Fantasy Football Week 1: Rankings, Projections and Waiver-Wire Tips

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2014

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning before a NFL preseason football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Thursday, Aug. 28. 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
LM Otero/Associated Press

The moment we've been waiting weeks—OK, months—to arrive is just days away: the opening of the 2014 NFL football season. And for most of us (normal people), that means another infinitely more important arrival: the beginning of the fantasy football.      

With Labor Day weekend playing host to the final straggling drafts and auctions yet to be complete, nearly every league is set in anticipation for Thursday night's game between the Packers and Seahawks. For fantasy owners, the first week is by far the most relaxing. We have a generally good sense of who is injured, how we want to structure our lineups and what to expect from each crevice of our roster.

Only when the real games start do things start getting messy. A major injury wipes out a first-round pick, your boom-or-bust pick starts toward Ryan Leafdom and at least one player you've never heard of becomes God in shoulderpads.

For now? Yawn. Peyton Manning is still in one piece, Brandin Cooks still might be the superstar the Saints hope he is and Khiry Robinson isn't yet at the top of everyone's waiver pickups list. This is the calm before the storm.

With that in mind, let's roll the dice on some projections before things get underway.

Week 1 Rankings

Fantasy Football Week 1 Rankings and Projections: QB
1Peyton Manning, DENvs. Indianapolis Colts25 Points
2Drew Brees, NOat Atlanta Falcons25 Points
3Aaron Rodgers, GBat Seattle Seahawks23 Points
4Matthew Stafford, DETvs. New York Giants22 Points
5Colin Kaepernick, SFat Dallas Cowboys22 Points
6Nick Foles, PHIvs. Jacksonville Jaguars20 Points
7Tom Brady, NEat Miami Dolphins19 Points
8Andrew Luck, INDat Denver Broncos19 Points
9Jay Cutler, CHIvs. Buffalo Bills18 Points
10Cam Newton, CARat Tampa Bay Buccaneers18 Points
11Robert Griffin III, WASat Houston Texans16 Points
12Matt Ryan, ATLvs. New Orleans Saints16 Points
13Tony Romo, DALvs. San Francisco 49ers16 Points
14Russell Wilson, SEAvs. Green Bay Packers15 Points
15Philip Rivers, SDat Arizona Cardinals15 Points
16Andy Dalton, CINat Baltimore Ravens14 Points
17Eli Manning, NYGat Detroit Lions14 Points
18Carson Palmer, ARIvs. San Diego Chargers13 Points
19Ben Roethlisberger, PITvs. Cleveland Browns12 Points
20Josh McCown, TBvs. Carolina Panthers12 Points

Top Dog: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

To quote another famous southern hero: To be the man, you've got to beat the man. Manning is unquestionably the Aloe Blacc (I'm sorry) of the quarterback spot after his career-best 2013 campaign. Having the five-time NFL MVP on your roster last season was a one-way ticket to the playoffs, as Manning set NFL records for passing yards and touchdowns while reserving all the (pre-Super Bowl) Manning Faces for brother Eli. 

Odds are he'll never touch those individual heights again, and Manning has been up-and-down against his former team since arriving in Denver. But still. Outside of Drew Brees no one received consideration here. 

Sleeper: Tom Brady, New England Patriots

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 28:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots runs onto the field before the preseason game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on August 28, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Im
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

If it seems weird to call Tom Brady a sleeper at anything, well, that's because duh. Brady is the best or second-best quarterback of his generation, held the touchdown pass record before Manning broke it and is still ridiculously good at football.

That hasn't mattered much to fantasy owners, though, as Brady has fallen down boards after a 2013 campaign that saw him dink and dunk his way down the field en route to his worst post-ACL tear season. Memories—OK night terrors—of wasting a second-round pick on Brady only to see him fail has the Pats star coming into 2014 a bit undervalued. 

Rob Gronkowski has declared himself ready to go, and with the tight end active Brady should return to near-elite status this season. In the seven games Gronkowski played last season, the Patriots never scored below 20 points and scored 27 or above six times. This is a completely different offense when he's on the field.

Beware: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 22:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers throws against the New England Patriots a preseason game at Gillette Stadium on August 22, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

As a card-carrying member of the Cam Newton is Awesome, Please Stop Criticizing Him club, this is difficult. On one hand, Newton is off-the-charts talented and remains underrated when discussing the young quarterbacks of his generation. On the other, he has a hairline fracture in his ribs, the worst cast of skill position players around him in football and is facing what should be a strong Bucs defense in Week 1.

Newton's consistency in the ground game keeps him inside the top 10. Just don't be surprised if a lot of owners who drafted him early leave Sunday disappointed.

Fantasy Football Week 1 Rankings and Projections: RB
1LeSean McCoy, PHIvs. Jacksonville Jaguars20 Points
2Jamaal Charles, KCvs. Tennessee Titans20 Points
3Adrian Peterson, MINat St. Louis Rams18 Points
4Matt Forte, CHIvs. Buffalo Bills17 Points
5Montee Ball, DENvs. Indianapolis Colts16 Points
6Marshawn Lynch, SEAvs. Green Bay Packers15 Points
7Eddie Lacy, GBat Seattle Seahawks15 Points
8Le'Veon Bell, PITvs. Cleveland Browns14 Points
9Zac Stacy, STLvs. Minnesota Vikings13 Points
10Giovani Bernard, CINat Baltimore Ravens13 Points
11Arian Foster, HOUvs. Washington13 Points
12Andre Ellington, ARIvs. San Diego Chargers12 Points
13Alfred Morris, WASat Houston Texans12 Points
14Reggie Bush, DETvs. New York Giants11 Points
15Frank Gore, SFat Dallas Cowboys11 Points
16DeMarco Murray, DALvs. San Francisco 49ers11 Points
17Shane Vereen, NEat Miami Dolphins10 Points
18Bernard Pierce, BALvs. Cincinnati Bengals10 Points
19Ben Tate, CLEat Pittsburgh Steelers10 Points
20Ryan Mathews, SDat Arizona Cardinals10 Points
21Doug Martin, TBvs. Carolina Panthers10 Points
22Rashad Jennings, NYGat Detroit Lions9 Points
23Toby Gerhart, JACat Philadelphia Eagles9 Points
24C.J. Spiller, BUFat Chicago Bears9 Points
25Trent Richardson, INDat Denver Broncos8 Points
26Steven Jackson, ATLvs. New Orleans Saints8 Points
27Pierre Thomas, NOat Atlanta Falcons8 Points
28Chris Johnson, NYJvs. Oakland Raiders8 Points
29Maurice Jones-Drew, OAKat New York Jets7 Points
30Lamar Miller, MIAvs. New England Patriots6 Points

Top Dog: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles

McCoy rushed for 268 yards more than any other player last season. That's nearly two points per game extra in yards alone, without accounting for the 52 receptions and 539 yards he added through the air. At age 26 and in an offense designed to highlight his abundant skill set, there is no reason to expect much attrition if he stays healthy. 

The Eagles star is the top player on my board overall for 2014, and that's especially the case heading into a matchup against Jacksonville. The Jags' problems are mostly offensive and they'll be better than people think this season, but enough to knock McCoy down. 

Sleeper: Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 16: Captain Munnerlyn #24 of the Minnesota Vikings tackles Andre Ellington #38 of the Arizona Cardinals during the first quarter of the preseason game on August 16, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Han
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Ellington is far from an actual sleeper. Everyone in your league is so aware of the second-year back that he probably went at least a round before he should have on draft night. He was the guy who received a whole lot of congratulatory "good pick" comments while players with better resumes lasted two or three more rounds.

For that reason, Ellington was a guy I knew I wouldn't get in drafts this year. But I am nonetheless prepared to back him hard heading into a gem of an opening-week matchup against the Chargers. San Diego finished dead last in Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings in 2013, next to last against the run and pass. With minimal cap room this spring, the Chargers weren't able to add nearly enough pieces to cobble together a league-average attack.

Ellington might crack the top 10 this week.

Beware: Either Bills Running Back

Bill Wippert/Associated Press

There is a lot to like about both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Jackson is a bastion of consistency, the mid-30s dude who gets written off every preseason and then becomes one of the draft's biggest steals. He is Thomas Jones for a new generation. Spiller is still only two years removed from his superstar-level breakout and averaged 4.6 yards per carry in a "down" 2014 season.

Both are good on their own merit. Which is exactly why you can't trust either until Doug Marrone establishes a hierarchy. The Bears spent their offseason trying to address their defensive needs, adding the likes of Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston to a front seven that struggled for most of 2013. They should approach league average this season against the run, which makes the Buffalo timeshare look less attractive in this matchup.

Fantasy Football Week 1 Rankings and Projections: WR
1Calvin Johnson, DETvs. New York Giants15 Points
2Demaryius Thomas, DENvs. Indianapolis Colts14 Points
3Dez Bryant, DALvs. San Francisco 49ers14 Points
4A.J. Green, CINat Baltimore Ravens14 Points
5Brandon Marshall, CHIvs. Buffalo Bills13 Points
6Julio Jones, ATLvs. New Orleans Saints13 Points
7Alshon Jeffery, CHIvs. Buffalo Bills12 Points
8Antonio Brown, PITvs. Cleveland Browns12 Points
9Andre Johnson, HOUvs. Washington11 Points
10Jordy Nelson, GBat Seattle Seahawks10 Points
11Larry Fitzgerald, ARIvs. San Diego Chargers10 Points
12Victor Cruz, NYGat Detroit Lions9 Points
13Vincent Jackson, TBvs. Carolina Panthers9 Points
14Keenan Allen, SDat Arizona Cardinals9 Points
15Randall Cobb, GBat Seattle Seahawks8 Points
16Pierre Garcon, WASat Houston Texans8 Points
17Michael Floyd, ARIvs. San Diego Chargers8 Points
18Cordarrelle Patterson, MINat St. Louis Rams8 Points
19Jeremy Maclin, PHIvs. Jacksonville Jaguars8 Points
20Roddy White, ATLvs. New Orleans Saints7 Points
21Marques Colston, NOat Atlanta Falcons7 Points
22Michael Crabtree, SFat Dallas Cowboys7 Points
23Kendall Wright, TENat Kansas City Chiefs7 Points
24T.Y. Hilton, INDat Denver Broncos7 Points
25Torrey Smithvs. Cincinnati Bengals7 Points
26Brandin Cooks, NOat Atlanta Falcons7 Points
27Percy Harvin, SEAvs. Green Bay Packers6 Points
28DeSean Jackson, WASat Houston Texans6 Points
29Julian Edelman, NEat Miami Dolphins6 Points
30Eric Decker, NYJvs. Oakland Raiders6 Points
31Reggie Wayne, INDat Denver Broncos5 Points
32Emmanuel Sanders, DENvs. Indianapolis Colts5 Points
33Golden Tate, DETvs. New York Giants5 Points
34Mike Wallace, MIAvs. New England Patriots5 Points
35DeAndre Hopkins, HOUvs. Washington5 Points
35Riley Cooper, PHIvs. Jacksonville Jaguars5 Points
36Terrance Williams, DALvs. San Francisco 49ers4 Points
37Anquan Boldin, SFat Dallas Cowboys4 Points
38Cecil Shorts, JACat Philadelphia Eagles4 Points
39Sammy Watkins, BUFat Chicago Bears4 Points
40Danny Amendola, NEat Miami Dolphins4 Points

Top Dog: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions

With Josh Gordon suspended for the entire 2014 campaign, Calvin Johnson re-ascends to his status as the unquestioned top wideout in fantasy. Gordon, who compiled an NFL-high 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in 14 games last season, would have made a compelling case if his suspension was overturned.

As it is, Calvin goes back to being Calvin and should start the season well on Monday. The Giants signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie this spring and Prince Amukamara has gotten better each of his three NFL seasons, but there's not much analysis needed here. He's Calvin Johnson and this is the Lions offense. Something good will happen.

Sleeper: Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints  

Bill Haber/Associated Press

Normally, I'd advise caution. Take a week to look at Cooks' role within the Saints' offense and understand that you may be patting yourself on the back or kicking yourself in the forehead by Sunday evening. But if Cooks is as good as advertised, we should get a glimpse of it against Atlanta.

The Falcons had the worst pass defense DVOA in football last season and aren't going to be much better in 2014 unless Desmond Trufant becomes a superstar. Starting opposite of Trufant is Josh Wilson, who was not deemed good enough to stick with Washington's dreadful secondary. The Saints could very easily throw for 400 yards in Week 1. Cooks should produce like a top-level flex play.

Beware: Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks  

John Froschauer/Associated Press

I'll believe when I see it. When he's actually on the field, Harvin is one of the NFL's most dynamic and unique playmakers. The problem is keeping him there. He's played 16 games once in his five-year career and has appeared in only 10 regular-season games the past two seasons.

The Seahawks are confident, with coach Pete Carroll recently telling reporters he's "an incredible football player." Seattle's ceiling as a potential repeat champion is much higher with Harvin in the lineup. Until we actually see him play professional football, a healthy sense of skepticism is warranted.

Fantasy Football Week 1 Rankings and Projections: TE
1Jimmy Graham, NOat Atlanta Falcons14 Points
2Rob Gronkowski, NEat Miami Dolphins13 Points
3Julius Thomas, DENvs. Indianapolis Colts13 Points
4Vernon Davis, SFat Dallas Cowboys8 Points
5Jordan Cameron, CLEat Pittsburgh Steelers8 Points
6Jason Witten, DALvs. San Francisco 49ers7 Points
7Greg Olsen, CARat Tampa Bay Buccaneers7 Points
8Jordan Reed, WASat Houston Texans7 Points
9Dennis Pitta, BALvs. Cincinnati Bengals7 Points
10Charles Clay, MIAvs. New England Patriots6 Points
11Kyle Rudolph, MINat St. Louis Rams6 Points
12Lardarius Green, SDat Arizona Cardinals6 Points
13Martellus Bennett, CHIvs. Buffalo Bills5 Points
14Zach Ertz, PHIvs. Jacksonville Jaguars5 Points
15Delanie Walker, TENat Kansas City Chiefs4 Points

Top Dog: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints

To the joy of fantasy football owners worldwide and to the chagrin of the man himself, Jimmy Graham was officially declared a tight end this offseason by an arbitrator. While the ruling likely cost Graham a few million bucks, it also made him the first legitimate first-round tight end in fantasy history.

Graham is a human anomaly. He's made at least 85 receptions each of the last three seasons, going over the 1,000-yard plateau two times and accumulating 36 touchdowns. Only Rob Gronkowski can come close to matching his effect, and the Patriots tight end has spent as much time on the sidelines as the field the last two years.

Graham is as reliable as he is great, which should lead to a big day against Atlanta.

Sleeper: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers  

JACKSONVILLE, FL - AUGUST 08: Austin Seferian-Jenkins #87 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is tackled by Jamell Fleming #29 of the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second half of the preseason game at Everbank Field on August 8, 2014 in Jacksonville, Florida.
Rob Foldy/Getty Images

None of the players listed above especially count as sleepers, so we'll highlight a guy who would have been added on my next five down list. Seferian-Jenkins, a wildly talented player who lasted until the second round only because of character concerns, looks like the real deal. The Buccaneers coaching staff has raved about him in the preseason, and he'll get an extended look in passing situations against Carolina.

In keeper and dynasty leagues, Seferian Jenkins is already a must own. If he's as impressive as I think he'll be Sunday, he might start creeping into a higher percentage of standard leagues.

Beware: Ladarius Green, San Diego Chargers

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Let's call it cautious optimism. Green is the Brandin Cooks of tight ends. He's been mentioned so often as a sleeper that it almost feels unfair at this point to call him one. More accurately, he's a talented dude of whom a lot of people expect big things in 2014.

One problem: Antonio Gates is unkillable. The eight-time Pro Bowler made 77 receptions for 872 yards and four touchdowns last season. Those numbers aren't going to evaporate overnight—especially not with Gates still being listed as the Chargers' starting tight end. Gates has been around for Philip Rivers' entire career; he's going to get targets.

Green is probably the more talented player at this point, but these are a lot of expectations for a player without a starting job.

Fantasy Football Week 1 Rankings and Projections: DEF
1Carolina Panthersat Tampa Bay Buccaneers14 Points
2Cincinnati Bengalsat Baltimore Ravens13 Points
3New England Patriotsat Miami Dolphins13 Points
4Kansas City Chiefsvs. Tennessee Titans12 Points
5St. Louis Ramsvs. Minnesota Vikings11 Points
6Seattle Seahawksvs. Green Bay Packers11 Points
7Pittsburgh Steelersvs. Cleveland Browns10 Points
8New York Jetsvs. Oakland Raiders10 Points
9Philadelphia Eaglesvs. Jacksonville Jaguars10 Points
10Chicago Bearsvs. Buffalo Bills9 Points
11San Francisco 49ersat Dallas Cowboys9 Points
12Tampa Bay Buccaneersvs. Carolina Panthers8 Points
13Detroit Lionsvs. New York Giants8 Points
14Minnesota Vikingsat St. Louis Rams8 Points
15Denver Broncosvs. Indianapolis Colts7 Points

Top Dog: Carolina Panthers

The Panthers are going to be even more reliant on their defense in 2014 than they were a year ago. Sadly, their defense saw a mass exodus of talent and is probably 80 percent of what it was when it finished third in DVOA last season.

Carolina's decline shouldn't be apparent in Week 1 when it heads to Tampa Bay. For all the plaudits foisted on Josh McCown in 2013 and throughout the offseason, I tend to give greater credence to his decade-plus of mediocrity over eight games of stardom in Chicago. The Bucs have an elite one-two combination at receiver and a solid young tight end in Seferian-Jenkins but lack a quarterback who can get them the ball.

The Panthers are a fine play this week.

Sleeper: Pittsburgh Steelers 

Vincent Pugliese/Associated Press

The Steelers, owned in less than 15 percent of leagues, host the Gordon-less Browns in Week 1. Brian Hoyer threw three interceptions in 96 passes last season, and he'll have no one able to stretch the defense downfield. The Steelers are going to blitz hard and often. They'll be able to creep their safeties toward the line of scrimmage to help against the run and jump underneath passes.

The only thing going against Pittsburgh is that it is very, very old. A defensive touchdown isn't out of the question here if the creaky secondary gets enough of a headstart. 

Beware: San Francisco 49ers

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

For all of their foibles, the Cowboys have one of the NFL's five best offenses. Tony Romo remains underrated in fantasy and real life, a steady stream of 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown seasons and fourth-quarter interceptions. Dallas has also worked to fortify its once-porous offensive line in recent seasons and surround Romo with above-average skill-position talent.

San Francisco, meanwhile, very quietly finished 13th in defensive DVOA last season. It'll be interesting to see how their shaky secondary holds up at AT&T Stadium.

Fantasy Football Week 1 Rankings and Projections: K
1Stephen Gostkowski, NEat Miami Dolphins11 Points
2Matt Bryant, ATLvs. New Orleans Saints11 Points
3Phil Dawson, SFat Dallas Cowboys10 Points
4Justin Tucker, BALvs. Cincinnati Bengals10 Points
5Brandon McManus, DENvs. Indianapolis Colts10 Points
6Steven Hauschka, SEAvs. Green Bay Packers10 Points
7Blair Walsh, MINat St. Louis Rams9 Points
8Adam Vinatieri, INDat Denver Broncos9 Points
9Mason Crosby, GBat Seattle Seahawks9 Points
10Nick Novak, SDat Arizona Cardinals8 Ponts
11Dan Bailey, DALvs. San Francisco 49ers8 Points
12Robbie Gould, CHIvs. Buffalo Bills8 Points
13Cody Parkey, PHIvs. Jacksonville Jaguars7 Points
14Graham Gano, CARat Tampa Bay Buccaneers7 Points
15Kai Forbath, WSHat Houston Texans7 Points

(Note: Because kicker scoring is entirely unpredictable, let's try to get through these quickly.)

Top Dog: Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots

Gostkowski was the "safest" kicker on draft night, to the point he probably went before the last round. While I wouldn't condone that decision, Gostkowski is very good at football. He'll be fine.

Sleeper: Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons

Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

The Falcons and Saints are going to score a ton of points. Bryant is typically good for a couple mid-range chippies when drives flame out. He's barely owned in a quarter of all fantasy leagues. 

Beware: Josh Scobee, Jacksonville Jaguars

That offense is going to be very, very bad. Hopefully Scobee is owned in 32-team leagues or two-kicker leagues only.

Week 1 Waiver-Wire Advice

Don Wright/Associated Press

Don't Overthink Things

This is the first week of the season. We know nothing. Other than a few position battles being sorted out and a handful of former stars being cut, nothing is likely to have changed since draft night. Perhaps the Josh Gordon suspension wound up costing you a 15th-round pick, but selecting him was a Hail Mary smart owners already had a contingency plan in place for anyway.

The biggest piece of waiver-wire advice I can give is to avoid it entirely. There is no one currently not owned in your league who should be a Week 1 starter, besides maybe a kicker or a defense, and those are inherently unpredictable.

The first couple weeks of the season are an exercise in patience. Injuries will crop up and a couple noteworthy performances will cause a rush to the waiver wire, but the players currently owned were drafted for a reason: They're better than the players who weren't.

We're in one of the few times per season where you can be hands-off with your team. Take advantage.

That Said...

Here is a list of players owned in 50 percent or fewer of standard leagues that deserve a roster spot:

Best Players Available on Fantasy Waiver Wire
Kelvin BenjaminWRCarolina Panthers49.3%
Devonta FreemanRBAtlanta Falcons43.5%
Ladarius GreenTESan Diego Chargers28.7%
Markus WheatonWRPittsburgh Steelers35.9%
Andre WilliamsRBNew York Giants42.9%
Miles AustinWRCleveland Browns6.2%

Grab Him Now: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers

Newton has to throw to somebody. The Panthers have to stretch the field deep at some point. We have enough data from Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery that say they're not equipped to be those players. Newton's fantasy value is down this season precisely because everyone is so afraid to rely on a raw project like Benjamin to step up.

It's a sentiment I generally share, but Benjamin should be owned in most 12-team formats as a just-in-case bench guy. That Dwayne Bowe is taking up roster spots in more than 90 percent of leagues while Benjamin sits on the wire is strange. We know who Bowe is at this point in his career. With Alex Smith at the helm for the foreseeable future, nothing about his ceiling is changing.

You can grab Bowe's production on waivers nearly every week. Benjamin has the chance to be this year's Keenan Allen.

Stash Him While You Can: Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons

STEPHEN B. MORTON/Associated Press

Steven Jackson is a 31-year-old NFL running back who set career lows in yards per carry and yards last season. Steven Jackson is a 31-year-old running back who had to miss the preseason due to soreness in his hamstring. Steven Jackson is a 31-year-old running back who has the future nipping at his heels in every practice.

Freeman, whom most of us know as the guy who looks consistently awesome on Hard Knocks, used his preseason opportunities well. He rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries, becoming the only Atlanta running back still on the roster to average four yards per attempt. He's going to be a factor this season—whether that's thanks to injury or ineffectiveness from the aforementioned Jackson.

Deep-League Desperate Dive: Miles Austin, WR, Cleveland Browns

Mark Duncan/Associated Press

I have as much faith in the Browns' passing attack this season as I do, well, the Browns' passing attack in most seasons. Brian Hoyer was a safe, predictable and status quo-keeping choice under center. Hoyer is the very definition of a caretaker: good enough to win his job against a high-variance rookie but not good enough to keep it very long.

But he's still an NFL quarterback. Which means he's going to have to throw the ball in the general direction of his teammates every once in a while. Most of those passes will go to tight end Jordan Cameron, who is probably headed for an All-Pro selection this season. When Cameron gets doubled—and he will—Austin might wind up being Hoyer's only option.

The former Cowboys star is Cleveland's top option by default after Gordon's suspension. He'll have more value in leagues that value receptions than in standard scoring, and yet is still owned in fewer leagues than his banned teammate. If he can stay on the field, there's little reason Austin can't put together an efficient 800-yard campaign.

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

All ownership percentages are via ESPN. All projections are based on a standard scoring model.


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