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Thursday, September 5, 2013
Updated: September 6, 4:35 PM ET
Fantasy priorities

By Matthew Berry
ESPN.com

The Talented Mr. Roto

"RG III."

"Seriously?" I asked.

"Yes. RG III."

The scene was at the third annual Cheshire Friends and Family draft, and I was having an argument with my 8-year-old stepson. I've written about the league before, both last year and more expansively in my book. It comprises my kids, their friends, their parents (and our friends), including the boys' father, my wife's ex-husband. We have a great time and it's unlike any other draft I do.

The kids have gotten better in the third year of playing, but still. They all just use the same ESPN cheat sheet that I hand out to everyone at the start of the draft. Local stars go way too early. (Was Jordan Todman, proud UConn grad, drafted in the eighth round of your 10-team league? Because he was in mine.) And there's always a hellacious kicker run in the ninth or so, as no one wants to start filling out their bench before completing a starting lineup.

Many of the parents in the league have multiple kids, so we switch the teams up every year. Last year, I was partnered with our middle son, the 12-year-old, while our 14-year-old played with his father and my wife played with Connor, the 8-year-old in question. Neither had played before, so it was a little like blind-leading-the-blind, but they figured it out and got to a very respectable fifth-place finish, missing the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker.

This year, the (now) 15-year-old is with his mom, our middle one is with his dad and I'm with our 8-year-old. I've been in his life since he was 4, so I managed to brainwash him into being a Redskins fan like me. So keep that in mind. Loves the Redskins. If I'm being honest, I was feeling pretty bad about sucking him into the life of misery and self-loathing that is being a Redskins fan, but that all changed when Washington drafted one Robert Griffin III. Last year was a great year for us, and his fanhood will be there for life, just like his old stepdad's.

Now, if you have two or more sons, you don't need me to explain this to you, but for those that don't, allow me to explain that Connor, having two brothers who are four and six years older, has spent the better part of his childhood getting the crap beaten out of him. The boys get along great until they don't, and among the things I love about Connor is that he is completely, 100 percent, totally fearless. Whether he's being picked on or is the instigator (it runs about 50/50), he has no problem launching himself at either of his much older, much bigger brothers and going to town. They fight back and then either my wife is or I am pulling them apart and they hate each other for about 10 minutes, at which time they get bored and are playing together again.

He's playing pee-wee football this year and he's like a mini-Urlacher out there. He's so thrilled to be tackling kids his own size, he's running down everything in sight. Had 15 solo tackles in his previous game. Crazy.

Anyway, I bring this up because, as a highly competitive kid with two older brothers, he desperately wants to win this league. I've won it two years in a row with each of the other two boys, so he feels like it's his turn now that he's with me. So it is against that backdrop -- desperately wanting to win but also being diehard Redskins fan -- that my soon-to-be 9-year-old and I enter the draft. Our friend Laura doesn't play, but she heard there would be adult refreshments, so in exchange for a glass of wine, she draws the names, and Connor and I wind up with the No. 2 pick.

Peterson goes No. 1, and I turn to him, each of us holding a cheat sheet.

Me: OK, our pick, kiddo. Who do you want?"
Connor: RG III.
Me: Seriously?
Connor: Yes. RG III.

RG III is his favorite player. He has the RG III socks. He has the official jersey. He has the trading card. His room has banners and stickers and posters. He loves RG III only slightly less than RG III's mom does. I love him too, of course, but I can't take him at No. 2. I know this kid also wants to win and frankly, with years of fantasy playing ingrained, I just can't do it. I won't allow myself.

"We'll draft him, I promise, but it's a little early for that. He'll still be there, I swear. OK?"

After a pause, Connor utters a very reluctant "OK."

"Which one of these running backs do you want?" I read off a handful of obvious names.

Connor chooses Arian Foster. Ah, to be 8 again, without worry of mortgages, taxes or Foster's soft-tissue concerns. There are a few head-scratchers in the first round (Colin Kaepernick went No. 8) and as we are sitting there at the end of the second round, there are some great guys who have fallen.

Me: Who do you want?
Connor: RG III.
Me: Connor, Peyton is still available. So are Brady and Cam. I promise, we'll take him but it's way too early for a QB, OK?
Connor (after a longer pause): OK.

Jamaal Charles is still available. So is Trent Richardson. He wants Charles, so that's what we go with. On the whole, I don't love Griffin as a fantasy QB, I think he will regress a bit, but whatever. It's Connor's favorite player, I will draft him. But I just can't pass on Richardson or Charles in Round 2. I know my kid; he's gonna wanna win and this is how you win.

Richardson and, yes, Matthew Stafford go back to back and now it's us in Round 3.

Connor: Can we draft RG III now?


Me: Well, there's this guy Jimmy Graham that is still available. He's the best tight end out there. What do you think about drafting him here?
Connor: No RG III?
Me: We'll get him next round, I promise. Peyton is still available. So is Cam. But this guy is the best at his position.
Connor: You promise we can get him next round?
Me: I promise.

We take Graham and the draft continues. Even though it goes against everything I believe in, I think to myself, I'm doing this league for him, we'll take RG III in the fourth.

Now, my friend Gary and his son Owen are in the league, and they are both diehard Eagles fans. LeSean McCoy in the first, DeSean Jackson in the second, Eagles fans. Every year, they've basically gone with an all-Eagles lineup. They have the pick right before us in Round 4, so I am shocked -- shocked! -- when they declare, "We'll take RG III."

My kid is crestfallen. He looks at me with puppy-dog eyes that scream, "But ... you promised ...!" I have ruined Christmas for him. And Easter. And SpongeBob. I am the worst parent alive. Tears are starting to well up. I turn to Gary.

Me: Really? Why aren't you going all Eagles again?
Gary: We finished last the last two years. Time to change it up.

I turn to Connor. He is beside himself. I might as well have ripped candy from his mouth and shoved in broccoli.

Me: I'll trade for him, OK? We'll get him.
Connor (not buying it at all): OK.

I'm being super-happy energetic dad now, trying hard to sell this.

Me: I swear, we'll get him, OK? I swear. We're still OK. We have a great team. Who do you want to pick? We can do a quarterback here if you want. Or Demaryius Thomas is still available. You want him?
Connor: I don't care.

Now I am crestfallen. The only player the kid cared about was RG III. It made no fantasy sense, it was out of whack with any logical ADP, even in this goofy league. It would have been a dumb move in every single category except one: It would have made the kid happy. That's what fantasy football is supposed to do, right?

We play it for fun. It's a simple 10-team league with kids and many parents who have just started playing and certainly aren't obsessive about it. Couldn't I have still had a good chance at us winning the league if I took RG III second overall? Of course I could have. The whole point of the league -- really, the only point -- is to spend time with the kids and have fun. And drafting Robert Griffin III second overall, or instead of Jamaal Charles in the second or Jimmy Graham in the third would have made the kid deliriously happy. That simple. Missed opportunity by me.

I get asked in interviews all the time about the fantasy move I regret the most or biggest fantasy mistake I've ever made.

Now I have my answer.

As we start the 2013 fantasy football season, you'll be faced with many, many decisions. Whom to start, whom to sit, whom to trade, whom to drop, and whom to draft. There's lots of research and football reasons that will go through your mind when you make your decisions, and some will work out and some won't. None of us can tell the future and ultimately, we play this game for fun.

Kenbrell Thompkins
Sometimes, you gotta ask yourself, if you're gonna lose, would you rather it be because sat the guy you wanted to, or the guy the rankings told you to?

In one league, I'm starting Kenbrell Thompkins this week over Ryan Mathews. Conventional wisdom says you play the starting running back over the undrafted free-agent rookie wideout, but you know what? I can't stand Mathews (I only drafted him because it got to be such a ridiculous value I couldn't resist) and I love Thompkins, so forget about it. Week 1, gimme the rookie. Because I'll have more fun rooting for Thompkins than for Mathews.

I just think about Connor's face at the moment. We'll win some games this year, we'll lose some, and ultimately it won't matter and we'll eventually forget it, a year or two from now. But I'll never forget that face. So play to win, but realize having fun along the way is the point of it all. In the long run, it'll save you from saying things like, "Seriously, Gary, anyone you want! Foster? Foster and Charles? What do you need for RG III?"

Gary took it easy on me, settling for Tony Romo and me buying his drinks for the next six months, so we do have RG III on the team now. Whew. And as we saunter into the first Love/Hate of the year, here's hoping your mistakes can be fixed as easily.

First, a few ground rules. As always, this is not a pure start-and-sit column. I can't stand those terms. Every player is a potential sit or a potential start depending on who else you have to choose from, your league scoring system, size of league and other factors. Rather, this is a list of players I expect to do better or worse than either my fellow rankers expect, or, at any rate, better or worse than the general expectation you have of this player from week to week.

The only thing I dislike more than the terms "start" and "sit" are people who ask things like, "You love Kenbrell Thompkins and hate Andre Johnson, should I start Thompkins over Johnson?" The answer, of course, is yes. If you ask me that question, you deserve to do that to your team. Of course not! I don't love Johnson as a top-10 play this week (he was drafted as a top-10 guy), so I'm probably not using him in a salary cap or player-eliminator game. But I do like the undrafted (or late-round) Thompkins as a No. 3 receiver this week in his debut against the Bills. For specific "Whom do I start" questions, please check my rankings, which I update constantly throughout the week. Shout out and thanks to Zach Rodgers of ESPN Stats & Information for his help and away we go.

Quarterbacks I love in Week 1

Tony Romo, Cowboys: Has thrown for over 300 yards in three of his past four games against the Giants, including both of the games last season. He's thrown for more touchdowns against the Giants than any other team -- granted, he plays them twice a year -- and with the offensive line issues of the Cowboys, I can't see them running very effectively here. So expect lots of Romo out of the shotgun, especially because there is no one on the Giants who can cover Dez Bryant one-on-one. Romo is a top-five play for me this week and, just remember, it's September. Tony Romo doesn't break your heart until December.

Matt Ryan, Falcons: Falcons-Saints is going to be shootout city. I have Ryan at No. 3 this week.

Michael Vick, Eagles: Vick on Monday night against the Redskins? What could possibly go wrong? Vick has looked fantastic this preseason and, as Ed Werder tweeted the other day, the Skins admit they aren't sure what to expect. Vick is healthy now, and I have him just outside my top 10 this week.

Joe Flacco, Ravens: No Von Miller to generate a pass rush (in 100 pass attempts against without Miller on the field last season, Denver had zero interceptions), no Champ Bailey in the secondary and Torrey Smith streaking down the sideline, Flacco makes a solid second-tier QB this week if you're looking outside the top 10.

If you're desperate: I expect Alex Smith to throw, throw, throw this year and against the Jags, he should have another solid double-digit fantasy game. ... Under the adage that rushing yards and junk-time stats count, don't be surprised if EJ Manuel and Terrelle Pryor wind up as top-20 quarterbacks this week in their respective impending blowout losses.

Quarterbacks I hate in Week 1

Eli Manning, Giants: Two touchdowns or fewer in seven of his past nine games against the Cowboys, including a total of one, you heard me, one touchdown pass in last season's games. OK, fine, you say, but this is a different Cowboys team from last year. Rob Ryan is no longer there, you say. True, but the Cowboys have brought in Monte Kiffin, master of the Tampa 2 defense. As the Wall Street Journal noted, Eli has struggled in 12 career games against the Tampa 2, with only nine touchdowns and 14 interceptions. It has been quite a while since Eli has seen it, and if you tack on a banged-up offensive line and both Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks at potentially less than 100 percent, I just don't see a big game for Eli.

Russell Wilson, Seahawks: Overall, I love him, but I kind of think the Panthers defense is legit, particularly their very impressive front seven, so I don't expect a ton of rushing yards from Wilson. He struggled against them last year, with only 221 yards and a score along with two picks, and while he's a different quarterback now than he was then, I still expect a semi-low scoring game here, which puts Wilson just outside my top 10.

Jay Cutler, Bears: Marc Trestman, Marc Schmestman. He's going to do good things in Chicago but the Bengals are legit. They sack everything in sight and, believe me, the statue that is Jay Cutler will be clearly visible. Don't get cute here.

Philip Rivers, Chargers: What has your team ever done to you? Not even in two-quarterback leagues.

Running backs I love in Week 1

Alfred Morris, Redskins: It's the return of Robert Griffin III! Chip Kelly unveils his new offense! All sorts of hype will go into this game, but no one is going to  mention the fact that Alfred Morris is going to run all over these guys. No team allowed more rushing yards in the preseason than the Philadelphia Eagles. Washington is always a team that likes to control time of possession and, with the Eagles' up-tempo offense coming in, they'll want to slow it down as much as possible. First game action for RG III since last season's playoff loss, they're going to be a little cautious with him. Seriously, Morris might get 30 carries in this game. I have Morris at No. 2 for the week and I might be too low on him.

C.J. Spiller
You drafted C.J. Spiller in the first round. In the second, if you were really lucky. You knew then he'd have a rookie QB leading the offence and that he'd be facing the Patriots twice. Nothing has changed. Play the man.

C.J. Spiller, Bills: Obvious name, but I've gotten a lot of questions about Spiller; will he be affected by poor QB play and/or the Bills getting down big? The answer is no. If you have him, you're starting him. Period.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars: Always a tough tackle, even last year MJD had a higher yards after contact average than Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore and Trent Richardson, among others. Why do I bring this up, you ask? Glad you did, imaginary reader who speaks out loud to columns. Because last year no team allowed more yards after contact than the Kansas City Chiefs. They made improvements to the defense in the offseason, but not enough to stop MJD in Week 1.

Arian Foster, Texans: I know, I know. Reduced workload, hasn't played all preseason, hates fantasy football. Whatever. You're playing him. Don't be stupid. OK, fine, you're already reading this column, so how about don't be stupider. How many touches do you think he needs to be a top-10 back this week? The answer, class, is not a lot.

David Wilson, Giants: All the stuff I wrote about why Eli would struggle is why Wilson makes fantasy confetti out of your opponent's lineup, which makes sense if you move along quickly and don't really think about it. Wilson is now the goal-line back and the Giants have the fifth-most rushes inside an opponent's 10-yard line the past three years.

Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, Patriots: Just because it's obvious doesn't mean it's not true. Worth noting, for Vereen owners, that Danny Woodhead scored in both games against the Bills last season.

Reggie Bush, Lions: After talking about him nonstop in preseason, I get to talk about him for Week 1. The Lions completed 99 passes thrown 10 yards or fewer downfield to running backs last season, fifth most in the league, and that was with Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell. The Vikings allowed the most receptions 10 yards or fewer downfield last season.

If you're desperate: Vick Ballard is going to get a lot more work against Oakland than you realize, and that's a good thing. ... I could easily see the Chargers getting down big this week and having to play catch-up in the second half, making Danny Woodhead a sneaky play. … I don't see the Steelers running very effectively, so in a potentially pass-heavy game for the Steelers, I bet LaRod Stephens-Howling gets more work than you think. ... Don't be surprised if Roy Helu gets some work and is very effective with it. Again, Eagles run defense = hot mess.

Running backs I hate in Week 1

Any Broncos running back: It's Montee Ball, it's Ronnie Hillman, it's Knowshon Moreno, no, it's back to Hillman ... ugh. The Ravens have a great line, there's no clarity here and while I wouldn't be shocked if one of them ends up with a good game, good luck guessing who that is. If I have to start one, it's Ball, because  he's most likely to get a goal-line carry, but I'm doing everything I can to avoid this until we have more clarity.

Eddie Lacy, Packers: Insert running back facing the Niners here.

Any Jets running back: Bilal Powell is going to start for the Jets. Doesn't mean he has to start for your squad. I mean, your fantasy team is better than the Jets, right? The Bucs had the No. 1 run defense last season.

Rashard Mendenhall, Cardinals: Forget the health thing, with both Mendy and his offensive line. What really sets this one for me is that the Rams allowed 2.1 yards per rush in the red zone last season, fourth best in the league. And it appears that Stepfan Taylor is going to get goal-line work in Arizona, not Mendenhall. He's a desperation flex this week, nothing more.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals: Bears allowed only three rushing touchdowns inside their 10-yard line last season. You think Law Firm is gonna break one?

Ryan Mathews, Chargers: I could write something negative here, or I could just ask you to talk to someone who owned him last year. He actually did look good in the preseason, but this is a tough matchup for a variety of reasons. Low-end flex at best.

Wide receivers I love in Week 1

Randall Cobb, Packers: Second to Wes Welker last year in receptions out of the slot. The 49ers allowed 113 receptions to opposing slot receivers last season, fourth most in the league. I'm starting him with confidence.

Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs: Good shot at being top five in targets this week. And every week, frankly. But especially this week as the Jaguars are not ... what is that word again? Oh yes, good. The Jaguars are not good.

Philadelphia Phillies fans
There's no truth to the rumor that this about-to-be-tazed speedster parlayed his on-field dash into a tryout with the Raiders. But you'd almost believe it.

Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, Colts: I'd start you against the Raiders. As a flex, I mean. Let's not get crazy. I've seen you at happy hour. You can put them away, you know? You're more a possession receiver than a deep threat these days, but whatever. Against the Raiders, you're flex-worthy.

Pierre Garcon, Redskins: Fully healthy now, it ain't like the Eagles secondary is all that either.

Torrey Smith, Ravens: See Flacco, Joe. It's not whether Torrey scores or not, it's how long the touchdown is.

Chris Givens, Rams: Cardinals have a great secondary, no doubt. But they'll still take shots downfield. Last year, Givens had the fourth-most targets on throws 30 yards or more downfield. Meanwhile, the Cardinals were tied for sixth-most touchdowns allowed on such throws. Givens will get a few deep shots and has a decent chance of converting one, making him a WR3 with upside.

Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers: I own one or both of these guys on almost every team of mine, so at least I put my money where my mouth is. Given that I expect the Steelers to struggle to run the ball, I do expect them to pass, and pass a lot. To these two guys. The Titans had the worst scoring defense in the league last year and it remains a work in progress. And while we are all works in progress, we're not facing the Steelers this week.

If you're desperate: Antonio Cromartie had a much better season than I suspect you realize last year, and I don't see Vincent Jackson going nuts on him, which means Mike Williams will get the same red zone looks he got last year. ... Boy, oh boy do I like Kenbrell Thompkins, and even though we haven't seen him in a regular-season game, I'd have no issue starting him against Buffalo if necessary. ... Think Darrius Heyward-Bey wants to get some revenge on Oakland? Me too. DHB is starting in two-receiver sets these day, not T.Y. Hilton.

Wide receivers I hate in Week 1

Andre Johnson, Texans: It's not just the lack of red zone threats, it's the fact I expect this game to be out of hand early and Houston to not need to throw at all. Solid, but not a top-10 play this week.

Wes Welker, Broncos: While I expect Peyton Manning to have a nice game tonight, the damage should mostly be done on the outside as the Ravens actually defend the slot very well. Baltimore allowed only 74 receptions and four receiving touchdowns to slot receivers last season, both tied for third fewest in the league.

Mike Wallace, Dolphins: I've been crushing this guy all preseason, why should Week 1 be any different? The truth is, I believe Joe Haden is a true shutdown corner and, in fact, when Wallace was with Pittsburgh, he had fewer than 60 yards in three straight games against Haden and zero touchdowns, including games of nine and 11 yards. And now he's going in there with Ryan Tannehill.

Tight ends I love in Week 1:

Jordan Cameron
Jordan Cameron is 6-foot-5, 245 pounds of pure, unadulterated fantasy potential.

Jordan Cameron, Browns: It can't be all Trent Richardson. With Josh Gordon out, I expect Cameron to get a lot of looks in this game, especially in the red zone. Remember, in a nine-year NFL career as a coach, Rob Chudzinski has had five seasons with a tight end getting over 100 targets. I believe this will be season No. 6.

Zach Sudfeld, Patriots: He's going to start. Against the Bills. And Rob Gronkowski isn't. The Bills gave up over 150 yards and two scores to Patriots tight ends last year, and Aaron Hernandez didn't play in either of those games. I have Sudfeld as a top-five play this week.

Antonio Gates, Chargers: They're gonna be down and they're gonna be throwing. For what it's worth, the Texans were tied for giving up the second-most touchdowns to opposing tight ends last year.

Brent Celek, Eagles: If you need a second-tier guy this week, I sort of like Celek. Keep in mind that, during the first nine weeks last season -- before Michael Vick went down with an injury -- Celek was targeted 53 times, seventh among tight ends in that time frame. And that last year, the Redskins allowed 98 receptions to opposing tight ends (most in the league), including 10 touchdowns (tied for second most in the league). For you guys who drafted Gronkowski and are streaming options until he comes back, you could do a lot worse.

If you're desperate: I like both Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, in that order, against the Raiders, as Indy begins using a lot more two-tight end sets under Pep Hamilton. ... For what it's worth, Scott Chandler scored three times in two games against the Patriots last season.

Tight ends I hate in Week 1

Kyle Rudolph, Vikings: We know Rudolph is a red zone machine, tying for the NFL lead in red zone touchdowns, but he's not a fully ingrained guy in the offense yet. I could see him having to block more to protect Christian Ponder against the Lions front line and Detroit is pretty good in the red zone against tight ends, allowing only three red zone scores to tight ends last year. Last year, Rudolph had one good game against them and one stinker. Which is what it will be like for most tight ends this year. Some good, some bad, all inconsistent. I have Rudolph outside my top 10 this week.

Jared Cook, Rams: Maybe this is the breakout year we're all waiting for with Cook. Certainly, there are a lot of believers. But until we see it on the field, I want to be cautious, so I'd prefer not to start him against the Cardinals, who allowed only 46 receptions to opposing tight ends last season, fewest in the league. I have Cook outside my top 10 this week.

Jermaine Gresham, Bengals: Unless your league awards points for blocking.

Defenses I love in Week 1

New England Patriots D/ST: Hello, rookie.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST: Revis Island returns and gets Geno Smith in his first start ever. I'm sorry. I meant to say "Has-not-played-a-lot-in-the-preseason-and-hasn't-looked-good-when-he-did-rookie-quarterback" Geno Smith is waiting for them. Yummy.

Indianapolis Colts D/ST: The Raiders offense -- and specifically, their offensive line -- looks horrific.

Cleveland Browns D/ST: Had them ranked as a top-10 defense coming into the season and I certainly like them this week. We already discussed Joe Haden, but did you know that the Browns had 12 interceptions in home games last season, tied with the Falcons for most in the league. And oh yeah, Ryan Tannehill threw twice as many interceptions (eight) as touchdowns (four) when he was on the road last season.

Detroit Lions D/ST: Great defensive line at home, chasing Christian Ponder.

Defenses I hate in Week 1

Green Bay Packers D/ST: Did you not see the playoff game last year? Single-digit fantasy points when they played San Fran in the regular season as well, I don't see the 49ers committing many (if any) turnovers here, and Kaepernick's mobility and strength make him a tough sack.

San Francisco 49ers D/ST: If the Packers get down, they're going to keep throwing and throwing until they claw their way back into it. Only five points for the Niners D when they faced Green Bay in last year's regular-season opener; there are better options available on the waiver wire.

Denver Broncos D/ST: No Von Miller, no Champ Bailey; hard to trust this defense as a top-10 play tonight.

And there you have it, gang. Great to be back for another season. We'll see you tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET for a special edition of "Fantasy Football Now" on ESPN, and then Sunday morning for the show's regular-season kickoff at 11 a.m. ET on ESPN2.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is now only the second-biggest RG III fan in his household. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. You may have also heard: He's written a book.