We're gearing up for Week 3 of the 2012 NFL season, and as the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers get set to do battle Thursday night, their contest will also kick off the third week of this year's fantasy football campaign.
That also means that fantasy owners everywhere will soon be setting down to set their lineups for the upcoming week, and if you're hurting for a starter, here's a look at a trio of lesser-known plays that should leave you sitting pretty this weekend.
Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers (at MIN)
It's still awfully early in the season, but right now it appears that the San Francisco 49ers are the class of the National Football League, due in no small part to the play of quarterback Alex Smith, who is finally beginning to live up to the potential that once made him the first overall pick in the NFL draft.
The eighth-year veteran has posted a quarterback rating of over 115 through two games, throwing for 437 yards and four touchdowns, and after a victory over the Detroit Lions that left Smith with a bloody nose, head coach Jim Harbaugh praised his quarterback's toughness in an interview with The Associated Press (via NFL.com):
He's as tough as a $2 steak. I grew up eating a lot of them. I know what I'm talking about.
Even more important to fantasy owners than his ability to take a shot, Smith hasn't thrown an interception while averaging over 20 fantasy points a game this year, making a player that wasn't drafted in many fantasy leagues a viable weekly starter at this point.
Andre Brown, RB, New York Giants
The name of the game at the running back position this year in fantasy football has been injuries, and now Ahmad Bradshaw of the New York Giants has joined the list of walking wounded. Sports Illustrated reports that the neck injury Bradshaw sustained last week will sideline the sixth-year pro against the Panthers.
That means that it will fall to third-year running back Andre Brown to carry the load for the New York ground game in Carolina.
As Brown told Ebeneezer Samuel of the New York Daily News, he's ready to show that his strong showing against Tampa Bay was no fluke:
I just needed a shot and took advantage of my shot. I just think that it’s just the beginning, and I’m going to continue to work hard and continue to go out here and do whatever coach wants me to do and be ready whenever my number is called.
Brown rushed for 71 yards on 13 carries with a score against Tampa Bay, and given that the Carolina Panthers were a top-five fantasy matchup for opposing running backs last year and have been such up to this point in 2012, Brown is an excellent spot start for RB-needy fantasy teams.
Cleveland Browns Defense/Special Teams
Many fantasy owners (myself included), like to rotate fantasy defenses based on weekly matchups, and for teams that choose to employ that philosophy, a viable candidate for Week 3 exists in a very unlikely place.
The Cleveland Browns may well be sitting at 0-2, but that's not really the fault of the defense, which has forced six turnovers and racked up eight sacks over the season's first two games.
The Browns welcome a Buffalo Bills team to town this week led by the turnover-prone Ryan Fitzpatrick, and when you add to that the always-dangerous Cleveland return game, led by Joshua Cribbs, fantasy owners could do much worse as a one-week plug and play.