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Sam Bradford leads Week 1 fantasy football deep dive

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In case you hadn't heard, the NFL season is here. Exciting times are ahead, but with that jubilation will come a fair share of hardships inflicted on your fantasy rosters. Perhaps you've already drafted your team and injuries to players like Julian Edelman, Spencer Ware or Cameron Meredith have your squad in a bind from the jump. Maybe you're in fine shape, but you just innocently need a quarterback or tight end to stream and maybe a deep sleeper to stash.

It's just those sort of symptoms that the Deep Dive is prescribed to help alleviate. NFL Fantasy's editorial overlord Alex Gelhar dutifully attacks the waiver wire to give you the top adds for the coming week in hopes of bolstering your roster. However, in this arena, we'll look at options to help those of you looking to go a little bit further down the rabbit hole, whether you play in a deeper format or are at the mercy of your incredibly sharp league-mates who scour the waiver wire relentlessly. A player can only qualify for the deep dive if they're owned in less than 10 percent of NFL.com leagues. With that, here are nine players you can consider adding before Week 1 either as deep FLEX plays or simply as bench stashes.

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1

Sam Bradford, QB, Vikings


The Saints added some juice to their defense in the offseason but we'll stop targeting their pass defense when we get some tangible on-field evidence to do so. New Orleans travels to Minnesota to take on a Vikings offense that if you squint at it just right looks like it could be a top-flight scoring attack. With emerging superstar Stefon Diggs moved back outside, Adam Thielen inserted as a big slot receiver, 2016's tight end target leader Kyle Rudolph and a game-breaking pass-catching back in Dalvin Cook, this team isn't short on aerial weapons. All the talent in the receiving department intersects back at Sam Bradford, who looked at home in Pat Shurmur's offense last season. Bradford gets a bad rap in some circles, but don't discount his tangible fantasy ceiling, especially if the team lets him uncork more deep balls with improved pass protection. On passes that traveled 20-plus extended air yards last season, Bradford's 105.4 passer rating on his 52 attempts ranked ninth best, per Next Gen Stats. Bradford finished as a top-six fantasy passer in three of the last four games of 2016 and don't be surprised if he does so once again at the dawn of the 2017 NFL season.

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2

Shane Vereen, RB, Giants


The New York Giants offense, as currently constructed, is built to throw the football. No team ran more three-wide receiver sets than the Giants in 2016, and they added a new big wideout in Brandon Marshall and a move tight end in Evan Engram. Their running game has no clear starter as Paul Perkins failed to establish himself in the preseason. Our focus should turn to Shane Vereen, whose career resume fits with this offense's pass-first mentality. Vereen cleared 50 catches in both his final season with the Patriots in 2014 and first with the Giants, in addition to averaging 5.9 catches per game in eight contests back in 2013. With Odell Beckham's health in question for the opener in Dallas, New York will be on the hunt for ancillary options to step up.

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3

Charles Sims, RB, Buccaneers


*UPDATE: The TB at MIA Week 1 game has been rescheduled for Week 11. After a strong offseason, Doug Martin begins his three-game suspension this coming Sunday. Jacquizz Rodgers is the favorite to absorb most of the workload in the starting back's absence but don't rule out that Charles Sims plays a role. Sims largely whiffed in his opportunity as a starting back when Martin went down last season but still holds some value as a receiving option. The Dolphins defense is littered with questions at their linebacker and defensive back levels so Sims could see some run against inferior defenders. Not to mention, both the Buccaneers and Dolphins offenses should be squarely on our radar as two of the emerging scoring units this offseason. If this game approaches the 50-point mark, it will buoy the stock of sleeper players like Sims.

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4

Branden Oliver, RB, Chargers


Unlike the first two backs on the list, Branden Oliver offers next to no playability in Week 1. A clear backup running back on a team heading into Denver is rarely going to be on our radar. Yet, there is appeal in just saying that Oliver is the "clear backup running back" on the Chargers after he showed well in the preseason coming off a full-season injury absence in 2016. Among all the players listed behind Melvin Gordon, Oliver is the only player who has any sort of decent NFL play on his resume. Fantasy owners may recall his rookie season back in 2014 where he posted 160 carries and 36 catches with multiple relevant fake football weekly performances as an undrafted free agent. Melvin Gordon didn't play 16 games in either of his first two seasons and has the workload profile of a player who could get nicked up again, so Oliver should at least be on your waiver-wire speed dial.

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5

Marquise Goodwin, WR, 49ers


We all should be excited for target hog Pierre Garcon's outlook for this season and Week 1. However, Marquise Goodwin has definite deep sleeper appeal in the 49ers opening contest at home against the Carolina Panthers. Goodwin looks locked-in as the No. 2 wide receiver and has game-breaking speed. He roasted top cornerback Xavier Rhodes in the third preseason game with a long touchdown down the left side of the field, where he took 40 percent of his preseason snaps. The Panthers are excited about their young cornerback duo, and while right corner James Bradberry looked like a budding star at times as a rookie, left corner Daryl Worley is unquestionably the weak link of that unit. Goodwin could hit a big play or two if he runs some routes from the left side of the field.

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6

Torrey Smith, WR, Eagles


The veteran burner is set as the No. 2 wide receiver opposite Alshon Jeffery on the Eagles roster. Smith flamed out in San Francisco after signing in free agency but showed in the preseason with a 50-yard touchdown where he knifed through the Dolphins zone coverage that he can still get loose in the vertical game. The Eagles travel to Washington in Week 1 and unless their division rival's offense is still stuck in their preseason rut, Philadelphia could face some negative game script in this contest. If Alshon Jeffery gets locked-up with Josh Norman for the majority of his routes in this game, Smith should face favorable individual matchups against a defense that ranked 25th in passing yards allowed last year.

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7

Bruce Ellington, WR, Texans


The dream lives on! After a strong preseason, including a four-catch 93-yard outing littered with big plays against the Patriots in the team's second game, Bruce Ellington managed to catch on and make the final roster with the Texans. Ellington is a legitimately talented player who has yet to showcase that ability thanks to multiple injuries during his time in San Francisco. The bell of opportunity once again tolls for the 2014 fourth-round pick, as Houston will be without Will Fuller (collarbone) and Jaelen Strong (suspension) in Week 1. The Jaguars boast a deadly duo of outside corners in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye but Ellington took 69 percent of his preseason lineups from the slot. He should draw some high-percentage targets from that alignment in the 2016 opener, a game in which Houston could play close to the vest and still control with Blake Bortles behind center for Jacksonville.

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8

Jermaine Gresham, TE, Cardinals


The Cardinals receiver corps is flush with questions after Larry Fitzgerald, most of which centers around John Brown's health. When those same queries popped up last season, Jermaine Gresham surprisingly stepped up with some fantasy relevance, finishing as a top-20 tight end (half-point PPR) in five weeks after the team's Week 9 bye. Arizona travels to take on the Detroit Lions in Week 1, a team that bled production on high-percentage passes in 2016. Not only did the Lions allow a horrendous 72.7 completion rate last year, but they also ranked 29th at defending tight ends, per Football Outsiders. Detroit drafted rookie Jarrad Davis in the first round but it's unlikely that will be enough to solve the problem right away.

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9

Jesse James, TE, Steelers


The Steelers made a move to increase the competition level in their tight end room by trading for the athletic but mistake-prone former 49ers starter, Vance McDonald. There's no doubt McDonald has a much higher ceiling than the limited Jesse James but he might not be up to speed to a point where he will roll out as the starter in Week 1. If James is still the starter against the Browns in Week 1, he has dart throw upside. Cleveland's middle of the field defense should be improved after adding versatile rookie Jabrill Peppers to the mix but the team did allow and NFL-high 13 touchdowns to tight ends last year. Again, James is limited but at 6-foot-7 he can convert in the scoring position, as all three of his 2016 touchdowns came inside the 10-yard line.

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Matt Harmon is a writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB or like on Facebook.

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