The Week 1 matchup between the Cleveland Browns and the Philadelphia Eagles features two teams that could finish near the bottom of the standings at the end of the season. We've got the fantasy projections courtesy of numberFire.
After seeing no more than 25 targets in an entire season during the first four years of his career, Gary Barnidge came seemingly out of nowhere in 2015 to become a highly sought-after fantasy tight end. He saw 125 targets last year and caught 79 passes for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns. With Josh Gordon serving a suspension for the first month of the season, quarterback Robert Griffin III is going to look to Barnidge early and often in September. The Eagles boasted one of the worst secondary units in the NFL last year, so Barnidge should have a field day this week.
If the Browns do start to struggle through the air, Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson will have to advance the ball on the ground. While Crowell is expected to handle the early-down work and get a fair amount of carries, it's Johnson who has the higher upside and appears to be more popular in the fantasy community. To begin the season, he will be more valuable in PPR leagues as the Browns are likely to find themselves in plenty of third-down situations. Once Johnson’s athleticism and talent starts to further reveal itself, he could be looking at a workhorse role by the time October rolls around.
Normally, having a rookie quarterback throw you the football is bad news if you’re a fantasy wide receiver. In Jordan Matthews’ case, it’s a godsend. He will no longer have to worry about dealing with the inconsistency of Sam Bradford or the less-than-stellar coaching strategies of Chip Kelly. Perhaps rookie Carson Wentz has the stuff to get Matthews over 100 catches for the first time in his career. The one challenge the Eagles will face is that the offensive line isn’t exactly top-notch. That said, the team did make improvements in that area during the offseason and Matthews is talented. He’s on the verge of taking his game to a new level and perhaps his end-of-season stat line will surprise some people. He will undoubtedly be up against Cleveland’s Joe Haden on Sunday, but the Browns' defense isn’t what it used to be.
When the Eagles struggle to stay in sync throwing the ball down the field, running back Ryan Mathews will be counted on to take the pressure off. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for the Eagles or fantasy owners, given that Mathews has rushed for over 1,000 yards just twice in his six-year career. Add that to the fact he struggles to stay healthy and most fantasy owners can pick a few running backs that they would put ahead of Mathews on the depth chart. Even with that in mind, the good news for Mathews is that he won’t have to compete with DeMarco Murray for carries, and Darren Sproles is going to see most of his action in the passing game. Mathews is worth a look these days, particularly in deeper leagues.