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Quick Fantasy Hits for Week 1

Senior Fantasy Writer
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As we wade into Week 1 action, there are some nuggets that are too in-depth for the show, too smart for Twitter and a little too short for the full column. Enjoy these Week 1 Quick Hits ...

Beware the subtle secondary genius of Chuck Pagano. Between stints at the University of Miami and the Browns, Pagano built up secondaries that led the NFL in interceptions (2001) and tied franchise records for fewest passing TDs allowed (13, in 2003). The Colts face the Bears in Week 1, so at least consider the fact that, while Rome wasn't built in a day -- Indianapolis finished in the middle of the NFL in terms of passing yards and passing TDs allowed last year while finishing last in interceptions. Jay Cutler might have a little more trouble than his owners might be expecting against Pagano and his Colts pass defense.

Braylon Edwards is not getting the respect he deserves. He hasn't had the most electrifying career (just one season of 1,000-plus yards), and he was a huge mess in 2011 with the 49ers (15 receptions for 181 yards in an injury-ravaged campaign), but Edwards, just 29, is in position to produce some decent numbers. The factors:

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1. While he only has one 1,000-plus yard season, he has four with 870 or more yards. And he did this with these quarterbacks: Derek Anderson, Charlie Frye, Trent Dilfer, Mark Sanchez and Alex Smith. So having Russell Wilson, the rookie, behind center, isn't as daunting a factor.
2. Edwards had 16 touchdowns in 2007. We tend to forget that Browns breakout year, probably because the Jets one is fresher in our memories.
3. You don't have to go too far back in Seattle's history to see a big, former first round draft pick, thought-to-be-washed-up receiver have a nice season. Mike Williams, who is just two inches taller and 18 pounds heavier than Edwards, came out of nowhere in 2010 to put up 751 receiving yards on 65 receptions.
4. Edwards isn't as buried on the depth charts as it may look. He's currently listed as the third wide receiver. But Sidney Rice is coming back from two shoulder surgeries and Golden Tate perennially disappoints, with just 609 total yards in 27 games over two seasons. Edwards has a real chance to make an impact with this figurative door slightly ajar.

This isn't to say that Edwards is going to have a 1,200-yard season with 10 touchdowns (although that's not totally out of the question). But his ADP is 175.62, and he's owned in just 10 percent of CBSSports.com leagues, making him a decent speculative pick for owners who have room on the end of their bench for a very deep sleeper.

Don't wholly discount Rashard Mendenhall for the season. Yes, it stinks that you have to just sit him on your bench for probably the first few weeks, but there are some factors that point to him possibly contributing this year, outside of the recent buzz and rumors that he might play in Week 1 (which is highly unlikely). First, Pittsburgh didn't put him on the PUP list, which would have had him out until Week 7. One would think that the Steelers wouldn't have done this unless they believed he could contribute before that point, as Mendenhall is now taking up a roster spot that could have otherwise gone to someone else, had he been placed on the regular season PUP list. And, second, the man who is serving as Mendenhall's replacement, Isaac Redman, has a hip problem that will likely bother him all year, as well as minor ankle and groin issues.

That being said, Jonathan Dwyer could be a huge Fantasy sleeper in Week 1 ... and possibly beyond. Dwyer had a stellar preseason, but he also had a stellar 2011 preseason (fifth overall in rushing last year) and did nothing with it. Still, here's a fun fact: Willie Parker had 186 rushing yards in eight career games before his breakout 2005 campaign. Dwyer currently has 151 rushing yards in ... eight career games. Parker ran 47 times for 272 yards in Weeks 1 and 2 -- with two touchdowns -- back in 2005, in Jerome Bettis' absence. When Bettis came back, he became one of the game's earliest (and best) touchdown vultures, letting Parker do all the rushing while he came in and scored the TDs. Dwyer is listed at 5'11" and 229 pounds, Parker is 5'10" 212. While Mendenhall isn't nearly as physically large as Bettis, he could slide into a supplemental TD-scoring role as he's eased back into games, with Dwyer playing the role of Parker.

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Bill Belichick runs more than you think he does. Belichick got a reputation -- probably through the high-output exploits of Tom Brady -- of being a pass-happy coach who produced a bunch of worthless Fantasy running backs. But this isn't exactly the case. According to stats culled from Pro Football Reference, New England has been in the top 10 in rushing attempts five separate times since 2006. And they've been in the top five in rushing TDs in five of the last six years.

Pat Shurmur, however, likes to pass, and this could benefit Brandon Weeden and nobody else. If you're looking for some kind of hope from the Cleveland passing game, it's this: last year, the Browns were 11th in passing attempts. And when Shurmur served as the offensive coordinator for the Rams -- in 2009 and 2010 -- his teams never finished in the top 24 in rushing yards. But St. Louis finished 16th in passing attempts in 2009 and fifth in passing attempts in 2010 with a receiving corps led by Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson and Daniel Fells. One could argue that Shurmur's unheralded group in St. Louis is somewhat comparable to the one he has in Cleveland. And while none of the receivers there went over 689 yards (Amendola) or three TDs (Amendola), Sam Bradford, a rookie, passed for 3,512 yards and 18 touchdowns. These numbers are right in line with what we have projected for Weeden this season.

Speaking of the Browns -- get to know wide receiver Josh Gordon. The Browns used a second round supplemental pick on the former Baylor wide receiver, who has a ton of talent but hasn't played on an organized team since 2010, when he was suspended for failing drug tests. But Gordon is part of a receiving corps that only saw two players get over 500 yards receiving last year. The Browns are just two seasons removed from having their tight end, Benjamin Watson, lead the team in receiving yardage. If opposing teams focus on Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi and Watson, it could free up Gordon to do some serious damage. He's definitely in the right situation and has the opportunity and talent, it just remains to be seen if he can master the playbook and catch on quickly enough. If he does, he could very well lead the Browns in receiving in 2012.

Don't be surprised when Steve Johnson blows up this year. Johnson ends the Fantasy draft season with an ADP of 66.73, slotting him 24th among wide receivers. He sits behind the duo from Philadelphia, as well as two from Denver and two from the Giants. Here's my problem with some of this: Johnson is coming off two straight 1,000-plus yard seasons (1,073 over 13 starts in 2010, and 1,004 in 16 starts in 2011), with 17 total touchdowns over those two years. In 2011, he battled groin and shoulder problems, which deflated some of his mid-season value. But hold Johnson against a few of the receivers going ahead of him, and some of the ADP data seems skewed:
Jeremy Maclin: zero 1,000-plus yard seasons (although a case can be made that a healthy Maclin might have reached that benchmark in 2011, when he had 859 yards in 13 games).
Eric Decker: 718 total receiving yards over 13 career starts (with the argument being that Peyton Manning will likely lift his value).
Percy Harvin: zero 1,000-plus receiving yard seasons in three seasons. He has never gone past six touchdowns in one season.

It's not that Johnson is insanely better than any of those players, but any argument for one of them could be canceled out by simply pointing at Johnson's numbers over the last two seasons. Mix in a third straight year with the same quarterback and the same coaching system in place, and Johnson seems set up to have a bigger season than many owners are anticipating.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyFB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasyfootball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
49ers not ready to award Steve Johnson No. 3 receiver role
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:31 am ET) The 49ers aren't ready to declare Steve Johnson as the team's No. 3 receiver. In fact, according to Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, the team won't "put numbers" on their receivers. Johnson is fight Brandon Lloyd, Quinton Patton, and rookie Bruce Ellington for snaps this preseason.

When asked if Johnson is the third wideout, offensive coordinator Greg Roman said: "It depends. It depends. I think we'll have some flexibility there."

Brent Celek compiles 41 receiving yards vs. Eagles
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:15 am ET) Eagles tight end Brent Celek made his presence felt with only two catches Thursday night against the Steelers in exhibition play.

Celek came down with a 23-yard grab during the second series of the night. On the ensuing drive late in the first quarter, he caught an 18-yard pass from Nick Foles. He played the entire first half with the starters and finished the game with two receptions for 41 yards.

Darren Sproles scores rushing TD Thursday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:10 am ET) Eagles running back Darren Sproles found the end zone during Thursday's exhibition game against the Steelers.

With LeSean McCoy sidelined after the first two series, Sproles tooke over and scored a rushing touchdown from 1-yard out in the second quarter. He played the entire first half with the starters and finished the game with six carries for 33 yards and a touchdown, averaging 5.5 yards per attempt. He was targeted only four times and finished the game with one catch for 4 yards.

Nick Foles not at his best in preseason tuneup
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:04 am ET) Eagles quarterback Nick Foles didn't look impressive Thursday night against the Steelers in exhibition play.

Foles threw a short pass to LeSean McCoy, who turned it into a 22-yard touchdown. He was picked off by Troy Polamalu in the second quarter. He played the first half and compiled 179 yards through the air while completing 19 of 29 passes. He added a touchdown and an interception, registering a 79.5 passer rating.

Foles has passed for 304 pass yards through three preseason games. His next game will likely be the regular season opener against the Jaguars on Sept. 7.

Antonio Brown racks up 59 receiving yards Thursday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(8/21/2014) Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown bounced back from a slow start in Thursday's exhibition game against the Eagles in Philadelphia.

Brown was held without a grab in the first quarter and came down with a 19-yard reception in the second quarter -- his only catch of the half. He bounced back after halftime with a pair of catches. He was targeted five times and finished with three catches for 59 yards, averaging 19.7 yards per grab.

Brown has compiled 173 receiving yards and a touchdown through three preseason games.

Markus Wheaton not on the same page with Ben Roethlisberger Thursday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(8/21/2014) Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton had a bad drop and endured some communication issues with Ben Roethlisberger Thursday night against the Eagles in preseason action, per the NFL Network. Wheaton finished the first half without a grab and caught passes for 10 and 14 yards in the third quarter. He caught half of his four targets for 24 yards.

"It looked bad. We'll go watch the film, it could be 'this here is wrong, that is wrong,' you fix it and you get rolling," Wheaton said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.


Martavis Bryant scores late-game TD in preseason game
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(8/21/2014) Steelers rookie receiver Martavis Bryant worked with the second-team offense and came down with a touchdown reception Thursday night against the Eagles.

Bryant caught a 25-yards pass in the fourth quarter. Backup Bruce Grad Gradkowski hooked up with the rookie for a short 3-yard touchdown strike on the ensuing drive. He was targeted four times and finished with two catches for 28 yards.

Heath Miller looks like old self in preseason tuneup
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(8/21/2014) Steelers tight end Heath Miller looked like his old self during Thursday's preseason game against the Eagles in Philadelphia.

Miller played deep into the third quarter with the first-team offense. He came down with a 27-yard touchdown grab late in the third quarter. He finished five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown, averaging 10.6 yards per grab.

Darrius Heyward-Bey makes touchdown grab in exhibition game
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(8/21/2014) Steelers wide receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey hauled in a touchdown Thursday night against the Eagles in preseason action.

Heyward-Bey worked with the backups and caught a 22-yard pass from Bruce Gradkowski in the fourth quarter. He caught all three of his targets for 54 yards and a touchdown, averaging 18.0 yards per grab.

Heyward-Bey is struggling to find a prominent role with his new club. He finished last season with just 29 catches for 309 yards and one touchdown for Indianapolis.

Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount get extended work with backups
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(8/21/2014) Hours removed from being charged with marijuana possession, Steelers running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount both received extra snaps with the backups deep into Thursday's preseason game against the Eagles in Philadelphia. 

Bell got the start but shared carries and was outplayed by Blount throughout the night. He took nine handoffs for 23 yards, averaging only 2.6 yards per attempt. He caught only one pass for 3 yards while being targeted twice. Blount had seven carries for 32 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per attempt. He caught all three of his targets for 14 yards.

Both players played late into the game as part of a "punishment," according to head coach Mike Tomlin, per the Observer-Reporter.


 
 
 
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