It’s only Week 1, so the reality is that you shouldn’t be scouring for weekly matchup sleepers yet. With only few exceptions, owners should simply be filling out their lineups with their top picks at each position and then waiting for Sunday. (And if you’re not doing this, you may want to check your draft strategy next time.)
However, as we move through the 2009 fantasy and NFL football seasons, identifying available and potentially valuable sleepers — especially those who have favorable matchups — can be an important component in effectively navigating the bye weeks or dealing with injuries and ineffectiveness from your starters.
So, even though the majority of people have no use for this column in Week 1, I’m going to write it anyway. If nothing else, it will get me into the groove for writing it weekly, kind of like my own little sleeper analysis preseason.
Note: The % owned numbers I am citing are from Yahoo. I’d imagine they are pretty similar to what you’ll find on ESPN. And remember, these are deep sleepers. There is no sense in me telling you that Wes Welker is a good play against Buffalo. He’s probably owned in 100% of your leagues. I am only going to look at guys who are owned in 50% or less of Yahoo leagues, because you might actually have a chance to pick them up.
Let’s get right to it:
Week 1 Sleeper Pick: Quarterbacks
Brady Quinn, Cleveland (vs Minnesota)
If you are trolling for a sleeper QB in Week 1, I hope it’s because you are in a league that starts three of them. Most leagues only start one, but even owners in leagues that start two should have their horses ready.
That said, if you do need a QB, I think newly minted starter Brady Quinn could put up sneaky good numbers this week against Minnesota, and he’s only owned in 25% of leagues. The primary reason why I foresee a decent fantasy day from Quinn is that, while I expect the Browns to improve to 6-8 wins this year, I see the matchup against Minnesota as being absolutely awful from a team perspective of actually wining the game.
The Vikings have perhaps the best run / stop the run combo in the NFL, and both are severe weaknesses of the Browns. Plus, with all of the offseason drama, Minnesota will be extra amped up to play and to send a message that all is right in the Twin Cities. Add it all up and I see a game that is a 10-14 point deficit at halftime and then the Vikings cruising to victory in the second half.
Why does this matter?
If Cleveland gets behind, smashing Jamal Lewis into the line for three-yard carries isn’t going to bring them back. Brady Quinn will be forced to throw, and the Browns’ one true offensive playmaker is on the outside in Braylon “Hands” Edwards. It may not be pretty, and Quinn may not have a great completion % in his first start, but he should have the opportunity to rack up yards, and possibly even a 4th quarter TD or two against the Vikings backups.
For comparison’s sake, I actually like Quinn better from a Week 1 fantasy standpoint than either of the QBs playing tonight: Ben Roethlisberger or Kerry Collins.
Week 1 Sleeper Pick: Running Backs
Mike Bell, New Orleans (vs Detroit)
As we updated yesterday, Saints starting RB Pierre Thomas is most likely out for Week 1 with a sprained MCL. That means that Reggie Bush will probably get a few more touches, but I think the Saints have wised up to the fact that Bush is not an every down back.
Insert: Mike Bell.
The former Broncos phenom has bounced around the past few years, but has a pretty cushy gig as the backup in New Orleans. And the truth is that if Tony Siragusa was the backup for the Saints, he’d be a sleeper playing against Detroit.
New Orleans will score tons of points, and probably will have at least a few goalline carries to dole out in the midst of their 450-500 yard day. When they do, Bell is the most likely beneficiary. For a guy owned in only 20% of Yahoo leagues, he offers tremendous TD upside. If you own Thomas and don’t have much depth at RB, you could do a lot worse than inserting Bell into your flex spot and then hanging onto him as a handcuff. Even if you don’t have Thomas, I’d play Bell over guys like Darren Sproles or Fred Taylor, at least for Week 1.
Week 1 Sleeper Pick: Wide Receivers
Isaac Bruce, San Francisco 49ers (@ Arizona)
There are actually a lot of WRs owned in less than 50% of leagues that I like. A few of the names and matchups: Steve Smith, Giants (vs Washington); Mark Clayton, Ravens (vs Chiefs); Devery Henderson, Saints (vs Lions); Josh Cribbs, Browns (vs Minnesota).
The name I like the best, however, is an oldie but sometimes a goodie: Isacc Bruce, who is owned in 49% of Yahoo leagues.
The main reason I like Bruce is that I love the matchup. The 49ers are playing the Cardinals, who I believe are ripe to fall victim to the Super Bowl hangover that always seems to engulf the loser of the Big Game. And considering all of the negative reports coming out of Cardinals preseason camp — from the Cards players themselves — I am even more convinced that this could be another season of horrors in Arizona.
Also, consider this, courtesy of Yahoo Sports:
WR Isaac Bruce had 14 receptions of 20 or more yards last season, as the 49ers ranked fifth in the league with 64 plays of more than 20 yards. Bruce enters this season as the team’s No. 1 receiver.
Mike Singletary made the decision to go with Shaun Hill as his starting QB, and I think it was a great decision. Hill is not flashy, nor is he an every-week fantasy starter by any means. He does, however, have a 90.5 career QB rating and an 18-9 TD-INT ratio in 12 career starts. Since he averages more than a touchdown per start, and considering that Isaac Bruce is his #1 target, chances are solid that these two will form a nice Week 1 combo against an Arizona defense that became overrated last year because of a nice run in the playoffs.
From Week 12 on last year, Bruce had only one game in which he caught fewer than five passes. Especially if you are in a PPR league, Bruce is a very good option as a 3rd WR or flex play this week.
Week 1 Sleeper Pick: Tight Ends
Martellus Bennett, Dallas Cowboys (vs Tampa Bay)
My #1 choice as a sleeper pick at the tight end position is actually Vernon Davis. But since I discussed him yesterday in my Start/Sit column, and just talked about why the 49ers’ passing game has a solid matchup, I’ll go in another direction.
Straight to MartyB, Mr. Cap’N Crunch himself.
I wrote earlier this preseason about why I think Martellus Bennett is a great sleeper pick for the season at the tight end position. Considering the onus that the Cowboys have placed on getting both of their tight ends involved in the offense this year (with 2-TE sets rumored to be on the menu perhaps as much as 50% of the time) I think Jason Garrett and Tony Romo will give Bennett some opportunities to get involved in Week 1.
Don’t forget, the freakishly athletic Bennett turned four of his 20 catches into touchdowns last year. His ability to go up and get the football makes him a very inviting target in the red zone. While Jason Witten will obviously be more valuable, and catch a lot more balls, don’t be shocked if Bennett ends up the season with more touchdowns and becomes the Cowboys’ #1 threat inside the 20.
Tampa Bay is rebuilding its defense and I expect the Cowboys to have a good showing on Sunday. If you’re not satisfied with your tight end, Bennett is a great name to consider. He’s clearly not as valuable in a PPR league, but in scoring leagues he offers nice upside for a guy owned in just 7% of Yahoo leagues.
Week 1 Sleeper Pick: Defenses
New Orleans Saints (vs Detroit)
I’m really not a big fan of any of the defenses owned in less than 50% of Yahoo leagues, but there are two facing rookie QBs making their first NFL starts: New Orleans and Houston (facing Mark Sanchez and the Jets).
Matthew Stafford has looked pretty bad this preseason, yet he will no doubt be asked to throw the ball a lot in Week 1 as the Lions try to keep pace with Drew Brees and the Saints’ O. New Orleans does not have a great D by any means, and Detroit will most likely get some yards and even some points with Kevin Smith and Calvin Johnson, but Stafford is too young and inexperienced not to throw a few ill-advised picks. I would not be shocked in the least to see the Saints take one or two of them to the house, and to see them pick up a few sacks on the rookie.
And finally, to hell with kickers. They’re all a crapshoot anyway.
That concludes our proceedings here this morning. As always, feel free to chime in with your comments below and I’ll respond as soon as I’m able.
* – Brady Quinn photo credit: Avoiding the Muse
* – Martellus Bennett photo credit: AP Photo via DayLife.com