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2012 Draft Prep: NFC East Fantasy preview

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The league's best division from top to bottom is loaded for Fantasy owners as well. Here are some of the players you need to focus on in the NFC East for the 2012 season.

Spotlight player

Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys: Yes, it is true that we are all mad at Romo for costing us Fantasy titles with a big fat zero in Week 16 last year. Now that it's out of the way, let's focus on why Romo got you to the title game and why he can do it again.

In 2011, Romo completed 66 percent of his passes and threw for 4,184 yards with 31 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions to finish seventh at the quarterback spot. He had a 75 percent consistency rate (sixth), a 38 percent big game rate (seventh), 11 games of 250 yards passing (seventh) and 11 games with multiple touchdowns (sixth). In the red zone, Romo continued to be very solid as his 26 percent scoring rate was -- you guessed it -- sixth among the 30 busiest quarterbacks. It should also be noted that from Week 9 on last year (excluding Week 16 when he played only two snaps), Romo completed over 70 percent of his passes and tossed 20 touchdowns with only three picks while averaging 27 points per game. In those final eight games, he totaled 2,250 yards and the 20 scores which is a pace for 4,500 yards and 40 touchdowns or 432 Fantasy points and a fourth place finish at quarterback over 16 games.

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Romo has a very impressive 8.0 yards per attempt average for his career, which is the second best mark among all quarterbacks (trailing only Aaron Rodgers) since 2006. For his career, he ranks in the top six in NFL history in quarterback rating (second at 96.5), yards per attempt (fifth at 8.0) and completion percentage (sixth at 64.5 percent. With Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten back for another year, Romo has as good a top trio of pass catchers as any quarterback in the league. Since 2007, Romo is a Top 5 Fantasy quarterback on a per-game basis (21.5 points per game), has a 75 percent consistency rate and is just below a 50 percent big game rate. He is a great Fantasy option who always has top four potential and the best news is that you can get him four to five rounds after the "elite" quarterbacks.

Michael Vick, QB, Eagles: In 2010, Michael Vick averaged the second-most points per game (30.45) in Fantasy Football history and I made my debut at CBS explaining why he was undraftable given his first round price tag in 2011.

That worked out well. I'm back in 2012 to tell you that the pendulum has swung the other way and Vick is looking like one of the great Draft Day values. He still finished as the 12th-ranked quarterback last year despite missing three games, scoring only one rushing touchdown and dealing with down seasons for both Jeremy Maclin (illness and injury) and DeSean Jackson (attitude). Vick still averaged 21 points per game in 2011 and I know he has a ton of upside on those numbers. As I explained last year, there was no way that Vick would match the career highs he set in 2010 in completion percentage (62.6), yards per attempt (8.1) and rushing touchdowns (nine). In 2011, those numbers fell to 59.8 percent, 7.8 yards per attempt and only one rushing touchdown. What I like about those numbers is that Vick bested his career averages in both completion percentage and yards per attempt last year and they represented the second best totals of his career.

Vick averages around five rushing touchdowns per season and I expect to see his scores come up from one and land right around four to six, which is significant for his weekly production. For Vick to still produce that efficiently in the worst years for both Maclin and Jackson as starters is extremely impressive to me and shows that Vick has really grown as a quarterback. I am concerned however that his rushes per game fell by 33 percent (although that could help to keep him healthy) and his ability to score up close completely fell off the map. After scoring a quarterback best nine rushing touchdowns in the red zone in 2010 on 21 carries, Vick took only 11 carries last year and scored the one touchdown. Both Vick and the Eagles wanted to limit his wear and tear in scoring situations, which is why we saw Vick score eight fewer times from inside the 20 last year while running back LeSean McCoy saw his red zone rushing scores jump from four in 2010 to 14 last year.

In 2011, Vick had an 18.7 percent red zone scoring rate, worst among the 15 busiest quarterbacks and his struggles inside the five yard line were legendary. His 23.1 percent goal line scoring rate bested only Curtis Painter, Blaine Gabbert and Joe Flacco among the 28 quarterbacks with at least 10 goal line chances. He will improve on those metrics and was at 23.8 and 42 percent respectively in 2010, so look for Vick to middle those numbers for 2012, which gives him some nice upside. With a healthy Maclin, a happy Jackson, LeSean McCoy out of the backfield and his rediscovery of tight end Brent Celek, Vick will pilot one of the most explosive and dynamic offenses in the NFL.

How many games he will play remains the big question for Vick, who has missed seven games over the last two years. At 32 years of age, Vick is no spring chicken, but his Fantasy upside is as big as any quarterback's in the league and with a proper ADP in the late fourth round, he is absolutely a worthwhile gamble on Draft Day. Unlike with the top quarterbacks, I would definitely recommend snagging a good backup quarterback (I think Robert Griffin III is the perfect compliment) with Vick because chances are you will need him for at least a few games. What you are looking for from Vick is top-five production when he is on the field, and I think he will deliver that in 2012.

Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins: I don't think RG3 could have landed in a better spot as a strong armed and very mobile quarterback than to be under the tutelage and coaching of Mike Shanahan. Let's not forget that in this very offense, an immobile Rex Grossman was the 12th-ranked Fantasy quarterback from Week 11 on in 2011. Rex Grossman people!

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Griffin is much more talented than Grossman and with the additions of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, he will even have a better supporting cast. Let's start with the facts. Griffin has track speed and should be able to run for 500 yards and a handful of touchdowns based on his athletic ability alone. As a thrower, he averaged an NCAA best 10.6 yards per attempt and had an NFL QB rating of 130, which was also tops. He joins a Redskins team that has thrown for 8,278 yards over the last two years -- ninth-most in the NFL -- and is a huge upgrade over Donovan McNabb, John Beck and Grossman. When you consider the facts, it's easy to see why Griffin could blow up and post top five numbers with over 4,000 yards passing, 500 yards rushing and close to 30 total touchdowns. I do not expect RG3 to hit the best case scenario in every category, but the potential is there. I think he will finish in the top 12 at quarterback this year and is a great Draft Day value given his upside versus his eighth or ninth round price tag. In fact, if you miss out on a Top 5 quarterback this year, I love the idea of grabbing Michael Vick and RG3 in an all upside tandem.

Breakout players

DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys: Murray took over as the starting running back for the Cowboys in Week 7 against the St. Louis Rams and looked like superman as he rushed for 253 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. From that game until he was lost for the year with an ankle injury in Week 14, Murray was the fifth-ranked Fantasy running back. In his seven-game stretch, Murray ran for 798 yards (most in the NFL during that span) on 5.9 yards per carry, scored two rushing touchdowns and added 21 catches for 154 yards out of the backfield. He averaged 15.3 points per game as the starter and was on a 16-game pace of 2,176 total yards (1,824 rushing) and five touchdowns, which would have ranked him as the fifth running back last year (245 points overall). I loved his total yardage consistency, as Murray topped 100 total yards five of those seven games and impressively, Murray did not fumble once.

The only concerns I really have about him are his performance (or lack thereof) in scoring situations and durability. Last year, Murray scored just one time on 21 red zone chances and his 4.8 percent scoring rate was sixth-worst among the 43 backs with at least 20 chances. At the goal line, he scored just once on his five carries for a well-below-average scoring rate of 20 percent. With Bill Callahan at the offensive coordinator position, I expect improvement from the Dallas offensive line, which should help Murray get it in the end zone at a better rate.

The durability concern is really the biggest issue. He missed time in all but one of his seasons at Oklahoma and was could not finish his rookie campaign. That being said, he is slated to be the workhorse again for the Cowboys, which gives him Top 5 potential in 2012. I have Murray as a low-end first running back for your teams worthy of a pick late in the first round or in the early second round because he is a good bet for 100 total yards each week. I do believe he will be a more efficient scorer in his sophomore season. He has risk just like all of the running backs seem to this year, but Murray also has tremendous upside and a solid insurance policy in Felix Jones should he miss time again in 2012.

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Eagles: Maclin is my favorite of the two Eagles receivers for 2012 (not by much) and I am expecting his first career 1,000-yard receiving season with at least eight scores. Maclin is the steadier of the two receivers as the dominant red zone target and sure-handed compliment to the speedy DeSean Jackson. Last year, Maclin battled a mysterious illness all offseason and was not able to stay at 100 percent for the whole 2011 season as a result. He missed three games and finished with 63 catches for 859 yards and five scores. Maclin did most of his damage in the first eight weeks of the year before he just could not sustain his health.

In those first eight games, Maclin was actually the 10th-ranked Fantasy receiver with 44 catches for 606 yards and four scores. He averaged 10.5 points per game and boasted a 50 percent consistency rate in those games as well. It sure seemed like Maclin was the same guy who exploded for 964 yards and 10 scores in 2010. Unfortunately, Maclin became ineffective as fatigue from the illness set in and he missed three of the final eight games. Still, for the season, Maclin caught an impressive 65.6 percent of his targets and averaged 8.9 yards per target.

He will be 100 percent headed into 2012 and has Top 10 potential in my eyes due to what we saw in the first half of 2011 and what we know about Maclin in the red zone. Over the last two years, Maclin's 41 percent red zone scoring rate is fourth-best among the 53 receivers with at least 20 targets. Meanwhile, Jackson's 9.1 percent red zone rate is the third worst behind teammate Jason Avant at 8.3 percent and Legedu Naanee. With the other two Philly receivers both ranking among the league's worst in the red zone, Maclin's prowess as a touchdown scorer can not be overstated. I love Maclin as a later second receiver for your teams and think he is the best third receiver you could grab, which is very possible given his ADP in the late fifth round.

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Fred Davis, TE, Redskins: Davis missed the final four games of 2011 due to some high-flying off field activities, but still turned in a good enough 12 games to finish as the 12th-ranked tight end. In his shortened season, Davis caught 59 passes for 793 yards and three touchdowns, which would project to 16-game totals of 79 catches for 1,057 yards and four scores. He produced 60 yards receiving in half of those starts and had a very solid 58.3 percent consistency rate along with a 25 percent big game rate. Those totals would have made Davis the fourth-ranked Fantasy tight end in 2011, with 129 total points.

I love that he is more of a receiver than a tight end and the team has no problem splitting him out wide. Last year, he was second among the 30 most targeted tight ends with a 72.7 percent catch rate and finished third with a 9.1 yards per-target average. The guy was efficient with Rex Grossman and John Beck, so you have to be excited about what he can do with a better quarterback in 2012. He had a solid 33 percent red zone scoring rate last season as well, so the lack of touchdowns really came more from a lack of chances. He had just nine targets in the red zone (22nd among all tight ends), which is disappointing considering that he was tied for seventh at the position with 7.2 targets per game. With a couple more touchdowns, Davis has Top 5 potential this year and is a great gamble if you miss out on the elite tight ends.

Honorable mention: Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys, Roy Helu, RB, Redskins, Evan Royster, RB, Redskins (but see the buyer beware alert below on the Washington running backs)

Sleepers: David Wilson, RB, Giants, Santana Moss, WR, Redskins, Leonard Hankerson, WR, Redskins, Cowboys D/DST, Martellus Bennett, TE, Giants

Buyer beware

Roy Helu/Tim Hightower/Evan Royster, RBs, Redskins: In recent years it has become clear that you can not trust a Mike Shanahan running back and you might be best off just avoiding the whole situation. He seems to be a very fickle coach and a known Fantasy Football hater who changes which runner is getting the ball on a whim. He'll drive you crazy and is easily the least Fantasy-friendly coach in the NFL, which is why he is a permanent member of my wipe it list.

Whoever does start is usually very effective, but they don't seem to last for more than a few weeks. Believe it or not, Shanahan has not had a single running back exceed 750 yards rushing or five rushing touchdowns in four straight seasons. In fact, you would have to go back to Tatum Bell in 2006 to find the last 1,000-yard rusher for a Shanahan team.

Perhaps even more shocking is that Shanahan has not coached a top 24 running back since 2005, when Mike Anderson ranked 10th and Tatum Bell was 22nd. That means in his last five seasons, there has not been a Shanahan coached running back who has delivered the goods over the course of a full season, which is definitely something to think about on Draft Day, even though Helu and Royster seem to be very tantalizing prospects.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Nathan at @nathanzegura .

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Player News
Kenny Britt looking for fresh start in Week 1 vs. Vikings
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:34 am ET) Rams wide receiver Kenny Britt ended an up-and-down career in Tennesse by catching only 11 passes for 96 yards last season. Reunited with former Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher, the embattled receiver will look to begin his tenure with his new team on the right foot in Week 1 against the Vikings.

Britt has flashed big-play ability in the preseason, catching a 36-yard pass from starter Sam Bradford in Week 3 before the quarterback succumbed to a season-ending injury. He then tacked on a 32-yard completion from backup Shaun Hill on the team's second drive. If Britt can find chemistry with his new starting quarterback quickly, he has the opportunity to emerge from a muddled Rams receiving corps and become the team's No. 1 option in the passing game.

Will it happen? The Vikings were one of the worst teams in the league at defending the pass last year, ranking 30th in pass-defense DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. The results, however, look much better in the early-going this season. In the team's third preseason game, the defense held Kansas City starter Alex Smith to 140 yards on 14-of-24 passing with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

If that same defense comes to play Sunday, Hill may have nothing but trouble trying to move the chains consistently. But if the upgraded offensive line can keep the Vikings at bay, the Hill-to-Britt connection has the potential to surprise. Consider Britt a quality free-agent add in advance of Sunday's game on the chance that he and Hill show something.


Zac Stacy could struggle vs. Vikings
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:20 am ET) Rams running back Zac Stacy lost his starting quarterback for the season during preseason competition. This is nothing new for the second-year back, as he had to play the second half of 2013 without Sam Bradford as well.

Though Stacy ripped off four 100-yard games after Bradford's injury, he mixed in several ugly lines as well, managing only 62 yards on 26 carries against the Colts, just 25 yards on 14 carries against the Cardinals and only 15 yards on 15 carries as the Seahawks exacted their revenge in Week 17.

Stacy's Week 1 matchup this season is a Vikings team that played well against the run last season. The Vikings finished seventh in the league in rate stuffing the running back at or behind the line of scrimmage. The defense surrendered just shy of 3.9 yards per carry, which is right at Stacy's per-carry rate from last season.

The Rams will likely try to remain committed to the running game with a second stringer at quarterback, but the Vikings have the personnel to sniff out a conservative gameplan and more or less shut down the running game. CBSSports.com Fantasy experts are split on Stacy's stock this week, with Jamey Eisenberg slotting him eighth at the position and Davie Richard ranking him 20th.


Wes Welker expected to be suspended for Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker will be suspended for Week 1, according to the Denver Post.

Mike Klis initially reported that there was a chance Welker's suspension wouldn't kick in until after Week 1, but issued an update later. While the NFL has yet to officially announce the suspension, the Broncos have been informed of the move. The team is expected to send out a press release confirming the information Tuesday.


Report: Wes Welker may play Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Update: Welker will be suspended for Week 1, according to the Denver Post. The team is expected to send out a press release shortly.

Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker may play Week 1 against the Colts, according to the Denver Post

Welker is expected to be suspended for four games after reportedly testing positive for amphetamines. The league, however, has not officially announced the suspension. Suspensions are typically announced by Tuesday, according to Pro Football Talk. Since the NFL has yet to announce the move, it's thought Welker could be available for Week 1, but would serve his suspension once the NFL announced the move. 

There are a lot of uncertainties regarding the situation at this time. The club expects Welker to be available, provided he passes concussion protocal, but it remains to be seen how the NFL will handle this suspension. 


Randall Cobb to be tested Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb should be in for a tough test Week 1 against the Seahawks.

Cobb caught just three passes during the preseason, picking up 34 yards and a score. His lack of work shouldn’t be a huge concern, as the Packers offense doesn’t need any fine-tuning. The main thing here is that Cobb is 100 percent healthy after playing in just six games last season due to a leg injury.

His Week 1 production could be dampened by a strong Seahawks DST. Seattle was exceptional against the pass last season, holding opposing wide receivers to just 14.79 Fantasy points per game. That figure was the second-lowest rate in the league. On top of that, Cobb may have to deal with Richard Sherman, who is considered one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Sherman may spend the majority of the game stopping Jordy Nelson, but he could find his way over to Cobb on a few occasions.

Cobb’s versatility makes him a strong candidate to be moved around the Packers’ offense. If Green Bay can create some nice matchups, and Sherman is preoccupied with Nelson, Cobb could be in for a better game than people might expect. 

Despite that, expectations should be tempered. Seattle’s DST was strong last season, and while Green Bay boasts a strong offense, things should be muted Week 1. Cobb is a fine start, considering his upside, but he carries more risk this week due to the matchup.


Jordy Nelson in for a tough test Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson should be in for a difficult test Week 1 against the Seahawks.

Nelson had a quiet preseason, catching just two passes for 19 yards. One of those catches wound up being a touchdown. Despite the lack of action during the preseason, Nelson’s upside with a healthy Aaron Rodgers is well-known among Fantasy owners. That said, he’s going to have to work for everything he gets against Seattle.

The Seahawks rated as the best defense in the league last year. They were strong in every facet of the game. Seattle held opposing wide receivers to just 14.79 Fantasy points per game, the second-lowest figure in the league. To make things even more difficult for Nelson, he’ll likely be covered by Richard Sherman. Sherman, by many counts, is arguably the best corner in the game. 

Still, it’s tough to pass up Nelson’s upside with a healthy Rodgers. The Packers boast an overabundance of weapons, and it’s possible moving Nelson around before the play could put him in a more favorable matchup. Even if Sherman covers him the entire game, Nelson is a good enough receiver to make some noise. While he doesn’t have a great matchup, Week 1 is not the time to take a player as good as Nelson out of your Fantasy lineup. 


Eddie Lacy to have his hands full Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Packers running back Eddie Lacy will have his hands full Week 1 against the Seahawks.

Lacy is coming off a tremendous rookie season, in which he rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. He didn’t get a ton of use during the preseason, but seemed to be in midseason form. Lacy rushed for 61 yards on 11 carries, good for a 5.5 average over two preseason games. He also managed to run in a touchdown.

Though he looked strong in the preseason, Lacy should have a tough time against the Seahawks Week 1. Seattle allowed just 12.32 Fantasy points per game to opposing running backs last season. That was the second-lowest rate in the league. While the Seahawks lost three defensive linemen during the offseason, the club is thought to still have the top-rated Fantasy defense.

In many circles, Lacy was considered a strong Fantasy pick after the elite four running backs were off the board. With that in mind, it’s unlikely he’ll be benched in many leagues Week 1. There are better matchups out there, but Lacy is a tough player to sit. Given Green Bay’s offensive capabilities, he’s still a decent start even against the best Fantasy defenses. 


Aaron Rodgers taking on a tough task Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has his work cut out for him Week 1 against the Seahawks.

Rodgers entered the season as one of the top Fantasy options at quarterback, but will take on the best defense in the league. Last season, Seattle held Fantasy quarterbacks to just 10.89 points per game. That was the lowest rate in the league. The Seahawks DST ranked tops in the league in limiting points and yards last year. On top of that, the team forced the most turnovers.

While Seattle lost three members of the defensive line during the offseason, the club is still expected to have one of NFL’s best defenses. If Seattle struggles to get to Rodgers, that could open things up for the Packers offense.

Given the cost to acquire Rodgers, in a snake or auction draft, he’s probably going to start for most Fantasy teams despite his tough Week 1 matchup. While there are better quarterback options for this week, Rodgers still has a strong potential for dominance. He’s healthy and still has a bevy of weapons at his disposal. It might not be Rodgers best game of the season, but he’s shown that he can put up numbers against even the best defensive clubs.


Percy Harvin looking to start the year on the right foot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin is looking at a strong matchup Week 1 against the Packers.

A quiet preseason was a good preseason for Harvin. After missing nearly all of last season due to a hip injury, Harvin was able to play in all but the final game of the preseason. He missed the fourth game due to a personal issue, and not because of an injury. Harvin caught seven balls for 92 yards in August.

The Packers didn’t boast a strong pass defense last season. The team allowed opposing wide receivers to average 22.94 Fantasy points per game. That wasn’t one of the worst rates in the league, but it was below-average. The team attempted to address this during the offseason, taking Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round. Despite that, there’s no guarantee the team will perform better in the defensive backfield.

Despite the fact that Harvin is a five-year veteran, there are questions about how he’ll be used with the Seahawks. While Harvin was able to play during the club’s playoff run, it was unclear whether he was actually fully healthy last year. Harvin has shown the ability to be a game-changing wide receiver, so it’s assumed the Seahawks will find ways to get arguably their best playmaker the ball. The club has been been incredibly run-heavy over the past few seasons, but a healthy Harvin could make them more balanced. 


Marshawn Lynch ready to roll Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is looking to get off to a good start Week 1 against the Packers.

Lynch had an abbreviated preseason, carrying the ball just three times for 16 yards. That’s probably not a bad thing considering his high workload over the past couple years. Lynch also had a brief holdout during the offseason, but reported to camp in shape, and should be ready to roll.

The Packers weren’t particularly strong against the run last season, giving up 19.18 Fantasy points per week to running backs. That was the eighth worst figure in the league. While the team tried to shore up things defensively during the offseason, the loss of B.J. Raji should make it easier for teams to gash the Packers up the middle. 

With that in mind, Lynch should be a strong start. The Seahawks modus operandi the past couple years has been the run game, and that probably won’t change now. There are concerns about Lynch’s workload and lack of preseason reps, but his pedigree and matchup make this a strong start Week 1. 


 
 
 
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