Free-agent finds: Week 2
It appears we made it through Week 1 without any major fantasy player suffering a catastrophic injury. Fred Jackson seems likely to miss a month with a sprained ligament in his knee. Greg Jennings could miss Thursday night's game with an injured groin. John Skelton and Jake Locker are both questionable for Week 2 but presumably weren't a major part of your fantasy lineup. Nevertheless, heading into Week 1 we had the least knowledge about NFL 2012 than we'll have all season, so now that we've seen one round of games, there's ample opportunity for roster upgrades. Let's take a look:
Standard ESPN league finds
Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins (owned in 18.2 percent of ESPN.com leagues): There are two reasons to be skeptical about Morris, a sixth-round rookie out of Florida Atlantic: one obvious and one less so. Obviously, Mike Shanahan enjoys tinkering with his backfield, so the fact that Morris got 28 of Washington's 34 running back carries Sunday (for 96 yards and two scores) is tough to rely on going forward. Less obviously, having watched the film, I can say that Morris is a powerful rusher who's almost completely uninspiring in his talent. I counted exactly one play against the New Orleans Saints where Morris actually put his foot hard into the ground and cut to make someone miss. His best play came on his second touchdown, when he blew up David Hawthorne on the goal line in a one-on-one confrontation. Morris does get what's blocked, but he doesn't get any more than that. In the first half, he had nine carries for 19 yards, and 22 of his 28 totes went for 3 yards or less. Still, you don't find too many guys leading the NFL in carries on the waiver wire.
Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (18.2 percent): The best thing Isaac Redman could've done to maintain his mystique as a potential fantasy starter would've been to stay injured. Once he got out there Sunday night against the Denver Broncos, Redman showed exactly what he is: a plodder who'll occasionally dole out some punishment but make nobody miss. (Redman wound up with 13 touches for 27 yards.) By contrast, Dwyer, a slightly bigger player, injected an element of speed and wiggle, producing 54 yards on 11 touches. Rashard Mendenhall may return in the season's first month, but until he does, Dwyer belongs at the head of this committee. He's addable in all leagues, because the Steelers certainly saw what was plain to all of America: He's a better player than Redman.
Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers (13.4 percent): According to ESPN Milwaukee, Cobb lined up in the backfield for 19 plays against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. (He was never actually handed the ball, but still.) No doubt, part of that occurred because the Packers were losing for much of the game, but the fact remains that Cobb was nine-for-nine in catching targets and wound up with 77 yards. He also returned a punt for a touchdown (though the play should've been called back for an illegal block). Even if Jennings is fine going forward, Cobb is starting to look like a Percy Harvin clone who can help you in all leagues, especially PPR ones. He's not quite a burner, but he's extremely quick in space, and when Aaron Rodgers gets into pass-heavy mode, Cobb appears to be his choice in checkdowns.
Kevin Ogletree, WR, Dallas Cowboys (49.8 percent): Clearly, Ogletree is owned in half of ESPN leagues now because those leagues allow teams to add free agents immediately (or because those leagues drafted during or after the Cowboys' Wednesday night game); headed into Week 1, Ogletree was owned in 0.4 percent of leagues. The reason to suspect Ogletree could be a legit fantasy threat is that Laurent Robinson followed nearly the same career path leading up to his 2011 breakout: a journeyman with potential who finally put it together as the Cowboys' third wideout. Robinson famously scored 11 TDs on 54 catches last season, and Ogletree lit up the New York Giants last Wednesday with two scores, eight grabs and 114 yards. The reason to suspect Ogletree is a one-hit wonder is that the Giants' secondary could have been more injured only had a blimp crash-landed on the field. However, if Dez Bryant and Miles Austin stay healthy and merit defensive attention, Ogletree could have more moments in '12.
Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Kansas City Chiefs (3.9 percent): McCluster led the Chiefs with 10 targets Sunday, catching six of them for 82 yards (he had zero carries). He's now a slot receiver, rendering Steve Breaston and Jon Baldwin fantasy afterthoughts. And don't chalk this up to a bunch of looks resulting from a blowout; McCluster's first five targets came while the game was very much in reach for the Chiefs. If there's one thing a Brian Daboll-coached offense knows how to do, it's check down, and that makes McCluster a sneaky fantasy starter in PPR leagues. In standard-sized leagues, it might be tough to rely on him week in and week out, but if you've got a spare roster spot, it might not be a terrible investment to stash him to see how his role in K.C. pans out.
Brandon LaFell, WR, Carolina Panthers (19.2 percent): LaFell was one of my Flag Players this summer, so I was pleased to see him score a Week 1 touchdown. Of course, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers declined to actually cover LaFell on the play in question, so I'll hold off my celebration. LaFell also made an awful play where a ball bounced off his hands up into the air for an easy Bucs pick. However, this wasn't a typical game for Cam Newton and the Panthers; they got dominated in time of possession, and Newton's rhythm was mostly off. As I wrote this preseason, Newton isn't quite the mad bomber some would have you believe: He threw mostly short looks Sunday (in the first half, I counted three throws that traveled more than 10 yards in the air), and LaFell specializes in those. He's ownable in all leagues.
Stephen Hill, WR, New York Jets (7.4 percent): Hill is raw. Hill is going to make mistakes. But he's also a freaky size/speed guy, and the Jets don't have other good options to play outside opposite Santonio Holmes, so apparently Hill is going to get some looks. In Sunday's blowout of the Buffalo Bills, he had five grabs on six targets for 89 yards and two scores. Things won't always be so easy. But I'll admit, after watching preseason passes bounce of Hill's hands, I wondered if the Jets might be leery of involving him too heavily right away. Mark Sanchez took shots to the kid. His second-quarter TD was deep down the left sideline, underthrown, and Hill made a terrific adjustment. He'll be up-and-down, but he's worth a high-upside look.
Coby Fleener, TE, Indianapolis Colts (23.3 percent) and Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings (9.9 percent): There are so many quality tight ends in the NFL, it's difficult for me to tell you to dump the guy you've got now and pick up Fleener or Rudolph. But each guy figures to have some good weeks in '12. Fleener was a major part of Indy's hurry-up attack and wound up with eight catches for 82 yards. Rudolph got involved immediately on Sunday and made a circus catch late in the third quarter to set up a field goal. Interestingly, these guys play each other in Week 2, and it's easy to imagine each of them producing a top-10-TE week. Unfortunately, it's also easy to imagine the same thing for about 15 other guys.
James Jones, WR, Green Bay Packers (13.2 percent): This one might actually be partly about Jennings' injury, as Jones figures to pick up snaps on the outside if 85 isn't in there. Jones had four grabs for 81 yards and a score against the Niners on Sunday, although he's rarely the guy Rodgers looks for first (at least when Jennings is healthy). The short week could work in Jones' favor.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears (11.5 percent): Jeffery had only three first-half targets versus the Colts on Sunday and produced his big plays (a 23-yard reception, followed up with a 42-yard bomb for a touchdown) once the game was out of reach. But that doesn't mean the rookie can't gain Jay Cutler's confidence and continue to grow. He's mostly out there in three- and four-WR sets for now, but I can see that changing as the season progresses.
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Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings (3.6 percent): Ponder looks like a better NFL player than he was in college. His arm is bigger, and the injury concerns that plagued him at Florida State haven't flared up yet. Things will get better for him once Jerome Simpson comes off suspension; for now, he's left hitting Percy Harvin and Rudolph with shorter stuff. Remember that Ponder ran for 219 yards in 11 games last season, so he should produce more on the ground than the single yard he had in Week 1. In a two-QB league, you could do far worse (plus he faces the Colts next week).
Jeremy Kerley, WR, New York Jets (0.8 percent): Kerley made my list of Super-Deep Sleepers this summer and paid dividends right away, returning a punt for a TD and grabbing four catches for 45 yards and the Jets' first TD on Sunday. Expecting things to ever be thus is probably silly, but Kerley fits the mold of a smart, quick slot player who can get lost in a defense. He's best-suited as a PPR deep-leaguer.
Martellus Bennett, TE, New York Giants (36.7 percent) and Dennis Pitta, TE, Baltimore Ravens (2.5 percent): Let's face it, I could easily have put Bennett and Pitta in the same group as Fleener and Rudolph above. Tight end is just replete with talent. Unfortunately, much of it isn't "week-to-week" talent, as in: I'm not sure you can count on it week-to-week. Pitta has Ed Dickson to deal with, although on Monday night Pitta had nine targets to Dickson's three. And while Bennett continues to intrigue with his talent (and he did score a Week 1 touchdown), he still runs inconsistent routes.
Mikel Leshoure, RB, Detroit Lions (17.8 percent): Kevin Smith scored twice in Week 1 and produced 91 yards from scrimmage while staying healthy. That makes him the favorite to stay in the RB driver's seat even when LeShoure returns from suspension in Week 3. However, next week the Lions face the rabid 49ers run defense, which means Smith looks likely to struggle. Plus, we know how injury-prone he is, and he'll get hit hard in San Francisco. It's still uncertain whether Leshoure is fully recovered from his torn Achilles, so this is certainly a speculative add. But in a deeper league, it's one I'd probably make.
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