Nobody can accurately predict the future on a regular basis. So it is inevitable that, in fantasy football, players that were completely ignored on Draft Day will emerge from the Week 1 woodwork. Throw in the unplanned-for injuries (Charles Rogers, Steve Smith, et al) and what you have is a lot of owners scrambling to the waiver wire to restock for Week 2.
Each week, I'll be here to offer guidance for those in a mad dash to free agency, offering up the top prospects still available in many fantasy leagues:
Carson Palmer, Cincinnati –18-for-27, 248 yards, 10 rushing yards, 2 TD passes, 1 INT
Alright, I'll admit it. I had Palmer tabbed for disappointment early on in '04. But Week 1 offered nothing but optimism for the '03 No. 1 overall draft pick. He was accurate, strong-armed and decisive in a 31-24 loss to the New York Jets. Perhaps Palmer's most glowing review came from Bengals WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who said: "He knows where [receivers] are going to be. He knows the check-offs. It's natural for him. He has been a quarterback his whole life. He's going to be good, man. He's not afraid to make any throw. If we can execute a little better, he's going to the Pro Bowl." Palmer clearly is going to merit looks as a fantasy backup. In fact, Daunte Culpepper and Matt Hasselbeck owners might want to look to Palmer as their Week 4 bye fill-in, as the Bengals will face a porous Pittsburgh secondary.
Vinny Testaverde, Dallas –29-for-50, 355 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
I don't think anyone expected Testaverde to throw 50 times in the opener. But with no running game and facing a scoreboard deficit, Dallas had little choice but to turn to the arm of the 41-year old. Given his weapons – Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn, Antonio Bryant and Jason Witten – Testaverde can make a strong case to reside on fantasy rosters as a backup. And until Dallas establishes any semblance of a rushing attack, 40-50 passes could be a regular afternoon for Vinny.
Julius Jones, Dallas Out with sore ribs in Week 1
Jones was inactive in Week 1 because of sore ribs. Some uninformed owners are likely to view the DNP as reason to drop Jones. That would be a big mistake. Dallas went with Eddie George on Sunday and he picked up right where he left off in Tennessee, struggling for three yards per carry. In total, George carried just eight times for 25 yards, one of the reasons the Cowboys went to the air 50 times. A healthy Jones is very likely to supplant George as the starter in the coming weeks. If Jones is on your waiver wire, there is a very good chance you could be picking up a 1,000-yard back.
Lamar Gordon, Miami – 12 carries for 32 yards, 5 catches for 30 yards
Gordon had a lackluster debut for the Dolphins in Week 1, but he deserves to be cut some slack considering he'd barely disembarked the plane in Miami before he was thrown into the fire. There is no doubt that the Dolphins have just endured chapter 1 of what is likely to be a 16-part nightmare. But a starting running back is, well, a starting running back. And when it comes to rounding out your fantasy squad, not too many owners have the luxury of parking an NFL starting back in their No. 3-4 fantasy RB spot. Gordon provides fantasy owners a starting gig and, at the very least, the potential for some sporadic help. And that help could come sooner than you think as Gordon will face a Cincinnati team in Week 2 that opened the year by giving up nearly 200 yards to Jets RB Curtis Martin. Consider Gordon ahead of teammates Travis Minor and Sammy Morris, as well as most all of the league's backup running backs.
Maurice Morris, Seattle – Backup to Shaun Alexander (day-to-day with bruised knee)
Let the Shaun Alexander watch begin. The Seahawks running back suffered a bruised knee in Week 1, and he'll likely be questionable for the coming week's game at Tampa Bay. And, for those who didn't marry the selection of Alexander with a late-round insurance grab of backup Morris, let the sweating begin. Alexander owners need to run to the wire for Morris, even if Alexander does end up playing. This being just the first week of games, there'll likely be more tense injury moments throughout the course of the season and you might as well avoid more sleepless nights.
Emmitt Smith, Arizona –16 carries for 87 yards, 1 TD
Smith's 87 rushing yards in Week 1 was his best rushing effort in his past 20 games. Many owners had opted to avoid him altogether on draft day, figuring his days as a starter were numbered as he'd either succumb to injury or backup Troy Hambrick. Well, Smith has survived one week without either threat looming on the horizon. And, as I stated in regard to Lamar Gordon, any featured starting running back in the NFL offers at least some measure of insurance to fantasy squads.
Jerome Bettis, Pittsburgh – 5 carries for 1 yard, 3 TDs
We've all become familiar with what has become the line of the year: 5 carries, 1 yard, 3 TDs! Bettis' role is now starting to take shape and it appears it will be that of a vulture for Duce Staley owners. Staley looks like he'll get most of the work between the five-yard lines, while Bettis will get the glory carries. Fantasy owners are likely to put too much stock into what Bettis did, though. The five carries and one yard should resonate with owners much more than the three touchdowns. Let's face it, how many games are the Steelers going to be lined up at the opponents one-yard line three times? Bettis seems destined for double-digit touchdowns, but an estimated 10 more TDs the rest of the way doesn't take away the sting of not accruing meaningful yardage totals. Bettis is worthy of a pickup, but should only be used when bye weeks and injuries mandate it.
Dominic Rhodes, Indianapolis –10 carries for 42 yards, 1 TD
The good news for Edgerrin James owners is that while Rhodes did steal 10 carries, James still was one of the most worked backs (33 touches) in Week 1. Clearly Indianapolis plans to give a steady workload to its backfield, and 8-10 carries is likely to be Rhodes' weekly norm. In deeper leagues, that could play, especially if Rhodes continues to get goal-line work. Given James' fumbling issues in or near the red zone last Thursday – fumbles at the New England 22-yard line and one-yard line – it certainly wouldn't be shocking to see Rhodes steal half a dozen TDs from James this season.
Justin Fargas, Oakland –7 carries for 17 yards
One thing that seemed clear from Week 1 is that Tyrone Wheatley does not have a stranglehold on the Oakland starting RB position. In fact, I was left with the feeling that had Fargas showed any success running the ball early in the Raiders loss to Pittsburgh, head coach Norv Turner would have been happy to stick with him. But neither Wheatley nor Fargas could move the ball against the Steelers and the two were mired in a classic platoon situation. That could become the standard here. At any rate, Fargas seems firmly planted in the mix at RB and given his breakaway abilities, he merits landing on the short list of fantasy players to keep a close eye on.
Roy Williams, Detroit – 4 catches for 69 yards
If you saw Williams leap high into the air, thread two would-be Chicago defenders and pull in a pass from Joey Harrington with essentially one hand, you've seen all you need to understand why Williams was the seventh player off the draft board last April. Overall, his 69-yard debut was pedestrian in fantasy circles, but given his talent and the fact that receiving mate Charles Rogers is out for the season with a broken collarbone, Williams suddenly looks like a fantastic fantasy buy. He should assume a go-to role for Harrington and seems very likely to be just the fifth 1,000-yard rookie receiver in the past decade, joining Joey Galloway, Terry Glenn, Randy Moss and Anquan Boldin.
David Terrell, Chicago – 5 catches for 126 yards, 20 rushing yards
You could say this is Terrell's crossroad season. Either he goes the way of J.J. Stokes, who was as big a professional failure as he was a dynamic collegiate performer, or he takes advantage of what is likely to be his last legitimate shot at becoming an impact NFL player. When Chicago traded Marty Booker to Miami a few weeks ago, it opened the door for receivers Justin Gage, Bobby Wade and Terrell to step up and announce their presence with authority. Terrell did just that in Week 1, hauling in five catches for 126 yards. He was clearly the favored target of QB Rex Grossman. And should Grossman improve his ability to pilot his team into the red zone, Terrell's height and superb hands should afford him many looks there.
Muhsin Muhammad, Carolina –4 catches for 63 yards, 1 TD
It was symbolic that Muhammad caught a TD pass on Monday night shortly after Steve Smith was carted off the field. With Smith out 2-3 months with a broken leg, Muhammad inherits the mantle of go-to receiver. While his stock rises, one must also consider Ricky Proehl and rookie Keary Colbert, as one will likely move into the starting role vacated by Smith.
Michael Clayton, Tampa Bay –7 catches for 53 yards
If Keenan McCardell continues his holdout, Clayton could be yet another rookie receiver to reach the rarified air of 1,000 receiving yards. His odds of reaching that plateau increased dramatically when teammate Joey Galloway tore his groin in Week 1, an injury that will sideline him at least 4-6 weeks. By default, Clayton now looks like he'll be a main target of QB Brad Johnson, who connected with the rookie seven times on Sunday. Clayton is known for his excellent concentration and hands, as well as being a polished route runner. In short, despite great speed, Clayton offers the type of makeup that suggests he'll be able assimilate to the pro level quicker than most.
Antonio Bryant, Dallas –8 catches for 112 yards
Bryant is the new Kevan Barlow of fantasy leagues. He's that ultra-talented youngster that is still waiting for a clear-cut opportunity and extended playing time. In Week 1, he busted out for a career-high eight catches and 112 yards. Bryant has been inconsistent in his first two seasons, so it might be worth taking an extended look at him before making a commitment to him. But there are at least a couple reasons why Bryant might finally turn the corner in '04. First, you can't really dispute that he's teamed with the most experienced and accurate QB he's seen. And, this is Bryant's third season, a time when receivers typically have that breakout season.
San Francisco 49ers receivers
Who is going to fill the hole created by Terrell Owens' departure? Truth is, it'll probably take at least three players to plug the gap. Cedrick Wilson was the 49ers' top fantasy receiver on Sunday, hauling in seven passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. But teammates Brandon Lloyd and TE Eric Johnson also figure to play a big role. Despite only four catches, Lloyd was targeted 12 times by San Francisco's quarterbacks. And Johnson kept pace with Wilson by gathering eight catches for 86 yards and a score. All three players are worth stashing on a fantasy bench. And if Johnson continues to produce at a level even close to what he put up in Week 1, he'll be wasted in a reserve role.
Doug Gabriel, Oakland – 3 catches for 81 yards (58 long), 1 TD
Counting the preseason, Gabriel now has four touchdowns in five games, all of which have come from a distance of 34 yards or longer. In Week 1, he hauled in a 58-yard bomb from Rich Gannon for a score. Clearly, the Raiders are going to look for a big play from Gabriel at least a couple times a game. Against Pittsburgh, Gabriel was tried on a reverse and hauled in an 18-yard pass in addition to his TD catch. No doubt, Gabriel would be a gamble to throw into a starting spot on your fantasy roster, but this type of wager comes with a high upside.
Daniel Graham, New England, TE – 7 catches for 57 yards, 1 TD
On Thursday, Graham looked every bit the player New England envisioned he'd be when they made him the 21st pick overall in the '02 NFL Draft. Graham tied a career high with seven receptions against Indianapolis for 57 yards and a touchdown. And his impact was felt by members of the Colts secondary, who on more than one occasion were seen bouncing off of the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Graham. Look to Graham as an upgrade for those rolling with a Bubba Franks or Marcus Pollard in the TE slot.