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2012 Draft Prep: Sleepers for Draft Day

Senior Fantasy Writer
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One of the best things we do after the season is over is look back on our sleepers from the previous year. It's a fun exercise to see how we did.

In 2011, I hit on Marshawn Lynch and Willis McGahee in this space, and I'd like to forget Sam Bradford and Daniel Thomas. That's the thing about sleepers; some will come through in a big way, while others will disappoint. It's just a matter of taking risks on these players in the right spots.

With that in mind, here are a dozen sleepers I'd take a chance on this season. Hopefully at this time next year we'll have more guys like Lynch and McGahee and less like Bradford and Thomas.

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Josh Freeman, QB, Buccaneers: Freeman was a huge surprise in 2010 when he finished as a Top 10 Fantasy quarterback and a tremendous bust last year when he was just inside the Top 20. This year, Freeman could re-emerge as a potential starting option and shapes up as top-end backup Fantasy quarterback. Freeman has lost about 20 pounds and gained some quality weapons in Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and Dallas Clark. The Buccaneers have improved their offensive line and Freeman is poised to play closer to his 2010 form. That year, Freeman had 25 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. He regressed last year to 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions, but we expect Freeman to dramatically improve. He's a great No. 2 quarterback to pair with fragile starters like Michael Vick and Peyton Manning, and he is an excellent value pick based on his Average Draft Position.
My projection: 3,989 yards, 27 TDs, 12 INTs; 233 rush yards, four TDs
Early-August ADP: 138th overall
I'd take him: 113th overall

Jake Locker, QB, Titans: Locker might not open the season as the starter for the Titans, but he has more upside than Matt Hasselbeck. In the two games where Locker attempted at least 19 passes last year as a rookie he had at least 18 Fantasy points in a standard league. By comparison, Hasselbeck had just six games with at least 18 Fantasy points despite starting all 16 games. Locker has a lot to prove before Fantasy owners can count on him, but he's someone to keep on your radar. If he starts for the Titans at any point this season he could post quality stats, and you might end up adding him off the waiver wire. We'll find out how Locker does in an open competition against Hasselbeck during training camp, but we like what we saw from Locker in 2011 and hope for more this year.
My projection: 3,088 yards, 20 TDs, 14 INTs; 177 rush yards, two TDs
Early-August ADP: Not being drafted
I'd take him: 211th overall

Toby Gerhart, RB, Vikings: We all hope Adrian Peterson is back in Week 1 and ready to go following his knee injury last season. But I'm skeptical Peterson will be ready, which means more touches for Gerhart. And even if Peterson is back it would be surprising to see him get 19 carries a game, which is what he's averaged for the past three years. The Vikings don't want to overwork Peterson coming off his injury, and Gerhart was solid in place of Peterson last year. Gerhart had double digits in Fantasy points for five games in a row from Weeks 12-16, and he averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Gerhart is never going to be a dominant running back, but it's clear he can be a weekly starter if given enough touches. If something happens to Peterson in his comeback then look for Gerhart to shine, and he's definitely worth drafting in all leagues with a late-round pick.
My projection: 157 carries, 722 yards, six TDs; 34 catches, 211 yards, one TD
Early-August ADP: 95th overall
I'd take him: 85th overall

Peyton Hillis, RB, Chiefs: It's always good to draft a talented player coming off a down year who is motivated, especially when injury was a reason for that struggle. That's what we have in Hillis. He was a star in 2010 with the Browns but went through a nightmare season in 2011, mostly due to contract squabbles and a bum hamstring. He's healthy this year and now reunited with the offensive coordinator in Cleveland, Brian Daboll, who helped him become a star. Hillis will share carries with Jamaal Charles, but Charles is coming back from last year's torn ACL. We hope Charles is 100 percent, but even if he is, the Chiefs have said the two will split carries evenly. Hillis also figures to work at the goal line, and he has proven to be a quality receiver. Kansas City has a solid offensive line, and Hillis might present better value on Draft Day than Charles, who is being drafted in Round 3 on average. I'd much rather pass on Charles and settle for Hillis later in the draft.
My projection: 188 carries, 881 yards, eight TDs; 34 catches, 211 yards, three TDs
Early-August ADP: 75th overall
I'd take him: 69th overall

Ronnie Hillman, RB, Broncos: The Broncos are going with Willis McGahee as their starter, and coach John Fox remains loyal to his veterans. But with Peyton Manning now in town, he will likely have a prominent say in the personnel around him. While McGahee should dominate the carries, we could see Hillman play an important role in the passing game. And McGahee battled through injuries last year and will turn 31 this year. Hillman is easily a No. 3 Fantasy running back in PPR leagues, and he should be a key reserve coming into the year in all formats. But don't be surprised if by the middle of the season, especially after McGahee takes a pounding as the featured back, that Hillman takes over as the starter on all downs. If he proves he can pass protect for Manning then his playing time will continue to rise dramatically.
My projection: 144 carries, 703 yards, four TDs; 48 catches, 333 yards, one TD
Early-August ADP: 139th overall
I'd take him: 100th overall

Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Falcons: Michael Turner isn't going away, but he's not going to see as much playing time as in recent years. Turner had at least 300 carries in three of the past four years, and coach Mike Smith said "we need to reduce his workload." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Turner will likely see fewer than 250 carries, with Rodgers getting the additional work. Smith also believes Rodgers can be a three-down back, and we like his value with a late-round pick. He is an explosive playmaker who should help in the passing game, and the Falcons want to have a more aerial attack with Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones. Rodgers is a solid option in PPR leagues, and he could do what Smith said and work on all downs. If Turner suffers a breakdown this year -- and keep in mind he's 30 -- then Rodgers will likely play a significant role in a dynamic offense.
My projection: 111 carries, 505 yards, two TDs; 44 catches, 311 yards, three TDs
Early-August ADP: 155th overall
I'd take him: 112th overall

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Kevin Smith, RB, Lions: When last season ended, I was asked about my favorite sleeper for 2012. Without hesitation I said Mikel Leshoure. But after what has transpired this offseason and the early part of training camp, I'm sprinting away from Leshoure and running toward Smith. We might as well eliminate Jahvid Best from this backfield since his concussion woes are keeping him off the field. But Leshoure, who sat out last year with a ruptured Achilles, also can't stay healthy. He dealt with an ankle injury in offseason workouts and then suffered a hamstring injury in training camp. He also will start the season with a two-game suspension, so Smith continues to rise on my draft board. He also is injury-prone, but Smith should be Detroit's starter for the first two games of the season, including Week 1 against St. Louis. Smith appeared in seven games for the Lions last year and averaged 12.6 Fantasy points a game. I'll take that upside over the unproven Leshoure and his injury problems. Smith is a great No. 4 Fantasy running back for any roster.
My projection: 132 carries, 632 yards, five TDs; 22 catches, 177 yards, two TDs
Early-August ADP: 115th overall
I'd take him: 94th overall

Ryan Williams, RB, Cardinals: Williams has a lot to prove to Fantasy owners before anyone can consider him a starting option, but you should pass on Beanie Wells and his Round 5 ADP and wait for Williams. At least Williams is the healthier of the two at the start of training camp, with both battling knee injuries. Williams was expected to be the better option in 2011 before he went down with a torn patellar tendon. Wells opened training camp on the PUP list, but Williams has been able to practice. He has superior talent to Wells, and if both are healthy, Williams will post better stats. He's the better receiver and he should also have more total yards. If the touchdown split is close than Williams will perform like a quality No. 3 running back or flex option. It's no guarantee Williams will make it through a full 16 games, but you can't count on Wells either. I'd rather take my chances with the better player, which will prove to be Williams.
My projection: 184 carries, 840 yards, seven TDs; 22 catches, 155 yards, one TD
Early-August ADP: 119th overall
I'd take him: 95th overall

Randall Cobb, WR, Packers: The Packers have one of the deepest receiving corps with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Donald Driver and Cobb. That likely will be the depth chart as well, which shows you how many people Cobb has to leap over to make an impact. But the Packers are known for playing their talented players, and Cobb has more upside than Jones and Driver. He could emerge as the No. 3 receiver for the Packers, and Aaron Rodgers will love looking for Cobb down the field. Cobb might not get drafted in the majority of leagues, but if you're looking for a No. 4 Fantasy receiver who could be a difference maker then put Cobb on your radar. The Packers will continue to use Cobb as a return man, which could limit his offensive snaps, but look for him to make the most of his playing time on offense in what should be a nice sophomore campaign.
My projection: 45 catches, 784 yards, five TDs
Early-August ADP: 178th overall
I'd take him: 138th overall

Robert Meachem, WR, Chargers: The Chargers lost one of the best big-play receivers in the NFL when Jackson signed as a free agent in Tampa Bay. Meachem will now assume Jackson's role as the No. 1 receiver in San Diego, and he should see plenty of targets from Philip Rivers. Meachem's career high in targets was 66 in 2010, and he's averaged just 3.9 targets a game over the past three seasons as part of a crowded receiving corps in New Orleans. Jackson, by comparison, had 115 targets last year and has averaged 6.8 targets a game over his past three full seasons. With the anticipated increase in targets we can expect a career year from Meachem, and he's a receiver to target as your No. 3 option with the chance to be a starter in all leagues. Antonio Gates will be the best receiving option for the Chargers and Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal will also play prominent roles. But all of those guys are injury prone -- as is Meachem -- but the opportunity is there for the former Saint to succeed.
My projection: 57 catches, 945 yards, seven TDs
Early-August ADP: 90th overall
I'd take him: 79th overall

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Brian Quick, WR, Rams: We've heard good things out of Rams' training camp about nearly all of their receivers, including Danny Amendola, Greg Salas, Chris Givens and Steve Smith. That's all well and good, and hopefully one or more of those guys emerge because St. Louis has a miserable receiving corps. But look for Quick to be their best Fantasy receiver this year and a go-to target for quarterback Sam Bradford. He's a big target at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, and Bradford should look for him in all scenarios. The Rams will likely be trailing in a lot of their games, and Quick should rack up plenty of production. He's not an elite talent, but he does have an exceptional opportunity given the lack of talent around him. Don't be surprised if Quick ends up as the best rookie receiver this season, and he could emerge as a No. 3 Fantasy option this year.
My projection: 54 catches, 811 yards, six TDs
Early-August ADP: 166th overall
I'd take him: 133rd overall

Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings: Rudolph did not have the rookie season many hoped for with just 26 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns, and the Vikings added a veteran in John Carlson this offseason. But Carlson is clearly No. 2 on the depth chart, and Fantasy owners are hoping the way Rudolph closed last year -- three touchdowns in his final seven games -- is a sign of things to come. He's had a tremendous offseason and has developed a quality rapport with quarterback Christian Ponder. Rudolph will likely be the No. 2 option in the passing game after Percy Harvin and should be drafted as a No. 2 Fantasy tight end with upside. He might not emerge as the next Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, but Rudolph should turn into a quality playmaker in his second year.
My projection: 48 catches, 533 yards, five TDs
Early-August ADP: 187th overall
I'd take him: 174th overall

Off the radar: 10 deep sleepers of varying degrees
Greg Olsen, TE, CAR He struggled last season after a hot start, but he should be more consistent this year as the only tight end in town.
Lestar Jean, WR, HOU The Texans need a second receiver, and Jean has drawn rave reviews.
Austin Collie, WR, IND He's healthy and starting and should prove to be a nice weapon for his rookie quarterback.
Taiwan Jones, RB, OAK Mike Goodson is No. 2 in Oakland behind Darren McFadden, but Jones might have more upside.
Bilal Powell, RB, NYJ Shonn Greene's backup might be Joe McKnight, but Powell should have more upside.
Chris Rainey, RB, PIT Isaac Redman can't do it all with Rashard Mendenhall (knee) out, and Rainey could play on passing downs.
Eddie Royal, WR, SD The Chargers envision Royal as their slot receiver, something PPR owners should take note of.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, PIT Depending on what happens with Mike Wallace, Sanders could emerge as a prime target for Big Ben.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, MIA The Dolphins need someone to make plays, and he won't sit on the bench all season.
Nick Toon, WR, NO Toon could replace Meachem and see plenty of targets from Drew Brees, a good thing.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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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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