Free-agent finds: Week 6
Tebow, Battle lead top pickups even with bye week on the horizon
Some beliefs die hard. We learned stuff in the past, and it's hard to let the scales fall from our eyes. For the third straight summer, some folks tried to divine which Chicago Bears receiver would become a fantasy star thanks to Mike Martz, refusing to believe that it simply wasn't going to happen for any of them, and that perhaps the NFL has passed Martz by. When the Patriots traded for Chad Ochocinco, some would've had you believe The Ocho was instantly due a Randy Moss resurgence, when it had become obvious the past couple of years that Ochocinco hasn't been his old tough-as-nails self. Brent Celek would return to former glory. Donovan McNabb just needed a coach who believed in him. Reggie Bush would flourish as a feature back in Miami. It's not like anyone who believed these things was stupid; each belonged to a logical possible storyline. But now that they're all obviously not true, it's time to let them go. We're five weeks into the NFL season, and I daresay all of these players -- and many more -- are droppable in standard-sized fantasy leagues. So do yourself a favor: Rid yourself of these history-induced headaches and add some fresh blood.
Week 6 byes: Broncos, Cardinals, Chargers, Chiefs, Seahawks, Titans
Standard ESPN League Finds
Tim Tebow, QB, Denver Broncos (owned in 2.7 percent of ESPN.com leagues). Sure, he's over-hyped. No, I'm not convinced he makes the Broncos appreciably better than Kyle Orton. But the winds of change are blowing in Denver, as Tebow has been named the Week 7 starter. If his three-start cameo at the end of last year taught us anything, it's that he's a solid bet for a rushing TD in almost every game. (In each of those three starts, he got in the end zone rushing the ball himself.) Tebow's ascension to the starting job is a blow to owners who've been pleasantly surprised by Willis McGahee, because What-You-Talkin'-'Bout-Willis won't be getting many (if any) short rushing scores in the immediate future. While Tebow won't make sense as your starting QB if you've got a certified stud under center, he's at least a very strong bye-week fill-in, and could even be a starter for those sputtering along with a Kevin Kolb or Sam Bradford. (Note, however, that Denver has a bye in Week 6.)
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Oakland Raiders (2.8 percent). I recommended DHB in last week's column, but only as a deep-league option. After his second straight strong game, I'm raising my estimation. Listen, it's the Raiders, and they've got a lot of very similar players in that receiving corps. I won't be surprised if someone like Denarius Moore or Jacoby Ford stars as soon as this week against the Cleveland Browns. But it's hard to ignore Heyward-Bey's 11 grabs for 214 yards the past two weeks. Oakland has been unwavering in keeping DHB in the starting lineup, and now seems to have settled on him and Moore on the outside, with Ford running out of the slot. Granted, Chaz Schilens scored a touchdown Sunday, Louis Murphy should return soon and Derek Hagan also gets some run. But when you watch tape of that Houston Texans game from this past weekend, you have to admit DHB did a superior job of being physical at the catch, and running solid routes. I'm not saying you start him right away, but there's no doubt that with his speed and size, he's got good bench upside.
Jackie Battle, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (0.8 percent). Battle was the rushing star of Kansas City's second straight win, converting 19 carries into 119 yards. Thomas Jones also played well (10 carries for 55 yards), but it was Battle who led the charge as the Chiefs came back on the Indianapolis Colts: He had 14 carries for 93 yards in the second half. I watched this game tape and didn't see tons special about what Battle did: He took what was blocked, and found gaping holes on six or seven second-half runs. This is a guy who was known as a good athlete for his size (6-foot-2, 238 pounds) coming out of the University of Houston, running a 4.42 40 at his pro day, and he was a TD machine during his senior year (2006) in that wide-open Cougars attack. However, during NFL play he doesn't stand out to me as particularly speedy, and I'm not completely sold that Todd Haley is ready to hand him the keys, not with Jones still around. Also, most matchups aren't going to be as friendly versus the run as the Colts were in Week 5. The Chiefs are off this week so we're not going to know the answer to this backfield puzzle for a while, but I do acknowledge Battle is a good speculative add in all leagues, just in case we get some repeat performances down the road.
Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis Colts (1.0 percent). Joseph Addai left Week 5's game in the first quarter with an injured hamstring, and I'm guessing he doesn't suit up Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. That leaves Brown and Delone Carter to share Indy's backfield touches. It probably is a committee; Brown got eight carries Sunday to Carter's 12. Despite the fact Brown was better on a per-play basis (averaging 4.8 yards per carry and producing a 16-yarder late in the first half, compared to Carter's 1.8 YPC), I prefer Carter as a desperation pickup simply because he looks like a clearer bet for goal-line carries. But I've talked Carter a couple of times in this column, and have yet to mention Brown. This former first-rounder is a bust among busts, an inveterate dancer at the line of scrimmage and a poor pass-blocker. But beggars can't be choosers, and he's a pretty good bet for double-digit touches in a week when guys like Chris Johnson, Ryan Mathews, Beanie Wells, Mike Tolbert and Willis McGahee are off.
Greg Little, WR, Cleveland Browns (1.5 percent). Just as anyone who observed Pat Shurmur's offense with the St. Louis Rams last year could've predicted, the Browns are among the league's worst in terms of passing yards per attempt. Colt McCoy is completing a vaguely respectable 58.1 percent of his throws, yet he's netting only 5.7 YPA and, according to STATS Inc., he's 27th in "yards at the catch," which measures how far downfield receivers are when they actually catch a pass. In other words, there's not very much to get excited about in the Cleveland receiving corps. Still, I like Little as a speculative add coming out of the bye week. News out of Browns camp indicates that Little has surpassed Brian Robiskie and will be the team's starting split end, and thus should be on the field for most of the squad's offensive snaps. Our theory on Little was always that this converted running back could do some damage in a short-passing offense because he's a tough guy to tackle after the catch. We'll get to put that theory to the test as soon as this week, against the Raiders.
David Nelson, WR, Buffalo Bills (46.1 percent). Predictably, Nelson has tailed off in a major way. He began the year with three games in which he caught 20 passes for 233 yards, but the past two weeks, as Ryan Fitzpatrick has crashed back down to earth, so has Nelson: three grabs for 24 yards, though he did salvage his fantasy day Sunday with a 6-yard TD on his only catch. As I wrote in last week's Hard Count, I was wary of adding any of the Bills' ancillary parts because this Buffalo offense reminds me a lot of Chan Gailey's '08 Chiefs squad, which had a blaze of glory but then crashed down to earth. So why do I pick now to write about Nelson? Because of Donald Jones's high ankle sprain, Nelson will reportedly bump outside from the slot, and potentially be more of a downfield threat. That combined with one fewer strong weapon available to Fitzpatrick gives Nelson some upside that I didn't see from him when the September hype built. I still think we're looking at a much better bye-week fill-in than regular starter. But provided Nelson can make the transition from inside to outside smoothly (which is no sure thing), I think we'll see some more consistent production from him.
Jason Campbell, QB, Oakland Raiders (34.7 percent). Yeah, I know. Ew. But the fact is that Campbell is fantasy's No. 12 quarterback right now, and has managed at least 13 (and as many as 24) fantasy points in four of his five starts. And the Browns are averaging 13.3 fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs. Certainly 13 fantasy points typically isn't something that's going to boost you to a bye-week win. But it's better than a sharp stick in the eye. Campbell doesn't always complete a high enough percentage of his passes (he went 15-for-35 last week in Houston, though for the season he does still sit at 60.3 percent), but he's made some plays down the field in just about every one of his starts in 2011. He'll be wise to stay away from budding star corner Joe Haden on Sunday, but this matchup doesn't scare me as much as some. I view him as an acceptable one-week replacement for a guy like Philip Rivers.
Cincinnati Bengals defense (39.1 percent). My pick in this spot last week was the New York Giants' defense, which mustered only six fantasy points versus a surprisingly spunky Seattle Seahawks offense. I think we can do better in Week 6 with Cincinnati. The Bengals' D has allowed the fewest total yards per game in the NFL, and while we're not talking about an elite turnover machine, they're doing well to get after opposing quarterbacks: You see a typically wide variety of blitzes from this Mike Zimmer unit, plus an inordinate amount of pressure right up the gut. The Colts' offense has perked up under Curtis Painter but still falls far shy of scary. I'm cool with Cincy as a one-week fill-in.
Other acceptable bye-substitutes, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Kendall Hunter, RB, 49ers (10.2 percent); Delone Carter, RB, Colts (1.8 percent); Isaac Redman (47.7 percent); Victor Cruz, WR, Giants (38.3 percent); Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers (7.4 percent); Jacoby Jones, WR, Texans (15.3 percent); Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals (38.5 percent).
Deeper League Finds
Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (0.1 percent). As of this writing it was unclear whether Rashard Mendenhall would have to miss another game because of his injured hamstring. If he does, Isaac Redman is probably still first man in for the Steelers versus the Jacksonville Jaguars this week, but Dwyer proved that he belongs in the rotation, too. The only big play Pittsburgh made on the ground against the Tennessee Titans last week was Dwyer's 76-yard scamper, and Redman really did nothing to distinguish himself, including getting stuffed from the 1-yard line.
Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers (9.2 percent). The Smitty hype will be excruciating this week, as the surprising 4-1 Niners get all sorts of media love for smacking around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I'm not telling you to completely ignore Smith's solid performance so far. But I am telling you to manage your expectations, especially for Smith going up against a tough 5-0 Detroit Lions defense. Plus with Josh Morgan injured, Smith's receiving corps is truly battered. I don't mind investing in Smith if you have a spare roster spot, but this wouldn't appear to be a great week to use him.
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks (0.8 percent). Believe it or not, Baldwin, an undrafted rookie out of Stanford, already has three 80-plus-yard receiving performances this season, including a 136-yard effort in Sunday's shocking win over the Giants. What are we to make of this kid, who according to his skills (no great size, no blinding speed) is really supposed to be little more than a slot receiver, but who's currently averaging a very respectable 10.6 yards-at-the-catch, the same total as his teammate Sidney Rice, and good for 30th among all NFL receivers? Well, color me skeptical that some combination of Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst is going to keep this up. But if you're in a deeper league, there are worse stashes.
Jason Avant, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (1.7 percent). When and if the Eagles fall behind, Avant becomes a factor. The past two weeks, Avant has 15 catches for 208 yards, though he did lose a fumble in Sunday's loss against the Buffalo Bills. Certainly, you don't look at Avant's skill set and think "every week fantasy starter!" He's a (usually) sure-handed player who doesn't run routes down the field and rarely gets looks near the end zone. But in PPR leagues, if you're desperate, perhaps the Eagles' troubles can be your gain.
Ted Ginn, WR, San Francisco 49ers (4.9 percent). Believe it or not, Ginn is now second in line for wide receiver targets in San Francisco. Josh Morgan has a broken ankle and Braylon Edwards is still recovering from knee surgery, so for the moment it's Michael Crabtree and Ginn on the outside. Does this automatically translate to fantasy glory? Of course not. Ginn has a grand total of 17 fantasy points this season, and 12 of them came on his two Week 1 special-teams returns for TDs. You'd have to be in a mighty deep league to need to consider Ginn, but there are such leagues out there. He's obviously more attractive in formats that count return yards.
Jacob Hester, RB, San Diego Chargers (0.1 percent). The Chargers are off this week, so Ryan Mathews (calf) and Mike Tolbert (concussion) will have time to heal their injuries and probably be back in time for Week 7. But their injuries revealed one interesting fact about the Chargers' offense: Hester, not rookie Jordan Todman, is apparently third in line for carries. With the two front-liners out of the game Sunday, Hester had 13 touches for 60 yards. Clearly, his skill set is mostly that of a fullback, so you likely wouldn't get huge production even if those other guys get hurt again. But we're not talking about a durable top two here. In a really deep league, Hester could make an intriguing insurance policy.
Other acceptable bye-substitutes for deep-leaguers, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Montario Hardesty, RB, Browns (16.1 percent); Earnest Graham, RB, Buccaneers (4.1 percent); Jabar Gaffney, WR, Redskins (6.4 percent); Laurent Robinson, WR, Cowboys (3.8 percent); Ed Dickson, TE, Ravens (7.6 percent).
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.
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