By Sal Leto (@letosal)
As I launch into my first ever “Sink or Swim” column I'd be remiss if I didn't tip my cap to the guy who has been the standard in writing these columns over the years, Matthew Berry (ESPN.com). I have read his work for many years and it's with his inspiration that I decide to take the plunge for the FLAFFL House and dive head first into the pool. To me, if you you're going to have a fantasy football website, this column has to be done with care and thought because people might actually take your advice. So whether you find yourself here because you have fat fingers and clicked by accident or because you're looking for another point of view then come on in, the water's fine. I try to avoid obvious guys that should be in your lineup and with leagues of 14-16 teams, you're likely starting whoever is breathing. This will work more as a guide of what you can expect from a player on a given week. My advice is always based on point per reception leagues, It's the standard now. Make the change.
Swim (These are the players you want to roll with this week)
Ben Roethlisberger @ Cleveland Browns
We've spent all offseason belaboring Ben's road-home splits. And yes, they're startling. You know what else is startling? How bad the Browns are at defending QBs. Giving up the most points per game to quarterbacks in 2016 and handing over Joe Haden to these Steelers spells more success for road quarterbacks in Cleveland this year (16 home passing TDs allowed in 2016). Monitor going forward but in Week 1 you can put Ben in on the road with confidence.
Cam Newton @ San Francisco 49ers
Two. That's the total number of passes Cam threw in the preseason after offseason shoulder surgery. So why aren’t I more skeptical? Maybe I'm just a Cam believer but I also believe he played last year injured from some early beatings and questionable late hits. He was the MVP of the league two seasons ago for a reason. He's a stud. Ron Rivera says he's ready to go and I'm on board. The 49ers gave up 30 passing TDs in 2016 with an even split between home and away. What quarterback torched them for the biggest fantasy day in 2016? Cam Newton with 353 pass yards and four passing TDs plus another 37 yards on the ground. Oh, and please don't believe he won't run as much. Cam Newton has run since he was born. It's what separates him from the mortals.
Derek Carr @ Tennessee Titans
Before you say this is a homer pick, well… shut up! But actually Carr is a solid play this week. Opening on the road against a good Titans team in a year with a lot of expectations isn't desirable. To win, the Raiders will need to take to the air. While the Titans were one of the best at stopping fantasy RBs in 2016 they were near the bottom of the league against QBs. Fully healed and looking to pick up where he left off before his injury last year Carr returns to play at LP Field where he passed for 330 yards and three touchdowns in week 12 of 2015.
Swimming In The Deep End (These are some riskier plays that I still like)
Brian Hoyer v. Carolina Panthers
Let's just say I think this one is going to see a lot of points (73 week two in 2016 when these two teams faced). Likely that means the Niners will be chasing and, let's face it, that's Hoyer’s specialty. Carolina appeared as a middle of the road team vs QBs last year but that was skewed by high interception totals (17). No team gave up more passing yards and the 27 TDs they surrendered were bottom third of the league for Carolina. If you waited on QB in the draft, own Andrew Luck or play the streaming game you could do worse than anchoring your team to Hoyer.
Sink (Avoid these guys if you can so you don’t torpedo your own team)
Dak Prescott v. New York Giants
Yup, I know Dak was the sixth overall quarterback last year. But if he played the Giants every week he'd be near the bottom. In two games against the Giants last season Dak totaled 392 yards one TD and two interceptions. That's very telling since he only threw four INTs all season. Dak’s season stats were helped by six rushing touchdowns but last year the Giants gave up zero. I don't expect Prescott to finish in the top 10 this year and it starts right here.
Matt Stafford v. Arizona Cardinals
If you follow me on the podcast you know Stafford is one of “my guys.” How does he end up on my sink list? Let's take a look at his career numbers against Arizona. Four games, 223 average yards per game, three touchdowns (two came in one game) and 7 interceptions. The Cardinals are overall healthy again on defense and, most importantly, Tyrann Mathieu is back. There will be plenty of weeks where Stafford is a value but this isn't one of them.
Tyrod Taylor v. New York Jets
Wait, shouldn't we start everyone against the Jets? Almost everyone, almost all the time, yes. This might be the battle of who's tanking harder though. There's a realistic chance Taylor (concussion) doesn't even play in this game but if he does leave him on your bench. Do you really want to put in a QB who's coming off a concussion out there in week 1 and run the risk he doesn't finish the game? This has 14-13 grunt fest written all over it.
Shallow Water (Don’t be fooled by what seems like a great matchup)
Mike Glennon v. Atlanta Falcons
Of course, it's Glennon and the Bears. Not everyone got stud QBs and some like to find those streaming matchups and hit big. On the surface you see the Falcons were terrible defending fantasy quarterbacks in 2016. Looking deeper, we see the final seven games (8 TDs) were big improvement over the first nine (23 TDs). Remember the last time we saw Atlanta? Anyone else feel bad for the Bears? At home coming off that loss it's going to be ugly for Chicago.
Todd Gurley v. Indianapolis Colts
You ignored the warnings and took Gurley, good. Now don't lose your courage. Get him in there right away. The Colts defense is, in a word, bad. You may not believe it but this offense will revolve around Gurley. This is the perfect matchup to get his season rolling in the right direction. I'm expecting to see the true dual threat he can be as he facies a Colts defense that generously gave yards to running backs, both on the ground (1,741) and through the air (699).
Jonathan Stewart @San Francisco
I know everyone likes the shiny new toy (Christian McCaffrey) but there's an older model still in the garage. Jonathan Stewart is going to get plenty of carries in this offense. San Francisco was especially bad last year giving up an average of 27.4 points per game to opposing RBs. Over 2,800 total yards to running backs and 27 total TDs means both RBs are a good play here. If they are seriously looking to protect Newton though, Stewart should be seeing plenty of goal line work this week and all year.
Danny Woodhead @ Cincinnati Bengals
I know. I'm the first one who's always saying I gotta see a guy come back from an injury before I believe he's ready. Danny Woodhead just makes sense though. The Ravens were second in the league with 119 receptions by running backs and the Bengals yielded the fifth worst total receptions, allowing 92to running backs. Joe Flacco has missed all of preseason with a back injury. That will mean a conservative short passing game is in order.
Swimming In The Deep End
Jaquizz Rodgers @ Miami Dolphins (note: removed due to game being moved to week 11)
Marshawn Lynch @ Tennessee Titans
See? I told you I'm not a homer. After leading the Lynch bandwagon all offseason how does he end up on my sink list in week 1? This is a good Titans run defense that was 48 yardsfrom the lowest total yards given up in the league last season. The Titans were also top three in rushing touchdowns allowed at six. I expect a low end RB1 season out of Lynch but, as I stated in the Carr section, this week is won through the air for the Raiders.
Ty Montgomery v. Seattle Seahawks
There's a good chance we see these teams in the NFC Championship game in January and I expect both to come out and try to make a statement in week 1. The Seahawks were one of the best at keeping pass catching backs in check last year. They gaveup zero receiving touchdowns. Surprisingly the Seahawks gave up 12 rushing touchdowns. I can't convince myself that Montgomery is going to get lead back carries though.It’s also possible he yields goal line touches to a combination of Jamal Williams and Aaron Ripkowski.
Kareem Hunt @ New England Patriots
I saw Hunts film. It got me excited. What has gone on in the last week or so since the Ware injury though is crazy. Rookie running back. In Foxboro. On opening night. Against the champs. Oh, and by the way, the Patriots were the best defense against RBs in fantasy last year. Pardon me if I put the coronation on hold for a week. Not to mention the comment on a Labor Day from OC Matt Nagy stating Hunt had some slip ups on pass protection in the preseason and week one may be a committee approach.
Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, CJ Prosise
It's not just that the Packers are a great run defense. They were top 10 in fantasy a year ago. It's more the mess that this backfield currently looks like. Rawls runs with the ones, is listed first on the depth chart and injures himself the next day. Lacy struggles when he sees the field. Prosise hasn't been healthy in two years. Rookie Chris Carson has looked better than all of them. I’m chalking this up as a backfield to avoid until some clarity shines through.
TY Hilton @ Los Angeles Rams
I'm aware Andrew Luck is out. I'm also aware that in the past Hilton hasn't performed well in his absence. Listen, you paid the draft price for him so get him in there. Only the Packers (28) surrendered more touchdowns to WRs last year then the Rams (21). It might not be pretty to watch but plug TY in and don't watch. Just peek at the box score later and I'm banking you'll see at least touchdown.
Pierre Garçon @ Carolina Panthers
Like I've stated earlier, I expect a lot of points in this one. With the Niners likely throwing to stay in it or catch up, you will quickly find out who Hoyer's favorite target is. The Panthers gave up just under 3000 yards too wide receivers last season and I haven't seen any major upgrades to the secondary. Garçon is going to be a stud in PPR this season. If you snagged him, start him.
Kelvin Benjamin v San Francisco 49ers
Yes there's a trend here. Start Panthers and Niners. Some might be scared off after the reports of an overweight KB reporting to camp. In preseason action he looked fit and every bit the part of his teams number one wide receiver. Starting with an acrobatic catch in the end zone to kick off preseason facing Houston and finishing by hooking up with Cam for a 4 yard slant finding pay dirt. Benjamin is set to pay early dividends on excellent draft value. San Francisco was bad in all facets of fantasy defense last year. Wide receivers were no longer exception.
Swimming In The Deep End
Paul Richardson @ Green Bay Packers
The deep end is not for the weak. If you need a deep player in a 14+ team league, here's one for you. First, the worst team defending wide receivers in 2016 was the Pack. They were particularly bad at defending second and third WRs. Listen to these names and these stats: Marvin Jones 6-205-2, Cole Beasley 6-58-2, Mohamed Sanu 9-84-1, Adam Thielen 12-202-2. Hell, someone named Deonte Thompson caught eight balls for 110 yards. Jermaine Kearse was traded and the name we hear in sleeper circles is Tyler Lockett but for my money it's Richardson. [Editor’s Note: We all know Tyler Lockett is the play here. Just let the old man think he’s found something]
Deandre Hopkins v. Jacksonville Jaguars
Mock the Jags all you want but they defended the pass well and specifically teams top wide receivers. Some players went off but rarely the primary receiver. Last year in his two matchups with Jacksonville Hopkins had 5-48 and 8-87. That second one is not so bad but he had 17 targets which means he was being force fed at that point. He'll draw Jalen Ramsey who's young, brash and full of talent. Couple that with a less than desirable QB situation and I'm not sold that Hopkins gets off to a good start.
Jeremy Maclin @ Cincinnati Bengals
Old face in a new place. The Bengals were a top three defense facing wide receivers last season and start against a recovering Joe Flacco. With Flacco missing essentially all the off-season, this veteran wide receiver didn't get to work with his quarterback. Timing is likely to be off for this new duo. As stated in the Woodhead section, I expect a short passing game to be on tap for Baltimore.
Davante Adams v Seattle Seahawks
Here's another guy I'm just not on board with this year. He gets the Legion of Boom in week one. Now, I have to admit he had a solid game against them in week 14 last season. It seems like it's a different WR2 on a yearly basis in Green Bay though. We know the primary guy is Jordy Nelson and I'm expecting a Randall Cobb resurgence this year. Add in tight end Martellus Bennett and Ty Montogomery and it's a roll of the dice for me each week.
Kenny Britt v. Pittsburgh Steelers
I like Britt. I own him in multiple leagues. But I won't be starting him in week one. Britt is a big, strong receiver. But lining up with a rookie under center in his first start is not a promising situation. Adding Joe Haden to a top four pass defense that allowed only nine touchdowns to wide receivers last year is unfair. This has the makings of a long day for the Browns but what else is new?
Delanie Walker v. Oakland Raiders
You're right. I shouldn't have to tell you to start him but I heard a lot of grumbling that he was old and was headed for a down year. Few TEs have been more consistent the last few years and Mariota has come to lean on him. This is an Oakland team that always seems to struggle against tight ends and did so again last year, giving up over 1,000 yards. If you sat back and grabbed the nice value be sure he's in your lineup.
Swimming In The Deep End
Evan Engram @ Dallas Cowboys
But Sal, you said don't over think rookie receivers. Pipe down this is a tight end. But Sal, rookie tight ends rarely are effective. Stop with the questions and listen up. There's no one in his way. Will Tye was cast off to the hell known as the Jets. Regardless of me being the president of the Jerell Adams fan club, this is Engrams job. He lines up across from a defense that gave up a league worst 120 receptions and 1,206 yards to tight ends. The Giants called his number in the red zone in the preseason and he's locked and loaded to make an early impact.
Eric Ebron v. Arizona Cardinals
No one shut down tight ends like the Cardinals did. They were league best in all categories, allowing a stat line of 47-418-2. The best day all year against them? Jimmy Graham with five receptions and 53 yards. Shocker. Ebron comes into the season injured and the red flag is up on this matchup.
Jared Cook @ Tennessee Titans
Until we see it, don't believe it. In a marriage of a talented tight end who continuously under performs and a top flight passing attack that under uses the position, this is a wait and see. Could Cook be the guy who fills that void? Maybe and for my NFL team hopefully. But time will tell.