FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Free Agent Forecast: Week 3
Paul Sandy
September 18, 2012
 
SYMBOL LEGEND
Rockstar Rock Star Free Agent
Injury Injury Replacement
Grab & Stash Grab & Stash
1 Week Plug & Play 1 Week Plug & Play
Dumpster Dive Dumpster Dive
Free Agent Auction
Bid (FAAB) Scale
$ $0 - $5
$$ $6 - $15
$$$ $16 - $25
$$$$ $26 - $40
$$$$$ $41+
Based on $100 cap,
12-team league.

Welcome to another season of the Free Agent Forecast. This weekly column is published every Tuesday morning and aims to identify free agents who will improve your chances of hoisting your league’s trophy at year end.

Given the diverse scoring systems and sizes of fantasy leagues, producing a weekly list of free agents that satisfies the masses can be challenging. For the most part, the column will hone in on players who are available in at least 35% of all fantasy leagues. If you play in a small league (8 teams), chances are there may be better players to pick up than you see listed here. If you play in a large league (16 teams), the majority of the players highlighted may already be on a squad; however, expect to find hidden gems, as well.

In addition to scouting “rock star” free agents who had breakout performances in the previous week, the Forecast will dig deep to identify players who may be worth a spot start or a roster stash.

QUARTERBACKS

Andy Dalton, Bengals
Rock StarDalton, whose fantasy ownership actually dropped between Week 1 and Week 2, lit up the Browns for three scores and 318 yards. If he was dropped in your league, consider adding the red rocket to your waiver priority list. The Bengas have a nice mix of offensive weapons and Dalton’s gunslinging mentality typically translates into useful stat lines. The Bengals have a cushy upcoming schedule with games against the Redksins, Jaguars, Dolphins and Browns so Dalton should be owned in all leagues.

Availability: Owned in ~68% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Dalton will perform like a low-end QB1 over the next month.
  
Alex Smith, 49ers
Rock StarIf last year’s postseason run didn’t change your opinion of Alex Smith, perhaps his first two games of 2012 will. He’s been a model of consistency, throwing for two touchdowns and over 200 yards in both outings. Smith also hasn’t been intercepted in his last 216 pass attempts. Sure, you’d like a litte more yardage each week but the 49ers QB will be an asset, especially as we approach the bye weeks. He takes what the defense gives him and can be counted on for servicable numbers against just about any opponent.

Availability: Owned in ~71% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Smith is no savior but he’s an appealing backup who can be used nearly any week you need QB help.

Sam Bradford, Rams
Rock StarBradford, who didn’t throw multiple touchdown passes in any game last season, tossed three in Sunday’s upset win over Washington. Equally impressive, he completed 26 of 35 passes for 310 yards. After a brutal sophomore slump, he appears on his way to a return to fantasy relevance. Consider him an adequate backup QB with the upside to creep into the top 15 fantasy QBs. He would rate higher on the Forecast but faces a difficult slate of upcoming games against the Bears, Seahawks and Cardinals—all three teams possess above average pass defenses.

Availability: Owned in ~44% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Bradford has the upside to become trade bait for fantasy owners later in the season.

Matt Cassel, Chiefs
1 Week Plug & PlayCassel isn’t a good NFL QB right now but his fantasy numbers are enticing. He passed for 301 yards and two touchdowns versus the Bills. Expect more of the same in Week 3 when the Chiefs face the Saints. New Orleans has allowed huge QB performances in both of the first two games. Their pass defense ranks seventh worst in the NFL. Expect the same recipe that worked for Cassel in Week 2. The Chiefs will fall behind early, forcing Cassel to attempt close to 40 passes, which will lead to useful fantasy numbers.  

Availability: Owned in ~30% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: It won’t be pretty but Cassel will continue to get it done for fantasy owners.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills
1 Week Plug & PlayFitzpatrick was more of a game manager than a fantasy standout on Sunday, leading the Bills to a home win over the Chiefs. He ended the day with 178 yards and two touchdowns. Although his performance was lacking flash, the bottom line is Fitzpatrick has thrown multiple touchdowns in both games this year. The Forecast likes his chances of making it three in a row this week against Cleveland. The Browns, who are without top cornerback Joe Haden (suspension), are allowing over 300 yards per game through the air. Fitzpatrick should go for at least 240 yards and 2-3 scores in Week 3.

Availability: Owned in ~62% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Give Fitzpatrick a spot start against the Browns if your QB situation is dire.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: Josh Freeman (72%)

On the Radar: Christian Ponder (21%) and Brandon Weeden (11%)

RUNNING BACKS

Andre Brown, Giants
Injury ReplacementGiants starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw suffered sprained neck in Sunday’s barnburner against Tampa. Conventional thinking had rookie David Wilson as the handcuff for Bradshaw but it was Andre Brown who got the bulk of the carries in his absence. Brown rushed the ball 13 times for 71 yards and a touchdown. He added 19 yards through the air. At this point it looks like Bradshaw will miss at least this Thursday’s game against Carolina. Look for Brown to be the bellcow with Wilson getting mixed in sporadically. Both players are worth owning until the situation becomes clearer.    

Availability: Owned in ~0% of leagues.
FAAB: $$-$$$ 
Forecast: Brown is a must-grab for Ahmad Bradshaw owners or anyone else who could use RB help.

Daryl Richardson, Rams
Injury ReplacementSt. Louis starter Steven Jackson left Sunday’s game against the Redskins with an apparent groin injury. After Jackson went down, rookie Daryl Richardson was thrust into the featured RB role and looked electric. He carried the ball 15 times for 83 yards, much of it coming on a 53-yard scamper that nearly resulted in a touchdown. Richardson is the clear No. 2 behind Jackson. Preseason sleeper Isiah Pead didn’t have a touch. Should Jackson miss any time, Richardson would likely be a top 20 fantasy RB and obviously merit starting consideration. Even when Jackson returns, Richardson has PPR value written all over him.

Availability: Owned in ~0% of leagues.
FAAB: $$-$$$ 
Forecast: Richardson should be acquired in all leagues but at 196 lbs., he’s probably a better fit in a committee as a passing down RB.

Pierre Thomas, Saints
1 Week Plug & PlayThomas was pegged here last week as a player worth stashing. He proved his worth blasting the Panthers for 143 yards on just 13 touches. Up next, Thomas will face a Chiefs defense that was gutted by Buffalo RBs for over 200 yards on Sunday. Although he’s not getting enough work to merit starting consideration on most weeks, the favorable matchup nudges him into consideration for a flex start. His Week 2 performance might also earn him increased playing time over Mark Ingram going forward.

Availability: Owned in ~62% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: It’s a good week to spot start Thomas if you’re in a pickle.

Bilal Powell, Jets
Grab & StashJets starting RB Shonn Greene got his bell rung in Sunday’s loss to the Steelers but apparently didn’t suffer a concussion. It looks like he’ll be fine for Week 3. Health concerns aside, Greene is a plodder who just isn’t getting it done. He could only muster 23 yards on 11 carries. It’s time for New York to go in another direction. Backup Bilal Powell didn’t exactly dazzle against Pittsburgh (9-33) but he has more speed and shake than Greene. Stash Powell with the hope that the Jets wake up and start giving him more playing time.

Availability: Owned in ~6% of leagues.
FAAB:
Forecast: Dedicate a roster spot to Powell as a speculative RB who could rise quickly should Greene fall out of favor.

Jonathan Dwyer, Steelers
1 Week Plug & PlayThe Forecast advised putting in a waiver claim on Dwyer last week but keeping him on the bench against the Jets. Dwyer received 12 carries but was stuffed, managing just 28 yards. Impatient fantasy owners will likely hop off the Dwyer bandwagon this week but let’s not be hasty. Dwyer’s disappointment came against the Jets. Up next, the Steelers face a Raiders team that was thoroughly whipped by Reggie Bush on Sunday for nearly 200 total yards. Exploit the favorable matchup and start Dwyer as a desperation RB2 or flex. Also consider Isaac Redman (82% owned) for his TD potential if he was dropped in your league.

Availability: Owned in ~63% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Deploy Dwyer as a plug-and-play option against the Raiders.

Jackie Battle, Chargers
Grab & StashWith Ryan Mathews (collarbone) still sidelined and Ronnie Brown and Curtis Brinkley proving ineffective, Kansas City castoff Jackie Battle received his opportunity to carry the load in the second half of San Diego’s win on Sunday. He rushed 14 times for 69 yards and two touchdowns. Mathews is due back next week, which limits Battle’s upside in the near term. However, Mathews has had trouble staying healthy throughout his career. Battle’s performance in Week 2 cements him as the clear handcuff. It’s also worth noting that San Diego has deployed a goal-line specialist (Mike Tolbert) in the past. Battle’s Week 2 success in that area could foreshadow more goal-line carries to come.

Availability: Owned in ~0% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Battle has earned more playing time, as well as a fantasy roster spot in 12-team leagues.

Lamar Miller, Dolphins
Dumpster DiveReggie Bush has made a believer out of long-time skeptics. His mammoth 197-yard performance on Sunday was pure brilliance. Still, if you’ve been playing fantasy for the last few years, you can’t help but have a nagging concern about Bush’s ability to carry the load as a workhorse. Will he hold up? Based on what we’ve seen, probably not. That’s why it’s not a bad idea to grab rookie Lamar Miller, who backed up Bush with Daniel Thomas on the sideline with a concussion. Miller had been projected as a second-round draft pick this year but he fell to the Dolphins in the fourth round. The Forecast likes his fantasy potential to eventually emerge as a feature RB in the NFL. Stash him if you’re in a dynasty, keeper or deep league.

Availability: Owned in ~5% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Clear a roster spot for Miller if you can and look for him to make a major splash at some point in 2012.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: Mikel Leshoure (80%) and Rashard Mendenhall (78%)

On the Radar: Joique Bell (1%) and Chris Ogbonnaya (0%)

WIDE RECEIVERS

Danny Amendola, Rams
Rock StarAmendola punched in with a monster stat line in Week 2, posting 15 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown. The fact that QB Sam Bradford threw Amendola’s way 16 times and he caught 15 of those passes screams that this duo is in synch. Don’t chalk the performance up to a one-week mirage. Amendola had WR2 promise in 2011 before he got hurt. Now that he’s healthy, fantasy owners should jump at the PPR potential he brings to the table. The Rams do have a tricky slate of games coming up but Amendola will get plenty of looks to keep productive.

Availability: Owned in ~48% of leagues.
FAAB: $$-$$$
Forecast: Amendola could be the new Wes Welker; bid big for his services in PPR leagues.

Mike Williams, Buccaneers
Rock StarWilliams, the rookie sensation from 2010, is back on the fantasy radar. He’s scored in both games so far this season. With Vincent Jackson drawing most of the attention from opposing defensive backfields, Williams is finding life a little bit easier and defensive secondaries a little bit more spacious. He caught three passes for 59 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s wild back-and-forth duel against the Giants. He also had a 29-yard catch on Tampa’s final drive inexplicably overturned by instant replay. Although the Forecast sees Williams as a tweener or low-end WR3, he ought to be owned in nearly all leagues by the middle of the week. 

Availability: Owned in ~64% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: With the Bucs playing good offense, Williams has officially reclaimed his fantasy relevance.

Andrew Hawkins, Bengals
1 Week Plug & PlayAlthough Hawkins only had two receptions against the Browns, he made one of them count, taking a dump-off pass and zigzagging his way to a 50-yard touchdown. He finished up with 56 yards. This follows a Week 1 performance in which he caught eight passes for 86 yards versus the Ravens. Fellow WR Brandon Tate actually out-produced Hawkins in Week 2, but the Forecast is firmly in Hawkins corner as the WR to grab. His quickness and ability to make things happen in the open field should lead to more useful fantasy stat lines. Grab him and start him as soon as this week against Washington.

Availability: Owned in ~22% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Plug Hawkins in versus the Redskins as a WR3 and look for at least 70 yards with a possible score.

Julian Edelman, Patriots
Grab & StashMaybe Bill Belichick holds a grudge against Wes Welker for his costly drop in last season’s Super Bowl. Welker has apparently been demoted to New England’s No. 3 WR. Julian Edelman got the start instead and was on the field for more plays than Welker. Welker still turned in the better fantasy stat line but Edelman was a factor with five catches for 50 yards. Keep an eye on the situation and stash Edelman. Something fishy is going on here. Welker is in the last year of his contract. Would it really be that stunning if Belichick deals Welker midseason, just as he did with Randy Moss a few years ago? 

Availability: Owned in ~0% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: With Aaron Hernandez out until October, Edelman’s playing time and his fantasy value should continue to rise.

Donnie Avery, Colts
1 Week Plug & PlayAvery was every bit the player the Forecast thought Austin Collie might be on Sunday. But with Collie still struggling to return from a concussion, Avery got the call and played the role of QB Andrew Luck’s security blankie. He caught nine passes for 111 yards. Although there were a couple big gainers, the majority of Avery’s work came on short and intermediate routes. With a home game this week against Jacksonville, Avery is worth a spot start in deep PPR leagues. Collie remains a recommended stash, as well.

Availability: Owned in ~22% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Roll the dice with Avery this week if your WR corps could use a boost.

Brian Hartline, Dolphins
Dumpster DiveIf you can’t get Danny Amendola this week, consider Hartline as a poor man’s version. He’s emerged as QB Ryan Tannehill’s favorite receiver. In fact, Tannehill has thrown Hartline’s way 20 times already this year. That’s the ninth most of any WR in the NFL. The duo hooked up for nine completions and 111 yards against the Raiders. Starting him this week against the Jets would be a little over-zealous. However, Hartline remains a worthy pickup in PPR leagues.

Availability: Owned in ~3% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Hartline has WR3 potential in PPR formats.

Jerome Simpson, Vikings
Grab & StashSimpson (suspension) is scheduled to return in Week 4 when the Vikings face the Lions. Make a preemptive pickup this week and beat the rush. The ex-Bengals wideout showed good rapport with QB Christian Ponder at times during the preseason. He has the speed to stretch the field and could prove to be an asset for fantasy owners in leagues that award bonus points for long touchdowns.

Availability: Owned in ~26% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Simpson is worth squirreling away in 12-team leagues.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: Brandon LaFell (75%), Denarius Moore (75%) and Sidney Rice (82%)

On the Radar: Greg Little (60%), Brandon Gibson (4%), Mario Manningham (48%), Mohamed Massaquoi (2%), Kendall Wright (55%), Laurent Robinson (49%), Brandon Tate (0%), Golden Tate (7%) and Andre Roberts (8%)

TIGHT ENDS

Dennis Pitta, Ravens
Rock StarWe’re two weeks into the season. If the TE you drafted is letting you down, don’t waste another week waiting for him to turn things around. There’s too much TE talent readily available on the waiver wire to sit idle. Start with Ravens TE Dennis Pitta, who has been Joe Flacco’s top target to this point. Flacco has thrown Pitta’s direction 24 times; that’s a dozen looks per week. It’s a Gronkowski-esque level of activity for a TE. Add Pitta this week and look for more good things when the Ravens take on a Patriots defense that has ceded 60+ yards to a TE in both games this year.

Availability: Owned in ~37% of leagues.
FAAB: $$
Forecast: Pitta is TE1 material at this point and is worth starting in all TE-mandatory leagues.

Martellus Bennett, Giants
Rock StarThe Forecast has been all-in on Bennett from the get go. His tenure with the Giants has gotten off to a fast start with touchdowns in two straight games. Many owners appear to have taken a wait-and-see approach with Bennett so far, but the percentage of leagues in which he’s owned should skyrocket this week. QB Eli Manning likes to throw Bennett’s way in the red zone, which is exactly what fantasy owners crave in a TE. Grab him and activate him for Thursday’s tilt against the Panthers.

Availability: Owned in ~54% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Look for another solid stat line from Bennett on Thursday against Carolina.

Brandon Meyers, Raiders
Dumpster DiveThe No. 1 receiver in Oakland isn’t a receiver at all. TE Brandon Meyers leads the Raiders with 151 yards through the air in 2012. Based on his two performances thus far in 2012, Meyers is worth adding as a speculative backup in deep leagues. On a team that’s loaded with speedy wideouts, Meyers is probably the team’s best “move-the-sticks” pass catcher. Add him now and see if he has staying power because the Raiders have a juicy stretch of schedule over the middle part of the season when the bye weeks heat up.

Availability: Owned in ~0% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Add Meyers in larger, more competitive leagues and hope his hot start carries into the bye weeks.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: Brent Celek (79%), Owen Daniels (84%) and Kyle Rudolph (61%)

On the Radar: Dante Rosario (0%), Heath Miller (38%), Scott Chandler (15%)

KICKERS

Justin Tucker, Ravens
Rock StarTucker is already a Free Agent Forecast three-timer this season. He leads the entire league in scoring with 25 points and is coming off massive effort in which he drilled two 50-yard field goals. If your regular kicker hasn’t achieved a double-digit stat line so far in 2012, you should probably take a serious look at adding Tucker. He has a booming leg and can be started in all formats and scoring systems this week against New England.

Availability: Owned in ~38% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Last call on Tucker, who should be added in the majority of leagues this week.

Lawrence Tynes, Giants
1 Week Plug & PlayThe Giants offense exploded like a powder keg in the second half of Sunday’s win over Tampa. Look for the momentum to carry forward to Thursday night’s game versus the Panthers, which should be a high-scoring affair. Carolina has allowed at least nine points to kickers in both of their outings so far. New York’s Lawrence Tynes should flirt with double-digit points and reward fantasy owners who grab him this week.

Availability: Owned in ~37% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Give Tynes a spot start on Thursday and look for good things.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: Alex Henery (76%) and Jason Hanson (88%)

On the Radar: Blair Walsh (17%) and Greg Zuerline (13%)

DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS

Arizona Cardinals
1 Week Plug & PlayThe Cardinals always play tough at home but historically haven’t traveled well on the road. So their Week 2 road win at New England was a stunner and may indicate this year’s Cardinals defense is legit for fantasy purposes. Arizona sacked Tom Brady four times and recorded one turnover. With a home game against the error-prone Eagles on Sunday afternoon, the Cardinals are a wise pickup for defensively challenged fantasy franchises. Arizona is tied for fourth in the NFL in sacks with seven.

Availability: Owned in ~24% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Set your expectations high for the Cardinals when they host Philly in Week 3.

Atlanta Falcons
Rock StarThe Dirty Birds are capable of giving up big yardage so they might not be the right DST for all leagues and scoring systems. However, you can’t argue with their ability to stir up trouble and cause turnovers. Through two games, they’ve notched five interceptions and two fumble recoveries to go along with four sacks. Take your chances with them this week against the Chargers. San Diego QB Phillip Rivers threw 20 interceptions last season. He’s limited the mistakes so far in 2012 but the competition (OAK and TEN) has been inferior.

Availability: Owned in ~24% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: After their breakout MNF performance, the Falcons are worth adding.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: Lions (72%) and Cowboys (86%)

On the Radar: N/A


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