Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Bench Cam Newton in Week 1
Sunday morning updates
11:45 a.m. ET
- Rejoice, Rob Gronkowski owners! The star tight end is active for the Patriots. There is some talk that he will play limited snaps, but he still has to be started. Even if that holds true, Gronk can do a ton of damage in few snaps.
- Aaron Dobson and James White, however, are inactive. Good news for Gronk and Julian Edelman. Stevan Ridley appears entrenched alongside Shane Vereen.
10:30 a.m. ET
- Saints downgrade Kenny Stills to OUT with a quad injury. With Stills out, start rookie WR Brandin Cooks with confidence.
- Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts III is OUT with hamstring tightness.
The NFL season is just about 48 hours old as of this post, so it makes sense that injuries are already dominating the news, as they often do. As you'll see, they also dominate the Week 1 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet.
Those of you who hung around these parts last year probably remember the drill, but let’s go over it for the newcomers. The Cheat Sheet details all the last-minute news that you need to know to get your lineup ready for Sunday. This, of course, includes injuries, but also beneficial matchups, players trending in the right or wrong direction and hidden nuggets that will help you make the right decisions about who to start and who to sit. The Cheat Sheet will also feature a live chat (that also takes place on Twitter) every Sunday morning, and will be updated right up until kick off of the early games. We hope you’ll join us for the ride every week.
Now back to this week’s task at hand. There are some injuries to big name guys that have put Week 1 lineups in flux. None more important than the man who kicks off our inaugural Cheat Sheet of the 2014 season.
Bench Cam Newton on Sunday
“I’m not going to put my team in jeopardy or myself in jeopardy to make matters worse,” and “It’s not just about game one. This is not a sprint, this is a marathon,” are not exactly quotes you want to hear associated with your starting quarterback. The first one came from Newton himself, while the second belongs to Ron Rivera. Newton is still dealing with discomfort due to fractured ribs he suffered two weeks ago, and he could end up missing the Panthers’ season opener with the Buccaneers.
To be fair, Newton said he is on pace to start Sunday. He did throwing drills in practice on Friday, and is listed as questionable for the NFC South clash. At the same time, Rivera told reporters after practice that Newton pulled the ball down and ran with it on one play in practice, and that the Panthers are not looking for him to do that if he plays on Sunday. That means that one of his best clubs likely won’t be in his bag if he is out there. It also indicates just how much confidence, or lack thereof, the Panthers’ coaching staff has in the health of its starting quarterback.
While that alone should be enough to convince you to sit Newton, there are even more reasons to have him on your bench. The Panthers don’t kick off until 4:25 p.m. ET. That late kickoff means that most owners won’t have the luxury of waiting around to find out if a less-than-100-percent Newton will even play on Sunday. If you have the luxury of owning a quarterback who plays in the late afternoon or primetime games, you can obviously go ahead and wait. For the majority of owners, though, you’re not going to want to roll those dice.
Second, there were already concerns with this offense from a fantasy standpoint. Newton is dealing with an entirely new set of receivers, and while he and Kelvin Benjamin could prove to be a nice pair, there are still likely to be some growing pains. Put simply, there are just too many factors against Newton to possibly trust him as your starter this week.
Injury bug nips Ellington at worst possible time
Bruce Arians toyed with fantasy owners all season in 2013, giving Andre Ellington enough touches to be useful, but not quite enough to be a star. When he said that Ellington would get in the neighborhood of 25 touches per game this year, fantasy owners got excited, even if they understood that he would never come anywhere near that lofty total. Ellington didn’t raise any red flags during the preseason, and climbed up draft boards all summer. With no more than token competition from Jonathan Dwyer and Stepfan Taylor, Ellington became a favorite within the second or third tier of running backs. Then days before the Cardinals’ Week 1 game with the Chargers, Ellington surprisingly landed on the Cardinals’ injury report with a foot issue. And now we have our first true running back regrets of the season.
Ellington underwent an MRI on Friday and could be out for “an extended period of time,” according to Mike Jurecki of KGME-AM in Arizona. If Ellington does indeed miss multiple games, we will cover the fallout with our regular coverage next week. As for this week, he simply cannot be trusted as a starter. The Cardinals play the final game of the week, in the nightcap of Monday Night Football. The only way you could even fill most rosters while holding out for Ellington would be to own at least three of Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, Donald Brown and Jonathan Dwyer. That would be a very bad decision. Ellington was likely your third-round pick, but you’re going to have to go in a different direction this week.
This should go without saying, but another inadvisable direction is that of Dwyer, Ellington’s likely replacement. He has been nothing more than a backup his entire career, and was just days away from getting somewhere in the neighborhood of seven or eight touches against the Chargers. He should be universally owned at this point, but do not use him as a starter this week. Unless you left yourself very thin at running back in your draft, you should have better options.
The Michael Floyd breakout starts this week
There are plenty of leagues in which Michael Floyd is the WR3 on his fantasy team. As an example, I got him as my third wide receiver in an auction league behind Jordy Nelson and Alshon Jeffery. I am starting him at flex in that league with extreme confidence, and all of you fellow Floyd owners out there should be doing the same.
After two seasons in the league, this is the year Floyd surpasses Larry Fitzgerald and takes over as the No. 1 receiver in Arizona. He caught 65 of his 112 targets for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns a season ago, and there’s reason to believe all four of those numbers will increase this year. Focusing on the most important one, though, Fitzgerald got 24 red-zone targets to Floyd’s 14. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Floyd is just a bit bigger than his counterpart. At just 24 years old, his legs are also a touch springier, making him a tougher cover in the red zone than one of the best red zone receivers of his generation. Expect that number to even out this season. Floyd looks ticketed for 80 catches, 1,200 yards and eight scores this year.
It all starts on Sunday with a great matchup against the Chargers. San Diego corners Brandon Flowers (imported from Kansas City during the offseason) and Shareece Wright were two of the worst in coverage last year. Pro Football Focus ranked 110 cornerbacks in coverage, run support, rush skills, and penalties last year. Flowers ranked 94th in coverage, while Wright ranked 105th. It doesn’t much matter who draws Floyd and who is on Fitzgerald. They’re both going to be in trouble. Floyd is a top-10 receiver this week.
The “hot hand” is all the rage in the backfield
Just like the traditional weather pattern, the idea of riding a hot hand at running back appears to be moving from west-to-east. First, San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman said the team would “have to stay with the hot hand” when discussing running backs Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde. One day later, St. Louis general manager Les Snead said the exact same thing in reference to his team’s backs, Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham. While the words and the message were identical, the meanings are different for Gore and Stacy.
Let’s start with Gore. The San Francisco back is 31 years old now, but he has a track record fantasy owners can trust. Gore has rushed for at least 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. He has never had fewer than 1,200 total yards and six scores in a season in which he played at least 14 games, other than his rookie year, and he has only played fewer than 14 games once. Still, as he gets older, and as the 49ers continue to nurture Super Bowl hopes, the difficulty and importance of him staying healthy all year increases. It only made sense that Hyde would be more involved this year than perhaps any backup Gore has ever had. Roman saying that the team will ride the hot hand sounds less like a threat to Gore’s playing time and more like a coordinator acknowledging that both of his primary running backs will see significant time. This is not a surprise. It’s why Gore carried a late-fourth-round average draft position in 12-team leagues rather than an early fourth. Don’t overreact to this news. Trust Gore, and Hyde, in deeper leagues, against the dreadful Cowboys this week.
Stacy owners, on the other hand, should be worried. This is just more proof that he was unworthy of being considered a top-15 back during draft the season. The Rams swore there was nothing afoot when Cunningham started the third preseason game, but the only reason that would happen is if he was going to play at least a decent amount with the ones during the regular season. This could be closer to a true timeshare than anyone expected. For now, you should be starting Stacy and merely adding Cunningham. Keep an eye on this situation as it develops, though. Stacy might not be the rock-solid workhorse so many thought he would be this year.
Week 1 Injury report
- Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are both questionable, mainly because the Patriots are the Patriots. You know what to do with these two.
- Charles Clay and Knowshon Moreno were full participants in practice, and taken off the injury report. Clay is a fantasy starter this week, but wait for some clarity in the Miami backfield before trusting either Moreno or Lamar Miller
- Kenny Stills is questionable with a hamstring injury, and did not participate in Friday’s practice. He should be on your bench. You should already be starting Brandin Cooks, and he could really explode if Stills is out.
- Tyler Eifert (shoulder) practiced Friday and is probable for Sunday against the Ravens. He’s a fringe starter in 12-team leagues. Teammate Vontaze Burfict was limited because of a hamstring injury, but is still probable. You’ll definitely want the Bengals defense active this week.
- Bernard Pierce was a full participant in practice, and looks good to go after suffering a concussion in the preseason. He’s a decent flex play in 12-team leagues, due largely to the assumed volume he’ll receive as the starter.
- Sammy Watkins (ribs) participated fully in Friday’s practice. Feel free to deploy him as planned, though starting him is a risk.
- Jordan Reed remains questionable because of a thumb injury, but he did practice in full. If he starts, he should be in your lineup.
- Tamba Hali’s knee injury should not keep him out of Sunday’s game with the Titans. If you own the Chiefs defense, you’re starting them.
- Cecil Shorts (hamstring) is questionable, and practiced in just a limited fashion on Friday. You should be able to do better. Bump rookies Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee up cheat sheets a bit for this week. The bet here is that one puts up starter’s numbers.
- Riley Cooper practiced Friday and is probable with an ankle injury. He’s just barely inside my top 40 for the week.
- Joe Haden (foot) was a full participant in practice, but that doesn’t scare Antonio Bryant. The Pittsburgh receiver had 15 catches for 179 yards and a touchdown in two games against the Browns last year.
- Left tackle Jake Long practiced in full and should be good to go despite a knee ailment. That’s good news for the Rams’ offense.
- Michael Crabtree was limited in practice on Friday and is listed as questionable with a calf injury. The late kickoff makes this a nightmare. I’m risking it where I own Crabtree because of the great matchup. Just make sure to have someone else you can plug in if he doesn’t go. If he does sit, Anquan Boldin is a great play.
- Tony Romo (back) is on the injury report as probable, but there’s no doubt that he’ll be starting. Terrance Williams, on the other hand, is questionable with a back injury. He didn’t participate at all in Friday's practice. Be very careful here.
- Cam Newton, as we said earlier, is questionable because of a rib injury. Stay away this week.
- Emmanuel Sanders dealt with a thigh injury, but was a full participant in Friday’s practice. He is probable and is a top-20 receiver with Wes Welker out.