Choice, Powell, Barden worth a look
Injuries, poor production open door for potential fantasy success
Last week's crop of waiver-wire candidates had the appearance of extreme uselessness, so much so that I put Mikel Leshoure, a guy who'd never played a regular-season NFL snap, at the top of my list. And buried on my list of deeper-league finds was Andre Brown, who was a questionable bet to use in Week 3 because Ahmad Bradshaw hadn't yet been ruled out and David Wilson loomed. The rest is history. Brown scored 24 standard-league fantasy points Thursday night and Leshoure scored 19 on Sunday. As of this writing, Brown is owned in 41.9 percent of ESPN leagues and Leshoure in 36.9 percent, and clearly each should be owned in all leagues. Leshoure is the more attractive commodity at the moment, because it's obvious that the Detroit Lions are over Kevin Smith, who didn't have a single touch in Sunday's overtime loss (Leshoure had 30), whereas Bradshaw may return in Week 4. Let this be a lesson that sometimes tweaking your roster, even if it doesn't seem like a big deal at the time, can yield good results. Let's look at some more free agents:
Week 4 byes: Colts, Steelers
Standard ESPN-League Finds
Tashard Choice, RB, Buffalo Bills (owned in 0.4 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Chris Mortensen reported on "Monday Night Football" that he believes Fred Jackson will play in Week 4 against the New England Patriots, but it makes sense for owners who've lived off of Jackson and/or C.J. Spiller to add Choice this week just in case. The Bills have proved that RBs running and receiving out of their spread attack can do great fantasy damage, and after Spiller suffered his shoulder injury Sunday, the otherwise pedestrian Choice produced 99 yards on 22 total touches. My guess is that even if Jackson plays, Choice will have a significant supplemental role this week, though you probably won't be able to start him unless both Jackson and Spiller are declared inactive.
Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets (1.1 percent): Watch out for a changing of the guard in Gotham. Shonn Greene has lived up to every expectation I had for him before the season, which is to say that he has been dreadful. He has 157 yards on 57 carries, and while you wouldn't say the Jets' O-line has been magnificent, Greene offers no speed or elusiveness. He's just another guy. Powell, at least, offers a bit more quickness, even if he's not really any more of a burner than Greene. Against a hopping-mad San Francisco 49ers defense this week, all fantasy owners should stay far away from starting this crew. But Powell is worth a speculative add, just to see how this backfield plays out. (At some point, this stagnant attack has to make more use of Tim Tebow, though, doesn't it?)
Ramses Barden, WR, New York Giants (0.7 percent): With Hakeem Nicks out in Week 3 and Victor Cruz drawing over-the-top and underneath coverage help all night, Barden was open time after time on simple little square-in patterns that the Carolina Panthers seemingly wouldn't cover. As a result, Barden wound up with nine grabs on 10 targets for 138 yards. Domenik Hixon is battling a concussion and rookie Rueben Randle is nowhere to be found at the moment, which puts the giant Barden at least safely in the No. 3 wideout job for the Giants. If Nicks' foot continues to bug him, or if he simply continues down the path of always being injured, Barden becomes a fantasy starter in most leagues. He belongs on your fantasy bench, especially if you're a Nicks owner.
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Atlanta Falcons (9.4 percent): Michael Turner just keeps plopping into the end zone (he has a TD in back-to-back weeks), which covers up for his execrable game film. Oh sure, I mean, he did produce gains of 25 and 18 yards late against the San Diego Chargers, but to that point he'd been thoroughly bottled up and San Diego's D was spent. Meanwhile, Rodgers played extensively on Atlanta's first series and caught the game's first score, and he consistently earned nice chunks whether carrying it or catching it. You certainly can't think about starting him right now, and I remain skeptical that he's ever going to be an every-down runner. But with the rest of the Falcons' offense looking so high-octane and Turner looking so diesel, something eventually may give. It wouldn't be the worst idea to have Rodgers hanging around your bench.
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins (3.1 percent): Reggie Bush took a helmet to the knee in the second quarter Sunday and never returned. In his place, Daniel Thomas (who'd already vultured a short TD) got the most work, to the tune of 19 carries. But Miller got nine himself, and once again flashed his sprinter's speed on a 22-yarder. Meanwhile, Thomas lost a crucial fumble. It sounds like Bush has a chance to play Sunday against the Cardinals, and even if he doesn't, Thomas figures to be the lead platoon-mate and close-in TD hammer. But over the past two weeks, Miller has proved he belongs in the rotation. He's another guy worth a bench investment in most leagues. It's not as though Bush has been the picture of health for much of his pro career.
Golden Tate, WR, Seattle Seahawks (1.3 percent): Tate introduced himself to America as the man who didn't catch a game-winning TD on Monday night, but got credit nonetheless. Plus, he obviously committed offensive pass interference on the play. But don't let that take anything away from the nice route he ran on a first-half deep ball Monday night, which went for a legit TD. Tate is really Seattle's only hope for a reliable fantasy threat at WR (Sidney Rice doesn't seem to have it in him right now), and if you're in the mood to speculate that this crazy "win" over the Green Bay Packers will propel Russell Wilson to greater heights, I say Tate is the WR to invest in. (Plus, if your league gives bonus points for illegal, unpenalized-but-fineable open-field blocks, Tate has extra value.) Of course, Wilson's best pass-yardage day through three NFL games is 153, so we probably shouldn't hold our breath just yet.
Arizona Cardinals D/ST (18.7 percent). I recall sitting in a conference room down in Bristol this past May and talking about fantasy defenses with Jim McCormick. And Jim was convinced I was underrating the Cardinals D, and I listened, and boosted them several spots up my ranks. Thank you, Jim. Through three weeks, the Cards have produced 12, 7 and 21 fantasy points, and those past two efforts were against the (supposedly) high-octane offenses of New England and Philly. This group has playmakers at all three levels: The four true standouts are Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington and Patrick Peterson. It's a fast, tough, mean unit that gets to host the Miami Dolphins Sunday. If you're streaming defenses, add them now.
Other solid waiver adds, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Mikel Leshoure, RB, Lions (36.9 percent); Andre Brown, RB, Giants (41.9 percent); Brandon LaFell, WR, Panthers (49.1 percent); Andrew Hawkins, WR, Bengals (6.3 percent); Dennis Pitta, TE, Ravens (43.0 percent); Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings (14.2 percent).
Shaun Hill, QB, Detroit Lions (0.3 percent): Sunday, Matthew Stafford injured a hamstring trying to run down a Tennessee Titans defender who'd just recovered a fumble, and had to leave the game. In his place, Hill completed 10 of 13 passes for 172 yards and 2 TDs. Of course, he also took an ill-fated fourth-down snap in overtime that ruined the Lions' chances to tie the game, but that's not our concern at the moment. If you're a Stafford owner in a deeper league, I'd grab Hill for insurance, because we can't be sure yet whether the starter will play. Remember: Detroit has a Week 5 bye. Hill is one of the league's best backups, and would be an adequate fill-in considering the aerial weaponry that would be at his disposal.
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Damaris Johnson, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (0.3 percent): Johnson is an undersized, undrafted rookie from Tulsa who wowed the Iggles from the beginning of minicamp. With Jeremy Maclin injured Sunday, Johnson stepped into the starting lineup and caught five of 11 targets for 84 yards. At this point in his career, he's better in the open field than he is as a precision route-runner, but Maclin's hip could continue to bother him. If Maclin can't play, Johnson becomes at least a deep-league flex.
Joique Bell, RB, Lions (0.2 percent). As I mentioned above, for one week Kevin Smith's fall off the fantasy map was precipitous and total. I can't promise he'll stay uninvolved, and I can't tell you he's a must-drop. But I can say that when the Lions needed someone to spell an exhausted Mikel Leshoure in overtime Sunday, they went to Bell. It's possible he's the new backup in the Motor City, and while that isn't a thrilling role to contemplate, remember that Leshoure tore an Achilles last year.
Armon Binns, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (0.2 percent): Binns was a practice-squad favorite last year, impersonating the league's top wideouts and consistently beating the Bengals' defense. In retrospect, maybe that wasn't such an amazing feat (I kid), but Binns is now starting to make his presence known in real games. He's a big guy with good hands who doesn't have enough speed to consistently separate, but he beat one-on-one man coverage in Week 3 and scored a 48-yard TD. I don't love the guy, but I think he's a better player than Brandon Tate.
Shaun Draughn, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (3.9 percent): Peyton Hillis came out in the second half Sunday with an ankle injury, and as of this writing I haven't heard anything about his Week 4 status. He'll probably play. However, Hillis has been one of the young season's biggest disappointments, as whatever burst and power he had with the Cleveland Browns a couple years ago hasn't materialized in Kansas City. I honestly don't know much about Draughn pre-2012 regular season; what I've seen of him so far (mostly in mop-up duty) in these three games is middling speed, decent size and some acceptable north-south pop. If Hillis can't get his act together soon, Draughn could inherit what I once viewed as a valuable backup role behind Jamaal Charles in a hugely run-centric offense.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts (0.2 percent): Hilton was a surprise third-round pick in April's draft, as Indy fell in love with his 4.35 speed and didn't worry so much about his 183-pound frame. Before Austin Collie went down, Hilton seemed likeliest to contribute as a return man, but with Collie out for the year, Hilton gets into the mix for offensive snaps. He caught four passes for 113 yards Sunday, including a 40-yard TD. Donnie Avery is a better addition in fantasy leagues to play opposite Reggie Wayne, but Hilton has true big-play chops.
Other solid waiver adds for deep-leaguers, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Christian Ponder, QB, Vikings (5.9 percent); Donnie Avery, WR, Colts (15.6 percent); Jeremy Kerley, WR, Jets (4.8 percent); Julian Edelman, WR, Patriots (1.2 percent); Scott Chandler, TE, Bills (24.6 percent).
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