Fantasy Fox: Thomas, Ryan headline Week 1 Revelations

I stand by my August declaration that Broncos QB Peyton Manning will not replicate last year’s record-setting marks for yards passing (5,477) and passing touchdowns (55) — given Denver’s brutal schedule (Jets, Patriots, six games vs. the AFC West, four outings vs. the NFC West), along with other factors.

As part of that expected "decline," or regression to the mean, Thomas (65 catches, 788 yards, 12 TDs) would fall short of his 2013 numbers — given the Broncos’ litany of vertical options in 2014. Plus, Thomas posted eight games of four or less catches and 11 outings of 50 receiving yards or less last season.

Sound reasoning, huh?

Well, Thomas got off to a crazy-good start in Week 1, shredding the Colts for seven catches (on eight targets), 104 yards and three touchdowns — remarkably similar stats to last year’s opener against the Ravens (seven catches, 110 yards, two TDs).

2. Bad news could come in threes with the following Buccaneers anecdote

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I’m reasonably confident that Doug Martin will justify his standing as a Round 2 pick or popular keeper-league option, sooner than later.

But his recent leg injury — coupled with Sunday’s 16-yard clunker against the Panthers (predating the ailment) — has me thinking about Tampa Bay’s treacherous fantasy history with dynamic rookies who quickly devolve into duds after that.

Like the case of receiver Michael Clayton, who cruised for 80 catches, 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie (2004) … but never caught more than 40 balls in subsequent seasons.

Or running back Cadillac Williams (1,259 total yards, six TDs in 2005), who never rushed 1,000 yards after his sterling rookie campaign.

3. The Rams receivers are absolute untouchables on the fantasy market … but you probably knew that already

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It’s irrelevant that Brian Quick (nine targets) cobbled together seven catches and 99 yards against the Vikings. He doesn’t have a track record of sustainability, and the Rams don’t have a quarterback (Shaun Hill, Austin Davis) who’s remotely viable on the fantasy end.

Which brings us to the real worry here: If the St. Louis pass-catchers are the equivalent of fantasy roadkill, how many games will second-year tailback Zac Stacy (51 total yards vs. Minnesota) encounter eight defenders in the proverbial "box?"

Sunday’s blowout loss wasn’t a fair test for assessment, since the Rams had to abandon the running game in the early goings. But it’s a potentially dire template of expectations for future games … if St. Louis shall remain obligated to overcome a number of first-half deficits throughout the season.

In one particular league, I possess a deep and talented stable of running backs (Le’Veon Bell, Montee Ball, Rashad Jennings, C.J. Spiller, Christine Michael); and for the time being, Stacy won’t crack the starting lineup until the bye weeks start kicking in.

4. Instead of lavishly spending free-agent monies on Allen Hurns … settle for Marqise Lee at a reasonable price

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Hurns was redoubtably very impressive in his NFL debut, rolling the Eagles for four catches, 110 yards and two TDs. (His first two pro receptions resulted in touchdowns!)

But there’s no way this undrafted, unheralded rookie can be a sustainable fantasy force, right? Especially once Cecil Shorts returns to the lineup?

Of course, that won’t stop a legion of fantasy owners from shelving their best laid plans during draft season and spending substantial (fake) dollars on Hurns … on the hope they’ll catch lightning in a bottle.

Look, I don’t know if Hurns is an out-of-nowhere star in the making … or the latest installment of Frisman Jackson (more on him later). But I am supremely confident that Marqise Lee will be a fantasy favorite — especially in Points Per Reception leagues — sooner than later.

To wit, Lee (six catches, 62 yards vs. Philly) led the Jags in receiving targets on Sunday (10) and should be a weekly threat for double-digit targets throughout the season — regardless if Shorts take the field.

Wish I could say the same about Hurns. Only time will tell.

5. There are worst fates for fantasy owners than losing their Week 1 matchup

In a dream scenario, we’d all love to go 13-0 in the regular season and then cruise to a fantasy title for Weeks 14, 15 and 16 (playoffs). But if you’re going to lose a game or two, Week 1 might be the best time for that to happen.

That statement has nothing to do with tanking the opener. Instead, it has everything to do with earning first (or early) dibs on waiver-wire free agents who proffered breakout performances in Week 1.

Remember Anquan Boldin’s absurd NFL debut in 2003 (217 receiving yards against Detroit)? Or Arian Foster’s 231-yard demolition of the Colts in 2010? Both unknowns, fantasy-wise, could have been had for rock-bottom prices in 12-team drafts, or likely went unnoticed in 10-team drafts for those years, respectively.

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Of course, for every Boldin, Foster and Kurt Warner (1999: 309 yards, three TDs against the Ravens in his first NFL start) … there’s the cautionary tale of the aforementioned Frisman Jackson, the Browns wideout who torched the Bengals for eight catches, 128 yards and one TD in the 2005 opener.

6. I haven’t lost faith in T.Y. Hilton (28 catches, 39 targets, 482 yards, two TDs in his final three games last year — including playoffs) standing tall as the Colts’ No. 1 receiver by season’s end, assuming full health.

Lost in the mediocre fog of his five-catch, 41-yard outing against the Broncos lies the 11 targets for the night — second only to Reggie Wayne for Indy (13 targets).

7. It’s easy to rationalize receiver Steve Smith’s excellent debut with the Ravens (seven catches, 15 targets, 118 yards, one TD) … in terms of not moving heaven and earth to acquire him on the waiver wire.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (345 yards passing, one TD) threw the ball 62 times against the Bengals — which will undoubtedly stand as the season-high come Week 17.

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On the flip side, with Ray Rice no longer in the mix, I have no clue who’ll stick as the Ravens’ primary rusher.

Justin Forsett (84 total yards, one TD) and Bernard Pierce (14 yards) missed their opportunities to be fantasy fixtures over the years … and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro (1,882 total yards, 29 TDs with Coastal Carolina last season) might not be ready for prime-time touches.

8. This seems like a good time to needlessly walk the plank of bold fantasy predictions:

Matt Ryan owners should certainly celebrate the quarterback’s 448 passing yards and three touchdowns from Sunday — the catalyst to the Falcons’ absurdly thrilling overtime victory over the Saints.

However, I don’t expect Ryan to experience similar success against the Bengals (Sunday in Cincy) for two reasons:

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a) From my perspective, the Bengals’ pass rush and overall pass defense runs superior to the Saints.

b) Ryan has registered back-to-back outings of three-plus touchdowns only twice in his career.

9. It’s disappointing that rookie Bishop Sankey only collected six touches (for 25 yards) against the Chiefs.

During the preseason, he was seemingly primed for an immediate breakout with the Titans — given the club’s lack of go-to assets in the backfield. And yet, QB Jake Locker (280 total yards, two TDs) logged the same number of carries on Sunday.

But let’s not overreact here: Sankey is still the same college dynamo (2,174 total yards, 21 TDs at Washington last year) who ended up as the NFL’s highest-drafted running back in May; and he still has terrific upside for the not-too-distant future.

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Plus, let’s remember not every rookie crushes their NFL debut. For their respective pro openers, Jamaal Charles (34 total yards — 2008), Darren McFadden (57 total yards — 2008), LeSean McCoy (47 total yards — 2009) and C.J. Spiller (13 total yards — 2010) all posted marginal numbers, at best.

Jay Clemons, the 2008 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year (Fantasy Sports Writers Association), can be reached via Twitter, day or night, at @FOX_JayClemons.