The biggest questions looming over opening weekend centered primarily on the return of several high-profile NFL stars.
Peyton Manning took everything the vaunted Steelers defense had to throw at him and emerged unscathed and triumphant. He didn’t attempt any deep throws, but who needs to when Demaryius Thomas can take a short pass at the line of scrimmage and race 71 yards to paydirt? Manning was again the master of the no-huddle offense, and it appears he’s going to make Thomas, Eric Decker and Jacob Tamme forces to be reckoned with.
Adrian Peterson is a freak. We always knew it; we just weren’t sure we could still believe it. There’s always a chance Peterson will have a setback in his amazing return from reconstructive knee surgery performed last Christmas Eve. But for now, the fantasy stud is back indeed.
Same goes for Jamaal Charles, who looked as fast as ever. And while Charles wasn’t used as a receiver or red-zone back against the Falcons, Peyton Hillis doesn’t look like much of a threat, either. It’s a long season, and one game does not a trend make; but so far, so good for Charles less than a year after his major knee surgery.
Fred Jackson’s return was short-lived. Once again, C.J. Spiller proved that he is more than up to the challenge of carrying the Bills’ backfield. And it looks like he’ll be the man for a while, if the initial diagnosis of a sprained lateral collateral ligament is verified for Jackson. It shouldn’t end the veteran’s season, but it clearly puts Spiller in the driver’s seat for an extended period of time.
Arizona’s rushing attack is still so pathetic, it’s hard to say whether Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are fully healthy. For now, the answer is irrelevant. Neither look like they could start for the University of Phoenix, much less be in your starting lineup.
Meanwhile, on the non-injury front, if you drafted Robert Griffin III as your backup, it’s time to consider giving him a promotion. Not only did the rookie from the Heisman Trophy factory that is Baylor University (Sic ‘em Bears!) pass for 320 yards and two touchdowns, but he added 42 yards on the ground and never turned the ball over. And Griffin did what all great quarterbacks do: He raised the game of everyone around him. It’s just one week, but RGIII’s arrow couldn’t be pointing much higher, especially with the news that Pierre Garcon’s foot injury is not of the serious variety.
Maurice Jones-Drew is going to be just fine, thank you. The plan was to ease MJD back into game action after he skipped the entire preseason in a contract dispute. But then Rashad Jennings went out with a knee injury, and the 2011 NFL rushing leader was pressed into his normal workload. Jones-Drew showed his normal burst and bulldozing style in Minnesota, and should be safely ensconced in his featured back role next weekend.
Arian Foster and Julio Jones are the early frontrunners in the Fantasy MVP chase. Randy Moss isn’t done yet. The 49ers’ run defense is still impenetrable. (Keep that in mind next weekend, jubilant Kevin Smith owners.) And Stevan Ridley could be a bigger factor in the Patriots’ offense than we expected.
Which brings us to Chris Johnson. Who would’ve believed he could possibly get off to a worse start in 2012 than he did in 2011? After Johnson managed just four yards on 11 rushes, it’s time to toss out his CJ2K nickname. The once-elite tailback may have trouble earning the CJ1K moniker now.
And for the record…the next time anyone (including this writer) tries to tell you that DeAngelo Williams is a great start, point back to Sunday’s performance at Tampa Bay. Then seek your fantasy advice from someone who doesn’t believe in unicorns, the Tooth Fairy and the Dolphins’ Super Bowl aspirations.
FREE AGENT PICKS AND PANS
To win a fantasy championship, it helps to start with a great draft. But filling in your roster throughout the season with the right free agents is also important. Here's a look at players worth considering, and others who would look better in someone else's lineup.
Catch ‘em while you can
Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins. It goes against my every instinct to recommend one of Mike Shanahan’s tailbacks, but the rookie just backed up his impressive preseason with a 96-yard, two-TD debut on a whopping 28 carries. Even more telling, Roy Helu and Evan Royster were bit players in the opener. Morris’ lead role could change in an instant; but until then, he’s the bomb.
Stephen Hill, WR, Jets. Sure, his stellar debut came against Buffalo’s porous secondary, and Mark Sanchez can’t play much better than he just did. But the rookie’s 89-yard, two-touchdown performance shouldn’t be ignored. His teammate Jeremy Kerley, who also scored twice on Sunday, is much less likely to replicate his performance any time soon, and does not merit a roster spot.
Kevin Ogletree, WR, Cowboys. One-week wonder? That’s what they said about Miles Austin in 2009 and Laurent Robinson last season. Ogletree exploited a depleted Giants secondary, but he gained Romo’s trust along the way. Don’t ignore his breakout performance.
Don’t be fooled
Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets. He’s had games like this before. In fact, Sanchez tossed four TDs against the Bills in Week 12 of last season. It’s not that it never happens; it’s that it happens so rarely. Don’t take the bait.
James Jones, WR, Packers. Let your competitors jump on Jones, who turned four receptions into 81 yards and a TD. Now in his sixth season, we’ve seen these flashes before. Randall Cobb, on the other hand, caught nine passes and scored on a dazzling punt return. One of my preseason sleeper picks, Cobb has upside that Jones can only dream about.
Martellus Bennett, TE, Giants. Maybe all he needed was a little attention from his quarterback. After all, Romo only had eyes for Jason Witten in Dallas. Yeah, maybe; but I’m not buying it. Marty B had plenty of chances to produce over his first three seasons as a Cowboy, and failed miserably. I don’t foresee Manning making a fantasy force out of him.