Finally we can stop speculating. Finally, we have some current, real life data to play with. Now, it's easy to jump to unwarranted conclusions after Week 1, as anomalies do certainly occur, but we are confident in the following predictions. In a column that probably could have gone on forever, heading into Week 2, we have chosen only the cream of the crop risers, and the unfortunate but true fallers.
Arian Foster, RB, Texans
Are you kidding me? 231 yards and three TDs against the Colts in Week 1 makes Foster the fantasy player of the week by a landslide. If you started him in a basic seasonal league, there's a good chance he won your matchup for you single handedly. The scary thing is that the Texans didn’t even really need to use their incredibly potent passing attack. While the yards may not be there every week, the touchdowns will. Look for Foster to continue to play at a high level again next week against the Redskins.
Austin Collie, WR, Colts
Perhaps one of my best calls was telling fantasy owners honestly that the second year man from BYU is a better fantasy option than Pierre Garçon. Even after his 10-catch, 131-yard, TD performance against the Texans in Week 1 you may think I'm crazy, but in PPR leagues, Collie is a must-own and a borderline must-start. With Peyton Manning not seeing much time to throw due to a banged up offensive line, he'll continue to look Collie’s way often. Collie proved to be the more efficient receiver, catching 10 of 11 targets, as Garçon contributed a few key drops against the Texans. The Colts host the Giants in Week 2, and Collie is a solid WR3 in PPR formats. On top of all of this, Anthony Gonzalez went down with an ankle injury in Week 1, which means Collie is further cemented in as the Colts primary slot receiver.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
Week 1 began to confirm that the 2009 first round pick truly is the Giants number 1 receiver, as he hauled in four balls for 75 yards and three TDs, looking a lot like Randy Moss —unstoppable against one-on-one coverage. After this performance, he should be an automatic start moving forward.
Wes Welker, WR Patriots
Well, any doubts about just how healthy Welker was heading into Week 1 have been completely erased after his eight-catch, 64-yard, two-TD performance against the Bengals. After most fantasy players underrated him due to health concerns, there's no reason to leave him on your bench moving forward.
Jordan Shipley, WR, Bengals
The third round slot receiver from Texas recorded five catches for 82 yards in his first ever NFL game. Even though the Bengals don't figure to be down by nearly 30 points heading into the second half most weeks, it's still impressive that Shipley was this involved in the Bengals game plan. Dynasty owners should consider him a potential Wes Welker/Austin Collie in 2011 after Terrell Owens' contractual obligation is up.
Matt Forte, RB, Bears
Any doubts about Forte "being a Mike Martz guy" can be thrown out the window, as screen passes to him were a crucial component of the Bears offense against the Lions in Week 1. The third year RB caught seven balls for 151 yards and two scores, while also adding 50 on the ground. It looks like he's well on his way to being Chicago's leading receiver, and a must start RB2 in all leagues.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seahawks
The 34 year old looked rejuvenated, throwing for 170 yards and two scores and rushing for another. The Seahawks also happen to face the Denver Broncos’pass defense in Week 2, followed by the Chargers and Rams —all three of whom don't necessarily have the best passing defenses in the league. As long as he's healthy, consider Hass a solid fantasy play.
Michael Vick, QB, Eagles
Well, the Kevin Kolb era didn't last long in Philly. Now, don't get me wrong, Andy Reid is still saying that Kolb is the starter when healthy. It's the "when healthy" part that concerns me. Kolb (concussion) isn't expected to practice until Friday, which really puts his Week 2 status in doubt, which is too bad, because the Eagles play the Lions, who have the worst secondary in the league. Then, there's the fact that Vick just flat out looked phenomenal at times against the Packers. He passed for 175 yards and a score, while rushing 11 times for 103 yards. I just have a feeling that it could be the Mike Vick show for a few more weeks in Philly. if you own Kolb, add Vick (without dropping Kolb).
Patrick Chung, SS, Patriots
Wow. The second rounder from Oregon really took advantage of his Week 1 start, racking up 12 solo tackles and four assisted. I'd say he more than solidified the starting gig moving forward, and the really scary thing is that he kind of looks like the next Rodney Harrison.
Brandon Jackson, RB, Packers
A guy I've written about more than a few times this offseason as a potential sleeper has just rocketed up waiver wire lists heading into Week 2. The 24-year-old fourth year former second rounder from Nebraska has looked good when filling in for Ryan Grant. Now he'll have a real opportunity with the starter out with an ankle in Week 2.
Unfortunately, with potential star QB Matthew Stafford suffering a shoulder injury in Week 1, it looks like Shaun Hill will be the team's QB for the near future, which doesn't bode well for receivers Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson. Not that you should bench Megatron necessarily, but his ceiling will be much lower as long as Stafford is out.
Paul Hickey is the lead contributor for Athlon Fantasy Football and operates the website nooffseason.com, a 365-day resource for obsessive fantasy owners who eat, breathe and sleep fantasy football. While the site appeals to all fantasy heads, there is a special emphasis on dynasty formats and IDP leagues.
Got to make this a fast column. My wife and I are in the midst of training for a marathon. She’s running 26 miles, I’m running 385 yards. …
This just in: Roger Clemens, with an eye on the future, watched the opening Sunday of the NFL season in an orange jump suit. …
Cowboys coach Wade Phillips took the blame for a botched play that led to a fumble return for a touchdown in Sunday’s loss to the Redskins. And once he got on a roll in his postgame press conference, Phillips also took the blame for the loss, the economy, world hunger and Jerry Jones’ facelift. …
By the way, speaking of Jones … The best owner in football? It’s not J.J. It’s Phil Knight of the U of Oregon Ducks. They may become the first team ever to win a national championship while playing in pajamas. …
Turns out Reggie Bush returning the Heisman was a plea deal. He agreed to hand over the hardware, but was allowed to keep his collection of Kim Kardashian instructional tapes. …
It took all afternoon last Saturday, but Notre Dame finally figured out a way to stop Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson: end zones. …
Don’t know what’s going to happen with this Jets sexual harassment case involving a woman reporter. But, having seen pictures of her, I know this: Joe Namath is going to want to play a fast game of tonsil hockey with her. …
Happens every year. The Bengals and Browns both lost last Sunday, leaving Ohio State as the top-ranked team in the state. …
Quarterback controversy? Right. I’ll bet you two of Andy Reid’s chins that Michael Vick starts for the Eagles this weekend. …
The Chargers, after losing to the gawdawful Chiefs Monday night, have decided to cancel the rest of their season and go to the beach. …
We could have a breakthrough in the nasty McCourt divorce case. Jamie is considering letting Frank have the Dodgers if she can keep the Manny wig. …
With no NBA teams interested, Allen Iverson is considering playing in China. I’ve got a better idea. He digs a really, really deep hole and stops just before he gets there.. …
A tale of two teams: The Broncos are 2-9 since opening last season 6-0. The Titans are 9-2 since opening last season 0-6. …
I admit it, I miss Mike Leach on the sideline on Saturdays. So what’s the former Texas Tech coach doing these days? He’s waiting to see how his lawsuit against the school turns out. He sued for slander, libel and exposure to the nightlife in Lubbock. …
Amazing. Avalanche forward Brandon Yip reported to training camp the other day and said he didn’t get nervous over a single putt during the summer. …
Good news out of Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban says Heisman winner Mark Ingram will play Saturday, keeping him within striking distance of Forrest Gump’s all-time rushing record at Bama. …
And finally, Reds first baseman Joey Votto, when asked what it would mean to him as a native Canadian to win the Triple Crown: “Canadian ballplayers are really humble guys. They’d pat you on the back and say, “Wow, pretty good job.’ And then we’d go get a beer.’’
(Got any can’t-miss-get-rich-quick schemes or compromising pictures of the neighbors? You can contact Jim Armstrong at email@example.com)
Peyton is still the Manning
Little bro looked like he might eclipse his more celebrated older sibling when the Giants won a scintillating Super Bowl over the unbeaten Patriots. But Eli Manning is now 9–9 in his last 18 starts, and he was vastly outshone by Peyton in the Colts’ 38–14 win. In this latest edition of the Manning Bowl, Peyton was ruthlessly efficient, completing 20-of-26 passes for 255 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 145.5. Eli was 13-of-24 for 161 yards two touchdowns and an interception, and his two fumbles gave the Colts 14 points, including Fili Moala’s decisive fumble recovery for a touchdown that gave the Colts a 31–7 lead and ended any lingering suspense. Peyton played the gracious winner, obviously taking no pleasure in the beating his team administered to his brother. “I think they will be fine. They play the Titans next week and we’ll be pulling hard for them to help us in the AFC South,” Peyton said. “We will do our best to help them when we play all these NFC East teams. I am proud of him and I love him.”
Brett Favre may be regretting his latest comeback
Last season, Brett Favre threw two interceptions at home all season. Yesterday, in a frustrating 14–10 loss to Miami, he had three picks and a fumble. Favre is off to his first 0–2 start since 2006, when he was a Packer, and he has to be wondering what he was thinking in trying another comeback instead of resting on the laurels of the best statistical season of his career. The Vikings have a long, arduous road ahead of them, and you have to wonder whether Old Man Favre has the stomach for it. “It’s a 14-game season now and we’re sitting at the bottom of it,” Favre said. “What we do with it from here remains to be seen. It won’t be any easier.” Especially for a soon-to-be 41-year-old grandpa.
Dick LeBeau is the best defensive mind in football
Pittsburgh’s 19–11 win over the Titans set offensive football back 50 years. The Steelers might as well have been wearing leather facemask-free helmets. But when you’re playing with your ninth-string quarterback, and you can muster only 127 offensive yards, you do what it takes, and it helps to have Dick LeBeau calling your defensive signals. LeBeau can make the best offenses look inept, and yesterday, he was facing an offense determined to do its part. He didn’t need the help, but the Titans played right into LeBeau’s hands, running Chris Johnson into a brick wall and putting Vince Young into obvious passing situations where the Steelers could either bait him into an interception or attack (and bodyslam) him with their pass rush. LaMarr Woodley’s second-quarter interception was classic LeBeau — Woodley started toward the line in a run-support posture before backpedaling at the last second into the passing lane. Johnson had averaged 145.6 yards in his previous seven home games; yesterday, he could muster only 34 yards on 16 strength-sapping carries (he did have an 85-yard touchdown called back for holding). The Steelers forced seven turnovers in all and sacked Titans quarterbacks four times. Fisher’s response? Yank Young and create a quarterback controversy where none was needed, but that’s another story.
Panic time in Big D
Normally, I’m not one to overreact after a couple of poor performances; it’s a long season, after all. But the panic in Dallas this morning is not an overreaction. The Cowboys are 0–2 for the first time since 2001 and have looked bad in getting there. In two games, they’ve turned it over four times and have yet to force a takeaway of their own. Wade Phillips, who’s overseeing this mess, leaps to the top of the list of likely impending coaching casualties. “I’m mad, I’m upset, I’m very frustrated and extremely disappointed,” said owner Jerry Jones. Well, that’ll make Phillips sleep soundly. Diehards in Big D might be tempted to point out that the 1993 ’Boys started 0–2 and went on to win the Super Bowl. But that year, Emmitt Smith was holding out, and once he re-entered the fold, all was well. Emmitt Smith ain’t walking through that door.
The Packers, I get. The Dolphins have tantalized us before; they started 4–0 last year. Even the Texans aren’t all that surprising, although I never expected them to beat the Colts in Week 1. But the Bucs? The Chiefs? The Bears? The Big Ben-free Steelers? This is the strangest assortment of Week 2 unbeatens in recent memory. Tampa Bay is one win away from matching its win total from a year ago. Both the Bucs and Chiefs are enjoying their first 2–0 starts since 2005. The Bears are 2–0 for the first time since their 2006 Super Bowl season. “We’ve just got a bunch of guys that don’t care what people think about them,” said Bucs corner Ronde Barber, who had an interception against the Panthers. “We’re young, we know we’re young and that nobody has any expectations for us. (Coach) Raheem (Morris) has done a great job of preaching what this team is and what our identity is going to be.” That unexpected identity: Winners, at least for now.
Here’s the thing about writing to a broad fantasy audience. There can be so much variation by league that it’s difficult to know what people know.
For instance, if you’re reading this and see a recommendation to pick up Tampa Bay rookie receiver Mike Williams off the waiver wire, you’ll probably think: “Yeah, thanks. Now how about someone that didn’t actually get picked in the middle of my draft.”
Well, as of Monday morning, the youngest of the NFL Mike Williamses can be found on rosters in less than 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Now, we all know that the broad, free audience of Yahoo! fantasy players includes very shallow leagues, plenty of newbies and a fair number of teams that never get touched after August (if that late). Nevertheless, there are some out there who can find Williams freely available after he has grabbed touchdowns in each of his first two pro outings. If you happen to be one of those people, get to grabbing. If you aren’t, just remember to frame player values by the particulars of your league and scoring system. On to some other guys worth claiming this week …
Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay
Why not move next to the guy getting Williams the ball? Freeman hasn’t exactly faced a stifling pair of defenses in Cleveland and Carolina, but he has posted four touchdown passes versus just one interception. That beats the heck out of his 18 picks and 10 fumbles (just two lost) over the final nine games of last year and is particularly encouraging when you remember that Freeman was iffy for Week 1 after missing the exhibition slate with a thumb fracture. I liked Matt Moore before the season (he admits, ashamedly), but I’ve seen enough to swap him out for Freeman as a fantasy backup.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver
Unless you need a quarterback right now, your first target this week should be this Broncos rookie. In his first NFL regular-season game, Thomas saw four more targets than any of his teammates and finished with eight catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. Granted, Seattle tends to be a positive matchup, but there’s a reason Denver drafted this guy ahead of Dez Bryant. Agree with that decision or not (and I don’t), the pick was made because they really like Thomas. Whether he’s a top route runner or not, Thomas has terrific speed and size and brings playmaking ability that the team would be lacking without him. Thomas figures to be a bit inconsistent, but he also figures to be a central element of this passing game as long as he’s healthy – certainly more central than Brandon Lloyd, at least.
Dustin Keller, TE, N.Y. Jets
There was some talk before the season of Keller turning into Mark Sanchez’s “go-to guy” … whatever that means for an unreliable passer. Through two weeks, Keller has led the team or tied for the lead in targets twice, including Sunday’s seven-catch, 115-yard outing. If Brian Schottenheimer continues to let Sanchez actually throw passes beyond the line of scrimmage, we could see this connection continue to blossom after displaying some late flashes in 2009.
Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jacksonville
Lewis didn’t have nearly as good a day as Keller in Week 2, but his five receptions topped any one-week total he put up last season and follow a two-touchdown performance. Jaguars camp broke with predictions of a breakout season for Lewis, and he has done nothing to dispel such hopes in one of the league’s most maddeningly inconsistent offenses.
Earl Bennett, WR, Chicago
This recommendation isn’t so much because Bennett tied for the team lead with five catches at Dallas on Sunday. That’s not really a number worth getting excited about. At the same time, though, Devin Aromashodu saw nary a target against the Cowboys, and Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times said via Twitter after the game that Bennett appears to have passed Aromashodu on the depth chart. Bennett will need to do more before proving fantasy-start worthy, but it only helps him that he and Jay Cutler go all the way back to their college days at Vanderbilt. In an offense with no clear No. 1 wideout and an odd distaste for tight ends, it’s foreseeable that Bennett becomes Cutler’s safety blanket. At the least, he’s worth picking up in PPR leagues right now, just in case.
Mario Manningham, WR, N.Y. Giants
Four catches a game doesn’t sound exciting, but it’ll put you right around 60 by the end of the season. That’s what Manningham has done each of the first two weeks, despite Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks both being around and the Giants only playing from behind in one of those contests. Perhaps more encouraging, though, is that he has caught eight of 10 passes thrown his way so far. That small a sample doesn’t really tell us a whole lot, but even those small results can’t hurt a guy who displayed inconsistent hands last year. Combine this with his big-play upside (54-yard touchdown Sunday night) and the injury risk following Hakeem Nicks, and Manningham looks like a nice player to stash on fantasy benches in any format.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Patriots
At some point every season, there gets to be a premium on ownable running backs and folks start blowing FAAB budgets on guys they didn’t even consider at draft time. (Just check out how much your leaguemate paid for Brandon Jackson last week.) That makes it worthwhile to try to get ahead of the curve if you have room on the roster, and the guy with infinite names could present some value later in the season. No one should get excited about the 19 yards Green-Ellis managed on 10 carries Sunday, but there also shouldn’t have been any fantasy owners starting him against the Jets. It’s worth noting, however, that his 10 attempts doubled the totals for Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk. It’s also worth noting that Green-Ellis tallied five touchdown runs just two years ago amid 74 carries. That’s at least some goal-line back precedent.
Faulk and Taylor remain closer to usable in fantasy going forward, but consider Green-Ellis a buy-low option who can be easily dropped again if you need the roster spot.
Matt Schauf is the senior football writer for RapidDraft.com.