Week 1 Fantasy Football Rankings: Position-by-Position Breakdown

Donald WoodFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2014

Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) during warm ups before a preseason NFL football game between the Detroit Lions and the Jacksonville Jaguars at Ford Field in Detroit, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

Week 1 of the 2014 NFL season begins Thursday, but fantasy football owners have been preparing for months, mulling over the latest rankings and positional breakdowns.

Whether you’re in a long-term dynasty league with friends and family or playing on a week-to-week website, it is imperative to start the players in Week 1 with the best chance to yield big points for your team.

Here is a position-by-position fantasy breakdown heading into Week 1.

 

Quarterbacks

Week 1 QB Rankings and Projections
Rank Player Opponent Projections
1 Peyton Manning, DEN vs. Indianapolis Colts 28 Points
2 Drew Brees, NO at Atlanta Falcons 25 Points
3 Aaron Rodgers, GB at Seattle Seahawks 23 Points
4 Matthew Stafford, DET vs. New York Giants 21 Points
5Tom Brady, NE at Miami Dolphins 19 Points
6Andrew Luck, IND at Denver Broncos 19 Points
7Nick Foles, PHI vs. Jacksonville Jaguars 19 Points
8Matt Ryan, ATL vs. New Orleans Saints 18 Points
9Philip Rivers, SD at Arizona Cardinals 18 Points
10Jay Cutler, CHI vs. Buffalo Bills 17 Points
11Tony Romo, DAL vs. San Francisco 49ers 17 Points
12Cam Newton, CAR at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17 Points
13Colin Kaepernick, SF at Dallas Cowboys 16 Points
14Robert Griffin III, WAS at Houston Texans 15 Points
15Eli Manning, NYG at Detroit Lions15 Points

The top of the quarterback rankings are easy to decipher at the start of the season. Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are all studs and will rack up big points for their respective owners.

After the top three, look for several underrated players to step up early in the season and perform well. Veterans like Tom Brady, Tony Romo and Philip Rivers all have matchups they can exploit for big statistical outcomes.

One player not getting enough attention is Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan. With a favorable matchup against the New Orleans Saints secondary and both Julio Jones and Roddy White healthy, Ryan will be one of the best fantasy players from the first week.

 

Running Backs

Week 1 RB Rankings and Projections
Rank Player Opponent Projection
1 LeSean McCoy, PHI vs. Jacksonville Jaguars 20 Points
2 Jamaal Charles, KC vs. Tennessee Titans 20 Points
3 Adrian Peterson, MIN at St. Louis Rams 18 Points
4 Matt Forte, CHI vs. Buffalo Bills 17 Points
5Eddie Lacy, GB at Seattle Seahawks 16 Points
6Marshawn Lynch, SEA vs. Green Bay Packers 16 Points
7DeMarco Murray, DAL vs. San Francisco 49ers 15 Points
8Shane Vereen, NE at Miami Dolphins 15 Points
9Reggie Bush, DET vs. New York Giants 15 Points
10Zac Stacy, STL vs. Minnesota Vikings 14 Points
11Montee Ball, DEN vs. Indianapolis Colts 14 Points
12Le'Veon Bell, PIT vs. Cleveland Browns 14 Points
13Arian Foster, HOU vs. Washington 12 Points
14Frank Gore, SF at Dallas Cowboys 12 Points
15Ryan Mathews, SD at Arizona Cardinals 12 Points
16Giovani Bernard, CIN at Baltimore Ravens 11 Points
17Andre Ellington, ARI vs. San Diego Chargers 11 Points
18Rashad Jennings, NYG at Detroit Lions 11 Points
19C.J. Spiller, BUF at Chicago Bears 10 Points
20Trent Richardson, IND at Denver Broncos 10 Points
21Alfred Morris, WAS at Houston Texans 10 Points
22Bernard Pierce, BAL vs. Cincinnati Bengals 10 Points
23Ben Tate, CLE at Pittsburgh Steelers 9 Points
24Toby Gerhart, JAC at Philadelphia Eagles 9 Points
25Chris Johnson, NYJvs. Oakland Raiders9 Points

The usual suspects are at the top of the rankings in Week 1. If you have LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson or Matt Forte, you are starting them each and every week until injuries or bye weeks force you to make a move. These are the best four running backs in the league.

From there, things get a little cloudy. Eddie Lacy and Marshawn Lynch are top players as well, but they square off on Thursday night in a showcase that may feature more passing than rushing. DeMarco Murray is also facing a tough test against San Francisco this week.

Despite tough matchups, the three previously mentioned backs are worth starts, but that’s not the case for every top player at the position. Montee Ball could struggle against Indianapolis, and Arian Foster could easily falter against Washington.

One player not getting the attention he deserves is Trent Richardson. He has struggled at points over the last year, but with a better understanding of the team’s game plan and more confidence, Richardson is a smart flex play with RB2 potential.

 

Wide Receivers

Week 1 WR Rankings and Projections
Rank Player Opponent Projection
1 Calvin Johnson, DET vs. New York Giants 18 Points
2 Demaryius Thomas, DEN vs. Indianapolis Colts 18 Points
3 Dez Bryant, DAL vs. San Francisco 49ers 16 Points
4 A.J. Green, CIN at Baltimore Ravens 16 Points
5 Brandon Marshall, CHI vs. Buffalo Bills 16 Points
6 Julio Jones, ATL vs. New Orleans Saints 14 Points
7 Antonio Brown, PIT vs. Cleveland Browns 14 Points
8 Andre Johnson, HOU vs. Washington 14 Points
9 Jordy Nelson, GB at Seattle Seahawks 14 Points
10 Larry Fitzgerald, ARI vs. San Diego Chargers 12 Points
11 Victor Cruz, NYG at Detroit Lions 12 Points
12 Alshon Jeffery, CHI vs. Buffalo Bills 12 Points
13 Roddy White, ATL vs. New Orleans Saints 12 Points
14 Vincent Jackson, TB vs. Carolina Panthers 11 Points
15 Keenan Allen, SD at Arizona Cardinals 11 Points
16 Marques Colston, NO at Atlanta Falcons 10 Points
17 Torrey Smith, BALvs. Cincinnati Bengals 10 Points
18 Pierre Garcon, WAS at Houston Texans 10 Points
19 Julian Edelman, NE at Miami Dolphins 10 Points
20 Cordarrelle Patterson, MIN at St. Louis Rams 9 Points
21 Randall Cobb, GB at Seattle Seahawks 9 Points
22 Mike Wallace, MIA vs. New England Patriots 8 Points
23 Michael Floyd, ARI vs. San Diego Chargers 8 Points
24 Percy Harvin, SEA vs. Green Bay Packers 8 Points
25 Jeremy Maclin, PHI vs. Jacksonville Jaguars 8 Points
26 Reggie Wayne, IND at Denver Broncos 8 Points
27 Kendall Wright, TEN at Kansas City Chiefs 7 Points
28 Michael Crabtree, SF at Dallas Cowboys 7 Points
29 DeSean Jackson, WAS at Houston Texans 7 Points
30 Eric Decker, NYJ vs. Oakland Raiders 7 Points
31 Sammy Watkins, BUF at Chicago Bears6 Points
32 Brandin Cooks, NO at Atlanta Falcons 6 Points
33 Terrance Williams, DAL vs. San Francisco 49ers6 Points
34 Emmanuel Sanders, DEN vs. Indianapolis Colts 6 Points
35 DeAndre Hopkins, HOU vs. Washington 6 Points
35 Cecil Shorts, JAC at Philadelphia Eagles6 Points

Arguably the most important position in fantasy football is wide receiver. Whether your league has three WR slots or a flex spot allowing you to start three, finding the right player at the position could result in blowout victories or heartbreaking losses.

The first tier of wideouts should be considered locks. Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall and Julio Jones are all good for a hefty chunk of points in Week 1 and, honestly, every week they are healthy and on the field.

One player who hasn’t been given any love since the New York Giants struggled throughout the preseason is Victor Cruz. He is still the top receiver on the team and will be the top target for Eli Manning. Consistency in the offense will be an issue, but he could easily rack up over 100 yards and a touchdown against Detroit.

On the other hand, fantasy owners should be staying away from Washington Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson. Robert Griffin III and the entire Washington offense failed to develop any rhythm or chemistry, and that will result in subpar numbers for the former Philadelphia star.

If you are looking for a flex player or a WR3, use the above list and simply start the higher-ranked player.

 

Tight Ends

Week 1 TE Rankings and Projections
Rank Player Opponent Projection
1 Jimmy Graham, NO at Atlanta Falcons 17 Points
2 Rob Gronkowski, NE at Miami Dolphins 17 Points
3 Julius Thomas, DEN vs. Indianapolis Colts 15 Points
4 Jason Witten, DAL vs. San Francisco 49ers 13 Points
5 Jordan Cameron, CLE at Pittsburgh Steelers 11 Points
6 Vernon Davis, SF at Dallas Cowboys 10 Points
7 Greg Olsen, CAR at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 Points
8 Martellus Bennett, CHI vs. Buffalo Bills 10 Points
9 Dennis Pitta, BAL vs. Cincinnati Bengals 9 Points
10 Jordan Reed, WAS at Houston Texans 8 Points
11 Heath Miller, PITvs. Cleveland Browns8 Points
12 Kyle Rudolph, MIN at St. Louis Rams 8 Points
13 Antonio Gates, SDat Arizona Cardinals 6 Points
14 Delanie Walker, TEN at Kansas City Chiefs 6 Points
15 Charles Clay, MIA vs. New England Patriots 6 Points

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is the best player at his position this year. Hands down. After him, though, the focus shifts to New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski. With Gronk cleared to play in Week 1, via Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, he is the second-best option until he proves he is the same player he was before the knee injury.

Unlike Gronkowski, a player who is falling down many fantasy boards is San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. With quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggling throughout the preseason and Davis drawing coverage from the top defenders, expect Davis to struggle against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1.

 

Team Defenses

Week 1 Defense Rankings and Projections
Rank Team Opponent Projection
1 Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens 14 Points
2 Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers 13 Points
3 Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13 Points
4 Kansas City Chiefs vs. Tennessee Titans 12 Points
5 New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins 11 Points
6 Denver Broncos vs. Indianapolis Colts 11 Points
7 Philadelphia Eagles vs. Jacksonville Jaguars 10 Points
8 New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins 10 Points
9 New York Jets vs. Oakland Raiders 10 Points
10 St. Louis Rams vs. Minnesota Vikings 9 Points
11 Chicago Bears vs. Buffalo Bills 9 Points
12 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns 8 Points

Finding the right team defense to start in Week 1 seems like an afterthought, but it could make a difference early in the season when no players are on bye. If you spent an early-round pick on a defense, here is the time to benefit from your educated risk.

Teams like the Seattle Seahawks, Cincinnati Bengals and the Carolina Panthers have the perfect combination of talent on the roster and favorable matchups to make them a must-start in all fantasy formats.

One team to avoid this week is the San Francisco 49ers. With several injuries and suspensions leaving gaping holes in the pass rush and the run defense, the Dallas Cowboys should be able to rack up yardage and points against San Francisco.

 

Kickers

Week 1 Kicker Rankings and Projections
Rank Player Opponent Projection
1 Stephen Gostkowski, NE at Miami Dolphins 11 Points
2 Matt Bryant, ATL vs. New Orleans Saints 11 Points
3 Phil Dawson, SF at Dallas Cowboys 10 Points
4 Justin Tucker, BAL vs. Cincinnati Bengals 10 Points
5 Brandon McManus, DEN vs. Indianapolis Colts 10 Points
6 Steven Hauschka, SEA vs. Green Bay Packers 10 Points
7 Blair Walsh, MIN at St. Louis Rams 9 Points
8 Adam Vinatieri, IND at Denver Broncos 9 Points
9 Mason Crosby, GB at Seattle Seahawks 9 Points
10 Nick Novak, SD at Arizona Cardinals 8 Ponts
11 Dan Bailey, DAL vs. San Francisco 49ers 8 Points
12 Robbie Gould, CHI vs. Buffalo Bills 8 Points

There are many differing opinions on when you should draft a kicker in your fantasy league, but the top stars are respected by all fantasy players. Look for perennial juggernauts like Stephen Gostkowski, Matt Bryant, Phil Dawson and Justin Tucker to dominate the position once again in Week 1.

The point difference between the No. 1 kicker each week and the rest of the players at the position is normally small, so fantasy owners should ride with the kicker they drafted until a better option surfaces on the waiver wire.

 

*Stats via NFL.com.