After Week 1, it would be easy for me to say "don't over-react - it's only been one week." But things change quickly in the NFL, so it's important to distinguish between the many Week 1 stats that are a fluke or the product of facing a bad defense and those that are the start of an emerging trend. It's also time to start thinking about which NFL teams will have bad defenses, allowing us to use waivers for one-week matchup plays.
Among the players whose values haven't changed after Week 1 ... all Falcons; Chris Johnson; all Steelers (too much of a track record to not be given a one-week mulligan, no matter how ugly the performance); Ryan Fitzpatrick; Michael Jenkins; Cedric Benson (nobody should be surprised to see a starting NFL RB do well against a bad team); all Redskins (the Redskins are who they are; their good game was a product of playing a watered-down Giants defense); Jeremy Maclin; Shonn Greene (Jets won't be playing from behind in most games); Vincent Jackson (Philip Rivers seemed off all game, just missing Jackson for a long TD at one point; Jackson will be fine); Ahmad Bradshaw (the Giants' struggles will help Bradshaw and hurt Brandon Jacobs, as the former is used in the passing game while the latter is not).
Another important aspect to waiver claims is figuring out which defenses will be bad, enabling us to make one-week matchup plays. Some early contenders: Cardinals (making a rookie QB look that good is a travesty); Colts (small and fast, built to play with the lead - will struggle against the run all year); Giants (injuries mounting; made Rex Grossman look decent); Chiefs (allowing 41 points to the Bills is not a good sign, and stud DB Eric Berry is out for the year); Panthers; Browns (let the Bengals look good). It's early, obviously, but when we're talking about the NFL's worst defenses in 6-8 weeks, these teams seem like the leading contenders.
Here are the players I found worthy of discussion for waiver purposes. As always, comments welcome.
Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: He's probably not available on waivers except in shallow leagues, but it's hard not to like Flacco a bit more than we did a week ago. It's not just that he had a good game - he did it against a good Steelers defense. Plus, it seems the Ravens' skill players are a bit better than in years past. Expect a career-best season from Flacco.
Cam Newton, QB, Panthers: About mid-way through the game, I planned on listing Newton among those players whose values hadn't changed. After all, the Cardinals defense is really bad (perhaps the worst in the NFL), so I wasn't surprised Newton got a few deep balls to Steve Smith. Then, though, Newton got a rushing TD, which shows his upside is higher than most rookie QBs and perhaps half of all NFL QBs. Don't overreact here - Newton will have some awful games against good defenses, and I'd never start him in a bad matchup. However, his athleticism and rushing ability makes him a solid matchup play against bad defenses.
Peyton Manning, QB, Colts: I think the best-case scenario for Manning in 2011 is that he's able to return after the Colts' Week 11 bye. At that point in the year, though, will it matter? If the Colts are 3-7 or worse, which seems possible, the Colts may decide to have Manning wait until 2012. Putting Manning on your bench right now hence means you're hoping (1) Manning is physically able to return by Week 12; and (2) the Colts record is decent enough that it's worth it for Manning to return in Week 12. I think the chances of both things happening are 25% or lower, which means Manning is worth a bench spot only if the QBs available on waivers are really bad - players like, say, the bottom 10 starting QBs in the NFL. In other words, Manning belongs on waivers except in deep leagues.
Mike Tolbert, RB, Chargers: Tolbert is undoubtedly owned in most leagues, but I wanted to take a moment to say that Tolbert may well lead the NFL in touchdowns in 2011 (so long as the knee injury he suffered at the end of Sunday's game was minor, as it appears). Week 1 was no fluke; if Tolbert is available, grab him and start him with confidence. In deeper leagues, I'd feel good starting Tolbert and Mathews, as I'm doing in one league.
Derrick Ward and Ben Tate, RB, Texans: Week 1 was another illustration of how backup RBs on good offenses are nice fantasy options when the starter is hurt. If forced to choose between Ward and Tate, I slightly prefer Tate for the long-term, as he's younger and his upside is higher. In the short term, i.e. Week 2 if Arian Foster sits, I'd prefer Ward if he's healthy, if only because he's next on the depth chart. However, Ward's sprained ankle, while apparently minor, pushes him behind Tate even in the short term. Of course, this entire discussion regarding Week 2 is moot if Arian Foster can play (though both remain solid handcuffs).
Carnell Williams, RB, Rams: Oft-injured Stephen Jackson pulled his quad on a long TD-run, paving the way for Williams to prove what he could do in a starter's role - 19 carries for 91 yards and 6 catches (on 10 targets) for 49 yards. The 10 targets is partly a product of the Rams playing from behind, but they have a dink-and-dunk offense and no established receivers, so more checkdowns are sure to come. Check Jackson's health updates during the week - if Jackson is out, Williams would make a fine start against a struggling Giants defense in Week 2.
Danny Woodhead, RB, Patriots: Know what jumped out at me from the Patriots' box score, other than Tom Brady's video-game stats? Woodhead 14 carries, Benjarvus Green-Ellis 7. That disparity, the goal-line touches Woodhead received, and the Patriots prolific offense tells me Woodhead shouldn't be on waivers except in really shallow leagues. I'd rather own Woodhead, for example, than Joseph Addai. If the Patriots score 3-4 TDs every game and the Colts manage just one, who do you think is more likely to score a TD in any given week?
Robert Meachem, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, and Adrian Arrington, WR, Saints: Marquez Colston's broken collarbone is big news, as it opens the door for other Saints receivers to take advantage of Drew Brees' excellence. I've listed Henderson behind Meachem and Moore for a reason - he's clearly behind them for fantasy purposes. Despite his Week 1 stats (100 yards, TD), Henderson is what he is at this stage of his career - a middling, inconsistent receiver. I can't see starting him in standard leagues even with Colston out (though if Moore remains sidelined, too, then Henderson's value is obviously greater). Meachem, on the other hand, has the upside and pedigree (former first-round draft pick, fourth year in the NFL) to be an every-week fantasy starter while Colston is out. Same is true for Moore, presuming he's over his groin injury. As for Arrington, he's fourth on the list because he's the lowest on the Saints depth chart, but his upside is higher than Henderson's and arguably the highest of all these receivers. That said, Arrington is young and unproven. As for all these Saints WRs, just make sure you realize that Brees won't throw as often as he did last week, as the Saints won't often be in the position of being behind by double-digit points all game.
Brandon Gibson, WR, Rams: Danny Amendola's dislocated elbow opens the door for more targets for Gibson, who has a nice Week 2 matchup against a depleted Giants secondary. Gibson will look a lot better if Sam Bradford is healthy.
Early Doucet and Andre Roberts, WR, Cardinals: Cam Newton's Week 1 performance solidified my view that the Cardinals will wind up with one of the NFL's worst defenses. Expect more games like the shootout we saw against Carolina in Week 1, which bodes well for Doucet (over 100 yards and a TD) and Roberts going forward.
Donald Jones, WR, Bills: I don't want to overreact to the Bills 41-point outburst, as the Bills' ceiling and offensive upside is probably no better than 8-8. That said, Lee Evans' departure has opened the door for others to get some targets, and with Stevie Johnson taking the double teams, Jones has a chance to surpass pre-season expectations. If your league is deep enough that upside of 600-700 yards and 6 TDs is fantasy-worthy, then take a look at Jones.
Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots: Forget choosing between the two; I'd start both Hernandez and Gronkowski - on the same fantasy team.
Scott Chandler, TE, Bills: When Chandler scored his first touchdown, I thought it was a simple explanation - "scrub tight end gets a random TD." But as the game progressed, Chandler showed some talent, using his size to make a couple of nice catches. Then he scored again, forcing me to do this write-up. Do I think Chandler is suddenly a top-10 TE? No. He's not terribly athletic and lacks the yardage upside of the top TEs. But with his size, and the Bills' lack of other reliable red zone targets, Chandler could easily finish 2011 with 8 TDs, making him a borderline starter at TE or bye-week fill-in. For example, it sounds crazy, but I probably prefer Chandler over Dallas Clark going forward. Criticize if you wish, but the Bills are better than the Colts right now.
Shaun Suisham, K, Steelers: I fully expect the Steelers to bounce back in a huge way at home against the Seahawks in Week 2. That means Suisham is a solid bet for double-digit fantasy points (just as David Akers was against Seattle in Week 1).
Chargers new kicker. Nate Kaeding is out for the year, so whoever San Diego signs to replace him will immediately become a fantasy-worthy option for 2011.
Dead to Me.
All Colts except Reggie Wayne. Reggie Wayne is good enough to post stats, if only because the Colts will be throwing a lot. But, except in deeper leagues, where Joseph Addai, Pierre Garcon, Dallas Clark, and Kerry Collins have some value, I'd just as soon roster someone else. In standard leagues, these guys just don't have nearly the upside they did with Manning healthy. The small chance that Peyton Manning returns in Week 12 (see discussion, above) isn't enough to justify rostering them, either. Except in deep leagues, and except for Reggie Wayne, the Colts are dead to me.
Vikings passing offense. I buried Donovan McNabb a few weeks ago, and after a 39-yard passing performance (for the entire game!), it's hard to see anything worthwhile emerging from the Minnesota passing offense any time soon. Yes, Percy Harvin will have some decent games in PPR formats, but absent that, do you really want your fortunes to rest with a team that just threw for 39 yards?