Merging fantasy with reality this NFL season
By James Morris
Fantasy football drafts are over, rosters are set, and everyone in the league still has the thought in their minds that they will be the ones holding up their hand in victory when the regular season is over. The problem with that theory is that they use NFL.com, ESPN.com, Yahoo.com, or some other random website where their writers throw darts at a dartboard, and you… well, you have me!
That's right, this is where zeros become heroes and we snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat by knowing what the other guys don't know. Each week I will give you 16 player predictions (8 start 'em and 8 sit 'em) based on my own personal algorithm I adapted from the Moneyball theory of player evaluation.
Nobody needs help with starting Peyton Manning, but those RB2, WR2/3 and flex spots get to be tricky and that can be where match-ups are won and lost. Let me tell you this though, I don't bother with kicker rankings or evaluations because a kicker's stats rely solely on the offense not scoring, which is unpredictable as many different things have to happen on any given play for a player to either break a 40-yard run or get stopped for a 2-yard loss.
So, without further ado, let's bring on the picks that will carry you to a week 1 victory!
Jay Cutler – Bears: The Bears offense is locked in as one of the more dynamic ones in the NFL this season as it features Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett. Cutler will have plenty of options to throw to and while the Bills finished in the top 10 for fantasy defenses last season, they won't finish there this week. Cutler is a top5-7 QB this week for fantasy purposes.
Colin Kaepernick – 49ers: I'm not a big fan of Kaepernick's when it comes to fantasy football, but I also can't help but let my imagination run wild when I look at this match-up with the Cowboys and their depleted defense. If there was ever a week to play Kaepernick as a QB1, it would be this week.
Giovani Bernard – Bengals: For those in PPR leagues, you will be hard pressed to find a better RB option in the RB2 tier than Bernard. Jeremy Hill is going to be the Thunder, while Bernard is going to be the lightning, and fantasy owners will be the winners because of it. The Ravens are no longer a starting fantasy defense, and the Bengals should be able to move the ball with Bernard racking up plenty of points for his fantasy owners.
Toby Gerhart – Jaguars: Gerhart is going to be a volume product at the RB position for fantasy owners. From everything we know it looks like he is in line for 20-plus touches per-game, which should equal RB2 stats against a weak Eagles defense. The Eagles are a tale of two cities when you look at offense and defense, as their offense is high powered and their defense is running on AA batteries. If the Eagles are hot coming out of the gate on offense, then Gerhart's workload will take a hit.
Antonio Brown - Steelers: I normally wouldn't put a WR of Brown's caliber on the Start 'em list because he was probably drafted as a WR1. But, the Steelers play the Browns this week and I've heard plenty of those big-box websites saying to be leery of Brown with Browns CB Joe Haden shadowing him in week 1. When Haden did that last year in week 12, Brown was able to haul in 5 passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Now I don't know about you, but I will take a 5-80-1 line from my WR any day! Play Brown as a WR1 and don't listen to those guys and their doomsday predictions.
Terrence Williams – Cowboys: Williams' owners are a little worried after he pretty much laid an egg in the pre-season, finishing with 3 catches for 21 yards and no endzone visits. The truth of the matter is that Williams will have a big role in a Cowboys offense that is going to be pass-heavy, regardless what they say about their commitment to the run. I wouldn't get carried away and start trading for Williams, but playing him as a WR3 could pay off dividends immediately. He's owned in 91 percent of Yahoo leagues, but started in just 39 percent of leagues, even those with open flex spots to fill.
Julian Edelman – Patriots: The Patriots are changing their look and mindset as Tom Brady enters this season at 37-years-old. With that, Edelman is the team's clear WR1 and should be able to finish at or near last year's line of 105 catches, 1,056 yards, and 6 touchdowns. Edelman will have more value in PPR leagues than standard leagues; no matter the scoring set-up, his 8th round ADP is a steal.
Rob Gronkowski – Patriots: There seems to be a lot of concern out there about Gronk's availability for week 1, but allow me to lays those fears to rest right now. He WILL be on the field against the Dolphins, and he WILL be used in a manner we are used to seeing from the fantasy stud TE. He won't play every down this week, but 5 catches for 90 yards and maybe a touchdown is well within reach.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense: The Bucs settled on Lovie Smith as their new Head Coach, and we are all well aware of the miracle he was able to do in Chicago with their defense. The Bucs brought in DE Michael Johnson and CB Alterraun Verner, while letting go of Darrelle Revis. I have the Bucs marked down as my sleeper defense this season, and have no issues playing them week 1 against a Panthers offense that is boom or bust.
Cam Newton – Panthers: If you look at the Panthers receivers, there isn't a single name that you get truly excited about. Sure, Kelvin Benjamin's ADP climbed to the middle of the 13th round when all was said and done. But, that had more to do with being the only WR they had than him showing some amazing skills in the pre-season. I personally put Cam-I-Am on my Do Not Draft list in every league I am in just in case I missed the draft, and want to see him prove me wrong before I have the courage to play a QB with possibly the worst WR corps in the league.
Philip Rivers – Chargers: The Chargers are a run-first offense, and future Hall of Fame TE Antonio Gates is 34-years-old and clearly seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. With Ryan Matthews, Danny Woodhead, and Donald Brown on the roster, Rivers is going to become more of an efficient QB than a fantasy QB1. He will make for a decent bye-week filler in the right match-up with him tossing the ball to Keenan Allen, but his days as a starting fantasy QB are over.
Maurice Jones-Drew – Raiders: MJD will paid with Darren McFadden to create an aging and injury prone RBBC for the Raiders. With rookie QB Derek Carr starting, the offense is going to struggle at times to move the ball unless Carr really takes the NFL by storm. Fantasy owners know that RBBC's can rarely be counted on to produce the stats we need to see to win.
Trent Richardson – Colts: When the Colts traded for Richardson I thought "wow, they are going to be a Super Bowl team with that workhorse in the backfield!" For a guy with a career average of 3.3 YPC, Richardson has to be one of the most overrated fantasy RBs in the NFL. The sooner the Colts realize they have a Peyton Manning-esk QB in Luck, a 3.3 YPC running back, and are a passing team, the better off they will be!
Riley Cooper – Eagles: The least talented WR on the Eagles roster is Cooper, and it's only a matter of time before Jordan Matthews outshines him. Cooper is locked in as the Eagles WR2, but is far more of a deep threat who will struggle with consistency. For fantasy purposes he is a weak WR4/Flex option and a boom or bust WR.
Sammy Watkins – Bills: I didn't draft Watkins in a single league I'm in because of three major factors. 1) The Bills are a run-heavy team; 2) they have E.J. Manuel and Kyle Orton as their two quarterbacks; 3) rookie WRs struggle. It is somewhat shocking to me that Watkins is owned in 88 percent of Yahoo leagues, and 97.8 percent of NFL.com leagues given who he has throwing the ball to him and what the offensive philosophy is.
DeSean Jackson – Redskins: Jackson was drafted more on name value than fantasy value this year, as proof by his mid 5th round ADP. Jackson is the No. 2 option for the Redskins behin Pierre Garcon, and will also have to compete for targets with Jordan Reed. His days of being a 1,000 yard receiver might very well be over, and fantasy owners need to be careful trying to play him as a WR1/2 bubble guy. I see him more as a WR3 with upside, but will have his highs and lows for production throughout the season.
Antonio Gates – Chargers: As I mentioned before, Gates is 34-years-old and is sure to retire when his contract is up in 2015. Ladarius Green looks ready to break out and is a much better option than Gates for fantasy production. Gates will get redzone looks, but the future is Green and Gates should be on your waiver wire.
Buffalo Bills defense: While the Bills finished last season as the 9th ranked fantasy defense, they draw the Bears high powered offense to start this season. Mike Pettine gave the Bills defense big play ability with his scheme, but Jim Schwartz's scheme is one that doesn't blitz much and won't produce INTs and sacks for fantasy defensive points. They are a situational streaming option in the right match-up, and week 1 is NOT the right match-up to play them in.
James Morris hails from Rio Rancho, NM and has been playing fantasy sports for just over 16 years. Not only does he write the Bengals fantasy section, but he also does the Jacksonville Jaguars fantasy section. Crossing over, Morris writes the fantasy sections for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA. Just send him an email and he will reply back the same day with your answer. Or, find him on Twitter (Fantasyguy23) or Facebook and get all your NFL news before it hits the national media.