Free-agent finds for Week 5
Keep close eye on returning Mendenhall, resurgent Hartline, Roberts, Jones
You know His name. You know He's coming. And you know this Event will be covered by the media to such an extent that He deserves to have the intro to Free-Agent Finds all to Himself.
Tebow is owned in 13.5 percent of fantasy leagues, and I can't criticize that. It sounds unlikely that Rex Ryan will bench Mark Sanchez for Monday night's game against the Houston Texans. But if I'm a forward-looking fantasy owner with a spare bench spot? I'm adding Tebow. Because Sanchez's terrible play the past three weeks (admittedly against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Miami Dolphins and the San Francisco 49ers, three good-to-great defenses) cannot stand. In those three contests, Sanchez was 44-of-101 (a 43.6 percent completion rate) for 547 yards, two TDs and three picks. The Jets' offense has scored one TD in its past 34 possessions.
And you all know that, although Tebow isn't a very good real-life QB, his running makes him fantasy gold. Let's look at some more free agents:
Week 5 byes: Buccaneers, Cowboys, Lions, Raiders.
Standard ESPN league finds
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (owned in 63.6 percent of ESPN.com leagues). Normally I mandate a 50-percent-unowned policy for players to qualify here, but in Mendy's case, I'll make an exception. He's expected back from his torn ACL on Sunday, and Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer have combined to average 2.5 yards per carry in his place. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers expect Mendenhall to reassume starting duties right away, and, although he was nobody's idea of a super-dynamic player even before his knee injury, Mendy produced 8, 13 and 9 TDs the past three seasons. If he's available in your league, you're required to pick him up.
James Jones, WR, Green Bay Packers (21.6 percent). You are warned. Jones is about as maddening as they come. He has the frame (6-foot-1, 208 pounds); he has the speed (4.54 40, at least way back when); he has the offensive juggernaut (Aaron Rodgers is his QB), but the question has always been whether the space between his ears allows him to fulfill his potential. Opportunity is knocking again for JJ, as Greg Jennings reinjured his groin in Week 4, so Jones figures to jump into Rodgers' top three targets this Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. But do you remember the last time that happened? Here's a hint: It was a Thursday night in Week 2: Jennings didn't play, and Jones managed two catches for minus-1 yard and an on-field tongue-lashing from A-Rod. He has had hands problems throughout his pro career, too. But if Jennings sits -- which seems likely -- Jones becomes a top-30 fantasy wideout.
Brian Hartline, WR, Miami Dolphins (26.7 percent). Hartline already appeared in the "Standard" portion of FAF after Week 2, but his extraordinary 253-yard performance in Week 4 has everyone's attention, so I'll mention him again. Part of his output Sunday in Arizona was lucky. For instance, nobody covered him on an 80-yard bomb. But let's not write him off, especially given that he also produced 111 yards in Week 2. Alas, even if you owned Hartline entering Week 4, it's darned unlikely you started him, so the question you're asking is: What are his chances for an encore? Listen, obviously, they're not great. Ryan Tannehill is still the QB, and, amid his wacky 431-yard afternoon, he made some major mistakes (although his key interception actually was Hartline's fault, as the WR fell down). Hartline is a fast straight-line runner and wields a 6-2 frame, although he's not a particularly slippery executor of routes. Even against a shaky Cincinnati Bengals secondary this week, I won't have him inside my top 30 WRs. To me, it still seems as if Davone Bess is a likelier week-to-week threat in PPR leagues. But all this is nitpicking. Hartline should be owned because if I'm wrong and he's about to become a weekly breakout star, you should add him.
Jerome Simpson, WR, Minnesota Vikings (7.9 percent). I really should've included Simpson in last week's FAF column, although he produced only four grabs for 50 yards in Week 4. And this is a kid with seven career TDs and two career 100-yard games, as well as a three-game drug suspension, under his belt. But he's a rangy player with amazing athletic ability (you already know about his on-field flips the past couple of years), and, as a 4.47 guy at 6-2, he's really the only speed threat the Vikes have on the outside. Do I think that means Simpson will become an every-week fantasy starter at any point this year? No. Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin have been force-fed the football through September, and that doesn't figure to change. But this is a receiver with the skills to make big plays, and if I'm wrong, and he's ready to put it all together, a Sidney Rice circa 2009 breakout is remotely possible.
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Brandon Bolden, RB, New England Patriots (0.3 percent). Insert the requisite warning about Patriots RBs here. Bolden was part of a second-half onslaught in Week 4 and wound up with 137 yards and a TD, looking strong on his feet and taking advantage of a good O-line effort (and a dreadful defensive job by the Buffalo Bills). Of course, starter Stevan Ridley had 106 yards and two TDs himself, so this was no passing of the torch. And we also should note that Shane Vereen was active for the first time this season Sunday, although, for the moment, he clearly seems to be behind Bolden on the depth chart. With Danny Woodhead the preferred option when the Pats go hurry-up, it's hard to imagine there will continue to be 16 carries available for Bolden on a weekly basis. But Bill Belichick no doubt liked what he saw, so it's not impossible Bolden could continue to be a major part of game plans later in the year.
Minnesota Vikings D/ST (4.3 percent). The numbers are entirely skewed by the fact that the Vikings produced a kick return and a punt return for a TD Sunday (fun fact: The Detroit Lions became the first NFL team since 1940 to allow kick- and punt-return TDs in the same game in back-to-back weeks); nevertheless, this unit has produced a respectable 12 sacks in three games. More importantly, the Vikings face the Tennessee Titans at home in Week 5, and the Titans have been a top-five offense for fantasy defenses to play against so far this season. If you normally use the Cowboys or Lions units, here's your fill-in.
Other solid waiver adds, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Atlanta Falcons (17.9 percent); Brandon LaFell, WR, Carolina Panthers (42.3 percent); Andrew Hawkins, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (28.1 percent); Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings (40.7 percent); Scott Chandler, TE, Buffalo Bills (31.6 percent).
Deeper league finds
Andre Roberts, WR, Arizona Cardinals (1.8 percent). When Roberts salutes upon scoring a TD, he means it: The kid went to The Citadel. He got some extra saluting practice Sunday as he found the end zone twice, which gives him four TDs for the season. You're correct to be skeptical that Kevin Kolb is a good enough quarterback to sustain two fantasy-relevant wideouts, and indeed Roberts already has a 2-yard game this season. But in a deeper league, he's worth a roster spot because, although Larry Fitzgerald gets all the attention, quick Roberts often finds himself matched man-on-man against a defense's lesser corner.
Ronnie Hillman, RB, Denver Broncos (0.4 percent). Knowshon Moreno seems to have fallen well behind Hillman on the depth chart, as he was inactive for Week 4 while Hillman played behind Willis McGahee. In the blowout win, Hillman produced 63 yards on 12 touches (although he averaged only 3.1 yards per carry) and Lance Ball (the other handcuff candidate in Denver) had seven touches for 24 yards. I'm skeptical that Hillman would have fantasy-starter value should McGahee miss time, but deep-leaguers are permitted to view him as a possible handcuff and add him to their bench.
Domenik Hixon, WR, New York Giants (0.5 percent). It was Hixon, not Ramses Barden, who played in Hakeem Nicks' place in Week 4. While Barden saw only four targets, Hixon had 11, and he caught six of them for 114 yards. I'm sure you already know Hixon's deal: He's fine, but he likely would never hold up to increased scrutiny from opposing defenses. It sounds as if Nicks has very little chance to play in Week 5 because of his injured knee, and, if Sunday's game was any indication, Hixon would make a better emergency starter than Barden. But don't be surprised if these two WRs go back and forth from week to week.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins (3 percent). I mentioned Tannehill's 431 Week 4 passing yards above. It was a strong effort from the rookie, who hasn't been shy about throwing it down the field. But he has accounted for seven turnovers already and, Hartline's sweet output notwithstanding, there really isn't a speed threat in Tannehill's receiving corps. I still don't view this kid as having enough weapons to be even a top-20 QB at the moment, but if you're casting around for a bye-week replacement in a deeper league, take a shot.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (30.5 percent). Blount joined a three-headed rotation with Doug Martin and D.J. Ware in Sunday's heartbreaking loss, but what's most notable is that big Blount was the back of choice when Tampa hit the red zone. That hadn't been the case through three weeks, so it's possible Greg Schiano hasn't liked what he has seen in short yardage from Martin, and maybe Blount could be given a crack at what might seem like a natural role for him: battering-ram TD maker. However, his short Week 4 TD notwithstanding, that actually hasn't been a strength of the 247-pounder in his NFL career. I've never been a big fan, but deep-leaguers committed to Martin might look Blount's way for a handcuff of sorts.
Other solid waiver adds for deep-leaguers, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings (17.3 percent); Joique Bell, RB, Detroit Lions (0.8 percent); Shaun Draughn, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (4.5 percent); Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins (6.6 percent); Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears (14.1 percent); Golden Tate, WR, Seattle Seahawks (5.6 percent); Donnie Avery, WR, Indianapolis Colts (11 percent); Jeremy Kerley, WR, New York Jets (23.5 percent); Armon Binns, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (1.3 percent); T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts (1 percent).
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