Evan Silva


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Matchups: Cancel Out Cutler

Friday, September 17, 2010

A surprise early entrant into the '07 draft, Brandon Jackson was never a full-time starter in college. He shared the Nebraska backfield as a third-year junior with onetime Bengals camp body Marlon Lucky, averaging a solid 5.3 yards per carry with ten all-purpose touchdowns but seeing 18 fewer carries than Lucky in the 2006 Cotton Bowl -- the Cornhuskers' biggest game of the season. Jets offensive line coach Bill Callahan was Nebraska's head coach at the time. Jackson was deemed a lesser talent than Marlon Lucky by a respected NFL mind.

Jackson ran a 4.57 forty at the 2007 Combine. Here's a selection from my notes on Jackson prior to the draft:

Horn Lake, Mississippi ... Committee with Lucky ... 989-5.3-8 RUSH, 33-313-9.5-2 REC ... Didn't start Cotton Bowl, came off bench for 7-38-1 RUSH, 2-0 REC ... Pretty well built, at least (5'11/210) ... Second-day pick ... Missed time in 2005 with shoulder injury ... Also 2006 spring practice with shoulder ... Some history on kick returns but nothing spectacular.

Packers GM Ted Thompson panicked on draft weekend that year after missing out on his prized pick -- Marshawn Lynch. Thompson believed Lynch would surely drop to Green Bay at No. 16, but Buffalo snagged him 12th overall. The Packers reached for Justin Harrell at 16, and reached again for Jackson at 63. Thus began perhaps the worst draft of Thompson's tenure.

In his fourth NFL season, Jackson averages 3.9 career yards per carry. Fantasy owners aren't getting a marquee talent. What they're getting is an every-down back for perhaps the best offense in football, who's in a contract year. Jackson has never been more motivated. He's also never looked so good (4.6 preseason YPC). Ryan Grant, benched and converted to fullback at Notre Dame, has already proven that running backs don't require elite talent to be top-20 fantasy players in the Green Bay offense. Jackson must consistently produce to prevent Thompson from going outside the organization for his next Grant. But the opportunity is now for Jackson to be it.

1:00PM ET Games

Baltimore @ Cincinnati

Holding the Jets to 176 yards of Week 1 offense (only the Bills and Lions had fewer), Baltimore's front seven is meaner and fresher than ever. It's been argued by some that Cedric Benson is a strong fantasy play because he poured 117-plus rushing yards on the Ravens in each of their 2009 meetings. Note that those efforts came when Cincinnati's offensive line was actually playing well. The first was against a Ravens defense coming off an extremely hard-fought 27-21 loss to the Patriots in Week 5. Benson was fresh off his Week 8 bye for the second. I'm not saying to bench Benson, but he's far from the sure thing he's been made out to be in some circles.

Chad Ochocinco tweet this week: "Ravens defense on film is awesome, seems as if it's more than 11 people on field." To be sure, a date with Mark Sanchez is what the doctor ordered for a banged-up pass defense. But Baltimore's secondary is in a lot better shape than expected. Now getting back top CB Lardarius Webb, and with CB Josh Wilson benefiting from another week in the scheme, don't expect carryover from Carson Palmer's garbage-time Week 1 stats. In Cincy, this game will be much closer than last week's blowout. Terrell Owens and Ocho are worthwhile WR2/3s, but Palmer isn't going to be in the throw-crazed two-minute offense as he was for much of last Sunday.

Apologies for the negativity -- this game just doesn't project to be high scoring. Greg Mattison's defense has already proved season-ready, and Mike Zimmer's Bengals are too well-coached with too much talent to defend as poorly as they did in Foxboro. Rain and possible T-Storms are also in Sunday's forecast for Paul Brown Stadium. That said, if you're willing to take seriously 2009 stats when setting 2010 lineups (as many will do with Benson), Ray Rice is a top-five RB1. He poured 278 total yards and two TDs on Cincinnati last year. The Bengals lack speed on the edge to halt Rice on the perimeter, and the possible absence of WLB Keith Rivers (foot) can't hurt.

Joe Flacco is coming into his own. In a Brady-esque performance, Flacco exploited matchups to deliver Baltimore its Week 1 win. Completely avoiding Darrelle Revis' side, Flacco relentlessly pegged Kyle Wilson and Antonio Cromartie to produce big plays (and penalties). The Bengals are a tough matchup, but Flacco's development is enlightening. ... T.J. Houshmandzadeh (four Week 1 targets, one catch) is not a threat to Anquan Boldin as Baltimore's No. 1 receiver. Housh will be a drain on Derrick Mason, and eventually Todd Heap. With Heap (shoulder) already banged up and Mason-Housh canceling each other out, Boldin is destined for borderline WR1 production.

Miami @ Minnesota

Perhaps Bernard Berrian will be a player again someday, but it's getting hard to fathom. On the field for all 29 Brett Favre drop-backs last week, Berrian produced three yards on three targets. Observers might've noticed Favre rarely even giving Berrian a legitimate read in his progressions. ... Until they fix their line (or trade for Vincent Jackson), the Vikings' passing game will have to throw short to move the chains. Week 1 target leader Visanthe Shiancoe is a worthwhile TE1, while Percy Harvin projects to get more balls at his natural slot position with Greg Camarillo playing increased flanker snaps. Unfortunately, Harvin appears to be questionable for Week 2 with a hip injury. If he plays, he's a high-upside WR3. Shiancoe will be a must-start if Harvin sits.

Running as hard as ever, Adrian Peterson averaged 4.6 yards per carry in the opener despite few holes. He would've had 104 yards on 20 carries had a holding call on Shiancoe not negated a first-quarter 17-yard burst. The Dolphins defended the run well last week, but they were playing the laughable Bills, who only ran 14 times. Miami's loss of first-round DE Jared Odrick (broken leg) certainly won't hurt A.P. ... Starting Favre is risky after his 171-yard opener, but this remains a shaky Dolphins pass defense. RCB Jason Allen is a long bomb waiting to happen, and Favre will be better after a long week of practice. He was too rusty to open the season last Thursday night.

Once a staple of Dan Henning's offense, two-tight end sets made just four appearances in the Fins' opener. In their place are three-receiver formations, allowing Davone Bess to settle into the slot rather than outside, where he is severely outmatched (and oddly played often in 2009). With flanker Brian Hartline struggling, Bess is easily the Fins' best bet for catches and targets behind Brandon Marshall. ... Marshall, by the way, definitely will catch 100 balls again. He saw 13 targets against a magnificent Bills secondary in Week 1. Marshall caught eight and narrowly missed a 9-107-1 line, had it not been for an underthrow from Chad Henne on an open 54-yard TD chance.

Ronnie Brown looked terrific in Miami's opener, averaging 5.7 yards per touch and scoring from a yard out to cap a second-quarter drive that saw Ricky Williams get the previous carry. (Hint: Brown is the favorite for goal-line work.) But there are reasons to consider benching Brown this week. The first is obvious: a Minnesota run defense that hasn't ranked worse than second in the NFL since 2005. Secondly, Ricky received 18 carries to Brown's 13 in Week 1, indicating that the Fins may be "easing in" Brown after Lisfranc surgery. Use the Dolphins' backs at your own risk.

Pittsburgh @ Tennessee

Pittsburgh's loss of LT Max Starks (ankle) will further deflate Dennis Dixon's ability to go vertical. Starks and the rest of the line were abused by Falcons DEs John Abraham and Kroy Biermann in the opener, as deep threat Mike Wallace managed just two catches. Keep Wallace benched against a Titans team that reeled off four Week 1 sacks, forced two fumbles, and may get back bull-rushing LE William Hayes (knee). ... It all adds up to a plus matchup for possession wideout Hines Ward, coming off a six-catch, 108-yard opener. Typically the Steelers' RWR and flanker, Ward should face off mostly with LCB Jason McCourty instead of Pro Bowler Cortland Finnegan.

According to Pro Football Focus, Rashard Mendenhall broke eight tackles to generate a whopping 79 yards after contact in Week 1. Running more decisively than ever, Mendenhall is an easy RB1 against a Titans defense that served up 150 opening-day yards to Darren McFadden. ... Heath Miller had four grabs for 40 yards last week, but figures to take on more blocking assignments given the Starks-less state of Pittsburgh's front five. Miller offers very little upside.

The Titans are serious about not limiting Chris Johnson's workload. Across the league, only Arian Foster touched the ball more last week. CJ2K's matchup is improved by the expected absence of Steelers NT Casey Hampton (hamstring), whose backup is 34-year-old Chris Hoke. ... With Kenny Britt and Justin Gage combining for one target and zero catches in the opener, it's clear that Nate Washington is the heavy favorite for receiving yards in Tennessee. Washington still qualifies as a strong WR4 or bye-week filler, as opposed to a true WR3. The Titans just don't sling it enough.

Oakland sold out to stop the Titans' ground game in Week 1. It worked, except for on CJ2K's 76-yard second-quarter score. Though Vince Young benefited with a pair of TD passes and 30 rush yards, it's not like Tennessee gave him the green light, finishing with a 39:17 run-pass ratio. V.Y. will have to be awfully good on limited attempts to sustain fantasy value as a passer. Now, he faces Dick LeBeau's Steelers defense for the first time in his career. Pittsburgh held Matt Ryan touchdown-less in Week 1. ... Avoid Britt and Gage, and the rotating Titans tight ends. Bo Scaife is splitting time with Craig Stevens, and the Steelers held Tony Gonzalez to two catches.

Buffalo @ Green Bay

Apparently attempting to recreate the brief success he enjoyed with Tyler Thigpen as the 2008 Chiefs' offensive coordinator, Bills coach Chan Gailey unearthed the Pistol Spread in Week 1. Buffalo played the vast majority of the game in the shotgun. Unfortunately, Trent Edwards isn't nearly as aggressive as Thigpen, and the 2010 Bills don't have Tony Gonzalez or Dwayne Bowe. Steve Johnson was the receiving leader with three grabs for 40 yards. Lee Evans' seven targets led the team, but he generated 34 yards. Avoid Buffalo's passing game regardless of matchup.

The Bills' ground "attack" is in even more dire straits. Despite retaining Marshawn Lynch amid numerous trade offers, starting injured Fred Jackson, and using the 9th overall draft pick on C.J. Spiller, the Bills ran 14 times compared to 39 passes in a close opener. Buffalo's coaching staff clearly has no idea what it's doing. The Bills' first play of Week 1? A pass to Jackson, and a predictable drop with the running back donning a protective device on his broken hand. It's early, but the Bills could probably find better playcalling at an Idaho bed-and-breakfast. Avoid this team.

Buffalo hasn't fixed its defense, either. After finishing 30th against the run in 2009, the Bills gave up 165 yards and a touchdown to Miami's running backs in Week 1, with Ronnie Brown's robust 5.0 per-carry average leading the way. Brandon Jackson would normally be a "wait-and-see" play in his first start since Week 3 of 2007, but you'll want to use him. ... It doesn't hurt, of course, that Bills top run defender Paul Posluszny (MCL sprain) is out, and his backup, Kawika Mitchell, is on injured reserve. Expect a big-time workload for the Week 2 waiver-wire darling.

Jermichael Finley's 2010 season started slowly (4-47) with Philadelphia relentlessly doubling him, and Greg Jennings (5-82-1) capitalizing outside. He'll get on track. Last year, Finley played in 66.1 percent of Green Bay's snaps in the final eight regular season games, yet still led the team in targets, receiving yards, and touchdowns. This year, he's ticketed for 85-90 percent of the snaps. Finley's explosion is coming. ... Aaron Rodgers and Jennings are matchup-proof fantasy starters. Keep them going. ... Donald Driver, however, is a low-upside play this week. Green Bay is likely to run more than pass, and Driver relies on volume more than the Packers' truer big-play threats.

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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
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