Monday, September 20, 2010

Rookies: Some bad, some good, but just one Best

Two weeks into the season is too early to pass judgment on anything, much less the relative merits of the 2010 rookie class. But fantasy enthusiasts aren’t known for their patience, so you’ll forgive me for engaging in a little premature evaluation, as it were.

The bad. Following a scintillating preseason, you can count C.J. Spiller’s cumulative rushing yards over two games on both hands (minus a pinky). He’s totaled eight receptions for 31 yards, and has taken a back seat to both Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. Don’t give up on him, of course; but he should be nowhere near your starting lineup until he gets his mojo back.

After an ankle injury, and his second fumble in as many weeks, Ryan Mathews has yet to fulfill the lofty expectations placed on him as the heir apparent to LaDainian Tomlinson. It didn’t help that Mike Tolbert looked like an All Pro after replacing him Sunday. Mathews could have returned after having his ankle examined in the locker room, but he watched from the sidelines instead. How this plays out in Week 3 and beyond will be interesting.

Dexter McCluster was a popular free agent pickup after he scored on a dazzling punt return in Week 1. But aside from that highlight-reel play, the multi-talented rookie has been virtually invisible. He’s not worth a roster spot unless and until the Chiefs make him a starting wideout, and perhaps not even then, given Matt Cassel’s struggles.

The good. Unlike Spiller, Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams has built upon his sensational preseason, scoring in consecutive weeks and cementing his role as Josh Freeman’s go-to wideout. The sky’s the limit for this fourth-round steal, who could post stats comparable to those of Marques Colston and Anquan Boldin in their brilliant rookie campaigns.

Dez Bryant’s targets dropped from a whopping 12 in the opener to just two on Sunday. But the electrifying wideout scored on a punt return, and when (if?) the Cowboys get their offense back on track, he should be a consistent contributor, particularly in the red zone.

After missing the entire preseason and Week 1 with a foot injury, Demaryius Thomas showed why Denver made him the first receiver selected in the 2010 draft with a dominating eight-reception, 97-yard debut, including a touchdown, against the Seahawks. His talent clearly dwarfs that of both Eddie Royal and Jabar Gaffney, so he’s worth picking up for the occasional start in favorable matchups.

Tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Jermaine Gresham are making their presence with the Patriots and Bengals, respectively, and one or both could merit a mid-season flier if they continue to progress. Tony Moeaki is likewise turning heads in Kansas City, but his ceiling is fairly low given the Chiefs’ lackluster passing attack.

Sam Bradford is a clearly player, but there’s no way you can trust a rookie passer in St. Louis with your fantasy team. Maybe next year, Sam.

The Best. Meanwhile, in the NFL backwater that is Detroit, Jahvid Best is staking an early claim on Rookie of the Year honors. In fact, it’s not even a close race at this point. Best has notched five touchdowns already, and he followed his modest rushing performance in the opener with a monster 232-combined-yard outing against the Eagles on Sunday. He appears to be single-handedly elevating the Lions’ moribund offense, and he’s richly rewarding those who risked an early-round fantasy pick on him. Tough matchups with the Vikings and Packers over the next two weeks are no longer relevant with this every-week fantasy superstar.


To win a fantasy championship, you need to start with a good draft. But filling in your roster throughout the season with the right free agents can also make a big difference. Here’s a look at a few players worth considering, and others who would look better in someone else’s line-up.

Catch ‘em while you can

Mike Tolbert, RB, Chargers – Just when we thought Darren Sproles was the back to own should Mathews go down, Tolbert steps up and proves otherwise with an 85-yard, two-touchdown effort. Mathews’ tweaked ankle should be healed by the weekend, but his fumbling problems and Tolbert’s strong performance could lead to a possible time-share. Grab Tolbert as Mathews’ handcuff at worst, especially if you were carrying Sproles for the same contingency.

Marshawn Lynch, RB, Bills – If you’re in the mood to gamble, grab Lynch and hope that the Packers persuade the Bills to trade him. Buffalo seemed to be showcasing Lynch for the possibility, and Brandon Jackson was just okay in his first start in place of Ryan Grant.

Kevin Walter, WR, Texans – I’m not relenting (yet) on my insistence that Jacoby Jones is the second-best wideout in Houston, but I can’t ignore Walter’s rebound from a lousy 2009 any longer. After catching 11 passes for 144 yards and his second TD of the season, Walter served notice that he is back to his playmaking 2008 form. Meanwhile, he’s owned in roughly 10 percent of fantasy leagues.

Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos – Thomas is undoubtedly the most talented receiver in Denver, so he’s worth stowing away as a bye-week or injury fill-in. But the rookie faces a rough schedule over the next several games, so don’t count on more big days until the second half of the season.

Don’t be fooled

Kyle Orton, QB, Broncos. He has been fairly impressive in two games against mediocre competition. Now the road gets tougher, with the Colts, Titans, Ravens and Jets on tap over the next four weeks. Let someone else pick him up now. They’ll likely drop him again before Denver’s schedule lightens up in late October.

Jason Snelling, RB, Falcons – His outstanding, three-touchdown afternoon in relief of an injured Michael Turner (groin) was boosted by Jerious Norwood’s early exit and, of course, Arizona’s mediocre defense. Turner is unlikely to miss next week’s start, so if the starter goes down in the future, Snelling’s upside would probably be limited by a healthy Norwood.

Devin Aromashodu, WR, Bears – After an offseason of irrational exuberance, Aromashodu dropped several passes (including one in the end zone) in the season opener and wasn’t even targeted in Week 2. Meanwhile, Earl Bennett has resurfaced and possibly surpassed the speedster on the depth chart. If you can trade Aromashodu to the guy who groaned when you drafted him too early, do it. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

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