It’s the most wonderful time of the year for football bettors and fans — a new NFL season kicks off on Thursday! Fantasy leagues have been drafting night and day ahead of the Week 1 between the Buccaneers and the Cowboys, and NFL DFS enthusiasts have been filling out lineups to their hearts’ content. In the spirit of the season, Sporting News Fantasy and yours truly have teamed back up to bring you our weekly daily fantasy football sleepers and value picks for DraftKings and FanDuel!
If you’re new to DFS, or just like to find an edge or angle with all your bets, this column will be for you. Each week, I scour the player pools on DraftKings and FanDuel, and compile a list of sleepers and/or value picks to help you win some cold, hard cash. The more value players you add, the more money you will have to spend on proven weekly studs at other position spots.
Getting the most bang for your buck has always been the name of the game in classic DFS formats, so it’s important to do your due diligence before constructing a lineup. Leave the deep-diving to us — we’re here for you from start to finish of the 2021 NFL season.
Good luck, have fun, and bet responsibly! As a celebratory gift to commemorate the start of the new season, we have added a bonus player at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end positions!
All player values are from DraftKings and FanDuel. All stats are from NFL.com and Pro Football Reference.
NFL DFS Picks Week 1: QB sleepers, values
Baker Mayfield, Browns at Chiefs (DK price: $5,900 | FD: $7,100)
Mayfield finished his 2020 campaign on an absolute tear, leading the Browns to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. In Weeks 13 and 14, he posted DK points totals of 33.46 and 34.02, respectively, at just $5,300 and $5,700! Now, we get to bag the Baker for $5,900, and he’s going against a Chiefs defense that yielded the third-most fantasy points to QBs last season. Sign me up.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington Football Team vs. Chargers (DK: $5,500 | FD: $6,600)
FitzMagic has never been a stranger to this column, so it should come as no surprise to our readers that the glorious, well-traveled beard made it here for opening week. He will be a great fit in Ron Rivera’s WFT system, and he’ll make fast friends with Scary Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, and Antonio Gibson. The Chargers have a promising front seven, but their secondary still seems like a work in progress. L.A. ranked 18th in fantasy points allowed to QBs last season.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers at Lions (DK: $5,500 | FD: $6,900)
Full disclosure: I don’t even think Jimmy G will be under center in San Francisco five weeks from now. Trey Lance is the future of the 49ers organization and quite possibly the future face of football. But for now, Garoppolo at $5,500 feels pretty intriguing, especially against a Lions team that ranked dead last in fantasy points allowed to QBs last year. If George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Deebo Samuel are all active, I’m an active proponent of Jimmy G this weekend.
*BARGAIN BIN BONUS*
Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers vs. New York Jets (DK: $5,000 | FD: $6,500)
I can’t help myself with this “revenge game,” a term we will hear 5,000 more times this season. I actually like Darnold’s chances at reviving—or should I say, jump-starting—his career in Carolina. He has the best offensive player in football in Christian McCaffrey, he’s reunited with former Jets teammate Robby Anderson, and D.J. Moore is the most underrated receiver in the NFL. Plus, he never has to worry about listening to Adam Gase again. Go off, Sam!
Week 1 DraftKings, FanDuel Picks: RB sleepers, values
Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team vs. Chargers (DK: $5,900 | FD: $7,000)
I just traded Davante Adams and Mike Davis for Gibson and Robert Woods in my PPR keeper league, which should give you an idea of how high I am on Gibson. This kid’s just 23, he’s coming off a season with 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 11 rushing touchdowns (in 14 games), and he’s about to enjoy an increased workload with an improved offense. We have heard the rumblings that Washington wants to feature him in a Christian McCaffrey-type role, and Gibson himself says he wants to eclipse 2,000 all-purpose yards and 12 TDs. I believe him, and I believe in him. He won’t be under $6,000 the rest of the season (unless he’s hurt), so grab him at a discount while you still can. The Chargers’ run D is good, but it can’t contain this guy’s blazing speed and elusiveness.
Melvin Gordon III, Broncos at Giants (DK: $5,300 | FD: $5,600)
Fantasy pundits nationwide seem higher on Broncos rookie Javonte Williams than MG3, and admittedly I have some shares of the rook. But I also drafted Gordon in every league that I drafted Williams. I’m not so sure Gordon relinquishes the starting running back role quite yet. He’s still quite good and quite capable as a rusher and pass-catcher, which is probably why he’s listed $1,300 higher than Williams this weekend. Give me MG3 against NYG, who ranked 25th in fantasy points allowed to running backs last season.
Chase Edmonds, Cardinals at Titans (DK: $4,600 | FD: $5,900)
Edmonds has been one of the more underrated backs in the NFL the past few seasons, partly because he’s had to share rushing opportunities with Kenyan Drake and Kyler Murray. Well, now his main competition at RB is the oft-injured James Conner, and—get ready for some alliteration—Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury could cautiously keep Kyler in the pocket more this season. I smell positive statistical regression for Edmonds, who has a ton of talent both on the ground and through the air. Tennessee ranked 28th in fantasy scoring allowed to running backs last season. Chase those points.
*BARGAIN BIN BONUS*
Trey Sermon, 49ers at Lions (DK: $4,500 | FD: $5,200)
Word on the street is that Sermon is very good, and the Niners could have the best running attack in the NFL. So, why are we afraid of investing in the rookie? Raheem Mostert may be ahead of Sermon on San Francisco’s official depth chart, but Sermon should still see plenty of touches. Against the Lions, who surrendered the second-most fantasy points to RBs last year, I’m ready to tell the whole congregation about this Sermon. (Side note: I got ordained by Universal Life Church recently so I could solemnize my sister’s wedding. I’m allowed to make sermon jokes now!)
FanDuel, DraftKings Picks Week 1: WR sleepers, values
Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers at Lions (DK: $5,700 | FD: $6,500)
The Niners love continues, but can you blame me? Aiyuk has generational talent, in my humble opinion, a personal take that very clearly explains why I own him in seven fantasy leagues. I see Odell Beckham Jr. and A.J. Green comps left and right, but what really struck me was San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan recently comparing him to Hall of Fame receiver Isaac Bruce. Long story short, he’s a freak with a 6-9 wingspan and a sub 4.5 40-yard dash. He’s a little dinged up and erroneously typecast as a gadget receiver, so seize the opportunity to get him on the cheap before his breakout. Only one team fared worse than the Lions against wide receivers in fantasy last season.
Russell Gage, Falcons vs. Eagles (DK: $5,300 | FD: $5,700)
Hasta luego, Julio. There’s a new wideout opposite Calvin Ridley, and he’s been promoted from within. Gage has flashed moments of brilliance throughout his three-year career, and he’s become a very reliable target for Matt Ryan. With Ridley and rookie tight end Kyle Pitts commanding plenty of attention this season, Gage seems like a great sleeper across all fantasy formats. The Eagles ranked 27th in fantasy scoring yielded to receivers last year.
Tee Higgins, Bengals vs. Vikings (DK: $4,700 | FD: $6,000)
This man must love old Rodney Dangerfield bits because he gets no respect! The stud sophomore receiver posted 10 double-digit fantasy performances last season (and four in the 20s) despite QB Joe Burrow missing a good chunk of the season with a knee injury. Well, Burrow’s back and Higgins looks primed to take another big step forward in the Bengals passing game. Tee’s cheaper than veteran Tyler Boyd ($5,200) and rookie Ja’Marr Chase ($4,800), but if you ask me, he’s the best of the three.
DeVonta Smith, Eagles at Falcons (DK: $4,500 | FD: $5,300)
I love that the Eagles drafted Smith at No. 10 overall to help second-year QB Jalen Hurts. This kid has been a consummate professional so far, and Philly coach Nick Sirianni has already raved about him and talked up his role. Many writers have called Smith a ‘skinnier Calvin Ridley,’ a comp I’m sure the Heisman winner will take. I think Smith and the guy I write about after this (in the WR bargain bin bonus) will finish as the top two rookie wideouts in fantasy scoring this year. The Falcons allowed the most fantasy points in the NFL to wide receivers last season.
*BARGAIN BIN BONUS*
Terrace Marshall Jr., Panthers vs. Jets (DK: $3,000 | FD: $4,900)
Marshall had a phenomenal preseason for the Panthers, finishing with a league-leading 181 receiving yards and PFF’s highest grade of any rookie wideout. He’s 21, 6-3, and has 4.4 speed. Something tells me Sam Darnold will like this guy a lot and vice versa.
Week 1 NFL DFS Picks: TE sleepers, values
Logan Thomas, Washington Football Team vs. Chargers (DK: $4,600 | FD: $5,600)
I promise I’m not all-in on WFT! But I am big on Thomas as a high-value fantasy pick in both redraft leagues and weekly DFS lineups. The burly tight end broke out in 2020 despite DC’s inconsistent QB play, and he finished with a seasonal stat line of 72-670-6. Fitzpatrick has always liked reliable pass-catching tight ends, so I think Thomas flirts with 90-900-10 this year. The Chargers ranked just 22nd against tight ends in fantasy in 2020. Go get yourself some value.
Kyle Pitts, Falcons vs. Eagles (DK: $4,400 | FD: $6,000)
Many of my fantasy sports writing colleagues have Pitts breaking a plethora of rookie tight end records, and I’m starting to think they’re on to something. The University of Florida product, who went No. 4 overall to the Falcons, has the size (6-6, 246 pounds) and intangibles to become a Matt Ryan favorite. Pitts looks like a steal at $4,400, especially considering his hometown Eagles ranked 27th against tight ends in fantasy last season.
*BARGAIN BIN BONUS*
Austin Hooper, Browns at Chiefs (DK: $4,000 | FD: $5,100)
Hooper had a rough start to his tenure as a Brown, struggling with injuries and inconsistency. But he really found his way when Mayfield picked it up toward the end of last season. In Cleveland’s four games between Week 15 and the Wild Card round of the playoffs, Hooper scored 60.5 points on DraftKings (15.1 per game). I’ll take that kind of production for $4,000, especially against the Chiefs, who ranked 30th against tight ends in fantasy last season.
Week 1 NFL DFS values: D/ST sleepers
Miami Dolphins at Patriots (DK: $2,900 | FD: $4,000)
The Dolphins were an underrated fantasy defense last season, posting six games of 12-plus points on DraftKings. I like Miami as an upside play against the Patriots, who will be starting rookie QB Mac Jones in his regular season debut as a pro. New England could be without tight end Hunter Henry, which would make things more difficult for Josh McDaniels’ brand-new offense. Buy the Fish, who always play the Pats tough.