Watching Kansas City Chiefs rookie running back Kareem Hunt rack up 239 total yards (148 rushing, 98 receiving) and three touchdowns against the New England Patriots Thursday night made every fantasy football owner race to their fantasy league page to make sure they weren’t playing against him.
Unfortunately for some owners, they faced one of the best sleepers in fantasy football history in Week 1. But who else is flying under the radar for Week 1?
Any fantasy player can have a good draft, but true fantasy champions are the ones who can work the waiver wire like no one else. After Hunt’s Thursday night performance and since we’re just one day away before the first Sunday of the 2017 NFL season, here’s a quick look at each position’s top fantasy sleeper for Week 1.
Note: Kickers are not included. We all know kickers are a crapshoot in fantasy football, unless your starting kicker is Justin Tucker.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills
With the exception of Cam Newton, there isn’t another quarterback in the league who is as dynamic running the ball as he is passing the ball than Tyrod Taylor.
The Buffalo Bills dual-threat signal-caller is finally back to full strength after some injury concerns in the offseason and preseason, but he was a full participate in practice this week and quarterback coach David Culley said that he can’t wait to unleash Taylor onto opposing defenses.
Per Matthew Fairburn of NYup.com:
"He can't wait to unleash it," Culley said. "And let me tell you this, we can't wait to unleash him. We're excited about Sunday with him. He can't wait …”
It’s no wonder why Taylor can’t wait to take the field on Sunday as he will be going up against the New York Jets defense that lacks playmakers, especially since the Jets just traded away defensive linemen Sheldon Richardson.
Taylor should have enough room to sit back and dissect New York’s defense from the pocket but more importantly, he shouldn’t have to run for the sake of running. Taylor racked up 3,023 passing yards with 17 touchdowns to 6 interceptions, but the real fantasy value comes when he breaks loose downfield.
Here's a taste of what he was able to do last season against the Jets, per the NFL's official Twitter:
With over 500 rushing yards in each of the past two seasons, Taylor can rack up fantasy points in the open-field as much as he will passing the ball. And considering he’s going up against a defense that gave up the 11th most fantasy points to quarterbacks in Yahoo Fantasy leagues last season before their roster turnover, Taylor should have a field day on offense.
And so should your fantasy team, if you’re bold enough to pick him up off the waiver wire, where he’s available in 50 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers
With all the hype surrounding former Stanford Cardinal standout Christian McCaffrey, it’s easy to forget that Jonathan Stewart is still geared to touch the football this season for the Carolina Panthers.
Is McCaffrey talented? Absolutely. Will he a bell-cow running back for the Panthers? Absolutely not. McCaffrey will see time at tailback for Carolina, but he’ll also find himself lining up as a lot receiver for Newton, due to his impressive route running and ball skills.
When McCaffrey is lined up outside, Stewart will be in the backfield with Newton, particularly in goal line situations.
When it comes to the red zone, size does matter. McCaffrey is a very elusive back who can make a defender miss in the open field, but when Carolina needs those tough, gritty goal line carries, look for Stewart to vulture the rookie’s touches when it matters most despite what some fantasy players think of Carolina's running back situation:
Stewart will have a big role to play this season, even with McCaffrey on the field. Head coach Ron Rivera said that Stewart, who rushed for 824 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games last season, is an essential piece of their offense.
Going up against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1, Carolina’s success on the ground will be key. Look for Stewart to get more touches than McCaffrey out of the backfield this week while the rookie assimilates himself to the NFL.
Kevin White, WR, Chicago Bears
Kevin White shouldn’t be a sleeper at this point, but since he’s still available in 50 percent of Yahoo leagues, here’s a reminder regarding the Chicago Bears other weapons on offense:
There aren’t any.
After wide receiver Alshon Jeffery bolted for the Philadelphia Eagles during the offseason and Cameron Meredith, who was in line for a breakout season in 2017, went down with an ACL injury in the preseason, the last man left standing is White, who missed all of rookie season with a left fibula injury.
But even though White hasn’t been battle-tested in the NFL, he is a very talented 6-foot-4 receiver who can make plays downfield. And playing for a team like the Bears, who will be playing from behind a lot this season, it’s a guarantee that White will be making plays almost every week. Still not convinced? Take it Bears general manager Ryan Pace who was impressed with White's performance during training camp:
The good news for those fantasy owners who are hesitant to grab White off the waiver wire is that White, essentially, has no competition for playing time.
Playing opposite of White is Kendall Wright, who totaled 29 receptions in 11 games last season with the Tennessee Titans, Markus Wheaton who was benched by the Steelers last season and finished with four grabs for 51 yards and last but not least, Deonte Thompson who has 22 grabs in 16 games in 2016.
If you don’t trust White or the Bears to put up points this week against the Atlanta Falcons, give White a spot in the FLEX slot if you have room. He won’t disappoint, even if the Bears ultimately do.
Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis Colts
Jack Doyle has borderline No. 1 tight end potential in fantasy this year, even his star quarterback is out for an extended period of time.
The Indianapolis Colts have a big problem if Andrew Luck can’t suit up in the opening weeks of the new season, but at least they’ll have consistency at tight end with Doyle, who will fill the shoes of ex-Colts tight end Dwayne Allen after he was traded to the New England Patriots during the offseason.
Doyle's stock went up even further when Erik Swoope went on the IR, leaving no competition for Doyle to deal with.
Even when Allen was still an integral part of the Colts offense last season, Doyle still produced in the red zone and on third down. Doyle had 59 receptions for 584 yards to go along with five touchdowns. To put that in perspective, Doyle had more receptions than tight end Cameron Brate (57), Gary Barnidge (55), Martellus Bennett (55), and wide receivers Tavon Austin (58) and DeSean Jackson (56), according to NFL.com.
Scott Tolzien will be starting under center this Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams and will be looking to check down a lot to Doyle and running back Frank Gore to get rid of the ball quickly, rather than wait in the pocket to throw downfield.
Doyle, even if he doesn’t score a touchdown, will get plenty of receptions on Sunday which is great if you’re in a PPR league. If you’re in need of a tight end, go after Doyle, who is still available in over one-fifth of Yahoo leagues.
Los Angeles Rams, DEF
Doyle might get a lot of receptions, but that will only be because Tolzien won’t be able to throw downfield to T.Y Hilton against the Rams defense.
Scott Tolzien is 0-2-1 w/a 27.8 Total QBR in his career as a starting QB. Since 2013, it's 3rd-worst QBR in a player’s 1st 3 career starts— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 4, 2017
Even without star defensive lineman Aaron Donald playing this Sunday, the Rams’ defensive front-seven should still cause Indianapolis fits with new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips in charge, looking to make a statement with a consistent pass rush, which has been his calling card during his last two tenures as the defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos.
Phillips doesn’t have a J.J. Watt or a Von Miller type player rushing the passer this weekend, especially with Donald out, but the Colts’ offensive line is still a work in progress, as it's been ever since Luck was drafted back in 2012.
If you need a defense, look no further than the Rams, who are available in 36 percent of Yahoo leagues, and pray that linebackers Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree take advantage of Indianapolis’ mistakes.
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