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Cullen: RGIII delivers in highly anticipated debut

Scott Cullen
9/10/2012 1:27:56 PM
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Rookie quarterbacks, a veteran QB returns, as do some star runners, a breakout star receiver in the making and more in Scott Cullen's Week One NFL Round-up.

IMMEDIATE IMPACT
For years, it has been easy to dismiss the contributions of rookie quarterbacks, knowing that they would take their lumps for most of their first season (if not longer) before they were productive enough to be counted on every week. After Cam Newton, and to a lesser extent Andy Dalton, last season, there is at least some reason to think that rookie quarterbacks can step in an play a productive role right out of the gate.

While most first-year quarterbacks struggled Sunday, Washington QB Robert Griffin III was a different story. He torched the New Orleans Saints (19-for-26, 320 yds, 2 TD, 10 carries, 42 yds), justifying the hype that had surrounded him in training camp. It's true that the Saints don't have a vaunted pass defence, ranking 30th in passing yards allowed last season and they were missing starting corner Jabari Greer, but that was an impressive debut and Griffin's talent raises the bar for Washington receivers.

Pierre Garcon made his Redskins debut a success with four catches for 109 yards, including an 88-yard touchdown, before suffering a foot injury that knocked him out of the game before the end of the first quarter. If Griffin III has starter value in fantasy, so too will Garcon.

DOWN ON HIS LUCK
Indianapolis rookie QB Andrew Luck had a more difficult debut (23-for-45, 309 yds, 1 TD, 3 INT) facing the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Luck connected with predictable targets -- veteran WR Reggie Wayne (nine catches, 135 yds) and rookie TE Coby Fleener, his college teammate, (six catches, 82 yds) -- along the way, but there were a lot of incomplete passes when he tried to throw downfield. It took 18 targets for Wayne to register nine catches, for example.

HEY MANNING, NICE SHOT
After a year on the sidelines and four neck surgeries, Broncos QB Peyton Manning looked pretty sharp against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday night, completing 19 of 26 passes for 253 yds and two touchdowns. Manning targeted wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker seven times each, splitting ten catches evenly between them, but Thomas' big-play ability was in evidence again as he caught a 71-yard touchdown on a wide receiver screen, allowing him to finish with 110 yards for the game, while Decker contributed 54 yards.

RETURNING RUNNERS
After all the talk about Maurice Jones-Drew being a third-down back in the opener, following his contract holdout, Jones-Drew accumulated 95 yards on 22 touches against the Vikings. Rashad Jennings had nine touches for 40 yards, so it's pretty clear that MJD is the already the primary ball carrier.

Just as the Jaguars welcomed back Jones-Drew, the Vikings got Adrian Peterson back from knee surgery and Peterson was in fine form rushing for 84 yards and two scores on 17 carries.

BREAKOUT STAR
Coming into the season there has been a lot of hype surrounding Falcons second-year WR Julio Jones, who is expected to emerge as a star in the Falcons' passing attack. While I expect a good season from Jones, my Week 1 Rankings had him ranked lower than most, so when he put up a big game in Kansas City (six rec., 108 yds, 2 TD) it deserves recognition. There were extenuating circumstances, however. Part of the reason that I was hesitant to give Jones a high ranking going into the week was that I like Chiefs CB Brandon Flowers and thought his coverage skills could limit the Falcons' passing game, even with top pass-rusher Tamba Hali sitting out a suspension. However, when it was announced Sunday that Flowers' foot injury would keep him out of the opener (after taking first-team reps in practice), that opened the door to a big game for the Falcons. It might have been coming anyway, but Flowers' absence was a factor.

HOLD OFF ON THIS BREAKOUT
In camp, there was no shortage of praise for second-year Chiefs WR Jon Baldwin, a big target who was expected to make a difference in the red zone, but of 20 passes directed to Chiefs wide receivers against Atlanta, none went in Baldwin's direction. Dexter McCluster, on the other hand, was targeted 10 times, catching six for a team-leading 82 yards.

EAGLE EYE
Eagles QB Michael Vick endured a rough day at Cleveland (29-for-56, 317 yds, 2 TD, 4 INT) to start the season. There is an element of risk involved in Vick because of health, but if he's turning the ball over -- he threw a career-high 14 interceptions last season (after 21 touchdowns and six interceptions the year before) -- then it's going to affect the Eagles week-in and week-out. Vick completed 15 of 30 attempts to wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson.

BAD NEWS BROWNS
The Cleveland Browns had a fresh start with a rookie quarterback and rookie running back but, even though they led for a significant portion of the game, their production wasn't positive against Philadelphia. QB Brandon Weeden (12-for-35, 118 yds, 4 INT) couldn't move the ball and their star running back, Trent Richardson had 19 carries for 39 yards. With the running game shut down, Weeden had trouble finding the mark downfield.

He completed five passes (on 12 attempts) to wide receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Josh Gordon (another rookie), but Greg Little was kept off the board entirely, no catches on four targets. Not every team is going to have Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the corners, but the wide receivers have to be utilized more efficiently for the Browns to be competitive.

MOSS SCORES
49ers WR Randy Moss, also playing a prominent role after sitting out the 2011 season, caught all four passes thrown his way in Green Bay, finishing with 47 yards and a touchdown. The Niners' don't have the most prolific passing attack and Moss is going to share targets with TE Vernon Davis and WR Michael Crabtree, but a starter with his credentials (over 14,000 yards, 149 TDs) shouldn't be ignored.

MORE REDSKINS
With Garcon sidelined, Aldrick Robinson (4 rec, 52 yds, 1 TD) emerged as a contributor for the Redskins.

While it's a fool's game to try and guess which direction Mike Shanahan will go with his running game, the immediate leader in Washington's competition is Alfred Morris, the rookie from Florida Atlantic, who had 28 carries for 96 yds and two touchdowns against New Orleans. With Morris in the primary role, Evan Royster and Roy Helu combined for seven touches between them.

OTHER ROOKIE QBs
Miami's Ryan Tannehill had a predictably tough day (20-for-36, 219 yds, 3 INT) at Houston. His most success came with short passes to RB Reggie Bush (six catches on six targets for 46 yardS) and slot receiver Davone Bess (five catches on seven targets for 45 yards).

While Legedu Naanee started at wide receiver for the Dolphins, he was only targeted twice (zero catches), leaving Brian Hartline (eight targets, three catches) a more prominent role.

Seattle QB Russell Wilson wasn't awe-inspiring (18-for-34, 153 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT) at Arizona, but he could have emerged on the right end of the scoreboard if WR Braylon Edwards had been able to snare a last-minute pass in the end zone. Wilson remains a wildcard, to some degree, with more upside than Tannehill, for example but, after one week at least, he's not yet a star.

SAINTS
While an upset loss at home was hardly what the Saints were looking for, they did get a big day from WR Lance Moore (6 rec, 120 yds, 1 TD) and, on defence, second-year DE Cam Jordan (11 total tackles) was much more involved that he was as a rookie, when he finished with 31 total tackles in 16 games.

NOT SO FAST, YOUNG
Coming into the year, one of the more popular breakout receivers was thought to be second-year Lions WR Titus Young, who had scored four touchdowns in the last four games of the 2011 season, but his ascent to stardom has to wait for at least another week after he was benched by the Lions for head-butting Rams CB Janoris Jenkins.

Young finished with one catch (three targets) for 14 yards and one rush for 11 yards, but QB Matthew Stafford still had plenty of receiving options at his disposal, directing 33 of his 48 total passes to wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson as well as tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler.

RUNNIN' RIDLEY
The New England Patriots made some interesting choices in their 34-13 win at Tennessee. For one thing, RB Stevan Ridley had a huge game (152 yards and 1 TD on 23 touches), while slot receiver Wes Welker was targeted just five times, finishing with three catches for 14 yards. Considering Welker ranked second in the league in targets last season, falling behind Brandon Lloyd and both tight ends (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) in targets for Week One counts as a little eye-opener.

CJ2K
Coming off the least productive season of his career which, admittedly, still brough 1465 yards from scrimmage, Titans RB Chris Johnson was locked down by the Patriots defence, finishing with four yards on 11 carries to go with 47 yards on six receptions. It's not worth panicking about Johnson already but, as poor as he performed last season, he finished with fewer than 51 yards only twice (Week 10 at Atlanta, Week Six vs. Houston).

ANOTHER C.J.
Bills RB C.J. Spiller (194 yards, 1 TD, 16 touches), who was expected to see an increased role anyway this season, rose to the occasion when Fred Jackson (six carries, 15 yds) suffered a knee injury on a hit by Jets SS LaRon Landry. Spiller has more breakaway ability than Jackson and finished with more than 100 yards from scrimmage in four of the last five games last season.

JETS' AERIAL ATTACK
If there is ever a need to write off the value of preseason football, the New York Jets did their best to provide it in Week One, with an effective passing offence against the Buffalo Bills, despite looking completely lost offensively before the season kicked off for real.

QB Mark Sanchez (19-for-26, 266 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT) was steady and productive and might have a few emerging talents on the perimeter. Veteran Santonio Holmes will play a big part in the Jets' passing game, but second-round pick Stephen Hill impressed with five catches for 89 yds and a pair of touchdowns. Hill is a 6-foot-4 burner (4.3 40-yard dash) who adds a downfield element that the Jets didn't have last season when Plaxico Burress, and his loping strides, were across from Holmes.

Second-year slot receiver Jeremy Kerley also had a productive game (four catches, 45 yds, 1 TD; one punt return TD) against the Bills and if the Jets have these options in the passing game, then Sanchez should hold a decided advantage in the quarterback competition with Tim Tebow, whose total contribution on Sunday was 11 yards on five carries.

HOPE FOR GABBERT
While the Vikings' secondary isn't outstanding, by any means, there is some reason for the Jaguars to be optimistic about their offence. Second-year QB Blaine Gabbert, who was overwhelmed as a rookie, completed 23 of 39 passes for 260 yds and two touchdowns -- his best game as a pro.

RUNNING IN PLACE
With Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart on the shelf with an ankle injury, it appeared that DeAngelo Williams would be in line for a productive game at Tampa Bay. After managing four yards on seven touches, that wasn't quite the case. The Panthers couldn't generate any kind of running game (10 yards on 13 carries), which means credit is due to the Bucs' defence. MLB Mason Foster, DT Gerald McCoy and FS Ronde Barber combined to accumulate seven tackles for loss.

On the other hand, Bucs rookie RB Doug Martin put up 118 yards on 28 touches.

PACKERS SPREAD OFFENCE
QB Aaron Rodgers isn't afraid to share the ball and it doesn't matter where the receivers fit on the depth chart. James Jones & Randall Cobb (Nos. 3 and 4 on the depth chart) combined for 13 catches and 158 yards against San Francisco, while the top two, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson finished with 10 catches for 98 yards.

Cedric Benson was the only running back to get carries for the Packers, managing 18 yards on nine carries.

OGLETREE
It happened on Wednesday, so this is hadly news, but Cowboys WR Kevin Ogletree had a breakout game (8 rec, 114 yds, 2 TD) against the Giants to start the year. With WR Miles Austin hurting and TE Jason Witten not nearly at full strength as he played with a lacerated spleen, resulting in a much bigger role than anticipated. Prior to Wednesday's performance, Ogletree's previous career-high for yardage in a game was 50 (on two catches in Week Two last season).

Now, Ogletree isn't going to be a primary target for the Cowboys all season, nor will he be facing an injury-depleted secondary like that of the Giants each week. Nevertheless, there is a role for Ogletree to fill, just as Laurent Robinson did for the Cowboys last season. In deep leagues, that might be enough to make Ogletree appealing but, in many leagues, he has probably already been scooped off the waiver wire after a starring performance in a nationally-televised game.

INJURIES
Jets CB Darrelle Revis - concussion
Ttians QB Jake Locker - left shoulder
Cardinals QB John Skelton injured - ankle
Rams T Rodger Saffold - neck
Titans MLB Colin McCarthy - ankle
Bills WR David Nelson - knee
Colts OLB Dwight Freeney - ankle
Bears CB Charles Tillman - leg
Saints WR Devery Henderson - concussion
Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin - hip

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.




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