Editor's Note: This is a free one-week preview of Chris Wesseling's Dynasty column that appears every Friday in Rotoworld's Season Pass. Chris may not go into as much depth with his comments on a regular basis, but the general concept is the same. There will be analysis of 15 players rising and a section devoted to players falling as well.
I'm switching gears this year, transitioning from the Dynasty Stock Report to the Dynasty Hot Sheet. The change was inspired by Baseball America's Baseball Hot Sheet, which is billed as a " snapshot of which top prospects are excelling and which ones are struggling" as opposed to a straight ranking of players. On to the list:
1. Cam Newton, QB, Panthers: We covered Newton's historic NFL debut in full detail in Monday's Morning After column. It may not be long before he's the second-most exciting player in the league behind Michael Vick.
2. Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots: Ex-scout and current NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks breaks down Hernandez's offensive role, forcing opponents to declare coverage to Tom Brady. I said Monday night that Hernandez and Gronkowski are both top-six NFL tight ends right now. Throw out the positions if it's a mental block. As PFT's Gregg Rosenthal explains, Hernandez and Gronkowski are "essentially the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers for New England behind Wes Welker." Hernandez hasn't even reached his 22nd birthday yet.
3. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots: Did you pay attention early in training camp when the Boston Herald's Ian Rapoport advised "betting the farm" that Gronk would earn not only Pro Bowl honors but All-Pro status this season? When terms like man among boys, absolute beast, and uncoverable start to make appearances, the antennae should be going crazy. Pro Football Focus' @Bryan_Fontaine explains why Hernandez and Gronkowski can co-exist as top-10 Dynasty tight ends.
4. Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions: After a 154.7 preseason passer rating, Stafford strolled out to 265 yards and two touchdowns by halftime of the season opener. The Lions have no interest in running a balanced offense this season, leaving Stafford as a guaranteed top-five fantasy QB in an age-23 breakout season -- with the obvious health caveat.
5. Ray Rice, RB, Ravens: Rice had fantasy owners kicking themselves for not trusting their gut at No. 1 overall when he flashed 2009 form against the Steelers in Week 1. Showing exceptional burst, balance, and body control, Rice notched his second 100-yard game against Pittsburgh -- the only two century-mark performances against the NFC North bosses in their last 51 games. He's a top-five Dynasty asset.
6. Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers: The NFL opener proved once again that Nelson is well ahead of James Jones on the depth chart and gliding past Donald Driver in the pecking order. In fact, since the start of last year's playoffs, Nelson has caught more passes from Aaron Rodgers than any other receiver on the team. With an embarrassment of riches, Rodgers simply throws to the open receiver. As Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley draw defenders away, Nelson is constantly burning single coverage.
7. Steve Smith, WR, Panthers: From the Bold Predictions section of Rotoworld's Draft Guide: "A revitalized still has the ability to lead all wide receivers in fantasy points if he gets out of Carolina. With an improved QB, he's good for a top-5 fantasy finish in 2011." Smith didn't get out of Carolina, but Cam Newton's Week 1 performance bodes well for his chances of revisiting WR1 territory at age 32. The difference-making talent is still there.
8. Chad Henne, QB, Dolphins: With scat-back Reggie Bush and power-challenged Daniel Thomas in the backfield, the Dolphins have morphed into a pass-first offense under newly aggressive play-caller Brian Daboll. No longer gun-shy, Henne played his best game as a pro in a losing effort, combining with Tom Brady for most single-game net passing yards in NFL history. Along with Matt Cassel and Hall of Famers Steve Young and Bobby Layne, Henne became just the fourth player in NFL history with 400+ passing yards and 50+ rushing yards in the same game. If the light has finally clicked, Henne is in line for a breakout season in an offense that can't run the ball. I'm not convinced the light has clicked, but the lack of check-downs is a promising start.
9. James Starks, RB, Packers: It's not often that a running back bulks up and gains explosiveness, but Starts showed more decisiveness, power, and patience in the NFL opener. Even a casual observer could see the wide chasm in talent between Starks and Ryan Grant against the Saints. Starks played 45 snaps compared to just 16 for Grant, and coach Mike McCarthy plans to continue in that direction. Starks has a chance to grab hold of the feature-back reins in the NFL's best offense for the next 2-3 seasons.
10. Fred Davis, TE, Redskins: In the tight end version of Starks vs. Grant, Davis vaulted past a declining Chris Cooley in the season opener. Davis consistently found holes in the Giants secondary and racked up huge yardage after the catch on his way to a career-high 105 yards. The primary tight end on third downs and in the red zone, Davis played 58 snaps compared to 38 for Cooley. While the changing of the guard isn't an absolute this season, it would benefit the Redskins to go with the younger, more explosive player before making a decision on Davis' future as an impending free agent in 2012.
11. Ben Tate, RB, Texans: If you listened to the Houston Chronicle's @McClain_on_NFL comparing Ben Tate's preseason debut to Arian Foster's 2010 regular-season debut against the Colts, you may have seen the breakout game coming. Tate's Week 1 performance had coach Gary Kubiak gushing: "He's got a chance to be a fine player. To step on the field and have a 116-yard day. ... He has explosion. He's got big-play capability. He needs to learn how from a pro standpoint to play week-to-week, go recover this week and be ready to go in Miami on Sunday. But he's got a lot of ability."
12. Kenny Britt, WR, Titans: Rotoworld's @AdamLevitan summed up Britt's value in a nutshell: "Kenny Britt has 11 touchdowns in his last 10 games. All this guy does is make plays and break the law. Love him."
13. Randall Cobb, WR/KR, Packers: Cobb not only tied Ellis Hobb's 108-yard record for the longest kickoff return in history, he also joined the Lions' Bill Bowman (1954) as the only players in history with a touchdown reception and a kickoff return touchdown in his first NFL game. A Percy Harvin-like talent with eye-opening RAC skills, Cobb is the long-term slot receiver in the NFL's most dynamic passing attack.
14. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars: Jones-Drew insisted his knee was fine in training camp. GM Gene Smith promised that MJD was entering the season "in as good a shape as he's ever been as a Jaguar." Perhaps we should have listened. Jones-Drew rushed out to 38 yards, including a 21-yard score, on the Jaguars' first drive in the opener, finishing with 97 yards on 24 carries. After a few days of rest Jones-Drew described his knee as "out of the womb" fresh. His arrow is pointing up again after a sketchy offseason.
15. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots: Brady's Week 1 grade of +15.2 is the highest Pro Football Focus has ever assigned any player for a single game. How impressive is Bill Belichick? On NFL Network's Belichick: A Football Life, we saw the epiphany that led to evolution of the Patriots offense away from Randy Moss and toward the drafting of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski: "You just take Moss away in the deep part of the field and get down on Welker: We're done. We're done. We can't run the ball. We can't throw it to anybody else. We're done." The first unanimous MVP and a 517-yard performance later: Advantage Brady.
Also Considered: Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers, Rex Grossman, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Darren McFadden, LeSean McCoy, Beanie Wells, Matt Forte, Wes Welker, Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Eric Decker, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Greg Salas, Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Scott Chandler, Evan Moore