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Fantasy Football Week 3: Advice for Your Roster

Andrew GardaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 19, 2013

Fantasy Football Week 3: Advice for Your Roster

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    It's time again to go out and set your fantasy lineups, as well as make all those small adjustments which make a successful fantasy GM.

    You're like Bill Belichick—without the cut-off sweatshirt.

    I've collected a bunch of free-agent information for you and given you my thoughts on the guys you need to be bidding on and grabbing off the waiver wire.

    As always, your league rules may make some of the players on these lists less desirable, so know your rules.

    And as we say every week—don't panic. It's early.

Who Is the Running Back in Cleveland? Does It Matter?

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    Let's assume you don't live under a rock and know Trent Richardson was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-rounder in 2014.

    Once you're done cartwheeling (if you're a Richardson owner) or weeping (if you just grabbed Ahmad Bradshaw), the next question is: Who do I grab off the waiver wire?

    There are three candidates.

    Bobby Rainey was on the Baltimore Ravens' practice squad last season, got called up and then was injured. The Browns picked him up off waivers a while back, and he was sitting fourth on the depth chart until injuries and a trade brought him to the nominal "starters" position.

    Rainey is short but well-built (5'7" and 205 pounds) and pretty quick. An intriguing back overall, he just doesn't look like the type of guy carrying the ball as a starter.

    Chris Ogbonnaya is listed on some depth charts as a fullback and is a solid blocker. He can run, but it's not why the Browns kept him.

    Which leaves Willis McGahee, who is reportedly going to take a medical exam in Cleveland Thursday and, if he passes, sign.

    Don't expect McGahee to start this weekend since he's barely going to have time to touch a playbooknever mind read it.

    That said, if you have to grab one guy, I'd go with McGahee.

    He's old and a bit beat up, but he still has some juice in those legs.

    Whatever you do, keep your expectations in check—after all, if Trent Richardson struggled behind this line and in this offense, these guys won't be any better.

Prepare for Bye Weeks

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    You've got one more week before the dreaded bye week gauntlet begins and you had best be prepared.

    Make sure you know when your players will be out, and take a little extra time determining who might not be cutting it from your bench and needs to be replaced.

    For easy perusal, I've put together a chart of which teams will be off each week. Keep it somewhere handy.

     

    Week 4Green Bay , Carolina
    Week 5Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Washington
    Week 6Atlanta, Miami
    Week 7Oakland, New Orleans
    Week 8Chicago, Tennessee, Indianapolis, San Diego, Baltimore, Houston
    Week 9Denver, Detroit, New York Giants, Arizona, San Francisco, Jacksonville
    Week 10Cleveland, Kansas City, New England, New York Jets
    Week 11Dallas, St. Louis
    Week 12Buffalo, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Seattle

Check the Injuries

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    Just two weeks in and we've already got enough banged-up players to reboot the 1970s television series M*A*S*H.

    Ray Rice and Reggie Bush are both out, while Eddie Lacy remains laid up by a concussion from last week.

    Tight end Dwayne Allen has been placed on season-ending injured reserve by the Indianapolis Colts, and while he doesn't seem to directly affect your fantasy team, don't think the injury to Denver Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady will not be felt by owners of Broncos running backs.

    Make sure you have options available for players like these—especially ones like Bush, who could be a game-time decision.

Top Free-Agent Quarterbacks

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    There are very few quarterbacks sending fantasy GMs into a panic right now—even Robert Griffin III (whom Footballguys.com has scoring 24.8 and 27.1 points in his first two weeks) hasn't been all that bad, though some of his issues might have you worried.

    Still, there are some good players on the waiver wire in an awful lot of leagues who could be better than what you have on your bench or could provide more upside.

    Using NFL.com's fantasy player trends page, I took a look at who was available in a large portion of leagues and put together a chart of 10 players who hold good value.

    Let's take a look at the list and discuss below the chart. Keep in mind that this list reflects what NFL.com is seeing—your league could vary widely due to scoring and roster size.

     

    PlayerWeek 3 opponentPercent owned
    Matt Schaub@BAL67.2
    Terrelle Pryor@DEN44.9
    Carson Palmer@NO33.9
    Alex Smith@PHI20.7
    Jay Cutler@PIT19.8
    Philip Rivers@TEN19
    Sam Bradford@DAL15.4
    EJ Manuel@NYJ7.1
    Ryan TannehillATL4.5
    Geno SmithBUF2.7

     

    Seeing Matt Schaub on the list made me take a quick look at my redraft leagues. Out of the 10 leagues I am in, five of them are redraft and only one of those had Schaub as a free agent. That's an ESPN league, and ESPN itself says Schaub is owned in just 57.4 percent of its leagues.

    So while the majority of my leagues have him drafted, make sure you check yours if you are in need of a backup quarterback. There is no reason a guy who has thrown for 644 yards and six touchdowns, with Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and DeAndre Hopkins to throw to, should not be owned in your league, even with a trio of interceptions.

    Let's say, though, that like in most of my leagues, Schaub is gone or you're looking for more raw upside.

    Terrelle Pryor and EJ Manuel could be your guys.

    Pryor looked better in Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts but struggled against the Jacksonville Jaguars. To be fair, though his numbers were down, he played better and his scrambling is very attractive for fantasy GMs who would like a poor-man's version of Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson.

    Meanwhile, Manuel saw marked improvement between his first and second games, though the secondary of the Carolina Panthers isn't quite as good as that of the New England Patriots. While he got a bit lucky when a pass interference penalty wiped away a game-ending interception, his overall poise and coolness bode well for the future. Meanwhile, the offense is just getting going and, like Pryor, Manuel is dangerous with his legs.

    Two guys who are more than upside are the red-hot Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers.

    Rivers had few yards but a bucketful (aka four) of touchdowns in Week 1 against the Houston Texans, then added another three touchdowns and 419 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles.

    New head coach Mike McCoy seems to have found the answer to what has ailed Rivers for several years, but keep in mind that against a good defense he struggled to get yards, while he pounded on a pretty questionable Eagles defense.

    Rivers is going to be a nice matchup quarterback for games against Tennessee, Oakland and the Redskins but might struggle against Dallas, Denver and Kansas City.

    Cutler has been better as an NFL quarterback than a fantasy one. Sure, his 532 total yards and five touchdowns are good, but the three interceptions aren't and he's more "hot" right now because of two come-from-behind victories rather than putting up numbers.

    That said, you can see the potential of this offense under new head coach Marc Trestman, and Cutler might see a surge in numbers as the season goes on.

    Both are owned in less than 20 percent of teams in the leagues at NFL.com, though I imagine that will change this week.

Top Free-Agent Running Backs

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    Unlike the quarterback position, where—aside from some big leagues—there are usually a couple of guys on the waiver wire who shouldn't be, it is hard to find a good waiver wire running back by Week 3.

    That said, there are a few here and there who could be worth looking at, and a few who are still owned in far too few leagues considering their potential.

    As with the quarterbacks, I used NFL.com's fantasy player trends page and took a look at who was around in a large portion of leagues. Again, keep in mind that this list reflects what NFL.com (and in one case, ESPN.com) is seeing—your league could vary widely due to scoring and roster size.

     

    PlayerWeek 3 OpponentPercentage owned
    Bernard PierceHOU57.8
    Joique Bell@WAS54.9
    Knowshon MorenoOAK50.3
    Le'Veon BellCHI41.9
    James Starks@CIN31.6
    Bilal PowellBUF2.8
    Marcel Reece@DEN0.9
    Brandon BoldenTB0.3
    C.J. AndersonOAK0.2
    Danny Woodhead@TENNFL.com: 75.8
      ESPN - 12.7
       

     

    Let's start with the bottom player, Danny Woodhead. I added him to the list in part because there was a wide variance between his NFL.com numbers and those from ESPN.

    It goes to show you that just because you think he's owned in a league—because it seems like he should be—it's worth double-checking just in case.

    While Woodhead was a waste of roster space in Week 1, he had a much bigger role in Week 2. In a point-per-reception (or PPR) league, his eight catches were a big boost. He also saw a lot more touches overall this past week—tied with Ryan Mathews—and looks like a guy whom the Chargers are going to get involved more and more.

    Especially if Mathews begins fumbling the ball more frequently. Watching the game again, you can see Woodhead used frequently on short-yardage downs when protecting the ball was a must. He also was instrumental in the game-winning drive when he made a key catch on a 3rd-and-4, extending the drive.

    He's worth at least a flier, so definitely check your leagues.

    There's a good chance Bernard Pierce went in your actual draft, but you never know. This is especially critical, as Ray Rice is day-to-day with an injured hip flexor and might be out Sunday according to the team's website.

    Even if he plays, expect to see more of Pierce as the team tries to keep Rice healthy.

    Like Pierce, Joique Bell could be gone, but he's clearly worth having on your bench if he's available.

    The Detroit News is reporting that Reggie Bush hasn't been practicing, so having Bell could give you the starter in Detroit if Bush is out. Bell is already having production worth at least a flex spot, and his fantasy points will only go up as a starter.

    Although Eddie Lacy is still dealing with the aftereffects of a concussion, James Starks is still owned in too few leagues. Lacy is making progress according to JSOnline.com writer Tom Silverstein but still might not play. While pass protection is an issue for Starks at times, there's nobody else to run the ball and the Packers want to do that.

    So he has to be owned.

    Ditto for Knowshon Moreno. Long term, he may not be the answer in Denver, but with left tackle Ryan Clady going on injured reserve, he's going to get a lot of snaps, as he is the best pass-blocker in the backfield.

    The rest of the list is all upside. Le'Veon Bell is going to be out a while, but when he returns to Pittsburgh, the rookie will step into a starting role, as nobody has played well in the backfield yet.

    Brandon Bolden could see more time if Stevan Ridley has more fumbling issues and is worth a bench spot.

    C.J. Anderson had a solid preseason (good enough to stick on the roster despite many other backs) and is worth rostering in deeper leagues (and dynasty) in case we have a repeat of the injuries from last year.

    Finally, don't sleep on Jets running back Bilal Powell. While he's not a special back by any means, he can put up yards and catch the ball.

    Further, he was on the field in the fourth quarter more often (see attached NFL Game Book) last week because the Jets were throwing the ball, and they clearly prefer to have him on the field—not Chris Ivory—when that is the case.

    In terms of touches, Ivory had just one, while Powell had five.

    On top of that, we know Ivory's history with injuries. It's wise to have his backup.

    This particular backup might just have some good flex value.

Top Free-Agent Wide Receivers

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    The wide receiver class for fantasy was stacked this year, so there are actually still a fair number of folks on the waiver wire even two weeks in.

    Again, we went to NFL.com's fantasy player trends page to see who was available and compiled a list of guys you might want to add.

     

    PlayerWeek 3 OpponentPercentage owned
    Justin Blackmon@SEA51.2
    Eddie Royal@TEN50.1
    Brian HartlineATL48.2
    Alshon Jeffery@PIT45.4
    Kenbrell ThompkinsTB38.1
    Percy HarvinJAX16
    Cordarrelle PattersonCLE6
    Jerome SimpsonCLE5.4
    Marlon BrownHOU6.7
    Santonio HolmesBUF4.4

     

    Justin Blackmon represents some good value, and as we hit Week 3, keep an eye on the waiver, as some of his owners may not have the stomach to wait for him to come back in Week 5.

    While Jacksonville remains a big mess, Blackmon will get plenty of targets when he returns.

    Eddie Royal now has five touchdowns in two games. While it's hard to imagine that level of production continuing, he's got the same number of targets Antonio Gates has. Clearly, he has gained a level of trust from Philip Rivers and it looks as if, even if he doesn't score two-plus touchdowns every week, he will get plenty of chances.

    It's amazing to think that Brian Hartline still isn't owned in more than 50 percent of leagues. Even though his production fell off from a 114-yard Week 1 effort, he's the Dolphins' most targeted player after two games.

    When Mike Wallace is covered—and he will be at times—Hartline is quarterback Ryan Tannehill's clear choice. Even with Wallace free, Hartline gets more than his fair share of looks.

    Alshon Jeffery just needs to be consistent. He's getting ample targets, and he just needs to do more with them. He's fourth in targets behind Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett but will get a lot of attention when teams shift to cover Marshall and Bennett.

    The Bears offense has the potential to explode—Jeffery could have a huge second half of the season.

    Don't pull the rip cord on Cordarrelle Patterson or Kenbrell Thompkins yet.

    For Patterson, it's just a matter of time before the team integrates him more into the offense. Every time he catches the ball, you can see how dynamic he is. The Vikings just need to wake up and use him. It's coming.

    Thompkins, like everyone not named "Edelman," struggled against the New York Jets. He needs to play with a little more confidence, and you can bet Tom Brady is working hard to give him that.

    Rob Gronkowski will be back soon, but CBSSports.com is saying he isn't likely to play this weekend. The Patriots could be without Danny Amendola for several more weeks, though reports are he will forgo hernia surgery.

    In the meantime, Thompkins will continue to get his chances in a very pass-heavy offense.

    Finally, Santonio Holmes may be a Jets receiver, but he can still have some value as a flex play once he gets back into football shape. The Jets eased him in against the Patriots but, as evidenced by the horrific number of drops in that game, will probably need to get him more involved soon.

    While he won't represent a huge number of points, he could end up a very consistent flex player, as rookie Geno Smith could come to rely on him.

Top Free-Agent Tight Ends

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    In general, there are fewer viable tight ends in the NFL—and therefore fantasy football—than almost any other position.

    This year has seen a host of new faces but also a bunch of injuries, so it has evened out somewhat.

    NFL.com's fantasy player trends page was the destination again. Most of the tight ends left out there are, at most, bye-week fill-ins.

     

    PlayerWeek 3 OpponentPercentage owned
    Jermaine GreshamGB66.3
    Martellus Bennett@PIT40.2
    Heath MillerCHI16.9
    Brandon Pettigrew@WAS16.9
    Fred DavisDET13.6
    Kellen WinslowBUF11.8
    Brent CelekKC11.4
    Tyler EifertGB8.5
    Charles ClayATL6.7
    Zach SudfeldTB6.1

     

    It's pretty ridiculous that Jermaine Gresham is owned in more leagues than Martellus Bennett.

    You know, Martellus Bennett—the guy with the third highest number of targets on his team? Second only in receiving yards to Brandon Marshall? Leading his team in touchdowns?

    If he's on your waiver wire, please go fix that.

    Gresham is a solid tight end, by the way—but getting his teammate Tyler Eifert is the play here. Eifert has been consistently targeted the last two games, and while his fantasy points aren't huge yet, they will be. As NFL.com's Chris Wesseling says, both Eifert and fellow rookie Giovani Bernard are going to be very critical to the success of the Bengals.

    Normally, Heath Miller is one of those hidden gems you find late in a draft. However, coming off injury may slow him down, as could the offensive line woes with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Inevitably, Ben Roethlisberger will go to Miller as a safety blanket, but he'll see equal time blocking, so check your expectations.

    When the New York Jets signed Kellen Winslow Jr., the move was a hopeful one which so far has been met with inconsistent success. Winslow had a huge Week 1, followed up by a disappointing Week 2.

    Expect a good Week 3 against the Bills, as well as the same inconsistency we saw the first two weeks. You'll have to pick your spots with him.

    Did we just see Charles Clay become relevant this past weekend? Five catches for 109 yards isn't anything to sneeze at, and he's worth keeping an eye on.

    Two important points to think about for Clay. First, his production last week against the Indianapolis Colts was largely a function of two very big plays. One involved a missed tackle and the other a touchdown run.

    It was Charles' first-ever carry—don't expect him to run the ball often.

    Secondly, keep in mind that Clay—at best—is third in the Dolphins' pecking order. He'll always be behind Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline—as well as Lamar Miller on occasion.

    He's not consistent enough to rely on right now. Again, though, he's worth keeping an eye on.

    Finally, Zach Sudfeld was a hot commodity during fantasy drafts and then was dropped after he was hurt in Week 1.

    Even though Rob Gronkowki is coming back soon, Sudfeld's role was always to replace Aaron Hernandez, not Gronkowski.

    So the expectations on him would still be 600-800 yards (Hernandez's high point was 910) and five to seven touchdowns.

    He's worth rostering now even if Gronkowski plays Sunday.

     

Team Defense Matchup of the Week: Minnesota Vikings vs. Cleveland Browns

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    After the Trent Richardson trade, this became a no-brainer.

    The Minnesota Vikings are owned in just 13 percent of NFL.com leagues, and there is a strong chance that after two mediocre weeks, they're on your waiver wire.

    We could break down schemes and weak points, but that is overthinking it.

    The Browns just traded away their one good running back. The offensive line is playing terribly. They are trotting out an unproven backup quarterback.

    Meanwhile, the Vikings are coming off a pretty huge week. While they didn't stop the Chicago Bears from scoring 31 points, they sacked Jay Cutler once, intercepted two balls, returned a fumble for a touchdown and had a special teams touchdown as well.

    Expect more sacks, a few fumbles and an interception—and that's a conservative take.

    This is, by far, the best matchup you'll get off the waiver wire.

    Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

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