Fantasy Football Week 4: Players You Can't Afford to Keep on Your Bench

Justin Onslow@@JustinOnslowNFLContributor IISeptember 24, 2012

Fantasy Football Week 4: Players You Can't Afford to Keep on Your Bench

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    Jamaal Charles owners, you are on notice. Week 4 marks the beginning of must-start status.

    Charles won more than a few matchups for his owners in Week 3, and it’s only Monday. Hang up your imaginary clipboard and phone it in. Charles went off for 288 total yards, leading almost every league with standard scoring so far for the week.

    He wasn’t the only surprise, either. Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Schaub both threw four touchdown passes. Calvin Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew finally had the kind of games we’ve come to expect from them the last few years. And Ahmad Bradshaw may be faced with a competition for the starting job when he returns from injury.

    There is a long list of players who should be in your starting lineup every week, but the list of flex options and second-tier quarterbacks is even longer. The latter list could be titled, “Guys I wish I started this week.”

    If you’re like me, you probably lost some points on your bench in Week 3. Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez? Andre Brown or Michael Bush? If you chose as poorly as I did, you’ll want to avoid watching highlights from Week 3. And avoid talking to your fantasy football buddies for a few days.

    It’s time to look ahead to Week 4, though.

    If you’ve been struggling with decisions about whether to bench Chris Johnson or Dez Bryant in favor of a player of lesser repute, this is the column you’ll want to read.

    The following is a list of must-start players for Week 4. These are guys you might be on the fence about, but don’t even think about asking. Start them with confidence this week.

Robert Griffin III

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    There’s really no need to keep asking the question. Griffin is the real deal, and he should be in your lineup every week.

    Not only does RG3 do it with his legs (as many expected to be the case this season), but he’s also getting it done with his arm. Griffin’s decision-making has been exceptional, and the result is an impressive stat sheet.

    Griffin is outplaying a lot of top-tier veteran quarterbacks this season. There’s no reason to think he can’t continue doing so for the remainder of the year. Washington has done well establishing a running game to take pressure off Griffin, and even with a marginal receiving corps, RG3 has put up impressive numbers.

    If you’re looking for a matchup to exploit this week, look no further than Griffin vs. Tampa’s defense. The Bucs gave up 510 yards to Eli Manning in Week 2, and he did most of that damage when they expected Manning to air it out.

    Griffin is in line for a monster game this week. Put him in your lineup and forget about it. And if you have another top-tier quarterback on your roster, get the best value you can for him. RG3 is all you need.

    Production prediction: 23-34, 265 passing yards, 75 rushing yards, three total touchdowns

Demaryius Thomas

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    The shroud of doubt around Peyton Manning’s recovery has not yet been lifted, which leaves many of you still questioning Thomas’s ceiling this season. Stop it.

    Manning is healthy, and he’s still an elite quarterback. Thomas is the primary benefactor. Thomas’s size, speed and ball skills make him Manning’s favorite target, and despite a disappointing Week 3 performance, he’s still a quality play in almost every league.

    Ben Roethlisberger torched Oakland’s defense to the tune of four touchdowns on Sunday, and there’s little evidence that Manning won’t do the same this Sunday. The Raiders’ secondary is riddled with injuries, prompting head coach Dennis Allen to shuffle his starters around from week to week.

    Look for Thomas to take advantage on Sunday. If he’s not in one of your starting wide receiver spots, slot him as your flex play and expect a quality performance.

    Production prediction: seven catches, 106 yards, one touchdown

Alfred Morris

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    If not for Mike Shanahan’s affinity for crushing the souls of fantasy owners, Morris would be a much more highly regarded running back in Fantasy Land.

    Morris has displayed the ability to be Washington’s workhorse this season. He’s averaging 4.2 yards per carry, and has found the end zone three times in as many games. The Redskins are establishing a running game this season, and Morris is the ringleader.

    Morris is owned in 90 percent of fantasy leagues, yet the questions continue to pour in. “Should I start Morris this week?” Yes, and almost every other week for that matter.

    RG3 has vultured some touchdowns from Morris, but the two have a symbiotic relationship. Morris helps establish the ground game, opening up passing lanes. RG3 commands extra attention due to his ability to slash defenses with his legs, which leaves Morris unaccounted for in some situations.

    As long as both remain healthy, Morris is going to keep producing. He’s a solid flex play every single week, especially Week 4 against the Bucs. You can’t afford to not play him.

    Production prediction: 20 touches, 97 total yards, one touchdown

Tony Gonzalez

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    The Ageless Wonder just won’t stop dunking on goal posts.

    Many thought Gonzalez’s best years were behind him when he signed with Atlanta a few years ago. He’s 36 years old, and he’s certainly not in the shape he once was. That doesn’t seem to mean much to the Falcons.

    Matt Ryan keeps looking Gonzalez’s way, and the Falcons’ offense is as potent as ever thanks to his ability to stretch the field and open up a plethora of routes for Roddy White and Julio Jones. When Atlanta’s receivers garner too much attention, Gonzalez is right there in the back of the end zone padding his stats.

    Gonzalez has averaged more than 10 yards per catch so far this season, and he’s managed to find the end zone once per game. Against San Diego in Week 3, Gonzalez hauled in nine catches for 91 yards and a score.

    His fantasy success will continue against Carolina this week. Atlanta’s passing attack may be the best in the NFL right now, and it all starts with Gonzalez. Get him in your lineup.

    Production prediction: seven catches, 78 yards, one touchdown

BenJarvus Green-Ellis

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    The Law Firm has been charged with being human.

    Green-Ellis fumbled for the first time in his professional career against the Redskins in Week 3. He also averaged just 2.2 yards per carry and finished the game with just 38 yards. Consider it a fluke.

    Green-Ellis is a perfect fit in Cincinnati. He has the ability to run between the tackles and churn out tough yardage, which is paramount in a division as tough against the run as the AFC North. Luckily for him and his fantasy owners, Green-Ellis won’t be facing a divisional opponent this week.

    The Bengals take on Jacksonville Sunday and should rely heavily on Green-Ellis to shoulder the offense. The Jags have been horrific against the run this season, and haven’t played much better against the pass, either.

    The Law Firm’s struggles won’t carry over into Week 4. He’s primed for a big game against a struggling defense, and he should be in your lineup.

    Production prediction: 25 touches, 110 yards, one touchdown

Dwayne Bowe

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    You shouldn’t even be considering Bowe as a flex play. If he’s on your team, he should be a starting wide receiver.

    Bowe had a monster game against the Bills in Week 2, but fell back to earth against the Saints in the Chief’s overtime win. He had seven catches but managed just 79 yards and failed to find the end zone.

    Bowe has always been somewhat inconsistent, but he has a ceiling as high as any receiver in the NFL. He’s Kansas City’s most complete receiving threat, and with Jamaal Charles setting up the running game, Bowe could be slipping behind coverage a lot more easily in coming weeks.

    The Chiefs face the Chargers in Week 4, and the matchup should be favorable for Bowe and the rest of Kansas City’s receiving corps. Matt Ryan and the Falcons torched San Diego’s secondary for 275 yards and three touchdowns in Week 3. Bowe will see his share of targets this week.

    Don’t leave his points on your bench. Bowe should be considered a better start than Dez Bryant and DeSean Jackson at this point in the season.

    Production prediction: eight catches, 111 yards, one touchdown

Kyle Rudolph

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    If Rudolph can find the end zone twice against the 49ers, he can do the same to the Lions in Week 4.

    Christian Ponder and the Vikings pulled off a surprising upset against the Niners on Sunday, due in large part to Rudolph’s potency in the red zone. He hauled in just five catches, but two of them went for touchdowns.

    Despite Minnesota’s lack of receiving weapons, Rudolph has managed three touchdowns in three games this season, and there’s no reason to think he can’t continue putting up good fantasy numbers.

    Detroit gave up a couple big plays to Tennessee tight end Jared Cook in their Week 3 overtime loss, including a 61-yard strike early in the game. If Ponder can get Rudolph involved early, he’ll be poised for a big game.

    Although Rudolph may not be a must-start every week, he deserves flex consideration this week against the Lions. He’s been Ponder’s favorite red zone target this season and should see at least a few end-zone targets this week.

    Production prediction: six catches, 55 yards, one touchdown

Wes Welker

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    Did anyone think before the season started that benching Welker would even be an option?

    Welker has gotten off to a slow start this season, and he’s failed to find the end zone in three games. The yardage totals are still there, though, and with Aaron Hernandez sidelined with an ankle injury, Welker is as good a play as ever.

    Welker caught just three passes for 14 yards in Week 1. On Sunday night, Welker caught eight passes for 142 yards.

    If there’s ever been a good time to jump back on the Welker wagon, this is it. The touchdowns will come, and as long as he’s still putting up good yardage, he should be in your lineup.

    Production prediction: seven catches, 119 yards, one touchdown

Mikel Leshoure

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    Leshoure wasn’t expected to get more than 15 touches against Tennessee in his first game back from suspension.

    But the Lions had their hands full against the Titans, eventually losing in overtime. If not for Leshoure’s productivity, Detroit may have lost in regulation.

    Leshoure had 100 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries and paced the Lions offense. His ability to get tough yards after contact kept Tennessee honest, which opened up the passing lanes for Matthew Stafford.

    If Leshoure can stay healthy and out of trouble this season, he can be Detroit’s feature back. Leshoure will have to prove he can be a consistent option in order to garner starter status for your fantasy team, but he’s a good play this week against the Vikings.

    Take advantage of Leshoure’s workload and consider him a solid flex play in Week 4.

    Production prediction: 24 touches, 96 yards, one touchdown

Eli Manning

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    Are we really still having this discussion?

    Manning has shown he can be a top fantasy option every week, and you should treat him as a must-start quarterback in most leagues. If there’s a better option on your roster, trade one of your quarterbacks and strengthen your team in other areas.

    Manning is an elite NFL quarterback. He put up incredible numbers in the second half of the Giants’ Week 2 game against the Bucs, and followed that performance with a very efficient game against the Panthers.

    Manning won’t throw for three touchdowns every week, but he has a very talented receiving corps and offers the potential for big-time numbers this season. You can play matchups with multiple quarterbacks, but do so at your own risk.

    Manning may struggle this week against the Eagles. Then again, he could throw for 300 yards and a few touchdowns. What happens in Week 4 will depend on which Eagles team shows up, but you should still expect at least a serviceable performance from Manning on Sunday night. I’ll be starting him on my team.

    Production prediction: 25-34, 276 yards, two touchdowns