Welcome to my new weekly column for Bleacher Report, “The Fantasy Football All Out Blitz.”
This slideshow will serve as an all-inclusive fantasy football buffet. It's a recap/preview combo, covering a little bit of everything, during the rush that is the fantasy football season. The All Out Blitz will be broken down into the following sections.
Fantasy Feature: Lead story for the AOB, will focus on one player or storyline from the previous week.
Recap Bullets: Quick list of other relevant developments/performances from the previous week.
Tapping the Wire: Rundown of popular shallow and deep league waiver wire pickups.
The Watch-Men: Players who should be monitored on your league watch list.
Handcuff Hopefuls: A rolling list of the top running back backups in the league.
The Week Ahead: Start ‘Em, Site ‘Em, and other notes for the week ahead.
Here’s hoping that the AOB becomes the one-stop-shop for all your weekly fantasy football needs! (But seriously, there are a lot of good writers on this site. Check them out too.)
I could have gone a Davone Bess variety of routes in picking this week’s featured topic. In the end, I decided to go with the guy I’ve been mulling over since the season kicked off last Thursday in Green Bay.
It is wise to take Week 1, or as I like to call it, Overreaction Week, with a grain of salt. Cam Newton is probably not going to throw for 4,000 yards this season, which he is well ahead in pace to do. Heck, 3,000 yards would be a revelation.
From a transverse perspective, fellow rookie hopeful Mark Ingram should have a much more productive season than his Week 1 performance would indicate. While he led the Saints in rushing attempts with 13, Ingram finished with a fantasy fail of 40 yards (3.1 average) and no TD.
The fact is this; the game tempo in Green Bay was not ideal for Ingram. Even setting that aside, he seemed to get the rock mostly on delayed, obvious running plays. As a result, the ferocious Green Bay Front 7 were shooting the gaps with ease, especially on the final goal line stand where Ingram fell short. (If you saw the replay, it looked like a scene from 300, with Packers defenders flying in slow-motion towards the hapless rookie.)
For that reason alone, I’m not worrying too much. Ingram looked as impressive as a RB can on a 13 for 40 night, pushing defenders for small gains and always falling forward. He is simply a great short yardage runner, and if he gets enough space, has just enough quickness to break off a nice gain.
Ingram is going to wear down the weaker, undersized defenses left on the docket (Panthers twice, Colts, Rams, Titans) and can be useful against the tougher opponents too. It won’t get any easier against the Bears in Week 2, or the underrated Texans defense in Week 3, but the Saints will be home for both games, and I don’t see Ingram getting stuffed at the goal line on a regular basis.
One point of interest is Pierre Thomas, who looked spry against the Packers, and is simply a better all-around back than Ingram right now. A healthy Thomas will make it tough for Ingram to be anything other than a more talented version of 2008 LenDale White (773 yards, 15 TD). Then again, a healthy Thomas is not a likely season-long scenario.
* With all the uncertainty and year-to-year turnover among fantasy’s top RBs; Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady should really be the Top 3 picks in annual drafts. Say what you want about depth and stability at the QB position; if you draft one of these three guys, you have a guaranteed 20+ points a week, and will likely make your league’s playoffs. The talented trio combined for 1,248 passing yards, 10 TD and just one turnover (a fluky tip pick by Brady) in Week 1. While he posts similar season-ending numbers, Philip Rivers is just outside this group.
* Things weren’t as rosy for Ben Roethlisberger against the Ravens, who managed just one TD against 3 picks, and was the least effective fantasy QB in Week 1 not named Sam Bradford. The good news is he gets a very friendly home matchup against the Seahawks in Week 2, and owners need not worry about the picks – Big Ben has averaged only 10.7 per season in the past four years.
* Ray Rice (pictured) is looking like the top RB in fantasy, after demolishing a stout Pittsburgh defense to the tune of 149 total yards and two TD. Rice has the talent, opportunity and playing environment to dominate the position this season, and has the Colts and Browns on his playoff schedule for anyone thinking that far ahead.
* The duo of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson is arguably the most talented QB-WR connection in the league, and will pay huge dividends to their fantasy owners, if both can stay healthy for a whole season. Johnson particularly has a chance to join Ray Rice as the new fantasy king of his position, as 1,500 yards and 15 TD is a realistic projection right now.
* I had a lot of faith in Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks this week, but both promising tight ends were limited to one measly catch. Cook didn’t appear to be featured in the offense, despite the Titans intentions of using him as a weapon. Kendricks entered Coach Steve Spagnuolo’s doghouse after dropping a would-be TD pass. I’m still not giving up on them, as both teams’ passing games can’t look any worse going forward.
* Darren McFadden led the league in 20 yard rushes (in only 13 games) last season for a reason – they are the only runs he knows how to make. The fourth-year phenom got the 2011 season started with three runs of 20+, including a 47-yard scamper that fell just short of a TD. When McFadden gains even close to a full head of steam, no one wants to tackle the guy. I have never seen a RB with his combination of size, power and speed.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buffalo Bills – “Harvard Man” was a terrible movie from 2001 starring Adrian Grenier (Vince from Entourage). It is, however, a pretty good nickname for the Ivy League alum/Bills QB, who racked up 4 TD on the road against the Chiefs in Week 1. If you have a shaky looking QB situation (say, Sam Bradford), Fitzpatrick is a great pickup.
Chad Henne, QB, Miami Dolphins – After a disappointing 2010 season, Henne got off to a phenomenal start against the Patriots on Monday Night Football, setting a career high with 416 passing yards. Henne also topped his season total in rushing yards from last year (52) in just one game, with 59 yards on the ground plus a score. I was skeptical if a new offensive coordinator would really mean anything for Henne’s fantasy outlook, but if the first game is any indication, a start similar to Kyle Orton last season (as ironic as that sounds), is in the cards.
Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans – The health of Arian Foster is obviously the key in predicting Tate’s future success, but the second-year back gave everyone a preview of what he can accomplish as a featured back in Week 1 (116 rushing yards, TD). Tate is deadly quick, and a perfect fit for Houston’s running scheme. With Foster practicing, Tate may not be worth starting in Week 2, but is clearly worth stashing if Foster experiences a setback.
Nate Burleson, WR, Detroit Lions – I talked up Nate last week in my Week 1 preview, but he is still owned in only 48 percent of leagues. #ToeDragSwag didn’t find the end zone in Week 1, but totaled 5 catches for 60 yards before leg cramps (a common occurrence for players in Week 1) kept him sidelined for most of the second half. As the number two option in Detroit’s emerging passing game, Burleson needs to be owned in all leagues.
Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos – The second-year WR out of Minnesota made a big splash in Week 1 with a 90 yard punt return (pictured) against the Raiders. Aside from that one play, he caught three balls for 53 yards, and is clearly the most talented pass catcher on the team after Brandon Lloyd. Decker was considered one of the best WR prospects coming out of college, and can become fantasy relevant if he enters the starting lineup, with Eddie Royal moving to his more natural slot position.
Arrelious Benn, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - King of the Watch-Men until he makes serious strides, Benn finished with a physical four catches for 27 yards in Week 1. Tampa Bay's offense appears a little undefined right now, but if they become more reliant on the pass, Benn can carve himself out a substantial role.
Evan Moore, TE, Cleveland Browns - Another in what is becoming a very common trend of ex-college hoops players emerging as NFL tight ends. Moore has actually been around the league for four years now, signing as an undrafted free agent with Green Bay in '08. He is battling Ben Watson for playing time, but has the size (6"6') to become a red zone favorite of Colt McCoy's.
Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos - Same story as Moore, different city. Thomas, 6"5', was a preseason dandy for Denver, but is still behind Daniel Fells on the depth chart, and is barely seeing the field. But while Moore is getting more playing time, Thomas is the guy with a smaller roadblock to fantasy relevance.
Joe McKnight, RB, New York Jets - The Jets want to be a "ground and pound" team this season, but may not get the production they need from Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson. McKnight is an undersized RB at 5"11', 205 pounds, but has the speed and explosiveness that his counterparts in the backfield lack. If the ground game continues to struggle, McKnight will start to get some looks, running behind one of the league's best offensive lines.
Donald Jones, WR, Buffalo Bills - Already established as Buffalo's number two receiver, Jones (pictured) scored a TD in Week 1, making a nice leaping catch behind his defender in the end zone. A favorite of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jones has a good chance to stave off a rotation at the two spot and see regular snaps across from Stevie Johnson, in what projects to be a pass-happy offense all season.
1. Ben Tate, Houston Texans - If Foster can't stay on the field, Tate (pictured) has the best chance at immediate Top Ten RB value among everyone on this list.
2. Cadillac Williams, St. Louis Rams - He is high on this list now that he has the starting gig for Week 2 (and possibly longer), but make no mistake; Williams is even less durable that Steven Jackson.
3. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills - Fred Jackson may appear to be a favorite in Buffalo, but at 30, he is not in the team's future plans. Spiller, who looked dynamic on his Week 1 TD, may not need a Jackson injury to takeover this season.
4. Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders - While not nearly as talented as Darren McFadden, Bush has proven a capable stand-in in the past, and Run DMC's physical playing style always leaves him open to injury.
5. Jerome Harrison, Detroit Lions - Jahvid Best got a workmanlike 21 carries in Week 1, but only mustered 72 yards (3.4 average). He is also very injury prone, and Harrison has likely surpassed Maurice Morris in the pecking order.
6. Deji Karim, Jacksonville Jaguars - When you consider that Karim got 17 touches with a healthy Maurice Jones-Drew, and that MJD is on a "pitch count," here is handcuff already inching his way into the running game.
7. Jason Snelling, Atlanta Falcons - Michael Turner looked good in Week 1 (140 yards on 13 touches), but is still a groin pull away from Snelling inheriting a very juicy gig in fantasy.
8. Delone Carter, Indianapolis Colts - The rookie would have been much higher on this list, but lets face it; being the Colts starting RB is not what it used to be. Carter did earn 7 carries to Joseph Addai's 8 in Week 1, however.
9. Kendall Hunter, San Francisco 49ers - Frank Gore is healthy (for now), but Hunter, the preseason's leading rusher, is now officially number two on the San Fran RB depth chart.
10. Montario Haresty, Cleveland Browns - Peyton Hillis got a ton of work in Week 1, but still doesn't look like the guy who took the fantasy world by storm last season. Hardesty is finally back on the field and healthy.
* Now comes the real test for Cam Newton (pictured) in Week 2, making his home debut against the Green Bay Packers. This time around, the opposing defense won't need to blitz on every down to apply pressure on the rookie QB. As a result, Newton will find less guys (namely WR Steve Smith) wide open, and will need to show he can go to his second and third reads successfully. Don't start him based off last week's explosion, but if Newton can perform at 50 percent of last week's production, it's a very encouraging sign going forward.
* The Vikings also make their home debut, at the Metrodome, and Donovan McNabb is surely hoping he cracks triple digits in passing yards this time around (after a putrid 32-yard effort in San Diego). It's probably better the Vikings are playing a league average defense in the Buccaneers, as opposed to a bottom feeder, since it will serve as a better gage of the passing game going forward. For fantasy purposes, the player of relevance is clearly Percy Harvin, who many (myself included) have great expectations for this season. Here's to hoping he and McNabb can get on the same page.
* San Diego vs. New England is one of two truly great games on an uneven Week 2 docket, and as such, is full of fantasy relevance. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski were the second and third highest scoring tight ends in Week 1, but can they continue even a dual Top 10 pace on a weekly basis? The Chargers have a stifling defense, but one that is notoriously generous to the TE position. Last season as rookies, Hernandez grabbed 5 passes for 54 yards against the Chargers, while Gronkowski scored a TD. Should be an interesting development this weekend.
* In the same game, the production of Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews in San Diego's running game will also be under the microscope. Tolbert was uber-productive in Week 1, scoring three TD, while racking up 9 catches and 93 total yards. Mathews was no slouch himself, totaling 118 yards, including a 21-yard rush and a 37-yard catch and run. With Tolbert suffering a minor knee injury, it will be interesting to see how the team splits carries moving forward. As long he stays prominent on third-downs and goal line situations, Tolbert owners should have nothing to worry about.
* On Sunday Night Football, the Eagles travel to Atlanta for the week's other marquee match-up. Much will be made about Vick's return to the Dirty South, but I'm more interested to see how the Falcons bounce back following a Week 1 beating in Chicago. The focus will be on Matt Ryan, who goes from facing a fierce Bears Front 7 to the "Dream Team" Eagles secondary. While Ryan was accurate against the Bears (66 completion percentage), last year's trend of short passes plagued him again, evident by his 6.8 yards per attempt. If Atlanta really wants to open up the passing game, Ryan needs to start taking shots down field. Surely, this will be a tough week to do so, but Ryan always performs great at home, and will likely challenge Philadelphia's heralded cornerbacks, rather than straying away from them.