Fantasy Football Week 1 Awards: Marcus Mariota and James Jones Enjoy Big Debuts

Jim McCormick@@_JimmyMcCormickFeatured ColumnistSeptember 14, 2015

Fantasy Football Week 1 Awards: Marcus Mariota and James Jones Enjoy Big Debuts

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    Marcus Mariota (No. 8)
    Marcus Mariota (No. 8)Associated Press

    Overreaction is natural when the buildup to a full slate of NFL action takes 224 days and 2,200 references to deflated footballs. While it's inherent for us fantasy fiends to boldly interpret this initial sample size, we should do our best as investors to remember Week 1 represents just 7.7 percent of the 13-week fantasy football regular season. There really is a next week.

    Treating Week 1, save for Monday's slate, as its own marketplace, we've put together a series of awards for the top performers of this first week of action. Does Marcus Mariota's debut deserve distinct recognition?

    Did James Jones announce himself as the waiver-wire wonder of the week? Is Dez Bryant's foot ailment the biggest injury of the week? Why is Danny Woodhead so fun? Can we endlessly pose open-ended questions? 

    Please join us in discussing the biggest and boldest performances and outcomes from this first week of fantasy football action. Feel free to share your top fantasy picks for this fun opening week of NFL action in the comments section below.

Sunday's Sensational Signal-Callers

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    Carson Palmer (No. 3)
    Carson Palmer (No. 3)Associated Press

    Yes, that is a picture of Carson Palmer running free for a sizable gain. When you find a picture of Palmer running, you use it. But really, Palmer enjoyed a massively successful return to the field in facing the Saints, throwing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns for the first time since Week 13 of the 2013 campaign. 

    Palmer is the recipient of top fantasy value at QB for Week 1. His awesome outing serves not only as a reminder why it's often wise to wait on quarterback, but also why it's wise to listen to Vegas; the Cards entered Sunday with the week's second-highest projected point total outside of the Eagles.

    The desert envisioned points going up in Arizona, and they were right. While some tough and arguably avoidable division matchups remain, Palmer is firmly in the QB1 discussion at the helm of Bruce Arians' impressive aerial show.

    Outside of Palmer, we must mention Marcus Mariota's sensational debut. The Elias Sports Bureau informs us, via, that the Oregon rookie is the first freshman quarterback to toss four scores in his debut since Fran Tarkenton in 1961. Suffice it to say, no one played Tarkenton in DFS that week.

    Mariota might not be a weekly QB1 given the small sample of success, but he's clearly in the streaming discussion and remains an awesome tournament ticket for daily gamers. If the kid starts running (just two rushes and six yards on Sunday)

    We'd be remiss to not mention Alex Smith's awesome opener, as he led the Chiefs to their most points in the first half (27) since 1963, according to ESPN Stats & Information (notes acquired firsthand). Andy Reid's famously effective play-action playbook was on fire in the opener, as Smith was perfect on seven such attempts in that awesome first half for 125 yards and two scores, again according to ESPN Stats & Information. While I wouldn't rush to add Smith in 10-team setups, he remains a valid platoon partner in any deeper formats. 

    On the bust side of things, real fears over Peyton Manning's ugly opener are growing like the pungent flowers of Denver. For just the third time in his 49 regular-season outings with the Broncos, the team failed to score at least 20 points. I was admittedly on the "He's still basically Peyton" side of the fantasy fence this summer, but I'd be looking to add assets like Mariota or Palmer if I had an uninsured share of Manning going forward.

Chris Ivory and Bishop Sankey Enjoy Big Openers

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    Chris Ivory (No. 33)
    Chris Ivory (No. 33)Associated Press

    It's not lost on the wait-on-RB crowd that Chris Ivory, Bishop Sankey and Danny Woodhead produced elite fantasy outings in Week 1. As much as top backs bolster fantasy portfolios, several undervalued assets at the position performed well in the first weekend of the 2015 campaign. 

    Matt Forte, Jeremy Hill and Jamaal Charles all turned in solid Sundays, but what fun is there in recognizing cost certainty? 

    While Sankey's impressive fantasy output was fueled by two scores on just 14 touches, there is real reason to be interested in his services going forward given Mariota's ability to run. Such threats from the pocket historically open up efficiency windows for tailbacks. 

    Ivory lived up the breakout hype, posting exactly 100 total yards en route to two scores, making him our top tailback of the opening slate. I've been high on Ivory all summer, which sort of sounds like I have a unique drug habit. But really, the dude is a missed-tackle maven, producing 61 yards after contact on Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus. It's likely an overreaction to consider Ivory in the RB1 tier, but given his lock on goal-line duties on an early-down rushing offense, maybe it would be appropriate to bump up his stock a good degree. 

    Woodhead was in the gym this offseason—not that I would know (I'm a fantasy football writer, people)—as his biceps are nearly as big as his box score from Sunday. The diminutive dynamo wasn't merely a third-down asset for the Chargers in beating the Lions, but he was a goal-line staple on his way to multiple rushing scores for just the second time in his career.

    Already a known flex or RB2 commodity in the PPR world, even the standard crowd should price Woodhead as a starter given his trusted role alongside Philip Rivers. 

    Of the disappointing debuts, a toe injury and underwhelming efficiency felled C.J. Anderson's debut as the feature back for the Broncos. Frank Gore scored just three more standard fantasy points than you did yesterday, albeit while facing the league's top defense. 

    Meanwhile, Doug Martin really dug a hole for investors to place their regret in, while committees in Cleveland and Dallas proved inscrutable, if not avoidable. No one should be shocked LeSean McCoy didn't exactly thrive in his first game as a Bill, but 87 total yards keep him out of the bust tier this week. The presence of Tyrod Taylor should serve to help McCoy, who thrived in the Eagles' zone-read scheme. 

    Of the bust pack, I'm most concerned over Martin, who fetched a mid-round price tag in drafts and is tied to what appears to be another wayward Tampa Bay offense. Arian Foster is the exception, as most tailbacks on stagnant offenses suffer statistically. It's early, of course, but I'd look to sell Martin if he has a nice outing in the next few weeks. 

James Jones and Kendall Wright Among Top WRs

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    James Jones (No. 89)
    James Jones (No. 89)Associated Press

    True story: Aaron Rodgers only has six phone numbers stored in his cellphone, and four of them go directly to James Jones. It didn't take long at the reunion concert to hear some classics, as Jones' red-zone prowess (Sunday marked his sixth career game with two scores) proved valuable in his return to the Packers. 

    Just a hunch: You and your league peers will be fighting over Jones on the waiver wire this week. Given his huge opener, Jones is our top fantasy wideout of the week. Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins are clearly special, but Jones can realistically hit 10 touchdowns this season given his rapport with the world's best quarterback.

    Speaking of Nuk, Hopkins certainly enjoyed a strong Sunday, proving that literally anyone can be throwing to him and he'll produce valuable fantasy metrics. If he wasn't already on your WR1 list, burn it and don't tell anyone. Or skip the fire part and value him accordingly.

    I know you all started Travis Benjamin and Tavon Austin, so we'll skip those aberrations for now and instead focus on Stevie Johnson and Kendall Wright, two possession valves who flashed in Week 1. Wright is on the receiving end of the best arm he's ever worked with, while Johnson can claim the same angle. Both are in prime positions to claim over 20 percent market shares of their respective passing games, and you should view them in the WR3 tier going forward. 

    Of the bust bunch, it's somewhat scary to imagine how Dez Bryant's investors feel this morning. While injury shouldn't be tied to being a bust in the sense of performance, his foot injury will may keep him out until after the Cowboys' Week 6 bye, head coach Jason Garrett said. If anything, Jason Witten sees the biggest target-share bump, but it's also clear Terrance Williams (eight targets) should be a major waiver add this week (he's available in over half of ESPN leagues).

    Similarly, the Colts' T.Y. Hilton injured his knee in Orchard Park yesterday and may miss multiple weeks, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The big buy for those seeking reinforcements is Donte Moncrief, who played on 74 percent of the Colts' offensive snaps and drew 11 targets, according to Pro Football Focus. Earning more than a fifth of Andrew Luck's attention is often a rewarding role (except maybe for uncle Andre). 

    Demaryius Thomas and Calvin Johnson both left fantasy managers seeking counsel as they stared at thin box scores last night. I'm not concerned over Johnson; he was doubled throughout by a capable secondary and should see far brighter Sundays ahead.

    With Thomas, the obvious concerns are tied to the aging arm of Peyton Manning. Thomas is a special playmaker and merits patience. Offer his owner something semi-insulting when you get the chance today. 

Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Tyler Eifert Explode

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    Austin Seferian-Jenkins
    Austin Seferian-JenkinsAssociated Press

    If a fantasy analyst tells you to wait on every position, how do they expect you to draft in the early rounds? I am admittedly advising that investors should wait on value a bit too often. At tight end, though, I'll just keep repeating the same refrain.

    On the Mount Rushmore of elite fantasy tight ends, there are four Rob Gronkowski faces drinking different light beers. Travis Kelce is certainly working on it, but there really is only one surefire superstar at the position, while guys like Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Tyler Eifert stare at the chiseled mountain in respectful awe.

    ASJ, as the cool kids call him, broke out in a big way in Tampa Bay's drubbing at the hands of the Titans. It's certainly a stroll down narrative street, but rookie quarterbacks like tight ends, we think. More accurately, the position requires simple reads and is often a break-off valve for a skittish young arm, affording Seferian-Jenkins awesome DFS value and a rightful place on 12-team redraft rosters. At a fickle and shallow position, feel free to send ASJ out there over guys like Dwayne Allen, Charles Clay and Larry Donnell. 

    Eifert is the real star of this discussion and our selection as the most impressive at the position this week. A first-round talent finally healthy and unfettered from the target prison imposed by Jermaine Gresham's presence, there is a lot to like about this scenario. As a weekly top target on a team that relies on allowing the run to set up the intermediate passing game, Eifert is a reliable starting tight end in fantasy going forward.

    For the disappointing crowd, we turn to Delanie Walker's hand injury and the defeating share we are likely to see for the Colts duo of tight ends Coby Fleener and Allen. Owen Daniels was off my draft board before he even went to Denver, because the best way to invest in a breakout is an oft-injured 32-year-old. Either way, owners of these assets can pivot and chase assets like Seferian-Jenkins and Eric Ebron where possible.

The Panthers D/ST Wins the Week

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    Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    Defenses help win fantasy championships. Managers who capably and confidently stream at D/ST, something Vegas can help us with if we apply some simple math, are often one step ahead of their competition.

    Speaking of streaming, the Carolina Panthers defense wasn't a hot ticket on the draft market, but two inviting early matchups should have incited more interest. After eating up fantasy points in Week 1 as our top fantasy D/ST of the first frame, Carolina next gets a visit from the Houston Texans' inept offense. 

    The Dolphins surely helped out hopeful investors in securing a victory over the Washington Redskins, and don't look now (actually, do look now, that's the opposite of what I'm intending), but the Fins get the Jaguars, Bills and Jets in the next three weeks.

    If you paid up for the Cardinals D/ST, that might not be a mistake over the long haul given their talent on that side, but please pay attention to Vegas when possible. It predicted lots of points for Week 1 and is often quite close when it comes to point totals. 

    I would want to pursue any cheap shares of the Texans D/ST if possible, as Houston plays the aforementioned Panthers and Bucs over the next two weeks. Don't worry if your D/ST left you in the lurch this weekend; go live the dream and stream.