Questions of running back health, QB standouts abound in Week 1
Can injured backs like Marshawn Lynch, Trent Richardson make Week 1 impact?
Assessments of Rashad Jennings, Maurice-Jones Drew can be made this weekend
Bucs' Doug Martin will be the best rookie running back in Week 1 and all of 2012
The first week of September means back to football and back to school. Both will apply for anyone getting his or her fantasy football season started. Week 1 is the single most important time to watch, scout, study and learn.
Remember around this time a season ago? Cam Newton was on the waiver wire; coming out of Week 1, he was a fantasy MVP. Matthew Stafford, drafted as a backup, became a no-brainer starter.
Fantasy faithful looking to come out on top at season's end will be wise to study Week 1 very closely. Sure, you may be the type to cram for an exam, waiting until the very last minute, but trust me, Week 1 will provide a perfect crash course.
Here are this weekend's top 10 things to watch for fantasy, which we will present every Friday of the season as SI.com's Scouting Report:
Fantasy football is a lot easier when No. 1 running backs don't have question marks around them. Week 1 is the time to answer some of those questions, namely in relation to the elite backs coming off season-ending injuries.
Marshawn Lynch (back), Adrian Peterson (knee), Jamaal Charles (knee), Trent Richardson (knee) and Jonathan Stewart (ankle) might not prove to be 100 percent ready to star for fantasy owners, but hopefully they can make it through their first test and show some promise. The almost certainly idle Ryan Mathews (shoulder) and Rashard Mendenhall (knee) might not be too far behind.
The first step to getting these potential fantasy stars back in our starting lineups -- no, you shouldn't be starting most of them this week (save for Lynch, if he's active) -- is seeing if they prove something to us Sunday.
Prediction: You won't miss not starting the half-healthy backs, but you are going to like what you see (hopefully) in their limited duty.
Names you'll want to remember: Ryan Williams, Roy Helu, Evan Royster. You probably should be all over Peyton Hillis, because he's in a 50-50 split with Charles and expected to get the most important carries in the red zone. Michael Bush is perhaps in that same boat with the Bears, and he's facing the suspect Colts defense.
It remains to be seen which Steelers back will step forward against a good Broncos front seven in Mendenhall's absence between Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman (hip, ankle).
Get ready to welcome back DeAngelo Williams to fantasy prominence, particularly since Stewart isn't around to cut him in half. The Panthers will figure out how to complement Newton with a running game. It might take a chunk out of that 2011 rookie revelation, but it can improve the situation as a whole with Carolina.
Robert Turbin will look to live up to his Incredible SeaHulk nickname if Lynch does not play.
These are secondary issues to pay attention to this weekend. Timeshare running backs are the nature of the beast in modern NFL. We cannot learn enough in the preseason about how these situations play out. We get to see it live and in the flesh now that every game, every down counts.
Prediction: You are going to like having a Williams RB on your team. The Cardinals' and Panthers' Williams wind up being the best drafted backup RBs in fantasy to step forward in Week 1 and beyond.
Will preseason riser Rashad Jennings or year-to-year workhorse Maurice Jones-Drew lead the Jaguars?
Did MJD make himself the Chris Johnson bust of 2012? Or is Jennings going to wind up the flash-in-the-pan trendy fantasy pick that lost almost all his juice after the bell cow MJD reported?
We might not get a complete answer in Week 1, but that's where our studies will require some inference. We will see enough from Jennings and MJD to judge who the better back is. If Jennings proves worthy of carries over MJD, he will get plenty of opportunities going forward.
Prediction: Jennings proves to be a backup, but MJD proves he's not quite ready to drive the Jaguars full time.
Last season, Newton had one of the most impressive rookie QB seasons in history. We now have the dawn of what could be a landmark year for an array of rookie quarterbacks. Are they going to play like rookies or potential fantasy stars like Newton was a year ago?
Andrew Luck is the second coming of Peyton Manning, or just maybe himself.
Robert Griffin III is the second coming of Newton, or Akili Smith?
Russell Wilson helps revolutionize the QB position.
Brandon Weeden shows he is no Chris Weinke, an older rookie who actually has a future.
Ryan Tannehill overcomes his complete lack of a receiving corps to create a group he makes better.
These are more questions right now, but they can become answers in Week 1.
Prediction: The surprises are going to be more prevalent than the expectations, save for the phenomenon that is the Horseshoe's Laddy Luck.
It isn't just the rookie quarterbacks we figure to learn a lot about in their first full games as pros. The second-years are starting six-fold around the league, too. Newton figures to be great against the overmatched Bucs. We already know he is a star.
The questions we need answers to are:
Is Jake Locker going to prove to be the best traditional dropback quarterback of the 2011 class?
Will Andy Dalton suffer a sophomore swoon as he struggles to find a secondary option after burgeoning star A.J. Green?
Can Christian Ponder turn those flashes of brilliance into consistent play and true leadership?
Is Blaine Gabbert as worthless as he looked a year ago?
Is John Skelton really the answer for the Cardinals and, perhaps more importantly, Larry Fitzgerald and rookie Michael Floyd?
The jury will likely remain out after Week 1, but we can learn more about these sophomores' 2012 prospects in one game than we think we know from their 2011 rookie year.
Prediction (considering this week only): 1. Potentially; 2. Maybe; 3. Arguably; 4. Likely not; 4. Hopefully. How's that for certainty? The important thing to take away is that the second-years have a great opportunity to rise to this big occasion.
Justin Blackmon can be the next Green, or the next Michael Crabtree -- a receiver who is good but not great because his quarterback is good but not great.
Blackmon can be an impact receiver right away if he plays like the star he can be. If Locker is the real deal, Kendall Wright can impact fantasy. If Jay Cutler takes off as a star, Alshon Jeffery could benefit. Stephen Hill may be more than just a fast guy.
Keshawn Martin, Brian Quick, Josh Gordon, T.Y. Hilton, Rod Streater, Mohamed Sanu, Ryan Broyles and maybe even A.J. Jenkins: Will they prove to be under utilized like the Giants' rookie Rueben Randle or as nouveau as the Cowboys' Kevin Ogletree (we know, not a rookie)?
Prediction: Blackmon finally makes Gabbert a viable NFL starter and proves to be a solid weekly fantasy starter right away. The jury will remain out on the rest of the group.
The Giants' David Wilson fumbled away his big opportunity to make a Week 1 splash, coughing up the football against the Cowboys on his second carry and winding up in Coughlin's doghouse the rest of the game, relegated to kickoff duty. Richardson's dicey knee ruined his Round 1 draft status and leaves him a questionable option for Week 1 against the Eagles' rugged front.
Turbin and the Redskins' Alfred Morris got a lot of preseason hype but they will have to deal with being stuck as secondary (or tertiary) options behind a workhorse in a timeshare.
It is Martin's world -- at least in Tampa Bay's world.
Prediction: Martin will be the best rookie back in Week 1, and in all of 2012.
Who is this year's Stafford? That is arguably the most important question to answer every season in fantasy. Which QB is going to emerge as elite?
Matt Ryan can. Joe Flacco can. Cutler can. Maybe one of the rookies, RGIII or Luck, can.
You can't answer this question in Week 1 with complete certainty, but you might be able to eliminate some candidates with some shaky play.
Prediction: You are going to be as happy with the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan, Flacco and Cutler as your starting quarterback as those Tony Romo owners were with his Wednesday night performance against the Giants. Seriously.
It happens every year. Fantasy hopes are dashed with a serious injury to a star. Peyton Manning was still hoping to play last season going into Week 1. The Chiefs' Charles was the first-rounder to go down, albeit in Week 2. It even happened to the money-in-the-bank Tom Brady in Week 1 after a record-setting season.
There is going to be a star who goes down with an ACL tear. An Achilles' tear. A concussion.
It is a brutal reality of football and fantasy, especially because we won't see it coming.
Prediction: Amid all the uncertainty of who it will be, it is a near certainty it will be someone. Brace yourselves and cross your fingers.
Right here. Every Sunday night.
While you are swilling your favorite beverages, choking down brats, inhaling smells of barbecue and shouting at the top of your lungs at the players/teams you love to hate and hate to love, yours truly will be observing, contemplating, analyzing and reacting in a column that runs every Sunday night. It is the Fantasy Football Fast Forward and it will break down everything you need to know about the week's action, preparing you for your weekly waivers run and your annual run to fantasy championships.
Enjoy the festival that is Week 1 of the season. It's time to go to school.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. Track his weekly starts and sits every Wednesday, his Scouting Report on Friday and his Fantasy Fast Forward on Sunday nights. You find also him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice or challenging him to a head-to-head fantasy game @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).