This week we discuss the following:
- Washington offense
- Carolina offense
- Christine Michael
- Rookie Running Backs
- Defenses vs. Rookie Quarterbacks
- Amari Cooper
- Predicting Waiver Pickups
Is this team the total disaster it looks like, or will there be some strong fantasy performances in Jay Gruden's offense?
Dave Larkin: In the words of Sigmund Bloom, Washington's offense isn't a dumpster fire yet, but it's officially on dumpster-fire watch. I think it is almost too easy to buy into narratives popularized in the offseason by talking heads. With this team, the narrative has been one of uncertainty at the quarterback position, but I think Kirk Cousins—provided the offense can remain balanced—can be a serviceable option to at least keep the team on schedule. Bill Callahan will have to earn his money in making this offensive line a unit to be feared, and they have a couple of pieces in their five who can make a difference. Cousins will need the backing of a strong rushing attack to allow Jay Gruden to call bootlegs and play passes designed to give his quarterback more defined, simple reads.
It all comes back to Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay's play-calling and Cousins' execution. I believe the new man under center can be an upgrade on Robert Griffin III III, but balance must be the calling card of this, on paper, potent offense.
Jason Wood: As the staffer who handles the NFC East player pages and team reports, I pay a lot of attention to Washington. This question hits on something I think a lot of us have been feelings—this could be an epic disaster. I personally think Washington could challenge for the worst record in the NFC this year, for lots of reasons. Sure, Kirk Cousins is a better fit for Jay Gruden's offense—but that tells you how bad things have gotten with Griffin. Cousins is NOT a dynamic passer. He's a functional one, at best.
Dan Hindery: I'm on board with both Jason and Dave in thinking the offense could really struggle.
But it's worth remembering in this context that Jay Gruden was able to put together a league average offense (#16 according to the advanced stats) in his first season with the Bengals despite having rookie Andy Dalton at QB, BenJarvus Green-Ellis at running back and A.J. Green (rookie) and Jerome Simpson as his only decent receivers. Gruden has shown he can scheme his way to moderate success working without a bevy of talented options at his disposal. While a middle-of-the-league offensive finish this season is probably out of reach, it wouldn't surprise to see him put together a top 20-25 offensive performance, which would keep him out of the "dumpster fire" range. Cousins shouldn't hurt his receivers values much, if at all, even if he throws too many interceptions to be a good starting NFL quarterback.
Andy Hicks: Washington has been trapped in a vicious cycle of ineptitude, primarily since Daniel Snyder took over, except for maybe the Joe Gibbs reruns.
Jay Gruden doesn't stand a chance here. He will be another victim of the Robert Griffin III III hype train that the owner heavily invested in, at the cost of soon to be two head coaches. Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy aren't going to rescue this team either. Cousins looked like a gun-slinger until opposing defenses managed to get pressure on him last year. That resulted in horrible turnover after horrible turnover. Unless Cousins gets time to find his reads, then he stands no chance. This line will give him no chance. McCoy can at least limit the floor. With Cousins there, as Jason alluded to, this team could have the number one overall pick next year.
New quarterback and new coach in 2016 and the cycle gets to repeat itself all over again.
Matt Waldman: Cousins is a good fit for any offense on paper that doesn't require him to run a read-option. He's the type of quarterback who looks great on paper until defenses paint him into a corner and dare him to do something risky. At that point, Cousins can't resist. He has all the hubris of a great NFL QB, but lacks the physical skills to act on it with success. He's a matchup play for fantasy owners at best who will give you 300 yards and three touchdowns one week and 160 yards and three interceptions the next. And count on interceptions regardless of the matchup.
Kirk Cousins probably isn't roster-worthy in most traditional fantasy leagues, but do you still consider DeSean Jackson a solid fantasy WR2? Is Pierre Garcon anything better than a what-the-heck flex?
Dave Larkin: The receiving corps can benefit from this system, and Alfred Morris certainly has the talent to make the most of downhill creases. The move from a zone blocking scheme to a power blocking scheme has been the talk of the offseason. Specifically, the concern is that Morris will not function in a power blocking attack. I am not buying into that narrative; he is a talented enough runner to overcome that. DeSean Jackson should stay on course as a decent WR2 for fantasy owners; he will be the primary read on most of Cousins' downfield passes, of which there could be many if the game scripts go south quickly. Pierre Garcon is less of a sure thing, but one would assume Cousins would be able to find him on shorter, timing throws.
Jason Wood: I was buying into a Pierre Garcon rebirth earlier in the preseason, but abandoned all hope once I saw the line play and quarterback struggles. Garcon will be worth playing in DFS lineups and, at times, in PPR formats during particularly onerous bye weeks. DeSean Jackson is probably the only player in that receiving corps who should be okay with Cousins. Remember that eight of Jackson's 13 big plays last year (40+ yards) came with Cousins and McCoy at the helm.
Dan Hindery: It feels like most of the negatives are already factored in fairly in terms of where the guys were being drafted. Jackson was going as the 25th receiver off the board, which seems just about right. His risk/reward in this offense makes him a nice value going off the board as a WR3, but not a player worth reaching for a round early. He has at least as good a chance as those being drafted in his vicinity to put up WR2 numbers and is likely to have some big weeks mixed with some quiet weeks. You could do a lot worse for a third WR. Similarly, Pierre Garcon wa being drafted as the 48th WR. Compared to the other players being drafted in the WR4/WR5 range, he's a decent bet to be a solid flex option.
Andy Hicks: DeSean Jackson only needs a few catches a game to be a useful fantasy producer with his deep speed and phenomenal yards per catch. Garcon is the one most likely to fluctuate depending on good play by the whole group. He is an every week risk.
Matt Waldman: You don't need a big arm to make big plays with a receiver as quick as Jackson. It's about anticipation and good play calling. Even Washington's offense will do enough to get Jackson open early enough for the Cousins-McCoy show to connect with the receiver.
What are the odds that Alfred Morris' fantasy production will suffer from his team often being down early and abandoning the running game? Also, what are the odds that Matt Jones will eat significantly into Alfred Morris' carries by the middle of the season?
Dave Larkin: The emergence of Matt Jones, a powerful, downhill runner with surprising burst for his size, has to be a concern for Morris owners. If this offense is able to rely on the rushing attack as much as it would ideally like, Jones should see 25-35% of the touches to keep Morris fresh. As far as supplanting him completely, I am not so sure. Jordan Reed, meanwhile, becomes the go-to tight end after injuries decimated the team's depth. He still has the talent to give linebackers and safeties problems.
Jason Wood: Alfred Morris scares me to death. One, his numbers have declined in each of his seasons. Two, Jay Gruden tried to balance the zone-blocking scheme Morris thrived in under the Shanahans with the power-blocking scheme Gruden prefers. This year Gruden isn't messing around, he's committed to the power-blocking scheme. I worry about the impact that has on Morris. Three, Matt Jones is LEGIT. He's been the lone bright spot in Washington's preseason. Strong, decisive and a good fit for the blocking scheme. Even if Morris stays healthy, I see Washington using a true committee this year with Jones getting upwards of 40% of the snaps.
Matt Waldman: Jason just gave a bold but well-observed take and I agree that Jones is worth having on your roster.
Dan Hindery: In terms of Average Draft Position, Alfred Morris is the most likely to bust. He has many things working against him. The first, as mentioned, is the switch away from the zone scheme that he thrived in. He has always seemed to be a decent player who was a great fit in his scheme and not a great player who would thrive in any offense. Second, Matt Jones looks like the real deal and may be a better schematic fit for what Jay Gruden hopes to accomplish. He has some special qualities and is probably the future of the position. It's just a question of whether the future arrives in 2016 or sooner. It shouldn't surprise at all if Jones is getting nearly half of the touches by midseason. The third major concern with Morris is lack of favorable game scripts. He is not the type of back to put up numbers when his team is playing from behind and Washington may fall behind early often in 2015.
Chad Parsons: There are only two names I am interested in with Washington: Matt Jones and Derek Carrier. I loved Matt Jones' Florida tape and the preseason showed the same baby Marshawn Lynch qualities at the NFL level. Alfred Morris is a free agent after the season, so Washington's likely dumpster fire this year would be well-served to transition to test driving Jones as the lead back as the season progresses.
Andy Hicks: Alfred Morris does worry me this year, but if the offense can just let him control the game then they stand a chance. By negating his abilities with a power scheme you are weakening a strength at the expense of what? Your chosen method? I thought good coaching was supposed to get the best out of your players and designing a system that gets the best out of what you have on your roster. Matt Jones may well be the answer, but he more than likely isn't. Then what?
It's frustrating to see teams like Washington, Cleveland and others just repeat the same dumb mistakes year after year. It ruins the spectacle for their fans and lowers the level of the competition as a whole. In case it's not obvious I am an extreme pessimist regarding their prospects this year.
Jeff Haseley: For the most part I am staying away from Washington players this year, but I do have some marginal interest in Matt Jones and Jordan Reed. Jones looks like he could command more of the team's carries and it could come sooner rather than later. Alfred Morris owners may not realize this yet, but their decision to draft him could be a costly one. The offense is controlled by the quarterback and it's safe to say that Kirk Cousins is a good, but not great quarterback. In my opinion, he's an NFL quality back up and to expect him to lead the team to consistent wins seems far-fetched, especially in the improved NFC East.
Jordan Reed seems to be largely off of the fantasy radar—is he going to be a popular waiver-wire add in the early weeks of the season?
Dan Hindery: Jordan Reed as the 23rd tight end is also priced appropriately and might even be a pretty good value in that range. With the minimal draft costs associated with taking a low-end TE2, Reed getting injured (as he often does) simply means he's dropped and replaced with another TE2 off of waivers. But he also has enough upside to greatly exceed his current ADP. When fully healthy, Reed is a dangerous weapon in the passing game and is capable of putting up top 10 numbers at the tight end position.
Jeff Haseley: My interest in Jordan Reed is mostly because he's the last man standing among Washington's early tight end injury woes. He should see a lot of targets by default and could wind up being Cousins hot read, security blanket option.
Chad Parsons: I'm actually more interested in Derek Carrier than in Jordan Reed. Carrier's trade to Washington was an under-the-radar move during the preseason. Jordan Reed has a shaky injury history (to be kind) and Niles Paul was on the weekly starter radar without Reed in the lineup last season. Carrier is a strong metric prospect and one injury away from strong production at a hit-or-miss fantasy position.
Andy Hicks: Jordan Reed is an injury and form risk every week. As with a lot of Tight Ends this year you will do well if you can get production out of the non-top-six guys on a regular basis.
How will the passing game fare? With the loss of Kelvin Benjamin, does Greg Olsen become a top-three fantasy tight end? Will any of the team's wide receivers be worth a flex start in the early weeks of the season, or can we write them off unless and until one emerges as a solid NFL receiver?
Jason Wood: Newton had very little to work with in 2013. Even though Steve Smith was on the roster, he looked like a dead man catching; failing to break the 100-yard mark at any point in the season. Newton had to use his legs and also relied on his backs and Greg Olsen. I think that's the game plan for 2015, by default.
Olsen ABSOLUTELY becomes a top three tight end—in fact, I have him ranked second ahead of Jimmy Graham. He's able to make plays in traffic, has Newton's trust, is healthy, and is the only game in town.
I'm always open to players coming out of nowhere but right now I find it hard to see the likes of Jerricho Cotchery, Ted Ginn Jr or Philly Brown doing much. Funchess is the intriguing name, but the college game tape wasn't particularly compelling from my vantage point. The coaches hinted that Funchess "isn't ready" to start, which makes him a dangerous bet for Week 1.
Dan Hindery: I'm completely onboard with Jason's analysis. I agree with his opinion that Olsen will end up the number two Tight End this season and I too like him even more than Jimmy Graham in PPR leagues (but I prefer Graham slightly in standard formats). Olsen is one of my favorite targets both in redraft leagues and for Week 1 DFS lineups.
The wide receivers are uninspiring and none look primed to emerge as an every week fantasy option. Ginn and Brown are listed as the starters and both will probably put up solid numbers at times, but the production will be too inconsistent to count on unless desperate for a bye-week flex option. Expect both to end up with ~50 catches and 700 yards on the season, which projects as WR5 production. All indications are that Funchess is more of a project than expected. He could emerge as the top option later in the season, but it's going to take time and the light may never end up coming on for him. He was a boom-or-bust draft pick and the very early returns aren't promising.
Chad Parsons: I am bearish on the Carolina offense as a whole. Even before the Kelvin Benjamin injury I was skeptical of Cam Newton taking a needed step forward as a passer. With his rushing production on the decline since his stellar rookie season on the ground, Newton was already an avoid player. Jonathan Stewart is held together with duct tape. I like Devin Funchess long-term, but see an unappealing passing game overall in terms of starting caliber options. Funchess will have a few good games. Ted Ginn Jr will have a long gain or two. Jerricho Cotchery has overachieved in recent seasons. Philly Brown has yet to perform above baseline in his post-high school football lifetime. I see a bunch of receivers with WR3/4 upside any given week. In drafts I strongly preferred Martellus Bennett to Greg Olsen in the same ADP zone, pushing Olsen off my radar.
Andy Hicks: The Carolina offense looked like it was making forward progress until the injury to Kelvin Benjamin. The air got sucked right out of the sails on that news. This offense doesn't even regress to the start of last year when the Panthers had an entirely new wide receiver group. At least then they had a readymade wide receiver in Kelvin Benjamin. Now they have a project second round receiver in Devin Funchess who is not ready to step in immediately. They have bit part or over the hill guys for Cam Newton to work with now and the offense is unlikely to have a breakout receiver outside the obvious influence of Greg Olsen. It really surprised me when they let Jarrett Boykin go as he had been part of a very successful group in Green Bay, had special teams experience and had more upside that what was on the roster. Obviously the Panthers know better, but that decision negated any upside I see in this group.
Matt Waldman: Newton made pointed comments last year that he felt the punishment of the NFL more than anytime during his football career. It's not a great sign to hear this from a quarterback with his athletic skills. Newton is a good passer and tough as nails in the pocket, but if he's already feeling the physical effects to the point that he's discussing it in a philosophical way with media I have to wonder if he's on the verge of breaking down.
I think this is probably the last year Newton will be capable of being a dual threat who gives fantasy owners QB1 production if he doesn't suffer a season-ending injury. Carolina is on the verge of ruining a fine young quarterback if it cannot protect Newton or cannot provide quality support at receiver.
Dour thoughts aside, I'm not shutting the book on Carolina's fantasy prospects. Writing off Ted Ginn Jr and Corey Brown is an easy thing to do, but it ignores that fact that these two players have not only made NFL teams, but they have been contributors. Ginn gets a bad rap, but in 2013 he had 68 targets, 36 receptions, 556 yards, and five touchdowns.
He was never a great technician as a route runner or pass catcher in contested situations. But Ginn is a great open-field runner and his speed is good enough to beat any defender in the league. Ginn has improved enough in the technical areas of the game that you cannot continue to view him through the lens of the disappointing ninth overall selection of the 2007 draft.
One lesson that Justin Forsett's 2014 season should have taught us is that players do have the capability of learning and growing. Forsett's 2014 season was the intersection of a veteran player who had learned enough about his position and the game over several years while still being in great condition physically because he had such little tread wear during his career.
Ginn is not the fantasy world's next Forsett, but he is capable of 50-60 catches 700-900 yards, and 7-9 touchdowns based on his opportunity and baseline competency to make a team and perform with Newton. There are a lot of receivers with 1-2 years of quality fantasy production who were replaceable long-term. I won't hesitate to add Ginn from the waiver wire if I need him and I'd start him as a flex Week 1 if injuries decimated my receiving corps prior to the season.
The same is true of Corey Brown. He had some drops this preseason, but the team liked his development as a rookie and between winter and spring of this year. Greg Olsen was complimentary of Brown's routes and he can stretch the field and win after the catch.
Kevin Norwood is another player worth monitoring on the waiver wire. Seattle raved about him during the spring of 2013, but Norwood never fit into the offense and produced. Perhaps Norwood simply isn't good enough to become a starter. What I learned from studying Norwood's tape, watching him at the Senior Bowl, and speaking with a couple of scouts at Mobile is that I'm willing to monitor him at least another year. Norwood is excellent at winning the ball in the air and the Panthers don't have that kind of receiver in Brown and Ginn. Scouts were surprised at the quickness Norwood displayed and they liked his work ethic.
Funchess will be inconsistent. I would not want to rely on him, because I believe he'll need very specific targets to thrive and they aren't the kind that come along easily for an offense. I'm looking to Ginn and Brown for now if I'm in a jam. Funchess is a luxury hold.
Jeff Haseley: Carolina has had Steve Smith or Kelvin Benjamin at wide receiver for each of Cam Newton's years in the league. This year they will have neither and that concerns me. I see Devin Funchess being more of a situational receiver and it could take some time before he feels comfortable even occupying that role. That leaves the door open for Ted Ginn Jr, Corey Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and Kevin Norwood. Norwood is someone that has me intrigued, but I need to see more from him to know if he is on board with the offensive plays and what his role will be. I do see Greg Olsen being more involved in the offense. He's the team's best receiver and he already commands the majority of Newton's targets. He's a Top three tight end with the possibility of moving up to number two.
Does Jonathan Stewart's matchup against the Jaguars make him a fantasy RB1 this week?
Jason Wood: He's ABSOLUTELY a must start this week. If you can't start Stewart in Week 1, when can you?
Dan Hindery: Stewart is definitely a strong RB2 option for Week 1 against Jacksonville. He and Olsen are going to have to pick up much of the slack for the losses of Kelvin Benjamin (torn ACL) and DeAngelo Williams (free agency). Both are poised to have career seasons if they can stay healthy and the Carolina offensive line holds up.
Andy Hicks: Jason put it succinctly, he is a must start when he is fit. Good luck riding that train while it lasts. Again the Panthers regressed in the running game by letting an admittedly old DeAngelo Williams go, but if you are not starting Jonathan Stewart this week, why did you draft him?
Matt Waldman: If it doesn't, he's close enough that you start him in 2RB sets.
Jeff Haseley: I'm not sure I would put a fantasy RB1 tag on Stewart this week, because I don't think we have enough clarity of how well the offense will be with a below average group of wide receivers. If Carolina struggles to sustain drives, Stewart definitely won't be a fantasy RB1 caliber start. You could argue that he might not be that good of a fantasy RB2 start, simply because so much hinges on the success of the Panthers ability to move the ball. Carolina finished 3-1 in the preseason, but the majority of their success came from the second and third team offense. I would advise people to hold off on reserve confidence in Jonathan Stewart until we see how effective their offense can be. The match up against Jacksonville looks good on paper, but Carolina often plays down to the level of their opponent, especially on offense. This game is also on the road. Another reason to be wary of having high expectations for the Panthers. I need to see them circle the wagons first before I put any fantasy trust in them.
Is Christine Michael a decent stash in redraft leagues, or is he strictly a dynasty prospect at the moment?
Jason Wood: This really comes down to roster size. If you're in a league where every owner routinely rosters two or three backup running backs (meaning NFL backups, those perceived to not have starting roles), then Michael is absolutely worth a shot. Early in the season you want your bench to be full of lottery tickets. Players who IF things go right, could change your season. Michael is by no means a guarantee. He was traded away for scraps by a team that just lost their number two running back and opted to sign a 34-year old instead. However, Dallas has the best line in football and neither Randle nor McFadden are proven commodities.
Dave Larkin: Just when we thought we had the Dallas backfield figured out, the Christine Michael spanner was thrown in the works. Michael is absolutely capable of turning his career around in Big D, but I'm reluctant to invest stocks in a player who reportedly has trouble acting like a pro, eschewing the day-to-day grind and not putting in the necessary hours to succeed. In redraft leagues, he is worth a final bench spot to see how this situation shakes out in the first few weeks. In dynasty leagues, he ranks about the same for me: a wait and see end of the roster option who could either blow up in your face or win you your league.
Dan Hindery: Michael is worth stashing due to his combination of physical talent and the elite Dallas offensive line. It will take some patience and he's a better pick in leagues with deep benches that allow you enough flexibility to roster some guys who might not help you once bye weeks hit, but he's worth owning in all formats.
Chad Parsons: Michael is the exact type of player to target in the late rounds of redraft leagues (or stash on the end of the bench). This comes with the caveat an owner must have patience to let the season develop as Michael has as much, or more, difference-making upside as any running back. Michael may begin the year with doughnuts in the box score. Owners who will drop him for the waiver flavor of the week in September should not target Michael as they are likely to cut bait right back to the free agent pool.
Andy Hicks: As Jason said the circumstances surrounding the arrival of Christine Michael is enough to give you pause for thought. Teams don't sign 34 year old backups over you without a strong issue behind it. Having said that team situations matter and despite all the hyperbole coming from Dallas, they cannot be happy with Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden as their potential starters. Potentially Michael could outplay these guys and be a redraft steal this season, but there are plenty of jokes stating the difference between potential and reality and the reality is that Michael is more likely to be cut than develop into a fantasy starter. Still though, there's a chance....
Matt Waldman: Christine Michael is in the same position we saw with Bryce Brown in Philadelphia when LeSean McCoy got hurt and Brown had moments of excellence. Michael is more than capable of being the best running back in Dallas and it would be insane not to stash the new Cowboys back if he's available as a free agent pickup. Talent-wise he has top-five ability. The issue is whether he'll do the little things that come with consistent, incremental work.
We love to talk about talent and that some players may work their butts off and never perform as well as a player with great talent. The other side of the coin is that work refines talent and keeps it sharp. There are lots of talented people who are sloppy with their performances and that has been the story with Michael. If he can't do the little things that prepare him to avoid big mistakes, it only takes one big mistake per game for a team to lose patience with him. He's worth the risk if you truly understand that he may get a few shots and then sent under the bench if he can't mature.
Jeff Haseley: It's arguable that Michael is the most talented running back the Cowboys have on their roster. As much as the Cowboys say this is going to be a committee approach, I only think it will be that until one back in particular stands out and executes the way the team wants. This includes pass-protection, knowing the plays that are called and above all, performing well as a rusher. Could Michael be that guy? Yes. Will he is another story. The Seahawks let him go despite a high ankle injury to Robert Turbin and knowing they will have to rely on UDFA Thomas Rawls and Fred Jackson as Marshawn Lynch's back up. Rostering Michael is a good move in redraft leagues and you could wind up smelling like a rose if he hits.
Jason Wood: I'm most comfortable starting Abdullah, even though he's "listed" as the RB3 on the Week 1 depth chart. Gordon and Yeldon should get plenty of work but I worry that the Week 1 game scripts don't favor either runner. Will the Chargers or Jaguars have leads to protect? Doubtful. Abdullah is risky, too, but I could stomach starting him particularly if I rostered Arian Foster or Todd Gurley or Le'Veon Bell and therefore view Abdullah as my RB3 eventually—but an RB2 for now.
Dave Larkin: I'm very comfortable starting Ameer Abdullah regardless of the opponent; I am that high on his talent. Detroit should feed him 15-18 touches per game and he is capable of scoring on any one. I want players like that in my starting lineup. Melvin Gordon III will need to iron out issues in pass protection to earn a three-down role, and even if he does dramatically improve, will the Chargers bench Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead for him? I am not certain they would, so Gordon remains a matchup play in my book. T.J. Yeldon will have to swap in and out of the lineup with Denard Robinson, and I am not sure I can put my faith in this Jacksonville offense just yet to start Yeldon off the bat.
Dan Hindery: I wouldn't be comfortable with any of these guys as my second back early in the season until we see how their teams will use them. Gordon has struggled so far and looks like he could end up starting slowly. Yeldon has looked better, but Jacksonville has explicitly stated that they want to work him in gradually and increase his touches as the season progresses. Abdullah is the best bet in the group and is not a terrible option in PPR leagues, but not somebody I would list as a top 24 running back option in Week 1.
Chad Parsons: I am hesitant with rookies in Week 1 overall. If Todd Gurley were healthy, he would be a locked-and-loaded starter. I like Yeldon and Abdullah more than Gordon (in Week 1 and overall in 2015). Both are reasonable RB2 options with RB1 upside with the right work (Abdullah with quality targets, Yeldon with goal line).
Andy Hicks: One of these guys will do well, one okay, and one won't do much. Each is as likely as the other to fill any one of these roles. Every year we see guys go gaga over rookie running backs, especially in the early part of the season. Reality soon hits hard though when the large majority find that the step into the pro's isn't easy and they need to get comfortable. Rarely do rookie running backs light it up in year one, let alone Week 1. Patience people. Each of these sides have at least two experienced starters that they'll use while the rookie finds his feet. San Diego has Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead, Detroit has Joique Bell and Theo Riddick, while Jacksonville has Denard Robinson, Toby Gerhart and Bernard Pierce. Only the team truly knows how ready their guy is and they all can sit back and ease them in slowly.
Matt Waldman: I'd be most comfortable starting Yeldon. He's the starter in name so they want him to earn at least 50 percent of the touches. Overall, I'd be leery of starting any of these rookies if I had other established options, because rookies can often tank early on and the team sits them on the bench for that first game because they have emotional difficulties handling that first roller coaster of an NFL game.
I don't think Ameer Abdullah will be that guy and he has the most upside, but unless Joique Bell is officially ruled out, Abdullah is third string and relegated to special teams duty to begin the year. I expect 5-7 touches for Abdullah Week 1 and that's not enough to work with. I think that volume will grow steadily, but if you're cautious Week 1 then rookie running backs don't fit your strategy.
In Tampa Bay, we're going to have the battle of the starting rookie quarterbacks. For fantasy owners who are streaming their team defenses, is this game a good place to look for a sneaky Week 1 option?
Jason Wood: The over/under (41) suggests a low-scoring contest. Personally, I don't think enough of either defense to stream them, but it's justifiable if you're committed to swapping DSTs every week. I'm betting most of my colleagues would recommend the Buccaneers over the Titans; but I'm going the other way. I think Winston is going to STRUGGLE this year, particularly behind that porous offensive line.
Dave Larkin: If you're banking on one of the defenses in this game, make it Tampa Bay. The Titans defense looked frail in their dress rehearsal game against Kansas City. Although Tennessee boasts a nice pair of edge rushers in Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan, I find it hard to trust them to deliver on the road. The Buccaneers made some shrewd additions to their defense this offseason and the pieces seemed to be jelling nicely in preseason. Lovie Smith's unit will give Marcus Mariota all he can handle. We're going to see mistakes from both rookie quarterbacks, no doubt, but the Buccaneers are the defense to exploit here.
Dan Hindery: Jameis Winston intrigues me more than Marcus Mariota in Week 1. He has three huge, talented pass catchers in Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins who can all go out and make big plays for him. He is also facing a Tennessee defense that was amongst the league's worst last season and doesn't give much hope for big improvements. Winston could easily throw three touchdowns the first week. I'm less optimistic about Mariota. While he looked great in the preseason, he is surrounded by very little talent on what should be a mediocre offense. I don't think the Tampa Bay defense would be a terrible play this week.
Chad Parsons: For deeper leagues or more dry waiver wires, absolutely. Neither Tampa Bay or Tennessee would be in the top-5 defenses to play, but rookie quarterbacks are a big question mark—and the low points are dreadful.
Andy Hicks: The opportunity is there for either defense to have a strong game. As usual there is more to this than just the rookie quarterbacks. Which running game will help their quarterback? Which defense has the better players and scheme to attack the QB? In both of these questions, the answer clearly is Tampa Bay. Doug Martin has been terrible the last two years, but looks like he might be on the way back. We'll see, but he should be a better option than Bishop Sankey. Every time another running back is on the roster for the Titans they are talked about as either sharing time or potentially being the lead back, sometimes by the coaching staff. That can't be good. As for defense, the Buccaneers are loaded with playmakers at every level, while the Titans have talent, but have yet to show any kind of cohesion. In conclusion I'd probably leave the Titans defense on the shelf, but would grab the Buccaneers if I didn't have an elite option.
Jeff Haseley: Yes. I particularly like the Buccaneers defense against Marcus Mariota, because they are the home team, but Tennessee is also a team to consider as well. The Titans have some injury issues in the secondary, but that's not going to stop Jameis Winston from making rushed, ill-advised throws when under duress. The same goes for Mariota as well. There's a good chance this rookie clash could wind up being favorable to both defenses. Both teams should be on people's minds a defense to stream with a slight edge to Tampa Bay.
Is Amari Cooper as NFL-ready as he looks, or like many rookie wide receivers historically, is he going to take some time to adjust to the NFL game?
Jason Wood: Those statements are no mutually exclusive. I think Cooper is ready to start and be the Raiders top target. But I also think he'll have bouts of inconsistency as he learns to deal with the speed of the NFL and the physical play of opposing secondaries. Cooper rose up my projections/rankings as the preseason wore on. I see him as a viable WR2 entering the season.
Dave Larkin: Normally I would err on the side of caution with rookie receivers, but if you drafted Amari Cooper I think you are in for a special season. Cooper has already shown an incredible feel for the pro game as far as timing, route-running and getting off press coverage. His technique is very well refined already and he can give seasoned cornerbacks a real problem, I have no doubt. There may be a few down weeks as the Raiders find their feet, but Cooper should provide a very steady weekly floor.
Dan Hindery: The answer is a little bit of both. Cooper is a polished route-runner and his physical skills will translate immediately to the next level. He will also see a ton of targets right away. So he should put up pretty good numbers early. On the other hand, he and Derek Carr have shown major growing pains in terms of getting on the same page when adjusting routes. The issues have been especially painful in the red zone where the two failed to hookup regularly in preseason action due to miscommunications about where Cooper would run his route. Due to the issues with Carr (along with Oakland's questionable offensive line), Cooper won't start off as a top fantasy option immediately, but he should be at least a WR3 in the early going and could be much more than that by midseason.
Chad Parsons: Cooper has a WR3 floor in 2015 based on projected targets alone. I do not think he will be in the top-12 discussion due to touchdowns, but top-18 production is within range. Route-running and a quality intermediate game goes a long way towards a receiver starting hot at the NFL level.
Andy Hicks: The Raiders offense is young, so people have to be patient. If Amari Cooper were going to say Indianapolis or Green Bay then you could indulge yourself a little bit, but we need to see a connection between Cooper and Derek Carr and as Dan stated it isn't there yet. Sometimes players click straight away, other times it takes a while. It isn't unheard of for it to never happen as well. If Michael Crabtree continues to look as good as he did in training camp and preseason then Cooper will be given that precious time to ease into the offense. Just because he was a top five pick, it doesn't mean he is immune to failure or a slow start. Let the guy develop at his own pace without forcing unrealistic expectations. He may be fantasy relevant this season, he may not. We'll soon see.
Matt Waldman: Cooper's biggest adjustment will probably occur on down field routes against top corners. He'll win some, but expect most of his meaningful production to come from a lot of shorter completions. I'm confident he'll adjust fast.
Jeff Haseley: I would not be surprised to see Cooper have a monster game Week 1. He is clearly the team's go-to target. The Raiders will have plays designed specifically for him. He's been at most, if not every practice and should be familiar with the playbook enough to be comfortable with his expanding role. We may not see a 2003 Anquan Boldin-like rookie debut, but I can see him being the focal point of an offense that will be relying on him to step up. I can't wait to see what Cooper brings to the table. I think we'll be pleased.
Who will be the most-added player in fantasy leagues after the Week 1 games?
Jason Wood: Brandon Coleman is my pick. He worked his way up the depth chart and now sits comfortably in the Top three. While he's not a starter right now, Marques Colston looked old in the preseason. If Coleman is 'only' the third receiver, he'll have big games but be too inconsistent to start in most leagues. If he vaults into the number two role, the sky is the limit.
Dave Larkin: The script is set up for Tyrod Taylor to become the quarterback to own after Week 1. The Colts defense is a decent unit, but they shouldn't provide much resistance if Taylor can keep the offense on schedule with a steady dose of the ground game and option looks. It will be fascinating to observe how Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman decide to deploy Taylor as a part of the running attack. Taylor should be able to keep plays alive and produce a few splash plays against Indianapolis.
Dan Hindery: Brandon Coleman is a good bet to emerge. He has emerged as the co-WR2 with Marques Colston behind Brandin Cooks. He's basically stepping into the Kenny Stills role from last year. However, unlike Stills, he won't have to deal with Jimmy Graham hogging targets (especially in the red zone). The Saints with Drew Brees will always throw the ball a ton, so Coleman has a real opportunity to emerge as a major playmaker.
Chad Parsons: Tyrod Taylor and Brandon Coleman stand out as waiver wire buzz names if not already rostered. Rushing quarterbacks typically have a mid-QB2 floor and Taylor may have the highest rushing ceiling since Michael Vick, putting QB1 level numbers within range. Coleman is a Marques Colston injury away from being a weekly fantasy starter. Even without one, Coleman will have a game or two of 50+ yards and a touchdown, warranting ownership in all leagues.
Andy Hicks: Without wishing to sound like Captain Obvious, the main waiver wire picks are probably going to come from injuries to a running back. Outside that it is likely to be a tight end who saw a lot of targets or a wide receiver that surprised. Without putting them in order I'll throw a few names out: Richard Rodgers, Cecil Shorts, Robert Woods, a non-Lamar Miller Dolphin back, or a Jaguars wide receiver
Jeff Haseley: James Jones immediately comes to mind, because we all know how volatile the Packers offense is. Jones, who knows the team, knows Rodgers and knows the playbook could immediately fill a necessary void and perform well doing so. He should be added as a proactive waiver claim now, if possible.
Another player I like who may make an impact Week 1 is Seattle rookie wide receiver Tyler Lockett. He is more than just a return man and Seattle is finding that out. I can see him being the leading wide receiver on the team. I say wide receiver, because Jimmy Graham should be Russell Wilson's main target overall.
A deeper receiver that's on my radar is 49ers second year wide receiver Bruce Ellington. There is no doubt in my mind that Bruce Ellington would garner more praise and interest if he were on a pass-heavy offense with more play making ingenuity. Ellington may be the closest example of the early Minnesota Vikings version of Percy Harvin. Ellington is capable of making plays himself, he just needs to see more touches. If that happens, he could surprise and become fantasy relevant. He's a perfect example of a last pick in the draft.
Phillip Dorsett I am also high on. I think he'll be named the Colts WR3 soon which means he'll be a fantasy-relevant option. When his teammates go out of their way to say how impressed they are with him, I take notice. Both Dorsett and DeVante Parker are wide receivers that I targeted in the second half of my drafts. The talent is there, soon enough the opportunity will be as well.
That will do it for this edition of the Footballguys Roundtable. Please join us again next week.