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Ladd Biro: On cue, opening week dishes out fantasy football surprises

Packers wide receiver James Jones celebrated his touchdown reception with wide receiver Randall Cobb in the first half Sunday in Chicago.
Packers wide receiver James Jones celebrated his touchdown reception with wide receiver Randall Cobb in the first half Sunday in Chicago. AP

Marcus Mariota to Kendall Wright. I told you to expect a huge game from this dynamic duo.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins: clearly the next Gronkowski.

Denver’s defense: 2 TDs. Peyton Manning: nada.

Calvin Johnson, Odell Beckham Jr., Dez Bryant and Brandin Cooks each held under 50 receiving yards. As predicted here.

What, you say you missed those prognostications? From me, or anybody?

That’s because they’re what we in the fantasy guru biz call aberrations. They are especially common in season openers, when players are often rusty and teams are out of sync. But, more often than not, they prove to be the exceptions to the norm.

So don’t pat yourself too hard on the back for your late-round “steal” of Bishop Sankey. And don’t panic (yet) about Frank Gore’s no-show in the opener.

Maybe panic a little about Sammy Watkins’ goose egg.

Your primary focus today would be better placed on the rash of injuries of various severity that befell such stars as Bryant, T.Y. Hilton, C.J. Anderson, Andre Ellington and DeSean Jackson. How those situations are resolved, at least in the short term, will likely have more bearing on your future success than chasing after one-week wonders.

FREE AGENT PICKS AND PANS

To win a fantasy championship, it helps to start with a great draft. But filling in your roster throughout the season with the right free agents is also important. Here’s a look at players worth considering, and others who would look better in someone else’s lineup.

Catch ‘em while you can

Chris Johnson, RB, Cardinals. Starting running backs are rare birds, so even when they’re past their prime, they are usually roster-worthy. Johnson (or, as I like to call him, CJ.6K) is expected to play a lead role in Arizona’s backfield while Ellington recovers from his knee injury. Rookie David Johnson, who scored on a nifty 55-yard catch and run, will also be in the mix.

Ronnie Hillman, RB, Broncos. If you invested your first-round pick on C.J. Anderson, you’re probably worried today. And rightly so. The Broncos looked ragged against the Ravens even before Anderson left with a sprained toe. Hillman ran hard and surely has earned additional playing time. He’s Anderson’s proxy for the time being.

James Jones, WR, Packers. I was seriously tempted to call Jones my Week 1 flier, but that seemed so remote given his recent flameouts with the Raiders and Giants. Yet there he was, looking like the same guy that reeled in 14 TD passes from Aaron Rodgers in 2012. Jones finished with four receptions for 51 yards and two scores, but two other touchdowns were overturned by penalty. That’s unwelcome news for Davante Adams owners especially.

Donte Moncrief, WR, Colts. Moncrief had a couple of big games as a rookie that hinted at bigger things to come. Now that Hilton is in jeopardy of missing time with a knee injury, and with Andre Johnson seemingly having lost several steps, it’s Moncrief’s time to shine. Rookie Phillip Dorsett may likewise see more targets going forward.

Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins. Reed has always brimmed with potential, but injuries have held him back. That risk remains, but for now, his arrow is pointing up. Kirk Cousins targeted Reed more than any other receiver on Sunday (11 times), at least partly due to the loss of DeSean Jackson (hamstring). There’s no reason to think that will change soon.

Brandon McManus, K, Broncos. Got issues at kicker? McManus booted field goals of 57, 56, 43 and 33 yards in the Mile High air. The Broncos offense will presumably find their way into the end zone going forward, but they clearly have a big-footed mop-up man.

Don’t be fooled

Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans. Four TD passes in the first half of his NFL career, and I’m not recommending that you pick him up? Right. Call me crazy (it won’t be the first time), but as sharp as he looked against the hapless Bucs defense, I am still convinced that Mariota is destined to struggle more often than not through his rookie campaign. After all, the Titans didn’t get him at No. 2 overall because they were a good team. They just snapped a 10-game losing streak! If you are convinced Mariota will defy the odds, go right ahead. But I’ll bet you waive him before long.

Dion Lewis, RB, Patriots. Lewis raised eyebrows in the season opener, but he also fumbled in the red zone. How do you think Bill Belichick liked that? With LeGarrette Blount returning from his one-game suspension and the mighty Bills defense on tap next, Lewis’ moment in the spotlight may turn out to be a lot like Jonas Gray’s.

Percy Harvin, WR, Bills. There’s a reason Harvin went undrafted in more than half of all fantasy leagues. Actually several reasons. He’s injury prone. He’s just getting acquainted with his fourth team over the last four seasons. The Bills’ passing attack is very suspect. And he’s inconsistent as all get-out. Don’t take the bait.

Cole Beasley, WR, Cowboys. Beasley is a fan favorite in Dallas, but he’s a very unlikely fantasy stud. Sure, he’ll see more targets with Bryant sidelined. But so will Terrance Williams, Lance Dunbar, Jason Witten and the rest of the Cowboys’ receivers. Bryant’s absence is more likely to hurt Tony Romo than help his undersized slot man.

Ladd Biro is a two-time winner and four-time finalist of the Football Writer of the Year Award by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Follow all his advice daily at the Fantasy Fools blog (fantasy-fools.blogspot.com), on Facebook and via Twitter (@ladd_biro).

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