Sept. 2 (UPI) -- A great start is key to a fantasy football season. One way to project that for your team is to find out which players have enough opportunity to succeed early on against teams that might struggle to defend their skillset.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram are among the players I like most this season based on those qualifiers ahead of fantasy football drafts. They top a group of players you should target in your draft if you want to get off to a hot start.
Some of the players I would aim for might have easy matchups at first, but their schedules will get harder down the road. You should consider trading some of these players after they produce for your team so you can capitalize on their stock while it's at its highest point and you can receive a maximum return in the exchange.
You also can choose to stick with these players and hope they build on their early success and produce spectacular seasons.
I have included lists of quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends I would target or avoid in your draft based on their schedules to start the season.
My strength of schedule model balances each player's respective opportunity and skill level with the number of matchups they have this season against teams that ranked inside the Top-10 for most fantasy points (easy matchups) and fewest fantasy points allowed (hard matchups) last season to their positions.
Easiest early schedules
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Brees will likely be a Top 10 quarterback selection in your draft, but there is a case to be made to draft him early. You should target the Saints quarterback if you wait until after the fifth or sixth round to draft the position. Brees should hold his own in fantasy matchups you have against fellow owners who drafted quarterbacks earlier.
Brees has three matchups in four weeks against teams that ranked inside the Top 10 for most fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks last season. He has two of those matchups in the first two weeks of the season and is a great value pick.
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Jackson could be a first or second-round selection in your draft. I don't love that price, but he should have some huge weeks to start the season as the Ravens have three easy quarterback matchups in their first five games.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Prescott has high stock as fantasy football team owners enter drafts. His will likely be one of the first five quarterbacks elected in your draft. The Cowboys have four easy quarterback matchups in their first seven weeks. Prescott should be an elite QB1 at the start of the season.
Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina Panthers
Bridgewater will either be undrafted or a very late pick in your draft. While I don't love him as a fantasy football starter for the entire season, I think he has value early on. The Panthers have two easy quarterback matchups to start the season and four such matchups in their first five weeks. Draft or add Bridgewater to your roster if you waited too long to select a quarterback and plan to platoon the position.
Mark Ingram, Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens selected former Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft and he could threaten Ingram's workload in 2020. I still expect Ingram to be a strong RB1 option at the start of the season.
Ingram has easy fantasy football matchups in each of the first five weeks of the season. He should give you a boost at the position and help your fantasy squad to some early victories, due to his late draft position. He also could be a prime candidate to trade away after Week 5.
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
Ekeler's draft position is before Ingram's, so he isn't as good of a value, but he should be one of the top performers early on. The Chargers have three consecutive easy running back matchups to start the season. Ekeler is a player you could trade away for a huge return after Week 3. You also could opt to keep him and hope he produces one of the best seasons for a running back in 2020.
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
Chubb has easy matchups in Week 2 and Week 3. You should consider selecting him anytime after the No. 7 overall slot in the first round of your draft.
Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals
Drake and the Cardinals start the season with a tough fantasy football running back matchup against the San Francisco 49ers before three consecutive easy matchups. I expect the former Miami Dolphins playmaker to have RB1 value early on, but he could struggle in tougher matchups.
Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons
I think Gurley will be a bit inconsistent at the start of the season, but he should heat up after Week 3. He could be someone to buy low on after the first few weeks as the Falcons have great running back matchups in four of five weeks from Week 4 through Week 8.
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
Kamara has a first-round draft position and he should produce right away as the Saints have easy running back matchups in Week 3 and Week 4.
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
Sanders has a lot of buzz as fantasy leagues prepare for drafts around the world. The second-year Eagles running back is being drafted as an RB1 in deeper leagues, but is still a bit of a risk because he has yet to handle a huge workload.
I think he could be great early on, especially in points per reception leagues, as he has two easy matchups in his first three weeks. He might struggle to stay healthy for the entire season and should be a solid sell-high option after a big game or two.
Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
Adams is another candidate for a first-round pick for your squad. He enters the season as Aaron Rodgers' go-to option and should see an abundance of targets this year. I expect him to be the top wide receiver in fantasy football at the start of the season and to parlay that success throughout 2020. The Packers face two teams in the first three weeks that ranked inside the Top 10 for fantasy points allowed to wide receivers in 2019.
Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
Thomas is the most-popular option to be the first wide receiver picked in fantasy football drafts. The Saints playmaker should have another elite campaign. The Saints also have great wide receiver matchups in three of their first four games.
Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
Diggs heads into his first season with the Bills after joining the team in an off-season trade. I think he'll see a lot of looks early on as the Bills try to create chemistry between the newcomer and quarterback Josh Allen.
Buffalo also has great wide receiver matchups in three of their first four games. Diggs might be inconsistent, but he should produce WR2 or WR3 numbers most weeks.
D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers
Like Bridgewater, Moore should benefit from a great schedule to start the season. Moore has three great wide receiver matchups in his first three weeks. He is another great WR2 candidate, and could post some WR1 weeks early on.
Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
The Bears have four matchups in the first five weeks against teams that ranked inside the Top 10 for most fantasy points allowed to wide receivers last season. Robinson is being underdrafted and could turn in a WR1 campaign in 2020.
Terry McLaurin, Washington Football Team
McLaurin is another underdrafted player. The Washington wide receiver is a spectacular WR3, but should be a solid WR2 option when he has good matchups. McLaurin has back-to-back great matchups to start the season.
D.J. Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars
Chark should produce good WR3 numbers early on as the Jaguars have great wide receiver matchups in two of their first three games.
Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
Edelman and the Patriots also have great wide receiver matchups in two of their first three games. I expect new Patriots quarterback Cam Newton to target Edelman often, which should result in WR3 numbers. He should be a WR2 in points per reception formats.
Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers
Aiyuk was one of the many talented rookie wide receivers selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. He might have the best opportunity to produce of any rookie pass catcher. The 49ers are struggling with a myriad of wide receiver injuries.
Aiyuk should immediately be a second or third target in the offense behind George Kittle. The 49ers have five consecutive easy wide receiver matchups to start the season. Throw Aiyuk into your lineup as a WR3 at the start of the season if you are in a league that starts three wide receivers and includes at least 12 teams.
Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
Andrews had a breakout year in 2019 and became NFL MVP Lamar Jackson's top target. He shouldn't be picked in the same range as Travis Kelce or Kittle, but is an elite tight end option. The Ravens start the season with great fantasy football tight end matchups in three of their first four weeks.
Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints
Cook should be a fringe season-long TE1 in leagues that require starting the position and include at least 12 teams. If you are in one of those leagues and didn't get an elite option, Cook could be your answer as a plug-in play. The Saints have great tight end matchups in their first two games. Take a shot on the veteran tight end and you won't be disappointed.
Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons
Hurst and the Falcons also start the season with back-to-back great tight end matchups. He is another plug-in play in tight end leagues.
Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers
Ebron should make an immediate impact for the Steelers, who have great tight end matchups in three of their first four games.
Ian Thomas, Carolina Panthers
Thomas isn't a draftable tight end, but could be a dart-throw play if you don't prioritize the position in your draft. The Panthers have great tight end matchups in three of their first four games.
Blake Jarwin, Dallas Cowboys
Jarwin is another player who has some stream upside in tight end leagues. Five of the Cowboys' first seven games are against teams that ranked inside the Top 10 for most fantasy points allowed to tight ends last season.
Hardest early schedules
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Some players are so talented that you can overlook bad matchups and Mahomes is the best example of that philosophy. I'm not a fan of drafting a quarterback early in any fantasy football draft, but if you do decide to do that, you might want to consider Jackson instead of Mahomes.
Five of the Chiefs' first seven games in 2020 come against teams that ranked inside the Top 10 for fewest fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks last season.
Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
Watson lost his best wide receiver -- DeAndre Hopkins -- in an off-season trade, but is still being drafted as a Top-5 quarterback. I have other gunslingers ranked ahead of the Texans star in my pre-draft rankings in part due to Watson's tough schedule. The Texans have tough quarterback matchups in three of their first four games.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Stafford and the Lions have tough matchups in their first two games to start the season. He isn't being drafted as a Top 10 option and could struggle early on. I would add another quarterback to your roster if you have Stafford on your squad.
Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
Tannehill is another player who isn't being selected early in fantasy football drafts. I think the Titans quarterback could have a very slow start. Four of the Titans' first five games come against teams that ranked inside the Top 10 for fewest fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks in 2019.
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Barkley is a consensus Top 3 pick in fantasy football drafts, but you should consider other options in his tier if you are given the choice. The Giants have tough running back matchups in two of their first three games.
Barkley should be a great trade target before Week 4 if the team that drafted him in your league gets frustrated with his potential early struggles.
Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
Jacobs is another player who could struggle at the start of the 2020 season. Two of the Raiders' first three games come against teams that ranked inside the Top 10 for fewest fantasy points allowed to running backs in 2019.
Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos
Gordon was one of the former fantasy football stars involved in a blockbuster off-season move. The new Broncos running back has plenty of buzz and is being drafted as an RB2 option, but could disappoint owners due to a timeshare with Phillip Lindsay and tough matchups early on.
Denver has four tough running back matchups in their first five weeks. I would look at other running back options before drafting Gordon.
David Johnson, Houston Texans
Johnson is now slated to be the workhorse out of the backfield for the Texans. The dynamic running back should be a great points per reception play for most of the season, but has two tough matchups in his first three weeks. He will likely be another buy-low candidate if you need an upgrade at the position after Week 3.
Le'Veon Bell, New York Jets
There are already a ton of red flags about the Jets this off-season and they are expected to be one of the league's worst teams. Bell is being drafted as an RB2, but I'm staying away from him in my drafts.
The Jets also have three tough running back matchups through the first four weeks. I expect Bell's early struggles to morph into a season-long decline.
Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers' offense appears to be filled with playmakers as we enter the 2020 season. Jones is one of the wildcard fantasy football commodities in Tampa Bay. He is being drafted as a low-end RB2 or flex play, but might be a player to avoid on draft day and target later on during the season.
Two of the Buccaneers' first three games this season come against teams that ranked inside the Top 10 for fewest fantasy points allowed to running backs in 2019.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Jones has enough talent to overcome tough matchups, but you might want to consider other options in his tier if you want to draft a wide receiver early. The Falcons offense should have plenty of playmakers and quarterback Matt Ryan could spread the ball around a bit more in 2020. The Falcons also have tough wide receiver matchups in two of their first three games.
Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Evans and Godwin are both being drafted as WR1s. They should produce to that level throughout the 2020 campaign, but have three tough wide receiver matchups within the first five weeks of the season. I would target one of them as a buy-low candidate if they struggle through the first quarter of the season.
Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
Lockett and Metcalf should benefit from another spectacular season from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. They are each being drafted as WR2s, but could be better trade targets before Week 4. The Seahawks have two matchups in the first three weeks against teams that ranked inside the Top 10 for fewest fantasy points allowed to wide receivers last season.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Green already has some injury red flags, which have resulted in a later average draft position than he has had in previous years. He could be a terrific value as a WR3 if he can turn in an elite season this year.
I expect him to struggle early on as the Bengals have back-to-back tough wide receiver matchups to start the season. Make sure to pick up another wide receiver with better early matchups later on in your draft if you pick Green.
Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens
Brown was a big-play option for Lamar Jackson in 2020 and should spark fantasy teams once again in 2020, but he has tough matchups in two of his first three games. I expect boom-or-bust production from Brown at the start of the season. You should consider trading him away if he goes off in any of his first three games.
Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams want to bounce back this year, but will have a new look offense after the departure of Todd Gurley. Kupp and Woods should post WR2 and WR3 numbers throughout the season, but have tough matchups in two of their first three games.
I still expect them to produce, but it will be hard to project who has the best game on a weekly basis. I would look for a player with a more steady target share if you are targeting a wide receiver and Kupp and Woods remain on the draft board.
A.J. Brown and Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill might struggle to start the season, which would result in lower numbers for Brown and Davis. Three of the Titans' first five games also come against teams that ranked inside the Top 10 for fewest fantasy points allowed to wide receivers last season.
Davis isn't much of a risk because he has a late average draft position, but Brown is being picked up as a low-end WR1 or high-end WR2. I see Brown as a disappointment early on and he should be a buy-low trade target after Week 5.
DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins
Parker had a career-best 1,202 yards and nine scores on 72 catches last season. He enters the season as the Dolphins' top receiving option, but Miami's pass-catching group lacks depth. That means opposing defenses will be able to better focus on Parker and limit his production.
He remains a low-end WR3 for me this season, but has tough matchups through the first two weeks. Stay away from Parker if you want consistent WR3 play. He'll be a matchup-dependent option at the slot later in the season when he has better matchups.
Tyrell Williams and Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders
I expect the Raiders to be a surprise team this season, led by a high-octane offense. Ruggs, Williams and a great group of tight ends should provide solid balance for the Josh Jacobs-led rushing attack.
The Raiders should lean on Jacobs and the running game, but the wide receivers could struggle to provide consistency as fantasy football options. Las Vegas has three tough wide receiver matchups in their first five weeks.
They also have seven total matchups in 2020 against teams that ranked inside the Top 10 for fewest fantasy points allowed to the position last season.
Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate and Darius Slayton, New York Giants
Four of the Giants' first five games in 2020 come against teams that ranked inside the Top 10 for fewest fantasy points allowed to wide receivers in 2019. That means it could be hard to forecast when to play Shepard, Tate and Slayton throughout the season.
Giants tight end Evan Engram remains an elite option for his position, but be weary of throwing Giants wide receivers into your lineup.
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Kelce should still be one of the first tight ends selected in your draft, but I wouldn't pick him in the first round or early in the second round. The Chiefs have three tough tight end matchups in the first four weeks of the season and four such matchups through six weeks.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes also has some tough matchups to begin the year. Kelce could be a great trade target to buy low on halfway through the fantasy football season.
Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders
Waller went off for 1,145 yards on 90 catches and was one of the best breakout fantasy football players last season. He remains one of the Raiders' best skill position players, but might have a slow start this year.
Each of Las Vegas' first four games are against teams that ranked inside the Top 10 for fewest fantasy points allowed to tight ends last season.
Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams
Higbee is expected to be a Top 10 fantasy football tight end, but you might want to look elsewhere if you need a tight end near his draft position. The Rams have tough tight end matchups in two of their first three games.
Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians heaped praise onto Gronkowski at the start of training camp, but has since hinted that the former All-Pro tight end might not see as many snaps as his fantasy football stock owners would like.
The Buccaneers have several talented tight ends and could shuffle the playmakers dependent on game plan. Tampa Bay also has tough tight end matchups in three of their first four games.
Don't overdraft Gronkowski based on his previous success. I think he'll be more of a red zone option for the Buccaneers and should be a matchup-dependent play for fantasy football squads in 2020.
Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
Doyle is now the main man at tight end this year for the Colts after he shared the role in previous seasons. He is being drafted as a TE1, but will likely struggle early as he has two tough matchups in the first three weeks of the 2020 season. Doyle should be a better play after Week 3 as his schedule gets easier.