Will Carroll
Monday October 25th, 2010

It seems like all we've talked about over the last week was concussions and ... well, Brett Favre. I'm staying away from the latter issue. But concussions? Well, that's red meat to me since I've been talking about the issue since 2007. In the harsh light of day, did the NFL's newfound focus change anything? The early results are ... not really.

There were some big hits, including some that looked legal to me and some that were very questionable. According to Peter King, the NFL wasn't looking at any hits, including the one Ernie Sims put on Chris Johnson, or the one that took Max Hall out of the game. We could see signs that some players were thinking -- Brandon Meriweather led with his shoulder on one big hit and Donte Whitner did much the same thing at the goal line. That's progress and I'm sure we're going to see a lot of crowing by the NFL about how one edict eliminated a problem. The NFL is good at managing by press release and better at controlling its coverage.

What might derail that is the situation in which Todd Heap -- who, let's remember, was said to have a neck issue, not a concussion after his encounter with Meriweather last week that was deemed fine-worthy by the league -- collapsed for seemingly no reason on the field. He had not been hit, but as a tight end, I'd be surprised if he hadn't recently taken a hit. As I watched the highlight of him dropping, I could hear in NFL RedZone's Scott Hansen's voice what I felt in my gut: "Oh, God, second impact." Stunningly, he was back in the game shortly after that and ended the day with two touchdowns. Get ready for all the gritty, gutty and "what a warrior!" talk from the ex-player brigade, but this could have been much, much worse and I really want to know why he was even on the field after he collapsed.

Just look at how his performance Sunday made him go from being "Charmin soft" to a Pro Bowler without a mention of the injury. (Matt Vensel's a good writer, too.) This seems to be one situation where the medical staff should be allowed -- even forced -- to explain its process. That could be a release from the team or a quick interview, but explain how it saw Heap differently than how we saw him on TV. The slow blinks and what the announcer called a "blank expression and slow feet" really go against the program that the NFL had in place this offseason and more against the message it's selling this week.

Fixing the issue of concussions and illegal hits is going to take a lot more than one week. It's the consistency and commitment that will take a year, two years, 10 years to measure and even then, we'll be waiting and likely not watching when the guy who's our fantasy star now is just someone's father, someone's husband sometime in the future. One week is a good start, but not a culture change.

Let's fast forward:

Nik Bonnadio from numberFire puts out some of the most accurate fantasy forecasts. His breakout player this week, the one who most exceeded projections, should be no surprise. It's Darren McFadden, who, despite being No. 2 on the depth chart ran second to none.

Nik says McFadden exceeded the projection by an amazing 37 points. How did he do it? "The Raiders are one of the most schizophrenic teams in the league. I will be the first to admit that I thought Michael Bush was the play against a relatively awful Broncos D, but McFadden is finally starting to show bits and pieces of the promise he showed while at Arkansas. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised; after all, McFadden slashed Arizona and and St. Louis before his injury and while those teams aren't world beaters, that's certainly a step up from the constant disappointment that were his past few campaigns. He has some juicy matchups to come (Denver twice, Jacksonville) and he just may wind up a top-15 back for the year."

I'm with Nik on this one, which always makes me feel good about my thought process. Other breakouts this week include Kenny Britt and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who both went 29 points over their projections.

Picking a wide receiver in the first round made a lot of sense this year. Many who did that went with Larry Fitzgerald, expecting that they'd see similar value from him. The problem was, those same people didn't accurately assess how the changes around him would affect Fitzgerald's production.

If you don't think Fitzgerald is missing both Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin, I'd invite you to join us back here in the real world. Fitzgerald got 10 targets in Week 7, about a third of his team's attempts. This is pretty standard for a WR1. The problem is that in almost every situation, he's drawing both the best cover corner and the assistance of safeties. There's just no real credible threat to draw the defense away from Fitzgerald. That combination of factors has made Fitzgerald a bust, not just this week, when he was minus-12 (12 points under his projection), but well on his way to being perhaps the biggest fantasy bust of the year.

The other busts of the week? Jay Cutler (minus-7) continues to struggle and drag the Bears down with him, while Rashard Mendenhall (minus-4) seemed to be a bit lost in the pass-happy return of Ben Roethlisberger. Some of that has to be on the Steelers' offensive line, but any time you're buying a RB, remember it's a package deal.

It's time to recognize that while second-year backs Knowshon Moreno and Beanie Wells have talent, they might not be legitimate fantasy backs. Weeks like this one don't make it any easier to pass judgment, but at least they put up some decent numbers for their owners.

Moreno was running against a soft defense in the Broncos' blowout loss, but he showed only flashes of the talent that has people thinking he's going to be one of the very few true feature backs remaining in the NFL. A couple of TDs saved his fantasy day, but some of that was luck. Wells was also one of the few bright spots in a tough loss for his team. In Week 7, Wells appears to have established himself over Tim Hightower. Hightower's sure to still see the field, but this is much more of a RB1/RB2 setup than the timeshare we'd seen over the past few weeks.

The injury watch is a bit shorter this week, but it's never short. Matt Ryan had a great game playing catch with Roddy White, but he left late with an undisclosed injury. Sources tell me he had back soreness after a hit.

DeAngelo Williams injured his foot on a late carry, but early indications are that it's not serious. Jonathan Stewart is a must-get if Williams misses any time. It seems more serious for Steve Smith of the Panthers, who was coming back from a high ankle sprain. He walked off under his own power but did not return.

Pats breakout DB Patrick Chung left in the first half with a knee injury. Max Hall was one of few players to leave with a head injury this week. It seemed to be a clean play and Hall wasn't playing especially well before the hit.

The Raiders had mostly good news Sunday, but Louis Murphy did go down, though there's no indication on severity. Alex Smith took a hard hit and has a shoulder sprain on his non-throwing side. That sounds less serious than it is, but only slightly. You can't choose which side you land on.

Finally, Antonio Gates made it through the game without exacerbating his toe problem. As expected, he had a few catches on red zone targets, including a TD.

Frank Yoshida (his creative name on Twitter is @FrankYoshida) gives us our lesson of the day: "There's always talent available in free agents after the draft -- Kenny Britt, Matt Moore, etc." Frank's exactly right. There's not just some talent but good talent. Depending on when you drafted, there's always going to be changes, injuries and trades. Even this deep into the season, some talent comes. Britt was owned in only 65 percent of ESPN leagues heading into this week. LeGarrette Blount, who's starting to get more of a look in Tampa, is free in 99 percent of leagues. You might not be able to win your league at the draft or snooker your friends with trades, but you can be smarter on the waiver wire, each and every week.

Chris Brown of Smart Football is ... well, smart. In a discussion about Cam Newton, the Heisman hopeful who has Auburn at the top of the BCS rankings, Brown brought up a quote from a decade back. Homer Smith said he expected a "Bo Jackson who could throw" to emerge.

Newton is 6-6, 250 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds as a high school senior! While Bo Jackson was quick, how big do you think he was? Think of the muscles. Think of the powerful runs, like the ones against Brian Bosworth or in Tecmo Bowl. Bo knew football, but he was also 6-1, 220 pounds. That's right -- he's the same size as a guy who made the news this week: Colts punter Pat McAfee.

Newton is a QB in the mold of Tim Tebow, a modern melding of two positions, but when you consider the massive increase in size, with no loss in speed, you have to wonder. The equation for force is mass times acceleration. The NFL has increased both.

By the way, Jackson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.12 seconds at the NFL Combine. While it's considered unofficial, it proves that there's still no one quite like Bo.

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