It’s the number one talking point when it comes to the Bears defense: regression. Hot Nerd Fall is accepting analytics, and those say it’s likely the Bears defense doesn’t quite pop off like last year in forcing turnovers.
Davante Adams, WR
Adams was a top-five WR last year and his floor is incredibly sturdy. They say that you can’t win your draft in the first round of fantasy leagues, but you sure can lose it and getting a guy like Adams in the first round (or second, if you’re lucky) is a good way to not lose your league. As I stated above, Adams over Fuller is a pretty easy bet. Adams had 14 and 13 fantasy points in standard leagues against the Bears last season — 19 and 21 in PPR — so penciling him for a similar output in Week 1 isn’t a stretch by any means.
Taylor Gabriel, WR
I’m listing Gabriel as a potential sneaky flex play who could see a positive regression in 2019 because of the role he played last year. While plenty of this relies on Mitch Trubisky improving (which, gulp), there’s no denying that his target share from last year was hiding a boom in production. Last season, Gabriel saw 93 targets and had a 72 percent catch rate. Additionally, Gabriel was on the field for 74 percent of offensive snaps in all but three games last year. Unfortunately, those plentiful opportunities only resulted in two touchdowns and minimal fantasy points. Don’t be surprised if this trends the other way beginning on Thursday, if we’re to believe that Tarik Cohen won’t be garnering as much passing game touches as last season.
Jimmy Graham, TE
Feels redundant to get into this again, so just read why here.
David Montgomery, RB
I wouldn’t leave Montgomery on the bench entirely— I’m sure you paid a premium in draft capital to get him— but I would slot him in at the flex spot as most. It’s hard to tell what a rookie running back will give you, especially in their first real NFL action. It probably means nothing, but Montgomery is also listed as the third back on the Bears’ current depth chart. Last year, the Bears offensive line was ranked 18th in run blocking by DVOA, according to Football Outsiders, and had the 11th highest percentage of runs that were stopped behind or at the line of scrimmage. This early in the season, it’s boom-or-bust and he’ll either shine brightly in primetime or make rookie RB mistakes.
Same rules apply here to Montgomery — you just don’t know what you have yet. The Packers added a few new shiny toys in the offseason that could finally propel the defense back into relevance, but I hope if you decided to take a flier on them, it was your second DEF picked. The Bears were 20th in overall offensive DVOA last year and the chatter around Trubisky having a shaky training camp could be nothing. But I think having a year under head coach Matt Nagy’s offense can help them improve from “below average” to “slightly good.”