Overachieving through the first quarter of 2011

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If you ask a true Carolina Panthers fan whether his rookie quarterback, Cam Newton, is an overachiever, you might get a different answer from Newton's fantasy owners.

For a Panthers fan, the season has been a struggle with his team sitting at one win and three losses. There are good signs from his talented young quarterback to be sure, but his team is already two games behind division- leading New Orleans.

On the other hand, Newton's fantasy owners are in heaven. As a late round selection (fantasyfootballnerd.com rank of 182 on Draft Day) Newton was likely picked as a backup with a bright future. Maybe he could develop into a bye- week replacement. Or in keeper leagues, he could become a starter in a season or two.

Instead, Newton has been an elite fantasy quarterback from day one. Heading into Week 4's action, Newton was fifth among quarterbacks, behind only Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford. That's pretty good company.

Three of the four named above were drafted among the top-25 selections and the fourth, Stafford, was my "sleeper" quarterback pick and a fifth-round selection in most leagues.

Newton broke records in his first two games by passing for 400+ yards before coming to earth in a rain-soaked game against Jacksonville. But on Sunday he posted his best fantasy numbers of the year by virtue of throwing for 374 yards and a touchdown and running for two more scores (35 pts). He's now No.3 among quarterbacks with 105 fantasy points.

Newton isn't the only guy to produce well above expectations. Through the first quarter of 2011 here are a few more overachievers...

Quarterbacks

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buffalo (preseason rank 148) - Considered a journeyman and a "placeholder" until the team drafts a "star" quarterback, the Harvard alum has been very good this season. He ranked sixth heading into Week 4, but struggled against a surprisingly tough Cincinnati pass defense. Fitzpatrick has a top quality receiver in Stevie Johnson and both his running backs have good hands. Though he'll likely slide back a bit the rest of the way, he's already produced more points than you could or should expect from a 13th-round pick.

Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Tennessee (216) - For all his talent, Hasselbeck has been an underachiever for most of his career. He's never thrown for 4,000 yards or posted 30 touchdowns in a season. The move to Tennessee didn't figure to change that, heading to a team that featured one of the league's best running backs in Chris Johnson. But with Johnson holding out, the team has looked to Hasselbeck for leadership and he's come through with flying colors. He's posted 18, 19, 19 and 22 points, thrown for 300+ yards two times and ranks sixth among fantasy quarterbacks. The loss of Kenny Britt will surely hurt, but he's still a solid fantasy option.

Running Backs

Fred Jackson, RB Buffalo (70) - Jackson has always had to fight for respect. He ran for 1,062 yards in 2009 and the team spent a high draft choice on C.J. Spiller. Last year he was the better of the two runners and still most experts thought he and Spiller would share the position. Jackson is currently fourth in rushing ahead of the likes of LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice and Michael Turner. He's absolutely claimed the primary running role in Buffalo with 55 touches to Spiller's 13 touches.

Darren Sproles, RB, New Orleans (158) - Sproles is playing the role of Reggie Bush better than Bush ever did. He's involved in both the running game and passing game and through three games was ranked sixth among fantasy backs in PPR leagues. Drew Brees has targeted him 35 times in four games. Not bad for a 14th-round fantasy draft choice and the trend figures to continue all season long.

Wide Receivers

Steve Smith, WR, Carolina (84) - The impressive Newton has been the most important factor in Smith's revival. In 14 games last year, with Jimmy Clausen, Matt Moore, Brian St. Pierre and Tony Pike at quarterback, Smith produced just 46 receptions for 554 yards. And heading into 2011 with a rookie quarterback very few experts thought Smith would produce big numbers. So despite his enormous talent he was a seventh-round pick. Those who took the gamble are being rewarded with a great start. In four games Smith has 24 catches for 530 yards and a couple of scores and is ranked fourth among all fantasy receivers. Both Smith and fantasy owners should send a portion of their paychecks (winnings) to Newton.

Eric Decker, WR, Denver (214) - The second-year receiver out of Minnesota didn't get much of an opportunity to show his stuff last year with Brandon Lloyd, Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney and Demaryius Thomas in front of him. Thomas is hurt again, Gaffney is in Washington and Decker has bypassed Royal as the No.2 option in Denver and its paying off in a big way for fantasy owners. His 20 catches, 270 yards and four touchdown receptions has him ranked in the top- five among receivers. He's likely to continue to play at a high level, certainly well above his draft position - an 18th-round pick.

Tight Ends

Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England (127) - When I drafted Gronkowski in two of my leagues, I was hoping for another season like 2010 where he was a touchdown maker, but put up a limited number of yards. Little did I know that he would give fantasy owners both yards and scores. Despite a poor showing in Week 4 (one catch, 15 yards), the Patriots' tight end still leads all tight end scoring. He's become the team's No.2 target behind Wes Welker and with Brady at the controls that figures to be a good spot to be for a long time.

Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans (89) - Graham showed flashes of his talent at the end of 2010, scoring four times over the final three games, but not even those who drafted him could know that he would become Brees' favorite target (36 for the season). Through four games he's got 24 receptions for 367 yards and three scores and sits just behind Gronkowski at the top of the position chart and ahead of tight ends picked much earlier in the draft like Jermichael Finley, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Vernon Davis.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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