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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

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

That is thestandard 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 yourfingers and toes and hope that no one else gets him first. And in the case ofBoldin, why not? A second-round pick out of Florida State, he entered the 2003season on no one's radar, having had just four receptions for 44 yards in thepreseason, and was available in almost every fantasy league. In that '03 openeragainst 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 thana Week 1 Wonder, catching 101 balls for 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns in hisrookie season.

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

A look into thetwo most frequent post-Week 1 transactions will help you determine who's realand who's not.

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

The rest turnedout to be one-hit wonders like Dolphins receiver Marty Booker, who opened lastseason with five catches for 104 yards and one touchdown against the Broncosand 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 ballsfor 124 yards and a touchdown in a 27-7 loss at Kansas City. The following weekhe was the most added player by owners in Yahoo! leagues. Bad move. Over thenext seven games Baker had 11 catches for 145 yards and no touchdowns andfinally put fantasy owners out of their misery when he suffered a season-endingbroken fibula in Week 9.

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

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

NABBING AN INJUREDPLAYER'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 fivebackups alone-receiver Keary Colbert (Panthers) and running backs DeShaunFoster (Panthers), Maurice Morris (Seahawks), Onterrio Smith (Vikings) andAaron Stecker (Saints)-ranked among the top 16 players added on Yahoo! afterWeek 1. But only Foster, who filled in for the ailing Stephen Davis by rushingfor 174 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries the following week, became asignificant contributor. And even he would end up playing just four games thatseason.

The lesson: Justbecause a running back gets hurt, it doesn't automatically make his backup aPro Bowler. (But it may turn the quarterback into a chucker.) That goes for allpositions, too; so don't hurry to pull the trigger on Chiefs quarterback DamonHuard, who will step in as the starter for a couple weeks with Trent Greensidelined by a concussion.

So is Pennington aBoldin or a Baker? The best answer is: He's somewhere in between. ThoughPennington's balky right shoulder, which forced him to miss all but three gameslast season, appears fully healthy, his numbers came against a defense thatlast year ranked 17th against the pass and would've ranked worse had opponentsnot usually been grinding out the clock in the fourth quarter. But with theJets showing an inability to run the ball so far and with their bestplaymaker-Laveranues Coles-being a receiver, they are likely to throw often. Atbest, though, Pennington is a No. 2 fantasy quarterback. Unless the Jets swinga trade for Boldin.



1 The Bears' Rex Grossman (262 yards, one TD) remains areserve quarterback in even the deepest leagues.

2 To boost his value, Falcons receiver Michael Jenkins(three catches, 77 yards, one TD) needs Michael Vick to improve.

3 Though 49ers QB Alex Smith had his best NFL game (288yards, one TD), he's still only an emergency starter.

4 The Bears' Desmond Clark had five catches for 77yards but still is not a viable starter in a strong tight end pool.

5 Until the Titans get better play under center,wideout Bobby Wade (five catches, 76 yards) shouldn't be on your team.

6 If Steve Smith's injury woes continue, Panthersreceiver Drew Carter (five catches, 62 yards) becomes desirable.

7 After a great training camp in which he won the Jets' No. 2 receiver spot,and an equally impressive opener (six catches, 65 yards, one TD), wideoutJERRICHO COTCHERY is the Week 1 Wonder most likely to have a productiveseason.

8 The Ravens' Daniel Wilcox (three catches, 52 yards,one TD) is not even the best tight end on his team. Steer clear.

9 New coordinator Jim Haslett and four new startersmake the Rams defense (five turnovers, four sacks) worth adding.

10 Though he had a 49-yard TD, the Bears' BernardBerrian had just three passes thrown his way. Avoid him.




1 No one was more disappointing than the Bucs' CadillacWilliams (eight carries, 22 yards), but credit a rejuvenated Ravens D.

2 Baltimore's defense also shut down Tampa Bay receiverJoey Galloway (no catches). He's still worth keeping, though.

3 Bengals QB Carson Palmer (127 passing yards, no TDs)didn't play poorly. In a 23-10 win he didn't have to make plays.

4 He was considered one of the three best running backsin the league entering the season-maybe even the best. So what did the Chiefs'LARRY JOHNSON do in the season opener? Behind a revamped offensive line, herushed for 68 yards and no touchdowns on 17 carries , making LJ owners a bitconcerned. To be fair, Johnson did have five catches for 80 yards, all in thesecond half as the Chiefs were playing catch-up. But Kansas City's inability inWeek 1 (as well as in the preseason) to run the ball the way it did at the endof '05 is a situation LJ owners must monitor closely.

5 Shaun Alexander (19 carries, 51 yards) couldn't runon the Lions, but he has started slowly before. Don't worry.

6 Mike Martz was supposed to spark the Lions' offense,but he hasn't helped Kevin Jones (14 rushes, 35 yards) yet.

7 There's plenty of time for the Ravens' Mark Clayton(two catches, 18 yards) to have his expected breakout season.

8 If Week 1 (three interceptions, 138 yards) is anyindication, up-and-down Broncos QB Jake Plummer will have a down year.

9 The Patriots' defense shut down Bills quarterbackJ.P. Losman's favorite target, Lee Evans (two catches, 25 yards).

10 Better days are ahead for the stout Panthersdefense, which got no turnovers and only one sack against the Falcons.



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Photo Illustration by Robert M. Thompson


QB Jets ATT 24 COMP 33 YARDS 319 TDS 2 INTS 0

He's healthy and looking better than he did in 2002--when he led the NFL inpasser rating!