Fantasy football Week 1 preview

It’s finally here.

The NFL season starts Thursday night as the Carolina Panthers take on the Denver Broncos in a Super Bowl rematch. With that kickoff, another fantasy football season gets underway.

Even if you’re not a fan of either team, it’s likely you’ll still be watching closely as a fantasy football owner.

If you drafted Cam Newton, you’ll be a Panthers fan for at least this season. And you’ll be rooting for the Broncos if you picked up Demaryius Thomas, Denver’s top wideout.

The opener represents a tough matchup for both of those players. Newton will have to withstand solid pressure from the Broncos’ pass rush while Thomas will have to help break in a new quarterback while also getting over last year’s case of the drops.

Regardless, both players have to be considered must-starts, alongside Greg Olsen and both defenses.

Moving on to Sunday’s action, one of the best matchups will pit Derek Carr against the Saints pass defense. The game is indoors, and Carr has Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Latavius Murray at his disposal. The third-year quarterback finished just outside the top-12 in standard leagues last season, and I expect him to enter that QB1 status this season.

Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr warms up before a preseason NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr warms up before a preseason NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Another great situation this week could be the Chiefs’ Spencer Ware facing the San Diego run defense. The Chargers were 29th in points allowed to running backs last season, and Ware is getting the start for Jamaal Charles, who continues to recover from a torn ACL.

Switching to wide receivers, there’s no doubt that Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins will be must-starts all season, but don’t forget about Dez Bryant just because his starting quarterback is sidelined. Bryant is a proud competitor and desperately wants to show the NFL that he’s still a top-tier wideout.

He faces a Giants pass defense that was 26th in points allowed to wide receivers last season. And rookie quarterbacks like Dak Prescott tend to rely on their star players whereas veterans like Tony Romo will try to get the ball to the open receiver. Prescott may do well to just give Bryant chances to make plays.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) warms up before taking on the Houston Texans in a preseason NFL football game, Thursday Sept. 1, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) warms up before taking on the Houston Texans in a preseason NFL football game, Thursday Sept. 1, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

On the other side of the coin, Alshon Jeffery will face a tough defense this week. I’m not sold on him returning to previous form after an injury-plagued 2015 season. The Texans were fifth best in slowing receivers in fantasy scoring last year.

One running back I’d avoid starting this week would be Jeremy Hill. He’ll definitely split time with Gio Bernard and he’s facing the Jets, who were third best in points allowed to running backs last season. I do expect him to deliver more even output this season, not just one reliant on goal-line plays, but this is a bad matchup for him.

Finally, you may have to sit a typically solid fantasy quarterback if you’re a Philip Rivers owner. He’s not projected to do well against a good Chiefs defense that was fifth best in points allowed to quarterbacks last season. The Chiefs will be without Justin Houston, who is out with a knee injury, but if you have another QB with a better matchup, make that play instead.

Fantasy football position rankings heading into final weekend of drafts

It’s the final weekend before the fantasy football season kicks off. Here’s a look at my position rankings for the upcoming season. For quarterbacks I’ve listed two deep for a 12-team league. I’ve listed three deep for running backs and four deep for wide receivers. I’ve also listed the top 12 tight ends and defense/special teams.

Quarterbacks

1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
2. Cam Newton, Panthers—I don’t think he’ll be quite as productive as he was last year, which is why I have him behind Aaron Rodgers.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) looks to pass during an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) looks to pass during an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

3. Russell Wilson, Seahawks
4. Andrew Luck, Colts
5. Drew Brees, Saints
6. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
7. Tom Brady, Patriots
8. Blake Bortles, Jaguars
9. Carson Palmer, Cardinals—I’ve dropped him a couple of spots from the last time out because he hasn’t looked great in preseason. Plus there’s always the fear of him getting hurt. If he stays healthy, he’s got the weapons to end up as a top-5 quarterback.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) throws prior to an NFL preseason football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) throws prior to an NFL preseason football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

10. Eli Manning, Giants
11. Philip Rivers, Chargers
12. Derek Carr, Raiders
13. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jets
14. Tyrod Taylor, Bills
15. Kirk Cousins, Redskins
16. Jameis Winston, Buccaneers
17. Matthew Stafford, Lions
18. Andy Dalton, Bengals
19. Marcus Mariota, Titans
20. Matt Ryan, Falcons
21. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins
22. Alex Smith, Chiefs
23. Jay Cutler, Bears
24. Brock Osweiler, Texans

Running backs

1. David Johnson, Cardinals—I think he has the potential to be the best back in the league. That said, he will probably not be the first running back taken in your draft. If not, make sure you don’t pass him up.

David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the ball against the Houston Texans in the first quarter of a preseason NFL game at NRG Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the ball against the Houston Texans in the first quarter of a preseason NFL game at NRG Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

2. Todd Gurley, Rams
3. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
4. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
5. Lamar Miller, Texans
6. Le’Veon Bell, Steelers
7. Eddie Lacy, Packers
8. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
9. Mark Ingram, Saints
10. LeSean McCoy, Bills
11. Devonta Freeman, Falcons
12. Doug Martin, Buccaneers
13. C.J. Anderson, Broncos
14. Latavius Murray, Raiders
15. Thomas Rawls, Seahawks
16. Jeremy Hill, Bengals
17. Matt Forte, Jets
18. DeMarco Murray, Titans
19. Carlos Hyde, 49ers
20. Jeremy Langford, Bears
21. Melvin Gordon, Chargers
22. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
23. Ryan Mathews, Eagles
24. Frank Gore, Colts
25. DeAngelo Williams, Steelers
26. Arian Foster, Dolphins
27. Matt Jones, Redskins
28. Chris Ivory, Jaguars
29. Gio Bernard, Bengals
30. Derrick Henry, Titans
31. Rashad Jennings, Giants
32. Duke Johnson, Browns
33. Danny Woodhead, Chargers
34. Ameer Abdullah, Lions
35. Isaiah Crowell, Browns
36. Christine Michael, Seahawks

Wide receivers

1. Antonio Brown, Steelers
2. Odell Beckham Jr., Giants
3. Julio Jones, Falcons
4. DeAndre Hopkins, Texans—Really excited to see what he can do with Will Fuller, Jaelen Strong and Braxton Miller spreading the defense thin.

DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Houston Texans looks for room after a reception against the Arizona Cardinals in the first quarter of a preseason NFL game at NRG Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Houston Texans looks for room after a reception against the Arizona Cardinals in the first quarter of a preseason NFL game at NRG Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

5. A.J. Green, Bengals
6. Dez Bryant, Cowboys
7. Allen Robinson, Jaguars
8. Brandon Marshall, Jets
9. Jordy Nelson, Packers
10. Mike Evans, Buccaneers
11. Keenan Allen, Chargers
12. Amari Cooper, Raiders
13. Alshon Jeffery, Bears
14. Sammy Watkins, Bills
15. Brandin Cooks, Saints
16. T.Y. Hilton, Colts
17. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
18. Randall Cobb, Packers
19. Jeremy Maclin, Chiefs
20. Donte Moncrief, Colts
21. Eric Decker, Jets
22. Jarvis Landry, Dolphins
23. Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers
24. Doug Baldwin, Seahawks
25. Michael Floyd, Cardinals
26. Julian Edelman, Patriots
27. Josh Gordon, Browns
28. Marvin Jones, Lions
29. Golden Tate, Lions
30. Allen Hurns, Jaguars
31. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
32. Tyler Lockett, Seahawks
33. John Brown, Cardinals
34. Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos
35. Jordan Matthews, Eagles
36. DeSean Jackson, Redskins
37. Sterling Shepard, Giants
38. Michael Crabtree, Raiders
39. Kevin White, Bears
40. Willie Snead, Saints
41. Corey Coleman, Browns
42. Stefon Diggs, Vikings
43. Torrey Smith, 49ers
44. Tavon Austin, Rams
45. Vincent Jackson, Buccaneers
46. Travis Benjamin, Chargers
47. Laquon Treadwell, Vikings
48. Michael Thomas, Saints

Tight ends

1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
2. Jordan Reed, Redskins
3. Greg Olsen, Panthers
4. Travis Kelce, Chiefs
5. Delanie Walker, Titans
6. Coby Fleener, Saints
7. Gary Barnidge, Browns—He may not duplicate last year’s numbers, but Robert Griffin III could use him as a security blanket.

Tight end Gary Barnidge #82 of the Cleveland Browns catches a touchdown pass during the first half of the preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons at FirstEnergy Stadium on August 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Tight end Gary Barnidge #82 of the Cleveland Browns catches a touchdown pass during the first half of the preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons at FirstEnergy Stadium on August 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

8. Tyler Eifert, Bengals
9. Julius Thomas, Jaguars
10. Antonio Gates, Chargers
11. Zach Ertz, Eagles
12. Jimmy Graham, Seahawks

Defense/special teams

1. Broncos
2. Seahawks
3. Cardinals
4. Panthers
5. Texans—They’ve got a Week 1 matchup against a hurting Bears offense and J.J. Watt may be healthy enough to play by then.

Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints is sacked by Jadeveon Clowney #90 of the Houston Texans, John Simon #51 and Whitney Mercilus #59 in the first quarter durting a preseason NFL game at NRG Stadium on August 20, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints is sacked by Jadeveon Clowney #90 of the Houston Texans, John Simon #51 and Whitney Mercilus #59 in the first quarter durting a preseason NFL game at NRG Stadium on August 20, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

6. Vikings
7. Rams
8. Chiefs
9. Patriots
10. Bengals
11. Jets
12. Raiders

Fantasy football Top 100 heading into final weekend of drafts

It’s the final weekend before the fantasy football season kicks off. No matter what kind of league you’re in, a just-for-fun league or a serious money league, you’ll need a cheat sheet. Here’s what we’re offering up at the Statesman. So without further ado, here are the top 100 fantasy football players in standard leagues for 2016.

Top 100 overall

1. Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers
2. David Johnson, RB, Cardinals
3. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants
4. Todd Gurley, RB, Rams
5. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings
6. Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
7. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys–In the last week, his average draft position has jumped from the tenth pick of the first round to the sixth. Seeing his performance in the third preseason game got a lot of owners excited. I’ve got him seventh on the board.

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) rushes against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, in Seattle. The Seahawks beat the Cowboys 27-17. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) rushes against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, in Seattle. The Seahawks beat the Cowboys 27-17. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

8. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans
9. A.J. Green, WR, Bengals
10. Lamar Miller, RB, Texans
11. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys
12. Allen Robinson, WR, Jaguars
13. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
14. Brandon Marshall, WR, Jets
15. Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers
16. Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers
17. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers
18. Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers
19. Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers
20. Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs–The lastest word is that he’s running behind on his recovery. It’s the second time he’s had to recover from an ACL injury. Spencer Ware is taking first team reps right now, but it’s not yet clear if Charles will actually miss any games.
21. Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
22. LeSean McCoy, RB, Bills
23. Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons
24. Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers
25. Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders
26. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears
27. Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills
28. Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints
29. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts
30. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos–You can say he’s attempting to have a bounce back year, but not many receivers need to bounce back after catching 105 passes for over 1,300 yards while scoring six touchdowns. I’m a believer in Trevor Siemian so Thomas could be great again.

Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) makes the catch as Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson (22) pursues during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) makes the catch as Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson (22) pursues during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

31. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
32. Cam Newton, QB, Panthers
33. C.J. Anderson, RB, Broncos
34. Latavius Murray, RB, Raiders
35. Randall Cobb, WR, Packers
36. Thomas Rawls, RB, Seahawks
37. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Chiefs
38. Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals
39. Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins
40. Matt Forte, RB, Jets
41. DeMarco Murray, RB, Titans
42. Donte Moncrief, WR, Colts–He’s in line for a breakout year. He can play like a possession receiver, but he’s got the skills of a deep threat. If he ends up combining those abilities he could end up being the best receiver in Indy.

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Donte Moncrief (10) walks off the field following an NFL preseason football game in Indianapolis, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016. The Eagles defeated the Colts 33-23. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Donte Moncrief (10) walks off the field following an NFL preseason football game in Indianapolis, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016. The Eagles defeated the Colts 33-23. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

43. Eric Decker, WR, Jets
44. Jarvis Landry, WR, Dolphins
45. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers
46. Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers
47. Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
48. Jeremy Langford, RB, Bears
49. Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers
50. Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks
51. Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals
52. Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers
53. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers
54. Andrew Luck, QB, Colts
55. Julian Edelman, WR, Patriots
56. Ryan Mathews, RB, Eagles–He had just over 100 carries last year because DeMarco Murray was in town. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry and if he remains healthy, big if, he should put up very good numbers.

Philadelphia Eagles running back Ryan Mathews (24) runs against the Indianapolis Colts during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Indianapolis, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Philadelphia Eagles running back Ryan Mathews (24) runs against the Indianapolis Colts during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Indianapolis, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

57. Drew Brees, QB, Saints
58. Josh Gordon, WR, Browns
59. Marvin Jones, WR, Lions
60. Golden Tate, WR, Lions
61. Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs
62. Frank Gore, RB, Colts
63. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
64. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Steelers
65. Arian Foster, RB, Dolphins–If he’s available this late, don’t feel bad about taking him. He’s gone earlier in a lot of drafts, even as high as the third round. I don’t advise taking him earlier than the fifth round.

Miami Dolphins running back Arian Foster (34) slips past Atlanta Falcons strong safety Keanu Neal, left, during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Miami Dolphins running back Arian Foster (34) slips past Atlanta Falcons strong safety Keanu Neal, left, during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

66. Matt Jones, RB, Redskins
67. Allen Hurns, WR, Jaguars
68. Chris Ivory, RB, Jaguars
69. Gio Bernard, RB, Bengals
70. Delanie Walker, TE, Titans
71. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
72. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
73. Tyler Lockett, WR, Seahawks
74. Derrick Henry, RB, Titans
75. John Brown, WR, Cardinals
76. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos
77. Rashad Jennings, RB, Giants
78. Coby Fleener, TE, Saints–Fleener’s got Drew Brees throwing him the ball, how can he not be a good option as your tight end.

Coby Fleener #82 of the New Orleans Saints is tackled by Lawrence Timmons #94 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 26, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Coby Fleener #82 of the New Orleans Saints is tackled by Lawrence Timmons #94 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 26, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

79. Jordan Matthews, WR, Eagles
80. Blake Bortles, QB, Jaguars
81. DeSean Jackson, WR, Redskins
82. Danny Woodhead, RB, Chargers
83. Carson Palmer, QB, Cardinals
84. Duke Johnson, RB, Browns
85. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Lions
86. Eli Manning, QB, Giants
87. Gary Barnidge, TE, Browns
88. Sterling Shepard, WR, Giants
89. Isaiah Crowell, RB, Browns–Both Browns running backs are pretty good value picks. Not much risk taking either of them this late, but they could pay off.

Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell (34) rushes for yardage during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, Fla., Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell (34) rushes for yardage during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, Fla., Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

90. Michael Crabtree, WR, Raiders
91. Christine Michael, RB, Seahawks
92. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Jaguars
93. Kevin White, WR, Bears
94. Tyler Eifert, TE, Bengals
95. Julius Thomas, TE, Jaguars
96. Broncos defense/special teams
97. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers
98. Willie Snead, WR, Saints
99. Corey Coleman, WR, Browns
100. Charles Sims, RB, Buccaneers

It’s time to start mock drafting

It used to be a good idea, but now it’s pretty essential to go through a few mock drafts in order to prepare yourself for an upcoming fantasy football season. I took part in one this week and learned a couple of things. First off, here’s the team I selected in a standard league mock draft on NFL.com.

mymockteam

mymockteam2

Drafting from the tenth and final spot of the round posed an interesting challenge. The first mistake I made was not taking a running back with my first two picks in the snake order. Though there’s some depth at the position on this team, there’s no clear RB2. Some might argue that Carlos Hyde isn’t even an RB1 at this point, but if he’s healthy I think he will be. Questions are swirling around DeMarco Murray, T.J. Yeldon, Thomas Rawls and Dion Lewis, however.

The wide receiver spot looks pretty good with A.J. Green and Amari Cooper taking the WR1 and WR2 spots, with either Donte Moncrief or new Lions receiver Marvin Jones taking a flex spot.

Tight end is probably the most solid position, but with Rob Gronkowski going without Tom Brady for four games Coby Fleener could get a couple starts if he has an instant connection with Drew Brees.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger is a solid starter with Antonio Brown as his main weapon and let’s hope he doesn’t have to miss any time with an aging Tony Romo as his backup.

A few other things I learned from the mock draft:

  • David Johnson is likely a top-5 pick. The person with the first pick in my mock draft took him, but he should probably go no lower than sixth.
  • Le’Veon Bell probably won’t be the first, or maybe even second, running back selected. My draft had Johnson and Todd Gurley go ahead of him.
  • Ezekiel Elliott is no-doubt a first round pick. He went eighth in this mock draft, but I’ve seen him go higher.
  • Don’t be surprised if the first round is half running backs, half wide receivers. Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green went in the first round of this mock.
  • Lamar Miller is right in the late first round, early second round territory. Don’t feel like you’re being too risky taking the new Texan in the first.
  • If DeMarco Murray has a bounce back year, someone will be happy having taken him in the sixth or later.