Deciding who to start each week can be difficult. Studs are an easy decision. The remaining roster is where problems lie. Every week an unlikely player will go off or disappoint on your team or an opponent’s squad. Week 1 is just the beginning, but the results can play a pivotal role in a potential playoff berth and league title. The following list of players I like and dislike for the regular season opener and is based on the consensus rankings of fantasy football experts.
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Tampa Bay (at Miami)
Until Doug Martin’s three-game suspension ends, Rodgers is Tampa Bay’s lead back and, despite his current low-end RB20s ranking, should be started at RB2 or flex. Last year, Miami had the third-worst rushing defense at 140.8 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry. Rodgers should be licking his chops for this matchup on the road. In his sixth season, Rodgers rushed for 560 yards (4.3 average) and two touchdowns in 10 games (five starts). In the final two games of the season he had 32 carries for 138 yards (4.3 average) and one touchdown. Quarterback Jameis Winston has several receivers to target such as Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. Miami’s defense must respect the pass and run, which gives Rodgers an opportunity to thrive on the ground.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina (at San Francisco)
It’s understandable to wonder if Stewart retired after Christian McCaffrey was drafted, because that’s how he’s being treated. Stewart, who signed a contract extension through 2018, is the Carolina’s RB1 but is ranked in the RB20 range headed into a juicy matchup at San Francisco. The San Francisco rushing defense ranked last in 2016 at 165.9 yards per game, allowed 25 touchdowns and tied for first at 4.8 yards per attempt. So why is McCaffrey ranked in the mid-teens? Maybe the Stanford product will be great and overtake Stewart sometime this season. Stewart rushed for 824 yards on 214 attempts and scored nine touchdowns last year. An average of 3.8 yards per carry isn’t good, which is why a dual-threat back like McCaffery is on the team. Stewart gained 9 yards on five carries against San Francisco in a 19-point Week 2 win, then missed the following three games. Upon returning in Week 6 at New Orleans he scored two touchdowns and gained 85 yards. The nine-year veteran needs help for Carolina’s rushing game to thrive, but it would be misguided to pretend he no longer exists.
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants (at Dallas)
Relying on multiple quarterbacks throughout the season allows for a combined scoring Top 10 quarterback at a bargain price. If you’re bold enough to play the matchups and stream quarterbacks, Manning has a favorable Week 1 opponent at Dallas. The New York Giants signal-caller was bad last year but he has streamer appeal with receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and tight end Eric Engram. In last season’s opener at Dallas, Manning completed 19-of-28 pass attempts (67.9 percent) for 207 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and 110.3 rating. The Dallas passing defense ranked 26th last season in allowing opposing quarterbacks 260.4 yards, 1.6 touchdowns, 67.1 percent completion percentage and 94.1 rating per game. That unit had an easy 2016 strength of schedule yet still got torched. Dallas is tied for the 10th-hardest schedule with a .531 winning percentage in 2016. Manning has two favorable matchups to begin the season as New York hosts Detroit in Week 2.
Sam Bradford, QB, Minnesota (vs. New Orleans)
Bradford is not a good professional quarterback but he’s good enough to stream because of his opponents’ .453 winning percentage in 2016. Bradford plays New Orleans at home in Week 1. New Orleans had the worst passing defense last season in allowing opposing quarterbacks 273.8 yards, 1.7 touchdowns, 64.9 completion percentage and 98.1 rating per game. Bradford is a game manager who can pick apart New Orleans with short-to-intermediate passes. He set a new single-season record with a 71.6 completion percentage in 2016, throwing for 3,877 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also had the lowest net yards gained per completion. If rookie running back Dalvin Cook provides a productive ground game, Bradford will have more opportunities to connect with tight end Kyle Rudolph and receiver Stefon Diggs against a susceptible secondary. Bradford has QB12 upside.
Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota (vs. New Orleans)
There is not one wide receiver currently outside the Top 15 rankings who has a better chance to be WR10 than Diggs. Reread the putrid stats of the New Orleans passing defense above in Bradford’s section. New Orleans had the 14th-ranked rushing defense last season, allowing 101.6 yards and just under 1.2 touchdowns per game. If New Orleans shows any semblance of containing Minnesota’s ground game, Bradford will throw to Diggs often. The 23-year-old third-year receiver is primed for a breakout and New Orleans doesn’t have anyone who can consistently stop him. The game is also in Minnesota, where Minnesota holds a slight edge. Seven receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown is doable.
Other players to like:
Philadelphia WR Alshon Jeffery at Washington
Pittsburgh WR Martavis Bryant at Cleveland
Denver WR Demaryius Thomas vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Carolina RB Christian McCaffrey at San Francisco
Cleveland RB Isaiah Crowell vs. Pittsburgh
Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley vs. Indianapolis