Week 1 was every bit as surprising and head-scratching as any first weekend of a season. It usually takes three to four weeks before you can start to feel confident about players and teams. Here are six for this week.
- Cam Newton – Two games into the season and it is time to be concerned. The Panthers only needed a half yard to get a first down at the end and instead run Christian McCaffrey wide on a trick play. Over two games, Newton rushed five times for a net two-yard loss. The concern was with his surgically-repaired shoulder but he’s lost all rushing ability. There is no reason to respect him taking off on a run. After two games, he still has yet to throw a touchdown.Sure, he passed for 333 yards last night, but that was completing just 25 of 51 passes and a QB rating of 70.1. Newton just blew it in two home games. Now he hits the road to Arizona, Houston, home against the Jaguars and then on the road to Tampa Bay. It’s not just one game anymore. It’s his two home games to open the year and both went poorly.
- O.J. Howard – So far, one of the biggest disappointments of the year. It isn’t enough that he was never targeted in the win over the Panthers (he had one but committed offensive pass interference). It was that when he played in Carolina last year, he caught four passes for 53 yards and two touchdowns. This time? Zero. Nothing.He is not injured. But he is playing for a coach that almost never used tight ends in Arizona and only moderately with the Colts and Steelers. He’s never had a tight end talent like the former first-round pick Howard. Howard is far too talented to drop onto your league’s waiver wire but he’s been much too little used to start until he shows up in a game as more than an average tight end. He’s just too risky for now.
- Buccaneers backfield – This was one of the worst units in the NFL last season so both Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones went very cheaply in drafts. Amazingly, the Bucs did not bring in any new back to challenge them. Even more, they did not draft a single lineman. So it was a surprise to see that Jones gained 75 yards on 13 runs in the season opener. Barber was held to only 33 yards on eight carries.That made former second-round bust Jones appear to have finally turned the corner. He rewarded fantasy owners by crawling back under the rock with just four rushes for nine yards while Barber ran for 82 yards and a score. Who’s turn is next week at the Giants? Who cares. You’re going to pick wrong and the Bucs never upgraded anything that would help.
- Not Tyreek Hill – With the speedster out for four to six weeks, his replacement has drawn interest. After all, the No. 4 guy there might produce more fantasy points than the No. 1 on most other teams. The problem is that no one may – at least not to the point that he’ll merit a fantasy start. He left in the first quarter but no other wideout caught more than one pass for the rest of the game. The assumption is that both Mecole Hardman and De’Anthony Thomas will help fill in though the Chief’s official depth chart lists Demarcus Robinson as the primary backup for the split end.Thompson and Robinson both fielded one short catch last week while Hardman failed to catch his one target. If anyone will step up, it would be Hardman who was drafted in part to add a speed element back when the team feared that Hill would be suspended. But he failed to impress in the summer, so the answer is more likely just more of Watkins, Travis Kelce and Damien Williams. Just like last week.
- The Moustache – The Jaguars have turned to Gardner Minshew to replace Nick Foles for the next ten games or so. Foles broke his collarbone and the 6.05 pick of the draft gets thrown into the fire. He was the tenth of eleven quarterbacks taken in April. He is only 6-1 so shorter than most quarterbacks and that was part of why he fell in the draft. He started at Northwest Mississippi Community College as a freshman and won the NJCAA National Championship. Two years at East Carolina saw him graduate college and then as a grad student at Washington State, he was lured to play for his fourth season. He passed for 4,776 yards and 38 touchdowns and came in fifth in Heisman voting along with many awards.He’s worth tracking and even stashing in dynasty leagues. While he faced the weak Chiefs defense in Week 1, he still managed to complete 22 of 25 passes for 275 yards and two scores in three quarters of play. The Jaguars have one of the softest passing schedules as well though no opponent will be the visiting Chiefs. He is maybe the most interesting quarterback right now and a true character. He lacks prototypical size but balances that with all the intangibles. He scored a 42 on his Wonderlic. And best yet, his name is Gardner Minshew II. There was never a Gardner Minshew I.
- DJ Chark – The ex-LSU wideout was the 2.29 pick by the Jags last year – the eighth wide receiver in that draft. He only started two seasons in college and topped out with a stat line of 40-874-3 as a senior which was a team-high. The Tigers preferred to run (and use Derrius Guice when they did). He ran a 4.34 at the combine so he’s plenty fast. He was held to only 14 catches for 174 yards as a rookie on a Jaguars team that struggled to pass to anyone.But Chark made waves in camp and the preseason. In Week 1, he turned four catches into 146 yards and one score. That was almost equal to his rookie season total but OC John DeFilippo said no one on the team was surprised. Two of those passes were from Gardner Minshew and went for 69 and 35 yards. The Jaguars have remade their depth chart and Chark is a starter along with Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley. He’s too untested to be a reliable fantasy starter yet, but he needs to be on a roster in every league for now.