By Matt Schauf
The biggest mistake many fantasy owners make after Week 1 is to put aside all the observations and expectations they carried into the season and overrate what happened in the first set of real games.
I love to comb to free-agent market after the league has run through its first set of adds and drops to see which players have already been orphaned. That’s the biggest thing to watch for this week. One good or bad week doesn’t paint a full-season picture.
Of course, football also presents the shortest season, so Week 1 performances can’t be ignored either. Here are some little-owned guys worth grabbing if you have a spot. (Just don’t go cutting C.J. Spiller to create that spot.)
David Garrard, QB, Jaguars
He was twice a subject of my sleeper columns in this space and a solid fantasy performer before this season. Yet, Garrard ended Sunday night owned in just 23 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Three touchdown passes in the first week will change that in a hurry, and it’s not as if Garrard loaded up against a terrible defense. Last year, at least, Denver allowed the third fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. This is obviously a new year, but the Broncos start the same secondary as they did in 2009. Garrard’s 76.2 percent completion rate made the performance look even better.
Mark Clayton, WR, Rams
One game certainly does not tell us the whole story on target distribution, but Clayton drew a team-high 16 looks in Sunday’s loss to Arizona less than a week after joining the team. Everyone’s numbers were inflated by the 55 pass attempts, which certainly won’t be the norm (or else we’ll be talking about Sam Bradford’s untimely death by Week 6), but Clayton led by any measure.
In just the first half, Clayton drew 10 targets, twice as many as any other Ram to that point. Add that to word that he and Bradford spent some off-season time practicing together, plus Laurent Robinson’s injury history (he left Sunday’s game at one point but returned), and Clayton should be picked up this week in any league of reasonable depth. That’s especially true in point-per-reception formats, which will downplay a likely lack of touchdowns. Clayton has been an inconsistent performer throughout his career, but his talent hasn’t been questioned.
Mike Thomas, WR, Jaguars
Jacksonville’s No. 2 wideout was No. 1 on opening day, tallying twice as many receptions (six) as any teammate and drawing seven targets to Mike Sims-Walker’s two. Thomas didn’t snag any of Garrard’s three scoring passes, but the PPR value is obvious, and if he stays near this usage level, enough touchdowns (at least five or six) should come. According to FootballOutsiders.com, Thomas presented the league’s best catch rate last year among wide receivers with at least 30 receptions.
Brandon Jackson, RB, Packers
Consider this a prime argument for drafting a handcuff. Ryan Grant left Sunday’s victory at Philadelphia with a sprained ankle, which he says he doesn’t expect to keep him out in Week 2. Players say a lot of things, though, and we can’t always (ever?) trust them.
It’s impossible to know at this point whether Grant will be ready for next Sunday, and Jackson had already drawn praise from his coaches for a strong camp and preseason. He stepped in for 18 carries (63 yards) and a pair of receptions against the Eagles and would draw Buffalo in Week 2 if he fills in again. Even if Grant is able to go, can we trust the ankle to not be a problem again? Of course not. Give Jackson a shot where possible.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals
A second tight end isn’t for every league. If you don’t have a flex position (or at least one that includes tight ends) or have fairly shallow rosters, then you get one guy at the position and move on. Others, though, should take notice at the level of use for Gresham in his first game.
The rookie tight end was the third most targeted Bengal, getting 10 passes and catching six for 25 yards and a touchdown. Like with the Rams example above, the totals here are skewed by the 50 pass attempts for Carson Palmer in a game in which Cincinnati trailed big and quickly. Still, Gresham drew four targets through the first half compared with just two for Chad Ochocinco (eight for Terrell Owens) and caught the Bengals’ first touchdown pass of the year.
There’s no question about the talent or size on the guy who was drafted in the first round despite missing the 2009 season, so the only wonder is whether he can get the ball enough. Sunday provided encouragement on that front.
Wait and watch
Waiting back on potential breakout performers can leave one missing out, but that doesn’t mean you need to find a roster spot for everyone who had a good first week. Peyton Hillis, for example, scored Cleveland’s lone rushing touchdown against Tampa but also garnered just nine carries and fumbled twice. That workload matched Jerome Harrison’s, James Davis figures to factor in at some point and even Josh Cribbs’ three rushes should increase based on his 2009 carries and current role. Fumbling twice also doesn’t help a running back’s case, particularly for goal-line touches. Hillis shouldn’t be dropped by those who own him and may well have a strong season. Just don’t trip over your current backs trying to claim him.
Out in Denver, meanwhile, fantasy owners are looking for an answer at receiver. Eddie Royal is owned in most leagues, and those who took a late-round shot have to be pleased with his eight-catch opener. That was exactly the kind of game envisioned last year when he was going in Round 5 or 6. Keep in mind, though, that this one came against a Jacksonville defense that played horribly against the pass last year -- to the point that it’s probably not fair to say the Jags even played ”against” it. It’s too early to say that’ll be the case this year, too, but they’re guilty until proven innocent in this court. This is even more relevant when you find yourself getting excited about Brandon Lloyd’s 117 yards. We’ve seen this before from Lloyd, who went for 124 yards in a single week in 2008 and finished 2009 with a 95-yard effort. Through eight NFL seasons, though, he has never reached 50 catches. He has the talent but doesn’t deserve benefit of the doubt.