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What Did We Learn? – Week 1

While there may be a few stragglers, most leagues have held their drafts and are now poised for Week 1. I, for one, have been waiting quite impatiently for this week, and I have no desire to delay things any longer.

Following a season in which Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson put up three of the top rookie seasons by a quarterback in league history, what can we expect from this year’s freshman class?

The quarterbacks will be represented by E.J. Manuel (BUF) and Geno Smith (NYJ). Manuel will most likely start for Buffalo from the start, providing a dual threat for a Buffalo offense that figures to run quite a bit. Smith, on the other hand, has looked shaky this preseason and has very little offensive talent around him. Both have running ability, which can only boost their fantasy value, but I don’t think I’m comfortable having either, even as a backup. Manuel is a better bet, with C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson, but he’s a reach. Avoid Smith like the plague.

The running back position is one that can often produce value in a rookie class. This season is no different, with Giovani Bernard (CIN), Le’Veon Bell (PIT), Montee Ball (DEN), and Eddie Lacy (GB). Bernard will compete with the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the Bengal backfield, and should ultimately provide more value. If he weren’t in a timeshare, I’d be more excited, obviously, but he should be a solid flex guy most of the year and flirt with RB2 value. Bell injured his foot in the preseason, and is expected to be out early this year, but the waiving of Jonathan Dwyer and recent reports from the Steelers indicate that Bell may be back earlier than expected. Ball will be in a three-way timeshare, and it’s anyone’s guess how the split goes. Remember that John Fox once presided over the Panthers’ backfield, with the Jonathan Stewart-DeAngelo Williams headache. Lacy may be in the best position, in a starting role for a high-powered Green Bay offense. He’ll finally be the battering ram the Packers have been looking for. I rank them Lacy, Bernard, Bell, and Ball.

The fantasy-relevant wideouts this year look to be Tavon Austin (STL), DeAndre Hopkins (HOU), Cordarrelle Patterson (MIN), Aaron Dobson (NE) and Kenbrell Thompkins (NE). Austin will be a slot receiver and specialist for St. Louis. He has the speed to be a true game breaker for the Rams, but he had little impact in the preseason, perhaps in an effort to keep his talent under wraps. Hopkins should start opposite Andre Johnson in Houston, but he’s been slowed by a concussion suffered two weeks ago. Patterson isn’t yet a starter, but he has the speed and quicks to make an impact. But all of that is offset by his quarterback: Christian Ponder. Dobson is a talented guy with good hands, but he’s been outshined in Foxboro by Thompkins, an undrafted, free agent rookie. I rank them Austin, Thompkins, Hopkins, Patterson, Dobson.

This season’s top offenses look to have a familiar cast of characters:

With Tom Brady at the helm, the New England offense will keep on trucking, even without Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, and Rob Gronkowski (at least early in the year). But Brady will use a new cast of wideouts, Stevan Ridley, and Gronk (when he returns) to continue New England’s run.

Atlanta has reloaded once again, with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White, who is expected to be back Week 1. They talked Tony Gonzalez out of retirement, and now they’ve added Steven Jackson at running back. The Falcons have some major offensive firepower.

Seattle will continue to adjust its offense this season, morphing from a run-heavy offense at the beginning of the 2012 season into a more balanced offense this season. Look for Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch to be huge contributors, while receiver value is distributed throughout the corps they’ve assembled.

While there are other offenses that may perform better, such as Green Bay and New Orleans, one of the big stories of the offseason was Philadelphia’s hiring of former Oregon Head Coach Chip Kelly. Kelly will bring his up-tempo, run-heavy scheme to the NFL, with Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy the key beneficiaries. DeSean Jackson may also be in for a big year.

As for the bottom-feeders:

San Diego looks to be in rough shape. Philip Rivers hasn’t looked like a solid NFL quarterback in over a year, and he has very few options to throw to. Ryan Mathews is the best bet for fantasy value, and that’s not a good thing.

Oakland has Darren McFadden, who’s made of glass, and they’ll probably start Terrelle Pryor at quarterback. I’ve wasted too many words on them already.

Jacksonville has Maurice Jones-Drew healthy once again, which is huge. They also have Cecil Shorts, who emerged as a reliable pass catcher last season. After that, there’s not much there.

J-E-T-S, MESS, MESS, MESS! Chris Ivory will be decent as long as he can stay healthy. Santonio Holmes looks like a guy who wants nothing to do with Gang Green this season. In last week’s preseason game, Geno Smith ran out of the back of an end zone. Yeah…

Last, but not least, we need to cover a few recent injuries that will have an early-season impact:

Maurice Jones-Drew is healthy and will be back for Week 1 following a Lisfranc injuriy last season. With MJD’s contract set to expire after this season, he’s looking to earn a big contract. The Jaguars know he won’t resign with them, so they’ll run him into the ground.

Rob Gronkowski is still recovering from offseason forearm and back surgeries. Reports indicate he has been practicing already, but the Patriots may not have a reason to rush him back and risk further injury. If you’re lucky enough to have him, wait until his early season return, and then plug in the best tight end in the game.

Robert Griffin III is going to start on Monday night against the Eagles. Everything else is posturing. There’s no way he misses it. I don’t expect the rushing stats from last season, as Mike Shanahan attempts to conserve his stud signal-caller.

Le’Veon Bell suffered a foot sprain a few weeks ago in a preseason game. It was initially feared to be a Lisfranc sprain, but Bell avoided serious injury, and he’s now ahead of schedule, targeting Week 2. Even if it’s Week 3, he needs to be rostered. If his owner is listening to offers, see if you can grab him for 50 cents on the dollar.

Andre Brown’s broken leg in the preseason means he’ll miss the first 4-6 weeks, and even after that, he’ll need to shake the rust off. That makes David Wilson a great value. He’ll also get the goal line work, and may be a three-down back by the time Brown returns.

Good luck in Week 1.

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