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This time of year, whether on social media or in articles, I seemingly always find myself channeling my inner Aaron Rodgers (I have a better hairstyle—just saying) and telling fantasy managers to "R-E-L-A-X."
Understandably, so many are anxious. After months of waiting and prepping and drafting and more waiting, Week 1 finally rolls around, and—for whatever reason—their teams laid an egg. Maybe they rostered Bengals safeties Jessie Bates or Vonn Bell and watched both post modest stat lines because of game script. Or they watched Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks go nuts against the Green Bay Packers while Eric Kendricks did little. Or they watched Seattle Seahawks safety Jamal Adams get hurt early against the Denver Broncos.
No matter the cause, Rodgers had a point back in 2014. We're just one week into the season, and in many respects, Week 1 is the hardest to predict of the entire season. The gap between what we think we know before the games start and what we know after the dust settles can often be chasmous.
It's advice that I need to take after my debut recommendations in this column. Um, yeah. Granted, some things were out of my control—one guy was a surprise scratch, and another played in a biblical deluge. But my downfalls in Week 1 were twofold. One, matchups are hard to peg early in the year—see that chasm I mentioned earlier. And two, I got cute and tried to avoid players I had already mentioned in earlier columns.
Here's a friendly tip—getting cute never works.
But again, it's early. There's still more than enough time for redemption—both for IDP managers and for me personally (I hope). We just have to shake off the stink and get back to work.
As I mentioned last week, frankly, if you're looking to this column for starters this early in the season, you either play in a deep league or your team has problems. But after watching a top-10 edge-rusher (T.J. Watt of the Steelers) and a top-10 defensive back (Adams) both suffer significant injuries in Week 1, the latter group is already growing more quickly than we'd like.
DT Calais Campbell, Baltimore (vs. Miami)
This recommendation comes with a bit of a caveat. If Campbell is classified as a DE in your league, then some of the shine comes off here. But if you're in a DT-required IDP league that requires tackles, then it may be time to hop in the old time machine.
There was a time when Campbell was arguably the best 5-tech 3-4 end in the league. But at 36 and with just 2.5 sacks combined over the past two years, Campbell has been written off by most. He told reporters that those who write he and the Ravens' defensive line in 2022 do so at their own peril.
“This is a special D-line,” Campbell said. “We have a good mix of veterans that know how to play football and win, and then young guys that are hungry and just trying to prove themselves. Just a good balance of quality, quality players all over the field.”
In Week 1, at least, Campbell backed that talk up, logging four tackles and a sack while playing just under half of Baltimore's defensive snaps. The old war-horse isn't a sure bet by any stretch, but last season Mami fielded one of the worst offensive lines in the game, surrendering 40 sacks and having all kinds of trouble opening holes on the ground.
DE A.J. Epenesa, Buffalo (vs. Tennessee)
The good news for the Buffalo Bills in their dominant Week 1 win over the Los Angeles Rams was that the front seven looked phenomenal in sacking Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford seven times. The bad news for IDP managers is that the Bills used a heavy rotation up front, with only Gregory Rousseau seeing the field for 60 percent of the team's defensive snaps.
Rousseau led the way with 45 snaps, but the player who finished second somewhat surprisingly wasn't Von Miller. Instead, it was third-year pro A.J. Epenesa, who parlayed 36 snaps into two tackles, 1.5 sacks, and four QB hits. Those 1.5 sacks tied Epenesa's previous high for a season.
Epenesa isn't the pass-rusher that Rousseau is. Or Miller. Or even rookie Carlos Basham. But what Epenesa does do well is set the edge against the run—a talent that could come in handy playing against Derrick Henry and the Titans in Week 2. Last season, the Titans allowed 47 sacks (seventh-most in the league) and gave up more fantasy points to defensive linemen than any team in the AFC.
Maybe this is just a matter of Epenesa taking advantage of a couple favorable matchups to open a season. Or maybe the youngster is finally becoming the player the Bills thought they were getting in the second round in 2020. But it won't be all that surprising in Epenesa builds on the success he had at SoFi Stadium next Monday night.
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