NFL fantasy football: WRs dominate Future Perfect

This isn't a news flash, but there are stark differences between baseball and football. I'm not just talking about the way the two games are played. But it's also about the way the two games are discussed, analyzed and generally picked apart like a turkey carcass on the fourth Thursday in November.

But if there's one thing the two sports (and probably all sports, for that matter) have in common it's the propensity for fans and experts alike to rush to judgment after just a small sample size. After all, how else would we spend our non-game watching hours if we all weren't trying to figure out if David Wilson's fumble in his second professional carry wasn't a sign of a life to be lived in Tom Coughlin's doghouse?

Such was my reaction when taking a look at this week's Future Perfect rankings. It seemed as though the world had been turned topsy-turvy. Why were there so many wide receivers near the top of the Top 200? Where were the big fantasy football names we've been touting since the preseason? Kevin Ogletree? Stephen Hill? Lance Moore? Double rainbow? What does it all mean?

Fortunately, a glance at one of my fantasy baseball rosters was the equivalent of breathing into a brown paper bag before a fainting spell. I remembered Opening Day way back in April. (Michael Fabiano, look away) Carlos Pena of the Tampa Bay Rays torched the New York Yankees, going 3-for-5 with a home run and five runs batted in. That of course spawned the predictable "he's on pace for...", which would have meant Pena was set up for 162 round trippers and 810 runs batted in.

Fast forward to September. Pena's hitting .190 with 17 longballs and 51 RBI. Several light years short of the breathless "projections" facetiously offered after a great first game. And that's what you need to remember after the first week of the fantasy football season.

Sure, Ogletree was great against the Giants in the opener. And the way the Cowboys throw the ball, there's a chance he could have another solid game or two lurking out there during the regular season. But let's not look at these rankings and suddenly think Ogletree is supplanting Calvin Johnson as the most coveted wide receiver in all of fantasy football.

That same grain of salt can even be taken with a guy like Julio Jones. Sure, I like Jones to be a great fantasy receiver by the time the year is out. I still believe he'll be a top five option by December. But do I think he'll be the second-best fantasy prospect overall for the remainder of the year? Nah. Not quite. Too many factors go into a receiver (even one potentially as great as Jones) being a top-level producer over the course of a full season.

But it does stand as an interesting look at who succeeded early and whose schedules set up well over the long haul. It's pretty likely that a guy like Ogletree falls off. But if his scheduling looks favorable, what does that mean for Dez Bryant or Miles Austin? Julio Jones is already a beast. Certainly that bodes well for Roddy White's potential to move up the ranks as the Falcons move through their slate of games.

Also, like Pena's hot start and subsequently awful rest of the season, guys with eye-popping numbers at the start of the season will hit slumps during the year. So expect these rankings to be in flux for a few weeks. Stars will rise, sleepers will fade and life will start to look the way we all expected it to back in late July.


» It's no surprise to see Matt Ryan sitting on top of this list. The Falcons' field general got his 2012 started the right way with 299 yards, three TD passes and a touchdown run against Kansas City. I expected Ryan to make the leap to the next level, I just wasn't expecting it to be a flying leap after a running head start. This week's game against the Broncos will tamp down some of the excitement, but there are still several potential shootouts coming before the season's done. Expect Ryan to keep hovering near the top of the QB list for weeks to come.

» Robert Griffin III shocked even the most optimistic of fans with the way he played to begin the season. We'll learn a lot more about him in the next month. He's got a matchup against a Rams defense that's pretty stingy against quarterbacks in Week 2. Then in Week 3, he'll face off against another sneaky good defense when the Bengals come calling. Plus, once game film of RG3 starts to circulate and defensive coordinators adjust their game plans accordingly, we'll get a better sense of where he slots among fantasy quarterbacks. But for now, there's little reason to expect a major dropoff from the rookie.

» It hasn't been a great start to the season for Aaron Rodgers. He was held in check by the 49ers in Week 1 and was so-so against the Bears in Week 2. This comes after a pretty lackluster preseason for the reigning MVP. I'm not pushing the panic button on Rodgers just yet, but it would be nice to see him put together the type of game we're used to seeing out of him. The problem is that the Packers head to Seattle in Week 3 to face a stout Seahawks secondary. It just might be that Aaron Rodgers isn't the fantasy quarterback we thought he was. Nah, couldn't be.

» How fantasy football differs from real football, Exhibit A: Carson Palmer. The Raiders offense was generally pretty miserable last Monday night against the Chargers, but Palmer had a halfway decent fantasy night with 297 passing yards and a touchdown. Of course, a large portion of those yards came on short passes to Darren McFadden. If you're a Raiders fan, you hope to see something different this week against the Dolphins. If you're a fantasy owner starting Palmer (why?), you don't really care if anything changes -- so long as he puts up the numbers. But things are going to get tougher. Ride this train while you can.

» Speaking of trains falling off the tracks, the Mark Sanchez Experience could be coming to an end very soon. Three of his next four games are against the Steelers, Niners and Texans. That's not a good recipe for quarterbacking success. He'll be back to the Sanchez we've all come to know pretty soon.

» Ditto for Blaine Gabbert.

» The No. 12 spot seems low for Tony Romo after a nice Week 1 performance. While he can certainly move up the ranks, his schedule isn't particularly favorable. The Seahawks, Bears, Ravens, Eagles and Browns are all on the slate -- not what you want to see from a fantasy QB. Romo has plenty of weapons and if he spreads them around, he becomes that much harder to defend. He'll always throw interceptions, but if he can limit his multipick games and balance it out with some TD throws, he'll be knocking on the door of the top five before too long.

» Jay Cutler. Sigh. So much potential. So much frustration. He has a rather favorable schedule. I just need him to throw the ball to the proper colored jersey. It wouldn't hurt if the Bears could do something to prop up his offensive line as well.

» It looks like injury isn't the only concern with Michael Vick this season. A slate that includes the Ravens, Cardinals, Steelers and Cowboys isn't encouraging either. Vick started the season with a four-interception game against the Cleveland Browns and doesn't figure to get a breather this week with Baltimore. Poor defensive matchup and a propensity to end up on the injury list make me more pessimistic about Vick's prospects as the season progresses.

» After one week, the Overreaction Squad may have looked at Cam Newton's season-opening performance and wrung their hands that the young QB was on the path to being a victim of the sophomore slump. Let's pump the brakes on that. In the next three weeks, games against the Saints, Giants and Falcons mean Newton should have a chance to make plays with his arm and his legs. Having Jonathan Stewart back could help as well. Carolina's two-headed running attack is much more worrisome than just Stewart or DeAngelo Williams alone. It's far too soon to write Cam off.

» Matt Schaub flew under the radar during the preseason and I expected big things from him during the regular year. He was perfectly mediocre in Week 1, but the schedule sets up well for him with a milquetoast division and an out-of-division schedule against teams with less-than-stellar secondaries. There's still a chance for him to move up the ranks before too long.

» Matthew Stafford will get better. Believe me, he will. It just won't be a rocket rise back to the top of the charts. In fact, looking at his schedule, it could be an up and down season for the Lions signal-caller. This week's game against San Francisco isn't going to do him any favors.

Running backs

» My biggest concern with Stevan Ridley beginning the year was whether he'd be a victim of Beli-tricks (a subsidiary of Shanahanigans Inc.). But if he can back up his Week 1 performance, that might go out the window. It's certainly possible, too, against the Cardinals in Week 2. And the Bills in Week 4. And the Broncos in Week 5. And ... well, you get the point. He won't finish the season as the top RB to target in fantasy leagues, but don't be surprised if he's hanging around the top 10 or 15 when it's all said and done.

» The sun is shining and C.J. Spiller is making plenty of hay. That's a good thing considering the schedule for the next few weeks is relatively favorable (Chiefs, Browns and Patriots). Plus once Fred Jackson returns from his injury, it's back to sharing carries.

» Kevin Smith, I hope you've enjoyed your stay in the top five, because it ends this week. The 49ers were death to fantasy running backs last season and started the same way this season by shutting down Cedric Benson. Games against the Bears, Eagles and Seahwaks aren't particularly inviting. Plus, Mikel Leshoure is returning to action to take some of those carries. And, oh yeah, the Lions like to throw the ball a ton. Expect Smith to take a tumble down the list.

» Things were looking good for Matt Forte until he went Matt Forte and left Thursday night's game with an injury. Reports are, he has the dreaded high ankle sprain and will be out for several weeks. Superficially, it should help Michael Bush's value, but that might only be short term. Bush's best production was likely to come as a complement to Forte -- especially as a touchdown vulture. Bush should produce well, but this is one case where two halves definitely made a whole.

» Adrian Peterson. Wow. Just wow.

» Apparently all Reggie Bush needed to become a valuable fantasy commodity was to be on a team that had no offensive weapons. Sounds crazy, right? But in New Orleans he struggled to find a niche. In Miami, he's not the back everyone thought he'd be when he won the Heisman Trophy (yes, NCAA, it happened; we all saw it), but he's been pretty good. Eventually if the 'Fins can't find any other weapons, Bush will start to wear down. But as long as Joe Philbin wants to ride that train, we'll get on board as well.

» Now free of Beli-tricks, BenJarvus Green-Ellis looks like he's ready to thrive in Cincinnati. He opened his season with a nice game (91 rush yards, TD) against the Baltimore Ravens. This week, he'll see a Browns defense that has struggled against the run in recent seasons. The Bengals schedule does have a couple of challenges -- the Steelers are never welcoming -- but overall, it sets up well for the Law Firm to be a quality fantasy back this season.

» Darren McFadden will be a valuable fantasy running back -- as long as the Raiders can stay in ball games. If Oakland falls behind big and is forced to abandon the running game, Run DMC's value goes out the window. Sure, he caught a bucketfull of passes in Week 1, but you can't count on that every week. He's a running back, not a catching back. This week's game against Miami should help him plenty, but he'll still need Palmer and the receivers to step their game up if he's going to be successful.

» Hey, look ... there's Shaun Draughn. Aside from being a fun name to look at (his last name is actually pronounced "Drone"), he might have been the source of the most fantasy frustration in Week 1. While most fantasy football owners were deciding between Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis, it was Draughn who found the end zone for Kansas City. But before you scrap all of your preseason plans and rush to get Draughn, keep in mind that his score came in garbage time with the Chiefs getting blown out. Charles is still the man in K.C. and should see his ranking rise.

» Same goes for Joique Bell. His one carry for one yard and one touchdown won't be a regular thing. It'll still be between Smith and Leshoure for the most RB touches in Detroit. And still, neither of them is particularly attractive long-term.

» Last week was not a good one for Chris Johnson. This week isn't looking too good, either. In fact, as the schedule sets up, it could be one week on and one week off for C.J. Or it could just be a whole bunch of off weeks. Somehow, I'm not seeing a lot of great matchups in his future. I don't think he'll finish the season outside the top 20, but he won't be moving back toward the top 10 anytime soon.

» Trent Richardson's knee issues concerned me before the season started. But you know what concerns me more? Trent Richardson playing for the Cleveland Browns. The offensive line has struggled and he doesn't have a particularly favorable schedule. Not every week will be as bad for the Browns as Week 1, but they'll need to start showing something if we're going to believe Richardson can be a difference maker in both real and fantasy football.

» Rashad Jennings, we hardly knew ye. After hyping up his preseason performance and worrying about Maurice Jones-Drew's holdout, Jennings laid an egg in Week 1 -- complete with an injury that will likely keep him out of Week 2. Combine that with MJD looking strong in his first game and we may well have seen the last of Rashad Jennings on this list for 2012.

» Jacquizz Rodgers debuts on this list above Michael Turner. I thought Rodgers would definitely cut into Turner's production this season, but I didn't think it would happen this soon. Turner spent the preseason trying to increase his value by becoming more of a pass catcher. He'll have to speed up that evolution to remain fantasy relevant. He's certainly in no danger of losing his job as Atlanta's No. 1 back, but in a pass-happy offense, the back who can catch the most balls is the better fantasy option.

» With Ryan Mathews expected to miss at least one more week, Ronnie Brown still has a little fantasy value, although Brown didn't do much against the Raiders to make fantasy owners take notice. It could be a little better this week against the Titans, but the moment Mathews is ready to go, Brown will be off the list.

Wide receivers

» Now that everyone knows Kevin Ogletree's name, the surprise factor is gone. Not that anyone expected him to last atop this list long-term anyway. Heck, no one expected him to be atop this list at any point in the season. If he's still in the top 10 after this week, it'll be a shock. Even then, I still won't be a believer. Call me a hater if you want, but I need consistency.

» Re-read the previous paragraph. Insert "Stephen Hill" for "Kevin Ogletree." Move on.

» Before the season started, I wrote that Pierre Garcon was a candidate for a breakout season simply because of how often he was targeted by RG3. He proved it for a half in Week 1. Then he got hurt. He stands as a game-time decision for Sunday, which means this (hopefully) won't be a lingering issue. Garcon has the makings of a top 10 fantasy receiver in 2012 if he can stay on the field, especially against a schedule that has some weak spots in it.

» Lance Moore rounds out the top five. Although that just as easily could be Marques Colston. The good thing about Saints receivers is that they usually produce pretty good fantasy numbers. The bad thing about Saints receivers is that you never know when they're going to produce those numbers. I'd be pretty surprised if Lance Moore isn't hanging around this list most of the season. I'd be equally surprised if he's hanging around this highly on the list most of the season.

» James Jones is going to take a big tumble after being a fantasy no-show against the Bears on Thursday night (two catches, -1 yards). He was never going to be Aaron Rodgers' favorite target, but for at least one week, he was the man in Green Bay. The way the Packers offense works, there could be another big week in store for Jones, but for now, cue the Alicia Keys.

» Speaking of falling ... hello, Brandon Marshall. Fantasy football enthusiasts can be forgiven for punching walls after Marshall dropped a touchdown pass in Thursday's game against the Packers. In fact, Marshall was shut out until the fourth quarter. He finished the night with just two catches for 24 yards. There will be better weeks for Marshall, but this one's going to sting for awhile.

» Sitting just outside the top 10 is a quartet of flashes-in-the-pan -- Brandon LaFell, Malcom Floyd, Cecil Shorts and Andre Roberts. Three of those four (LaFell, Floyd and Roberts) have some sleeper potential, but there's little reason to believe they're going to be top 15 fantasy pass-catchers this season. Don't fall too much in love with those names, because you're only going to get your heart broken.

» Randy Gene Moss, welcome back to fantasy football relevance. For now, at least. The veteran had a nice game in his return to the NFL, catching a touchdown pass in last week's win over Green Bay. It's hard to tell which Randy Moss we're going to see this season, but it is encouraging to see him on the field when the Niners are in the red zone. He won't be ranked this highly all season, but there might be more fantasy value there than we believed in the preseason.

» Anquan Boldin ranking above Torrey Smith is a surprise at first glance. But when you consider that Smith is Baltimore's home-run hitter and Boldin is more of the reliable go-to guy, it might not be so much of a shock. I expect by the end of the season that the gap will have closed -- Smith may even surpass Boldin. But as long as the veteran is getting targets and catching passes, you can't write him off.

» Marshall wasn't the only Bears WR to disappoint Thursday night. Alshon Jeffery was nearly invisible (one rec, seven yards). Certainly he was hurt by Jay Cutler not having time to throw the football, but fantasy owners have to hope that this inconsistency is not a sign of things to come. With the Rams and Cowboys up next on the schedule, it's not particularly encouraging, but I'm holding out hope that Jeffery can find a niche as the season progresses.

» With Kenny Britt coming back to work, Nate Washington will see a drop-off, but it might not be as great as you'd think. Jake Locker likes throwing to Washington and the time that the pair had to work together during Britt's absence could pay off. It's not crazy to think that Washington could be on this list for a good portion of the year. He's a quality No. 2 or No. 3 fantasy receiving option -- especially if Locker keeps looking his direction.

» Don't worry. Calvin Johnson will be fine. I still believe that if anyone can defeat the Madden curse, it's Megatron.

» After complaining that a poor offensive line in Chicago is hurting the values of Marshall and Jeffery, I'd be remiss not to mention a similar situation in Pittsburgh. Things should get better for Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown -- both are too explosive to be held down for long. But it would be nice if Ben Roethlisberger wasn't always running for his life.

» The longer Carson Palmer has to work without his top receivers, the more intriguing Rod Streater becomes. He was the most targeted Raiders receiver during the preseason and his teammates -- especially Palmer and Darren McFadden -- have been very impressed with Streater's work. I'd like to see a few less drops from the rookie, but there is certainly sleeper potential there.

» Throw some of that sleeper potential Dexter McCluster's way. While you're at it, throw him a few more passes, too. With the success of Percy Harvin, there is plenty of room for the hybrid RB/WR in this league. McCluster's speed makes him a matchup problem for linebackers and as long as the Chiefs can use him effectively, he's a nice option for both Matt Cassel and fantays football owners.

» Maybe Brandon Lloyd won't be the fantasy monster we thought he'd be when he signed with the Patriots. But it may not be his fault if offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels decides to stick with the three-tight end sets. There are just too many mouths to feed offensively in New England (something Wes Welker is learning the hard way) and while Lloyd will certainly have some nice games, they may not be as plentiful as we first imagined.

» Danny Amendola always had the potential to be Wes Welker Lite, but that potential was snuffed out last year by an injury. This year, Amendola is back and he's a PPR monster. Sam Bradford might not have a great season, but that's no reason to believe Amendola won't find a way to produce consistently.

» Santonio Holmes likes to say the media don't believe in the Jets. Count me among that number. Holmes won't be a consistently productive fantasy receiver.

Tight ends

» When I said Joe Flacco was ready to take off this season, I had no idea he'd be taking Dennis Pitta with him. I still think this is more of a commuter flight and not a trans-Atlantic adventure for Pitta. That flight will probably be grounded in Week 2 against the Eagles.

» I'm sure plenty of Dallas Cowboys fans watched Martellus Bennett in the season opener and wondered why he never performed quite that well when he wore a star on his helmet. I wish I could help you with that one. But I can tell fantasy owners that Bennett has landed in a good spot. Eli Manning loves using his tight ends, so the Kung Fu Astronaut could have a pretty productive year.

» I will not be fooled by Scott Chandler this year. Last season, he burst out of the gate with four TDs in his first three games. He caught two touchdowns the rest of the season. The Bills offense is such a rollercoaster that Chandler will be hard to count on.

» Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski might be the two guys in the Patriots offense who don't have to worry about losing a significant amount of targets with the addition of Brandon Lloyd this year. Since both of them are such matchup nightmares, you can be certain that Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady will work them into the game plan as much as humanly possible.

» Marcedes Lewis is such an interesting prospect in 2012. If he comes even close to approaching his 2010 numbers (700 receiving yards, 10 TDs), he could shoot up this list. He's off to a decent start, although this week's game against the Texans doesn't inspire a lot of confidence.

» I expected a Chiefs tight end to appear on this list. I didn't expect it to be Kevin Boss. This could throw a monkey wrench into the popular fantasy thinking about how Matt Cassel will use his pass catchers. Don't give up on Tony Moeaki just yet, but Boss is a name to keep in your back pocket for now.


» The Browns aren't a great defense. Michael Vick just made them look that way. That said, Cleveland's defense isn't bad and they play a slew of teams that aren't exactly offensive juggernauts. The Browns won't finish the season atop this list, but they could certainly finish in the top 10.

» Yes, that's really the New England Patriots in the No. 4 position. Last season, the Pats were one of the worst fantasy defenses around. I'm not completely sold that they've turned things around, but they've got a good matchup this week against the Cardinals. We'll learn more in the next few weeks when they run up against the Ravens, Bills and Broncos.

» Look for the Packers to move up the list a couple of spots after thoroughly dominating the Bears on Thursday night. Whether or not they stay there remains to be seen. Green Bay's offense gave up plenty of yards last season, but their saving grace was the ability to force turnovers and score touchdowns. But if Clay Matthews has a few more games like this week, the Packers are going to cause problems.

» It's a surprise not to see the 49ers on the list. It's unlikely they'll vault up the rankings after this week's game against the Lions. They're still a fantastic defense, but unless they're piling up sacks and turnovers, the fantasy points just aren't there.

Follow Marcas Grant on Twitter @MarcasG.

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