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NFL fantasy roundtable: Charles' struggles may not improve soon


Each week of the NFL season, a committee of fantasy experts will huddle together and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.

1. Jamaal Charles led a number of disappointing performances from top RBs in Week 1. Whose struggles concern you most and why: Charles, Chris Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, Shonn Greene or Frank Gore?

Will Carroll: Charles was a victim of circumstance more than performance. I'll be curious to see how some of the more advanced numbers look for him. The Chiefs aren't going to be that bad, week after week. I'm a bit more worried about Shonn Greene. LaDainian Tomlinson was in late, and if Rex Ryan doesn't trust Greene more than a guy we know is on his last legs, is he ever going to?

Gary Gramling: Johnson. That was an awfully tasty matchup in Jacksonville. He was underused, but 49 yards on 15 touches against that defense is the kind of thing that leads to point-shaving investigations. Greene is the only other major concern. The Jets were throwing it even before they fell behind, and he was ineffective with the few touches he got. Because he's a zero in the passing game, Blount's going to have days like Sunday when the Bucs fall behind. Defenses will put 11 in the box against Gore all year. As for Charles, he's good but the Chiefs stink. And that was one of their most favorable matchups of 2011. Charles is a borderline top 10 RB. He'll have the same kind of drop that Johnson had from '09 to last year.

Eric Mack: Charles is easily the most frustrating of the Week 1 busts. Johnson at least had a holdout as an excuse. Johnson will build up and be a monster down the stretch. But Charles had to get off to a good start because he plays a brutally tough first-place schedule that features the best run defenses in the NFL during the crucial weeks of the fantasy postseason. Charles was supposed to collect his nuts and dominate a Bills defense that was very forgiving to fantasy a season ago. Things should only get tougher for the early first-rounder.

David Sabino: Johnson's struggles concern me the most because he was shut down by a Jacksonville team that's: a) not that good, and b) hasn't been together on defense for long. It's easy to believe he'll bounce back but he's in store for another clunker in Week 2 against the Ravens, which may have his owners in a panic. As a guy who depends on speed so much, Johnson can't afford to be hesitant when hitting the holes, which he was on Sunday and a likely was a by-product of his long holdout.

2. Has Cam Newton played himself into an every-week starting fantasy QB?

Carroll: Not yet. It's early, but he's shown that he's better than we thought. I liked him as a late-round flier, taking him in a couple leagues behind Aaron Rodgers. I'm going to play Rodgers 16 of 17 weeks, so, at worst, I was going to dump Newton in Week 11 if he hadn't panned out. Newton's going to call his own number at the goal line more than most. Plus, the Panthers aren't a good team and Newton's going to have to throw a lot. I think he ends up as QB2 on a lot of teams this week.

Gramling: Certainly not an every-week starter. That Cardinals' pass defense is so bad that Newton's 422 yards deserve an asterisk in the record book. That said, you have to love the fact that he was essentially the Panthers goal-line back. You can play him in the right match-up, but you're taking your fantasy life into your own hands. Despite what 422 says, he's not there as a passer, and the Panthers will have their share of one-TD games.

Mack: No way. He at least made Steve Smith relevant again, but we shouldn't get overly excited about him racking up comeback yardage and scores against a weak Cardinals defense. Newton is a must-own backup fantasy QB, but there are at least 12-15 quarterbacks who should outscore him over the long haul. Rookie quarterbacks are infamously streaky and risky to trust as regular fantasy starters.

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Sabino: No, but certainly you have to consider him if you don't have one of the top six or seven no-brainer starting quarterbacks. He appeared poised against the Cardinals and unafraid to throw downfield, especially to the now-relevant Steve Smith. If Newton's first game is any indication he'll be one of the better fantasy passers in the league in a couple of years, but like any rookie he'll be inconsistent, so I'm not ready to anoint him as better than Stafford/Romo/Schaub/Ryan just yet.

3. What sleepers emerged from Week 1?

Carroll: Mike Tolbert was a beast, and as long as his knee injury isn't serious, he's the guy you want from San Diego. Dexter McCluster was on the field a lot more than expected, even after Todd Haley said he'd be out there. Devery Henderson should be a nice pickup in a lot of leagues after Marques Colston's injury; Robert Meachem still drops too many balls.

Gramling: No one made me giddy. It was nice to see Fred Davis finally step up, though he was still only tied for third on the Redskins in targets, and the Giants defensive backs were hopeless (spinning around aimlessly, falling down for no apparent reason; it was like watching Electric Football). Davis is a nice play against the Cardinals this week, but long-term he's a risky TE2. Ben Tate and Deji Karim are now must-own in all leagues (even after Arian Foster returns). Doug Baldwin is a guy to watch for later in case injuries strike in Seattle, but his value is gone once Sidney Rice comes back.

Mack: There were a number of them at the tight end position, per usual this time of year. Scott Chandler, Jermaine Gresham, Dustin Keller, Ed Dickson, Fred Davis and Ben Watson likely were all underrated going into the season. You should rank them in order: Keller, Watson, Gresham, Davis, Dickson and Chandler. Also, Colston's injury makes Meachem, Henderson and Lance Moore far more significant pieces in Drew Brees' wide-open offense. Among quarterbacks, Mark Sanchez looks capable of having a big year with his developing passing game and Rex Grossman might not be completely worthless.

Sabino: The biggest surprise to me was Scott Chandler of the Bills, but I wouldn't count on a repeat performance. Rex Grossman was incredibly effective against the Giants and if he continues to play like he did on Sunday, he'll not only be a usable entity, but he'll elevate Jabar Gafney and Anthony Armstrong. The aforementioned Steve Smith (Panthers) was also a big shocker and could go down as this season's steal of the draft. Cadillac Williams surprised with 91 yards in relief of Steven Jackson, and with S-Jax nursing a quad injury, we could see more this week against the Giants. And in Houston, Ben Tate looked great, but with all the hype surrounding him in fantasy circles the last 18 months, I don't consider him much of a sleeper.

4. Which team's performance was more troubling for fantasy owners: the Colts or the Giants?

Carroll: Colts. Look, the Texans are a good team, but the Colts didn't look good in any phase of the game and will need to beat the Browns to not have a crisis of confidence. The Giants had a bad day but have good fantasy weapons. Ahmad Bradshaw, Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks are still solid fantasy starters. I can't say the same for anyone aside from Reggie Wayne on the Colts.

Gramling: The Giants were sloppy. The Colts were hopeless. Only Wayne and Dallas Clark are startable at this point, and they're going to have to get it done in garbage time. You're talking about a couple of early-round picks who are now (shaky) mid-round values.

Mack: Easily the Colts, if only because they had more receivers that were intriguing for fantasy owners. Nicks and Mario Manningham are all the Giants have among those being counted on for fantasy owners as receivers. For the Colts, Kerry Collins' ineptitude makes Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie relative backups now. Also, the Giants still will lean heavily on Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, something we cannot say for certain with Joseph Addai behind that Colts offensive line.

Sabino: The Colts, by far. Sans Peyton Manning we had a complete organizational collapse in Week 1, leaving only Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark with a modicum of fantasy value left. The likes of Pierre Garçon, Joseph Addai, Austin Collie, Adam Vinatieri and the exhausted defense are all rendered pedestrian to useless with Kerry Collins behind center.