Fantasy Fast Forward: Matt Ryan's huge day, more from Week 1

Sunday September 7th, 2014

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. 

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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. 
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  • 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
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  • 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.
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  • 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. 
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  • 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. 
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  • 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. 
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  • 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.

    Ponies

    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.

    Phonies

    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, BrownsCrowell 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.

     

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