We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.
These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.
Here's a scoring recap of how Week 1's Start or Sit worked out. Needless to say, I fell flat on my face, much like the Steelers' defense, with the call to sit Ray Rice. However, I take some solace in the fact my sneaky start of the week, Kenny Britt, did outscore Ray Rice. It's very little solace of course.
Anyways, I'd like to see more accountability in fantasy football, and I am happy to take the bad with the good. So a 50-percent success rate in Week 1 only seems fitting.
This is how I work out fantasy football scoring in my mind: I want to average 16 points from my QBs, RBs, WRs and Flex and average 10 points from my TEs, Ks and DSTs. It rarely works that way, but if you could get the skill spots to average 16 and the other three to average 10, that's 132 points in a 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 FLX, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 DST setup; it's a score that should win you most weeks.
Week 1 Accuracy (according to the 16 & 10 average theory) Starts called correctly: 8 of 19 Sits called correctly: 11 of 19 Total correct: 19 of 38 (50 percent)
Sneaky Start of the Week
Kenny Britt, WR, TEN at Jacksonville - 5 catches, 136 yards, 2 TDs (29.10)
Unexpected Sit of the Week
Ray Rice, RB, BAL vs. Pittsburgh - 107 yards rushing, 4 catches, 42 yards, 2 TDs (28.90)
Kyle Orton (DEN) vs. Oakland - 304 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 FL (16.46)
Matthew Stafford (DET) at Tampa Bay - 305 yards passing, 3 TDs, 1 INT (28.20)
Mark Sanchez (NYJ) vs. Dallas - 335 yards passing, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 1 FL (22.70)
Tony Romo (DAL) at New York Jets - 342 yards passing, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 1 FL (23.58)
Sam Bradford (STL) vs. Philadelphia - 188 yards passing, 1 FL (5.02)
Kerry Collins (IND) at Houston - 197 yards passing, 1 TD, 2 FL (11.88)
Michael Turner (ATL) at Chicago - 100 yards rushing, 3 catches, 40 yards, 1 FL (14.50)
Felix Jones (DAL) at New York Jets - 44 yards rushing, 1 TD, 3 catches, 22 yards, 1 FL (14.10)
Marshawn Lynch (SEA) at San Francisco - 33 yards rushing, 2 catches, 14 yards (6.70)
Santonio Holmes (NYJ) vs. Dallas - 6 catches, 70 yards (10.00)
Mario Manningham (NYG) at Washington - 4 catches, 49 yards (6.90)
Lee Evans (BAL) vs. Pittsburgh - 0 catches (0.0)
Reggie Wayne (IND) at Houston - 7 catches, 106 yards, 1 TD (20.10)
Jeremy Maclin (PHI) at St. Louis - 1 catch, 20 yards (2.50)
Miles Austin (DAL) at New York Jets - 5 catches, 90 yards, 1 TD (17.50)
Brandon Pettigrew (DET) at Tampa Bay - 4 catches, 57 yards (7.70)
Marcedes Lewis (JAC) vs. Tennessee - 2 catches, 28 yards (3.80)
Jared Cook (TEN) at Jacksonville - 1 catch, 7 yards (2.20)
Tony Gonzalez (ATL) at Chicago - 5 catches, 72 yards (10.70)
Dustin Keller (NYJ) vs. Dallas - 5 catches, 61 yards, 1 TD (14.60)
Greg Olsen (CAR) at Arizona - 4 catches, 78 yards (9.80)
Defense/Special Teams Starts
Houston vs. Indianapolis - 19 fantasy points (Ranked 4th)
Cleveland vs. Cincinnati - 5 fantasy points (Ranked 24th)
San Francisco vs. Seattle - 26 fantasy points (Ranked 1st)
Defense/Special Teams Sits
New York Giants at Washington - 7 fantasy points (Ranked 21st)
Dallas at New York Jets - 9 fantasy points (Ranked 14th)
Atlanta at Chicago - 14 fantasy points (Ranked 9th)
Neil Rackers (HOU) vs. Indianapolis - 10 fantasy points (Ranked 6th)
Alex Henery (PHI) at St. Louis - 7 fantasy points (Ranked 14th)
Nick Folk (NYJ) vs. Dallas - 11 fantasy points (Ranked 5th)
David Akers (SF) vs. Seattle - 15 fantasy points (Ranked 1st)
David Buehler (DAL) at New York Jets - 0 fantasy points
Billy Cundiff (BAL) vs. Pittsburgh - 9 fantasy points (Ranked 9th)
Athlon Sports Default Scoring System Offense
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points.
1 point for 40 return yards
Week 1 of the 2011 NFL season is upon us, which means it is time to start setting your fantasy football lineups. Athlon Sports will try to help you do that each week with its Start or Sit suggestions. Keep in mind that these are suggestions and you are the owner of your fantasy team, and setting your lineup comes down to what you think is right.
Check back each week for Start or Sit and see who we are giving our thumbs up or thumbs down to and whether we had success or failure the week prior.
Sneaky Start of the Week
Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee at Jacksonville
He has battled off-the-field trouble and hamstring trouble, but Titans coach Mike Munchak said Kenny Britt will be "turned loose" against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the opening game.
He closed the 2010 season strong (26 catches 566 yards and five scores in the final six games) and now faces a team who just sacked its starting quarterback in David Garrard and possesses the 28th-ranked pass defense from a year ago. The focus will be on stopping Chris Johnson, leaving Britt to run wild for Matt Hasselbeck to find him.
Unexpected Sit of the Week
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh
We love Ray Rice to be one of the top backs for the 2011 season. His one problem, that he faces twice a year, is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Don't believe the hype that if you drafted a player in the first round that he always plays. (Chris Johnson, coming off a 2,000-yard season in 2009, was held to 53 total yards, five catches and a fumble by these Steelers in Week 1 last year).
In three meetings against the Steelers last season, Rice totaled 84 yards on the ground, 59 yards in the air off 10 catches, one score and one fumble. That's an average of 4.1 points per game in non-PPR, 5.8 in half-PPR, and 7.5 in full-PPR formats.
If you're in a non-PPR league, bench him. If you're in a half-PPR league, bench him. If you're in a full PPR league, he may be worth a shot. But knowing going in that recent history against a very familiar opponent may only yield my top RB spot 4 to 8 points to start the season, no thanks. I will take my chances elsewhere.
It's still a game of matchups, and it's no different whether it's Ray Rice with a top-three pick or Willis McGahee with an eighth-round pick.
Kyle Orton (DEN) vs. Oakland — The Raiders, despite the presence of shutdown corner Nnamdi Asomugha last year, were still seventh-worst against fantasy QBs last season at 19.7 points per game. Asomugha is gone, and all the talk of John Fox being a run-first coach makes it sounds as if the Broncos are scrapping the forward pass altogether. The Raiders were also 10th-worst against the RBs (22.9 PPG), meaning the Broncos should be able to be balanced. The Orton-to-Brandon Lloyd connection was solid last year and looked good in the preseason, and the Broncos should be able to score more than the 23 and 14 points they put up against their AFC West rivals last season. Plus, Denver the worst defense against fantasy RBs last season (29 PPG), so there could be plenty of points had in this one. Matthew Stafford (DET) at Tampa Bay — Everyone's healthy for the Lions, so take advantage while you can. Stafford was averaging 20.2 fantasy points through three games before landing on IR. Mark Sanchez (NYJ) vs. Dallas — Sanchez doesn't scream fantasy starter, but against the Cowboys, in the season opener, he's certainly a worth candidate. Dallas was second-to-last against fantasy QBs at 21.4 points per game, and might go into this game without cornerback Mike Jenkins in addition to the already sidelined Terence Newman.
Tony Romo (DAL) at New York Jets — Two starting offensive linemen are gone (one released, one injured). Darrelle Revis is on the other side to cover either the injured Miles Austin or the coming-off-injury Dez Bryant. Sam Bradford (STL) vs. Phildaelphia — Bradford has a bevy of receivers to choose from, but none that really standout, and certainly none that should have the advantage over the Eagles' standout corners, including the recently acquired Nnamdi Asomugha. This will be Game 1 for Bradford under new OC Josh McDaniels and it will be Game 1 for the Eagles' defense under new DC Juan Castillo. If defenses are usually ahead of offenses in the early weeks, give the edge to Philly in this one. Kerry Collins (IND) at Houston — It would seem fairly obvious, but there is the allure of running an offense with all of those weapons around Collins. However, Collins did not look good under pressure last season with a better offensive line in Tennessee, and expect the Texans to do everything they can to disrupt a 39-year-old player that has been with the team less than three weeks.
Running Backs START
Peyton Hillis (CLE) vs. Cincinnati — Hillis had 102 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting last season against the Bengals and went 14 for 59 yards (4.2 ypc) in the second meeting. Expect the Browns to lean on their big back, and get all you can out of Hillis before the Madden Curse strikes. Cedric Benson (CIN) at Cleveland — Second verse, same as the first. The Bengals are going to run the wheels off Benson this season. He averaged at least four yards per carry in two meetings last season, including a 31-150 and a score in Week 15 last season against Cleveland. DeAngelo Williams (CAR) at Arizona — The Cardinals were second-worst against fantasy RBs last year (26.5 PPG). Jonathan Stewart went for 137 yards on 27 carries in a Week 15 game against the Cards last season. The Panthers will use the run game and the tight ends to offset rookie QB Cam Newton making his first start.
Michael Turner (ATL) at Chicago — The Bears were second in NFL rush defense and seventh in fantasy points allowed to RBs last year (17.1 PPG). I am expecting the Falcons to show off new toy Julio Jones and see what rewards Roddy White reaps from his presence. The Bears should stand tall on their home field and see if the Falcon passing game can beat their experienced secondary. Felix Jones (DAL) at New York Jets — Same rules as for Romo: The Cowboys are without two offensive linemen they went into camp with, one receiver is banged up, the other may draw Revis and the Jets surrendered a second-best 14 points per game to fantasy RBs last season. Marshawn Lynch (SEA) at San Francisco — The quarterback situation is beyond bad. Sidney Rice is ailing. That combination will fail to stretch the field and open up running room for Lynch against a 49ers defense that allowed an 11th-best 18.8 points per game to RBs. Oh, and Lynch has missed a majority of the preseason battling an ankle injury.
Wide Receivers START
Santonio Holmes (NYJ) vs. Dallas — One of the reasons Sanchez is a start is this player. He was one of the top fantasy scorers in the last half of 2010 and expect him to excel this week against a suspect Cowboys secondary. Mario Manningham (NYG) at Washington — The Redskins allowed 20 fantasy points per game to QBs and 29.9 points to receivers. I am expecting a throwing showcase from both teams. The Giants' banged up defense should have trouble shutting down Rex Grossman (another sneaky QB play) and the Redskins' passing game, and New York will have to counter through the air as well. Hakeem Nicks and Manningham are the only proven targets, and they will face a secondary that may be without LaRon Landry and a banged O.J. Atogwe. Lee Evans (BAL) vs. Pittsburgh — This is purely a flex play. I am not a fan of the old Lee Evans, but I am going to try and give him a clean slate in Baltimore. The Ravens are going to have to take their shots downfield to try and give the running game some breathing room and Evans, who quickly developed a rapport with QB Joe Flacco upon his arrival in Baltimore, will be there to perhaps give you a quick 10-12-point, long-TD score. And you should be happy with 10-12 points in a flex spot.
Reggie Wayne (IND) vs. Houston — I am wary of all Colts until I see how Kerry Collins operates in this offense and with this offensive line. The Texans will counter Wayne with cornerback Jonathan Joseph, acquired in the offseason from Cincinnati. The last time the two met was in Week 10 last season, and Wayne was limited to three catches for 34 yards. Jeremy Maclin (PHI) at St. Louis — It's just a bad vibes call. He had the health scare and was not able to get on the practice field from the time the 2010 season ended up until just a couple of weeks ago. The Eagles' offense has not looked stellar in the preseason and the Rams have more than enough on the defensive line to disrupt Michael Vick to where he may not have enough time to find Maclin. Miles Austin (DAL) at New York Jets — Lingering hamstring injury. Possibility of going up against Revis or Antonio Cromartie. How much time will his QB have to throw with two offensive linemen that were there when camp began are no longer in the lineup? Live to play another day with Austin, namely next week against the 49ers.
Tight Ends START
Brandon Pettigrew (DET) at Tampa Bay — This might be a homer pick because we like Pettigrew (ranked sixth at the position in the preseason) a lot this year and would like to see him prove us right from the jump. Marcedes Lewis (JAC) vs. Tennessee — New starting QB. Tight ends are their best friend. He was slated to be one of the top targets already. Plus, Tennessee has not necessarily been the best defense against the tight end in recent memory, including last year when the Titans were seventh-worst at 10.7 points per game allowed to the position. Jared Cook (TEN) at Jacksonville — Cook was one of the expected top receiving targets that was in camp with new QB Matt Hasselbeck from the get-go. New OC Chris Palmer loves him and he can have success against the third-worst team against fantasy TEs (11.5 PPG) while the Titans bring Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt back into the fold.
Tony Gonzalez (ATL) at Chicago — Where does he fit in the passing tree/target pecking order now? Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas all have potential to have good games. We are relatively down on Gonzo this year, and would like to see the first game before we know how he will be used. Chicago will be a good test for that, but in the meantime, find your TE elsewhere in Week 1. Dustin Keller (NYJ) vs. Dallas — The perennial sleeper. This is the year for Dustin Keller. If it sounds familiar it should because it's been said before. He was good for Sanchez prior to Holmes' four-game suspension last season and then fell off. With Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Shonn Greene and LT all in the mix at the goal line, I'd feel comfortable looking for a TE somewhere outside of New York. Greg Olsen (CAR) at Arizona — Beware of the preseason hype. He still has Jeremy Shockey to contend with in what will be a TE-friendly offense. We know he was a solid TE a few years ago when he was utilized, but we are going to pull back a bit on the preseason love and see how it works in Week 1 before we place him in the starting lineup.
Defense/Special Teams START
Houston vs. Indianapolis — Maybe it's wishful thinking because we already loved Houston's new defense under Wade Phillips, but when we hear Kerry Collins gets the start we can't get the Texans in the lineup fast enough. Their secondary is solid with Joseph and Danieal Manning and that should allow the front seven to tee off on the statue that is a 39-year old QB who was out of football three weeks ago. Cleveland vs. Cincinnati — Should be a low-scoring affair. The Browns get to welcome a rookie QB with a weak arm to the league in Andy Dalton and there's always Josh Cribbs in the return game. San Francisco vs. Seattle — Until the Seahawks show they can be a competent offense with Tarvaris at the QB spot, you start almost any defense against them. I just see Jackson throwing up prayers to big receivers Mike Williams and Sidney Rice (if he plays) and the 49ers' defense just waiting under them to pick them off and go the other way. Plus,. Kendall Hunter and Ted Ginn as return men aren't too shabby for San Francisco.
New York Giants at Washington — Rex Grossman may actually be a good play against a banged up, depleted Giants back seven, and if the Skins can protect Grossman I don't see where the Giants are going to get their fantasy points from. Dallas at New York Jets — Both Sanchez and the running game should be in for a solid day, and unless the Cowboys get a special teams return for a score, it's hard to see where they score for you this week as a fantasy DST. Atlanta at Chicago — The last time we saw the Atlanta defense they were getting torched by the Packers to the tune of 48 points, 366 yards passing and three scores from Aaron Rodgers, just two sacks registered, five QB hits and one pass defended. Eric Weems' 102-yard TD kickoff return was the lone bright spot. So to go up against another passing team, at its place to open the season, we are going to pump the brakes on the Falcons' defense for the first week.
Neil Rackers (HOU) vs. Indianapolis — Whether its PATs or field goals, the Texans should have a field day. Alex Henery (PHI) at St. Louis — Last year's No. 1 fantasy kicker, David Akers, was let go in favor of this rookie. Might as well see what he's got when the Nebraska product makes his NFL debut back in the Midwest and in a dome no less. Nick Folk (NYJ) vs. Dallas — Should have plenty of PAT opportunities, or if the Jets' offense falters the man who attempted the third most field goals in the league last year and hit 30 of them, will get his chances.
David Akers (SF) vs. Seattle — It's doubtful that you would play him, but just in case you remembered the name, thought he was still the top dog in Philadelphia and would pick up where he left off, leave him on the waiver wire for now. David Buehler (DAL) at New York Jets — If it seems like I'm picking on the Cowboys, well, I am. And this is coming from a player who has Dez in two leagues, Miles in another and Romo in another. I just don't see much offense generated by the 'Boys in Week 1. Billy Cundiff (BAL) vs. Pittsburgh — He was a six-point scorer when these two teams met in the postseason last January. And that took the Ravens scoring 24 points for him to be a part of six of them. It's doubtful the Ravens are scoring 24 points this time, so let Cundiff ride the pine in Week 1.
Never bench your studs. Yeah, right. Just because you drafted a running back in the first round, don't think you can just set him in the starting lineup and not have to worry about him falling on his face.
Case in point is Week 1 and Baltimore's Ray Rice. If you're in a non-PPR sit him. If you're in a league without a flex position, sit him. And if you're in a PPR league with a flex position, really consider going somewhere else this week if you have better options/matchups.
Ray Rice gets Pittsburgh to open the season — he will also have to face the Steelers and their No. 1 run defense in the NFL and No. 1 in points per game allowed to RBs in fantasy last season at just 12.9 in Week 9. Yes, we love Ray Rice. But maybe we love him too much considering he has to face the Steelers twice this season and the Jets in Week 4 (No. 2 in PPG to RBs at 14). But back to Week 1. In two games against the Steelers last year, Rice ran for 52 yards total, caught three balls for 27 yards total and failed to reach the end zone. In two starts that's 10.9 points in a full PPR league and 7.7 in a standard league — in TWO starts.
In five regular-season games against the Steelers in his career, Rice has a total of 281 yards rushing, nine catches for 108 yards and NO touchdowns. That's 77.8 total yards and 1.8 catches per game. So his career fantasy average vs. the Steelers in a full-PPR league is 9.5 points and 7.7 in non-PPR.
You need look no further than what Chris Johnson, coming off a 2,000-yard rushing season, did in the opener against Pittsburgh last year: 34 yards rushing and five catches for 19 yards — 5.3 in a non-PPR and 10.3 in a full-PPR.
Rice was the ninth-best back in PPG last year at 15.3. Seeing Pittsburgh twice a year, along with the Jets, all before the fantasy postseason, is not a confidence builder for his 2011 prospects if you just assume he is not going to come close to reaching his average in those three games.
No other top-12 back faces Pittsburgh twice, but there are three that face Pittsburgh and the Jets: Rice, Jamaal Charles and Maurice Jones-Drew.
We know Rice's numbers vs. the Steelers. He has played the Jets once (last year's season opener) and went for 43 yards rushing, 19 yards receiving on two catches and no scores. That's 6.2 points in a non-PPR and 8.2 in a full-PPR.
Charles has faced the Steeler and Jets once each — 58 yards rushing, two catches for eight yards and one score against the Steelers in 2009 and 45 yards rushing, one catch for four yards and no scores against the Jets in his rookie season of 2008.
MJD has faced the Steelers three times, rushing for 80 yards and one score and adding 13 catches for 59 yards and no scores. He has faced the Jets twice, rushing for 182 yards and three scores and catching two balls for 22 yards and no scores. Clearly, MJD is the best against these two teams, but now with the release of QB David Garrard and teams knowing it's stack the box time, having success against these two teams in the first six weeks of the season is a tall order.
Here are the top five fantasy defenses against RBs last season, and which RBs have to face them this year.
Pittsburgh — 12.9
New York Jets — 14.0
Green Bay — 15.7
Atlanta & Baltimore — 16
No. 1 Arian Foster — Pittsburgh (Week 4), Baltimore (Week 6), Atlanta (Week 13) No. 2 Adrian Peterson — Green Bay (Week 7), Green Bay (Week 10), Atlanta (Week 12) No. 3 Ray Rice — Pittsburgh (Week 1), N.Y. Jets (Week 4), Pittsburgh (Week 9) No. 4 LeSean McCoy — Atlanta (Week 2), New York Jets (Week 15) No. 5 Jamaal Charles — Pittsburgh (Week 12), New York Jets (Week 14), Green Bay (Week 15) No. 6 Chris Johnson — Baltimore (Week 2), Pittsburgh (Week 5), Atlanta (Week 11) No. 7 Rashard Mendenhall — Baltimore (Week 1), Baltimore (Week 9) No. 8 Maurice Jones-Drew — New York Jets (Week 2), Pittsburgh (Week 6), Baltimore (Week 7), Atlanta (Week 15) No. 9 Darren McFadden — New York Jets (Week 3), Green Bay (Week 14) No. 10 Steven Jackson — Baltimore (Week 3), Green Bay (Week 6), Pittsburgh (Week 16) No. 11 Matt Forte — Atlanta (Week 1), Green Bay (Week 3), Green Bay (Week 16) No. 12 Frank Gore — Baltimore (Week 12), Pittsburgh (Week 15)
Of course you can't run from all of the top-12 backs in fantasy football, but this is just meant to inform you of when to beware. And maybe with eight of the first 12 backs each facing a top-five fantasy run defense at least three times, perhaps their value is not as great as once thought.
Bottom line: Sit em vs. the Steelers and Jets and cross your fingers for the rest.
On to Ask Athlon for Week 1...
Kevin Kolb or Jay Cutler Week 1? — Mike Crowther from Athlon Sports on Facebook
Wow, that's a tough one. Cutler was sacked a league-high 56 times last season, but Kolb's opponent, Carolina, wasn't far behind with 50 sacks allowed. Cutler faces an Atlanta team that allowed the fifth-most points to fantasy WRs last year (30.5 PPG), while Carolina was much better at fifth-best (22.8 PPG). Arizona has Larry Fitzgerald and Todd Heap and a new QB in Kolb and the Cardinals are on the road against a coach In Ron Rivera hired for his defensive mind. The Bears are at home, with more weapons and Cutler in his second year in Mike Martz's offense. It's a close call, but I'd go Cutler.
Julio Jones, Jonathan Stewart or Marshawn Lynch at the flex spot, non-PPR — Chris Kaschok from Athlon Sports on Facebook
All I see when I think of the Falcons, Week 1 and a receiver is Michael Jenkins streaking down the field to catch Matt Ryan's first-ever pro pass for a 62-yard touchdown in 2008. One play and Jenkins had 12.2 points in non-PPR leagues, add a point in PPR. Chicago's Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are no bums when it comes to covering receivers but the Bears' rush defense was second in the league last season. So expect the Falcons to come out showing off their new weapon in the rookie receiver from Alabama. I feel better about his opportunities to get you the 12 points you want from your flex spot than the other two options.
Stewart ran for 137 yards and no scores against Arizona last season when he was the primary back. But DeAngelo Williams is back, rookie QB Cam Newton can't throw and expect the Cardinals to key on the run. With Stewart playing second fiddle and the Cardinals focused on one thing — stopping the run — hard to expect much from JStew in this one.
Lynch is in Seattle. Enough said. Get the great playoff run he had against the Saints out of your mind. I am not touching a single Seahawk this season until they get a new QB — and that QB is not currently on the roster.
Who do you like more this week. Big Ben at the Ravens or Tony Romo at the Jets? — @AthlonBraden on Twitter (because even Athlon editors need help setting their lineups)
Both teams are in similar situations. The Steelers and Cowboys go up against top-notch run defenses and will probably have to go to the air to have success. I give the edge to Roethlisberger for three reasons: familiarity, health and the other team's defensive backfield.
Roethlisberger has not lost in his last seven tries against his AFC North rivals, and averages 21.6 points per game over the last 12 meetings. The Steelers are healthy, minus Emmanuel Sanders being banged up with his foot injury, although Antonio Brown filled in nicely in the preseason. Jets shutdown corner Darrelle Revis is not on the other side of the field for Big Ben to face.
Romo has only faced the Jets once — 195 yards, two scores and an interception in 2007. Romo does have to face Revis. He does so with a hamstring injury to his No. 1 receiver, Miles Austin, who would be lined up against Revis. His No. 2, Dez Bryant, is unproven with Romo at the helm so far. Add all that with the fact the Cowboys' No. 16 run offense from a year ago, now minus Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode who they released, goes up against the No. 3 ranked rushing defense.
Athlon Sports takes a look at which running backs have touched the ball the most per game over the last three years and over the last two years. This gives you an idea of both which backs have been given the most opportunities, while at the same time lets you know which backs might be wearing down.
It's interesting to note that Arian Foster, having played just one full season, already ranks eighth in touches per game in both charts.
Houston's Arian Foster is giving fantasy footballers everywhere heart palpitations after his Tweeting of an MRI of his right hamstring.
Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew, easily in the conversation with Johnson and Adrian Peterson last year for which back to draft No. 1 overall, is pouting on the satellite airwaves of his own SiriusXM show that he doesn't understand why he has fallen so far on draft boards after issues with his knee all last season. It's because we haven't seen you all preseason, MJD. Hopefully that will change tonight in the final preseason game.
And then there are the Indianapolis Colts. What to do with this backfield? Do they even run enough for us to care as fantasy players? Can Joseph Addai stay healthy? Will Donald Brown ever live up to his first-round selection. Is Javarris James or rookie Delone Carter going to be the goal line back. Where does former Virginia Tech stud Darren Evans fit into the mix?
But back to the Johnson signing. It puts him squarely back into the conversation as one of the top four backs to select in your fantasy football drafts. Or does it?
I still have Foster pegged as No. 1 until we hear anything worse on his hamstring. If it's a tear, I drop him to 14th.
We still have Adrian Peterson ranked No. 2 because, well, because he's Adrian Peterson and he seems to get it done no matter how bad the Vikings are. If he does it again this year, he will be No. 1 forever.
Ray Rice sits at No. 3. And he could easily move to the No. 1 spot in all formats as he is the safest pick.
LeSean McCoy is ranked No. 4 by Athlon as our standard scoring system rewards half a point per reception. Have you watched the preseason? The Eagles' offensive line doesn't look any better, and McCoy is there to reap the rewards in the form of dump-off and check-down passes.
Jamaal Charles sits at No. 5 as the news of Dexter McCluster getting some action in the backfield along with Thomas Jones, Le'Ron McClain, a below-average QB in Matt Cassel and a brutal schedule, leaves people nervous about Charles.
Then there's CJ.
Word is that he will be more involved in the passing game this season, and if we knew that to be true he would be No. 4 in our rankings as a result. But he hasn't been in camp. Johnson hasn't practiced with new offensive coordinator Chris Palmer's playbook; he hasn't played with new QBs Matt Hasslebeck and Jake Locker.
What he also has not done is anything at game speed. And this is where we come full circle from yesterday. Arian Foster and his hamstring dominated the news. Will it get worse? Is it a tweak? Is it a tear? Will Chris Johnson's hamstring be the next to dominate the news cycle?
With veteran players and holdouts, new system or not, we are not as worried about how quickly they can learn, we are more worried about how healthy can they stay. There have been a few high-profile hamstring injuries in recent seasons after holdouts — New York Jets defensive back Darrelle Revis last season and Green Bay Packers running back Ryan Grant in 2008. Both were able to play the season, but they were injured nonetheless.
This is the biggest worry about CJ right now. He seemingly always trains on his own in Orlando in the offseason, and the numbers that has produced the last three seasons aren't too shabby.
If you are drafting today, tomorrow or even right up until the season kicks off a week from now, Chris Johnson is still a top-six RB pick. And monitor the news over the next week and see if he getting a lot of action in the passing game. Even if it's just a bit, I am moving him over Charles because Johnson has a clear path to all the carries (not too worried about Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper in the long run) and an easier schedule.
Athlon Sports has made Houston Texans running back Arian Foster our No. 1 overall player. But it did not come without a healthy debate. Below the case is made for Foster being the consensus No. 1. We also make a case for the other four players who could be your league’s top pick, and there would be nothing wrong with that, either.
Arian Foster for No. 1 — Athlon Rank: No. 1 Overall Arian Foster of the Texans should be the first overall pick in your fantasy draft. He had the most yards, most touchdowns and second-most catches by a running back last season. Foster scored close to 100 fantasy points more (in most formats) than any other running back in 2010. The only argument against him being taken in the top spot seems to be, “Well, he can’t do it again.” Why not? The third-year workhorse is young, his strong offensive line returns, and Houston’s solid passing game will keep opposing defenses from keying on him. It also does not hurt knowing that if Foster puts together another stellar campaign, he should be rewarded with a lucrative contract. Besides his eight 100-plus yard games, he was held below 50 yards in only two contests. The main thing to like about Foster’s game is that he’s a consistent producer across the board. Despite not having blazing speed, he was in the top four in the league last year in 20-plus yard carries. Foster also had a whopping 66 catches, and he receives his team’s goal line carries. Trust in a budding young star in a loaded offense. Trust in Gary Kubiak’s track record of being able to run the ball. And do not hesitate to take Arian Foster if you have the No. 1 pick in your draft.
Number to Know that soldifies Arian Foster as the No. 1 overall pick: 25
Arian Foster, as a running back in format where all TDs count six points, was the third-best scorer in all of fantasy football. He was surrounded by two QBs ahead of him 12 QBs behind him before the No. 2 RB showed up. Even if you took 25 percent of Foster's scoring away from last season, he still would have been better than Peyton Hillis by 5.2 points. It's worth repeating: Even if Foster had not played in four games last season (and he even missed two quarters via coach's benching), he still would have outscored the second-best back by 5.2 points.
Adrian Peterson for No. 1 — Athlon Rank: No. 2 Overall
Having the first pick in 2011 might be more of a curse than a blessing as there are more names with legitimate claims to the No. 1 slot than ever before. So when splitting hairs, it is easy to select the most naturally gifted running back on the planet. Yes, he has quarterback concerns and O-line question marks. However, the offense still runs through No. 28. How many backs can say that their career low in rushing is 1,298 yards? Peterson has also added the receiving aspect to his game in the last two seasons with 79 catches for 777 yards over that span. He had only 40 catches for 393 yards in his first two seasons. All Day is the safest and most dependable back in the draft — and has as much upside as any other player in the league.
Ray Rice for No. 1 — Athlon Rank: No. 3 Overall
The case for Rice hinges on a few distinct factors that separate him from the other names atop the rankings. First, he has arguably the best team around him, with established stars at quarterback, wide receiver and head coach to go with an opportunistic defense that normally gives the offense the ball in good field position. Second, he is a complete tailback in that he is a true threat in the receiving game. His 141 receptions in the last two seasons are far ahead of every other elite tailback on the board. Additionally, his crossover schedule could not be easier, as Baltimore will face the worst division in football in 2011, the NFC West. Finally, his running style and size make him a more durable option. He is low to the ground, powerful and rarely takes direct hits. If he can add a couple more scores to his ledger, Rice could easily finish No. 1.
Chris Johnson for No. 1 — Athlon Rank: No. 4 Overall(pre-holdout)
Chris Johnson should be viewed as the Usain Bolt favorite in this year’s No. 1 fantasy running back foot race. No other back can match CJ’s combo of recent-past production, present-day prime and near-future potential. Johnson’s career thus far has been all about numbers — from his record-breaking 4.24 40 at the 2008 Combine to his record-breaking 2,509 total yards in 2009. Last year, CJ2K became CJ1.36K, but that is missing the point; CJ is a total yards total package. Historically, only LaDainian Tomlinson and Eric Dickerson produced more total yards over their first three seasons than Johnson’s 5,606. The 5’11”, 191-pound playmaker will turn 26 on Sept. 23, and he has never missed a game due to injury (CJ sat out Week 17 for the then-13–2 Titans in ’08). He has his eyes on the prize at every level — finding daylight along the line (read: signing a new contract), juking linebackers (read: securing endorsement deals) and sprinting to the end zone (read: establishing his place in NFL history). Look around and do the math: Johnson is statted-up. CJ’s average game is 119.3 total yards and 0.81 TDs; his average season is 1,868.7 total yards and 12.7 TDs. Johnson is the gold standard for fantasy running backs and it’s not even a close race.
Jamaal Charles for No. 1 — Athlon Rank: No. 5 Overall
With so much uncertainty surrounding the No. 1 overall pick, why not roll the dice on one of the league’s rising stars? Charles finished 2010 No. 3 overall in fantasy scoring among running backs and has plenty of room to grow in terms of carries. With Thomas Jones declining, Charles should easily surpass the 230 carries he posted last season. Jones will still be a factor around the goal line, but Charles is a good bet to increase his five rushing scores. Charles has been the team’s top big-play threat, increasing his yards per carry by at least a half a yard in each of the last three seasons. Also helping Charles’ case is his improving surrounding cast. The addition of Steve Breaston and Jon Baldwin should give quarterback Matt Cassel another weapon in the passing game, which will prevent defenses from focusing too much on stopping the rushing attack. Even though Kansas City’s schedule is more difficult in 2011, and the coaching staff doesn’t want to overwork him, the arrow is pointing up on Charles’ fantasy value.
Arian Foster - Houston Athlon Top 280 Rank:1 Pros: Foster was the No. 1 fantasy running back last season by a wide margin. Texans own one of the league’s top lines. Great supporting cast. Only running back in NFL last year to average more than 100 yards per game. Cons: Very limited track record. Ben Tate is healthy and could steal a few carries away. Injuries have been a concern throughout Foster’s career.
Adrian Peterson - Minnesota Athlon Top 280 Rank:2 Pros: Arguably the most talented running back in the NFL. Four straight 1,000-yard seasons. Seems to have solved fumble issues. Four seasons of at least 1,600 total yards and 10 scores. Cons: Vikings have Donovan McNabb in his twilight years, could start a rookie quarterback, and offensive line is a question mark. Despite questionable surrounding cast, Peterson remains a solid fantasy pick, but needs help to improve upon last year’s numbers.
Ray Rice - Baltimore Athlon Top 280 Rank:3 Pros: Back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons. Could see more work around the goal line this year. A top option in PPR leagues. Cons: Offensive line a question mark. Ravens added more weapons at receiver, which could reduce receptions. May be difficult to top last year’s 307 carries in 2011.
Chris Johnson - Tennessee Athlon Top 280 Rank:4 Pros: One of the safest picks at running back after three straight 1,000-yard seasons. With uncertainty at quarterback, Johnson should be the focal point of the offense and will see plenty of passes in his direction once again. Cons: Titans, like the Vikings with McNabb, have Matt Hasselbeck in his later years and could start a rookie quarterback later. Has been holding out due to contract. Yards per carry dropped from 5.6 in 2009 to 4.3 last year. Already has a lot of work on a slight frame.
Jamaal Charles - Kansas City Athlon Top 280 Rank:5 Pros: Very little wear on the tires. Increased yards per carry by at least a half a yard each of last three seasons. With Thomas Jones in decline, likely in line for more work around the goal line. Cons: Schedule among the toughest in the NFL. Chiefs could continue to limit his workload to prevent him from breaking down.
LeSean McCoy - Philadelphia Athlon Top 280 Rank:8 Pros: Led all running backs with 78 receptions. Eagles don’t run the ball a ton, but he doesn’t have any competition for carries at running back. Makes what carries he gets count — had a 5.2-yard average in 2010. Cons: May not improve much on rushing yardage totals due to Eagles offense. All of the weapons are back in Philadelphia, which means McCoy’s touchdown totals are also unlikely to increase.
Rashard Mendenhall - Pittsburgh Athlon Top 280 Rank:9 Pros: Entering the prime of his career. Has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and tied for second in the NFL with 13 rushing scores last year. Has very little competition for touches; should top 300 carries once again. Cons: Although the offensive line is getting better, it remains a concern. Mendenhall won’t be much of a factor in PPR leagues and could lose a few more goal line touches to Isaac Redman.
Maurice Jones-Drew - JacksonvilleAthlon Top 280 Rank:11 Pros: The Jaguars still have a questionable passing attack, which should make Jones-Drew the focal point of the offense. He has back-to-back 1,300-yard seasons and remains a significant contributor in receptions out of the backfield. Cons: Coming off of knee surgery. Touchdown totals were significantly down from 2009 season. Should be focal point of offense, but lack of consistent passing attack is a concern.
Darren McFadden - Oakland Athlon Top 280 Rank:12 Pros: Finally lived up to the hype by earning first 1,000-yard season. Raiders should boast an improved passing attack, which will ease pressure on McFadden. A factor in PPR leagues. Cons: Has never played a full 16-game slate due to injuries. Backfield mates Michael Bush and Taiwan Jones will factor into Oakland’s gameplan each week. Offensive line could be a question mark.
Frank Gore - San FranciscoAthlon Top 280 Rank:13 Pros: Before last season’s injury, was on pace to earn his fifth-straight 1,000-yard season. New head coach Jim Harbaugh was a run-first coach at Stanford and wants the same mentality in San Francisco. Cons: Injury prone — he has played 16 games only once in six seasons. Yards per carry dropped from 4.9 to 4.2 last year. 49ers passing game will be an issue once again.
An in-depth look at the Ravens' offense, defense and special teams this year.
The usually stoic personality of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco momentarily disappeared. Joe Cool was on fire. Used for target practice by a legion of critics despite three consecutive playoff appearances, Flacco lashed out after being derided for his leadership, work ethic and ability in the clutch. “I think I’m pretty damn good,” said Flacco, who had been called out by LaMarr Woodley, Dhani Jones and Jamie Dukes. “You can think what you want about me. I would like some more people than myself to think good about me, but they never do, they never do.”
BALTIMORE • Inside the Locker Room with Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times
Anquan Boldin posted his worst totals in catches and yards since 2004. Will his production return to its normal levels?
It’s unlikely that he'll generate significantly higher numbers due to his declining speed and average chemistry and timing with Joe Flacco. Plus, the Ravens remain committed to running the football with Ray Rice, and Boldin has to share the possession workload with other receiving targets. He’s not always the first option in the red zone. Boldin is a consummate professional, but his stats will remain static.
Can/will Torrey Smith be the downfield threat needed in this offense?
Smith has the requisite size, speed and skill to emerge as a dynamic deep presence. The Ravens drafted him specifically to stretch defenses. He appears to have enough polish to get on the field.
Flacco has increased his yards and TDs three years straight. Will he make it four?
Definitely a strong possibility considering that John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome intend to increase Flacco’s freedom to lead the offense. Flacco is extremely durable and seems poised to assert himself more this year.
Who are the long-term keeper options to replace Mason and Todd Heap?
Wide receiver Tandon Doss, a fourth-round pick from Indiana with good hands and crisp routes, and tight end Ed Dickson, an athletic former Oregon star who had his moments as a rookie, are the top candidates.b
• Fantasy Playoff Run — Weeks 14-16: IND, @SD, CLE
OK, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice owners, you have a solid chance at winning your opening playoff round, and if you make it that far your title game looks good, too. The bugaboo is San Diego, on the road, in the middle (No. 1 vs. the pass and No. 4 vs. the run last season). But you get the Colts’ 25th-ranked run defense and the Browns’ 27th-ranked run-stoppers on either side; Cleveland’s pass defense also ranked 18th.
• Athlon Best Bets Sleeper: Torrey Smith, WR Deep-Sleeper: Tandon Doss, WR Overvalued: Defense/Special Teams Top Rookie: Jimmy Smith, DB Bounce-Back: Anquan Boldin, WR Top IDP: Terrell Suggs, DL
• Try to Avoid Ed Dickson, TE
No Derrick Mason. No Todd Heap. And the Ravens sign Vonta Leach to clear the way for more ground and pound (or at least dump offs) with Ray Rice. It’s probably a year too early for Dickson to be thrown into the fold as the team’s starting TE, and he may perform as such. WAIT UNTIL: 19th RD
• Draft Class Fantasy Impact
The Ravens desperately needed to add depth and speed to the receiving corps, and the selections of Smith and Doss should address both of those issues. Smith is more likely to make an impact in 2011, as he was one of the fastest receivers in the draft and gives the offense a much-needed weapon on the outside. The Ravens must find a running back to spell Ray Rice. Anthony Allen will have an opportunity to help in short-yardage situations and to serve as the No. 2 back.