15 Fantasy Football Transactions for Week 1
I'm so over this.
Is Ameer Abdullah the next NFL star? Will the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger perform without their stud running back and up-and-coming wide receiver? Who's going to win the starting running back gig in Atlanta? Will Devin Funchess effectively step in for the injured Kelvin Benjamin? Is Jeff Janis going to be a thing? Is Doug Martin back? Will Jimmy Graham sustain his excellence on a run-first team? Is this the year Matt Forte busts? Will Forte's old coach, Marc Trestman, make Justin Forsett a receiving machine? Is Sam Bradford going to finish as a top fantasy quarterback? Will Odell Beckham regress? When will Todd Gurley play? When will Arian Foster return?
When will these questions stop?
I'm so, so over this. I just want the questioning, the bickering, the arguments -- I want it all to be done.
I want meaningful football to happen again.
Fortunately, that's what we've got coming. Thursday marks the start of the 2015 NFL season, which means it's time to hand in our essays and watch them be graded. It's time for all of our offseason talk to become history. And it's time for our workday routines to involve checking our fantasy football lineups.
If this is your first time reading a 15 Transactions column...welcome. Welcome to the place where I brain vomit each week during the football season, guiding you through some of the tougher transaction-based lineup choices you may face throughout the year. It'll get ugly, and I'll be wrong plenty. But hopefully this is a go-to Tuesday stop for you on your way to a fantasy football championship.
Let's start things off with a look at 15 transactions to make prior to the opening week of the NFL season. (Note: the transactions are not listed in order of importance.)
Add Carson Palmer
Fantasy owners seem to forget that Carson Palmer was really, really usable before tearing his ACL last season. He finished as a top-16 fantasy quarterback in 5 of 6 games played, including three top-10 performances, and within our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Palmer was the sixth best 200-plus attempt passer in the NFL last season on a per drop back basis.
He was good. Very good.
He's entering 2015 healthy, and he's got an arsenal of weapons that would make most NFL quarterbacks jealous. Even more important for fantasy owners who invested little in the quarterback position is the fact that Palmer faces off against the Saints in Week 1, a team projected to finish 29th against the pass this year. They're down a starting cornerback, too, as Keenan Lewis underwent hip surgery last week.
The Cardinals are favorites with a reasonably high team total according to Vegas as well, making Palmer a really good quarterback to play in Week 1. And who knows, given the way he performed last year, you may find long-term success with the veteran.
Add Benny Cunningham
Rookie Todd Gurley has already been ruled out for Week 1, and backup running back Tre Mason is questionable with an injury of his own. That leaves the Rams with Benny Cunningham, who played a receiving specialist role for the Rams last season, catching 45 passes.
If he does start, the matchup for Cunningham isn't a great one, as the Seahawks are visiting St. Louis. But don't let that scare you off -- Cunningham could still be a three-down back without Mason in the backfield, so even if the game script goes in the wrong direction for the Rams, that should mean volume in the passing game for him. And for what it's worth, according to Net Expected Points, Cunningham was just as effective on the ground as Mason was last year. He's worth an add, especially for teams in need of a Week 1 running back.
Add Dion Lewis
Who's going to play the always-hyped Shane Vereen role in New England this year now that Vereen is gone?
The answer may be Dion Lewis.
Reports out of New England have been favorable for the young back out of Pitt, with statements saying that he'll have a "decent" role in the Patriots' offense. That role will more than likely be passing game-oriented, as Lewis is a sub-200 pound back who's done more with his speed and in the return game than on the ground throughout his short career.
Vereen left 78 targets up for grabs in the New England offense when he left, and the Patriots are without wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who was put on the PUP list the other day. That leaves the team with a handful of pass-catching backs, two small wide receivers in Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, and an inexperienced Aaron Dobson. Someone will have to emerge, and that someone could be Dion Lewis given his work in the preseason and the reports coming out.
Sell Ben Roethlisberger
There seem to be a lot of things going against Ben Roethlisberger this season, but fantasy owners aren't fully taking notice. If you look back at what he did last year, it's obvious that he wasn't nearly as good as his cumulative numbers indicated -- his week-to-week performance was barely better than a streaming quarterback. Really, those two big six-touchdown performances are making him look a lot better than he was, along with a schedule that was sort of a cakewalk.
Now, in 2015, the Steelers will start the year without Le'Veon Bell for two weeks, Martavis Bryant for four, and center Maurkice Pouncey for even longer. Let me remind you, too, that before Bryant's emergence last year, the Steelers offense -- through six games -- ranked 26th in the NFL according to our schedule-adjusted metrics. And over these first six games, Big Ben had a weekly fantasy football quarterback ranking of 23rd or worse three times.
With a tougher schedule and the suspensions in place, there's little reason to believe Roethlisberger will become this elite quarterback some think he will be in fantasy football. If there's a buyer in your league, ship him off.
Add Matt Jones
Alfred Morris' Rushing NEP per rush from 2012 through 2014, respectively: 0.03, -0.02, -0.04. Alfred Morris' Success Rate from 2012 through 2014, respectively: 46.13%, 44.93%, 40.00%.
Washington's head coach when Alfred Morris was drafted: Mike Shanahan. Washington's head coach today: Jay Gruden.
Washington's third-round draft choice in 2015: Matt Jones.
I'm not saying Alfred Morris is toast and that rookie running back Matt Jones is about to take his job, but given the fact that Morris' effectiveness has declined each year in the NFL, that the regime in place didn't draft him and that Matt Jones had one of the best running back preseasons in the NFL, you have to take notice. You have to pay attention to this situation. Being ahead and owning the nearly cost-free running back in Jones is a smart move, especially in deeper leagues.
Buy Tyler Eifert
The Tyler Eifert love has been strong here on numberFire this offseason, and for good reason. Not only does he profile as one of the more athletic tight ends in football, but the opportunity is finally there for him to take. Jermaine Gresham is out of the picture, which frees up 80 targets from 2014 in the Bengals' passing attack. While there's fear someone like Mohamed Sanu could take some of those looks -- or even someone like Giovani Bernard out of the backfield -- the good news with Eifert could be his red zone ability on a team that lacks more than one big-bodied receiver. And of the four main positions in fantasy football, touchdowns correlate strongest to fantasy output for tight ends.
Could he be this year's Travis Kelce?
Sell Andre Ellington
Like Ben Roethlisberger, there are a lot of negatives being ignored with Andre Ellington as we enter the 2015 season.
Last year, no running back with 200 or more touches was worse on a per rush basis than Ellington. Not one. Not even Andre Williams.
Now, many will point to a foot injury as the main reason for his terrible year. And while that may be part of it, why, at the same time, are we ignoring the fact that it was his first big workload at the NFL level? We know he didn't carry the load a lot in college, and his efficient rookie season in the NFL -- which was actually flukey according to our numbers -- was in a split backfield.
Why is it just about the foot?
Arizona went and got a bigger, stronger version of Ellington in David Johnson in May's draft, and signed Chris Johnson to add depth to the backfield. There are just so many things pointed against Ellington, it seems, that it's tough for me to buy him in 2015. He certainly has a ceiling if things go his way, but given his volume dependency last season and a more crowded backfield in this one, I'd try to sell if I was an owner. Though he may have a good Week 1 given the matchup against the Saints.
Add Jeff Janis
Can you have any sort of transactions-related article prior to Week 1 without mentioning the Packers' wide receiver situation?
Here's the deal: no one really knows what's going to happen with this passing game, especially now that James Jones is back in the mix. You have Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, and a bunch of question marks. And those question marks may not even be overly usable -- let's not forget that Davante Adams had exactly one top-24, usable performance in PPR leagues a season ago. It's not like this role is super defined.
Granted, without Jordy Nelson, a lot of targets are freed up. And it'd be silly to assume Adams is capable of handling more than, say, 130 looks.
So where do you go? My money is on upside, and I think that upside is with Jeff Janis. A metrics animal, Janis fits the profile to play on the outside and fill Nelson's role best, as rookie Ty Montgomery is undersized and could end up playing closer to the line of scrimmage. And if you're buying James Jones, you may not want to given his drop off in efficiency through the years. Adding Janis ignores all downside, so remember to look his way only in deep leagues.
Buy Sam Bradford
I was never a Sam Bradford backer, but this situation is different.
Bradford doesn't need to be a stud to be fantasy relevant for the Eagles this year. I mean, last season, the combination of Mark Sanchez and Nick Foles finished with low-end QB1 numbers. It's crazy to say this, but Sanchez was actually 12th in the league in Passing NEP per drop back.
The Chip Kelly effect is very real, and it seems reasonable to think a Sanchez-Foles performance could be Sam Bradford's floor, as long as he's healthy. After all, Bradford's Net Expected Points totals in St. Louis were better than the numbers Mark Sanchez saw in New York.
The Eagles also have a sweet early-season schedule, as they face the Falcons, Cowboys, Jets, Redskins and Saints. The Jets have the only pass defense ranked above 24th according to our metrics, meaning Bradford could get out to a hot start for your fantasy teams this year. That's why he's on all of my fantasy teams. Well, a lot of them, at least.
Add Jordan Reed
I'm a little embarrassed given there are two Washington players on this first list of 15 transactions, if I'm being honest. But Jordan Reed is really being overlooked in fantasy football right now.
You probably heard or know about Niles Paul's season-ending injury that occurred during the first week of the preseason. Paul would've been the tight end to own in Washington, but that's no longer the case.
The Redskins also lost dad-runner Logan Paulsen to turf toe, placing him on injured reserve.
That leaves the majority of tight end targets to Reed.
And that's a big deal. Last year, Washington tight ends ranked fourth as a group in the entire NFL with 102 receptions. If Reed can stay healthy -- and that's a big if -- he could pretty easily be a TE1 in fantasy football. It's easy to take a chance on him, too, given the replaceability of the position he plays. Why not take a shot?
Add Christine Michael
Twitter broke over the weekend when the Cowboys traded for everyone's favorite backup running back, Christine Michael. The reason is pretty simple: Michael has the tools to be a great running back (check out his workout metrics), and he's going to a situation where there's no lead runner. And that Cowboys' offensive line is OK, I guess.
There's little to go off of with Michael aside from pure upside. The trio of backs the Cowboys currently have are either inexperienced (Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar) or not very good (Darren McFadden, and here's proof). While Michael won't take on a role immediately, in leagues with big benches, he's certainly worth a stash because the upside is huge.
Buy Danny Woodhead
Casual fantasy football owners (and there's nothing wrong with you -- you're more normal than I am) probably don't understand the type of role Danny Woodhead could see this season. Rookie Melvin Gordon finished the preseason with a 2.2 yards per carry average, and Chargers' quarterback Philip Rivers has already stated that the team will use a running back-by-committee approach this year (or at least to start the year).
The things Woodhead does right are the things that matter in fantasy football. He catches passes, which has a lot of value in both standard and PPR leagues given backs are going to gain more yardage off a catch than a rush. And he's also secretly strong in the red zone, seeing over 20 targets two seasons ago (just a reminder, he missed most of last season) within his opponents' 20-yard line.
It's easy to forget, but we're only two years removed from a season where Woodhead caught 76 passes. That year, with Ryan Mathews carrying the ball 285 times, Woodhead had 10 top-24 running back performances in PPR leagues, making him a legitimate starter in fantasy football. Perhaps we'll see something similar in 2015.
Add Danny Amendola
As I mentioned with Dion Lewis above, Brandon LaFell won't be returning until Week 8 for the Patriots, as he was placed on the PUP list. That leaves a wide open opportunity for Danny Amendola, who's the de facto number-two wideout for Tom Brady.
Amendola had just one double-digit PPR performance a year ago, but LaFell finished with eight as Brady's second-favorite receiver. From Week 3 -- the week LaFell started getting looks in the Patriots' offense -- through Week 16 (let's excuse the fantasy irrelevant Week 17) last season, LaFell averaged 8.23 targets per game. Even if six of those go Amendola's way, we're looking at a great opportunity, especially in Week 1 against a porous Steelers' secondary.
Add Andy Dalton
There are a lot of directions you can go in from a quarterback streaming perspective in Week 1. I mentioned Palmer already, and if he's available in your league and you need a passer, snatch him up. But I'm not totally against Andy Dalton against the Raiders, either.
Week 1 isn't a time to get cute. Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston are reasonable streaming options, but relying on unproven rookies isn't the smartest way to stream. We learned that the hard way last year. You could go with Tyrod Taylor and I wouldn't blame you, but I'd rather have a quarterback's arm be the main reason for fantasy points, not his legs.
The Raiders' secondary -- Dalton's Week 1 opponent -- shouldn't be a big test, as their top corner is a seventh-round pick from a season ago. That's great for A.J. Green, who should end up dominating. The Bengals are also favorites on the road in this one with a reasonable (not amazing) team total. So Dalton should have a good floor, and that's what you want to target with an early-season quarterback streamer.
Buy the Dolphins' Defense
I rarely get this excited about fantasy defenses, but it's hard to ignore this one. Miami opens the season up with an assortment of trashy quarterbacks, facing Washington, Jacksonville, Buffalo, New York (Jets), Tennessee and Houston over their first six games. The Dolphins probably aren't on your waiver wire, but this is one of the few instances where I'm fine with trading for a defense, especially in leagues where you have limited waiver wire transactions to make over the course of the season. They could be a locked-in defensive unit for you for nearly half the fantasy football season.