"Man, I really do miss preseason football."
— no person who has ever witnessed preseason football
Tonight, finally, the real season gets underway with Green Bay visiting Seattle, the NFL's toughest road environment. This means your fantasy season is now officially happening. When you wake up on Friday, points will be on the board.
Every Thursday, we'll identify one or two widely available players from the week's first game who have a legit chance to make a fantasy splash. But if a player is owned in more than, say, 35 percent of Yahoo leagues, he won't be eligible for discussion here.
Understand the ground rules? Great.
Realistically, this season's Thursday opener probably won't be an all-you-can-eat fantasy smorgasbord. We're not going to get a repeat of last year's Denver-Baltimore ridiculousness. Seattle's defense, as you might have heard, ain't bad. This might not be the best week to lean on Packers skill players. (For details, check the Week 1 ranks.)
Also, while we're being realistic, there can't be many of you who are desperate to find opening week starters in your league's free agent pool. I get it. I don't necessarily expect many within the Yahoo fantasy community to jump on the guys we're highlighting below. Just keep 'em in mind as players of interest, potential adds for future use. When we reach the bye weeks, you'll begin to appreciate these fliers. For now, let's just celebrate the return of the NFL to our fantasy lives.
WR Doug Baldwin, Seattle (28 percent owned) – Baldwin delivered a 50-catch, 778-yard season in 2013, and he's now ticketed for a greater weekly role. Remember, Golden Tate relocated to Detroit and Sidney Rice retired, leaving Baldwin well-positioned for an uptick in usage and fantasy value. Obviously the Seahawks are a run-first team, but they're not a run-only team. On Thursday, Baldwin will face a Green Bay defense that allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers last season, and the fourth-most touchdown receptions (19). Seattle's varsity offense has been at least as dominant as the D throughout the preseason — Russell Wilson went 33-for-42 with 437 yards and three TDs — so it's reasonable to expect a fantasy-friendly regular season debut.
If Wilson is allowed to put the ball in the air with greater frequency this year, Baldwin and this next dude will prove useful...
WR Jermaine Kearse, Seattle (4 percent owned) – Kearse was a preferred end-of-draft pick for me, so I may have more shares of this player than might seem reasonable. But he was a primary red-zone weapon for the Seahawks last year (10 RZ targets), despite having only a supporting role in the passing game (38 total targets). During the playoffs, in the biggest games of Seattle's season, Kearse surged. He caught two balls for 44 yards and a go-ahead score against the Niners in the NFC title game, then four for 65 and another TD against Denver in the Super Bowl. He's a player on the rise, plus he has a 3-inch height edge on Baldwin and Percy Harvin. Kearse is a strong candidate to lead his team in receiving scores this season. If he makes noise against the Packers, he'll get plenty of waiver attention in Week 2.