TE Notes: Last summer, Gronkowski was the most unstoppable player in Patriots camp. This year, it's been Hernandez. Don't be surprised if Hernandez, a superstar in his own right, leads all tight ends in fantasy points this season. ... Gates should dominate targets in San Diego with Vincent Jackson and Vincent Brown out of the picture.
I wouldn't worry too much about Fred Davis' quiet preseason. Mike Shanahan has relied heavily on the tight end since the days of Shannon Sharpe; that's not going to change with a rookie quarterback. ... We like Olsen, Rudolph and Cook as the top three breakout candidates at tight end. Olsen and Rudolph will be targeted more consistently as perhaps the No. 2 target in their respective passing attacks.
Gresham is expected to play, but his conditioning is question mark after missing the past three weeks. ... We're not buying the industry-wide consensus that Tamme will be a fantasy stud, leaving Dreessen in the dust. Tamme saw six targets from Peyton Manning to Dreessen's five in preseason action, and Dreessen has been the primary red-zone tight end in practices.
Week 1 Kickers
Week 1 Defenses
Wednesday's NFL opener marks the 10th anniversary of Rotoworld's weekly Goal Line Stand rankings. For the first time in a decade the ranks will be without the voice of Gregg Rosenthal, who has moved on to run NFL.com's Around the League coverage.
The good news is that I joined Rosenthal as a Goal Line Stand partner two years ago, learning at the knee of the master. In a similar vein, Mike Clay will climb aboard this year as Rotoworld follows the NFL's tandem attack lead. Mike has over five years of experience ranking players for sites such as the esteemed Pro Football Focus. As long as Mike and I don't fumble Rosenthal's baton, the transition should be as smooth as Montana-Young or Manning-Luck.
Before finalizing your lineup choices each week, be sure to consult Evan Silva's brilliant Matchups column -- the best of its kind on the internet. More research hours are devoted to Matchups than any single article on Rotoworld, and it shows. Here is Silva's early-week breakdown of Cowboys @ Giants.
We are posting the ranks early this week for those owners deliberating players from tonight's game. I will post rankings and analysis every Thursday by 1 pm ET, including tomorrow's update with notes. For additional insight, including early-week rankings, exclusive stat tools, weekly projections, top 200 ranks, schedule analysis and premium Dynasty league coverage, check out our Season Pass. Week 1 Quarterbacks
QB Notes: The top seven quarterbacks should be considered "plug 'n' play" all season. ... Vick (ribs) is not listed on the injury list this week. Although shadow corner Joe Haden's suspension has yet to kick in, the Browns will be without starting SLB Scott Fujita and NT Phil Taylor. ... After an excellent preseason in Dirk Koetter's uptempo offense, Ryan gets a massive matchup upgrade with Pro Bowl pass rusher Tamba Hali suspended while CB Brandon Flowers and FS Kendrick Lewis are questionable with injuries.
We are officially concerned about Rivers' early-season production. The Raiders' front four brings plenty of pressure, and Rivers' blindside is guarded by overwhelmed undrafted rookie free agent Mike Harris. Rivers had a 16:17 TD-to-INT ratio without LT Jared Gaither last year. Throwing in spotty August chemistry with "No. 1" receiver Robert Meachem, and Rivers is just a borderline fantasy starter. ... We're feeling Flacco in the no-huddle attack this year. ... Cutler should have little problem moving the ball against the Colts' soft defense. On the flip side, it makes sense to lean on Matt Forte and Michael Bush if the Bears jump out to an early lead. ... Luck may be NFL-ready, but Soldier Field is a stiff test in his debut.
We don't have a great read on Griffin's progress because the Shanahans limited his snaps in preseason action. RGIII is certainly rawer than Luck, but there's potential for a shootout in New Orleans. The Redskins passing attack has a boom-or-bust vibe in the opener. ... Palmer struggled to adapt to Greg Knapp's offense in August, and two of his top three receivers are question marks heading into the Monday night opener. ... A road game at Arizona is a stiff first test for Wilson. ... We have little faith in Dalton. He hasn't moved the offense consistently since taking advantage of an easy schedule in the first half of last season. The interior of the Bengals offensive line was a sieve in August, and there's no reliable second weapon behind A.J. Green.
Week 1 Running Backs
RB Notes: Look for the Raiders to lean heavily on McFadden with so many injury question marks in the passing game. It's no minor detail that McFadden is now the goal-line horse with Michael Bush in Chicago. ... Rice averaged 25.5 touches, 173 scrimmage yards and a pair of touchdowns in two games versus the Bengals last season. ... The matchup couldn't be better for Forte and Michael Bush in a home opener versus an undermanned, rebuilt Colts defense. We're philosophically opposed to relying heavily on a low-carry touchdown vulture because your starting lineup is screwed when they don't plunge into the end zone. This is one week, however, when Bush is a better option than a handful of starters facing stingy defenses.
The Panthers continue to express optimism on Stewart's ankle, but they won't have a good read on his status until Friday afternoon. If Stewart sits out, Williams is a good bet for 15-20 touches against one of the league's weaker run defenses. I wouldn't bother with FB Mike Tolbert regardless; Cam Newton is the primary goal-line option. ... Yet to practice this week, Lynch is staring at a game-time decision. Coach Pete Carroll's concern about Lynch getting his "football legs" back suggests a carry limit even if he does suit up.
Don't let Bill Belichick's backfield history scare you off Ridley as a Week 1 starter. Already set to replace BenJarvus Green-Ellis on early downs and at the goal line, Ridley should be in for a consistent workload with Shane Vereen's (foot) status in doubt. Vereen hasn't practiced in two weeks. As Matchups guru Evan Silva points out, the Titans were an underwhelming 24th in run defense last year, and the defensive front is even lighter this season.
The Chiefs couldn't have made it clearer that Charles and Hillis are entering the season in a 50-50 timeshare. There's plenty of value to go around in a run-heavy attack. Picture the 2008 Titans backfield with Charles in the explosive Chris Johnson role and Hillis as the LenDale White goal-line vulture and "keep the lead" back. ... Don't hesitate to roll with Ronnie Brown if Ryan Mathews (fractured clavicle) sits out. Brown's legs have looked fresh in preseason action, and he's a good bet for 17-22 touches in the feature back role. ... Gerhart and Jennings are set for 15+ touches after Adrian Peterson and Maurice Jones-Drew missed August practices. The latter two can't be trusted for double-digit touches and should be benched in a "prove-it" capacity until Week 2.
Richardson is on track to start versus the Eagles after an impressive showing in early-week practices. The Browns are expected to play his workload by ear, leaving Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson as poor flex options. We would put the over/under on Richardson's touches at a dozen. ... With Mendenhall, Redman, Dwyer, Rainey and Baron Batch all seeing first-team reps in Wednesday's practice, the Steelers backfield is as clear as mud. We remain skeptical that Mendenhall will suit up, leaving Dwyer as a sneaky flex option. The problem is that this game is on NBC Sunday night. ... The Redskins backfield is hands-off until one of the trio emerges as the clear-cut lead back.
Week 1 Wide Receivers
WR Notes: With their top pass rusher out and Brandon Flowers' (heel) status up in the air, the Chiefs are going to have their hands full with Julio Jones and Roddy White. ... Steve Smith (foot) is practicing fully this week and will have no limitations against the Bucs. Although Brandon LaFell is a popular breakout candidate, Smith is entrenched as Cam Newton's top target and Carolina's most dangerous playmaker.
Larry Fitzgerald deserves better, but we can't rank him as a top-five option behind the league's most inept offensive line-quarterback combo. The Seahawks have arguably the finest secondary in the NFL. ... Don't overthink the spotty Brady-to-Lloyd connection in preseason action. They will make beautiful music this year. ... Jordy Nelson has outproduced Greg Jennings on a per-week basis over the past 20 Packers games. ... We like Decker to outpace Thomas as Manning's go-to receiver.
Don't assume Wallace will struggle out of the gates just because he missed the entire preseason. After sitting out the month of August with a hamstring injury while Chris Palmer installed his offense, Kenny Britt exploded for back-to-back 100-yard games to start last season. If you stole Wallace in your draft, start him as a borderline WR2/3 at Denver. ... Sidney Rice is healthy and locked in as Russell Wilson's top receiver entering the season. ... Keep an eye on Collie. Although coach Chuck Pagano deemed him "full go" after returning to practice, Collie stopped short of guaranteeing that he would play this week.
It's too early to get an accurate read on Blackmon's availability after sustaining an ankle injury in Wednesday's practice. Check back Friday afternoon to ensure that he's on track to play. ... I'm going to need to see a bigger sample size before I buy into Stevie Johnson as the Revis Killer. ... Keep an eye on Denarius Moore's late-week practice routine. If he sits out, impressive rookie Rod Streater becomes a viable WR3 option.
Week 1 Tight Ends