Alfred Morris and Other Fill-in Studs to Bank on
Alfred Morris is an anomaly.
He's a Mike Shanahan running back, no Redskin has topped even 800 yards rushing since 2008 and rookie running backs are typically a mixed bag (especially ones chosen as late as the sixth round). Nobody saw him coming, which is exactly the type of play that savvy fantasy owners pick up on.
Morris was only started in 39 percent of ESPN leagues, but he's one of the guys that you would be crazy not to have in your starting lineup this week.
Need a replacement for an injured star or a bye week player? Call me the Fantasy Doctor, although (probably) not in the same way as Fabio.
I'm only here to prescribe the medicine for your ailing fantasy teams, and the pill you should take is the website of which I am lead writer: numberFire.com, a sports analytics website that puts together weekly projections for all possible NFL fantasy players.
This week, we have some players that have flown under the radar just a bit too long. All of these players were started in less than half of ESPN leagues last week, but should not be on anybody's bench in Week 4.
QB Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Week 4 Projected Point Total: 18.98
Week 4 Opponent: Kansas City Chiefs
numberFire Rank this week: #3 QB
ESPN Leagues Started: 47.7 percent
Raise your hand if you're scared by his two point performance against Atlanta?
I think I even see Norv Turner raising his hand in the back there.
Are you scared enough to bench him against the Chiefs?
You shouldn't be.
Many top-flight quarterbacks are facing off against weak opponents: Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub and Rivers each face off against defenses that numberFire has ranked in the bottom seven units in the league.
The Chiefs haven't given up the yards—none of the three QBs they've faced has passed for over 300 yards in a game—but they've sure given up the touchdowns: Opposing QBs have eight passing TDs combined in the first three weeks against the Chiefs, the second-highest total in the entire NFL.
And if there's anybody who can take advantage, it's Rivers.
Through the first two weeks of the season, numberFire had Rivers as the second-most effective QB in the league. Granted, his Net Expected Points (NEP) per pass rating mentioned there has gone down after his belly-up game against the Falcons, but it still ranks among the top-ten efficiency ratings in the league.
And his strengths strike right at the heart of Kansas City's main defensive issue: Getting the ball in the end zone. The 2.15 projected throwing TDs numberFire has for Rivers this week is the second-highest projection behind Matt Ryan.
RB Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
Week 4 Projected Point Total: 16.45
Week 4 Opponent: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
numberFire Rank this week: #6 RB
ESPN Leagues Started: 39.0 percent
For mine and your amusement alike, here are some of the names that are currently being started in more ESPN leagues than Morris:
Chris Johnson (could fall flat on his face and have a better yards per carry average), Stevan Ridley (now in a timeshare with Woodhead as the Patriots go to a more spread offense), Shonn Greene (in danger of having Rex Ryan eat his starting spot as well) and Steven Jackson (has as many TDs as I do through two weeks).
Am I saying that Morris is better than all of those guys?
Yes, yes I am.
Most importantly for Morris is that any semblance of a timeshare in Washington has gone completely out the window. Supposed starter at the beginning of training camp, Roy Helu has a grand total of two carries, and the man who was supposed to be his backup, Evan Royster, has five carries.
RGIII is always going to be a goal line carries poacher, but Morris has even done a good job of holding him off with three touchdowns of his own.
Morris isn't going to be a burner, as his longest run on the season is only 29 yards. But for the back, it's all about quantity over quality.
Last week, Morris carried the ball on only 23 percent of all Redskins' snaps, but that was his lowest proportion of the season, as Washington was locked in a shootout with Cincy. In Week 2, that number was 29 percent and in Week 1, that number was 39 percent.
Against a Tampa defense that has looked both hot (Carolina and Dallas) and cold (New York Giants) against the run, I expect Washington to try their luck early and see what they can get.
And naturally, writing all of this means Ryan Grant will start at RB this week.
RB Cedric Benson, Green Bay Packers
Week 4 Projected Point Total: 12.01
Week 4 Opponent: New Orleans Saints
numberFire Rank this week: #12 RB
ESPN Leagues Started: 24.3 percent
It's all about the matchup when deciding some borderline starters, and this week, Cedric Benson has one of the best matchups around in the New Orleans Saints.
Remember that whole "Jamaal Charles looks like Barry Sanders again" deal from last week? Those same defensive players are the ones Benson will be facing off against this week.
I think it's safe to say he'll be licking his chops, as will the entire Green Bay team after the Seattle nightmare.
The Packers are clearly a pass-heavy team, but that does not mean that Benson won't receive touches. In fact, over the first three weeks, he has seen a proportion of touches similar to what Alfred Morris has been seeing in Washington.
In Week 3, 25 percent of all snaps were handoffs to Benson. In Week 2, that proportion was 30 percent of all snaps. Week 1 against San Francisco was an outlier at only 14 percent of all snaps, but he was still the only Packers running back to carry the ball in that game.
So far this season, Cedric Benson has carried the ball 46 times.
The next closest Packer: John Kuhn with three carries.
So if any Green Bay back is going to get rushing stats against the Saints, it's going to be Benson. Considering that numberFire currently has this matchup as his second-highest projected point total of the year, if you're not going to use Benson this week then there's no point to even having him on your team.
WR Malcom Floyd, San Diego Chargers
Week 4 Projected Point Total: 12.24
Week 4 Opponent: Kansas City Chiefs
numberFire Rank this week: #5 WR
ESPN Leagues Started: 39.5 percent
Remember when I talked about Philip Rivers and how he would be expected to torch the Kansas City secondary?
Yeah, that same principle applies.
And if anybody is going to be on the receiving end of the Rivers throw-a-palooza, it's going to be Floyd.
Despite entering the season as the supposed #2 WR behind Robert Meachem, Floyd has emerged as far-and-away the best option in that offense. He leads the receiving corps with 23 targets thrown his way; Antonio Gates is second with 15 (although he did miss a game).
Those 23 throws represent 22 percent of all of Rivers' throws through the first three weeks.
Where Floyd has been most effective is stretching the field and extending drives.
So far this year, Floyd has 13 catches, and every single one of those catches, all 13, have resulted in either first downs or touchdowns.
He has more than three times as many first down catches as any single other Chargers player, just another reason why he has become Rivers' go-to guy. Floyd has not had a single game below 50 yards receiving this entire season, so he's about a safe a play as they come.
TE Owen Daniels, Houston Texans
Week 4 Projected Point Total: 7.32
Week 4 Opponent: Tennessee Titans
numberFire Rank this week: #3 TE
ESPN Leagues Started: 24.8 percent
If there are three things I've learned while watching football and studying fantasy trends this season, it's this:
1. Never doubt C.J. Spiller, even under pain of death (I'm half convinced his injury is a joke and he's going to get 20 fantasy points anyway).
2. You can tell Carolina fans not to pick up Brandon LaFell for three straight days, and they will still get angry at you when he fails.
3. If your tight end is playing the Tennessee Titans, you start him.
Brandon Pettigrew caught eight balls for 61 yards on 12 targets against Tennessee on Sunday, and somehow, he had the worst game that an opposing tight end has had against the Titans this season.
In Week 2, Dante Rosario went off for an incredible three touchdowns while relieving Antonio Gates, and in Week 1, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski each had a touchdown and over 50 yards against this D.
Owen Daniels has not had a Dennis Pitta-like breakout season quite yet, but that's not through a lack of trying.
Daniels leads the Texans with 22 targets thrown his way—four more than Andre Johnson and 10 more than Kevin Walter. Although he has only converted those targets into a 59 percent catch rate, I expect that number to go slightly up considering he has topped 60 percent in all but one of his NFL seasons.
Daniels has been a big play target, as well, as his three 20+ yard receptions is tied with Johnson for the team lead.
Feel safe starting Daniels this week.
Zach Warren is a writer and editor for numberFire.com as well as Bleacher Report. And he's here to bring the Fire to your fantasy team. NumberFire.com specializes in predicting stats for players and teams through their prediction models. Follow Zach on Twitter at @ZachWWarren or numberFire @numberFire for more fantasy football news throughout the week.