Commentary

Instant Replay: Replacing the irreplaceable

Updated: September 8, 2008, 3:26 PM ET
By Eric Karabell | ESPN.com

Goodbye, Tom Brady. Hello, Matt Cassel. Those who selected Brady in the middle of the first round this season apparently are looking at the same unappealing scenario the New England Patriots are. On the surface, it's a dire one. But just like Pats coach Bill Belichick must be telling his players that the season is not lost, the same goes for fantasy football owners. Brady is one player, a great and valuable one at that, but the season will go on. Like Belichick, you just have to manage things a bit better.

Colleague Christopher Harris discussed in his Brady injury spin that Cassel hasn't played very much in the NFL, but he also pointed out the weapons at his disposal and the Patriots' enticing schedule. I've never assumed someone who hasn't played simply can't play, not after what we saw in 2001 when Drew Bledsoe had his insides rearranged by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis and an unknown sixth-rounder named Brady entered the game, became a fantasy star and won a Super Bowl. We really have nothing to go on with Cassel; he played respectably Sunday, and I would recommend sad Brady owners take a look at him as a replacement this week.

But who else might be out there for fantasy owners, and how did they perform Sunday? Here are quarterbacks owned in fewer than 70 percent of ESPN.com leagues, the best of the remaining lot, if you will. By the way, even if you don't need a quarterback, you know someone in your league is crying today and does, so consider adding one of these players anyway to force a trade or make that person's week a bit more challenging. Isn't that what fantasy football is all about?

Jon Kitna
Dale Zanine/US PresswireJon Kitna is the best quarterback available in almost a third of leagues.
Jon Kitna, Lions (68.7 percent owned): He threw a pair of touchdown passes at Atlanta and passed for 262 yards. Who needs Mike Martz? Kitna should end up near 20 touchdown passes and likely will approach 4,000 yards again. You'd think he'd be more popular.

Jeff Garcia, Buccaneers (25.9): He tossed 41 passes on Sunday, which doesn't seem to be a good thing for a running team in a close game. Plus, Earnest Graham ran well. Garcia topped 31 attempts only twice all last season, but you know what you'll get from Garcia. Rarely do you get 16 games, though. In fact, he's questionable for Week 2 with a sprained ankle.

Matt Ryan, Falcons (14.1): His first career pass was also a touchdown. No quarterback had done this in eight years (Michael Bishop). Ryan didn't throw much -- only 13 times -- because running back Michael Turner was so good. Be careful of rookies, but Ryan didn't play like one.

Chad Pennington, Dolphins (11.5): It's hard to believe he threw 43 passes, but the Dolphins' two-pronged running game was impotent, so he might continue to throw a lot of passes. Ted Ginn Jr. didn't do much, but give him time. Brett Favre pushed Pennington out and won the game, but Pennington isn't done yet, either.

J.T. O'Sullivan, 49ers (9.4): It wasn't an impressive debut for O'Sullivan, whom Martz took with him from the Lions, as he turned over the ball three times. He didn't throw as much as former Martz-mate Kitna normally does, but it's only one game.

Trent Edwards, Bills (8.7): Edwards had a mistake-free performance Sunday, and he made Lee Evans, who topped 100 yards, relevant. Edwards, who passed for 215 yards, seems a bit underrated to me.

Kerry Collins, Titans (5.0): Vince Young will be out for at least a few weeks, but the capable Collins stepped in and should make the team's wide receivers a bit more relevant. Collins has one touchdown and 10 interceptions as a Titan, but the generous defenses of the Bengals and Texans are up next for Tennessee.

Damon Huard, Chiefs (0.7): Let's not forget how solid he was in 2006 -- he threw 11 touchdown passes and only one pick when he took over for Trent Green. We don't think Brodie Croyle, even if healthy, will keep this starting job for long.

Personally, if I had taken the first-round plunge with Brady in any league (I did not), I would look at Kitna and Cassel as options. One of them has the arm to throw a lot and at least scratch the surface of Brady's numbers; the other has Brady's weapons and his schedule. There are no lessons to be learned here. Sure, you probably could have drafted Clinton Portis or Marshawn Lynch instead, but you didn't. Instead of searching for sympathy, get yourself a quarterback.

Top three (other) headlines

Turner is the scoring champ

Michael Turner
arvin Gentry/US PresswireMichael Turner ran away with the early-Sunday fantasy scoring lead.
Well, Michael Turner is the scoring leader for Week 1 (heading into Monday night, at least). Oddly, fantasy owners seemed cold on Turner in drafts, pointing to all the negatives surrounding his situation with the Atlanta Falcons -- the team was going to stink, it has a rookie quarterback in Matt Ryan, he can't catch the ball and had to contend with presence of running back Jerious Norwood -- but none of these things appeared to be a problem Sunday. Turner rambled for a 66-yard touchdown in the first quarter, en route to 220 yards and, in ESPN.com standard leagues, a 36-point afternoon. I ranked Turner as a late second-round pick, and he ended up as my third-rounder in quite a few leagues. Don't expect him to run over all teams the way he did over the woeful Lions, but there's no reason he can't be a top-10 running back with 1,400 yards and double-digit scores. I won't be selling high.

Three is better than two for Fast Willie

Similarly, the Steelers' Willie Parker seemed to be the running back nobody really wanted to target in the second round. In 2007, Parker ran for more than 1,300 yards, but scored only two touchdowns. Who wants a running back who doesn't score? Well, how do you feel now? Parker matched his previous season touchdown total before halftime Sunday and registered his third touchdown early in the third quarter. Fantasy owners shouldn't expect three touchdowns every week, but Parker is capable of leading the league in rushing. Don't expect 13 touchdowns, as Parker had in 2006, but he can reach double digits. Rashard Mendenhall, who did not have a good preseason, earned 10 carries, but most came with the game already out of hand. Parker isn't really a sell-high guy either.

Is Donovan hurt yet?

How about another relatively forgotten fantasy option to round out the top three? I saw Donovan McNabb slip past the top 10 of quarterbacks in a few leagues, as fantasy owners cited his lack of durability as the main reason to look at Matt Schaub, David Garrard and Philip Rivers. One good game from McNabb is no guarantee an injury isn't coming at some point, but we should mention how much better Philly's leader looked in the second half of 2007, as the calendar turned past one year from the date of his ACL surgery. Fantasy owners who are looking to deal for McNabb based on his 361-yard, three-touchdown demolition of the lethargic -- and pathetic -- St. Louis Rams defense should be realistic on expectations, but McNabb could be in line for a rather large statistical campaign.

Player tracker

Reggie Bush, RB, Saints: Someone has to run the ball for the Saints, right? Bush led the team with 14 carries, eclipsing Pierre Thomas' 10. Deuce McAllister was dressed but did not play. However, as is often the case with Bush, he made his mark by catching the ball. He scored the eventual winning touchdown on a third-down swing pass he majestically turned into a 42-yard touchdown. Bush topped 100 receiving yards for the third time in his short career and ended up with 112 yards. No matter who carries the rushing load for the Saints, Bush will remain a valuable receiving option.

This Week In Fantasy Football History: 1993
By Neil Tardy
A future Hall of Fame quarterback changed teams in the offseason, and no one could believe it. But to fantasy owners, it was the same old Joe Montana. In his Kansas City Chiefs debut, Montana connected on three scoring passes to three different receivers (one being the immortal J.J. Birden). Meanwhile, smart owners who had drafted Andre Reed then dealt him away before Week 2. Reed had six receptions for 110 yards and three scores in the season opener, but the man with 951 career receptions found the end zone only three more times the rest of the year.

Matt Forte, RB, Bears: We knew all along the problem was Cedric Benson and that other Adrian Peterson, right? Proof came when the rookie Forte broke a 50-yarder early against the Colts and ended up with 123 rushing yards, the second-most total for a rookie running back in Week 1 the past 10 years. Let's hope Forte has more staying power than the guy who produced the best first game (Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams). Forte did his job, Kyle Orton did his (he didn't turn the ball over) and the Chicago defense was solid. That's how the Bears like to do it.

DeSean Jackson (and pals), WR, Eagles: Yes, we do advise caution with rookies in fantasy football, but there is so much opportunity in Philly with Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown out that someone has to step up. On Sunday, three Eagles did, including first-year speedster Jackson, who electrified the home crowd with a 47-yard catch early on, then later broke a 60-yard punt return. Hank Baskett hauled in a sideline pass for a 90-yard touchdown, and a third Eagles receiver, Greg Lewis, also topped the 100-yard mark. It had been nearly 48 years since three Eagles receivers have accomplished this feat in the same game. Fantasy owners should pay the most attention to Jackson. The only other rookie wide receiver with more receiving yards in his first week of play the past 10 seasons was Anquan Boldin, who had 217 yards in 2003.

Jake Delhomme, QB, Panthers: Even without wide receiver Steve Smith, the Carolina quarterback was able to move the team through the air, but without the game-winning touchdown on the final play, Delhomme would have had a below-average fantasy performance. Why am I high on Delhomme? His surgically repaired elbow appears fine, and Smith will only make this offense greater in two weeks.

Thomas Jones, RB, Jets: That Favre guy will get all the credit, but Jones had burst he didn't show in 2007. Don't underrate a rebuilt offensive line. Jones ran for 101 yards and a score. Last season he ran for one touchdown all season. If you can still buy low on Jones, go for it.

Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals:No quarterback had as bad a day as Tom Brady, but Palmer played the entire game and topped Brady's passing yards by only 23. In fact, Brady had one more fantasy point than Palmer, edging him three to two, as Palmer also threw an interception in Cincinnati's uninspiring 17-10 loss at the Ravens. Palmer had an unpleasant preseason, missing his wide receivers and watching upheaval in the running game with the release of Rudi Johnson, and nobody stepped up Sunday. Chad Ocho Cinco caught one pass for veintidos yards (or 22, for most of us).

Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, RBs, Dolphins: Who would have expected new Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington to throw twice as much as new Jets gunslinger Brett Favre? Well, he did, and that meant few carries for the Miami running backs. Williams outdueled Brown 24 yards to 23, but neither was worth activating. As Brown gets healthier, look for him to be the one you'll want in fantasy, though you shouldn't give up on either player.

Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seahawks: Maybe the back problems are worse than we think, or maybe Hasselbeck lacks quality personnel around him, but the Seahawks looked terrible. Unless the injured wide receivers make quick recoveries, and unless Julius Jones becomes the running back that Cowboys fans had no faith he'd ever be, Hasselbeck might fall from fantasy starting status soon.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars: Both he and Fred Taylor were shut down by the Titans, but Jones-Drew is the one whom fantasy owners really count on. He rushed only five times for 13 yards, but let's remember that he didn't score last season until Week 5.

Studs and duds

Quarterbacks

Stud: Donovan McNabb, Eagles (361 yards, 3 TDs)

Honorable mention: Drew Brees, Saints (343 yards, 3 TDs)

Dud: Carson Palmer, Bengals (99 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT)

Dishonorable mention: Marc Bulger, Rams (158 yards, 0 TDs)

Running backs

Stud: Michael Turner, Falcons (220 rushing yards, 2 TDs)

Honorable mention: Willie Parker, Steelers (138 yards, 3 TDs)

Dud: Fred Taylor, Jaguars (9 rushes, 18 yards)

Dishonorable mention: Kenny Watson, Bengals (2 rushes, 13 yards)

Wide receivers

Stud: Hines Ward, Steelers (6 catches, 76 yards, 2 TDs)

Honorable mention: Randy Moss, Patriots (6 catches, 116 yards, 1 TD)

Dud: Marques Colston, Saints (3 catches, 26 yards)

Dishonorable mention: Torry Holt, Rams (1 catch, 9 yards)

Tight ends

Stud: Dante Rosario, Panthers (7 catches, 96 yards, TD)

Dud: Todd Heap, Ravens (1 catch, 5 yards, 1 fumble)

Team defense/special teams

Stud: Buffalo Bills (punt return TD, 1 interception, 5 sacks, 10 points allowed)

Dud: St. Louis Rams (38 points allowed, no turnovers, no sacks)

Kickers

Stud:John Kasay, Panthers (4 FGs, 2 PATs)

Dud:Mike Nugent, Jets (missed FG, 2 PATs and an injury)

Training room

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• Tom Brady wasn't the only quarterback to leave his game early. The opposing team's signal caller, Brodie Croyle, suffered a separated shoulder late in the third quarter, and the Chiefs seemed to respond better to backup Damon Huard, who threw a touchdown pass. Whether or not Croyle is hurt for the long term, Huard could replace him as starter and add a spark to a moribund offense.

• The Titans managed to beat the Jaguars despite the loss of quarterback Vince Young, and now they will need to win with backup Kerry Collins. Young didn't have a very good day and was booed heavily by the home crowd in the fourth quarter. Then he suffered a sprained left knee and is expected to miss at least two weeks with a torn medial collateral knee ligament. Kerry Collins completed both passes he attempted and probably will make wide receivers such as Justin Gage a bit more valuable.

Whom do the Seahawks have left for Matt Hasselbeck to throw to? Default top option Nate Burleson, who scored the team's only touchdown, suffered a sprained knee in the third quarter and did not return. The Seahawks already were without Bobby Engram and Deion Branch. The only other Seahawk who had more than two receptions was tight end John Carlson. Running back Maurice Morris also suffered a knee injury.

• The Colts didn't show much against the Bears, but losing Joseph Addai and Dallas Clark didn't help. Clark suffered a right knee injury in the first quarter but was seen walking the sideline in street clothes in the second half and not using crutches. Addai left in the fourth quarter with a head injury after gaining only 44 yards.

Marion Barber of the Cowboys scored a few early touchdowns, then left the pending win at Cleveland with bruised ribs. It's now being reported that Barber had damaged cartilage in his rib cage but hasn't fractured anything, and he is expected to play the Cowboys' next game, a Monday night affair against the Eagles. Felix Jones, by the way, looked very good in relief.

Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can e-mail him here.

Eric Karabell | email

ESPN.com Senior Writer