Can you believe it?! It's back -- the NFL, it's back, baby. It seems like just yesterday I was screaming at my television "You've got Marshawn Lynch! Just run that thing! Damn it Pete! And who wears white shoes anyway?! You have no fashion sense, Pete... like zero!"
Entering Week 1 of the NFL regular season, it is probably apparent to the average fantasy football players who the "must start" players are. So what is my goal? To give you five game-changing, PPR players that aren't so obvious but still deserve the ever coveted "must start" nomination.
Let's live dangerously and start in reverse order.
5. Ryan Mathews
You're probably asking yourself, "how is this guy going to try to convince me to start a back-up running back?". Well, he's isn't a back-up running back my friends -- he's a starting running back trapped behind another starting running back (Damn it, Chip).
As a career 4.4 YPC runner, Mathews has consistently produced at a high caliber his entire career -- it's his health that hasn't. Playing in just 60 of his last 80 games, Mathews is the definition of a "game time question". I believe this all changes with his reduction from feature back to heavy complimentary option.
Beat writers have predicted a 60/40(or less) type split between Murray and Mathews, which may sound lopsided until we review the 2014 Eagles rushing attempts. In 2014 Chip Kelly dialed up 474 rushing attempts (7th most in 2014). If we divide these numbers in a 60/30/10 split even with Darren Sproles mixed in, Mathews would be good for roughly 10+ carries a game. This is RB3 range but his goal line looks, and potential for even bigger workload are what puts him over the edge for me.
On the road Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons I expect a high scoring affair, and the potential for the big back role at the goal line for Ryan Mathews. It's fair to presume a 8-12 carry, 3-5 target sort of outing as his baseline. Atlanta should be a stout run defense, but the Eagles' relentless pace and high octane passing offense makes me confident Mathews will cash in for owners inside the Georgia Dome Monday night.
4. Amari Cooper
Feel free to toss your "I never start rookies" hate right out the window because Amari Cooper is an otherworldly talent. You know what else helps a rookie with immense talent produce? More targets than a shooting range (see: OBJ circa 2014). With a run game that is in total question and a second-year quarterback in Derek Carr, you can bet that Cooper will assuredly see double digit targets.
If the preseason is any indication of what's to come, then may I please refer you to Amari Cooper making Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson look ridiculous quite a few times when they squared off last week -- he finished the night 4-62. A combination of high-end metric abilities and some of the crispiest route running a rookie has ever flashed before, expectation is massive for Cooper in 2015.
So despite the rather unpleasant defensive matchup versus the Cincinnati Bengals the 5th highest graded pass coverage defense in 2014, I'm going to side with Cooper's talent, chemistry with Carr and most importantly the plethora of targets he will see vs the Bengals over everything else. Call me when he wins you your week.
3. Kendall Wright
You know, guys... Kendall Wright used to be a household name. He at one point in time, on this planet even, he posted a 94 reception season. The guy has always had the ability to be PPR gold under the right circumstances, and those circumstances have finally panned out in his favor.
The addition of accurate, yet risk averse quarterback Marcus Mariota works majorly into Wright's favor. Mariota's lack of high risk deep ball attempts should funnel even more short to intermediate-route targets into Wright's world. In 2014, Wright hauled in just 57 catches but maintained a really solid 66.3% receiving percentage while doing so. A product of horrendous quarterback play in 2014 -- Wright has fallen down into the depths of fantasy football hell and now nobody wants him.
Tennessee faces the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week one, a team that at the end of 2014 graded out as the 12th worst pass coverage defense in the league. With draft bust Justin Hunter, rookie DGB, and overall Canadian football league quality run game Mariota may have no other option to overload with targets outside of Wright and Walker. Get ready to watch Kendall get peppered.
2. Doug Martin
If you look up the definition of recency bias you will see a full page ad with Doug Martin's face right next to it. As a rookie, he was touted as a perennial Top 5 running back -- that was right up until the following season when the label was reversed and everyone called him a bust. Well, guess what? We just did a 180 again and Doug Martin is as hot as Christina Milian fire dancing on the sun.
Better yet, he's drawn a juicy matchup vs a Tennessee Titans defense that graded out as the 11th worst team defense in the NFL in 2014, according to PFF. Exiting the 2014 season, Doug averaged a porous 3.7 YPC to go along with just 2.1 passing targets per game -- none of this screams "must start" I realize, but bare with me.
A revamped offensive line, a change at quarterback, a vicious pass catching core and a fresh start for Martin, he finished the preseason with 20 carries for 118 yards (5.9YPC). Call it the preseason, but Doug looks like he finally flipped the switch. He's running harder, more decisively and most importantly there is still no threat to his workload. So If seeing is believing than Doug is back in a big way and I'm willing to stick my neck out for him in week one -- so grab your guillotines.
1. John Brown
In 2014 "Smokey" Brown was considered rather boom-or-bust, but entering his sophomore season, consistency is finally in sight. A healthy Carson Palmer, and new found offseason chemistry should work to Brown's advantage favorably.
This Sunday, Arizona is squaring off with the New Orleans Saints and the fantasy world is expecting a big day from John Brown. In the six games that John Brown played with Carson Palmer last y ear, he averaged six targets per game. With Michael Floyd more than likely shelved or role reduced for game day, Arizona will look to feature Brown even more often than before.
The definition of a home run hitter, John Brown will get a crack on Sunday against a Saints team that graded out in the bottom 2 of the NFL in pass coverage in 2014. Expect Larry Fitzgerald to retain his role as a short to intermediate route possession receiver meanwhile leaving blowing the top of coverages to Smokey Brown. Prepare for the John Brown experience this Sunday.