Week 1 fantasy football winners and losers: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alvin Kamara star in high-scoring matchup

Ryan Fitzpatrick came up huge through the air and on the ground against the Saints. Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

Opening day of the new NFL season is one of the best days of the year.

Among the most enjoyable parts of the game-day experience is tracking how your fantasy football team reaches its weekly outcome; remember, it has been a whole 252 days since a "Sunday that counted," for our purposes. It's watching Alvin Kamara, fantasy's fourth-highest-scoring player of 2017, scoring the day's first touchdown en route to a monstrous 43.1-point day in PPR scoring. It's embracing James Conner, the Pittsburgh Steelers' newest star who scampered all over the Cleveland Browns' defense for 34.2 points. It's celebrating the fact that you were one of the lucky few so bold as to start Ryan Fitzpatrick, who scored a career-best 42.3 points against a tough New Orleans Saints defense.

It's tracking all of these things as they unfold in our live scoring.

These all happened during Week 1, and as we'll do right here each week, we'll take you through the best, the worst, the historic and the simply odd performances. They're broken down into two groups: The "winners," the week's best from a fantasy perspective, and the "losers," usually relative to ADP (average draft position), start rate in ESPN leagues or their perceived value in fantasy. Injury-related performances are generally excluded, and any applicable game or historical data is included.

Check back after the conclusion of the 1 p.m. ET, 4 p.m. ET and, when applicable, Sunday night games for our picks of the week's best and worst.


Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints: If you spent your first-round pick on Kamara, you certainly were happy for the entirety of his Sunday game, even if fans of his NFL team were not. In addition to scoring the first touchdown of the day, Kamara in the fourth quarter added a second rushing touchdown plus a two-point rushing conversion (at a time his team was down by 24 points) and a receiving touchdown (down 16), finishing the game with a career-high 43.1 PPR fantasy points, which led all running backs in the early games. As was the case during his breakthrough rookie 2017, Kamara did most of his work as a receiver, catching nine of 12 targets -- both of those best at his position during the 1 p.m. ET games -- for 112 yards. Kamara might not get to such a point total quite the same way in future games -- the Saints probably won't be playing catch-up on a deficit that big each week -- but there's no denying his win-your-week potential.

James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Le'Veon who? Conner, a Steelers 2017 third-round draft pick, picked up his first career NFL start as Le'Veon Bell's holdout extended into the regular season (with no sign of its conclusion) and thrived, scoring 34.2 PPR fantasy points. He had been one of the week's most popular pickups, rostered in 12.6 percent of ESPN leagues this past Monday, 23.8 percent by Tuesday, 34.8 percent Wednesday, 76.0 percent Thursday and 83.5 percent by the time of his game's kickoff, with his start percentage swelling to 63.8 percent, partially fueled by talk that the weather in Cleveland might hamper the passing game (it did). In the process, Conner became only the eighth running back this century to score at least 30 points in his first career start (see the chart to the right). With no end to Bell's holdout in sight, Conner could pick up a few more starts in the veteran's absence, keeping him a plenty-worthwhile RB2.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston's three-week fill-in -- or might it be longer than that? -- found himself on rosters in just 1.15 percent of ESPN leagues and in just 0.47 percent of starting lineups, so if you're among that select group, give yourself a round of applause for the bold call! He led all quarterbacks during the 1 p.m. ET games with 42.3 PPR fantasy points, the best single-game performance in his career, giving him a 30-plus-point performance for three different teams (39.3 in Week 13 of 2014 for the Houston Texans; 30.3 in Week 15 of 2013 for the Tennessee Titans). Nevertheless, Fitzpatrick probably won't earn many more starting nods entering Week 2, nor should he, considering he'll be facing the stingy Philadelphia Eagles defense.

Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints: The No. 6 PPR scoring wide receiver in 2017 got off to an outstanding start to 2018, scoring 38 points, which led all receivers in the early games and is also a career high. Though he's widely regarded a WR1 -- and should be -- Thomas' strength so far has been his weekly consistency. This was the 11th consecutive regular-season game in which he has scored 10-plus points, the longest active streak by any wide receiver, and he was 2017's second-most-consistent player at the position.

Drew Brees, QB, Saints: That's what happens when a team finds itself trailing by as many as 21 points deep in the second quarter and 24 early in the fourth quarter -- it winds up attempting 45 passes while playing catch-up. The result was another big Brees game, 31.6 PPR fantasy points, which while not even close to Fitzpatrick's output was still easily second-best among quarterbacks during the 1 p.m. ET games. It marked the 17th time in Brees' career that he scored at least 30, moving him into a tie with Tom Brady for the most in history.

Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons: How do the Falcons explain Jones' being on the sidelines during their fourth-down, goal-line play on the opening drive? Better yet, how do we explain Matt Ryan's inexplicable trouble getting the football into Jones' hands in the red zone, best encapsulated by this nugget from ESPN Stats & Information: Counting the playoffs, Ryan is 1-for-20 targeting Jones in the end zone in the last two seasons. In the on-field game, Jones might not have qualified as a "winner" -- his potential game-tying catch as time expired was ruled out of bounds -- but in fantasy, Jones delivered a winner, with a Thursday night best 28 PPR points. Volume had much to do with it, as this was the 14th time in his 96 career regular-season games that he caught as many as 10 passes, and his 19 targets fell one shy of his personal best (20, Week 3 of 2015). Jones' fantasy point total also fell just 5.1 points short of the wide receiver record in the 17 NFL Kickoff games.

Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: The 2017 second-rounder got off to a good start to his sophomore season, scoring a career-high 25.9 PPR fantasy points on 22 total touches, the third time in his past six regular-season games that he was granted at least 20 of the latter. Mixon's draft stock rose considerably in the final days of the preseason, as his final ADP (on opening Thursday) was 27th (29.2 average pick), and he earned the start in 91 percent of ESPN leagues, putting him among the top 15 at his position in that metric. This was one of Mixon's most favorable matchups of the season's first half, but with his talent, there's a good chance he could at least approach the effort in future weeks.

DeSean Jackson, WR, Buccaneers: He made the most of his five targets on Sunday, catching them all for 31.6 PPR fantasy points, the second most among wide receivers during the 1 p.m. ET games. That was the most he has scored in a game since 2013 Week 15 (35.5), when he was a member of the Eagles, and it was nearly double that of any of his individual efforts in 2017 (season-best 18.4 in Week 3). Jackson shouldn't be expected to do this every week, just as Fitzpatrick shouldn't, though he'll get a chance for revenge against his former team in Week 2 -- the matchup says he's not worth the start, however.

Eric Ebron, TE, Indianapolis Colts: Though he wasn't the top-scoring tight end from the 1 p.m. ET games -- that honor went to the great Rob Gronkowski (23.3) -- Ebron's second-at-the-position 15.1 PPR fantasy points were an encouraging sign for his full-season prospects, especially if you consider that teammate and fellow tight end Jack Doyle managed 11.0 of his own. That said, Doyle did manage twice as many targets (10) as Ebron (5), and this came in a game in which Andrew Luck attempted a whopping 53 pass attempts. Doyle is still probably the Colts tight end to keep rostered, but expect some sharing of the positional targets.

Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: The benefactor of a huge game by second-year QB -- and first-year starter -- Patrick Mahomes, Hill racked up a career-best 42.3 PPR fantasy points on Sunday. Hill's day got off to a huge start, as he returned a punt following the Los Angeles Chargers' opening drive 91 yards for a touchdown, and he added two receiving touchdowns and five receptions of 20-plus yards on his way to a 169-receiving-yard effort. Hill and Mahomes both deserve credit for this one, as it was a combination of Mahomes' aggressive downfield throws and Hill's ability to make things happen after the catch. They might not all be as pretty as this one was, but it's important to note that this came against a Chargers defense with a good pass rush and quality cornerbacks. Hill's first-half matchups look brutal on paper, but this was a major statement as far as his quest to repeat as a WR1.

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs: Mahomes earned his spot here, as well, and frankly, his performance at first glance was the prettier one of the two in my eyes. The strong-armed, aggressive passer completed several deep throws, not only to Hill, but also a 36-yard touchdown to Anthony Sherman on a great read of the Chargers' defense. For the day, Mahomes scored 28.3 PPR fantasy points, which is more than any individual quarterback scored against that defense during the entire 2017 season. He's probably not going to be so fortunate in future weeks facing the challenging schedule he has, but this is a major step toward his earning QB1 status. He's a weekly starter in 14-team, two-quarterback or superflex leagues.

Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos: Case Keenum sure loves his slot receivers -- see: Thielen, Adam -- and Sanders certainly appeared the benefactor of the veteran quarterback's arrival, on Sunday at least. Sanders scored 29.5 PPR fantasy points on a team-high 11 targets, the most he has had in a single game since 2016 Week 3 (32.7). Demaryius Thomas' presence will probably cause either receiver to alternate big weeks, but after Thomas appeared to be the team's clear No. 1 option in the passing game, that honor might now be up for debate. Sanders should be a universal starter in Week 2 against the Oakland Raiders, though Thomas should, as well.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Washington Redskins: Apparently, he still has something left in the tank. Just 16 days after his impressive performance for the Redskins in the third preseason game -- he ran 11 times for 56 yards, with a pair of 10-plus-yard gains -- Peterson put forth another strong effort in his regular-season debut for them, totaling 22.6 PPR fantasy points on the road against his former team, the Arizona Cardinals. That marked his best single-game performance since his Cardinals debut in 2017 Week 6 (25.4), and for the fifth time in his past seven regular-season games, he was tasked with 20-plus carries (26 here). Peterson, now 33 years old, saw his production decline sharply after the aforementioned game with the Cardinals and probably will in time this year, too, but he does have an outstanding Week 2 matchup against the Colts that's worth exploiting.

Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: Tasked with trying to rally his team from a 19-point, fourth-quarter deficit, Rivers attempted 51 passes on Sunday, only the seventh time in his 198 career NFL games he has attempted 50 or more, resulting in 29.0 PPR fantasy points. Loyal readers of this column know what that means: It means that for the 198th time in his career, Rivers fell short of the 30-point threshold, which is an astonishing fact considering he has scored 20 or more points in 54 of those 198 contents, and 25 or more in 20 of them.

Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers: The No. 3 scorer among running backs (entering the Sunday night game), with 27.6 PPR fantasy points, Gordon should be commended for his receiving work on Sunday. He caught nine of his 13 targets for 102 yards, with each of those setting new personal bests (the nine catches tied his previous mark set in 2017 Week 6), as the Chargers spent much of the second half playing catch-up. Gordon's 24 total touches show his hefty involvement in the offense regardless of what the scoreboard says, and his status as the team's goal-line back supports his weekly RB1 status.

Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers: Here's an example of both an on-field and fantasy winner, as it was Cobb's 75-yard touchdown reception with 2:13 remaining that proved the game winner Sunday night. Fantasy-wise, he managed 29.2 PPR fantasy points, fifth most among wide receivers on Sunday, the fourth-best single-game performance in his NFL career and his best single-game effort since Week 3 in 2015 (35.3). While it was a promising sign for Cobb's future value, don't get carried away expecting him to be Aaron Rodgers' go-to guy every game, as Davante Adams (19.8) and Geronimo Allison (17.9) each had a respectable performance, as well.


Nick Foles, QB, Eagles: Predictably, on Thursday night he couldn't repeat the magic that he showed during Super Bowl LI, when he scored 24.92 PPR fantasy points. He looked much more like the ordinary passer we saw in Week 16 of last season (8.52) or the NFC divisional playoff game (9.64). Foles wasn't a heavily started player by any means, active in only 7.5 percent of ESPN leagues on Thursday night, but that means some did chance using him, probably more so in two-quarterback or superflex leagues. His 5.1-point performance continued what has been a more recent trend of mostly forgettable games as an NFL starter; in his past 16 games (playoffs included), he has averaged just 10.7 points. Foles will continue to start nevertheless until the Eagles deem Carson Wentz (knee) ready, which could happen in a matter of days or weeks. If Wentz gets scratched for Weeks 2 and/or 3, Foles at least will get a pair of exceptional matchups with which to rebound (@TB, IND), making him a stronger streaming choice than he was on Thursday.

Saints' defense/special teams: Fitzpatrick's big day came at the Saints' expense, as their defense was routed for a whopping 48 points and 529 total yards in an upset loss that probably cost a slew of people their eliminator pools -- the Saints were the most-selected team in ESPN's Eliminator Challenge (28 percent) in Week 1. In fantasy-point terms, the Saints scored minus-9, their worst score in franchise history, and letting down the many who started him (68.3 percent of ESPN leagues, seventh most among D/STs). In the Saints' defense (pardon the pun), they also posted poor point totals in the opening weeks of 2017, scoring minus-5 in Week 1 (@MIN) and minus-2 in Week 2 (NE). Those were much tougher matchups than this one, however, so it'd be understandable if fantasy managers are hesitant to start them in Week 2 versus the Browns.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: I'm as apt as anyone to say that home/road splits tend to be grossly exaggerated in fantasy football, but Roethlisberger continues to fuel questions about his, scoring a mere 9.00 PPR fantasy points in his road assignment at Cleveland. The weather was somewhat a factor, but the fact remains that this was the 11th consecutive road game in which he fell shy of 20 points and the eighth time in his past 22 road contests that he scored fewer than 10. He has averaged a mere 13.45 in his past 20 road games. At least we won't have to worry about the debate in Week 2 -- his Steelers are back home, hosting the Kansas City Chiefs.

Alfred Morris, RB, San Francisco 49ers: His matchup was far from a favorable one, and his 1.8 PPR fantasy point total reflected that, but the greater takeaway from his performance was that he was outplayed by fellow backfield competitor Matt Breida (6.1 points and an average of 4.2 yards per carry to Morris' 3.2). Morris was the more popular pickup between the two primary 49ers fill-ins for the injured Jerick McKinnon (knee), added in 72.8 percent of ESPN leagues in the past eight days (now rostered in 76.1 percent) compared to Breida's addition in 42.6 percent (now rostered in 60.1 percent). Both backs get a much more favorable matchup in Week 2 versus the Detroit Lions, but with the pecking order potentially in flux, it'll be difficult to trust Morris in much greater than the 12.2 percent of leagues in which he was started on Sunday.

Peyton Barber, RB, Buccaneers: He was another running back thrust into a golden opportunity to begin the season -- one that was only enhanced by rookie Ronald Jones' inactive status Sunday -- and you'd think that Barber might've been able to muster more than the 6.9 PPR fantasy points he did with his Buccaneers leading by a handy margin for the majority of the game. Barber averaged 3.6 yards on his 19 carries, the latter the second most he has received in a game in his career. His Week 2 matchup against the Eagles doesn't afford him much greater prospect of success.

Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants: Like Morris', Engram's matchup left quite a bit to be desired, but his 3.8 PPR fantasy point total reflected what was a frustrating day for the sophomore tight end. He was flagged for offensive pass interference, had a catch negated by a holding penalty and caught just two of five targets. It was only the fifth time in his 16 career games that he was held to fewer than five fantasy points.

Chris Hogan, WR, New England Patriots: Considering the dearth of healthy and active wide receivers on the Patriots' roster entering Sunday's action, Hogan's 2.1 PPR fantasy points on five targets ranks as one of the day's biggest disappointments. Though he could be forgiven somewhat for the matchup, he also warrants criticism for the final stat line, considering his quarterback, Tom Brady, did pick up his performance in the latter stages of the game and both Gronkowski (23.3) and Phillip Dorsett (19.6) had good games of their own. Hogan should still be the Patriots' top wideout until Julian Edelman's four-game suspension expires, but his Week 2 matchup (@JAX) is even worse than this one was.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans: While an 11.04 PPR fantasy point performance from a quarterback is hardly catastrophic, it's still well beneath the threshold for what we consider a "start"-worthy performance in today's offensive environment, and it also looks poor in contrast to Watson's performances before he succumbed to knee surgery last November. He scored at least 17.7 fantasy points in each of his six starts as a rookie, averaging 27.7 in those six contests, and he also had 20.1 in Week 3 on the road against these same Patriots. Watson, who was started in 79.8 percent of ESPN leagues, fourth-most among quarterbacks, was shut out on the fantasy scorecard during the game's first half.

Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs: For one game, at least, Hunt didn't look at all worthy of the borderline first-round selection he cost you (11th overall ADP, 11.4 average pick). His 4.9 PPR fantasy points were a worse score than he had in 15 of his 16 games as a rookie in 2017, and they were in stark contrast to the 25.3 (Week 3) and 39.6 (Week 15) he scored against the Los Angeles Chargers last season. Hunt merely wasn't a major part of the Chiefs' offensive focus in this one, drawing only one target, accruing six of his 16 carries in the fourth quarter -- which his team began with a 19-point lead -- and getting either a rushing attempt or target on only one of the team's seven red zone plays. Mahomes' passing probably won't be this crisp every week, so Hunt should rebound in a big way and will probably enter Week 2 with low perceived value. He's still worth your weekly start.

Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs: Like Hunt, Kelce merely wasn't a major part of the Chiefs' game plan on Sunday, earning only one target on Mahomes' five red zone throws. The result was a mere 1.6 PPR fantasy points, the third-fewest in any of his 65 career NFL games and fewest since he had just 1.1 in 2017 Week 3. Kelce should see much more significant work in future games when Mahomes' deep-threat receivers can't get open, but it's a slight concern that that wasn't the case in this game against a usually stingy pass defense.

Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys: Though he gave his best effort in attempting to rally the Cowboys from a 16-0, fourth-quarter deficit, Prescott's final fantasy scorecard left plenty to be desired. His 8.7 PPR fantasy points represented the seventh time in his 33 career NFL games that he was held to fewer than 10 points, and five of those times have now occurred in his past 11 games; that's a cold spell that extends back to 2017 Week 8. He didn't have the excuse of Ezekiel Elliott's suspension-driven absence this time, either, instead struggling to find big plays with a mediocre set of receivers. Prescott should be able to find more success as a rusher in Week 2 against the New York Giants, but he's still merely low-end QB2 material.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Packers: While the Packers enjoyed a truly remarkable comeback on Sunday night, Graham's fantasy point total was forgettable, as he scored just 2.8 PPR points in his Packers debut. He was targeted four times, twice on plays from the Chicago Bears' 23-yard line in the third quarter, after Rodgers' return from a first-half knee injury, so it seems that Graham should still get a decent number of looks in scoring position this season. Chalk it up to a fluky result, though Graham's Week 2 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings is hardly a favorable one.