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

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Fantasy Football 2014: Week 1 Rankings and Projections for Top Sleepers
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
Rank Player Opponent
1 Peyton Manning Indianapolis Colts
2 Drew Brees at Atlanta Falcons
3 Matthew Stafford New York Giants
4 Andrew Luck at Denver Broncos
5 Tom Brady at Miami Dolphins
6 Aaron Rodgers at Seattle Seahawks
7 Colin Kaepernick at Dallas Cowboys
8 Matt Ryan New Orleans Saints
9 Jay Cutler Buffalo Bills
10 Nick Foles Jacksonville Jaguars

Author's personal rankings

 

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

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.

Jake Locker will finish the season as a __________ fantasy QB.

Submit Vote vote to see results

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?

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
Rank Player Opponent
1 LeSean McCoy Jacksonville Jaguars
2 Jamaal Charles Tennessee Titans
3 Matt Forte Buffalo Bills
4 Adrian Peterson at St. Louis Rams
5 Marshawn Lynch Green Bay Packers
6 Giovani Bernard at Baltimore Ravens
7 Montee Ball Indianapolis Colts
8 Andre Ellington San Diego Chargers
9 DeMarco Murray San Francisco 49ers
10 Eddie Lacy at Seattle Seahawks
11 Frank Gore at Dallas Cowboys
12 C.J. Spiller at Chicago Bears
13 Zac Stacy Minnesota Vikings
14 Arian Foster Washington Redskins
15 Rashad Jennings at Detroit Lions

Author's personal rankings

 

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

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
Rank Player Opponent
1 Calvin Johnson New York Giants
2 Demaryius Thomas Indianapolis Colts
3 Brandon Marshall Buffalo Bills
4 Dez Bryant San Francisco 49ers
5 A.J. Green at Baltimore Ravens
6 Alshon Jeffery Buffalo Bills
7 Antonio Brown Cleveland Browns
8 Andre Johnson Washington Redskins
9 Julio Jones New Orleans Saints
10 Michael Crabtree at Dallas Cowboys
11 Jordy Nelson at Seattle Seahawks
12 Victor Cruz at Detroit Lions
13 Keenan Allen at Arizona Cardinals
14 Larry Fitzgerald San Diego Chargers
15 Percy Harvin Green Bay Packers

Author's personal rankings

 

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

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
Rank Player Opponent
1 Jimmy Graham at Atlanta Falcons
2 Julius Thomas Indianapolis Colts
3 Rob Gronkowski at Miami Dolphins
4 Vernon Davis at Dallas Cowboys
5 Greg Olsen at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6 Jordan Cameron at Pittsburgh Steelers
7 Jason Witten San Francisco 49ers
8 Jordan Reed at Houston Texans
9 Antonio Gates at Arizona Cardinals
10 Zach Ertz Jacksonville Jaguars

Author's personal rankings

 

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

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
Rank Team Opponent
1 Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2 San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys
3 Seattle Seahawks Green Bay Packers
4 St. Louis Rams Minnesota Vikings
5 New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
6 Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
7 Tampa Bay Buccaneeers Carolina Panthers
8 Kansas City Chiefs Tennessee Titans
9 New York Jets Oakland Raiders
10 Chicago Bears Buffalo Bills

Author's personal rankings

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.

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