Instant Impressions: Week 2
Injuries strike Charles, Cowboys, Foster, Vick; Cam Newton for real
• As of this writing, there isn't 100 percent confirmation that Jamaal Charles tore the ACL in his left knee, but it's widely presumed that the tremendous Kansas City Chiefs RB is out for the year after an awkward fall out of bounds Sunday against the Detroit Lions. It's the first truly devastating blow of the fantasy season, as Charles was a top-five pick in all leagues, and while I wasn't quite as high as on him as some, for me it feels like an illness in the family, because I was in on the ground floor with J-Mail last year. Charles' fantasy owners have no good recourse. Sure, if you're in a league where Ben Tate is somehow still kicking around on the waiver wire, by all means grab him. But in most leagues the best you're going to do is Thomas Jones, who presumably takes over as Kansas City's top back. But Dexter McCluster got work on gadget-ish plays out of the backfield (to the tune of 12 touches Sunday), so this will likely be a partial platoon. Plus it's not impossible the team calls on someone like Clinton Portis for depth.
• Michael Vick was knocked out of the Sunday night game with a concussion and his availability for Week 3 against the New York Giants is in question. With Vince Young also inactive, Mike Kafka took the first regular-season snaps of his NFL career and acquitted himself well; despite Jeremy Maclin's huge statistical night, it was Maclin's fourth-down drop that sealed Philly's fate. Vick's injury isn't considered a long-term worry at this point, but his offensive line is. The Atlanta Falcons brought big pressure against Vick and got several shots on him. I still think Vick misses multiple games this year.
• For the second straight week, Michael Turner's numbers look better than he actually played. Turner was bottled up by the Philadelphia Eagles' D until he broke a 61-yard run late and subsequently plunged in for the game-winning touchdown. Turner has 31 carries on the season. Two of them have gone for 114 yards, and the other 29 have gone for 100 yards. I grant you, the Burner showed excellent speed for a man his size on the game's key play last night, but I worry a couple of fluke plays are covering up for a problem that began at the end of last year. This doesn't look like a running back at the top of his game.
• Speaking of RBs not at the top of their games, how about Chris Johnson? Yikes. Yes, it was a bad matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, but CJ2K looked -- dare I say it? -- slow. That is to say, he looked slow to the hole. This is a player whose greatest asset has been his combination of vision and upfield explosiveness, and neither was in evidence Sunday. Is this rustiness? One presumes so. When will it shake off? Well, Tennessee gets Denver and Cleveland in its next two games.
• Tony Romo's late-game heroics against the 49ers covered up for what's becoming a M*A*S*H unit among the Cowboys' skill-position players. Romo himself apparently has fractured ribs, though he was able to play despite them Sunday, so you'd imagine he won't miss a start. Dez Bryant was inactive with a quad injury. Felix Jones left the game early with a shoulder problem, and played sporadically thereafter; there are reports that he may have suffered a partially separated shoulder. And Miles Austin, who was an absolute force grabbing nine passes for 143 yards and three TDs, left the game at the end of regulation with a hamstring injury that ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting will keep Austin out for multiple weeks.
• How can I be on my sixth instant impression, and only just now be getting to Cam Newton? Say what you want about the advisability of the Carolina Panthers' offensive strategy (Really? 46 passes and 21 runs? In a game you were winning at halftime?), but Newton is officially a fantasy factor. He's got two 400-yard games in two career starts and Carolina was in four-wide formations for much of the game. Jonathan Stewart may not have done anything running the ball (six carries for five yards), but he was all over the place as the apparent pass-catcher of choice: eight grabs for 100 yards. There are no "opponent" excuses after this one. Green Bay has talent in the defensive secondary. Newton made too many mistakes to lead his NFL team to a win, but there's no doubt now that he's a viable starter at least in deeper fantasy leagues.
• After his team's win over the Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak told reporters that Arian Foster simply left the game because he was "fatigued." However, Foster himself subsequently told the media that he "pulled himself out because I felt it [his injured hamstring] was getting a little tight." Great. Even worse for those fantasy owners who invested a top-five pick in Foster is the fact Ben Tate is doing a fine job in Foster's absence. Tate got 20 second-half carries with the Texans in clock-killing mode, and looks as beastly running over defenders as Foster ever did. Stay tuned.
• Thanks for playing, Antonio Gates. Hey, it's not like teams haven't double-teamed Gates before, but the New England Patriots did it as successfully as any squad in recent memory. Gates had one target and zero catches, despite being healthy and playing all day. Malcom Floyd played well for a quarter before injuring his groin, but the real beneficiary here was Vincent Jackson, who caught 10 passes for 172 yards and two scores. (Think the Pats might have trouble covering big receivers? Combined, Brandon Marshall and Jackson have gone for 17 grabs for 311 yards in the season's first two weeks.) One assumes Philip Rivers didn't feel the need to force anything to Gates considering how easily he was connecting with V-Jax. But still. And Vernon Davis didn't have it much better, catching his only two targets Sunday for 18 yards. Davis was reportedly required to stay in and block DeMarcus Ware for much of the game.
• Daniel Thomas was active for the first time Sunday and, a momentum-crushing, third-quarter fumble notwithstanding, he played well, instantly asserting himself into, at the very least, a backfield platoon with Reggie Bush. Bush totaled only six carries and one catch against the Texans, while Thomas got 18 carries and one grab himself. Suddenly it's as though an entire preseason of doubt surrounding Thomas never happened. He looks like a potential starter, and Bush looks like the supplemental player. On the off chance Thomas was dropped in your league (he's available in about 8 percent of ESPN leagues), grab him.
• Tim Hightower seemed to be having a swell game against his former mates, with 15 carries for 83 yards and a score in the first half. But Hightower got only five more carries in the second half (for 13 yards), while Roy Helu became the focus of the Washington Redskins' game plan. And Helu looked good. He had 10 carries for 74 yards and three catches for another 38. Most importantly, seven of his 10 runs went for 7 yards or more. This wasn't a case of one big run skewing the stats. When you watched these two backs go, the difference was palpable. Hightower is a try-hard plodder, and Helu is fast and elusive. I don't know if I'm buying Mike Shanahan's explanation for the change in workload during the game (he claimed Hightower was tired). I'm guessing this develops into a platoon.
• By throwing for 358 yards against the Baltimore Ravens, Matt Hasselbeck proved he's got something left. Kenny Britt is climbing into the NFL's elite at WR, and Nate Washington was open all day, as well. Hass gets the Denver Broncos next week, making him a potential sneaky play in deeper leagues.
• Denarius Moore is the first alumnus of my 2011 Super-Deep Sleepers column to make regular-season NFL noise. The star of the Oakland Raiders' training camp was forced into full-time action because Jacoby Ford and Darrius Heyward-Bey sat out with injury, and he was all over the field, showing terrific athletic ability and a nose for the football. He wound up with five catches for 146 yards and a circus grab on a 50-yard score that momentarily put Oakland ahead. I view Moore as worth adding in all leagues. I can't see how the DHB experiment lasts too much longer by the Bay.
• Who's the worse quarterback, Luke McCown or Tarvaris Jackson? In Week 2, McCown went 6-of-19 for 59 yards and four interceptions. Jackson's numbers look much better than that (20-of-29 for 159 yards and no turnovers), but there's a hopelessness surrounding that Seattle Seahawks offense, which has scored 17 points total in two games. At least McCown was put out of his misery, getting yanked Sunday against the New York Jets in favor of rookie Blaine Gabbert. Pete Carroll reportedly won't pin his team's problems on Jackson, which sounds noble, but also suspiciously like a ploy to win the Andrew Luck derby. Those two pass offenses. Oy.
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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