Start 'Em, Sit 'Em Week 1: Smart Matchup Plays, Sleepers and More

Tim KeeneyContributor ISeptember 2, 2014

Aug 28, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) stiff arms Baltimore Ravens defensive back Chykie Brown (23) during the first quarter of a preseason game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

For the most part, lineup decisions are easy in Week 1. 

Injuries are scarce, your favorite sleepers haven't broken your heart yet, and, in most cases, there isn't enough information that will change your opinion between draft day and the start of the regular season. 

Nevertheless, there are still some choices to be made, whether they be at your last flex position or in a daily salary-cap league, in which you literally get to choose from every player in the league. 

Let's take a look at some players who can make those decisions a little easier. 

Remember, we're looking at players who are fringe starters (QB1, RB3, WR3, TE1), according to Fantasy Football Calculator's average draft position. 


Matchup Plays

Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (at Dallas)

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Now is a good time to get into a habit of playing all of your players against the Dallas Cowboys. Whether it's Colin Kaepernick or Shane Falco, you get him in there if America's Team is on the other side of the field. 

The 'Boys were a dumpster fire on defense last year. They finished 26th in yards per pass allowed and 30th in passing yards per game allowed. Adding Henry Melton in the trenches should help, and they added some talent in the draft, but this unit is still shaky, especially without middle linebacker Sean Lee. 

According to Pro Football Focus' grades, Dallas features just one "good starter" (Melton), six "average starters," four "below-average starters" and one "poor starter." Oh, and Orlando Scandrick and Jake Hamilton are both suspended for the first four games of the season. 

USA Today's Lindsay Jones put it simply:

Kaepernick was a roller-coaster fantasy option last year, and the Niners' preseason probably didn't make you all that confident about starting him, but he has a healthy Michael Crabtree and improved weapons, and his running ability is always a plus for the fantasy circuit.

With San Francisco missing several key parts of its defense, this could easily turn into a shootout. That will benefit Kaep in a big way. 


Rueben Randle, New York Giants (at Detroit)

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

The Detroit Lions were below-average in pass defense a year ago, finishing 20th in yards per pass allowed. With a fairly underwhelming secondary but a ferocious defensive line capable of making the quarterback uncomfortable, they should be around that same range in 2014.

This one, however, is more about the Lions offense. 

Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell gave Detroit one of the most explosive offenses in 2013, and with the elusive Golden Tate and talented rookie Eric Ebron added to the mix, it's going to be unfair. 

Having to play keep-up is a recipe for real-life disappointment, but it's a fantasy gold mine. 

Eli Manning and the New York Giants' offense looked fairly putrid in August, but they are going to be throwing a lot in this one. Rueben Randle should see plenty of targets, and as the team's best red-zone threat, he's a good bet for a touchdown.

Drafted 42nd among wide receivers on average, he's a sneaky bet for WR2 or flex production in Week 1. 



Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints (at Atlanta)

AJ Mast/Associated Press

Mark Ingram hasn't lived up to his status as a first-round pick in the 2011 real-life draft, but he quietly averaged 4.9 yards per carry a year ago and has looked like a legitimate star in the preseason, tallying 156 rushing yards on just 22 carries (7.1 YPC).

Yeah, yeah, the preseason is a place where stars such as Pat Devlin, Phillip Tanner and Ted Ginn have also produced nice numbers. But with Ingram, it has been far more about the process than the result. 

He has had several runs in which he made one cut and exploded through the hole, displaying patience, vision and quickness. Pro Football Focus noted a particularly encouraging stat:

"I want to do everything," Ingram told The Times-Picayune's Christopher Dabe. "I want to be involved in the passing game, the running game (and) picking up pass (rushers)."

Khiry Robinson will steal some carries, and Pierre Thomas will do the pass-catching out of the backfield, but Ingram is easily the most talented back in a dominant offense. 

In what is looking more and more like a potential breakout season, expect big things off the bat against the Atlanta Falcons. 


Shaun Hill, St. Louis Rams (vs. Minnesota)

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

We'll call this one a deep sleeper. You aren't starting Shaun Hill as a QB1, but in two-quarterback leagues and extremely deep formats, don't be afraid to roll the dice with Hill. 

The 34-year-old has attempted a whopping 16 passes over the last three years, but he's a smart veteran quarterback who can move down the field. Football Outsiders' Scott Kacsmar noted an interesting stat about his ability to take care of the ball:

Pro Football Focus' Patrick Thorman added a few more:

The most relevant track record we have on Hill comes from 2010, mainly because it is the most recent. He placed 15th in PFF’s QB Rating, which takes into account drops, spikes, throwaways, and receiver contributions. Hill received an overall grade of +9.3, which placed him 13th at his position. During his 10 starts filling in for an injured Stafford, he ranked fifth in the league with an Accuracy Percentage of 76.1, and was even better in that category when faced with a pass rush (2nd; 70.1%).

Sam Bradford was averaging a stout 6.8 adjusted yards per attempt and 241.0 passing yards per game last year before his injury, and Hill is hardly a major downgrade. 

The Rams will lean on Zac Stacy and the running game, but with a lot of intriguing talent (Kenny Britt, Brian Quick, Tavon Austin) in the passing game, Hill has the chance to put up some solid numbers at home against a shaky Minnesota Vikings secondary. 


Sit 'Em

Ladarius Green, San Diego Chargers (at Arizona)

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Ladarius Green has arguably been the most popular sleeper over the past five months, and for good reason—the physical specimen stands at 6'6'' and 240 pounds, has 4.4 wheels and averaged a silly 22.1 yards per catch last season.

Many expect him to be the next in line of the new breed of tight ends—pass-catching monsters who are too big for defensive backs and too fast for linebackers. 

Believe me, I'm a proud member of Green's bandwagon, but I also know it's important to temper early expectations for the Louisiana-Lafayette product. 

For one, he's still playing behind that Antonio Gates guy. The Chargers will do what they can to get Green on the field as much as possible, but in single-tight end sets, the future Hall of Famer will be on the field as long as he's healthy.

Throw in the fact that San Diego is a run-heavy team, and it's impossible to predict a lot of targets for Green, at least in Week 1. His big-play ability makes him a boom-or-bust candidate, but with the depth at tight end this season, there's no reason to take that kind of risk in standard leagues. 


Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans (at Kansas City)

NASHVILLE, TN - AUGUST 28:  Running back Bishop Sankey #20 of the Tennessee Titans rushes against the Minnesota Vikings at LP Field on August 28, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

As a University of Washington alum, I'm probably the last person—maybe outside of Mama Sankey—who needs convincing of Bishop Sankey's talent and potential.

Much like Green, though, this is more of a "not yet" problem. 

Sankey is still listed as third on the Titans depth chart. Now, that's obviously not official, but the former Husky worked almost exclusively with the second- and third-stringers during the preseason, as Sports Illustrated's Michael Beller noted:

As Pro Football Focus' Mike Clay added, Shonn Greene's effectiveness will make it easier for Tennessee to bring its rookie ball-carrier along at a slower pace:

Greene is the starter. Best-case scenario in Week 1, Sankey will split the carries. 

Against a stout Kansas City Chiefs front seven on the road, there just won't be enough opportunity to justify him as an RB2 or flex, which is how he's being drafted in most leagues.