With Week 1 in the NFL right around the corner, there are huge contests on the board and prices available to start your studying. Here is a first take on players at every price range and position, and why they may (or may not) be worth the cost. Good luck!

Quarterbacks

Expensive

Aaron Rodgers ($8,600) – Rodgers is the widely considered to be the best quarterback in the NFL, and, at least until two weeks ago, probably also had the best weapons. If you look at the most expensive QBs for week 1, he also, on top of all that, had easily the best matchup. If you were going to spend up on a QB, this was the place. But with Jordy definitely out, and Cobb likely questionable leading into week 1, all of a sudden the risk is too much to justify the price tag. Even if Cobb missed extended time, I have confidence that Rodgers would make this offense click and put up huge numbers eventually, but he might need more than a few drives in a couple of pre-season games to get there.

USATSI_8748138_168381090_lowres

Matt Ryan ($7,500) – Really, he’s a good play for all the reasons. He’s at home, where he is always better. He’s playing the Eagles, who might be the single best fantasy matchup for an opposing QB possible, with a vulnerable secondary and a high-flying offense that will put opponents in catch-up mode. One of the concerns with Ryan is the health of his receivers, but he should have Julio at full speed and even Roddy is expected to be back in action for the opener. With Coleman and Freeman working out of the backfield, he even has a couple of shiny new weapons to deploy at his discretion. On this turf especially, this offense could be explosive.

Value

Eli Manning ($7,400) – There was a total of 111 points scored in the two games played between the Giants and the Cowboys last year. No matter what the preseason looks like, Eli has ups and downs and this matchup is usually an up. He should have plenty of chances to put up huge numbers in McAdoo’s offense and with, quite possibly, the best receiving corps of his life (with apologies to Plax and Amani Toomer, of course).

Carson Palmer ($6,500) – You’ve spent months gearing up for your year-long league’s draft, and in that scenario, Palmer is pushed way down the rankings list due in large part to his injury risk. But for week 1, he is healthy. In six games last year, he averaged just under 300 yards and 2 TDs, and in 2013 he went for almost 4,300 yards. In other words, the upside is real.

Andy Dalton ($6,100) – I am bringing him up quickly here for two reasons: 1. his 2014 numbers were obviously down from 2013, but there was one big difference – A.J. Green’s health, and 2. for me, this week, he is the bottom of the possible QB range – I am not trusting either of the rookies just yet.  This is all the savings I could see myself squeezing out of the position.

Running Backs

Expensive

Eddie Lacy ($7,500) – A consensus top-5 running back on every fantasy board this season, he has gone from “perfect way to balance the best offense in the league,” to “potential centerpiece of a top-ten offense” over the past couple of weeks. Either way, it’s being kind to say the Bears can be run on a little, and top receivers or not, Rodgers is going to put this team in a position to score. Lacy is just the bulldozer you need to take advantage of a situation like that.

USATSI_8770885_168381090_lowres

DeMarco Murray ($6,700) – Another guy getting sunk in all the offseason fantasy rankings, and a big part of the reason (aside from the whole getting away from the best line in football) is injury concern. It’s an interesting theory for a guy who played all 16 games last season, but the 450 touches is a little scary. But not for week 1, when he’s looking healthy still, and the Eagles face off against a bottom-half defense. And don’t forget, Chip Kelly let McCoy go and went after DeMarco, and it wasn’t random – Murray is the perfect fit for his offense, which is built around opening highway-wide running lanes by spreading a defense thin and running them ragged. With this fast-paced juggernaut, he could be in a 60/40 split and still see 18 carries a week.

Value

Latavius Murray ($5,700) – It’s not always easy to pick a low-priced option who you think might still be overvalued, but here goes: he looks great, but this offense still doesn’t. He has had flashes of absolute brilliance, but as an every down back, you have to rely on at least some level of consistency carry-to-carry because the big hitter isn’t always going to be there. On paper, he looks to have a juicy matchup against the Bengals, with that shining green “28th” there next to his name, but the Bengals defense is better than that. They closed last season strong, and will look to start this season the same way – and might be able to do just that against this Oakland offense. How was that? Convincing? Good. 

Frank Gore ($5,400) – Gore is facing a tough Buffalo defense, and on a team that is going to feature the pass – so why go with him in week 1? For exactly those reasons – Buffalo knows what Indy is going to want to do, and they have the secondary and the pass rush to actually put a  serious dent in Luck’s ability to push the ball downfield. But this offense also has plenty of room for a RB to make plays with his hands out of the backfield and Gore could be just the safety-valve Luck needs in this one, making him a solid play for the price. 

Wide Receivers

Expensive

USATSI_8272851_168381090_lowres

Demaryius Thomas ($9,100) – Facing off against a porous Baltimore secondary, he should find plenty of room to run, both before and after the catch. So, all you need to worry about is Peyton being able to get him the ball. And when that’s your biggest concern, you should feel pretty at ease. If anything, he might be even more of a fantasy beast this year – with the loss of Julius Thomas, this perennial 1,400 yard receiver could start seeing more red zone targets than ever before. Scary. 

Brandin Cooks ($7,100) – A guy who has already shown the ability to get open in small spaces and create after he gets the ball in his hands is all of a sudden flashing deep-ball ability in the preseason. I don’t care if he extends the field on the outside or up the seam, if he can consistently get behind defenders with Drew Brees running the offense this price could go up in a big way before we get out of September. 

Value

John Brown ($4,500) – This is the kind of pick you make that you are much more comfortable with when you remember it’s a PPR contest. He started fast as a rookie, with 50+ catches last year, playing with a pretty motley crew of signal-callers. If Palmer can stay healthy, he could be in line for 90+ catches this year, and could even see a boost from that level to start the season if Floyd is not ready for week 1. This game against the Saints could end up being a high-scoring affair, at least for as far as opening-week scores typically go, and Brown is definitely a part of the reason why.

Davante Adams ($4,400) – Yes, it’s obvious, but it doesn’t matter. If you are shying away from a guy you are convinced is going to perform well only because a lot of other people will have him too, all you’re doing is giving a lot of other people a head start. In other words, this pick might not earn you a win, but it could save you a loss. 

Tight Ends

Expensive

Jimmy Graham ($5,600) – Well, there is no Gronk, so he can open the season feeling good about his (temporary) spot atop the tight end rankings. Because even with Garrapolo potentially starting, Gronk is a one-man tier after Graham’s move to Seattle. St. Louis might actually be just the defense he is useful against from a football point a view: with a D-line good enough to stymie Lynch and get Wilson on the run, Graham is the kind of big target who could help turn broken plays into big gainers. Good for the Seahawks, but that is altogether too much conjecture to trust him at this price in week 1, never having seen it before, at least for me.

USATSI_8127582_168381090_lowres

Greg Olsen ($5,300) – The expensive TE I do like this weekend, he is basically Old Faithful as far as Cam is concerned at this point, as the only key member of the receiving corps with whom he has any kind of established rapport. He is likely going to see an increase in targets (and especially is red zone targets) with Benjamin being out, and against Jacksonville – who Cam should be able to move the ball against no matter who is out there with him – every extra target is a chance for fantasy gold.

Value

Eric Ebron ($2,900) – The question about Golden Tate this whole off-season has been whether a second WR can truly thrive at the same time that Stafford is focusing on a healthy Megatron as the primary option. Well, the closest a receiver has ever come to accomplishing that, really, was Brandon Pettigrew. There were a few minutes there were Calvin was producing and Pettigrew was relevant. Really.  And Ebron is not Brandon Pettigrew. The 10th overall pick in the draft just a year ago, he is the kind of player who, at his best, creates mismatches no matter how the defense tries to prepare for him, especially if they are also rolling coverage to the outside to account for Calvin. There is no doubt that an underneath target COULD thrive in an offense featuring an outside threat of that magnitude – we’ve seen that before. We have a chance of seeing it again in Detroit this season.

Ben Watson ($2,600) – He got this price because earlier in the year, most people expected the younger, perhaps more talented, Josh Hill to be the primary pass catcher at the TE spot for the Saints now that Graham is gone. But so far in the preseason, Hill has not impressed, and the veteran Watson has shown the value of experience, always being in the right place at the right time. He strikes me as just the kind of TE who is going to show up with a big game or two early in the year, just enough to get the TE-starved masses thinking, and then he is basically going to play out the string as a giant tease. You might as well take your shot early and get it over with, especially against a Cardinals defense that has seriously struggled to defend tight ends over the years.

Defense/Special Teams

Expensive

Seattle Seahawks ($3,400) – I want to be clear from the outset – this is a description of why they are not worth the money. With only $500 separating the top-11 defenses, they’re not unreasonable – you could make the argument for them. But regardless of the specific teams involved, I fail to see the logic of paying up for a defense on the road when you have your pick of any squad you want. St. Louis might be one of the biggest train wrecks in the league on offense when all is said and done, but they have always played Seattle tough. With eight of the top ten priciest defenses on the road for week 1, it’s sign #42,478 that it rarely pays to, well, overpay when it comes to defenses.

Value

USATSI_8768125_168381090_lowres

New York Jets ($2,900) – That 11th defense, only $500 less than the Seahawks, they are playing – at home – against the Cleveland Browns, who have question marks at every single offensive position. Question marks at best, really. The Jets are walking, talking proof that that $500 is money just completely wasted. Might as well light it on fire. But in this case, it’s more than that. Sometimes, spending up for the top defense makes sense if you have the wiggle room in your budget, either for the consistency or the upside. But in this case, the Jets might be the best defense in the league, and they might be playing the worst offense – both things are possible. And with Seattle’s personnel changes and the home field factor, I would actually rather keep the Jets and leave the $500 on the board for week 1, if I couldn’t find someplace to spend it.