The opening of the NFL season between the past two defending Super Bowl champions is both a treat to real football fans and fantasy football fans alike. The New Orleans Saints vs. the Green Bay Packers. Drew Brees vs. Aaron Rodgers. Jimmy Graham vs. Jermichael Finley. Can it get better than this?
On the field this Thursday night will be two of the most explosive and consistent offenses in the NFL. However, this is where fantasy football diverges on it’s own road: the Saints and Packers, aside from the two star quarterbacks, spread the ball around so well that no one player is a beneficiary in terms of fantasy production. With that said, both teams offer gems for fantasy players everywhere. So let’s get to it.
Let’s just get the obvious out of the way here: Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers should start for your fantasy team every single week, this one included. Both teams offer stout secondaries, but how many times has Brees and Rodgers both torched any given team on any given Sunday (or Thursday…)?
The big story in the offseason surrounded the drafting of Alabama runningback Mark Ingram to the Saints, eventually leading to the departure of Reggie Bush. While no one knows how Ingram will be used in the Saints offense, buzz is growing that he will be the Saints’s bell cow and leading rusher from the get go. With Pierre Thomas in the backfield, carries will be shared, but to what extent? Ingram has goal line back written all over him, it just depends on how coach Sean Payton decides to divvy up the carries. Ingram is definitely worth investing in to for fantasy this year, but let’s wait a few games to see how his role pans out. As of right now, unless you waited on RBs in your draft, keep Thomas and Ingram out of the starting lineup. …or if you have a feeling Ingram will have the chance to score a couple of touchdowns, go for it. I wouldn’t blame you.
The Packers do not offer much of a better situation as their guy Ryan Grant is expected to shadowed closely by James Starks, who broke out when Grant was injured last season. Grant and Starks, like Ingram and Thomas, should be on your team but not quite yet breaking the starting positions. The Saints and Packers running back situation is one to keep an eye out for, though. A main running back in a powerful offense is always nice to have.
The WR corp for the Saints has plenty of question marks leading in to the 2011 season. Top target Marques Colston had another knee surgery in the off season and that has fantasy football players doubting his production this season. Colston has had knee problems in the past, and when healthy, he is the top guy for Brees in the middle of the field and in the red zone. Second WR Lance Moore is facing a groin injury and has been held out of practice lately, being questionable for Thursday’s game. Ignore the knee concerns for now, start Colston. He is a very viable option for a touchdown or two with as many as eight receptions. He’s done it many times before. The rest of the Saints receiving corp, however, should be ignored. Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem may get a deep ball or two, but nothing worth relying on.
The Packers have a top WR option as well in Greg Jennings. One of Aaron Rodgers’s top targets, Jennings is surrounded by other weapons much like Colston…but at the end of the day, he is the top guy at this position. Jennings is a must start every week, this game included. Donald Driver, James Jones, and even Jordy Nelson have the potential to become viable fantasy options, but as noted above, Rodgers simply spreads the ball around too much to rely on any one receiver outside of Jennings.
This is where fantasy football player’s eyes widen. Jermichael Finley is widely considered a top-5 fantasy tight end this season if he can stay healthy. In limited time in the offense, Finley has shown he and Rodgers have that connection that could potentially make him the #1 target in this Packers offense, even over Jennings. He is a mismatch for every single defense, and with the not-so-strong linebacking corp for the Saints, this could be a game where Finley blows up.
The Saints have quite the weapon in Jimmy Graham as well. After last season’s late surge, Graham made former tight end Jeremy Shockey expendable this off season and is expected to be Brees’s top red zone target. Like Finley, Graham’s potential is sky-high, so do not have any qualms when it comes to starting this 6’6 red zone nightmare. If the Saints’s week 3 preseason game against the Raiders was any indication of the looks he will get, Graham could end up as a top-5 TE at the end of the year.
Let’s be real here, team defenses in fantasy football are fickle. One team can shut out any opponent but give up a 40-burger the next. In this match-up, neither defense looks to be a strong start this week. Look elsewhere if you can.
That’s it for this year’s first Fantasy Flash. Check back next week for the fantasy implications of each Saints game, along with other notables league-wide.