Week 1 Starts and Sits
September 12, 2015 | Chet
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Hold onto your butts, fake footballers. We have liftoff. Week 1 of the NFL season is here. We had our first taste of 2015’s fantasy football vintage on Thursday with Steelers-Patriots and it was good. Bright Gronk flavors with a velvety Antonio finish. Let’s each buy bottle or two and imbibe more seriously on Sunday and Monday, shall we? To ensure a high quality of fantasy football inebriation this weekend, I’m here to cleanse your palate with my Week 1 starts and sits.
Before we get to any recommendations, let’s talk theory. My goal with “Starts” is to find fringe players who creep up to startable status for the given week based on any number of factors. Similarly, my “Sits” identify normally startable players to avoid (if possible), typically based on match-ups and uncertainty surrounding their roles.
Understand that the baselines of “fringe” and “startable” are different for every league. With that in mind, I will typically assume a standard 12-team configuration, but I will also dig deeper at each position for larger leagues. I’m especially fond of 2-QB leagues, so I’ll dive into the bottom-15 of that position every week to point out guys I like and don’t like.
Ultimately, these aren’t hard and fast rules. Rather, they illustrate my assessment of the fantasy football landscape and how easily individual players might traverse the current week’s wilderness.
If you have any specific start/sit questions, feel free to consult the sortable TFF staff rankings or leave a comment below.
Vegas over-unders and soft match-ups are nice, but let’s forego the analytic arguments for a moment. Sam Bradford is a start because those of us who drafted him are believers. We drafted him as our starting fantasy quarterback, forsaking all Matts and Mannings. Waiting on QB works because of guys like Sam Bradford. This is what we believe, dedicated to the dream of streaming (and not only at quarterback).
So what about those who didn’t forsake the Mannings? Peyton is historically a must-start, but Eli Manning might be the brother to own in fantasy this week. Eli may dislike Grunt Hugs and Smorps, but the Dallas defense doesn’t figure to do much grunt hugging in their contest Sunday night (not sure about smorping, though…). According to the bookmakers, their match-up will instead feature plenty of offense. Eli has a recent track record of success against the Cowboys. Plus, playing in Dallas’ dome will keep out the Whooty Whoo Tree Rats.
Last up for the 1-QB crowd is Carson Palmer. In the preseason, he appeared fully recovered from last year’s ACL injury. On Sunday, he faces a depleted New Orleans defense. The other half of that Saints squad should score enough to sustain Arizona’s incentive to steadily counter-attack throughout their clash. Game script matters, people.
Owners in 2-QB leagues should confidently deploy Teddy Bridgewater and Andy Dalton this week. In drafts, Bridgewater seemed overvalued. There are plenty of reasons he should improve in his second year, but the hype went a little too far in the preseason. Similarly, everyone expects a bounce-back from Dalton, but his 2015 schedule is ruthless. Alas, the season has started and all that draft analysis can be temporarily thrown to the wind thanks to match-up context. Teddy and Andy each face one of the toothless Bay Area defenses this week. The only fear for either is a blowout in which their respective running games go bananas and minimize the need to pass. Still, such a game script tends to open up the passing game by default and not all red zone trips can end with a rushing touchdown. These two will pass, hopefully for some TDs. Let them do it for your fantasy teams.
Hunting elephants for ivory is despicable. However, hunting fantasy formats for Chris Ivory is highly encouraged here at The Fake Football. Now the Jets’ unquestioned starter, Ivory stands to stampede the Browns on Sunday. The ineptitude of Cleveland’s offense could lead to a slow, grindy game and that suits Ivory’s talents.
I was excited to draft Jameis Winston this year in fantasy, but he never quite put it together in the preseason (“Oh, what are you doing here, Chekhov’s Gun?”). Look for the Bucs to rely on Doug Martin early in the year, particularly this week against the woeful Titans, while they ease Winston along.
Cut now to Ameer Abdullah, a player’s whose preseason hype train seemed right at home barreling down the tracks. The train recently lost steam thanks to an uphill depth chart climb, but don’t disembark yet. Abdullah has enough coal in the tender to climb that mountain and pick up speed on the other side. Theo Riddick is a nice player, but no real threat, and Joique Bell is already struggling to stay healthy. Even buried on the depth chart, he should get plenty of work from the outset and provide decent-to-good flex value.
Now more than ever, fantasy owners are top-loading their rosters with receivers and zero-RB strategies necessitate a need for cheap rushing options later in the draft. Enter Isaiah Crowell. Cleveland’s running back committee was a murky quagmire through the preseason, but Duke Johnson’s ailments and the late trade of Terrance West have cleared the way for Crow to feast in Week 1. It may be foolish to recommend the running back directly competing for game flow with the previously recommended Chris Ivory, but both can find volume if their bout is a slugfest.
This is speculative, but Benny Cunningham will warrant a start if Tre Mason is limited or out of Sunday’s tilt against the Seahawks. Seattle’s defense isn’t quite as fearsome since so many key contributors from 2015 departed (or held out, in the case of Kam Chancellor). Cunningham isn’t a transcendent runner, but he does catch passes well and St. Louis is likely to lean on pass-catching personnel as the underdog. Owners in deeper PPR formats must stay alert to Mason and Cunningham’s status leading up to gametime.
My Carson Palmer love correlates directly to a love of his receivers this week. As football fans, we’ve come to appreciate the #DadRunner archeytpe, but how about the #UnclePasser? We enjoy spending time with Uncle Carson because that means we simultaneously enjoy the company of our cousins, Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown. Both are starts this week for the same reasons Palmer is usable. Even unpopular cousin Michael Floyd deserves some consideration, primarily as a low-ownership play in DFS tournaments.
I’m also rolling with Allen Robinson in Week 1. A-Rob stands out as the only reliable receiver in Jacksonville. His target share, particularly in the red zone, should be similar to that of an A.J. Green type, but we didn’t pay A.J. Green prices for Robinson. Lock him into your starting lineups.
The last of my more obvious starts is Vincent Jackson. I’m primarily hedging against the health of Mike Evans. After no practice on Weds. and Thurs., Evans only achieved limited participation on Friday, planting him squarely in the “questionable” camp for Sunday’s game. Meanwhile, Jackson developed chemistry with Jameis Winston through the preseason. If Evans is limited or out, Winston can’t afford to only use V-Jax sparingly. That potential for volume coupled with Jackson’s big-play upside against a bad defense excites me in Week 1.
Further down the rankings, I like Stevie Johnson. Expect plenty of work for Johnson against a Lions defense keying on Keenan Allen. With Antonio gates suspended and Ladarius Green nursing a concussion, San Diego’s WR2 could wind up their best red zone threat.
Terrance Williams will also draw softer coverages than his elite receiving counterpart in Dallas, Dez Bryant. The high Vegas total for NYG-DAL points to plenty of high-powered offense. Dez and Jason Witten will eat, but Williams has his own ticket to the buffet. From the opposite side of that same match-up, Rueben Randle has similar potential for fantasy glory. Victor Cruz is out and Odell Beckham Jr. will soak up a ton of defensive focus from the Cowboys, opening up plenty of targets for Randle and a certain tight end I’ll get to shortly.
I’ll wrap up wide receivers with Kamar Aiken. Someone needs to step up alongside Steve Smith for Baltimore and most signs point to Aiken as the breakout candidate. This could be a Kevin Ogletree-esque situation, with a drop-off in production as defenses shift more attention to Aiken after the first week, but Denver should be relatively unprepared for him on Sunday.
In shallower leagues, Tyler Eifert may not have been drafted as a starter, but he should be in your Week 1 lineups. The Bengals’ tight end could be their #2 receiving threat after A.J. Green and the Raiders allowed 10 TDs to tight ends last year, including 7 in final 8 weeks.
I hyped Rueben Randle for this week above, but my favorite non-OBJ receiver for the Giants is Larry Donnell. Like Eifert, Donnell could be his quarterback’s second read on most pass plays. Donnell isn’t quite as gifted as Eifert, but the high-scoring projection of Donnell’s match-up makes up for the talent gap in Week 1.
Jordy Nelson’s injury introduced an element of chaos in the Green Bay receiving corps. Jeff Janis was the heir apparent, followed by Ty Montgomery until James Jones re-entered the mix. Oh by the way, Randall Cobb isn’t even 100%. Potentially lost in the shuffle is Richard Rodgers. The Packers face a bad Bears defense on Sunday — a unit that gave up the second-most fantasy points to tight ends in 2014. Admittedly, those numbers were inflated by a 9-149-3 explosion from Rob Gronkowski in Week 8 (plus an additional 7-61-1 from tight end Tim Wright in the same game). Still, Green Bay’s target pie hasn’t yet been officially portioned and Richard Rodgers’ claim to a slice is strong, particularly in the red zone.
For deeper leagues, I’ll briefly highlight Charles Clay, Crockett Gillmore, and Ben Watson. All three have decent touchdown upside and should benefit from positive game script.
You’re priced into starting Russell Wilson if you drafted him, but at #13 in my QB rankings, there are plenty of passers I’d rather play. He’s on the road against a stout St. Louis defense. As a divisional foe, the Rams know how to play the Seahawks with toughness and they understand the challenges Wilson presents from under center. Consider benching the Seattle QB if your draft strategy backed him up with Tannehill, Bradford, Eli, or Palmer.
Many will point to Jay Cutler as a stay-away this week and I agree, but I’m similarly scared of Joe Flacco. Both of these QBs could be forced to throw too much on Sunday and each have their own set of supporting cast problems. In Chicago, Alshon Jeffery could be relegated to decoy duty. For Baltimore, I tabbed Kamar Aiken and Crockett Gillmore as deep sleepers, but neither are sure bets to produce for Flacco.
Will Jameis Winston (*Chekhov’s gun goes off*) and Marcus Mariota be fantasy relevant at times this season? Absolutely. Do I want to take the chance they hit in their regular season premiers? Nope. Some 2-QB owners will need to run them out in Week 1, but you can probably do better than these rookies if you’re streaming.
Streaming darling Alex Smith is another QB I’m avoiding in Week 1. I simply have too much respect for J.J. Watt and a Texans defense that should be fired up for their home opener. Smith actually passed and ran for more yards on the road than at home last year, but with no QBs on bye, I recommend dodging defensive match-ups like Houston with your cheap quarterback plays.
In drafts, I routinely passed on Alfred Morris and Melvin Gordon. That hate carries into their Week 1 match-ups. I expect big things from the Miami offense in 2015 and if that proves correct to open the season, Morris could fall prey to an awful game flow on Sunday. This type of dilemma will be a recurring theme for Alf’s fantasy owners throughout the season. On the flip side, Gordon fell into a nice situation in San Diego, but indications are he’s not ready to fully contribute to the offense at this point. Ah, the perils of drafting rookies to your fantasy squads. Gordon faces an especially tough front seven from Detroit this week, so look elsewhere for a starting running back.
After I passed on Morris and Gording in early drafts, I occasionally acquired shares of Joseph Randle. As his price went up, I started to shy away. After Darren McFadden established himself as a legit threat in the preseason, I was frightened away from Randle completely. My fear endures and will continue to linger until actual game action shows how the Cowboys plan to handle their running backs. After Week 1, we should have more confidence in either Randle or McFadden.
Plenty of fake footballers are excited about the positive reports on Arian Foster. In multiple leagues, I watched owners reach for the combination of Foster and Alfred Blue. Those expecting Blue to adequately fill in for Foster are in for a rude awakening because guess what? Alfred Blue is not nearly the caliber of running back that Arian Foster is. The Chiefs should easily contain Blue in Week 1 and force Brian Hoyer to beat them. A bet on Blue is a risky spin of the goal line touchdown roulette wheel. Push your chips in somewhere else, if possible.
Bishop Sankey is another running back lottery ticket that owners gladly scooped up after his platoon mate David Cobb landed on the IR. I might have become a supporter of the “free Sankey” narrative, but the Titans went out and traded for Terrance West. It’s clear that Tennessee doesn’t think much of their incumbent running back. You shouldn’t trust him in your fantasy lineups either.
I’m a Brandon Marshall advocate, but I’m benching him where I can this week for fear of a squashing from shadow corner Joe Haden. Besides, as predicted in my support of Chris Ivory and Isaiah Crowell above, the Browns-Jets game looms as a smash-mouth battle of defense and rushing attacks.
The fantasy community has a lot left to learn about the completely refitted 49ers, so until I have a better understanding of their team, I’m avoiding their high-variance options like Torrey Smith. He scored a career-high 11 TDs last season, but regressed in all other receiving categories. The Ravens, despite their lack of obvious replacement options, let Smith walk in free agency. He must prove he can produce in the San Francisco offense before we green light him for our fantasy teams.
Comparatively, the Saints’ Marques Colston has painted us a clear picture of what to expect from year to year. The problem is we can’t expect all that much at this stage of his career. Colston slowed down considerably in 2014 and preseason usage for New Orleans had him playing third receiver, behind Brandin Cooks and Brandon Coleman. Colston should see more red zone looks thanks to the departure of Jimmy Graham, but his usage between the 20s will continue to diminish as he ages. Colston is thereby relegated to entry in the touchdown lottery. With the potential to regularly face Patrick Peterson in Week 1, Colston’s chances of cashing in those sweepstakes are below average.
Our final sits at wideout are Devin Funchess and DeVante Parker, again due to uncertain usage profiles. Funchess is currently behind Ted Ginn Jr. and Philly Brown on Carolina’s depth chart. That superficial pecking order could be a red herring, but I’ll pass on Funchess for the first week to gather more intel. Parker will surprisingly be active to start the season as he recovers from foot surgery, but odds are the Dolphins will bring him along slowly. Both of these receivers could be buy-lows if they sputter in early weeks.
Probably the only offensive player I don’t like in Monday night’s PHI-ATL game is Zach Ertz. Philly figures to spread the ball around and Ertz is the low man on the totem pole based on his sub-par blocking skills and nagging injuries. If he can’t stay on the field for his NFL team, he shouldn’t take the imaginary field for your fantasy teams.
Owen Daniels won’t make my lineups this weekend, either. Like Alfred Blue replacing Arian Foster, Daniels is not capable of replacing the full fantasy value of now-departed Julius Thomas. I don’t subscribe to the facing-his-former-team narrative with Daniels either. Peyton Manning shouldn’t care about that sort of thing and he’s the dude who decides when and where Daniels sees targets. Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and C.J. Anderson should be the focus of Denver’s offense on Sunday. Roll the dice on a tight end with more upside than Daniels.
I’ll close this piece out by throwing cold water on Coby Fleener enthusiasts. Dwayne Allen is back in action for the Colts and beyond the tight ends, Andrew Luck has an embarrassment of other weapons in his arsenal. Fleener’s snaps and targets should nosedive as a result, so don’t use him in fantasy.
Thanks for reading and be sure to check back next week for more start/sit recommendations. I soon hope to show off a new approach to lineup decisions that weaves in my Game Flowbotics work from last season. Until then, enjoy the ride of opening weekend and good luck on the waiver wire.