*Editor's Note: Each Thursday leading into the NFL games, contributing writer Jonathan Auping will break down a few things to consider as fantasy owners set their weekly lineups, including players to start or sit, along with trends to remember. Whether your game is the traditional fantasy league or the daily games from DraftKings, this weekly feature should help you get prepared for the fantasy weekend. *
Cole Beasley, WR, Cowboys, (DraftKings Salary $4,700)
Dak Prescott isn't Tom Brady. He isn't Aaron Rodgers. He isn't Matt Ryan or Cam Newton. But he had the talent around him to succeed as a rookie last season, and he managed to thrive because he had the patience and foresight to rely on what was working.
Anyone who watched the Cowboys last season knows what was working was giving the ball to Ezekiel Elliott and letting him run. Without Elliott, Prescott will turn to what was surprisingly the Cowboys' second-most consistent weapon: Cole Beasley. The Cowboys will pick their spots with deep shots to Dez Bryant, but Prescott won't force anything when he knows Beasley is probably open to break a two-yard catch into a ten-plus yard gain.
Make the Smart Plays:
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers, (DraftKings Salary $5,900)
Kelvin Benjamin is a tall possession receiver on an offense with a lot to prove. The addition of rookie duel threat Christian McCaffrey won't take away targets from Benjamin. If anything, he'll extend drives for Cam Newton who will still rely on Benjamin to convert in the end zone.
The Panthers are going to want to make a statement against the 49ers with a big margin of victory, and the difference in talent suggests they probably will. There are 20 wide receivers with higher Draft Kings salaries this week. Perhaps most of them have higher ceilings, but Benjamin is a safer pick than half of them. Last season, Benjamin opened the season with 91 yards and a touchdown. It's fair to expect similar production this time around.
Jimmy Graham, Tight End, Seahawks (Draft Kings Salary $5,100)
Russell Wilson is healthy, which means Jimmy Graham's 2017 production should look a lot different than his 2016 production. We have yet to see how deadly and potentially dominant the Wilson/Graham duo could be since Graham was traded to the Seahawks in 2015, but that window is still open.
Graham is simultaneously a deep threat and a bailout target for a quarterback as good at extending the plays as anyone in the NFL. There are four tight ends with considerably higher Draft Kings salaries this week and Graham has as high of a ceiling as any of them. The Packers defense will not strike fear in anyone this season and we could get a glimpse of Graham's return to the echelon of playmaking tight ends.
New Orleans Saints, Defense, (DraftKings Salary $2,400)
A lot of people play daily fantasy football opening week of the NFL. I mean *a lot *of people. So there are huge tournaments with a ton of money up for grabs. You'd be surprised how quickly you can jump, say, 25,000 other entrants by correctly making a selection that few others make.
The Saints don't have a defense to write home about this year. But the Vikings' offense simply can't light up a scoreboard. Last season the Vikings went over 300 yards passing once in 16 games. They went over 100 yards rushing twice. Dalvin Cook might help them as the season goes on, but it's hard to expect him to be an immediate game changer for a team with question marks on the offensive line.
You might be nervous to go with the Saints' defense, but really how nervous can you be that Sam Bradford is going to make you pay?
But Don't Outsmart Yourself:
Alex Smith, QB, Chiefs, (DraftKings Salary $5,400)
If you want to save money at quarterback—an obviously risky strategy—do it with literally anyone else this week. Take a flyer on Jay Cutler if you have to.
Here's a pretty simple rule: Don't start a bad quarterback in daily fantasy unless he's facing a glaringly bad defense. The Patriots don't have a glaringly bad defense. They are a better team than the Chiefs and will control the time of possession. The few windows of opportunity that they might give the Chiefs to come away with victory are probably windows too narrow for Alex Smith to throw a ball through.
Survivor Pick of the Week:
New England Patriots over the Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are my pick this season to regress to a meddling team. A respectable amount of talent on the offensive end doesn't mean much if your quarterback can't take advantage of it, and we've seen for a few years now that Alex Smith isn't the guy to maximize his arsenal of weapons.
And a respectable amount of talent on defense isn't enough to stop Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.