After a mere 31 weeks of waiting, the NFL opens the 2016 season. It’s Friday. If you meet me at the water cooler, here are the players I’m going to bring up. In the future weeks, I’ll tend more to talking matchups in the future but for now, these are the box score names I want to see this weekend.
1. WR Kelvin Benjamin (CAR) – He looks good. The offseason was full of negative news regarding Benjamin. Like he was going to not play as often as he did as a rookie. That the offense was going to spread the ball around more. That he had struggled with conditioning. That all rightfully dropped him in the rankings. And that Devin Funchess was looking sharp and was sure to get more playing time. After Week 1, it looks like Benjamin came as a nice value in most fantasy drafts. He led the Panthers with 12 targets and caught six for 91 yards and the only receiving touchdown in the game. Funchess was limited to one reception for nine yards from his four targets. This was against #2 defense versus wide receivers last year. Benjamin already looks much like he did as a rookie when he also dominated the targets and catches. This was as good for Benjamin as it was bad for Funchess.
2. WR Eli Rogers (PIT) – I am very intrigued, enough so he was often my final wide receiver pick in my drafts. Rogers played at Louisville for four seasons and turned in four very similar set of statistics. He always had between 41 and 46 catches for between 454 and 536 yards. Scored as many as four times in a season. He’s a bit undersized at 5-10, 180 pounds and went undrafted in 2015. He played in both high school and college with Teddy Bridgewater. He was signed as a UFDA by the Steelers but then missed all last year with a foot injury. But he is healthy and hungry now. He recently beat out Sammie Coates for the slot receiver job that was vacated by the suspended Martavis Bryant. Ben Roethlisberger already expressed optimism that Rogers could help reduce the pressure that Antonio Browns gets (which is another way of saying Markus Wheaton is not scaring anyone). Completely untried, he could certainly fail quickly and thoroughly. But this offense needs more than Brown in the passing scheme and Rogers could not get a better opportunity. I’ll be watching.
3. WR Jeremy Kerley (SF) – There was no reason to notice Jeremy Kerley this summer because he was buried on the depth chart for the Lions. He spend five seasons with the New York Jets where he never had more than 56 catches for 827 yards and two scores. He too is a smaller player at only 5-9/188 lbs. He was expected to be the slot receiver for the Lions but then they traded him to the 49ers in exchange for OG Brandon Thomas. What makes him notable is that he is now listed as the starting slot receiver for the 49ers and there is no immediate back-up for him. Recall that the 49ers intended on using Bruce Ellington in that role until he tore his hamstring and landed on injured reserve the day before the trade was made. What makes this at least intriguing is that Chip Kelly’s offense is predicated on short throws (hence Blaine Gabbert starting) and in Philly he used Jordan Mathews in that role and threw 126 passes his way. Mathews only averaged a career low 11.7 yards per catch last year. But he was the only Eagles wide receiver of any note. Good enough to see if Kerley ends up having at least bye week value in leagues with reception points.
4. RB Ameer Abdullah (DET) – I must not be the only person that is interesting in Abdullah since in one league I’ve had four different trade offers for him. All from the same guy using different permutations of his lesser players. I was on the “The Drive” Sirius Radio show with Kyle Elfrink and Ray Flowers two weeks ago and they asked me which running back was poised for a “Devonta Freeman-esque” rise from a 30+ ranking to a big year. I answered “Ameer Abdullah”. In fairness, I said that was highly unlikely and that I’d love to come up with one of those every year. But if it happened, then it would most likely be Abdullah. He too is a second-year player. He was even more successful than Freeman when he was a rookie ( 780 yards/3 TDs versus 473 yards/2 TDs). After Jim Bob Cooter took over at mi-season, Abdullah gained 4.7 yards per carry. Don’t like that he rarely had more than 12 carries in any game. Do like that Joique Bell is gone and that means his 90-311-4 should end up with Abdullah. And he has an even better schedule than 2015. That guy wanting me to trade must not like him on my bench. But I’ll keep him for now because he may end a starter for me.
5. QB Robert Griffin III (CLE) – How could you not be intrigued with RG3? After grabbing the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 and passing for 20 scores and rushing for seven more, he infamously played while still injured, got more injured, then played the next year while still injured and it just all went badly with Mike Shanahan. Jay Gruden was never a fan and benched him all of last year. But… what if Griffin has learned a bit of humility and hunger? Knowing this is his second and probably final chance. That doesn’t mean much by itself, but now Griffin will play with the best rookie in the draft this year in Corey Coleman. He has Terrelle Pryor surprisingly making the leap from quarterback to wideout and Josh Gordon (eventually). Duke Johnson is also there after catching 61 passes last year. And there’s even Gary Barnidge who had a freakish 79-1043-9 (but who is bound to return to being a pumpkin this year). The offensive line looks like he’ll need to throw the ball away quickly. But… he has some weapons, an offense that needs to throw and a final chance. He could surprise given that he’s on the waiver wire in most leagues.
6. TE Clive Walford (OAK) – This was the second tight end drafted in 2015 and he even with to the University of Miami where they have perfected the position. At 6-4, 251 he’s more of a fast receiver than a towering blocker. He never had more than 53 yards in any game last year and ended with just 28 catches for 329 yards and three touchdowns. He even hurt his knee in an ATV accident that cut into his training camp and preseason. But he is healthy now and had positive reviews from OC Bill Musgrave. The second year is when top tight ends usually break out and the Raiders offense is getting better. Hard to get that excited about any #2 fantasy tight end but for a guy I picked up for almost nothing in drafts, he has a chance to make noise this year.
And an extra point…
Go look at your roster(s). This is the final time they are going to look so good. Obviously you liked all those players more than any free agents on your waiver wire. I’ve looked at mine and thought “I won’t be able to get any free agents because there is no one I can drop!”. And yet, three days from now I know that my problem is more about which slug gets to leave first. I just love this time of year, don’t you?