Welcome to my weekly Sneaky Starts column and I hope everyone has some fun with these under the radar starts. Each week I will choose four players who are started in less than 20% of Yahoo! leagues that are worth considering in your starting lineups. These players are going to be helpful when bye weeks start affecting rosters and for mid-week injuries such as the one just suffered by Andre Ellington (sorry, too soon). I will be starting these players in my leagues and on some of my daily lineups, so don’t be afraid to join the fun!
Fred Jackson– RB- Buffalo Bills (18% Started)
I may be in the minority in this, but I feel much safer starting Fred Jackson as a flex play than teammate C.J. Spiller. The Bills staff seems to trust F-Jax more and he is expected to see all of the 3rd down and red zone work. The touchdown potential raises his value in any type of setting, but the 3rd down work makes him underrated in PPR leagues. He has a plus matchup against a Bears team who allowed a league worst 161.4 yards per game on the ground. I prefer Jackson over more heavily started guys with tough matchups such as Ben Tate and Ryan Mathews. He is a premier flex play in PPR leagues and the Yahoo! analysts tend to agree as they have him ranked as the 24th ranked running back for Week 1. Fantasy owners keep waiting for him to break down, but he just continues to be underrated year in and year out.
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Bold Prediction: 14 carries- 68 yards- 1 touchdown- 5 receptions- 42 yards
Mark Ingram– RB- New Orleans Saints (7% Started)
Ingram is the classic post hype sleeper this year. He has looked great this preseason averaging over 5.0 yards per carry and has a great matchup versus the weak front seven of the Atlanta Falcons. Ingram has looked like a completely different runner and has been showing off the skill set that made him a 1st round pick. Did I mention that this guy is in a contract year? The Falcons have been abysmal against the run and ranked 31st in yards per game last season allowing 135.8 YPG. They also lost one of their better defensive tackles to retirement this offseason in Peria Jerry. Ingram is expected to lead the Saints backfield in overall carries and get all of the red zone work. Over the last 8 games of 2013, Ingram averaged 5.9 YPC over 57 totes. I expect Ingram to carry over his momentum in Week 1.
Bold Prediction: 16 carries- 82 yards- 1 touchdown- 1 reception- 8 yards
Cecil Shorts III- WR- Jacksonville Jaguars (12% Started)
Shorts is questionable heading into Sunday’s contest versus the Eagles, so make sure you monitor his status Sunday morning. Marqise Lee is the flashy rookie, but Shorts is the veteran receiver who starter Chad Henne already has chemistry with. The Jaguars can say they want to pound the rock all they want, but as heavy underdogs on the road, the 4th quarter could feature a lot of passing looks. Cecil Shorts loves his garbage time folks! He had a whopping 333 yards in the 4th quarter of games last year (next highest quarter was 163 in the 1st quarter). Not to mention that the Eagles were ranked dead last in the NFL in passing yards per game last season (289.8 YPG). Cecil was also better on the road last year compared to at home. He posted 487 yards on the road versus only 290 yards during home games. I expect Shorts to lead the young Jaguar squad in targets and produce flex worthy statistics week 1. The flex appeal is real!
Bold Prediction: 7 receptions- 76 yards- 1 touchdown
DeAndre Hopkins– WR- Houston Texans (9% Started)
Andre Johnson is the clear cut No.1 option in the Texans passing game, but remembe, he missed a good chunk of the offseason program. Guess who was getting all of the reps with new starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick during his absence? You guessed it….DeAndre Hopkins. I expect the chemistry between Fitzpatrick and Johnson to be a little off in the first week and for Hopkins to take advantage. Hopkins gets to face an average Redskins secondary at home in a plus matchup. I expect Johnson to see a lot of double coverage and DeAngelo Hall to shadow him. Hopkins should have plus individual matchups all day long. Fitzpatrick is a Harvard grad, so I think he’s going to be smart and target Hopkins early and often with single coverage. Wide receivers have seemed to be “breaking out” in their 2nd pro season and not their 3rd as in the past. Look for Hopkins to continue that trend in 2014!
Bold Prediction: 6 receptions- 82 yards- 1 touchdown
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Jace Amaro- TE- New York Jets (0% Started)
Feel like living on the edge a little bit? Dive into the deep waters and look for this mammoth rookie tight end to find pay dirt in Week 1. I really don’t see any reason why Amaro shouldn’t be 2nd in line for targets on the Jets when his competition consists of Jeremy Kerley, David Nelson, and Zach Sudfeld. The Jets are facing a similar Raiders defense that allowed Nick Foles to throw for 7 touchdowns last year. I am also looking for Geno Smith to take a step forward in year 2 as the starting QB. Amaro had a promising last preseason game catching all 4 of his targets for 37 yards and a touchdown. The 6-5 tight end from Texas Tech imposes matchup problems in the red zone for opposing secondaries. I like Amaro’s chances of finding the end zone in week 1.
Bold Prediction: 4 receptions- 46 yards- 1 touchdown
Think I’m crazy? Let me know on Twitter and don’t be afraid to leave a few of your “sneaky starts” to match your wits with mine! Good luck to all fantasy owners in Week 1, may we all start out undefeated!