By Matt Citak
With the season’s opening weekend in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to take a look back at some of fantasy football’s biggest winners and losers from Week 1. The biggest story from the league’s first weekend of action was the injury to last year’s number one overall player, Cardinals running back David Johnson. Johnson will be out for two-to-three months after dislocating his wrist, and has many fantasy owners scrambling to find a replacement. The running back’s performance was just one of the numerous disappointing outings from Sunday. Let’s take a look at the studs and duds from the NFL’s first week.
RB Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
No player did more to boost his fantasy value in Week 1 than the rookie running back out of Toledo. Hunt was looking like a breakout candidate even before his 246-yard and three-touchdown performance last Thursday, but his stellar play against the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots has cemented him as a fantasy RB1. Hunt set new records for a player making his NFL debut, scoring 45.6 PPR and 40.6 non-PPR points. This broke the 37-year old mark of Billy Sims, who collected 41.7 fantasy points in his first career game. The 22-year-old back looks like a star in the making, and as the featured back in Andy Reid’s offense, Hunt can easily finish as a top 10 fantasy running back.
RB Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
Fournette put together a solid NFL debut, running for an even 100 yards on 26 carries (3.8 yards per carry) and a touchdown while adding three receptions for 24 yards. While we would like to see a higher yards per carry, the thing that stands out the most here is the volume Fournette received. The rookie back carried the ball a whopping 26 times, and this comes after Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone talked all summer about wanting to pound the ball on the ground as often as possible. Another great sign? Of the eight plays the Jaguars ran inside Houston’s 10-yard line, six of them were rushing attempts by Fournette. As long as he can stay healthy, Fournette should remain a fantasy RB1 based on the volume of carries he will get.
RB Mike Gillislee, New England Patriots
While averaging 3.0 yards per carry is far from amazing, fantasy owners starting Gillislee were thrilled with the 26-year-old’s role as the Patriots goal-line back. Gillislee received all four carries on New England plays inside the Chiefs’ three-yard line, scoring on three of them to end the day with 22.5 fantasy points. The back was not targeted in Week 1, but with the presence of James White, Rex Burkhead, and Dion Lewis on the roster, no one expected him to play much of a role in the passing game. However Gillislee did lead the team’s running backs with 15 carries, and his 5-foot-11, 220-pound frame makes him the perfect player to replace LeGarrette Blount as the goal-line back.
RB Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears
Cohen is certainly not the Chicago running back that anyone would have thought would make this list after Week 1, yet here he is. Jordan Howard led the team with 13 carries, but it was Cohen that really shined in the Bears’ 23-17 loss. The rookie running back turned five carries into an impressive 66 yards, but the most glaring stat to come out of this game was his eight receptions on 12 targets for 47 yards and a touchdown. With Cameron Meredith already out for the season, and fellow Bears wide receiver Kevin White joining him on the sidelines, Mike Glennon was not left with many other weapons to target. Enter Cohen, whose explosiveness is perfect for the type of short, safe passes Glennon loves to throw. The 5-foot-6 back out of North Carolina A&T looks to be Darren Sproles 2.0.
WR Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Brown was the first wide receiver selected in most fantasy football drafts, and on Sunday he showed why. The star received caught all 11 of his targets for 182 yards, and left some jaws on the ground with a few crazy, acrobatic catches. Sunday’s performance was the sixth time in Brown’s career that he racked up 10 receptions and 20 PPR fantasy points despite not making it into the end zone. The 29-year-old is the most talented wide receiver in the NFL. Even with Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant back on the field for the Steelers, along with tight end Jesse James garnering some red zone targets from Ben Roethlisberger, Brown continues to be, at worst, a top 3 fantasy receiver.
WR Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions
After opening up the preseason with a two-touchdown performance, Golladay remained relatively quiet for the rest of the summer leading up to the regular season. Some people believed it was because head coach Jim Caldwell was attempting to keep his secret weapon off the radar of opposing defenses. If that was Caldwell’s plan, then it worked to perfection. Golladay opened the regular season with four receptions for 69 yards and two touchdowns. His 6-foot-4 frame makes him the perfect red zone target for Matthew Stafford, and he could easily step in to the role Anquan Boldin played in the Detroit offense last season (95 targets, 67 receptions, eight touchdowns).
WR Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams
Kupp was one of my favorite sleeper picks heading into the 2017 season. The young receiver tied with Todd Gurley for the most targets on the team, and turned those six targets into four receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown. It was clear throughout the summer that Kupp was the favorite target of second-year quarterback Jared Goff. With Sammy Watkins attracting the attention of opposing teams’ number one corners, Kupp could end up being the best receiver for the Rams. Considering the rapport between Goff and the rookie wide receiver, Kupp could easily lead the team in targets. For fantasy wide receivers that were free agents in most leagues heading into Week 1, Kupp and Golladay were certainly the two biggest winners.
QB Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Who would have guessed that of the two quarterbacks playing in the NFL’s opening game last Thursday, Alex Smith would be the one that finished with 31 fantasy points while Brady barely got to 10 fantasy points? Smith was phenomenal in Week 1, completing 28 of 35 passes for 368 yards and four touchdowns and finishing with a Passer Rating of 148.6. Smith has possibly the most talented group of playmakers he’s ever played with surrounding him in the Chiefs offense with guys like Hunt, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce. While you shouldn’t expect him to throw four touchdowns every week, Smith can easily outperform expectations this season, especially since he will likely enter free agency at the end of the season.
QB Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
After starting the game with a pick-six to Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel, Stafford bounced back to throw four touchdowns en route to 27.1 fantasy points. The 29-year-old quarterback was also able to complete 29 of 41 passes (70.7 completion percentage) for 292 yards, and had his strongest fantasy football performance since Week 6 of last year. While the run game is a cause for concern, Stafford has the talent and weapons around him to lead the Lions offense to a strong season.
RB Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
While some expected Bell to look a bit rusty after sitting out all of training camp and preseason, no one expected the star running back to struggle as much as he did against the Browns on Sunday. Bell was able to muster only 32 yards on 10 carries, adding 15 yards receiving on three receptions, for a career-low 47 yards. Bell looked awful in what was supposed to be an incredibly appetizing matchup. Fantasy owners that invested a top pick on the back were left disappointed in Week 1, but don’t expect the struggles to last that long. Bell is one of the most talented and explosive players in the NFL, and is too good to continue this level of play. Once he gets some first-team reps with the Steelers offense, Bell should be back to his normal, excellent self.
RB David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Even if he hadn’t gotten injured, Johnson still would have been considered one of the biggest duds of Week 1. The consensus number one pick in fantasy this season collected only 23 yards on 11 carries against a poor Detroit defense. Johnson was able to save his fantasy day from complete disaster by catching six passes for 68 yards, but hurt himself by losing a fumble. The star back wound up dislocating his left wrist, and will be forced to undergo surgery this week. Johnson is expected to miss 8-to-12 weeks, making him useless for fantasy purposes until at the very earliest the fantasy playoffs.
QB Tom Brady, New England Patriots
After last season’s amazing performance, everyone believed Brady would come out firing in Thursday’s opener. However Kansas City’s defense did an amazing job of limiting the quarterback to a 44.4 completion percentage on 36 pass attempts. Brady got his yardage total up to 267, but failed to find the end zone. This was certainly a poor start to the 2017 season for the 40-year-old quarterback. But with Rob Gronkowski healthy and the arrival of Brandin Cooks, this New England offense is still brimming with talent. Even with the loss of Julian Edelman, Brady should have no problem finishing the season as one of the top fantasy quarterbacks.
QB Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Talk about horrid starts to a season… Dalton completed just 16 of 31 passes for 170 yards against the Ravens on Sunday, ending the day with 170 passing yards (a mere 5.48 yards per pass attempt) and zero touchdowns. To make matters worse, the 29-year-old quarterback also threw four interceptions and fumbled the ball. He finished the game with a Passer Rating of 28.4, which represents the second-lowest mark of his seven-year career. Apologies to anyone that started the Bengals quarterback in Week 1, as Dalton somehow scored minus-3.0 fantasy points.
RB Eddie Lacy, Seattle Seahawks
Due to the absence of Thomas Rawls, Lacy got the start at running back for the Seahawks on Sunday. However, the veteran back could not have taken advantage of the opportunity less. Lacy was completely ineffective, carrying the ball five times for a measly three yards. Lacy wound up playing just seven offensive snaps, which finished third among Seattle’s backs behind Chris Carson’s 27 and C.J. Prosise’s 15. Carson was the only running back on the team to show any sort of explosiveness, leaving him the most likely candidate to share the field with Thomas Rawls when the team’s No. 1 back returns next week. Lacy could soon find himself back on the free agent market.
WR Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
After sitting out the entire 2016 season due to a suspension, many believed Bryant would burst onto the scene this season, beginning in Week 1 against Cleveland’s work-in-progress defense. That was not the case though, as Bryant caught only two of his six targets for 14 yards. Similar to Bell in the Steelers offense, Bryant will likely improve and return to his dangerous, downfield-threat style of play once he is able to shake the rust off. Remember, Bryant was only fully reinstated by the NFL a month ago.
WR Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
The Panthers looked primed for a huge offensive game going up against the 49ers defense, and while the team pulled off a 23-3 victory, the offense was not the main reason for that. The struggling play of Cam Newton led to a poor performance from Benjamin, who was able to pull down one of five targets for 25 yards. His 5 targets was second on the team to Christian McCaffrey’s seven, despite Benjamin only being on the field for 64 percent of Carolina’s offensive plays. Benjamin will likely once again serve as Newton’s favorite target when near the goal line this season, a role that had him leading the NFL his rookie year with 24 end zone targets. Benjamin’s fantasy outlook will improve drastically once Newton begins to get back on track.
Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.