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Fool's Gold?
September 18, 2006
There he is, gleaming on the waiver wire, that Week 1 breakout player who can bolster your lineup. Before you grab him, read this
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September 18, 2006

Fool's Gold?

There he is, gleaming on the waiver wire, that Week 1 breakout player who can bolster your lineup. Before you grab him, read this

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THREE YEARS AGO, moments after Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin had turned in the most prolific receiving debut by a rookie in NFL history, teammate L.J. Shelton was heading for the locker room at Detroit's Ford Field when he turned to an Arizona newspaper reporter and offered the following advice: "Better get him on your fantasy league team."

That is the standard reaction to the phenomenon known as the Week 1 Wonder (a.k.a. One-der): Run to the computer, submit a waiver claim and then cross your fingers and toes and hope that no one else gets him first. And in the case of Boldin, why not? A second-round pick out of Florida State, he entered the 2003 season on no one's radar, having had just four receptions for 44 yards in the preseason, and was available in almost every fantasy league. In that '03 opener against the Lions he caught 10 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns, including one for 71 yards, in a 42-24 loss. Boldin proved to be much more than a Week 1 Wonder, catching 101 balls for 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie season.

In the wake of Sunday's big Week 1 performances from several likely fantasy free agents, owners are again rushing to pick up the next Boldin. As recent history has shown, however, almost every Week 1 waiver claim turns out not to be a Boldin move. That's because for every Boldin or Willie Parker there are a dozen Chris Bakers who wind up being fool's gold.

A look into the two most frequent post-Week 1 transactions will help you determine who's real and who's not.

CHASING A SURPRISE RECEIVER Jets quarterback Chad Pennington will be a popular fantasy free-agent target this week, but generally speaking the most common reactive post-Week 1 move is to add a wideout coming off a statistical bonanza. In 2004, for example, nine of the top 12 players added to Yahoo! leagues after Week 1 were either receivers or tight ends who had a big pass-catching game the previous week. Last year those types of players accounted for five of the top seven most added. Yet, of those 14 receivers or tight ends added over those two years, just three-Buccaneers wideout Michael Clayton, 49ers tight end Eric Johnson and Panthers wideout Muhsin Muhammad (all in '04)-would finish the season as viable fantasy starters.

The rest turned out to be one-hit wonders like Dolphins receiver Marty Booker, who opened last season with five catches for 104 yards and one touchdown against the Broncos and finished with 39 catches for 686 yards and three TDs. Then there was Baker, the Jets' tight end who had a Boldin-like opener in '05, catching seven balls for 124 yards and a touchdown in a 27-7 loss at Kansas City. The following week he was the most added player by owners in Yahoo! leagues. Bad move. Over the next seven games Baker had 11 catches for 145 yards and no touchdowns and finally put fantasy owners out of their misery when he suffered a season-ending broken fibula in Week 9.

The best example of a Week 1 Wonder, however, is probably Browns receiver Frisman Jackson, who last year had eight catches for 128 yards and a touchdown in the opener against the Bengals, prompting fantasy owners to make him the seventh most added player on Yahoo! He played in 11 more games in '05, catching just 16 balls for 159 yards and no TDs.

The lesson (with this year's recommendations cited in First-and-10, below): Don't be misled by big stats from a free-agent receiver, whose numbers are more likely the result of a favorable matchup against a suspect pass defense than the work of a budding star who was overlooked in your draft.

NABBING AN INJURED PLAYER'S BACKUP The second most common move after Week 1 is to grab the backup, usually a running back, on a team whose starter gets hurt. Two years ago five backups alone-receiver Keary Colbert ( Panthers) and running backs DeShaun Foster ( Panthers), Maurice Morris ( Seahawks), Onterrio Smith ( Vikings) and Aaron Stecker ( Saints)-ranked among the top 16 players added on Yahoo! after Week 1. But only Foster, who filled in for the ailing Stephen Davis by rushing for 174 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries the following week, became a significant contributor. And even he would end up playing just four games that season.

The lesson: Just because a running back gets hurt, it doesn't automatically make his backup a Pro Bowler. (But it may turn the quarterback into a chucker.) That goes for all positions, too; so don't hurry to pull the trigger on Chiefs quarterback Damon Huard, who will step in as the starter for a couple weeks with Trent Green sidelined by a concussion.

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