With the return of the NFL season comes the mind-punishing decision-making process of fantasy football.
The statistical-based game is something most of us have come to know and love—and become addicted to—but one of the most frustrating aspects is undoubtedly trying to pick the perfect lineup.
I've learned that I'm almost always better off simply playing the most talented players in my lineup instead of listening to that stupid thing sitting inside my head. But what if my top running back is going up against an immovable object? What if my top pass-catcher is going to be on Revis Island or have to deal with Richard Sherman in his ear all night long? What if my deep sleeper is playing a bunch of kindergartners?
Sometimes, it's simply better to play the matchup.
With that being said, let's take a look at some highly used receivers to avoid if possible and some under-utilized ones to employ.
Stud: Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers
Right now, the Pittsburgh Steelers running game is a mess.
Although bruising rookie Le'Veon Bell's injury is far better than originally expected, he will miss Week 1. That leaves the uninspiring trio of Isaac Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Felix Jones to carry the ball behind an offensive line that looked shaky this preseason.
As such, expect volume to be the name of the game for Ben Roethlisberger against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
Antonio Brown will benefit in a big way, but with Mike Wallace gone and Heath Miller almost assuredly out, someone else is going to have to receive a chunk of Big Ben's targets, a number that will fall in the range of 30.
Rookie Markus Wheaton is a tantalizing young player whom you should keep your eye on. But for now, I'm more willing to trust Emmanuel Sanders, who caught 59.5 percent of his targets last season (just below Brown's 62.9) for a healthy 14.2 yards per catch.
Dud: Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In standard, non-PPR leagues last season, Jackson failed to surpass 8.0 fantasy points on six separate occasions.
He clearly made up for it with some massive outbursts, but that kind of boom-or-bust production isn't the kind of consistency you want to see from a guy who was drafted as a fringe WR1/WR2.
Don't be surprised if this week falls into the bust category.
With rookie Geno Smith at quarterback, the New York Jets are going to try to slow the game down by pounding the run, and on the other side of the ball, Antonio Cromartie is more than capable of staying with Jackson.
Throw in the Bucs' prowess in the run game and the fact that they should be ahead early, and it doesn't seem likely that a ton of targets or catches are headed V-Jax's way.
Stud: Marlon Brown, Baltimore Ravens
I won't lie to you. This one isn't for the faint of heart—or for smaller leagues.
But Marlon Brown, Baltimore's version of the more popular Kenbrell Thompkins—an undrafted free agent who quickly turned heads during the summer—has a prime opportunity and is too enticing to pass up here.
After Torrey Smith, the Ravens' pass-catching corps is depleted. Dennis Pitta is injured at tight end, leaving just Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark. Jacoby Jones is listed as the No. 2 on the depth chart, but his limited route tree doesn't figure to earn him many targets. Brandon Stokley is there, but he's a slot receiver.
Enter Brown, who most recently garnered high praise from Smith, via the Carroll County Times' Matt Zenitz:
So the opportunity and talent are both there. Now consider the opponent.
Denver's pass rush is a major unknown without Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, and Champ Bailey has been ruled out, meaning the Broncos will likely have to bring a safety over to help cover Smith, leaving the opposite WR in single coverage.
Brown was productive in the most "realistic" preseason game, catching four passes for 59 yards and a score in Week 3, and I'm a believer that the 6'5" youngster out of Georgia can replicate those numbers Thursday night.
Dud: Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton should continue to improve in his third year, and Steve Smith is still his most trusted receiver and undoubted No. 1, so it's hard not to expect yet another solid season from the veteran.
But that won't start with in Week 1.
Smith has a dreadful matchup, going up against Seattle's vaunted secondary. Not only will he have to match up with highly talented lockdown corner Richard Sherman, but the 'Hawks gave up the sixth-least passing yards and third-least yards per attempt last year.
And not much has changed in that secondary—the Legion of Boom is still booming.
I'm enamored with Smith as a late WR2 this year, but against the Seahawks, he's going to have a tough time finding open space.
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