The NFL is a quarterback league, so let's talk about quarterbacks. My top five in a hypothetical draft taking place today are Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Robert Griffin III, and Tom Brady. Yes, just four weeks into 2012, Ryan and Griffin have invaded the holy trinity, and I wouldn't even put up a fight if you put Ryan and Griffin first and second. With two elite receivers and a declining defense, Ben Roethlisberger isn't far behind. Heck, you're doing just fine in fantasy if you relied on late-round picks or waiver fodder like Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton, or Ryan Fitzpatrick.
For me, that's the biggest story of fantasy football so far in 2012 - the elite quarterbacks haven't separated themselves from the rest of the pack, particularly not when you consider acquisition cost. That's part of why I traded Drew Brees a few days ago. It was awful timing in retrospect, as Brees finally looked like the 2011 version of himself against the Packers, but the gap we saw between the elite guys and the lower tier QBs in 2011 does not seem to exist this year.
Did Ryan Tannehill really throw for 431 yards on the road against a top-five defense in his fourth NFL start with a bottom-three compilation of skill players? This is bad news for fans of the Jets, Bills, and Patriots - the Dolphins have their quarterback. (Yes, it's only one game, but the list of rookie QBs who threw for over 400 yards this early and did not pan out is undoubtedly a short one.) Tannehill's play, along with the terrific play of Griffin, Andrew Luck, and Cam Newton, has to give fans of the teams with struggling, young quarterbacks great pause. This isn't the 90s - young QBs can succeed right away nowadays. If you're a team with a young quarterback who has yet to take the leap - Blaine Gabbert, Mark Sanchez, and Josh Freeman come to mind - you have to be concerned. Also, teams with middling, low-upside signal-callers like Matt Cassel and Ryan Fitzpatrick might as well take a chance in the upcoming draft. With young QBs no longer taking three years to develop, why not?
Brandon Weeden has taken a lot of heat, but Browns fans should be encouraged by what they saw on Thursday night. I thought Weeden looked really solid. Don't laugh, and don't just look at the stats, as they're skewed by a terribly subpar combination of WRs and TEs. With some upgrades there, a solid defense, and a future superstar in Trent Richardson, I could see this team as a playoff contender as soon as 2013. If that sounds nuts, look no further than Christian Ponder's Vikings, who are suddenly 3-1, atop the NFC North. Ponder isn't being asked to do a lot in that offense, but with Adrian Peterson and a vastly improved defense, he doesn't have to.
After Week 1, I made a friendly bet with Dalton Del Don that the Bucs would win more games than the Saints. Neither team has won since.
Why does everyone keep giving Antonio Gates a pass? Gates has yet to post a touchdown in 2012, and his backup scored three times in the game he missed. When Andre Brown filled in admirably for Ahmad Bradshaw - like Gates, a veteran starter with a history of foot problems - everyone asked if Brown should be the starter. Why hasn't that happened with Gates? I'm not saying Gates should ride the pine for the Chargers, but in a league with at least 15 tight ends in the top 10 (Scott Chandler, anyone?), it might be time Gates sit the bench for your fantasy team.
If hands transplants were possible, these guys would be at the top of the "critical need" list: Greg Little, Brandon Pettigrew, and Jermichael Finley. It's a shame, too, as all three have a great combination of size, speed, and strength - they just can't catch. A little less time in the weight room and a bit more with the ball machine, fellas.
Peyton Manning looked good against the Raiders, but going against Oakland produces the same results as bringing a wad of cash to a brothel - everyone scores. Going forward, start all passing options against the Raiders, and don't adjust your valuations of anyone after they played Oakland.
As a kid, I once took a baseball square in the face backing up second base on a steal attempt. My eye was instantly swollen shut, but I grabbed the ball and prevented the baserunner from moving up a base. If a kid can do that in Little League, why can't Santonio Holmes do the same? I get that he was hurt, but come on - he was already on the ground, holding the ball - there was no reason to flail like that and hand the 49ers a touchdown. (I just realized I'm playing the 49ers defense in the Stopa Law Firm League. Of course. Man, I hate Holmes.)
After Holmes got hurt, and with Stephen Hill and Dustin Keller already sidelined, the compilation of talent the Jets put on the field at RB, WR, and TE against the 49ers might have been the worst in the NFL for any team since replacement players. Chaz Schilens? Jeff Cumberland? Patrick Turner? When Tebow replaced Sanchez for Wildcat, the Jets skill players were more like a CFL offense - or maybe something we'd see in an Army/Navy game. I'm hardly a Mark Sanchez apologist, but man, it's no wonder the 49ers shut them out.
That's twice in four weeks that the Bills defense has looked totally inept. Has to be really disappointing for Ralph Wilson, who had been notoriously tight with his wallet before signing Mario Williams to the huge, offseason contract. The only good thing I took out of that defensive performance was that Stephon Gilmore looks like a star in the making. Everyone else on defense should refund Wilson their Week 4 paycheck. The linebackers in particular are awful - I don't think they've made a play in four games.
As for the Bills backfield, it's hard to draw too many conclusions about how the work will be divided since C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson were clearly not 100%. That said, Chan Gailey seemed to be rotating the backs, alternating series between the two. With a brutal schedule upcoming, I'm suddenly glad my only investments there are as a fan, not a fantasy owner. Let the headaches begin.
Why does Peyton Manning call the owner of Papa John's "papa"? Weird. And creepy.
Roddy White and Julio Jones are everything we thought Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson would be. It's pretty crazy that James Jones has more receiving touchdowns than Jennings, Nelson, and Randall Cobb combined.
Whenever I profile waiver players, I feel obligated to discuss the players who broke out the week prior. However, don't forget to keep stashing players with upside on your bench. Last week, for instance, I had the following guys on my bench in Stopa Law Firm league: Robert Turbin, Rashad Jennings, Kevin Smith, and Jackie Battle. The first three are backups whose starters remained healthy, so they're still essentially worthless. Battle emerged, though, and since I stashed him, I beat everyone to the waiver wire. That might be what it takes each week - stashing four guys, with one panning out, but kep doing that all year; you'll strike gold eventually.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Dolphins (owned in 5% of Yahoo! leagues): Don't be fooled by the Jaguars anemic Week 4 performance against the Bengals - that Cincy defense is ripe for the picking. Ryan Fitzpatrick might lead the NFL in touchdown passes, but I'd play Tannehill against Cincy this week rather than Fitz against the 49ers.
Tim Tebow, QB, Jets (owned in 8% of Yahoo! leagues and 13% of ESPN leagues): The Jets have a home matchup on Monday night football against the Texans. If they look as bad as they did against the 49ers, the pressure will be immense to make a change at quarterback. If that happens, Tebow will have a juicy matchup against the Colts the following week. For deeper leagues, get Tebow now and hope he gets a chance. Remember, for all his real-life problems, Tebow remains a juicy option in fake-football.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers (owned in 66% of Yahoo! leagues and 63% of ESPN leagues): Mendenhall has yet to play this year, coming off a torn ACL, but Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer were disappointing in his absence. Look for Mendenhall to re-take the starting job and run with it, starting this week. On a high-scoring offense, I'd make him the top waiver claim if he's available in your league, even over Jackie Battle, Brandon Bolden and Brian Hartline.
Jackie Battle, RB, Chargers (owned in 22% of Yahoo! leagues and 9% of ESPN leagues): Ryan Mathews owners can't be shocked. We've been down this road before. There's no denying Mathews is much more talented than Battle, but Mathews has been hurt and fumble-prone throughout his career. While I tend to think Mathews will emerge as the more reliable fantasy player - if anything, it's a good time to buy low on him - Battle looks like Mike Tolbert 2.0. That means Battle, like Tolbert in 2010 and 2011, is a flex option even when Mathews is playing and a sure-fire fantasy starter if Mathews is out. Go get him.
Brandon Bolden, RB, Patriots (owned in 9% of Yahoo! leagues): If Battle is Mike Tolbert 2.0, then Bolden is BenJarvus Green-Ellis 2.0 in New England. An undrafted rookie, Bolden is an unspectacular but steady, straight-line runner. On a Patriots team that seems more dedicated to the run than at any time in memory, there's definitely a role for Bolden on this offense and your fantasy team. In an ideal world, I see Bolden as a matchup starter in games where the Patriots will be playing with the lead. I probably prefer Battle, if only a little, since Ridley, Danny Woodhead and even Shane Vereen are also in the picture, whereas Battle just has Mathews.
Brian Hartline, WR, Dolphins (owned in 26% of Yahoo! and ESPN leagues): If you need me to tell you to claim a receiver who just racked up 253 yards and a touchdown on 19 targets, you need to sign up for the Rotowire Gold Package - a term I just made up wherein Chris Liss offers you personalized fantasy advice, like a tutor, for a fee of his choosing. Seriously, as wideout help goes, you're probably not going to do better.
Dominic Hixon, WR, Giants (owned in 5% of Yahoo! leagues): The injury news on Hakeem Nicks doesn't look good, and if Sunday night is any indication, Hixon is higher on the depth chart than Ramses Barden. Any starting receiver can put up stats opposite Victor Cruz with Eli Manning tossing the pigskin.
James Jones, WR, Packers (owned in 32% of Yahoo! leagues and 21% of ESPN leagues): It was just a few weeks ago that I wrote "I will not rely on James Jones for fantasy purposes." Through necessity, though, I've continued playing him in my most important league, and he hasn't disappointed. With Greg Jennings hurt again, and Aaron Rodgers always willing to spread the ball around to the open receiver, Jones should starting in deeper formats. You have to be willing to accept his inconsistency, but, then again, you can say that about most receivers.
Davone Bess, WR, Dolphins (owned in 16% of ESPN leagues): Lost in the Hartline explosion were 12 more targets for Bess - that makes 32 on the year - and 123 yards receiving. Bess is under-valued in PPR formats, particularly if you think defenses will start paying more attention to Hartline.
Donnie Avery, WR, and T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts (owned in 22% and 5% of Yahoo! leagues and 11% and 1% of ESPN leagues, respectively): Austin Collie is out for the year, the Colts just had their bye, their defense is not very good, and Andrew Luck is more than competent. Oh, and the Colts get the Packers this week.
Stephen Hill, WR, Jets (owned in 19% of Yahoo! leagues and 22% of ESPN leagues): Sometimes, waiver claims are more than discussing the players who performed well the prior week; it's profiling those players who have done poorly and been cut in leagues. That's Hill. The Santonio Holmes injury looks serious, and somebody is going to catch passes in New York.
Scott Chandler, TE, Bills (owned in 29% of Yahoo! leagues and 31% of ESPN leagues): With the Bills defense doing its best impersonation of Swiss cheese, Ryan Fitzpatrick was throwing all game against the Patriots. Chandler seemed to be his first read, particularly in the red zone, a trend that should continue given Chandler's size. There's not a lot of yardage upside here, but a season with double-digit touchdowns is coming, and it's safe to start Chandler in standard formats, especially during the bye weeks. Just two words of caution - Chandler suffered some type of head injury late in the game, and the Bills play the 49ers this week.
Greg Zuerlein, K, Rams (owned in 14% of Yahoo! leagues and 16% of ESPN leagues): "Greg the Leg" became the first kicker to have a 50(+) field goal and a 60(+) field goal in the same game in the history of the NFL. In leagues that award extra points for long-distance field goals, Zuerleiin is worth a look. He kicks in a dome, and with a division full of good defenses, the Rams will be doing their fair share of settling for field goals.
Vikings D/ST (owned in 11% of Yahoo! leagues and 4% of ESPN leagues): This is not 2011. Everything you thought you knew about the Vikings defense, throw it out the window. This week, a suddenly improved defense gets a bad Titans offense at home. Stream away, folks.
Dead to Me:
Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks (owned in 21% of Yahoo! leagues and 14% of ESPN leagues): I can't tell if Russell Wilson stinks of if the Seattle coaches just don't trust him enough to do anything. Either way, Wilson isn't performing and belongs nowhere near your starting lineup. On a defense-oriented, running team, it's hard to see any upside here, either. Time to cut bait.
Mark Ingram, RB, Saints (owned in 48% of Yahoo! leagues and 91% of ESPN leagues): What do you call a plodding, between-the-tackles running back on a team that is always playing from behind? Useless. You can't start Ingram, and he doesn't have enough upside to justify stashing him. I'd rather have Kendall Hunter, Robert Turbin or Rashad Jennings on my bench - yes, I'm serious. If you're in a deep league and need a starter, I can see starting Ingram over those guys, but if you're fortunate enough to not have to start Ingram, just cut him.
Santonio Holmes, WR, Jets (owned in 76% of Yahoo! leagues): Bad offense plus long-term injury equals waiver wire fodder. I just don't think Holmes is valuable enough to hold through this injury.
Robert Meachem, WR, Chargers (owned in 49% of Yahoo! leagues): This guy makes the Mario Williams free agent signing look like money well spent. And to think, the Bills were trying to sign Meachem, too. Sigh. Seriously, if Meachem can't do anything against the Chiefs, it's time to cut bait.
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