Matthew Stafford (at IND) - Stafford needs his offensive line to gel to have a successful season, but he might not need it to have a great day against the depleted Colts defense. They had to sign Antonio Cromartie off of the street to start at corner after Vontae Davis went down, and their pass rush is led by Robert Mathis, who has seen better days. The Colts defensive line is down Henry Andrerson and Arthur Jones. Stafford should have a lot of success throwing to Marvin Jones Jr, Golden Tate, Anquan Boldin, Theo Riddick and possibly even Eric Ebron in an uptempo offense that will manufacture numbers this week.
Kirk Cousins (vs PIT) - Cousins has one of his best matchups all season against the Steelers. Their most talented pass rusher - 2015 first-round Bud Dupree - went on injured reserve, and they are starting castoff William Gay and 2015 afterthought Ross Cockrell at corner, with another rookie Sean Davis possibly playing a big role at slot corner. Jordan Reed, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Jamison Crowder.
Robert Griffin III III (at PHI) - Griffin is back and he’s facing a defense that is converting to a different system. Jim Schwartz is a strong defensive coordinator and the Eagles have a good front seven, but the Browns offensive line is formidable in its own right, and Griffin only needs a few times with the time to target Terrelle Pryor or Corey Coleman downfield to loosen up this defense. Hue Jackson will have this offense set up to be aggressive, and Griffin also has Duke Johnson Jr and Gary Barnidge at his disposal. Add in the upside of Griffin’s speed as a runner (now with sliding!) and you have one of the highest ceiling quarterbacks in Week 1.
Tyrod Taylor (at BAL) - In addition to the return home/revenge narrative, Taylor gets the benefit of playing a Ravens defense with no Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs coming back from a second achilles tear (his left after tearing his right in 2012). Taylor’s legs should be in effect, and Sammy Watkins is healthy, so Taylor can have a solid passing day on low attempts if Watkins typical explosiveness rises to the surface. The Ravens will likely pass a ton, which could make this a high-scoring game with the Bills injuries and a key suspension (Marcell Dareus) on defense.
Spencer Ware (vs SD) - Don’t overthink this one. Even if Jamaal Charles is active, he will be eased in, a la a preseason game. This is Ware’s show with Charcandrick West giving him a breather. In two games against the Chargers last year, Ware had 148 yards on 19 carries and two scores. He has a real shot to get 19 carries vs. the defense the Titans gashed in the preseason. Ware is an RB1 this week.
Isaiah Crowell (at PHI) - Crowell was outstanding in the three Browns wins last year. He had at least 70 total yards and one score in each of them. Going into Philadelphia isn’t ideal, but facing a rookie quarterback who was hurt in the preseason, leaving him with only about three dozen snaps under his belt, is perfect. Carson Wentz starting Week 1 wasn’t the plan, but the Eagles saw an offer for Sam Bradford that they couldn’t pass up. Even the Browns somewhat toothless defense can take advantage of his inexperience and set up Crowell for a solid day.
Ameer Abdullah (at IND) - The Colts are beyond thin in the secondary and up front, so much so that even the under construction Lions offensive line should be able to open holes for Abdullah’s quick feet and instant acceleration. Abdullah should lead the Lions backs in touches, and on the indoor fast track against a defense tuned up to stop the short pass at a quick tempo, Abdullah will find the open field more than once. Even though he is coming off of shoulder injury that kept him in a non-contact jersey for a lot of the summer, Abdullah is ready to run on Sunday afternoon.
Christine Michael (vs MIA) - Thomas Rawls’ status is up in the air. He should get action early in the game, with his body’s response determining the Seahawks’ approach to his usage for the rest of the game. That “rest of the game” could include a long stretch when the Seahawks are ahead because they are facing the Dolphins in an unveil game for their new offense. Russell Wilson should be able to exploit a rookie corner (Xavien Howard) on the field as long as his piecemeal line holds up. If the Seahawks get into drain the clock and run mode, Michael will be the obvious choice so Rawls can get some more rest before opening up the throttle.
T.J. Yeldon (vs GB) - As we go through the season, we will try to divine whether we are looking at an “Ivory game” or a “Yeldon game” in the Jaguars backfield. The plan is for the team to split the work equally, but Yeldon is a better receiver and Ivory is a more rugged runner. The Packers are likely to jump out on the Jags with Aaron Rodgers testing a still inexperienced defense, and that equals more Yeldon in catchup mode. Ivory is also on the injury report with a calf issue, so there’s always a possibility that Ivory is limited in the game or has something flare up.
James White (at ARI) - The Cardinals defense is probably going to make it tough for Jimmy Garoppolo to throw downfield, and he lacked the courage to hang in the pocket at times in the preseason anyway. The Patriots have to focus on short passing to keep Garoppolo’s wits about him and have any chance of moving the chains. LeGarrette Blount is going to struggle against the Cardinals solid run defense, so expect a lot of White. Rob Gronkowski is limited with a hamstring and could make things get even more compressed for Garoppolo, leading to a lot of dumpoffs to White. It’s worth a shot if you are shorthanded in PPR leagues.
C.J. Spiller (vs OAK) - Yes, here we are again. Still, Spiller is healthy and the Saints showed an obvious inclination to use him in the third preseason game. He is on the Superdome fast track and the Saints have shown the ability to maximize the value of a player like Spiller when they had Darren Sproles. Spiller’s big play ability and chance at racking up receptions makes him a very worthy sleeper in PPR leagues.
Terrelle Pryor (at PHI) - Pryor might not be an accomplished receiver running the entire route tree, but he only has to win on one nine route to be one of the best sleeper plays of the week at wide receiver. Pryor almost effortlessly blew past Desmond Trufant in the preseason to breeze into the end zone for a long score the week after getting free deep for a long reception in limited action. Hue Jackson’s offense will surely include some deep shots to Pryor by design, and Robert Griffin III III throws one of the best deep balls in the league. The payoff could be huge.
Kenny Britt (at SF) - Britt was actually productive after Rams offensive coordinator Rob Boras took over last year, averaging well over 20 yards a catch on ten receptions, including two scores in four game. He had over 10 PPR points in three of the games, and that was with Case Keenum at quarterback. The 49ers defense has some issues with a pass rush that could allow Keenum multiple unmolested play action bombs to Britt as the 49ers overplay the run and Todd Gurley.
Will Fuller V (vs CHI) - Fuller is on the injury report with a hamstring, so monitor this closely, but the team has indicated he will start. While the risk of a zero is there if Fuller’s hamstring doesn’t respond on Sunday, the reward of at least one long score is there against the no-name Chicago secondary that will also lose the help of Pernell McPhee in the pass rush, as he’s opening the season on the PUP. Brock Osweiler threw downfield to Fuller on the sidelines with very natural feel this preseason, so this connection is already established.
Willie Snead IV, Michael Thomas (vs OAK) - The Saints at home are always a good bet to produce a surprise big line or two. Their defense is in shambles, so Drew Brees will likely have to throw a ton to keep up with the Raiders. Snead has the more stable outside role, but Thomas can work the middle of the field and inhabit the role Marques Colston turned into over 1000 yards and eight scores as a rookie. Consider Snead the high floor play and Thomas the high ceiling play as Thomas could draw the best matchup - D.J. Hayden in the slot.
Tajae Sharpe (vs MIN) - Sharpe was the rookie sensation of the preseason and clearly the most prominent Titans receiver in the mind of quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Vikings are a tough draw Week 1 and the Titans will lean run-heavy, but the chemistry between quarterback and wide receiver and meteoric rise of Sharpe will make a big Week 1 look predictable in hindsight.
Pierre Garcon (vs PIT) - Garcon is about as boring as sleepers come this week, but sometimes boring can win a week for you by getting 10 or 12 points out of a spot that had few options. Garcon actually caught five or more passes more than half of the time last year, and he finished the year with scores in three straight games. Josh Doctson is unlikely to play and steal red zone snaps/targets, and the Steelers secondary is featuring a former castoff (William Gay) and 2015 roster cutdown afterthought (Ross Cockrell) as starting corners.
Martellus Bennett (at ARI) - Bennett is a solid play in any event as Jimmy Garoppolo won’t be throwing too many long-developing routes. When you add in Rob Gronkowski being out, he has TE1 overall upside this week. Bennett has been an emphasis in the red zone offense and he should a lot more targets as the lead tight end for an inexperienced quarterback.
Jared Cook (at GB) - Cook looked very comfortable with Aaron Rodgers in the preseason, and he was in with the first-team offense more than Richard Rodgers in the all-important dress rehearsal game. There isn’t a player in the league who can matchup up with his size and speed, and the Packers still lack an established third option in the passing game. Cook was involved heavily early and he could the be player the Jaguars can’t account for in a tough Week 1 matchup.
Jesse James (at WAS) - Ben Roethlisberger showed us a “dink and dunk” quarterback look in the third preseason game, and James a big beneficiary. After Antonio Brown (who could see a lot of Josh Norman), the Steelers have no proven, consistent second option in the passing game. Markus Wheaton floundered when Martavis Bryant was out last year, so Roethlisberger could lean more on new slot receiver Eli Rogers, or James who is occupying the part of the field that Heath Miller held down and turned into solid fantasy numbers before the Steelers were so aggressive in the passing game. James could also feast if the Steelers fall behind and are forced to play hurryup catchup ball.
For defense sleeper picks, consult my weekly rent-a-defense column.
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