PHOENIX (AP) — With fantasy drafts largely done, it’s time to put a full offseason of preparation to the test in the first week of the NFL season. Week 1 marks another first for many fantasy players: Their initial foray into increasingly popular daily leagues.
Developments less heralded than the footballs saga involving New England quarterback Tom Brady will have big ramifications on fantasy lineups, including last-minute trades, injury upgrades and downgrades, roster shuffles and suspensions.
Here’s a quick guide to last-minute fantasy moves:
Everyone always wants to find a steal for the next superstar running back flying under the radar. Here’s a list of rookie backs with potential to shine (or be total busts):
— Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons. His stock shot up this week with an injury to Atlanta starter Devonta Freeman.
— Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers. The 13th runner off the board on average in Yahoo leagues (17th in ESPN leagues) had a shaky preseason.
— Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions. He had some amazing flashes in the preseason, but will he overtake Joique Bell? Bell is the listed starter.
— T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars. Yeldon is firmly atop the Jacksonville depth chart.
— Matt Jones, Washington Redskins. Jones had a stellar preseason and could steal carries from Alfred Morris.
— Duke Johnson, Cleveland Browns. Through concussion protocol and has loads of potential.
They are far from blockbusters, but the trades occurring in the final days of the offseason could have fantasy impact. The Seahawks shipped Christine Michael to the Cowboys, and the Browns send Terrance West to the Titans. Your job as a fantasy owner is to decode the true motivations behind these deals to figure out their ripple effect on fantasy lineups.
Does the Seattle-Dallas deal suggest the Cowboys aren’t too thrilled about their current running back situation of Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden? On the flip side, why would Seattle make him expendable in favor of bringing in the oldest running back in the league in Fred Jackson? (I tend to think Michael is getting overhyped.)
For the Browns and Titans, does the deal mean the Titans aren’t happy with Bishop Sankey, or do they simply want some depth with David Cobb now injured? For Cleveland, the move could help Duke Johnson move up the depth chart.
If you own Alshon Jeffery (calf injury), keep a close eye on the news out of Chicago leading up to game day. He didn’t play in the preseason and hasn’t been practicing. The Bears are clearly being coy about his status, but there could be some warning signs here.
If you own Emmanuel Sanders (hamstring), you are apparently good to go. He is set to start in Week 1 and the Broncos are even talking about tapping him to return punts, a bonus in leagues that give credit for return yardage.
If you own Randall Cobb (shoulder), you should be OK, but we’ll see how he fares in real action. If he doesn’t look his normal self, then Davante Adams owners are going to be real happy with snatching him up.
Injuries to LeSean McCoy (hamstring) and Arian Foster (groin) caused their draft stock to plummet. But owners who gambled on the two backs might see some payoff. Foster could be back in late September. Bills coach Rex Ryan said Wednesday that McCoy will be ready to play the opener, so getting him in the late second or early third round seems a bargain. Compare that to the frenzy by many fantasy owners to take Le’Veon Bell No. 1 overall when he will miss 15 percent of the season (in a 13-game regular season).
Even without dominating offseason news, New England fantasy options outside Rob Gronkowski at tight end are usually dicey.
Owners, especially in daily leagues, will be tempted to roll with Brady now that he’s playing Thursday against Pittsburgh, while speculative players might try to scoop up some rushing yards to take advantage of LeGarrette Blount suspension. A few notes of caution, however: Brady’s distractions clearly showed in his preseason outings, and it’s anyone’s guess who gets the bulk of the carries at running back. James White and Brandon Bolden are the top two options with Blount out, and both are widely available and cheap in salary cap daily leagues. A super deep sleeper in the Patriots backfield is Dion Lewis.
Another increasingly popular game among fantasy players is survival pools, where players pick one team each week to win or lose. Simple? Yes, but there’s a catch: You can’t pick the same team twice. Experienced survival players will tell you that the first week is often the hardest because you just don’t have a clear read on which teams are good and which teams are bad. This year is no exception. On paper, Green Bay and New England are the biggest favorites, but one is a road division favorite (dangerous) and the other (the Patriots) had an offseason of turmoil. Denver and Dallas have reasonably strong home matchups. Cincinnati will attract some interest, but a trip to the Black Hole has trap written all over it.
Josh Hoffner is southwest news editor for The Associated Press who’s been playing in fantasy leagues more than 15 years.
Eds: Welcome to Fantasy Plays. It’s written from the perspective of a fantasy football player who isn’t an expert, rather someone who enjoys the game and is sorting through the same decisions and challenges facing everyday players. Remember: it’s supposed to be fun, so learn from what worked and what didn’t _ and don’t stress too much.