1. Andy Dalton has QB1 Value
Robert Griffin is probably the biggest (pleasant) surprise among fantasy quarterbacks through the season's first month, but Andy Dalton is a noteworthy second-place finisher at the moment. Between his excellent supporting cast on offense, a shootout-friendly Cincinnati defense and his own skill as a passer, Dalton is playing in conditions that have him in position to produce as a starting fantasy option for the rest of the season.
The Cincinnati offense was in theory supposed to be no more than moderately aggressive after averaging just 21.5 points per game in 2011. Move the chains, control the clock seemed to be the focus. That approach only works, though, if the defense doesn't give up easy points. Through four games this year, the Cincinnati defense has been anything but stout, however, showing weakness both against the run (5.4 YPC) and pass (7.7 YPA). It's a sharp contrast from last year when the Bengals allowed 3.9 yards per carry and 6.8 yards per pass. The result has been 28 points allowed per game for Cincinnati after allowing 20.5 per game in 2011.
That decline in the defense has placed more of a burden on Dalton, who's been charged with the task of scoring points faster than he did a year ago. Early indications are he's more than capable of doing it, because he has 1,111 yards (8.8 YPA), eight touchdowns and four interceptions through the air, as well as a ninth touchdown on the ground. With a deep group of receivers led by A.J. Green, Andrew Hawkins, Armon Binns and Brandon Tate and a solid tight end in Jermaine Gresham, Dalton will get plenty of help as he tries to keep the Bengals afloat.
2. Brian Hartline is a Clear WR3
The Miami passing game might be ugly to witness in real time, and Sunday's absurd breakout game is probably an anomaly, but Brian Hartline will get too many targets in Miami to finish this year as anything less than a WR3.
After catching 12 passes (19 targets) for 253 yards and a touchdown against Arizona on Sunday, it's abundantly clear that the 29 targets and 13 catches from the first three weeks were no fluke. Indeed, Hartline's 201 yards over the first three games might have been somewhat of a worst-case scenario for him. Hartline averaged just 7.0 yards per target over those games after averaging 8.3 yards per target in 2011.
Hartline's 455 yards this season become even more impressive when you look at the schedule he's battled. The Texans (Week 1) and Jets (Week 3) allow just 6.0 and 6.7 yards per pass, respectively, and the Cardinals allowjust 7.1 yards per pass despite allowing Hartline's monster game Sunday.
With a Bengals defense allowing 7.7 yards per pass lined up next, most of Hartline's owners should probably find room for him in their Week 5 lineups.
3. Kyle Rudolph is in for a Nice Game this Week
Through four weeks, the Tennessee defense has been remarkably bad against opposing tight ends. New England, San Diego, Detroit and Houston tight ends have combined for 39 catches for 396 yards and seven touchdowns against the Titans, and this week the Tennessee defense has to deal with Kyle Rudolph.
Although his yardage totals are modest - he has just 146 yards on 15 catches after a two-catch, eight-yard dud against Detroit on Sunday - Rudolph is a major threat in the red zone with three touchdowns so far. As a top athlete at tight end, expect Rudolph's season to look less like that game against the Lions and more like the first three weeks, when he caught 13 passes for 138 yards and three scores.
Rudolph's bounce back will begin with Tennessee on Sunday. With three-fourths of Minnesota's receiving touchdowns, he's clearly the team's top target when the goal line is within range, and the Vikings will pull within that range at least a few times Sunday, as the Titans, who allow 8.0 yards per pass, will be left even more vulnerable through the air as they attempt to account for Adrian Peterson.
4. Expect Fred Davis' Luck to Run Out Soon
Washington tight end Fred Davis has done well for himself the last two weeks, catching 11 passes for 160 yards, but he's unlikely to keep it up.
It's not due to a lack of talent. Davis is clearly one of the league's top athletes at tight end and caught 59 passes for 796 yards and three scores in just 12 games last year. He has been efficient in 2012, too, catching 15 of the 20 targets thrown his way. But that kind of efficiency won't last.
Davis needed to catch all 11 of his targets the last two weeks to post those 160 yards, and that obviously isn't sustainable. But even Davis' four-week 75 percent completion rate isn't sustainable, as he caught 67 percent of his targets last year and 64.5 percent of his targets in the two years prior. His target count itself, moreover, will eventually face a major threat in the return of Pierre Garcon, who missed the last three weeks with a foot issue.
Davis will probably struggle to make it to 796 yards in 16 games this year, let alone 12. He isn't a top-15 fantasy tight end.
5. Jordan Cameron is on the Deep-League Radar
He's no more than a consideration in leagues of at least 14 teams, but Browns tight end Jordan Cameron is a player to keep an eye on.
The Browns can't trust Greg Little (11 catches on 25 targets) to catch his targets, and Mohamed Massaquoi (durability) and Josh Gordon (inexperience) can't be relied upon for long stretches, either. Brandon Weeden needs to throw to someone over the middle of the field, though, which means tight ends Cameron and Ben Watson figure to get peppered with targets when the Browns need to move the chains.
Despite playing less than 40 percent of Cleveland's snaps against Baltimore on Sunday, Cameron saw six targets, and he had seven passes head his way the week before. He likely won't be a fantasy factor until he sees his snap count at least pull even with Watson, but the odds of that occurring improve as the Browns get closer to playoff elimination each week. The 2011 fourth-round pick showed wide-receiver athleticism at the Combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds while posting 4.03 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and 6.82 seconds in the three-cone drill.