Week 1: Start 'Em
When it comes to setting your lineups for Week 1 of the fantasy season, a good rule of thumb is simply to not overthink it. You drafted players for a reason and in almost all cases, it's to play them from the jump. Then again, don't let draft day pride interfere with a basic - or detailed - look at the matchups, something you most likely do throughout the season. That's why we offer the "Start 'em" column, where we look beyond the obvious names to offer suggestions on potential lineup options, perhaps someone sitting on your bench right now that you may have simply overlooked. Throughout the season check back here for sleepers and oh so subtle plays and also sneak a peak at our Matchup Analyzer page, which this week backs up our take on two sneaky AFC South wide receivers to ponder...
Likely not drafted as a fantasy starter in 10-12 team leagues, but the aggressive passer's tasty matchup against Indianapolis makes him one in the opener. The Colts secondary gets a boost with the trade for Vontae Davis, but the ex-Dolphin is hardly acclimated. Seeing as the team's scheme has moved from their traditional 4-3 to a 3-4, he's probably not alone. It also marks the first game at outside linebacker for Indy's pass rushing duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, meaning they might not have the access routes to the quarterback down pat (even against the Bears' suspect line). Meanwhile, Cutler and Brandon Marshall get to show off their electric chemistry while rookie Alshon Jeffery gets going. It wouldn't stun me if Cutler finished the season ranked among the top-8 fantasy passers; same goes for the opening week.
Isaac Redman entered the offseason as the Steelers' runner to watch, with Rashard Mendenhall sidelined for part of the NFL season. In fact the shadow cast by Redman over Pittsburgh's other backfield options made it hard to notice someone else's emergence as RB flavor of the month. Limited during preseason by injury, Dwyer (former star of Georgia Tech's run-heavy attack) has steadily taken on a larger role to the point some view the Steelers situation as a 50-50 split. That scenario bodes well for Dwyer's long-term rank more than his Week 1 status. When in doubt at flex, going with the player likely to receive the most touches is a logical approach. Suddenly, compared to some out there (especially WRs in the 25 and over range), Dwyer could be that guy as a flex option in larger leagues.
Update - There is some buzz out of Pittsburgh that Rashard Mendenhall could be active for the opener. That would be a wow and should that happen, all bets are off with this backfield at least in the opener.
Obviously this one comes down to whether Adrian Peterson plays and if so, how much? Seeing as AP didn't have any preseason reps, logic suggests even if he suits up against the Jaguars it will be more of a token, get your feet wet appearance rather than a full throated "I'm the man" workload. This brings us to Gerhart, who averaged 5.4 yards per carry over the last five games in 2011 after Peterson's injury. In that span the former Stanford star rushed for at least 90 yards three times and scored four touchdowns -- three receiving. For as long as the power runner with deceptive speed receives the primary touches, Gerhart is at least a low-end RB2/flex (even against a Jags run D that proved solid last year). Expect the Vikings to stay with a balanced (if not a run-heavy) attack at times as Christian Ponder enters his second season.
We always warn against putting too much stock into preseason action, but the rookie out of Oklahoma State sure looked good. So did Blaine Gabbert, at least compared to his rookie woes. Now in their first regular season game together, the youthful combo face a Vikings secondary that allowed the third most points to fantasy wide receivers last season. Historicaly first-year receivers are a sketchy bunch, but Blackmon looks the part. With Maurice Jones-Drew likely limited at best in the opener, throwing the rookie's way is one way the Jaguars can produce. WR2 in some leagues, flex in PPR.
We know the Titans will need to throw and throw often to keep up in Week 1 against Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. We know Tennessee will not have Kenny Britt at their disposal. And lastly, we know last season New England couldn't stop the aerial attack, allowing more fantasy points to wide outs than any team. Put it all together and the overall modestly ranked Titans receivers move up this week with Washington at the top of the list. Let's not forget the 6-foot-1 target ranked 16th last season among all wide outs in standard scoring leagues. Another reminder, Washington opened 2011 with 27 receptions during the first three weeks. Fine, one fast start does not mean a duplicate performance is coming and the Patriots defense is improved. As for the Titans throwing plenty to keep up with the Pats and Washington as their WR1, yeah we can assume that.