Fantasy football Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Stars offer safety early
Each week, we'll share a list of players at each position that should definitely start, and a list of players that should definitely sit. We'll also include a list of players with whom to be cautious. Those "Caution Players" will get the most attention in this column, helping you make informed decisions.
Here is some general advice to follow this weekend:
• Since this is Week 1, go with your highest draft picks, unless an injury or a top defense stands in their way.
• Throw away the preseason for the most part; that was for sharpening timing and winning jobs -- not for becoming fantasy stars.
These recommendations are based on standard scoring, non-PPR, 12-team leagues that start 1-QB, 2-RB, 2-WR, 1-TE, 1-FLEX, 1-K and 1-D/ST. We've tried to list most of the possible players at each position, but if you find one missing -- please comment below, and I'll share my recommendation.
Quarterbacks to start
Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford
- It's been pounded into owners' heads all summer -- quarterbacks are deep this year. Start the stars in Week 1.
Quarterbacks to start with caution
• Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Schaub, Michael Vick, Russell Wilson
- RGIII didn't play a single snap in the preseason as the Redskins remained cautious with his knee. If head coach Mike Shanahan is confident in him, owners should be, as well, especially against the Eagles, who allowed an NFL-high 33 passing touchdowns in 2012. Lean toward start.
- This is Kaepernick's first NFL opening-day start, and it's against a Packers team he torched for four touchdowns, 263 passing yards and 181 rushing yards in the playoffs last year. Lean toward start.
- Luck will be working with new Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who was Luck's offensive coordinator at Stanford. Lean toward start.
- In two games against the Cowboys in 2012, the younger Manning threw for just 405 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But the Cowboys have a new defensive coordinator in Monte Kiffin, and it might take more than just preseason to get his 'Tampa Cover 2' defense installed. The first unit, however, didn't allow a touchdown all preseason. Lean toward sit.
- The Titans gave up 31 passing touchdowns last season, one of which came from Big Ben. The Steelers quarterback also threw for 363 yards against Tennessee in that game. Lean toward start.
- Lean toward start: Vick
- Lean toward sit: Schaub, Wilson
Quarterbacks to sit
Sam Bradford, Jay Cutler, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Josh Freeman, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, E.J. Manuel, Carson Palmer, Christian Ponder, Terrelle Pryor, Philip Rivers, Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith, Geno Smith, Ryan Tannehill
- Manuel is coming off a knee injury and playing in his first NFL game, under a head coach in his first NFL game.
Running backs to start
Reggie Bush, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Arian Foster, Frank Gore, Steven Jackson, Chris Johnson, Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, LeSean McCoy, Alfred Morris, DeMarco Murray, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, Trent Richardson, Stevan Ridley, C.J. Spiller, Darren Sproles, David Wilson
- Despite not playing in the preseason at all, Foster (back, calf) is expected to start and play at San Diego
- Martin's offensive line is struggling to get healthy, but he excelled in 2012 without his Pro Bowl guards anyway.
Running backs to start with caution
• Montee Ball, Vick Ballard, Joique Bell, Giovani Bernard, Ahmad Bradshaw, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Ronnie Hillman, Mark Ingram, Chris Ivory, Maurice Jones-Drew, Eddie Lacy, Ryan Mathews, Darren McFadden, Rashard Mendenhall, Lamar Miller, Pierre Thomas, Isaac Redman, Daryl Richardson, Ben Tate, Shane Vereen, DeAngelo Williams
- Ball, Hillman and Moreno could be a three-headed running back monster in Denver, so don't rely too much on the depth chart. See how the touches shake out. Lean toward sitting all three.
- The Colts expect Bradshaw to start against the Raiders, but he didn't play one snap in the preseason, as he returns from two procedures on his foot. Vick Ballard should see more action than normal, but this is also a new offense for him. Lean toward starting Bradshaw and sitting Ballard.
- Green-Ellis remains the starter in Cincinnati, and he got 35 yards on 10 preseason carries. Bernard has 116 yards on 27 carries, and he helped lead the team with seven catches for 71 yards. Bernard is worth a look in the flex spot for his NFL debut. But with BJGE, lean toward sitting the rookie.
- The Jets will start Powell, but will rely on both he and Ivory throughout the year. This week, the Bucs come to town, and they were tough against the run in 2012. Lean toward sitting both.
- Sproles sees a ton of action in the passing game, and while we're bullish on Ingram for the season, Sproles deserves a start in the second running back slot. Pierre Thomas will have good games and bad games, coming when you least expect them. Lean toward starting Sproles and Ingram (as a flex), and sitting Thomas.
- Mathews has a bad offensive line and a bad receiving corps, and he cannot stay healthy. This week, he faces a Texans defense that allowed an NFL-low five rushing touchdowns in 2012. Other than that, he's awesome. Lean toward sit.
- Lean toward start: Jones-Drew, Lacy, McFadden, Mendenhall, Miller, Redman, Richardson
- Lean toward sit: Bell, Tate, Vereen, Williams
Running backs to sit
Bryce Brown, Michael Bush, Shonn Greene, Fred Jackson, Mikel Leshoure, Bernard Pierce, Bilal Powell, Jacquizz Rodgers, Knowshon Moreno, Danny Woodhead
- Backup running backs will have a chance to start soon enough, but this batch should wait at least one more week until it's clear how much they will be utilized.
Wide receivers to start
Danny Amendola, Dwayne Bowe, Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Randall Cobb, Marques Colston, Eric Decker Larry Fitzgerald, Pierre Garcon, A.J. Green, DeSean Jackson, Vincent Jackson, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall, Jordy Nelson, Cecil Shorts, Torrey Smith, Demaryius Thomas, Reggie Wayne, Wes Welker, Roddy White
There are several star receivers dealing with some firsts this weekend:
- Amendola's first game in the Patriots' high-octane offense
- Brown's first game as the unquestioned No. 1 WR in Pittsburgh -- same goes for Cobb in Green Bay, Smith in Baltimore and Jackson in Philadelphia
- Fitzgerald's first game without a JV quarterback in three years
- Welker's first game with Manning, away from Brady
We'll know more about these guys and their new situations by Week 2, but for now, they're all solid fantasy starters.
Wide receivers to start with caution
Miles Austin, Tavon Austin, Anquan Boldin, Kenny Britt, Vincent Brown, Victor Cruz, Chris Givens, Brian Hartline, T.Y. Hilton, Greg Little, Greg Jennings, Stevie Johnson, James Jones, Denarius Moore, Lance Moore, Hakeem Nicks, Sidney Rice, Emmanuel Sanders, Steve Smith, Golden Tate, Kenbrell Thompkins, Mike Wallace, Mike Williams
- Bryant's breakout 2012 season made Miles Austin a forgotten man in many parts. Austin is still an 8-10 targets-per-game receiver in one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL. Lean toward start.
- Tavon Austin should be a big weapon for the Rams against Arizona. Bradford is not known for going deep, but Austin brings play-making ability that made him one of the biggest yards-after-the-catch players in college last season. Lean toward start.
- Boldin brings his Super Bowl ring to play with the team he beat, and the 49ers host the Packers in Week 1. Lean toward start as a WR3.
- Britt is semi-healthy and he's facing the top pass defense of 2012 (Pittsburgh). Lean toward sit.
- Both Cruz and Nicks have had injury problems, and the Cowboys played the Giants tough last year. They both averaged about four catches for 42 yards against Dallas in 2012. However, they are likely both top wide receiver options on many teams, so lean toward starting both this week.
- Sanders is closer to a start-with-confidence receiver. He moves up one spot in the Steelers' order, and a 1,000-yard season is not unreachable for the speedy receiver. Only one team allowed more passing touchdowns than Tennessee in 2012. Lean toward start.
- Thompkins has been the talk of the preseason, coming out of nowhere to earn a starting job -- and Brady's trust. The Bills' secondary has some injury problems, so roll the dice on the undrafted rookie as a third wide receiver. Brady turned a defensive back named Troy Brown into a 100-catch receiver, so it's not crazy to think Tompkins could succeed. Lean toward start.
- Wallace only has six catches for 77 total yards in his past three games against Cleveland. Cornerback Joe Haden will shut him down, so lean toward sit.
- Lean toward start: Givens, Hilton, Jennings, Johnson, Lance Moore, Smith
- Lean toward sit: Brown, Hartline, James Jones, Little, Denarius Moore, Rice, Tate, Williams
Wide receivers to sit
Justin Blackmon, Ryan Broyles, Riley Cooper, Aaron Dobson, Patrick Edwards, Malcom Floyd, Michael Floyd, Josh Gordon, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Stephen Hill, Santonio Holmes, DeAndre Hopkins, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon LaFell, Cordarrelle Patterson, Rueben Randle, Andre Roberts, Mohamed Sanu, Kenny Stills, Rod Streater, Kendall Wright
- Don't forget that both Blackmon (four games) and Gordon (two games) are suspended. (Looks like the 2012 NFL Rookie Symposium was a bust.)
- Plenty of potential on this list of players, but wait a week before considering second-year wide receivers like Broyles, Michael Floyd, Hill, Jeffery, Randle, Streater and Wright
- The same caution should be used for big upside rookies like Dobson, Edwards, Hopkins, Patterson and Stills.
- Holmes is returning from a Lisfranc injury and he'll likely end up facing former teammate cornerback Darrelle Revis (knee), who's also coming back from injury. As bad as the Bucs' pass defense was in 2012 (NFL-record bad), they revamped it in the offseason. Holmes is also dealing with a rookie quarterback, making his chances of shining even slimmer.
Tight ends to start
Vernon Davis, Jermichael Finley, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten
- Gonzalez re-emerged as a top-five tight end last season and has decided to come back for one more year.
Tight ends to start with caution
Martellus Bennett, Jordan Cameron, Brent Celek, Jared Cook, Owen Daniels, Ed Dickson, Brandon Myers, Greg Olsen, Brandon Pettigrew, Kyle Rudolph, Zach Sudfeld
- Seattle's defense was good last year, but they were susceptible up the middle. Tight ends scored six touchdowns against them in 2012, which is good for Olsen's owners. Lean toward start.
- While the Broncos were the worst team against tight ends last season, Dickson is dealing with hamstring issues. Lean toward sit.
- Sudfeld has essentially taken Aaron Hernandez's position in New England's offense, but let's agree that he's probably not as talented on the football field. Even so, lean toward start.
- Lean toward start: Cameron, Cook, Daniels, Rudolph
- Lean toward sit: Bennett, Celek, Housler, Myers, Pettigrew
Tight ends to sit
Dwayne Allen, Fred Davis, Tyler Eifert, Coby Fleener, Jermaine Gresham, Rob Gronkowski, Rob Housler, Heath Miller
- While Gronkowski (forearm, back) is practicing, he's still expected to be out for a couple of weeks to start the season.
- Davis is back from an Achilles' injury, but RGIII hasn't targeted tight ends much -- in the pros or in college.
Kickers to start
David Akers, Matt Bryant, Stephen Gostkowski, Garrett Hartley, Matt Prater, Adam Vinatieri, Blair Walsh
Kickers to sit
Jay Feely, Graham Gano, Dan Carpenter, Nick Novak, Josh Scobee
Defenses to start
49ers, Bears, Bengals, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Patriots, Rams, Seahawks, Steelers, Texans
Defenses to sit
Bills, Chargers, Falcons, Jets, Packers, Panthers, Raiders, Ravens, Saints, Vikings
David Gonos is a fantasy sports veteran of over 20 years and over 100 fantasy football leagues. You can also follow him @davidgonos on Twitter.