Now that the craziness of Week 1 is behind us, we at least have a little data to look at as we take a look at some matchups to target and some matchups to avoid for the Week 2 slate.
PLAYERS TO START
Devin Gray, WR, Cincinnati (vs. Purdue): The Bearcats entered the season having to replace the majority of their receiving production from a year ago following the departures of Shaq Washington, Chris Moore, Max Morrison, and Mekale McKay. Although we only have one game to go on, Gray looks to be Cincinnatiís best deep threat after averaging 22.2 YPC in his first contest Saturday. Cincinnati is going to be punching up a bit Saturday by playing a Big 10 team on the road, but Purdue is hardly a team to avoid for fantasy purposes after allowing Eastern Kentucky to put up 24 points. Gray seems to have earned quarterback Hayden Mooreís trust early, so look for him to see plenty of targets coming his way Saturday against a defense thatís average at best.
Amba Etta-Tawo, WR, Syracuse (vs. Louisville): Louisville enters the week as the 13th-ranked team in the nation and could find itself in the top 10 before too long, and the Cardinals have a strong defense to match an explosive offense, but Etta-Tawoís Syracuse debut over the weekend was too good to ignore. The Maryland transfer looked like an entirely different receiver in the Dino Babers offense, hauling in 12 grabs for 210 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers will come down some against Louisville, but itís clear that Etta-Tawo is going to get a ton of looks in Syracuseís fast-paced offense. Teammate Ervin Philips is also worth some consideration after he caught 14 passes Saturday, but Etta-Tawo is the more explosive threat of the two. This may be a tough matchup for Syracuse, but Louisvilleís defense is not quite good enough to completely slow down the Orange attack Thursday.
Justin Crawford, RB, West Virginia (vs. Youngstown State): The JUCO transfer made quite the impact in his Mountaineer debut Saturday, getting 21 carries for 101 yards and a score against a respectable Missouri defense. Perhaps more importantly, Crawford saw more carries than senior Rushel Shell, who picked up 90 yards and a score on 16 carries. Crawford also showed some ability as a pass catcher against Missouri (five catches), but he had no room to run after the catch as he only picked up nine receiving yards. Regardless, Crawford should have much more room to run this week against Youngstown State. The Mountaineers wonít need to throw it much after they establish a lead, which should result in a healthy workload for Crawford. Even if Crawford winds up getting the ball less that he did last week, the level of competition ought to allow him to rip off a bit of yardage on each touch and ultimately find the end zone.
Chris Evans, RB, Michigan (vs. Central Florida): Evans was the less-heralded of the Michigan running backs in this recruiting class as Kareem Walker got most of the headlines as the top-rated running back prospect in the 2016 cycle. However, it was Evans who got on the field Saturday and made an instant impact against Hawaiíi with 112 yards and two scores on just eight carries. Michigan will likely be in another blowout situation Saturday, so with DeíVeon Smith ailing, coach Jim Harbaugh may be calling Evansí number plenty of times again this week.
Jarred Craft, RB, Louisiana Tech (vs. South Carolina State): With Kenneth Dixon now playing in the NFL, keeping an eye on Louisiana Techís running back rotation in Week 1 was an important exercise in gauging how coach Skip Holtz would divvy the carries. Craft was the undoubted leader Saturday, taking 12 carries for 68 yards and a touchdown against a solid Arkansas defense. No other running back had more than one carry, so itís clear that Craft is the lead dog in the backfield. One potential drawback this week could be Louisiana Techís opponent, South Carolina State. Given that Louisiana Tech should handle them with ease, Craft might be in for another light workload. That said, if Craft can average 5.7 yards per carry against Arkansas, he should be able to put up a more than serviceable stat line against SC State.
Fred Coppet, RB, Bowling Green (vs. North Dakota): Coppet struggled to find any room to run in Bowling Greenís season opener against Ohio State, but the Falconsí massive deficit forced them to abandon the run for the most part. This week, Bowling Green should handle North Dakota rather easily, which should lead to a bigger workload for Coppet. Twenty carries should be in the realm of possibility for Coppet on Saturday, and if he can recapture his form from last year when he averaged 5.7 YPC, he should be in line to reach the century mark against North Dakota.
Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State (vs. California): Even though San Diego State will be taking on a Power Five club, Pumphrey should absolutely stick in your lineups this week against California. Hawaiíiís Diocemy Saint Juste was able to run roughshod on California in the season opener before being absolutely shut down by Michiganís defense Saturday. Although California will be well-rested, Pumphrey will still present major issues for the Golden Bearsí defense. Pumphrey had a down game by his standards against California last year, gaining just 85 yards on 21 carries, but the Cal defense looks like it may have taken a step back from its already-average 2015 form. Ignore those second thoughts you might be having about using Pumphrey against a Pac 12 opponent.
Manny Wilkins, QB, Arizona State (vs. Texas Tech): Saturdayís matchup has the potential to be one of the highest-scoring games on the slate this week, and owners would be wise to get in on the action. Wilkins had a strong start last week against Northern Arizona, completing 20 of 27 passes for 180 yards and adding 89 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Texas Techís defense is famously porous, so there should be open running lanes aplenty for Wilkins to pick up serious yardage on the ground and Arizona Stateís speedy receivers shouldnít have a hard time getting separation. Even though Wilkins is relatively unproven, Saturday could be his coming-out party.
Rawleigh Williams, RB, Arkansas (@ TCU): Arkansasí smash mouth philosophy on offense is a worst-case scenario for a TCU defense that struggled in Week 1. The Horned Frogs allowed 461 yards to South Dakota State, including 7.09 yards per play. In fairness, TCU was primarily gashed through the air, but the Jackrabbits did manage to score a pair of touchdowns on the ground. Arkansas has the type of offensive line that could manhandle the Horned Frogs at the point of the attack, so Williams should have no issue finding open running lanes and ripping off big runs. Williams may not be the most dangerous runner on the Arkansas roster, but he clearly has the trust of the coaching staff given that his 24 carries were 18 more than any other Razorback on Saturday. Look for Williams to see plenty of carries again and have big game against TCU.
Jason Huntley, RB, New Mexico State (vs. New Mexico): Star running back Larry Rose III is still on the mend from sports hernia surgery in mid-August and it appears that heíll be missing his second straight game Saturday. Huntley got most of the work in place of Rose in the opener, gaining 53 yards on 12 carries, including a touchdown. While those numbers arenít staggering, theyíre still solid enough on a per-carry basis for him to warrant consideration for your lineup. His opponent this week, New Mexico, was pummeled for 183 yards and two scores on the ground last week against South Dakota. If South Dakota is able to put up that kind of production on the Lobosí defense, Huntley and company should be in for a big day on the ground Saturday.
PLAYERS TO SIT
Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston (vs. Lamar): This isnít to say that Lamar presents the type of matchup that would frustrate a player like Ward. Really, itís a matter of playing time for the star quarterback. Ward had a huge game Saturday to lead Houston to arguably the most impressive win of the weekend over Oklahoma, but he paid the price in the process. Ward took several big shots from the Sooners defense and was held out of practice Tuesday due to a sore shoulder. The plan is for Houston to hold him out of practice for at least another day, but head coach Tom Herman did say that Ward is probable for Saturday nonetheless. Thus, Ward might still start Saturday, but the coaching staff may pull him early in order to avoid having him take too many hits. With Houston now firmly in the conversation for a spot in this yearís playoff, itís unlikely that the Cougars would risk the health of their best player in a game that should be winnable even without Ward.
Travon McMillian, RB, Virginia Tech (vs. Tennessee): The Tennessee defense looked surprisingly vulnerable up the middle in Thursdayís narrow victory over Appalachian State, which might make this seem like a matchup to target this weekend. Iím going to go in a different direction here, though, as I suspect the Volunteers are going to want to atone for their sins from the season opener and get things turned around. Tennessee has draftable players at every level of their defense, and though McMillian has the talent to give the Vols some fits, the edge goes to the Tennessee D this weekend. McMillian had a quiet opener against Liberty, as he was held to just three yards per carry. To reiterate: Liberty. Yikes. McMillian is still one of the top backs in the ACC, and he will eventually get rolling, but a tough matchup against Tennessee is enough for me to bench him in Week 2.
Oklahoma State running backs (vs. Central Michigan): The Cowboys havenít had a truly viable running back for fantasy purposes since the days of Joseph Randle in 2012, and if the season opener is any indication, that trend will continue this season. Not only did six running backs get carries Saturday, but no one back had more than seven carries. Even if most of those running backs were efficient on a per-carry basis, thatís a situation thatís too muddled to pick out a featured back thatís a lock for double-digit carries. The bigger names in the backfield, Barry Sanders Jr. and Chris Carson, struggled to find room to run against Southeastern Louisiana, combining for just 19 yards on eight carries. This will be a backfield to avoid for much of the season even if OSU finishes with a top-15 offense yet again.
Wes Lunt, QB, Illinois (vs. North Carolina): Lunt predictably shredded the Murray State defense in the season opener, completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 226 yards and three scores. It wonít be so easy this week with North Carolina coming to town. While the Tar Heels were exposed in the run game in its season opener, they were able to hold Georgia to just 185 yards through the air. North Carolinaís overall speed should present a problem for Lunt, and he could be in for a long day Saturday. Lunt tends to struggle against tougher competition, as evidenced by his 51.2-percent passing to go with one touchdown and three picks against ranked opponents last season. Lunt may be a decent option as your second quarterback this season thanks to an improved system under head coach Lovie Smith, but heíd be best left on your bench for this week.
Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee State (@ Vanderbilt): Although Vanderbilt is the oft-forgotten SEC program, the Commodores still sport a true SEC-level defense. They held South Carolina to just 187 yards through the air last week on 16-of-30 passing. Middle Tennessee undoubtedly has more offensive firepower than South Carolina thanks to quarterback Brent Stockstill and James, but the Blue Raiders still might have some trouble moving the ball on Vandy. James should still see plenty of targets this weekend, but capitalizing on them will be a tall task. This isnít to say that James is due to have a bad game per se, but this may be a down week by his standards. In addition to sitting James this week, any Western Kentucky player on your roster can grab a spot on the bench with the Hilltoppers heading down to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama.
Jerome Lane, WR, Akron (@ Wisconsin): Itís tough to leave a player like Lane on the bench, but a matchup against Wisconsin is certainly a case where you donít really have a choice. Wisconsinís defense didnít look any worse for wear Saturday despite the fact that former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda was on the other sideline. The Badgersí defense stifled an LSU offense that is littered with talent across the board and will likely do the same to the Zips on Saturday. Lane is undoubtedly Akronís best weapon in the passing game, but quarterback Tommy Woodson is going to be under duress with nearly every drop back and the Badgers will be sure to scheme against Lane to limit him as much as possible.
Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming (@ Nebraska): Hill is undoubtedly one of the best running backs in the Mountain West, but he draws a tough matchup this week. Nebraska absolutely suffocated Fresno State last week, holding the Bulldogs to just 1.2 YPC. Frankly, Fresno State doesnít have any running backs that can be put in the same conversation as Hill, but Nebraskaís defense is one of the more stout units in the Big Ten West. Whatís more, Wyoming could find itself trailing by a big margin early in the game, which would likely result in the Cowboys abandoning the run for the most part.
California Running Backs (@ San Diego State): Khalfani Muhammad and Vic Enwere are fine running backs in their own right and both averaged over seven yards per carry in their season opener against Hawaiíi. However, San Diego State is a different animal altogether. The Aztecsí defense ranked fifth in the nation in yards per carry last year, and it doesnít look like theyíve lost a step this year as they stifled New Hampshireís rushing attack to a mere 2.3 YPC. While California is a much tougher test, thereís still reason to think that San Diego State will be able to slow down the Golden Bears. Furthermore, California simply doesnít run the ball enough to where Muhammad or Enwere are going to put up viable fantasy numbers, and their carries are so evenly divided that itís nearly impossible to predict who will get the hot hand on a week-to-week basis.
Stanley Williams, RB, Kentucky (@ Florida): The Gatorsí run defense looks to be as stingy as it was a year ago, when it held opposing runners to just 3.5 yards per attempt, and that spells trouble for Williams and the Wildcats. Kentucky had a world of trouble slowing down Southern Miss last week, and while the Golden Eagles may have a more explosive offense than the Gators, Florida should still be able to move the ball on the Wildcats. With that, touches may be hard to come by for Williams, who had just 13 carries in Week 1. Even if Williams is able to get a decent workload of around 15 carries, itís unlikely that heíll be able to rip off 5.0 yards per carry again like he did against Florida last season.
Warren Wand, RB, Arkansas State (@ Auburn): Auburnís offense was a disaster in Week 1, but the Tigersí defense had an impressive showing on the other side of the ball and slowed down an explosive Clemson offense thatís arguably the best in the nation. Wand had a solid showing in the opener against Toledo, posting 77 yards on 12 carries (6.4 YPC), but he could be in for a long day against the Tigers. Auburnís defense will likely shut down Arkansas Stateís offense and build a sizable lead, so the Red Wolves may abandon the run game early.