Searching for Sleepers in Week 1
Every week we'll break down the movers, shakers, winners and losers in fantasy football, and keep an eye out for the players you should be eyeing for your fantasy rosters.
The 2012 NFL season has just begun, and no matter whether you're in Kabul or North Dakota, you're reading this post because you own a fantasy football team, and pride, bragging rights, maybe a bit of money, and perhaps your very happiness (or at least a lot of it) depends on crushing the competition.
It's natural to want to take a breath for Week 1 – you've just drafted a team, everyone has a blank slate, no need to make any panicky trades or roster moves yet. But as any good general (or general manager) knows, you always have to keep an eye on waiver-wire talent, especially if you're in a 14 or 16-team league where the pickings are slim. But before we get to potential sleepers, let's take a quick look at the very first game of the season from a few days ago.
Cowboys vs. Giants: What Did We Learn?
1. The jury is out on Cowboy and Giants RBs. Both NY's Ahmad Bradshaw and Dallas' DeMarco Murray had decent fantasy totals, but they were deceptive – subtract a 48-yard scamper for Murray and a 33-yard run by Bradshaw, and both players finished with middling stats. With both the Cowboy and Giant O-lines in states of flux, you'll have to expect inconsistent production in the weeks ahead. On the plus side, Murray and Bradshaw look like they're poised to handle the bulk of carries for their teams this year.
2. Take a seat, rook. We were excited about the potential of rookie Giants RB David Wilson in the preseason, as he displayed explosion and big-play ability Bradshaw lacks. But after a costly fumble, NY coach Tom Coughlin, who likes turnovers about as much as he likes his players being less than five minutes early for meetings, promptly benched him. He may get more play as the year goes on, but don't expect him to put up any numbers for a few weeks yet.
3. Buy, buy, buy on Kevin Ogletree. One of the big questions in Big D was who could replace departed third WR Laurent Robinson, who scored 10+ TDs last year. The question appears to be answered, as Ogletree racked up 8 catches for 114 yards and 2 TDs. With Miles Austin battling hamstring issues and Dez Bryant battling, er, authority issues, you might find yourself with a starting WR in Ogletree before too long.
Sleepers for Week 1
As we start the new season, let's take a look at players that are probably still available in your league and could potentially pop at each position. These guys might not jump off the stat sheet now, but they might pay dividends later on.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis – Hard to call a #1 draft pick a sleeper, but chances are he's not a starter in most leagues. With the Colts in rebuilding mode, it's not hard to envision the Colts falling behind often, and Luck piling up numbers as a result. A good pickup as a QB2 and good insurance for down the road.
Russell Wilson, Seattle – The next Mike Vick? Maybe not, but striking a blow for undersized QBs everywhere, Wilson energized the Seattle offense in the preseason with his arm and feet. It's always dangerous to predict anything off preseason, but in Fantasy, where QB value has a pretty steep drop-off after you get past the top five of Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Stafford and Newton, Wilson bears watching as a good spot starter, with extra points thanks to his running ability.
Ronnie Hillman, Denver – The rookie has had hamstring problems, but in his brief preseason appearances he showed explosiveness and receiving ability. With Willis McGahee getting on in years and Denver looking to go airborne more often with Peyton Manning, he could be a valuable pickup as a Darren Sproles-type third-down back.
LeGarette Blount, Tampa Bay – Not an obvious choice, given his lackluster 2011 season and with rookie first-rounder Doug Martin designated the starting RB in Tampa Bay; still, he could become a change-up and goal-line go-to guy. Pay close attention to how the Bucs divvy up the workload between Martin and Blount early on.
Braylon Edwards, Seattle – Wait, the same Braylon Edwards who disappeared in San Francisco's receiver-poor offense last year? Yes. By all reports he's rejuvenated under head coach Pete Carroll in Seattle, and he showed off big-play ability with Cleveland and with the New York Jets even with lackluster QBs like Derek Anderson and Mark Sanchez. He and Russell Wilson could become an underrated combo.
Jerome Simpson, Minnesota – This one's a bit of a reach, as he's suspended through Week 3, but if you can stash him until then, he looks to become a starter with the Vikings upon his return, and with Percy Harvin getting most of the attention, he may be able to display some of the sick moves he showed last season.
Martellus Bennett, New York Giants - He flashed with 40 yards and a TD in the opening game of the season, and his numbers would have been even better if he hadn't dropped a 20-yard pass. The Giants haven't had a TE with Bennett's physical ability since Jeremy Shockey in 2006, and even in the past few seasons, Giants TEs have averaged about 50-60 catches, 650 yards, and 5-6 TDs per season. That's not bad production compared to other above-average fantasy TEs, so if you're still smarting after missing out on Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Aaron Hernandez, you can do far worse than Bennett.
Best Offensive Matchups of the Week:
1. New Orleans vs. Washington - This one could be seen as a risk, given all the off-season hits the Saints have taken. On the other hand, Drew Brees and his dazzling array of weapons are still in place, the Saints are nearly unbeatable at home, and they may have a chip on their shoulders to prove they can survive without suspended head coach Sean Payton. Pencil this in as a "we'll show them" offensive display.
2. New England vs. Tennessee - If nothing else, the Patriots have always been fast starters, and against a Titan team that's a bit overrated thanks to their weak 2011 schedule, Tom Brady will be looking forward to getting all his weapons in rhythm, including new deep-threat WR Brandon Lloyd. The return of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (you know, the guy who helped the Pats set every scoring record known to man in 2007) should also be a boost.
Best Defensive Matchups of the Week:
1. Buffalo vs. Jets (or is that Jets vs. Buffalo)? - Given their staggering ineptitude in the preseason, it's hard to imagine the Jets' offense supplying any punch in Week 1, especially against a revitalized Buffalo defense that now has Pro Bowl DE Mario Williams. On the other hand, Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has taken his share of lumps against the Jets' defense, and the Jets D knows it must play over its head to compensate for its offensive shortcomings. Expect "ugly" with a capital "U" for this game, but some good defensive numbers.
2. Philadelphia vs. Cleveland - Have you heard about the "Factory of Sadness," otherwise known as the Cleveland Browns? See this video and weep, even if you're not a Cleveland fan. With a rookie 28-year-old QB who looked shaky in preseason in Brandon Weeden, a beat-up first-round RB in Trent Richardson, and ownership and management of the team in shambles, we could be in for a disaster of a season, even by Factory of Sadness standards. It'll be manna for anyone who has Philadelphia's D and defensive players, though.
With just one game played so far, there's not a whole lot to say, except for the fact that after a rash of injuries the Giants' defense is down to a fourth-string player starting at CB, and their #1 CB, Corey Webster, didn't look so hot either. Until they prove otherwise, they're vulnerable against the pass, even with a monster pass rush courtesy of Jason Pierre-Paul.