On the Wire: The Must-Haves, Week 14 Pickups for Fantasy Football Playoffs

There aren’t many names out there that I haven’t mentioned previously, but if you’re strengthening your roster for a playoff run, some favorable schedules make these players more lucrative grabs than others.

If you didn’t secure a quarterback with a favorable schedule during the fantasy playoffs, or if you are worried about your starter sitting down a few weeks early (Peyton Manning owners), becoming senile (Brett Favre owners), or being further concussed (Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger owners), there are still a few quarterbacks available that could fill that void.

Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers
He won over the coaching staff and the team after replacing Shaun Hill midseason, but he’s won over fantasy owners in recent weeks after the 49ers installed a spread offense. In the spread, Smith has been deadly effective, and Vernon Davis, Josh Morgan, and Michael Crabtree should continue to benefit. Best of all? In Week 16, he faces the Detroit Lions in what could be your fantasy Super Bowl. You can’t ask for a sweeter matchup.

Vince Young, QB, Tennessee Titans
As I showed with the stat analysis I did on VY last week, he’s got one of the best schedules in the NFL in Weeks 14-16, and he’s got a running back that will keep defenses from every shutting down the passing game. If you’re in desperate need of a reliable starter with the potential for greatness, VY is the guy.

Others you might consider in the order I would consider them (if I were you, hoping not to have to consider them): Chad Henne, QB, Miami Dolphins; Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buffalo Bills; Bruce Gradkowski, QB, Oakland Raiders; Brady Quinn, QB, Cleveland Browns.

All have schedules that could give them a boost in these final weeks, but none of them are quarterbacks I would want to bet my season on unless I had lost all hope. Also note that Joe Flacco gets to play the Detroit Lions this week, if you’re in need of a miracle and able to acquire him.

This week’s bright spots are led by a few running backs you may have forgotten.

Jerome Harrison, RB, Cleveland Browns
He’s scoring his points through the air thanks to Brady Quinn’s renewed effectiveness. As long as that keeps up, and as long as Harrison keeps the majority of the workload at running back, he is in line for a few big days in the coming weeks.

Correll Buckhalter, RB, Denver Broncos
Now that he’s healthy, he’ll get to share a lot more carries with Knowshon Moreno. While Moreno got the scores against Kansas City, Buckhalter’s explosive runs and his ability to catch passes makes him a threat to take any given play to the house. Even without scoring, he’s putting up enough yardage to contribute if your current starter faces a tough stretch. Matt Forte, we’re still looking at you.

Chris Brown, RB, Houston Texans
He’s a big brute, but a brute who scores touchdowns is never worth complaining about. Things are murky in Houston’s backfield, but I prefer Brown to Ryan Moats. His playoff schedule could give him plenty of chances to line up at the goal line for a score.

And if you’re receivers have become garbage (Devin Hester owners) or suspended (Dwayne Bowe owners), there are a few young guns to add to your roster.

Davone Bess, WR, Miami Dolphins
Better than he seems in the stat line, Bess has been a PPR stud all year and finally got a chance to shine in the Miami passing frenzy that overwhelmed the Patriots. If it keeps up, Bess will, too.

Devin Thomas, WR, Washington Redskins
Okay, so the Redskins do have an offense. Jason Campbell found Thomas for two touchdowns this past week, and he could be in line for more down the stretch as Campbell fights to remain relevant in Washington (and the NFL in general) and while Thomas proves he’s no bust.

Josh Morgan, WR,  San Francisco 49ers
See Alex Smith. In the spread offense, Morgan has become a favorite target, and again, fantasy Super Bowl vs. Detroit. That’s worth a shot-in-the-dark start.

Garrett Hartley, K, New Orleans Saints
Last week, I had to make last-minute swaps to get Hartley in for John Carney when the Saints finally decided to switch back to their younger leg. But it paid off big. As TMR points out, he plays all but Week 17 indoors, where it is nice and cozy.

D/STs for the Playoff Run

Sports Data Hub pointed out how good the New Orleans Saints D/ST is looking for the fantasy playoffs. Hopefully, you, like me, were able to stash them in Week 5 and ride them all the way to the end of the season. Looks like the good times haven’t come to an end yet.

But if you didn’t listen then or had already missed your chance at owning Brees’ boys, The FF Geek Blog has a short list of defenses to plug into your lineup this week. Out of that list, Green Bay is another favorite to set and forget for your run at the championship, especially coming off their Monday night performance against Baltimore.

If you need more, compare notes with KFFL, ESPN’s Talented Mr. Roto, FF Toolbox, Fanhouse, The FF Geek Blog, Lester’s Legends, and Fantasy Joe.

For an extensive list of additional waiver wire resources, check out the linkage by the Fantasy Football Librarian.

On the Wire: Week 5 Pickups, Drops and Bye Week Filler

I wanted to make a switch this past weekend at defense to sub in the New Orleans Saints D/ST for the Green Bay Packers D/ST.

Considering they had the same bye week and with some doubt in the Saints’ newly discovered fantasy worthiness, I was slow to make that change. I thought the Packers D/ST might somehow know how to beat Brett Favre.

On Sunday, ESPN’s server login problems kept me from reconsidering. Today, looking at a 10-point loss and a big three points from Green Bay’s defense, I very much regret that decision.

But it’s a lesson. Just goes to show you that you should always be aggressive. This week, with bye weeks hitting your team now or in the near future, it’s important to clear that dead weight from your roster.

That loss is going to sting for a good while. But now, let’s get to making things better for all involved. This week’s waiver wire pickups are in priority order, but your preference may vary depending on your own team needs. If you have any trouble choosing between these pickups or debating whom to drop from your current roster, leave a question in the comments to open it up to discussion.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
As long as Willie Parker stays down and out and as long as the Steelers face defensive lines like the Chargers’ weak one, Mendenhall is showing a lot of promise. Maybe the Steelers have a running game after all? In Sunday night’s game, Mendenhall rushed at will for 165 yards with 26 receiving yards and two touchdowns against San Diego. His next two games are against Detroit and Cleveland. Go get him while you can.

Jerome Harrison, RB, Cleveland Browns
Now that the Browns have some kind of offense, it’s worth keeping tabs on their primary running back. James Davis is now on IR, which leaves Harrison as the best warm body behind the injured Jamal Lewis. Harrison rushed for 121 yards and caught 31 yards in the Browns loss to the Bengals. In PPR leagues, that makes for some decent bench depth. In non-PPR leagues, there’s a chance the Browns could show signs of life enough to make Harrison worthy of a play during bye weeks.

New Orleans Saints D/ST
I’ve now learned from my mistake and fully endorse this defense. At last check, they were second in the NFL in blitzing behind only the New York Jets. Add that to the play of Darren Sharper and the potential of Reggie Bush on special teams, and this unit looks to be reliable throughout 2009. If someone in your league drops them while they are on bye, make sure you are the one who picks them up by Week 6. Besides the Giants (Week 6) and Patriots (Week 12), the Saints have a schedule full of very winnable games the rest of this season.

San Francisco 49ers D/ST
The 49ers D/ST is also very legit this season and not on bye this week. Bonus!

David Garrard, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
More than likely, he’s owned in your league, but in case you haven’t noticed, he’s looking like more than just a reliable bye week fill. The Jaguars can throw the ball–one year after I had to draft Garrard as part of a quarterback by committee in 2008.

Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Five catches for 70 yards and as touchdown. Sounds like he’s ready for that breakout year we’ve been expecting just as long as Brett Favre will accommodate. That late throw by Favre down the sidelines seems to suggest he won’t remain a game manager much longer.

Mohamed Massaquoi, WR, Cleveland Browns
Just like his running back counterpart, Massaquoi had a pulse in the Browns game this week. His eight catches for 148 yards to Braylon Edwards zero catches may suggest that Edwards has fallen out of favor. Add to that accusations that Edwards punched a friend of LeBron James, an offense punishable by death in Cleveland, and I’m seeing stars align for Massaquoi to be the big-play threat of the Browns’ passing game. Sure, that’s not a big threat, but it’s something.

Nate Washington, WR, Tennessee Titans
If the Titans keep digging a hole early in games, Washington should see even more targets. He’s a more elusive wide receiver than Justin Gage with the ball in his hands, and he could be a decent bye week fill against the Colts and Patriots these next two weeks.

Josh Morgan, WR, San Francisco 49ers
He came out against the Rams and should have had two scores. He’s the best receiver the 49ers have on their current roster, and the 49ers may look to throw more regularly as long as Gore remains out. All good reasons to have Morgan on your team if someone else gave up on him.

Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay Packers
Finley’s 128 yards and one touchdown performance was the breakout game we were all waiting for this season, and Donald Lee’s critical drop may have the Packers turning to Finley for an even larger role after their bye week. He’s certainly one of, if not the most promising tight end to own as a TE2 at this point in the season. Pick him up if you have the roster space or have a need at tight end. Otherwise, wait to see how he does after the bye.

Josh Johnson, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I told you that I liked this kid. Coach Raheem Morris does, too. But don’t throw him in there against the Philadelphia Eagles, coming off of a bye, this week. Let him incubate.

Derek Anderson, QB, Cleveland Browns
The Browns are alive in the hands of Anderson. As long as you can live with his mistakes, he has a nice matchup against the Bills this week.

Seneca Wallace, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Wallace could make for reliable bye-week filler against the Jaguars this week, but he’s a dangerous choice since Hasselbeck could return this week. Watch the practice reports before you go get him.

And now the ones you should just keep an eye on…

Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars
As the passing game comes alive, so does Lewis, but don’t jump on him unless you are desperate for him after his 76-yard, one touchdown performance this week.

Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets
He didn’t get a significant number of carries on Sunday, but he saw the field. This showing wasn’t enough to say he’s taking a role in the offense, but we could see him takeover if Thomas Jones continues to decline in comparison to Leon Washington. By season’s end, it could be Greene and Washington splitting time, and that would certainly make him worth owning. He’s a stash in deeper leagues.

Peyton Hillis, RB, Denver Broncos
Hillis could be in line for more carries if Correll Buckhalter misses this week’s game with a sprained ankle. Against the Patriots, Hillis might be productive, but he’d likely split time with Knowshon Moreno and LaMont Jordan. If you’re looking to long shot, he’s not a terrible one this week.

Chad Henne, QB, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins didn’t put the game in his hands on Sunday, but he looked promising against the Bills. His schedule gets brutal for the next three to four weeks, but look for him to show what he can offer starting in Week 9. His playoff schedule could make him a sneaky play.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants
He’s not a must-have just yet, but Nicks showed why he was drafted this week with that quick stop-and-go at the goal line for his first NFL touchdown. Mario Manningham took a back seat in this one, and that might be the trend going forward. But don’t get any ideas. Steve Smith is still the No. 1 receiver in New York, and he’s a solid fantasy option for the rest of the season.

Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee Titans
He isn’t getting enough playing time early in games to justify owning him in most leagues, but Britt could be in line for more catches as the third receiver in the Titans offense when they face the Colts this week. Britt had 105 receiving yards this week against the Jaguars.

Guys you should already own by now: Vernon Davis, 49ers; Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars; Tashard Choice, Cowboys; Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers.

Guys you can drop if you so choose: Chris Henry, Bengals; Darren McFadden, Raiders; Michael Bush, Raiders; Zach Miller, Raiders (especially now that he’s concussed); anyone else, Raiders; James Davis, Browns (He’s on IR, silly, and should only be kept in dynasty leagues at this point.); Earnest Graham, Buccaneers; Mike Bell, Saints, Jason Campbell, Redskins.

As an addendum to this week’s On the Wire, see which players I picked as the best “buy low” and “sell high” candidates in last week’s Fourth & 1 debate roundtable, hosted by Top Fantasy Football.

For more waiver wire grabs, check out Fantasy Football Librarian’s two collections, Fanhouse, The Fantasy Football Geek Blog and FF Toolbox’s deep league and standard league pickups.

As always, the comments are yours. Ask us a question. We love to answer them.

On the Wire: Week 4 Pickups and Sleepers [Insert Coffee Joke Here]

Ah, I just love the sweet smell of bacon in the morning. What? You thought I was going to say coffee, as in Glen Coffee? That would be silly. Silly like little kids who talk like big people.

Now, get your Coffee while it’s hot. Burn!

Glen Coffee, RB, San Francisco 49ers: With Frank Gore set to miss about three weeks, Coffee should get most of the work against the Rams and the Falcons before the 49ers go on bye in Week 6. If you’re lucky, Coffee could see more work than usual against the Texans and Colts post-bye. I’ll take a double shot of that.

Tashard Choice, RB, Dallas Cowboys: He took over the Dallas run game on Monday night. If Felix Jones’ knee keeps him from hitting the field in Week 4, Choice could be the lone back for the Cowboys until Marion Barber returns, and he can handle that job. Dallas faces Denver and Kansas City before their bye in Week 6.

Pierre Garcon, WR, Indianapolis Colts: The French name with another the solid game, Garcon has stepped it up in Anthony Gonzalez’s absence. Peyton Manning trusts him, and until Gonzalez returns, you can, too.

Nate Burleson, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Burleson has been posting decent stats while T.J. Houshmandzadeh runs his mouth and fails to impress with his bad back. Maybe T.J., as I’ve felt all along, is just average. Burleson’s worth a look as a WR3 even without Hasselbeck under center.

Brent Celek, TE, Philadelphia Eagles: He’s getting plenty of looks in this offense, especially with Kevin Kolb doing the passing.

Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers: Two touchdowns? Now that’s almost enough to convince me that he’ll stick around. Incubate him for a game or two unless you’re desperate at tight end and see what develops. Unlike many of the most targeted players this week, Davis came down with the majority of the passes thrown his way. That’s promising.

Fred Taylor, RB, New England Patriots: Brady was saved by his ground game in this one, and Taylor is that ground game. He’s got plenty left in the tank, but just when we start to trust him, the Patriots will mix in someone else out of that backfield and throw the ball 60-plus times each game. Taylor adds good depth as we head into the bye weeks.

Correll Buckhalter, RB, Denver Broncos: He’s fighting every week to get his yards even if Knowshon Moreno keeps the hype and the goal line touches.

Maurice Morris, RB, Detroit Lions: We might see more Morris if Kevin Smith misses time with his injury. Smith can’t heal that fast, but don’t expect the same production you get from Smith out of Morris.

Donnie Avery, WR, St. Louis Rams: Maybe without competition from Laurent Robinson, who is now out for the season, Avery will finally step his game up. He’d probably have better luck if Kyle Boller takes over at quarterback.

Josh Johnson, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: As we’ve seen from the Byron Leftwich appearances this season, the Bucs are bad, and they are going to be throwing often. Johnson has the potential to be better than Leftwich, and he’s certainly faster and more agile. I broke down some of his background in this week’s Foolish Thoughts. If you’re desperate or digging for trade bait, grab him while he’s an unknown.

Chad Henne, QB, Miami Dolphins: Same first name, different starting Miami quarterback. Sadly, this injury may be the end for Pennington. Due to Pennington’s bionic shoulder capsule explosion in the game this week, Henne takes over a tad early and tries to right this Dolphin ship in 2009. Please, sir, may we have a deep ball?

Jerome Harrison, RB, Cleveland Browns: I wouldn’t suggest that he’s better than your current benched players, but if Jamal Lewis stays out, Harrison could be in line for a big game or two when Cleveland faces weak run defenses. There aren’t many of those on the schedule, but maybe you just have a bench spot that’s completely empty and in need of a warm body. Yeah, you can slot Harrison there.

Denver Broncos D/ST: Who knew? The Broncos have a defense. Leave it to Josh McDaniels to teach them how to repel people. I’m still not sure I believe.

Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota Vikings: Maybe he will break out after all? Only if Favre keeps passing like he did on Sunday, but I’m a fan of Rice’s potential.

Bryant Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions: It was Bryant, not Calvin Johnson, that had the important touchdown catch against the Washington Redskins this week. If Megatron gets shut down, look for Bryant to reap the benefits. He’s been on my watch list since he left the Arizona Cardinals, but he’s never produced consistently. This year may finally be his time if he can stay healthy.

Guys from Week 3’s On the Wire that should be owned in all leagues by now (but I’ll list them here anyway just to drive home the point):

  • LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: Without Westbrook, he’s just as good and maybe even more explosive.
  • Mike Sims-Walker, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: He is David Garrard’s favorite target, and the Jags are going to put the ball in the air this season.

For more waiver wire grabs, talk to the geeks at The Fantasy Football Geek Blog, get the list from Fanhouse, sweat it out with Lester’s Legends, get the pickups of the week at FF Toolbox, add Coffee to your list at USA Today’s Fantasy Joe, see through the haze at The Hazean, and check out both the first and second collection from Fantasy Football Librarian this week.

Get out there and make your team better this week. Try toying with some handcuffs and consider the rises and falls of Sunday at Fanhouse, prepare for the bye weeks as noted by The Fantasy Football Geek Blog , sell off a few high-performing pretenders at FF Toolbox and cut the dead weight with the Bruno Boys.

As always, the comments are yours. I’ll be answering questions all week if you don’t know who to claim and who to drop on your waiver wire. Just leave a message below.

Manning, Colts D on Fire as Cards Misfire

On the Wire: Week 3 Pickups and Sleepers

If your team is 0-2, you could use the help, but don’t do anything crazy. I know of a league where a man dropped Matt Schaub after his pitiful Week 1 performance. I will name no names, but I’m pretty sure he regrets that now. He should.

Your top picks deserve some time to find their footing, but dead weight like that second tight end, second defense or sleeper that is still napping are all good to drop this week. If you’re not sure who you should drop, leave your questions in the comments.

Several key players suffered some injuries this week. Even the great Favre broke a nail.

Things are looking down for Brandon Marshall, but Pierre Thomas owners have some hope that they could see Thomas back on the field in a big way soon with Mike Bell expected to miss some time.

Maybe Jason Campbell’s sprained foot explains his unimpressive play lately? Well, nope, that’s probably just him.

Here are a few guys that could help you shape up for Week 3:

Willis McGahee, RB, Baltimore Ravens: As much as it pains me to say it, it looks like McGahee could outperform Ray Rice this year. He’s getting plenty of touches near the goal line while Rice sits on the sidelines. Get him while he’s hot. I’ll hold out for a Ray Rice resurgence.

Brent Celek, TE, Philadelphia Eagles: Kevin Kolb likes to check it down to his tight end, but Celek was getting targets in Week 1 with McNabb as well. Look for him to have a solid season, and in PPR, he could get you some great numbers even when he doesn’t find the end zone.

Mike Sims-Walker, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: From the looks of it, Jacksonville will be throwing the ball quite a bit to get back in games this year. The name change doesn’t disguise that Walker was one of David Garrard’s favorite targets last season — when healthy, that is. I like Sims-Walker even more now that Troy Williamson is out, and he got the touchdown in Week 2.

Mario Manningham, WR, New York Giants: From bust to must-have? Until Hakeem Nicks and Domenik Hixon return, Manningham should start alongside Steve Smith. I’d rather have Smith, but Manningham looks like the big-play threat right now. He had 134 yards and a touchdown this week against my Cowboys.

Steve Smith, WR, New York Giants: When the Giants are forced to throw, Smith is the guy you want to own.

Johnny Knox, WR, Chicago Bears: Cutler looked to the speedy receiver in some key situations against the Steelers, and he got the touchdown grab. Cutler even chose to go to Knox when both Hester and Knox were open. With so many targets his way, Knox could be a factor moving forward. Consider him bench depth for now if you want to go out and get him.

Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets: This kid may make a solid backup fantasy quarterback after all.

Laurent Robinson, WR, St. Louis Rams: As I mentioned last week, Robinson is getting plenty of looks in St. Louis, even outperforming Donnie Avery. Don’t overlook him just because the Rams are so terrible. Okay, okay, you can overlook him.

Bobby Wade, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: Wade stepped in to his new team in Week 2 and tied for most touches. Much like Robinson, the Chiefs struggles could see him catching a lot of passes, but he’s not much of a touchdown threat.

Correll Buckhalter, RB, Denver Broncos: My pick to be the most productive running back in Denver this year, and he got a touchdown this week. But considering how many backs there are in that pack for the Broncos, you might just want to stay away from this one.

Glen Coffee, RB, San Francisco 49ers: Owners who stashed him in your league may have given up after he seemed to be just a backup to Gore, but now that Gore has tweaked an ankle, he could some more work moving forward. Any back with Gore’s injury history and as many carries as he’ll get this year should miss at least one game, and I like coffee — the running back and the delicious caffeinated beverage.

LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: Westbrook sprained his ankle in Week 2, and McCoy is a copycat replacement if Westbrook misses time. Savvy Westbrook owners already own him, but if not, grab him now and see what happens. Week 3 against the Chiefs looks promising.

Kevin Kolb, QB, Philadelphia Eagles: He’s got a sweet matchup against the Chiefs this week if McNabb sits again.

Byron Leftwich, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Not to be relied on all season, Leftwich has started hot this year in games where he is forced to overcome the failings of the Tampa Bay defense. He won’t be starting all year with Josh Freeman waiting in the wings, but he’s worth a look if you’re starter is out or your backup is le suck.

Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots: When Wes Welker is out, his stats will go to Edelman. It’s a perfect system in New England. With Welker expected to return, I wouldn’t recommend picking him up, but keep Edelman in mind next time Welker is inactive.

Justin Forsett, RB, Seattle Seahawks: We know that Julius Jones fades down the stretch, and Forsett contributed on Sunday against the 49ers surprising defense. Could he be the one to take over when Jones fails? Forsett’s got some long-term value if you can hold onto him for a bit.

New York Jets D/ST: They arrived this week in keeping the Patriots out of the end zone. No offensive touchdowns allowed in two games? I’ll take that.

San Francisco 49ers D/ST: One to watch. I’m not convinced they’re completely legit, but we’ll see how they do this week against Adrian Peterson.

For more waiver wire analysis…

As always, the comments are yours. If you need some help in reshaping your roster, leave your questions in the comments.

Forget Them Not: Ten Dynasty Running Backs for Keepers and Sleepers

We covered the quarterbacks and the wide receivers, but the position you really should watch closely heading into this year’s draft is running back. These runners have worked their way into the favor of their current coaching staffs and may stand a much greater chance of seeing the field than that guy that gets taken in the second or third round this year. Are there any Ray Rice hype machine victims in the audience? Moving on…

Jalen Parmele – Baltimore Ravens
Taken by the Dolphins in the sixth round of the 2008 draft, Parmele didn’t have a lot of press despite his productive junior and senior seasons. The Ravens plucked him off the Dolphins’ practice squad to support their running attack in the last game of the regular season against Jacksonville, and he remains with the team entering 2009. He’s comparable to Tashard Choice, who tore it up in huge games down the stretch for the Cowboys. If the RB situation in Baltimore changes and Parmele gets pack of backs, you might hear his name again in 2009.

Ryan Moats – Houston Texans
Moats grabbed headlines this offseason for his incident with a certain overly-demanding police officer, but he could be in the spotlight once again if he lands a role with the Texans running game in 2009. Steve Slaton need someone to keep him durable during the regular season, and veteran journeyman Chris Brown is more fragile and injury-prone than Slaton. Moats could see some time if injuries come into play, and he wasn’t too shabby in 2008 when needed.

Mike Hart – Indianapolis Colts
Hart didn’t have much of a debut this season as he was quickly injured once he got his chance to play for the Colts, but he still ranks very high on a lot of dynasty lists. His production at Michigan may lead some to doubt how much he has left in the tank, but his intangibles and heart for the game have led many to stand behind him. With Dominic Rhodes out of the picture, Hart could have a real shot at stepping into a big role with the Colts this season and sharing time with Joseph Addai.

Chris Henry – Tennessee Titans
Though Chris Johnson has largely stolen his thunder–or lightning, as the case may be since LenDale White owns the copyright on “thunder”–Henry still has a chance to play a part for the Titans. If anything were to happen to White, he’s the likely candidate to step into Tennessee’s potent running attack, and he may have more chances this season if the Titans move to more of a three-back system to keep Johnson fresh and injury-free for the playoffs. Without a healthy Johnson, the Titans just didn’t look the same.

Jacob Hester – San Diego Chargers
With LaDainian Tomlinson approaching his golden years, many folks are looking for the Chargers to draft a running back this season to help Darren Sproles. But do they really need someone else? Given the production of fullbacks turned running backs like Peyton Hillis, Hester might be an adequate partner in the running game to support Sproles and Tomlinson as L.T. approaches the end of his career. We’ll see if the Chargers think he is enough come draft day.

Danny Ware – New York Giants
With a stall of running backs that could dominate any team in the league, you’d think that the Giants would be willing to sell off some of their surplus at the position, but surprisingly, the Giants have been very protective of Ware. If the team who was okay letting Ryan Grant walk and Derrick Ward sign elsewhere likes this guy, dynasty owners have to agree. He sits just behind Jacobs on the depth chart, and he might become part of the new Earth, Wind and Fire if Jacobs needs help in the run game.

Lorenzo Booker – Philadelphia Eagles
When he was traded to the Eagles from the Dolphins, Booker was touted as the likely backup to Brian Westbrook, but despite Booker’s comparable skills, he didn’t ever find his way onto the field last season. With Westbrook’s contract extended and Correll Buckhalter going over to the Broncos in free agency, Booker could be the guy we thought he was going to be in 2009. Then again, the Eagles could get greedy and take another running back in the draft to support Westbrook.

Justin Forsett – Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks drafted Forsett in the seventh round of the draft only to waive him early in the 2008 season. After a short stay with the Indianapolis Colts, Forsett was again waived and returned to the Seahawks practice squad to sign as the punt specialist. Considering the lack of depth at running back on Seattle’s current roster, he could play a larger role than expected this season if the injury plague in Seattle moves from the wide receivers to the running backs. Forsett scored 15 touchdowns in his final season at Cal after sitting behind J.J. Arrington and Marshawn Lynch for most of his time there.

Kregg Lumpkin – Green Bay Packers
With a name like that, what else could you be but a running back? Lumpkin started to gain some ground on the Green Bay depth chart just before he injured his hamstring early last season. With Ryan Grant looking more human and less like the hero he was in 2007, it’s possible the Packers give guys like Lumpkin and Brandon Jackson more opportunities in 2009. I don’t expect Grant to lose his job, but if Lumpkin gave it his all, he might jump over Jackson on the depth chart.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis – New England Patriots
The man we so lovingly called “Law Firm” in 2008 is likely to find himself back on the sidelines as we enter the 2009 season, but while he may be gone, he should not be forgotten. Green-Ellis, like many other Patriot backs, was successful when given the opportunity. If Laurence Maroney fails again this season, which is likely, Green-Ellis might even get another chance to work his way into the rotation for Bill Belichick.

Jay Cutler traded to Chicago Bears for Neckbeard. Set your Broncos free.

Jay Cutler is now on his way to The Windy City. For first-round picks in both 2009 and 2010, a third-round pick in 2009 and Kyle Orton — founder and president of the Neckbeard for Men Club, which just so happens to be moving its headquarters to Denver this summer — the Chicago Bears have acquired a Pro Bowl quarterback and an additional fifth-round pick in 2009.

Da Bears

While it’s certainly better than Detroit might have been for the promising young quarterback, this trade leaves Cutler’s status a little iffy. Other than Greg Olsen and the project that is Devin Hester, the Bears don’t offer a lot of talented receivers up as targets. Without Marty Booker, it’s hard to even rely on guys like Rashied Davis for a good circus catch.

Luckily, Jay Cutler’s arm happens to be bionic and stronger than three of John Elway’s arms acting in sync. It’s hard to doubt that he can make something out of the Bears with his arm and his legs, and he’s sure to bring the passing game up a notch across the board — lucky you, Hester and Olsen owners.

Matt Forte could certainly use a boost in the passing game to take the pressure off of him out of the box, but he could fade a bit in his production now that the Bears aren’t constantly feeding him the ball. This new offense is one you’ll want to watch come preseason because there’s no telling what Chicago will do now that they have a quarterback — and not a Rex Grossman. I’d still like Forte as a borderline RB1/RB2, but that could change.

Busted Broncos

As I tweeted earlier — excuse me — you can mark your calendars today as the day the Broncos started a downward slide. Brandon Marshall could soon potentially face another suspension for his continued off-the-field issues; Josh McDaniels is going to try to establish a new offense while running a season of The Apprentice to decide who’s going to carry the ball between J.J. Arrington, Correll Buckhalter, Peyton Hillis, LaMont Jordan, Ryan Torain, Selvin Young and Andre Hall; but at least they have a savior in their new quarterback, Kyle Orton…

Orton is an extreme downgrade. Despite his phenom run last year — during which, he was keeping pace with Peyton Manning in the fantasy points department — he’s an inconsistent signal caller. He limits what the Broncos can do through the air and takes Brandon Marshall down a notch whenever Marshall does get a chance to return to the field.

Eddie Royal, sadly, might drop off the radar entirely unless Marshall is out for a prolonged period of time. It would seem that, at least in the short term, Josh McDaniels is content running the ball with 67 different running backs, so it’s hard to rely on him to keep the passing game up to the level it was at last season. Don’t even start looking to the tight ends. Tony Scheffler could be out of Denver sooner rather than later, and then it all goes to this very scary place where Daniel Graham might be the only one of the field.

In short, maybe it’s time you let your Broncos go. Orton’s worth a chance in 2009 just because of the talent around him — and his relative bargain value as a quarterback. Marshall can’t be passed on even with his potential problems, which could make him a value pick in 2009 anyway. But there’s no telling which running back emerges as the best option, and Eddie Royal could be decent or completely invisible in 2009.

Mark your calendars and thank Josh McDaniels. Today, the Broncos blew apart their fantasy goodness…just when I thought they had so much promise. Does anyone feel good about this new Broncos team?

Mark Schlereth, please explain how this happened.

Foolish Thoughts on Week 6: Last-second nonsense

Who is the better Manning now? I think Peyton Manning put ex-lax in his brother’s Gatorade this week. It was time to shut up the critics. Peyton gets three touchdowns; Eli gets three picks. At least in fantasy, it looks like Peyton may have reclaimed his top spot on the Manning mantel for now.

And Eli has lost my respect (again) until he can tackle the lone man running down the sidelines.

Speaking of Peyton, who knew the Colts had a defense? I thought Bob Sanders was the only one making sure those defensive players punched their time cards. Without him, none of them were showing up to work. When the Colts take the lead, apparently the defense comes to play.

Baltimore better rethink that “Joe Flacco is our starter” thing for Week 7.

Could there have been a sloppier looking game than Detroit and Minnesota? Orlovsky’s safetying of himself ended up being the difference in this one. Is that really how the Vikings had to win? They’ve got to look better — same goes for the Cowboys. Adrian Peterson has to start pulling his fantasy weight out there. Bears, Texans and Packers may let him do that.

By the way, Bobby Wade = reliable, incredibly unsexy wide receiver option, but I’ll wait for Sidney Rice.

JaMarcus Russell was overwhelmed by the game plan on Sunday — that’s not exactly the line you want to be spreading to keep your job, Cable. Did you see what Al Davis did to the last guy? I hope you have a family. Otherwise, Davis might just mount you on his wall where no one can hear you scream.

If Brees could throw sniper bullets — which might be possible — the United States would never need an army. He’s throwing with a laser sight, and he should be even more lethal when Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey return.

Is anyone else starting to feel sorry for the Bengals? I mean, they have Ryan Fitzpatrick trying to do what a gimpy-elbowed Carson Palmer has been incapable of doing — win one. Their best chance in the immediate future to get a win is to sneak up on the Texans in Week 8, but the Texans should be ready for that.

I’d look into the kind of offers you can get for your Bengals this week — except for T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Housh could still produce while NFL defenses pay some attention to Chad Johnson.

Favre continues to be wishy-washy in the Jets passing game. Are the Jets going to run or pass next week? If I own Brett Favre, I might look to trade him after his next big day to a team with a more reliable starter. Besides, he’s still got the Madden curse…

Atlanta surprised the crap out of me this year with Matt Ryan. Michael Turner isn’t the only fantasy weapon there. Roddy White is an every-week starter, and Matt Ryan now warrants consideration when his matchup is good. Those scouting reports before the NFL draft that claimed he would be a risky franchise QB look like they were wrong now. In dynasty leagues, I’d try to obtain Roddy and Ryan. Besides, how can you not like a QB that jumps on his coach like a schoolboy after the kicker wins it?

Wha? What? Whaaaa? Carolina shuts out Kansas City and then almost gets shut out and blown away by Tampa Bay. The Panthers defense just became a pain to predict each week. Let’s see which one shows up in Week 7 against the Saints. For their sake, I hope it’s the good one (see: Drew Brees air-to-touchdown destruction tour).

Trap game, huh? The Rams finally won against the Redskins. Was there a curse on NFC East teams this week? (see: Redskins, Giants, Cowboys) I blame Andy Reid. I don’t think that was Haslett’s doing. I’m still very afraid of my Rams. They face the Romo-less Cowboys, Patriots and Cardinals in the next three weeks.

Should NFL coaches start interviewing college defensive coordinators on how to stop that ‘Wildcat’ offense? Ronnie Brown sure makes it look good. Will Patrick Cobbs do that again? (Drop your opinion in the comments.)

Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson look like they’re going to get it together this year. Will Houston fans stop calling for Sage now? I thought last week’s helicopter would silence that chant.

Maybe Daniel Graham hasn’t lost his TE skills, but I can’t wait for Tony Scheffler to get back on the field. Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal should be fine. This week was just a slow one due to injuries, and Stokley going out didn’t give Marshall much help. They just need to stop turning the ball over.

If that’s what Maurice Jones-Drew would be like as the starting back in Jacksonville, I’m all for it. Unfortunately, Fred Taylor should squash those dreams again when he gets back on the field.

David Garrard should be on an upswing after this week’s win. The Jags play the Browns, Bengals and Lions in the next three weeks.

Donovan McNabb, like Brees, doesn’t need his best receivers to make plays. Was that Buckhalter or Westbrook out there? I couldn’t tell.

Frank Gore just holds it down every week. Martz with a running game is a nice look. He just needs one more big receiver to come through besides Isaac Bruce. A healthy Bryant Johnson could do the trick — healthy being the key word there.

No one can stay healthy in Seattle. Even Julius Jones and Bobby Engram might suffer for a good while. Charlie Frye is one of those backups you don’t really want starting games for you.

Aaron Rodgers looks the guy that made Favre move on to another team. I’m saying it. I still believe that Ryan Grant will find his old self again soon. They aren’t afraid to run the ball; Grant had 33 carries but only racked up 90 yards. TDs would be nice.

The Arizona defense has looked both idiotic and unstoppable this season. Like Carolina, I don’t know where to place them yet, but they certainly tore apart the Cowboys and injured some key positions.

The Romo loss hurts, but the Cowboys haven’t brought it all together this season despite their talent. Maybe this four-game stint with Brad Johnson will shock them. Big ups to Marion Barber as he might see his workload go up significantly for several weeks.

I think Wade Phillips ate the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Larry Fitzgerald might be the best receiver in the NFL right now, and he certainly could be the best receiver in fantasy in 2008 as long as Kurt Warner stays at quarterback.

At the other end of the quarterback standings, Matt Cassel is a sad copycat of Tom Brady. He just can’t make the throws. Welker’s reliable but gives only meager stats, and Randy Moss is no better than Chad Johnson at this point.

The Chargers’ transition into a throw-first red zone team hurts LaDainian Tomlinson’s value. With his toe injury and limited yardage, he needs touchdowns to put up decent fantasy numbers. Philip Rivers is only good now because Tomlinson is bad. Keep that in mind as they head into the bye.

Congrats on hitting 11,000 career yards, L.T.

The Cleveland Browns are alive again. Was it the ‘Wildcat’ that did it?

Any foolish reader thoughts from Week 6? Post ‘em in the comments.

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Grabs from Week 5

In 2006, I drafted Clinton Portis as my lead running back. I don’t even remember who my second running back was, but, in the late rounds, I picked myself up a rookie with too many names, Maurice Jones-Drew.

When Jones-Drew blew up with his big rookie season (1300+ yards and 15 TDs), I thought I was going to dominate with the Portis/Jones-Drew tandem until Portis broke his hand in Week 10 and killed my playoff chances. I had no viable replacement for Portis’ consistent point production because I had filled my bench with a few filler wide receivers and running backs that had poor schedules to end the season.

Fantasy owners who are sitting pretty right now have to start building for the playoffs. You want to balance your roster, strengthen your studs if you can by trading up and acquire a bench of players that, if nothing else, will have dominant performances in Weeks 14-16, when it matters most.

The waiver wire is critical from here on out because it can shift the power among the top teams and bring in the depth and talent that you need to win your league. Don’t think that you can become complacent now just because your team is sitting on top or sulking on the bottom.

Last year, in one of my veteran leagues, the playoff contenders were pretty evenly matched heading into the last part of the regular season until a team that was winning with the duo of Terrell Owens and Randy Moss picked up Kurt Warner and Ryan Grant off waivers.

Well, you can guess how that worked out for him. What a lucky jackass smart guy.

Here are a few potential fantasy free agents that could help you do that same in 2008.

Worth Claiming

Bobby Engram, WR Seattle Seahawks
If no one picked him up last week or if your league remains unimpressed by his eight catches for 61 yards against the Giants, make sure you put him on your roster this week. His schedule gets MUCH better, and if Branch is injured, that means even more balls coming his way — and that’s what she said. I prefer Engram to Branch, even when neither of them have foot pain. After Green Bay and the Bucs, Engram will open it up against the 49ers, Eagles, Dolphins, Cardinals…it keeps going from there. He’s just the kind of guy you want on your playoff team as well with matchups against the Rams and Jets in Week 15 and Week 16.

Devin Hester, WR Chicago Bears
Remember experimenting with him as a wide receiver? It’s happening now…and working. Without Brandon Lloyd, Hester is the homerun threat, and Orton is making him dangerous for opposing defenses. Enjoy him while the Bears go through the soft, chewy center of their schedule.

Greg Camarillo, WR Miami Dolphins
Some people just jump out on you when they finally get a touchdown. Pennington won’t open it up down the field that much, but he’s got to start throwing to someone other than his tight ends as he matures in the Dolphin’s offense.  Camarillo has 17 catches through four games, his bye has already passed and he’s got a sick playoff schedule with the 49ers and Kansas City in Weeks 15 and 16. If you currently have Ted Ginn, Jr. on your roster, first of all, slap yourself. Second, pick up Camarillo instead.

Greg Olsen, TE Chicago Bears
Tight ends are a big hit on the waiver wire this week. Olsen is the first one on the list. Other than Marty Booker and his “spider-sense” hands, Olsen is one of the best pass catchers the Bears have on their roster. He’s getting some big plays down the field and has been more productive in Brandon Lloyd’s absence. Matchups like this week against Atlanta shouldn’t hurt his chances to get a second TD either. Orton is targeting him rather than Desmond Clark these days, and as Orton goes, so goes Greg Olsen.

Dustin Keller, TE New York Jets
Brett Favre and Keller connected almost immediately this season, and Favre is throwing out touchdowns like candy in a parade. You want this guy on your roster. Say it with me now: I want this guy on my roster. If you don’t have a top tight end on your roster or Dustin Keller after reading that paragraph…well, then there is no hope for you, buddy. You’ll never improve your tight end situation, quit smoking or hypnotize yourself into losing weight. I give up.

Visanthe Shiancoe, TE Minnesota Vikings
I was hoping I wouldn’t have to mention this guy. His name is just so freaking hard to type. It’s like his parents named him by looking at a QWERTY keyboard and choosing letters that were really far apart. No, really, Shiancoes, I’m on to you. As long as Frerotte is starting, the Vikings will need a red zone target. Otherwise, every defense just stacks the box to keep Adrian Peterson out of the end zone when they are close. Shank-o is a red zone man. He’s got two TDs this season including the TD pass from Chester Taylor this past weekend. Since we’re so big on playoff schedules this week on the wire, how about Lions, Cardinals and Falcons?

Kyle Orton, QB Chicago Bears
If I mentioned two of his best options, I guess that means I have to mention him again…doesn’t it? Orton tied for the top spot at QB in Week 5. In Week 6, he faces Atlanta. It makes me sick to think of him as a fantasy-worthy QB as well, but I’m starting him this week. When is Orton going to get his first endorsement for Gilette or Norelco?

Warrick Dunn, RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He looked better than Earnest Graham in Week 5 against the Broncos. Graham should have had a field day on that defense. I’m worried if I am a Graham owner.

Justin Fargas, RB Oakland Raiders
Back at full health, he’s the starting running back for one of the best rushing offenses in football. McFadden might demand more touches at this point, but Fargas will still get some cred since he had the job first. It’s a rule of the workplace. Haven’t you ever had a steady corporate job with a ladder to nowhere?

Cedric Benson, RB Cincinnati Bengals
As I mentioned previously in my thoughts from Week 5, Chris Perry’s hold on the starting job in Cincy isn’t going to get much weaker than it is right now. Benson will obviously play a larger role in Week 6, but he could take over the reigns completely. I mean, what’s he got to beat? Averaging less three yards per carry and leading the league in fumbles? Even for Benson, that’s doable.

Ones to Watch

Mike Walker, WR Jacksonville Jaguars
Also revealed in my thoughts from Week 5, Walker is one of a handful of sleepers I had on a list to start the season. He hadn’t quite woken up yet and flirted with close to 50 yards in the Houston game, but he came alive against the Steelers with six passes for 107 yards. He’s worthy of putting on a roster at this point in the season. If he turns into a go-to possession and red zone receiver, Walker could become a staple of your starting lineup. He may have gotten a little torn up on Sunday night, so watch the reports before you make a grab. If healthy, I see nothing but upside, but he’s so small time as a Jacksonville WR that you might be able to wait on him.

Kevin Curtis, WR Philadelphia Eagles
I really want to see Kevin Curtis take the field this season, and he could be close to it. McNabb is stalling out a bit as of late, but he was firing away the first two weeks. I’m sure he’d get a boost throwing to Curtis alongside DeSean Jackson and Reggie Brown. Keep an eye on him.

Nate Washington, WR Pittsburgh Steelers
Washington fills a role similar to Devery Henderson on the Saints or Chansi Stuckey on the Jets. He’s the third WR who goes for a lot of big plays. He’s not always hit with lots of passes, but when he gets one, he can take it to the house. Washington has looked more solid than Santonio Holmes over the last several weeks, and he’s not a bad start when the Steelers are going to be passing frequently. Washington had 95 yards and a touchdown against Jacksonville this past weekend.

Vince Young, QB Tennessee Titans
It pains me to only be able to list VY as a “one to watch,” but the Titans are on a bye. I know Young isn’t supposed to take back the reigns on the starting job, and more than likely, it won’t happen in Week 7, BUT (I like big buts…) I believe that his return to the starting lineup is inevitable. He’s too talented with too much invested in him for the Titans to pass it off to Kerry Collins. If VY returns and hits his stride in the NFL, he finishes up against the Jets, Lions, Browns and Texans before facing the Steelers in Week 16. In a free agent pool of substitute QBs, VY has the greatest upside. Don’t let that get away from you.

Correll Buckhalter, RB Philadelphia Eagles
He’s a sufficient Westbrook substitute, but just like Splenda, he’s nothing like the real thing. It’s just got that twang that makes you know it’s not the real stuff, you know? I believe Westbrook will go in Week 6 against the 49ers, but if they hold him back until after their Week 7 bye, Buckhalter is the guy you want to fill in for your roster.

Ryan Torain, RB Denver Broncos
Mike Shanahan couldn’t stop raving about Torain before the season started, and then Torain got hurt and missed out on the season up until now. I’m going to start mentioning him as a watch for now, but he’s probably going to jump into the grab-worthy category once he is cleared to practice. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if Shanahan never gave him a single carry after talking so much about him just to make fantasy owners waste a spot on their roster? < — Not a joke.

Maurice Morris, RB Seattle Seahawks
When he comes back from injury, he could challenge Julius Jones for carries or the starting role. That’s not the most valuable starting fantasy RB job in the NFL, but you might seriously be contemplating putting Cedric Benson on your team. Call me a Julius Jones hater, but I just like Morris better. Watch him.

Ahman Green, RB Houston Texans
Old bones is back in football pads. It’s sort of anticlimactic now that he isn’t even catching a whiff of the starting role, but Green is bound to be somewhat productive…until his next injury. He’s worth watching only if you need a bye week fill or if you just really like the Texans. Crickets? No one?

Flukes or Droppables

Hank Baskett, WR Philadelphia Eagles
Reggie Brown has stolen back his starting spot, so Baskett is back on the bench. At least he sort of, maybe, in gossip blog terms dated one of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends. Say goodbye to Kendra, Hank. Your fifteen minutes seconds are up.

Ray Rice, RB Baltimore Ravens
I still hate LeRon McClain, but he totally sniped Rice’s job from him. Maybe he ate Ray Rice. Has anyone checked? Oh, God.

Andre Hall, RB Denver Broncos
Hall is about to be swallowed up by the Torain train and/or the black hole that is the running back depth chart in Denver. His injury just provides one more reason to let him go.

Chris Perry, RB Cincinnati Bengals
Don’t just ditch him on the side of the road. He’s still a starting running back for a *potentially* high-powered offense, but it’s very possible that he could lose his job just like his lost all the marbles over the last five games. I’d seek greener, better gripping pastures.

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Super Snags from Week 4

Was 2008 the year to have the fifth pick in fantasy football?

So far this season, it would seem that the later draft picks have gone unscathed while the early drafters suffered some major blows to their studs. Owners have had to make due with their depth from the middle rounds, the true test of any fantasy football champion.

A handful of consensus top picks have already missed a game or been limited. LaDainian Tomlinson, slowed by his toe injury in Week 2, spooked some of his owners out of starting him in Week 3 even though he performed well. A.P. and Westbrook owners already have to play the “questionable or not” game each week, and Westbrook sat down in Week 4. Addai, who was banged up last season, isn’t inspiring confidence with his injury scares in just Week 1, and we all know what happened to Tom Brady.

All these injuries have already come up, and the Madden curse hasn’t even struck its cover boy yet. Is Brett Favre’s resilience strong enough to project the curse onto every other player in the NFL?

Marion Barber, Frank Gore and Clinton Portis owners may be sitting pretty for the moment, but owners that have made it through this rough patch for their stud with a winning record can feel good about their team going into Week 5.

If you haven’t been hit by injury, you are not safe yet. Karma can strike you down at any time. Now would be a great time to gather up some depth if you plan on making that playoff run, and if you haven’t gotten a win yet this season, maybe it’s time to completely drop all but your studs and start from scratch with waiver wire gems. As an alternative, you could just cry uncontrollably.

In addition to my take on who will make nice, happy point columns for your teams if you claim them this week, I’ll also start listing off a few guys worthy of being dropped (droppables) each week. Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to let them go unless there is a much better option. If you like a guy, who am I to judge? (A genius.) I didn’t stay in a Holiday Express last night.

Worth Claiming

Deuce McAllister, RB New Orleans Saints
The Deuce is back. After not utilizing him for three weeks, McAllister finally got to show what he was made of and wrecked shop with 20 carries and a touchdown. He might not be as good as he was two years ago, but he might be good enough if you need a situational to low-end RB2. McAllister is the hottest pickup of the week. Sorry, Pierre Thomas, you didn’t get it done.

LeRon McClain, RB Baltimore Ravens
It’s clear that Willis McGahee is not going to stay healthy. McClain is in control of the McGahee Voodoo doll, and he takes everything that opposing defenses give him — including a fantasy victory from me with that last TD Monday night. Out of anger, I’ll probably try to pick him up just so I can unceremoniously drop him Al Davis style.

Mewelde Moore, RB Pittsburgh Steelers
The Baltimore Ravens chewed up every running back that the Steelers sent at them on Monday night and left Moore, the fourth in line, as the last man standing. Do you think Willie Parker sat out just to save himself? Parker’s uncertain status means that Moore could be the starter in Steeler land for several weeks. Big Ben may rely more on the passing game, but Moore is worth snagging if you could use some bye week depth (or if you were counting on Willie Parker). The running game should still be effective for the Steelers.

Fred Jackson, RB Buffalo Bills
Another preseason lie: Marshawn Lynch will play all three downs. He’s not. Jackson’s in the mix, and he’s had nice fantasy outings throughout the early part of the season. Get him while he’s hot, and he’s a matchup start when the Bills face a weak defense.

Rudi Johnson, RB Detroit Lions
If no one has him yet, he’s worth getting if you need a RB since he has been named the starter. Kevin Smith is still not a guy worth dropping, and I don’t see the Lions running much when they are down by double digits.

Cedric Benson, RB Cincinnati Bengals
In a land of parole, the man with no charges is king. Benson finally found a home with the Bengals this week after being cleared of his boating/driving while intoxicated charges. The Bengals signed him for depth behind starter Chris Perry because they had to put DeDe Dorsey on IR, but we all know that a back can sneak up on you and take more prominent, shared role in the offense (see: Rudi Johnson).

Justin Fargas, RB Oakland Raiders
Remember that guy who was the starter before there was McFadden? Now that McFadden is slowed by his injury, Fargas might just have a chance to get his job back when he returns during the bye, but everything is still a little up in the air since the Lane Kiffin firing. To think, we had all given up on him. You probably have the bye this week to think about how much you like Fargas, but it wouldn’t hurt to grab him before games start this week so you don’t risk losing him to some schmuck who has a higher waiver than you next week (because your totally going to dominate this week, right?).

Leon Washington, RB New York Jets
While he’s supposed to be the change of pace for Thomas Jones, Washington is starting to see more time on the field in the faster-moving packages. He could mature into a situational starter if Brett Favre takes the Jets into a land that needs no solid run game. I expect Jones to return to fantasy relevance at some point in the next few weeks, but Washington could be a nice fill for you if you are out of options at RB. You might even be able to fool an owner or two into buying him at the price of a more solid performer if he has a big day with Brett.

Kevin Walter, WR Houston Texans
Moves like Wes Welker with better hands than Andre Johnson so far. Walter proved he was legit in Week 4. He’s even good at doing the “Hokey Pokey” with Matt Schaub. What a talent.

Bobby Engram, WR Seattle Seahawks
Returning this week from chipping his shoulder, Engram should be welcomed home by Matt Hasselbeck with open arms and lots of passes. Oh man, did he miss you, Engram.

Miles Austin, WR Dallas Cowboys
He’s worth it after another week (and another TD) if you have a spot for him. Austin’s likely to be more productive than Crayton this season, and he’s got that big play potential that you love to see in the No. 3 WR in an offense. The Cowboys are too powerful an offense for you to ignore Miles Austin, and outside of Crayton, his only competition for playing time is the hard-handed Sam Hurd.

Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith, WR New York Giants
Without Plax for Week 5, Hixon and Smith both get upgraded in the passing game. If Hixon really does assume the Plax role for this game, I like him much more than Smith. The passing game should be firing on all cylinders, and I think Eli likes and trusts Hixon after the preseason bombs he got to him. Smith and Toomer should both see increased targets in this one. None of the Giants WRs are bad starts this week against Seattle.

Lance Moore and Robert Meachem, WR New Orleans Saints
Unlike Matt Hasselbeck, whatever runs out there for Drew Brees this season gets productive before it gets hurt. I like Moore better than Meachem because he has the more reliable hands for Brees, but Meachem has that big play ability that keeps flaring up like a bad case of…well, let’s not talk about me. Until Marques Colston and/or Jeremy Shockey come back (at least two more weeks away), these two WRs will have nice games for you in a pinch. Brees will need to throw this week against a tough Vikings run defense and could expose the Raiders defense in Week 6 just like Cutler did.

Muhsin Muhammad, WR Carolina Panthers
Muhammad really fits in Carolina with Steve Smith and Delhomme. He’s valuable when the Panthers face a weak secondary, and he’ll take the heat off of Steve Smith each week. Muhammad makes for a great WR3 or even WR2 when the game plan calls for lots of passing.

Jerheme Urban and Steve Breaston, WR Arizona Cardinals
Boldin is very unlikely to play in Week 4. Getting popped in the head and shooting blood from your nose and mouth will do that to you. In his absence, I think Urban steps into the No. 2 spot in the Arizona offense. Everyone will tell you Breaston…but I still like Urban better. Breaston may have gotten the 100-yard game in Week 4, but Urban got the touchdown.

Justin Gage, WR Tennessee Titans
He’s not injured anymore and showed it with almost 100 yards this past week, but what happens when/if Vince Young comes back? For now, he’s a pretty good WR3 or WR3 with limited upside.

Anthony Fasano, TE Miami Dolphins
If he is available, he’s a great spot fill this week. Any team playing San Diego is promised a TE touchdown so far this season, and Chad Pennington already likes throwing to his tight ends. David Martin might not even be a bad play this week, but I like Fasano more.

Matt Schaub, QB Houston Texans
When he’s at the top of his game, he’s one of the best QB2s around and sometimes worthy of QB1 status. It might be a QB1 sort of day against he Colts. I imagine they’ll be playing from behind.

Kyle Orton, QB Chicago Bears
What has the world come to these days? NECKBEARD just became a decent fantasy play? He’s thrown multiple touchdowns and close to 200 yards in his recent games. You have to accept some turnovers, but he’s better than a lot of other risky plays on the wire. This week, he faces off against Detroit with a matchup against Atlanta in Week 6. If you are hurting at QB, maybe Orton is the answer. Hooray?

Guys you should already own by now (but if you don’t, maybe you should):
Steve Slaton (last man standing and with talent), Dustin Keller (Favre-to-TE TD bandwagon), Warrick Dunn (stealing value from Graham by the second)

Ones to Watch

Jerious Norwood, RB Atlanta Falcons
Along the same lines as Leon Washington, Norwood has seen his role increase this season. Michael Turner is by far the more dominant back in this offense, but when the running game is emphasized, Norwood gets enough of a piece to put up fantasy numbers. Unfortunately, Atlanta’s running game doesn’t have many more sure things on the schedule. (Yes, it might be time to worry, Turner owners.)

Kevin Curtis, WR Philadelphia Eagles
McNabb’s best target from last season should be back soon, but it might not be this week. Best skill: Running through the end zone before dropping the ball. Look for him to make an impact when he returns.

Deion Branch, WR Seattle Seahawks
While Engram is back this week from his chipped shoulder, Branch is just getting back to the field coming off knee surgery. He probably won’t see much playing time in Week 5, and with Bobby Engram back in the lineup, he might be a Casper even if he gets out there. Engram is the guy to own in Seattle from now on, but Branch could make a triumphant fantasy return if he can get comfortable on his knee again. Hey, Ronnie Brown did it.

Sidney Rice, WR Minnesota Vikings
Sidney Rice is another guy returning from a knee injury, but if he sees more time this week against the Saints, he should show what he’s worth. His TD in Week 1 against the Green Bay secondary was a sign of things to come, and I like him more than I like Berrian and cake…but not as much as cheese fries.

Devin Hester, WR Chicago Bears
He dropped out of our fantasy minds and hearts with his rib injury, but if Kyle Orton becomes a potential fantasy play, Hester is right up there with him. Oh, and please prepare a way to clip wings off pigs. It’s going to happen next.

Chris Henry, WR Cincinnati Bengals
Coming off suspension, Chris Henry will be working out with the team this week. There’s no promise that he plays on Sunday — or even makes the roster if he’s out of shape. Wait for some news out of the Bengals camp or a fantasy sighting in Week 5 before you go out to grab him. The Bengals offense just doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders yet this season.

Zach Miller, TE Oakland Raiders
Miller had sleeper status coming into the year, but he was almost non-existent for the Raiders earlier in the season. The big day in Week 4 might have people talking, but take away his TD catch and he had a slightly better day than usual (32 yards from four catches). It might have just been his week facing the Chargers. Was Shawn Merriman in charge of covering tight ends? If the chemistry continues between Miller and JaMarcus Russell, he’s got the talent to be a starting fantasy tight end.

Kevin Boss, TE New York Giants
He started slow but showed promise before heading into his bye week. Without Plax in Week 5, guys like Boss and Steve Smith might see more targets from Eli. If no one has him yet, keep your eye on him to see if he builds from that Week 3 performance, and if you’re tight end hasn’t performed yet, maybe you should switch it up and take a chance on Boss.

JaMarcus Russell, QB Oakland Raiders
The big boy out of LSU hasn’t blown up any stat lines in the NFL yet and just lost a head coach, but he’s still an interesting fantasy option. He’s got a cannon for the big play, and his ability to throw the ball across his body with just arm and some significant distance was impressive in Week 4 even when he was being swarmed. If you’re backup QB is lacking in the upside department, Russell could fill that role nicely. He looks like one of the most consistent options at QB even if his numbers aren’t spectacular. Upside is that he could come out of the bye week putting up better numbers, but you can probably wait to grab him until next week.

Marc Bulger, QB St. Louis Rams
Nothing much has changed, but Bulger has a new coach and his starting job back. He hasn’t done much yet this season to deserve a roster spot, but he could. He’s one of those “names” that people always give value in fantasy. That makes him worth consideration, but it’s still hard to pull the trigger. Wait until his first game back unless you really need him. The upside is there.

Carolina Panthers D/ST
The Panthers defense hasn’t exploded just yet, but they are keeping the running backs pinned down for low yardage. If they tighten up a bit more, they might just become an elite unit. They also have a nice stretch Weeks 10-12 against the Raiders, Lions and Falcons. Consider this your advance warning.

New York Jets D/ST
The Jets have quietly become a nice fantasy defense. Much like the Detroit Lions last year, you wouldn’t really think to consider them until they have a big week. Well, they had one this past week against Arizona, and after the bye this week, they face the Bengals, Raiders and Chiefs. None of those offenses make mistakes. Not ever. (Incredible sarcasm here as if you couldn’t tell.)

Flukes to Ignore or Droppables

Correll Buckhalter, RB Philadelphia Eagles
If you didn’t get him last week to fill in for your injured Westbrook, you probably missed your chance. Word is that Westbrook all but suited up on Sunday night, and I expect to see him take the field against Washington. Westbrook just missed his one game for this season, so if the trend holds true, Buckhalter has almost no value moving forward. His value stays put only if Westbrook sits again.

DeAngelo Williams, RB Carolina Panthers
If you have a guy with more upside, jump on him. Williams is on the losing end of a battle for carries since he doesn’t see the ball near the end zone. Unless you can unload him in a trade, it might be downhill from here. He’s still got value, but don’t hang onto him waiting for a miracle, okay? Promise me…

Vernon Davis, TE San Francisco 49ers
Mike Martz forgot he was on the roster after all that talk of TE passing sets, and it looks like he might even like the other guy better. Davis is not worth keeping on your roster until he proves something.

Dante Rosario, TE Carolina Panthers
While he had a great day in Week 1, Rosario has seen less action since the return of Steve Smith. Now that Muhsin Muhammad is getting looks as well, it’s just time to move on to another hot waiver wire TE or the guy you drafted. (Please don’t say Vernon Davis.)

Joey Galloway, WR Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Is it worth it for you to hold onto him for the two to three game stints that he will play this season? Not if you can pick up someone who is doing well now and not burning a hole in your bench.

Pierre Thomas, RB New Orleans Saints
Too French to push through the piles like Deuce can. Thomas is now mixed in there somewhere but not anywhere fantasy relevant for now.

Ray Rice, RB Baltimore Ravens
Obviously, we all missed a memo in thinking Cam Cameron was going to use this guy in place of Willis McGahee if McGahee stayed banged up. It was all a trick to hide the really BIG talent, LeRon McClain.

Ahman Green, RB Houston Texans
Really? Are you that much of a believer? Think about it. How desperate are you to have RB help down the road compared to what you can get right now? You should consider more immediate options. Green has likely lost his starting job and a significant role in the Houston offense this season. Deuce McAllister, LeRon McClain and Justin Fargas are all upgrades.

Javon Walker, WR Oakland Raiders
Wow, you are a believer.

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Gems from Week 3

Apparently, when you try and make things faster around here, it makes the Internet explode, and bad things happen. I’ll write that down, and, I guess, take it as a compliment that we’ve had such a large flow of traffic around at Fools lately.

I’ll try not to break anything else, okay?

The waiver wire starts to thin this week, but alas, here come the dreaded bye weeks. Every fantasy owner has probably seen how bad they can be, and they’ve fortified their teams to make up for it. Here are a few guys that might have slipped under the radar until now.

J.T. O’Sullivan, QB San Francisco 49ers

This guy needs a nickname. He just has too much punctuation in that name, so from now on, I dub thee JTO, Mr. O’Sullivan. If your league is sleeping on this guy, don’t. O’Sullivan is a Mike Martz quarterback. He’s going to take his hits, but he is also going to put up a 300+ yard game when he has a good matchup. If he has one of those during your current starting QBs bye week, he’s worth putting on your roster. His high risk, high reward play should pay off for fantasy owners hurting from Carson Palmer, Derek Anderson and Peyton Manning — oh, and that Tom Brady guy. This week, he faces off against the New Orleans Saints’ unimpressive secondary.

Brian Griese, QB Tampa Bay Buccaneers

He threw a lot of balls for Tampa Bay on Sunday — no, that’s not what she said. I don’t think he puts up 407 yards and two touchdowns each week without overtime, but he’s worth getting on your roster now. If his plentiful passing attempts continue, he could be fantasy-worthy where Jeff Garcia was only a capable fantasy backup QB. Griese definitely takes on high-end backup status now with the potential to do more when you need him (against Detroit, Minnesota, New Orleans and Atlanta).

Jerramy Stevens, TE Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I’m not exactly sure how he got off parole long enough to leave Seattle, but his return from suspension in Tampa Bay showed his effectiveness. With Galloway out and healing slowly, Stevens could be a factor in the passing game. It’s not like the Bucs have a herd of big name receivers. Stevens is one of those physically imposing guys like Vernon Davis who promise a great deal as a tight end. Unlike Davis though, Stevens could be consistent with Brian Griese finding him when it counts like in Week 3. I mean, at least we know he gets his hands dirty.

Dustin Keller, TE New York Jets

Brett Favre likes the rookie tight end even though Keller has a veteran squad in Chris Baker and Bubba Franks ahead of him on the depth chart. Late in the San Diego game, Keller was getting open and brought in a late touchdown. If you are hurting at TE, Keller might be worth a look — especially when the Jets play strong passing defenses that will lock out Jerricho Cotchery and that touchdown-stealing Chansi Stuckey.

Anthony Fasano, TE Miami Dolphins

Don’t you….dun dun da dun dun…forget about him. He might be Ronnie Brown’s favorite target.

Domenik Hixon, Amani Toomer and Steve Smith, WR New York Giants

They have a bye this week, but in Week 5, the Giants will be without Plaxico Burress for his INSUBORDINATION. I’m not sure what Plaxico did for those two days that he missed practice, but insubordination is a great word. Look for Toomer and Steve Smith to step up, but Hixon, who had a three touchdown performance in the preseason, could go wild again in place of the absent receiver. A good game in Week 5 could earn Steve Smith and Hixon more looks.

Correll Buckhalter, RB Philadelphia Eagles

Go on! Be a vulture! Don’t you see the bird circling the Westbrook owner in your league? Westbrook is only listed as day-to-day, so there’s no guarantee that he won’t take the field. If you are seriously hurtin’ at RB or are playing against the Westbrook owner in your league this week, it might be worth stashing Buckhalter. Remember that the Eagles play the Bears this week though, so don’t expect a Thanksgiving turkey to just fall in your lap. Westbrook owners, get him if you can. On the bright side, I don’t think Westbrook will miss more than one game — if he misses any at all.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB Pittsburgh Steelers

The fantasy football gods are smiling on the folks who are hurting at RB this week. Mike Tomlin even did the fantasy football players a favor by letting us all know PRE-waivers that Willie Parker wouldn’t be going on Monday night. Mendenhall will get his first start, but he hasn’t just dominated like everyone thought he would coming into this season — and there’s that thing he has about fumbling. He’s worth putting on your roster if you have Parker or if your alternative is Ahman Green. Limit your expectation against Baltimore on Monday night. It could be another low-scoring, defensive affair for the Steelers.

Rudi Johnson, RB Detroit Lions

Oh boy, did you see that great game that Rudi had against the 49ers! Now, let me break down what I just said: Rudi had one great game against the 49ers. He’s still splitting time at RB even though he seems to have won some points with the coaching staff after his 131 total yards and a touchdown this week. Both teams were running the ball pretty well, and I’ll give you that Rudi has the hot hand. Still, I am not a true believer. When you get cut from an NFL franchise that is hurtin’ terribly for some movement on offense, you must have a defect besides your high bill.

You can pick him up if you are lacking at RB, but don’t go dropping anybody major (see: anyone with less fluke potential). It remains to be seen how much the Lions will even be able to run the ball this year when they give up 21 points just by starting the game clock. There’s always garbage time?

Michael Bush, RB Oakland Raiders

Role is not certain right now for Bush, but with Fargas hurt, he’s a must grab. I like him almost as much as I like McFadden, and Bush could end up being a big TD vulture to McFadden’s flashy runs similar to how LenDale White and Chris Johnson work.

Brandon Lloyd, WR Chicago Bears

Chicago is where receivers go to die, but maybe, Chicago just makes all wideouts the inverse. Stay with me here. If you were a good WR and went to Chicago, you got pretty bad, BUT if you were a bad WR or a “Wait, who?” wide receiver, now you have a chance.

Lloyd seems to be benefiting from when Kyle Orton, lacking in the neck beard department this season, throws one out there. He’s had five and six receptions respectively in the last two weeks with 124 yards and a score this past week. He just might be a decent WR3 option at this point when the Neckbeard, ahem, excuse me, Kyle Orton is passing the ball against weak defenses — they still probably won’t let him come out to play much against the good guys.

Matt Jones, WR Jacksonville Jaguars

Sigh…he’s made the jump. I really hoped I could ignore the coke fiend until he dropped off the map, but he really does seem like he can carry a role in the passing offense for Jacksonville this year. If what they are saying is true, the pass-first offense in Jacksonville that Garrard could lead after their bye week rest could utilize a guy like Jones-y. Pick him up if you need him; just don’t talk to me about him.

Bobby Engram and Deion Branch, WR Seattle Seahawks

They are supposed to return Week 5, but Branch might be seen in Week 4. If they aren’t on a roster, make it so. Hasselbeck needs them like I need cake, and I NEED cake.

Ones to Watch — Guys to be cautious about, but get them if you need them

Damon Huard, QB Kansas City Chiefs

It’s Huard’s turn to try and right the ship for Kansas City. Thigpen didn’t “wow” with his INT-heavy performance last week. Huard is still an emergency or bye week option unless he has Dwayne Bowe on his fantasy team. You don’t really want to have Chiefs on your fantasy team unless you’re forced into it. My deepest condolences to all the Kansas City Chiefs’ mothers playing fantasy.

Trent Green, QB St. Louis Rams

Well, if you were impressed by what Bulger could do in this offense, wait until you see what Green can do. I think there’s already an over/under in Vegas for how many snaps he gets to take before his next — and possibly final — concussion. Green playing for the Rams might be the worst player decision (from a health standpoint) all season — including Merriman almost playing the entire season on a floating pile of knee.

Billy Miller, TE New Orleans Saints

Miller benefits from Shockey being injured, but he won’t do much for fantasy. He’s worth keeping an eye on while Shockey and Colston are down and out, you know, for kicks or something.

LeRon McClain, RB Baltimore Ravens

Another “wait and see” sort of guy that you can jump on now if you need some RB help. He carried some of the load while McGahee was out, and he got another decent dose on Sunday when McGahee got cut (as in bleeding, not from the team). As long as the starting two RBs (McGahee and Ray Rice) don’t turn into big bleeders, McClain will probably drop back into a TD vulture or short yardage guy. We know that the Ravens are going to run the ball A LOT with Flacco under center, so he’s got some value in the range of Michael Pittman, which isn’t terrible at the moment. Two touchdowns is nothing to forget about.

Miles Austin, WR Dallas Cowboys

You guys know that I don’t think a ton of popcorn-fingers Patrick Crayton. Austin’s a speed guy and more likely to assume a complimentary role to Terrell Owens than Sam Hurd, who T.O. sort of took under his wing as his backup. Crayton won’t disappear, but Austin could take looks away from Crayton when the Cowboys put three receivers on the field. Miles racked up 152 yards and a score on just two receptions. His big play ability could earn him fantasy WR3 status.

Antonio Bryant, WR Tampa Bay Buccaneers

His value is dependent upon Brian Griese throwing as much as he did and Galloway’s injury. Two factors against your potential make you watch-worthy rather than snag-worthy. He assumes Galloway’s value as long as he’s a starter — not too shabby the way Griese is throwing. Take him if you are a Galloway owner, but you might be able to wait otherwise. He did have 138 yards against Chicago.

Justin McCareins, WR Tennessee Titans

If he is healthy and Justin Gage remains out this week, he might be the best receiving option the Titans have, which makes him pretty far down the list but he runs out on the field and tries to catch the ball. If you have a bye week in a deep league, you might not be able to be picky.

Jordy Nelson, WR Green Bay Packers

I got my eye on you, kid. Show me what those big hands can do, and you just might make a squad as my WR3.

And because rumors make friends in fantasy football…

Brady Quinn, QB Cleveland Browns

If Derek Anderson can’t get it done against Cincinnati, it might be the final nail in his fluke coffin. Quinn might get his shot.

Dan Orlovsky or Drew Stanton, QB Detroit Lions

Kitna hurt his knee in the last game, and the Lions might actually start looking towards the future. Orlovsky is the next guy in line, but Stanton’s got that bold “I’m supposed to be your guy” quality that screams “rebuilding.” In the immediate future, Orlovsky probably gets the judgment call in this one and tries to make up the 21-point deficit for the Lions. If you are deep at QB with a roster spot to spare, stash and grab. Whoever starts in Detroit is worthy of fantasy consideration just because they have so much invested in their passing game.

No one’s really worth ignoring at this point, so let’s talk…

Guys you should have taken by now:

Steve Slaton, RB Houston Texans — could be the guy in Houston moving forward

Chris Perry, RB Cincinnati Bengals – getting most of the carries and scored against two tough defenses already this season

Guys you can consider dropping:

Vernon Davis, TE San Francisco 49ers — Where are those two TE sets of dominance Mike Martz? Vernon Davis is not a starting TE anymore. Two big games with no-show performances. Bench until further notice or replace.

Ted Ginn, Jr., WR Miami Dolphins — I don’t think he knows he plays. Maybe he is just outrunning Pennington’s arm? If you can do better on the wire, you should.

Vince Young, QB Tennessee Titans – As much as I like him, you can afford to let him hang in the wind a few weeks until the QB situation shakes out for the Titans

Justin Fargas, RB Oakland Raiders – Injury or no injury, he might never get back on the field with Bush/McFadden there to tear things up

Alge Crumpler, RE Tennessee Titans — If you can find him on your roster, you are doing better than the Titans. They can’t find him on the field.

Kenny Watson, RB Cincinnati Bengals — not really threatening Chris Perry much right now

Kevin Jones, RB Chicago Bears — all they know is Forte in Chicago

Courtney Taylor, WR Seattle Seahawks — you know what will happen when Engram and Branch return