Week 1 Fantasy Surprises: Now what?

Whether it’s a few breakout wide receivers, a suddenly mature quarterback or an out-of-nowhere running back, Week 1 of the NFL season always has its share of surprises. Here are a few of the bigger revelations from the first weekend of action along with what they might mean in the larger scheme of things.

Michael Turner ran roughshod over the Lions.
Most people were probably expecting a pretty good game out of Turner against Detroit, but I don’t think too many fantasy owners had “The Burner” racking up 220 yards (10.0 ypc) and two touchdowns in his Atlanta debut. The Falcons’ offensive line opened up monster holes for their RB, and unfortunately it’s not always going to be this easy. Turner will be tested against the Bucs this week before another nice matchup at home against the Chiefs. Going forward, Turner looks like a solid RB2, though he might have the occasional bad game when a team jumps all over the Falcons in the first quarter.

Jay Cutler shredded a good Raider secondary.
I was very high on Cutler heading into the season figuring that a guy who could throw 20 TD while losing 30 pounds (and a lot of strength) due to undiagnosed diabetes would be a good candidate for a breakout season now that his illness is under control. He did play the Raiders in Week 1 (never a good gauge) and shredded what was supposed to be a pretty good secondary for 300 yards and two scores. And that was without his top WR, Brandon Marshall. He looked comfortable and in complete control of the Denver offense, which looks like it could be one of the best in the league. I think Cutler has a great chance to finish in the top 5 this season, which isn’t bad for a guy that was available in the 7th round.

Willie Parker will not go gently into that good night.
Fantasy owners who drafted “Fast” Willie Parker are either extremely savvy or extremely oblivious. Typically, when a team picks a running back in the first round of the NFL Draft, they intend to use him extensively. Ten of the 12 RBs that were drafted in the first round from 2004-2007 saw at least 121 carries in their rookie season, and six saw at least 226 carries, so when the Steelers drafted all-around back Rashard Mendenhall in the first round, the writing seemed to be on the wall. In Week 1, Parker rushed 25 times for 138 yards (for a 5.5 ypc) and three TD, and Mendenhall carried the ball 10 times for just 28 yards (for a 2.8 ypc). This is still “Fast” Willie’s show.

Donte Rosario and Anthony Fasano are the top two fantasy tight ends.
Since he is a Bill Parcells favorite, and he only had to contend with David Martin for playing time, a few owners might have pulled the trigger on Fasano as a backup TE in deeper leagues. But 8-84 and a touchdown? I don’t think anyone was expecting that kind of production in Week 1. Pennington is an accurate thrower but he has a weak arm, so he prefers to dink and dunk with the underneath stuff which is a perfect fit for a sure-handed tight end like Fasano. Throw in the fact that the Dolphins don’t have much else in going in the passing game, and Fasano could potentially put up top 10 TE numbers. And who the heck is Donte Rosario? Well, he’s a second-year tight end who was drafted in the fifth round. When I saw the final play of the game, I thought he was actually a bigger WR, not a TE. Rosario sort of resembles Kellen Winslow in pads. He was only targeted seven times in all of last season, so he has already gone over that mark with eight targets against the Chargers. He posted 7-96-1 with Steve Smith out, so along with Muhsin Muhammad and D.J. Hackett, the Panthers will have a formidable group of receivers once Smith returns from his suspension. And it’s clear that he has the confidence of Jake Delhomme since the QB looked his way on the game-winning pitch and catch.

DeSean Jackson and Eddie Royal look wise beyond their years.
Typically, rookie wideouts don’t do a whole lot, but Jackson and Royal both went over the century mark in their first game in the NFL. The last WR to do that was Anquan Boldin in 2003, who caught 10 passes for 217 yards and two scores against the Lions, and went on to have a 101-catch, 1377-yard, 8-TD season. Needless to say, this bodes well for both rookies. On Sunday, Jackson went for 6-106 against the Rams, and Royal one-upped him, posting 9-146-1 against one of the best secondaries in the league on Monday night. Jackson has looked electrifying in the preseason, and he’s benefiting from the absence of Kevin Curtis (who is out for a while) and Reggie Brown (who should be back soon). Worst-case, Jackson figures to be the Eagles’ WR3 when both Curtis and Brown return, but the best-case scenario has Jackson in a starting role, consistently getting 6-10 targets a game. As for Royal, he’s already the Broncos’ WR2 behind Brandon Marsahall and it’s clear that he and Jay Cutler already have a great rapport, so he seems to be the better bet of the two. But if you can get either Jackson or Royal on your roster, do so.

Matt Hasselbeck is in some serious short-term trouble.
The Seahawks’ receiving corps is in a world of hurt. Deion Branch and Bobby Engram are working their way back from injury, while Nate Burleson and Ben Obomanu are both on IR. That means that Hasselbeck is throwing to the likes of Courtney Taylor, Logan Payne and Samie Parker. Ouch! Luckily for Hass, he has a couple of attractive matchups the next two weeks against the 49ers and the Rams, so he might be able to post decent numbers if he can find a guy or two who can catch the ball. (TE John Carlson?) Still, if Branch and Engram are able to come back in the next month, suddenly Hasselbeck’s prospects don’t look so bad. If he has a bad week against San Francisco, it might not be a bad idea to try to acquire the Seattle QB from a frustrated owner in your league.

The Bungles are back.
Historically speaking, fantasy owners could count on two things from the Bengals: they’d have a good offense and they’d have a bad defense. After a 10-point clunker against the Ravens, where Carson Palmer (94 passing yards, 1 INT), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (3-44) and Chad Ocho Cinco (1-22) all struggled mightily against a defense that was 20th against the pass in 2007, fantasy owners are justifiably concerned. This week, they head home to play the Titans, who shut down a usually efficient Jacksonville offense, and next week they travel to New York to play the G-Men. The Bengals don’t have an attractive matchup until Week 4, when they face the Browns at home.

Brett Favre’s arrival completely changes the Jets.
When Thomas Jones joined the Jets a year ago, fantasy owners expected big things. While he did rush for 1119 yards, he only scored one TD, and Jones’ season was written off as a disappointment. But now, with the arrival of Favre (and Alan Faneca), Jones is finding more room to run. Safeties and linebackers have to respect Favre’s arm, and Faneca stabilizes a young but talented offensive line. Jones rushed 22 times for 101 yards and a TD against Miami. Sure, it was against the Dolphins, so this week’s game against the Patriots will be a nice test to see just how good the Jets’ running attack really is. Favre’s arm also enhances the value of the Jets receivers. Jerricho Cotchery caught three passes for 80 yards, including a 56-yard bomb early in the game. Laveranues Coles only caught one ball for five yards, but he did draw two pass interference penalties, so Favre was looking his way. Coles can really run those short and intermediate outs, which are throws that are definitely in Favre’s wheelhouse.

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