Fantasy Football Sleepers Week One
Week 1 of the 2017 NFL season is approaching and it’s time to set your lineups. Hopefully, you checked out our own Phil Clark’s Week 1 Start’Em Sit’Em article from earlier in the week to help you with your decisions. However, if you’re a fantasy owner of a notable player who is injured, suspended or facing a tough matchup, you may have to mix a sleeper in with your regular starters.
If you remember back to Week 1 of the 2016 campaign, players that include Carson Wentz, Willie Snead, and Jalen Richard all scored over 15 fantasy points, generating 19.2, 23.2 and 15.5 points respectively. That’s the type of production you want from your sleeper starts.
With players that include Andrew Luck and Jarvis Landry out. Plus, Odell Beckham Jr. trending toward a game-time decision designation, there are plenty of holes to fill for this weeks slate of games. Without further ado, here are my Sleepers for Week 1 of the 2017 season.
- Although there are no teams on a bye in Week 1, the NFL has decided to postpone the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Miami Dolphins game due to Hurricane Irma. It will be played in Week 11
MFL Start-Percentage: 39.44%
Andy Dalton is coming off of a 2016 season in which he threw for 4,206 yards, a career low 18 touchdowns, and eight interceptions while completing 64.7 percent of his passes. However, since the Bengals were plagued by injury all over the offensive side of the football, the blame for Dalton’s lack of TD production doesn’t fall solely on himself.
Week 1 presents a favorable matchup for Dalton. The Bengals are hosting a home matchup against the division rival Ravens, who finished the 2016 campaign ranked 23rd in fantasy production allowed to opposing signal callers, yielding 15.6 FPPG. In two contests versus Baltimore last season, Dalton accumulated a mere 15.7 and 19.6 FPPG respectively. However, both games were played after Week 11. The significance? A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard were all sidelined for either one or both of those contests. In the only 2015 matchup Dalton started against the Ravens in which the before mentioned players were active, he produced a 383-3-1 stat line while adding another score on the ground, good for 38.2 fantasy points. With Jay Cutler and Jameis Winston on a surprise bye due to the storm, Dalton is a fine Week 1 spot-start.
MFL Start-Percentage: 22.69%
Tyrod Taylor may have fallen out of favor with the fantasy football community this offseason for reasons out of his control. Not only did the Bills lose Robert Woods to the Rams in free agency, but they also dealt away his counterpart, Sammy Watkins, to Los Angeles last month. In other words, Taylor lost both of his starting wideouts. However, Buffalo didn’t just sell-out like their Week 1 opponents, the New York Jets. They also added a new pair of weapons to Taylor’s arsenal, selecting Zay Jones in the draft and acquiring Jordan Matthews from Philadelphia on the same day they moved Watkins.
The Jets are a familiar foe for Taylor. He started the past 3-of-4 games these two teams played each other. In the last matchup Taylor started versus New York in Week 2 of the 2015 campaign, Taylor went off for 29.4 fantasy points. He threw for 297 yards, three touchdowns and one interception that day. Although both Watkins and Woods were both active, they combined for a 3-30-0 stat line and were invisible. It was also the last time we would see Watkins until Week 12.
Entering Sunday’s season opener, the Jets’ defense is expected to start two rookies in the secondary, Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams. Although both are highly-touted, Taylor may be able to score the deep ball against them in their first regular season action as pros. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Talyor made plays and found the end zone with his legs as well, showcasing his versatility. Although he is extremely boom or bust, Week 1 is a fine matchup to insert Taylor into your starting lineups. If you’re thinking of starting Carson Wentz in Washington this week, Taylor may be the way to go as an alternative. In two games versus the Redskins last season, Wentz only totaled 14.7 fantasy points.
Running Back Sleepers
MFL Start-Percentage: 22.83%
Although Christian McCaffrey is expected to garner the majority of the RB touches in Carolina in 2017, Jonathan Stewart remains in the fold as the team’s lead power back. He is also the favorite to vulture TDs. “Stewart? A sleeper?” The fantasy community gasps and mutters. Yes, folks, Stewart is entering a plus matchup in Week 1 at San Francisco. Their defense finished 2016 ranked No. 1 in fantasy production allowed to opposing RBs, giving up a staggering 28.1 FPPG. In fact, the 49ers’ defense allowed two running backs from an opposing team to score at least 10 fantasy points against them in a single game four times last year, which bodes well for Stewart’s Week 1 outlook.
Although Stewart hasn’t had good fortune versus San Francisco in his three career matchups facing them in the past — he only totaled 86 yards on 36 touches and no scores — he could turn it around Sunday. Consider Stewart a deep desperation play at best.
MFL Start-Percentage: 20.18%
Theo Riddick is coming off of a disappointing, injury-plagued 2016 season. In 10 games, primarily as the Lions’ featured rusher — Ameer Abdullah missed all but two games last season with a foot injury — Riddick compiled 357 yards and a touchdown on 92 carries while adding 52 receptions for 357 yards and five scores as a receiver. However, with Abdullah returning, Riddick could retreat to his role as the Lions’ primary receiver out of the backfield, which better-fits his skill set.
In their last matchup, the Lions were blown out by the Cardinals 42-17 at home back in 2015. Facing a defense similar to the current Cardinals’ unit, Riddick impressed. He caught 10 targets for 53 yards and a touchdown that day, accumulating 11.3 fantasy points in standard formats. Since the Cardinals are expected to bounce back this year, Sunday’s matchup could get out of hand early, or even turn into a shoot out if both offenses are firing on all cylinders. Riddick could be started with confidence in PPR scoring formats.
Wide Receiver Sleepers
MFL Start-Percentage: 41.56%
Perhaps the most perplexing player regressions amongst the fantasy experts in the industry this offseason for me is Rishard Matthews. Despite finishing the 2016 season ranked 14th in fantasy scoring at his position with 146.5 points, he maintained a 10th round ADP in August, likely because the Titans added Corey Davis and Eric Decker to their wide receiver depth chart this offseason. However, of the trio, only Matthews played on the team last year and already has the trust of Marcus Mariota.
Entering Week 1’s matchup against the Oakland Raiders, Davis is nursing a hamstring injury, which sidelined him for most of the preseason and training camp. Although he is not expected to be on a snap count, he also may not be heavily involved in the gameplan, which bodes well for Matthews’ target-share. Only Decker and Delanie Walker should contest Matthews for ample targets. Moreover, Oakland’s defense finished last season ranked 14th in fantasy production allowed to WRs surrendering 23.5 FPPG — they allowed the ninth-most yards passing and 10th-most touchdowns passing in 2016. In what could be a high-scoring affair, Matthews is a solid WR3/ Flex start in Week 1.
MFL Start-Percentage: 59.95%
Brandon Marshall signed with the New York Giants this offseason to compliment Odell Beckham. Formerly a fantasy WR1, Marshall’s stock has dropped after a dreadful 2016 campaign with the Jets which was plagued by small, nagging injuries and inconsistent play on the field. However, the onus for Marshall’s subpar season shouldn’t fall solely on the veteran wideout’s shoulders, poor quarterback play from Ryan Fitzpatrick certainly didn’t help his cause. With the Giants, Marshall will be paired with, who perhaps may be the best signal caller he’s ever played with in his 11-year career, Eli Manning. With an elite receiver on the other side and a potential future Hall of Fame signal caller under center, Marshall is poised for a bounce-back year.
In Week 1, Marshall has an outstanding matchup on Sunday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys. The Dallas secondary was the handicap of their defense last year, and because they lost three starters from the unit in free agency this offseason, it will once again be their defensive impairment in 2017. With Anthony Brown, Nolan Carroll and Orlando Scandrick slated as starters at cornerback for Dallas, Marshall could be in line for a huge debut game with his new club, especially if Beckham, who is nursing an ankle injury, is limited or ruled out for the matchup. The Cowboys’ secondary could be toast in the season opener if the Giants’ passing game comes out aggressive and firing. I’d feel comfortable starting Marshall over T.Y. Hilton as he struggles without Andrew Luck in the lineup.
Tight End Sleepers
MFL Start-Percentage: 50.77%
Although Jason Witten is regarded as one of the most productive tight ends of all-time, he is not getting any younger. Entering his 15th year as a pro, the 35-year-old has regressed over the years from a fantasy perspective. Once one of the top TEs off the board, he’s fallen into the double digit rounds of fantasy drafts and is even going undrafted. However, he still holds a ton of fantasy value, especially in PPR scoring formats. Although the touchdown production isn’t there, he’s caught at least 64 targets for 673 yards in each of the past three seasons. Adding in his 11 total TDs in that time span, and that’s quality TE2 numbers.
In Sunday night’s matchup, Witten is facing the NFC East division-rival Giants. A team that he’s chewed up and spit out throughout his career. In 29 games versus New York, Witten’s accumulated a 153-1,570-13 stat line while averaging 10.26 YPC. Tight end is also a position of weakness for the Giants’ defense in recent memory. In 2016, they finished the year ranked 13th in fantasy points surrendered to TEs, allowing 7.6 FPPG to the position. Furthermore, against a very similar Giants’ defense, Witten caught nine targets for 66 yards in last year’s season opener, which also fell on a Sunday night. Witten should be started with confidence in a game that Dak Prescott could be on the run if the Giants’ fierce pass rush wins enough battles at the line of scrimmage. In that scenario, Prescott could be forced to check down to Witten on short and intermediate routes, which could result in a strong PPR performance.
MFL Start-Percentage: 42.06 %
Charles Clay is entering a favorable matchup against the Jets in the season opener. Not only was New York overly-welcoming to opposing TEs last season — they allowed 9.2 FPPG to the position in 2016 — but the Bills lack offensive weapons. Buffalo moved on from both Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods this offseason, and despite the additions of Zay Jones and Jordan Matthews, the Bills are desperate for pass-catchers, especially in the red zone. Not only is Clay’s opportunity-share expected to rise, but he is coming into 2017 hot. In the final four games of 2016, Clay accumulated 21 receptions for 229 yards and four TDs. He was fantasy’s TE3 in that time span. Facing a Jets defense that will likely regress from a dismal 2016 campaign, Clay could flourish in Week 1.
Two Deep Sleepers If You’re Desperate
MFL Start-Percentage: 22.86%
Since losing Cameron Meredith for the year to a gruesome knee injury in the preseason, the Bears are depleted at wide receiver. They also cut ties with Victor Cruz during final roster cuts. Let’s face it, if Cruz couldn’t make this club, how much does he really have left?
Entering Sunday’s matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, the Bears are fully expected to get blown out. As a result, Mike Glennon will likely be dropping back to pass a lot, which is great for Wright’s fantasy outlook (yes, he actually has one). With Kevin White listed as the Bears’ WR1, Wright is at the WR2 spot. He is expected to line up primarily in the slot. Since White has issues staying on the field, Wright could very well lead the Bears in targets this week and could get a lucky trip to the end zone in garbage time by default. He is a desperation deep league start for Week 1.
MFL Start-Percentage: 13.61%
The Washington Redskins are hosting the Philadelphia Eagles, a team finished the 2016 season ranked 20th in fantasy points allowed to opposing RBs, surrendering 16.7 FPPG. In their last matchup, Chris Thompson only received three carries for 38 yards rushing, but he converted one of those attempts into a touchdown. Slated as the Redskins’ RB2/ primary receiver out of the backfield, Thompson is not expected to see enough opportunities to garner a serious look from fantasy owners. However, in a tough spot, Thompson could be inserted into the Flex spot in deeper league PPR formats.
Thank you for reading about my sleepers for Week 1. I hope you enjoyed it! Want more? Mike Hauff and I debate fantasy football news, notes and yes, sleepers, on our show, the Faceoff, a Gridiron Experts podcast. Check it out.
Oh, and before I forget, we will answer your questions on our show! All you have to do is Tweet us with your question @FFfaceoff.