Free Agent Forecast: Week 1

Free Agent Forecast: Week 1

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Free Agent Forecast: Week 1

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SYMBOL LEGEND
Rockstar Rock Star Free Agent
Injury Injury Replacement
Grab & Stash Grab & Stash
1 Week Plug & Play 1 Week Plug & Play
Dumpster Dive Dumpster Dive
Free Agent Auction
Bid (FAAB) Scale

$ $0 – $5
$$ $6 – $15
$$$ $16 – $25
$$$$ $26 – $40
$$$$$ $41+
Based on $100 cap,
12-team league.

Welcome to another season of the Free Agent Forecast. This weekly column is published every Tuesday morning and aims to identify free agents who will improve your chances of hoisting your league’s trophy at year end.

Given the diverse scoring systems and sizes of fantasy leagues, producing a weekly list of free agents that satisfies the masses can be challenging. For the most part, the column will hone in on players who are available in at least 35% of all fantasy leagues. If you play in a small league (8 teams), chances are there may be better players to pick up than you see listed here. If you play in a large league (16 teams), the majority of the players highlighted may already be on a squad; however, expect to find hidden gems, as well.

In addition to scouting “rock star” free agents who had breakout performances in the previous week, the Forecast will dig deep to identify players who may be worth a spot start or a roster stash.

Quarterbacks

Carson Palmer, Cardinals
1 Week Plug & PlayMost fantasy owners aren’t scrambling for a quarterback in Week 1 but if you need an option outside of the obvious choices, Palmer is worth a look. Palmer tends to run hot or cold but he did play better over the second half of last season. In his final eight games, Palmer posted four 300-yard games and had five games with multiple touchdown passes. He has a trio of explosive receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and rookie John Brown at his disposal. San Diego can be exploited in the secondary, so if Palmer has time Monday night, he should reward fantasy owners with a big game.
Availability: Owned in ~ 65% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Palmer will throw for at least 250 yards and two touchdowns.



Josh McCown, Buccaneers
Grab & StashMcCown was stellar filling in for an injured Jay Cutler last year. He averaged 308 yards and scored 12 total touchdowns in five starts with the Bears. Now McCown gets a shot to be the full-time starter in Tampa Bay. He has a tough opener against a stout Panthers’ defense but McCown’s schedule and weapons set up for him to have another productive season. Some will argue that McCown doesn’t have the 6’3 Alshon Jeffery and 6’4 Brandon Marshall to throw the ball up to anymore. However, Vincent Jackson (6’5) and rookie Mike Evans (6’5) aren’t too shabby either. McCown will be a strong QB2 and bye-week sub at the very least this year, especially after the Bucs upgraded the interior of their offensive line by getting OG Logan Mankins.
Availability: Owned in ~ 38% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: McCown will be a strong QB2 option all season.



Running Backs

Danny Woodhead, Chargers
1 Week Plug & PlayWoodhead is owned is most PPR leagues but he makes for a strong start in all formats this week. Arizona had one of the toughest rush defenses in the NFL last season and the Cardinals project to be just as strong against the run in 2014. This game isn’t a great match-up for Ryan Mathews. Expect to see the Chargers use more formations with Woodhead in the backfield. San Diego will try to spread the Arizona defense out to create running lanes. Mathews will get his touches as well but will likely find yards hard to come by against the Cardinals’ front seven.
Availability: Owned in ~ 78% of leagues.
FAAB: $$-$$$
Forecast: Woodhead will be the Chargers top fantasy scoring RB in Week 1.



Jeremy Hill, Bengals
Grab & StashThe Bengals released BenJarvus Green-Ellis, which means Hill will be their big back to complement Giovani Bernard. Hill is a powerful back who also has the speed to break off long runs. Bernard is the clear-cut starter in Cincinnati but the Bengals don’t want to wear him down by running him inside the tackles 20 times a game when they have a bulldozer like Hill. Expect Hill to get around 10 touches a game early, and for that number to increase as the season moves forward.  
Availability: Owned in ~ 53% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Hill will be a weekly flex play option.



Andre Williams, Giants
Grab & StashLike Hill, Williams is a talented rookie set for a complementary role early but a player that will shine should something happen to starter Rashard Jennings. Williams will spell Jennings and see goal line carries, so he has some flex appeal in deeper leagues. If he gets a chance to be the starter though, Williams will put up big number. The former Boston College standout has tremendous vision and bursts through a hole without hesitation. Jennings is an underrated all-purpose back, limiting Williams’ upside for the time being. Although, Jennings has had trouble staying healthy in the past, so grabbing Williams now and being patient could pay off big down the line.
Availability: Owned in ~ 63% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Williams will be the Giants goal line back with big upside.



Devonta Freeman, Falcons
Grab & StashSteven Jackson is one of the NFL’s great warriors of the last decade but it appears his career is nearing the end. Those owners who draft Jackson certainly want insurance and the best option is Freeman. Jacquizz Rodgers will still be in the mix if Jackson goes down with in injury but the Falcons have seen what he can do and it’s not a lot. Freeman still needs to work on his pass protection to get on the field more but he’s an explosive runner that gives Atlanta a playmaker in the backfield. There’s a distinct possibility that Freeman ends up as the Falcons starting running back by the end of the season.
Availability: Owned in ~ 60% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Freeman won’t be a big fantasy factor early but get more touches as the season goes on.



Wide Receivers

Brandin Cooks, Saints
Rock StarSurprisingly, Cooks is still available in some leagues. That’s a mistake because Cooks isn’t a typical rookie. Sometimes a player goes into a perfect situation and it’s a match made in heaven. That’s the case with Cooks and the Saints. Sean Peyton is going to move Cooks all over the place in order to get him the football this season. He’s going to be a more explosive version of Darren Sproles from the receiver position for New Orleans. If Cooks is somehow still available in your league, he should be picked up at once.
Availability: Owned in ~ 78% of leagues.
FAAB: $$$
Forecast: Cooks will be a weekly WR3 this season with the upside to become a WR2.



Andre Caldwell, Broncos
Injury ReplacementAs this goes to print, Wes Welker is expected to suit up Sunday night against Indianapolis but concussions are always tricky. Should Welker not get cleared to play, Caldwell will get most of the reps in the slot with the first-team offense. Caldwell is a limited receiver but anyone who plays with Peyton Manning can put up statistics if his number is called that night. Caldwell proved that last year by catching six passes and scoring two touchdowns on 11 targets when filling in for Welker against the Chargers.
Availability: Owned in ~ 3% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Caldwell will have fantasy value if Welker gets another concussion.



Justin Hunter, Titans
1 Week Plug & PlayGrab & StashHunter is still available in some leagues. He has the potential to be a breakout candidate in 2014 and it could start in Week 1 against the Chiefs. Kansas City has question marks at cornerback. The Chiefs were susceptible to the big play last year and Hunter is the kind of receiver that gave them trouble. Hunter has the physical skills to be weekly fantasy stud if he stays focused and new head coach Ken Whisenhunt can get more consistency from quarterback Jake Locker.
Availability: Owned in ~ 64% of leagues.
FAAB: $$
Forecast: Hunter will emerge as a WR3/flex play and the Titans second-best fantasy WR behind Kendall Wright.



John Brown, Cardinals
Grab & StashBrown ripped it up in the preseason, catching 10 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown. Head coach Bruce Arians recently said that Brown will play in roughly 60 percent of Arizona’s offensive snaps this season. Brown has been compared to T.Y. Hilton, who Arians coached in Indianapolis. In Hilton’s rookie year, he played in 57 percent of the Colts’ offensive snaps, catching 50 balls for 861 yards and seven touchdowns. Brown has Larry Fitzgerald and Michal Floyd to contend with but Arians knows how to maximize his talent. Brown will make an impact as a rookie. Get on Brown before it’s too late.
Availability: Owned in ~ 7% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Brown’s rookie stat line will fall just below Hilton’s numbers, making him a flex play option most weeks.



Allen Hurns, Jaguars
Dumpster DiveJacksonville selected Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson in the second round this year but the undrafted Hurns was the team’s most impressive receiver this preseason. Lee showed flashes but battled inconsistency and Robinson has been slowed by injuries. Hurns took advantage running with the first-team offense and led all NFL receivers during the preseason with 230 yards. Hurns showed good chemistry with both Chad Henne and rookie Blake Bortles. Jacksonville is thin at the receiver position, so Hurns could make an impact at some point this year. He’s a player to watch.
Availability: Owned in ~ 4% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Hurns could emerge as a sleeper if Jacksonville turns to Bortles sooner than later.



Tight Ends

Garrett Graham, Texans
1 Week Plug & PlayGrab & StashGraham takes over as the Texans’ No. 1 tight end now that Owen Daniels is in Baltimore. Graham is coming off a season where he caught 49 passes for 545 yards and five scores. Graham is never going to be a dominant Jimmy Graham-like fantasy tight end but he has the skills to be a solid weekly producer in Houston’s offense. Also, Ryan Fitzpatrick has shown throughout his career that he likes to throw to the tight end, especially inside the red zone. If you waited too long to draft a tight end and are scrambling for a starter in Week 1, Graham isn’t a bad fallback option.
Availability: Owned in ~ 31% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Graham will be a consistent TE2/spot-starter in PPR leagues this season.



Kickers

Blair Walsh, Vikings
1 Week Plug & PlayThe Vikings offense should be much improved this season under offensive coordinator Norv turner, giving Blair more scoring opportunities. Walsh had 38 field goal attempts in 2012 but that number slipped to 30 last year due to the Vikings’ struggles on offense. Matt Cassel has been a solid quarterback when he’s had a talented supporting cast and he has that in Minnesota. Look for the Vikings to move the ball better than expected against St. Louis and for Walsh to have some scoring opportunities Sunday.
Availability: Owned in ~ 48% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Walsh will get multiple field goal opportunities against the Rams.



Defense/Specials Teams

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1 Week Plug & PlayGrab & StashThe Buccaneers added DE Michael Johnson and CB Alterraun Verner to an already talented defense, not to mention new head coach Lovie Smith. Cam Newton isn’t 100 percent with a rib injury. The Panthers rely heavily on Newton because of their lack of offensive playmakers. This game should be a low-scoring, defensive battle. The Bucs defense is a great option for Week 1 and will be one of the better fantasy defenses this season.
Availability: Owned in ~ 62% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: The Buccaneers will have one of the top scoring fantasy defenses in Week 1 and be a hot waiver wire addition.



Houston Texans
1 Week Plug & PlayGrab & StashThe Texans finished last season as the worst defense in fantasy football. That’s not likely to happen again in 2014. Romeo Crennel comes in as the new defensive coordinator and the team used the No. 1 draft pick to select DE Jadeveon Clowney. Washington’s offense is still a question mark. Robert Griffin and the offensive line struggled during the preseason. This is a game where Houston’s front seven could dominate. Expect the Texans to have the most improved defense in the NFL this season.
Availability: Owned in ~ 55% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: The Texans will harass RGIII all day, recording sacks and creating turnovers. Overall, Houston will have one of the better fantasy defenses this season.



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