With the first slate of regular season action in the books, it’s time to investigate how Week 1’s events will impact the fantasy football value of various players around the league.
Each week, Stock Watch will highlight two players from each skill position — one rising star, and one sinking ship. It might seem like it’s too early to gain any meaningful insights for the season based on one week of games, but there were plenty of performances and transactions that’ll have far-reaching effects on the 2016 fantasy landscape.
QB Up: Matthew Stafford
Stafford played the best football of his career last season after America’s favorite coordinator, Jim Bob Cooter, took over Detroit’s offense midseason. But everyone seemed to dismiss that after Calvin Johnson retired in the offseason. According to FantasyPros, Stafford was 27th among QBs in ADP.
Well, they shouldn’t have estimated the guile of Cooter. In his offense, Stafford can use his cannon arm to fire quick passes to the team’s shifty receiving corps. Among wide receivers with at least 50 receptions in 2015, Golden Tate finished fourth with a yards after contact average of 6.1 yards. Theo Riddick ranked third in total YAC with 645 yards.
Stafford ranked fifth among QBs in Week 1 with 26.1 fantasy points by completing 31-of-39 passes for 340 yards. All three of the attempts that gained more than 20 yards were registered by new addition Marvin Jones Jr., a downfield threat who’ll keep safeties honest so Tate and Riddick can continue to carve up the intermediate areas of the field. Detroit’s schedule is almost entirely devoid of top-tier pass defenses, and I like Stafford to rebound as a top-10 fantasy QB this year.
QB Down: Philip Rivers
I’m not going to jump to conclusions about how much a quarterback’s Week 1 display can tell us about how he’ll perform across the whole year.
But Rivers isn’t just here because of how he played without Keenan Allen in the second half Sunday. His stock is down because we already got a taste of how much less effective Rivers is without Allen during the entire second half of last season.
Rivers’ top five yardage totals from 2015 were all with Allen in the lineup. He tossed multiple touchdowns in just three of his eight Allen-less games. And his TD-INT ratio worsened from 18-7 in the first eight games to 11-6 thereafter.
Unless former undrafted free agent Tyrell Williams performs well above his pay grade while trying to make up for Allen’s lost production, Rivers shouldn’t sniff starting lineups in 12-team leagues for the rest of 2016.
RB Up: C.J. Anderson, Broncos
I was a bit worried C.J. Anderson would have trouble finding open space to run this year, with the comically inexperienced Trevor Siemian taking over under center. I wasn’t alone — according to FantasyPros, Anderson was the No. 13 RB in ADP, behind guys like Mark Ingram and the injured Jamaal Charles.
But Anderson looks like he’s ready to post a strong first half for the first time in his professional career. He was easily the most important player on Denver’s offense against Carolina’s vaunted defensive front, compiling 139 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. Ronnie Hillman is no longer in the picture to vulture touches, and primary backup Devontae Booker fumbled on his first NFL carry.
Anderson is clearly going to be the focal point of the Broncos offense. In Week 2, Denver hosts the Colts, whose defense was just ripped to shreds by Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah (combined 228 yards, three touchdowns). Plug in Anderson and watch him work.
RB Down: Devonta Freeman, Falcons
It surprised me how high Devonta Freeman’s ADP was this year, as the Falcons have been quite transparent about their intention to increase Tevin Coleman’s role in the offense. However, it seems some fantasy owners couldn’t easily forget Freeman’s breakout streak of 10 touchdowns in five games last season.
Those who drafted Freeman thinking he’d be an RB1 again in 2016 were disappointed Sunday. The two backs were in a virtual time share (Freeman played 55 percent of snaps to Coleman’s 49 percent), and last year’s fantasy breakout performer mustered just 40 all-purpose yards on 15 touches.
Meanwhile, Coleman turned 13 touches into 117 all-purpose yards, including 95 through the air on five catches. Many underestimated the speedy Coleman’s impact on passing downs, where it seems like he’ll be the preferred option for Falcons’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Freeman might not be much more than a top-end flex play from here forward.
WR Up: Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers
Even though the Panthers lost to Denver to open their season, Kelvin Benjamin sent a message. The reigning MVP finally has a legitimate top-10 receiver to throw to.
You probably couldn’t say that about Benjamin as a rookie. But after sitting on the sidelines for a year with a torn ACL, the 25-year-old is back with a vengeance. Benjamin turned 12 targets into six catches, 91 yards and a touchdown against arguably the best pass defense in the NFL. And he looked like the second coming of Megatron in doing so. At 6-foot-5 and 243 pounds., he towered over Aqib Talib and Chris Harris – both of whom are quite tall for cornerbacks – and several times used his frame to snatch high throws that’d be impossible to grab for smaller stars like Antonio Brown.
Carolina’s passing game should be far better than it was last year with Benjamin as its fulcrum downfield. He is going to feast on the NFC South’s subpar secondaries. If you can acquire him before Week 4, when the Panthers should start a three-week aerial show against the Falcons, Buccaneers and Saints, do it.
WR Down: Dez Bryant, Cowboys
If Dallas ever endures a heartbreaking playoff loss while Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are still on the roster, expect Bryant to go T.O. on us (“That’s my quarterback!”) if he feels Romo is being unfairly criticized. Because this guy can’t function without Romo.
Next up: a matchup against Josh Norman and Washington. The ‘Skins actually gave up the most fantasy points to wide receivers in Week 1, but something tells me Dak Prescott and Bryant won’t be able to replicate the aerial display that Ben Roethlisberger and his receiving corps put on Monday night.
TE Up: Gary Barnidge, Browns
Pretty simple. Barnidge didn’t mesh well with Robert Griffin III, who preferred to air it out with Cleveland’s suddenly exciting stable of receivers.
Josh McCown, on the other hand, fed Barnidge the ball like he was a Hungry Hungry Hippo in 2015.
Don't give up on @garybarnidge! In 7 gms w/ McCown last yr he had 64 tgts, 43 rec, 603 yds & 6 TDs. Accounted for HALF of McCown's pass TDs!
— Dave Richard (@daverichard) September 13, 2016
Gary Barnidge's weekly PPR finishes in games in which McCown threw double digit passes in 2015: TE2, TE4, TE3, TE5, TE5, TE6, TE10.
— Rich Hribar (@LordReebs) September 12, 2016
With McCown taking over for the injured RGIII for the foreseeable future, Barnidge is a comfortable mid-tier TE1.
TE Down: Jared Cook, Packers
Coby Fleener is the obvious candidate for a tight end who’s trending down, but I’m not ready to give up on him since passing will still be the first, second and third priority in the Saints’ offense.
Jared Cook, however, has officially run out of chances to redeem himself. Aaron Rodgers looked his way just twice in Cook’s Packers debut, registering one reception for seven yards. The 29-year-old has been dropped this week more than any other tight end in Yahoo leagues.
Cook is bound to have a “boom” week or two, but don’t be tempted to waste a roster spot on him. He’s splitting tight end snaps with Richard Rodgers in an offense that’s filled to the brim with weapons, and Cook won’t be able to consistently distinguish himself from the rest of Rodgers’ arsenal.