Cam Newton, Panthers
As debuts go, you couldn’t have asked for more. In the “stating the obvious” category, we give you Cam Newton. Facing a group of Cardinals cornerbacks that can charitably be called up-and-coming, Newton went gangbusters, throwing for 422 yards (the most ever by a quarterback in their first start) and a pair of touchdowns while chipping in 18 yards and another score on the ground. His 36.9 fantasy points were third most among quarterbacks in Week 1, so the question is: Is he the next coming of Michael Vick or a one week flash in the pan? We’d settle for something in the middle, and that figures to be a whole lot more than was predicted during the preseason.
Matthew Stafford, Lions
I’m not putting him here because I was surprised by his 305-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Buccaneers. That wasn’t surprising. I’m putting him here because I don’t want a torrent of comments about why he’s not Moving Up. Frankly, I had him as a low-end starter, but maybe he’s more of a mid-tier starter. Health is always a concern, however.
Chad Henne, Dolphins
New Dolphins offensive coordinator Brian Daboll promised to open up the offense, and that’s what he did on Monday night. Henne completed 30 of 49 passes for a career-high 416 yards. He also chipped in two passing touchdowns and a score on the ground. By the end of the game, he had chalked up an impressive 40.6 fantasy points, the second most of any quarterback in Week 1.
Mark Sanchez, Jets
Sure, the Cowboys secondary was chewed up, forcing them to play their fourth and fifth best cornerbacks for large chunks of the game. Sure, Sanchez had a stretch where he looked a tad short of awful. But he looked different in Week 1. And, no, I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was. The Cowboys came after him hard, but Sanchez stood in there, completing 26 of 44 passes for 333 yards and a pair of touchdowns with one pick. Maybe, just maybe, he is ready to take a step forward and provide the Jets with a more consistent passing attack. He’s not a fantasy starter yet, but I’m moving him up to mid-tier backup based on his Week 1 performance.
Donovan McNabb, Vikings
The optimists said McNabb’s one-and-done showing in Washington had more to do with Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan than McNabb’s own performance. The pessimists said Shanahan knows quarterbacks and if he was giving up on McNabb one year after having used a second-round pick to acquire him, then he must be done. His Week 1 performance showed that the probability of McNabb having a renaissance season in 2011 for the Vikings is very low. He threw for a career-low 39 yards (with just two total yards in the second half) during Minnesota’s 24-17 loss to the Chargers. Not that second-half adjustments were needed, but I guess they really worked. To the scrap heap with McNabb, my friends.
James Starks, Green Bay
Let’s see…Starks is bigger than Ryan Grant, he’s stronger and he’s faster. Sure, he has some hiccups in pass protection, but only one of the two sacks that he was on the field for was his fault. By the end of the Packers’ Week 1 game against the Saints, Starks had chalked up 12 carries (to only nine for Grant), gaining 57 yards and impressively battling his way to the end zone on a touchdown run. Plus, Starks was on the field far more than Grant and, simply put, he is the more talented runner. I will eat crow if he isn’t starting by midseason.
Ben Tate, Texans
With Arian Foster out of the lineup with a hamstring injury, the Texans were forced to use backups during their key divisional matchup in Week 1 against the Colts. Although Houston announced that veteran Derrick Ward would replace Foster in the starting lineup, it wasn’t hard to predict that Tate would get the majority of the work considering his strong preseason play. Sure enough, he ran it often and ran it well, piling up 121 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. He is worthy of a start as long as Foster remains out, and he could be a solid flex option even when Foster returns.
Cadillac Williams, Rams
Steven Jackson suffered a strained quadriceps on his first play of the year, a 47-yard touchdown run against the Eagles, and was finished for the day after testing the injury on one more play. It is unknown if Jackson will miss any time, and although he has a history of playing through injuries, the Rams may be more willing to have him sit out a game or two now that they have a proven backup. Williams played well against the Eagles, carrying the ball 19 times for 91 yards and catching five passes for 49 yards. He is starter worthy if SJax is out of the lineup.
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
One play can make a day and one thundering touchdown run in the playoffs can make a player an RB2. Before the next regular season starts, at least. Lynch was getting far more love than he deserved in fantasy drafts this year, with some predicting a breakout season for the former Bills first-round pick. However, there was no basis for ranking Lynch higher than an RB3, and even that was giving him more credit than he deserves. Tarvaris Jackson is starting at quarterback, there are issues along the offensive line, the top wide receiver is injury-prone and, most importantly, Lynch isn’t that good and he wasn’t very good in 2010. Against the 49ers in Week 1, he ran it 13 times for 33 yards, averaging 2.5 yards per carry, which is slightly worse than his 3.6 yards per carry in 2010 and his 3.8 average in 2009. Yards per carry—use it. It means something. In this case: Plodder.
Ryan Grant, Packers
At the conclusion of the preseason, the Packers announced that Grant would open as the starter but that they planned to rotate him with James Stark. Turns out rotate meant Grant would play one-third of the time with Starks playing the rest. That’s not good news for Grant owners. He’s a borderline starter in deeper leagues but should be on the bench in standard 10- and 12-team leagues.
Steve Smith, Panthers
A combination of his age and the Panthers’ entering the season with rookie Cam Newton at quarterback had Smith’s preseason rankings at an all-time low. Looks like most of us were wrong on both counts. Newton played well and Smith was the Panthers’ biggest beneficiary, catching eight passes for 176 yards and a pair of touchdowns, good enough for 29.8 fantasy points. Not bad for a guy who hit double fantasy points just twice in 2010. Smith deserves to be considered a WR2 for the balance of 2011.
Devery Henderson, Saints
Henderson is coming off a solid Week 1 performance with six receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown, and Marques Colston is expected to miss four to six weeks with a broken collarbone. Production plus opportunity equals success. Alright, that hasn’t always been the case with Henderson; but with Lance Moore missing Week 1 with a groin injury and remaining a question mark for Week 2, the Saints may have no choice but to start Henderson and Robert Meachem. If that happens, Henderson is worthy of a spot in your starting lineup.
Randall Cobb, Packers
Two catches for 35 yards and a touchdown shouldn’t get you a spot in Moving Up, but all you had to do was watch the game to know that this guy is special. Just reading the box scores isn’t going to carry you to too many fantasy football championships. Cobb remains a backup wide receiver in all formats but he is dynasty-league gold. Mark it down.
Jacoby Jones, Texans
If it seems like Jones is a perennial tease, that’s because he is. In Week 1, however, he showcased his playmaking ability, taking a punt return 79 yards for a touchdown. He also chipped in three receptions for 43 yards in the Texans’ blowout win over the Colts. Here’s the case for Jones: Kevin Walter could be out for the year, Jones caught all of his targets, and he would have had more looks had the Texans not run away with it early.
Doug Baldwin, Seahawks
I saw a smallish-looking player on the field for the Seahawks on Sunday and my first thought was, he must have played for head coach Pete Carroll at USC. But he was actually a rookie from Stanford who played for 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. Go figure. He led the Seahawks in targets with six, catching four passes for 83 yards, including a 55-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown that pulled the Seahawks close to the 49ers. Baldwin is a slot receiver all the way, so Sidney Rice’s absence likely doesn’t impact him. He’s probably fighting with Golden Tate for playing time (and Tate wasn’t that great, catching one of five targets for eight yards, although it was for a touchdown). For deep, deep leagues only (really deep—got it).
Chad Ochocinco, Patriots
It’s hard to score many fantasy points when you are never on the field. On a day when quarterback Tom Brady threw for a ridiculous 517 yards, Ochocinco caught a single pass for 14 yards. While game plans change from week to week, the Patriots would be foolhardy to reduce the number of two-tight-end sets they use; that would take either Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez off the field. A further hurdle for Ochocinco is that Wes Welker and Deion Branch are entrenched as the team’s top two wide receivers. Did I mention that Matt Slater is getting the work as the team’s deep threat? That leaves #85 with the scraps.
Danny Amendola, Rams
After catching 85 passes a year ago, Amendola shaped up as a great option in PPR leagues in 2011 with new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels expected to bring a more high-powered offense to St. Louis. Unfortunately, Amendola suffered a dislocated elbow during the Rams’ Week 1 loss to the Eagles and he will be out for at least the next few weeks.
James Jones, Packers
It’s not so much his Week 1 production (one target, one reception, one yard), it’s the performance of the Packers’ other wide receivers that should be cause for concern for James Jones owners. With a nagging knee injury, his poor performance is easily explained away. Unfortunately for Jones, Donald Driver looks rejuvenated (four receptions for 41yards), Jordy Nelson looks established as the team’s top backup (six for 77 and a score), and Randall Cobbs looks like a future superstar (two for 35 and a touchdown to go along with a kickoff return touchdown and punt return that he was so close to turning into another score). The final nail in the coffin is that, as expected, the Packers used tight end Jermichael Finley in their four-receiver formations. That means Jones is going to have to surpass Driver and Nelson on the depth chart to get any meaningful playing time. I won’t be shocked if he doesn’t dress in Week 2.
Kevin Walter, Texans
He’s out at least 10 weeks with a shoulder injury. He was a borderline backup fantasy WR at best, so this news sinks any value he had.
Ed Dickson, Ravens
Ah, now I see why the Ravens dumped Todd Heap early in training camp. This Dickson guy has got game. He made a great catch in the end zone for a touchdown and tossed in four more receptions, finishing Week 1 with 59 receiving yards and 11.9 fantasy points. With only two proven wide receivers on the roster, one of which is highly inconsistent, Dickson figures to get plenty of looks in the Ravens offense. And if Week 1 is any indication (and it should be when the Ravens score 35 points on the Steelers’ defense), the Ravens will have a top-10 offense in 2011. Dickson could be a low-end TE1 by season’s end.
Scott Chandler, Bills
He caught one pass last season. That reception was the only one of his four-year career. One of those years, he was out of the league altogether. So what did Chandler do in Week 1 against the Chiefs? How about catch five balls for 63 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Not one. Two. The Bills likely would have settled for two touchdowns for the year considering the pathetic play of their tight ends during the 2010 season, another in a long line of non-existent production from the position. The Bills won’t put up 41 points every week, and maybe they won’t reach that again in 2011, but Chandler moves up into TE2 category based on his Week 1 performance.
Lance Kendricks, Rams
Kendricks had what appeared to be a solid preseason, scoring on three touchdown catches, but he also dropped a number of passes. He continued that disturbing trend this week against the Eagles, catching one of five targets but dropping two easy catches, one of which likely would have resulted in a six-yard touchdown. Kendricks was getting some love as a potential low-end fantasy starter, but his suspect hands mean he’s going to be fighting off Michael Hoomanawanui when he returns from a calf injury.