Welcome to this edition of the 2012 Footballguys Roundtable. Feel free to eavesdrop as various staff members share their views on a range of topics in discussion format. This week, they touch on the following:
Patriots' Offense Surprise WRs Rookie RBs Better season? What did we learn in week one?
Tom Brady looked very efficient, but what may surprise some people is how good the running game looked.
Is Steven Ridley a legitimate fantasy RB1 this season, or at least a surefire RB2? Or will week one prove to be an aberration?
MARC LEVIN: Due to the history of "the lead back" for the New England Patriots over the last 10 years, and because it appeared (to this New England resident anyway) that Steven Ridley had the lead role sewn up, I have been a strong advocate for Ridley being vastly undervalued this entire preseason. He looked surprisingly good when one considers the state of the New England Patriots' offensive line, which has looked absolutely dreadful so far this year. Tom Brady's nose was bloodied in this past game following a blown assignment by the offensive line.
COLIN DOWLING: I'm all in on the patriot offense. I have Brady, Lloyd, Ridley, and Gronkowski in a 24-team dynasty. That is admittedly a lot of one team to take on in any league, particularly one that size. What surprised me was how solid the offense was without being particularly exciting. They had five legitimate contributors this week (the four I just mentioned plus Hernandez), but the whole thing felt sort of "ho hum." What will it look like when Brady throws for 400 yards? I think there will be lots of happy fantasy owners of Patriots players this season.
MARC LEVIN: Like Colin, owners should be "all in" on the Patriots offense this year, including Steven Ridley. He is definitely a "buy" candidate, even after this strong game. Try to get him now before he solidifies his fantasy standing. I don't think he's a fantasy RB1, but he is already a surefire, every-week RB2. If you drafted him as your RB3/flex player, you are likely happy with the value you received.
JASON WOOD: Is Ridley a legitimate fantasy RB1? That's a tall order, but I think he's a legitimate every week fantasy starter (meaning he's comfortably in the top 20 in all formats). I think the Patriots will have games where the run-pass balance isn't as favorable, but I do think Ridley will be THE guy and that New England will run much more than most thought this preseason. The Patriots were at their best when they had balance. Belichick understands this, and he's also mindful of the fact New York has beaten him in two Super Bowls, with a more balanced offense and an attacking defense.
With the success of the Patriots' running game in week one, should Wes Welker and Tom Brady owners be looking to sell high while they have the chance?
Tom Brady attempted only 31 passes on Sunday, which is lower than all but two of 19 games (including playoffs) last season.
MARC LEVIN: I think Brady's low attempts in this game were a combination of the defense's domination of the Tennessee offense, the success of the running game on the road, and the lack of any need to put Brady at risk with poor offensive line play. I don't think there is any change in offensive philosophy in New England. We will see our typical 500+ pass attempts from Brady this year. Let's not forget, it was only two years ago that Brady was the #1 QB on only 492 attempts (an average of approximately 31 attempts per game). Brady is so efficient, his fantasy numbers are not dependent on the number of attempts he makes.
JASON WOOD: Brady will be fine. If you were expecting 5,000+ yards again you deserve to fall victim to unrealistic expectations. Last year screamed the anomaly in a league that always starts to cycle back as teams react in the grand chess match against the new status quo. I think Brady will still be one of the three to five best fantasy passers, if not THE best. He's got weapons galore, has full command of the offense, and has a proven track record.
The Patriots have used short passes to Welker as a substitute for a running game in the past few seasons, but if they actually have a bona fide running game this year, they won't need a substitute. Is this the year Welker falls short of 100 receptions? If so, how far short will he fall?
Or is it way too soon to sour on Welker and (to a lesser extent) Brady based on just one game?
MARC LEVIN: Wes Welker is an interesting question. Local sports radio hosts speculate that the team is playing hard ball with him due to the contract situation, and giving Julian Edelman a chance to win Welker's position on the team in 2013. Owners of Welker (and those wanting to buy him low) should keep a very close eye on this situation over the next two or three weeks.
COLIN DOWLING: NBC's Mike Florio mentioned that Welker's low usage rate (about 60% of snaps) is a big reflection of how much Belichick loves the tight end. He said Belichick was looking for the next Mark Bavaro the day he showed up in Cleveland as head coach. There are only so many targets to go around. I like Welker but he isn't a nightmare matchup like Gronkowski and Hernandez.
JASON WOOD: I'm less convinced about Welker than I am about Brady, simply because he's being hurt by two factors: (1) The emergence of the dual tight ends and (2) the re-establishment of the ground game. A lot of Welker's routes were effectively alternatives to run plays, so he's going to risk missing out on some of those opportunities as long as Ridley plays the way I expect.
What about Brandon Lloyd? Will he suffer if the Patriots lean less heavily on the passing game this year, or will the running game set up play-action passes down the field of the sort Lloyd thrives on?
MARC LEVIN: For Brandon Lloyd, not much has changed. He is still adjusting to the way Brady throws the ball in this offense — especially downfield. But Lloyd is a very smart football player and made at least two clutch, athletic catches in this game. Of course, his fantasy success will fluctuate because there are a lot of mouths to feed in New England, but his situation is the same now as it was when owners drafted him.
JASON WOOD: I didn't buy all the way into Lloyd like many of the other guys on staff. I like him, don't get me wrong, but I viewed him as a WR3/flex option, even in PPR leagues. To my mind, he's only been ELITE in one season, and the guy is no spring chicken. I realize that season came in a McDaniels' offense with a less capable QB, but nevertheless, Lloyd is a piece to a puzzle. There will be games when his matchup is the one they can exploit, and he'll have big numbers. There will be other weeks when he'll be an afterthought. To me it's Gronkowski and Hernandez as the every week focal points.
There were a number of WRs who exceeded expectations in week one, starting with Kevin Ogletree in Wednesday night's game. What are his prospects for this season?
COLIN DOWLING: Ogletree is interesting because he essentially picked up where Robinson left off. The crazy thing is that, in hindsight, spotting the Dallas WR3 as value should have been obvious. I am intrigued by how he might do the rest of the way.
JASON WOOD: I'm leery of trusting Kevin Ogletree, in spite of his week one heroics. We know he's the WR3 in that group — which really makes him the 4th target (don't forget about Witten). To my mind, Ogletree could be a forgotten man most weeks, and at the very least will be so up and down that you can't trust him in your lineup.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I also think that Kevin Ogletree could sustain his viability in the Cowboys' offense. Do not let the fact that he had twice the targets of Dez Bryant escape notice. He worked till the end of the play and got several of his targets on plays where Romo was forced out of the pocket and the play went schoolyard. He looked totally keyed in to the game, which Bryant despite his athleticism has not ever provided play in and play out.
MARC LEVIN: Picking up where Laurent Robinson left off is right. The three targets ahead of him in this prolific offense have already missed some time. If any of them miss significant time, he may become a legitimate fantasy starter.
The Packers spread the ball around to four different wide receivers. Does anyone like Randall Cobb or James Jones as fantasy contributor this season?
HEATH CUMMINGS: I know I'm in the minority, but for 2012 I still like James Jones over Randall Cobb. While Cobb has more raw talent, Jones is the better bet to fill in long term if Jennings or Nelson misses considerable time with an injury this season. Unfortunately there's a good chance that Cobb and Jones take turns performing like WR3s (or possibly even WR2s), so it makes it hard to count on either one as a starter.
MARC LEVIN: Randall Cobb is Percy Harvin-lite while playing the Swiss army knife role on one of the hottest offenses in the league. Week one was not an aberration.
DAVE LARKIN: I am still enamored by the talent that Randall Cobb brings to the table. What intrigued me last week was how the Packers lined him up alongside Rodgers in the shotgun as more or less a H-back, giving him a free release and a two-way go off the line of scrimmage every time. This is only one of the many ways I believe the Packers will use Cobb this year, and that could lead to a WR2 season if things fall into place.
Dexter McCluster was targeted a lot for the Chiefs. Will that continue?
HEATH CUMMINGS: In PPR formats, Dexter McCluster looked legit on Sunday. In the past the Chiefs have fooled around with trying to make him a running back, or only running gimmick plays for him. But on Sunday for the first time in his career they just let him play the slot like a regular receiver and he looked extremely good. Dwayne Bowe is still knocking rust off and Jon Baldwin was completely invisible this week, so especially early in the year I like McCluster a lot.
DAVE LARKIN: Dexter McCluster stood out to me on Sunday. He suits the type of passer that Matt Cassel is: fairly conservative and happy to take the check-down when it presents itself. McCluster is a great target in the short to intermediate area of the field and will benefit from being used in a variety of positions on the football field.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: As an SEC follower, I would like to remind everyone that both McCluster and Cobb were used in multiple positions in college. McCluster, small as he is, wore out several teams simply running the ball out of the backfield. He also spent a lot of time playing wide receiver and returning kicks. Cobb was even more versatile showing up all over the field at Kentucky and he looked good wherever he lined up. Both of these guys are really special athletes and will produce when or if their teams find the correct fit for their talents. They are both talented guys who can excel when provided the opportunity. They each have the quicks to produce out of the slot and received ten and nine targets respectively this week. They both have skills to produce significant yardage after the catch so I like each of them going forward, not to the level of week one, but solid scoring in PPR leagues.
Reggie Wayne is trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2011 season. He looked great in week one. Will that continue?
HEATH CUMMINGS: Reggie Wayne is no worse than a solid fantasy WR3 this year, and probably better than that. The Colts are still going to lose a bunch of games, which means Andrew Luck is going to throw a bunch of passes. Wayne is going to lead the team in targets, receptions and touchdowns, so it's certainly possible he could be a high end WR2.
COLIN DOWLING: Yes, 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns wouldn't shock me in the least.
JASON WOOD: I ranked Reggie Wayne 21st among receivers in our last set of preseason rankings, so I don't think his week one performance with Austin Collie out was much of a surprise.
MARC LEVIN: Luck will throw a ton of passes his way, especially in garbage time. I agree with the panel that Wayne is more of a WR2 candidate and a WR3 sure-shot.
DAVE LARKIN: I agree with all of you. Reggie Wayne should reach the 1,200 yards and ten touchdown plateau without a problem.
A couple of rookies — the Jets' Stephen Hill and the Bears' Alshon Jeffery — look promising.
JASON WOOD: This whole rookie class of WRs intrigues me greatly, but yes, particularly Stephen Hill and Alshon Jeffery. Hill had the better game statistically, but I think he's a riskier bet going forward because of his inexperience and my belief that the Jets passing attack is still not among the league's top options, in spite of the spanking they put on the Bills. Even so, Hill is clearly a guy the Jets want to find a major role for, and his pure physically is reminiscent of the way Plaxico Burress filled the role as a red zone option. The difference between Hill and Burress is that Hill can also take a pass 80 yards and beat DBs in a foot race. Alshon Jeffery is the guy I'm jazzed for. He's looked polished from the day he got into camp, and clearly has a rapport with Jay Cutler. Jeffery is not a one dimensional guy, he can run an entire route tree, is physical, and if you didn't know better it's like he's a perfect mimic of the way Brandon Marshall plays the game. I love Jeffery as a high upside WR3 the rest of the way.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I agree with Jason here on his Alshon Jeffery call. I think that the combination of poor quarterback play in his final season at South Carolina with some immaturity on his part provided a real opportunity at value in rookie drafts. I would not be surprised if he finishes this season as the top rookie wide receiver. I really like Justin Blackmon, but Jeffery has Cutler as his quarterback and Brandon Marshall across the field. As the likely second target, he could be in store for a very good rookie campaign.
MARC LEVIN: I would expect a return to earth from Stephen Hill over the next couple of weeks, but the theory that rookie wide receivers need time to develop is starting to evaporate.
Danny Amendola appears to be Sam Bradford's go-to receiver with the Rams. What's his value going forward?
MARC LEVIN: Danny Amendola might emerge as a good fantasy WR3, but he's the biggest question mark of the players we've discussed due to a likely lack of consistency from his offense.
Who else looks like a potential breakout candidate at WR?
DAVE LARKIN: A deep shot, but here goes nothing: Louis Murphy. I liked what I saw from him on the limited snaps he saw in Week 1. Newton is never shy of throwing the deep ball and Murphy can get behind a defense. Purely from an upside standpoint, Murphy presents some fantasy WR3 potential going forward.
The rookie class of RBs had mixed success in week one.
Starting with Trent Richardson... The good news is that he got 100% of the Browns' RB carries. The bad news is that the blocking, and really the offense as a whole, was terrible. Is that because the Eagles have a great defense, or is it because the Browns really are that bad? At the end of the preseason, Richardson was RB13 based on FBG staff consensus. If we were to rank the RBs going forward, do you think RB13 is about right for Richardson, or would you move him up or down from there?
COLIN DOWLING: I really like Richardson this season. No reason he can't be top fifteen-ish back. That said, the Browns offense looks awful so far. It is one game and Richardson has rust, but this really should be an offense that goes through him. To do that they will need to start running the receivers a little further downfield and getting a bit more (any?) production from Weeden.
MARC LEVIN: For a rookie running back who was injured for most of the preseason, Richardson was generally drafted too high, in my opinion. Watching the Browns' offense in week one was not encouraging. I would still rank Richardson inside the top-20 running backs, but just barely. Teams will be able to stack 8 in the box against a porous offensive line that has an unproven rookie quarterback and plays the Ravens twice and Steelers twice.
I think Richardson will have a few games here or there where he flashes what is to come (especially weeks 6-8 when the Browns play the Bengals, Colts, and Chargers), but, for this year, I expect erratic performances. I would prefer to committee Richardson in my RB2 spot, playing him only when the matchup is good.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I think that Trent Richardson will take a little time to get into the full flow of the game. He was only targeted three times in the opening week and I expect that Brandon Weeden will find make attempt more passes to him to establish some confidence going forward. Weeden only completed 12 of 35 attempts and has to be better going forward. Richardson also missed a lot of reps with his injury so I expect him to be better and compete with Doug Martin for the top rookie running back honors.
MARC LEVIN: My downside on Richardson is not his rust. It's the poor offensive scheme, the lack of a viable passing game, facing eight in the box almost every play, and playing the Steelers and Ravens twice. He could have been healthy the entire preseason and I doubt I would have a different take on him.
JASON WOOD: The Browns offense could really be that bad. As an Eagles fan, I watched every snap of that Browns-Eagles tilt and can say without hesitation that Brandon Weeden doesn't deserve to be on an NFL field. I realize he can improve from here, but he looked completely and utterly ill equipped to quarterback at this level. I would need to see MULTIPLE weeks from him before I would even consider anyone in that passing system. As for Richardson, he got all the work in spite of having some injury questions during the week. That's a great sign that he's going to be the tough, workhorse back we all envisioned. Do I think the consensus ranking of RB13 is now at risk? I do. In fact, I wonder if it was too aggressive given the questions on that team. BUT, I think the Browns defense is solid, and Richardson has both ability AND opportunity, so I wouldn't be panicking.
Alfred Morris... The good news is that he put up over 100 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. The concern is that Shanahan is so fickle that Morris may not remain as the starter for more than a few weeks. What do you think? Have the Redskins found their guy for this season, or should Morris owners be looking to sell high while his value is at its peak? If we were to rank the RBs going forward, where would you rank Morris (roughly)?
COLIN DOWLING: Meh. Morris was good but it is so hard to tell with Shanahan.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: The biggest shock of week one was Alfred Morris getting 28 carries for the Redskins with only six going to three other players. Morris only averaged 3.4 yards per carry though and was not targeted once. The Redskins will obviously go through Robert Griffin and even though Morris got 28 carries, next week could be a different story. My perspective though is that as long as he can be reliable, he will get the opportunity to carry the lead role.
COLIN DOWLING: Too much history with Shanahan messing with his backs. I'm staying far away from Morris.
MARC LEVIN: I agree with Colin. I think quite a few folks will be losing their #1 waiver wire priority on a guy who won't be the lead back in a few weeks. I think the move with the Redskins' offense is to take advantage of Roy Helu's depressed value and make a low-ball play for him. I have to believe that, at some point, talent will win out in that backfield.
JASON WOOD: People are re-writing history. Shanahan is not out to mess with the minds of fantasy owners. He plays the guy that's healthy and producing. Last year Hightower was his guy, until he got hurt. Helu came in and produced. Until he got hurt. Then Royster came in and produced. No mystery there. Morris was the healthiest and most impressive of the backs in Redskins camp. He was rewarded — as I expected him to be — with the Week One start. He did EXACTLY what he needed to do. Until Morris gets hurt, I see zero reason to think he won't be a major part of that offense, which history tells us means good things in fantasy circles.
Doug Martin... He didn't get into the end zone, but his 100+ yards from scrimmage on 28 touches shows that he'll be a huge part of the Buccaneers' offense. Where do you rank him compared to Richardson and Morris going forward?
COLIN DOWLING: Martin will be solid all year. The first week showed that Freeman probably isn't as bad as many people thought which should open lanes for Martin.
MARC LEVIN: Martin looked, to me, exactly like he should have looked based on where he was drafted. I agree with Colin that he will give his owners good value by finishing in the top-15. And I think he could even finish in the top-10, given the Buccaneers weak schedule and the viable threat of a passing game from Freeman.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I was really surprised that Martin had 24 carries with LeGarrette having only three. Martin was also targeted four times and caught all four for 118 yards from scrimmage.
JASON WOOD: You don't want to overreact to one week, but Martin answered the bell. We really don't know how good the Panthers defense is — but there's a good chance it's a poor front seven. In that case, we need to see Martin put together another strong week before we extrapolate. Either way, I think Martin is a clear cut every week fantasy RB2 — and drafted him as such. He's not in a time share with Blount or D.J. Ware, and Greg Schiano compares him to Ray Rice at every turn. Rice is akin to Schiano's most prized possession, so I'm sure he doesn't make that comparison lightly.
Is David Wilson worth discussing here? His stat line from week one looks similar to those of Bryce Brown, Chris Rainey, and Vick Ballard. Heading into week one, most people believed that Wilson would play a much bigger role in his offense than those other rookies would play in theirs. But did his fumble along with Ahmad Bradshaw's effectiveness kill any chance that Wilson will be a big contributor in the first month or two of the season? How much of a hit did Wilson's value in redraft leagues take in week one?
COLIN DOWLING: Wilson will get out of the doghouse eventually but it probably won't mean much this year.
MARC LEVIN: I'm with Colin. Much has been printed recently of how the Giants expect Wilson to work his way up the depth chart — slowly.
JASON WOOD: From a skills standpoint, Wilson is heads and tails above Bryce Brown, Chris Rainey and Vick Ballard. Wilson easily projects as a long-term, workhorse starter in this league. And he's playing behind a guy that's got bionic feet. Wilson's fumble put him in the dog house, but he's way too talented and his situation too advantageous to give up on. In deeper leagues, you cannot even fathom cutting him. In shallow leagues, I would consider throwing out trade offers and treating Wilson as a throw in in a bigger deal, hoping that the Wilson owner will view him as fodder, and you get the call option on a breakout performance in the latter half of the year.
COLIN DOWLING: As for the other rookies, Ballard, Turbin, Hillman...they'll get some touches but nothing like was hoped when folks were speculating about a new set of studs. Lamar Miller wasn't even active Sunday. Top tier prospects have a chance to shine, later guys are long shots. Same as it ever was.
MARC LEVIN: Hillman was also an inactive this week (though Knowshon Moreno's poor pass blocking performance may see a change there). The rest are, as Colin put it, long shots to contribute this year.
This is an exercise that gives us the chance to discuss some players whose fantasy prospects are intriguing for one reason or another, but let's do it in the format of predicting which player from each pair will have a better fantasy season in 2012.
Peyton Manning or Robert Griffin III?
COLIN DOWLING: Notwithstanding the great week-one performance Manning had, I just still have trouble seeing him survive the wear of a 16-game season. I'd ride him while he's hot but won't be remotely surprised when he gets hurt.
DAVE LARKIN: It's hard not to go with the experience of Peyton Manning after his cool, classic display against a Steelers defense that was, admittedly, under-manned. I'm just so enticed by the prospects of Robert Griffin III after his equally poised display against the Saints in a hostile environment. From a purely statistical perspective, Griffin figures to be presented with more passing opportunities due to the style of offense. In addition, he obviously has much more upside as a runner (although Manning's glacial scramble for a first down on Sunday night wasn't the worst).
MARC LEVIN: I watched every snap from both players this past weekend. One is winding down his career while the other is just getting started, but, to my eyes, they both looked like decent every-week fantasy starters. Manning owns that offense. He had plenty of time to pass the ball and his primary receivers clearly have his confidence. He dissected the Steelers' secondary, consistently identifying the blitz and passing out of it, making good decisions, and displaying about 85% of the arm strength he had before his injury. Meanwhile, Griffin made speedy decisions and, more importantly, smart decisions. While his receiving corps is not as likely to make the play for him, he has a deep group of talented players. Still, I have to go with the vet to have the better year. Even if an argument can be made that ball control will be more important to Manning's team, he has always controlled the ball by making third down passes for first downs — and by putting late game touchdowns on the board.
JASON WOOD: You have to love either guy, particularly where they came off the board. But I'll give the nod to the 4-time MVP. We get a little caught up in the now, and while I think Griffin has the potential to be terrific, let's remember that Cam Newton's rookie season (which was a top 5 fantasy season) was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. To think it's going to happen in back-to-back seasons is akin to betting on the Pick 6 to hit the same numbers in back-to-back drawings. Meanwhile we KNOW that Manning's DEFAULT season is top 5. He's never been anything less than a top 5 fantasy QB in a season other than his rookie year (when he was 9th) and last year (when he was hurt).
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Robert Griffin III is special and he is in charge of the Redskins offense. He completed 76% of his attempts in his first game. I think that he improve as the season goes along and the added threat to run occasionally helps him both from the fantasy perspective and also in the game as the defensive linemen have to respect that threat and seek to contain as much as they seek to attack. Manning also looked good, but passed for only 253 yards and the Steelers were missing one of their defensive backfield leaders. Of that 253 yards, 71 came on the legs of Demaryius Thomas who successfully turned a bubble screen into the play of the game. I think that Manning will play well, but will be more dink and dunk with a lot of 220 yard passing games.
C.J. Spiller or Chris Johnson?
COLIN DOWLING: Call me crazy, but I still like Chris Johnson to finish as a top 5 back. He didn't play poorly, there just weren't many holes. The Titan line should get it together and he will benefit enormously when they do.
DAVE LARKIN: Week one reaffirmed what we already suspected about the Titans offensive line based on its subpar preseason performance. It is hard for me to trust that Johnson will be able to create his own space on a consistent basis behind that line in anything but the easiest match-ups. As a result, I'm putting my money on Spiller here. If the Bills can use him in the right way — feeding him the football in space, using him on draws and screens and even lining him up out wide — they could have something.
MARC LEVIN: Easy one here. Chris Johnson will bounce back and he's an RB1 every week unless he is injured. For the next three weeks, Spiller is in your lineup as an RB1. After that, he is likely back in a committee. Spiller has a good speed game, but he has yet to put it all together. Johnson is an elite talent.
JASON WOOD: The answer to this lies with whether Fred Jackson really comes back in a few weeks or not. If Jackson misses most of the season, you have to feel great about Spiller. He was a top 6 fantasy RB last year in Jackson's absence, and looked even better this week. Meanwhile as much as I respect Colin's view of the Titans offensive line, I have to say that I saw things much differently. Chris Johnson was tentative, and he did this odd one-hop kind of thing instead of picking a direction and planting his foot and going. I thought a LOT of the blame fell on Johnson, and that really concerns me since we know conditioning and focus were not an issue as they were a season ago.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I see C.J. Spiller being as effective and possibly more so than Chris Johnson, but agree with Jason that it will depend on opportunity. If Fred Jackson returns quickly, then Buffalo will have a time-share at the running back position and Johnson will outperform. If Spiller gets the same number of touches for the year, then I believe that he has a real shot at outproducing Johnson, who was only productive catching the ball.
COLIN DOWLING: I am amazed how quickly the Chris Johnson bandwagon has fallen apart in one week. He wasn't playing Pinola Junior College; the patriots have improved their defense and basically decided to make Jake Locker beat them. The troubling thing for Tennessee is that the interior of the line is not very strong. But they have two excellent tackles and I fully expect the never-inventive Chris Palmer to start using combinations of Stevens-Stewart and Thompson-Roos to open outside lanes for Johnson. The fact is that Johnson is one of only a handful of backs that will get 300+ touches this year.
Jamaal Charles or Reggie Bush?
MARC LEVIN: Here's the way I see it: Reggie Bush, acting as the recipient of 80% of his team's running back touches, will perform about the same as Jamaal Charles receiving 50% of his team's running back touches. Bush will be used more in the red zone (at least while Hillis is healthy), and in the passing game. What it means is that folks likely overpaid a bit for Charles and got good value with Bush. In PPR leagues, Bush is the winner. In non-PPR leagues, it's a draw.
JASON WOOD: I really like them both this year, and drafted them both in many leagues. In PPR leagues, I love Bush and think he can catch 80+ receptions. There is NO ONE else on that roster worthy of significant touches. But if I'm trying to break the tie, give me Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs are a sound football team, and clearly Brian Daboll wants to run the ball aplenty. I think we've seen enough from Charles in the preseason and Week One to know his injuries are no longer a risk, and that clears the decks for him to be an every week fantasy RB1.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Reggie Bush still carries his history of underperformance in New Orleans with him, but he will produce similar results to a year ago with the Dolphins because he will continue to get significant opportunities both running the ball and catching passes out of the backfield and occasionally in the slot. However, Jamaal Charles apparently has his quickness back and as long as he remains healthy, he should out-produce Reggie Bush. Both of these guys will be productive backs when healthy this year though.
Ahmad Bradshaw or Steven Jackson?
DAVE LARKIN: I don't particularly like either situation, so I'll have to let whoever the most talented football player is make the decision for me. In this case, it is unquestionably Jackson. Isaiah Pead, once thought to be a candidate for stealing some touches from the veteran back, seems less and less likely to fill that role. Jackson will get enough touches in this offense to warrant trusting him over Ahmad Bradshaw. The only argument in Bradshaw's favor is his probable increased role after David Wilson's opening day fumble.
MARC LEVIN: Over his career, Jackson has proven rock solid consistent fantasy scoring on a week to week basis. But he is not likely to have a week where he can be the linchpin for winning your league. Bradshaw is on the opposite end of the spectrum. On any given week, he can be one of the top-3 or top-4 fantasy running back scorers, but he lacks consistency on a week to week basis. That might change this year, given the Giants' running backs' touchdown production history, and given the potency of the Giants' offense overall. If the running backs, as a whole, receive a similar number of touchdowns as they have historically received, and if Bradshaw stays healthy, he could easily have 10-12 total touchdowns this year. Red zone production might provide the kind of week to week consistency owners have been searching for with Bradshaw.
JASON WOOD: People are giving up on Steven Jackson way too early. He stunk this week, sure. And yes, the Rams lost two offensive linemen in Week One. But so what? Seriously folks, Jackson is a bedrock of reliability and Jeff Fisher will give him 30 carries every week until he retires. As much as I like Bradshaw (i ranked him as a top 13 back in the preseason), I love Jackson (he was in my top 10).
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Coach Coughlin and the Giants really want to have two effective running backs. The jury is still out on the rookie David Wilson, who fumbled very early in the opening game. The combination of his fumble history with Coughlin's determination to avoid fumbles may briefly give Bradshaw the majority of carries. Bradshaw himself is not typically able to remain healthy though and eventually his missed time or Wilson's increased role will limit Bradshaw over the course of the season. Although Steven Jackson and the Rams were not very effective in their opening game, he will come out ahead over the full season.
Percy Harvin or Vincent Jackson?
COLIN DOWLING: I love Harvin. He is picking up where he left off last year. He's getting touches and is the main catalyst of the Minnesota passing game. I think he's a lock to outperform Jackson.
DAVE LARKIN: Percy Harvin, all day long. While Vincent Jackson is a big target and presented Josh Freeman with a great target on third-and-medium situations in the opening day win against the Panthers, this Tampa Bay offense just won't have the juice or the play-caller to allow Jackson to reach the upside of Harvin. The Vikings can use Harvin like a Swiss army knife, creating mismatches all over the field. Once he is in space, forget about it. Harvin is a phenomenal talent with a quarterback who I am warming to more and more, and an offensive coordinator in Bill Musgrave who seems to know how to use his playmakers.
MARC LEVIN: Like Colin and Dave, I love Harvin over Jackson. By a long mile. I love him even more in either PPR leagues or leagues that reward return yardage. Dave covered his skill set quite concisely. Quarterback Christian Ponder seems more mature and decisive this year, and that can only benefit Harvin.
JASON WOOD: This is another pair that I'm quite high on. In fact, I entered the season higher on Vincent Jackson than most. Yet, I would prefer Harvin slightly. He is the cog of that Vikings passing attack, and I could see him being among the most targeted receivers in the NFL this year. Add in 150-200 yards rushing and you've got yourself a lock top 10 fantasy WR. I would actively look to acquire Vincent Jackson, too, but Harvin gets the edge.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Harvin's involvement in multiple play calls will definitely provide him the edge, particularly in PPR leagues. I see Harvin with many more catches on screen calls giving him a definite advantage. Whereas, the offensive style of the Buccaneers seems to limit the wide receiver's chances, Adrian Peterson in Minnesota opens up the field for the extremely athletic Harvin, who has even less competition for targets than Jackson.
Randy Moss or Dwayne Bowe?
DAVE LARKIN: This one made me pause for a moment, but I quickly settled on Bowe's side. People may be down on Kansas City's prospects after a drubbing by the Falcons, but I'm keeping it all in perspective. Bowe is the younger receiver who has an equally talented, if not marginally better, quarterback to throw him the ball. The 49ers offensive output against the Packers was encouraging, but Moss played very few snaps and his touchdown came on a broken coverage by the Packers' secondary. I'm not buying Moss' stock just yet, so Bowe gets the nod here.
MARC LEVIN: I'm not sure I can agree with David's assessment that Matt Cassel is a better quarterback than Alex Smith. But I certainly agree with him that I'd prefer having Bowe on my team this year. Moss will probably have weeks where he disappears completely peppered among weeks where he gets a sufficient number of red zone targets to be a worthwhile start. This will be simply due to the 49ers KISS game plan - KISS as in Keep It Safe Stupid. The team plays great defense, grinds out ground yardage, and takes very few shots downfield. This is not a strong recipe for consistent receiver performances. On the contrary, while Kansas City would like to play that game, the Chiefs are not quite there yet. They will be involved in many more games this year where Bowe has many opportunities for garbage receptions. If we were playing best ball between the two, I would guess Moss wins 4 or 5 week, but Bowe wins the rest. Enough said there.
JASON WOOD: This is a very easy one. Look, I know Moss caught a TD in prime time and that's got everyone excited, but did you realize he was on the field for just 22 offensive snaps? He's a part-time player. A valuable one, certainly, but a part timer. Meanwhile, Dwayne Bowe is a proven, 80 catch, 1,100+ yard receiver on an offense that has enough balance he should see single coverage in most situations. I love Bowe this year. I would GLADLY trade Moss PLUS something else away for a chance to roster Bowe in traditional or PPR leagues.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I do not expect consistent production from Randy Moss, so the easy choice here is Dwayne Bowe. The 49ers defense is again in the league's upper echelon and San Francisco may not have many games where an offensive explosion is required. Frank Gore will be better than predicted and there are a host of other options for the 49ers, when needed. The Chiefs on the other hand will play more often from behind and Bowe has always been productive when adequately used.
Owen Daniels, Kyle Rudolph, or Coby Fleener?
DAVE LARKIN: I absolutely love the talent of Coby Fleener, and he is my second-placed TE here, but how can I look past Kyle Rudolph? In his rookie year, he showed how capable a pass-catcher he can be. He reeled in some ridiculous catches at times and his large frame gives him the advantage over any LB or DB in the open field. I mentioned earlier how I am a believer in Bill Musgrave's offensive scheme; I think Rudolph will continue to be the beneficiary of that. He also has the trust of Christian Ponder, who should continue to develop. Fleener is a close second, and could overtake Rudolph, but for now the former Notre Dame TE gets the nod.
MARC LEVIN: I will take Kyle Rudolph's upside of elite talent over the other two. I suspect both Daniels and Fleener will see more targets on a more consistent basis, at least early in the season. But Rudolph is the only one of the three with Jimmy Graham-Rob Gronkowski ability. At this stage of the season, I am more willing to bet on that upside shining through by mid-season. I am willing to go out on a limb and predict at least 45 catches for Rudolph. That is a catch mark for rookies that has happened only 11 times since 1960.
JASON WOOD: Pick your poison. I like Rudolph the most of this bunch, but they'll all have their moments. I probably would rank them Rudolph, Fleener and then Daniels. I'm not as high on Daniels as others, simply because the TE position has evolved so much that Daniels' 45-50 receptions is barely going to register on the fantasy radar. In times past Daniels would've rated as a top 5 guy potentially, but now he's barely a TE2 for fantasy purposes.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I really like all three of these guys to be productive. The targets and production out of the tight end position was nothing short of amazing in week one. I believe that all three of these guys have a clear path to be their quarterback's second option. If forced to rank the trio, I'd go with Daniels who has the experience, better quarterback and Andre Johnson drawing attention away from him. But, I fully expect Rudolph and Fleener to remain involved and effective just like they were in week one.
What did we learn in week one?
What did you notice in week one of this season that is a departure from 2011? Colin?
COLIN DOWLING: Offenses and defenses adjust to each other in a constant game of finding different things to exploit. In the first few weeks of last season, we saw a number of huge games from quarterbacks putting up enormous numbers of passing yards. In week one of this season, I was surprised how many points were scored without any huge passing games. Chicago, Houston...lots of points from well-balanced attacks. I don't know how many more 20 point wins we will see, but the balance of some of these offenses was staggering.
Heath, what did you notice about the production from passing games in week one?
HEATH CUMMINGS: It looks like teams may have gotten a little overzealous with the whole rookie starting QB idea. Robert Griffin III was outstanding, and I think Andrew luck will be just fine, but I think it's very possible the other three could struggle mightily, and maybe even get benched. Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden looked completely overmatched and I have a lot more questions about the viability of Russell Wilson after yesterday's game as well. It's not a stretch at all to think that all three of these teams may have been better off with their other options at quarterback.
That seems like a good observation. What fantasy implications does it have?
HEATH CUMMINGS: The first thing this means for fantasy purposes is that Defense-By-Committee just got a little bit easier. You could have a pretty solid year if you just pick a defense each week that's facing one of these rookies. The second, and most important, is that the receivers on these teams are going to struggle to be consistent. The idea that Weeden was going to help the development of Greg Little seems silly now, as does Josh Gordon as a sleeper. Miami didn't have any rosterable receivers anyway, but I am concerned about Sidney Rice, Braylon Edwards, and especially Doug Baldwin in Seattle.
To a lesser extent I think this even affects the running backs on these teams. We saw Trent Richardson struggle in week one, and Marshawn Lynch gave a great effort just to get to 85 yards and no score. These backs are going to see more and more 8 in the box as long as their rookies QBs continue to struggle.
COLIN DOWLING: Heath is 100% correct about the rookie quarterbacks. It's easy to forget how hard the position is. Cam newton did fans no favors last year with his success. Prior to that, I can't remember the last rookie QB I'd have started with confidence. Vince Young had some moments, but it was always a surprise to see a rookie perform well for weeks at a time. Preseason is so full of looking to "the next big thing" that it's easy to make these wild guesses they rookie quarterbacks are taking over the world, but it just is not so. Russell Wilson may one day be a good NFL QB, but there were legitimate folks thinking he was going to be a top 10 fantasy quarterback. One well known ESPN writer picked him as the catalyst to take the Seahawks to the Super Bowl this year.
DAVE LARKIN: Great points about the rookies, guys. People may have been expecting a little bit much from Russell Wilson; it was his first NFL start in a hostile environment. Luck and Griffin's performances were encouraging, but I think it wise not to jump to conclusions about their fantasy stock after just one game.
JASON WOOD: The rookie angle is a great observation. It seems that because of last year's "Year of the Passer", it became conventional wisdom that there was no longer a dearth of quarterbacks in the league. That was a horribly erroneous conclusion.
Dave, let's stick with the QB theme. What QB's performance disappointed you in a way that raises concerns about his fantasy prospects for the rest of this season?
DAVE LARKIN: One of the storylines that stuck out to me was the continued poor play of Michael Vick. He struggled mightily against the Browns and his level of play stretching back to last season has to be a concern for his fantasy owners, and the owners of his targets.
COLIN DOWLING: It's been a long time since Vick was a good quarterback. I'm not too blind to see that he has put up some great fantasy games in recent years. But the more games pass, the more he simply doesn't look like a guy that can keep up with the consistency of Brady and Brees and such. I imagine next year we will be talking about Vick as a QB1 based on a few great games and a lot of clunkers.
Jason, what did week one confirm for you that, in hindsight, shouldn't have been in as much doubt as it was?
JASON WOOD: The one thing that struck me in week one is that sometimes things are how they look. People seemed surprised by Alfred Morris getting the start because he was listed at 3rd on the depth chart, but why would people trust a depth chart over what we SAW? We saw Morris as an effective runner, we saw Royster and Helu struggle, and most importantly we saw Morris inactive in Week Four of the preseason along with all the other starters. In a similar vein, lots of people seemed to pick and choose Rams receivers as though there was no reliable indication of the pecking order. Yet, both Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola were the guys getting most of the reps with the starters. We someone convinced ourselves that was misleading because we wanted it to be.
Stephen, what stood out to you in terms of potential offensive trends?
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: The passing attack continues a heavy concentration on the tight end position. In week one action, tight ends scored 14 touchdowns. Projecting all of the yardage gained in the first week out to a full 16-week season, there would be nine 1,000 yard reception seasons produced by tight ends. There were 14 tight ends that had five or more receptions in week one which would project to having 14 tight ends with 80 catch seasons. According to the historical data dominator, there have only been 38 seasons where this occurred, with five of them happening in 2010 and 2011.
Granted that is only one week of data projecting to an entire season, but the week one numbers nonetheless indicate a lot of opportunities for tight ends going forward.
COLIN DOWLING: I was also surprised with how many tight ends factored heavily in to their teams passing attacks. Forget the patriots duo and graham. Houston, Baltimore, Tennessee....there were a number of places where the tight end was the first or second receiver in terms of production in week one. Are we finally seeing the NFL looking like college where a read at the line of scrimmage dictates "hey, the tight end is about to be open 8 yards down field because the interior linebacker is committing to the forward middle?"
Marc, I know you watched the Sunday night game between the Broncos and Steelers. What did you take away from that game?
MARC LEVIN: That game involved a couple of offensive lines heading in opposite directions. Ben Roethlisberger stretches plays anyway, but when you can't run block — like, at all — and when your quarterback is constantly under pressure to extend plays while facing a pass rush, Steelers fans, and fantasy owners of Steelers players, may be in for a long season. On the other side of the ball, Peyton Manning has made a serviceable pass blocking offensive line look stellar with his quick decision-making. The Denver Broncos' offensive line was already a good run blocking squad. The Steelers are not a good barometer for run game success, but the team almost put 100 yards up on them at a 3.5 YPC clip. That is not shabby against a run defense that is annually one of the league's best.
That will do it for this edition of the Roundtable. Enjoy the games this weekend, and we'll see you back here next week!