Some NFL stars are surefire fantasy bets to put up big numbers every time they step on the gridiron, but there are several relative wild cards whose production can be volatile from week to week.
If a fantasy owner has Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and doesn't play him all 16 games, that just isn't smart. In the case of other offensive playmakers, though, it's a little bit dicier.
With that in mind, let's take a look at one player from each major position on offense to start and sit in Week 4.
Start: Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
The uptempo nature of the Eagles offense will be countered by the Denver Broncos' own lighting-quick, lethal passing attack.
This should lend to a lot of plays run and a lot of high scoring—good news for Vick fantasy owners.
Vick tends to be mistake-prone, but with the number of points the Broncos are putting up, the Eagles will almost certainly be forced into obvious passing situations. The Broncos have been willing to give up yards in this situation, hence their ranking of 30th in the league in pass defense.
Denver is No. 1 in rush defense, too, so Vick is the better option thanks to his dual-threat ability and penchant for explosive plays.
NFL leading rusher LeSean McCoy will be more effective in this game on a per-touch basis as a pass-catcher than as a runner, which only helps Vick's fantasy cause.
Projections: 35-of-50 passing, 400 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs; 10 carries, 60 yards, TD
Sit: Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
Let's hold off jumping aboard the Jake Locker bandwagon just yet, because he's far from a proven commodity.
Is Jake Locker the Titans' QB of the future?
The offensive line is much improved, particularly by first-round rookie guard Chance Warmack and Andy Levitre, who starts at the opposite guard and fortifies Locker's pass protection.
Week 4's opponent, though, is the New York Jets. Rex Ryan is sure to draw up some crazy, exotic schemes for Locker to survey, and the defensive line featuring Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson should give Locker problems.
Look for Quinton Coples to make Locker's day difficult as a pass-rusher off the edge, too, while New York's secondary should hold up fine on the back end. The Jets are third in total yards yielded per game.
Start: DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
Some may say not to overreact to Murray's 175-yard performance in Week 3 against the St. Louis Rams—especially after the 49ers ran all over St. Louis on Thursday evening.
However, the promise out of America's team has been to feed Murray in a more run dependent offense under new coordinator Bill Callahan, and it came to fruition last Sunday.
Murray has all the ability to be a featured back but hasn't quite had the chance to prove himself since ascending to the starting role two years ago. Now is that chance.
The San Diego Chargers have a horrendous defense, ranking last against the pass and 28th against the run. Dallas should see its passing offense have a big day, but that will be set up with another standout performance from Murray as the driving force.
Oh, and Murray has 16 receptions on the season already, which makes his fantasy value that much higher this week.
Projections: 22 carries, 125 yards, TD; Five receptions, 35 yards, TD
Sit: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
Run—don't walk—away from Mo J-D, who has no prayer producing for the Jags, even with Blaine Gabbert returning under center for Week 4.
As if that's going to make a big, or positive, difference.
Jones-Drew is averaging just 2.6 yards per carry and will face the AFC South rival Indianapolis Colts, who have the 26th-ranked rush defense.
It seems like a decent matchup, but it isn't—and don't be fooled by this false optimism the Jags' official Twitter posted on Thursday:
Maurice Jones-Drew has 14 TDs in 13 career games against Colts and has 100-plus rushing yards in 3 straight games. #Jaguars— Jacksonville Jaguars (@jaguars) September 26, 2013
The Jaguars have no passing game to complement Jones-Drew, who will be the unquestioned focus of the Colts' game plan, especially since defending the run has been Indy's Achilles' heel.
Barring a borderline respectable performance from Gabbert, there is no way Jones-Drew approaches the 100-yard mark that is expected of a No. 1-caliber back.
Start: Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
No Browns homerism here—Gordon is the real deal. The 2012 second-round supplemental draft pick changed Cleveland's offensive outlook for the season in his season debut in Week 3, catching 10 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown in the team's 31-27 win in Minnesota.
Gordon has been a deep threat in his brief time in the league, but what stood out this past Sunday were his 22-yard end around run and 30-yard gain off a bubble screen.
Those plays showcased Gordon's incredible speed, as he flashed a Brandon Marshall-esque skill set. Yes, we just went there, because one NFL executive told ESPN's Adam Schefter a year ago that Gordon is essentially a faster version of the Chicago Bears superstar.
#Browns CB Joe Haden said teammate Josh Gordon is a legit No. 1 WR, a first-round talent. "There's not too many J.G.'s. Fast, big, strong"— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) September 26, 2013
It looked as though Gordon was a faster Marshall against the Vikings. Quarterback Brian Hoyer faces a Cincinnati Bengals defense that ranks 14th against the pass in his first home start as a Brown.
Cleveland's running game should see some improvement, too, which will make stopping Gordon—who was targeted 19 times last week—all the more difficult for Cincinnati in this AFC North showdown.
Projections: 11 receptions, 135 yards, 2 TDs
Sit: DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
This couldn't have come at a worse time for the Texans, who are coming off of an embarrassing loss to the Baltimore Ravens and face the vaunted Seattle Seahawks secondary in Week 4.
Hopkins' ball skills, route-running and polish are fantastic given his limited experience. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle highlights just how productive the former Clemson standout has been:
DeAndre Hopkins tops rookie WRs with 243 yds. Since 2004 he's 3rd among rookie WRs thru 3 games: Roy Williams (277) and DeSean Jackson (256)— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) September 26, 2013
But between Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner with Earl Thomas helping out at free safety, Seattle has all the means to shut Hopkins down.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub is statuesque in the pocket, which doesn't help Hopkins' cause. The Seahawks haven't generated many sacks thus far, but that's primarily due to facing Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick in the first two weeks. This has bad news written all over it for Hopkins.
Start: Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos
It's official: Julius Thomas is legit. Forgive the shorthanded slang if you're not that type of person, but the young man has caught a touchdown in each of his first three starts this season.
Thomas is 6'5" and 250 pounds. While Welker occupies the middle as a slot dynamo underneath and the other two wide receivers can stretch the field from the outside, it leaves a lot of room for Thomas to work down the seam and against linebackers.
Manning broke the record for touchdown passes through three games with 12 on this strike to Thomas this past Monday night against Oakland, courtesy of Bleacher Report:
If that change of direction and acceleration from Thomas after the catch isn't enough to sell oneself on his abilities, it's hard to imagine what is.
The Eagles' fast-paced offense may not get shut down by Denver's defense, but that will only give Manning and Thomas more time to hook up. This should be a career day for Thomas.
Projections: Nine receptions, 95 yards, 2 TDs
Sit: Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears
Inconsistency has been commonplace throughout Bennett's career. It helps to explain why he's playing for his third team in six seasons despite obvious talent and upside.
Bennett had just two catches for 10 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3, though usually the Detroit Lions would present an opportunity to make plays.
Such is not the case for Bennett, who is facing a defense that ranks 10th in fewest points allowed to tight ends, according to ESPN. The big receiver tandem of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery is more likely than Bennett to have a big day, given the Lions' thin cornerback corps.
However, QB Jay Cutler hasn't faced a front four quite as formidable as Detroit's, making Bennett an even shakier option this week.