By Pete Smits
Grab-Bag – your ultimate source for free agent pick-ups
Information is everywhere, coming from multiple sources in real-time. The best thing we can give you is educated opinions to compare with – or corroborate – your own. The Grab-Bag has an unrivaled track record of success that would speak for itself – if it didn’t have so many fantasy championships tied to the information you will only get here. The Grab-Bag strives to keep you at least one week ahead of your competition by screening the one-week-wonders from the future fantasy stars.
During the regular season, the Grab-Bag column is available Monday mornings with our earliest opinions on worthwhile pick-ups for the upcoming week. An extended version of the Grab-Bag arrives in the Weekly Report, available Wednesday evening. In Wednesday’s version, changes and additions from Monday morning are italicized or highlighted as appropriate.
One unique aspect of this column is, in fact, how early we make suggestions for the following week. At all times, these will be before your waiver wire deadlines and can lead you to grab a key player before the rest of your league has been alerted. This year, can you say, “Antonio Brown”?
A few injuries, nothing too catastrophic, some young backs asserting themselves as hoped and a few veteran receivers and tight ends returning to some measure of glory….
As always, additions from the Sunday Night Grab-Bag are in italics, with an occasional extremely important update highlighted even further.
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Cutler went almost undrafted in many leagues and may still be on the waiver wire in a few. In a surprising 30-12 win hostingAtlanta, Cutler threw for 312 yards and 2 TD’s (22 of 32 passes completed), with just one INT. Assuming another shootout when the Bears travel toNew Orleansnext week, Cutler is well worth considering for a start, depending on your other options.
Rex Grossman, Washington Redskins
Weird — we mentioned Grossman as the anointed starter over John Beck just for the sake of completeness, not because we expected him to throw for 305 yards and 2 TD’s (21 of 34 completions) in a home win over the Giants. So, now you can take a shot at Rex the Wonder QB whenWashington hostsArizona in Week Two.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Again, we mentioned the celebrated rookie from Auburnas a great candidate for keeper leagues and perhaps later in the season. No one told him of the delay factor as he threw for an NFL debut record of 422 yards and 2 TD’s on 24 of 37 passes completed, along with rushing for another TD on 8 carries for 18 yards. Or, to put it another way, he outpointed both Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees from their 42-34 opener on Thursday. Go ahead, pick him up if you still can, just in case….
Bruce Gradkowski, Cincinnati Bengals
After rookie Andy Dalton left the game with a wrist injury, the veteran from Toledo piloted the Bengals to a shocking 27-17 win at Cleveland. His stats were pedestrian at 92 yards and a TD on 5 of 12 completions, but if desperate for a QB already this season, he will probably get the start at Denver. It looks like Dalton did not break his wrist, but to the extent it matters, Gradkowski is the likely starter this week.
Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals
Kolb was also cheaply available in most drafts, but if his 309 yards (18 of 27 passes completed) and 2 TD’s with no INT’s (130 passer rating) are any indication, he will cost dearly going forward. Arizonatravels toWashingtonnext week against a Redskin team that played surprisingly well on defense in a 28-14 win over the Giants in their opener.
Chad Henne, Miami Dolphins
The craziness continues in the passing game, where generally under-performing Henne threw for 416 yards and 2 TD’s, with one INT, on 30 of 49 passes completed in the 38-24 MNF loss to the Dolphins. He also ran for an unexpected 59 yards and another TD on just 8 carries. With Houston coming into town this week, we might just able to expect another shootout with Henne throwing to compensate for a marginal Dolphin running game.
Jason Campbell, Oakland Raiders
This selection will always be a little iffy, but in case of desperate measures, the Raiders looked more together in their MNF win at Denver than they have in awhile. Campbell will never be pretty, but throwing for 105 yards and a TD, while rushing for another is not a bad day, with a battle in Buffalo on tap this week.
James Starks, Green Bay Packers
Although alleged starter Ryan Grant looked better in the opening win againstNew Orleans than he had all preseason (9 carries for 40 yards, with a catch for 5 yards), the Packers did not waste any time in giving the apparently more formidable Starks more work. Coming off a great playoff run leading to a Super Bowl title, Starks ran for 57 yards and a TD on just 12 carries, and should be good for at least another TD atCarolina next week.
Ben Tate, Houston Texans
With starter Arian Foster’s hamstring making him inactive for the opener, this played out exactly as we prophesied going into Week One. Supposed back-up Derrick Ward had a nice game with 11 carries for 39 yards and a TD, but we’re fairly certain you would have wanted Tate and his 24 rushes for 116 yards and a TD instead. Tate could get the start or something like it again next week atMiami.
Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, St. Louis Rams
In a classic “dog bites man” story, starter Steven Jackson left the game with a strained quad. In more of a “man bites dog” setting, Cadillac Williams and all of his knee reconstructions stepped in for 19 carries for 91 yards, along with 6 receptions for 49 yards. Of the backs most likely available on your waiver wire, Williams is the key pick-up this week as the Rams travel to play the Giants.
Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints
Before the season, Sproles was reasonably well regarded in the middle of most RB cheat sheets, but his exact usage in the Saints’ offense seemed undetermined. That question was answered as he resumed hisSan Diegorole with 7 receptions for 75 yards, marked by all the explosive bursts we came to expect with the Chargers. Especially in a PPR league, Sproles is a nice back-up to stash on your bench for spot starts during your season.
Earnest Graham, Tampa Bay Bucs
The Bucs’ offense was out of synch for most of the game and HC Morris gave up on starter LeGarrette Blount fairly early in the game after just 5 carries for 15 yards. Veteran Graham was the only somewhat productive back in the mix, running 6 times for 13 yards, but also catching 7 passes for 42 yards. The Bucs travel toMinnesota after a disappointing home loss toDetroit, stay tuned as to how this backfield plays out, but pick up Graham if you have room on your bench for now.
Mike Tolbert, San Diego Chargers
Tolbert saved the day for all those who took a shot with him as he posted three TD’s in the Chargers’ 24-17 comeback win against Minnesota. He ran the ball 12 times for 35 yards and a TD, and caught 9 passes for 58 yards and 2 TD’s through the air. The catch is he left the game with an undisclosed leg injury, hopefully a cramp, strain or something like it, as he seems set for a huge role in the San Diegooffense this season. Other than being a little banged up, all of the tests on Tolbert came back negative and the team expects to have him on the field at New England this week.
Deji Karim, Jacksonville Jaguars
Even with starter Maurice Jones-Drew having a solid day (24 carries for 97 yards and a TD), Karim saw decent work with 14 rushes for 33 yards and three receptions for 39 more. He is a must-have for all MJD owners and a nice lottery ticket to have for whenever MJD’s cartilage-deprived knees cause him to miss time this year.
Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos
In absolutely expected news, temporary starter Knowshon Moreno left the MNF game with a hamstring injury and did not return, leaving the door open for veteran McGahee to catch 5 passes for 32 yards, along with just a few yards on a few carries. Based on previous experience, there is a fair chance that Moreno will not make it back on the field for Week Two, leaving McGahee to get the start against Cincinnati this week.
Receivers should always be approached with caution because their consistency varies considerably. For waiver wire pick-ups look for repeat performances before slotting some of the players below into your starting line-up, unless team conditions require emergency use.
Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers
With the incredible debut of Cam Newton, former early round pick Smith instantly moved from scrap heap to starter in your FF line-ups. While Newton threw for over 400 yards, 178 of those and two TD’s went to Smith on 8 receptions in an exciting 28-21 loss to the Cardinals. If Newton gets into a shootout at Green Bay this week, Smith should have another huge day.
Kenny Britt, Tennessee Titans
Britt has been a mix of off-field issues and on-field disappointment over his short career, but he started the season off with a vengeance as the apparent favorite target for veteran Matt Hasselbeck. He accounted for both of the TD’s in a 16-14 loss to Jacksonville, catching 5 passes for 136 yards, with a challenging outing against Baltimore coming up this week.
Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
Everyone taking a flyer on speedster Nelson as the non-Greg-Jennings receiver worth having in Green Bay was right on the mark. Aaron Rodgers looked his way early and often in the 42-34 win over New Orleans, with Nelson catching 6 passes for 77 yards and a TD. If Cam Newton’s debut is any indication, another shootout could be brewing when Carolina visits in Week Two, good news for the Packer passing game and Nelson.
Robert Meachem / Devery Henderson, New Orleans Saints
With starter Marques Colston out for several weeks with a broken collarbone and other starter Lance Moore also ailing, Meachem is the receiver we like most to have a breakout year in 2011. He caught 5 passes for 70 yards and a TD in the last second loss to Green Bay. Henderson grabbed an arguably more impressive 6 catches for 100 yards and a TD, but we believe Meachem will provide better consistency this season, while both are certainly worth a pick-up.
Deion Branch, New England Patriots
With new WR Chad Ochocinco catching just one pass for 14 yards, QB Tom Brady went back to old favorite Branch for 7 receptions for 93 yards. If the first game and Brady’s over 500 yards passing are any indication, any receiver in the mix for New England this year could be profitable.
Early Doucet, Arizona Cardinals
New QB, new favorite receiver — Larry Fitzgerald is not going anywhere, but Kevin Kolb found Doucet for 105 yards and a TD on just three receptions in the 28-21 win over Carolina. The Cards travel to Washington this week against a tougher than expected defense, but this is the time to grab Doucet in case this is his breakout year.
Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons
Assuming Gonzo goes through with his plans to retire after the 2011 season, he will leave the game having the second most receptions in NFL history, behind only Jerry Rice. And, he is still adding to those amazing numbers, catching 5 passes for 72 yards in the opening day loss to Chicago. Expect him to stay in the mix all season and don’t quite give up on him yet.
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
With Cam Newton’s uncanny debut, it looks like he will find all of his targets with regularity. Olsen made a nice transition from Chicago with 4 receptions for 78 yards, including a long catch of 43 yards, and should have ample opportunities at Green Bay in Week Two.
Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati Bengals
The second week starter could be Bruce Gradkowski, but either way, Gresham was nicely in the mix in the opening win at Cleveland with 6 receptions for 58 yards and an early TD from rookie Andy Dalton, who left the game with a wrist injury. The Bengals travel to Denver next week.
Ed Dickson, Baltimore Ravens
Dickson looks ready to step into the role vacated by now Arizona Cardinal Todd Heap, catching 5 passes for 59 yards in Baltimore’s satisfying 35-7 thrashing of Pittsburgh in the opener. Pick him up if you need a TE as the team travels to Tennessee this week.
Anthony Fasano, Miami Dolphins
If Chad Henne can continue to produce anything like 400 yards passing again, Fasano should maintain or improve on the 5 receptions for 82 yards that he posted in the MNF loss to the Patriots. The Dolphins host the free-wheeling Texans in Week Two, where Miami will have to score ample points just to keep up.
FROM THE DEEP:
This section is devoted to deeper leagues to try to give a few names that are still available and may make an impact later in the year.
Roy Helu, Arizona Cardinals
As much as Tim Hightower had a solid game in a 28-14 win over the Giants, this is still a Shanahan backfield and, try as he might, he will have to work the big back from Nebraska into the rotation to cement his own self-proclaimed status as an offensive genius. Or, a coach that just can’t leave well enough alone — stash Helu on your bench for a time if you have room, especially if you have Hightower on your roster.
Delone Carter, Indianapolis Colts
Based on trailing Houston 34-0 at the half, this could be a very long season for the Colts with Peyton Manning unavailable for most, if not all, of the year. Even in the opener, rookie Carter had 7 carries for 25 yards to fragile starter Joseph Addai’s 8 for 39, where the Colts had to give up their ground game very early in the game. Carter should get his opportunities sooner than not whether through injury to Addai, clean-up work in blowouts, or general preparation for next season.
Kendall Hunter, San Francisco 49ers
Starter Frank Gore had a mediocre opener with 22 carries for 59 yards against Seattle. Hunter grabbed a few carries for four yards, and will need the usual injury to Gore to see appreciable action, but is also worth a spot on deeper benches.
Eric Decker, Denver Broncos
Keep an eye on speedy youngster Decker, who is occupying the other starting spot opposite Brandon Lloyd. He was a target throughout the night and caught 3 passes for 53 yards in the 23-20 loss to the Raiders. With Demaryius Thomas still ailing and Eddie Royal playing in the slot, Decker could see continued work going forward.
Montario Hardesty, Cleveland Browns
Hardesty missed all of his rookie season with a torn ACL, but if starter Peyton Hillis does break down as many predict, the running game will belong to Hardesty. He carried the ball 5 times for a pedestrian 18 yards in the opening loss to the Bengals, but expect more sharing of the workload even if Hillis stays on the field.
Good luck in all things in life, onward and upward.