Fantasy projections on the cusp of a new season

09/05/2014 7:05 AM

09/05/2014 7:05 AM

The draft room is empty. The spilled beer has been cleaned up. No more cheat sheets, sleepers or mock drafts.

For better or worse, richer or poorer, in suspension and health, we have our fantasy teams now.

What we don't have are answers. Those will come in the next 17 weeks. By then, hopefully my guys will have paid their league fees.

As Week 1 kicks off, here are a handful of questions that will be decided between now and when the Christmas carolers knock on the door and scare the bejesus out of our dog.

_What sort of impact will Darren Sproles have on LeSean McCoy's numbers?

McCoy won the rushing title with nearly 300 yards to spare and reached the end zone 11 times. Sproles isn't a threat to his rushing numbers, but the emergence of Zach Ertz and even Jordan Matthews could cost him some touchdowns. But McCoy is what Marshall Faulk used to be on those amazing Rams teams. Despite all the glitz and glamour of the passing game, when St. Louis was in a jam, it got the ball in Faulk's hands.

_Can Calvin Johnson keep it going?

Johnson had 38 fewer catches last year than in 2012 and more than twice as many touchdowns (up from five to 12). Golden Tate and Reggie Bush will take enough of a nibble out of Megatron's numbers that Dez Bryant will end the season as the No. 1 overall wide receiver. Johnson will have something more precious, however, a winning season and a possible playoff berth.

_Got an interesting team no one is talking about?

The Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger generally thrives in the no-huddle and could return to QB1 status this year. Getting center Maurkice Pouncey back will help both the passing and running games - provided the knee injury in last year's opener that cost him the season can withstand the up-tempo pace. Not sure what to make of Markus Wheaton, but Antonio Brown is a budding star.

_How many games will Rob Gronkowski play?

Twelve. But the next predictable thing Gronk does will be the first. The only solace that frustrated fantasy owners can take is that Bill Belichick feels the same aggravation. But if Gronk is in his lineup, he has to be in ours.

_OK, smart guy. Gimme three good running backs who will have high-end RB1 numbers by the end of the year.

Doug Martin, Buccaneers; Rashad Jennings, Giants; DeMarco Murray, Cowboys.

_Wait, doesn't Murray always get hurt?

Christmastime. And bring a treat for my dog.

_Who fills the Welker void?

The primary beneficiaries of Wes Welker's four-game suspension are probably Julius Thomas and Montee Ball.

Welker scored a career-high 11 touchdowns last season (including playoffs) and six of them were from inside the three-yard line. Those are goal-line scores that should fall to tight end Thomas or running back Ball, who set the NCAA record for touchdowns at Wisconsin.

Emmanuel Sanders is likely to move inside to take Welker's spot in the slot, so his stock rises in PPR leagues. Moving to the outside will be Andre Caldwell, with rookie Cody Latimer on his tail.

POSITION WATCH

Quarterbacks: Cam Newton (ribs) was a limited participant in practice Thursday and has been downgraded to a game-time decision. Derek Anderson is his backup ... Tom Brady missed practice Thursday with a calf injury. He's expected to play, but imagine there will be a run on picking up rookie backup Jimmy Garoppolo ... Joe Flacco is 11-0 in September home starts in his career. Since 2009 (his second season), he has 15 touchdowns, four 300-yard games and five interceptions. However, he put up two fantasy clunkers in 2013.

Running Backs: Three weeks ago, Miami's Lamar Miller was a low-end RB2. Entering Week 1, however, he's a bench stash. Knowshon Moreno missed a healthy chunk of the summer with a knee injury, but is back in the good graces of the Dolphins coaching staff ... Baltimore's Bernard Pierce (concussion) has been cleared to play.

Wide Receivers: San Fran's Michael Crabtree (calf) was back at practice Thursday. The Dallas native said there was no way he was missing his first career game in his hometown city ... Houston's Andre Johnson is tied with Jerry Rice with 10 career games of 10 catches and 150 yards. Johnson has 10 TDs in those games. Rice had 15.

Q: Zach Ertz or Gronk?

EB: I'm going with Gronk. Might not get a lot of yardage this week, but he's still the Pats' biggest threat in the red zone.

Q: Do you think Matt Ryan will have a rebound year and be a top 5 QB?

EB: Top 5 is a little optimistic. Top 10? Maybe. Wish he had a running game to keep defenses honest and he's surely going to miss Tony Gonzalez.

Q: Cutler or Brady?

EB: Hate benching Brady, who had 364 yards and two TDs last year at Miami. But I'd go with Cutler here against a Bills secondary that no longer has Jarius Byrd. Quite a dilemma.

Q: Pick two WRs out of Keenan Allen, Michael Floyd, Eric Decker, Torrey Smith and Terrence Williams. Thanks!

EB: Allen and Floyd. I'm tempted to play Torrey Smith, over Allen. Good luck with this.

Q: If you owned both Darren Sproles and Jordan Mathews and had to start one as a flex, who?

EB: Sproles. Rookie WRs generally need a few games - and often a season - to get their legs under them ... Stumbled on the fact that neither Riley Cooper nor Jeremy Maclin had a catch in their first games. Jerry Rice had four. Just some of the random guys I looked at.

Q: Geno Smith or Eli?

EB: Look who waited until the 18th round to take a QB. Geno.

Q: Trade Ray Rice for Terrance Williams?

EB: No. Though I like Bernard Pierce this week, I'd still hold onto Rice as an insurance policy - or, I'd have to get back a better WR than Williams.

HE SAID IT

"Jamaal Charles." (Eagles running back LeSean McCoy when asked by Comcast SportsNet's Derrick Gunn if he could pick another RB besides himself for fantasy football)

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