Five up, five down for Week 1
Will Robert Griffin III hit the ground running in his NFL debut? Our Nathan Zegura shares his top start and sit recommendations for Week 1.
Disclaimer ... Before you start reading, please understand that we are not in the business of stating the obvious and wasting your time (or ours), so you won't be reading here why you need to start Aaron Rodgers, Arian Foster, Calvin Johnson or any other top-tier players. We're here to help you make a decision on players you are on the fence about.
Finally! Football is back ladies and gentlemen and it is time to get your Fantasy teams off to a winning start.
With many early-round picks at running back likely out, you will need to make smart lineup decisions this week. With that in mind, here's a look at my top five starts and sits for Fantasy Week 1.
Get 'em active ...
Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins (at NO)
Current own/start %: 94/25
I'd start him over: Peyton Manning (vs. PIT), Ben Roethlisberger (at DEN), Jay Cutler (vs. IND)
The Redskins are not wasting any time starting their start rookie quarterback and neither should you. RG3 starts the season off with a great matchup against the Saints, who allowed 21.67 points per game to opposing quarterbacks in 2011, second most in the league. Including the playoffs, seven of the last nine quarterbacks who have faced the Saints have produced at least 20 points. During that span, opposing quarterbacks are averaging 320.7 yards passing and 2.1 total touchdowns per game, while producing a very healthy average of 24.6 points per game. With Pierre Garcon, Fred Davis and a bevy of weapons at his disposal, look for RG3 to light up the scoreboard in his NFL debut against a Saints defense that has been in disarray all offseason. In their last two preseason games, the Saints' starters allowed Blaine Gabbert and Matt Schaub to complete a combined 28 of 34 passes for 306 yards and three scores. In other words, this is looking like an ideal matchup for RG3 and I am expecting over 300 yards with a couple of scores in what should be a very impressive debut.
Kevin Smith, RB, Lions (vs. STL)
Current own/start %: 95/42
I'd start him over: Reggie Bush (at HOU), Trent Richardson (vs. PHI), every Redskins RB (at NO)
Smith will be the only show in town for the Lions in Week 1, as both Mikel Leshoure (suspension) and Jahvid Best (PUP) will be unavailable. Smith could not have asked for a better matchup to make his 2012 featured back debut than the St. Louis Rams, who allowed 152.1 yards per game on the ground last year, second most in the NFL. The Rams also allowed 22.1 points per game to opposing rushers, third most in the league in 2011. Smith will have to hope that the Rams run defense starts as slowly as it did in 2011, when it allowed four straight running back groups to hit at least 23 points. In fact, the opposing starter produced double-digit Fantasy points in four straight to open the season and is also the case in seven of their last nine games. Smith himself excelled as the Detroit starter last year, averaging 15 points per week in is six featured games. Look for Smith, who has practiced all week, to take advantage of his opportunity in an excellent matchup and produce Top 12 numbers at the running back spot in Week 1.
Toby Gerhart, RB, Vikings (vs. JAC)
Current own/start %: 85/17
I'd start him over: Rashad Jennings (at MIN), Willis McGahee (vs. PIT), Peyton Hillis (vs. ATL)
As the main man for the Vikings over the final six weeks of 2011, Gerhart showed what he could do as a starting running back in the NFL and he will get to show it again in Week 1 of the 2012 season, which makes him a great start. In those six games a year ago Gerhart was the 10th-ranked Fantasy back, thanks to an 83 percent consistency rate and robust average of 13 points per game. He totaled 542 yards (90.3 per game) and four touchdowns in those contests and topped 100 total yards or scored in five of the six games. With Adrian Peterson being called a game-time decision at best (and he will be limited if he plays at all), it looks like we are in line for a very healthy dose of Gerhart against the Jags. Jacksonville enters the game having allowed seven running back scores in their last seven games and opposing rushers have averaged 15.6 points per game against them during that span. Gerhart is a great No. 2 runner this week and is an even better flex option for your teams as the Vikings ease Peterson back into the mix.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Jaguars (at MIN)
Current own/start %: 94/27
I'd start him over: Steve Johnson (at NYJ), Anquan Boldin (vs. CIN), Santonio Holmes (vs. BUF)
Blackmon has been better than advertised since joining the Jaguars and should get his NFL career off to a great start in the Metrodome. In the preseason, Blackmon was the leading receiver in both games he started, hauling in eight passes for 120 yards and a score in just over four quarters of game of action. He will get to start his NFL career in a perfect environment for big passing stats. There will be no weather issues and if last year was any indication, no real coverage either. In 2011, the Vikings gave up a league high 22 wide receiver touchdowns and receivers averaged 24.88 points per game against them, third most in the league. Amazingly, a wide receiver has caught a touchdown in 11 straight and 14 of the last 15 games against the Vikings, so why shouldn't Blackmon keep the streak alive and score in his NFL debut? I think the odds are good for a strong game from the most targeted receiver in Jacksonville, and he makes for a great third receiver in Week 1.
Nate Washington, WR, Titans (vs. NE)
Current own/start %: 87/18
I'd start him over: Mike Wallace (at DEN), Vincent Jackson (vs. CAR), Dwayne Bowe (vs. ATL)
When Jake Locker was under center in 2011, no receiver on the planet may have been better than Washington. In basically five quarters with Locker under center, Washington saw 17 targets and caught 12 of them for 212 yards and all four of Locker's passing scores. Washington caught 70.6 percent of his targets from Locker, averaged 12.5 yards per target and had an absurd 24 percent touchdown rate. He was Locker's top target in the preseason as well and I think Nate will get off to a very fast start against the Patriots in what should be a high-scoring affair. The Pats will be much improved on defense this year, but even with improvement, there will still be plenty of chances for Washington (and teammate Kendall Wright) to produce against a defense that allowed league highs in receptions (14.8), receiving yards (215.8) and Fantasy points (27.8) per game to opposing receivers. The Pats also allowed nine scores to opposing top receivers, third most in the league, so if you need a quality No. 2 or No. 3 receiver for Week 1, dial up Washington while Kenny Britt is out on suspension.
Other WRs with favorable matchups: Percy Harvin (vs. JAC), Darrius Heyward-Bey (vs. SD), Kendall Wright (vs. NE), Torrey Smith (vs. CIN), Titus Young (vs. STL), Michael Crabtree (at GB), Steve Smith/Danny Amendola (vs. DET)
Ride the pine ...
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears (vs. IND)
Current own/start %: 96/34
I'd rather start: Jake Locker (vs. NE), Philip Rivers (at OAK), Matt Schaub (vs. MIA)
I think Cutler is going to have a great 2012 season, but I think he could do a lot of handing off in the season opener against the Colts. That's why I'd rather have a higher upside option in my lineup for the season opener. After all, the Colts have allowed only one quarterback to hit the 20-point mark against them in their last seven games because teams can just run the ball in on this defense. In 2011, the Colts allowed multiple passing touchdowns in just five games, which is not too surprising since they allowed 19 rushing scores, second most in the league. I am expecting both Matt Forte and Michael Bush to have solid games in Week 1, so while Cutler will play well against the Colts, I do not think the odds favor a 20-point game from him. It is a passing league and Cutler will have to air it out in some games this year, but I just do not think this will be one of them.
Reggie Bush, RB, Dolphins (at HOU)
Current own/start %: 100/69
I'd rather start: DeAngelo Williams (at TB), Shonn Greene (vs. BUF), Peyton Hillis (vs. ATL)
The Texans are one of the best teams in the NFL and I think that they will hand the Dolphins a crushing defeat in Week 1. That will leave little opportunity to establish a running game against a stout Texans defense that actually ranked fourth against the run in 2011, allowing just 96 yards per game on the ground. From a Fantasy perspective, the Texans were brutally tough on opposing running backs last year, giving up just 12 points per game to the position, second fewest in the league. Only three running backs have even hit double digit points against the Texans in their last 12 games and with a rookie quarterback under center, you can bet the Texans will be keying on Bush big time this Sunday. When you consider that no running back caught a passing touchdown against the Texans in 19 total games last year and that they allowed only two rushing scores in their last 10 games, it is clear that Bush has limited upside headed into Week 1.
Willis McGahee, RB, Broncos (vs. PIT)
Current own/start %: 100/60
I'd rather start: Frank Gore (at GB), Rashad Jennings (at MIN), Kevin Smith (vs. STL)
I think McGahee will get many chances to produce solid totals in 2012 with Peyton Manning under center for what should be an explosive Denver offense. Unfortunately, I don't think he is going to "Roll Willie Roll!" out of the gate as he takes on the Steelers in prime time this Sunday night. The Steelers allowed just seven rushing touchdowns last year -- second fewest in the NFL -- and they were one of only eight teams that did not allow 100 yards rushing per game. In their last 13 games, the Steelers have allowed only one runner to top 100 yards, only three runners to hit double digit Fantasy points and have allowed just three rushing touchdowns. In an offense that was better suited to running the football effectively, McGahee scored just four Fantasy points in the team's win over the Steelers in the playoffs last season. This is a very tough matchup and I think you can find more upside at the running back position for Week 1.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Bengals (at BAL)
Current own/start %: 100/60
I'd rather start: Ronnie Brown (at OAK), Trent Richardson (vs. PHI), Michael Bush (vs. IND)
"The Law Firm" has left the prolific pastures of New England for the less potent offense of Cincinnati and I think he is in for a very tough first game as a Bengal against the Ravens on Monday night. The Ravens had the second ranked run defense in the NFL last year, ceding only 92.6 yards per game on a league low 3.5 yards per carry. To be fair, runners were able to score against the Ravens for the first time in years in 2011, as they punched in 12 touchdowns in the team's 18 games, but I do not want to have to bank on a touchdown this week in order to feel comfortable starting Green-Ellis. After all, Cedric Benson did not reach 52 yards rushing in a game against the Ravens last year as the lead back for the Bengals, but he did have one game with two touchdowns. That is tough to count on this week and while Michael Bush will also need a touchdown to be Fantasy relevant, I feel much better about his chances going against a Colts team that allowed 19 rushing scores in 2011, second most in the league. With limited upside and the potential for a 40-yard game without a touchdown, I would recommend leaving BGE -- who missed the vast majority of the preseason -- on the bench in Week 1.
Santonio Holmes, WR, Jets (vs. BUF)
Current own/start %: 85/40
I'd rather start: Kendall Wright (vs. NE), Darrius Heyward-Bey (vs. SD), Michael Crabtree (at GB)
Did you know that in his last seven games, Holmes has topped 60 yards receiving as many times as you have? That's right, Holmes has not reached 60 yards receiving in seven straight games and has been held under 40 yards in seven of his last 10 games. Against the Bills, Holmes has scored in three straight games, but has remarkably yet to hit 30 yards receiving or produce double-digit Fantasy points. The Bills defense has been improved this offseason and if anything, it appears that the Jets have gotten worse. I would stay away from Holmes this week -- and pretty much every week -- until he shows the ability to be a consistent yardage producer so he actually has 10-point potential.
Good luck this week!
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