A central tenet of competitive sports is that a team or player must never look ahead. Focus on the game at hand; worry about next week or next month then. In the fantasy world, the same law does not apply. As the NFL season rolls into Week 3, fantasy owners should look not only to the present, but to the future–specifically, Week 4 and beyond, when bye weeks begin for teams and your players.
Your competitors will wait until after Week 3 to worry about their Week 4 byes. For positions such as kicker or defense, waiting is sound. There is no need to waste roster space carrying an extra kicker or defense. For other positions, however, opportunity abounds. For owners in deep leagues or whose drafting may have left them vulnerable, looking ahead a week and grabbing a player off waivers in anticipation of an upcoming, favorable, bye-week match-up could help steal a pivotal win. As they say, “the early bird gets the worm.”
Looking ahead, Dallas, Kansas City, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay have byes during Week 4. Meanwhile, teams such as the Jets (at Bills), Seattle (at St. Louis), Green Bay (home vs. Detroit) and San Diego (home vs. Arizona) have favorable match-ups. Consider these around-the-corner games and contemplate stashing away a juicy match-up play now if your roster space allows it. That way, you will be the envy of your league as other owners move into Week 4 only to find their match-up dark-horse already on your roster.
QB: Shaun Hill, DETROIT. A graduate from last week’s “Watch Them” list, Hill deserves a bit of fantasy love. Sure, he racked up his yardage in essentially two quarters of garbage time. Sure, his statistics received massive padding from Jahvid Best’s long reception for a touchdown. However, 335 yards and two scores are still mighty solid numbers, even discounting the performance both for the reasons stated above and the two picks Hill threw. Detroit’s next three games are against the Vikings, Packers, and Rams. The nature of Matthew Stafford’s injury remains unclear; Hill may be a worthy gamble, particularly for owners desperate for a bye-week fill in (or stuck with utterly lame QB options, e.g., any Bill, Panther, Chief, 49er, Steeler not named Roethlisberger). The Lions are likely to continue to have to play from behind and therefore throw, throw, throw. Hopefully, few of those throws will end up in the arms of the opposition. Assuming this is the case, Hill might add value to fantasy owners finding themselves in a bye-week pinch.
RB: Mike Tolbert and Darren Sproles, SAN DIEGO. The Chargers carted Ryan Mathews off the field Sunday with what appeared initially to be a serious ankle injury. Early reports suggest Matthews’ prognosis will not be as dire as that of fellow top-15 RB Ryan Grant, who is out for the year after destroying his ankle in Week 1 (see below). Obviously, we now know the snake-bit fantasy name of the year among running backs. Those playing the fantasy-name-game discussed elsewhere on the cafe in the “Fantasy Frivolity” article, take note.
While initial reports suggest Mathews’ injury is minor, similar comments were made regarding Ryan Grant a week ago. Soon thereafter, the Packers placed Grant on injured reserve, ending his season. While this is unlikely to occur with Mathews, fantasy owners need to make a decision. Either scour the injury reports awaiting certainty or throw caution to the wind and add first Mike Tolbert, then Darren Sproles immediately. Each of these backs will see increased work if Mathews misses any time.
Although mighty-mouse Sproles is sure to earn additional looks in the passing game, Tolbert appears destined to receive any goal-line love (he scored a one-yard TD Sunday), as well as a healthy dose of touches between the 20s. The Chargers’ next four games represent fantasy lotto–Seattle, Arizona, Oakland, and St. Louis. Take note: Falcons back-up Jason Snelling (discussed below) looked all-world against the sieve that is the Cardinals’ run defense, while Darren McFadden similarly lit up St. Louis. In light of the potential points bonanza that awaits whomever runs out of the Chargers’ backfield, pay close attention to the injury reports and prioritize your waiver claims accordingly.
RB: Jason Snelling, ATLANTA. Michael Turner injured his groin, opening the door not for Jerious Norwood but rather for the Burner’s true back-up, Jason Snelling. Snelling lit up the Cardinals, rushing for 129 yards and snatching five passes for an additional 57. Oh, he added three TDs to boot. A mere 3.4% of fantasy players in ESPN leagues owned Snelling previously. That number will grow. One thing about groin injuries is that they tend to linger; there is no telling when Turner truly will be 100%. Snelling makes a nice value play in the interim for Turner owners and redraft owners in medium to large leagues.
WR: James Jones, GREEN BAY. Owned in a mere 1% of ESPN leagues, Jones is the WR3 in Green Bay’s high-octane offense. Of course, this means that he is no more than the fourth receiving option since Jermichael Finley, TE, has established himself among the focal points of the passing attack. With Ryan Grant injured, the Packers may become more pass-oriented, opening up further opportunity for Jones. Indeed, against the Bills, Jones grabbed a TD, capturing three of seven targets for 30 yards in addition to the score.
The Packers play Chicago in Week 3, offering opportunity for Jones to add value immediately. However, the real intrigue surrounding him concerns Week 4 when the Packers meet the Lions at Lambeau Field. Facing lowly Detroit at home suggests Green Bay (a) will have many scoring opportunities and (b) may blow the Lions out, allowing starters to rest. Under either scenario, Jones could prosper. Owners carrying players such as Chris Chambers, Roy Williams, or Greg Camarillo on their rosters might benefit by cutting these Week 4 bye players prior to Week 3 and adding Jones now.
WR: Kevin Walter, HOUSTON. The “forgotten man” amid all the pre-season hype surrounding Jacoby Jones, Walter appears serviceable after all. After racking up a TD in Week 1, Walter found the end zone again in Week 2 while exceeding Jones in terms of yardage and targets. Since less than 11% of ESPN league owners had jumped on the Walter bandwagon, Kevin probably is available in your league. If you don’t add Walter, keep him on the radar screen as he appears to have remained relevant in Houston’s pass-oriented attack. The Texans face in-state rival Dallas, then Oakland, the Giants, and the Chiefs over the next four weeks. Walter’s fantasy momentum looks likely to continue.
WR: Vincent Jackson, SAN DIEGO. Many fantasy players already have rolled the dice on Jackson; he’s already owned in 82% of ESPN leagues. However, if Jackson remains available in yours and you feel like gambling, he is worth a roster slot. Last week, Jackson reached a settlement whereby he could play after Week 4, assuming the Chargers trade him. While there is no certainty such a trade will occur, teams such as the 0-2 Vikings may bite the bullet and pay San Diego’s asking price. Jackson would represent significant value to owners for the remainder of the fantasy season. This certainly is a high-risk, high-reward play, but one that could pay off handsomely come fantasy playoff time. However, if Jackson remains untraded through Week 3, his owners in redraft leagues will face a tough decision. Keeping Jackson as the bye weeks begin only will hamper a fantasy owner’s ability successfully to manage through that period as, for the time being, Jackson is unproductive.
TE: Marcedes Lewis, JACKSONVILLE. Lewis stepped up in Week 2: 9 targets, 5 receptions, 70 yards. Following up on his two-reception, 31-yard, two-TD performance in Week 1, Lewis’ Week 2 effort earns him a promotion from “Watch Them” to “Snatch Them,” at least for owners in deep leagues requiring an every-week starter at TE. Fantasy players must temper their expectations, however. For all but the few elite prospects, TE performance is highly volatile and often dependent upon red zone looks to generate any success. That Lewis put up some nice yardage numbers this week suggests he may have more to offer than many at his position who fall below the initial top tier or two.
Lewis’ Week 1 performance created quite a buzz about him as he rocketed from virtual fantasy invisibility to being owned in 45% of ESPN leagues. If you did not grab one of the top five or six TEs early in your draft and Marcedes remains available, consider him as an option. The Jaguars face the Eagles, Colts, Bills, Titans, Chiefs, and Dallas in succession prior to their Week 9 bye. The Eagles just allowed the Lions’ Brandon Pettigrew to roam free for 108 yards himself, so Lewis’ short-term prospects appear promising. Moreover, his late bye week is advantageous in that owners can grab him now and avoid worrying about a fill-in for a couple of months. By that time, more information will shake out, making it easier to identify a quality replacement for Lewis when he sits out.
QB: Seneca Wallace, CLEVELAND. Wallace started Week 2 against the Chiefs in place of injured Jake Delhomme. Early reports suggest that Delhomme’s ankle ailment may sideline him in Week 3 as well. Cleveland travels to face Baltimore in Week 3, less than an ideal match-up. The Browns then return home to face in-state rival Cincinnati in Week 4. Wallace is not worth rostering at this time in all but either the very deepest leagues or in leagues requiring owners to start two QBs. Watch his performance versus the Ravens and follow Delhomme’s injury status. Wallace has experience as an NFL starter, and if he shows anything against Baltimore, he could be worth picking up as a bye-week fill in for desperate owners. Against the Chiefs, Wallace put up respectable numbers, throwing for 229 yards and a score, though an interception diluted his production somewhat. Still, these numbers eclipsed those put up in Week 2 by many so-called top fantasy starters. Watch, wait, and pounce if better options are unavailable.
QB: Jimmy Clausen, CAROLINA. Matt Moore is out and the Golden Domer will start in Week 3. Owners in redraft leagues should watch Clausen’s progress before committing a roster slot to him, unless your league is particularly deep. If quarterbacks such as Dennis Dixon, Charlie Batch, Matt Moore, or Trent Edwards were on your roster, claiming Clausen quickly cannot hurt. Otherwise collect some data before acting. Clausen’s match-up in Week 3 versus Cincinnati is not promising. Indeed, the Panthers likely will focus on their strength–the running game–and ask Clausen merely to manage the game. For now, non-dynasty owners should look for a better option.
QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick, BUFFALO. Buffalo benched Trent Edwards and announced Fitzpatrick will start in his place. Ryan has some experience and has had a serviceable game or two in his career. While Fitzpatrick is a starter, he arguably is the lowest ranked option in the league among starting QBs going into Week 3. Indeed, in non-team QB leagues, several back-ups (e.g., Shaun Hill (starting for now), Mike Vick, Max Hall) are more worthy of a roster spot. Still, Fitzpatrick is the starter and owners should at least glance at his statistics from time to time to determine whether he somehow could add value. Everyone’s circumstances vary, so you never know.
RB: Marshawn Lynch, BUFFALO. Sunday, Lynch led Buffalo in rushing in their blow-out loss versus Green Bay. Lynch carried the ball 17 times for 64 yards. While these totals are far from exciting, they exceeded the Week 2 rushing production of players such as Chris Johnson (Tennessee), Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville), Matt Forte (Chicago), Marion Barber (Dallas), Felix Jones (Dallas), Jamaal Charles (Kansas City), Jerome Harrison (Cleveland), Ricky Williams (Miami), and Brandon Jackson (Green Bay), among others. This is not to say Lynch is a superior fantasy play than any of the above-listed stars; rather, the example illustrates the vagaries of fantasy football. In any given week, a particular player of respectable ability may shine.
Rumors are circulating that Buffalo is trying to trade Lynch. Goodness knows, several clubs in the NFL could use an upgrade at running back. As Fred Jackson’s health improves, perhaps the Bills’ asking price will move into line with demand from potential “buyers.” In the meantime, owners who add Lynch are taking significant risk. The Bills are bad and will play behind almost all year. C.J. Spiller is likely to steal most of the receiving touches out of the backfield (Lynch had no receptions Sunday) while Fred Jackson receives whatever goal-line carries may exist. Lynch presents better upside for those in keeper or dynasty leagues as a move from Buffalo is what will unlock his value.
RB: Christopher Ivory and DeShawn Wynn, NEW ORLEANS. Reggie Bush injured his leg late against San Fransisco late Monday night. The extent of the injury is unclear at this time, but Bush departed on a cart and did not return. The bulk of the Saints’ RB duties in all respects will fall to Pierre Thomas, who already sat atop the depth chart. However, the versatile Saints’ offense demands a great deal from the RB position. Last year, Bush, Thomas, and Mike Bell all shared the load. With Bell gone and Bush dinged, there may be opportunity for a depth chart cellar-dweller to emerge. Ivory has been banged up and is nursing a knee injury of his own. He is unlikely to play Week 3. Wynn, a career back-up, now has upside, particularly if something happens to Pierre Thomas. Fantasy owners should check the injury reports regarding Bush and then watch how the Saints utilize their personnel assuming Bush is unable to see action Week 3.
RB: Laurence Maroney, DENVER. A change of scenery certainly will not hurt Maroney. At first glance, his prospects in Denver seem bleak; Maroney moves from the crowded New England backfield lacking a clear top fantasy player to a spot in Denver behind clear number one Knowshon Moreno. However, this initial analysis, while rational, may be deceiving. Denver and only Denver understands the true nature of Moreno’s lingering hamstring injury. Likewise, only Denver truly can assess Correll Buckhalter’s ability to supplement Moreno’s value in their line-up. Perhaps Denver merely sought an opportunity to acquire Maroney on the cheap. Perhaps they have more in mind. Perhaps they will notice that neither Moreno nor Buckhalter averaged three yards per carry against Seattle Sunday. Regardless, Maroney was mired in the fantasy-nowhere-muck that is the Patriots running-back madhouse. In redraft leagues, the ex-Golden Gopher is worth watching for possible pick-up as the season progresses. In dynasty or keeper leagues that allow large protected rosters, Maroney may be worth stashing away right now if he is available.
WR: Demaryius Thomas, DENVER. Owned in less than 2% of ESPN leagues, Thomas received significant love from Kyle Orton versus the Seahawks. The youngster hauled in an impressive eight of nine passes thrown his way, including a late TD. He could be a valuable addition, especially in PPR leagues. The good news is that Denver has adopted a pass-first offense that will generate significant fantasy scoring at the WR position. The bad news is that the Broncos will spread the production among Jabar Gaffney, Eddie Royal, Brandon Lloyd, Thomas, and others. Think “New Orleans Saints light” in that fantasy owners know there will be targets, receptions, yardage, and scoring, but not necessarily which player will shine week to week. Still, Thomas is worth study and could make a nice bye-week fill-in for owners lucky enough both to grab him and to play him when he happens to have an “on week” as the focus of Denver’s passing game.
WR: Mike Thomas, JACKSONVILLE. A WR2 in a run-first, plodding Jaguars offense, Thomas initially offers little to excite fantasy owners. Perhaps this is why a mere 5% of those in ESPN leagues own him. However, Thomas snatched six balls from among seven targets in Week 1, plowing up 80+ yards in the process. In Week 2, Mikey T. descended to Earth a bit, still grabbing four of eight targets and gaining 42 yards. He also added one rushing play; however, that lost a yard. Admittedly, Thomas will not set the fantasy world on fire. Nevertheless, owners–especially those in facing bye weeks in PPR leagues–should keep Thomas in mind. Currently, less than 4% of owners in ESPN leagues have Thomas rostered. He should be available for those in a fantasy pinch.
WR: Michael Jenkins, ATLANTA. Jenkins’ injury forced him to miss Week 2 action. While unfortunate for Jenkins, this development is a boon for fantasy owners as Jenkins likely remains available on most league’s waiver wires. As noted last week, Jenkins will not set the world on fire upon his return. However, Atlanta’s next three opponents are New Orleans, San Fransisco, and Cleveland. Thus, Jenkins could make a sneaky, waiver-wire roster stash away, particularly in deep leagues, as his match-ups early in the bye week period appear favorable.
TE: Aaron Hernandez, NEW ENGLAND. The Patriots are operating out of numerous two-TE sets, which presents upside for rookie Aaron Hernandez. In New England’s Week 2 loss, Hernandez was quite efficient, catching six of six passes thrown his way for an impressive 101 yards. Among those receptions was a 46-yarder; the long-distance play padded the totals and is not something fantasy owners should count on week to week. On the other hand, Hernandez did post a 45-yard reception in Week 1, so perhaps this yardage hits some sort of sweet spot for Hernandez, Tom Brady, and the Patriots. More seriously, New England looked the rookie’s way only twice during the Week 1 trouncing of the Bengals, so–as is often the case with other than absolute elite TEs–expect volatility in Hernandez’ production. Keep an eye on him as the bye-week period dawns. This week, the Patriots face hapless Buffalo, a team that allowed the Packers’ Jermichael Finley over 100 yards receiving in Week 2. Hernandez is no Finley, but note that even Anthony Fasano of the Dolphins posted 46 receiving yards versus the Bills in Week 1. After Buffalo, New England meets Miami, then is on a bye in Week 5. For now, Hernandez remains somewhat of a secret, owned in a mere 3.5% of ESPN leagues. Keep your eye on him and make your move before other owners catch-on.
TE: Tony Moeaki, KANSAS CITY. Kudos to the cafe reader who commented last week regarding Moeaki’s growing status as a TE sleeper. The former Hawkeye snatched three balls for 21 yards and an all-important TD in Week 1. Facing Cleveland this week, Moeaki validated his Week 1 performance, grabbing five passes for 58 yards. Significantly, the Chiefs targeted tight-end Moeaki a whopping 10 times, double the love shown Dwayne Bowe or Chris Chambers. If these trends continue, Moeaki will make a nice bye-week pick-up. Here’s one case, however, where fantasy owners should not act too soon. Remember, Kansas City is idle Week 4; picking Moeaki up too soon–other than in the case of those needing an injury replacement, e.g., Kevin Boss owners–likely will occupy a roster slot better utilized elsewhere. With this caveat in mind, clever owners can wait until after Week 4 to grab the Chiefs’ TE as Kansas City’s Week 5 (at Colts) and Week 6 (at Texans) match-ups suggest they will be playing from behind and throwing often. Owners of Miami, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and New England TEs (all with Week 5 byes) should, to quote Chancellor Palpatine, follow Moeaki’s progress “with great interest.” At present, less than 2% of participants in ESPN leagues own Moeaki. That will change.
TE: Jermaine Gresham, CINCINNATI. Owned in less than 16% of ESPN leagues, Gresham caught six passes for 25 yards and a TD in Week 1. This week, his totals dropped to three catches (out of five targets) for a mere 15 yards. The variety of weapons in the Bengals’ passing attack suggests that Gresham’s performance will be up-and-down all season. He is not an every-week starter, other than in very deep leagues that require teams to start at least one TE weekly. However, he may make a decent bye-week fill-in based on his match-up. Because he likely is available in your league, follow his progress as you enter the bye-week stretch.
TE: Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler, DETROIT. Last week’s column predicted the demise of Nate Burleson, WR, and rise of Tony Scheffler, TE, due to strong-armed Matthew Stafford’s injury. Back-up QB Shaun Hill lacks Stafford’s downfield power. Coupling that with historic data suggesting that back-ups tend to rely upon the TE as a safety valve, particularly during the early stages of a replacement stint, I predicted that Detroit TE Tony Scheffler might see an uptick in value and placed Scheffler on the “Watch Them” list. Week 2 results indicate right position, wrong candidate. While Scheffler received five targets, he caught a single pass for a mere 5 yards. Pettigrew meanwhile converted into receptions seven of eight passes thrown his way, generating an impressive 108 yards. Pettigrew did most of his damage in garbage time and also after Nate Burleson left the game with an ankle injury. Following Burleson’s departure, the Lions ran numerous two TE sets, thus increasing Pettigrew’s on-field opportunities. While Pettigrew’s Week 2 break-out merits further study, owners should continue to watch before adding him to their rosters. Tony Scheffler’s historic success at TE suggests that, over the long haul, he will receive the majority of looks Detroit’s offense generates for the position. Owners in need of TE help should analyze Week 3 targets to Scheffler and Pettigrew, then plan their bye-week period strategies accordingly.
TE: Jason Witten, DALLAS. I am not suggesting Witten is available in your league. He appears on the “Watch Them” list due to the concussion he suffered Sunday versus the Bears. Given the distinct possibility that Dallas holds Witten out during Dallas’ Week 3 match-up with Houston, fantasy owners will need to find a replacement. Dallas has a bye in Week 4, so it will be interesting to observe how careful the Cowboys’ medical staff is with their star TE. Notably, the trainers would not allow Witten to re-enter the fray against Chicago, despite Witten’s protests. There are good odds he may be out Week 3 and his owners therefore should plan accordingly.
QB: Trent Edwards, Buffalo. If you own Trent Edwards, either you play in a very deep league or you are a loving relative of the former Stanford player. In either case, you probably are aware that Edwards’ poor play from 2009 has continued. The Bills announced that they will bench Edwards in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Whatever fantasy value Edwards possessed appears gone. Please find a better option. If none exists, you have my pity.
QB: Matt Moore, CAROLINA. Moore actually put up some nice statistics to close out last season, raising hope that he could slide into 2010 as a sneaky late-round or waiver pick with upside. Sadly, his pre-season performance was putrid and his effort over the first two weeks so abysmal that the Panthers benched him in favor of rookie Jimmy Clausen. Whether or not the benching is permanent, the Clausen era is near at hand. Fantasy owners should find another option at QB, as Moore is not even worth a roster slot at this point in either redraft or dynasty leagues.
RB: Ryan Grant, GREEN BAY. The Packers placed Ryan Grant on injured reserve, ending his season. Owners in redraft leagues should cut him and add alternative talent. Grant joins Montario Hardesty among pre-season hyped backs who did not make it past Week 1 of the regular season.
Scott Rozmus is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Scott in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Goose.
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