NFL Barometer: Tough Start for Romo, Cowboys

Fantasy Football Fantasy Football Rankings

By Mario Puig


Allen Hurns, WR, JAC

Hurns went undrafted out of Miami and was much less hyped in college than fellow rookie Jacksonville wideouts Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, but it was Hurns who stole the show for the Jaguars in Week 1. Building on a strong preseason in which he caught 14 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown, Hurns reeled in four passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles, playing the lead role in an ambush that left the heavily favored Eagles reeling for the rest of the first half.

Although Hurns figures to be one of the most in-demand players on the waiver wire following Week 1, there aren’t obvious reasons to expect a repeat performance anytime soon. He only started Sunday’s game because Cecil Shorts sat with a hamstring injury, and Robinson probably would have played ahead of Hurns as well if he hadn’t been knocked out of most of training camp with his own hamstring issue. At an unremarkable 6-foot-1¼ and 198 pounds, Hurns posted below average numbers in nearly all workouts, with a 31-inch vertical, 7.23-second three-cone drill and 4.50-second 20-yard shuttle indicating a lack of NFL-level athleticism. His college production at Miami was not especially impressive, either – he had a strong senior season with 62 catches for 1,162 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games, but younger wideouts Stacy Coley (seven touchdowns in 12 games) and Herb Waters (five touchdowns in nine games) showed better scoring potential. Hurns’ 2012 junior season was not at all encouraging, as his yardage (314) trailed those of five other Hurricanes, including running back Mike James and recent defensive back convert Davon Johnson. Nearly every bit of evidence implies Hurns’ debut was a fluke, though he’s easy to root for.

Knowshon Moreno, RB, MIA

It’s hard to believe Moreno was out of shape and limping with a bad knee barely over a month ago, because he ran fiery and fast against New England on Sunday, showing no hint of his June knee scope as he sliced up the Patriots for 134 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Lamar Miller started for Miami, but it’s hard to buy the idea that Moreno isn’t the team’s top runner. Although a rotation likely will remain in place between the two, the Dolphins might have enough room in their offense for both players to make a fantasy impact, especially if they maintain the tempo they showed Sunday, logging 71 offensive snaps. Moreno in particular has a bright outlook, as he could provide legitimate RB2 production, and most of his owners probably got him on the cheap.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers will always be known for a culture of strong defense, but if Sunday’s opener against Cleveland was any indication, the Pittsburgh offense should be its clear strong point in 2014. Running back Le’Veon Bell was the main power source as the Steelers put 30 points on the board, running for 109 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries and catching six passes for 88 yards. Any fears of LeGarrette Blount harming Bell’s fantasy value were put to rest, though Blount did score once on four carries. Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger showed reliable big-play ability, completing 23-of-34 passes for 365 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Antonio Brown is a star, of course, yet his five catches for 116 yards and a touchdown were nearly matched by second-year wideout and newly appointed starter Markus Wheaton, who impressed with six catches for 97 yards. The Browns allowed just 6.2 yards per pass last year – third in the league – so those probably aren’t cheap numbers that the Steelers piled up Sunday.

Justin Forsett, RB, BAL

The Ray Rice situation is a rotten one and the foulness of his actions is not to be trivialized, but his exit from Baltimore obviously changes the landscape of the Baltimore offense. One obvious repercussion is the ascent of Forsett, who emphatically seized a major opportunity when starter Bernard Pierce was benched following a lost fumble. Pierce faceplanted to the tune of 14 yards on six carries, while Forsett carried the offense by bolting for 70 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, adding 14 yards on five catches. Although he’s never gotten the opportunity to start in the NFL, Forsett has consistently produced when given touches, as he has 1,762 yards and nine touchdowns on 358 carries (4.9 YPC) to go with 120 catches for 864 yards and a touchdown. If Forsett can keep it up, he could pull away from the injury prone and recently unproductive Pierce, who has just 450 yards and two touchdowns on his last 158 carries. Fourth-round pick rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro is on the radar as well, but he didn’t touch the ball Sunday.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, CAR

Benjamin’s strong training camp and preseason performances apparently were no illusion, as the 6-5, 240-pound first-round pick out of Florida State had a solid performance in his regular-season debut. He hauled in six passes on eight targets for 92 yards and a touchdown even though he was catching passes from Derek Anderson instead of Cam Newton (ribs). Benjamin looks like a potential menace in the red-zone, making his 26-yard touchdown catch in the end zone even as cornerback Mike Jenkins aggressively interfered on the play. Benjamin appears to be in WR3 territory in most formats, and he might make a run at WR2 value if he can avoid the Rookie Wall.


Ben Tate, RB, CLE

No one could honestly claim to be surprised when Tate left Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh with a knee injury, but it’s still hard not to be extremely disappointed. Tate seemed to have at least high RB2 upside in a run-heavy, zone-blocking scheme with a strong offensive line, particularly after totaling 1,992 yards and eight touchdowns on 421 carries in his three-year run with Houston. But Tate just can’t stay healthy, and his exit Sunday gave Cleveland’s rookie running back duo of Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell an opportunity to demonstrate their own abilities. Both of the youngsters shined, with West running for 100 yards on 16 carries while Crowell ran for 32 yards and two touchdowns on five carries. Even when healthy again, Tate might lose more work than expected to the rookies.

Zac Stacy, RB, STL

Stacy’s 3.9 YPC average from last year was slight cause for concern heading into this year, as it left open the possibility that his fantasy utility would hinge heavily on his workload. Based on Sunday’s game against Minnesota, Stacy might not quite have the same monopoly on the St. Louis backfield that he established in the second half of his rookie year, and now his efficiency concerns are amplified by volume concerns. Stacy lost some passing-down work to backup Benny Cunningham – something that’s not shocking in hindsight because Stacy averaged just 5.4 yards per catch last year – and Cunningham stole a few early-down snaps, too. The result was an 11-carry, one-catch showing for just 51 yards from scrimmage, while Cunningham totaled 21 yards on five carries and 30 yards on four catches. What tops off this flurry of concern for Stacy is that a Shaun Hill/Austin Davis-led offense probably won’t get in scoring range often, which hurts Stacy’s odds for red-zone touches. He’s probably closer to RB3 territory than RB1.

Tony Romo, QB, DAL

Mobility and velocity didn’t seem to be issues for Romo against the 49ers on Sunday, so it’s difficult to hypothesize that his struggles were physically related to his offseason back surgery. For whatever reason, though, he was a complete wreck and single-handedly tanked the Dallas offense with three early interceptions. Perhaps the lack of practice during the offseason caused major rust. Even if that is the explanation, though, it’s anyone’s guess how long it takes him to shake it off.

Jeremy Hill, RB, CIN

The release of BenJarvus Green-Ellis made it appear as if Hill would have a significant role right off the bat in the Cincinnati offense – Green-Ellis carried 220 times last year, after all – yet the rookie second-round pick out of LSU barely played against the Ravens on Sunday. Hill had just four carries for 18 yards, while Bernard ran 14 times and caught six passes. Hill’s role will probably increase as the season moves along – especially if Bernard doesn’t improve his career 4.04 yards per carry – but for now Hill doesn’t seem like a fantasy starter in most leagues.

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