Week 4 Fantasy Football: Top 10 Waiver-Wire Pickups for 12-Team Leagues
The following countdown touts the top 10 waiver-wire pickups heading into Week 4 of the NFL season.
Obviously, free-agent quarterbacks like Christian Ponder, Jake Locker, Matt Cassel, Kevin Kolb 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, running back and tight end ahead of a quarterback who may only draw one start all season (a star QB's bye week).
For a full listing of Week 4's top 30 free agents, click here.
10. RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons
2012 Stats: 105 Total Yards, 1 TD
Skinny: For points-per-reception league owners, Jacquizz Rodgers may be the ideal No. 5 tailback.
He's essentially guaranteed to log 85 percent of Atlanta's backfield targets/catches this season when compared to Michael Turner and Jason Snelling.
And he has the explosiveness to be an every-down rusher with the Falcons if Turner should go down to injury.
At the very least, Rodgers is a necessary handcuff to Turner in standard-scoring leagues, especially if the undefeated Falcons keep pummeling the opposition by 15 points every week (garbage-time goodness).
9. TE Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers
2012 Stats: 15 Catches, 129 Yards, 4 TD
Skinny: No fantasy guru could have foreseen the three-week fantasy greatness of Heath Miller entering the season, even with Todd Haley taking over as offensive coordinator.
In just three short Sundays, Miller has already matched his touchdown output for the 2010 and '11 seasons combined (30 games total). And his 20 targets easily surpass any Weeks 1-3 production of recent years.
When searching for reasons to explain the 29-year-old Miller's renaissance after eight years in Pittsburgh, sure, Todd Haley's impact cannot be understated.
But Miller has also benefited from Pittsburgh's erratic rushing attack, featuring Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer.
NOTE: The Steelers have a Week 4 bye, but that shouldn't deter you from immediately grabbing Miller from this point forward.
8. WR Ramses Barden, New York Giants
2012 Stats: 10 Catches, 162 Yards
Skinny: Fantasy owners can view Ramses Barden's 10-catch, 162-yard performance against the Panthers in two ways:
The fantasy pessimist could say that Barden's one-night breakout only occurred because Hakeem Nicks missed the game with a sore foot and that Barden will be back on the bench when Nicks returns against the Eagles on Sunday.
The fantasy optimist could point to Giants QB Eli Manning averaging 40 passes per game from Weeks 4-17 last year and deduce that after Nicks, Victor Cruz and tight end Martellus Bennett, there are six or seven passes left over for the No. 3 receiver (Barden or rookie Reuben Randle).
For now, I'll take the positive side of this dilemma since Barden's next big moment to shine may be an injury away.
Plus, there's incentive to secure the Nicks or Cruz handcuff in deeper leagues.
7. RB Jackie Battle, San Diego Chargers
2012 Stats: 124 Total Yards, 2 TD
Skinny: This lofty endorsement really has nothing to do with Chargers tailback Ryan Mathews, who still has time to rack up 1,100 total yards for Weeks 4-17.
Instead, it has everything to do with San Diego's galling lack of playmaking depth after Mathews, tight end Antonio Gates and wide receiver Malcom Floyd.
Yes, receiver Vincent Brown (ankle) was injured during the preseason, and backup tight end Dante Rosario had three touchdowns in Week 1. But how much reliable talent resides on the bench right now? (Unfortunately, Robert Meachem doesn't count.)
Besides, Battle has a good nose for the end zone. He could conceivably replicate Mike Tolbert's red-zone effectiveness from last season.
6. TE Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens
2012 Stats: 18 Catches, 188 Yards, 2 TD
Skinny: There are no more excuses for benching Dennis Pitta in 12-team leagues.
He's collected at least seven targets in all three games and appears to be Ravens QB Joe Flacco's second-favorite target near the goal line—after Ray Rice.
Of course, the Ravens were among the NFL leaders in pass attempts of 20 yards or more last year. So, maybe Pitta won't get that many chances to score against overmatched linebackers and "nickel" defenders.
That aside, he's still worth the TE1 gamble for the foreseeable future.
5. QB Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
2012 Stats: 781 Yards Passing, 4 TD
Skinny: It's a shame Jake Locker (413 total yards, two TD in Week 3) won't see the Lions for another four seasons, barring a Super Bowl clash.
Otherwise, Locker, receiver Nate Washington (three catches, 112 yards, one TD) and tight end Jared Cook (four catches, 77 yards, one TD) would be automatic starts each week.
On the flip side, Chris Johnson can no longer be classified as an automatic start in 12-team leagues. For whatever reason, he cannot recapture the mojo that made him a fantasy star from 2008-11.
By extension, the Titans aren't too focused on giving Johnson 20-plus touches every week, regardless of how the scoreboard reads.
Maybe that has everything to do with Locker, Washington, Cook, Kenny Britt and rookie Kendall Wright—a rock-solid corps of passing-game assets.
4. QB Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
2012 Stats: 754 Total Yards (713 Passing), 5 TD
Skinny: After this week, I no longer expect Christian Ponder to be a waiver-wire afterthought.
He has tallied 250 total yards and/or two touchdowns in his first three games—including the Vikings' big-time upset of the 49ers—and he's a prime candidate for that threshold against the Lions and Titans in Weeks 4 and 5.
Here's another feather in Ponder's cap: His full contingent of athletic playmakers will be together for the first time all season (Sunday at Detroit) from stars Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson to promising talents like Kyle Rudolph, Toby Gehart and the No. 2 free agent in this week's countdown.
3. RB Tashard Choice, Buffalo Bills
2012 Stats: 139 Total Yards
Skinny: Either Tashard Choice (99 total yards in Week 3) is a virtual clone of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, or the Bills offensive line has the goods to transform any rusher into a viable threat of 95 total yards and one touchdown every week.
For now, I'll buy both notions.
Simply put, there may be no more dynamic "plug-and-play" situation than Buffalo's trio of cat-quick rushers.
Speaking of which, it's entirely possible that Jackson (knee) and Spiller (shoulder) could return to the Bills lineup in Week 4 or 5.
So, Choice's moment in the fantasy spotlight might be brief.
For the long-range view of this season, though, he's the ideal insurance back.
2. WR Jerome Simpson, Minnesota Vikings
2011 Stats (w/Bengals): 50 Catches, 725 Yards, 4 TD
Skinny: To be honest, Jerome Simpson's three-game drug suspension (dating back to misdeeds from last year) was never a deterrent when projecting his fantasy worth for 2012.
Sure, he'll have a smaller margin of error, games-wise, when it comes to replicating last season's numbers (above).
But a league-mandated respite from NFL action cannot change the fact that Minnesota desperately needs a viable down-field threat—creating more running/receiving lanes for Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin—and Simpson is entering his prime as a fantasy asset.
My hearty assessment of Simpson's potential runs deeper than a jump-flip touchdown or absurdly athletic catch during Vikings minicamp. It also involves Simpson being with the right team at the right time.
In his first 10 games last year, Simpson collected 70 targets, 30 catches, 562 yards and two touchdowns. Assuming he can get the receptions-to-targets ratio above 50 percent and avoid clunkers of zero, six or 14 yards (five times last year), he's a good bet to match or eclipse the 2011 production.
1. RB Daniel Thomas, Miami Dolphins
2012 Stats: 123 Total Yards, 1 TD
Skinny: Even if Reggie Bush only misses a game or two with a bruised knee, Daniel Thomas has a golden opportunity to become the Dolphins' version of C.J. Spiller or Ben Tate.
In other words, he could be that No. 2 back that absolutely, positively must be handcuffed to Bush during the fantasy season regardless of scoring rules or roster-space restrictions.
After all, Thomas was Miami's lead tailback entering the 2011 season (the last year of the Tony Sparano era), and before incurring an injury in mid-September, Thomas racked up 339 total yards and one touchdown for Weeks 1 and 2.
In the short-term, Thomas has a chance for 85 total yards against the stout Cardinals on Sunday and 125 yards and one touchdown in Week 5 against Cincinnati.
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