Initial reaction to the Week 1 fantasy rankings
Our Week 1 fantasy rankings are hot off the press, and my task each week is to react to what stands out. Thanks to Mike Tagliere, who apparently doesn’t believe in blending with the crowd, I should have plenty to dissect each week.
In all seriousness, while some of Mike’s Week 1 rankings may at first glance appear extreme in relation to the consensus, it takes conviction to put oneself out there and stand out from the crowd. But he also puts tons of research behind his opinions, as anyone who reads his work knows well. If nothing else, it will make my job all the more interesting to see things through his lens, and each of our rankers. Let’s get right to it.
Cam Newton: QB8 (CAR @ DEN) – Brandon Marianne Lee (QB13), Mike Tagliere (QB3)
The most polarizing name among quarterbacks is that of reigning fantasy points leader Cam Newton. While Tagliere has him as high as No. 3, some on our staff feel that Newton is primed for regression in 2016 given the difficulty of sustaining his PFF-era record of 0.73 fantasy points per dropback. Brandon has been among those balking at his early-round ADP. I asked Brandon about her Week 1 ranking, and she noted that opposing QBs last year averaged a league-low 221.5 passing yards per game against the Broncos, and not one quarterback scored a rushing TD on fantasy’s top defense in 2015.
Those are certainly valid reasons to temper expectations for Newton this week. Then again, the Broncos were actually the No. 12 fantasy defense from Week 9 on, and if you remove their 23-point outburst against San Diego in Week 13, they ranked 18th over that eight-week span. Denver also parted ways with Malik Jackson (Jaguars) and Danny Trevathan (Bears) this offseason. Meanwhile, Newton is coming off a 45-touchdown campaign, including 10 on the ground, and that was without Kelvin Benjamin. With a chip on his shoulder going up against the team that beat him in the Super Bowl, I like Newton right about where he’s listed in our consensus Week 1 ranking as the QB8.
Derek Carr: QB5 (OAK @ N.O.), Matthew Stafford: QB6 (DET @ IND), Tyrod Taylor: QB9 (BUF @ BAL)
All three of these quarterbacks are on the road this week, and yet all three are top-10 options. These were also the very three names I listed in my Week 1 QB Streamers piece earlier this week, so it’s no surprise that I’m in agreement.
Frank Gore: RB19 (IND vs. DET) – Brandon Marianne Lee (RB30), Mike Tagliere (RB7)
Our weekly projections have Frank Gore as a tail-end RB2. The oldest running back in the league at age 33, Gore was on Jeff Ratcliffe’s Do Not Draft list, and the drafting public has largely shared that view. Yet in Week 1, Tagliere has Gore inside the top-10 RBs against a Lions defense that was right at league average in fantasy points yielded to opposing running backs in 2015 (18th). When you consider that Gore made it through a full 16-game slate last season and finished as the No. 11 fantasy RB, Tagliere’s projection is certainly not far-fetched. After all, it’s not like the Colts have anyone else pushing for his job, so his number will be called on running down-and-distances.
Brandon weighed in on why she’s so low on Gore, noting concerns over the offensive line, plus a defense that lost Jerrell Freeman to free agency and is without Vontae Davis (ankle) until October. Brandon is expecting a shootout (so is Las Vegas, setting the over/under at 50.5), which is what I noted in listing Stafford as an attractive Week 1 QB streaming option. That sort of game script doesn’t favor a heavy workload for Gore, who has posted a negative receiving grade in six straight seasons and averaged a mere 0.91 yards per route run as a receiver in 2015. I’m avoiding Gore in all formats this week, and most weeks for that matter.
DeAngelo Williams: RB6 (PIT @ WAS) – Ross Miles (RB11), Pat Thorman (RB12), Tagliere (RB1)
For those who rostered DeAngelo Williams in season-long formats, you did so to start him during the first three weeks while Le’Veon Bell serves his suspension. I did, too, and like Tagliere, I like his chances to finish as a top-five RB in the opener against a defensive front-seven ranked 27th by our analysts. Don’t forget, Williams was the top overall fantasy RB during the 10 games Bell was shelved last season.
Spencer Ware: RB10 (KC vs. SD) – Miles (RB16), Thorman (RB18), Tagliere (RB6)
This one hinges mostly on the expectation that Jamaal Charles won’t see much, if any, work in Week 1. Assuming that is the case, I’m happy to dial up Spencer Ware as an RB1 in all formats against a Chargers defense that was 27th in fantasy points to opposing RBs last season and is our 30th-ranked front-seven entering 2016. Ware averaged 5.6 YPC in 2015 and found the end zone once every 12 carries, as his ridiculous average of 0.65 fantasy points per opportunity was tops among all RBs with at least seven carries.
Ezekiel Elliott: RB5 (DAL vs. NYG) – Tagliere (RB10), Ratcliffe (RB2)
It’s rare for a rookie running back to come off fantasy draft boards in the first round before ever seeing a real pro snap. Elliott’s preseason action consisted of only seven carries, which came in an every-down role against Seattle’s first-team defense and produced 48 yards on Dallas’ first two possessions. That he did this despite barely breaking a sweat after spending that afternoon touring a marijuana dispensary a mere hours before his first NFL preseason action, speaks to just how dominant Elliott can be behind a Cowboys O-line that has been our top-graded unit each of the last two seasons. The injury to Tony Romo will favor a rushing game script, so while I am expecting RB1 production right out of the gate from Elliott, I’m not quite as bullish as Jeff Ratcliffe.
Julio Jones: WR1 (ATL vs. TB)
Perusing our staff’s consensus top-12 ranked receivers, what immediately stands out to me is how the NFL has not only become a passing league, but it’s become quite the young man’s game for elite WRs. Half of the top-12 WRs are age 24 or younger, while others like A.J. Green (28), Antonio Brown (28) and Julio Jones (27) are smack dab in the prime of their careers. Jones is actually our top-ranked WR going up against Tampa Bay’s suspect secondary in Week 1. Ross made the case for Jones to finish as the No. 1 WR this time last year, while more recently, Mike made the argument for Jones to be the top overall fantasy pick in 2016 drafts. I personally favor Jones over Odell Beckham Jr., and because Antonio Brown has to face Josh Norman in Washington this week, I’m on board with Jones as the No. 1 WR in Week 1.
Demaryius Thomas: WR20 (DEN vs. CAR) – Ratcliffe (WR29), Tagliere (WR9)
Josh Norman is no longer on the Panthers, and although Thursday night games tend to be ugly on the offensive side of the ball in a short week, Denver has had months to put together a plan of attack for this one. Still, with Trevor Siemian getting slated for his first-ever NFL game action, I’ll buy the downward trending Thomas as a top-10 WR only after I see it.
T.Y. Hilton: WR16 (IND vs. DET)
As discussed above for Frank Gore, the game script for this one looks to be pass-heavy, making T.Y. Hilton a fine WR2 this week. Five of our rankers have him exactly at No. 16, and I’ll give you one guess who was the (slight) outlier at No. 18…
Tyler Kroft: TE13 (CIN @ NYJ)
Not much debate with the top-12 tight ends for Week 1, as I’m in agreement with all 12. One interesting name, particularly in daily formats, is Tyler Kroft as a fringe TE1. Kroft has a few weeks to make a name for himself while Tyler Eifert recovers from his ankle injury. Frankly, I’d be lying if I said I had any expectations for Kroft — who only recently returned from a sprained knee suffered in early August — against a Jets defense that was stingy defending tight ends last season.