Last week, must-start players such as Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown exploded (nine catches, 133 yards and a score), as did must-start sleepers such as Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert (nine catches, 104 yards, two scores).
With a full week in the books, projections for daily lineups move away from sheer projection territory and further into a territory backed by performance. Here’s a look at the must-start players at each position.
Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints was the furthest thing from a must-start option in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals, a notion backed by his 30-of-48 line for 355 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
That changes in a big way this weekend, though, when Brees encounters the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—the team that allowed Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota to throw four touchdowns in his pro debut.
Free of a tough matchup and some first-game hiccups adjusting without Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, Brees is in for a major day.
Ditto for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. A date against the Seattle Seahawks sounds tough, but Rodgers just tossed three scores on 23 attempts in Chicago, and the Seahawks let Nick Foles throw for 297 yards and a score.
The contest goes down at Lambeau Field too.
Want a bankable sleeper? Try Minnesota Vikings sophomore Teddy Bridgewater. He next gets a Detroit Lions defense that allowed San Diego’s Philip Rivers to gain 404 yards and two scores.
Ditto for Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, who sits at an absurdly low number. Eifert helped boost Dalton to 269 yards and two scores against Oakland. Now, he returns home, and don’t forget he also has A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and host of others to lean on for production while sitting behind an offensive line that kept his jersey clean despite going against the combo of Aldon Smith and Khalil Mack last weekend.
Yes, the man called Beast Mode was rather tame in Week 1 with 73 yards on 18 totes, but most knew to avoid playing Marshawn Lynch against a stingy St. Louis Rams defense.
This week, the gloves come off when Lynch gets a shot at the Packers, a team Chicago back Matt Forte just shredded for 141 yards and a score on 24 carries with another five catches for 25 yards.
With Seattle looking to play solid defense through a ball-control offense, Lynch will easily triple his asking price for quality value.
Stick with the Bengals for success this year too. Jeremy Hill just put up 63 yards and two scores behind the aforementioned elite line and next goes against a San Diego unit that allowed a rookie to go off for 50 yards and a score on just seven carries.
Said rookie is Ameer Abdullah, perhaps the best sleeper of Week 2. The numbers impressed owners, but even more surprising was the fact that he had more touches than Joique Bell, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press:
Conventional wisdom suggests the Lions were easing Bell back into things after an injury, but given the results, owners can rest easy knowing the Lions won’t ignore such a talented, versatile back.
Chris Ivory of the New York Jets stands as another low-priced option sure to triple his value. He ran for 91 yards and two scores last week against Cleveland, dominating the early-down work before leaving the field in favor of Bilal Powell in passing situations.
Still, the price justifies the gamble, as Ivory is headed for a Monday Night Football encounter with Indianapolis. The Colts just allowed Buffalo rookie back Karlos Williams to gain 55 yards and a score on six carries, so Ivory will see plenty of space as the Jets also look to employ a ball-control style.
It’s time for owners to treat Houston Texans wideout DeAndre Hopkins as a WR1 in almost any situation.
The quarterback situation in Houston isn’t the prettiest, but Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett have a clear affinity for Nuk, who saw a team-high 13 targets this past weekend against Kansas City, bringing in nine of them for 98 yards and two scores.
Credit the roster changes to the newfound No. 1 in Houston, per Adam Levitan of Rotoworld:
Nuk looks borderline uncoverable going into a matchup with a shaky Carolina defense. Either way, he’s a high-volume worker to target, especially this week thanks to injuries and costly prices at the top.
One man worth investing in? The aforementioned Brown, also a high-target guy the Steelers will continue to force-feed. Brown has it even easier in Week 2 against San Francisco, as neither Kenneth Acker nor Tramaine Brock stands a chance at covering him well.
One favorite of preseason sleeper lists came to life over the weekend, and now there’s no excuse to exclude Jarvis Landry of Miami from lineups. Ryan Tannehill targeted him 12 times, and he caught eight for 53 yards.
It was a grind-it-out affair, so Landry made it up to owners by taking a punt back to the house. He’s a points-per-reception (PPR) monster and next gets to run wild against the miserable Jacksonville defense.
Donte Moncrief looks like an incredible cheap buy in Indianapolis too. He broke onto the scene last week with six grabs for 46 yards and a score while Andre Johnson bumbled around and T.Y. Hilton battled a knee bruise, which might linger.
Snap counts show plainly enough how things stack up, per Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus:
With Revis Island shutting down the other side of the field and Antonio Cromartie suffering from a sprained knee, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Moncrief is in for a major day.
Rob Gronkowski did what he usually does in Week 1, posting five catches for 94 yards and a whopping three scores. There isn’t much else to say—Gronkowski more often than not finds a way to pay his salary no matter the matchup.
Jimmy Graham was more of a question mark going into Week 1 thanks to his arrival in Seattle. Consider the question answered, though, as Graham came through with six grabs for 51 yards and a score.
At this price, owners cannot ignore Graham. His next opponent, Green Bay, just allowed Martellus Bennett to go for five grabs, 55 yards and a score before leaving in the third quarter.
It looks like Eifert will still be a value too. San Diego gave up a touchdown to Detroit tight end Eric Ebron last week and now has to travel across the country while accounting for Green and Hill, meaning Dalton’s favorite target is in for another big day.
Speaking of big days, it comes with the territory for most tight ends playing with a rookie gunslinger. This especially applies to Tampa Bay’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who bailed out Jameis Winston as much as he could in an ugly loss by way of five grabs for 110 yards and two scores.
ASJ’s first NFC South dance with Winston under center could be even better after the Saints struggled to contain Arizona’s Darren Fells (also a nice sleeper after four grabs for 82 yards and a score) last week.
As the old saying goes, play any defense encountering the Jacksonville offense.
Maybe that saying doesn’t exist, but it should. The Dolphins are one of the pricier options for Week 2, but it’s not hard to see why after the unit forced two interceptions last week and the Jaguars allowed five sacks of Blake Bortles while he threw two picks.
The Rams are another nice option, albeit a bit cheaper. The disruptive front helped keep Lynch in check and now gets to go against Washington, bringing things full circle.
Cheaper options to watch include the Texans thanks to a man by the name of J.J. Watt. Last week was a bit of a rough start, but the unit should get its mojo back against a Carolina offense that scored just 20 points and rushed for 3.0 yards per carry.
The Washington-St. Louis encounter looks like a hotbed of defensive value. Washington managed to hold Miami to 17 points and 74 rushing yards and grab three sacks, so a sluggish St. Louis offense might mean a strong scoring day for the unit.
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