Peyton Hillis, RB, CLE – Baltimore’s defense has taken a step back this season, but it’s hard not to like what Hillis did Sunday. He’s not going to break many long runs, and who knows if he can be durable with such a bruising style, but Hillis is a beast who rarely going down on first contact. He has also racked up 14 receptions as well. Jerome Harrison will take away some touches once he returns, but Hillis has clearly established himself as Cleveland’s top option. He’s suddenly a top-20ish fantasy back.
Austin Collie, WR, IND – Collie is on pace to finish the season with 144 catches, 1,915 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns. Odds are he falls a little short of that pace, but I don’t feel smart targeting Pierre Garcon in fantasy drafts during the summer. With Anthony Gonzalez out, Collie is entrenched as a big piece of the Colts’ offense, whether in the slot or on the outside. He has developed quite a rapport with Peyton Manning early on.
Michael Vick, QB, PHI – Vick’s last two games came against possibly the two worst secondaries in football, but he looked fantastic in both outings. While there was some preseason concern about how DeSean Jackson would perform with Kevin Kolb in a more traditional West Coast offense, those questions have been set aside because Vick’s skill set is very similar to previous quarterback Donovan McNabb’s – lacking accuracy but attacking downfield – and Jackson has taken off as well. No fantasy QB has as much upside as Vick.
Kyle Orton, QB, DEN – Despite struggling in the red zone, Orton continued to impress last week. He has averaged 8.6 YPA so far, which is pretty unbelievable with Brandon Marshall out of town. It’s worth noting Orton is entering a tough three-game stretch (@TEN, @BAL, NYJ), but the schedule is extremely easy after that. He has proven he is a QB1.
Dustin Keller, TE, NYJ – Keller caught 13 passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns over the past two games. His targets may take a hit once Santonio Holmes returns from his suspension, but Keller has been the Jets’ No. 1 option in the passing game up to this point. Dating back to last year’s playoffs, Keller has scored six touchdowns over the past six games.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, TB – Blount needs to be added in all fantasy leagues. He has already locked down the short-yardage work, and with Carnell Williams averaging a putrid 2.5 YPC (while also remaining a huge injury risk), Blount’s role in the offense should expand moving forward as long as he improves in pass protection. Preseason sleeper Kareem Huggins could also enter into the mix, but Blount is the most talented back on Tampa Bay’s roster and seems to have really impressed coach Raheem Morris. The Bucs’ schedule is highly favorable after the bye, so Blount could prove to be a difference maker.
Ryan Torain, RB, WAS – Forget all the Keiland Williams sleeper talk, apparently Torain is the Washington back to add in fantasy leagues. Something is clearly not right with Clinton Portis, who watched from the sidelines in the second half of last week’s game. Torain might be the biggest injury risk in the league, but he has legit talent and was drafted by Mike Shanahan in Denver. Torain is a serious sleeper who could have major value down the road.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, NE – We upgraded Green-Ellis last week, but after he surpassed 100 total yards and a touchdown while receiving most of the work in New England’s backfield Sunday, he deserves another mention. Green-Ellis is an obvious must-own in all leagues.
Philip Rivers, QB, SD – With poor run blocking, a middling defense and what appears to be the worst special teams unit in football, Rivers may be asked to throw more than ever, which is huge news for fantasy owners. After three games, Rivers is on pace to finish the year with an insane 5,797 passing yards.
Brandon Jackson, RB, GB – While the Bears have been stout against the run this season, Jackson gained just 12 yards on seven carries Monday night. John Kuhn, who continues to share carries with Jackson, was able to manage 5.2 YPC on his six attempts. Jackson has averaged just 2.9 YPC this season, is clearly in a timeshare, and has lost the goalline carries to Kuhn as well. The loss of Ryan Grant was a bigger deal for the Packers than most anticipated.
Shonn Greene, RB, NYJ – Greene is a sneaky buy-low target right now, because despite looking spry early on, LaDainian Tomlinson remains a long-shot to stay healthy over a full season. However, Greene is essentially useless for the time being. You can’t start a guy who gets just 10 carries a game with and is not involved in the passing game.
Carson Palmer, QB, CIN – Palmer leads the league in passes that should have been intercepted but weren’t, and he is averaging just 5.8 YPA despite having a strong WR corps and facing two defenses that have not played well this season (NE and CAR). Palmer has been a big disappointment – maybe he should have had Tommy John surgery after all.
Felix Jones, RB, DAL – Jones has averaged just 7.3 carries over the first three games this season, which has rendered him essentially useless as a fantasy, especially since he is never going to get goalline work. Unless the Cowboys come out of their bye with a drastically different offensive philosophy, it will take a Marion Barber injury for Jones to become fantasy relevant.
Knowshon Moreno, RB, DEN – Moreno is fast becoming quite injury-prone. He pulled his hamstring in practice last week (not the same one he injured in the preseason, but it’s unclear whether that’s good or bad), and he was inactive for the Broncos’ Week 4 game against the Colts. Moreno has a multi-week injury, and it’s uncertain when he will return to action. Laurence Maroney was extremely underwhelming as Moreno’s replacement, so look for a timeshare in Denver’s backfield moving forward.
Steve Smith, WR, CAR – It was just one game, but early indications point to Smith’s value taking a hit with the change from Matt Moore to rookie Jimmy Clausen at QB. Smith recorded three catches for 22 yards (on only five targets) Sunday. The rookie signal caller sure looks like he has a long way to go, but Carolina will likely stick with him in a season that might already be lost.
Marques Colston, WR, NO – Colston has yet to reach 70 yards receiving in a single game and has not scored in the first three contests. The Saints are spreading it around more than ever, so the passes are going to other players as well as Colston. It’s not time to panic – Colston consistently plays far more snaps than any of New Orleans’ other wide outs – but his start has been quite discouraging.
Michael Crabtree, WR, SF – Crabtree has totaled just six catches for 81 yards over the first three games of the year and has frequently looking out of sync with quarterback Alex Smith. Maybe an offensive coordinator change will spark the 49ers’ stagnant offense (it certainly can’t get much worse). The 49ers will probably have to pass a lot to keep up with the Falcons in Week 4, but Crabtree does not warrant a spot in your lineup right now. It is not a great idea to trade him while his value is low, and it’s still too early to drop him unless you are in an extremely shallow league, so ride it out and hope Crabtree can turn things around.