Fantasy Fast Forward: Matt Ryan's huge day, more from Week 1
The first week of the NFL season is almost entirely in the books, and that means it’s time to look forward to Week 2. It’s important to remember that this week’s action represents just 5.9 percent of the entire season, but there's still plenty fantasy owners can glean from what happened on the field on Sunday. Let’s take a look at the key takeaways from what transpired in Week 1, and how best to use that information to manage our rosters for the rest of the season.
It’s Week 1 of the SI.com Fast Forward.
- If you’re a Matt Ryan owner, chances are you’re 1-0. Ryan went 31-for-43 with 448 yards, 10.4 yards per attempt and three touchdowns, leading the Falcons to a 37-34 come-from-behind win over the Saints. Get used to these sorts of numbers from Ryan this season. He fell down draft boards due to a bit of a down season last year, a year in which he still managed to throw for 4,515 yards and 26 touchdowns despite being largely without Julio Jones and Roddy White. The 4,719-yard, 32-touchdown season he put up in 2012 is probably a better representation of what he could do this year. Jones caught seven of his nine targets for 116 yards, while White hauled in five of his seven balls for 72 yards and a score. Don’t forget that this Saints defense likely isn’t a pushover, either. Ryan just dominated what should be, at worst, a league-average defense. Get ready for a monster season.
- While the Saints took a tough loss in a crucial divisional game, their offense may be even better this year than it has been in past seasons. Brandin Cooks starred in his first career game, catching seven passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, and the Saints got him involved in a number of ways. He took advantage of Kenny Stills’ absence, and could very well have cemented himself as the team’s No. 2 receiver. Most importantly, he did this in a game where Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham put up solid numbers. Cooks has the look of a regular fantasy starter.
- Meanwhile, Mark Ingram rushed 13 times for 60 yards and two scores. He got as many carries as Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson combined, and was slightly more productive than the other two. Thomas was a major part of the New Orleans offense, catching six of his seven targets for 58 yards. It looks, however, like Ingram could be the top running option in the offense. That mythical Ingram breakout might actually be coming this year.
- It’s only one week so there can’t be any “told you so’s” just yet, but let’s talk about Zac Stacy. He ran for 43 yards on 11 carries and all the red flags that were evident all summer showed up Sunday. His longest run was seven yards. He got two targets in the passing game. The Rams offense was atrocious. Benny Cunningham looked like the better runner, albeit in just five carries. He’ll almost certainly have better days, but he is not even close to being an RB1.
- It took all of one half for the Browns to suffer their first kick to the gut. New starting running back Ben Tate suffered a knee injury and did not return. All that did was open the door for Terrance West to shine. The rookie out of Towson ran for 100 yards on 16 carries, helping erase a 24-point deficit in an eventual loss to the Steelers. Isaiah Crowell had two touchdowns, but West is the player behind Tate. Even if the knee injury proves insignificant, West definitely made a case for more playing time that Mike Pettine and Kyle Shanahan will have to acknowledge.
- Second-round running backs are among the most frequent busts in fantasy leagues, but every year a few of those guys do hit. If the first week of the season is any indication, Le’Veon Bell will be one of those guys. He ran for 109 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries and caught six of his seven targets for 88 yards. LeGarrette Blount vultured a touchdown, but he only had four carries. One of the concerns with Bell entering the year was a lack of big plays in his rookie season. His touchdown was a 38-yard run and he could prove to be a serious bargain. The Steelers could very well be a fun offense all year, and you'll want to be invested in them this season. In addition to Bell’s big game, Antonio Brown caught five passes for 116 yards and a touchdown, while Markus Wheaton had six receptions for 97 yards. Ben Roethlisberger had just one score, but he threw for 365 yards and 10.7 YPA.
- You obviously had the Jaguars' Allen Hurns scoring two touchdowns in Week 1, right? Hurns found the end zone twice in the first quarter, helping Jacksonville jump out to a 14-0 lead over the Eagles that eventually grew to 17-0. The Jags,of course, fell apart as Philadelphia scored 34 consecutive points, but this is a sign of a big season for Hurns. This is not just a one-week fluke. He caught just four balls, but had nine targets and was easily the best receiver for the Jags on Sunday. He also had a 46-yard reception, flashing his big-play ability. Hurns will be a factor in fantasy leagues all season and you should feel comfortable using about 5-10 percent of your FAAB budget on him.
- The Jets appear to have a true timeshare in the backfield with Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory, and both runners could turn a profit for their fantasy owners. The two of them looked good against the Raiders on Sunday, with Ivory having the bigger game, but Johnson being the more consistent back. Johnson had 68 yards on 13 carries, (plus 23 receiving yards, including a touchdown), while Ivory had a 71-yard touchdown run, giving him 102 yards and a score on the day. The fantasy community did get some clarity on this situation with the breakdown being almost 50/50 between Johnson and Ivory, and that’ll likely keep their ceilings at an RB3 for Johnson and RB4 for Ivory, but those depth guys are important.
- Bernard Pierce didn’t exactly make a strong case to keep his starting job once Ray Rice comes back from his suspension. He may not be the starter next week. Pierce looked terrible Sunday, running for 14 yards on six carries, adding a lost fumble to boot. Remember, as bad as Rice was last year, Pierce was even worse. He got just 2.9 yards per carry on 152 totes. The Ravens eventually turned to Justin Forsett, who ran for 70 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Given how much more effective he was than Pierce, he’ll have to be in line for more touches against the Steelers next week. Don’t go too crazy for Forsett with your FAAB bids. Keep it to about 3 percent of your budget.
- C.J. Spiller got one more than twice as many carries as Fred Jackson, but it was the latter who was the more effective runner in the Bills’ surprise win over the Bears. Spiller picked up 53 yards on 15 carries, while Jackson had 61 yards on seven totes, and put the game away in overtime. That the Bills turned to Jackson in crunch time, and not Spiller, says a lot about what the team thinks of these two players. Spiller is undoubtedly the home run hitter, but it’s Jackson who seems to be the guy the Bills trust. Both backs also received three targets, so it’s hard to see a huge advantage for either in obvious passing situations. Expect this to be the breakdown all season. Both Spiller and Jackson will be consistent fantasy starters, but the ceiling for both is limited because of the presence of the other.
- The Bears suffered perhaps the most frustrating loss on Sunday, but the offense as a whole performed pretty well. Jay Cutler went 34-for-49 for 349 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, the second of which was particularly ugly. Matt Forte didn’t hit paydirt, but he piled up 169 total yards, catching eight of his nine targets. Brandon Marshall had eight receptions for 71 yards and a score, and Martellus Bennett added eight grabs for 70 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, they also suffered three injuries that could hamper the offense going forward. First, Alshon Jeffery had to leave the game in the second half because of a hamstring injury. According to Marc Trestman, he was held out for precautionary reasons, but this is a situation that has to be monitored this week. Left guard Matt Slauson and center Roberto Garza both left with foot injuries, as well. They were both in walking boots after the game, and will be re-evaluated this week. If either or both are out for an extended period, the Bears offense could take a hit.
- It seems that all of those concerns about Robert Griffin III and the Washington offense were well-founded. Griffin went 29-for-37 for 267 yards, and the offense seemed to have no energy or explosiveness in a 17-6 loss to the Texans. Griffin took three sacks that resulted in a loss of 26 yards, and ran three times for just two yards. The forever-underappreciated Alfred Morris had 91 yards on 14 carries, but this team will need more out of the passing game. The Houston defense, led by J.J. Watt, may be among the best in the league this year, but Griffin was still a major disappointment on Sunday. At this point, it’s hard to trust him as a starter against Jacksonville next week.
- Meanwhile, one of the best performances of the early games came from Jake Locker and the Titans. In his first game under new coach Ken Whisenhunt, Locker completed 22 of his 33 pass attempts for 266 yards, 8.1 YPA and two touchdowns. He spread around the love by connecting with eight different receivers, with Justin Hunter’s 63 yards leading the way. If Locker can finally avoid the injury bug, he looks like a breakout player this season. Consider him a QB2 for now. If you need help at the quarterback position, you can go ahead and use about 15 percent of your FAAB budget on him. One other takeaway from the Tennessee-Kansas City game is the Titans’ usage of Shonn Greene and Bishop Sankey. Greene had 71 yards on 15 carries, while the rookie Sankey picked up 25 yards on just six carries. This job belongs to Greene.
- So much for the worries about the Miami offensive line. Against what is a well-respected Patriots defense, the Dolphins ran for 191 yards on 38 carries, good for 5.6 yards per carry. We also may have our answer to the starting running back question. Knowshon Moreno ran for 134 yards and a score on 24 carries, getting 13 more totes than Lamar Miller. At the same time, Miller did pick up 5.4 yards per carry and got five targets, catching four of them including a touchdown. We of course cannot come close to drawing any conclusions, but there could be enough to go around in the Miami offense to make both Moreno and Miller RB3s over the full course of the season. The Dolphins draw the Bills in Buffalo next week. Given what Matt Forte did against the Bills on Sunday, Moreno and Miller could both be worth a look in Week 2.
- Tom Brady was unhappy about the Logan Mankins trade, and the reasons for that were clear on Sunday. The Dolphins sacked him four times and Cameron Wake forced Brady to fumble twice. The Miami pass rush was all over him and helped keep the Patriots off the scoreboard in the second half. This could definitely be an issue for New England the rest of the season. The lack of a true downfield weapon showed up, as well, as Brady completed just two passes that traveled at least 15 yards in the air.
- Doug Martin’s Week 1 performance was basically his 2013 season wrapped into one game. He was disappointing in the first half, getting just nine yards on the ground, then suffered an injury that knocked him out of the game. It’s hard to know what to make of Martin right now. He wasn’t good before tearing his labrum last year, but at least some of that can be attributed to the ineptitude of the Tampa Bay offense. The same could be said about Sunday, but at the same time Martin is largely responsible for making the Buccaneers offense go. The injury didn’t seem serious -- Martin was pleading with his coaches to let him back in the game -- so he should be back next week against the Rams. You’re going to start him, but he needs to do more than 16 total yards on 10 touches.
The Tampa Bay offense as a whole was largely uninspiring, though the Carolina defense had a lot to do with that. Josh McCown managed just 183 yards and 5.2 YPA. Vincent Jackson had four receptions for 36 yards on nine targets. Rookie Mike Evans also had nine targets, catching five passes for 37 yards. Brandon Myers led the team with six catches, but he was only that large a part of the offense because Austin Seferian-Jenkins left the game. With Mankins potentially nursing a knee injury, things could get worse for the new-look offense down in Tampa Bay.
- DeAngelo Williams played decently for the Panthers on Sunday, running for 72 yards on 14 carries. Jonathan Stewart had just 20 yards on nine totes. The latter did have three targets, but the former appears to be the man in Carolina. Still, this really isn’t a running game you want to be tied to this season. And in the passing game, it was eight targets for Kelvin Benjamin and 11 targets for Greg Olsen. Get used to numbers like that all season long. These are the only two real weapons Carolina will have through the air.
- The worst performance of the day probably belonged to Tony Romo. His two interceptions in the first quarter gave the Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers short fields that they converted into quick scores. After running just four plays on offense, San Francisco led 21-3. Romo would throw one more terrible interception, and by the time he was doing anything at all positive, the game was over. With Dez Bryant in and out of the game due to dehydration, Romo was without his best weapon for a decent chunk of the afternoon. Either way, though, he looked like a quarterback who had totally lost it. He’ll likely be a decent play against Tennessee next week, but owners should be wary.
DeMarco Murray was the lone bright spot for the Cowboys, running for 118 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries and catching three balls for 25 yards. This is exactly what he does when he’s healthy, and why he was worthy of being such a high pick. The concern with him has always been health and nothing else. If he can stay upright for 14 games like he did a season ago, he’ll justify that draft-day price tag.
- Frank Gore fought his way to 63 yards on 16 carries for the 49ers. Rookie Carlos Hyde looked like a lightning bolt, picking up 50 yards and a score on just seven carries. The Dallas defense is likely to be among the league’s worst, but Hyde’s play was eye-opening on Sunday. He brings a new element to the San Francisco offense and will almost certainly warrant more touches. He’s not going to unseat Gore as the starter, but he's earned a slightly larger role.
- The Colts' Trent Richardson put up a typical Trent Richardson line: six carries for 20 yards and that trusty 3.3 yards per carry. He will be well outside the top-30 running backs. On the other hand, teammate Ahmad Bradshaw caught five passes for 70 yards and did an excellent job blocking, as he always does. Indianapolis will eventually have to acknowledge the sunk cost Richardson is and get its best players out there, regardless of how they were acquired.
- There was some good and bad from Andrew Luck, but he showed again why he’s such a valuable fantasy player. He racked up 370 yards and two touchdowns (with two interceptions, as well), and also ran in one touchdown. This offense is all about Luck, and with the running game and defense potentially weak points again this season, it’s going to be almost completely on Luck to get the Colts back to the playoffs. That’s good news for his fantasy owners.
- Two veteran receivers who will be highlighted in our new column looking at targets in the passing game: Reggie Wayne and Anquan Boldin. Both were underrated in draft season.
- Montee Ball volumed his way to a productive fantasy day, running for 67 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. The most important thing to take away, though, is that he got all but four of the carries for Denver running backs. There is no question who owns this highly lucrative position. Ball will prove himself worthy of his lofty price on draft day.
- Julius Thomas was one of the Week 1 studs, posting seven receptions for 104 yards and three touchdowns. With Eric Decker now in New York, this could be the new world order in Denver. Thomas got eight targets, while Demaryius Thomas got 11 and Emmanuel Sanders got nine. Manning targeted Thomas all over the field, and he showed a breakaway ability on his 35-yard touchdown catch. Either Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski has led tight ends in fantasy points each of the last three years. That streak could very well end this season.
- After creating a ton of buzz this preseason, Cody Latimer didn’t see the field on Sunday night. Andre Caldwell was the Broncos’ third receiver, catching two of his five targets for 16 yards. Don’t cut Latimer just yet. He has too much talent and this can be too valuable a spot to give up on him after just one week. Given that he was totally missing from the game plan this week, he should be safely on your bench Week 2.
Ponies and Phonies
Every single season, a previously unheralded player has a monster Week 1. For some guys, a big game in the season opener is just the start of a breakout season. Others are never heard from again. For every 2011 Victor Cruz, there are five versions of 2013 Leonard Hankerson (five catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns Week 1, 295 yards and one touchdown the rest of the season). Your free agent bids and waiver claims in these first few weeks of the season are crucial. Fantasy owners need to be able to distinguish between the Ponies (like Cruz) and the Phonies (like Hankerson). We’re here to help.
Allen Hurns, WR, Jaguars – Hurns had a big preseason, then showed up with four catches for 110 yards and a score in his first regular season game. Hurns got nine targets, one fewer than Marqise Lee’s 10, and it’s clear they’re the top two options in the Jacksonville passing game. Hurns has the size and speed to make plays in the red zone and take the top off the defense. He needs to be added across the board.
Terrance West, RB, Browns – West was drafted in many leagues, and he’ll likely be picked up this week in any league where he remains a free agent. With Ben Tate potentially out due to a knee injury, West looks set for a bigger role in the Cleveland offense. He ran 16 times for 100 yards, and got 13 carries in the second half after Tate had left for the game. Isaiah Crowell may have scored twice, but West dominated the workload out of the backfield. He’s the guy to add.
Jake Locker, QB, Titans – Locker has a pair of strong weapons in Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright. He has the right coach with Ken Whisenhunt. He has potentially one of the best offensive lines in the league in front of him. For now, he has his health. With all of those present, he looked like a breakout player in Week 1. If he can finally stay healthy, he’s a strong bet to follow through on that promise. Even if he’ll just be your backup, he’s worth an aggressive bid.
Brian Quick, WR, Rams – Quick caught seven of his nine targets for 99 yards in the Rams’ loss to the Vikings. That’s cool, I guess, but do you really want to tie yourself to Shaun Hill/Austin Davis and this potentially dreadful St. Louis offense? And with a below-average receiver, no less?
Devin Hester, WR, Falcons – Devin Hester was the Falcons’ second-leading receiver on Sunday, catching five balls for 99 yards. He’s still the fourth receiver behind Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas. The Falcons also aren’t going to be rolling up nearly 600 yards week after week. Stay away.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Browns – Crowell may have scored twice, but he got just five carries to West’s 16. Pay attention to the workload, not just the guy who found the end zone. West is the Cleveland running back to own.
Donnie Avery, WR, Chiefs – Avery racked up 84 yards on seven catches and a team-leading 13 targets. He may not see that many targets in a game the rest of the season. Dwayne Bowe is due back next week after being suspended for the Chiefs’ first game of the year, and Jamaal Charles got just four targets. There’s no need to go after Avery this week.