What an opening weekend of NFL action. From the Cowboys surgically dismantling the Super Bowl Champions on Wednesday to the Chargers going to the Black Hole and winning the first round of California's AFC supremacy duel late Monday night, there were thrills, chills and plenty of fantasy surprises. Here are five observations of what we can take away from what we just saw.
Two weeks ago I received a lot of backlash regarding my assertion that Alfred Morris would be the right man in the Redskins backfield this year. Based on the past it was probably deserved. However, I believe we've seen a suspension in Mike Shanahan's tormenting of fantasy owners -- for a while at least. Shanahan has long preferred to have a go-to rusher (see Terrell Davis, Clinton Portis, Reuben Droughns), especially when he's had a good offense, good defense and a quality quarterback. When his signal-caller has been a young Jay Cutler, an old Donovan McNabb or a pretty terrible duo of Rex Grossman and John Beck, who could blame him for trying to maximize his running productivity while knowing that his play in the pocket would be spotty at best.
Fast-forward to Sunday. Now Shanahan has a quality quarterback in Robert Griffin III, who had arguably the best (and unquestionably the second-best) day for a rookie starting in Week 1. Morris got the call 28 times in New Orleans, the most for a Shanahan runner since the aforementioned Droughns took 28 handoffs from Jake Plummer. Morris rewarded the Redskins with 96 yards and two touchdowns. Not impressed? Well, since 1960 the only other rookie to reach all of those numbers in his opening day NFL debut was someone fantasy players might remember: LaDainian Tomlinson (36-113-2) in 2001.
All of those who picked kicker David Akers three or four rounds early were rewarded with a thrilling 63-yard field goal just before halftime, tying the Niners kicker with Tom Dempsey, Jason Elam and Sebastian Janikowski for the all-time NFL-long. Even though he made all six of his kicks on the day, Akers placed fifth in fantasy kicking points, behind the likes of Billy Cundiff, Nate Kaeding, Matt Bryant and Blair Walsh, all of whom were sitting there for the taking in the last round of virtually every draft and all off of whom play in offenses that should keep them in the hunt for the scoring title. In fact, there were very few bad choices among kickers; as a group they made 93.1 percent of their field goal attempts (67 of 72) on opening weekend with only one miss coming inside of 40 yards. This isn't to say Akers won't lead the league in points again, but the difference between drafting someone like an Alfred Morris or a David Akers in the 11th or 12th round has huge implications on your season. Kickers have always been unpredictable, the only difference being that in today's games most of them are competent and usable on any given day.
With few exceptions (Michael Turner being one) the league's older stars showed up in a big way in Week 1. Who leads all wideouts in receiving yards? None other than Reggie Wayne, who has all the markings of Andrew Luck's go-to guy. Not far behind was another longtime fantasy force, Andre Johnson, who showed that he's still among the league's elite when he's healthy. In the backfield, Frank Gore showed incredible spring in his legs while salting away the Packers at Lambeau. And Willis McGahee did the same to the Steelers at Mile High, where Peyton Manning pulled off one of the most improbable comebacks the NFL has seen in quite a while. Here's the thing, though: Older players traditionally break down at some point during the season, so you may want to explore your trade options while their values are high. Making a trade sooner rather than later may hurt in the short run but over the span of 15 or 16 fantasy weeks, you'll most likely come out ahead.
Over the next few days FedEx will see a large increase in the number of game balls being shipped to orthopedic surgeons: Not only did Peyton Manning make a triumphant comeback from neck surgery, but Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Darren McFadden, DeMarco Murray, Matt Schaub, etc. all made remarkable comebacks from serious injuries that ended their 2011 seasons. All get the full green light from this point on.
Sure C.J. Spiller, Kevin Ogletree, Randall Cobb, Stephen Hill and Dennis Pitta will be among the most popular pickups this week but as you all probably have figured out by now I'm very into the under-the-radar crowd. Here are some names to put on your watch list: Russell Wilson, Curtis Brinkley, Jeremy Kerley, Andrew Hawkins, and Aldrick Robinson.