Just like Jack Reacher, you’ll need to assess the situation, make the right picks and take out the competition. Let’s take a look at some of my top targets for Week 1 of the NFL season.
Drew Brees ($8,100) – Opening the season at home, Brees will be looking to put the Saints offense on the map as an elite unit in the league right off the bat. They will be facing off against what should be an improved Raiders defense, but the schedule-makers didn’t do Oakland any favors giving them a cross-country trip for a 1:00 start against a passing attack that is entering the season healthy and with plenty of weapons. Brees averaged over 356 yards per game at home last year, with 23 TDs against just five interceptions.
Matthew Stafford ($7,200) – Stafford is inexpensive enough to consider if you don’t want to go with one of the top options, but expensive enough that it’s easy to see more value in the guys priced a bit lower. But this Detroit/Indianapolis game is right up there with Saints/Raiders as the game with the highest expected point total (51) – it’s easy to envision Stafford ending up locked in a shootout with Luck here.
Tyrod Taylor ($6,900) – In 14 games last year, Taylor ran for 568 yards and four touchdowns. That kind of production on the ground makes it a lot easier for a QB to finish with elite fantasy production, and he can bolster those stats with more production through the air with a healthy Sammy Watkins running around looking to break open games on a moment’s notice (more below). Facing a Ravens defense that didn’t stop anyone last year, I like Tyrod Taylor as a value option at QB.
Ezekiel Elliott ($7,300) – We will finally get to see for ourselves whether Elliott truly passes the eye test as the next great back in the NFL, and there is every reason to think he is going to impress. You have to imagine the coaching staff will be looking to take as much pressure as possible off Prescott in his first start, while also trying to maximize the amount of time Eli and Odell stand around on the sidelines. In my opinion, Elliott is just the guy to accomplish both things. Behind this offensive line, he could routinely have a full head of steam by the time he is being challenged by a defender, and this Giants defense ranked right near the bottom of the league at stopping running backs last season.
Lamar Miller ($7,000) – Miller has averaged over 4.5 yards per carry for his entire career in Miami, often on only a handful of touches, playing with uninspiring passing attacks and a weak offensive line. Insert that talent into a Houston offense that is likely going to feature him as much as just about any other back in the league, has an excellent line and receiving threats to stretch a defense and create cut-back lanes, and he has the chance to finish as one of the best fantasy running backs in football this season.
Spencer Ware ($4,400) – Reports are saying Jamaal Charles is a stretch to play at all, and almost certainly would be extremely limited if he did play. In all likelihood, this is a split between Ware and West, against a very vulnerable San Diego defense, and with Ware getting the lion’s share of the work. He averaged 5.3 yards a carry last year, and it would not surprise me if the Chiefs relied on that upside to get them through to a point where Charles can rehab enough to make himself available to play sometime in the next few weeks.
Allen Robinson ($8,300) – In my opinion, Robinson is going to be the key to keeping Jacksonville in this one as the kind of downfield target capable of getting deep behind a defense at any time. His 17.5 yards per catch was good for 6th in the NFL last season, and no one else in the top 10 had more than 60 catches, compared to his 80. In fact, it’s not until you get to Odell Beckham and his 15.1 yards per catch average (good for 23rd on the list) that you actually find a receiver with that kind of big-play ability who had more catches than Robinson.
Jordy Nelson ($7,700) – All reports are saying Nelson is good to go for Week 1 and should be playing without restrictions after his recovery from a pre-season knee injury last year. While he might be “expensive,” if he returns to 2014 form this year, he will be among the very most expensive receiving options on the board before too long. This is a player with over 1,500 yards and 13 scores in his last season. At 6’3”, he is a red zone threat, and with elite outside speed, he is a game-breaking deep threat as well.
Kenny Stills ($3,200) – With DeVante Parker likely sitting this one out, Stills is going to have a prominent role on offense this weekend, a good start when you’re looking at someone priced this low. The strength of the Seattle defense has always been in locking down #1 receivers, so there is a chance Stills sees some useful opportunities as the #2 for Miami right now. The biggest factor for me here is Tannehill – despite all the promise he has shown, he’s not proven he can sustain fantasy wide receivers in a difficult matchup. However, I also see the Seahawks being able to score plenty of points in this one, which could leave the Dolphins in a catch-up mode that allows Tannehill to see better-than-usual opportunities just based on pure volume.
Rob Gronkowski ($7,400) – With Jordan Reed playing Monday, it’s really Gronk, and then everyone else in my opinion. Tight ends #2 – #13 are separated by just $1,200, so let’s call them all “values.” Gronk is coming off a season where he had 72 receptions, 1,176 receiving yards and 11 TDs, and he seems to be healthy, now back at practice with the Pats, and the only real other question mark is Garoppolo. And no, he is not Tom Brady – but if you were a young QB in your first start, who would you be trying to throw to? The giant in the middle of the field? Yeah, me too.
Coby Fleener ($4,900) – Now playing in a Saints offense that allowed Ben Watson to produce 75 catches for 825 yards and six touchdowns last season, Fleener could finally reach some of the heights expected of him as a receiver when he came out of Stanford with Andrew Luck a few seasons ago now. No longer trapped in a platoon with Dwayne Allen, he should be a prominent part of the offense, so the only question is where he fits in among all the other Saints passing options. Brees, though, throws enough to support multiple fantasy options in any given week, especially at home.
Gary Barnidge ($4,700) Is it just me or are we all sleeping on a tight end who had 1,000+ yards and nine touchdowns last season on a terrible offense with inept quarterback play? I am not 100% sure what to expect out of RGIII, but I can’t imagine it will be a lot worse than the guys Cleveland trotted out there last season, and Barnidge could be just the kind of option down the seam who Griffin relies on to stretch the field before Josh Gordon comes back into the fold.
Arizona Cardinals ($3,500) – One of the strongest defensive units in the league, the Cardinals schedule started looking a lot more appealing when Tom Brady’s suspension was finally sealed. It’s impossible to know exactly what to expect out of Jimmy Garappolo, but it is safe to say that it won’t be the same you’d see from Brady. The possibility for turnovers goes up and the probability of a ton of points scored goes down, especially with a Patriots roster that, as of right now, seems like it might be hard pressed to muster up much of a ground attack. All of this could lead to plenty of scoring chances for an opportunistic defense that forced more turnovers than any other D/ST in the league last year, with the exception of the Panthers.
Tennessee Titans ($2,600) – Without Teddy Bridgewater, you have to think the Vikings will be looking to pound the ball with AP, shortening the game and keeping it as low-scoring as possible. And then you have Shaun Hill, certainly a capable backup, but one we haven’t seen in a long time – which means he hasn’t seen the field in a while either. If you’re looking for upside, I think the Titans can produce a turnover or two here, in a game that has one of the lowest projected point totals on the board (41 points).
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