Start These 10 Players in Week 1

So here we are.

The Green Bay Packers covered the line against the New Orleans Saints in their Thursday night showdown that kicked off the 2011 season, Braylon Edwards has already pissed off his new team and David Garrard finds himself on the streets after nine years in Jacksonville.

Welcome to life in the post-lockout NFL.

Summer may be turning to fall, but football is back and with it comes another season of fantasy decision-making that could turn out to be the difference between a fat payday your significant other will no doubt hijack and a year of looking in the mirror asking yourself, “Where did it all go wrong?”

It’s now time for us to get down to business.  Here are ten not-so-obvious players I expect to produce respectable numbers in Week 1:

DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers: Carolina has an inexperienced rookie quarterback running the offense and just inked D-Will to a five-year $43 million contract.  You can bet your backside new head coach Ron Rivera is going to feed him the rock.  Did I forget to mention that the Arizona Cardinals gave up an average of 24.6 fantasy points per week to opposing running backs last season (second-most in NFL)?  My mistake.

Santonio Holmes, WR, New York Jets: I like the Dallas Cowboys as a dark horse to make a run at the NFC this season, but their secondary is crap.  The team ranked dead last in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers last year (28.3 pts/gm) while surrendering an average of 243.4 passing yards per game.  Plaxico Burress may be on the New York roster, but quarterback Mark Sanchez will no doubt heavily target his $50 million wideout.

Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants: I know Archie’s least favorite son had a less-than-stellar preseason, but Eli’s still got the ultra-talented Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham as his top two wide receivers.  Against a Washington Redskins defense that gave up an average of 20.9 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks last season (third-most in NFL), I expect the Big Blue signal-caller to roll up a respectable amount of points.

Jahvid Best, RB, Detroit Lions: With rookie bruiser Mikel LeShoure out for the season, second-year running back Jahvid Best should see a healthy dose of touches against a Tampa Bay defense that allowed 20.4 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs in 2010 (11th most in NFL).  This guy can kill a defense via the passing game, so don’t be surprised if his final stat line looks more like that of a wide receiver than a running back.

Dallas Clark, TE, Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning’s third neck surgery has without question created a less-than-stellar situation in Indianapolis.  But remember, it’s not like Kerry Collins is a rookie with no idea how to run an NFL offense.  The guy has 16 years of experience under his belt and will no doubt use Clark as his safety valve when the pocket starts to collapse.  Don’t be surprised if the Indianapolis tight end racks up ten or more targets against a Houston defense that surrendered an average of 8.8 fantasy points per week to opposing tight ends last year (fifth-most in NFL).

Cleveland Browns, D/ST: This unit ranked a pedestrian 14th in fantasy scoring among defenses in 2010, but they open up the season with a home date against a Cincinnati Bengals offense quarterbacked by rookie Andy Dalton.  I like Dalton’s future upside and decision-making ability, but he (as well as every other rookie QB) isn’t ready for the speed of the NFL.  The Browns should roll in this one.

Sidney Rice, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Tarvaris Jackson under center gives me an uneasy feeling that I can’t seem to shake, but San Francisco’s cornerback situation isn’t exactly what I would call impressive (or consistent, or scary), not to mention this unit gave up the third-most amount of fantasy points to opposing wide receivers last season (24.7 pts/gm).  The Seahawks acquired Rice via free agency for a smooth $41 million.  He’s going to see the football.

Kyle Orton, QB, Denver Broncos: Nnamdi Asomugha is no longer in Oakland so Orton should have no problem lighting up this secondary.  Expect wideout Brandon Lloyd to put up some impressive numbers as well.

Tim Hightower, RB, Washington Redskins: The 25-year-old had himself one hell of a preseason and should be used heavily in Washington’s Week 1 opener against a Giants defense that has been decimated by injuries.  What’s even better is that Hightower can make plays in the passing game, so don’t be surprised if you see quarterback Rex Grossman check down one or six times in this showdown.

Braylon Edwards, WR, San Francisco 49ers: Yeah, I talked some trash about him at the beginning of this article, but Edwards is currently the No. 1 target in San Francisco, who plays host to a shaky Seattle secondary on Sunday that allowed an average of 24.7 fantasy points per week to opposing wide receivers in 2010 (third-most in NFL).  Even if Alex Smith has a mediocre performance (hard to imagine, I know), Edwards should still roll up 8-11 fantasy points.

Joe Fortenbaugh wants you to know that if you ever have a fantasy question, you can hit him up at National Football Post.com or on Twitter:  @JoeFortenbaugh

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