Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

by Bill Barnwell

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Chris Brown's 175-yard day in Week 1 against the previously-stifling Jacksonville run defense represents the latest in a history of great Week 1 performances leading to breakout years. Storied in the halls of ESPN's Fantasy Football Hall of Fame are the great beginnings experienced by guys like Kevin Dyson in 1999, Cade McNown in 2000 and Quincy Morgan in 2002, the first evidences of breakout years by the stars of the early 21st cent...

Wait. You mean those guys didn't have breakout years? And ESPN stole that idea from ... Hey, one thing at a time here, buddy. You're blowing my mind.

OK, so maybe Week 1 isn't always an indicator of a breakout year. Declaring that great first weeks are overrated is low-hanging fruit, but if you'll just join me in reaching slightly higher up, we can find some more interesting things as a team. Namely, does a great Week 1 mean anything for the rest of the season?

I took the 65 best performances in Week 1, as judged by fantasy points in a standard league, from 1995-2006. The cutoff that made 65 was to include everyone who'd scored 30 or more fantasy points. Anquan Boldin was thrown out for being a rookie and having no history, as were Daunte Culpepper and Rob Johnson (who were basically rookies). The test: To see what, exactly, a big Week 1 means for the rest of the season.

The short answer? Not that much. The players' huge Week 1's, on average, netted them 33.8 fantasy points -- that's the equivalent of a 150-yard, three-touchdown game for a running back. In other words, unless your quarterback was Drew Brees, having a guy with that sort of numbers is going to win you the week in most fantasy leagues. Chris Brown actually only pulled out a 17, but that was because he didn't score any touchdowns.

The 65 players averaged 11.8 fantasy points per week the year before -- that includes guys like 2002 Priest Holmes, who averaged 26.6 points per game, and guys like 1998 Richard Huntley, who averaged two. Not including their Week 1 heroics, those 65 players averaged 12.8 fantasy points over Weeks 2-17. In other words, the differences in performance are negligible and Week 1 isn't a predictor of much of anything for the rest of the season.

On the other hand, there are some great Week 1's in history we can look back at together. The best of and a forgotten star for each year:

  • 1995: Emmitt Smith went for 163 yards and 4 touchdowns against the Giants. He may have actually scored against the Giants last week without my noticing. Actually, the Cowboys still might be scoring on the Giants. Has someone turned the lights out yet in Texas Stadium? It was a career day, on the other hand, for the Chiefs' Willie Davis, who caught six balls for 155 yards and two scores against the Seahawks. Davis only had 372 yards the rest of the season and never saw a 100-yard game for the rest of his career.
  • 1996: Herman Moore was in the midst of his peak here as one of the best wide receivers in football, and after he broke out with the gigantic 123-catch season in 1995, he proved he was no fluke with 12 receptions for 157 yards and a TD. The only other guy above 30 in Week 1 in 1996? Keith Jackson! The aged tight end delivered the last flukishly-great game of his career with five catches for 67 yards and three touchdowns, in one of the great sell-high moments in fantasy history.
  • 1997: Tim Brown's only three-touchdown day came in Week 1 against the newly-located Tennessee Oilers, in front of friends and family at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Brown would see the end zone only twice the rest of the season. There are so many candidates for unlikely star of the day; we can go with the game manager (Neil O'Donnell) or the star-crossed (Lawrence Phillips), but let's focus instead on Bears running back Raymont Harris. After serving as Lewis Tillman's backup in 1994, getting hurt and missing 1995, and then splitting time with Rashaan Salaam in 1996, Harris got the starting job and produced a 1,000-yard season with 10 touchdowns. The year after, the Bears traded him to Green Bay and he had 264 yards the rest of his career. The Bears also drafted Curtis Enis that year.
  • 1998: This was Garrison Hearst's last season before the broken ankle and avascular necrosis that sidelined him for two years. This, I believe, was the Jets game where they went into overtime with the 49ers and Hearst won the game with a 96-yarder. The Jets quarterback for that game? Glenn Foley, who went 30-for-58 for 415 yards and three touchdowns in that game. That's good for 30.8 fantasy points; Foley went for more than 20 points only once besides that in his career. Hearst, by the way, had 225 combined yards and two scores.
  • 1999: The aforementioned Kevin Dyson had his career day in Week 1; he had 162 yards this week and 496 the rest of the way. Dyson was a very decent player befallen by injury, best known for two plays during the Titans' 1999 playoff run: He received the lateral from Frank Wycheck and scored on the Music City Miracle, then was tackled one yard short of the goal-line on the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV against the Rams. According to Wikipedia, he's a middle-school physical education teacher now. Save your money, kids. Richard Huntley had what's probably the Tuffy Rhodes of random Week 1's; a reserve running back with the Steelers in '98, he had 41 rushing yards, five receptions for 67 yards, and three touchdowns. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry that year behind Jerome Bettis but then lost his job two years later to Amos Zereoue. He was the starting running back on the 1-15 Panthers, and then disappeared.
  • 2000: The also-aforementioned Cade McNown had his greatest game as a pro, throwing for 290 yards and a score while rushing for 87 yards and running one in! The Bears still lost to the Vikings by three, and McNown was out of football the next year. Rumors of fantasy point-shaving on McNown's part were discovered to be unfounded.
  • 2001: Only two guys were above the 30-point plateau in Week 1 of 2001, and they were both usual suspects. Ahman Green had 177 yards and three touchdowns, while Jimmy Smith had eight catches for 126 yards and two scores.
  • 2002: The best day in Week 1 history over the past twelve years? Priest Holmes' mammoth 22 carries for 122 yards and four scores, plus six catches for 19 yards against the Cleveland Browns. He went for 44.1 fantasy points against the only decent Browns team of the new incarnation. On the other hand, that led to Quincy Morgan's juggernaut performance; nine catches, 151 yards and two touchdowns. He was actually a decent downfield threat that year, before retreating into the fourth receiver we know and love.
  • 2003: Again, Priest Holmes was the star of Week 1. He had more yards receiving (98) than rushing (85), and had two scores. There weren't many other notable performances, but since I never say anything nice about him, what about Chris Chambers! He had seven catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
  • 2004: Curtis Martin could not be stopped by the Bengals as he started his last great year. He nearly reached 200 rushing yards, settling for 196 and two touchdowns. Quentin Griffin, the only man who managed to suck behind the Broncos offensive line, did not suck on this day. He had 156 yards and three scores. They were the only three touchdowns of his career, and this game accounted for 24 percent of his career yardage output. Many a waiver wire priority was lost.
  • 2005: Three wide receivers poked their heads above 30 fantasy points: Larry Fitzgerald (34.5 points), Keenan McCardell (33.3, in the last big game of his career), and McCardell's old running mate, Jimmy Smith (32.0).
  • 2006: Finally, only one man had a huge day in 2006. If you watched the late game on Monday (and if you did, come to our support group on Thursday, Fnor is bringing scones), you saw Frank Gore decisively fail to meet the 35 points he gained at the beginning of a breakout 2006.
Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason’s wacky Gil Thorp blog.

Loser League

Ah, the smell of a fresh season of Losers. Since I knew you'd ask, the worst Week 1 in the last twelve years? Jon Kitna's 2000: 6-of-13 for 54 yards and four interceptions. That's good for -4.8 fantasy points; the worst game altogether was, actually, by our patron saint, Rex Grossman, against the Vikings last year. He had -5.2 points; his Week 17 performance against the Vikings was a relatively strong -4.5.

Quarterbacks: Welcome back, Charlie Frye! By the time this column had been written, you and your -1 were dealt elsewhere, so any teams that benefited from this performance will be suffering penalties from you for the rest of your short career. Steve McNair's injury-aided disaster of a performance against the Bengals earned him a 2. I think he overthrew Derrick Mason by about two person-lengths at one point.

Running Backs: Steven Jackson got off to a slow start last year, but he got off to an even slower one this year. He had a 1, and with Orlando Pace gone for the year, his viability as an elite running back has to come into question. Jamal Lewis, whose viability as an elite running back is certainly not in question, only mustered a 2 against a good Steelers rush defense that had 28 points or so on the Browns. A bunch of players all had threes, most notably both Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister.

Wide Receiver: Sometimes, I wonder whether the 0.0 is even more impressive than negative numbers. There's something so stark about just being absolutely useless for a week. Lee Evans, if he's a Scramble reader, is also contemplating this at the moment. Lee, if you are reading, you're better than that. Peerless Price, maybe not so much. Eight players had a lone point. Two of them, Troy Williamson and Sidney Rice, were Vikings. I suspect we'll be seeing them more in this spot as the year goes along.

Kicker: Oh, it's a great way to start the season when you've got Sebastian Janikowski in your sights. Seabass wins the Losingest Loser of the Week this week with a -3. Don't miss three field goals. Nate Kaeding put up the ol' goose-egg.

Best Bets

2-1 last week

Ah, a solid start to the campaign. Of course, I bet on Jacksonville, which was foolish, and even picked them in a survival pool, which was even more foolish. My own fault, really. No video games this week, unfortunately.

CHICAGO (-13) over Kansas City

Kansas City's down to bare bones at this point, and I'm not really sure Vegas has caught up to how bad they are yet.

Green Bay (-1.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS

A couple of sites have actually taken this line off the board with the injury issues in New York. I know the Giants are at home, but they're decimated by injury and up against a Packers team the projection system believes is underrated and breaking out upon the league, particularly defensively.

Indianapolis (-7.5) over TENNESSEE

Boy, Indianapolis looked good last week. They've also been gotten off to a great start each of the last two years, and I have no qualms about betting against Tennessee.


44 comments, Last at 18 Sep 2007, 3:48am

1 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

Jamal Lewis, who’s viability as an elite running back is certainly not in question

Except by practically every other writer on this site!

2 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

The Chiefs are really bad, but laying 13 points with the Bears O is definately a gutsy pick.

If that line for the Packers/Giants game can still be found anywhere, I have to imagine everyone should jump at that chance.

5 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

Of course, I bet on Jacksonville, which was foolish, and even picked them in a survival pool, which was even more foolish.

I feel your pain.

6 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

I think you mean 1995, not 2005 for Herman Moore's prime.

I remember 1997 fondly. I traded Tim Brown away for Natrone Means and Keyshawn Johnson. Just after I picked up a relative unknown Rod Smith off the waiver wire. Of course, today, a player like Rod Smith '97 wouldn't even be a free agent to begin with.

8 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

One other complaint - McAllister, McAllister, McAllister! Not McCallister. Granted, I used to complain to my fantasy commish about his spelling of Deuce's last name as well.

10 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

Is that Chiefs - Browns game with the ridiculous numbers for Priest and Morgan also the infamous Dwayne Rudd helmet throwing game?

11 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

No mention of one and done Medlock? And to think, I even considered naming my loser league team The Medlock Expressway. Now a lot of owners are holding out hope that the Chiefs will be bad enough to not attempt an XP or FG.

13 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

Except by practically every other writer on this site!

this is clearly a riff on the DJ Gallo ESPN "conversation" board... and a finely played one as well.

or at least that's what his defense should be!

14 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

Ladbrokes are currently paying 1.83 times your money for GB +1.5...

Also, while offtopic, bet hard on the US vs Sweden in the Ladies' Soccer World Cup! 1.57 is a gift...

16 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

I'm a Texans fan. I watched KC@HOU in its entirety, and believe me when I tell you that that scoreline was not the result of the Texans having suddenly become a good team. The Chiefs have a reasonable pass rush, but other than that they do no in any way resemble an NFL team. There are few teams in the league that I would not believe merit a 13 point handicap against the Chiefs and the Bears certainly aren't one of them. The '07 Chiefs are worse than the '06 Raiders. If it would ever be possible to say the DVOA projection system whiffed because it said a team would merely be the worst in football, the Chiefs are that team. They suck.

17 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

Rex's -4.5 must have been against the Packers, not the Vikes, if it was on Week 17. Remember, the game he didn't fancy preparing for?

And I think the Giants can beat Green Bay. The way the Packers' offensive line played Sunday, Michael Strahan ought to get a real sack on Favre, crocked or no.

18 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

You're absolutely crazy giving any team playing the Bears 13 points. That'd be like taking the Jaguars in a suicide pool AND giving the opponent 13 points.

The only way the Bears create a 13 point gap over a team as ludicrously boring as the Chiefs is if they start assigning negative point values for ridiculously bad drives (although that will leave both teams solidly below 0).

By the way, the Bears are now on a pretty extended string of unimpressive performances. In their last 7 games, they go 34-31 over Tampa (#31 DVOA), 26-21 over Detroit (#27 DVOA), lose 26-7 to G.B. (#15 DVOA), OT victory over Seattle (#25 DVOA), impressive victory over Saints, humiliating Super Bowl loss to Colts, humiliating season debut against S.D.

F.O. is quick to point out that stomps tend to tell you more than guts, and the Bears have currently been gutting out games against bottom feeders and getting stomped by quality opponents.

19 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

I swear this has nothing to do with the disagreements that Bill and I have had in the past, but I liked the back and forth that Scramble had in prior years more than one voice.

Is there a search for another partner going on right now?

20 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

16 --

If you are right about the Chiefs (and I have little reason to think that you are not), just imagine the special fondness that we may well develop for the HBO series in reruns for years to come.

21 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

18: There's a common thread in all of those except the SD game (where they pretty well held one of the better offenses in check) -- Tommie Harris didn't play in any of those other games. And he is the single most important player on the Bears, even more than Urlacher I believe. The Bears allowed far more points per game after his injury.

The Bears with Harris regularly blew out bad teams last year, unless the bad team had a good defense, or at least a good pass rush. The Chiefs don't.

22 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

My first top 20 finish in three years and the Browns have to screw up the rest of the season for me. Crap, crap and double crap.

23 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

I'm a Seahawks fan so I'll concede that I'm biased, but right now I'm eying the (-3) line against Arizona like a juicy steak.

24 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

So Bill, are you going to own up to "you should start Alex Smith over Carson Palmer in Week 1", or should we pretend that never happened?

26 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

I do believe my KC Under 7.5 wins bet in Vegas will actually be redeemable after last week. If that bet was still up, would it be like -400?

27 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

I'm a Colts fan, but I don't like that -7.5 versus the Titans. The Titans held the Colts to 14 and 17 points last year...

28 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

#10 - Yes, the Chiefs - Browns game with the ridiculous numbers for Priest and Morgan was also the infamous Dwayne Rudd helmet throwing game.

If only the Browns could be mediocre like that again someday...

29 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

And the Titans last year had Pacman Jones, where the Titans this year have Nick "Not-Quite-As-Bad-As-Jason-David" Harper. Ask the Saints how that whole CB-who-knows-the-Colts-offense-inside-out thing worked for them last week. Ugoh will undoubtedly struggle with Vanden Bosch, but the Titans have no passing game, the Colts run defense looks much improved, and Peyton remains Peyton. And I'm a Texans fan, so I hate both teams.

31 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

#27 and #29

I'm with Ben on this one (being a self-avowed Titans fan). The Titans held Indy to 14 and 17 not by the virtue of Pacman alone ... Indy has way too many weapons for 1 cornerback to handle. Even with an improved run defense Indy's DL is no match for Titans OL.

That said Peyton is Peyton and will keep Indy ahead. I anticipate TN to cover the spread.

32 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

But losing Pacman doesn't just affect the coverage of the man that would have been his. The Titans won't be able to give as much safety help to the guy on the other side, because they'll have to give more to Harper. The safeties will have to play deep coverage more often, harming the run defense (though I imagine they generally play pretty deep against the Colts anyway, for obvious reasons). They won't be able to leave Harper on an island when they blitz, which reduces the range of playcalling options. There's a reason why losing a top corner is more damaging than losing a top player at almost any other position, and why elite corners are paid an absolute fortune. And they'll also miss his punt returns against the heinous Colts coverage units.

33 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

Last year the Titans didn't call many blitzes anyways. I would still look for Schwartz to play his safeties deep as a carryover from last year's schemes. It may not be Reggie or Marvin hurting the Titans most tomorrow; nor do I anticipate Addai to run miracles against the Titans revamped DL. My money is on Dallas Clark being a disruptive force with his seam routes.

Punt returns is an altogether different chapter - Pacman is being missed already.

36 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

dryheat, in the context of Kevin Walter, you are correct: four catches, 47 yards, one TD (his only career TD), Week one 2005 vs. Cleveland.

38 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

A little help with My QB decision:

I have D McNabb against Washington,
M Hasselback at Arizona,
or Favre against the non existent Giants secondary

41 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

I need a flex out of the following (PPR league, otherwise standard points):

Branch @ Ari; Fred Taylor vs. Atl; Norwood at Jax; Betts @ Phi; Curtis @ Was

I was thinking Branch - he can't have two crap games in a row, right?


42 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

Re: Week 1 performances

Anquan Boldin (2003) - 10 receptions, 217 yards, 2 TD's. Greatest debut by a WR ever?

That is all.

43 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

St. Louis plays without offensive linemen Orlando Pace and Richie Incognito. Signed the woeful Brandon Gorin (cut by AZ at beginning of last season despite AZ being desperate for linemen) to fill in for Pace. Take SF and the 3 points in St. Louis. Big day for the SF 3-4 vs shakey STL offensive line.

44 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Stars Of Week 1

RE: 23

I’m a Seahawks fan so I’ll concede that I’m biased, but right now I’m eying the (-3) line against Arizona like a juicy steak.

Silly man. NFC West = always bet the home team.

That's my policy. Occasionally I'll get one wrong (Rams = fail), but it works very well for me, especially in games like this one.