- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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As I wrote in Monday's Instant Impressions column, Week 5 was marked by several fantasy-relevant injuries. Unfortunately, none of them have clear-cut waiver-wire solutions.
Cedric Benson hurt his left foot and is out for at least two months, but doesn't have an obvious backup (as I'll discuss in a moment). Ryan Williams hurt his shoulder and is out for the season, but the Arizona Cardinals are already missing Beanie Wells and also don't have an obvious inheritor (ditto, more in a moment). Robert Griffin III suffered a concussion, but neither Kirk Cousins nor Rex Grossman would be options in any size league should RG3 miss next week. Jimmy Graham rolled an ankle but his New Orleans Saints are on bye next week. Jermichael Finley also hurt his shoulder, but has a chance to play Sunday, and I'm not sure D.J. Williams is ready to be a fantasy factor regardless. Unless you're excited by Brady Quinn, who will clearly replace the concussed Matt Cassel, it's a depth-chart mess.
But I'll do my best to help you sort it out:
Standard ESPN league finds
Alex Green, RB, Green Bay Packers (owned in 0.8 percent of ESPN.com leagues): When Benson went out Sunday, Green took over lead-back duties. He did rip off a 41-yard scamper that illustrated the speed and power that caused me to add him to my Super-Deep Sleepers list this summer, but he produced 14 yards on his other eight carries. Is a he a sure bet to dominate backfield touches in Week 6 when the Packers take on the undefeated Houston Texans and their strong run defense? I'm not sure. James Starks (5.9 percent owned) practiced all last week and was a surprise inactive for Week 5, so it seems to me there's a legitimate chance he's activated for the first time in '12 and gets in the mix. If that's the case, we could be looking at a hot-hand situation, and considering the opponent, that's probably a situation best left out of your starting lineup. However, if I'm making a season-long roster investment? I'm pretty sure I'd pick Green over Starks. (Remember, though, that John Kuhn is likely to be a factor in short yardage.)
William Powell, RB, Arizona Cardinals (0.1 percent): I could just as easily have started this section with LaRod Stephens-Howling (0.4 percent) or Alfonso Smith (0.0 percent), because it's unclear how Arizona will replace the missing Williams/Wells combo. LSH is the most proven commodity here, with 111 career touches from scrimmage and a reputation as one of the NFL's best kickoff returners, but he's 5-foot-7 and 185 pounds and likely wouldn't hold up to an every-down pounding. The rookie Powell beat out Smith during training camp this summer but may have suffered a concussion in Week 5, and has eight career touches. Smith, the biggest member of the trio, is a practice-squad talent who could be asked to bang near the goal line. The problem all these guys have is that the Cardinals' rushing game has averaged 63.4 yards per game and a league-low 2.7 yards per carry. The offensive line that got Kevin Kolb massacred against the St. Louis Rams last Thursday isn't any better opening holes. So while the desperate fantasy owners among us should probably take a shot at one or more of these guys on the small chance that one of them busts out, expectations should be low. If I had to choose one, it would be Powell, the most complete back of the troika. But you know what? If I were the Cardinals, I'd call the Saints about Chris Ivory (0.3 percent). I'm not a reporter, so I have no idea if this is in the works or even possible. But Ivory would be an improvement over all these guys, and would be addable in all leagues.
Jahvid Best, RB, Detroit Lions (1.7 percent): As of this writing, Best still hadn't been cleared by doctors to return to the practice field, so this would be a mighty speculative add. Mikel Leshoure is still the best bet to lead the Lions in backfield touches going forward, and it's unfair to slam him too hard for his 13-carry, 26-yard effort against the Minnesota Vikings a couple of weeks back, considering how difficult the Vikes have been to run on lately. But it would also be a mistake to proclaim Leshoure a definitive answer at RB. Maybe it's his rehabbed Achilles, but Leshoure doesn't look like he's got much big-play ability right now. Should Best make his way back on to an NFL field, it might not be as a feature back, but he's a home-run hitter of the highest order and he'd be ownable in all leagues. It's not the worst idea in the world to get ahead of the curve.
Rueben Randle, WR, New York Giants (38.4 percent): Tom Coughlin hasn't yet given much information about Hakeem Nicks' availability for a Week 6 showdown with the San Francisco 49ers, but considering how quickly he was ruled out last week, I'm not optimistic. Randle and Domenik Hixon split 17 targets Sunday, and Randle had the slightly bigger day (82 yards to 55), while Victor Cruz scored three TDs. I have no question that Randle has more physical talent than Hixon, but he's also significantly rawer, and it would be difficult to choose between them for a fantasy starter versus the 49ers. If you're in desperation mode trying to replace Nicks, though, the rookie Randle may help.
Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans (10.5 percent): Surprisingly, Kenny Britt was declared active for Sunday's game in Minnesota, but he was hobbled and caught only two passes (one of which came on the final play of a blowout), while Wright saw a team-high 11 targets and caught nine of them for 66 yards. He's an ultra-quick rookie who's mostly running underneath stuff for the shaky Matt Hasselbeck, which makes him a likelier offensive focus than downfield guys like Britt and Nate Washington. Of course, it's fair to wonder whether anyone on the Titans' offense is usable Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but if I have a vacancy in a PPR league, Wright deserves a look.
Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings (27.8 percent): Ponder was a "Deeper-League Find" in Week 1, and he's been inching his way up the rolls since then. He's played well, and his team is 4-1, but he has inherent fantasy limitations in the form of an arch-conservative offense that takes minimal downfield shots. Ponder threw his first two picks of '12 last week and hasn't sniffed a 300-yard game, but if you're in search of a bye-week fill-in, I definitely don't mind him going against a Washington Redskins defense that's mostly been burnable by opposing pass games this year.
Miami Dolphins D/ST (4.2 percent): The Fins have taken advantage of two good matchups the past two weeks to score 14 fantasy points against both the Cardinals and the Cincinnati Bengals. Cameron Wake is playing as great against the run as he is rushing the passer, Karlos Dansby is still a spectacular man in the middle, Reshad Jones has been a revelation at free safety and the defensive tackle combo of Paul Soliai and Randy Starks is a run-stuffer's paradise. The corners aren't great, which means the pass defense can sometimes get burned, but against the Rams on Sunday, I'm willing to take a chance. If the Dolphins aren't available in your league, you might also look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4.3 percent), who haven't been great, but get to face Quinn and the Chiefs on Sunday.
Other solid waiver adds, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Tim Tebow, QB, Jets (14.3 percent); Brandon Bolden, RB, Patriots (21.1 percent); Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Falcons (16.8 percent); Domenik Hixon, WR, Giants (17.3 percent); Randall Cobb, WR, Packers (28.8 percent); Jeremy Kerley, WR, Jets (33.2 percent); Andrew Hawkins, WR, Bengals (31.4 percent); Scott Chandler, TE, Bills (40.2 percent).
Kendall Hunter, RB, San Francisco 49ers (11.4 percent): I already waxed rhapsodic enough about Hunter in last Friday's Hard Count, but suffice it to say that I'm quite fond of the young man for dynasty-league owners. I grant you that his impressive production over the past two weeks -- 19 carries for 137 yards -- happened in blowouts, and I grant you that Brandon Jacobs could eventually steal the 49ers' short TDs. Heck, Hunter probably isn't even a great handcuff for Frank Gore, though he's the best candidate to lead a platoon should Gore go down. But sometimes it's just a smart move to add good players.
Devery Henderson, WR, New Orleans Saints (1.7 percent): With Lance Moore out with a bad hamstring and Jimmy Graham hobbled by an injured ankle, Henderson became a target of last resort for Drew Brees and wound up with eight catches for 123 yards and a TD on Sunday night. The Saints have a Week 6 bye, which probably means Moore and/or Graham will return to health by the time New Orleans takes the field again. Just in case, though, Henderson could be added; after Marques Colston the Saints are pretty much out of able-bodied receiver depth.
Danny Woodhead, RB, New England Patriots (9.3 percent): Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden are vastly likelier to get early-down carries, and Shane Vereen stole a short TD in Week 5, but when it comes to passing downs, little Woody is New England's man. He produced two of the Patriots' most important plays in Sunday's win: a 25-yard reception on a third-and-14, and a 19-yard run on a third-and-17. Of course, Woodhead has 41 touches in five games, so he'd be mighty hard to start except in a real pinch.
Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns (0.3 percent): Gordon doesn't have more than three catches in any of his five NFL contests, but he did grab TDs of 62 and 20 yards Sunday against the Giants. A big (6-4, 220 pounds), raw rookie taken in the second round of this summer's supplemental draft, Gordon is a bad bet for consistent fantasy value, but at least he's got talent. One imagines the Browns have seen about enough of jittery-handed Greg Little as their top target, and while Jordan Norwood (0.0 percent) caught all nine of his targets for 81 yards Sunday, he's merely a slot receiver on an aerially challenged offense.
Jeff Cumberland, TE, New York Jets (0.2 percent): Dustin Keller missed his fourth straight contest Monday night, opening the field for the 260-pound Cumberland, who showed nice hands in catching a 27-yard score against the Texans. Adhering to faith in any of the Jets' offensive weapons is probably a losing game right now, but if you're in a super-deep league and need a TE flyer, here he is.
Jamie Harper, RB, Tennessee Titans (0.1 percent): With Chris Johnson struggling behind a bad offensive line and Javon Ringer out 4-to-6 weeks with a knee injury, Harper may enter the fantasy conversation during the next month, if only as an alternative to CJ0K. The second-year man out of Clemson is a 233-pound ball of thunder, who doesn't move with agility and who's touched the ball twice all season.
Other solid waiver adds for deep-leaguers, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Dolphins (5.4 percent); LeGarrette Blount, RB, Buccaneers (27.1 percent); Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins (4.6 percent); Ronnie Hillman, RB, Broncos (0.6 percent); Joique Bell, RB, Lions (1.5 percent); Shaun Draughn, RB, Chiefs (4.3 percent); Andre Roberts, WR, Cardinals (29.1 percent); Golden Tate, WR, Seahawks (4.4 percent); Donnie Avery, WR, Colts (9.1 percent); Armon Binns, WR, Bengals (0.8 percent); T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts (1.1 percent); Brandon Myers, TE, Raiders (1.0 percent).
Christopher Harris lists his top waiver-wire pickups heading into Week 6, including Alex Green, Kendall Wright and Christian Ponder.