It's easy to say "it's only been one game, don't over-react." In some cases, that's good advice. Last year, for instance, Chad Henne had a huge Week 1 never to be heard from again. If you followed that advice for all players, though, you'd have missed out on Cam Newton, perhaps the best waiver-wire claim in fantasy football history, after his Week 1 breakout. So how do we know what results from Week 1 were a fluke and which were a sign of things to come? Here's my take on all things NFL after Week 1.
The Giants, Saints, and Packers - perhaps the three best teams in the NFC last season - all lost. I'm not concerned about the Packers, but when it comes to the Saints, I'm selling. Not for fantasy purposes, of course, as Drew Brees and the offense will put up stats. In real life, though, this season has 6-10 or 7-9 written all over it for Sean Payton's crew. The Saints' defense gave up 40 points to the Redskins at home, so how do you think they'll fare against Matt Ryan (twice), Cam Newton (twice), Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Peyton Manning, and a re-tooled Bucs team (twice)? I try not to over-emphasize defensive stats early in the year, as they're so dependent on who those teams have played, but I suspect the Saints defense is one I'll be picking on for matchup purposes all season long.
As for the Giants, I said in the Breakfast Table comments that I thought they'd miss the playoffs, and I stand by that. The offense works much better in 3-WR formations, allowing Victor Cruz to play in the slot (where he's borderline unguardable), yet the Giants seem unwilling to commit to that formation due to their their stubborn insistence on trying to run the ball and apparent lack of faith that someone can fill the void created by the departed Mario Manningham. Giants fans can't expect Eli Manning to pull out every game in the fourth quarter (playing in 3-WR sets, mind you), like they did in 2011.
The importance of coaching will get plenty of discussion in New Orleans, but how about Tampa? Against the Panthers, the Bucs fielded basically the same defense that got shredded every week in the latter part of 2011 under Raheem Morris, yet held Carolina in check under new coach Greg Schiano. Right now, I'd consider an even money wager that the Bucs finish with more wins than the Saints in 2012.
Here are some players who did more than have a good game; they moved the needle upward, and their fantasy values are increasing: Jonathan Dwyer (looked better than Isaac Redman), Peyton Manning (seems to have no greater injury risk than any other QB - I see him on par with Eli Manning and Tony Romo going forward), Stevan Ridley (Bill Belichick prefers timeshares, and Shane Vereen was out, but it's clearly Ridley's job right now), Adrian Peterson (what knee injury?), Lance Moore, Joe Flacco, and Greg Olsen.
Among the players whose values remain unchanged in my eyes after Week 1 for fantasy purposes: Cam Newton (received two QB draws inside the ten, so the rushing TDs will come), all Packers, Michael Vick (that Browns defense is sneaky good), Matthew Stafford (one bad game doesn't move the needle), Larry Fitzgerald (we knew there would be QB issues), and Roddy White (he'll get his).
Finally, here are some players whose values decreased after Week 1: Isaac Redman (Jonathan Dwyer looked like the better back against the Broncos, and after seeing what Adrian Peterson did, I'm bullish on Rashard Mendenhall), David Wilson (Tom Coughlin doesn't tolerate fumbles), Evan Royster (it sure looks like Alfred Morris' job, at least for now), Toby Gerhart, and Rashad Jennings.
Did you see Adrian Foster smack-talking to a Dolphins defender by telling him to turn around and show him the name on the back of his jersey because Foster didn't know his name? That was hilarious stuff; I could watch clips like that all day.
The Jets defense is the NFL's best against the pass. Stevie Johnson lucked into a touchdown only because the game turned into a blowout, but I'd strongly consider benching all receivers of his caliber or below when they face the Jets. I do think tight ends can fare well against New York (Steve Chandler posted a touchdown in Week 1), if only because quarterbacks have nobody else to whom they can throw.
Do you remember the character Ram Man from the He-Man cartoon? He was the guy who had springs in his legs and battled Skeletor's crew by using those springs to launch himself at his enemies, head-first. Anyway, that's who DeMarco Murray reminds me of - Ram Man. Instead of avoiding contact so as to keep running, Murray takes every opportunity to launch himself into opposing defenders, often head-first. Murray had a great run against the Giants on Wednesday night, the one where he bounced outside and sprinted down the right sideline. I'm convinced he would have scored if he kept running straight, but he cut to the inside and ran right into the Giants' defenders. I'm not ready to lump Murray with Ryan Mathews or Darren McFadden on the injury-prone barometer quite yet, but he's clearly a higher injury risk than most other running backs.
Of Brandon Marshall's 15 targets on Sunday, three were from inside the five - one was a TD and the other two drew pass interference calls. Marshall is behind only Calvin Johnson on my receiver list right now, and I wish I had him there sooner.
Speaking of hot receivers, is there still room on the Julio Jones bandwagon? If his Week 1 stats were at home, I'd be more inclined to just call it a good game, but doing that outdoors, on the road - and not on the home-field turf of the Georgia Dome - forces me to re-assess Jones, who I'd now put behind only Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall in my receiver rankings.
Once the Eagles pulled ahead 17-16 with 1:18 left, was there anyone who thought the Browns would be able to engineer a game-winning FG drive? I bet Brandon Weeden's own mother knew the game was over. As for the Eagles, yes, the offense looked bad, but I can't escape the feeling that's a game the Eagles would have lost last season.
It's appropriate the Jaguars and Vikings went to overtime, as their quarterbacks are mirror images of one another. Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder are both second-year starters who struggled mightily in their first year but who showed marked improvement in Week 1 of year two. Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries will be the tight ends on both teams, as Kyle Rudolph may be starter-worthy in deeper formats and Marcedes Lewis looks eager to return to his 2010 form (700 yards, 10 TDs) after a disastrous, Gabbert-induced 2011 (zero TDs). I'm not ready to start buying here, but it's at least worth noting that the passing offenses in Jacksonville and Minnesota may not be totally impotent.
Jumbo is great if we're taking about shrimp. I love jumbo shrimp. Jumbo in the NFL in short-yardage situations? Not so much. Look at it this way ... suppose you were pulled out of the stands and told you'd be given the carry on 4th and inches. If you could choose, would you rather your offense be in jumbo, ensuring numerous 300 pound defenders would be stacking the box against you, shoulder to shoulder, all with the intent of pancaking you? Or would you want 3-4 receivers on the field, spreading out the defense and increasing the odds you'd find a small crack to run through? I know which I'd choose, and I can't understand why more offensive coordinators don't agree.
Everyone has lauded the job done by the replacement officials, but I thought pass interference penalties (or, in many cases, the lack thereof) were terribly inconsistent. Since pass interference calls are probably the most important in the sport, the inconsistency here is not something I'm willing to accept. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry, it's absolutely pathetic that they won't pay the best officials in the world more than a few grand a game to ensure the best officiating possible.
The obvious waiver claims for this week are C.J. Spiller (in the 31% of Yahoo! leagues where he's available), Alfred Morris, Kevin Ogletree, and Stephen Hill. I'll try to dig deeper than that, though, if you miss out on the top four this week.
Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens (owned in 69% of Yahoo! leagues): Joe Flacco looked great on Monday night, and with the best supporting cast he's ever had on offense, highlighted by a Pro Bowl-bound Torrey Smith, expect Flacco to have a career year. I can see Flacco sneaking into the top 10 among fantasy QBs, particularly if the Ravens are as aggressive with their play-calling as they were on Monday night.
Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins: I had a good discussion/debate on Twitter (@MarkStopa) on Sunday night with my friends, Mike Salfino and Scott Pianowski, about Morris. It prompted me to offer Shonn Greene to SP in exchange for Morris. He declined, asking for Reggie Bush instead (in a .5 PPR format). I declined. That should give you a good idea of Morris' value, as I see it - greater than Greene, but less than Bush.
C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills (owned in 69% of Yahoo! leagues): Fred Jackson's sprained LCL has opened the door for Spiller to be the unquestioned starter at RB for at least the next 3 weeks. Even if/when Jackson returns to full strength, it's hard for me to see Jackson getting this job back - ever. Now 31 and injury-prone (having broken his leg last year), Jackson seems best-suited for the third-down and goal-line role that I envisioned for him before the season began. Spiller, a former top-10 overall draft choice, is in his prime and may be the NFL's most explosive running back. Spiller won't get goal line carries, but I see him as roughly on par with Chris Johnson right now, making Spiller a clear RB1 in all formats, particularly so long as Jackson is inactive. Spiller must be your top waiver claim if he's available, and if you're using FAAB, I'd easily spend at least 90% of it. Aggressive, yes, but this may be your best chance in 2012 to get a weekly fantasy starter off of waivers. As for the goal line touchdowns while Jackson is out, Tashard Choice should vulture a few of them, but I don't see Choice having any value in his own right unless Spiller gets hurt or you're in a TD-only league.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers: Mendenhall didn't play in Week 1, but I see his value increasing for two reasons. First, Adrian Peterson tore his ACL just about the same time as Mendenhall last year, and Peterson looked great in Week 1, so I can't help but think Mendenhall can do the same. Second, the presumptive starter in Mendenhall's absence, Isaac Redman, did not look good at all on Sunday night. Combine those two factors and it's not hard to see Mendenhall getting starter's touches in October.
Knowshown Moreno, RB, Broncos: Quietly, last week, Moreno was named the backup running back over Ronnie Hillman, who was de-activated for Week 1. In a Broncos offense on the rise, with only an aging Willis McGahee on the depth chart, I'll be surprised if Moreno isn't a fixture in fantasy lineups at some point this season. I'd cut Isaiah Pead (who is backing up Stephen Jackson in St. Louis) for Moreno without hesitation, as Moreno has more upside.
Kevin Ogletree, WR, Cowboys: In about a 30-minute stretch on Wednesday night, everyone who plays fantasy football remembered that Laurent Robinson scored 11 TDs last year as the Cowboys' third receiver. While it's easy to say Ogletree won't do the same, and it's super-easy to say "wait for Ogletree to be more consistent before you claim him," this is your chance. There's a fork in the road, and you can't stop - either you scrounge up the FAAB money to claim Ogletree or you miss out, as you won't get another opportunity. So do you take the plunge? I'd say so. Jason Witten is aging and injured, Miles Austin never stays healthy, and Dez Bryant is a headcase, but somebody is going to score TDs from a top-10 QB like Tony Romo. I pushed Brad Evans of Yahoo! to give a rest-of-season prediction on Ogletree at the end of Wednesday night's game, and when he said 4 TDs, I immediately thought "over." Players I'd cut for Ogletree: everyone in my "Dead to Me" list, below, and Earl Bennett (who I profiled last week).
Stephen Hill, WR, Jets (owned in 13% of Yahoo! leagues): With two TDs as a rookie, first-round draft choice, it's hard not to take note of Hill. The talent here is immense, as Hill is taller and faster than just about every NFL receiver. Hill is very raw, and some of his Week 1 breakout is attributed to the matchup against Stephon Gilmore, who was making his first NFL start for the Bills at corner. That said, I'm buying here, particularly if I can use Hill as a matchup starter (against bad defenses, not against the Steelers this week). For some perspective, I'd rather own Hill than teammate Santonio Holmes, as though Holmes should be more consistent, Hill clearly has more upside.
Danny Amendola, WR, Rams (owned in 43% of Yahoo! leagues): Brandon Gibson made the highlights with a go-ahead touchdown, but check out the targets for the Rams - Amendola had nine and nobody else had more than five. In medium or deeper formats, I'd be perfectly fine starting Amendola each week, particularly in PPR formats. Amendola's ownership rate should be higher than its current 43%, and his stats will be even better in games where the Rams are behind and have to throw more.
Dexter McCluster, WR, Chiefs (owned in 14% of Yahoo! leagues): McCluster may be best known in fantasy circles for flaming out as a running back after Jamaal Charles went down in 2011, but those days are over. McCluster is now a full-time slot receiver in Kansas City, and he amassed an eye-opening 10 targets in that role against the Falcons. The game situation (playing from behind in a blowout) obviously helped McCluster, but anyone who gets four more targets than anyone else on his team merits a mention, particularly when he's unowned in most formats.
Donnie Avery, WR, Colts (owned in 0% of Yahoo! leagues): With Austin Collie inactive, Avery not only got the start in Week 1, he racked up 37 yards and a TD on 8 targets. On a bad team that should throw a lot, Avery may be a WR3 for fantasy purposes for whenever Collie is sidelined. There's not a ton of upside here, but for those of you in deep leagues, Avery is available for nothing and I'd rather own him than Mario Manningham.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings (owned in 35% of Yahoo! leagues): Rudolph seems to be Christian Ponder's second read on offense, behind only Percy Harvin. At 6'6" on a team that will have to throw a lot, there's some upside here.
Bengals D/ST: The Bengals should bounce back at home this week, particularly since they'll get to pick on the lowly Browns. If you're streaming defenses, this is as good as it gets.
Dead to Me:
Browns passing offense: If you want to hold Greg Little in a PPR league, I won't crucify you. Otherwise, it's hard for me to see an argument for anything in the Browns passing offense in standard leagues. Here's perhaps the most illustrative stat: In a 32-team league where every QB must start, Weeden would have scored negative five points even though he played the whole game, meaning, yes, you'd have been better off with an empty QB spot.
Evan Royster, RB, Redskins: Yes, Mike Shanahan could change his mind at any point. But with Morris having a solid hold on the job right now and Roy Helu also in the fold, Royster belongs on waivers in standard formats - at least for now.
Mario Manningham, WR, 49ers (owned in 34% of Yahoo! leagues): Manningham is the third option (fourth, if you count tight end Vernon Davis) on a run-oriented 49ers team that plays close to the vest. Manningham might be relevant in the bye weeks if injuries strike Michael Crabtree or Randy Moss, but at this stage of the season, when I want upside on my bench, Manningham is dead to me for fantasy purposes.
Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals (owned in 23% of Yahoo! leagues): Floyd saw just one target in the opener and the Cardinals offense isn't very good. Floyd's ownership rate of 23% is about 23% too high.