As we hit the quarter mark of the season, fantasy owners are forced to face reality, as far as what to do with struggling players.
At this point, legitimate panic is in order for a player like Ben Roethlisberger, who is basically getting zero time to operate in the pocket. As a result, the once promising QB may be matchup dependant at best moving forward, with swarming pass rushes making his starts a living nightmare for fantasy owners.
Similarly, running back depth charts are getting shaken up across the league, in places like Washington and New England, and guys who once had close to zero value are emerging as possible weekly starts.
All in all, Week 4 isn’t shaping out to be the strongest as far as waiver wire options are concerned. Many of the year’s early breakout surprises (James Starks, Eric Decker, Denarius Moore) have already been exposed and owned, forming a bit of a lull in the free agency market.
Having said that, there’s always a handful or so of valuable waiver gems, on a week-to-week basis. The following five guys seem to be the best available in a majority of leagues.
The tea leaves were there for the reading on Friday, when coach Mike Shanahan said in a radio interview that Tim Hightower was close to getting benched for Torain, during Washington’s Week 3 loss at Dallas on Monday Night Football.
After Hightower struggled to get going in Sunday’s game against the Rams, Torain got his first work of the season midway through the second quarter. His day ended with 135 rushing yards on just 19 carries, while Hightower tapped out at eight for 24.
Like coach Sean Payton of New Orleans, Shanahan has been a headache for fantasy owners, as far as RB management. One constant with Shanahan, however, is that he’s a stickler for efficiency, and Hightower’s 3.9 yards per carry after four games is probably not cutting it.
While the incumbent starter (Hightower) is the superior blocker and receiver out of the backfield, Torain is a painfully physical runner, who does a better job of evading and breaking tacklers in Washington’s zone blocking scheme. While Hightower was once considered a perfect fit for this offense, it is Torain who has now regained the lead for early down carries in this offense.
After a strong showing through his first three games (5 TD, 2 INT, 923 passing yards), Hasselbeck’s season-long value was tempered by the season-ending injury to WR Kenny Britt. The third-year phenom accounted for 289 yards and three TD of Hasselbeck’s production, and there were doubts whether the former Seahawk QB’s surprise start would continue without his top target and playmaker.
In a road matchup against the Browns on Sunday, however, Hasselbeck tallied up three TD and 194 passing yards in just one half of football, connecting with the likes of WR Damian Williams and tight ends Jared Cook and Craig Stevens for their first scores of the season. The performance showed that Hasselbeck is adept to adjusting without a mega talent like Britt in the fold.
The Titans shut their passing game down after halftime, more or less, and then opened up a 31-6 lead in the third quarter. As a result, Hasselbeck finished with only 220 yards passing. But make no mistake, the savvy veteran is playing as good as any QB not named Tom Brady in the AFC right now, and the 3-1 Titans look like a sound offensive unit after a mini-breakout game from Chris Johnson (23 carries for 101 rushing yards).
Hasselbeck’s underlying stats (66.7 completion percentage, 8.7 yard per attempt) are also very impressive, and so far, the change of scenery has done wonders for the 13-year vet. It’s a tad bold to think he’ll keep producing at this pace (he’s a borderline top five QB right now), but for any owner suffering through Ben Roethlisberger, Hasselbeck is arguably a must-add this week, among a thinning QB waiver crop.
The loss of Kenny Britt also led to speculation that Cook’s role in the offense could grow, but after amassing only seven targets in his first three games, fantasy owners rightfully wanted to take a wait-and-see approach.
What we saw in Week 4 was Cook turn a short pass into an 80-yard catch-and-run TD, as well as a target count (6) that nearly matched his total so far. His final line (3 grabs for 93 yards, TD) wasn’t quite the multi-catch breakout that would really solidify his presence in the passing game, but the 80-yard score showed that Cook has big playmaker potential, similar to the departed Britt.
Cook’s athleticism and size (6”5’, 248 lbs) is vastly superior when compared to the Titans WR duo of Nate Washington (6”1’, 177 lbs) and Damian Williams (6”1’, 199 lbs). With the Titans pass protection looking solid (only four sacks to Hasselback so far), Cook may be afforded to block less, and spend more of his time lining up all over the field.
Today’s game was a strong indication that Cook won’t be a total bust this year; whether he becomes a PPR asset has yet to be determined. Nonetheless, Britt’s injury has opened a huge door for Cook to produce this season, and with a hot QB (that raved about his young TE’s potential in the preseason), the corner may have finally turned for one this year’s buzziest deep sleepers.
After a shocking Week 3 loss to the Bills, the Patriots got back on track against the Raiders Sunday, with a 31-19 victory. With Brady throwing for a very mortal 226 passing yards and 2 TD, it was New England’s running game that stepped up in the win, totaling 183 yards and 2 scores.
While starter BenJarvis Green-Ellis was effective with 16 carries (75 yards, TD), it was the rookie, Ridley, who looked like the better RB for the second straight week. The LSU product took the rock 10 times for 97 yards including a tackle-breaking 33-yard TD romp.
The performance comes a week after Ridley gained 42 yards on six carries against the Bills, and the rookie is now averaging 8.2 yard per rush on the young season. The Pats are very likely to return to their pass-happy ways going forward, but the room to run is always there when the opportunity strikes, and Ridley’s opportunities can only increase going forward.
The important thing to remember is that Green-Ellis hasn’t looked too bad so far, and was successful converting a goal line score Sunday, while Ridley failed on two such attempts late in the game. Regardless, the most talented RB on the roster is starting to get carries that merit his talent, and is on the cusp of fantasy starter relevance.
It’s tough to recommend anyone in Pittsburgh's offense as a pick-up right now, with the team’s ravaged O-Line having a colossally negative effect on both the passing and running game. One has to hope the unit won’t be any worse than they were on Sunday, and the Steelers should be able to function against a schedule with plenty of moderate to weak defenses (like Seattle in Week 2) going forward.
The team may be without starting RB Rashard Mendenhall this week, who left the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. In his absence, Isaac Redman can potentially breath some life into a running game that has struggled, mostly due to the O-Line woes, but also due to Mendenhall’s ineffectiveness.
Averaging 3.0 yards per carry after four games (and 3.9 all last season), Mendenhall has been a very pedestrian runner for 20 games now, who has benefited in fantasy mostly from a huge workload, including goal line carries. While the severity of his injury is unknown, the Steelers are desperate for positive signs on offense, and Redman is averaging 4.9 yards per carry on 22 attempts this season.
Redman is a bigger back than Mendenhall at 6”0, 230 lbs, and plain and simple, doesn’t seem to have a glaring weakness, at least when compared to Mendy. As a strong blocker and adequate receiver, Ike could see a lot of playing time at home against the Titans, if Mendenhall was to miss the game. It could also serve as an important audition for Redman’s usage going forward.