Fantasy Football 2014: Week 1 Rankings and Projections for Top Sleepers

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2014

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 09: Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Houston Texans is pursued by cornerback Derek Cox #22 of the San Diego Chargers in the third quarter at Qualcomm Stadium on September 9, 2013 in San Diego, California. The Texans defeated the Chargers 31-28.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

It's been a while since we've all filled out fantasy football lineups. A short, unforgiving season provides owners no leeway to work off the cobwebs during Week 1.

Barring a season-ending injury to a superstar, nobody's season is going to end because of one loss. Yet considering most leagues play 13 or 14 matchups before advancing to the playoffs, every game becomes vital.

Constructing a savvy fantasy lineup is toughest to start the season. Last year's numbers serve as a helpful guide, but coaching and player personnel has since shifted. With that said, managers are forgiven for rolling with their top draft picks this weekend.

Many gamers, however, are too proactive for such an approach. Besides, how are you going to get into the seasonal spirit without spending copious time laboring over lineup decisions? That's half the fun, and 80 percent the agony, of fantasy football.

Let's take a look at position-by-position rankings, along with a highlighted look at how some popular sleepers will fare to kick off the 2014 season.

 

Quarterback

Week 1 QB Rankings
RankPlayerOpponent
1Peyton ManningIndianapolis Colts
2Drew Breesat Atlanta Falcons
3Matthew StaffordNew York Giants
4Andrew Luckat Denver Broncos
5Tom Bradyat Miami Dolphins
6Aaron Rodgersat Seattle Seahawks
7Colin Kaepernickat Dallas Cowboys
8Matt RyanNew Orleans Saints
9Jay CutlerBuffalo Bills
10Nick FolesJacksonville Jaguars
Author's personal rankings

 

Sleeper: Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans (at Kansas City Chiefs)

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 23:  Jake Locker #10 of the Tennessee Titans drops back to pass in the first half of a preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on August 23, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

If you're starting Jake Locker this week, you either play in an incredibly deep league or are really thinking too much.

In standard leagues that start one quarterback, the position is too deep to take a flier on a talented sleeper. Maybe you're trying to avoid Aaron Rodgers against the Legion of Boom, but stick with your stud.

Tennessee's fourth-year quarterback could be in store for a big year. His completion percentage, which stood at a solid 60.7 last year, has risen in each of the past three years, and he endured a brutal schedule to toss eight passing touchdowns in six games, not including one in which he got hurt early.

Now he'll work in Ken Whisenhunt's pass-happy scheme rather than painfully feeding Chris Johnson the ball 30 times a game. Wideouts Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter are fantasy darlings, so shouldn't some of the love come his way?

NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 15:  Justin Hunter #15 of the Tennessee Titans runs in a pass for a touchdown in front of Rafael Bush #25 of the New Orleans Saints during a preseason game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 15, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisian
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs aren't as bad of a fantasy matchup as they may seem. Their defense was a top scoring unit due to an onslaught of scores, but they ranked 25th in passing yards allowed and cut star cornerback Brandon Flowers during the offseason.

Don't toss Locker into the starting lineup this week, but he should at least play well enough to warrant a pickup if still available.

Projections: 230 passing yards, 20 rushing yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT

 

Running Back

Week 1 RB Rankings
RankPlayerOpponent
1LeSean McCoyJacksonville Jaguars
2Jamaal CharlesTennessee Titans
3Matt ForteBuffalo Bills
4Adrian Petersonat St. Louis Rams
5Marshawn LynchGreen Bay Packers
6Giovani Bernardat Baltimore Ravens
7Montee BallIndianapolis Colts
8Andre EllingtonSan Diego Chargers
9DeMarco MurraySan Francisco 49ers
10Eddie Lacyat Seattle Seahawks
11Frank Goreat Dallas Cowboys
12C.J. Spillerat Chicago Bears
13Zac StacyMinnesota Vikings
14Arian FosterWashington Redskins
15Rashad Jenningsat Detroit Lions
Author's personal rankings

 

Sleeper: Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots (vs. Miami Dolphins)

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 11:  Stevan Ridley #22 of the New England Patriots celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Foxboro, M
Al Bello/Getty Images

Stevan Ridley has transitioned from fantasy sleeper to breakout star to overvalued rusher to mid-round sleeper over his short, fumble-filled career. With playing time uncertain, the New England running back saw his average draft position plummet to 92, according to FantasyPros.

Now for the $64,000 question—you might have a gambling problem if that's your league's actual prize amount—how much will Ridley play Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins? Will he get any work?

The 25-year-old became a fantasy stud in 2012 when he rushed for 1,263 yards a dozen touchdowns. While his per-carry basis didn't change much last year, some early fumbles angered Bill Belichick, costing fantasy owners precious goal-line looks that come often for New England backs.

Not even viewed as a certainty to make the 53-man roster, CSNNE.com's Phil Perry said Ridley's spot is now more secure than a football in his hands:

When Ridley fumbled against the Eagles in New England's second preseason game, he didn't get a carry for a remainder of the game. He got only eight carries against the Panthers in preseason game No. 3. Still, his burst and ability to run through contact give him enough value to warrant a roster spot -- even despite his fumbling issues. Without him, the team would be short a running back who can create chunks of yardage on his own between the tackles.

Fumbles aside, Ridley has still averaged 4.5 yards per carry over his career, and there are no proven alternatives to steal the carries. After getting burned by inexperienced wideouts last year, they may be more timid to go with rookie James White. 

Expect Ridley to get some touches on Sunday. He's a sneaky start if he gets any red-zone touches.

Projections: 14 carries, 60 yards, 1 TD

 

Wide Receiver

Week 1 WR Rankings
RankPlayerOpponent
1Calvin JohnsonNew York Giants
2Demaryius ThomasIndianapolis Colts
3Brandon MarshallBuffalo Bills
4Dez BryantSan Francisco 49ers
5A.J. Greenat Baltimore Ravens
6Alshon JefferyBuffalo Bills
7Antonio BrownCleveland Browns
8Andre JohnsonWashington Redskins
9Julio JonesNew Orleans Saints
10Michael Crabtreeat Dallas Cowboys
11Jordy Nelsonat Seattle Seahawks
12Victor Cruzat Detroit Lions
13Keenan Allenat Arizona Cardinals
14Larry FitzgeraldSan Diego Chargers
15Percy HarvinGreen Bay Packers
Author's personal rankings

 

Sleeper: DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans (vs. Washington Redskins)

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 15:  DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Houston Texans walks off the field during the game against the Tennessee Titans for a pass completion in overtime at Reliant Stadium on September 15, 2013 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Looking for this year's Alshon Jeffery? Grantland's Bill Barnwell suggests DeAndre Hopkins will serve the role as this year's sophomore breakout wide receiver:

Hopkins, Houston’s first-round pick in the 2013 draft, has many of the same factors going his way. In Andre Johnson, he has an excellent veteran receiver across the field to take some of the pressure away, just as Jeffery did with Brandon Marshall. Bill O’Brien, who developed a reputation as an offensive wizard during his time at Penn State, can be his [Marc] Trestman. And sure, Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t anything to write home about, but if I told you before last season that Josh McCown was going to throw nearly 40 percent of Chicago’s passes, would you have had much faith in Jeffery’s future? Of course not. Hopkins also has less improvement to make than Jeffery did; despite dealing with [Matt] Schaub and Case Keenum all year, he caught 52 passes for 802 yards while starting all 16 games. A big step forward is in his future.

Both entered their rookie seasons with ample fanfare, yet giddy drafters quickly realized that first-year receivers rarely pan out. Although he proved too inconsistent to trust last season, Hopkins would have succeeded by a rookie's standards with a few more touchdowns, a reasonable goal for the athletic, 6'1" target.

DeAngelo Hall will mostly shadow Andre Johnson, making Hopkins a prime candidate to expose a Washington defense that allowed 22.9 points per game against opposing wideouts last season, per ESPN's scoring.

Granted, Jeffery didn't truly get going until Week 4, when he torched the Detroit Lions for 107 yards and a score. Don't give up on Hopkins if he doesn't light up the scoreboard this weekend.

Projections: 6 catches, 85 yards

 

Tight End

Week 1 TE Rankings
RankPlayerOpponent
1Jimmy Grahamat Atlanta Falcons
2Julius ThomasIndianapolis Colts
3Rob Gronkowskiat Miami Dolphins
4Vernon Davisat Dallas Cowboys
5Greg Olsenat Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6Jordan Cameronat Pittsburgh Steelers
7Jason WittenSan Francisco 49ers
8Jordan Reedat Houston Texans
9Antonio Gatesat Arizona Cardinals
10Zach ErtzJacksonville Jaguars
Author's personal rankings

 

Sleeper: Ladarius Green, San Diego Chargers (at Arizona Cardinals)

SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 07:  Ladarius Green #89 of the San Diego Chargers is pushed out of bounds by J.J. Wilcox #27 of the Dallas Cowboys during a preseason game at Qualcomm Stadium on August 7, 2014 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Ladarius Green hype has spiraled out of control. While he's an uber-talented tight end who could one day become a fantasy mainstay, he probably won't morph into a dependable starter this year.

He caught 17 passes in a season that has everyone singing his praises, offering a season high of four catches against the Miami Dolphins. The 24-year-old is an all-or-nothing gambit that will infuriate fantasy owners more often than not.

His Week 1 opponent presents a tempting matchup, as the Arizona Cardinals relinquished 97 receptions, 1,227 yards and 17 touchdowns against tight ends last season. Considering they ranked No. 14 overall against the pass, they're also skilled enough to adjust that glaring deficiency over the offseason.

There's also the matter of Antonio Gates, the actual starting tight end. If anything, the veteran is in store for a huge week while Green threatens to join a long list of tantalizing tight ends that didn't panned out.

Projection: 3 catches, 40 yards

 

Defense

Week 1 Defense Rankings
RankTeamOpponent
1Carolina Panthersat Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2San Francisco 49ersat Dallas Cowboys
3Seattle SeahawksGreen Bay Packers
4St. Louis RamsMinnesota Vikings
5New England Patriotsat Miami Dolphins
6Cincinnati Bengalsat Baltimore Ravens
7Tampa Bay BuccaneeersCarolina Panthers
8Kansas City ChiefsTennessee Titans
9New York JetsOakland Raiders
10Chicago BearsBuffalo Bills
Author's personal rankings

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 16:   Marques Colston #12 of the New Orleans Saints slips a tackle by  Lavonte David #54 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 16, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

It's a bit early to play the matchups on defense, but considering Chad Henne is still the Jacksonville Jaguars starting quarterback, the Philadelphia Eagles could be worth a whirl this week.

Lovie Smith's Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a trendy sleeper this season, and they should start the season strong against a banged-up Cam Newton and a Carolina Panthers offense that lost Newton's go-to receiver in Steve Smith.