Did you go big at the tight end position and reach up for one of the established heroes early? Or, did you continue to stockpile running backs and wide receivers and wait?
I’m of the opinion that this was the year to plant your flag in the sand. Unless you just absolutely had to have someone on your team (say, you were given an Antonio Gates jersey for the holidays), you could wait it out, work through your tiered rankings and still find value.
In that vein, let’s go through the Heroes, Zeroes and Ninjas for Week 1.
Exclude: Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Dallas Clark, Vernon Davis, Jermichael Finley
Week 1 Heroes
Jimmy Graham at Green Bay: Graham will probably ascend to the “exclude” list in the next week or two. For now, he leads the list of Week 1 Heroes. He assumes the top slot in the high-octane New Orleans offense for the departed Jeremy Shockey and will look to pick up where he left off last season. Graham caught 31 of the 44 passes thrown to him and scored four touchdowns in the Saints’ final three games.
Graham stands on the precipice of greatness and fantasy stardom. That road begins on Thursday night.
Owen Daniels vs. Indianapolis: Daniels closed out the 2011 season well, piling up 22 receptions over the final four weeks with touchdown receptions in Weeks 16 and 17. I’m always concerned about lingering effects from such a knee injury for the 16-game slate, but Daniels stands as a top option in the opener against Indianapolis.
The improved Houston defense will be buzzing around Kerry Collins, and that might portend to short fields for Matt Schaub and the offense.
Zach Miller at San Francisco: I don’t know what to make of Seattle’s offense. Will they be as bad in-season as they looked in the preseason?
I do know this. Even if the downfield passing game struggles terribly, Miller stands as a potential monster for Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson will wind up that big arm on occasion for Rice and Williams, but Miller will serve as his security blanket.
Rob Gronkowski at Miami: Gronkowski obliterated opponents in the red zone as a rookie, but he also displayed the ability to stretch the field. He caught four or more passes in six of the Patriots’ final nine games and had a catch of at least 21 yards in nine games.
Gronkowski works in the low post for the high-flying New England offense in the opener. Look for Brady to open things up early and put the Miami secondary on its heels. Nobody’s outworking him in the end zone.
Tony Gonzalez at Chicago: Rumors of his demise have been great exaggerated. Gonzalez tallied 70 receptions in 2010 and returns as part of a loaded attack for Matt Ryan. Safeties Brandon Meriwether and Major Wright will be otherwise occupied with the downfield speed merchants, thereby opening the middle of the field for Gonzalez. I know he’s not a sexy option, but few are as consistent.
Week 1 Ninjas
Greg Olsen at Arizona: The tight end is a young quarterback’s best friend, and I expect this “Thor” doppelganger to be active on Sunday afternoon against the Cardinals. Rod Chudzinski seeks to shorten games with his two-headed backfield and will work the short passing game.
Jared Cook at Jacksonville: Matt Hasselbeck will take his shots downfield with Kenny Britt, but I suspect that the opener against the enigmatic Jaguars will feature a huge dose of Chris Johnson and a mountain of looks over the middle for Cook. He started to raise his game at the end of the 2010 season and stands as a top breakthrough candidate.
Daniel Fells vs. Oakland: I like the youngsters at tight end coming through the ranks for Denver. In the interim, Fells is the starter. He logged up 41 receptions for the Rams in 2010 and could shine against this questionable Oakland secondary.
Lance Kendricks vs. Philadelphia: Those who have heard my radio work or read my preseason pieces know of my Man-Crush on Kendricks. The signing of Mike Sims-Walker helps bolster the receiving corps, without question, but this is the guy. Philadelphia will look to bring the heat on Sam Bradford and force the ball out of his hand. Luckily, he now has a 6-foot-3 tight end that can stretch the field on the board.
Week 1 Flops
Heath Miller at Baltimore: Miller intrigues me coming into the 2011 season. With all of the speed options at the ready (not to mention veterans Jerricho Cotchery and Hines Ward), his target count will certainly be impacted. The quality of those targets may be higher and he still warrants bench consideration in deeper leagues.
However, Miller is more likely to be utilized as a blocker in this opener.
Marcedes Lewis vs. Tennessee: Lewis was a huge breakthrough performer in 2010. He obliterated opponents in the red zone and raked in a monster contract. Lewis will still be featured in this Jacksonville offense, but I have my concerns about his weekly output. He topped 60 receiving yards only three times last season.
Can you trust Luke McCown to get things rolling in the opener? You can start Lewis, but ponder inserting your second TE.
Aaron Hernandez at Miami: What’s his role? That’s the question fantasy owners have to ponder when looking Hernandez’s way. The combination of Welker, Ochocinco, Gronkowski, Branch, Price and the tailbacks accounts for a ton of looks. How many are left for Hernandez?
Shut him down and wait for his role to get carved out.
Kellen Winslow vs. Detroit: Winslow isn’t a dominant player at the position, but he’s consistent. He caught three or more passes in 14 of 16 games last season. However, Winslow eclipsed 60 receiving yards only four times. With Detroit bringing a fierce pass rush, I don’t anticipate much from Winslow this week. He may get some quick-hit hot looks, but the yardage count will be low.
Visanthe Shiancoe at San Diego: Shiancoe’s hamstring injury has me concerned. He was unavailable during the entire exhibition season, and I suspect that rookie Kyle Rudolph takes on a larger role out of the gate. The former red zone behemoth is an afterthought to open 2011 despite Donovan McNabb’s longstanding love affair with the tight end position.
Chris Cooley vs. New York Giants: Cooley finally returned to the practice field for Monday’s practice after missing a month and paying a visit to Dr. James Andrews. He was limited in the workout, but still expects to give it a go. The tight end position is too deep to risk a brief and unproductive appearance from this perennial PPR hero.
Week 1 Wild Cards
Evan Moore vs. Cincinnati: Ben Watson is a nice, steady option for fantasy owners, particularly those in PPR leagues. Moore is the player I’ve been watching in camp, and from talking to those around the team, he could be set for a breakthrough season for Colt McCoy. At 6-foot-6, he creates mismatches downfield and stands as a top red zone threat.
Fred Davis vs. New York Giants: Davis pops onto the radar because of Cooley’s continued knee issues. He served the Redskins well in the past, producing 48 receptions in 2009 in place of Cooley with six touchdown receptions. If Cooley can’t answer the ball, Davis makes for a sneaky play against the injury-depleted New York secondary.