It took all of one week for the injury bug to bite some of the NFL's most valuable players. The receiver position was hit especially hard, with Dez Bryant (foot), T.Y. Hilton (knee), and DeSean Jackson (hamstring) all set to miss time after suffering injuries last week. Add that to the usual Week 1 surprises, from disappointing no-shows to breakout performances, and the fantasy community is looking at an active week on the waiver wire. Below are the top players you’ll want to target this week.
Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals
Even though one-quarterback leagues are still the norm, it’s surprising that Dalton was so available heading into Week 1. That’s not going to be the case after what he did against the Raiders. Dalton’s numbers—269 yards and two touchdowns—would be enough to catch anyone’s eye. What’s more impressive is that he did it getting a subpar game from A.J. Green. The Bengals' offense is loaded, and Dalton is right at the center of it all. We know he’s going to have a stinker or two at some point, but his owners will be able to live with those games this season. With all the weapons around him in Cincinnati, the good is going to be way more frequent than the bad.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans
Mariota’s ownership percentage was already relatively high, so there’s a decent chance he may not be available in your league. Mariota had a debut for the ages, throwing for four touchdowns in his first half of NFL action. At the same time, he’s not going to have the benefit of playing the Buccaneers every week. There will be growing pains for Mariota this year, and fantasy owners still shouldn’t view him as more than a mid-tier QB2. As deep as the quarterback position is these days, Mariota remains a matchup play.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Bills
Taylor starred in the Bills’ season-opening win over the Colts, but if you need a quarterback, you’re better off targeting both Dalton and Mariota. Taylor was undoubtedly impressive, but the Bills have a low-ceiling offense, especially through the air, and they’re going to face much better defenses over the rest of the season than what they saw from Indy last week. The Colts put absolutely no pressure on Taylor, and while the Bills’ offensive line deserves credit for that, the Colts’ pass rush may end up being among the league’s worst. Taylor opened eyes, but he’s still a low-end QB2.
Bishop Sankey, RB, Titans
Sankey has an opportunity to turn himself into a workhorse for the Titans, and he did himself a lot of favors in Week 1. Sankey gashed the Buccaneers for 74 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and also caught two passes for 12 yards and another score. Terrance West got one more carry and most of the goal line work, though Sankey did plunge into the end zone from the one-yard line. West’s presence remains a minor annoyance, but don’t let that keep you from making a significant bid on Sankey. He’s clearly the superior runner in the Tennessee backfield and looks like an RB3 at worst this season. He’s also the latest reminder that last year is last year. Sankey is in a much better spot in an improved offense that made a major quarterback upgrade. Don’t sleep on how a mobile quarterback can make his running back’s life a whole lot easier. Mariota is one of the best things that could have happened to Sankey this off-season.
David Johnson, RB, Cardinals
There’s a reason a team goes after a back out of Northern Iowa with a third-round draft pick, and it’s because they think he can contribute right away. Now that Andre Ellington will miss one to three weeks with a knee sprain, Johnson will likely get his chance. He didn’t play at all in Week 1 until Ellington got hurt. He caught a short pass on his first career touch and took it 55 yards to the house to clinch a win for the Cardinals. Johnson showed off his speed on that play, but he’s also 6’1” and 225 pounds. If he plays well over the next few weeks—the Cardinals draw the Bears, 49ers and Rams in their next three games—Ellington could very well lose the starting gig. Chris Johnson is involved, as well, but this is the Johnson you want on your team.
Ronnie Hillman, RB, Broncos
C.J. Anderson is dealing with a toe sprain and a minor ankle injury, but he’s expected to play against the Chiefs on Thursday. That’s not what’s driving the Hillman bandwagon, however. Quite frankly, Hillman looked like the better back in the Broncos’ win over the Ravens last week. Both he and Anderson got 12 carries against Baltimore. Hillman outgained the starter 41 to 29. If Peyton Manning’s struggles prove to be more than just a one-week occurrence, this team could run the ball a whole lot more than expected. It’d be a stretch to expect Hillman to supplant Anderson as the starter, but he may carve out a role that makes him worthy of low-end flex consideration throughout the season.
Dion Lewis, RB, Patriots
Lewis looked like he can be a real weapon for the Patriots, totaling 120 yards from scrimmage on 19 touches. Now, he’s probably not going to get 15 carries too often with LeGarrette Blount returning next week, but it’s clear he is on Bill Belichick’s good side. How do we know? Well, he put the ball on the turf, which usually earns a player a one-way ticket to the bench from Belichick. Lewis was right back in there on New England’s next play from scrimmage. At the very least, he’s going to have a role as a receiver out of the backfield for the Patriots. He’s unlikely to be more than a depth back, but those are crucial players to have when the bye-week portion of the schedule begins.
Karlos Williams, RB, Bills
It wasn’t a surprise that the Bills gave a back other than LeSean McCoy a noteworthy amount of carries. What was a surprise, however, was that back’s identity. Karlos Williams, not Boobie Dixon, served as McCoy’s primary backup, breaking a 26-yard touchdown run and finishing the game with 55 yards on six totes. Williams’s role was significant enough to make him a low-priority waiver-wire target. Understand that his value in Week 1 was essentially all tied up in that touchdown scamper. While Dixon got just three carries, he was the Bills’ goal-line back. That means Williams is going to be dependent on big plays, similar to the way Antone Smith was with the Falcons a year ago. Williams is worth claiming, but don’t break the bank. He may have just had his most productive game of the season.
James Jones, WR, Packers
While everyone was falling over themselves to get Davante Adams or take a flier on Jeff Janis, the Packers went out and brought back a reliable old friend. It should come as little surprise that Aaron Rodgers found Jones four times on Sunday, including twice for touchdowns. Jones had his best years with the Packers, and it looks like he’s again going to have a prominent role with the team this season. Adams led the team in targets, but it was clear that Jones still has Rodgers’s trust when the Packers reach the red zone. Both of Jones’s touchdowns came with the Packers inside the Bears’ 20-yard line, including one from just one yard out. It’s awfully hard for an offense to produce three top-30 receivers, even one led by Rodgers. Still, Jones can be a low-end WR3 this season.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Colts
Moncrief played only sparingly as a rookie last season, but when he did get an opportunity he flashed for the Colts. With T.Y. Hilton likely out a few weeks because of a bruised knee, Moncrief will once again have an opportunity to show what he can do. He looked good after Hilton left last week’s game, catching six passes for 46 yards and a touchdown. Even without Hilton, this team isn’t going to change its stripes. Andrew Luck is still going to put the ball in the air 35 or 40 times per game. Moncrief racked up 11 targets against the Bills, and he wasn’t prominently featured until Hilton left the game. Opportunity, environment and talent are the three keys to fantasy success. Moncrief now has all three.
Brandon Coleman, WR, Saints
When the Saints sent Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks for Max Unger, the search for Drew Brees’s new favorite red zone target was on. After one game, the smart money is on Coleman becoming that player. Coleman caught four of his seven targets for 41 yards and a score in the Saints’ loss to the Cardinals last week. That touchdown came on a play from the Arizona 12-yard line in which Coleman made the first tackler miss and dove into the end zone. That’s the sort of play-making ability that will get him in his quarterback's good graces. At 6'6" and 225 pounds, Coleman can be dangerous in the red zone. He has the size and skill set to win jump balls, the same way Graham did for Brees for so many years. This team is still going to throw the ball a lot this season. Coleman could very well lead the way in receiving touchdowns.
Ladarius Green, TE, Chargers
The week of the tight end didn’t only belong to the guys who scored at least two touchdowns. There were a number of down-ticket tight ends who also broke into double-digit fantasy points, and Green was one of them. In his first start during Antonio Gates’s four-game suspension, Green caught five of his six targets for 74 yards and a touchdown. Green has been a chic breakout pick in the last two seasons, but now that he’s free from Gates’s shadow for at least a month, he finally has a real chance to take over as the Chargers’ primary tight end. Week 1 showed that there’s more talent at the tight end position than we’ve seen in a long time, and potentially more than fantasy players have ever had at their disposal. Green could develop into a top-10 player at the position.
Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins
Reed had a decently high ownership rate heading into the season, but he should be scooped up in leagues where he’s still available. Talent has never been a question for Reed. His health, on the other hand, has always been shaky. Reed racked up 11 targets last week, catching seven of them for 63 yards and a score. With DeSean Jackson out at least three weeks because of a hamstring injury, Reed’s role in the Washington passing game should only increase. In fact, Reed is arguably the most dangerous pass catcher on the team with Jackson on the shelf. As long as he’s on the field, he looks like a low-end TE1.
Photos: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images (Dalton), Frederick Breedon/Getty Images (Sankey), Maddie Meyer/Getty Images (Lewis), Norm Hall/Getty Images (Coleman)