DALLAS - As we head into the first weekend of the NFL season, the suspense for fantasy football is mounting. Every position appears to be deeper than it has been in some time. As of right now, on paper, there are roughly 15 quarterbacks, 20 running backs, 40 wide receivers and 14 tight ends that could potentially put up fantasy starter caliber numbers all year.
Not to mention, there are a handful of rookies and second year players that look poised to be anywhere from solid to fantastic for your team. Obviously, things will look differently by the end of the season, but there are a lot of fantasy players with a lot of hope starting out.
The first week of fantasy football is always the most exciting. You just drafted your team and are invested in your players. In your mind, you have multiple sleepers, a few studs and maybe even a favorite player or two. You aren’t really interested in any trades because you want to see how your guys are going to do. A fantasy team that you just drafted is like a shiny new car that you can’t wait to get out onto the open road.
With all that being said, remember to not overreact to what happens in Week 1. Sometimes, it takes a few weeks for players to get all the rust off and get back to full speed physically and mentally. Coaches are trying to figure out which guys they want to use in packages and certain situations going forward, and some less experienced players may not get as many snaps right out of the gate. That is why it is best to look at things in three-week intervals. After three weeks, you should have a much clearer picture of how your guys are going to perform.
So, enjoy your shiny new car this weekend, but don’t get too down if you hit a few bumps in the road in Week 1.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s move onto our top three sleepers in each position for the first week of fantasy football. You’re not going to sit your studs for these guys, but if you are weak at one of these positions, it wouldn’t hurt to take a flier (In this case, a “sleeper” is qualified as someone who is currently owned outside the top 10 of Quarterbacks, top 20 of running backs, top 40 of wide receivers and top 10 of tight ends in ESPN fantasy football leagues)
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia
Wentz seems poised to have a breakout year in his sophomore campaign. His rookie season was extremely sub par, as he posted the lowest quarterback rating among qualifying quarterbacks, in addition to averaging only 6.2 yards per attempt (fourth worst in the NFL).
However, his receiving group was also one of the worst in the league. This year, after adding an elite receiver in Alshon Jeffrey (when healthy) and speedster Torrey Smith in the offseason, Wentz has all the tools on the outside to take a big step forward.
The Eagles threw the ball quite a bit last season, and that should only increase in 2017. The Eagles open up on the road against Washington, a team that also likes to throw the ball around with quarterback Kirk Cousins. This should be a game with higher than average passing attempts, which should lead to fantasy points for your Wentz.
Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo
Taylor finished 11th among quarterbacks in fantasy points last season. His ability to run the football gives him a decent fantasy floor each week. He had six games last season with 30+ rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. Buffalo has a new look receiving core and will be hosting a rebuilding New York Jets team. Tyrod Taylor should have a really nice day.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore
Flacco set career highs in passing attempts (672) and passing yards (4,317) last season as the Ravens were one of the most pass friendly teams in all of football. With Baltimore adding Jeremy Maclin to pair with Mike Wallace on the outside, that gives the strong-armed Flacco two legit deep threats to choose from.
The key will be his offensive line giving Maclin and Wallace enough time to get deep before the Bengals dominant defensive front gets to Flacco. Even though Joe Flacco has traditionally struggled on the road in Cincinnati, he should be able to hit on a few big plays if he has time to throw.
C.J. Anderson, Denver
Although he didn’t live up to his preseason hype last season, Anderson wasn’t terrible before his season ending injury. In his 7 games, he had 5 total touchdowns, 110 rushes and 16 receptions. That was good enough for an average of 18 touches a game.
Starting out, Anderson should see at least that many touches in an offense that may rely a little bit more on the run game this season. If you need a starting running back this week, you could do a lot worse than C.J. Anderson.
Terrance West, Baltimore
Through weeks 12-17 last season, West only averaged 3.5 receptions per game, 24.6 yards receiving per game and scored a single receiving touchdown. That was in addition to only 53 carries, 222 yards rushing and a rushing touchdown. That is only 12.33 touches per game. Altogether, on the surface, that doesn’t look that great. However, in those six games, four were against what would be considered very good defenses.
He will be going against a stout Cincinnati defensive front this week as well, but appears to be the clear-cut lead running back in Baltimore. With the running back position being the most fragile in fantasy, getting a running back who gets the majority of work for an offense is something you can’t pass up if you are desperate.
It is also worth noting that West lost 12 pounds this offseason in an attempt to get down to his NFL combine weight (225 lbs) to increase his speed and quickness. He may not win you your matchup this week, but he shouldn’t kill you either.
Robert Kelly, Washington
Kelly took over the feature back role in Week 8 last season. In those remaining nine games, he averaged 16.77 rushes and 1.2 receptions per game. With those touches he averaged 66.77 rushing yards and 9 receiving yards per game to go along with 6 total touchdowns.
On a team that projects to move the ball up and down the field pretty well this year with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, Kelly should provide you with a pretty solid fantasy floor. He should have a few opportunities each game to vulture a touchdown, in addition to being the lead back on 1st and 2nd downs. Opening up at home against the Eagles, you shouldn’t be surprised if he has somewhere around 70 rushing yards and a touchdown.
John Brown, Arizona
Brown suffers from a sickle-cell condition that plagued him the majority of the season in 2016. Reports are that he and the Cardinals have a better handle on that situation and he is slated to be Arizona’s number two wide receiver opposite of the ageless Larry Fitzgerald.
Brown is one of the league’s premier deep threats and was a top 25 wide receiver in fantasy just two seasons ago. This preseason, he suffered a quadriceps injury early and didn’t see any action until the Cardinals third preseason game on August 26th. However, in that game he had two targets, two receptions, 49 receiving yards and two touchdowns. If he is healthy and on the field, he could be one of fantasy’s biggest sleepers.
Corey Coleman, Cleveland
The second year receiver had a disappointing rookie year, but that can happen to anyone playing for the Browns. He is slated atop the Browns depth chart at receiver alongside journeyman Kenny Britt. This preseason, Coleman has shown growing chemistry with rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer.
Corey Coleman has great athleticism and is a big play threat. Going against Pittsburgh on the road to open the season, Cleveland should be down and throwing the ball pretty regularly in the second half. He should see a healthy amount of targets this week, which could turn into some pretty healthy fantasy numbers.
Braxton Miller, Houston
After being the talk of training camp in 2016, Miller had a very quiet regular season. However, he has only been playing wide receiver for two seasons after moving there from quarterback during his senior year at Ohio State and has amazing game breaking potential.
This week against Jacksonville, he will be the starting wide receiver opposite Deandre Hopkins due to injuries to Jaelen Strong and Will Fuller. Hopkins should see a lot of attention, allowing Miller to get more single coverage. If he can get the ball in his hands, he has the skill to do special things.
Jack Doyle, Indianapolis
No longer having to share duties with fellow tight end Dwayne Allen, Doyle looks to have a breakout year. He posted the highest catch rate among tight ends in 2016 at 79%, to go along with five touchdowns and signed a three-year extension to stay with the Colts this offseason.
Indy’s offense likes to look at the tight end quite often, so the targets should be there this season. With Andrew Luck most likely out this week, that will lower his value a little bit, but that shouldn’t send him to your bench. Doyle has the talent and probable usage rate to post top eight fantasy numbers at the tight end position by the end of the season. He should provide a solid fantasy floor with the upside for more in Week 1.
Coby Fleener, New Orleans
Fleener fell short of expectations during his first season with the Saints. Putting up only 50 receptions for 631 yards and three touchdowns on a pass first team with a Hall of Fame (Drew Brees) quarterback. However, the Saints lost Brandon Cooks in the offseason and Willie Snead is suspended for the first three games, so there should be more targets available for Fleener in Week 1.
Last season, he was fourth among tight ends in end zone targets with 18. He will be going up against a good defense on the road in Minnesota, but again…Drew Brees is his quarterback. This week, Fleener should see more than the 4.9 targets he averaged per game in 2016, which should give him the opportunity to put up respectable fantasy numbers.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, Houston
Crazy that a team with below average quarterback play can have two receiving sleepers in the same week, but it is true. The Texans finished second in the NFL in tight end targets in 2016. Fiedorowicz played in 15 games last season and only saw action on 60.4% of the Texans’ offensive plays.
However, he still finished with 54 receptions, 559 yards receiving and four touchdowns. He also signed a three-year/$10.1 million extension this offseason. The Texans’ quarterbacks should rely on Fiedorowicz as a safety blanket, giving him ample opportunity to put up decent fantasy numbers.
Want me fantasy football help? Hit up Blake on Twitter @blakegibbs as you prepare for Week 1 of the 2017 season.
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