Tight ends were the unsung heroes during the first week of the fantasy football season.
There were five players at the position who caught two touchdowns, and 12 who registered at least 10 points in standard-scoring ESPN leagues on opening weekend.
The best performance was turned in by St. Louis’ Jared Cook, who caught seven passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals. Cook, who signed a five-year, $35 million contract with the Rams in the offseason, produced his first-ever multi-touchdown game. It was also just the third time in his career he’s had at least 100 receiving yards in a game.
While Cook can’t reasonably be expected to keep up that level of production all season, he has played himself into a starting role in any league format.
Denver’s Julius Thomas also established himself as a starter. For the Broncos’ third-year tight end, the Peyton Manning effect was real and it was spectacular in Week One. Thomas came into the season opener with 5 receiving yards in his first two seasons in the league. He multiplied that number by 22 against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, catching seven passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns.
Thomas will have to fight for targets in an offense with Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, but earning Manning’s trust should be enough to make him a worthwhile starting option. Thomas went from being owned in 26 percent of fantasy leagues last week to 87 percent, an increase of 61 percentage points.
Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron also put himself on the fantasy radar with a nine-catch, 108-yard, one-touchdown performance in the season opener against the Miami Dolphins. Like star tight ends Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham, the 6-foot-5 Cameron is a former college basketball player. With Josh Gordon suspended again this week for the Browns, Cameron remains the top target for quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Established starters such as San Francisco’s Vernon Davis (six catches, 98 yards, two touchdowns), Dallas’ Jason Witten (eight catches, 70 yards, two touchdowns) and Houston’s Owen Daniels (five catches, 67 yards, two touchdowns) also had big opening games.
Of course, not all was good with tight ends in Week One. New England’s Zach Sudfeld, for example, was supposed to take the place of Rob Gronkowski. Instead, Sudfeld was targeted only once against the Buffalo Bills, and that pass was intercepted.
Sudfeld was dropped this week in 44 percent of ESPN leagues in which he was owned.
Eagles flying high
Chip Kelly’s debut as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles lived up to the hype. The “blur” offense installed by Kelly did wonders for the fantasy numbers of the Eagles’ skill position players, starting with quarterback Mike Vick.
He produced 203 passing yards, 54 rushing yards and three total touchdowns against Washington, in the process elevating himself to a start-worthy fantasy quarterback. Owners who drafted Vick and a quality backup now have a very interesting trade chip.
Running back LeSean McCoy also looked built for Kelly’s offense, with 31 carries for 184 yards and a touchdown. Given the number of plays Philly runs, the long-term health of McCoy and Vick is a concern, but for the time being, they look like fantasy stars.
Even lesser fantasy options in Philly, like receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end Brent Celek, have seen their value increase this week. Celek is a particularly good sleeper for Sunday. The Eagles host the San Diego Chargers in their home opener, and the Bolts gave up a pair of touchdowns to Houston’s Daniels in Week One.
Analyzing the Bills
Despite the Bills holding the ball for just over 22 minutes in Week One, running back C.J. Spiller got 22 touches. It’s a good sign for fantasy owners that offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett means it when he says Spiller will get a heavy workload. However, don’t expect robust numbers from Spiller on Sunday. The Panthers’ rush defense is legit, holding Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch to just 43 yards last week.
Bills running back Fred Jackson’s Week One performance, when he put up 108 yards from scrimmage, also showed he has fantasy life, mostly as a flex option.
Bills receiver Stevie Johnson is a good play against a shaky Carolina secondary, and rookie quarterback EJ Manuel’s debut is reason to believe he can develop into a serviceable fantasy backup this season.
Buffalo’s defense outperformed almost every expectation for it against New England – registering three takeaways, two sacks and a touchdown – but I’m holding off for at least another week before buying into the group.
The Panthers’ top skill-position players – quarterback Cam Newton, wide receiver Steve Smith and running back DeAngelo Williams – are all good plays Sunday. The Bills were one of only two teams in the NFL to allow a 100-yard performance by a running back in Week One, showing the rush defense still has plenty of room for improvement.