Week 2: Player Upgrades
Week 1 of the NFL regular season was nothing short of historic. The weekend begin with a moving tribute around the league honoring those who lost their lives in the tragic events of September 11th; and was capped off with a tumultuous double dose of Monday Night Football in which several league records were tied or broken altogether.
After weeks of concern about the potentially harmful impact of the new kickoff rules throughout the pre-season, there were a combined eight punt and kick return touchdowns (the most in a single week in league history) in Week 1. New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker tied an NFL record for the longest touchdown reception in league history (99 yards). Even Bill Belichick cracked a smile and gave us a fist pump on that touchdown! To top it all off, Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski became just the third kicker in league history to convert a 63 yard field goal, tying a league record. It must be something about that Rocky Mountain air because two of the three longest kicks in league history have now occurred in Denver.
Lost in the shuffle of a crazy Monday night was ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, who created a Youtube instant classic when he swore on the air during the Monday Night Football broadcast. He later apologized for the remark. I can say that I wasn't offended, I still think it was pretty funny.
While fantasy owners and NFL fans in general are still recovering from an incredible Week 1, Player Upgrades is moving forward. This week's column takes a look at which players saw their fantasy stock rise significantly in Week 1 that fantasy owners should look to acquire in either a trade or off the wavier wire.
This Week 2 edition of Player Upgrades examines several returning players who were featured in Week 1 (Ben Tate, Mike Tolbert and Aaron Hernandez) along with newcomers Anquan Boldin, Kenny Britt, Brandon Marshall and Steve Smith.
Ben Tate, who was featured in the Week 1 edition of Player Upgrades, didn't get the start but saw a majority of the carries in place of injured fantasy stud Arian Foster in Week 1. Tate rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries in the Texans' 34-7 drubbing of their division rivals Indianapolis. Tate's fantasy value is directly tied to the health of Foster (who is currently dealing with a hamstring injury). If Foster is unable to go in Week 2 then Tate is worthy of a start for all fantasy owners against the Miami Dolphins.
If Tate is available in your league, don't walk, run to the wavier wire. I stated it last week and I'll say it again: hamstring injuries take time to heal and can linger for an entire season. Don't be shocked if Tate has fantasy value for the entire season, making him a bargain to acquire now before his fantasy stock goes through the roof.
Mike Tolbert picked up right where he left off last season in Week 1 by doing what he does best, score touchdowns. Tolbert, who was featured in the Week 1 edition of Player Upgrades, rushed for 35 yards and a score on 12 carries and added a team-high nine receptions for 58 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Chargers' 24-17 victory over Minnesota.
Tolbert's backfield mate Ryan Matthews turned in a solid effort as well and actually surpassed Tobert in yards from scrimmage 118-to-93, but the big difference was Tolbert's three scores. Matthews isn't going to disappear, but neither will Tolbert's role near the goal-line. All three of Tolbert's touchdowns came in the red-zone against the Vikings. For fantasy owners who have not jumped onto the Tolbert bandwagon, this may be your last chance. If a fantasy owner is looking to sell high on Tolbert after a big performance in Week 1, do not hesitate to pull the trigger on a deal. Nothing is more valuable in fantasy football than a running back who hits paydirt as consistently as Tolbert does.
Much like Brandon Marshall in Miami, Anquan Boldin was a disappointment in his first year in the charm city of Baltimore. The numbers weren't terrible for Boldin last season, but after starting the season hot, he faded down the stretch. This year will be different for Boldin. The addition of Lee Evans has had an immediate impact for the Ravens, as it allowed Boldin to exploit a one-on-one matchup for a 27-yard touchdown in the first quarter of Baltimore's 35-7 beatdown of the defending AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Boldin finished the game with four receptions for 74 yards and a score.
The takeaway from Week 1 in Baltimore has to be that their offense looks very good. Aside from Ray Rice, Boldin will be the key piece that they rely on this season, making him a worthy trade target for fantasy owners early on in the season.
There were some concerns with Kenny Britt that hurt his draft stock coming into the 2011 season. Those concerns continued to linger during the pre-season as Britt missed time with a hamstring injury. Britt showed no ill effects in the Titans' regular season opener -- a 16-14 loss at the hands of division rival Jacksonville -- reeling in five passes for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Britt scored his first touchdown on a fluky 80-yard hookup with Matt Hasselbeck in the third quarter and added a two-yard touchdown on a fade route late in the fourth quarter.
Britt improved his fantasy stock tremendously with his solid performance this past weekend, something that his fantasy owners desperately needed to see after he missed most of the pre-season with an injury. Britt appears to have a solid connection with Hasselbeck already and should be a major factor for fantasy owners once again this season, making him a solid investment in an early season trade.
Brandon Marshall underperformed in his first season with the Miami Dolphins and didn't appear likely to return to the elite class of wide receivers any time soon with Chad Henne under center once again this season. After watching Marshall catch seven passes for 139 yards in Miami's 38-24 loss to New England on Monday Night Football, it doesn't seem like a stretch that Marshall could become an elite fantasy option this season.
Marshall a physically imposing receiver at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, still possesses an elite skill set headlined by the ability to break tackles with ease, which makes him nearly impossible to bring down in the open field. As long as Henne and the Dolphins make it a priority to get him the ball, especially in the red-zone (where he got a couple chances against the Patriots but couldn't convert) then Marshall should turn in a solid season. Without a doubt, Marshall's fantasy stock rose in Week 1. The only question now is how much higher will it go? Marshall is an intriguing trade target with elite upside fantasy owners should consider going after early this season.
Did anybody see this coming? Cam Newton played exceptionally well in his NFL debut thanks in large part to the performance of 11-year veteran Steve Smith. Smith recorded his single game highest yardage total since 2006 and first multi-score game since 2009. The biggest thing that Newton did was throw the ball up there and let Smith go after it and make a play, something Carolina had been unable to do since Jake Delhomme was their quarterback.
It remains to be seen whether or not Smith will be able to produce at an elite level once again for an entire season, but if Week 1 was any indication, Smith still has the ability to make an impact for fantasy owners in the right match-up. If the Smith owner in your league is looking to sell high, Smith might turn out to be a bargain. Smith still has elite playmaking skills and finally has a quarterback in Newton that is able to give him opportunities to make big plays. We could be looking at a renaissance year from Smith in Carolina.