On the Wire: Week 11 Pickups and Waiver Wire Veterans from Week 10

By now, your season may be over, but there’s no reason to start cutting players like the Raiders unless they are still underperforming. Now is the time to grab up all those players the teams that beat up on you want to cripple them for their playoff run! That’s right. Bitterness breeds competition.

Of course, if you are in a keeper or dynasty league, you should be a little more responsible, but for the re-drafters out there, let the bitter waves of hate flow.

Here’s a few guys that might help you in the playoffs or help you assist you in hoarding talent from your worthy adversaries.

Worth Claiming

Tyler Thigpen, QB Kansas City Chiefs — Of all the backup quarterbacks starting this season, Thiggy might be the best of the bunch. He’s worth mentioning again. He has six touchdowns and 710 yards in his last three starts, and the Chiefs are running a large majority of plays from the shotgun. Is this still a running team?

Brady Quinn, QB Cleveland Browns — I’ve also mentioned Quinn previously, but if you passed on him in his first start, he proved himself with two touchdowns and no turnovers in his first start last Thursday. I don’t think he’ll win games for you down the stretch with a touch Week 13-15 schedule, but his efficient passing should beef up Kellen Winslow’s stats and keep him in the middle of the road as a fantasy quarterback.

Shaun Hill, QB San Francisco 49ers — To prevent you from having to go back to last week’s “On the Wire,” we’ll just complete the trifecta of quarterback options after Week 10. Hill had two touchdowns, a pair of interceptions, a fumble and 217 passing yards in this debut, but his turnovers were not as bad as they seem. His two interceptions came when the Arizona defense intensified in fourth quarter at home, and the fumble was caused by a bad snap that was knocked loose by a bumbling guard behind the line. His ability to avoid sacks and make plays will keep him fantasy-worthy in the upcoming games in which the 49ers will have to pass to stay competitive.

Ladell Betts, Shaun Alexander and Rock Cartwright, RB Washington Redskins — Don’t hate me now if you didn’t trade away Portis when I suggested he was an injury risk. It sounds like Clinton Portis has a painful MCL tear that is preventing him from even straightening his leg, so expect him to be limited or out against the Cowboys. Betts would be the favorite to fill in for Port, but he’s been banged up as well and might not be good enough to return despite what Jim Zorn is saying. If that were the case, Shaun Alexander and Rock Cartwright would probably share the carries. If you’re a Portis owner, I’d snag Betts just to be cautious moving forward.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB New England Patriots — “Law Firm” has overtaken the power back role in Sammy Morris’ absence with 100+ yards and a score in Week 10, and even with LaMont Jordan threatening to return, I see him having some flex value until Morris is ready to get back on the field. Add him if you need depth at running back, but you might not start him until fantasy playoffs (Jets, Dolphins, Steelers in next three weeks).

Justin Fargas and Michael Bush, RB Oakland Raiders — So Fargas is not completely dead, but the Raiders failing offense is going to limit his ceiling. He had 80+ yards in a garbage game against Carolina. Michael Bush has about the same value as the No. 2 back and getting about the same amount of yardage. Both of them make decent flex plays or low-end No. 2 options against weaker run defenses until Darren McFadden returns from injury.

Mark Bradley, WR Kansas City Chiefs — Riding the Thigpen train to success, we can safely say that Bradley is a legitimate No. 2 receiver beside Dwayne Bowe. He had nine catches for 81 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers this past week. He may be the third read behind Bowe and Tony Gonzalez, but he has a touchdown in each of his last three games, even if he did throw one of them. The schedule looking forward makes him very claim-worthy (Saints, Bills, Raiders, Broncos, Chargers, Dolphins).

Peyton Hillis and Tatum Bell, RB Denver Broncos — If you were, heaven forbid, starting a Denver running back, these two are the flavors of the week. Bell has just been signed but knows the system, and Hillis had 24 yards after Ryan Torain was injured Thursday night. No one knows how ol’ leather-faced Shanahan is going to handle this one, but I’d rather have Hillis than Bell at the moment because of his versatility.

Cadillac Williams, RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers — The Bucs are excited about Williams’ return, and they should be. Both Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn are still licking wounds. If you can afford the bench room to hold on to him for this week against the Vikings, Williams is worth claiming to see how he factors into the Bucs’ running game. Only a Week 14 Panthers matchup stands in the way of a return to fantasy relevance in the final games of this season. (Note for the fantasy n00bs: “Cadillac” is also known as Carnell Williams.)

Kevin Boss, TE New York Giants — A touchdown in each of his last three games is enough for me to be sold on the Shockey filler. Boss should have even had two touchdowns if he had caught the ball. Obviously, Manning is looking for him in the red zone, so you should, too.

Matt Spaeth, TE Pittsburgh Steelers — He’s merely a fill for an injured Heath Miller, but the Steelers haven’t been putting enough emphasis on utilizing the tight end position this season. This week gives him some added value as the Steelers face the tight-end-friendly Chargers, but I only endorse him as a one-week play or a sleeper grab.

Dustin Keller, TE New York Jets — Keller was hot to start the season and then fell off the map. If you held on to him, he finally had his biggest game of the season with six catches, 100+ yards and a score. We know how Brett Favre likes to use the tight ends, so a hot streak after this game wouldn’t surprise me.

Guys you probably should have already picked up:

Matt Ryan, QB Atlanta Falcons — He’s doing well in just his first year and has a great schedule for passing to end the season.

Kevin Smith, RB Detroit Lions — Despite Rudi Johnson’s brief interruption, Kevin Smith is still the back you want from Detroit, even if the schedule is garbage for rushing until the fantasy playoffs. He collected 96 yards and a score against the Jaguars.

Ricky Williams, RB Miami Dolphins — Williams was actually the better back with 100+ yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks, but most of his yardage came off one big play run out of the Wildcat formation with Ronnie Brown. He’ll continue to see his fair share of looks in the easy matchups to come.

Dominic Rhodes, RB Indianapolis Colts — It appears that the Colts will continue to give Rhodes carries even with Joseph Addai in the lineup. He’s got some depth and flex value with the easy running matchups left on the Colts schedule. If it’s true that Addai reaggravated his injury, Rhodes could be huge in the coming weeks.

Lance Moore, WR New Orleans Saints — The third-year receiver continues to catches even with the return of Marques Colston and had 76 yards and a score against Atlanta this past week.

Malcom Floyd, WR San Diego Chargers — The backup that won’t go away! Floyd has had his days while Chris Chambers is out with injury. If Chambers remains out, he could be a favorite long-ball target for Philip Rivers (after the pass-hating Steelers this week, of course).

Josh Morgan, WR San Francisco 49ers — He got his second touchdown and some job security Monday night and is likely to see a lot of looks come his way as the 49ers enter a favorable passing schedule.

Ones to Watch

Kerry Collins, QB Tennessee Titans — The Titans’ strength is in the running game, but they proved that they could throw the ball as well with Collins in Week 10. If teams can stop the run like the Bears did, Collins is capable of having fantasy-worthy stats, and it’s likely that will happen against the Jets and possibly the Jags in the next two weeks. I’d rather have someone more dependable like Thigpen or Shaun Hill though.

Justin Gage and Brandon Jones, WR Tennessee Titans — Jones and Gage are completely dependent upon Collins, but they could be worth desperation grabs if you have no depth at wide receiver. Gage is the more reliable option, but Bo Scaife, as a tight end, still gets most of the receptions on this team.

Jason Hill, WR San Francisco 49ers — When backup quarterbacks get promoted to the starting squad, they don’t forget the second-string receivers they worked out with at the beginning of the year. Enter Jason Hill, who had seven catches for 84 yards on Monday night against the Cardinals and came just short of a touchdown. He’s more of a possession guy, but he’s definitely got chemistry with the new quarterback.

Mark Clayton, WR Baltimore Ravens — If Derrick Mason missed time, Clayton could step up into his shoes as a productive receiver for Joe Flacco.

Jerry Porter, WR Jacksonville Jaguars — Porter has his first touchdown in Week 10 and could stand to gain when Matt Jones is suspended, but is that every going to happen? He’ll have to prove he’s coming along in this offense in future weeks to be worthy of an add.

Shaun McDonald, WR Detroit Lions — McDonald inherited the starting role opposite Calvin Johnson when Roy Williams was traded, but it’s hard to do much with it without a reliable quarterback. He’s had his ups and downs. If the Lions get the passing game in order, McDonald could see more action since we know the Lions will be behind in the tough matchups to come.

Ignoring

Todd Heap, TE Baltimore Ravens — His two touchdowns both came in the fourth quarter of a blowout, and one even came from the backup quarterback, Troy Smith. I don’t rely on a guy like Heap unless he shows consistency, and this game was the only fantasy-worthy one he’s had all season. Do it again, you heap of…

Droppables

Don’t flush all your talent, but if you’re looking to trim the fat on your team, these guys might not be waiting on for you. Of course, you can always run drops by me in the comments if you can’t make the call between a new waiver wire gem and your current benchwarmer.

Jeremy Shockey, TE New Orleans Saints — Brees is not relying on Shockey when they need a play as long as Billy Miller is around, and Shockey doesn’t even look like the best tight end of his team. He can’t stay healthy, and unless you have no need at any other position, I wouldn’t even carry him as a backup tight end at this point.

Felix Jones, RB Dallas Cowboys — He’s about to return from his hamstring injury, but he’s also one of those players who relies on the big play to produce in fantasy. If you have managed without him, I doubt you’ll need him with only two more starts that look promising (49ers, Seahawks).

Week 5 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

I am not sure who won the VP debate last night. Both political parties seem to believe their candidate stepped up to the plate. The NFL is still pretty split in making a decision this election year. I do know that Al Davis likes Sarah Palin — mostly because he believes she’s youthful and has 4.3 speed.

Herm Edwards, on the other hand, really couldn’t make up his mind. He wants to like someone like Palin, who reminds him of a Brodie Croyle or even a Tyler Thigpen, but that’s just to keep up the front that the team is rebuilding. Voting for someone like Joe Biden, an experienced candidate best compared to Damon Huard, might give the impression that the American people can expect to be won back right now by a government that could do a few good things. That’s scary for Herm to think about.

The jury is still out for Bill Belichick. He just taped the whole thing to watch later, and rumor has it that the tapes came from practice runs that the candidates had on stage before the real debate started. That dude is weird.

This week, you are probably looking for a few spot starters to help you over the bye week hump. If your backup isn’t performing at a high level, you might want to take a chance on some of the guys that I point out here. Bubble guys become more worthwhile of consideration on a week like this week. Don’t expect them to put up the same numbers as your studs do each week, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised if they do.

As always, leave a question in the comments if you are struggling with who should start in Week 5.

Hot Hands

Kyle Orton, QB Bears vs. Lions
I know. I am insane, but the Detroit Lions are not hard to throw against. In fact, they encourage you to throw because if you aren’t passing, your running back is embarrassing them by blasting through the giant holes their defensive line can’t close. My guess is that the Bears let Orton cut loose a bit here. Matt Forte is still going to have a field day on the Lions defense, but Orton should have a few good plays through the air just to keep the defense honest. Why the hell not? It’s the Lions. Don’t bench Peyton Manning for him, but if you need a QB, this week Orton could be your man.

Chad Pennington, QB Dolphins vs. Chargers
It’s not often that you can recommend a man like Pennington. I like him, but for fantasy purposes, he doesn’t put a lot of numbers up unless he has a really nice matchup. This week, you’re in luck. San Diego is letting every quarterback run wild on them this season. Pennington won’t be shut down because San Diego’s defense will also have to worry about Ronnie Brown going into “Wildcat” mode like he did against the Patriots. We know the Chargers can put points on the board, and this game is going to be on Chad to win.

Brian Griese, QB Buccaneers vs. Broncos
Despite Denver’s well-respected corners, the Broncos like shootouts this year. Their defense obliges by letting the opposing QBs pass for more yardage on them than all but a small number of teams in the NFL. Apparently, Griese is going to throw a great deal more than Jeff Garcia did last season, so look for the Bucs to have a big day through the air — as long as there is something left for them after Graham and Dunn tear apart the Broncos ground game.

Matt Forte, RB Bears vs. Lions
This game might be the hottest start he has all year. Forte’s averages more than 80 yards per game, and the Lions basically promise opposing running backs 200+ yards just for playing. Forte is an absolute MUST START this week.

Earnest Graham, RB Buccaneers vs. Broncos
Denver can’t stop the run or the pass. If Larry Johnson can do something, I believe a coke machine — the drink machine, not Travis Henry or Matt Jones — with a football taped to the top can do it. You know, just like the one in those Reggie Bush commercials. Regardless of how many carries Warrick Dunn takes, Graham will have plenty to feed a hungry fantasy football team.

Jonathan Stewart, RB Panthers vs. Chiefs
“The Daily Show” — my new favorite player nickname, by the way — should run over the Chiefs defense this week. Be wary of benching a stud for Stewart since he still splits time with Williams but a good game here could — fingers crossed — start to move him into the more dominant role in this offense.

Steve Slaton, RB Texans vs. Colts
I’m required by foolish fantasy law to mention every rookie in the NFL if I mention any of them. That’s a fact. You want another one? Indianapolis can’t stop the run without Bob Sanders.

Lance Moore, WR Saints vs. Vikings
Moore is seeing quite a few passes come his way with Shockey and Colston still missing. They’ll need to pass against a tough Vikings run defense this week, so look for Moore to dominate on targets again and make something out of them just like he did last week.

Steve Breaston and Jerheme Urban, WR Cardinals vs. Bills
If Boldin doesn’t play this week, both of these WRs could see looks from Kurt Warner. Buffalo has a tough defense, but their weakness will be at corner this week. With Buffalo’s best corner out of commission, Breaston and Urban should face the Buffalo’s third corner and rookie Leodis McKelvin. Breaston’s a lock to see looks, but it could be Urban that steps up in this game since Breaston will most likely not be taken off the kick return duties. It’s in the air right now, but watch reports coming out of Arizona to see if the coaches leak the game plan.

Amani Toomer, WR Giants vs. Seahawks
Plax is out for this week because of his INSUBORDINATION, a word that must always be typed in uppercase. Toomer should see more looks his way, and the two younger Giants WRs, Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith, will fill in the rest. Toomer is a big red zone threat and a better start than both the young ones.

Bobby Engram, WR Seahawks vs. Giants
He’s back. Hasselbeck will be giving him big hugs all day on Sunday, and he should see plenty of action as long as his shoulder is really good to go. Seattle is likely to fall behind, and Engram is the most trusted receiver they will have on the field to make critical plays.

Santana Moss, WR Redskins vs. Eagles
Don’t be afraid of the Eagles secondary. Did you see what Kyle Orton did to them last week? Yeah, and that was Kyle Orton. Moss will continue to get his points each game. The Redskins have been good about not turning the ball over, but Campbell won’t have to force it to Moss to keep Moss’s fantasy revitalization going strong this season.

Justin Gage, WR Titans vs. Ravens
Since the RBs will be slowed a bit by the Baltimore defense, Collins should be looking for Gage to pick up crucial yards in the air. Gage hasn’t put up a lot of TDs, but he gets consistent yardage as long as Collins is at QB. Expect the usual.
UPDATE: Gage is still struggling with a groin injury this week, and, right now, he is listed as ‘doubtful.’ Unless that changes, I’d suggest you go with a different option this week.

Anthony Fasano, TE Dolphins vs. Chargers
The Chargers have given up a TD to a tight end every game this season. Pennington really likes throwing to his tight ends — probably because his WRs are nothing to write home about. Yup, that pretty much sums up my reasoning.

Bubble Boys

Carson Palmer, QB Bengals vs. Cowboys
Palmer might not even play this week, but if he does, he’ll face and Cowboys secondary that doesn’t punish you. Even with that glorious matchup, he’s a big risk. He could go right back out of this game or just look bad trying to play with an elbow injury limiting him.

Jake Delhomme, QB Panthers vs. Chiefs
He could probably throw if he wanted to throw, but he won’t have to against this horrible run defense. Decent start if you have to plug him in, but he might only put up one TD and yardage unless this one gets heated. If he’s your best option, use him.

Chris Johnson, RB Titans vs. Ravens
Oh no, it’s another tough defense. If you haven’t noticed, Johnson can score against tough run defenses. He’s just TOO fast, and he can get to the outside. Baltimore will try to stop him, but in my mind, he is entering into unsittable status after last week’s showing against Minnesota. Plus, you might as well use him this week. If Baltimore twists as many ankles and breaks as many bones as they did against Pittsburgh, then this game might be the last one of the season for Chris Johnson and LenDale White.

Deuce McAllister, RB Saints vs. Vikings
Wow, I’m sure you’re excited. You just picked up a power running back that *could* be featured in a high-powered offense as long as he stays healthy this season. Unfortunately, he faces Minnesota. The Vikings aren’t a total lock to keep him out of the end zone, but unless some Saints passing plays die one or two yards short, McAllister should have limited fantasy potential. Since he’s TD-dependent, I’d look elsewhere. Surely, there’s a guy on your roster that you drafted who has a better matchup this week. If not, start Deuce but limit your expectations.

Mewelde Moore, RB Steelers vs. Jaguars
Surprisingly, the Jaguars aren’t all that scary to run against this year, but the question is whether or not Moore will be featured as a RB or used sparingly. He’s the fourth in line for carries (or at least, he was before all the injuries last week), and the Steelers may opt to have Big Ben throw more this week rather than risk putting too much of the offense in the hands of a backup guy. If you need a RB, he’s not a bad spot start, but there’s the risk that he doesn’t get the same looks Mendenhall or Willie Parker would.

Bobby Wade, WR Vikings vs. Saints
The Vikings haven’t exactly shredded it through the skies this season, but Wade had 75 yards from seven catches last week while no one was watching. As long as Sidney Rice remains a little banged up, Wade should get the majority of the snaps against the Saints very bad secondary. Scoring is probably too much to ask, but Wade could be a decent spot starter in a WR3 position. Almost anyone involved in the Vikings vs. Saints game is worthy of fantasy consideration.

Cold Shoulders

Aaron Rodgers, QB Packers vs. Falcons
Even if he plays this week, he’s still hurt. I wouldn’t take a chance on him. The Packers game plan will probably involve a heavy dose of Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson to win this one.

Edgerrin James, RB Cardinals vs. Bills
The aging running back busted out a good game last week against the Jets, but the offense will come down a few notches when it’s the Buffalo defense on the other end of the field. James won’t put many two TD games together this year as long as Kurt Warner is under center. You can go ahead and scratch this one off the list.

Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, RB Jaguars vs. Steelers
Other than TDs, there’s not many ways for running backs to make fantasy points against the Steeler defense. Look elsewhere this week. The Jaguars just don’t have the line right now to push around the Steeler run stoppers.

Randy Moss, WR Patriots vs. 49ers
Sit Moss until further notice…and by further notice, I really mean until Tom Brady is back next season. Matt Cassel has got to prove me wrong, but I don’t see him getting the ball to Moss anytime soon even though, with the 49ers, it’s always a potential shootout.

Sleepers

Domenik Hixon, WR Giants vs. Seahawks
I like Hixon from the massive, three touchdown performance he had this preseason. With Plaxico Burress out for a game, Hixon might be able to fill his shoes or at least share snaps with Steve Smith. Hixon’s got that big play ability and has been under the tutelage of Toomer. The other Steve Smith is still the safe play here, but if you want a deep sleeper, Hixon might be just that.

Dallas Cowboys defense vs. Bengals
If Carson Palmer doesn’t start, I expect the Cowboys to get their first INT of the season. If not, this defense could be high risk, high reward. It’s still the Bengals, and who knows when they will put it together again.

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.

The Third-Year Breakout Wide Receiver Theory and Why It’s Coincidence

I don’t put much faith in the third-year breakout theory for wide receivers. It’s no perfect science but merely a common coincidence.

A wide receiver’s breakout year has more to do with when the receiver becomes comfortable in the offense than when they hit year 3 of their career.

Receivers–unless they fall into a good situation–usually don’t start their first year in the league. Some like Steve Smith (New York Giants) and Craig Davis (San Diego Chargers) may earn a role as a third receiver off and on throughout their rookie season, but overlooking exceptions like Marques Colston and Ted Ginn Jr. who start right away out of talent or necessity, a receiver’s second year is the first time most of them are hitting the field game after game.

By the third year, receivers actually feel comfortable in the NFL and should start to show their true talent. They get more playing time and, with fresh legs and some kind of NFL-worthy moves, they can shake cornerbacks better than the weak receiver or aging veteran they are replacing.

So there’s the average path of your third year “breakout.” The third year is simply when they see the field the most, know the plays and get a relationship with the quarterback.

If you look at a receiver that starts right away–Calvin Johnson, Dwayne Bowe or Marques Colston–they might see their breakout year in the first or second year of their career.

Marques Colston had a huge rookie campaign and came up big again this year even with the Saint’s slow start. He can hardly be considered a breakout following traditional third-year rules. Greg Jennings, in just his second year, posted numbers any fantasy team manager would like. Calvin Johnson performed early on but didn’t finish well, but he might still be on target for a nice 2008 though with a new offensive coordinator.

You just can’t say that the third year for these already starting receivers will be any different or more “breakout” than this season.

While you should watch which young receivers are becoming comfortable in the offense they are running, I would never take a chance on someone expecting the third year to be a breakout season. At the same time, I would never overlook a younger second-year receiver because they haven’t reached that coveted third year mark.

That’s my take. Watch their comfort level and relationship with the quarterback.

Smitty at Fantasy Football Xtreme put together an analysis of the third-year receivers from 2007 and list of breakouts for 2008. As the stats show, only 2 out of 9 receivers in their third year really showed breakout stats this year–Braylon Edwards and Roddy White. D.J. Hackett probably would have been up there if he hadn’t been plagued by injury, but for the most part, the third year receivers of 2007 were only worthy of subbing when they had great match ups.

The top 5 breakouts for 2008 look very solid. I wouldn’t even call them breakouts for 2008 since they already showed both talent and stats in 2007–and for some, 2006.

Smitty’s 2008 Third-Year Breakout WRs

  1. Marques Colston (NO)
  2. Santonio Holmes (PIT)
  3. Greg Jennings (GB)
  4. Brandon Marshall (DEN)
  5. Lance Moore (NO)
  6. Ben Obomanu (SEA)
  7. Jeff Webb (KC)
  8. Sinorice Moss (NYG)
  9. Jason Avant (PHI)
  10. Demetrius Williams (BAL)
  11. Derek Hagan (MIA)
  12. Maurice Stovall (TB)
  13. Brad Smith (NYJ)
  14. Chad Jackson (NE)
  15. Travis Wilson (CLE)
  16. Bennie Brazell (CIN)

The rest of the list is a bit sketchy. If you put a lot of stock in the third-year theory then you might consider going after them late in the draft or putting them on your watch list for 2008 for a snag on the waiver wire.