Julius Thomas, Allen Hurns shine

We know how you feel.

You're up 25 points in your Week 1 fantasy matchup heading into the Sunday night game, with your opponent having only Julius Thomas left to play. You feel pretty confident in a "W," though you're aware your foe has a long-shot chance.

And then ... long shot becomes chip shot.

Thomas' opening-week feat, as you'll see below, hasn't happened often in NFL history. In fact, depending upon your method of comparison, it has never happened before. That's how unlikely the result, and that's how rational your initial expectation was. It's how this game goes: Even the best-laid plans sometimes go awry, the one-in-a-million chance happens. That's the fun of this; you play the odds, set your lineup, then step back, hope for the best and revel in the fun of the outcomes.

That's where this column comes in. In this space, every Monday morning, we'll take a statistical stroll through the week's most compelling -- and often least expected -- results. Is there a historical context to a player's performance? Did he do something he (or anyone, for that matter) has never done before?

At its core, this column is intended as a mere source of statistical fun. Maybe it's here to cheer Thomas' opponents up, to say, "Wow, that almost never happens. See?" Maybe it's here to provide his -- and other -- owners smack talk after the most unlikely of outcomes, to say, "Hey, look at that all-time performance I was smart enough to start!" Maybe it's here simply to say, "Hey, here's a neat fact for your Monday water-cooler discussion" ... or, these days, tweet to impress your friends.

Whatever your choice, let's sit back and enjoy the madness.

A master of first impressions

Peyton Manning has captured headlines for his Week 1 history -- he has averaged 18.2 fantasy points in his career in the season's opening week, has scored 20-plus in each of his past four healthy opening weeks (2010, 2012-14), and he's the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards (4,561) and touchdowns (34) during Week 1 (that per Pro-Football-Reference.com's Play Index tool) -- but it's one of his most trusted red zone targets, Julius Thomas, who has quietly begun his career with an even greater reputation for Week 1 excellence than Manning.

Thomas' 28 points Sunday night represented a new career best for him, and they set two new tight end standards (since 1960):

• It was the most fantasy points scored by any tight end in any Week 1 game, breaking Ben Coates' 20-year-old record of 26, set Sept. 4, 1994 against the Dolphins.

• It was the most fantasy points scored by any tight end in a Sunday night game, breaking Tony Gonzalez's record of 26, set in Week 4 of 2013 against the Patriots. It was only the 10th time since 1960 that any tight end managed 20-plus fantasy points in a Sunday night game.

Thomas, incidentally, finished just six points shy of the record for any player in an opening-week Sunday night game. Here are the leaders:

1. Tony Romo, Sept. 9, 2007, 34 points versus Giants.
2. Priest Holmes, Sept. 12, 2004, 33 points versus Broncos.
3. Plaxico Burress, Sept. 9, 2007, 32 points versus Cowboys.
4. Quentin Griffin, Sept. 12, 2004, 31 points versus Chiefs. Griffin scored the only three touchdowns of his career in this game.
5 (tied). Richard Huntley, Sept. 12, 1999, 28 points versus Browns.

This also represented the second consecutive season that Thomas exceeded the 20-point fantasy threshold during Week 1; he scored 23 points during the opening week of 2013. Amazingly, Thomas didn't pace all tight ends in fantasy points during Week 1 of 2013; Jared Cook scored 24 points. Still, while Cook's fantasy production almost immediately evaporated, Thomas' didn't. From Week 2 forward among tight ends, Thomas scored the third-most points (121) and had the fourth-most points per game (9.3), despite missing two of the Denver Broncos' next 15 contests.

Just to put into perspective what a 9.3 fantasy points-per-game-season means, projecting that average over 16 games results in 140 points. And there have been only 36 seasons of 140-plus fantasy points by any tight end since 1960.

A most improbable NFL debut

Expect Allen Hurns to rank among the week's hottest pickups, but before you race to the wire to claim him, consider just how improbable his Week 1 performance was. Among NFL wide receiver debuts, Hurns' 23 fantasy points tied for sixth all time:

Wide receivers in NFL debuts:
1. Anquan Boldin (Cardinals), 2003 Week 1, 31 points versus Lions.

2. Louis Lipps (Steelers), 1984 Week 1, 30 points versus Chiefs.

3. Jim Brim (Vikings), 1987 Week 3, 29 points versus Packers. He was a replacement player during the three-week player strike.

4 (tied). Bobby Johnson (Giants), 1984 Week 1, 25 points versus Eagles.

4 (tied). Rick Upchurch (Broncos), 1975 Week 1, 25 points versus Chiefs.

6. Mike Siani (Raiders), 1972 Week 1, 23 points versus Steelers.

What makes Hurns stand out among this group was that he went undrafted, putting him in exclusive territory. Among the 10 greatest debuts from wide receivers in fantasy terms, six came from players during the 1987 strike. Only four undrafted wide receivers since that 1987 strike year managed at least 10 fantasy points in their debuts, and their rest-of-year stories are rather diverse:

1. Doug Baldwin (Seahawks), 2011, 14 points versus 49ers
Baldwin did enjoy two better games than this in 2011, scoring 19 points in Week 5 and 15 in Week 14, and he averaged 6.2 fantasy points per game en route to 99 total, good for 38th at the position.

2. Danario Alexander (Rams), 2010, 13 points versus Chargers
His was the only one that didn't occur in Week 1 -- his debut occurred in Week 6, as he bounced between free agency, the practice squad and active roster partly due to injury concerns in college -- but he couldn't replicate the performance the rest of the year, twice scoring nine points (Weeks 12 and 16) but ultimately totaling just 34 fantasy points in eight games all year.

3. Andre Brown (Dolphins), 1989, 11 points versus Bills
He's not the ex-New York Giant, he's the University of Miami wide receiver who played for the Miami Dolphins from 1989-90. Brown scored 16 fantasy points in Week 8 and 13 in Week 11, averaging 5.5 points per game during the year but missing three contests.

4. Oronde Gadsden (Dolphins), 1998, 10 points versus Colts
His point total came on one 44-yard TD catch. He failed to crack double digits in any of the Dolphins' next six games, before emerging as a viable fantasy option after that. Gadsden managed three more double-digit games -- 12 in Week 9, 16 in Week 12 and 11 in Week 17 -- and averaged 6.4 points per game for the season.

Hurns made the Jacksonville Jaguars' roster on the strength of his preseason -- in particular his seven catches for 113 yards and a score during their third game -- and earned his opening-week start after Cecil Shorts was scratched with a hamstring injury. Whether Hurns' opportunity will remain as large following Shorts' return is the question; Week 2 might be the best test. After all, after catching four of his five targets for 110 yards and both of his scores before halftime, Hurns went without a catch on his three targets during the second half.


• For all the chatter about Matt Ryan's week-leading (entering Monday's play) 30-point fantasy performance against his division rival New Orleans Saints, consider that it was not even his best Week 1 performance: He had a 31-point game to open the 2012 season. It was, however, Ryan's best against the Saints: He previously had a 26-point performance against them (2012, Week 10), and in 10 career games against them, he has now averaged 17.8 fantasy points. Ryan faces them again in Week 16.

• Flashing back to the Thursday night opener, Aaron Rodgers managed just nine fantasy points against the Seattle Seahawks, widely considered the best defense in football. That represented the 25th consecutive game during which the Seahawks limited their opponent's quarterback to fewer than 20 fantasy points; their opponents have averaged just 8.5 fantasy points from their quarterbacks during that span and in 10 of those games, the opposing quarterback scored five or fewer points. Incidentally, who was the last quarterback to score 20 or more against the Seahawks? That'd be Matthew Stafford, who tallied 31 fantasy points against them in Week 8 of 2012. And before that, you'd have to flash all the way back to Week 9 of 2011 (Tony Romo, 20 exactly) to find the previous instance of a 20-point fantasy game against the Seahawks.

• Now let's stave off -- or perhaps create? -- some panic ... Jamaal Charles, the leading fantasy scorer among running backs in 2013, endured a season-opening stinker, tallying a mere three fantasy points. Among "defending champ" running backs -- that defined as the previous season's leader in total fantasy points at the position -- Charles' Week 1 total was the worst since Shaun Alexander also scored three in the season opener in 2006. (Note: Arian Foster missed Week 1 with a hamstring injury in 2011.) The past 14 "defending champ" running backs -- Foster included -- averaged 17.7 fantasy points in their season openers. As for Alexander, he didn't pick up the pace much in 2006, finishing 29th among running backs with 124 fantasy points. He was the No. 2 player selected on average in ESPN leagues that season; Charles was fourth this season.