The comparisons between Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and Carolina Panthers sophomore star Cam Newton are obvious, and after Sunday's performance, in which Griffin took his team into New Orleans and produced 40 team points and 24 individual standard fantasy points, expectations will go sky high. Often the conservative fantasy owner in me would apply the "it's only one game" philosophy, but in this case, Griffin really impressed me.
Fantasy owners are generally angry and/or bitter when it comes to Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and how he handles his personnel -- more on that later -- but it's tough to argue with the offensive game plan presented for his new quarterback. Griffin didn't look raw or, for that matter, like the other four rookie quarterbacks who struggled Sunday. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden combined for 18 fantasy points, with two touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. Sure, we can debate the future of the Saints defense Griffin torched, but like Newton a year ago when he exploded on the scene, Griffin just does not look like a raw rookie. He made it look easy.
The Redskins called safe plays for Griffin on the opening drive and smart, controlled plays later, receivers like Pierre Garcon and Aldrick Robinson made plays, and as ESPN.com NFC East blogger Dan Graziano noted, the team's strategy matched Griffin's strengths. The Heisman Trophy winner is a terrific athlete, and while we shouldn't expect close to the rushing laurels Newton provided, especially with the touchdowns, there was certainly little trace of inexperience on Griffin's part Sunday.
Of course, this is already a player owned in 100 percent of ESPN standard leagues, and yes, it's premature to put him in Newton territory for future weeks or the season. Griffin is currently the No. 13 quarterback being chosen in ESPN average live drafts, and those planning to choose teams this week will likely be a bit more excited about him, which is fine, and wise.
Then again, Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons is the No. 11 quarterback in ADP, and he's the only player with more standard fantasy points in Week 1 (Ryan scored 31). Would you take Griffin over Ryan? What about Philadelphia Eagles interception machine Michael Vick, who at least escaped Cleveland upright and with a victory? Griffin looked awesome and his stock certainly rose, but he was a fantasy backup to most. Which obvious top-10 quarterback do you sit now? Like Newton a year ago, when he was a popular free-agent addition after Week 1, owning Griffin does a few things, like keeping him away from your opponents and giving you options for trades. Plus, there's always the chance that like Newton, he turns out better than Vick, Ryan, the Manning brothers, etc. For now, until we see more from RGIII, enjoy it!
If you're unfamiliar with the Sunday night Four Downs blog entry, we have three more sections to go. That was first down. And now ...
Second down: In a weekend with numerous big-name running backs being deemed anything but sure things (Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Marshawn Lynch, all of whom who played plenty), the most stunning performance might have come from Griffin's teammate, rookie Alfred Morris. Shanahan loves to confuse everyone when it comes to his running backs, but giving Morris 28 rushing attempts, which he turned into 96 yards and two touchdowns (only 3.4 yards per tote), ranks up there. That said, while I'm aboard the Griffin train, it's a wise time to sell high on Morris. After all, the Shanahan effect shouldn't be ignored. While Roy Helu and Evan Royster combined for four carries Sunday, this hardly indicates they'll be similarly bypassed in the future. In other words, Morris' job security is not at all like Griffin's. Do not assume the real-life sixth-rounder and relative fantasy afterthought (he's owned in roughly 13 percent of leagues) is the next Arian Foster. He is a must waiver addition, though.
Third down: In a perfect world, all the news would be positive, right? Well, injuries are always a factor, and they were Sunday for those relying on Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson; he provided one fantasy point when he went down with a sprained knee, opening the door for C.J. Spiller to explode for 22 fantasy points and 169 rushing yards, each Week 1 bests for running backs. It's not known yet whether Jackson will suit up for Week 2, but certainly Spiller, owned in nearly every league, will be very much discussed. Same with Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson and Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, but for different reasons. Johnson, a consensus first-round pick who convinced fantasy owners his rough 2011 was an aberration, managed four rushing yards on 11 carries Sunday. Williams didn't have to deal with injured time-share colleague Jonathan Stewart, yet he underachieved to the tune of six carries for minus-one yard. I'll again rely on Johnson in Week 2 -- he's too talented, and the Titans won't replace him -- but Williams' performance resonates so much I'd feel better about Stewart, who could return from his ankle injury this week.
Fourth down: In terms of wide receiver performance Sunday, nobody matched what Kevin Ogletree of the Dallas Cowboys accomplished Wednesday (24 points), though Julio Jones and Stephen Hill came close. No wide receiver totaled more catches, receiving yards or targets than Indianapolis Colts veteran Reggie Wayne, who hogged most of Luck's attention. The Colts were brutal defensively and that's one reason I like Luck to pass for 4,000 yards, but he turned the football over four times against the Chicago Bears and missed several open receivers. He should have more weapons in future weeks, like Austin Collie, but expect Luck to improve and Wayne to continue to be productive. There were 30 wide receivers active in more ESPN leagues than Wayne (27 percent) on Sunday, which isn't likely to continue in Week 2.
Good luck in your leagues with four teams in action Monday night!