Week 1 Fantasy Sleepers: Royce Freeman, John Ross to start off the season hot

Each week the Noise highlights under-started names who he believes are destined to torch the competition. To qualify, each player must be started in fewer than 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Speaking as an accountability advocate, I will post results, whether genius or moronic, the following week (Scoring thresholds – QB: 18 fpts, RB: 12 fpts, WR: 11 fpts: TE: 10 fpts; .5 PPR). If you’re a member of TEAM HUEVOS, reveal your Week 1 Flames in the comments section below.

Prescott will surprise against Panthers

Dak Prescott, Dal, QB (12 percent started; Yahoo DFS: $27)
Matchup: at Car
Vegas Line/Total: Car -2.5, 42.5

Dez Bryant, gone and unsigned. Jason Witten, retired and massacring the booth. Brice Butler, looking for work. The talent exodus in Big D prompted millions of fantasy owners to leave Prescott on waivers, even in 12-team leagues. Over 52 percent of the target share accumulated last year evaporated this past off-season. Michael Gallup, Allen Hurns and Cole Beasley, are tasked with picking up the slack.

It’s assumed Zeke Elliott will handle the rock some 30-plus times in what many perceive as a conservative offensive environment under offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Though likely the scenario, the fantasy masses may be shocked at how productive Prescott will be in the opener. Why? Carolina’s secondary is inferior, at least on paper. The Panthers pass D, projected to be the fourth-worst in the league by Pro Football Focus, appears vulnerable. CB Donte Jackson is a rookie and James Bradberry gave up the 11th-most yards per snap (1.82) among qualified corners. If Gallup, who made repeated splashy catches in August, carries momentum over and Allen Hurns/Cole Beasley rise to the occasion as possession targets, Dak should profit. Keep in mind Elliott will be more involved in the pass game and the QB’s rushing ability raises the floor. For the DFS crowd, he’s an excellent low-ownership target.

Fearless Forecast: 256 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 31 rushing yards, 21.3 fantasy points

Freeman ready to burst onto the scene

Royce Freeman, Den, RB (59 percent started; Yahoo DFS: $17)
Matchup: vs. Sea
Vegas Line/Total: Den -3, 42

Move over Phil. The Knight Library at the University of Oregon may soon receive a sizable donation, in hyperbolic prose. Over the past few months, this balding blabbermouth has penned thousands of words about the former Duck’s instant impact potential. At 6-feet, 235-pounds, Freeman is constructed impeccably to handle the rigors of every down work. He’s quick through the hole, earns appreciable yards after initial contact (4.0 YAC/att in Preseason), effortlessly evades tacklers in space (33.3 MT% in Preseason) and owns above average hands. His pass pro remains a work in progress, but compared to Devontae Booker, he’s the uncontested better talent.

Stubborn Vance Joseph finally came to his senses and announced Monday Freeman is his starter. Plugged in sources revealed to me late last week, the rookie is expected to tally at least 15 touches in the opener. In other words, at worst a 60-40 committee unfolds. If the case, he’s bound to pound the ‘Hawks. Seattle, no longer featuring Sheldon Richardson and Michael Bennett who combined for 47 stops according to Pro Football Focus last year, project as the eighth-worst run-mitigating line. Throw in Denver’s better-than-advertised line (No. 9 in run-blocking efficiency in ’17 per Football Outsiders) and improved pass game, and Freeman steals the show in the opener.

Fearless Forecast: 16 carries, 82 rushing yards, 2 receptions, 11 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 16.3 fantasy points

Denver Broncos running back Royce Freeman is set to make an impressive debut in Week 1.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Denver Broncos running back Royce Freeman is set to make an impressive debut in Week 1.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Burkhead to catch fire against Houston

Rex Burkhead, NE, RB (42 percent started; Yahoo DFS: $18)
Matchup: vs. Hou
Vegas Line/Total: NE -6, 50.5

Teddy Riley would agree. Rex-n-effect is going to zoom zoom and boom boom to a fast start. All signs point to Sony Michel, who’s dealt with a bothersome knee, being deactivated or limited. Yes, Jeremy Hill is a goal-line poach candidate and James White should see increased reps with Edelman sidelined, but Burkhead is the presumed RBBC foreman. Jeff Howe of The Athletic recently reported the rusher would be New England’s ground “focal point” to begin the season. The multipurpose rusher deserves a sizable workload.

Recall when featured last season Weeks 8-14 he compiled a top-12 line in .5 PPR. Digging deeper, he ranked No. 4 in catch percentage (83.4) and No. 2 in fantasy points per opportunity (0.76) in 2017. Most importantly, on 22 red-zone opportunities he crossed the chalk eight times, good for a 36.4 percent conversation rate. Call the man “Mr. Efficient.” To be fair, Houston, at full strength after injuries crippled it defensively last year, is a formidable opponent. When active, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney each ranked No. 7 at their respective positions in run-stop percentage in 2017. Still, the expected volume (14-16 touches?) combined with plentiful light fronts (40.6% seen in ’17) arrow to an appreciable RB2 return in .5 PPR.

Fearless Forecast: 14 carries, 56 rushing yards, 3 receptions, 22 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 15.3 fantasy points

Golladay will pay dividends on Monday night

Kenny Golladay, Det, WR (5 percent started; Yahoo DFS: $16)
Matchup: vs. NYJ
Vegas Line/Total: Det -6.5, 44

The artist known as “Baby ‘Tron” has lured numerous admirers. Yahoo Fantasy’s own Liz Loza is just one of many convinced the second-year wideout is bound for fantasy greatness. This summer, she waved the Golladay flag so hard a 60-1100-10 projection flew out. HUEVOS GIGANTES! Though I’m far more bearish by comparison, the receiver is placed in an advantageous position. Locked outside in a high-flying Lions offense, he should attract premium coverage working away from Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. Any prognostication over 1K yards is a bit farfetched, but a final tally in range of 55-850-7 is doable.

On Monday night, expect the hype to increase by decibels. The Jets secondary, pegged a bottom-third unit according to multiple outlets, isn’t what one would describe as “intimidating.” CBs Trumaine Johnson and Morris Claiborne allowed a combined 62 catch percentage, 13.6 yards per catch and 1.49 yards per snap a season ago. Throw in the fact Matthew Stafford has tossed two or more touchdowns in six of his past eight home games and odds are strong Golladay feasts under the prime-time lights. Spin the smooth jazz sounds of Kenny G at WR/FLEX in deeper leagues.

Fearless Forecast: 4 receptions, 64 receiving yard, 1 touchdown, 14.4 fantasy points

Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay should reward fantasy managers in Week 1. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)
Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay should reward fantasy managers in Week 1. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

Chargers’ Williams has FLEX appeal

Mike Williams, LAC, WR (7 percent started; Yahoo DFS: $14)
Matchup: vs. KC
Vegas Line/Total: LAC -3, 48

Antonio Gates’ exhumation isn’t a death sentence for the popular late-round sleeper. At least, not yet. Groomed the entire preseason to be Philip Rivers’ go-to red-zone option, the sophomore WR enters the regular season with enormous profit potential. Over the last month, Williams exhibited the skills that elevated him into the NFL Draft’s top-10 last year. He climbed ladders, hauled in acrobatic catches and landed inside the end zone. Keenan Allen will once again dominate the Rivers’ affections, but Hunter Henry accounted for 19.7 percent of the red-zone target share in ’17. Gates, too, carbon dates to the Mesozoic Era. Who knows what he has left, if anything.

Again, the opportunity is ripe for Williams to shine. Blessed with an opening week tango versus Kansas City, which was dissected by Chicago’s second-string offense two weeks ago and may not have the services of Eric Berry (heel), he should score his first of many touchdowns. The Chiefs secondary allowed the 10th-highest YPA (7.3) last fall. Prognosticators feel that number could rise this season and understandably so. If matched against Steven Nelson (96.4 rating 1.45 yards/snap yielded in ’17) or David Amerson (2.42 yds/rec in ’17), look for him to take advantage. Consider him at WR3 or the FLEX in 12-team and deeper leagues.

Fearless Forecast: 3 receptions, 58 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 13.3 fantasy points

SHOCKER SPECIAL (Under 10% started in Yahoo leagues)

John Ross, Cin, WR (1 percent started; Yahoo DFS: $11)
Matchup: at Ind
Vegas Line/Total: Ind -3, 46.5

Cincinnati’s version of Dash from “The Incredibles,” Ross is a blur who provided a glimpse of what he’s capable of Preseason Week 3. His 50-plus yard TD connection with Andy Dalton offered a preview of explosive pass plays to come. Aside from his cartoonish wheels, the wideout is more than a Torrey Smith streak-only type. On the route tree, he sports branches of a mature maple. It’s why Duke Tobin invested a top-10 pick in the kid in last year’s NFL draft. Beleaguered by physical setbacks in 2017, he never got a chance to showcase his skill set. With 18.2 percent of the target share vacated by Brandon LaFell, the door of opportunity is wide open for Ross. Bank on him taking advantage Week 1.

The “My Little Ponies” nickname for Indianapolis applies. Defensively, the Colts are bottom feeders. Their secondary, comprised of Quincy Wilson and Pierre Desir, ranked dead last according to PFF’s pass-defense projections. Last season, Wilson surrendered the eighth-most yards per snap among qualified CBs. Meanwhile, Desir yielded a 97.9 passer rating and 1.80 fantasy points per target to his assignments. Nate Hairston wasn’t exactly unrelenting either (93.1 RTG, 63.6 catch% allowed). Collectively, Indy slotted at No. 32 in YPA allowed (8.0). Dangerous on double moves, Ross springs free for multiple big gainers.

Fearless Forecast: 3 receptions, 70 yards, 1 touchdown, 14.5 fantasy points

BONUS FLAMES (Under 60% started)

QB: Marcus Mariota, Ten (at Mia; $29) – Bank on Matt LaFleur to maximize RPO potential with Mariota. He looked rusty in the Preseason, but Miami’s generous secondary should provide a major assist. (FF: 253 pass yds, 2 TDs , INT, 26 rush yds, 19.8 fpts)

RB: Jordan Wilkins, Ind, RB (vs. Cin; $15) – At Ole Miss, Wilkins finished top-10 in YAC/att and elusive rating among all FBS RBs. The kid has three-down upside. On track to start with Marlon Mack ailing, he has FLEX appeal against a Cincy run defense believed to be a bottom-third unit. (FF: 14 carries, 64 yards, 3 receptions, 14 yards, TD, 15.8 fpts)

RB: Peyton Barber, TB, RB (at NO; $14) – Barber buzzed by rookie Ronald Jones with relative ease in preseason play. His RB14 ranking in yards created per carry last season continues to stick in the mind. Against a projected flimsy Saints front, he’s a back-end RB2 in 12-teamers. (FF: 17 carries, 65 yards, 3 receptions, 14 yards, TD, 15.4 fpts)

WR: Will Fuller, Hou, WR (at NE; $20) – He was a TD supernova with Deshaun Watson under center last year. Since NE/HOU is the highest over/under of the week at 50.5, it’s wise to trust the established rapport. (FF: 4 catches, 77 yards, TD, 15.7 fantasy points)

TE: Jordan Reed, Was, TE (at Ari; $19) – While he’s still healthy, Reed is a dependable start against an Arizona D set to take a step back. Look for Alex Smith to work him early and often shying away from Patrick Peterson. (FF: 5 catches, 64 yards, TD, 14.9 fpts)

DST: Detroit Lions (vs. NYJ; $19) – The combination of Matt Patricia, a rowdy home crowd, Monday Night Football and rookie QB Sam Darnold, in his first start, say the former Hello Kitties are an elite streaming option. A Darius Slay pick-six on the horizon? It’s very possible. (FF: 13 PA, 311 YDSA, 3 SCKs, 2 TO, TD, 16.0 fpts)

Each week one fortunate guest prognosticator will have a chance to silence the Noise. Following the rules stated above, participants are asked to submit their “Flames” (1 QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE, 1 D/ST) by midnight PT Tuesdays via Twitter @YahooNoise. How large are your stones?

Want to bull rush Brad? Follow him on Twitter @YahooNoise. Also check out his TV show, “The Fantasy Football Hour,” now available in 91 million households on various regional sports networks, along with his work on the “Yahoo Sports Fantasy Podcast” and his award-nominated podcast, “The Fantasy Record.”

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