Fantasy Football Week 1: Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks and 3 More Players to Watch
Here it is—the moment we’ve all been waiting for.
I would usually never open with such a cliché intro, but after sweating out that lockout (with the approaching NBA season left for dead), I figured, screw it. Football is back. Thank you, “eight pound, six ounce, new born Baby Jesus.” Football is back.
That also means fantasy football is back, as we kick off Week 1 with a game loaded in fantasy relevance. The Saints and Packers will get things started at Lambeau, and the only thing I’ll say about that one is that it's Jimmy Graham's game to lose. What I mean is the second-year TE, with Lance Moore ruled out and Marques Colston running on two surgically-repaired knees, is set to see a lot of targets, and the game could quickly mimic his Week 3 catch-fest from the preseason.
The following five players are all guys I own in at least one league. They are owned in 50 percent or less of all leagues, and are listed here in descending order of global ownership. In some leagues, they’ll be Week 1 fringe starters. In others, they’ll be on the bench. And in many leagues, they’ll be unowned.
The important thing is to keep them in my mind, as a season’s worth of waiver wire wonders lay resting in the weeds…
Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee Titans
(owned in 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Here is a stock that is really surging.
Cook’s ownership actually hit 50 percent while I was writing this piece. Even though he wasn't drafted all that high (I felt like I reached in the 10th round of my draft), Cook is already knocking on the door of the top ten tight ends, as far as ownership, heading into a Week 1 matchup at Jacksonville.
The stage is set for Cook to start the season with a bang, playing against the Jaguars. While the defense has been revamped, Jacksonville is still exploitable in the passing game. If everything we've heard about Cook is true, the Titan TE will exploit matchups on a weekly basis, similar to fellow positional behemoths Antonio Gates and, if he could ever stay healthy, JerMichael Finley.
Cook is healthy, and still hasn't had his NFL coming-out-party game. If he can take advantage of this weekend’s matchup—which equally goes for QB Matt Hasselbeck—Cook will be part of the early conversation for the 2011 fantasy season.
Nate Burleson, WR, Detroit Lions
(46 percent owned in Yahoo leagues)
Right off the bat, any player with the Twitter slogan #ToeDragSwag will be a proud representative of my fantasy team.
I invested in Burleson in both my leagues, as he tends to slip to a remaining WR group consisting almost entirely of real life third-stringers, or worse. With QB Matthew Stafford at the helm, Burleson is a clear-cut number two option in Detroit’s passing game behind Calvin Johnson.
TE Brandon Pettigrew is too slow to challenge for more looks in a vertical passing attack, and even if RB Jahvid Best flirts with 60 catches this season (I predict he doesn't stay healthy), Burleson won’t be heavily affected. In Stafford’s two full games last season in Weeks 8 and 9, Burleson caught seven balls in each outing, totaling 160 yards and a TD.
The trend continued to this preseason as Burleson scored a TD in each of his three games, averaging 16.2 yards per catch. Stafford clearly loves flinging it to his two WRs outside the numbers, and will continue doing so Week 1 against Tampa Bay. Johnson will be shadowed by top CB Aqib Talib and as a result, Burleson can be an early beneficiary and Week 1 fantasy hero.
Lance Kendricks, TE, St. Louis Rams
(owned in 33 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Kendricks, another double-owned player of mine, is a guy that appeals to me for the same reasons as Jared Cook.
He has similar physical attributes to Gates and Finley, not to mention emerging Saints TE Jimmy Graham, but comes at a much lower draft price. Kendricks is the shortest of the group at 6'3", but at 243 pounds, he packs a walloping punch.
He’s also easily the biggest revelation of the preseason (11 catches, 155 receiving yards, 3 TD), unless you’re foolishly buying stock in Oakland WR Derek Hagan. Kendricks proved how dangerous he is in those four games, and that if you take your eyes off of him, he’ll do this to you.
Going into a Week 1 matchup against the Eagles, Kendricks may be behind Billy Bajema on the depth chart (second-year TE Michael Hoomanawanui is likely out), but he is a strong bet to lead the team in targets.
Things bode especially well for Kendricks when you consider his opponent, the Eagles, is loaded at the corner back position and can easily take out all of QB Sam Bradford’s sideline options.
Philadelphia has also been awfully generous to the TE position in recent years. If you want Kendricks, it’s probably wise to pick him up now, even if you own a good TE. He can easily be next week’s most added player.
Jerome Harrison, RB, Detroit Lions
(24 percent owned in Yahoo leagues)
Harrison is the first person on this list I wouldn't recommend starting this weekend, in even the deepest of leagues. Clearly, he is just another handcuff to own in an endless sea of handcuffs, waiting in the wings of a team depth chart.
Having said that, there’s several second-string RBs owned in more leagues than Harrison, and clearly many Jahvid Best owners are not too worried about their starting half back’s durability. Best was injury prone in college, battled turf toe last season, and has now suffered concussions at both the collegiate and pro level.
Best’s bilateral turf toe problem is especially concerning for recurrence, when you consider that Best plays 10 guaranteed turf games per year (8 at home, two in Minnesota). For comparison’s sake, Darren McFadden overcame his turf toe and benefits from playing in the 100 percent turf-free AFC West.
Harrison, meanwhile, is arguably the best, and definitely the most exciting option for Detroit among the backups. Keiland Williams was brought in to assume Mike LeShoure’s short yardage role—a role that never even established itself. Maurice Morris, the incumbent backup, is injured heading into Week 1 and unimpressive as a starter.
Harrison showed he still has big play ability this preseason and can harness great value if he ever makes his way to the top of Detroit’s depth chart. He’s one of the most attractive handcuffs from an opportunity standpoint, and needs to be tracked.
Arrelious Benn, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(7 percent owned in Yahoo leagues)
As we reached the “10 percent owned and under" group of fantasy players, there are still plenty of guys who, at the very least, have the opportunity to produce statistically this season.
Benn, coming off a torn ACL last season, should open the season as a starter against the Lions this weekend, barring something unforeseen.
As a starting WR in an emerging offense with an emerging QB, Benn is the wild card in a group consisting of known commodities: QB Josh Freeman, WR Mike Williams, RB LeGarrette Blount, and TE Kellen Winslow.
But we’re still talking about a second-round draft pick from last year, who has the full support of his coaching staff and will be playing across from a guy who isn’t sneaking up on anyone this season in Williams.
While the true extent of his health is sill uncertain, Benn is the perfect example of a guy you don’t need to pick up this week (as it's likely he won’t produce enough to warrant the move), but someone you should monitor early on, due to his potential for growth.