The 2017 fantasy season is finally here, but not without a list of things for owners to consider right out of the gate. First, Hurricane Irma has forced the NFL to postpone the Dolphins-Buccaneers game until Week 11. That means you will want to get all players from those two teams out of your line-ups for this week. And, with both teams now playing 16 straight games without a bye week, player health will be a concern as we move forward. Keep an eye on the injury reports for both teams for possible inactive players.
The second concern we have all faced leading up to this point is Ezekiel Elliot, and what exactly to do with him. Here is the latest as of Thursday: Elliot will play Week 1 against the Giants, but Week 2 is a complete and total mystery. The judge is expected to rule on the temporary restraining order against the 6-game suspension on Friday, so things will become clear then. But, until then, Elliot owners will have to wonder if he will miss 6 games early in the season, late in the season, or at all this season (think Tom Brady). Darren McFadden owners need to just sit tight until we know when/if Elliot will serve a suspension or not.
The last thing fantasy owners need to consider are early season injuries and suspensions. Andrew Luck is out Week 1 at least, making TY Hilton, Donte Moncrief, and Jack Doyle as guys you want to try and avoid with Scott Tolzien starting at QB. Willie Snead is suspended for the first 3 games, which puts Ted Ginn Jr. in line for a WR3 start until he gets back. Doug Martin is also suspended for 3 games, but with the Bucs off in Week 1, fantasy owners have another week to decide if Jacquizz Rodgers is worth starting or not. For me, he is a RB2/flex player that I own in several leagues.
Marcus Mariota – Titans: I am a big fan of Mariota this season after the Titans drafted WR Corey Davis with the #5 pick in the draft, and signed WR Eric Decker during the off-season. Tennessee has one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, two beasts at running back in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, and a big redzone target in Delanie Walker.
With the weapons at his disposal, Mariota is in line for a big 3rd year jump. It's not going to shock me in the slightest if Mariota finishes the year as a top-5 fantasy QB.
Russell Wilson – Seahawks: After a frustrating 2016 season for Wilson and his owners, I am looking for him to be the fantasy comeback player of the year in 2017. Doug Baldwin has established himself as a legit top-10 fantasy WR, Paul Richardson looks to be a big threat with his speed, Tyler Lockett is stepping up and should fill the WR2 role for the Seahawks, and Jimmy Graham should now be fully recovered from his 2015 patellar tendon tear.
If C.J. Prosise can be the pass-catching threat out of the backfield that we expect him to be, coupled with Baldwin, Lockett, Richardson, and Graham, Wilson should have no problem returning to his top 5-7 QB status this season.
Kareem Hunt – Chiefs: Hunt has been pushing Spencer Ware for the starting job all camp long, but it was Ware that was expected to win the starting job once the season hit… until Ware tore his PCL and LCL in his right knee. That injury knocked him out for the season, and opened the door for Hunt to be the unquestionable bell-cow back for the Chiefs. Savvy owners snatched Hunt off the waiver wire in league that had already drafted. In leagues that hadn't drafted, his value shot up to the 2nd round.
Ware opens the season against a stout Patriots defense, but he is a dual-threat rookie that should immediately put up RB2 numbers. With the Bucs and Dolphins out this week, Hunt becomes that much more valuable to open the season.
Joe Mixon– Bengals: Mixon is another rookie that is in line for a big workload right from the jump, although he won't be the "starter" in Cincinnati. Jeremy Hill will get the start, but it is Mixon that I am pushing my chips to when it comes to fantasy numbers this season.
If Hill doesn't start off hot, you can be sure Mixon will get a chance to see if he can be "the guy". There is some risk in playing him early in the season though, as Hill, Mixon, and Giovani Bernard all figure to see touches until the committee time-share works itself out. Right now, Mixon is more of a flex play than a true RB2 play.
Stefon Diggs – Vikings: Diggs had a quiet pre-season, finishing with 7 catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns. That caused a lot of owners to shy away from him during their drafts, but not me. Adam Thielen figures to spend more time in the slot this season, so Diggs might not have the same PPR appeal he did last year. However, with Diggs working on the outside, his big-play potential rises.
Diggs could reach 1,000 receiving yards and score 5-6 touchdowns this season, putting him right in the middle of the WR2 rankings for me. Don't sleep on Diggs because of the pre-season.
Brandon Marshall – Giants: Odell Beckham Jr. sounds more hopeful than sure about playing this week, which makes him a guy I would sit if at all possible. Even if he does suit up, he is more likely to be a decoy than a factor. Because of that, Brandon Marshall now becomes the defacto WR1 for the Giants.
While the game is at Dallas, the Cowboys secondary isn't going to scare anyone from throwing the ball at them. Marshall has WR1 ability left in the tank, and I would fire him up as a low-end WR1 or high-end WR2 this week in almost any format.
Antonio Brown – Steelers: I normally don't put a player like Brown in the rankings because he is a consensus top 3 pick in any format. However, with the Brown releasing CB Joe Haden in the pre-season, that leaves Jamar Taylor to match up against the future Hall of Fame WR.
It's not like you would ever sit a guy you took with a top 3 pick, but Brown gets a bump in his already sky-high value this week due to the match-up. I'm looking for a big boom from him and Ben Roethlisberger right out of the gate this season.
Kyle Rudolph – Vikings: Rudolph is another Vikings player I am expecting a good fantasy game from this week. The Saints defense hasn't covered the TE well for a while now, and Rudolph is ready to duplicate the 83/840/7 line he produced last season.
Tight end is always a boom-or-bust position in fantasy football, but Rudolph should be able to provide a steady stream of points throughout the season. He isn't elite, but he isn't a guy who should be on the waiver wire either.
Houston Texans defense: I am expecting this to be a defensive game, with the Texans and Jaguars both having issues at the QB position. J.J. Watt is healthy, and Benardrick McKinney looks to be a real factor at LB in IDP formats. The Texans secondary is now without A.J. Bouye and Quinton Demps, making them a little more susceptible to the pass now. But, the Texans in-season S.O.S. (Strength Of Schedule) is the 4th easiest in the NFL at .449, and their .375 fantasy playoff S.O.S. is also the 4th easiest in the NFL. Their schedule alone make them an elite fantasy defense this season.
Look for the Texans to put pressure on Blake Bortles and Leonard Fornette early and often. If they get to Bortles early and rattle him, they could put up big fantasy numbers to start the season.
Matthew Stafford – Lions:The Lions open the season against the Cardinals, who have one of the toughest secondaries in the NFL. With guys like Antoine Bethea, Tyrann Mathieu, and Patrick Patterson out there, the Lions may elect to run the ball more, or go with short passes. Dinking and dunking the ball down the field is a good NFL plan, but this is fantasy football, where stats mean everything.
I'm hoping for big things from TE Eric Ebron this season, but not this week. The Lions will throw the ball as the season goes on, but Stafford is someone I'd sit this week unless you are in a 2QB league.
Philip Rivers – Chargers:Rivers is in the same situation as Stafford, facing arguably the best defense in the NFL right out of the gate. Melvin Gordon is a beast at RB, and Keenan Allen looks like he is ready to go after tearing his ACL last year. Hunter Henry is taking over as the go-to TE, and Tyrell Williams showed last year he is a quality WR2 in the NFL.
Even with the weapons around him, I wouldn't bet against the Broncos defense early on in the season when everyone is fresh and healthy. Stash Rivers, but find someone else to play this week if you own him.
Eddie Lacy – Seahawks:When Lacy signed with the Seahawks this off-season, he instantly became an interesting fantasy player to draft simply because of the upside of the Seahawks offense and how they utilize their running backs. But, after seeing Lacy in the pre-season, we now know why the Packers let him go.
Lacy will get the start this week if Thomas Rawls isn't ready to go, but you can be sure that Chris Carson will run circles around Lacy at the same time. Lacy is the veteran, so he gets the token start, but he isn't someone to own unless you are just desperately thin at RB. And, even then, I really would consider adding Carson, or even C.J. Prosise over him in PPR formats.
Adrian Peterson – Saints:Ok, the Saints didn't sign Peterson to put fans in the stands. No, they will in fact use him because no matter how well Mark Ingram does, the Saints just don't seem to view him as THE running back. With that said, the Vikings defensive line is fierce behind Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffin, and Linval Jospeh. And, let's not forget about LB Eric Kendricks and S Harrison Smith.
This game does carry some extra incentive for Peterson as it is against his former team. But, his role for now is a complimentary one behind Ingram. Until that changes, Peterson shouldn't be looked at as anything more than a touch-dependent flex play.
Robby Anderson – Jets:Anderson is someone that I really do like in deeper fantasy leagues simply because he is the only option the Jets have to throw to at WR. ArDarius Stewart is a rookie being thrown into the WR2 role due to necessity, and Jeremy Kerley went from the 49ers to the Jets, a lateral move if anything. With Belial Powell at RB, Josh McCown at QB, and virtually nobody at TE, the Jets are a sure-fire bet to be throwing from behind early and often this year.
Because of how bad the Jets are on paper, I still own Anderson purely as a sleeper WR. He clearly has more PPR value than standard value, but how much value is yet to be seen. I'd wait to play him unless you happen to be the unlucky owner who has Mike Evans, Jarvis Landry, and DeSean Jackson/DeVante Parker.
Kevin White – Bears:White is a lot like [Robby] Anderson in that he is on a team that doesn't look like they will do much competing this season, but is also locked into the WR1 role for them. The Bears looked like they were going to feature Cameron Merideth in the WR1 role this season, but the Bears lost him to a torn ACL and "slight" MCL tear in his left knee. When that happened, the Bears had no choice but to go with White as their lead WR.
White was drafted with a lot of hope in Chicago, but he hasn't taken the next step in his development, leaving a lot of people wondering if he is every going to reach the potential scouts saw in him. With Mike Glennon at QB, Deonte Thompson and Kendal Wright at WR, and Dion Sims at TE, I'd expect the Bears to ride Jordan Howard until the wheels fall off. White is little more than a WR4 in fantasy football for now.
Jack Doyle – Colts:Doyle is a TE that entered the 2017 fantasy drafts as a guy to grab once the top TEs were gone. Once you get passed the top 6-7 TEs, it really becomes a game-by-game gamble for production. Doyle came out of nowhere last season to finish with 59 catches for 584 yards, and 5 touchdowns. That may not sound like much, but for a TE off the waiver wire, that is huge.
The problem with Doyle is the injury status of Andrew Luck. Luck has been ruled out for Week 1, but there has been almost no information about his status after that. By the sound of all those involved with the Colts, Luck could end up missing multiple games to start the season. As long as he is out, all the Colts offensive fantasy players get downgraded to pretty much unplaying with Tolzien at QB.
Oakland Raiders defense: The Raiders have a tough defense, featuring guys like Khalil Mack, Corey James, Karl Joseph, and Reggie Nelson. The problem with them this year is they have a .563 S.O.S. (4th hardest in the NFL), and a fantasy playoff S.O.S. of .579 (7th hardest). As talented as they may be, they are facing tough opponents throughout the season, and it only gets tougher as the season wears on.
The Raiders open the season on the road against Tennessee, a team that many around the NFL are expecting big things from this year. If we are right, and Mariota and Co. step up their game this year, the Raiders could very well end up in the negative points in Week 1 purely off of points allowed.