There have certainly been some statistical ups and downs this season —just ask owners of Roy Williams, Matt Cassel, Percy Harvin, Mark Sanchez and Jabar Gaffney. Now that three weeks have been played, we are starting to see more of a complete picture. We can start to pick up on consistencies of certain players, and really begin to pin-point some player values. Heading into the first round of bye weeks, here is the latest report of risers and fallers...
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Eagles—The second-year former first-round pick has four TDs in his first three games, becoming a red zone favorite of Mike Vick. It is time fantasy owners recognize him for what he is —a true weapon who should be in lineups moving forward. As long as Maclin stays healthy, he will grow into a larger and larger part of the Eagles’offense. As defenses focus on DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, Maclin will see plenty opportunities.
Jabar Gaffney, WR, Broncos—Many owners bailed on Gaffney following his two catch, 15-yard performance in Week 2, but he is clearly the top seasonal WR to own at the moment, after hauling in 12 balls for 140 yards against Indy in Week 2. He remains a solid WR2/3 moving forward, as Kyle Orton figures to continue to target him most of all Denver WRs over the coming weeks. It looks like he could put together career highs in all categories this year and finally live up to his first pick in the second round billing of 2002.
Michael Turner, RB, Falcons—The beginning of the 2010 season has been a bit tumultuous for Turner owners, with injury issues occurring and the emergence of Jason Snelling causing some reason for concern. However, the fact that the 28 year old played through a groin injury in Week 3, and rushed 30 times for 114 yards and a score bodes well for him. He faces the 49ers tough run defense in Week 4, but then has great matchups against the Browns, Eagles and Bengals prior to the Week 8 bye.
Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings—First, he had hip issues, then his grandmother passed away, causing him to miss the beginning of training camp. Then, migraines. Then he passed out in practice and was rushed to the hospital. There hasn’t been much good news surrounding Harvin since last season, making him very easy to overlook. But it’s important to realize as he heads into his bye week, that he’s now caught 11 balls in his last two games, including six balls for 62 yards and a score against the Lions. Despite all of the controversy surrounding him, he is a solid WR3 with high upside.
Louis Murphy, WR, Raiders—Despite playing for Oakland, the second-year man from Florida has started to establish himself as a consistent fantasy option, in addition to being one with a solid amount of upside. With Bruce Gradkowski at the helm, Murphy, who has caught four or more balls in each game this season, including five for 119 yards in Week 3, is a very, very solid WR3.
Earl Thomas, FS, Seahawks—The first round pick from Texas had a monster game in Week 3, intercepting two passes, including a game clincher on the final drive. He has been extremely active in his first three pro games, and looks like a winner IDP option, especially in leagues that require starters at defensive back.
Kenny Britt, WR, Titans—Just when it looked like Britt had fallen into the fantasy abyss, garnering negative preseason reports based on his attitude and inability to “beat out”Justin Gage and Nate Washington, he again looks like a favorite target of Vince Young after hauling in a TD in Week 3. The fact that he’s back on the field making plays and earning the trust of his teammates is something to seriously take into consideration, as the T.O.-like athlete develops. He’s not starter-worthy yet, but he should be stashed for sure in all long term formats.
Chris Wells, RB, Cardinals—After missing the first two weeks of the season, it looks like Beanie is not only back healthy, but pretty much ready to reclaim the RB job from Tim Hightower, after getting 14 carries to Hightower’s 11 in Week 3. Consider him a flex starter with upside over the coming weeks.
Fred Jackson, RB, Bills—With Marshawn Lynch seeing 13 carries for 79 yards, and C.J Spiller scoring a receiving TD, Fred Jackson (four carries for eight yards) was again the odd man out in the Bills’backfield in Week 3. With the younger backs shouldering the workload, and not a whole lot of offense to go around in Buffalo, scratch Jackson off your weekly cheat sheet.
Brandon Jackson, RB, Packers—Since taking over for an injured Ryan Grant, Jackson has averaged just 2.2 yards per carry. On top of that, after being called a “three down back”during the preseason by Mike McCarthy, the Packers are now committed to a committee, which apparently includes FB John Kuhn.
Steve Smith, WR, Panthers—Let’s face it, with Jimmy Clausen at the helm, there’s a really good chance that the Panthers offense will take a huge nose dive, as evidenced by their Week 3 performance against Cincinnati. This affects Smith the most, as he managed just three catches for 22 yards. I’d bench him until further notice.
For more risers and fallers, check out our weekly rankings on Wednesday.
Paul Hickey is the lead contributor for Athlon Fantasy Football and operates the website nooffseason.com, a365-day resource for obsessive fantasy owners who eat, breathe and sleep fantasy football. While the site appeals to all fantasy heads, there is a special emphasis on dynasty formats and IDP leagues.
When a team attempts more than 50 passes in a game, it can tend to inflate everyone’s numbers. Look no further than the Week 3 totals in Denver for an example. That said, there’s no denying the emerging fantasy value in the Broncos passing game, led by Kyle Orton and his 359-yard average through three games.
The 476 he tallied on 57 attempts against the Colts Sunday pumps that figure way up, but Orton has thrown for at least 295 yards in every game so far. The touchdown totals have lagged behind the yardage, but when you combine the production with the very shaky backfield situation, it’s easy to believe the Broncos won’t be shy about continuing to throw the ball.
Orton’s next three matchups – Tennessee, Baltimore and the Jets (assuming they have Darrelle Revis back by then) -- may prove tougher, but Oakland, San Francisco and Kansas City follow that stretch. Plus, facing defenses that play the run tough should only encourage Denver to attempt more throws. It’s also never too early to look way ahead in fantasy, and Orton’s Week 16 matchup at home with Houston could prove very favorable. At the least, he makes for an attractive fantasy backup right now.
Mark Sanchez, QB, N.Y. Jets
I would certainly not have counted myself among Sancehz believers heading into this season, but one can’t ignore consecutive three-touchdown outings – especially when they came in charged matchups with division rivals. Dustin Keller’s emergence as a go-to target gives Sanchez a matchup to exploit in the middle of the field, and LaDainian Tomlinson’s rejuvenation provides an outlet. When you factor in those two, Sanchez doesn’t have to rely as heavily on a receiver corps that is unreliable. The playmaking ability even there, though, will only rise when Santonio Holmes becomes eligible in Week 5. Top the whole thing off with Sanchez’s above average running ability, and you have a player well worth rostering as a fantasy backup.
Peyton Hillis, RB, Browns
If you and your fellow owners were paying attention through the first couple of weeks of the season, Hillis should no longer be available. As of Monday morning, though, he was owned in fewer than half of Yahoo! leagues. Expect that to change quickly after a monster game against Baltimore. Bid high if he happens to somehow be around in your league.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Patriots
I had Green-Ellis pegged as a guy to add to deep rosters for potential value somewhere down the road, but I had no idea that road would be so short. The “Lawfirm” led the way for the Patriots with 16 carries for 98 yards and a touchdown in Week 3 and looks, at the least, like a quality goal-line option going forward. The New England backfield remains crowded, so we can’t count on him as a weekly option just yet. If Fred Taylor is significantly injured, though, that will change immediately.
Lance Moore, WR, Saints
A day like he had against the Falcons in Week 3 – six catches, 149 yards and two touchdowns – necessitates a pickup. You simply can’t leave that kind of production on the wire for a leaguemate, particularly when it came in an offense from which we know we can count on regular passing production. That said, owning any Saints receiver should come with a patience policy. You will absolutely be frustrated at some point by any New Orleans wideout that you own. Moore, for instance, saw zero targets last Monday night and just four (for three catches) in Week 1. He certainly has the potential to become a more consistent target than Robert Meachem, though, and at least looks good as a flex consideration in PPR leagues. Moore enjoyed a tremendous breakout campaign in 2008 when several of his corps mates got hurt, but his own injuries all but negated his 2009. We’ll see what role he can ultimately settle into now, but that’ll be more fun to “see” with him on your bench than someone else’s. If he can’t get consistent, Moore could at least provide intriguing trade bait.
Brandon Lloyd enjoyed his second 100-yard game of the season on Sunday and was targeted 10 times. Jabar Gaffney led the way with 14 targets, becoming the third different wideout to lead his team in that category in three games. What do we make of this situation? Well, for the time being, these two, Eddie Royal and Demaryius Thomas should all be owned in the average point-per-reception league. Royal still looks like the best weekly PPR bet, and Thomas’ status as a first-round pick and top Week 2 target (in his first game) support the notion that he’ll keep getting looks. Gaffney and Lloyd are a bit harder to read, but I still trust Gaffney more. He has been with Josh McDaniels longer and comes with a steadier track record than Lloyd. I mentioned the latter’s history in this space after his big Week 1, and although a second strong outing makes that history easier to overlook, I still have trouble trusting Lloyd for continued production. That becomes even harder in such a muddled situation.
Louis Murphy, WR, Raiders
There’s not likely to be a consistent producer in the Oakland pass offense, because the team has yet to find consistent quarterback play since Rich Gannon retired. That said, Murphy made five of his six catches in Week 2 after Bruce Gradkowski entered the game, and Week 3 provided his second 100-plus yard collaboration with Gradkowski. The two hooked up for 128 yards and two scores in an upset at Pittsburgh last season before connecting for 119 yards on Sunday. At the least, Gradkowski seems to be good for Murphy’s numbers, and Murphy adds a WR3 option to fantasy rosters on a team with few answers at his position.
Tony Moeaki, TE, Chiefs
Moeaki probably falls into the already-gone category in many leagues, too, but he should be snapped up where available. The numbers aren’t overwhelming, but Moeaki has averaged four catches through three games and has scored twice. His touchdown catch in Week 3 was a terrific play, the kind that gives a quarterback confidence in going to that guy whenever possible. Moeaki’s outlook is further bolstered by the lack of production among his team’s receivers. Dwayne Bowe has disappointed through three weeks, and Chris Chambers has all but disappeared. This can only help a good-looking young tight end look even better.
Matt Schauf is the senior football writer for RapidDraft.com.
After huge performances by Chargers RB Mike Tolbert and Falcons RB Jason Snelling in Week 2, this stock market report might not be what you’d expect, but then again, I’ve never been a huge fan of being captain obvious.
Believe it or not, I’m not targeting those guys at all this week as risers. While Snelling put up 40 fantasy points in PPR leagues, and Tolbert scored twice, rushing for 82 yards on 16 carries, neither are likely to start in Week 3. Michael Turner (groin) will return, and Ryan Mathews (ankle) will have his status updated on Wednesday after practice. This news leaves these guys in fantasy limbo, which means you should NOT go rushing to the waiver wire to pick these guys up. So, if the two highest performing RBs in Week 2 (other than Jahvid Best) aren’t rising, who exactly is?
Clay Matthews, LB, Packers - Are you serious? 12 solo tackles — five of them sacks — and a forced fumble in the first to weeks of the season makes the second year man from USC an elite linebacker in “big play” IDP leagues. He’ll be tough for offenses to block all year, and his ability to make regular tackles and not simply rely on sacks makes him more than just your typical “boom or bust” big play backer.
Dustin Keller, TE, Jets - Fantasy owners saw the real Keller in Week 2 against the Patriots, as he snagged seven passes for 115 yards and a TD. He may not put up those stats each week, but he certainly will be the Jets' leading receiver, at least until Santonio Holmes returns from suspension. Mark Sanchez loves him, which is a huge factor. Since being taken in the first round three years ago, Keller has been compared to Indy’s Dallas Clark, and he’s not far off. Consider him a solid starting option despite the fact that he faces four top 15 passing defenses over the next four weeks.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos - While I was watching the Denver-Seattle game this past Sunday, I saw #88 come onto the field during the two minute drill before the end of the first half, and for those of you who didn’t watch the game, take my word for it, Kyle Orton ONLY looked “Bay Bay’s” way. Drawing coverage from Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings, the 6′3″ rookie hauled in eight of his nine targets for 97 yards and a score. I’m confident saying he not only resembles his predecessor Brandon Marshall, but he looks a lot like another former Georgia Tech WR, nicknamed Megatron. If he’s available in your seasonal league, snag him immediately. If you’re a Thomas dynasty owner, you have a gem.
Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots - The rookie may not be roster worthy in seasonal leagues just yet, but PPR owners take note, he’s an eventual every-week fantasy starter. In the Patriots’ attack, he’s been lining up as a receiver often, and has already earned the trust of Tom Brady, catching a 45-yard pass in Week 1, and hauling in six balls for 101 yards in Week 2 against the Jets. We’re taking a stance now: He will prove to be the more fantasy-worthy of the Pats’ two rookie TEs.
Devin Hester, WR, Bears - After being blanketed by the Lions’ defense in Week 1, Hester had a coming out party in Week 2, catching four balls for 77 yards and a score. And if you saw the TD catch in the corner of the end zone from Jay Cutler, you’ll agree that Hester has improved immensely as a wide receiver. Even with the Bears spreading the targets around, Hester will clearly be among their top two pass catchers each week. Count on him as a WR3 with upside moving forward.
Donald Brown, RB, Colts – Let’s face it, when the Colts commit to the run, they can truly pound the rock. Brown, a second-year former first rounder from UConn, had probably the best game of his pro career in Week 2 against the Giants, rushing 16 times for 69 yards and a TD. Look for him to continue to eat into Joseph Addai's carries, and eventually become the Colts’ featured back.
Jerome Harrison, RB, Browns - A week after complaining about getting only nine carries against Tampa Bay, Harrison toted the rock 16 times against the Chiefs, but gained only 33 yards. He has lost goal line duties to Peyton Hillis, and does not appear to have the trust of the coaching staff at all. Though three weeks ago he looked like a lock to be a fantasy stud after Montario Hardesty blew out his knee, he’s now a shaky fantasy play at best.
Vince Young, QB, Titans - Speaking of an up-and-down start to the season, Young’s first two weeks epitomizes it. After completing 13 of 17 passes for 154 yards and two scores, VY threw for only 66 yards and two picks on seven of 10 completions in Week 2. The fact that he was benched for Kerry Collins doesn’t bode well either. Even though he’s expected to keep his starting job in Week 3, it shows that Jeff Fisher is not afraid to pull him. Nothing is set in stone moving forward for Young.
Jason Campbell, QB, Raiders - Campbell’s numbers don’t look horrible, but he was pulled for Bruce Gradkowski in Week 2, who proceeded to lead the Raiders to a win over St. Louis. As a result of his benching, we would recommend dropping Campbell in all formats.
Paul Hickey is the lead contributor for Athlon Fantasy Football and operates the website nooffseason.com, a 365-day resource for obsessive fantasy owners who eat, breathe and sleep fantasy football. While the site appeals to all fantasy heads, there is a special emphasis on dynasty formats and IDP leagues.
Fantasy owners hot to pick Michael Crabtree in summer drafts are already hating on the 49ers’ second-year receiver. Crabtree was a virtual no-show in Week 1 (two catches for 12 yards) and caught just one pass (32 yards) in Week 2.
There really is no reason for Crabtree’s funk, so there is no reason to think the talented playmaker won’t bounce back quickly. Perhaps this week’s opponent will help push him on his way.
The Chiefs’ pass defense has allowed 253 yards per game, and permitted San Diego’s Legedu Naanee to post career numbers in Week 1 (110 yards, one touchdown). Already forced to deal with Frank Gore and tight end Vernon Davis, Kansas City does not have enough firepower on defense to contend with Crabtree, too.
Here are a few other fantasy players facing favorable matchups in Week 3 (all of the players listed are considered backups or ‘fringe’ starters in most fantasy league formats):
>> Sam Bradford vs. Washington’s pass defense
Too early to start the rookie quarterback? Perhaps so. But if ever there were a week to give it consideration, this would be it. Bradford is at home against a Redskins defense that has allowed 275 passing yards in each of its first two games (468 last week). As can be expected, Bradford has thrown too many interceptions so far … he has also thrown three touchdowns and averaged 210 yards in his two starts. Not too shabby.
>> Greg Jennings vs. Chicago’s pass defense
A couple of weeks ago Jennings wouldn’t have fit on this list; he was still in the ‘must-play’ category. But after a shaky start, fantasy owners are beginning to panic. No need to do that this week. Jennings has scored a touchdown in three of his last four meetings against the Bears, and Chicago presently ranks 27th in the league in passing yards allowed. Playing in front of a primetime audience, quarterback Aaron Rodgers can be expected to throw deep downfield to his best weapon at least once.
>> Darren McFadden vs. Arizona’s run defense
Few players have exploded out of the gate like McFadden, who has taken full advantage of Michael Bush’s absence in the Raiders first two games. But even with his 151.5 yards of total offense, fantasy owners still are not fully convinced. Maybe they will be after McFadden torches an Arizona defense that has allowed 153.0 yards per game on the ground (31st in the NFL) and was made to look foolish last week by Atlanta backup Jason Snelling.
>>Percy Harvin vs. Detroit’s defense
Migraines have little to do with Harvin’s poor production so far. The Vikings have failed to get him involved, and Harvin has done little with the ball when he has had it in his hands (46 yards on seven touches). His matchup this week should give him an opportunity to get a fresh start. The Lions have been dominated by utility backs in the first two weeks of the season: Chicago’s Matt Forte had 151 yards receiving and two scores in Week 1, while Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy had 120 yards rushing, four catches and three scores in Week 2.
Mike Beacom is a contributing writer for FootballDiehards.com.
Here’s the thing about writing to a broad fantasy audience. There can be so much variation by league that it’s difficult to know what people know.
For instance, if you’re reading this and see a recommendation to pick up Tampa Bay rookie receiver Mike Williams off the waiver wire, you’ll probably think: “Yeah, thanks. Now how about someone that didn’t actually get picked in the middle of my draft.”
Well, as of Monday morning, the youngest of the NFL Mike Williamses can be found on rosters in less than 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Now, we all know that the broad, free audience of Yahoo! fantasy players includes very shallow leagues, plenty of newbies and a fair number of teams that never get touched after August (if that late). Nevertheless, there are some out there who can find Williams freely available after he has grabbed touchdowns in each of his first two pro outings. If you happen to be one of those people, get to grabbing. If you aren’t, just remember to frame player values by the particulars of your league and scoring system. On to some other guys worth claiming this week …
Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay
Why not move next to the guy getting Williams the ball? Freeman hasn’t exactly faced a stifling pair of defenses in Cleveland and Carolina, but he has posted four touchdown passes versus just one interception. That beats the heck out of his 18 picks and 10 fumbles (just two lost) over the final nine games of last year and is particularly encouraging when you remember that Freeman was iffy for Week 1 after missing the exhibition slate with a thumb fracture. I liked Matt Moore before the season (he admits, ashamedly), but I’ve seen enough to swap him out for Freeman as a fantasy backup.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver
Unless you need a quarterback right now, your first target this week should be this Broncos rookie. In his first NFL regular-season game, Thomas saw four more targets than any of his teammates and finished with eight catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. Granted, Seattle tends to be a positive matchup, but there’s a reason Denver drafted this guy ahead of Dez Bryant. Agree with that decision or not (and I don’t), the pick was made because they really like Thomas. Whether he’s a top route runner or not, Thomas has terrific speed and size and brings playmaking ability that the team would be lacking without him. Thomas figures to be a bit inconsistent, but he also figures to be a central element of this passing game as long as he’s healthy – certainly more central than Brandon Lloyd, at least.
Dustin Keller, TE, N.Y. Jets
There was some talk before the season of Keller turning into Mark Sanchez’s “go-to guy” … whatever that means for an unreliable passer. Through two weeks, Keller has led the team or tied for the lead in targets twice, including Sunday’s seven-catch, 115-yard outing. If Brian Schottenheimer continues to let Sanchez actually throw passes beyond the line of scrimmage, we could see this connection continue to blossom after displaying some late flashes in 2009.
Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jacksonville
Lewis didn’t have nearly as good a day as Keller in Week 2, but his five receptions topped any one-week total he put up last season and follow a two-touchdown performance. Jaguars camp broke with predictions of a breakout season for Lewis, and he has done nothing to dispel such hopes in one of the league’s most maddeningly inconsistent offenses.
Earl Bennett, WR, Chicago
This recommendation isn’t so much because Bennett tied for the team lead with five catches at Dallas on Sunday. That’s not really a number worth getting excited about. At the same time, though, Devin Aromashodu saw nary a target against the Cowboys, and Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times said via Twitter after the game that Bennett appears to have passed Aromashodu on the depth chart. Bennett will need to do more before proving fantasy-start worthy, but it only helps him that he and Jay Cutler go all the way back to their college days at Vanderbilt. In an offense with no clear No. 1 wideout and an odd distaste for tight ends, it’s foreseeable that Bennett becomes Cutler’s safety blanket. At the least, he’s worth picking up in PPR leagues right now, just in case.
Mario Manningham, WR, N.Y. Giants
Four catches a game doesn’t sound exciting, but it’ll put you right around 60 by the end of the season. That’s what Manningham has done each of the first two weeks, despite Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks both being around and the Giants only playing from behind in one of those contests. Perhaps more encouraging, though, is that he has caught eight of 10 passes thrown his way so far. That small a sample doesn’t really tell us a whole lot, but even those small results can’t hurt a guy who displayed inconsistent hands last year. Combine this with his big-play upside (54-yard touchdown Sunday night) and the injury risk following Hakeem Nicks, and Manningham looks like a nice player to stash on fantasy benches in any format.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Patriots
At some point every season, there gets to be a premium on ownable running backs and folks start blowing FAAB budgets on guys they didn’t even consider at draft time. (Just check out how much your leaguemate paid for Brandon Jackson last week.) That makes it worthwhile to try to get ahead of the curve if you have room on the roster, and the guy with infinite names could present some value later in the season. No one should get excited about the 19 yards Green-Ellis managed on 10 carries Sunday, but there also shouldn’t have been any fantasy owners starting him against the Jets. It’s worth noting, however, that his 10 attempts doubled the totals for Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk. It’s also worth noting that Green-Ellis tallied five touchdown runs just two years ago amid 74 carries. That’s at least some goal-line back precedent.
Faulk and Taylor remain closer to usable in fantasy going forward, but consider Green-Ellis a buy-low option who can be easily dropped again if you need the roster spot.
Matt Schauf is the senior football writer for RapidDraft.com.