By Dalton Del Don
Jonathan Stewart – Stewart's 35 rushing yards weren't too impressive Sunday, but the key number is carries, and he had 11 compared to DeAngelo Williams' 14. Stewart's Achilles problem, which sidelined him for the majority of the preseason, appears to be gone, and the back has declared himself 100 percent (although he sat out Wednesday's practice as a preventative measure). Williams is too good not to get the majority of touches in Carolina's backfield, but don't be surprised if the timeshare approaches a 60/40 split. Moreover, it was Stewart who was inserted during the team's first goal-line situation of 2009. He's a talented runner who could prove a bargain after many fantasy leaguers shied away because of the injury.
Reggie Wayne – Wayne was already going to benefit from the loss of Marvin Harrison, but now that Anthony Gonzalez is out indefinitely with a knee injury, Wayne should be viewed as a top-five fantasy receiver. While the lack of a viable No. 2 WR in Indy should lead to more double teams on Wayne, the added targets (he saw a whopping 14 Sunday) will more than offset that. Wayne's suppressed numbers last season could partially be blamed on Peyton Manning's recovery from knee surgery, and the QB enters 2009 completely healthy. With the NFC West slated on the Colts' schedule, Wayne could very well post the best season of his career.
Matt Hasselbeck – The two picks weren't great, but after getting 7.8 YPA with three touchdown passes, Hasselbeck impressed Week 1, even if it came against an overmatched Rams defense. He looks to be sufficiently recovered from last season's back injury, and with John Carlson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Nate Burleson, Seattle has plenty of weapons in the passing attack. Hasselbeck is just one season removed from a 28-TD campaign, and playing in the defenseless NFC West certainly helps. Don't be shocked if he finishes 2009 as a top-10 fantasy quarterback.
Earl Bennett – Bennett hauled in seven catches (and the first of his career) for 66 yards against the Packers on Sunday, and while his 9.4 yards-per-catch mark is unimpressive, he appeared to be Jay Cutler's favorite target, as Bennett received 13 looks. Cutler and Bennett played together at Vanderbilt, and with few proven options at receiver in Chicago, Bennett could easily emerge as the WR1 throughout the season, especially since Devin Hester is more of a downfield threat opposed to over the middle. With Cutler now the Bears' QB, there's plenty of upside here. Bennett is already a viable WR3 in fantasy leagues, with the potential for more in the future.
Joe Flacco – Flacco threw for 307 yards with three scores Sunday, and although that came against a weak Kansas City secondary, don't be surprised if he takes a big leap forward during his second year in the league. While Matt Ryan got most of the attention as a rookie last year (and rightfully so), Flacco was highly impressive as well. He is elusive outside the pocket and possesses one of the strongest arms in the NFL. Baltimore remains a defensive-minded, run-oriented team, and Flacco won't have the benefit of having nearly 40 minutes time of possession like he did Week 1, but the Ravens will expand the playbook and let Flacco loose more in 2009. Todd Heap, who finally looks back to health, is another Raven who deserves an upgrade.
Darren Sproles – If it wasn't already clear, Sproles made it abundantly so Monday night – he's currently San Diego's best option at running back. With LaDainian Tomlinson iffy for Week 2 with an ankle injury, Sproles' touches are due for a big increase. He's not going to be a true workhorse, but since he's such a dangerous threat as a receiver, Sproles could easily put up top-10 numbers if Tomlinson is out, although Week 2's matchup is tough. Even when Tomlinson returns to action, Sproles is looking at a bunch of touches, and on a San Diego team that should be potent on offense while plying in the AFC West, there's huge upside here.
Adrian Peterson – Peterson's 64-yard touchdown run Sunday merits an upgrade alone, as it was one of the best you'll ever see. Some more catches would be nice, but touchdowns can be fluky from year-to-year, so last season's modest total (10) could be shattered in 2009. Over his last four games, Peterson has averaged 5.5 YPC, and he's a threat for 2,000 rushing yards. With all other running backs possessing question marks, he's simply head and shoulders above any other fantasy player right now. Whatever he cost at your auction, it was a bargain.
Anthony Gonzalez – Untouched, Gonzalez suffered a knee injury Sunday that will sideline him indefinitely. It's supposedly not season-ending, but with the initial timetable of 2-to-6 weeks, expect the latter, as it sounds fairly serious. Gonzalez shouldn't be dropped in fantasy leagues, but he's entering injury-prone territory, and it's quite a disappointing start to the 2009 season.
Lance Moore – The Saints scored 45 points Sunday, with Drew Brees passing for 358 yards with six scores. Unfortunately for Moore owners, the offensive explosion resulted in just two receptions for 38 yards for the receiver. With a healthy Jeremy Shockey, an emerging Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson still around, there are simply too many options in New Orleans' passing attack for Moore to be reliable on a weekly basis. The offensive philosophy is to throw to whoever is open, and that spread the wealth scheme may also result in disappointed Marques Colston owners as well. Moore's three targets Sunday ranked sixth on his team, behind even fullback Heath Evans.
Jake Delhomme – After hearing the critics all offseason after Delhomme's terrible playoff performance last year, he couldn't have got off to a worse start in 2009, throwing four more picks to score a 14.7 QB rating. He's now committed a ridiculous 11 turnovers over his past seven quarters of play, all of which have come while at home. It's still just a two game sample size, but this is beyond worrisome, even if Sunday's game was against a tough Philadelphia defense. Delhomme needs a big bounce back performance against the Falcons this week.
Chris Henry – Henry was terrific during the preseason, but that resulted in him going from fantasy sleeper to someone who was getting drafted too high. He'll be a major factor in the red zone all season long, but right now, he might be considered the Bengals' WR4, as even Andre Caldwell saw more action in Week 1. Henry received just three targets Sunday, making him a questionable fantasy play moving forward. He'll need an injury to strike either Chad Johnson or Laveranues Coles to become truly relevant.
Larry Johnson – Johnson's poor Week 1 performance can easily be excused since it came against a stout Ravens' defense, but after a home game against the Raiders in Week 2, the Chiefs' upcoming matchups include: the Eagles, Giants, Cowboys, Redskins and Chargers with a tilt against the Steelers down the road as well. Rough sledding ahead for LJ owners.
Donovan McNabb – McNabb suffered a fractured rib during a touchdown run in Week 1, and since the TD made the score 38-10, he was likely going to be removed from the game soon afterward, making the injury all the more frustrating. His status is unknown, but it's safe to assume he won't be able to suit up for Week 2. With Kevin Kolb sporting a 3.7 YPA mark throughout his career, it's also safe to downgrade DeSean Jackson as well. Kolb has only attempted 45 passes during his brief career in the NFL, so the jury remains out, but the early returns have been highly discouraging.
Antonio Bryant – Although Bryant only recorded two catches for 29 yards during the season opener Sunday, he looked good when on the field, getting open downfield only to see another errant Byron Leftwich throw. The bigger concern is that Bryant was forced to leave the game early, as his knee continues to be a problem. If surgery during the preseason didn't fix the issue, then it's safe to worry it's going to last throughout the season, making him quite risky.
LaDainian Tomlinson – Tomlinson is questionable for Week 2 with an ankle injury, and injuries are only going to become a greater concern for someone with 2,670 career carries. Tomlinson looked a step (or two) slow even before the injury Monday, and with Darren Sproles becoming such a big part of San Diego's offense, Tomlinson's future is cloudy. Of course, none of this should come as unexpected.
Article first appeared 9/16/09