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Week 1 Sleepers

 

This article is a weekly look at player generally ranked outside the realm of every week starters. The players covered here usually fall into two categories: those with a good matchup or those who have an opportunity to start because of an injury to a teammate. On the other hand, sometimes a player may be considered if they are normal a starter, but have a bad matchup. Each position is covered with in descending order beginning with the players who are better gambles and finishing with those who are certifiable reaches. Your mileage may vary, but the idea is to discuss these players and provide you with some analysis that might help you make those difficult lineup decisions a bit easier. Good luck and always keep in mind that your feedback and comments are welcome.

Quarterbacks

Jake Delhomme, CAR vs NO
Delhomme has been razor sharp throughout the preseason. He was an overachiever last year and despite the loss of All-Pro WR Muhsin Muhammad, it looks like his success will carry over to this year. The return of Steve Smith certainly helps offset the Muhammad's loss as does the addition of Rod Gardner. The Saints allowed the 10th most fantasy pts to QBs (255 yds/gm and 23 TDs) last year, too.

Joey Harrington, DET vs GB
The Packers defense is dreadful. Their secondary has one proven player and the pass rush is KGB - and not much else. Last year, the Packers ranked 4th in fantasy pts allowed to QBs (245 yds/gm and 32 TDs). Harrington has all the tools to be successful, and while it's a risky proposition trusting Joey, the matchup is simply too tempting, especially if your other options aren't all that appealing.

Byron Leftwich, JAC vs Sea
The Jags have a new offensive look this year under offensive coordinator Carl Smith. Expect them to spread the field more often and utilize the shotgun more. That should make Leftwich more comfortable and more productive. Reggie Williams had a strong preseason and rookie Matt Jones showed signs of being a big-play receiver to give the Jags more weapons than just Jimmy Smith for the first time since Keenan McCardell left years ago. Seattle has a solid secondary on paper, but they ranked 12th in fantasy pts allowed to QBs in 2004 (238 yds/gm and 24 TDs). If the Jags pass more and utilize their new weapons better than last year, Leftwich promises to get off to a good start this week.

Drew Brees, SD vs DAL
The Cowboys appear much improved defensively over a year ago. Among the many new faces are corners Anthony Henry and Aaron Glenn. Henry is a big, physical corner with good instincts, but he was also among the corners that were burnt for the most long TDs, too. Brees shouldn't really be considered much of a reach given that he threw for almost 30 TDs last year, but he'll be without TE Antonio Gates. Last year, the Boys allowed the 8th most fantasy pts to opposing QBs (230 yds/gm and 30 TDs). Brees is not a great start, but he should be just fine.

Brian Griese, TB at MIN
This is a matchup where there's probably more than meets the eye. The Vikings pass defense has been abused consistently over the last several years, but now they have a pair of solid corners and an upgrade at safety with Pro Bowler Darren Sharper. Also, consider the Bucs offensive line is widely considered among the worst in the league and the Vikings defensive line is perhaps one of the more talented, young lines in the league. Put it all together, and the matchup on paper might not make sense. That said, the Vikings allowed the 2nd most fantasy points to opposing QBs with 258 yds/gm and 30 TDs. Griese may put up solid numbers, but he will likely be sacked a few times along the way and could be prone to a couple turnovers as well.

A couple reaches..

Tim Rattay, SF vs StL
It's easy to knock Rattay. He couldn't stay healthy last year. The 49ers offensive line was awful and might not be a whole lot better this year. He doesn't appear to have top flight receivers, nor a running game to fear, but something about him this year seems to reminiscent of Drew Brees last year. He's played very well during the preseason and maybe the drafting of Alex Smith with the #1 overall pick has lit a fire under him. The Rams pass rush is solid, but their corners are suspect. They lost Jerametrius Butler, one of their returning starters, for the season. Rattay isn't a very good start by any stretch of the imagination, but he was productive in four of this first five starts a year ago throwing multiple TDs in those game. The Rams can score as well as most teams in the league, so Rattay should be throwing plenty. If he's your backup, and your starter isn't strong and faces a tough matchup, maybe you'll roll the dice on Rattay.

J.P. Losman, BUF vs Hou
It's almost never a good idea to run with an unproven, inexperienced QB like Losman to start the season. However, consider the matchup against Houston. While the Texans added Phillip Buchanon via trade in the off-season, the Texans defense may still be quite vulnerable considering they lack a proven pass rush. Losman adds value with his running ability, too. Houston allowed 32 TDs to opposing QBs last year and 236 yds/gm - 7th most in the league in terms of fantasy pts.

Running Backs

Willie Parker, PIT vs Ten
Bill Cowher named "fast" Willie Parker the starter due to injuries to Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis. Bettis was ruled out of Sunday's game, but Staley still wants to contribute. We'll see about that. Parker has big play ability, as his moniker would indicate. Parker will likely split carries on some level with Verron Haynes, but is expected to start and receive the majority of the touches for the Steelers running attack. The Titans were average (at best) against the run last year and the Steelers have historically been one of the league's most successful running teams. The key factor here is opportunity. Parker has a great opportunity to shine on Sunday and the match up looks favorable.

Kevan Barlow, SF vs StL
Barlow has a lot to prove this year before the fantasy world will take him seriously after his underwhelming performance last year. At least he has a good chance to get off to a good start against a Rams defense that was near the bottom of the league a year ago against the run. The Rams allowed 136 yds/gm and 0.8 TDs/gm. They have a new look amongst their LBs, but whether or not they've improved is a big question mark. Barlow should benefit from a slightly improved offensive line. Tim Rattay starting as opposed to an unproven rookie QB like Alex Smith should also help. Barlow looks like a worthwhile RB2 this week.

Fred Taylor, JAC vs Sea
The biggest problem with Fred Taylor is the unknown. Is he really 100%? Should we take his comments at face value? "The season is here. This is what I've worked hard for the entire offseason. It's time to go. I'd like to start off this season pretty fast,'' said Taylor. He says he's ready to go full speed and the Jags HC Jack Del Rio predicted Taylor will see 20 touches on Sunday. The Seahawks were average, or even slightly below average, against the run last year. They allowed 127 yds/gm and 1.1 TDs/gm on the ground. When healthy, it's hard not to like Taylor, but keep in mind he's never been a TD machine and he's frequently pulled on third downs in favor of LaBrandon Toefield or rookie Alvin Pearman.

They appear to be starting, but..

Reuben Droughns, CLE vs Cin
The toughest part of deciding whether to start Droughns or not is knowing whether he's starting for the Browns or not this Sunday. If you trust the team's official depth chart, Droughns is listed as the starter. He's performed well in the preseason and looks like a decent play against the Bengals. Lee Suggs remains hurt. William Green will likely serve as the primary backup, but to what extent? Therein lies the rub. We have no track record for Droughns on a team other than Denver - and we all know that can be skewed. In addition, Romeo Crennel is a new coach so how he utilizes his backs remains to be seen. Green started the final preseason game, but that could likely be discounted as most team's won't show their hand during the preseason. The one thing we know for sure is the Bengals defense was not very good against the run last year (129 yds/gm and 0.7 TDs/gm). Of course, the Browns good at running the ball either. Both teams have a different look in that regard. The Bengals shored up the interior of their defense in the off-season and the Browns overhauled their offensive line. Droughns should get at least half the team's touches and he'll likely get quite a few more than half. As such, he's a decent bet to produce solid if not unspectacular numbers in the season opener.

Chris Brown, Ten at PIT
If there weren't questions regarding the role of Chris Brown and Travis Henry, then Brown wouldn't appear in this space. He's been among the most productive backs in the NFL when healthy. He averaged 4.8 yds/carry last year and began the season with three 100-yard efforts in his first three starts. The Titans offensive line doesn't look as strong as last year and the Steelers were the stingiest team in the league last year against the run. The risk factor here is two-fold. It's a bad match up on the road and Travis Henry's role is unclear. Jeff Fisher could spell Brown frequently and use Henry as a third down back or, even more importantly, at the goal line.

Stephen Davis or DeShaun Foster, CAR vs NO
The Panthers running game is anything but a clear picture heading into Week One. Davis returned from micro-fracture knee surgery and took all the first team practice snaps during the last week of the preseason. He started the last preseason game and carried five times, but whether or not the team is going to give him the bulk of the carries in the season opener is wide open for speculation. The Saints were one of the three worst defenses against the run last year allowing 141 yds/gm and 1 TDs/gm. The Panthers have a strong backup in DeShaun Foster, so there should be no surprise if both players get a share of the workload rendering each one somewhat useless from a fantasy perspective. The game doesn't kick off until Monday night, if you can wait that long to make a decision, great... Otherwise, this is one where you'll be rolling the dice either way.

A couple backups with a shot to be productive..

Chester Taylor, BAL vs Ind
Jamal Lewis is set to start the season opener despite not getting much work under his belt in the preseason. He carried just 6 times for 15 yards in the preseason as Chester Taylor handled the bulk of the work and did a terrific job. The Colts aren't exactly a physical defense in the front seven. They allowed 127 yds/gm and 0.8 TDs/gm against the run a year ago. Taylor will likely spell Lewis every few series and on third downs. He's not a good start by any stretch of the imagination, but if you're in dire straits due to injury, Chester is a good gamble to get you something, especially in PPR leagues.

Chris Perry, Cin at CLE
The Browns defense was abysmal against the run last year allowing 145 yds/gm and 1.4 TDs/gm. They were dead last in run defense. Meanwhile, Perry was one of the standout players in the Bengals preseason. He's emerged as a true dual threat. He'll spell Rudi Johnson on third downs and probably serve as a change of pace runner potentially seeing the field as much as 35 to 40 percent of the Bengals offensive plays. Like Chester Taylor, Perry is a player to start if you want to salvage some points from your flex or RB2 spot and you're short-handed due to injuries.

Wide Receivers

Charles Rogers, DET vs GB
See Joey Harrington. While Roy Williams continues to be the first Lions receiver to come off the draft board, Rogers remains the team's best deep threat and the one guy on the team who can get behind defenses consistently. Now, if he can just stay healthy for a full season. Rogers looked great in the preseason. The shoulder is a non-issue and he's ready to finally emerge in his third season. Oh yeah, the Packers secondary is horrible beyond Al Harris (who will likely be covering Roy Williams, by the way). Rogers is an excellent gamble if your lineup requires a flex player or a 3rd/4th WR.

Justin McCareins, NYJ at KC
The Chiefs allowed more fantasy points to opposing WRs than any other team a year ago (21 TDs and 172 yds/gm). They attempted to shore up their secondary by acquiring former Dolphins CB Patrick Surtain during the offseason. Surtain will help, but look for the Jets to find Dexter McCleon on the field and go after him early and as often as possible. If the Chiefs try to keep Surtain on Laveranues Coles that could mean more targets for McCareins against the undersized McCleon. The Jets offense hasn't looked particularly sharp in the preseason though, and Kansas City is one of the tougher places to play on the road. Don't expect a lot, but if you like to play the match ups, then McCareins looks like a decent option as a WR3, or flex starter.

Reggie Williams, JAC vs Sea
Williams is leaner, quicker and appears to be on the verge of finally becoming the playmaker the team envisioned when they drafted him in the first round last year. Plus, the Seahawks were extremely generous to opposing receivers last year allowing the 2nd most fantasy pts per game (163 yds/gm and 22 TDs). Jimmy Smith looks like he's finally slowing down after suffering a case of the "drops" in the preseason. Maybe it's Reggie's time to shine.

Greg Lewis, Phi at ATL
Terrell Owens will draw a lot of attention from the Falcons defense and Greg Lewis is starting opposite him. Lewis is good possession receiver with great speed, quickness and soft hands. Because the Falcons are forced to account for Owens and RB Brian Westbrook, there's a good chance that Lewis will be in a good position to frequently make plays in single coverage. Lewis is probably more valuable in leagues that score points for receptions because the red zone looks are more likely to go to Owens, Westbrook and TE L.J. Smith.

Antwaan Randle-El, PIT vs Ten
The Titans have been one of the best passing match ups for QBs and WRs for the past few seasons. While they drafted PacMan Jones early in the first round to help along those lines, it's difficult to expect much from a rookie that missed about half of training camp due to a holdout. Randle-El won the battle for a starting job against Cedrick Wilson in camp and was productive starting in place of Plaxico Burress last year. The Titans allowed 18 TDs and 171 yds/gm to opposing WRs last year. The Steelers offense has been horrible in the preseason, so take that with a grain of salt. If the Titans pay more attention to #1 WR Hines Ward, then Randle-El should benefit and might be the source of some big plays on Sunday.

Joey Galloway, TB at MIN
Michael Clayton is the team's #1 WR, but let's not forget about the venerable, but still speedy Joey Galloway. The Vikings defense appears to be improved on paper over last year, but combine the Vikings offensive potential with the Bucs tendency to throw more than they run - and Galloway looks like a guy you could pencil in at the bottom of your lineup and hope for big numbers this week.

Kevin Curtis, StL at SF
The 49ers allowed the 3rd most fantasy points to WRs a year ago (19 TDs and 169 yds/gm). The 49ers are trying to find guys who can cover after moving Mike Rumph to free safety and struggling to find anybody with a pulse to play corner last year. The 49ers secondary is healthier this year, but they still appear to be quite vulnerable, especially when a talented player like Curtis will be lining up against a questionable nickel corner. It's always tough starting a guy who doesn't even start on his own team, but as No.3 receivers go, Curtis is among the best. He's young, explosive and on on the verge of becoming an every day play if the opportunity presents itself.

David Givens, NE vs Oak
Starting one of the Patriots receivers or tight ends is always an interesting dilemma. Tom Brady is certainly among the league's best QBs and the team has consistently put up solid passing numbers over the past few years. Unfortunately, trying to predict which one of these guys will produce from week to week is enough to give you a migraine headache. The Patriots spread the ball around to all their players. One week it's Deion Branch. The next week it's David Given, and so on. Givens generally gets less hype than Branch, but he's more consistent in the red zone and he's a bigger target. The Raiders defense remains very suspect even with a healthy Charles Woodson.

Tight Ends

Ben Watson, NE vs Oak
Daniel Graham draws more attention, but Watson is the guy to watch. He's got all the tools necessary to be the next breakout fantasy tight end. It doesn't hurt that he's facing a defense that allowed 45 yds/gm and 12 TDs to opposing TEs last year either.

Erron Kinney, Ten at PIT
With Ben Troupe still on the recovery path from a broken foot, Kinney is unquestionably the tight end on the Titans that bears watching. Undrafted rookie Greg Guenther had a strong showing in preseason, but it's questionable whether or not he'll be targeted much now that the games means something. Under Norm Chow the Titans promise to utilize their tight ends frequently, especially without much proven talent at WR. Kinney is a solid receiver and a good, undervalued fantasy tight end. Look for him to be targeted more this week than several of the tight ends ranked ahead of him. He's among the better gambles out there this week.

Chris Baker, NYJ at KC
Surprisingly, Baker held off Doug Jolley for the starting job. If he's able to seize the opportunity in week one, he could be holding on to it for bit longer, too. The Chiefs allowed the 4th most fantasy pts to opposing tight ends last year (8 TDs and 54 yds/gm) and new offensive coordinator loves to feature his tight ends in the passing game. Look for the Jets to give Chad Pennington some confidence building throws featuring safer, shorter routes and Baker could be among the chief benefactors.

Deep sleepers

Alex Smith, TB at MIN
Yes, Anthony Becht is the starter and the Vikings defense has improved vastly on paper over last year. With that said, Smith is a super sleeper and Gruden loves his rookie tight end. Even though he didn't get a lot of targets in the preseason, don't discount him. The Bucs love to use their tight ends in the red zone and Smith is capable of stretching the field and finding a seam. Plus, the Bucs weren't going to show too much in the preseason anyway, so maybe they are holding Smith back for when the games count.. On the downside, he is a rookie and Becht is technically the starter, which is why he's not a strong sleeper, but of the deep sleeper variety. Oh yeh, the Vikings allowed the 6th most fantasy pts to TEs (40 yds/gm and 11 TDs), too.

Mike Seidman, CAR vs NO
The Saints secondary has been a problem for a long time. A year ago, they allowed the 3rd most fantasy points to opposing tight ends (52 yds/gm and 8 TDs). Kris Mangum is the team's starter on paper, but Seidman might be the more capable player when it comes to catching passes. Against the Saints, the Panthers could get their ground game rolling drawing more attention in the red zone and leaving either Mangum or Seidman open for an easy score from Delhomme.


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