Commentary

Free-agent finds

Tate, Cadillac could get more carries this week; believe in Grossman, Henne?

Updated: September 13, 2011, 1:06 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

Forget about Cam Newton's spectacular debut. That is sooooo Sunday.

Monday night, Tom Brady scoffed at Newton's 422-yard performance, posting 517 yards himself, the fifth-best single-game yardage performance in NFL history. Heck, wouldn't you say Newton's numbers were devalued just a tad by the fact that Chad Henne went for 416 on Monday night?

Of course, while Brady is available in exactly zero fantasy leagues, Newton and Henne are acquirable in a majority of leagues. Are they among the week's best free-agent finds? Read on!

Standard ESPN league finds

[+] EnlargeBen Tate
Troy Taormina/US PresswireBen Tate, who missed all of last year with an ankle injury, had the fourth-best rushing day in Week 1 with 116 yards.

Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans (owned in 33.5 percent of ESPN.com leagues). Arian Foster may get a "questionable" designation again this week, and could be headed for another game-time decision with his balky hamstring. Certainly, the Texans didn't need Foster in their demolition of the Indianapolis Colts, and the way Brady dissected the Miami Dolphins' defense, I can't say with conviction that Houston will need Foster for their trip to Miami this weekend. It seems Foster will return some time in September, but hamstrings have a way of recurring. Derrick Ward (owned in only 12.5 percent of leagues) got the Week 1 start and Houston's first three carries, but thereafter the rushing workload was split between Ward and Tate. While each man scored, and while Ward didn't play the full game because of an ankle injury, my eyes tell me Tate was the better player: stronger, more punishing and more violent. If I'm choosing a handcuff for Foster right now, it's Tate. And even if I'm not a Foster owner, I still consider Tate a worthy pickup. Things change from year to year. There's a non-zero chance Foster misses significant time this season.

Cadillac Williams, RB, St. Louis Rams (14.3 percent). Meanwhile, we can assume Steven Jackson will miss time: He's almost certainly out for Week 2's Monday night game against the New York Giants with a bad quad. That means Caddy will get the nod, with Jerious Norwood (owned in 0.6 percent of leagues) serving as his backup. Williams had 25 touches for 140 yards versus the Philadelphia Eagles, looking especially dangerous as a pass receiver. There's no way his knees will hold up to that kind of monstrous workload, and after watching the Giants limit Tim Hightower to 2.9 yards per carry Sunday, I don't think you'd say that Week 2 represents a dream matchup for Caddy. But certainly Williams is addable in all leagues. For the moment, he's a clear starting running back again, and Jackson has more touches from scrimmage than any NFL player over the past five years. I'm guessing this isn't S-Jax's last boo-boo of the season, and regardless Caddy looks like he could be a factor in deeper PPR leagues going forward.

Aaron Hernandez, TE, New England Patriots (35.1 percent). I know there's a cannibalization issue with fellow Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (owned in 89.1 percent of leagues), but Hernandez should be added in all leagues anyway. Will life always be as sweet as it was Monday night? Probably not. Hernandez caught seven passes for 103 yards and a score, while Gronkowski had six grabs for 86 yards and a TD of his own. To be honest, Gronk was the guy the Pats used most early on, and Hernandez dominated in the second half as Miami's defense folded in the South Florida heat. Opposing defenses simply have to know what's coming, and will try to force New England out of those two-tight-end sets of theirs. I admit that week-to-week, each of these sophomore tight ends has more feast-or-famine to them than I'd like. Still, pick up Hernandez. He might be the Patriots' best downfield receiver.

Devery Henderson, WR, New Orleans Saints (15.1 percent). Do I love Henderson's skill set? I do not. He's a fast guy who mostly runs straight down the sideline with his arm up. But Marques Colston is out with a broken collarbone and Lance Moore is likely to remain questionable with the injured groin that kept him out of the Thursday night opener. My preseason binky, Robert Meachem, is still my favorite to be Drew Brees' temporary favorite, but I'd be ignoring the facts if I didn't acknowledge that when the Saints went two-wide versus the Packers, it was Colston and Henderson on the field, with Meachem looking dapper sipping from a water bottle. Week to week, this may continue to be a frustrating scenario to predict, and I'd rank Henderson third as a fantasy option among these receivers (after Meachem and Moore). But if I'm wrong -- perish the thought -- you'll be glad you picked up Devery.

[+] EnlargeGrossman
Geoff Burke/US PresswireRex Grossman was one of 14 quarterbacks to throw for at least 300 yards in Week 1.

Rex Grossman, QB, Washington Redskins (5.7 percent). That's right, I said it. Am I swayed by Sexy Rexy's 21-of-34 for 305 yards, two TDs and zero picks versus the Giants on Sunday? Maybe a little. He looked pretty good. But for me, this is more of a short-term add for Week 2, when the Redskins face an Arizona Cardinals defense that allowed all those yards (and glaringly wide-open receivers) to Mr. Newton and the Carolina Panthers. When he's good, Grossman is pretty good. He's thrown for 300-plus yards in three of the four games he's started as a Redskin. Of course, the problem with Rex is when he's bad, he's unbearably, fantasy-killing bad. He's got solid raw ability, but has head-clutching tendencies, and will make that one mistake better QBs just don't make. He is, simply put, a gunslinger without elite gun-slinging talent. So yes, I think you can add him as a one-week solution if you're a still-scrambling Peyton Manning owner. Longer term, though, I'm guessing you'll want to look elsewhere.

Nate Burleson, WR, Detroit Lions (18.7 percent). When Matthew Stafford went down with what would merely prove to be leg cramps, the entire War Room on the ESPN campus groaned. It was a groan with a hint of mockery, because everyone seems to expect Stafford to get hurt again. But the kid got up and stuck it out. And boy, he looked good. Calvin Johnson helped by scoring a TD on one questionable long throw, but overall Stafford has the mien and carriage of a breakout star. And Burleson could be a direct beneficiary. He, too, was in and out of Sunday's game because of the heat, but he's obviously the Lions' No. 2 receiver, he got a carry that he took for 20 yards, and he caught all five of his targets. You probably don't pick Burleson up to start him right away, but adding him is a hedged bet in case Detroit's offense winds up being a dominant one. In such a scenario, you'll be glad you own a piece of the action.

Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers (36.9 percent). As I wrote Monday, I'm skeptical that Newton will keep this up. But that doesn't mean I'm a stubborn doof. (Well, at least not about this.) I mean, having watched the Panthers/Cardinals game, I was left with two overwhelming impressions. First, Newton is already a better pro in his rookie season than I thought he'd be, simply by dint of not looking out of place. And second, Arizona's secondary is a disaster area. Newton threw to his first read much of the time, sometimes regardless of what the coverage looked like. That's often going to cost him. However, I'm willing to admit the possibility I'm wrong: Maybe it was less Patrick Peterson not being ready to cover NFL receivers, and more Newton being off-the-charts excellent. Probably not, but hey, there's a possibility. And even if that possibility is 5 percent, if I've got a bench spot available, I'm just fine with investing in a few weeks of Cam. If I catch lightning in a bottle, well, that's how fantasy titles get won.

Deeper league finds

[+] EnlargeDecker
Kirby Lee/US PresswireEric Decker returned a punt for a TD on Monday night and could find his way to more looks in the Broncos offense.

Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos (1.1 percent). He returned a punt for a TD late Monday night, and saw a lot of snaps while catching three passes for 53 yards. Decker passes the eye test, for sure, and Brandon Lloyd left the game late with a groin injury. I don't like the Broncos' passing offense in general, but if Lloyd misses time, Decker would likely be the most valuable receiving commodity in standard-scoring leagues (and Eddie Royal would get that title in PPR leagues).

Deji Karim, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (5.6 percent). Even in standard-sized leagues, Maurice Jones-Drew owners need to grab Karim. He carried it 14 times (albeit for only 33 yards) to MJD's 24 times Sunday. Jones-Drew looked good, and answered many questions about his surgically repaired knee, but when a star of his magnitude has such a clear handcuff (because Rashad Jennings is out for the year), you should grab that handcuff. And in deeper leagues, even if you don't own MJD, Karim is worth a speculative add to your bench.

Jacoby Jones, WR, Houston Texans (8.0 percent). Kevin Walter isn't injured as badly as some of the early reporters rushed to assert (at times like that, I'm eternally grateful that I sit near Stephania Bell in the ESPN War Room, because Stephania always has a measured approach to injury reports that keeps me grounded), but Walter will probably miss a game or two with his bruised collarbone. That puts Jones in line to start in two-receiver sets against a Dolphins secondary that struggled badly versus Brady. I don't think Miami will be so susceptible to mortal QBs. Still, I think the inconsistent Jones -- who also returned a punt for a score Sunday -- is worth an add in deep leagues.

Earnest Graham, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0.9 percent). It won't always be so bad for LeGarrette Blount. He's a big, powerful guy who'll have strong days this year. But he can't catch it, he's a poor pass blocker, and he offers no speed. And when Tampa falls behind, apparently Graham will be the man in their backfield. He played most of the second half Sunday, and got nine touches in that stanza to Blount's one. Listen, I'm betting Blount bounces back with at least 70 yards rushing and a score in Week 2 against the Vikings. He'll have great days. But there will be a couple of games -- and they won't be predictable games -- that go like Week 1 did. In deeper PPR leagues, I think Graham is someone worth rostering, if only because he's both the pass-catching option in the Bucs' offense and a handcuff for Blount.

Chad Henne, QB, Miami Dolphins (7.1 percent). If you ask me who played better in Week 1, Cam Newton or Chad Henne, I will tell you I think it was Henne, and he did it against a stronger opponent. The guy we saw taking chances down the field and rushing the ball when the Patriots gave him the opportunity? That's the guy we all expected to see in 2010. For one game at least, new Dolphins offensive coordinator Brian Daboll seemed to pry open Henne's robotic compulsion to stay away from risk, and hardwire him to get the deeper stuff back in play. Now, you still saw Henne look awful in the red zone in key moments, and he probably forced the ball to Brandon Marshall a few times when he shouldn't have. That, along with a frightening body of work last year, is why I consider Newton a better add right now, the devil you don't know being slightly better than the devil you know in this case. But in two-QB leagues, or in a deeper league where you're scuffling for answers, Henne's performance bears watching. If he repeats it against the Texans, we may have something.

Ed Dickson, TE, Baltimore Ravens (3.3 percent). The Ravens have a strikingly similar tight end situations to the Patriots'. They drafted two guys at the position last year (Dickson and Dennis Pitta), and appear willing to use both of them. Dickson had five grabs for 59 yards and a score Sunday, while Pitta had two for 45. But Dickson in particular leapt off the game footage with a couple wide-receiver-like catches. He's probably only barely inside the top 20 among fantasy tight ends at the moment, but there are star-like skills here. (You can also keep an eye on the Cincinnati Bengals' Jermaine Gresham, owned in 8.4 percent of leagues, who had six catches for 58 yards and a score in Jay Gruden's short-passing offense in Cincy.)

Christopher Harris is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.

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