Fantasy football roundtable: Hopes rise for RGIII, fall for Chris Johnson
The NFL fantasy season is one filled with decisions. Join SI's roundtable of fantasy experts each week to help sort through the lineup choices, injuries and waiver-wire options that can make or break a season.
Each week, we'll also be featuring a question from our readers, which you are free to submit each Sunday of the season at the @SInow Twitter feed.
1. Few players had a better opening game than Robert Griffin III. Is this the dawn of the next Cam Newton or is a crash back to earth coming?
Mike Beacom: Cam Newton is the most productive fantasy rookie on record; fantasy owners must understand there may never be another first-year player like him. Still, RGIII's stock should soar thanks to his performance in Sunday's win over New Orleans. Keep in mind, however, that the Redskins play in the toughest division in football, with three outstanding defenses; he may not "crash" in the coming weeks, but life in the NFL won't be as easy as he made it look this past weekend.
Will Carroll: I think the Newton comparison is apt, because didn't we ask this exact same question after Newton's Week 1 performance? I think Griffin showed all the tools we expected, but somehow it was still surprising because he did it against a team most of us thought would be good and because there's some cognitive dissonance about a rookie coming in and outplaying Drew Brees. Griffin is this good and he didn't even show much of his running (smartly.) He's elite now and has to be considered a fantasy starter based on matchup.
Eric Mack: It wasn't obvious in the preseason, but it is now: RGIII is an immediate fantasy star. He might not score the rushing touchdowns Newton did, or pick up the garbage-time yardage Newton did, but he is going to be a must-start quarterback in most, if not all, weeks. Matthew Stafford struggled for the most part against Jeff Fisher's rebuilt Rams. RGIII is going to be a must-start against them in Week 2. No, this isn't a fluke. No one goes into the SuperDome and wins. RGIII did it in his first career start and posted the highest-ever quarterback rating in a debut. He is the real deal.
David Sabino: We all know now why Mike Shanahan was so enamored by Griffin, who fits in perfectly with the Redskins offense of short passes and between-the-tackles running to set up long passes. Griffin won't be as good a fantasy quarterback as Newton but he may be a better NFL quarterback in a much more structured system than Carolina runs. In any case, Griffin is certainly someone who deserves a roster spot and consideration to start depending on your other options.
2. Chris Johnson, Trent Richardson and DeAngelo Williams had forgettable Week 1s. Is there reason to be worried for each or was it just a one-game blip?
Beacom: Johnson was hot and cold all last season, and the fear fantasy owners should have right now is the prospect of joining him on another rollercoaster ride. Richardson must overcome both the rigors of rookie life and the pitfalls that come from being the featured back in an unbalanced offense. But while there is hope for both Johnson and Richardson, Williams could very well be fantasy poison. No Carolina back is worth the fuss.
Carroll: I'm less worried about Richardson than the vets. Richardson missed much of camp and was going to be eased in. I won't worry about him until Week 4 or so. The others, yes. Johnson has been an enigma since signing his big deal. Some was losing Jake Locker, but 11 carries for FOUR yards is just ... wow, it's bad. I wasn't buying in on Johnson before, but I'm way out until he shows something. Williams didn't use the opportunity he had with Stewart out, but I was more impressed by the Bucs defense. That team played fast and could be a problem for a lot of guys this season.
Mack: You should be worried about all three. They are supposed to be reasons you win, not lose, in fantasy. C.J. is the only one you should give a pass to and keep in your starting lineup. The Pats have an underrated run defense. Richardson is more of a flex option, if anything, until he proves healthy and productive. The fact that Brandon Weeden looked incompetent in the passing game will make it tough for the Browns to get running room, or stay committed to the run in blowouts. Williams was the bust of the week. He had a favorable matchup and no competition for carries and he threw up a dud. Next, the Panthers play a Saints team coming off a loss. That game will be a blowout early and the running game will be just as nonexistent.
Sabino: It's time to change expectations for Johnson, looking more at him as a receiver out of the backfield than a go-to runner. Perhaps flex play is in his future. I'd be terrified if I'm a Richardson owner. Opposing teams don't have to worry at all about Cleveland's passing game with Weeden completely overmatched right now. That will allow defenses to stack the box against Richardson and will dramatically cut down on his effectiveness. For Williams, if he can't gain significant yardage against the Bucs with Stewart sidelined, how can you trust him with a lineup spot on a weekly basis? I can't.
3. Which Week 1 breakout players are you targeting on the waiver wire this week?
Beacom: A trio of young receivers looks good (and, no, not one bit of interest in Dallas' Kevin Ogletree). The Packers used Randall Cobb in a variety of sets on Sunday to create favorable matchups with linebackers and safeties; the result was a team-high nine catches (Cobb also scored on a 75-yard punt return). Jets rookie Stephen Hill caught five of the six balls Mark Sanchez threw to him, including two for touchdowns. And Washington's Aldrick Robinson is also worth a look. With Pierre Garcon out, Robinson became Robert Griffin III's favorite target, and finished the contest with a team-high six targets.
Carroll: I'm not blowing my budget on guys who don't have a clear path to do this again and again. Ogletree is nice, but a healthier Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are still going to be 1-2. Alfred Morris is the latest in a line of RBs Mike Shanahan has had a good week with, but I can't tell you what next week will bring. I'm not buying on Hill or Jeremy Kerley because I think it was more the Bills than Sanchez suddenly clicking. If I needed a running back, I'd look at C.J. Spiller. James Jones is a decent pickup at WR. Marcedes Lewis looked really good and is owned in less than five percent of leagues, so there's your tight end pick.
Mack: Ignore Ogletree, Sanchez, Blaine Gabbert, Alex Smith, Ryan Fizpatrick, Matt Cassel and Cecil Shorts, unless you're thin at those positions. Morris, owned in just 55 percent of CBSSports.com's leagues, is the gem of the waiver wire. He finally made sense of a Shanahan running back mess and he faces the Rams' suspect run defense in Week 2. Jonathan Dwyer (31 percent owned) is a decent flier, albeit not a great start next week against the Jets. Among receivers, Hill looks like a potential star, albeit a bad start against the Steelers in Week 2. Fellow rookie Alshon Jeffery has potential, while Robinson got the most snaps among Redskins receivers. RGIII can make Robinson a worthy start in fantasy leagues. Pick up Morris and Robinson, because RGIII gives the Redskins some serious offensive juice. Even their kicker, Billy Cundiff, should get some adds. At tight end, Lewis and Martellus Bennett could have breakout years.
Sabino: There are three obvious choices: Ogletree is yet the latest productive third wideout for the Cowboys. Hill has joined Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas in the pantheon of quality receivers produced by Georgia Tech. And Morris, who has become the latest to lead the Redskins running back carousel. I'm also high on Dennis Pitta, who is the Ravens' move tight end. He finished 2011 strong and picked right up where he left off against the Bengals. He has a lot of classic Dallas Clark in him and Joe Flacco looked awfully Petyon Manning-like in executing the Ravens' new no-huddle attack.
4. Might the lack of running games in Green Bay and New Orleans filter down to other parts of each team's offense?
Beacom: I don't know that it will be an issue for Green Bay, as the passing game thrived without a ground attack last year. Business as usual there. The Saints have more invested in the backfield and may force the issue more.
Carroll: I still have some hope that Cedric Benson will establish himself with the Packers. They were facing the Niners defense, after all, so I'm not ready to sell there. The Saints, on the other hand, are a clear pass-first team with a bunch of role players. Neither team had a running game last year either. I'm a bit curious about how far down the receiver chart both quarterbacks are willing to go. Spreading targets around is good for football teams, but bad for fantasy owners.
Mack: No. It didn't a year ago, so there should be no reason it will this year. The question is whether those offenses are going to learn they cannot operate one-dimensionally. Sure, they can throw their way back from any deficit, but a running game can help them get and sit on leads. Don't use Benson, Mark Ingram or Pierre Thomas in any fantasy lineups until their game plans begin to include them.
Sabino: A lack of running game in Green Bay is a fallacy. Everyone lacks a running game against the 49ers, who allowed league lows in rushing yards per game (77.3) and rushing touchdowns (three) last season. The Packers will be fine on the ground, and I expect Benson to have a quality season. He's someone to target if you're in the market for a back. In the case of the Saints running game, it's usually dominated more by short passes to Darren Sproles than by actual handoffs. That's how Brees was able to shatter the NFL's all-time passing yardage record. The biggest problem for New Orleans was the absence of Sean Payton on the sidelines helping control the offensive flow. They'll be fine.
5. I have Fred Jackson. Thinking about trading Wes Welker (looks like he has a lesser role) for a RB. Thoughts?-- Art @AAallday via @SInow
Beacom: Every player is "tradable" for the right price, but I wouldn't be too concerned with Welker's sluggish start. The Patriots jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead, and in the second half the game plan began to shift (Tom Brady attempted just four passes in the fourth quarter). Unless you can land a top 12 back, keep Welker in your lineup.
Carroll: A lot depends on what you can get for Welker, but yes, you have to consider it given Jackson could miss a couple weeks. Go back to your draft charts and look for an equivalent ADP RB to target. Spiller is an easy one to get, but Welker might be a bit much for him. Targeting a good back who had a bad week -- Richardson, Johnson if you believe in him still, or Jamaal Charles -- might work.
Mack: It is not a bad idea, unless someone is low-balling you on Welker. You don't want to be caught selling low. Clearly, Welker is not as in favor with the Pats out of the gate -- perhaps due to his contract situation. Welker got 15 fewer snaps than Brandon Lloyd and the targets he used to get were going to Aaron Hernandez out of the slot instead. Even Julian Edelman got 23 snaps, which amounts to the time Welker missed. The Pats are really platooning Edelman with Welker? Perhaps so. Be worried until we see someone different in Week 2 against the Cardinals.
Sabino: Covering yourself in Jackson's absence is a great idea and Welker is a reasonable price to pay. Welker's role is diminished with the progress of Hernandez, the arrival of Lloyd and the presence of Stevan Ridley as a lead back. And there are some hard feelings with the front office over unresolved contract squabbles that likely will lead to his departure from New England after the season. It's best to pull off a deal quickly before your opposition catches on.
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