Welcome to FedEx Air and Ground fantasy analysis. Each week, we'll highlight some quarterback/wide receiver stacks and a few running back tandems that could prove valuable for fantasy owners based on matchups, projected game flow, and most essentially, talent. With nothing but preseason hype to work with to preview Week 1, here are a few options to keep your eye on during the first week of NFL football for 2016. These combos might just win your week.
What makes Derek Carr and Amari Cooper a good fantasy combination in Week 1? Let's start with the fact that the Saints defense allowed the highest passer rating (116.2) and the most passing touchdowns (45) of any defense in NFL history last year. Cooper's matchup against the Saints in Week 1 doesn't get much more favorable, so look for Carr to connect with his No. 1 receiver through the air early and often.
Cooper excelled as a rookie when the matchups were favorable. He posted 109 yards and a score against Baltimore in Week 2, followed by a 134-yard outing against Cleveland the next week. Against the Bears in Week 4, Cooper posted 49 yards and a score and in Week 7 against San Diego he registered 134 yards and a score.
Carr and Cooper built a solid rapport during the 2015 season. Entering their second season together in Oakland, that bond strengthened this summer when the two shacked up as roommates for training camp. They put some effort into building off-field chemistry in hopes that it would translate on the field, so fantasy owners should be looking forward to what these two can accomplish together starting Sunday.
Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott is going to be a popular DFS play in Week 1 and for good reason -- he's a dual-threat quarterback you own at an incredible value. He finished the preseason with the best passer rating in the NFL (137.8), a statistic that should be taken with a grain of salt because not every snap was against a first-team defense. But we've already seen him hook up with a healthy Dez Bryant in the end zone on several occasions in preseason action, and it's only a matter of time before the duo lights up the scoreboard in a regular season game. The fact that Bryant can catch anything within a mile radius of his wingspan helps too. Factor in the Giants' awful pass defense, and you've got a potentially week-winning stack on your hands here.
Plus, you know, Bryant is virtually unstoppable in the red zone. Elaborate you say? Gladly. Despite missing seven games in 2015 due to a foot injury, Dez still leads all wide receivers in receiving touchdowns since 2011 with 53 with 27 of them (50 percent) coming from inside the 20-yard line. Oh, and in his last full season in 2014, he led the NFL in receiving touchdowns with 16. If the rookie quarterback knows what's good for him, he'll be targeting his elite wide receiver frequently against the Giants.
The Jameis Winston-Mike Evans combination is one of the more underrated duos in fantasy. Much of that devaluation, especially when it comes to Evans, heading into this season stems from his 50 percent catch rate a season ago when he hauled in just 74 of his 148 targets. Even worse, Evans only caught two of his 14 targets in the red zone, both of which went for touchdowns ... but the 14 percent catch rate inside the 20 is atrocious. A matchup against a suspect Atlanta defense is just what the doctor ordered to help Evans start 2016 off on the right foot. The Falcons defense has finished in the bottom half of the NFL in the majority of important defensive categories including points per game allowed, yards per game allowed and yards per play, in each of the last three seasons.
As for Winston, 2015's No. 1 overall draft selection, the rookie quarterback was a consistent producer for fantasy owners averaging 17.1 fantasy points per game with a floor of 12 fantasy points and a ceiling of 29. In addition to Winston's 22 touchdown passes, he added six rushing scores which helped boost his output. If he can knock off a few interceptions and increase his passing touchdown total (ideally connecting more with Evans) he'll be a solid bargain in fantasy with one of the biggest wideouts in the league to distribute the ball to on a weekly basis. The duo shredded Cleveland to the tune of 115 yards and a score in Tampa Bay's presesaon dress rehearsal, for what it's worth.
By now, you've probably been exposed to some Derrick Henry hype of some kind or other. But as good as Henry was in the preseason, DeMarco Murray is still the starting running back for the Titans. He projects as the go-to guy early on and should see his share of valuable red-zone opportunities. Murray's matchup against the Vikings defense is not ideal, but the Titans should look to make a statement on the ground, establishing the "exotic smashmouth" scheme against a good Vikings defensive front on home turf. When you consider that Tennessee's options in the passing game are somewhat limited, it makes sense that they'd have Murray shoulder a heavy workload in what is forecasted to be a low-scoring affair.
Don't count Henry out either. The Heisman winner made hay in the preseason plowing through piles, dragging defenders after contact, eluding in the open field and caught a few passes too. His outlook as the No. 2 back is somewhat uncertain this week but if the Titans' coaching staff wants to win, they'll wise up and get Henry a solid 12 to 15 touches. That's really all the beastly rookie will need to produce for fantasy owners, especially if he sees goal-line looks. As we saw in the preseason, it literally takes a village of defenders to stop Henry so if he gets touches inside the 5-yard line, he's a virtual lock to score in short-yardage situations.
Since 2014, Hill and Bernard have combined to form the NFL's best rushing duo, statistically. The tandem ranks first in the NFL in total carries (767), rush yards (3,328), rushing touchdowns (27) and total scrimmage yards (4,443) over the past two seasons.
That success on the ground is likely to continue in Week 1 when Cincinnati takes on the Jets at MetLife stadium.
Hill is looking to bounce back from a disappointing season in terms of efficiency while Bernard's role as a change-of-pace and pass-catching back is underrated in fantasy. He was able to get his touchdowns in spurts last year but his yardage totals on a weekly basis were his downfall from a fantasy perspective. Reports out of camp all summer claimed that Hill is a more mature player now and has developed a leadership role in the locker room. He'll be looking to eat in the season opener and prove that he's still one of the best young backs in the NFL.
Bernard posted over 1,200 scrimmage yards by himself last year, but his lack of touchdown scoring kept him from being a true force as a fantasy asset. But with Tyler Eifert out with an injury and Marvin Jones no longer around to eat up targets, Bernard could be the No. 2 pass-catcher in this offense. Rookie wideout Tyler Boyd is a question mark, so that leaves A.J. Green and Bernard as Dalton's most trusted targets. Bernard doesn't get the short-yardage looks in the red zone that Hill does, but he is able to do more with the ball in space and tends to generate big plays with his feet, helping him contribute consistent production for fantasy owners.
It's already known that the Jets plan to split their backfield workload between Matt Forte and Bilal Powell this season. Although Forte is aging and dealt with some soft-tissue injuries in the preseason, he'll still be the starter and should be involved on early downs. Powell may rotate in on third downs and longer second-down plays, but could see some added work as a runner between the tackles.
In what's projected to be a low-scoring game the Jets will likely lean on their runners to chew up clock and win the time of possession battle. That means more touches for both backfields and more opportunities to pile up yardage on the ground. The one thing we're not sure of yet is how the Jets will use their backs in red-zone situations. For now, fantasy owners should feel comfortable starting both Forte and Powell in Week 1 and hope for some clarity as to what we can expect going forward for the Jets' ground game.
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