Instant Impressions: Week 1
Adrian Peterson shines in return from ACL injury; top quarterbacks struggle a bit
• That Adrian Peterson guy is pretty good. I'm looking forward to watching the film, but AP certainly produced on the stat sheet, vexing the experts and causing Toby Gerhart to take an unexpected back seat in the Minnesota Vikings' game plan. I barely ranked Peterson this week, but I assure you I'll not make that mistake again; 17 carries for 84 yards and two bunny TDs will do that. I own him in one dynasty league because I didn't have much choice (he still has two seasons left on his very expensive contract), but I didn't draft him anywhere else. That's not looking like a very good decision at the moment. But as I eat my requisite amount of crow, I will say that I still anticipate the possibility that minor leg injuries could bug Peterson later. However, if I made the gutsy move of taking him early in a redraft league, am I trading him away right now? Uh, nope.
• So much for the top five fantasy quarterbacks distancing themselves from the field. Week 1 was a mess at the top of the QB ranks. Aaron Rodgers didn't play particularly well, only amassing serious points once the San Francisco 49ers started dropping extra defensive backs, though at least he wound up with a respectable 22 fantasy points (30-of-44, 303 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT). Drew Brees played even worse (24-of-52, 339 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs), suffering under more defensive pressure than he's seen in years, though garbage time also was good to him and he produced 21 fantasy points. Tom Brady played fine, but the New England Patriots got a lead, then put it into run-heavy mode, and Brady wound up with "only" 236 yards and two scores. Matthew Stafford was a walking disaster area (32-of-48 for 355 yards, 1 TD and 3 INTs) despite pulling the Detroit Lions' fat out of the fire with a winning drive late, and Cam Newton produced five yards on four carries (with no TDs) while assembling 303 yards, one TD and two picks. For one week at least, taking any of these guys in the first round of a fantasy draft looks like it was unwise. But it's a long season.
• Let's not go overboard about Robert Griffin III. It was a tremendous win for the Washington Redskins, and RG3 did nothing to hurt the unexpected effort. But he also had only 26 pass attempts, and if we remove his 88-yard score to Pierre Garcon (a lovely fall-away result on an overthrown crossing pattern he probably shouldn't have chucked in the first place), he would've had 232 pass yards. However, his 10 carries resulted in 42 yards rushing, which is encouraging. In early-game moments, the Redskins went from dink-and-dunk to taking shots, and RG3 looked quick and dynamic. But will he regularly be playing from so far ahead? This wasn't Newton circa one year ago, in his debut. I'm not saying RG3 wasn't fine, because he was. I'm just saying he's not going to be in my top 10 QBs next week.
• Compared to Sunday's other rookie starters, however, Griffin was Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana and Dan Marino rolled into one. You'll hear people say Andrew Luck (23-of-45, 309 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs and a lost fumble) was decent in his debut, but he wasn't. Thanks in large part to shoddy protection, Luck was hurried by the Chicago Bears' defense and made, well, several "rookie mistakes." Before it was 34-14, Luck was 10-of-21 for 138 yards. It'll get better, but it's obvious why we at ESPN considered RG3 a better fantasy prospect as a rookie, if only because his surrounding cast looks so much stronger. As for Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson and Brandon Weeden, the less said the better. Only Wilson even vaguely gave his team a chance to win, and he threw for 153 yards.
• Speaking of rookies, it was a little bit of good and a whole lot of bad for mega-hyped RB Trent Richardson. The good? He dominated snaps in the Cleveland Browns' backfield, only coming off for the occasional third down, and losing exactly two touches to Brandon Jackson and Montario Hardesty combined. The bad? T-Rich touched it 20 times and racked up 44 yards. Yikes. Don't blame the knee. From what I saw, Richardson had absolutely nowhere to run. As Weeden was busy illustrating that maybe Colt McCoy isn't so bad after all, the Philadelphia Eagles stuck eight in the box and hit T-Rich in his backfield all day. You can't divorce yourself of the kid now; things will get better for him. But this throws even more cold water on all of that rampant rookie enthusiasm from a couple of months ago.
• In the same game, Michael Vick was a human Superfund site. The Browns hit him again and again; they only sacked him twice but Vick looked gun-shy and deer-in-the-headlights time after time, throwing ill-advised picks and failing to move through his progressions. Seriously, he was awful. Somehow he still managed 15 fantasy points, meaning even a dreadful real-world performance for Vick usually leads to an average fantasy one. But this is the guy I remember from his days in Atlanta, totally unprepared to play at a high cerebral level. The Eagles' season depends on this being a one-game glitch, because Philly won't win contests against real teams with Vick playing like this.
• Matt Ryan was so good in Week 1, he's now on pace for 4,784 yards and 48 TDs. I'll go out on a limb and say he won't reach either of those numbers (just as he won't have 16 rushing scores), but the Atlanta Falcons sure did look dangerous. Julio Jones actually should have scored three TDs; he was wide open on a red-zone toss but Ryan strangely overthrew the short distance by perhaps 10 feet. But Jones' owners will take the two TDs. Roddy White was just as involved (he had eight targets to Jones' nine), and there probably will be some weeks where White outpaces Jones. But I'll tell you this: Next week, Jones is going higher on my WR list.
• Stop me if you've seen this movie before: Fred Jackson had to leave with a leg injury, and C.J. Spiller took over to boffo effect. This time, it's not a broken leg for Jackson, but rather reportedly a sprained ligament in his knee. As of this writing, the Buffalo Bills haven't provided an injury timetable, and Spiller didn't exactly put together his big numbers (14 carries for 169 yards and a TD, 2 receptions for 25 yards) in a competitive game. Still, there's no denying the kid has big-play skills. He broke a 56-yard score in the second quarter, and later had a 49-yard scamper. He's dangerous. If Jackson misses time, Spiller joins the ranks of starting fantasy backs for sure.
• Stevan Ridley didn't fumble Sunday, and thus avoided the Bill Belichick doghouse that reduced him to spectator status during last season's playoff run. With Shane Vereen inactive and Danny Woodhead playing in long-yardage situations, Ridley was a true Week 1 feature back and he produced 152 yards from scrimmage and a TD on 23 touches. The Pats went up big in the second half and took the air out of the ball, leading to one sequence where Ridley got four carries in a five-play span, the last of which was a very Law-Firm-esque one-yard run. Never assume the RB picture can't change on a dime in New England, but for now you'd have to say Ridley is looking like a no-doubt fantasy starter every week.
• Speaking of coaches who like to mess with their RBs, how about that Mike Shanahan? He kept Alfred Morris as his pure early-down back Sunday, giving him a whopping 28 carries (for a pedestrian 96 yards), and letting him bang in two scores from inside the three. Roy Helu played almost exclusively on third downs and had five touches for 27 yards, while Evan Royster had two carries for 10 yards. So it's all resolved, right? Morris is a clear fantasy starter, right? Well, he at least should be owned in all leagues. I'll give him that much. But Shanny will watch the tape and probably find some reason to tinker.
• The Rashad Jennings Experiment lasted almost one full half of regular-season football game. Then Jennings reportedly sprained his knee, and Maurice Jones-Drew took over. MJD had a couple 11-yard runs but nothing longer, held in check by a Vikings defense that wanted to make Blaine Gabbert beat it. In essentially 2½ quarters of work, Jones-Drew had 22 touches for 95 yards, barreling into defenders while making few people miss. One run I saw in particular, MJD didn't seem to have his legs fully under him, and basically tackled himself trying to make a cut. That said, he's still a powerful little dude. By contrast, after a long first-quarter drive, on a third-and-goal from the Vikings 1, Jennings got completely stuffed at the goal line, leading to a dispiriting field goal. It was a play that the NFL's best short-yardage rusher (yes, I'm giving that title to MJD) probably should have handled. Going forward, I think he will, even if Jennings' knee is OK. We may not see a bunch of breakaway runs from Jones-Drew right away, but if he's announced as the starter for Week 2, he'll belong at least in the RB top 15.
• One good call of mine from late last week: Jonathan Dwyer was a much better rusher than Isaac Redman on Sunday night. The numbers certainly tell that tale -- Dwyer had 11 touches for 54 yards, while Redman had 13 for 27 -- but the naked eye revealed even more. Redman has no wiggle whatsoever, while Dwyer made a couple of defenders miss in the open field, and he barreled over people, too. He came within a few inches of a scintillating third-quarter TD (on review, his knee was down) and proved his pedigree is worth something. Rashard Mendenhall may not be terribly far away, but until he's back, I'll be ranking Dwyer higher (and that rhymes). He should be added in all leagues.
• Wideout goofiness in brief: Randy Moss caught a TD for the 49ers because the Green Bay Packers decided not to cover him. As most Niners beat writers projected, Moss played very limited snaps, though he was usually on the field in the red zone. ... Greg Little had a Weeden pass bounce off his mitts in the red zone, leaving to an interception and leading to rookie Travis Benjamin getting more run the rest of the game. You'll recall Little had terrible hands problems last year, too. ... Braylon Edwards saw a potential game-winning slant zip directly between his hands on the Seattle Seahawks' final offensive snap of Week 1. Same old Braylon. ... Titus Young will have to keep his ridiculous temper in check before he can follow through on his potential. On Sunday, he head-butted St. Louis Rams corner Janoris Jenkins, drawing a first-half personal foul penalty and earning himself a place on the bench for most of the Lions' comeback.
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