Week 1 surprises to the rescue

Steelers RB Willie Parker burst onto the fantasy scene with 161 yards rushing and a touchdown.

Published September 13, 2005

By the time you read this, Willie Parker is long gone.

In any respectable fantasy league, the unheralded Steelers running back was gobbled up by maybe 4 p.m. Sunday, as news spread of his 161 yards rushing (209 total yards and a touchdown) filling in while Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis were sidelined with injuries.

If you can still pick him up, by all means do as Pittsburgh gets a Houston defense that gave up the league's fourth-highest rushing total Sunday. Parker, who had 186 yards rushing last season as a rookie out of North Carolina, had more yards Sunday than Staley or Bettis have managed in any game since 2001.

It's just one week, but he's the lead candidate to be this year's Reuben Droughns : obscure enough to go undrafted in fantasy leagues and still rush for 1,000 yards. Week 1 is always full of these surprises, and here are five more worth picking up:

Alex Smith, Bucs, TE: With two touchdowns in his NFL debut, he's a compelling starter, and for fans who must have a Bucs player on their team, he's a better option than Ike Hilliard or Michael Pittman . This week's opponent, Buffalo, gave up a league-low 70 passing yards Sunday, so be happy if Smith can muster a single score.

Patrick Crayton, Cowboys, WR: Had a team-high six catches for 89 yards and a touchdown, and it doesn't look like a fluke. In the final two weeks of 2004, the former Northwestern Oklahoma State standout had 112 yards and a touchdown. Another game like that on Monday night and he'll be picked up in everybody's leagues.

Frisman Jackson, Browns, WR: Broke out with 128 yards and a touchdown after totaling 203 yards in three previous seasons. A converted quarterback who played one year of receiver in college, he has great size at 6 foot 3 and once had 286 receiving yards in a game at Western Illinois. Rookie Braylon Edwards had two catches for 16 yards and Dennis Northcutt had four for 16, so you have to like Jackson's future.

Chris Baker, Jets, TE: Everybody assumed Doug Jolley , acquired from Oakland, would be the team's pass-catching tight end, but he had just 18 yards while Baker had seven for 124 yards and a touchdown. He had four touchdowns last season, but his career high was 33 yards. A promising start, and chances are he'll do better than your current backup tight end.

Robert Ferguson, Packers, WR: He only had one catch for 4 yards Sunday, but nobody stands to benefit more from Javon Walker 's season-ending knee injury. Ferguson steps up as a starter, at least until rookie Terrence Murphy recovers from a knee injury. If you're leaning on Brett Favre at quarterback, it could be a long year for you.

PLATOON WATCH: You can tell a lot about running back platoons by comparing the carries, like an out-of-town scoreboard in baseball: Cleveland, Droughns 12, William Green 4; Carolina, Stephen Davis 13, DeShaun Foster 9; Denver, Tatum Bell 13, Mike Anderson 4 (bruised ribs); Tennessee, Chris Brown 11, Travis Henry 10. Most telling? Steven Jackson had 22 touches for the Rams, who gave Marshall Faulk three carries for 12 yards and one catch for 4 yards. His fantasy days might be over.

THIS AND THAT: Survivor contests, which challenge fans to choose one straight-up winning team each week, sure don't last long. Sunday saw five of the NFL's eight biggest underdogs win outright, so those leagues can start from scratch in a week or two. ... To better appreciate Bucs running back Carnell Williams ' performance, check out these other rookie debuts: Bears RB Cedric Benson (10 yards), Cardinals RB J.J. Arrington (5 yards), Vikings WR Troy Williamson (zero catches). ... After watching the Chiefs rush for 198 yards and three scores against the Jets, I'm liking Dolphins rookie Ronnie Brown as a fantasy starter this weekend at New York. Another rookie back worth a look is the Giants' Brandon Jacobs , who could be a goal-line vulture, stealing scores from Tiki Barber .

--Times staff writer Greg Auman writes a weekly fantasy football column. Have a lineup question or a comment? E-mail him at auman@sptimes