Week 1: Player Upgrades
Player Upgrades is intended for fantasy football diehards. Each week when setting a lineup, a closer analysis is necessary to find out which players are destined for a great performance. Sometimes it's a favorable matchup or it can be as simple as an increased role due to an injury. Very few players are matchup-proof in this game. For every Aaron Rodgers or Ray Rice, there are a dozen players who could potentially be interchangable depending upon a number of factors.
This weekly article isolates your best options for a statistical breakout from Week 1 to Week 17. Let FFToolbox do the homework for you! Instead of scouring the waiver wire and opening up 20 tabs to compare and contrast players, let Player Upgrades be your guide. Each week, we will identify seven players (typically two QBs, two RBs, two WRs and one TE) that you should consider starting and we'll break each player down with some analysis.
Expectations in the DC area regarding RG3 are sky-high. Logic says he might not live up to hype so quickly, but just as Cam Newton taught us last season, it is possible he exceeds them. Even if only for one game, Griffin going up against the Saints is a great matchup. New Orleans had the 10th friendliest fantasy defense against quarterbacks last season. What does that mean? Well it means that they were decidedly below average when it came to offering up any resistance to opposing signal callers. Starting a rookie QB is risky though. Even if the defense is poor, RG3's biggest obstacle may be himself as he continues to adjust to the NFL. All that said, New Orleans struggled last season defensively and could be even worse because of the departure of DC Gregg Williams.
We here at FFToolbox like Locker this week because he's going up against the New England Patriots and their fantasy-worst pass defense last season. Not only do we like him as a Player Upgrade, he's also listed in our Pickups of the Week article for Week 1. It's not 2011 anymore though, right? Those numbers shouldn't matter. Well, another point would be New England has never had trouble scoring and to beat Tom Brady, the Titans will likely need to score big points. Couple that notion with the fact that the Pats allowed 4,928 passing yards last season, the second-worst total in the NFL, it should go without saying that they're not likely to have a shut down pass defense out of the blue. A big improvement would make them merely average. Locker's ability to accumulate points as both a passer and runner only sweeten the deal for his 2012 debut.Injury Status: Injured Reserve
The phrase "if healthy" seems to be coupled with every statement regarding Smith, a former University of Central Florida star. Since it is Week 1, we can safely presume that he is as healthy as he'll ever be during this 2012 season. Unfortunately, Smith is dealing with an ankle injury. He already returned to practice on Monday, which is a great sign he'll be ready for the season opener. Remember that his huge Week 11 performance last year (201 total yards and three TDs) came in his first game with meaningful touches. The big selling point here is that the Lions are playing the St. Louis Rams, a bottom-five fantasy run defense from a year ago. Assuming Detroit continues their offensive dominance from 2011, there will be a ton of points to go around for a guy like Smith.
Since Jonathan Stewart is questionable for Week 1, let's assume that he's healthy enough to play yet not 100-percent. With that in mind, we can also assume the Panthers won't give him a heavy workload, so what is usually a split backfield is now decidedly favoring Williams. It also helps that the Bucs had the worst fantasy run defense in the NFL in 2011, allowing backs to score 25 total TDs and rack up 2,893 total yards. A new coaching staff should improve that, but by how much? Williams rushed for 66 yards and two TDs in his last game against Tampa and for a guy who will usually be on most teams' fantasy bench, this is great example of when it might be smart to start him.
If there's one Rams receiver worth starting, it is likely Amendola. Injuries cut short his 2011 season, but he had 85 receptions in 2010. The Wes Welker comparisons are fair since they are both undersized, quick, slot receivers who played their college ball at Texas Tech. The Rams will be facing the Lions and if there's one glaring weakness in the Motor City, it is their pass defense. They are dealing with injuries across the board and the Lions allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to wide receivers last season. Amendola isn't much of a touchdown threat, but he should have few troubles picking apart this defense. For those in PPR leagues, he's certainly worth a look as a flex play.