I got a panicked text from one of my friends this week. "RANK! I need sleepers!" Sleepers? In Week 1?
It's like the scene in "Ocean's 11" When Rusty (Brad Pitt) is teaching a bunch of "Teen Beat" cover models how to play poker. The dude from "Seventh Heaven," Barry Watson, asked for six cards in a game of five-card stud. But he is told that he wants none. If you need five cards in this game, you really need to just cut your losses and move on. So if you're really looking for sleepers in Week 1, then maybe it's time to sign up for another team on NFL.com and try this again.
Of course, I jest. There is no reason to fold. And I know, every league, team and circumstance is different. So I'm going to run through some different simulations, crunch some numbers and try to anticipate where you could use some help. Of course, if you can't find what you specifically need, hit me up on Facebook. Let's get started.
Sam Bradford, QB, Minnesota Vikings: I feel those of you who draft early. I mean, getting my childhood chums together in a room for a draft is akin to herding kittens. Somebody's kid has a lacrosse tournament. Another has a family vacation planned. Then there's the Angels home schedule. Next thing you know, you're doing a draft the weekend after the Fourth of July in the desert because you wanted to go see Rancid with the Dropkick Murphys and most were able to go (and by most, I mean half with the others drafting from a phone in the parking lot at Troy High School because they are stuck at a soccer tournament). Which is all great. But it also means there is that one dude who drafted Luck and you need to start a quarterback. Well, go with Bradford because he was great last year with an NFL-record 71.6 completion percentage and a 99.3 passer rating. The Saints have been vulnerable to passing attacks in recent years.
Dang, you guys talked up Bradford too much, give me another QB:
Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals: He's available in 27 percent of NFL.com leagues. I even went and checked my competitive leagues and again, he's available in most. I like the matchup against the Lions who have struggled against the pass in recent years. This is crazy because he's got a Hall of Fame receiver and one of the best running backs in the game helping him out. And if he's gone, go grab Carson Wentz.
Who was the guy who caught all of those passes from Bradford?
Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings: Bradford certainly looked Thielen's way a lot down the stretch, the outlier game being against the Packers in Week 15 when he was targeted 15 times and went for 202 yards and two touchdowns. The good news? He gets four games against the Packers and Lions combined. And I won't throw the Bears into that mix because Chicago's D is going to be lit. And before you're all, "Who is this Rank guy? He's probably from Downers Grove or something." Well, guess what smart guy, the joke is on you. Because I'm from Schaumburg.
Rex Burkhead, RB, New England Patriots: Burkhead was pretty good over the last six games of 2016 for the Bengals as he averaged more than 71 rushing yards per game. The Patriots also like those running backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield. Pats running backs have scored 14 receiving touchdowns over the last two years, which is the most in the NFL. We'll never be able to fully understand the mind of Bill Belichick, which is cool. But the early indication is he will lean towards the guys who are the most well-rounded in the backfield. And this guy might still be on your waiver wire, too.
Who looks like the best running back in Seattle?
Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks:Seahawks coach Pete Carroll likes competition, which is something I witnessed firsthand at USC practices during the glory days. Pete didn't care where you were recruited or what your credentials were -- the best players made it to the field. You see it in Seattle, too. Just look at Russell Wilson starting over Matt Flynn. So it's not crazy to think Carson could win this job after he rushed for 166 scrimmage yards and scored two touchdowns during the preseason. And you want to go up against the Packers who allowed nine rushing touchdowns in the last nine games. And still, take those numbers with a grain of salt because teams change from year to year. But the Packers still seem to have deficiencies.
Which running back will people scramble for in Week 2?
Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints:Mark Ingram had a career year for the Saints in 2016. His reward? The team brought in Adrian Peterson and drafted Kamara. Thanks for playing! But I'd start putting in claims for Kamara right now. Some of the Chargers broadcast team made comparisons to LaDainian Tomlinson during the preseason, which seemed like a bit much but was worth noting. But the dude had 118 scrimmage yards and a touchdown on 10 touches during the preseason. 10! At the very least, he's going to have a marketable role on this team as a receiving back (not that Ingram can't catch, but AD hasn't shown a propensity for it during his time in the league). And with Brandin Cooks in New England and Willie Snead suspended, Kamara could have an early role with the Saints.
Hold up. Steve Smith is on NFL Network? So who will catch all of the passes that went to him last year?
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Baltimore Ravens: Smith had 101 targets working primarily out of the slot for the Ravens in 2016. Maclin will line up in the slot and should be able to inherit those targets, if not uild on them. Smith's line of 70 receptions 799 yards and five touchdowns seems like a safe floor for Maclin. But I would expect production closer to 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
Who will catch the most passes for Chicago?
Kendall Wright, WR, Chicago Bears: Wright had a breakout season for the Titans in 2013 with 94 receptions for 1,079 yards. The Titans offensive coordinator that season is current Bears OC Dowell Loggains. And I hate to be the guy who says, "Somebody has to catch the passes in Chicago," but it's true.
What about that other receiver in Chicago?
You think we need one more? Fine.