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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
Golden Tate knocks off the rust
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:15 pm ET) Lions receiver Golden Tate (shoulder) came off the PUP list Monday in time to participate in the team's first practice.

"Still a little rusty out there, still have to trust myself and trust my hands," he told the Detroit Free Press. "But I like the way we work around here, coach (Jim Caldwell) does a great job at taking care of our legs. After Day 1, I’m excited about [Tuesday] and I’m just going to keep on getting better day to day."

Tate said a shoulder injury was a first for him. “I kind of trusted the doctors," he said. "The doctors said I would be back by camp and here I am practicing Day 1. However, there was a lot of rehabbing and strengthening the muscles around it so it didn’t shut down, but I feel like I’m close to being pretty good."

Coach Jim Caldwell called Tate "a very important piece to our offense."


RB Damien Williams displaying 'second gear'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:09 pm ET) Dolphins running back Damien Williams, an undrafted free agent who starred at Oklahoma before getting dismissed from the program, is opening eyes at training camp. Coach Joe Philbin said Williams has good hands and "a little bit of a second gear."

"I think he’s got that explosiveness," Philbin continued. "He shuffled one or two times today on a draw, I know we corrected him one time where he kind of danced in the hole a little bit, but typically he’s been decisive. When he really makes up his mind, you kind of see him moving away from people. I think he catches the ball well, I like what he’s done so far."

Williams (5-11, 222 pounds) ran for 946 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012 with Oklahoma. He dealt with an ankle injury last year before getting dismissed in November.


Joe Looney taking advantage of Alex Boone's holdout
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:56 pm ET) 49ers guard Joe Looney is working with the first team while Alex Boone holds out for a better contract. According to CSNBayArea.com, Looney's performance could affect how the team handles Boone's holdout.

"I’m approaching training camp as a time to compete and get better, and I want to show the coaches I’m getting better every day," Looney said. "Alex Boone is a hell of a player and a hell of a guy, and him being gone is his business. But watching him on film every day, I want to come in and do a hell of a job like he does."

Coach Jim Harbaugh praised Looney's performance so far.


Tony Romo to practice Tuesday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:29 pm ET) Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will practice Tuesday after all the players were off Monday, reports the Dallas Morning News. Coming off back surgery, Romo participated in the first training camp practice last Thursday, then was given Friday off.

He took part in full-contact practices Saturday and Sunday.


Brandin Cooks on bubble screen equals touchdown
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:20 pm ET) Saints rookie receiver Brandin Cooks turned a bubble screen into a long touchdown Tuesday, the second time he's produced the top play in a training camp practice, reports the New Orleans Times Picayune.

With left tackle Terron Armstead opening up a hole, Cooks shot through and no one was catching him. "What's a certainty is that won't be the only screen pass [Drew] Brees will chuck at Cooks this season," the paper said.

Cooks also hauled in a 20-yard back shoulder throw from Brees, beating cornerback Champ Bailey. "It's a throw and catch that's challenging to perfect without much time together," the paper gushed. "Brees and Cooks made it look routine."


Seahawks make roster moves
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:06 pm ET) The Seahawks put receiver Taylor Price on injured reserve, released cornerback Chandler Fenner and guard Bronson Irwin, and signed wide receiver Randall Carroll.

Kelvin Benjamin showing quick improvement
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:02 pm ET) Panthers rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who suffered a bone bruise in his knee Sunday, said he woke up Tuesday feeling like a new man, reports the team's website. He'll wait for the OK from trainers but expects to resume practicing soon.

Benjamin reiterated that he'll play in preseason games.


Jay Cutler 'poised to take major step'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:45 pm ET) Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is "poised to take a major step in Year 2 of Marc Trestman's offense," reports ESPN.com. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer told the website that Cutler has taken "more and more control by the day."

"Not that he didn’t before; he did," Kromer said. "But with his comfort level with all the things we’re trying to get done, he’s able to solve some of his own problems on the field, even when he didn’t maybe have that answer taught to him yet. It’s really helped that Jay has studied really hard all offseason. He’s worked on technique. He’s been one of the hardest-working guys on the team this offseason."

Cutler posted a career-best passer rating of 89.2 last year. His 63.1 completion percentage ranked second in franchise history.


Odell Beckham says he'll play in preseason
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:31 pm ET) Giants rookie receiver Odell Beckham said he'll play in the preseason, though it won't be in Sunday's preseason opener, reports Newsday. Beckham is expected to miss another week with a hamstring injury.

Tests on Monday showed Beckham had blood in his hamstring.


Texans add RB Tim Cornett
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:16 pm ET) The Texans signed running back Tim Cornett, UNLV's all-time leading rusher. The undrafted free agent hooked on this spring with the Cardinals before they released him.

 
 
 
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