1. Chad Pennington, Jets
Coming off two shoulder surgeries, Pennington was an afterthought in most fantasy drafts. But in Week 1 he proved he’s still got some milage left in his arm. He finished the day with 319 yards passing and two touchdowns. No doubt Pennington comes with risk but when healthy he’s perhaps the ideal backup fantasy QB. Looking back over Pennington’s career starts, the trend is that he’s either boom or bust. He’s played in many games in which he’s thrown two or more touchdowns. On the other hand, he’s posted a lot of 150-yard, 0 TD performances, too. With that in mind, you can insert him into your lineup when the matchup is favorable and be rewarded with a huge week—like the one he just had against Tennessee.
Availability: Owned in ~20% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Pennington is a suitable backup in leagues of all sizes and can be used as a spot starter in leagues with 12+ teams.
2. David Carr, Texans
Carr was efficient in his first start of the 2006 season, throwing for 208 yards and 1 TD against a tough Eagles defense. With Andre Johnson and Eric Moulds as his receivers and a new offensive-minded coach at the helm, Carr could be poised for a big year. The running game hasn’t emerged yet and that could mean Houston will have to take to the air more often than fantasy owners are accustomed to. Look for similar performances in the coming weeks from Carr.
Availability: Owned in ~44% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Carr deserves a roster spot in leagues with 10 or more teams.
3. Rex Grossman, Bears
Bears fans have been insisting for years that if Rex Grossman could stay healthy, he would become a star. Is it possible they were right? Grossman picked apart the Packers defense in Week 1, looking like a 10-year veteran in the process. On the day, he completed 18 of 26 passes for 262 yards and a touchdown. What’s most promising about Grossman is that the Bears allowed him to throw the ball downfield and when the Bears had a comfortable lead. He completed a 49-yard bomb to Bernard Berrian for a TD on the opening drive. And he finished the day with 10.1 yards per passing attempt, best in the NFL.
Availability: Owned in ~14% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Grossman has good upside for owners in large leagues but he should be kept on your bench for now.
1. Jerious Norwood, Falcons
If you don’t know the name Jerious Norwood yet, it’s time to get familiar with the kid. He ranked third in preseason rushing yardage, which makes the fact that he’s available in over half of all fantasy leagues a bit of a surprise. Norwood brings a great combination of speed, elusiveness, and pass-catching ability to the Atlanta offense. He had a strong debut in Week 1. Warrick Dunn is still the workhorse, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and, based on the workload the Falcons are giving him, he could break down at any moment. Even if Dunn stays healthy, the Falcons run the ball as effectively as any team in the NFL, so Norwood will get carries and make a fantasy contribution.
Availability: Owned in ~45% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Norwood deserves a roster spot in all but the smallest of leagues.
2. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
Like Norwood, Jacobs is another player who used the preseason as a launch pad for success in Week 1. He carried the ball eight times on Sunday for 54 yards and a touchdown. If Jacobs continues to get 8-10 touches per game plus the goal line duties, he will be a servicable fantasy starter in most leagues. In addition, he has a rare combination or size and shiftiness that could make him the eventual successor to Tiki Barber. In short, Jacobs has all the makings of a future stud RB.
Availability: Owned in ~54% of leagues
Forecast guidance: He’s already on rosters in deep leagues. His Week 1 production makes him a great acquisition in the rest.
3. Travis Henry, Titans
Henry rushed for two TDs in Week 1 versus the Jets. They were his first two scores as a Titan. In Tennessee, we have the purest form of the running back by committee philosophy. Henry is the goal line back and may get work on an occassional series to spell Chris Brown. Plus Lendale White is waiting in the wings and figures to get his shot at some point in the near future. Still, the fact the Henry scored twice and got 10 touches makes him an attractive option.
Availability: Owned in ~52% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Henry is good enough to be on roster in all leagues, but doesn’t merit a starting spot at this point unless you’re in a TD-only situation.
4. Derrick Blaylock, Jets
Blaylock isn’t the sexiest RB in the league, but with Curtis Martin on the PUP list, he is technically a starter. For that reason, he deserves a roster spot in fantasy leagues. Blaylock touched the ball 21 times in Week 1. That’s a good chunk of the offense that’s coming his way. Unfortunately, he only managed 46 total yards and split time with former 49ers RB Kevan Barlow. Until this situation becomes clearer, Blaylock doesn’t deserve a start.
Availability: Owned in ~31% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Blaylock is worth a roster spot in all leagues as a backup and could be valuable once the bye weeks roll around in Week 3.
5. Ron Dayne, Texans
Dayne entered training camp as Denver’s #1 RB, but was dumped after struggling with a turf toe injury in training camp. He was promptly picked up by the Texans because they run the same system as the Broncos. With Dominick Davis out for the year and replacements Wali Lundy and Vernand Morency struggling to move the ball in Week 1, it may not be long before Dayne hears his number called. Texans head coach Gary Kubiak knows and trusts Dayne from their days together in Denver. Don’t be surprised if he starts working the former Heisman Trophy winner into the lineup soon. Dayne will be a good player to have stowed away on your roster in the coming weeks.
Availability: Owned in ~36% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Dayne could get his shot in the next few weeks and is a solid prospect in deep leagues where RBs are hard to come by.
6. Najeh Davenport, Steelers
Less than 24 hours after winning their opener against the Dolphins, the Steelers inked free agent RB Najeh Davenport to a contract. At 6-1, 247 lbs. Davenport is a load. He fits the role of goal-line back perfectly. It’s a job that Willie Parker was oringinally going to handle, but the reality is that he’s not suited for it. In Week 1, the Steelers ran Parker just twice in short-yardage situations. The first time, rather than running him up the gut where 99% of short-yardage runs go, they used him on a trick play to the outside. Is it a sign that head coach Bill Cowher isn’t fully confident in Parker’s ability to move the pile? Perhaps. The second time Pittsburgh tried Parker on a short-yardage play, he was stuffed for a two-yard loss. Jerome Bettis scored 22 touchdowns over the last two seasons as the goal line back, so iIf Davenport does take the goal-line duties, he will have substantial value.
Availability: Owned in ~9% of leagues
Forecast guidance: At this point Davenport only has value as a prospect in the deepest leagues or TD-only leagues.
1. Marques Colston, Saints
Colston was listed as a player of interest here last week. The rookie came through with an impressive performance in his first game as a pro, hauling in four receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown. At 6-4, 231 lbs., Colston gives Drew Brees a big target in the red zone. Brees leaned heavily on Antonio Gates in San Diego and Colston provides a similar presence. While it may be premature to start Colston at this point, he will make a nice addition to your squad as a WR4 or WR5. If you’re already desperate for WR help, you certainly could plug Colston in this week against the Packers, who had trouble against Chicago’s big targets Muhsin Muhammad and TE Desmond Clark in Week 1.
Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Add Colston to your bench if you play in a deep league or TD-only league.
2. Jerricho Cotchery, Jets
Cotchery was a fourth-round draft pick by the Jets a couple years ago. His development from raw prospect to starting receiver has been on the fast track. He beat out Justin McCareins for the #2 spot opposite Laveranues Coles during training camp and it looks like he won’t be giving it back any time soon. Cotchery was targeted 10 times, catching six passes for 65 yards and a touchdown. It’s also worth noting, he had a second touchdown reception called back because of a penalty. The Jets figure to be playing from behind a lot, which mean there should be plenty of opportunity for Cotchery.
Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Cotchery is a solid acquisition in leagues of all sizes, particularly those that give points for receptions.
3. Reggie Williams, Jaguars
A lot of fantasy owners were jumping on the Matt Jones and Earnest Wilford bandwagons this offseason after Jimmy Smith retired. Meanwhile, the Reggie Williams bandwagon had more open seats than a Ben Affleck movie premiere. In Week 1, Williams proved the naysayers wrong, grabbing six passes for 47 yards and a touchdown in a starting role opposite Jones. Mind you, this is not some Johnny-come-lately receiver. We’re talking about a former first round draft pick. One who happens to be in his third year, a timeframe that’s been kind to many NFL wideouts over the years. Keep Williams in mind as you’re scouting your league’s waiver wire.
Availability: Owned in ~6% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Williams could turn out to be a good WR3 or he could disappear. Stash him on your roster and see if he can produce in consecutive weeks.
4. Michael Jenkins, Falcons
A popular sleeper in each of his first two seasons in the NFL, Jenkins fell out of favor with fantasy owners after struggling with consistency. As a result, he’s not owned in the majority of fantasy leagues. He started his third-year on a high note. Week 1 saw him catch three passes for 77 yards, including an impressive 32-yard catch and run for a touchdown. On the day, Jenkins was targeted a total of six times. If the Falcons continue to throw the ball around the field, Jenkins will have value in 2006.
Availability: Owned in ~31% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Jenkins has the skills to become a WR3 and deserves a look in all leagues.
5. Doug Gabriel, Patriots
With the trade of Deion Branch in the books, New England is officially shorthanded at wideout. I recommended Troy Brown last week and, as QB Tom Brady’s most experienced target, I feel he definitely has value. But of all the wideouts on the Pats roster, Doug Gabriel might have the most pure talent. He was slated to be the starter opposite Randy Moss in Oakland before New England made the move to trade for him. It’s only a matter of time before he passes Reche Caldwell on the depth chart. If you have room on your roster and can stomach the on-again off-again production that comes with owning a Patriots receiver, Gabriel is a good bet.
Availability: Owned in ~36% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Gabriel could develop into a nice spot starter in the next 2-3 weeks and is worth acquiring in deep leagues.
1. Desmond Clark, Bears
The Bears haven’t had much production from their tight end in recent years. It’s one of the last places most owners would look for a free agent TE. For that reason, many will write off Desmond Clark’s 5-catch, 77-yard Week 1 performance as an aberration. Not so fast. Clark shed 10 pounds off his frame during the offseason and is much quicker than at any other time in his career. During training camp, head coach Lovie Smith said, “He's played well. He's had a few outstanding days out here and yes, he definitely has earned that right to get more plays, more balls thrown his way."
Availability: Owned in ~5% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Clark is a worthy acquisition in deep leagues, and can be used in a pinch against a Lions defense that gave up four receptions to Itula Mili on Sunday.