School is back in session and Labor Day has passed, which sets the stage for the most anticipated time of the year. Although the NFL is often considered “year-round” with the amount of news, controversy, trades, coaching drama, and draft to keep us intrigued 365 days a year, nothing except the Super Bowl garners more excitement than opening week.
Every team will have their list of “studs” that will be played regardless of matchup as long as they are “probable” or definitely starting. In the “Dive,” I will review one player at each position (QB, RB, WR, TE and Defense/Special Teams) that may be a sleeper or “on the fringe,” and offer compelling reasons for giving them starting lineup consideration including past performances, anticipated workload, matchup data, weather concerns, and many other variables. This featured article will be most valuable in deeper leagues as well as leagues with a “flex” position. Let’s take a dive!
Selecting Ryan Tannehill in the later rounds of a draft never seems to drop any jaws or cause anyone to scratch their head. Regardless, Tannehill was a top-15 quarterback in 2014 with over 4,000 passing yards and more than 300 rushing yards. Training camp and preseason reports have mentioned his overall accuracy and deep ball improvement, which may help him crack the top ten for 2015.
Additionally, Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker have emerged as solid wideout options with newcomers Kenny Stills and Greg Jennings also entering the mix. If Tannehill is your starter or maybe you drafted two quarterbacks, then definitely consider the Dolphins’ signal caller for Week 1 against the Washington Redskins. Washington allowed the most total points as well as touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks in 2014. After several offseason acquisitions, Washington’s secondary should be greatly improved but Tannehill should still successfully exploit them.
Week 1 Projection: 200 passing yards, 15 rushing yards, and 2 TDs
There certainly hasn’t been much “hype” around the starting Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington, but he should not be forgotten. Although his 2014 season ended prematurely with a cluster of injuries along with a disappointing season average of 3.3 yards per carry, Ellington had a solid start in the first half of the season. Ellington averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry in his last four games, but almost 4.0 yards per carry and held a major role in the passing game in Weeks 1 through 9.
Ellington and his Arizona Cardinals welcome the New Orleans Saints who gave up the fourth most points and most reception yards to opposing running backs last season. Ellington will be the lead back, but look for both Chris Johnson and rookie David Johnson to play roles as well. With Carson Palmer healthy and a favorable home matchup, consider Ellington at RB2 or Flex for this weekend.
Week 1 Projection: 100 total yards; 1 TD
Rueben Randle may have fantasy prominence in Week 1, but likely very minimal afterwards. Eli Manning’s primary targets will be Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz for this season. However, Cruz is currently listed as “doubtful” for the Week 1 opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
After the injury to Orlando Scandrick, Dallas’ secondary will be more vulnerable by air than ground. Since Beckham will gain the most attention from the defense, Randle may be a sneaky sleeper play while Cruz misses time. With both Cruz and Beckham missing games last season, Randle quietly put together a strong season with nearly 1,000 receiving yards. This game is projected to be a shootout, so consider Randle as WR3 or potential flex.
Week 1 Projection: 80 receiving yards; 1 TD
Aaron is no longer the only “Rodgers” in Green Bay. In fact, tight end Richard Rodgers has major upside this season with Jordy Nelson sidelined. Coach Mike McCarthy has expressed his confidence in Rodgers especially as a red zone threat. If you are looking for a sleeper candidate at TE, Rodgers is your guy especially since another “Rodgers” will be throwing to him. Rodgers has an attractive matchup in Week 1 versus the Chicago Bears who surrendered the most points to opposing tight ends in 2014.
Week 1 Projection: 50 receiving yards; 1 TD
Carolina’s defense may not be the beast that it was a couple of years ago, but should be started in Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Although the Jags have improved and quarterback Blake Bortles’ mechanics appeared better this preseason, this is still a very favorable matchup on the road for the Panthers. The Jags’ offense generated the most points for opposing defenses in 2014 and this trend should continue in Week 1.
Week 1 Projection: 12 points
Set those lineups and good luck in your opening week!