All but the luckiest fantasy owners at some point need to find the proverbial diamond in the rough, a waiver-wire or bench player who is capable of putting up some points in a pinch. This weekly feature, Sneaky Starts, is dedicated to that part of fantasy football. It's not pretty, but it's part of the game.
It’s only Week 1, but with Hurricane Irma barreling toward South Florida and forcing the NFL resulting decision to move the Buccaneers/Dolphins game to Week 11, there are more than a few owners left scrambling to fill holes in their respective rosters.
Let’s see if I can help. Here are a few Sneaky Starts for Week 1:
Carson Palmer, QB, Cardinals (at Lions)
Last year, the Lions defense yielded the second-most passing touchdowns (33) and the highest completion percentage (72.7%) in the league. In his final nine games last season, once the Cardinals figured out how to manage his tired arm, Palmer was the No. 10 fantasy quarterback. With all of his weapons fully healthy, he should be able to post good numbers against a Detroit defense that struggles annually to stop the pass.
Sam Bradford, QB, Vikings (vs. Saints)
In the nine games after Pat Shurmur took over as offensive coordinator in Minnesota, the Vikings offense opened up, and Bradford was a primary beneficiary. He completed 74.5% of his passes for an average of 271 yards and 1.33 touchdowns per game. That equates to 16.0 fantasy points per game, or a bit more than what Jameis Winston scored as the No. 16 quarterback last year. Meanwhile, the Saints gave up the most passing yardage in 2016, yielded the 10th-most passing touchdowns and picked off the sixth-fewest passes. Despite the defensive additions in New Orleans, the Saints still look like a unit that quarterback streamers should target.
Ted Ginn, WR, Saints (at Vikings)
In 30 games with the Panthers over the previous two seasons, Ginn averaged 3.3 receptions for 50 yards and 0.47 touchdowns per contest. Those numbers translate to low-end fantasy WR3 numbers in PPR formats. With Willie Snead sidelined for the first three games, Ginn should see increased targets from Drew Brees at the start of his Saints tenure. In the 20 games over the past two seasons in which he saw at least five targets, Ginn averaged 4.1 catches for 59 yards and 0.45 touchdowns. Those are solid fantasy WR2 numbers in PPR formats. Ginn’s speed is a great match for Brees’s deep-ball accuracy, so this is the sort of production that I’m expecting from Ginn while Snead is sidelined.
Rishard Matthews, WR, Titans (vs. Raiders)
Corey Davis missed a lot of practice this summer with a hamstring injury, and head coach Mike Mularkey said that while he would play in Week 1, he would be used in “specific situations.” It sounds like the Titans will roll with Matthews and Eric Decker as their top two receivers, with Davis playing a limited role. Matthews emerged as the Titans’ top target last year, catching 65 passes for 945 yards and nine touchdowns on 108 targets, en route to a No. 20 finish at the receiver position. The presence of both Decker and Davis will likely reduce Matthews’s target share, but with the rookie limited in Week 1, Matthews is a good bet to produce. It’s a good matchup, too; the Raiders yielded the ninth-most passing yards and the 10th-most passing touchdowns last year.
Robby Anderson, WR, Jets (at Bills)
Anderson is the de facto WR1 for the Jets with Brandon Marshall changing New York allegiances, and Quincy Enunwa sidelined for the year with a neck injury. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is suspended for the first two games, so the Jets are without yet another weapon. Anderson figures to see 7 to 10 targets as Josh McCown’s top weapon. He averaged 1.44 fantasy points per target in PPR leagues last year, and if he’s able to maintain that production, he’s looking at 10.1 to 14.4 fantasy points at his projected target range. The Bills are missing their top two cornerbacks from last season, making this a favorable matchup.