Are You Ready for Some Fantasy Football?
By Alessandro Miglio and Eric Edholm
Welcome to Fantasy Island, a column we'll be bringing you each Thursday throughout the fantasy season. You can find positional rankings anywhere, but we're aiming to do something different here. Using Andy Benoit’s Deep Dive prowess and real-life X's and O's insight, we'll be bringing you some bold sits and starts for your teams. Name power in the NFL is great, but matchups are won on the field, and sometimes you have to let go of the name and popular opinion and read between the sidelines if you want to outsmart your opponent.
In addition, we'll be going head-to-head drafting a new fantasy team every week, based on that week's matchups, keeping score each week with a running win-loss tally. We’re doing this survivor style, meaning once we pick a player he is unavailable to that team for the rest of the season. It should make for some interesting late-season drama. But we want you to get involved, too. Put together your own team each week by submitting it to @TheMMQB, and we'll give a shoutout to anyone whose team outscores ours! More info on roster breakdowns and scoring are on the next page. You can also follow us both (Alessandro and Eric) on Twitter.
Now, for Week 1's starts and sits.
Start: Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
He wasn’t drafted as a starter in most formats, but Michael Vick should be in your lineups this week. Yes, he has set fire to your fantasy lineups in the past, much like Jesse Pinkman almost did to Walter White’s house, but that’s all in the past. Like White with Pinkman, give Vick one more chance to shine for your team.
Benoit Says: “The main aspect of Kelly’s offense is its fast-break tempo. This also plays well to Vick’s attributes. The 11th-year veteran has always struggled with the cerebral aspects of football—things like making presnap reads or recognizing postsnap coverage rotations. An up-tempo offense nullifies a lot of this. While a no-huddle may, on the surface, seem more complex, it’s actually simpler than regular football. When you play fast, there isn’t time for presnap adjustments, everything—including the defense—is inherently more basic."
A simple offense that allows Vick to do his thing without overthinking? Why didn’t fantasy owners snap him up? Especially since he'll be facing a defense that is, as Benoit notes, trying to improve its weak secondary and tepid pass rush from 2012.
Sit: Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
Vick’s nemesis this Monday night will be last year’s wunderkind, Robert Griffin III. The problem is he will be making his first game appearance since shredding his knee in last year's playoffs.
Griffin was held out of the entire preseason to protect his reconstructed knee. There has been some perceived in-fighting between him, Mike Shanahan and Dr. James Andrews about when Griffin should come back and how he should be utilized.
As good as Griffin can be from a fantasy perspective, it could be tough sledding for him against the Eagles. Not only will the Redskins be careful not to expose him to unnecessary hits—meaning he probably won’t be running the ball much—but he will have to shake off the rust rather quickly. He could pull an Adrian Peterson and have a huge game, but he seems rather risky for Week 1.
If you drafted Griffin, you probably drafted a decent second quarterback as insurance. That backup might be a better bet this week.
Sit: Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans
Start: Ben Tate, RB Houston Texans
Arian Foster spent the entire offseason getting hammered from a fantasy football perspective. The perennial stud has simply thrown up too many red flags between his declining averages and the increasing stress on his body. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry and 2.2 yards after contact per carry—both career lows—last season. He’s coming off a calf injury that kept him out of the entire preseason while his backup, Ben Tate, toted the ball at an impressive 5.7 yards-per-carry clip.
Foster will play this week, but how much has yet to be determined. Head coach Gary Kubiak says he won’t be a workhorse, given he is coming in without any preseason action. That means Tate could wind up with more touches against the lowly Chargers.
Benoit Says: "The young Chargers linebackers will be tested against a savvy, veteran offensive line."
Do you think Manti Te’o is up to the task after missing virtually the entire preseason with a foot injury? That is, if he can even go—Bront Bird might be starting if Te’o misses any more practice.
Reports of Foster’s demise might be greatly exaggerated, but Tate is a sneaky good Week 1 play if you are having trouble figuring out your flex.
Start: Chris Givens, WR, St. Louis Rams
Benoit Says: “How will the Rams use Tavon Austin? Not surprisingly, St. Louis played it close to the vest with the rookie in the preseason, sticking primarily with vanilla tactics. Don’t be surprised if they show an all-new spread system this Sunday, with Austin being the featured movable piece.”
The bigger question we have: How good will this be for Chris Givens? He already showed us his potential last season and during the preseason, and he could be Sam Bradford’s top target.
This isn't even accounting for the fact Givens lit up the Cardinals last season, and that was with the esteemed Ray Horton at defensive coordinator. Horton is gone, giving way to Todd Bowles, who took a terrible Philadelphia defense and turned it into a cesspool of despair last year.
Sit: Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers
Chances are Steve Smith isn’t your top wide receiver, even though he will probably put up some nice numbers in his old age. He is, however, a viable second or flex option most of the time. This week? Things might get tough.
Smith is going up against arguably the best cornerback in the league in Richard Sherman—apologies to Darrelle Revis, who should regain that spot once we see him back and fully healthy—and Cam Newton hasn’t been known for his superior passing abilities in the NFL. Unless you’re bereft of quality options at the receiver position, it might be best to sit Smith this week.
Week 1 Survivor Draft
Since we are doing this “survivor style,” I decided to get my injury risks in as early as possible before they’re lost for the year—hence why I chose guys like Darren McFadden and Hakeem Nicks. I’m not particularly high on McFadden in Week 1, but he should be the Raiders’ horse. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield, which is obviously a bonus in a PPR setup like this.
The Patriots defense is a nice option for this week, given they will be playing against rookie EJ Manuel, who is coming off knee surgery. As for my pick of New England’s Stevan Ridley on the offensive side, well, Andy Benoit puts it nicely for me:
"However they do it, expect the Patriots to unleash power runs against sub defenses, even if the runs come out of spread formations. Linebacker remains an iffy position for the Bills; their most talented player there is likely rookie Kiko Alonso, who practiced against plenty of up-tempo offense against Oregon but still has never seen anything like what the Patriots will show Sunday.”
Fantasy football is great. So are knockout pools. But ever try to connect them? Now that’s a mindbender.
Strategy is funky. You want to start good players, obviously, but the goal is to pick a player’s best week. Each week. Without ever using him again. Good luck to you.
My focus was threefold: Like Alex, to start injury-prone players who could get hurt later (Charles, Bush, Jackson, heh, even Vinatieri), take advantage of great defensive matchups (or, in the case of my fantasy defense, facing the Jets’ offense) and don’t go hog wild in Week 1. Meaning, I was definitely going to stash some high-end players for Weeks 2 through the end of the season.
My biggest hedge, honestly, was at QB. I was this close to picking Robert Griffin III, and I don’t want to tell you how long I considered Alex Smith (vs. the Jaguars) for. But that was just too cute for me. Ryan, steady and solid, can throw passes to his buddy Tony Gonzalez all Sunday—against a shredded Saints linebacker crew—all day, if he’d like. It’d be fine with me.