15 Fantasy Football Transactions for Week 1
Man, an offseason can change the NFL landscape quite a bit, huh?
Now Toby Gerhart’s in Jacksonville, and Todman is just another guy on the team’s depth chart. Matt Ryan may be Tony Gonzalez-less, but Julio Jones is back and Roddy White is healthy, making him a weekly top-notch quarterback option. And I can guarantee you that we won’t be hearing Matt Asiata’s name much in 2014.
We’re back. Fantasy football is back. And that means weekly start-sit decisions, waiver wire adds and emotional ups and downs that you’d only find in a Breaking Bad finale.
Let me help you throughout this journey. Each Tuesday, I’ll be providing 15 transactions – hopefully you saw that coming when you read the article title – for the upcoming week of games. These transactions range from free agency adds and drops to players you may want to part ways with due to tough upcoming schedules. The hope isn’t to simply capture the obvious – we all want to win fantasy football, and doing so takes some time and effort. Fortunately, I’ll do some of the work for you.
I’ve been waiting eight months for this.
Add Travis Kelce
But perhaps no tight end being selected in the double-digit rounds of fantasy drafts has more upside than Kansas City’s Travis Kelce.
If you recall, Kelce was a third-round draft selection in 2013, but had micro-fracture surgery on his knee during his rookie season, sidelining him the entire year. Entering Year 2, the Chiefs’ tight end looks to be the de facto number two non-Jamaal Charles pass-catcher in Kansas City and has dazzled in the preseason, catching 11 passes for nearly 200 yards and a couple of scores. No tight end has been better.
In 2013, only two Chiefs saw over 100 targets. Third on this list was Dexter McCluster, who’s now in Tennessee. Given the team defense is sure to regress a bit, Alex Smith and company may turn to the pass even more in 2014 after ranking 23rd in pass-to-run ratio a season ago. That screams opportunity for the talented Kelce.
Head coach Andy Reid has a history of making his tight ends fantasy relevant, and Kelce compares physically to Rob Gronkowski. It’s shaping up to be a breakout season for Kelce, and it could start as early as Week 1 against Tennessee with Dwayne Bowe suspended.
Add Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer’s first season in Arizona wasn’t fantastic. But that’s generally the conclusion being made when looking at his cumulative, season-long statistics. The truth is, Palmer turned things around dramatically down the stretch last year.
Prior to the Cardinals’ Week 9 bye last year, Palmer had compiled a -35.02 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) score, better than only Josh Freeman, Geno Smith and Blaine Gabbert. Over the final eight games, Palmer increased this number to 25.80, a shift of 60.82 points. Had he performed that well over the first half of the season, Palmer’s total Passing NEP – a hypothetical 121.64 – would have ranked fourth-best in the NFL.
He’s got weapons in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, and Andre Ellington adds a passing game dimension out of the backfield as well. Bruce Arians is a vertical passing coach, which brings big plays to real and fake football.
Not only could Palmer become a season-long QB1, but his Week 1 matchup against a San Diego defense that ranked 26th against the pass according to our metrics last year could mean a nice performance. He’s only owned in 31.4% of ESPN.com leagues due to the massive depth at quarterback, and is a perfect streaming option for Week 1.
Sell Dolphin Running Backs
With Bill Lazor coordinating the Dolphins’ offense in 2014, there was hope for Lamar Miller to finally break out. But with Knowshon Moreno shedding some weight and performing well in the preseason, the Dolphins’ running game has kind of become a fantasy football mess.
Moreno was fantastic last year with Peyton Manning leading the way, but that’s precisely the issue – Peyton Manning was his quarterback. Moving to a Ryan Tannehill-led offense means he won’t be seeing the same type of soft defenses he did in Denver, which results in less efficiency.
The last time a high-volume Dolphins running back had a Rushing NEP greater than zero was in 2011 with Reggie Bush. And so far in his career, our metrics peg Lamar Miller as one of the least-effective runners in the league. Miami’s offensive line has had issues of their own, which is just another reason to not be optimistic about the runners in 2014.
The upside lies in the fact that Lazor and the Dolphins want to run a fast-paced, Chip Kelly-style offense. If they run more plays, that means more volume for both relevant running backs in Miami. The problem is that we can’t – and shouldn’t – assume that Miami will all of a sudden become Philadelphia offensively (Miami ranked 20th last season on offense according to our metrics, while Philly was 5th), and we’re still unsure how carries will be split. It’s not worth your time right now to try and sort it out.
Buy Russell Wilson
I’ve let it be known that Russell Wilson may be the greatest young quarterback we’ve ever seen. And after a Super Bowl victory, he somehow is still being undervalued in fantasy football, coming off the board at the end of Round 9 of 12-team drafts according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com.
In 2013, Wilson finished seventh in Passing Net Expected Points, which is a cumulative metric. This happened despite the fact that Seattle dropped back to pass fewer times than any team outside of San Francisco.
Wilson tied for fifth in the NFL in top-12 (QB1) weekly quarterback performances last year, and scored the eighth-most fantasy points at the position. Add in a healthy Percy Harvin, a potentially weaker defense and an upward pointing arrow in terms of passing plays run, and you’ve got recipe for a top-tier quarterback in 2014.
Haven’t we learned to not doubt Russell Wilson?
Add the Jets’ Defense
In almost any league, there’s no reason to be playing the same defense week in and week out. Streaming the position – starting defenses off the waiver wire with favorable matchups – is the way to go.
In Week 1, the Jets have a fantastic matchup against a Raiders offense that will surely struggle throughout the season. The last time Oakland had a top-15 offense according to our metrics was when Rich Gannon was their starting quarterback, and we shouldn’t expect things to be different even with Derek Carr under center.
The Jets’ secondary is admittedly porous, but the questionable Oakland passing game makes them stream-worthy in Week 1.
Buy Jeremy Hill
The Bengals used a second-round draft selection on Hill for a reason. They were ready to part ways with the plodding Green-Ellis, and are aware that Giovani Bernard isn’t a running back who can effectively and consistently run between the tackles. Don’t forget that Bernard saw just 171 carries last year to Green-Ellis’ 220.
Bernard will have plenty of value in the passing game, but Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is no stranger to having a solid 1-2 punch in the running game. In 2010 while coordinating the Raiders’ offense, Darren McFadden broke out, carrying the ball 223 times in 13 games, while Michael Bush saw 158 touches in 14 contests. McFadden scored a total of 10 times, while Bush scored 8 ground touchdowns. There’s reason to believe we’ll see something similar in Cincinnati this year.
Buy Fred Jackson
I’m not sure we can hype Fred Jackson any more than we have over the offseason here at numberFire, but here’s your final plug: Fred Jackson is undervalued in pretend pigskin.
Many worry about his age, but plenty said the same about him last year. All he did was finish as a top-10 fantasy running back.
The truth is, age doesn’t really matter for Fred Jackson, and his playing for a team that will surely be one of the most run-heavy in the league this year is nothing but a good thing. He’s also the Bills’ red-zone running back, so there’s plenty of touchdown upside.
Today is the day to buy Fred Jackson. He’ll face a Bears defense in Week 1 that was historically bad in 2013, and even with some improvements up front, they could still struggle in 2014. Jackson owners may have only selected him because he fell in drafts, resulting in fair prices for the veteran runner.
Add Alex Smith
I hinted at this with the Travis Kelce blurb above, but the Chiefs could be a pass-happier team in 2014, and that naturally benefits Alex Smith, who’s owned in just about one-quarter of ESPN.com leagues.
Smith is perfect for fantasy football. He’s certainly not a fantastic real quarterback, but his ability to run the football exploits the scoring in fantasy. As a result, his middling passing numbers are complemented by above average rushing ones, and he becomes a high-end QB2. I mean, the guy scored more fantasy points than Tom Brady and Matt Ryan last year thanks to his 431 rushing yards.
He isn’t a plug-and-play starter at quarterback, but in single-quarterback leagues, you could argue only three players truly are. Instead, Smith’s the perfect player to plug into your lineup when a favorable matchup is upcoming, which he has in Week 1 against the Titans. Cornerback Alterraun Verner is no longer a Titan, and despite allowing few yards to opposing passers in 2013, the Titans secondary, according to our metrics, still ranked 21st against the pass. Smith is a solid streaming option despite Dwayne Bowe not playing.
Add Lorenzo Taliaferro
If you need a flier at the running back position, rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro isn’t a bad option.
Ray Rice is suspended for the first two games of the 2014 season, which opens things up at running back a bit in Baltimore to start the year. And although Bernard Pierce is looking healthy after a concussion, Taliaferro could find himself on the field as early as Week 1 after leading all NFL running backs in preseason carries – by a large margin – at 65.
The Ravens running game ranked dead last a season ago according to our Net Expected Points metrics, but Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme brings a bit of optimism. Pierce was incredibly inefficient last year toting the rock – the least efficient running back in the league, in fact – which is another plus for the Ravens’ rookie runner. Again, he’s worth a flier.
Sell the Browns’ Passing Attack
But what needs to be stressed with regards to Cleveland is that the new coaching regime is sure to run the football as much as humanly possible. The team signed Ben Tate over the offseason, and drafted Terrance West in May. With improvements defensively – including head coach Mike Pettine’s background – there’s plenty of reasons to believe the Browns will be one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL this year.
And as a result, volume just may not be there for some of the team’s pass-catchers. That includes Jordan Cameron, too.
Though he should still be considered a top-five tight end entering the season, an assumption that no Josh Gordon leads to more volume for Jordan Cameron may not be the proper one to make. Cameron already ranked third in the league in tight end targets a season ago, and that’s with the team running more passing plays than any other squad in the NFL. Gordon’s targets are gone, sure, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cleveland drop back to pass 200 fewer times in 2014 than they did in 2013. If that’s the case, the entire Browns’ passing game will suffer.
Buy Ben Tate
To this point, you should be buying Ben Tate. His historical advanced metrics have looked fine, with his biggest question mark being health. But if you can ignore the potential for injury, Tate is in store for a big 2014 campaign.
As a runner, Tate is solid. As a pass-catcher, he leaves a lot to be desired, at least from an efficiency standpoint – his career 0.07 Reception NEP per target average is significantly lower than the league’s 0.27 average. But it’s been reported that Mike Pettine is comfortable with Tate being on the field for third downs, which means he’ll have plenty of opportunity to make up for a lack of efficiency with volume.
Perhaps the Tate owner in your league isn’t in love with him. If that’s the case, trying to get him before the season begins is a smart move. The Browns get the Steelers in Week 1, a team that ranked 23rd against the run according to our metrics a season ago. And Pittsburgh hasn’t done enough on the defensive line to bring much confidence to think they’ll be better in 2014. Tate should be solid right out of the gate.
Add Geno Smith
Perhaps you’re in a deep league, need a quarterback streaming option and Alex Smith and Carson Palmer aren’t available. Geno Smith could be your dude.
We all know he was dreadful last year, as no player accumulated a worse Passing NEP total than Smith. But against bottom half defenses, Geno actually scored an average of almost 19 fantasy points per game. That’s what he’ll face this week against Oakland, a team that ranked fourth-to-last against the pass last year.
Smith also has more weapons than he did last season, especially with the addition of ex-Denver Bronco Eric Decker. He’s bound to perform better, and could get things going as soon as Week 1.
Buy or Add Antonio Gates
We’ve been saying this all offseason here at numberFire, but the demise of Antonio Gates is greatly exaggerated. Ladarius Green may be more athletic than the aging Gates, but as we’ve seen in the preseason, Gates is still the man at tight end for San Diego.
The Chargers face the Cardinals on Monday night, and Arizona is the perfect matchup for your fantasy football tight end. A season ago, the Cardinals allowed 95 receptions, 1,156 yards and 16 touchdowns to opposing tight ends. They were the worst team against the position in each of those categories.
Go with Gates over Green until we have reason to believe otherwise.
Add the Bears’ Defense
Remember when the Bears were an every-week, must-start defense? Now they’re owned in just 8% of ESPN.com leagues, with 17 defenses having higher ownership numbers.
But in Week 1, Chicago gets Buffalo, a team led by arguably the worst quarterback starter in the league, EJ Manuel. The Bills ranked fourth-to-last in Passing NEP a season ago, only better than the Texans, Giants and Jaguars. Manuel had a 73.07 quarterback rating in the preseason, throwing two interceptions to just one touchdown. Chicago, at home, should have no trouble getting turnovers against Buffalo on Sunday.
Sell the Rams’ Passing Attack
This statement would be true even if Sam Bradford was playing this year. The Rams offense doesn’t lead to fantasy production from wide receivers, and there’s not a whole lot of reason to think this year will be any different.
Kenny Britt and Brian Quick are both decent fliers in fantasy leagues, but the last time St. Louis had an 800-yard receiver was when Torry Holt was in the league. Because it was done by Torry Holt, all the way back in 2007.
Shaun Hill is an underrated backup, but don’t think St. Louis is going to be a pass-heavy team with him under center. Through Week 7 last year, the seven games Bradford played, the Rams were actually the ninth-ranked team in pass-to-run ratio. At the end of the season, St. Louis ranked 24th.
The team isn’t going to trust Hill to throw 35 or 40 time per game, which means the pass-catchers will suffer. Zac Stacy is the guy to own in this offense, not someone like Kenny Britt.