Bears

Fantasy Football Start/Sit: Week 1

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Fantasy Football Start/Sit: Week 1

Well folks, we made it.

After 221 days without a meaningful NFL football game, real, and fantasy, football is finally upon us when the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers kick off the 2015 NFL regular season on Thursday night. How good does that feel?

Similar to what we've done the past two seasons, we hope to help you fill out your roster every week by providing you with 16 players on that start/sit border that we believe should or shouldn't be in your lineup.

[Fantasy Football: 15 bold predictions for the 2015 season]

We hope you find it helpful and continue to check us out each week. Also, feel free to tweet us @CSNFantasy with any roster questions you may have. We'd be more than happy to help you out. With all that in mind, here's a list of our favorite Week 1 starts and a bunch of guys we recommend staying away from. 

START

Nelson Agholor, WR, PHI (@ ATL ) - We beat this statement to death in our preseason write-ups and podcasts, but when you're on the fence about who to start...go with the guy who plays in Chip Kelly's offense. I have reservations about starting any rookie in Week 1, but Agholor's situation and opponent is just too tasty to pass up. Sam Bradford looked like Johnny Unitas in the preseason and tight end Zach Ertz is still banged up, though it looks like he'll play. Waiting for Chip's offense is a Falcons defense that allowed the most passing yards a year ago. I temper expectations a bit and put him as a flex play, but I wouldn't hate using him as WR2. (Mark Strotman)

John Brown, WR, ARI (vs. NO) - I don't know if I'm buying the preseason hype of Brown turning in a ridiculous 2015 (looking at you, Matthew Berry). But I know I really like him in Week 1 as the Cardinals prepare for a shootout with the Saints. I can't see Michael Floyd (questionable, fingers) making a major impact, if he plays at all, pitting Brown as the No. 2 alongside Larry Fitzgerald. I wouldn't be surprised to see Brown find the end zone on a deep strike, making him a wonderful flex play this week. (Strotman)

Chris Ivory, RB, NYJ (vs. CLE) - Last year I thought the Browns defense had improved and were flying under the radar. I won't make that mistake again. This defense didn't do a lot to improve in the offseason outside of adding Danny Shelton. While that's a nice start, it's not going to make me change my pick of Ivory having a monster Week 1. I don't think the Jets are nervous about Ryan Fitzpatrick but I think they'll rely on Ivory a lot. He's the main guy in that crowded backfield and should shine against a very weak Browns defense. (John "The Professor" Paschall)

Vincent Jackson, WR, TB (vs. TEN) - Jason McCourty out? Mike Evans possibly out? Jackson owners are screaming "HALLELUJAH!". Jackson didn't quite live up to expectations last year with Josh McCown as quarterback but he should do much better with Jameis Winston back there. The Titans secondary is nothing to be afraid of and expect the rookie signal caller to throw to his massive wide receiver early and often. (The Professor)

Charles Johnson, WR, MIN (@ SF) - Let the year of Teddy Bridgewater begin, and on national TV in the week's last game nonetheless. Kudos if you made the wise decision waiting on Johnson as some rankings slave scooped up Mike Wallace two rounds earlier. You're going to reap the rewards right away as Johnson finds himself against a 49ers defense in a shambles after a turbulent offseason, to say the least. I love the Vikings' top fantasy wide receiver as a flex play. If Bridgewater develops any semblance of a deep ball, Johnson is really going to shine. As it pertains to Week 1, he'll do just that. (Strotman)

Jarvis Landry, WR, MIA (@ WSH) - I absolutely love Landry this season, especially in PPR leagues. He has all the potential to be a monster in PPR formats and he draws a ridiculously-good matchup in Week 1. Washington was 31st in the NFL against fantasy WRs, giving up 28 points per game, including seven games of 30+ fantasy points. The Redskins are still a mess and the Dolphins' arrow is pointing up, especially on offense. Capitalize by getting Landry in your Week 1 lineups. (Tony Andracki)

[MORE: Get more Fantasy Football coverage here]

Eli Manning, QB, NYG (@ DAL) - It's like Christmas morning for fantasy owners whenever the Cowboys and Giants square off. And if you drafted Manning this year, you're in for an early Holiday present in Week 1. Peyton's baby bro tossed six touchdowns to just one interception and averaged a smidgen under 300 passing yards in his two contests against the Cowboys in 2014. With a returning Victor Cruz, passing-game specialist Shane Vereen added to the mix and ODB back in the fold, you can expect Manning to toe the line of QB1 status all season, starting this weekend. (Scott Krinch)

Doug Martin, RB, TB (vs. TEN) -  Guess who's back, back again. Dougie's back, tell a friend. Guess who's back, guess who's back, guess who's back. Guess who's back. An SOS was sent out for Martin after a two-year hiatus from fantasy relevance, and the man formerly known as the "Muscle Hamster" answered the call loud and clear. He arrived to camp this summer in much better shape and starting running like his old self again. With a lack of solid competition behind him and a cake matchup against one of the league's worst run defenses in Week 1, Martin needs to be in your lineup. (Krinch)

Ryan Mathews, RB, PHI (@ ATL) - Nobody knows just yet how Mathews will be used yet in Philly, but I believe he'll be a big part of this offense. Even if Murray doesn't get hurt in Week 1, he will still need to be spelled in the backfield in Chip Kelly's extremely up-tempo offense. Mathews has an awesome matchup against the league's second-worst defense against opposing RBs in 2014, when they gave up an average of 22.1 fantasy points per game. If you have C.J. Spiller or Le'Veon Bell or any other backs likely out for Week 1, Mathews is a great option. (Andracki)

Heath Miller, TE, PIT (@ NE) - I usually stay away from the tight end position in our weekly start/sit column, but I couldn't hold myself back from diving headfirst into this juicy matchup for Miller. No Le'Veon Bell? Check. No Martavis Bryant? Check. A pending shootout against the Patriots with a vindicated Tom Brady under center? Check. This game should easily surpass the over/under of 52, and with the Steelers likely playing catch-up most of the evening, Ben Roethlisberger is going to need to find somebody to target in the passing game, in addition to Antonio Brown. Big Ben trusts the 11-year veteran and so should you in Thursday's season opener. (Krinch)

Lamar Miller, RB, MIA (@ WSH) - Get Lamar Miller in your lineup every week. Every. Single. Week. Only health can keep him out of the Top 10 RBs this season and I wouldn't be surprised if he finishes as a Top 5 RB. (Andracki)

Eddie Royal, WR, CHI (vs. GB) - Royal might end up being the only guy Cutler can throw to in Week 1 with all the injuries happening. Alshon Jeffery looks like he's going to play but he won't be 100 percent. Kevin White is obviously out for a while. Royal may get the majority of the targets (along with Martellus Bennett) just by simply being healthy. Bears fans may be thinking they hopped in a Hot Tub Time Machine when they watch this game this Sunday because it'll be a lot of garbage time points for (The Professor)

[ROTOWORLD: Your home for all the latest Fantasy Football news]

SIT

Alfred Blue, RB, HOU (vs. KC) - I hear Blue's clock ticking because of Foster's impending return and it's frustrating. He's one of the best handcuff options out there and he has the starting job to himself. But unfortunately he faces a stout defensive front with the Chiefs, who gave up only four rushing touchdowns in 2014. Chris Polk also scares me as a touchdown vulture. Sorry, fantasy owners, Blue isn't a great option this week. (The Professor)

Amari Cooper, WR, OAK (vs. CIN) - The Bengals were a Top 5 defense at limiting opposing WRs in fantasy, but this is more about Cooper than the matchup. Rookie receivers almost never explode onto the scene in their first NFL game. Way too many things to manage with emotions, speed of the game, etc. Take Odell Beckham Jr. - the poster boy for rookie WRs making an impact in fantasy. Many people forget Beckham's first two games last year were a combined total of six receptions, 72 yards and a tuddie, accounting for just 12 points in standard leagues. Temper your expectations with this rookie, even if he will find his way into our "Start" more often than not later in the season. (Andracki)

Isaiah Crowell, RB, CLE (@ NYJ) - Is there a reason why Crowell is projected for more points than the likes of Frank Gore, Matt Forte, Chris Ivory, Mark Ingram, Latavius Murray and Justin Forsett? Don't fall for ESPN's projection of 11 standard league points for the Cleveland running back this week. The New York Jets are massive up front, even without the suspended Sheldon Richardson, and Crowell doesn't run with much authority despite his bulky frame. If you want to own a Browns running back for some reason, make it Duke Johnson, who Browns head coach Mike Pettine said could play a role in the passing game against New York. All the signs point towards to a dud output from Crowell. (Krinch)

Devin Funchess, WR, CAR (@ JAC) - The sexiest stock not named Davante Adams in drafts this year, Funchess was quickly anointed the next Kelvin Benjamin because of his similar frame and rookie status when Benjamin tore his ACL. You likely got great value whenever you picked Funchess, and he'll return better-than-ADP value by season's end. But it's going to take some time - he's not even listed as a starter - for him to produce, and even in a solid Week 1 matchup against a poor Jacksonville defense I can't trust him just yet. In deep leagues I can see him being a shaky flex play, but that's about it. (Strotman)

A.J. Green, WR, CIN (@ OAK) - Look, if you drafted Green, there's almost no way you're sitting him Week 1. I realize this also goes against my advice in our podcast to ride your stars in fantasy's opening matchup of 2015. This isn't me actually telling you to bench Green so much as it's a warning about his bad matchup. The Raiders defense is underrated, and they allowed just two touchdowns to opposing receivers in their last six games of 2014. If you have better options than Green (which you probably don't, because there aren't many), go with them. If you have Green and you're going to start him, I'm just saying - don't expect a huge day. That's all. (Andracki)

Carlos Hyde, RB, SF (@ MIN) - I really want to like Hyde. I really do. But what happened to that 49ers offensive line is terrifying. Also, I'm a big fan of the Vikings defense this year. My pick for DROY is Eric Kendricks and he will be all over Hyde in Monday night's matchup. I expect the 49ers to be playing from behind as well, which could take Hyde out of the game and bring in Reggie Bush. Might be a rough start to the season for Hyde owners. (The Professor)

Mark Ingram, RB, NO (@ ARI) - We obviously don't have much to go off right now, but Arizona was a Top 5 run-defense last season, allowing only three games of 20+ fantasy points to opposing RBs in 2014. Now, I know everybody wants to rush out and start Ingram with C.J. Spiller likely out for this week, but I caution you to temper your expectations. The Cardinals have a stout defense and knows (just like everybody else) the Saints want to run a lot this season, so they will be keying on Ingram. If you have other options, go with them over Ingram. (Andracki)

[Fantasy Football Podcast: Draft recap and Week 1 preview]

Andre Johnson, WR, IND (@ BUF) - Most weeks Johnson is going to be in my lineup. I expect the 34-year-old to have a monster season in terms of touchdowns with arguably the NFL's best quarterback not named Aaron Rodgers. However, he draws a Buffalo defense in Week 1 that allowed three total receiving touchdowns in the final nine weeks of 2014. This game should be relatively low scoring and Rex Ryan is going to pull out all the stops to get a victory in his Buffalo coaching debut. Keep Johnson sidelined for this week, and this week only. (Krinch)

Jeremy Maclin, WR, KC (@ HOU) - Another guy I like long-term but have my doubts about in Week 1. The Texans should have Jadeveon Clowney back on Sunday, and that front seven is about to wreak havoc on Alex Smith and the Chiefs' carousel offensive line. Maclin had a stellar preseason and could find some room behind an average Texans secondary, but you're really banking on that deep-play threat in Week 1. This is more an indictment on Alex Smith not being able to find room against the Texans' front seven than it is Maclin. If you took Maclin as your WR3, feel free to find another flex play and come yell at me Sunday night or Monday morning when he goes for 5/145/1. (Strotman)

Alfred Morris, RB, WSH (vs. MIA) - I'm actually a big fan of Morris this season in terms of where his value stands and what you had to pay for him on draft day. He hasn't missed a game in three seasons and the Redskins' quarterback play is as messy as messy gets. But I'm having a hard time figuring out his Week 1 prospects against a Dolphins team I'm equally high on that added Ndamukong Suh to the frontline this offseason. I could see the Dolphins running away with this game, rendering Morris and his stone hands useless. You're probably banking on Morris finding the end zone early before Miami takes control of the game. If you're forced to start him, I get it. He's probably your RB2. But if you have a similar option I'd look there. Morris will get his numbers this year; this matchup won't contribute much to it. (Strotman)

Ravens D/ST (@ DEN) - A start/sit rarity. Seldom do we give you advice on which defense/special teams to start and which one to stay away from, but I feel strongly about this matchup. If you drafted the Ravens, which I'm guessing you probably did since since they are a fringe Top 5 fantasy defense this year, don't drop them just yet. However, stash them on your bench and pick up a defense like the Panthers (@ JAX) for Week 1. The Broncos high-octane offense could push the Ravens into a negative Week 1 total, which you can't afford to have happen from the get-go. (Krinch)

Torrey Smith, WR, SF (vs. MIN) - Can you tell I don't like the 49ers offense this week? My guess is that Xavier Rhodes will be assigned to Smith and that's bad news for the new 49ers wide receiver. Smith may be in line for some garbage time points but that may go to Anquan Boldin or Vernon Davis. Move on from Smith this week if you are eyeing him in your FLEX spot. (The Professor)

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Mitch Unrein (free agent), John Jenkins (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Jared Crick, Frostee Rucker, Dominique Easley

This unit was consistently the Bears’ best in 2017, with Akiem Hicks playing at a Pro Bowl level (don’t let his exclusion from the game fool you on that) and Eddie Goldman putting together a rock-solid, healthy year. 

Hicks signed a four-year contract extension just before the season began and rewarded the Bears with a dominant year, racking up 8 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Goldman played in and started 15 games and was a key reason why the Bears limited opposing rushers to four yards per carry, tied for the 10th-best average in the league. 

But while the Bears’ defensive line was certainly good, it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. These words from Vic Fangio ring true for Hicks and Goldman:

“I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

Hicks will enter Year 3 in Fangio’s scheme, while 2018 will be Goldman’s fourth. It’ll also be a critical year for Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, who’ve flashed potential at times but haven’t been able to turn that into consistent success on the field. 

And that’s where we begin to look ahead to free agency and the draft. Is the Bears’ evaluation of Bullard -- their 2016 third-round pick -- positive enough to hand him a bigger role in 2018? That’s question No. 1 to answer, with No. 2 then being if the team should try to re-sign Mitch Unrein. 

It may be a bit risky to move forward with Bullard, given how popular Unrein was among the Bears’ defensive coaching staff. 

“He’s one of the glue guys on the defense and the team,” Fangio said last November. “Every team needs a few of those guys who are going to do everything right, full speed, hard and tough all the time, and that’s Mitch.”

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers offered this up about Unrein back in October: “He allows those guys to play fast,” with “those guys” being Hicks and Goldman. 

Statistically, the 30-year-old Unrein doesn’t  jump off the page, but he did record a career high 2 ½ sacks in 2017. Perhaps there would be some benefits to continuity in the Bears’ base 3-4 defensive line.

Worth noting too is this position isn’t a huge need, given Unrein usually played between 40 and 55 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps on a per-game basis last year. Keeping Unrein for a relatively low cap hit would make some sense, as opposed to testing free agency to replace him.

Jared Crick is coming off back surgery and an ineffective 2016; Dominique Easley is coming off his third torn ACL this decade; Frostee Rucker is in his mid-30’s. The Bears could look to pick a 3-4 defensive end in April, but that would be a pretty quick re-draft of the position and would be an indication they don’t think much of Bullard. This seems like a position where keeping the status quo is likely, save maybe for replacing John Jenkins with a different backup behind Goldman. 
 

2017 Bears position grades: Offensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Offensive Line

2017 grade: C+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Josh Sitton (contract), Eric Kush (contract), Hroniss Grasu (contract), Bobby Massie (contract), Tom Compton (free agent), Bradley Sowell (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Andrew Norwell, D.J. Fluker, Justin Pugh, Josh Kline, Jonathan Cooper

How the Bears’ offensive line will shape up in 2018 begins with a decision on which the Bears are already on the clock. The team has until March 9 to pick up Josh Sitton’s 2018 option -- or, to put it another way, they have until March 9 to determine if Sitton was/is/will be good enough to justify keeping him and not netting about $8 million in cap savings, per Spotrac. 

For what it’s worth, Bleacher Report ranked Sitton as the league’s sixth-best guard in 2017. If the Bears’ grades of Sitton match those outside ones, then the team probably won’t cut him -- not destabilizing Mitchell Trubisky’s offensive line would be well worth the money in that case. While Sitton turns 32 in June, cutting him would put a lot of pressure on Kyle Long, who hasn’t been fully healthy since 2016. The Bears are hopeful that Long will be back to full strength after multiple offseason surgeries, but releasing Sitton and then signing/drafting his replacement would be a gamble on Long’s health. 

Sitton’s status is the first part of the Bears’ 2018 offensive line equation. There’s also a decision to be made on Bobby Massie, who Bleacher Report ranked as the NFL’s 14th-best right tackle last year but could be cut for about $5.5 million in cap savings, according to Spotrac. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Bears cut or kept both Sitton and Massie for now, then drafted an offensive lineman in the first round (like Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson or Texas tackle Connor Williams) and released one of them. Or they could keep both through the end of the 2018 season. All those options would make sense on some level.

What wouldn’t seem to make sense is the Bears cutting Sitton or Massie and replacing them with a free agent. This year’s offensive line free agent class, without adding any potential cap casualties to it, isn’t particularly strong. By Bleacher Report’s rankings, the best free agent right tackle is Houston’s Breno Giancomi, who’s 27th in that list -- 13 spots behind Massie. At left tackle, New England’s Nate Solder (No. 22) isn’t rated as highly as Charles Leno (No. 20), who we'll talk about in a bit here. 

The only potential upgrade available via free agency would be Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell (No. 2 in B/R’s rankings), who’s 26 and is in line for a big payday this spring -- but that would seemingly be counter-intuitive to releasing Sitton and then potentially paying more money to a different guard, even if he’s younger and has more long-term upside. The Bears could opt for a cheaper guard in free agency who could have some potential working with respected O-line coach Harry Hiestand -- the Giants’ D.J. Fluker (57th in B/R’s rankings) or Justin Pugh (42nd) fit that mold, as would the Titans’ Josh Kline (37th) or Cowboys’ Jonathan Cooper (38th). Or the Bears could keep Sitton and still sign one of those guys as insurance in case Long and/or Eric Kush, who tore his ACL last training camp, isn’t ready to start the season. 

Tom Compton and Bradley Sowell proved to be serviceable backups last year and could be an option to return, even with a new coaching staff in place. The health of Kush, who was missed as a reliable backup in 2017, will be important in figuring out what the Bears' O-line depth looks like. Hroniss Grasu struggled when he was on the field and missed time due to a hand injury, and despite playing for offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich at Oregon could be on the chopping block before/during training camp. 

We’ll finish here with some thoughts on Leno and Cody Whitehair. Could the Bears upgrade at left tackle and displace Leno to the right side of the offensive line? Possibly, especially if Hiestand believes he can make that move work. But it’d be odd if the Bears shifted Leno off left tackle and then signed someone who’s older and, depending on the evaluator, not even as good as him. 

This is all probably a moot point, since the Bears’ internal evaluation of Leno is what matters here. Leno is 26 and the Bears believe he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet, so more than likely, he’s sticking where he is. At the very least, he’ll enter 2018 with a starting job on the Bears’ offensive line. 

One other offseason objective for Hiestand and the new coaching staff: Keeping Whitehair at the same position. Whitehair’s versatility felt like it worked against him at times last year, with the former regime opting to shift him between guard and center quite a bit from the start of training camp through the early part of the season. That instability seemed to affect Whitehair’s play, as he went through a bizarre patch of snapping issues after moving back to center and struggled to be as consistent as he was in 2016. But Whitehair finished 2017 strong, and keeping him at center for the entirety of 2018 could get him back on track to make his first Pro Bowl.