Fantasy Football 2012: Top 10 Waiver Wire Pickups for Week 3

Jay Clemons@ATL_JayClemonsFantasy Sports Lead WriterSeptember 19, 2012

Fantasy Football 2012: Top 10 Waiver Wire Pickups for Week 3

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    The following countdown touts the top 10 waiver-wire pickups heading into Week 3 of the NFL season.

    Obviously, free-agent quarterbacks like Sam Bradford, Christian Ponder, Jake Locker and Brandon Weeden are the likeliest candidates for most points from Sunday to Sunday.

    But I would also place an equal or higher priority on landing possible dynamos at receiver and running back...ahead of a quarterback who may only draw one start all season (a star QB's bye week).

    For a full listing of the top 30 free agents, click here.

10: QB Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings

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    2012 Stats: 515 Yards Passing, 2 TD

    Skinny: As predicted in The Fantasy Blog a few weeks ago (and then ridiculed shortly after), Christian Ponder will cross the threshold of 250 yards and/or two TDs in the Vikings' first five games.

    So far, he's 2-for-2.

    It's the confidence that comes with an intelligent, strong-armed passer making big strides in his second season as an NFL starter. It also helps that Ponder is flanked by explosive talents like Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, tight end Kyle Rudolph and receiver Jerome Simpson, whose suspension ends after Week 3.

    Speaking of which, Ponder and co. draw a Week 3 home date with the 49ers—arguably the NFL's top team (2-0)...but indisputably, the league's premier defense.

    From a fantasy perspective, though, I'll take the positive here: Ponder will likely attempt 35-plus passes on Sunday, in hopes of rallying Minnesota from an early deficit.

9: WR Brian Hartline, Miami Dolphins

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    2012 Stats: 12 Catches, 161 Yards

    Skinny: Perhaps you've heard on sports radio (or saw on HBO over this summer) that the Dolphins are undergoing a massive rebuilding—headlined by a first-time head coach (Joe Philbin), rookie starting QB (Ryan Tannehill) and still-under-construction roster that's full of young and largely anonymous players.

    That's usually not a good recipe for immediate success in the real world.

    But there are three redeeming qualities to this year's Dolphins in the fantasy realm: RB Reggie Bush (197 total yards in Week 2), WR Davone Bess (a top-50 asset in points-per-reception leagues) and now, wideout Brian Hartline.

    After three hit-or-miss seasons in the Miami system, Hartline is beginning to show tangible improvement. With Tannehill as his quarterback, Hartline has racked up eight-plus targets in the first two games.

    And last week, Hartline torched the Raiders for nine catches and 111 yards, on just 12 targets.

    Has this short-term success transformed Hartline into a can't-miss asset in PPR circles? Uh, no.

    But he's certainly worth a flier in 12- or 14-team leagues...unless the Dolphins plan to feed Reggie Bush 50 times a game. (Doubtful.)

8: TE Martellus Bennett, New York Giants

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    2012 Stats: 9 Catches, 112 Yards, 2 TD

    Skinny: Troy Aikman certainly nailed it on live television.

    During the Bucs-Giants broadcast last week (second half), the FOX analyst quipped that Bennett (a fifth-year pro) hadn't seen this many balls thrown in his direction since college. And that's the truth.

    In four previous seasons with the Cowboys, as Jason Witten's understudy at tight end, Bennett had never racked up 16 or more combined targets in consecutive outings. (He did, however, register touchdowns for back-to-back-to-games in 2008.)

    And now, fantasy owners are left to wonder if Bennett can be the real deal with New York—a 55-catch, seven-touchdown asset in 2012 with the physical tools to become a 65-catch, nine-touchdown stud next year.

7: TE Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts

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    2012 Stats: 8 Catches, 98 Yards

    Skinny: Let's keep this endorsement relatively short and sweet.

    Forget about Coby Fleener's two-catch, four-target, 16-yard clunker against the Vikings in Week 2.

    If you're looking for the next big thing at tight end...look no further than Fleener, whose size, athleticism and natural football instincts compare favorably to Rob Gronkowski.

    We all remember Gronk's explosion in his second season (90 catches, 1,327 yards, 18 total TDs in 2011).

    But during his rookie campaign (2010), Gronkowski essentially took his lumps for nine games, before breaking out against the Steelers in Week 10—five catches for 72 yards and three touchdowns.

    Fleener can have a similarly stellar coming-out party at any point this season. He already has a built-in rapport with Colts QB Andrew Luck, his teammate at Stanford.

6: WR Donnie Avery, Indianapolis Colts

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    2012 Stats: 12 Catches, 148 Yards, 1 TD

    Skinny: How's this for a PPR endorsement?

    With the Colts, wideout Donnie Avery (nine catches, 111 yards vs. in Week 2) may be developing into a poor man's version of Steelers wideout Mike Wallace—fulfilling the training-camp prophecy of his new offensive coordinator (Bruce Arians).

    In July, Arians (the Steelers' O-coordinator from 2007-11) had the gumption to compare Avery to Wallace, in terms of speed, explosion and route-running prowess.

    He also had the confidence to believe that Avery would succeed with his third NFL club (Rams, Titans, Colts) in just his fourth pro season.

    Bottom line: There's no harm in taking a flier off Arians' declaration. After all, he does control the means of production with the Indy offense.

5: WR Greg Little, Cleveland Browns

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    2012 Stats: 5 Catches, 57 Yards, 1 TD

    Skinny: There's really no excuse for Greg Little being a week-in, week-out free agent in 12-team leagues, regardless of scoring.

    It's not like the Browns are flush with dynamic receiving options (although Little and Josh Gordon have intriguing potential), and they likely won't be sitting on big leads throughout the season, allowing for Trent Richardson to run out the clock.

    Similar to Minnesota and Kansas City, Cleveland will likely have to pass its way out of early deficits this fall.

    Enter Little. From Weeks 4-16 last year (spanning 12 games), he was a perfect 12-for-12 in collecting six or more targets. And for Week 15, the Browns wideout crushed the Cardinals for five receptions, 131 yards and one touchdown.

4: QB Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams

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    2012 Stats: 508 Yards Passing, 4 TD

    Skinny: Apparently, Sam Bradford just needed time to recover from last year's injury-riddled debacle...and then wait for his favorite receiver to get healthy.

    With help from Danny Amendola (15 catches, 160 yards, 1 TD), Bradford passed for 310 yards and three touchdowns last week, while flirting with a completion rate of 75 percent in the Rams' upset win over the Redskins.

    (For what it's worth, Bradford racked up more total yards than Washington QB Robert Griffin III.)

    All this begs the question: Assuming Bradford can remain healthy this year, can he recapture the promising form of 2010, when he threw for 3,500 yards and 18 touchdowns as a rookie?

    To be frank, the Rams' road clash with the angry Bears might be a better measurement of the above question.

    But most fantasy owners simply cannot afford to wait out Bradford for another seven days.

3: RB Andre Brown, New York Giants

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    2012 Stats: 90 Total Yards, 1 TD

    Skinny: This lofty ranking comes with a substantial caveat:

    If Ahmad Bradshaw's neck sprain ends up as a five- or seven-week injury, then rookie rusher David Wilson may be the stronger fantasy acquisition among Giants tailbacks.

    But if Bradshaw only sits for one, two or three games, Andre Brown seems like the proper move for standard-scoring and PPR owners.

    Granted, it's not like Brown torched one of the NFL's better defenses for 90 total yards (71 rushing) last week, but the Bucs are making strides under new head coach Greg Schiano.

    Plus, nearly all of Brown's 13 touches came during crunch time, when the Tampa Bay defense was primed for big stops...and New York was desperate for some success in the running game.

    Timing is everything.

2: RB Mikel Leshoure, Detroit Lions

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    Skinny: I'd wager that Mikel Leshoure was drafted in roughly 80 percent of 12-team leagues last month.

    But in this fickle fantasy world, where owners love to forge season-long deductions from two-week sample sizes, Leshoure was likely the first to go on Add/Drop Day.

    Thank god for Kevin Ogletree, Robert Turbin and Jonathan Dwyer. With their short-term ascensions, certain fantasy owners are now in position to grab a long-term difference-maker in free agency...for a rock-bottom price.

    By my count, a healthy or suspension-free Leshoure could have had 19 professional games under his belt entering the Lions' Week 3 clash with the Titans. But after rehabbing through a torn Achilles and enduring a two-game drug suspension for 2012, Leshoure (Detroit's second-round pick in 2011) must be giddy over the prospect of his first NFL carry.

    I share that anticipation. Not because the Lions are thin at running back. Not because I'm a Detroit native. And not because Leshoure owns the Wrigley Field record for most rushing yards in a single game (during his college days with Illinois).

    It's been a long time since the Lions had a classic power back with above-average speed. By season's end, Leshoure may stand as the most prolific waiver-wire acquisition among running backs.

1: WR Danny Amendola, St. Louis Rams

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    2012 Stats: 20 Catches, 230 Yards, 1 TD

    Skinny: Here's all you need to know about Danny Amendola and his No. 1 ranking for the week:

    I've been trying to quantify the following boast for a few days, but Amendola's 12 catches, 133 yards, one touchdown and 13 targets has to be the single greatest first half in fantasy history—at least since the PPR format was hatched.

    And with Sam Bradford healthy and seemingly refreshed from last year's misery, the duo could become one of the most fruitful QB/WR combos in fantasy, regardless of scoring.

    Now for the killjoy stat of the day: In his last four outdoor games on grass, Amendola has middling per-outing averages of 4.5 catches, 40 yards and 0.5 touchdowns.

    Thank goodness the Rams have 12 indoor or field turf-based games this year, huh?