By Dalton Del Don
Michael Turner - It should be noted that his performance came against the Lions' soft front seven, but Turner's debut as a Falcon could not have been more impressive. The 220 yards (and two touchdowns) look even more remarkable when realizing it came on just 22 carries, good for a 10.0 YPC clip. Backup Jerious Norwood will continue to be involved, especially since he's a better receiver than Turner, and Atlanta doesn't figure to be playing with such a big lead in most games, but this team will clearly be run-first with a rookie under center. The offensive line looks much improved under new head coach Mike Smith, and Turner is a tackle-breaking machine with the ability to score from any spot on the field.
Matt Forte - Forte was extremely productive at Tulane last year and was constantly praised by coaches and teammates all preseason, but it remained to be seen how that would translate to the NFL regular season. After Sunday night's performance against the Colts, it's clear that he's the real deal. Forte showed excellent cut-back ability and surprising long-speed during his 50-yard TD run, and he's also an adroit blocker and pass catcher, so he's going to be on the field quite a bit. With Kyle Orton at QB and a thin receiving corps, the Bears' offense still figures to be well below average, but the defense looks much improved and like it did a few seasons ago, so the team should remain competitive in most games.
Plaxico Burress - Burress torched the Washington secondary during the Giants' regular season opener and looks healthier than he has in two years. He was able to score 12 touchdowns last season despite playing on a badly injured ankle and never practicing, so if he's able to get in work during the week this year and add some explosiveness now that he's healthy, his production could be second to none. Aside from being a major red-zone threat, Burress is clearly Eli Manning's go-to guy and there's major potential here.
Willie Parker - After scoring just two touchdowns all of last season, Parker hit paydirt three times in Week 1, while also rushing for 138 yards. It came against a seemingly weak Texans' defense, but the much-maligned Steelers' offensive line dominated, and Parker proved last year's broken leg wasn't an issue. He won't be active in the passing game, but Rashard Mendenhall simply hasn't impressed, so Parker could very well be the goal-line guy after all.
DeSean Jackson - Jackson proved his strong preseason was no fluke by surpassing the century mark in receiving yards Sunday as well as recording a 60-yard punt return. Rookie receivers are almost always inconsistent, but the Eagles' system is very conducive for big stats in the passing game, and Reggie Brown (hamstring) and Kevin Curtis (hernia) are both sidelined, so Jackson is in a terrific situation. There will be some ups and downs, but he's going to be a major part of Philadelphia's offense this season.
Anthony Fasano - Fasano was targeted nine times during his debut in a Dolphins' uniform, hauling in eight balls for 84 yards and a touchdown. He impressed during the preseason, so this wasn't completely out of nowhere. Additionally, Miami is thin at wide receiver, and Chad Pennington loves to go to his tight ends since his arm prevents him from going downfield. Fasano is a sneaky play moving forward.
Matt Cassel - With Tom Brady (knee) out for the season, it appears New England is moving forward with Cassel at starting quarterback, despite his poor play in the preseason. He played well in relief Sunday, completing 72.2 percent of his passes with an 8.4 YPA. That came against an average Kansas City defense, and it will get harder once teams start preparing for him, but Cassel has the right head coach and offensive system to succeed. Having Randy Moss as a No. 1 receiver certainly doesn't hurt either. Just be sure to keep in mind that Week 2 will mark his first start since he was in high school.
Chris Johnson - Johnson was so exciting during the preseason, his hype was certainly not in short supply. After Week 1, it appears to be warranted. The rookie got the surprise start in the Titans' backfield and totaled 127 yards with a score. Tennessee has a terrific offensive line and defense, and LenDale White is average at best, so Johnson has the opportunity to have a big year. He's a nightmare to tackle in the open field and will also be heavily involved in the passing game. Johnson looks like a top-20 fantasy back.
Eddie Royal - Royal's NFL debut could not have gone any better, as he caught nine balls for 146 yards against a seemingly solid Raiders' secondary. He positively abused DeAngelo Hall on a regular basis. Expectations need to be tempered since Royal is a rookie, and Brandon Marshall (suspension) is due back next week, so he won't be targeted like he was Monday during most games. Still, with an elite quarterback throwing to him, Royal could be useful as opposing defenses will be busy enough worrying about Marshall.
Tom Brady - An obvious downgrade since Brady is out for the season and all, but this is also an indictment on the rest of the Patriots offense. Randy Moss is a true difference maker at wide receiver, and coach Bill Belichick will keep them competitive, but with last year's MVP gone for the year, fewer scoring opportunities will follow. Wes Welker takes a huge hit, and Laurence Maroney owners can't be happy seeing Sammy Morris so involved Week 1, including at the goal line.
Selvin Young - The Broncos' offensive line and passing game looked fantastic Week 1, but Young tied for third on the team with just seven rushes. It's especially disconcerting because Denver was playing with a large lead for most of the contest. Young was solid getting 5.1 YPC and a touchdown, but a lot of his work came in garbage time, and Michael Pittman appears to be the team's No. 1 option at the goal line. Coach Mike Shanahan will probably divvy out the carries differently on a week-to-week basis, making any Bronco back a risky play. Andre Hall looks very good, and Ryan Torain still looms, so Young's value takes a hit.
Matt Hasselbeck - Coach Mike Holmgren's system has produced big passing stats without any star receivers before, but things are getting out of hand in Seattle. After losing Nate Burleson (knee) for the season, the Seahawks' receiving group might be the thinnest and most unproven in all of football, and with a shaky running game and a declining offensive line, the offense could be in trouble. The current No. 1 receiver is Courtney Taylor, who had numerous drops during Week 1, so similar outings (41.5 completion percentage, 4.6 YPA) could be in store for Hasselbeck.
Earnest Graham - Graham played well in Week 1, totaling 118 yards on just 13 touches. However, the amount of touches is the problem here, as Warrick Dunn saw 10 as well, and he was surprisingly productive with them. Coach Jon Gruden later stated that he made a mistake not getting Graham more work, and he plans on featuring him more moving forward. However, Dunn is clearly going to be a major part of the team's backfield, in no small part because of his superior blocking ability, giving Graham a limited ceiling.
Vince Young - Young was off to yet another poor outing Week 1, getting just 5.0 YPA while throwing two picks, before a knee injury knocked him out of the game. It's still unclear how long he'll be sidelined with the injury, but Young is also dealing with emotional issues, making his status in general very questionable. An incredibly inaccurate passer, most of Young's fantasy value comes from his legs, so a knee injury could be devastating even when he's able to return to the field. Kerry Collins replaces him in the meantime, and he makes for a sneaky start during Week 2's matchup in Cincinnati.
Drew Bennett - Bennett fractured his left foot in the Rams' season opener and will be sidelined at least four-to-six weeks. This after injuries were a big part of his season last year. Forget the four-game stretch when he went berserk in 2004 with the Titans, Bennett isn't much of a receiver and is always hurt. The injury downgrades the entire Rams offense as well, as Torry Holt figures to get constantly double-teamed, as the new No. 2 receiver figures to be either Dane Looker or rookie Keenan Burton.
Ahmad Bradshaw - Despite looking very impressive when given work last year, averaging 8.3 YPC and flashing good receiving skills, Bradshaw wasn't given a single touch in New York's backfield during the team's Week 1 win over the Redskins. Brandon Jacobs is the clear starter, but he's very injury-prone, so the backup figures to see plenty of action throughout the season. Unfortunately, Derrick Ward appears to be New York's No. 2 back, as he had 11 touches during the opener. It's not completely unfounded, as Ward was solid last year before succumbing to a season-ending injury, gaining 4.8 YPC. He's also a better receiver than Jacobs. Coach Tom Coughlin said afterward that he plans to get Bradshaw involved and that his complete lack of action wasn't intentional, but it appears he needs multiple injuries to become a true factor. Still, Bradshaw is supremely talented and has upside in deeper leagues. The Giants' ground game is very productive.
Article first appeared 9/10/08