IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU
Eli Manning, QB, Giants
The new-look Giants offense looked awful in the preseason, and things didn’t get much better when the lights came on for Monday Night Football. Despite playing catch-up for most of the game Eli threw for just 163 yards and one TD. Worse, barely a fourth of his targets were directed at his top two receivers, Victor Cruz and Reuben Randle, for a combined four catches for 25 yards. Maybe this offense clicks with Eli eventually—they do face the Cowboys twice, after all—but the fantasy upside here is extremely limited.
PUT A RING ON THAT THING
Jake Locker, QB, Titans
Thanks to a steady stream of injuries the Titans haven’t seen enough of Locker to commit to a contract extension as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. They may end up regretting that move—not in a Joe Flacco kind of way, and probably not as much as the Chiefs regret sinking all that money into Alex Smith—as Locker faces an extremely fantasy-friendly stretch of games over the next six weeks. His 266 and two in Kansas City last week offers a taste of what’s to come. If you have a quarterback with a Week 4 bye or made a misguided pairing like Eli/Alex or McCown/Manuel Locker could be the lineup saver you seek.
Derek Carr, QB, Raiders
Despite his rapid ascension to the starting gig in Oakland Carr remains more of a long-term investment. He was solid though not spectacular facing Rex Ryan and the Jets, and his early-season schedule isn’t particularly fantasy-friendly. Coming out of the Raiders’ Week 4 bye, however, things improve significantly and culminate with Buffalo traveling to the Black Hole in Week 16. Oakland has talented wideouts that haven’t seen much light given the previous quarterbacking, and if the Raiders’ young offensive line jells in front of Carr to give him time to look downfield he has the arm to take advantage—and bolster your fantasy stats in the process.
GOOD FROM AFAR, BUT FAR FROM GOOD
Justin Forsett, RB, Ravens
With Ray Rice no longer a Raven—not to mention suspended indefinitely—and Bernard Pierce fumbling away his opportunity in Baltimore, Forsett is bound to be the hot pickup this week. However, there’s a limit to his upside—and his 11-70-1, 5-14 showing in Week 1 is pretty much it. Forsett has two career outings with more than 100 combo yards, and both came back in 2009 with the Seahawks. He also has a total of 10 touchdowns in 88 career games, no more than one a season since 2010, and last week’s workload exceeded everything he’s done combined since his last game with double-digit carries—which was on December 2, 2012 as a member of the Texans. Forsett also sees the Steelers (on a short week), Browns and Panthers over the next month, a slate that’s extremely likely to reveal him for the journeyman he is.
DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
Lorenzo Taliaferro, RB, Ravens
What has Taliaferro done to warrant fantasy consideration? Nothing; he hasn’t even touched the ball in a regular season NFL game. However, he handled 65 carries during the exhibition season, including 13-71 against the 49ers and 25-88 in the fake game finale against the Saints. He has Pierce’s size (6-0, 226) without the fumbles and his combine performance (posting the best 3-cone time among all backs in Indy) suggests unique quickness for a man of his size. He’s an adequate receiver and a downhill runner who could be just the kind of “where’d he come from” back Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking system turns into a star. Why settle for Pierce or Forsett when you could potentially hit it out of the park with Taliaferro?
DON’T GIVE UP ON ME, BABY
Bishop Sankey, RB, Titans
Sankey was the first rookie back off many fantasy draft boards, so the frustration of seeing him limited to six carries in his NFL debut could spur owners to bail on him prematurely—if not this week, then quite possibly next after Shonn Greene feasts on another soft matchup against the toothless Dallas defense. After that, however, things turn south for the Tennessee rushing schedule—and besides, he’s Shonn Freaking Greene. Keep in mind that Giovanni Bernard’s NFL career started with games of five and nine touches behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis before the Bengals came to their senses; don’t be surprised if Sankey follows a similar route to eventual fantasy stardom.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons
Steven Jackson returned from his hamstring injury to handle the heavy workload in Atlanta, while Antone Smith and Jacquizz Rodgers both found the end zone in limited action. Freeman? Four touches for 33 yards and many frustrated fantasy owners who might be reaching for the panic button. But stashing Freeman means you’re only another Jackson hammy twinge away from jumping into a three-way battle with the journeyman Smith (and his 11 career touches) and the disappointing Rodgers, whom Freeman was essentially drafted to replace. At eight yards a touch, Atlanta is sure to find a way to work their third-round pick into the offensive mix sooner rather than later.
Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals
Hill handled the rock just four times in his NFL debut, thwarted by both a stout Ravens run defense and the presence of Giovanni Bernard atop the Bengals’ backfield depth chart. Funny, that’s exactly how many carries Gio got in last season’s opener while BenJarvus Green-Ellis carried 14 times—strangely enough, Gio’s total in the 2014 opener. All signs point towards an uptick in carries for Hill, from the pattern the Bengals’ backfield followed last year—Gio and BJGE both saw double-digit carries in eight different games—to new OC Hue Jackson’s penchant for a run-heavy game plan to a Cincy schedule that features fantasy-friendly RB matchups each of the next three games. Hill won’t be exclusively the goal line guy, but he’ll get his chances—and as a younger, more talented version of BJGE there’s 700 yards and seven TDs on the table if you’re patient.
MAKE IT A BRIEF FLING
Allen Hurns, WR, Jaguars
As Hurns was blowing up the Eagles with 4-110-2 in the first half against Philly, lines were already forming at the waiver window. Those in the queue didn’t miss much, as Hurns didn’t have a single catch in the second half, but that won’t prevent otherwise rational fantasy owners from chasing those stats with a large share of their FAAB. The good news is, Jacksonville’s Week 2 matchup with Washington is another favorable one for the Jaguars’ passing game so Hurns might provide a short-term return on investment. The bad news is that from there the Jaguars’ passing game schedule turns dramatically difficult, with only a Week 10 breather against the Cowboys between Week 3 and the end of the season breaking up a bevy of difficult matchups. In other words, there’s a good chance that next year in Week 1 when we reference one-hit wonders like Frisman Jackson and Kevin Ogletree, Hurns’ name won’t be far behind. But hey, enjoy it while you can.
HOW CAN YOU MEND A DISLOCATED ELBOW?
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals
After a disappointing rookie season, as first-round first-year tight ends are wont to do, Tyler Eifert was in the early stages of a breakout game to announce his presence among the top fantasy tight ends with authority. Unfortunately, three catches in he landed awkwardly on his elbow while fighting for yardage and will now miss the next two months. How can you mend a heart broken by Eifert’s absence? Grab Gresham, himself a former first-round pick who will now house most if not all of Cincy’s tight end looks. Last season that amounted to 89-926-7, good for 12th among all teams; similar production would make Gresham a fantasy starter for the two months Eifert spends on IR—and at last check he was available in 85% of MFL leagues.