Week 1: Player Upgrades
While BeJarvus Green-Ellis may have a lock on the starting job in New England's backfield right now, there is no guarantee that he will still be the Patriots starter by the end of the season. Green-Ellis will be a free agent at the end of the year and there is a reason that Bill Belichick invested second and third round draft picks on a pair of running backs in this past April's NFL Draft. With Shane Vereen out for most of the pre-season, fellow rookie Stevan Ridley has gotten the opportunity to showcase his talents.
Ridley, the former LSU standout (the same school that produced current Patriot Kevin Faulk), is a tough between the tackles runner with excellent vision. His hard nosed running style was on display during the pre-season in which he rushed for 148 yards and two scores on 30 carries. Ridley also showed that he is an extremely talented receiver out of the backfield, something very few people thought he could do coming out of college. Ridley racked up 74 yards and a touchdown on 10 receptions in two games this pre-season.
Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead are the Patriots' runners of the present, it may only be a matter of time before Ridley gets an opportunity. Ridley's stock rose significantly in the pre-season, which makes him worth stashing on benches in all fantasy leagues. When Ridley gets his opportunity, you can bet that he will succeed.
A great deal of fantasy experts pegged Ben Tate as a potential superstar last year until he tore his ACL in the pre-season and watched his backfield mate Arian Foster emerge as a breakout star. The former Auburn standout is currently listed third on the Texans depth chart at running back behind Foster and journeyman Derrick Ward, but that could change quickly. Tate put together a strong pre-season and could potentially steal carries away from Foster.
Speaking of Foster, he is already dealing with a hamstring injury, which is the type of injury that takes time to heal and could linger all season if he plays through it. Much like a pitcher who sees a significant increase in pitches from one year to the next, those 327 carries from last season could catch up to him. In the event that Foster does miss time, Tate is the Houston running back worth owning. Fantasy owners looking to take out an insurance policy on Foster should look to acquire Tate now before he becomes unavailable later in the season.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that former fullback Mike Tolbert rushed for 735 yards and scored 11 touchdowns last season. You probably also know that Ryan Matthews hasn't exactly lived up to the expectations either. San Diego head coach Norv Turner came out and said earlier in the pre-season that he envisions the Chargers using more of a "two back system" this year. "I think the emergence of Tolbert gives us a chance to have a one-two punch," said Turner. "Tolbert gives us a nice change-up. Obviously he's a physical, hard-to-tackle, punishing runner and Ryan has great speed, so it's a good situation."
The reality of the situation is that Matthews isn't just going to disappear, but Tolbert has more than earned his fair share of carries and will be the Chargers' go-to option on the goal-line or in short yardage situations. While Matthews has much more upside than Tolbert, at least you know what you are getting with Tolbert: double-digit touchdowns.
Fantasy owners looking to acquire a solid fantasy running back at a discounted rate should look no further than Tolbert, who looks like a much safer bet than Matthews heading into the regular season.
The St. Louis Rams shifty slot receiver, Danny Amendola, caught 85 passes for 689 yards and three touchdowns last season, building valuable chemistry and trust with rookie quarterback Sam Bradford in the process. If the Rams offense is going to take the next step this season, Amendola will certainly play a major role. St. Louis brought in former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels to be their new offensive coordinator this past offseason, a move that will pay immediate dividends for both Bradford and Amendola.
McDaniels, one of the most brilliant offensive minds in football, played a major role in the development of Wes Welker into the league's premier slot receiver during his time in New England from 2004-08. With Amendola possessing a very similar skill set to that of Welker, it would not be a surprise to see McDaniels utilize him the same way he did with Welker in New England.
Amendola is one of the top sleepers in all of fantasy football this season, especially for fantasy owners in point-per-reception leagues. It is not out of the question that Amendola could eclipse 100 receptions this season, making him a player for fantasy owners to target in a trade as the regular season approaches.
There was a time late last season when Jimmy Graham was the hottest sleeper in all of fantasy football. Graham closed out the regular season on an absolute tear, racking up 356 yards and five touchdowns on 31 receptions in his rookie season. Somehow the buzz surrounding Graham died as the lockout dragged on, but as the pre-season came and went, the Graham bandwagon has started to take off once again.
A former basketball and football standout at Miami, Graham has tremendous size at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds and athleticism that is virtually unmatched by any defender in the NFL. Graham is nearly impossible to defend in the red-zone and he's still developing as a receiver. That is a scary combination. Factor in one of the best quarterbacks in all of football in Drew Brees and the other weapons in the New Orleans Saints offense and you are looking at a tight end who is on the cusp of stardom. It is only a matter of time before Graham becomes untouchable, so fantasy owners should act now to acquire him in a trade.