Helu emerging in Washington, Moore taking advantage of opportunity in Oakland
The flags are flying at half-mast here in flag-planting country, as Jamaal Charles is out for the year with a torn ACL. He was my poster child last season and did me right to the tune of a 1,935-total-yard season and 6.4 yards per carry. This season, he was a top-five pick in nearly all drafts, and there just isn't a viable long-term replacement for him. The best his fantasy owners can do is cobble something together from what remains on the scrap heap.
So let's cobble.
ESPN Standard-league finds
Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Kansas City Chiefs (owned in 6.8 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Thomas Jones is owned in 62.6 percent of leagues, and in terms of workload, he probably benefits most from Charles' injury, if only because he's still the best-equipped guy on the Kansas City roster to handle interior carries. And Jones did look good on a few carries against the Lions after J-Mail's injury. Until the Chiefs add someone else, Jones is the first add. But assuming he's gone in your league, I don't hate the idea of taking a look at McCluster. He's tiny (listed at 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, and I'm skeptical on both numbers) and almost certainly can't hold up to an every-down pounding. But once upon a time, Todd Haley was actually known as an innovative offensive mind, and he did try some two-back formations and reverses with McCluster as Sunday's game progressed. I have a tough time envisioning fantasy owners being able to start McCluster, but that's not a reason not to roster him. Maybe my vision is just cloudy from the Charles-inspired tears.
Roy Helu, RB, Washington Redskins (9.9 percent): As I wrote in my Week 2 reaction piece, Helu dominated backfield touches for the Redskins in the second half. Maybe it was because Washington was in catch-up mode, or maybe Mike Shanahan was telling the truth when he said Tim Hightower was tired. Or maybe, just maybe, Shanny likes what he sees from Helu, a much quicker, more dynamic player than Hightower. Listen, Hightower has 193 total yards and two TDs through two weeks, so I'm not telling you to drop him. But I am saying that Helu passes the eye test, and then some. If and when Hightower spits the bit, I think the Redskins will be looking at a platoon of one kind or another, and I like Helu to gradually win such a battle. As such, I think he can be stashed away in all leagues.
Delone Carter, RB, Indianapolis Colts (3.3 percent): The production isn't there yet for Carter, partly because it's not there yet for any Indianapolis player. This team is painful to watch on offense. Kerry Collins just isn't the man to lead them; he's a 2-yard gain on first and second down and an incomplete pass on third down waiting to happen. But while Joseph Addai produced a few (for him) gashing plays, we should note that Carter got 11 carries to Addai's 16, albeit in much more of a "spelling-the-starter" role. But to watch Carter play is to see the anti-Donald Brown: Carter doesn't mess around looking for the best hole, he simply hammers where he's supposed to go, and bowling-balls through unprepared tacklers. There's still very little to be gained by starting Carter. Heck, against the Steelers next week, there's very little to be gained by starting Addai. But fantasy owners who are casting around for longer-term solutions with the upside to actually be a starter at some point this year should add the Colts rookie.
Nate Burleson, WR, Detroit Lions (39.7 percent): Burleson was on this list last week, and his ownership nearly doubled. It's not enough. No, he's probably not catching 96 passes for 1,224 yards, which is his current pace. But Burleson is just about the only way you can buy into what looks like a truly explosive Detroit offense. Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Jahvid Best just aren't available. But Burleson is the clear No. 2 receiver, and plays opposite Megatron, which sometimes gives him the advantage of less defensive attention. I daresay I might have Burleson ranked among my top 30 fantasy receivers for Week 3's game against the Vikings.
Fred Davis, TE, Redskins (15.3 percent): Chris Cooley played in Week 2 and was on the field for more snaps than Week 1, as he recovers from a knee issue. But Davis stole the show again. He's got 11 grabs for 191 yards and a score so far this year, and is back to making plays down the field, just as he did in 2009, when Cooley was out with a broken ankle. This particular gravy train really could end in any given week, because the Redskins love Cooley (and have a $14 million guaranteed investment in him), but right now there's absolutely no doubt which Washington tight end you should think about starting. And it ain't Cooley.
Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos (4.4 percent): I put Decker on the "Deeper-League Finds" list last week after putting him on my Super-Deep Sleeper list last month. It's ever upward for Mr. Decker, apparently. With Brandon Lloyd a relatively surprising inactive Sunday against the Bengals, Decker grabbed five of his nine targets for 113 yards and two scores, looking every bit as good as Minnesota Golden Gophers fans remember. Lloyd's groin injury isn't expected to linger, but Eddie Royal suffered a relatively serious groin injury of his own, and will be sidelined for as long as a month. Reading the tea leaves, it seems likely Decker would continue to start, though Lloyd will be the first option presuming he returns in Week 3. Still, Decker is a talented kid who's showing his ability right away, and can be owned in all leagues.
Denarius Moore, WR, Oakland Raiders (0.6 percent): Moore was also on the Super-Deep Sleeper list in August, and when Jacoby Ford and Darrius Heyward-Bey were inactive in Buffalo on Sunday, Moore stepped up in a huge way, to the tune of five grabs for 146 yards and a long score, plus he also nearly came up with a winning Hail Mary at game's end. Because everyone who's supposed to be ahead of him on the Raiders' receiver depth chart seems to have the healing abilities of an 85-year-old lady, Moore looks like an instant starter, and his ball skills are something you can't teach. Unlike Decker, Moore is a rookie, so he's likely to be even more up-and-down. But he's had the look of a breakout player for six weeks now, and I won't be surprised if he hooks up with Jason Campbell for a few more big games.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Tennessee Titans (9.3 percent): Hass looks like an interesting two-week add, because the Titans get the Broncos and Browns for their next two games. There's no doubt the Ravens focused most of their energy on Chris Johnson on Sunday, and succeeded in limiting Tennessee's most important weapon to 53 yards rushing on 24 carries. But in the process, they left their defensive backs singled-up on Titans receivers Kenny Britt and Nate Washington, and Hasselbeck took advantage, to the tune of 358 yards passing. Granted, in today's NFL, that's not a completely eye-popping total, but it's better than a punch in the stomach. It won't always be so easy for Hass, a quarterback who's had trouble producing passing TDs the past three-plus seasons. But desperate fantasy owners should take a look at him for the rest of September.
DeMarco Murray and Tashard Choice, RBs, Dallas Cowboys (5.4 and 2.0 percent): Felix Jones suffered an injured shoulder in Week 2, and there was scuttlebutt that he might miss some future game action. But that never seemed likely, considering Jones returned to the 49ers contest after he got hurt. Still, it's a reminder that Felix isn't exactly king when it comes to staying healthy. Certainly, his fantasy owners should consider grabbing a backup, and even owners in deeper leagues who don't own Jones could grab either Murray or Choice. My preference is Murray. It seems to me that Jason Garrett has given enough indication over the past few years that Choice simply doesn't float his boat, and Murray was the better player in San Francisco on Sunday anyway (he had six carries for 21 yards, while Choice had five for 5).
David Nelson, WR, Buffalo Bills (0.5 percent): It's that point in the year where we shouldn't be overly swayed by stats, and that only gets more difficult over the next couple of weeks. It's highly possible for an NFL offense to find a sweet spot for a few games and look like world beaters, only to find their usual level in the long term. That said, Nelson looks like a pretty dangerous guy, more dangerous than Donald Jones (owned in 0.1 percent of leagues), and with Roscoe Parrish potentially out for a while with a bad ankle, Nelson is a strong bet to see time all over Buffalo's offensive formations, including his customary slot position. He's got 14 grabs for 149 yards and a score so far. I won't be surprised to see Nelson get high-single-digit targets in many games this year, but I do question whether he'll be "downfield" enough to convert that into startable fantasy performances.
Evan Moore, TE, Cleveland Browns (1.0 percent): Forced to choose between Moore and Scott Chandler (owned in 30.7 of leagues, and thus probably by definition not a "deeper-league" find), I might actually take Moore, who is essentially a wide receiver listed on the roster as a tight end. Chandler is going to be utterly feast-or-famine: He's got three red zone TDs, and may already have seen his high-water mark for receiving yards this year when he reached 63 in Week 1. But Moore has two TDs himself and is used in a variety of situations. The reason he's not a 10-team-league option is that Benjamin Watson is still around in Cleveland. But deep-leaguers would be making a smart investment to store Moore away for a rainy day.
Kevin Ogletree, WR, Cowboys (0.9 percent): Let's just say Mr. Ogletree didn't exactly light it up subbing for Dez Bryant as the Cowboys' starting split end Sunday. He got four targets and caught two of them for 50 yards, and lost yardage on a reverse attempt. But now it sounds like Miles Austin is fixing to miss a few games, and we don't really know whether Bryant is ready to return from his injured quad. I assume so, plus Jason Witten is always around to hoard targets, but just in case, speculative-minded deep-leaguers could take a shot that Ogletree -- who's always possessed a fascinating size/speed combination -- improves. Of course, Jesse Holley was the Week 2 hero, grabbing a bomb in overtime to help Dallas win.
Mike Kafka, QB, Philadelphia Eagles (0.1 percent): It's very early in the week to be predicting that Michael Vick won't be able to play against the Giants in Week 3, and all early reports seem to be if Vick suffered a concussion, it was a minor one. We also don't know when Vince Young's injured hamstring will be ready for game action. So while my strong suspicion is that Vick will play next week, savvy deep-league owners with roster spots to play with could try Kafka (or, frankly, Young, who's owned in 1.3 percent of leagues). Either guy would have elite weapons to play with, and while Kafka didn't bowl anyone over with awesome play in the fourth quarter Sunday night, he was at least as good as Kevin Kolb during his Philly days.
Christopher Harris is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.
FANTASY TOP HEADLINES
- Matthew Berry's fantasy football top 200 for Week 13
- Karabell: 2014 rankings update
- Harris: Week 13 free-agent finds
- Cockcroft: The 'December performer' myth