Of course, everyone will talk about the performances that stuck out like a sore thumb, Tom Brady and Cam Newton will be praised all week, as they should. It doesn’t take a football genius to know Brady is the most efficient and dangerous quarterback in the NFL. His mind works like none other playing the game today. Newton, on the other hand, is just getting started, and this guy always believes he can get it done on game day. They call that a gamer, if you didn’t know Newton had that gene, now you do.
The performances I would like to present might have been a bit overlooked and should have more impact on your fantasy team:
Steve Smith for Carolina hasn’t even lost a step. The thing nobody talked about when analyzing Newton’s success in the NFL was that he would be stepping into an offense that already had an elite NFL wide receiver. It did not take long to see that Smith, although never blessed with blazing top end speed, still has good enough speed to beat defenders deep. He also has the ability to jump over defensive backs and play the ball in the air. Smith’s ball skills in the air has more to do with desire then ability and that won’t be changing anytime soon. Couple that with the fact that the Panthers don’t seem too interested in run blocking and this is a duo that will continue to be successful, making Smith a legit Top 20 wide receiver from this point forward.
Washington Redskins tight end Fred Davis was another who impressed me. Davis was targeted six times, catching five of those for 105 yards. Davis has flashed his wide receiver-type skills in the past, but now he is even lighter and quicker. Davis and Chris Cooley play in many ‘two tight end’ formations and rarely are they both not on the field together. I put that type of formation in quotes because Davis is really just used to exploit matchups in the defense and Rex Grossman knows this. I don’t see how Davis doesn’t stay involved in the passing game each and every game. This game against the New York Giants they were controlling as well; in a game where they have to play from behind you can bet Davis won’t be leaving the field at all. Davis is a low-end TE1 with some upside to crack the Top 6.
Speaking of tight ends, Dustin Keller also had a very promising performance as well. You can see clearly the New York Jets have the intent to throw the football more and Keller is the guy who is benefiting right now. Holmes will be the top target all season, but Keller should finish second in targets. He was targeted eight times Sunday Night, catching five of them for 61 yards. While Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason settle into the offense and receive opportunities here and there, Keller should be a main stay down the middle of the field and crack the Top 12 tight ends this season.
How about some running backs? Well as for guy who passed the eye-test for me, it starts with Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells. Wells wanted to go north and south Sunday, and did it quite well I might add. He does use a sick stiff arm when heading to the sideline and has more initial speed then some give him credit for, but all in all, when he wants to get downhill, he was much more decisive and quick then in years past. Five yards per carry, and for people who play in points per reception leagues, four catches was a nice bonus that most weren’t expecting. I was also very impressed with Darren McFadden, but who wasn’t? It is all about health for him. If he plays 16 games, I have no problem predicting him to outscore Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson.
Jahvid Best showed me some toughness and endurance Sunday down in hot Tampa Bay, carrying and catching the ball as much as he did. Not huge numbers from Best, but definitely a positive sign as a potential heavy workload is no longer a part of the future, but is his present.
James Starks’ role should increase as the weeks go on as well. Starks has a nose for the goal line and he always seems to fall forward for the extra yards. To me, Ryan Grant has lost to me the very thing I just praised Wells about. Grant used to be a one cut and downhill guy will good burst. I am not seeing that man anymore. Starks is a better third down option as well, better in the red zone and now more effective in between the 20s. Change of the guard in the making here.
As for a couple runners I have my concerns about, let’s start with LeGarrette Blount. And I don’t necessarily mean talent wise, but rather his role exactly. Many assumed he would shoulder the load after the end of last season. I expected the same thing as most, and still believe it would be in the Buccaneers’ best interest to use him in that way. That doesn’t seem to be the case though. The Buccaneers abandoned the running game very quickly Sunday. Raheem Morris obviously trusts Josh Freeman’s arm more then Blount’s legs to put them back into the game. Throw in the fact that Earnest Graham is clearly the guy on almost all passing downs, and I am very worried about the Buccaneers’ commitment to Blount as a whole. It would be very hard to trade a player who played that bad, but I do believe the Buccaneers will fail to win as many games as they did last year Sunday was more of a sign of things to come then an aberration.
Frank Gore was a player content with three yards and a cloud of dust against Seattle. You can tell he still has good running instincts but sometimes I just wonder about his drive to break the long run. He seemed completely happy with running into the pile and getting the yards the defense gives him. Usually it takes a runner some time to learn that trait but you have to find a middle ground as to when to do that and when to use your explosiveness for cutbacks and make big plays, which is something Gore has done well in years past yet didn’t even really attempt on Sunday.
Don’t expect Chad Henne and the Miami Dolphins to start throwing the football any less anytime soon. They have completely lost their mantra as a power running team, as shown by their 4th-and-1 fade to Brian Hartline on Monday Night. They will give Reggie Bush every opportunity as a featured back, which almost ensures Henne to push 600 attempts on the season.
Champ Bailey still has elite speed. Couldn’t believe he could track down Darren McFadden. Bailey didn’t even have the angle on him, especially since he got a late jump on seeing McFadden break loose before he tackles him from behind at the 1-yard line.
Don’t sleep on the Washington Redskins as a team this season. They matchup great with the Philadelphia Eagles and should be able to split with them this season. I had the New York Giants finishing last in the NFC East heading into 2011 and Sunday made me even more confident in that choice. Mike Shanahan has a clear game plan and executed it very well Sunday. The best part about all of this is I believe John Beck will be able to do it even better then Grossman once he gets his chance.
So much for the return game being a non-factor in the NFL anymore, huh? Speaking of returns, if your league doesn’t count return touchdowns as six points for any offensive player you start, it’s time to start looking for a new league.
A super sleeper on the waiver wire this week … Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell. Defenses are going to start keying on Smith more to try and slow him down and it was apparent that Newton had a better rapport with LaFell then he did Legedu Naanee. In deep leagues, both of those players are probably free agents, and now you know which want to target.
My last piece of advice for the day will address leagues who use the ‘blind bidding’ waiver. Please don’t blow all your units this week just because of an unsuccessful Week 1. There will be many opportunities to pick up guys who can get quality starts for you throughout the year. Don’t go dropping the likes of wide receiver Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers simply because of one game where he didn’t end up for the stats you desired. Brown was still targeted nine times and that will be easily the worst game of Ben Roethlisberger’s season. That is just an example. Also remember though, grabbing a player who can help you win next week is more important than grabbing a player who you just know is a top priority free agent. As much as I would like to grab Cam Newton right now, it is likely you are sitting on a solid starting quarterback still. I will grab wide receiver Devery Henderson over him because although it definitely isn’t as sexy, I know Henderson can be a productive WR3 for me in the next month while I figure out the back end of my roster.
Great week 1 of football! Good luck to all in Week 2!