Every week, there are certain fantasy studs that you simply have to start no matter what. Tom Brady, Arian Foster and Calvin Johnson fall into that category, to name a few.
There are also a good number of players you should probably sit each week as well. But then, there are those players whom you have no idea whether to start or sit.
Here are a few not-so-obvious guys at each major fantasy position that you might not know what to do with, but for whom the stats and other information dictate one way or the other:
Start 'Em: Quarterback
Peyton Manning (vs. Oakland Raiders)
By the eye test, he’s not the Peyton Manning we’re accustomed to seeing out there every Sunday, but his fantasy stats will do just fine for his first three games back from neck surgery.
Almost 275 yards per game and five TDs while facing three strong defenses in Pittsburgh, Houston and at Atlanta is far better than most expected. He'll look even more impressive when he’s done ripping apart the Raiders' beat-up secondary this Sunday.
Willis McGahee (ribs) will play but may be at less than 100 percent, so look for a big game out of Manning en route to high-end QB1 stats.
Matthew Stafford (vs. Minnesota Vikings)
First it was said to be a calf, then a hamstring, and now it was supposedly Stafford’s hip that got him all bothered last week. The Lions tried to keep it a mystery all week, but we now know that Staff will play this weekend and be fine for fantasy owners to use.
He’s only thrown one TD in each of the first three games while averaging 287.7 yards thus far, but he has the fourth-most attempts and the most completions, so his fantasy turnaround is likely coming very soon.
Last season Stafford averaged 302.5 yards and two TDs against the Vikings. While they seem to have gotten better against the pass, it’s only been a minimal improvement and won’t hamper the Lions passing attack.
Despite the minor injury, I’m expecting a real firm QB1 game out of Stafford this weekend.
Robert Griffin III (@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Griffin still leads the league in fantasy points after three weeks of action and should be able to hold down his spot through the first quarter of the season this weekend.
His best receiver, Pierre Garcon, was missing for the second straight week and Griffin still found a way to put up top-five QB fantasy points.
This Sunday, the Redskins face a Tampa Bay defense that has allowed the most passing yards in the league by far (1,096 yards or 365.3 yards per game), though they’ve only given up four passing TDs.
The Redskins defense has been awful as well, so Griffin should be passing the ball a bunch while possibly playing from behind.
Matt Ryan (vs. Carolina Panthers)
Matt Ryan is still doing what I thought he’d do this season—carving up defenses with tremendous accuracy, increasing his TD percentage and putting up top-five QB fantasy numbers.
In fact, he currently leads the league in both completion percentage (72 percent) and QB rating (114.0). Though Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez have a lot to do with it, Ryan and his mastery of the Falcons' new offense deserves a ton of credit.
I’m not the biggest fan of his matchup this week as teams can run all day against the Panthers, but I have a feeling the Falcons will want to get ahead early on the arm of Matty Ice and then turn it over to Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers later on to seal the deal.
Two-and-a-half to three quarters of up-tempo offense should be enough to secure QB1 stats for Ryan this week. If Carolina can somehow keep the game close, Ryan could have a monster game.
Other QBs You Should Consider Starting:
- Matt Schaub (vs. Ten)
- Ryan Fitzpatrick (vs. NE)
- Christian Ponder (@ Det)
- Josh Freeman (vs. Was)
Start 'Em: Running Back
Ryan Mathews (@ Kansas City Chiefs)
It wasn’t quite the debut fantasy owners were hoping for in Week 3, but the Chargers fell behind against the Falcons really quickly and had a tough time getting Ryan Mathews involved the rest of the game. His fumble inside the 5-yard line was a bummer as well, but not something tremendously worrisome just yet.
Regardless, the Chargers will be forced to play him as an every-down back because his backups are so overly mediocre.
I don’t see what happened last Sunday happening this week against the Chiefs, so look for Mathews to be given the ball early and end up with a good 25 or so touches.
Mathews had a couple of nice games against this team last season putting up an average of 130.5 total yards and one TD per game, numbers he should be able to at least equal this time around.
Jamaal Charles (vs. SD)
As far as I know, I was the only one who stayed firmly planted on the Jamaal Charles wagon last week and as I expected, he finally proved my faithfulness worthwhile. In fact, he now leads the league in rushing yards with 323 and is close to his career high at 5.9 yards per carry.
Two years ago when “The Ostrich” was second in the league in rushing yards, he was much better playing at home, which is where he’ll be this weekend against the Chargers.
San Diego has been pretty stout against the rush, but the Chargers seem to tire easily and can be exploited late in games—as Michael Turner showed last weekend.
With Peyton Hillis doubtful, Charles could see up over 30 touches once again and, if so, could easily end up a top-three RB this week.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (@ Jacksonville Jaguars)
This may look like one of the stranger calls of the weekend, but yes, the Law Firm is in my top 10 running backs for the week. The Jacksonville Jaguars have been too awful of a rush defense this year to ignore the matchup, though it’s killing me to put BJGE up this high.
The fact is, Cincinnati looks to have more than enough firepower in the passing game for defenses to have to pay attention to, so Green-Ellis will undoubtedly have room to run.
His goal-line prowess should be on full display as well in this one and I’d be extremely surprised if there weren’t at least three to four touchdown opportunities for BenJarvus by the end of the day.
He may not rush for over 100 yards, but 85 to 100 is within reach and a touchdown is almost guaranteed.
Michael Turner (vs. Carolina Panthers)
The Carolina Panthers cannot tackle. It’s really as simple as that.
Back in Week 2, everyone praised the Saints' non-starting RB Pierre Thomas for his hard-nosed performance against the Panthers. The following weekend, another non-starting running back, Andre Brown, ripped the Panthers apart again.
When defenders have a tough time tackling one week, maybe it was just the RB who made them look bad; but when they slip off of ball-carriers like butter down a frying pan two weeks in a row, there’s obviously an ongoing problem.
Michael Turner isn’t the same runner he used to be, but he can still put together some nice games (like he did in Week 3) and I expect him to do so again this weekend.
Last year in the Falcons' home matchup against Carolina, "The Centaur" ran for 139 yards and two TDs en route to his second-best fantasy performance of the season. I doubt he goes that crazy, but he should have himself a real nice week.
Willis McGahee (vs. Oakland Raiders)
McGahee came out of last weekend’s game versus the Texans with some bruised ribs, but he seems to be fine now and will make his normal start this Sunday.
He already has one 100-yard game after tying Arian Foster for the most in the league last season (seven), but with Peyton Manning now at the helm, it’s tough to predict his role from week to week.
That being said, Oakland’s injury-laden defense has been pretty awful this season and can be equally gashed on the ground as through the air.
Manning will certainly have his fun and could dominate the game early on, but after McGahee’s 163-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Raiders last season, Denver would do well to get Willis 20-plus touches.
Other RBs You Should Consider Starting:
- Cedric Benson (vs. NO)
- Stevan Ridley (@ Buf)
- Ben Tate (vs. Ten)
Start 'Em: Wide Receiver
Demaryius Thomas (vs. Oakland Raiders)
Demaryius’ below-average scoring output last week is nothing for owners to worry about. Houston’s lockdown cornerback, Johnathan Joseph, pretty much shuts down every wide receiver he shadows.
Demaryius won’t have to worry about that when he faces Oakland this Sunday.
In fact, the Raiders' top two corners have been out for a while now and their replacements have been so bad, they’ve been forced to experiment with putting Michael Huff, a career, seven-year veteran free safety, at left CB.
Let’s put it this way: two weeks ago against Miami, WR Brian Hartline had nine catches for 111 yards In his 42-game career; beforehand, he had never topped 100 yards or made more than five catches in any one game.
Last week Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown combined for 15 catches, 210 yards and two TDs. I see Demaryius coming down with a large chunk of that this Sunday.
Wes Welker (@ Buffalo Bills)
The concerns about Wes Welker and his role in the Patriots offense this season were completely justified, but probably blown a bit out of proportion. This is still Wes Welker—probably the best, little slot receiver the league has ever seen—and he wasn’t likely to be held back for long.
Over the last two games, the Slot Machine has 13 catches on 21 targets for 237 yards, numbers he’ll be counted on to add to this weekend while Aaron Hernandez and Julian Edelman are both sidelined.
Last year playing at Buffalo, Welker had the game of his life, grabbing 16 passes for 217 yards and two TDs. I’m pretty sure Brady knows it as well.
Percy Harvin (@ Detroit Lions)
Before the 2011 season began, Donovan McNabb went on record saying there was no reason why Percy Harvin couldn’t catch 100 passes in a season. He came close with 87 last year, but it looks like 2012 will be the year he does it as he currently leads the league with 27 receptions and doesn’t show signs of slowing down.
In fact, his overall numbers may grow from here on out with WR Jerome Simpson coming back from his suspension this weekend. Simpson’s speed will stretch defenses deep and give Harvin more room to maneuver underneath, a place where the Lions' pass D have given up the majority of its yards thus far.
In his last game at Detroit, Harvin caught 10 balls for 69 yards and a TD while rushing for 40 more yards on four carries.
Vincent Jackson (vs. Washington Redskins)
Like it was while he was in San Diego, Vincent Jackson will put up a real nice fantasy game every three to four weeks, yet completely disappear in others.
Such has been the case thus far in Tampa Bay and will continue to be this weekend, with Jackson ending up on the good side of his fantasy owners in this one.
Washington’s pass defense has been so horrendous this season that it seems nearly impossible for V-Jax to get shut down.
In just three games, the Redskins have allowed six different wide receivers to catch a TD pass with three of those guys adding 120 or more yards. Two of them actually had 160-plus yards and as you can imagine, Washington has allowed the most fantasy points to opposing WRs.
Brandon Lloyd (@ Buffalo Bills)
There was a lot of talk during the offseason about how quickly Tom Brady fell in love with Brandon Lloyd’s game and though he doesn’t have a touchdown yet, the love has shown to be true. Lloyd is sixth overall in receptions (22) and tied for sixth in targets (33) thus far.
The TDs are coming, I guarantee it, and I believe they’ll start this weekend against the Bills.
Buffalo has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers this season and is tied for the most TDs allowed, so it’s looking pretty good for the newest Patriot on the block this Sunday.
Denarius Moore (@ Denver Broncos)
I normally wouldn’t call this a great matchup for Moore as he might be shadowed by CB Champ Bailey all game long, but with the Raiders likely to be playing catch-up early on, Denarius will certainly have his chances to put up some points.
With Darrius Heyward-Bey out this week, Carson Palmer will undoubtedly try to force-feed Moore the ball, just as he has in recent weeks. Palmer has given his young playmaker 18 targets over the last two games.
Palmer is currently second in the league in passing attempts per game and if Denver stays stout against the run like they have been all season, there’s no reason to think he won’t put up 45 or more passes again with at least a dozen going Moore’s way.
Other WRs You Should Consider Starting:
- Eric Decker (vs. Oak)
- Malcom Floyd (@ KC)
- Lance Moore (@ GB)
- Leonard Hankerson (@ TB)
- Mike Williams (vs. Was)
- Andrew Hawkins (@ Jax)
- Titus Young (vs. Min)
- Justin Blackmon (vs. Cin)
High Reward, Situational Sleepers
- Armon Binns (@ Jax)
- Kendall Wright (@ Hou)
- Derek Hagan (@ Den)
- T.J. Graham (vs. NE)
Start 'Em: Tight End
Kyle Rudolph (@ Detroit Lions)
First of all, Detroit has been abysmal against opposing tight ends this season, allowing them an average of six catches for 82 yards and a touchdown per game.
Second, Kyle Rudolph has been phenomenal for the Vikes so far and done well to live up to all his offseason hype. His one-handed catch in the back of the end zone last weekend was worth the price of admission and certainly deserves another look.
Though he already has three TDs, Kyle hasn’t had that breakout yardage game just yet but looks to have a real good chance of getting it this week.
Owen Daniels (vs. Tennessee Titans)
Andre Johnson is obviously the No. 1 receiver and go-to guy for Matt Schaub, but Owen Daniels is actually leading the team in targets. Thus far he is tied with ‘Dre for the team lead with 13 receptions.
He hasn’t been spectacular by any means, but should be able to put up some real nice stats in this one. The Titans have allowed the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season.
In addition, Daniels seems to really enjoy playing these guys as he hasn’t had a game with less than four receptions against them since 2007.
With Tennessee giving up the most yards, receptions and TDs to tight ends in 2012, Daniels looks like a must-play for fantasy owners.
Brandon Pettigrew (vs. Minnesota Vikings)
Once again, Pettigrew has been one of the biggest tight end target hounds in the league, drawing the third-most targets per game behind just Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez.
He’s a huge outlet for Stafford to throw to throughout the game and will be relied on even more if Tony Scheffler sits another game out.
The Vikings have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points a game this season but either way, Brandon loves suiting up against them regardless.
In their two matchups last season, Pettigrew grabbed 17 of his 20 targets for 169 yards and a TD while putting up one of his three career 100-yard games in the process.
Brent Celek (vs. New York Giants - Sunday Night)
Standard thinking would say that the Eagles will keep Celek in on the line to help out with the blocking against this Giants' fearsome front four, but that might not be the case this Sunday night.
Last year, Philly did exactly that in the first matchup and ended up losing the game at home with Celek catching only two balls (on two targets) for nine yards.
In their second meeting, they switched it up and got Brent the ball six times for 60 yards en route to a 17-10 victory in New York.
Last week, even though they lost the game, the Carolina Panthers sent Greg Olsen out into the secondary where he caught seven passes for 98 yards against the G-Men, so we at least know they can be scored on fantasy-wise by a good tight end.
If all the patterns leading up to this game stay true, Celek should come out of this one with some real nice stats as his biggest games throughout his career have almost always come at home.
Other TEs You Should Consider Starting:
- Brandon Myers (@ Den)
- Fred Davis (@ TB)
- Jacob Tamme (vs. Oak)
Sit 'Em: Quarterback
Tony Romo (vs. Chicago Bears - Monday Night)
Though he’s playing at home where he usually excels, the matchup this week for Romo isn’t a very good one at all.
The Bears secondary has become a real strength this year, as not only have they allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks this season, but also have the most coverage sacks and second-most interceptions in the league.
Besides that, Tony may have led the Cowboys to a 5-4 record on Monday over his career, but he’s also statistically put up his worst numbers under the big lights of Monday Night Football.
Jake Locker (@ Houston Texans)
With Kenny Britt out and Houston possibly being the toughest pass defense over the last two seasons, it doesn’t look good for Mr. Locker this week.
The Titans will surely try to build on his breakout performance from last week and get him throwing early and often, but Houston’s pass rush will bother him into some mistakes where back-end players like Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning will capitalize.
This one could get ugly real fast.
Carson Palmer (@ Denver Broncos)
Palmer is second in the league in pass attempts per game (42.7) and should stay in that position after his game against the Broncos this weekend.
However, with Darrius Heyward-Bey out of the lineup, I just don’t see him able to do much with Derek Hagan and Rod Streater to throw to while Denarius Moore is being shadowed by Champ Bailey.
Maybe Darren McFadden has another 13-catch game like in Week 1 when DHB and Moore were out, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Jay Cutler (@ Dallas Cowboys - Monday Night)
So the only team better than the Bears this season at defending the pass has been none other than their opponent this Monday night, the Dallas Cowboys.
Their new cornerback tandem of Brandon Carr and rookie first-rounder Morris Claiborne has been spectacular, and I expect them to continue their dominance in Week 4.
Statistically, Cutler has actually been at his best on Monday nights throughout his career, but I expect the Bears to pound the rock to a victory. He may not have much of an opportunity to put up great fantasy numbers.
Sit 'Em: Running Back
Mikel Leshoure (vs. Min)
It wasn’t the plan to do so, but the Lions overused Leshoure in his first game back from major offseason Achilles surgery. Mikel has found himself “limited” in every practice this week.
He’ll play on Sunday, but his carries will likely be limited in a game against the Vikings' hard-nosed front seven.
Besides, the Vikings have allowed the fewest amount of fantasy points to opposing RBs this season.
Chris Johnson (@ Houston Texans)
No doubt Chris Johnson is already riding your bench, but if you had thoughts about playing him in the hopes he can break out of his slump, this really isn’t the week to be adventurous.
The Texans are as stout as it gets along the defensive line and are one of only five teams in the league to allow ZERO rushing touchdowns thus far.
Steven Jackson (vs. Seattle Seahawks)
Jackson was slowing down in a big way before his groin injury, but now the man can barely crawl to the finish line each Sunday.
Against a Seattle defense that is quickly becoming one of the most feared in the league, S-Jax is a no-go.
Shonn Greene (vs. San Francisco 49ers)
Sell him while you can because Greene won’t be keeping his job after a few more weeks.
The Jets will try to use him today, but he won’t be able to do much against a defense most consider to be the best in the NFL.
Mark Ingram (@ Green Bay Packers)
How many “starting” running backs do you know that average just NINE touches a game? One, and his name is Mark Ingram.
The Saints haven’t been able to run out a clock with Ingram yet this season due to their atrocious defense, and this game against the Packers won’t be the one they turn it around.
Either way, Ingram is averaging 2.9 yards per carry and hasn’t caught a single pass all season.
- Beanie Wells (vs. Mia) – OUT UNTIL AT LEAST WEEK 12
- Peyton Hillis (vs. SD) – DOUBTFUL – Highly unlikely to play after missing practice all week
Sit 'Em: Wide Receiver
Brandon Marshall (@ Dallas Cowboys - Monday Night)
The Cowboys' CB tandem of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne have quickly become one of the best in the league. My guess is that the veteran Carr will be on Marshall as much as possible, but I could also see a bit of double-team action going on throughout the game as well.
Marshall has been quiet on the field lately and while he’s certainly due for a big breakout game, this Monday night won’t be the one with Dallas allowing the fewest amount of fantasy points to opposing WRs.
Nate Washington (@ Houston Texans)
Kenny Britt is out, so Washington, shadowed by Johnathan Joseph, should ride your bench.
Miles Austin (vs. Chicago Cowboys - Monday Night)
Between the Cowboys' star WR duo of Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, Austin has been the better of the two receivers thus far.
However, in five career Monday night games, Miles has a whopping total of just five catches for 50 yards and zero touchdowns combined. Sure, a few of these games were played before he became a full-time starter in 2009, but in the two games since he’s combined for just three catches for 38 yards, so maybe Monday night is simply a bugaboo he just can’t shake.
With the Bears' pass D looking pretty stout this season, you might want to look elsewhere.
Santonio Holmes (vs. San Francisco 49ers)
Holmes put up his first 100-yard game in almost two full seasons last week against Miami, but won’t be making a habit of it against a defense like the 49ers.
He may catch a few passes and hit 50-60 yards, but don’t be expecting much more than that as the ‘Niners have allowed just one TD to opposing wide receivers this season.
Golden Tate/Sidney Rice (@ St. Louis Rams)
Tate looked great against the Packers last week (no, I will NOT be talking about that game here) and Sidney Rice always has the chance of busting loose for a big game, but I don’t expect either one to do much against the Rams' CB duo of Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins.
What I DO expect is to see Marshawn Lynch with the ball in his hands 30-35 times while QB Russell Wilson manages a turnover-free game, so with St. Louis only giving up one TD to WRs this season, I’d avoid the Tate-Rice situation this weekend.
Brian Hartline (@ Ari)
Brian Hartline will likely be shadowed by super-corner Patrick Peterson all game long.
- Pierre Garcon (@ TB) – QUESTIONABLE – Still highly unlikely to play after a week of limited practices and even if he DOES suit up, will likely be limited in the game as well
- Hakeem Nicks (@ Phi - Sunday Night) – OUT – Nicks’ knee swelled up on Friday after Thursday’s practice so they’ll likely hold him out until Week 5 at the earliest
- Kenny Britt (@ Hou) – QUESTIONABLE – Missed practice all week *** UPDATE *** Kenny Britt has been declared OUT for the Ten-Hou game
- Julian Edelman (@ Buf) – OUT
- Stephen Hill (vs. SF) - DOUBTFUL
Jared Cook (@ Houston Texans)
Houston has only allowed NINE catches by tight ends this season so with Cook maybe being a little shaky after his Week 3 shoulder injury, I’d sit him on your bench for this one.
Greg Olsen (@ Atlanta Falcons)
The Falcons have been playing shutdown ball against opposing tight ends and just held Antonio Gates to three catches for 22 yards last weekend.
Olsen is coming off a great game against the Giants in Week 3, but you can probably do better than to start him on your team this Sunday.
- Dustin Keller (vs. SF) – QUESTIONABLE (Hamstring) – Tough game to come back and play in… if he does, in fact, make it out onto the field
- Aaron Hernandez (@ Buf) – OUT (Ankle)
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