Ten most intriguing players of Week One

Posted Sept. 07, 2011 @ 2:57 p.m.
Posted By Pat Fitzmaurice

1. Michael Vick — After an electrifying season in which he gained more than 300 combined passing/rushing yards per game and produced 30 TDs, Vick will try to prove that he deserves to be ranked among the best quarterbacks in the game, and that his dubious past is truly behind him. That checkered past includes not only the dogfighting activities that made him a national pariah and landed him prison, but also an erratic six-year run with the Falcons in which he never completed better than 56.4 percent of his passes in any single season. And let's face it: Vick never will be known as a pinpoint passer. It's the big-play potential that makes Vick perhaps the most feared performer in fantasy football. Will he turn in a signature performance on Sunday when the Eagles open their season against the Rams in St. Louis, or is Vick about to come crashing back down to earth?

2. Mark Ingram — Fantasy owners are divided over Ingram's rookie prospects. Some believe the former Heisman Trophy winner is ticketed to become little more than a highly pedigreed cog in yet another of Sean Peyton's RB committees. Others believe that Ingram is destined to become the heavy-duty runner the Saints have been lacking. We'll have a better idea of which camp is correct when the Saints visit Green Bay to take on the defending champs in the NFL's Thursday-night kickoff extravaganza. In 2010, the Packers ranked fourth in the league in TD passes allowed, fifth in passing yardage allowed, and they had far and away the lowest opponent passer rating. It's difficult to do business against the Packers through the air, and it will be interesting to see what sort of tricks Payton pulls out of his bag to counteract the blitz-heavy schemes of Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers. One would suspect that a heavy dose in Ingram is in order, but Payton might have something else in mind.

3. Maurice Jones-Drew — Time to find out whether MJD's surgically repaired knee is good to go. His backup, Rashad Jennings, has been placed on injured reserve with a knee injury of his own, so the Jaguars don't have a qualified candidate to help Jones-Drew shoulder the rushing duties. Will Jones go right back to being the same mighty mite who ripped off six 100-yard rushing games in a row last season from Halloween to mid-December? Or will the combination of high mileage and a significant knee injury prevent us from seeing one of the best pound-for-pound running backs of the last decade in top form?

4. Tony Romo — Here's another star making his return from a major injury. Romo is coming back from a broken collarbone that KO'd him last season after only six starts. He doesn't have the luxury of an easy matchup in his first game back; quite the opposite, in fact. The Cowboys have a Sunday-night date with the Jets in the Meadowlands, and Rex Ryan's crew won't be welcoming Romo back to action with Hallmark cards and chocolates. Jets CB Darrelle Revis is capable of taking any one of Romo's weapons away on any play, but Romo has an embarrassment of pass-catching riches at his disposal, with Miles Austin and Dez Bryant forming one of the best WR duos in the league, and Jason Witten having established himself one of the NFL's premier pass-catching tight ends.

5. Darren McFadden — Remember that old game show "The $20,000 Pyramid"? Of course you do. Let's play it for a moment, shall we? I'll give the clues. Ready, set, go: Oatmeal … goose down … fresh snow … rabbit's fur … silk … the Denver Broncos' run defense. You: "Things that are soft." Ding, ding, ding, ding! After a breakout season in which he rolled up 1,664 total yards and 10 TDs in only 13 games, McFadden and the Raiders start the campaign with a road game against the Broncos, who ranked 31st against the run last season. McFadden eviscerated the Broncos in 2010, running for 165 yards and three TDs against them in Week Seven, then rushing for 119 yards against them in Week 15. McFadden was held out of the preseason while recovering from a fractured orbital bone, but he'll be ready to go for the opener, and it's a good bet that he'll be whipping up a Denver omelet.

6. Austin Collie — There are so many questions about the Colts' passing game on the eve of opening weekend. Peyton Manning's medical status was the subject of much scrutiny before confirming that he will not play Week One. He will be replaced by the recently unretired Kerry Collins, which is basically a case of replacing lobster with monkfish (also known as "poor man's lobster"). That figures to put a dent in the fantasy value of the Colts' pass catchers. Then there's the matter of Collie's durability. He sustained multiple concussions last season and plays a role that leaves him susceptible to more punishment than most receivers endure. No doubt his fantasy owners will feel a little more comfortable about having drafted Collie if he can make it through Week One intact.

7. Jahvid Best — As Best enters his second NFL season, it's still hard to get a read on him. His rookie season was unremarkable, save for a Week Two explosion against the Eagles when he had 232 total yards and three TDs. But Best was hampered by a double case of turf toe for most of the season, so it's possible that we were seeing him at far less than 100 percent the majority of the time. On the other hand, injuries are an ongoing concern for the 5-11, 199-pound Best, who sustained a concussion in the preseason. He opens the season in Tampa against a Buccaneers defense that ranked 28th against the run last season.

8. A.J. Green — Can't wait to see how the fourth overall pick in this year's NFL draft does in his professional debut. Green looks like a star in the making, and a 1,000-yard rookie season isn't out of the question. But the Bengals also have a rookie quarterback, and Andy Dalton's transition from college to the NFL probably won't be anywhere close to as seamless as Green's. The Bengals visit the Browns for a divisional contest that will feature another intriguing rookie receiver, Greg Little of the Browns.

9. Ben Tate — With superstar Arian Foster nursing a hamstring injury, how much will Tate play in Week One? And if he does get extensive playing time against the Colts and their perennially suspect run defense, will Tate perform as well as he did in the preseason? The status of Foster's tender hammy has become quite the mini-drama, turning Tate into perhaps the most essential handcuff player in fantasy football. Tate, a second-round draft pick of the Texans in 2010, missed his rookie season after breaking his ankle in the preseason. But while his ’10 preseason was a nightmare, his ’11 preseason was an eye-opener: He had 20 preseason carries for 147 yards and a TD. Even if Foster is declared fit for Week One, the Texans might try to lighten his load by letting Tate play every third series or so.

10. Kevin Kolb — After grossly overpaying for Kolb in a trade, the Cardinals need Kolb to have a much better opener this season than he had for the Eagles in 2010, when he was repeatedly chased by Packers OLB Clay Matthews, took three sacks and ultimately left the game with a concussion, opening the door for Michael Vick to resurrect his career in grand fashion. It's clear that Kolb represents at least a slight upgrade over the fetid QB goulash that the Cardinals were dishing up last season, but it's less clear whether Kolb is good enough to be an every-week fantasy quarterback. Perhaps we'll have a better idea after we see how Kolb fares against the Panthers in Arizona this weekend.