Fantasy Football Week 1 Rankings
Image courtesy of Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY SportsThe football season gets underway Thursday night in the stadium where opposing offenses usually go missing. Or go deaf. Or both. The defending champion Seattle Seahawks welcome the Green Bay Packers and the 12th man should be firing on all decibels in prime time. Over the last two seasons, the Seahawks have allowed less than 13 points per home game (including playoffs). That’s not a good omen for the Pack. Thus, this will be Aaron Rodgers’ lowest ranking of the season.
On that note, let’s have a look at the quarterbacks.
To answer your question: yes, you should still plan to start Rodgers this week despite the gloomy matchup against the best defense in the NFL. Why? Because he’s Aaron Rodgers, he wears denim outfits, grows mustaches and, most importantly, he’s an elite fantasy player. Never bench your studs in fantasy football. They may not perform up to their lofty standards every single week, but you don’t want to be the owner with a future Hall of Famer on your fantasy bench when he does what future Hall of Famers do more than anyone else: have really good games against really good teams. It could happen.
In my mind there are but a handful of these can’t-bench, every-week starters (health provided, obviously) right now. They are: Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees at quarterback; Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy at running back; Calvin Johnson at wide receiver and Jimmy Graham at tight end. Put them in your lineup and plan to use them every week. End of story.
Anyone else is bench-able in the right situation. There are several others, especially at the wide receiver position, that you can bank on starting pretty much every week – guys like Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green and Dez Bryant – but even those guys occasionally run into a Patrick Peterson or Richard Sherman matchup that makes using them a little iffy.
Conspicuous by their absence in the rankings above: Robert Griffin III, who still doesn’t look like he did when he was a rookie, and Cam Newton, who has some broken ribs and plans to play and take hits from a pretty good defense this Sunday. Hopefully the Play 60 kid is done loosening up his arm.
Now that we have that piece of business out of the way, let’s look at the rest of the rankings. Next up, the running backs.
Those who are familiar with some of my previous fantasy football rants this preseason probably recall me citing Jamaal Charles as a prime bust candidate this season. That certainly holds true for the long haul. He’s primed for regression running behind a pretty bad offensive line against defenses loading up to stop him. That said, this would be a good week to use him against a Titans defense that allowed the second-most rushing touchdowns to running backs last season (19). Charles will probably be ranked No. 1 at running back by a lot of other folks this week. Bottom line: he’s got a really good matchup. You may also notice CJ Spiller in my top 10 this week. It’s not a typo. I think he’s been too easily dismissed by fantasy owners this preseason, and a Week 1 game against a Bears defense that allowed nearly 400 more rushing yards to opposing running backs than any other defense last season should enable him to get out of the gates fast.
One more thing: yes, that really is Shane Vereen in my top-10 this week, but I'm assuming most leagues have some sort of PPR component to them these days. If your league doesn't, move him down. Vereen will be one of Tom Brady's favorite targets; he had 40 receptions in his first five games last year. Moreover, he's one Stevan Ridley fumble away from being the Patriots' feature back -- if there is such a thing in a Bill Belichick offense.
Moving on from the running backs. Next up are the wideouts.
Either I was slipped one of Wes Welker’s Mollys or I must really, really think the Vikings are onto something with Patterson. Putting him in the top-10 may seem outlandish to some, but I’ll stop doing it when he stops scoring touchdowns. Until then, I’ll keep telling people to start him. You might notice Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin a little higher in the rankings than usual this week (as well as other Niners above such as Kaepernick and Gore). A date with the Cowboys will do that. Dallas ranked dead last in total defense last season and might be even worse this year. Fantasy owners need to take advantage of that matchup all season long. It’s almost enough to give me hope for Eli Manning, who gets to face them twice.
Lastly, let’s take a gander at the tight end rankings. Get used to seeing that guy in the No. 1 spot.
Yes, Rob Gronkowski is back just eight or so months removed from surgery to repair his torn ACL. Gronk says he feels great and is ready to roll. Frankly, as long as he is healthy enough to play, I’d use him in my fantasy lineup. He’s a touchdown machine, and if he somehow remains healthy he could challenge Graham once again for that top spot. The Patriots may limit his snaps in Week 1, but he gets to face a Dolphins defense that was lousy at defending tight ends last season.
And now a quick look at my sneaky plays of Week 1. If you have a hole to fill in your lineup due to injury or poor drafting, these guys (none of whom are in my rankings above) could help.
Sleeper team of the week
QB Carson Palmer, ARI
RB Darren Sproles, PHI
RB Carlos Hyde, SF
WR Doug Baldwin, SEA
WR Brandin Cooks, NO
TE Travis Kelce, KC
K Brandon McManus, DEN
With that, let’s get ready for some football. Get those lineups set and load up the refrigerator. Oh, and double-check the kicker you have wasn’t one of those cut in the last week.
PS -- Check out the Fantasy Football Pants Party podcast I record each week with Anthony Maggio for 1500ESPN.com.
Good luck in Week 1!
Follow Bo on Twitter @Bo_Mitchell