After an NFL offseason that featured far too much discussion about the air pressure of footballs, it’s finally time to play meaningful games again. That also means the weekly dance that comes with making out fantasy lineups is also underway.
Most fantasy owners will remain quite conventional for the opening week. They will go with the players they selected first during the draft and then start making adjustments for Week 2 and beyond. Injuries and matchups could create better options, though.
With that in mind, let’s check out the most promising options at each of the vital skill positions for Week 1. That’s followed by some sleepers capable of filling any early voids in a starting lineup.
Best Options at Skill Positions
QB: Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo Bills)
Whether Taylor can showcase the necessary consistency to help the Bills reach the playoffs for the first time in 16 years is certainly up for debate. That said, from a fantasy perspective, he was always the most intriguing option in Buffalo’s quarterback battle.
His rushing ability alone makes him fantasy-relevant. Add to that a powerful arm and group of weapons that includes LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin, Robert Woods and Charles Clay, and there’s no shortage of sleeper appeal. SiriusXM NFL notes former NFL QB Trent Dilfer is a believer:
The Bills won’t lean heavily on their new quarterback. They want to establish a ground-and-pound mentality with McCoy and their top-tier defense. But that will only take them so far against a dynamic Indianapolis Colts offense that ranked third in yards per game last year and could still improve.
Even with Buffalo’s strong defense, it’s probably going to take at least 24 points to win the game. That means ample opportunities for Taylor, both through the air and on the ground, to put up low-end No. 1 fantasy quarterback numbers to start the campaign.
RB: Isaiah Crowell (Cleveland Browns)
Crowell has a chance to solidify himself as the Browns starting running back in Week 1. Duke Johnson is cleared to practice after passing concussion protocol, but he’s missed a lot of time during training camp and the preseason due to injuries, which also included a hamstring problem.
Over time, Johnson is going to pose a problem for Crowell‘s fantasy owners because the week-to-week production will probably vary widely as the team rides the hot hand. But the Alabama State product should get most of the work against the New York Jets while the rookie works back into game shape.
Crowell never received more than 17 carries in a game last season. There’s a good chance he’ll approach 20 in a game that’s likely to feature plenty of carries with neither team featuring a quarterback capable of carrying the offensive burden.
In addition, Crowell should get a majority of the looks when the Browns are in the red zone as the more powerful of the two rushers. So, while the long-term outlook is a bit murky, he should provide plenty of bang for the buck in Week 1.
WR: Stevie Johnson (San Diego Chargers)
Johnson isn’t the type of receiver who’s going to generate much fantasy buzz. He’s not a burner who’s going to beat teams over the top regularly for big plays. But he carries sneaky value as a possession target while Antonio Gates is sidelined four games due to a suspension.
What the former Bills wideout lacks in speed, he makes up for with quick feet and some of the best route-running ability in the league. That should earn him a lot of looks over the middle from Philip Rivers.
The Chargers open the season against another high-powered offense from the Detroit Lions. It opens the door for a high-scoring affair with Rivers and Matthew Stafford and the Chargers quarterback stated last month that he’s been impressed with the team’s new receiver, per Jay Paris of the Associated Press.
“Stevie is off to a heck of a start,” Rivers said. “If there is one guy I would say I am most excited about I would probably single him out. The plays he’s made and we’ve already had a handful of trust-building plays and confidence-building plays between the two of us. It gets me excited that he can become a huge part of our success this year.”
Like Crowell, Johnson isn’t the type of player that’s going to become a must-start asset, barring injuries elsewhere on the roster. But when the matchup is good, he’s worth a look, especially during the times there are extra targets available without Gates.
TE: Kyle Rudolph (Minnesota Vikings)
Rudolph became a popular fantasy target after scoring nine touchdowns in 2012. In the two years that followed, however, he’s played just 17 combined games and scored only five touchdowns. Now he moves into the post-hype sleeper category.
He heads into the new season healthy and the Vikings are going to need him over the middle. They have a lot of speedy deep threats on the roster, led by Charles Johnson and Mike Wallace, but Teddy Bridgewater needs a safe checkdown option to emerge.
Rudolph can certainly fill that role if he can stay on the field. He’ll be out there for Week 1 as Minnesota takes on a San Francisco 49ers defense that lost several key defensive contributors during the offseason, which opens the door for a big Week 1.
Looking ahead, if he does shine in the opener and fantasy owners aren’t convinced he’ll be able to stay healthy, he could carry nice value as a trade option. Tight end is remarkably weak this season, so it would be hard to blame anybody for selling high on Rudolph if the opportunity arises.
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