Fantasy Football Mailbag: Wednesday 9/7/16

Should you start Ryan Mathews this week? And how likely is a top-three performance from a player drafted as such?

Fantasy football research never stops, and offseason news can really complicate things, especially when coaches talk up second- and third-string players. That's where our fantasy football mailbag comes into play.

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Now, let's answer some questions.

We all know that running backs have typically been taken in the top three in fantasy drafts, even in full PPR drafts. Per Fantasy Football Calculator, only 3 of the past 15 top-three picks in PPR drafts have been non-running backs.

Season Player PPR Rank
2015 Adrian Peterson RB2
2015 Antonio Brown WR1
2015 Le'Veon Bell RB48
2014 LeSean McCoy RB9
2014 Jamaal Charles RB7
2014 Calvin Johnson WR16
2013 Adrian Peterson RB9
2013 Jamaal Charles RB1
2013 Doug Martin RB55
2012 Arian Foster RB2
2012 Ray Rice RB5
2012 Aaron Rodgers QB2
2011 Adrian Peterson RB15
2011 Ray Rice RB1
2011 Chris Johnson RB9

Antonio Brown returned a WR1 performance last season, and Aaron Rodgers finished as the QB2 back in 2012. However, Calvin Johnson landed as the WR14 when he crept up into the top three.

Four of the 12 running backs returned top-two seasons, and another finished top five at his position.

Last year, Le'Veon Bell finished as the RB48 after just six games, and in 2013, Doug Martin finished as the RB55 in the same amount of games. Other than that, all nine backs returned top-nine seasons at their position.

To answer this one, we'll assume half-PPR just in case. Our projections peg Keenan Allen for 11.93 half-PPR points and Alshon Jeffery for 12.53. Those two should be locked in even against tough opponents.

As for the backs, Ryan Mathews is slated for 10.93 half-PPR points, and that's slightly more than Spencer Ware's 10.26. However, Ware's projection is stifled by the fact that we're still pegging Jamaal Charles for about 10 touches. Kansas City Chiefs' coach Andy Reid has called Charles a "stretch" to play in Week 1, so bump up Ware's projection a good bit if Charles sits.

Even with the Philadelphia Eagles as four-point favorites, and probably a good game script for Mathews, it's hard to avoid an Alshon-Keenan-Ware combo in Week 1.

So, this is a tricky one, Jake. We already know Mathews' projection in half-PPR formats, and we touched on his likely promising game script. Thomas Rawls', on the other hand, is even better. The Seattle Seahawks are 10.5-point favorites over the Miami Dolphins, but he's likely to be limited in the opener. With one (let alone two) potential alternatives, it might be best to rest Rawls and hope the Seahawks keep their word.

Danny Woodhead, then? Woodhead and the San Diego Chargers are 7-point underdogs against the Kansas City Chiefs, a not-so-great game script for running backs. Of course, Woodhead is a pass-catcher, so that's actually in his favor. Still, our projections give Mathews a 14.99-point ceiling (one standard deviation) and a 10.89-point median projection. Even with the pass-happy game script likely for the Chargers, Woodhead's ceiling is projected at 13.37 points, and his actual projection is 10.01 points. Go with Mathews there.

Similar to Rawls, Jordy Nelson will likely be limited in Week 1. As much as we all love him, he probably isn't a smart play when you have other viable options.

We project Larry Fitzgerald for 11.37 points with a ceiling of 14.22 points against the New England Patriots. DeSean Jackson has a 12.6-point projection but a 17.03-point ceiling. If you're seeking safety, Fitzgerald is your man, but if you feel like your lineup is lacking upside without Rawls and Nelson, roll the dice with Jackson, who seems primed for a big game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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