As we head into the kickoff weekend of the 2016 NFL season, here are 12 players to give extra consideration to when filling out your lineups – six that are looking better than usual, and a half dozen that are looking worse:
QB – Derek Carr, Oak ($33) – While Oakland desires to be a run-heavy club, you have to toss that notion out the window this week as the matchup at New Orleans (with an O/U line of right around 50 points) forces us to contemplate the enticing aerial opportunity presented to Carr. Last season, the Saints defense shattered NFL records (in a bad way) for TD passes allowed (45) and QB Rating allowed (116.2). And while there is optimism that the Saints will be better in pass defense this season, they have a long ways to go to get from gawd awful to even below average. Roll with Carr in a game with shootout potential.
RB – Ryan Mathews, Phi ($19) – Claiming that Mathews fill be facing the NFL’s worst front seven in the Cleveland Browns is unlikely to illicit much argument. The Browns are loaded with inexperience on defense after cutting loose a few veterans from a defense last season that allowed the fourth-most rushing yards to the RB position. We should expect that Mathews will give way to backup RB Darren Sproles a fair amount in this contest, but Mathews is the clear lead back and should see at least 15-20 touches. In this matchup, that could put him in the neighborhood of RB1 numbers.
RB – James White, NE ($10) – White is a fantastic value in DFS and a must-play in PPR leagues, as he heads to Arizona in Week 1. With Rob Gronkowski out, White stands to hoard targets from QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who has just 31 career passes under his belt. Expect Garoppolo to seek out White often as a pressure release valve in the passing game against an attacking, blitz-heavy Cards’ defense. White is a good bet to finish with six-plus catches, and any carries he handles will be gravy.
WR – Marvin Jones, Det ($17) – Out of A.J. Green’s shadow and into a prominent role in a pass-heavy Detroit offense, Jones could splash out of the gates against an Indy secondary that will be without top corner Vontae Davis. His absence forced the Colts to turn to 32-year-old veteran corner Antonio Cromartie, who graded out as one of the worst CBs in the league last season. With former Charger Patrick Robinson expected to start along side Cro’, don’t be surprised if Detroit looks to attack the Colts’ new corners. And, with his size and ability to win jump ball opportunities, Jones is expected to have a highlighted in the red zone.
WR – Phillip Dorsett, Ind ($10) – The price is nice for Dorsett, who is expected to see a bump in his playing time in Year 2 as Indy employs more three-receiver sets. Facing the Lions in Week 1 would present some opportunities for Dorsett to show off his speed and down-field talent as the Lions have just one reputable corner (Darius Slay), and he’s likely to be harassing either Donte Moncrief or T.Y. Hilton in this contest. Dorsett should see some deep shots and I expect him to cash in on at least one or two of them.
TE – Jesse James, Pit ($10) – At 6-foot-7, James is going to stand out in the crowd of aerial options that Ben Roethlisberger will have to work with in Week 1 against Washington, especially in the red zone. And with WR Markus Wheaton (shoulder) a likely Week 1 scratch, James could also play a more prominent role between te 20s against a Redskins defense that allowed the ninth-most TE catches and eighth-most TE receiving yards last season.
QB – Philip Rivers, SD ($30) – It’s hard to ignore Rivers’ recent history against the Chiefs, in which he’s failed to reach 10 fantasy points (Y! Default scoring) in any of his previous three meetings. The Chiefs’ defense produced the second-lowest QB Rating allowed last season and Kansas City is one of the most imposing venues for opposing teams, not an ideal setup for Rivers’ first game. Avoid him if you have another reasonable option at your disposal.
RB – Jeremy Hill, Cin ($18) – I like Hill for the ’16 long haul, believing he was one of the top bargains in drafts, but I wouldn’t count on him getting out to a fast start in the Big Apple. He’ll face a Jets defense that allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to running backs in ’15 and, most notably, held opposing RBs to a total of just two rushing touchdowns. That doesn’t bode well for an RB that has a big chunk of his fantasy value tied into his goal line prowess.
RB – DeMarco Murray, Min ($21) – I’m a big believer in what Mike Zimmer is doing with his defense in Minnesota. The Vikings have been my top defense to target in fantasy drafts, as I think they have as much upside as any team on that side of the ball. Murray draws the Purple People Eaters this week, and I suspect tat he’d have trouble with DT Linval Joseph and company even with a full workload. But we know that rookie Derrick Henry should have a meaningful role in the Titans’ backfield, making for an even lower ceiling for Murray.
WR – Julian Edelman, NE ($24) – The oft-injured Edleman didn’t get much in-game work with Pats fill-in starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo this preseason. That’s less than ideal as New England opens in Arizona in Week 1, against the inhospitable Cards’ defense. And that Rob Gronkowski (hamstring) is sitting on Sunday night likely means Edelman is going to be even more of the focus of attention from the likes of stud DBs Patrick Peterson and Tyron Mathieu, one of the best in slot coverage defense. Edelman might end up with a passable line in PPR formats, but in standard formats, a line of something like six catches for 55-60 yards and no touchdowns won’t do much to move the needle.
WR – Jordan Matthews, Phi ($21) – A matchup against Cleveland’s inexperienced defense certainly isn’t daunting, but having to go it with rookie QB Carson Wentz certainly makes it problematic for Matthews. He needed about half the season in ’15 to finally get on the same page with Sam Bradford. So you have to have reservations about the Wentz pairing, given how erratic Wentz was in the little we saw him in live preseason action. I fully expect the Eagles offense to be the Mathews show, not the Matthews show, on Sunday.
TE – Antonio Gates, SD ($19) – I’m not high on QB Rivers (above), nor am I excited about the prospects of his TE, Gates, who faces a Chiefs defense that allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to the tight end position last season. And Gates, who is in the hunt for the all-time TE touchdown record this season, has found pay dirt in just one of his past nine trips to Arrowhead Stadium.