You just drafted your fantasy team, and you're feeling confident. You've proudly sent screen shots to all of your favorite fantasy writers on Twitter (thanks for those, by the way). There's no possible scenario where you could imagine benching anyone from that powerful starting lineup you've constructed.
However, the reality is, your non-stud picks and selections made in the mid-rounds will not be every week starters for you. Players have bad matchups, unfavorable game scripts and impediments to fantasy success. Some of your late round picks, or even players on your waiver wire may prove better starts than some of the more obvious names. We obsess over season-long sleepers leading up to the draft season, but it's the weekly sleepers that can change the course of your fantasy matchups and make big winners in daily fantasy.
Colonel Sanders' Super Secret Sleeper
After a long arduous summer searching for answers in the Patriots' backfield, it appears (key word) we have some clarity. Fantasy owners always want to know who the pass-catching running back for the New England Patriot is; since the days of Kevin Faulk we've seen that role provide usable PPR weeks. Every bit of evidence from the preseason suggests that player will be Dion Lewis this season. We'll forgive you if you forgot about Lewis, he hasn't seen a regular season snap since 2012. However, this is a very talented player, and still quite young at only 24 years old.
The Eagles drafted Lewis in 2011 with visions of him being their LeSean McCoy-lite, calling him "a weapon both in the pass and the run" game. When the Browns acquired him in a trade, then offensive coordinator Norv Turner compared him to Darren Sproles. Cleveland envisioned him holding that role for their offense, but he broke his leg before the season, and vanished from the football world.
Now, he's remerged with the New England Patriots and appears primed for a career revival. He caught nine passes in two preseason appearances, including one touchdown. As it stands today, he'll be the Patriots' pass-catching back. As a bonus, in Week 1 he may be their primary runner with LeGarrette Blount serving a one-game suspension. Lewis can be a good runner, in addition to his passing game acumen, as displayed in the Vine to the right.
In PPR formats especially, Lewis is an excellent flier for your flex spot. The Steelers looked like a defense in disrepair during the preseason, and the opening game of the NFL season should feature plenty of passing. There's always the spectre of Bill Belichick and the dangers of trusting a Patriots game script, so cautious optimism is advised. However, if Dion Lewis is on your waive wire, and you're in a bind with early injuries, he makes for a good plug and play add. At worst, you might get a Week 1 flex, but there's a chance you've found a near weekly PPR play.
Before the Bills even named Tyrod Taylor their Week 1 starting quarterback, we here at NFL Fantasywere parading him as a usable fantasy quarterback. Now the moment has arrived. If you're streaming the position, Taylor makes for a good Week 1 start. His rushing numbers will give you a safe floor, even if he does not amass much passing production. Unlike highly drafted running quarterbacks, the Bills have no investment in Taylor, and can let him run around without fear of an injury. The game script is favorable for Taylor, as well. The Bills defense is good enough that the Colts will not trounce them at home. Not having to play from a massive hole, but still likely chasing one of the NFL's best offenses, benefits Taylor.
Before going down with a torn ACL last season, Carson Palmer was a QB1 on a per game basis. He averaged 17.3 fantasy points per game, good for 12th best in the NFL. By all accounts, Palmer is all the way back from his knee injury, and a full go for the season.
He starts it off right with a matchup against the New Orleans Saints depleted defense. Not only did the Saints cut their best edge pass rusher in the offseason, they'll also be without their two best secondary defenders in Jairus Byrd and Keenan Lewis in Week 1. New Orleans historically struggles to stop opposing offenses, and now their defense looks set to struggle early. Fire up Palmer with good expectations as a low investment Week 1 streamer. He and John Brown are going to smoke the Saints secondary.
According to NFL Media insider, Ian Rapoport, C.J. Spiller will miss the first game of the NFL season. Last month, we pointed out Khiry Robinson as a late-round gem, for this very reason. The explosive and talented Robinson is one of the best backup running backs in the NFL, and can fill in admirably for either running back for an extend stretch.
In Week 1, Robinson will slide into Spiller's role as the designated pass-catching maven out of the backfield. The Saints have never ranked outside of the top three in terms of running back receptions since 2006. Making this is a lucrative assignment to inherit, even for just one game. The Cardinals lost their defensive coordinator in Todd Bowles, and field an uninspiring group of linebackers this season. Robinson should find himself in some favorable one-on-one matchups in space.
With Robinson set to inherit a major role in the offense, and this being one of the strongest candidates for shootout game of the week, he makes for an intriguing Week 1 flex and DFS play. He deserves extra consideration in formats that award points per reception.
There will be weeks where Ryan Mathews will be a frustrating fantasy asset to own, especially when it comes time to decide whether to slot him in your lineup. Week 1 will not one of those occasions. With the Eagles traveling to Atlanta, and neither squad fielding a top-tier defensive unit, this could easily be the highest scoring game of the weekend. In games where points are plentiful, you want Mathews in your lineup. He has a strong chance to catch a handfull of passes, and even pop in a touchdown (rushing or receiving). You can start him as a flex with confidence in the inagural NFL game.
Someone has to be Marcus Mariota's No. 1 wide receiver, and all indications are that Kendall Wright is the guy. The duo hooked up for six preseason catches in their limited time together. Wright took a step back from his 94 catch season from 2013 to only managing 57 last year. 2014 should see him finish much closer to the former than the latter. In Week 1 he faces a Buccaneers defense that ranked 29th in allowing fantasy points to opposing wide receivers and made no tangible upgrades to the secondary. The Titans could get behind early on the road, and their rookie quarterback will need to chuck the ball around to catch up. That will lead to plenty of opportunities for Wright. We may see him reach double digit targets in Week 1.
One of NFL Fantasy's guys; our own Alex Gelhar ballyhooed Steve Johnson as a deep sleeper back in May, and I followed that up with a strong Reception Perception evaluation of the new Chargers receiver.
In Week 1, Johnson figures to get off to a roaring start. He'll see plenty of short area targets with Antonio Gates out on a suspension, and Ladarius Green still being an unproven commodity. Johnson should slide right into the slot position, vacated by Eddie Royal, and will matchup against the Lions' Josh Wilson. The former Washington and Falcons' corner was toasted with alarming frequency the last two years. Johnson is a rock solid flex play, with potential for WR2 numbers.
Our own Matt "Franchise" Franciscovich has been pounding the table for Kamar Aiken all week. We were mostly tuning him out, but then Steve Smithdemanded that we listen a little closer to our co-worker. When you look at it, playing Aiken in Week 1 makes some sense, in DFS and deeper leagues. With Breshad Perriman on the shelf, Aiken is all but locked into a starting role. While that matchup against the Broncos secondary is daunting, projected game flow is on the Ravens' side. Denver is the heavy home favorite in this tilt, and Baltimore will be throwing to try and catch up. Playing from behind, and the passing volume that comes with that, strongly correlates to fantasy success. It's a longshot, but don't be surprised if Aiken pops in a touchdown. He could be this year's Allen Hurns, aka, the Week 1 all-star.
The player Sean Payton hinted could be Jimmy Graham's replacement was a popular sleeper in the early portions of the offseason. However, Benjamin Watson's preseason stature created a decline in Josh Hill's redraft status. It's time to be optimistic again. In a high-scoring game against a defense that has been one of the worst at slowing down tight ends over the last two years, Hill makes for an intriguing sleeper. You're essentially just hoping for a touchdown, but Hill showed a propensity for scoring those last year. Playing Hill is a dice roll without knowing exactly what his role will be, but at least the situation is conducive for success.
Much of the attention went to Davante Adams in the wake of Jordy Nelson's season-ending injury. While Adams figures to inherit a big load of the target volume, he doesn't profile as a big red zone threat, as Nelson did. Enter Richard Rodgers. He was the most efficient Packers tight end in the red zone last season, and will get more looks there as he begins to siphon targets away from Andrew Quarless. In Week 1, he gets the Bears -- the same ones who allowed the second most receiving touchdowns to tight ends last season. Rodgers makes for a fine Week 1 tight end streamer.
In the latest episode of the NFL Fantasy LIVE podcast the gang previewed Thursday night's NFL season opener between the Patriots and Steelers and reacted to the rash of roster moves from over the weekend. They also answered some of your burning fantasy questions via the mailbag. Don't forget to subscribe and listen in HERE!
Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter **@MattHarmon_BYB**. Football is back, that is all.