It’s time. It’s finally time. Get the drinks on ice. Order the pizzas. Break out the custom jersey. And don’t forget to cue the Zombie Nation. Kickoff is here and it might as well be a national holiday. And that means you finally get to break the seal on your championship lineup for 2014. But don’t let your optimism blind you to the important decisions that need to be made. Even in Week 1, setting the right lineup can be the difference between a win and a loss, and you don’t want to be looking back in three months on the outside of the playoff picture regretting a poor decision you made in September.
And that’s why we’re here and will be here each and every Thursday. Throughout the season, I’ll be hitting you with 10 names at the RB and WR position that will exceed expectations and give your lineup that little something extra. There will be a little something for everyone, from shallow leagues to the deepest of player pools, so no one gets left out from the fun. I’m hitching my wagon to the following 10 guys and passing along my expectations as well. Disagree? Meet me in the comments and bring a strong argument to back up your take. Now that we’ve made it through the formalities, on to the Week 1 list:
Frank Gore, RB (SF) – Gore’s opening week matchup is just too juicy to pass on leading off with. Not only does he get to see what’s left of the Dallas Cowboys defense, but the Alex Boone saga has been resolved and Boone is expected to start this Sunday for San Fran. If you took Gore in the mid-teens of the RB ranks in your draft, you probably don’t have two better options to roll with anyway, but this is the perfect opportunity to use Gore in salary cap or player-eliminator games. I expect Carlos Hyde’s role with the team to only increase as the season wears on, so get the most you can out of Gore this week.
Expectation: Top-8 RB
DeMarco Murray, RB (DAL) – Probably a little more surprising to see Gore’s opposite number make the cut considering who he’s up against, but I’m on board with Murray having just as big a week as Gore. The vaunted 49er defense just isn’t so vaunted at the moment with the array of injuries and off-the-field issues they’re facing. The Cowboys have the offensive weapons to give San Francisco fits, especially up front, and I expect Murray to get at least one TD with potential for multiple scores. Dallas has a vested interest in keeping Tony Romo upright and the best way they can do that is to give Murray 20+ touches. I expect this to be among the highest scoring contests all day and Murray stands to benefit the most.
Expectation: Top-8 RB
Emmanuel Sanders, WR (DEN) – If it’s not SF/DAL that sets the pace in the scoring column, my next bet would be the horserace between the Colts and the Broncos. By now everyone’s aware of the four-game suspension levied on Wes Welker, meaning Sanders is the unquestionable #2 WR for Peyton and the Broncos. Whether it’s due to Peyton matching up against his former squad, the Colts being a very susceptible defense (they’ll be without Robert Mathis for this one), or a combination of the two, I expect Manning to go off in a manner similar to last year’s opener against Baltimore (though not quite projecting seven TDs). Demaryius and Julius Thomas will have their opportunities, but they’ll garner plenty of attention as well, leaving Sanders with plenty of room to work his magic. He’ll get a bunch of looks inside the numbers with Welker gone and I expect him to gallop through the Indy defense.
Expectation: Top-10 WR
Percy Harvin, WR (SEA) – Why did Harvin fall to the late teens or early-20s when it came to receivers off the board in your draft? You can call into question his usage rate in Seattle, but it all comes down to health. Harvin’s healthy now and is much better than the 20th-best WR when you know he is going to play, especially when he gets a matchup against the Packers tonight. At his best, Harvin is easily one of the five most dangerous playmakers in the NFL, so you can bet Darrell Bevell and Pete Carroll plan on getting him the ball in space as frequently as they can, whether that’s receiving, rushing or returning. The Packers have the kind of offense that could actually put some points on the board against the Seahawks, meaning Seattle won’t be able to play it conservative all night. Harvin reasserts his place among the game’s most electrifying stars in the season opener and makes his draft price, at least for one week, look like a joke.
Expectation: Top-12 WR
C.J. Spiller, RB (BUF) – Harvin’s equivalent at RB might very well be C.J. Spiller. We had high hopes for him last year but injuries derailed his season and left owners with a bad taste in their mouth and a deflated draft price. For some of you, he’s an RB2, others an RB3 or Flex play, but regardless of where he slots on your roster, he needs to be in your starting lineup come Sunday. Buffalo should again be leaning on the running game when they take on Chicago, the worst team in the NFL against the run in 2013. The Bears made a lot of defensive additions in the offseason, but I still need to see it to believe there’s legitimate change there. Although there’s a fair chance Fred Jackson vultures a short score from Spiller (which is why I also like Jackson), I’m banking on Spiller springing a TD run or reception from 20+ yards out and having a terrific day in the Windy City.
Expectation: Top-15 RB
Pierre Thomas, RB (NO) – Saints at Falcons has all the makings of an aerial extravaganza. I love Brees at home, but any time I can get him in a dome, I’m pretty much all-in. I’ve seen some machines project him in excess of 400 passing yards in this one. And if the Saints are throwing, odds are the back in the game is going to be Pierre Thomas. After 77 catches last year, is anyone thinking he won’t break 80 minimum? The carries might be few and far between, but if you’re in a PPR, Thomas is going to be a stud this week with seven catches and 60 yards being his floor. Tack on 3-5 points from the run game, and you’ve got a strong option for both PPR and standard scoring.
Expectation: Top-20 RB, Top-15 PPR RB
Cecil Shorts III, WR (JAC) – With the myriad of rookie wide receivers in Jacksonville, it seems like Shorts is a forgotten man nowadays. While he didn’t have the greatest of years in 2013, I pass a lot of that blame to that impostor posing as an NFL QB, Blaine Gabbert. Thankfully, he’s off the radar and now a lot of those targets Shorts saw last year (10+ in nine different games last year) will actually be hitting him between the numbers. Philly is committed to stopping the run first, leaving an awful secondary on the back-end that Jacksonville should be able to attack. The increased number of plays in this game is yet another reason why I see Shorts putting up borderline WR2 numbers and a little better in PPR.
Expectation: Top-25 WR
Kenny Britt, WR (STL) – Now we get to the good stuff, the real deep league plays. Hopefully those in 10- and 12- teamers aren’t having to dig down this far already, but with suspensions and injuries, you might be bottom feeding earlier than you planned. If so, Kenny Britt is a name to keep on your radar. I’m not phased by the loss of Sam Bradford as, let’s face it, he’s not really anything special to begin with. Shaun Hill is only a minor step down if he’s even a step down at all. In his first start for St. Louis, Hill gets the gift matchup of possibly the worst set of CBs in the league in Minnesota. I’m always suckered in by the flashes of greatness I’ve seen from Britt, so if he ever planned on showing glimpses again, a matchup against the Vikings is certainly a good place to start.
Expectation: Top-35 WR
Markus Wheaton, WR (PIT) – Any time I see a team matched up against Cleveland’s defense, the same thing always comes to mind first: Joe Haden. Haden’s a bad man and he’s held down some of the league’s best WR the last couple seasons. That being said, Antonio Brown hasn’t been one of them as he had 92 yards and a TD against Haden and the Browns in Week 12 last year (Haden didn’t play in the Week 17 contest). I’d still rather not take my chances if I’m the Steelers when I have an emerging young talent in Wheaton on the other side going up against a couple shaky corners in Buster Skrine (dealing with a broken thumb) and rookie Justin Gilbert (looked a little overwhelmed in preseason). This is a matchup I expect the Steelers to exploit early and often.
Expectation: Top-40 WR
Justin Forsett, RB (BAL) – For the super deep-leaguers and the super desperate, Forsett has an outside chance of getting the majority of the touches for the Ravens should Bernard Pierce experience any setbacks after his concussion. The Ravens are already without Ray Rice because of his two-game suspension and have just Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro left on the depth chart. I lean towards Forsett getting the slight edge in workload simply because the Ravens chose to keep him out of their final preseason game while giving Taliaferro 25 carries. All that says to me is Baltimore sees Taliaferro as more expendable than Forsett given their current situation. Without Pierce, both would see the field, with the rookie most likely handling goal line scenarios, but I’d take Forsett getting all the third down work and more time on the field overall. Pierce says he expects to play and if he does, Forsett would still get some action on later downs, but this is a play tied to Pierce’s health heading into Sunday.
Expectation: Top-35 RB if Pierce doesn’t play, Top-55 otherwise
Major League Fantasy Football Radio: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on Sunday September 7th from 11am-12pm EST for another episode of our fantasy football show sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio Network.
This week Jeff Nelson will joining us for week one of the regular season. We will be discussing match ups and players on both offense & defense to either avoid or to play. Jeff is a High School defensive backs coach in the Lehigh Valley of PA. You can call in at 646.915.8596, listen live online, bluetooth in your car, or listen to the podcast. You can download the podcast on I-Tunes or Google Play stores.