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.
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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.
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.