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Fantasy Football: Week 1 sleepers

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Football is back! And with it comes the joy of overseeing one’s virtual team. The most dedicated and passionate managers find zeal in exploring the concepts and happenings occurring under the radar. While some weeks your roster may allow for snoozing on sleepers, it’s always beneficial to keep tabs on emerging trends and players. This weekly column is for those who understand the satisfaction of digging deep.

All of the listed players are rostered in under 60 percent of Yahoo leagues (at time of writing) and/or are a significant value in our daily game. They’re not the obvious picks, and they’re not without their risks … but that’s what makes them so intriguing.

Let’s get to Week 1!

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers (8% rostered - $24)

Trey Lance is the future. Jimmy G is the (like, right) now. In Week 1, he'll face off against a Lions defense that allowed the most fantasy points to opposing QBs last year. Newly installed DC Aaron Glenn might eventually get more out of Detroit’s young talent, but the (Ford-branded) engine won’t turn over the first time it’s fired up.

Per BetMGM, the 49ers are heavy favorites (-7.5) and this is shaping to be a smash spot for San Fran’s ground game (Psst… Raheem Mostert is $26 in Yahoo DFS). With a full complement of healthy pass-catchers (Garoppolo was on the field with Brandin Aiyuk, George Kittle, and Deebo Samuel for a total of two games in 2020, both of which he won while also clearing 265 passing yards in each and recording top-10 FF numbers in one) and Trey Lance nipping at his heels, Garoppolo should shine. He’s inside my top-20 QBs this week.

Tevin Coleman, RB, New York Jets (23% rostered - $14)

Between the Michael Carter hype and Ty Johnson sleeper pub, FF gamers seem to have forgotten that Tevin Coleman is the Jets’ RB1. After an early season knee sprain limited him to eight games last year and now attached to an offense lacking in recognizable/reliable names, it’s understandable that the former 49er’s stock would plummet.

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Still, it’s important to note that New York’s new OC, Mike LaFleur, has had a relationship with Coleman since he was drafted by the Falcons in 2015. He also spent the last two years with him in San Fran. That kind of connective tissue matters, especially at the top of a rebuild. Early in the year, Coleman figures to fetch 12-14 carries per contest.

A capable receiver out of the backfield, Coleman averaged nearly 30 catches per season from 2016-2019. That’ll be particularly helpful to a rookie QB operating behind a bottom-10 ranked offensive line. I expect Coleman to be deployed out of the slot throughout the season, but particularly in Week 1 while second-round pick Elijah Moore adapts to the pros.

Tevin Coleman #23 of the New York Jets
Tevin Coleman could go off — to the surprise of many — in Week 1. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

It’s a weak spot for the Panthers, who are expected to roll out Myles Hartsfield while newly-added A.J. Bouye serves a two-game suspension. The Panthers allowed the most catches (94) to opposing RBs in 2020 and the eighth-most fantasy points to the position. Coleman has flex appeal in his Gang Green debut.

Marvin Jones, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (59% rostered - $17)

Put some respect on the man’s name!

He may have spent the better part of a decade on some of the worst teams in the league, but in that time he has produced for fantasy managers. Jones has posted 9 TDs in three of his last four seasons while also recording top-30 fantasy stats in each of those outings. Remember, points are points, even if they’re not pretty.

In 2021, he’s reuniting with Darrell Bevel on a squad led by a generational talent and held back by a generous defense. That should translate into a lot of opportunities funneled to the reliable vet. Jones will open the season at Houston, a team that allowed 22 scores to opposing wideouts last year. FF: 6-74-1

DeSean Jackson, WR, Los Angeles Rams (3% rostered - $12)

When DeSean Jackson is healthy … you start him, particularly in Week 1.

That’s because Jackson has gone over 100 yards in three of his last five season openers (2016, 2018, 2019). Last year may not have started with a bang, and the 34-year-old lid-lifter isn’t the same player he was even two years ago, but a move from the Eagles to the Rams provides plenty of upgrades. From the weather (better for those aging joints) to the coaching staff to the QB, everything is sunnier in LA.

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A vertical threat whose speed compliments Stafford’s arm — and rumored to fill the Brandin Cooks role in Sean McVay’s offense — Jackson could boom out of the gate. Van Jefferson has dealt with a few setbacks over the summer while Jackson reportedly flashed in camp and built rapport with Stafford. That makes him the early favorite for No. 3 duties behind Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. He’ll begin his 13th campaign facing a notably thin Bears secondary. With CB1 Jaylon Johnson likely to focus on Robert Woods, DJax could get the better of 2020 fifth-round pick Kindle Vildor, who logged a single start last year.

Austin Hooper, TE, Cleveland Browns (52% rostered - $17)

Drawing 27 fewer targets (a reduction of about 2 per game) in Cleveland than he did in Atlanta, Hooper was (disappointingly) the TE20 overall last year. Interestingly, he recorded a sizable snap share (76.4%, TE12), but only ran about 22 routes per game. The good news is that Kevin Stefanski has openly discussed growing Hooper’s role, which should include more receiving work.

Per BetMGM, the Browns season opener at Arrowhead is expected to be high-flying, with a projected point total of 54 (the highest of the week!). So that increase in pass-catching opportunities could happen immediately, especially with OBJ still working his way back from a (Week 7) ACL tear. Additionally working in Hooper’s favor is the fact that the Chiefs allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to the position in 2020. If you’re streaming in Week 1, wave at Hooper, who offers early top-15 appeal.

Dig deep with Liz on social @LizLoza_FF

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