1. Jeff Garcia, Buccaneers
With Eli Manning’s shoulder injury, many owners will be scrambling for a temporary replacement. Who’s the best choice for a one or two game fill-in? I like Rex Grossman this week against the Chiefs, but Grossman doesn’t fit the criteria for this column (he’s owned in 65% of fantasy leagues or more). If you can’t get Grossman, consider Garcia, who has a favorable matchup against the Saints. Garcia looked good in his Week 1 start against the Seahawks, completing 70% of his passes. Unfortunately, he suffered a head injury and didn’t manage to throw a TD. He will likely play this week though and should have success against a weak New Orleans secondary. Look for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
Availability: Owned in ~47% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Garcia is only worth a start this week against the Saints if you lost Manning or if your regular starter is up against a tough defense.
2. Jason Campbell, Redskins
Campbell threw zero touchdowns and two interceptions on Sunday against the Dolphins. It’s not exactly the type of performance that would typically inspire a recommendation by the Forecast. However, putting aside the numbers for a second, Campbell looks like a rising star. He’s got great pocket presence and a cannon for a right arm. It won’t hurt that the Redskins have a great one-two punch in Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts, which will help keep opposing defenses honest. After he gets past the Eagles this week, Campbell’s schedule looks favorable with games against the Giants, Lions, and Cardinals as the bye weeks heat up. He’s a player the Forecast will be monitoring closely. Consider him a promising backup QB in deep leagues.
Availability: Owned in ~29% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Keep Campbell on your radar. He’ll likely be a fantasy factor before too long.
1. Chris Brown, Titans
Brown didn’t start on Sunday against the Jaguars but he looked like a better running back than LenDale White. Brown led all NFL rushers with 175 yards . . . and he did it on just 19 carries. This from a guy who was completely ignored when he hit the free agent market in the offseason. Plenty of GMs should be kicking themselves right now (I’m looking at you Ted Thompson in Green Bay). Does Brown’s performance suddenly spell the end of the RBBC in Tennessee? I doubt it. But in Brown’s case, I actually think that’s a good thing. I’d argue that his success was a direct result of splitting carries with White. Brown is the type of runner who wears down easily. There’s no way he would have been breaking off long runs in the second half if he’d carried the ball 20 times in the first half. I expect the committee to continue as the Titans try to keep the injury-prone Brown in one piece. A matchup against the Colts this week doesn’t look quite as good as it once did, but Brown is still worthy of a start.
Availability: Owned in ~47% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Brown is worth a roster spot in all leagues and looks like a fine RB2 this week.
2. Derrick Ward, Giants
If Brown is Waiver Wire Priority #1, Derrick Ward is #1a. Giants starting RB Brandon Jacobs sprained his MCL and will miss the next 3-5 weeks. If he’s slow to heal, it’s possible the medical staff might push that timeline to New York’s bye in Week 9, rendering Jacobs useless for half the fantasy season. It’s a scenario that has played out many times in previous years. The knee sprain opens the door for Ward, who looked quite capable after Jacobs went down. Ward rushed for 89 yards on 13 carries. He also contributed four receptions for 27 yards and a touchdown. That’s very Tiki Barber-esque. And it’s something the Giants would’ve never gotten from Jacobs. The one knock on Ward is he’s a bit injury prone, which makes Reuben Droughns a sneaky pickup this week, as well.
Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Ward looks like a versatile RB who could put up close to 100 all-purpose yards per game while Jacobs is out; he’s worth a roster spot in all leagues.
3. Sammy Morris, Patriots
Morris was identified as the top RB recommendation last week. True to form, he took a good chunk of starter Laurence Maroney’s touches. All told, Morris handled the ball 13 times and amassed 65 yards. The game was a bit of a blowout in the second half so it’s difficult to gauge if this week’s distribution of carries will be the norm or the exception. My hunch Morris will average around 10-15 touches per week as the Patriots try to protect Maroney, who’s coming off shoulder surgery. That level of work would make Morris a good spot starter when you’re facing an injury or bye. He could have even more value if he gets the goal line carries. (The only goal line carry on Sunday happened in the second half when the game was well in hand and it went to FB Heath Evans.)
Availability: Owned in ~23% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Morris is a quality backup RB in most leagues and should see the field often enough to get fair production on most weeks.
4. Michael Pittman, Buccaneers
Bucs starting RB Carnell Williams was on pace for 100 yards before bruising his ribs. In his post game press conference, head coach Jon Gruden indicated Williams will be listed as questionable this week. If Williams can’t go, Michael Pittman is expected to split carries with Ernest Graham. Neither player will likely provide the production you’re looking for on the ground, but Pittman is among the best pass-catching RBs in the NFL. There’s a fair chance he’ll end Week 2 with 80+ all-purpose yards — especially considering they may be playing catch up against New Orleans. That makes him an adequate injury replacement if you were counting on Williams.
Availability: Owned in ~21% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Pittman is worth a look if you lost your staring RB and are in a pinch this week.
5. Adrian Peterson, Bears
Let’s be clear: It’s too early to dismiss Cedric Benson as a bust. If you drafted him, put away the razor blades. Don’t do anything rash. Chicago was playing a tough road game against a Chargers team that’s still fired up about the playoffs last year. Still, Benson looked vanilla. He averaged just 2.2 yards per carry and fumbled once. After the fumble, the coaches put him on the bench. It was a telling move. Granted, his replacement Adrian Peterson promptly coughed up the ball himself. The bottom line though is that while in the game, Peterson looked like the more aggressive runner. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry. If there’s any top fantasy RB who’s at risk for losing significant carries, it’s Benson. Get Peterson in case that happens.
Availability: Owned in ~24% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Peterson isn’t starter material but deserves a roster spot in bigger leagues.
6. Jesse Chatman, Dolphins
Like Peterson, Chatman is a player who got more opportunities in Week 1 than most people would’ve predicted. He touched the ball 13 times (7 runs, 6 receptions), compared to 17 for starter Ronnie Brown. In case you don’t have a calculator handy, that works out to 43% of the work for Chatman and 57% for Brown. That, folks, is a running back by committee. Will it continue? Too early to tell. Not too early for Brown to worry owners though. What’s even more troublesome for Brown is that Chatman got two goal line carries. Keep Chatman on your radar. Better yet, stick him on your bench and hope he continues to snake carries from Brown.
Availability: Owned in ~15% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Given the distribution of touches, Chatman is worth a roster spot in leagues with 12 or more teams.
7. Kenton Keith, Colts
Keith won the backup RB spot for the Colts in the preseason and is the must-have handcuff for Joseph Addai owners. Last week, I was skeptical about Keith’s ability to be a capable RB should Addai go down with an injury. I must admit now that the former Canadian Football League start looked pretty darn good. He racked up 32 yards on five carries. The Colts offense has a way of making average players look good (see Dominic Rhodes), so Keith has value regardless of how much talent you think he has. He’s worth a roster spot in the majority of leagues.
Availability: Owned in ~9% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Keith is the backup RB on the NFL’s best offense and is therefore worth a roster spot in most leagues.
8. Selvin Young, Broncos
Rookie Selvin Young was officially declared the #2 RB last week. He only had two carries on Sunday and won’t have any value unless Travis Henry gets hurt. If you believe in handcuffing your starting RBs to their backups, Young is worth a roster spot. Otherwise, he doesn’t hold much value at this point.
Availability: Both owned in ~11% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Young is the handcuff for Travis Henry owners and could be worth a flier for non-Henry owners.
1. Ronald Curry, Raiders
The Raiders offense looked better in Week 1 than it did at any point last season. The big offensive star was wideout Ronald Curry, who hauled in an NFL high 10 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. In preparing this week’s Forecast, I was surprised he’s available in about half of all fantasy leagues. If your league is one of them, acquiring Curry should be a priority. He’s not only worthy of a roster spot, but is a quality third WR on most weeks. The only knock on Curry is that he faces the Broncos and Champ Bailey next week, so he might not get you immediate production.
Availability: Owned in ~46% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Curry was vastly underrated entering the season and merits a roster spot in all leagues.
2. Wes Welker, Patriots
Welker was my top WR recommendation last week. He also happened to be one of my preseason sleepers. Thus, I’m going to pimp him one more time while he’s still available in over 50% of fantasy leagues — an anomaly that will be corrected by tomorrow morning. Welker was QB Tom Brady’s favorite target, drawing nine looks. While Randy Moss was the main breadwinner, Welker was and will continue to be Mr. Reliable. The days of New England receivers being inconsistent may finally be over. I anticipate Welker will catch 5-7 passes per game and be a great WR3 in fantasy football.
Availability: Owned in ~49% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Welker has the potential to catch 90 passes this season and is starter material in most leagues.
3. Patrick Crayton, Cowboys
Crayton was listed here last week before news broke about Terry Glenn’s knee injury. While it was third-stringer Sam Hurd who found the endzone, Crayton remains the better waiver wire choice if he’s available in your league. He caught three passes for 51 yards plus contributed on kick and punt returns. Crayton is worth a start this week even though the Cowboys face a Miami defense that didn’t allow a passing TD in Week 1.
Availability: Owned in ~26% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Crayton is a low-level starter in Week 2 and deserves a roster spot in all leagues.
4. Amani Toomer, Giants
It’s tempting to write Toomer’s performance on Sunday night off as a fluke. Don’t. Most fanasy owners forget that Toomer, not Plaxico Burress, was New York’s most productive wide receiver in September last year, catching 20 passes compared to 11 for Burress. The old man still has some game. More importantly, he has the trust of QB Eli Manning. The bad news is Manning will likely miss a few games with a shoulder injury. Otherwise Toomer would be higher on this list. If you have a deep enough roster, Toomer might we worth stashing on your bench until Manning returns. He’s not worth starting with Jared Lorenzen under center.
Availability: Owned in ~29% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Toomer is a borderline starter with Manning in the lineup but merely a backup without him.
5. Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald, Lions
Furrey and McDonald are reunited with Mike Martz and it feels so good. Neither player is the headline act in this offense, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook these former St. Louis Rams wideouts. Furrey is a known entity. He led the NFC in receptions last year. When the Lions drafted Calvin Johnson, most owners must’ve figured Furrey would once again drift into obscurity. Not so fast. Furrey remains a starter in Detroit’s offense. He caught five passes for 52 yards in Week 1 and is still a handy WR to have on your roster, particularly if you play in a league that gives points for receptions. McDonald actually led the Lions in receptions and yardage in Week 1 and is a reserve option in deeper leagues.
Availability: Owned in ~58% and ~1% of leagues respectively.
Forecast guidance: They’re not as flashy as Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson, but Furrey and McDonald are worth considering as reserves depending on the size of your league.
6. Bobby Engram and Nate Burleson, Seahawks
Everyone’s favorite sleeper, WR D.J. Hackett, suffered a high ankle sprain on Sunday against the Bucs. The injury could sideline him for a month or longer. With Hackett out of the lineup, the Seahawks will need someone to step up. Nate Burleson will assume Hackett’s spot in the starting lineup and he deserves your attention regardless of the size or scoring system in your league. Also don’t forget about Free Agent Forecast favorite Bobby Engram. He doesn’t have as much upside as Burleson, but the hard-working WR led all Seahawks receivers with 63 yards on Sunday. He remains QB Matt Hasselbeck’s most-trusted target in the passing game and may be a better option than Burleson in points-per-reception leagues.
Availability: Owned in ~5% and ~10% of leagues respectively.
Forecast guidance: Enrgram and Burleson are adequate reserves and could be productive this week against the Cardinals.
7. Antwaan Randle El, Redskins
I labled Randle El as a waste of a draft pick during the preseason. So much for that prediction. Randle El caught five passes for 162 yards in Week 1. Even if you throw out the 54-yard fluke hail mary he caught, the performance was still solid. With the combination of Randle El and QB Jason Campbell, the Redskins have the ability to stretch defenses. I doubt the former Steelers WR will become a consistent enough player to contribute on a weekly basis. However, it’s clear Campbell likes to look his way. Acquire Randle El and stick him on your bench in case he proves himself again this week.
Availability: Owned in ~18% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Consider Randle El a decent fantasy reserve with upside until he proves he can be consistent.
8. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
Eddie Kennison pulled his hamstring on Kansas City’s first offensive play. Hamstrings can kill a wide receiver’s production, so I recommend dumping Kennison outright. Who will emerge in his stead for the Chiefs? Most people would look to Samie Parker. I’ve recommended him on the Forecast in previous year. Although I’m not ready to write him off entirely, I’m also not ready to add Parker to any of my own rosters. Every time I’ve seen him in action and he seems to have stone hands. My feeling is Samie doesn’t have the look of a fantasy star. That’s why I’m recommending rookie Dwayne Bowe instead. Bowe finished Week 1 with 42 yards and offers what I think will be a bigger, more reliable target for QB Damon Huard.
Availability: Owned in ~19% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Bowe could emerge with Kennison out, but is a low-end reserve at this point.
1. Eric Johnson, Saints
The Saints avoided downfield passes against the Colts in Week 1. Instead they favored shorter and intermediate routes. Eric Johnson was the main beneficiary of the odd game plan. He caught eight passes for 57 yards. It’s unlikely that Johnson will be able to maintain this level of production, but I do think he’ll be fine starting fantasy TE this season. He’s certainly worthy of being part of a platoon TE approach. New Orleans faces the Buccaneers this weekend. I like the matchup. The Bucs have historically been susceptible to the TE across the middle of the field. The Bucs allowed the fourth most points to TEs in 2006 and they gave up five receptions to Seattle’s Marcus Pollard on Sunday.
Availability: Owned in ~54% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Acquire and start Johnson with confidence.
2. Jeff King, Panthers
I can recite skill position players on the depth charts of most NFL teams by memory, but I must admit TE Jeff King wasn’t on my radar before Sunday. I actually resorted to ‘Googling” King to learn a bit more about him. Lo and behold member of TheHuddle.com forums had recommended him as a player to watch the week before the season started. PantherDave’s post about King was #4 in my Google search of “Jeff King TE”. First, props to PantherDave for identifying King as a player to watch prior to the season. It shows you the quality of this site’s readership. While King didn’t produce great yardage totals in Week 1, he was on the receiving end of five Jake Delhomme passes. That’s significant production for any TE. With Keyshawn Johnson gone and his 70 receptions up for grabs, maybe King can be a factor.
Availability: Owned in ~0% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: King is only worth a roster spot in deep leagues at this point but if he catches another five passes this week, he’ll start drawing looks in leagues of all sizes.
DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS
Green Bay Packers
The Packers defense was a popular sleeper pick this season. They lived up to the hype in Week 1, frustrating Philadelphia’s Donovan McNabb and holding Brian Westbrook in check. By the end of the game, they had recorded one interception, one special teams TD and just 13 points allowed. While the sack total was low (1), Green Bay’s front four harassed McNabb all game. A less mobile QB may have been sacked 4-5 more times. They are an outstanding play this week against the Giants and unproven QB Jared Lorenzen. Green Bay figures to be one of the top five fantasy defenses this week.
Availability: Owned in ~55% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Green Bay’s defense should be owned in all leagues; acquire and start them this week against the Giants.
The Colts defense embarrassed New Orleans in front of a national audience Thursday. They forced four turnovers and scored a defensive touchdown. Are they for real? I’m not ready to proclaim that they’re all of the sudden a top defense. After all, this was one of the worst units in all of the NFL last season. However, they certainly didn’t show many flaws against a well-balanced Saints offense. If the defense you drafted is showing cracks, give the Colts a look. They may fare well again this week against Titans.
Availability: Owned in ~36% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: The Colts are worth a roster spot in leagues with 12 or more teams.