The 2015 NFL season finally got underway on Thursday night, with the New England Patriots defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 28-21. The stars of this game were the usual suspects with the top fantasy playmakers turning in solid efforts on both sides.
For New England, monstrous tight end Rob Gronkowski shined the brightest in the season opener, as he caught five passes for 94 yards and a trio of endzone spikes. Tom Brady was also sharp, as the Patriots leader took his Deflategate frustration out on the Pittsburgh secondary to the tune of 288 yards and four touchdowns. Pittsburgh’s top fantasy options were also excellent in their 2015 debuts, as Ben Roethlisberger tossed just one touchdown, but did chip in with 351 passing yards while wide receiver Antonio Brown scored once to go with 133 yards on nine grabs.
Although the fantasy stars on each team contributed as expected, there were a few Thursday night performances from more unheralded options that should catch the eye of fantasy owners.
Former Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams was excellent while filling-in for the suspended Le’Veon Bell, turning 21 carries into 127 yards. Williams looked quick and decisive as he carved up the New England defensive front and should be a solid RB2 play in Week 2 when Pittsburgh hosts San Francisco.
The New England backfield situation was an interesting topic of debate this offseason with a laundry list of names considered to be in the mix for touches after the departure of Shane Vereen. With LeGarrette Blount serving a one-game suspension on Thursday, it turned out to be Dion Lewis leading the way for New England as he racked up 120 yards on 15 carries and four receptions. Brandon Bolden unsuccessfully handled the goal line work, recording just one yard on five carries. With James White not receiving a single touch on Thursday, it appears that LeGarrette Blount’s hold on the early-down carries in Bill Belichick’s offense remains safe, with Dion Lewis in line for the passing-down work moving forward.
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Steelers at Patriots Quick Slants
Tight end Scott Chandler’s Thursday night stat line was awfully repetitive as he turned one target into one catch for one yard and one touchdown. … Julian Edelman was a PPR machine, hauling in 11 Tom Brady passes for 97 yards. … Tight end Heath Miller was solid for Pittsburgh, as the old reliable Ben Roethlisberger target caught eight passes for 84 yards. … Darrius Heyward-Bey (four catches, 58 yards) and Markus Wheaton (three catches, 55 yards) chipped in for the Steelers in this contest as both receivers attempt to make a case for starting opposite Antonio Brown when the suspended Martavis Bryant returns.
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In Other News…
The Arian Foster groin surgery saga took another turn on Thursday, as CBS’ Jason La Canfora reported that Foster could return as early as Week 2 or 3. Fantasy owners who scooped up Foster at a discount in drafts late this summer could be in for quite a boost if this prediction comes true. Foster has a nice slate of opposing run defenses on the schedule beginning in October, as the Texans face Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Jacksonville in Weeks 4-6. Foster will be back in RB1 land in short order.
News surrounding the Dallas Cowboys backfield seems to change with the wind, but the latest gossip out of The Lone Star State alludes to the Cowboys “leaning toward” using Joseph Randle as the starter at running back. While Randle may get the first crack at carrying the rock for Dallas, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar will also see touches in the running game this week. The only certainty behind the Dallas offensive line this week is that Tony Romo will be handling the snaps. Fantasy owners should tread lightly with this situation until we see how the workload is split up on Sunday night.
The Cleveland Browns grabbed former Seattle running back Robert Turbin off waivers on Thursday, giving the team additional backfield depth after trading Terrance West earlier this week. Turbin won’t be contributing any time soon, as he is currently sidelined with an ankle injury and could miss the next 4-6 weeks while he works his way back. Turbin was a solid backup to Marshawn Lynch in Seattle, and will likely provide the same service for the Browns behind early-down favorite Isaiah Crowell with rookie Duke Johnson handling the receiving work.
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Injury Quick Slants
St. Louis running back Tre Mason (hamstring) did not practice again on Thursday, which suggests that Benny Cunningham could be the lead back on Sunday for the Rams as they host Seattle. … Buffalo tight end Charles Clay (knee) is practicing normally in preparation for Week 1 and can be started in fantasy leagues if needed. … Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee (hamstring) missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday as his injury-plagued offseason continues. … C.J. Spiller (knee) sat out practice on Thursday and will not only miss Week 1, but now appears a dicey bet for Week 2 depending on how his knee responds in coming days. … Michael Floyd (fingers) was limited in practice on Thursday, but has a shot to play in Week 1. … Chicago wide receivers Marquess Wilson and Eddie Royal were both limited on Thursday, but should be in no danger of missing Week 1. … Chargers tight end Ladarius Green was diagnosed with a concussion and will miss Week 1. .. Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman feels his hamstring is now at “90 percent,” but Tevin Coleman will be the preferred play in the Falcons backfield this week. … Mike Evans (hamstring) hasn’t practiced this week but coach Lovie Smith told reporters that Evans doesn’t necessarily have to practice to play on Sunday. This is a situation to monitor heading into the weekend. … Running back Todd Gurley will reportedly be back sometime in the next month if he avoids setbacks.
Depth Chart Quick Slants
Andre Ellington will start on Sunday, but the workload split between Ellington, Chris Johnson, and David Johnson will depend on game flow, according to OC Harold Goodwin. Ellington is still the preferred play in this situation. … Cleveland waived wide receiver/quarterback Terrelle Pryor. … Dolphins rookie DeVante Parker has been “opening eyes” in practice this week and should have a decent role in Week 1. … Cleveland OC John Defilippo spoke to reporters on Thursday and endorsed running back Isaiah Crowell as a potential workhorse, while also discussing the difficult situation surrounding Duke Johnson’s return from a concussion. Crowell will own the early-down work in Cleveland with Johnson working on passing downs to start the season. … Chicago star running back Matt Forte is expected to play “more than 80 percent” of the Bear’s offensive snaps this season. Forte is better suited as a fantasy RB2 this season. … Detroit rookie Ameer Abdullah will be used “extensively” in the Detroit passing game this season, according to OC Joe Lombardi. Abdullah has enormous upside in Lombardi’s offense. … Eagles coach Chip Kelly said he expects rookie wide receiver Nelson Agholor to make an “instant impact” this season. Agholor should be able to stack up nice fantasy production in Chip’s offense alongside Jordan Matthews. … Adrian Peterson could be rested on third downs this season, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Peterson should still haul in his fair share of passes and is in no danger of falling off the fantasy RB1 map.