As we open the season, all of our NFL teams have the same goal— to play in Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Arizona on February 1. Our fantasy teams have the same goal— to play in our respective league’s Super Bowl whatever week (usually 16) that it falls on. For some of you, getting there will be difficult if not impossible. Others will find the road to be easy, and cruise through the season. For me, I fall in the latter when it comes to getting to the Super Bowl. That’s mainly because I live about 40 minutes north of University of Phoenix Stadium. Getting to the Super Bowl is easy for me, even if traffic sucks.
That’s what I’m here for. To help you navigate the journey from your starting point to your league’s Super Bowl. We’ll help you avoid the roadblocks of poor play, the detours of bye weeks, and the potholes of injuries. That said, let’s turn the key on the season and start giving some recommendations for players who can be picked up now to help you out in the long term.
Percentages are given as availability in NFL, ESPN and Yahoo leagues, respectively.
You might be in the market for a quarterback now if you have the banged-up Cam Newton (ribs) but more likely than not you want to get a leg up on the competition. Here’s who we would take for this week to help at this position.
Palmer is widely available and it’s surprising he isn’t picked up more often. Palmer is the only quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards with three different teams. He may need to throw for more than that to keep Arizona in some of its games. The risk you take with Palmer is his problem with interceptions. He was miserable with them in the first half of 2013. The light bulb came on about Week 8 and Arizona went to a shorter passing game with better success. It was how they won seven of their last nine last season to make a run at the playoffs.
Picking up Jared Veldheer at left tackle in the offseason should help with protection and running back Andre Ellington will probably bail out Palmer quite often if he finds himself under pressure.
For right now, I’d look at him as a bye-week fill in with his best matchups coming on Weeks 5-7 with Denver, Washington and Oakland on the menu then. Later in the season could be tougher with 5 NFC West games backloaded into the final seven weeks of the season.
Johnny Manziel—CLE (55,69, 53)
Manziel looks like a guy to stash away for now and wait until later in the season to unleash on your foes. The Cleveland offense sans Josh Gordon looks to be rather bleak right now. The top threat is tight end Jordan Cameron and I would expect to him to see plenty of double teams this season. No one really fears Miles Austin and his balky hamstrings. Ben Tate will take a punishing workload this season and the Browns look to try and win 10-7 games this season. He very well could vulture some rushing touchdowns once he gets in the game and that adds to his value.
Manziel is a guy that you’ll want to hang on to for now and save for later. Look for him to step in to the starter’s role in Week 5 if Brian Hoyer is ineffective. Manziel would open with Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Oakland coming out of the Cleveland bye week. It could be promising so get him sooner rather than later. He can take carries away from Tate and the running backs.
Going Deeper: Derek Carr (more than 95% on all) was named the starting quarterback for Oakland late yesterday, but you’d have to be really desperate to even think of rostering him in anything but the deepest 2-QB leagues. Shaun Hill (more than 98% on all) is going to get his chances with Sam Bradford already done for the season. While he has a favorable Week 1 matchup against Minnesota, it is worth mentioning he has a game Week 3 against Dallas which could mean something if a key starter goes down early in the season.
Ahmad Bradshaw—IND (93, 80, 76)
We saw Trent Richardson have a great 2012 then turn into a colossal turd in 2013 for not one, but two, teams. Bradshaw is a guy we like for now to add depth to your running back situation for the longer haul. Besides his wide availability, here’s what else we like.
If (when) T-Rich starts to run like T-Pain, Bradshaw will be counted on to tote the rock. The Colts play in a weak division and should be running the ball, especially in the second half of games to maintain leads. Bradshaw should be more reliable than Richardson this season and could play his way back into the lead back spot. Vick Ballard (torn Achilles) and Dan Herron are the only other backs on the roster. If Bradshaw stays healthy and Richardson falters he could be a nice addition to your roster.
Johnathan Grimes—HOU (99,96,92)
Grimes will compete with Alfred Blue for the job of backing up Arian Foster. Foster missed half of the season with an injury that required season-ending surgery. You never know if Foster is truly healthy or whether or not he can handle another year with a heavy workload. It has to be heavy since Houston doesn’t seem to have much on offense this season.
Remember that he had a solid game in the regular season finale for Houston in 2013 with 126 total yards of offense. He had 50 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and added 76 yards on three receptions. He could be Foster Light and might be able to produce good results if given more touches.
Grimes is the handcuff Foster owners should have this season. Head out to the wire now and grab him before someone else does. If Foster falters, you have a good running back on a miserable team which screams out fantasy gold.
Going Deeper: Latavius Murray (more than 95% on each) of Oakland bears consideration since Darren McFadden finds a way to get hurt every season and Maurice Jones-Drew isn’t the same running back we saw four years ago in Jacksonville. At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds and a 4.38 40-yard dash, he just needs a chance to get on the field. With Carr under center, we know Oakland should be relying more on the run in 2014. Ka’Deem Carey of Chicago (more than 99% on each) looks like he could be the top backup to Matt Forte for the Bears. I’ve seen him play for the University of Arizona and even farther back at Canyon Del Oro HS in Tucson and he has been a stellar running back. Carey could bowl through defenders and threaten out of the backfield as well. Carey is a person to put a flag on now if you own Forte and the unthinkable happens. He should be a more natural fit to replace Forte instead of Shaun Draughn.
Cody Latimer in Denver (99,99,92) is listed fourth on the Broncos depth chart. Latime looks to be a piece of the Denver offense you can own for cheap right now and that value will go up if Wes Welker misses time with a concussion. It was no secret that the Broncos liked lining up in four-receiver sets last season. Latimer should be the fourth one and could give you a good replacement if you rolled the dice on Gordon and lost.
John Brown of Arizona (95,94,92) has been the hit of training camp for the Cardinals. The third-round pick from tiny Pittsburg State in Kansas has been wowing people with his speed, quickness and ability to run routes. He sets up nicely to be the slot receiver in three wide-out sets with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd so he should get some looks. Palmer is going to pass a lot this season and Brown will certainly get his share of the action.
Going Deeper: Malcom Floyd of the Chargers (94,94,90) has made it all the way back from a scary, career-threatening neck injury. Reports out of San Diego say he’s willing to go over the middle for passes which is a good sign that he’s ready to go. It takes some pressure off Keenan Allen in the San Diego offense. Jordan Matthews of the Eagles (84,91,68) is only a rookie but he should be ready to go as the starting slot receiver in Philadelphia with Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper on the outside. CBS projected him to have about 50 catches, 750 yards and five touchdowns this season which are solid number for a rookie wide out. He should make a good depth addition to your team and his Week 12 bye lets you get some help through rough weeks.
Ladarius Green of San Diego (74,72,28) is a nice pick up with some serious upside. Antonio Gates is on the way down in his career arc and Green is his heir apparent. Green also has the benefit of a first-week matchup with Arizona who was hammered by tight ends last season. And that was with Karlos Dansby, Daryl Washington and Darnell Dockett. This could be the matchup to stream each week again this season and Green is the start of it.
Travis Kelce of the Chiefs (95,92,79) has been one of the surprise stories of the preseason. He led the Chiefs this preseason with 193 yards and two touchdowns on 11 catches. Alex Smith can’t always check down to Jamaal Charles and Sean McGrath got similar good production in this role last season. The Chiefs don’t have much at wide receiver after Dwayne Bowe so Kelce should see plenty of action.
Going Deeper: Levine Toilolo of Atlanta (98,99,99) is an interesting option at the tight end position. Tony Gonzalez retired and is now working in the broadcast booth for CBS . Toilolo is the next man up for the role and has a solid chance to contribute in the Falcons offense. Having a healthy Julio Jones helps the Falcons and if Steven Jackson can get back to being on his feet, Toilolo could be the forgotten man by defenses.
Rookie Chandler Catonzaro of Arizona beat out 13-year veteran Jay Feely for the gig with the Cardinals. Arizona should move the ball up and down the field this season but when drives stall the Cat Man will get the call. He has the leg to be effective in fantasy and has flown under the radar the entire preseason.
Ryan Succop of wherever he lands. Succop was surprisingly cut by the Chiefs and has been linked to the Titans. Tennessee let Rob Bironas walk and wasn’t satisfied with either of its young kickers they had on the roster. Succop can get the job done and the Titans have a good chance of moving forward a little bit on offense before stalling out.
Going Deeper: Feely has the chops to play in the NFL but has some issue with missed field goals at big moments. While his fantasy team is called the Unemployed Kickers, he may not be one for much longer and could be a veteran fill in. The other choice here is whomever the Saints take as their kicker. They cut both Derek Dimke and Shayne Graham. New Orleans will pile up the points and someone has to kick extra points. They can’t go for two every time, could they?
Defense & Special Teams
Philadelphia’s DST (86,90,88) has a nice matchup against a young Jacksonville team and makes a nice streaming play for this week. Others we like are the Jets DST against Oakland and Oakland DST against the Jets. It has an over/under betting line of 39.5 which is one of the lowest ones this week.
In closing, this is the week where you don’t want to burn a high waiver wire priority (top 3) unless someone makes a huge mistake. You’ll want to save it for another week in season when something happens and you need to make a move. If you’re on the higher end of the priority (8 or above), then feel free to make moves since it won’t really impact your standings.
I’ll answer comments later in the evening on Tuesday since I am out west and work full-time days. I can also be found on Twitter @AndrewNordmeier and can sometimes get to that quicker than the comments on here. I don’t want to leave people hanging, you know. I can pull out my iPhone and tweet on lunch but I can’t get into the site to answer questions during the day. It’s the downside of working in a legal department.