Hakeem Nicks, Chad Henne Star on NFL's Week 1 List of Studs and Pretenders
For the past month, NFL fans have relentlessly searched for undervalued players. Players who were primed for breakout seasons, or players who would rebound from mediocre past performances.
Until today, those fans were simply guessing.
But after the conclusion of the first set of NFL games, the true sleepers are separating themselves from the pretenders. Fans and fantasy owners alike have a better understanding of which players they can trust, and which players rode preseason hype into undeserved praise.
Arian Foster's breakout performance was an obvious example of a former sleeper who proved his worth in Week 1. But he was not the only sleeper who performed up to expectations.
And Kevin Kolb's atrocious game was not the only example of a high-profile sleeper that proved to be a disappointment.
Let's take a look at some of the fantasy sleepers, and how they performed in Week 1.
Mike Williams (TB)
Statistics: 5 catches, 30 yards, 1 TD
An under-the-radar fourth-round pick, Williams earned a surprising amount of hype in the preseason. He quickly earned the starting wide receiver spot in Tampa Bay, and some solid performances in August turned him into a popular sleeper candidate.
Williams did not disappoint. He caught an impressive three-yard TD pass, and received numerous targets from Buccaneers' quarterback Josh Freeman. He finished the game versus the Browns as the team leader in receptions.
However, while Freeman played a solid game, he does not yet appear capable of giving Williams enough legitimate scoring opportunities to be a must-start option in fantasy football.
Williams will likely put up solid numbers, and has tons of potential. But he does not look to be more than a WR3 in fantasy football.
Verdict: Borderline Starter
Statistics: 21-34, 182 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs
After the acquisition of Brandon Marshall, the hype train on Chad Henne began to gain steam.
Talented young QB getting an elite WR option? Seemed like a recipe for success. Plus, Marshall turned Kyle Orton into a good quarterback, right?
Orton had a solid fantasy game in Week 1 (295 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), so maybe the Marshall effect was a bit overstated.
Similarly, Henne did not look signficantly better with Marshall.
Miami got the win, but Henne did not carry the squad. He passed for 182 yards, with no TDs or INTs.
The Dolphins called 37 pass plays and 36 rushing plays. It does not appear that the addition of Marshall has inspired Miami to hand him the keys to the offense.
Henne will likely be a solid fantasy backup in 2010, but despite the addition of Marshall to the Miami receiving corps, he does not look ready to be the sleeper starter that some experts predicted that he would become.
Statistics: 14 rushes, 20 yards, 2 TDs, 5 catches, 16 yards
At first glance, it would appear that rookie Jahvid Best has already injected himself into the category of fantasy football RB1. His two TDs resulted in a very impressive debut, and his 19 touches prove that Best will be the featured back in the offense.
However, there are some warning signs.
First, his 1.4 YPC average is a bit low for a player who is known for his explosive, big-play ability.
Second, the Lions' offense took a hit when young QB Matthew Stafford went down with a shoulder injury.
Already, Stafford is questionable for next week's game versus the Eagles. A Lions team quarterbacked by Shaun Hill would have a far less dangerous offense.
Defenses could key on the running game, making it even more difficult for Best to thrive.
Despite his strong Week 1 fantasy performance, enough questions remain to keep Best in the category of "Decent RB2."
Verdict: Solid RB2
Statistics: 2 receptions, 29 yards
Jacoby Jones was a popular sleeper pick in the offseason, due to his size, talent, and potential for a substantial amount of looks in the Houston offense.
His poor fantasy performance in Week 1 should be placed into perspective. The Texans had no trouble running the ball against the Colts, and therefore used Arian Foster at a much higher rate than should be expected during the rest of the season.
Matt Schaub will not often throw the ball merely 17 times in a game.
However, Jones owners should worry about the re-emergence of Kevin Walter.
After a disappointing 2009, many assumed that Walter would earn even less looks in 2010. However, Week 1 showed that is not necessarily the case.
Walter mirrored Jones' numbers, but he also added a touchdown as well. Kevin Walter will continue to be a legitimate option for Matt Schaub.
With Jones already behind Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels on Schaub's list of "top targets," he needed to be the unquestioned No. 3 to be a legitimate starting option.
It doesn't appear to be the case.
Verdict: Bench Player
Statistics: 4 catches, 43 yards
Zach Miller was a popular pick by fantasy analysts for a breakout season.
He put up very strong numbers with JaMarcus Russell and Bruce Gradkowski as his quarterbacks in 2009. This season, he would get a QB upgrade with Jason Campbell.
Many predicted Campbell would lead the talented TE into the position's elite.
However, his statistics in Week 1 seem to show very little improvement.
Miller did have the best receiving statistics out of any of the Oakland receivers. Only Darren McFadden put up better statistics through the air.
But those looking for a breakout performance to justify their investment were disappointed.
Miller is still a low-end TE starter. But a mediocre performance by Jason Campbell this week should serve to lower expectations a bit.
An improvement is possible. But Miller still doesn't look like a 1,000-yard TE.
Verdict: Low-end Starter
Mike Williams (Seattle)
Statistics: 4 catches, 64 yards
The "original" Mike Williams. Once an overweight first-round bust, Williams shocked the football world by re-emerging in training camp and stealing the starting job in Seattle from T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
So far, the comeback is going quite well. Although he failed to score a touchdown, Williams led all Seattle receivers in receptions and yardage in today's game versus the 49ers.
While he was kept out of the end zone, his size will likely make him a target in the red zone throughout the season.
Williams showed fantasy owners what they needed to see. Plus, his quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, had a strong opener. The questions surrounding Hasselbeck had served to downgrade Williams.
If Hasselbeck rebounds in 2010, and Williams is the top target, the former disappointment could prove to be a valuable fantasy asset.
Verdict: Solid WR3
Statistics: 3 catches, 52 yards
All summer, fantasy owners have wondered: Which Chicago receiver will be the beneficiary of the Mike Martz offense? Knox? Devin Aromashodu? Devin Hester?
The answer after Week 1? None of them.
Running back Matt Forte proved to be the pass catcher of choice for Jay Cutler, making seven catches for 151 yards.
The actual receivers? The targets were split up fairly evenly between them. Aromashodu's 71 yards led the pack, but none of the three really distinguished himself.
It's likely that the entire season will follow this pattern. While Knox obviously has talent, he has yet to separate himself from the rest of the receivers on the Bears.
Until he does, he will remain a bye-week option only.
Verdict: Bench Player
Statistics: 4 catches, 75 yards, 3 TDs
Hakeem Nicks had a decent rookie season, but he slightly underperformed for a first-round pick.
However, he appears to be making up for lost time in 2010.
Nicks' 3 TDs led all NFL receivers so far in Week 1. He was basically unstoppable in the red zone, as he showed off his leaping ability and athleticism.
The second-year pro out of North Carolina will likely not be a yardage monster. Steve Smith remains the best pure possession receiver on the roster, and will garner more targets throughout the season.
However, it is obvious that Eli Manning views Nicks as his best redzone option.
Therefore, Nicks will be a great fantasy option all season long. He could even be a borderline WR1.
Verdict: Solid WR2
Statistics: 17 carries, 52 yards, 7 catches, 151 yards, 2 TDs
Matt Forte was a no-brainer first-round fantasy pick last season. He then proceeded to singlehandedly torpedo the fantasy seasons of his owners.
Forte appeared to be attempting to make it up to those owners in Week 1.
His 2.9 YPC average was disappointing, and more in line with his poor 2009 season.
But luckily, that was only half of his overall statistical line. Forte was absolutely devastating through the air.
His 89 yard, second-quarter TD reception set the stage for his impressive performance. He ended up finishing the game with a whopping 151 yards and two touchdowns.
Of course, Forte should be expected to rack up 100+ yard receiving games on a regular basis. After all, he is a running back.
But in a Mike Martz offense, Forte will get numerous opportunities to catch passes out of the backfield. And he has proven is his career to be a very solid receiver.
Forte's dual-threat capabilities make him a legitimate starting RB in fantasy yet again.
Verdict: Solid RB2