For a deeper review of players that are either new to the scene or playing differently than expected, Double Coverage will give the respective views of John Tuvey (Start Bench List) and David Dorey (Game Predictions and Player Projections). We'll bring 47 years of combined fantasy football experience to bear and hopefully a few things to think about as you manage your fantasy team.
TE Jason Witten (DAL)
DOREY: That's the rule of fantasy football. Maybe of life. Something is bad once and it is meaningless. Something is bad twice and it is a concern. After three times it is a real trend to respect. And then of course the fourth time when you no longer are willing to rely on it, he catches 13 passes for 112 yards and one touchdown. Through the first three weeks, Witten only totaled eight catches for 76 yards and dropped as many as he caught it seemed. Then against the visiting Bears, he exploded with the third highest number of catches in a game for his career. Are we back to high production or was that just the aberration to ignore? Most of what Witten did last week came after the game was well in hard for the Bears and they preferred short passes to allowing the wideouts a deeper catch. The score came late as well so Witten is highly unlikely to repeat that game. But I still like him ongoing because the next two games are on the road to BAL and CAR. Romo had such problems in week four that he has to be a little more gun shy about Dez Bryant and Witten is back at least in the sense he is catching the ball instead of playing volleyball. Ongoing - Witten should be solid.
TUVEY: I’m a Witten apologist, have been for quite some time, so it killed me to see his game tail off so badly over the first few weeks of the season. Understandable, given that he suffered a spleen injury in the preseason; that’s not exactly something you can just slap a Band-Aid on and go. The double-digit catches against Chicago may have come in a losing effort, but they tell me he’s back. Think about it: does Tony Romo throw in the vicinity of Dez Bryant, who may or may not be running the right route? Or does he go to his security blanket, who has left the dropsies in the rear-view mirror? Dallas is a pass-first team, Romo doesn’t enjoy getting killed, and he doesn’t enjoy looking foolish by throwing the ball where Dez should be. It all adds up to business as usual for Witten, which makes him an every-week starting fantasy TE.
QB Christian Ponder (MIN)
TUVEY: Let’s preface this discussion with three key points. 1) I am an unabashed Vikings homer. 2) I am a Christian Ponder fan; loved the pick when they made it, firmly believe he can be the team’s franchise quarterback as they return to the upper echelon of the NFC. And perhaps most importantly 3) I am completely and utterly able to separate my fandom from my fantasy football-dom. To that end, last week when seemingly all of the national fantasy football “experts” were jumping on board the Ponder bandwagon I wasn’t along for the ride. Sure, Ponder has a couple nice matchups on his docket over the next fortnight, but after that it’s a rocky road indeed. Plus, the Vikings offense runs through Adrian Peterson; Ponder’s job right now, which he’s done quite well, is to keep the chains moving with the short passing game (hence the success of tight end Kyle Rudolph and the high catch count/low yardage totals for Percy Harvin) and not turn the ball over. Sure, he’s going to take a few shots down the field at Jerome Simpson but his fantasy upside is 260 and 2; most weeks, you can do better.
DOREY: Yeah, I don't like him. It always freaks me out when I see a quarterback that decreased in passing yardage in all four weeks so far and just comes off a 111 yard game with no scores against the Lions. That alone says do not ever use this guy. Two of his games had no touchdowns. His last two were sub 200-yards. He might do something on occasion but in fantasy football there is no way he is going to be top 16 so therefore not worthy of being a starter in 99.9% of the leagues. I don't see his upside as 260 and 2, I see that as his ceiling in a freak game. Do the math - his regression says he should throw for 75 yards this week. I won't even use the guy to fill a bye week. If he has an easy matchup, Adrian Peterson gets to have fun - not Ponder.
RB Rashard Mendenhall (PIT)
DOREY: Me and Rashard broke-up last year. It was not a pretty break-up. I was infatuated with him some in 2011 since his schedule looked delightful and he had 13 touchdowns and 1440 total yards the previous year. But - new offense this year and even last year they would not use him more than 17 or 18 runs per game and most the time he would end up with less than 60 yards or so. He ran for over 100 yards only twice (home games against STL and JAC who they do not face this year). I followed him closely and while his fantasy value was savaged in seven games by scoring a touchdown, overall he was a huge disappointment. He was no difference maker to be sure and half the time he was a liability. Now he comes back from knee surgery to an offense that splits carries almost exactly in half between Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. You know they are going to ease Mendenhall into playing again and I do not see him ever being a 20 carry guy because he never was last year and the offense rushes even less now. I am not that optimistic. He is not that great of a runner, coming off a knee injury into a committee backfield. Only if I had no other options would I bother with him.
TUVEY: The Pittsburgh backfield has been thoroughly under whelming in Mendenhall’s absence, so it should be no surprise everyone is ready to hand him the keys to the starting gig as soon as he hits the field. I’m cautiously optimistic, but I’m buying only if the value is extremely low. After all, I wasn’t overly impressed by Mendenhall previously and he is coming off a serious knee injury. Moreover, the Steelers are still a pass-first team. It’s worth a pitch, though; like I said last week, if there’s a potential double-digit carries back in your free agent pool you cast a line first and ask questions later. And if Mendy is already on a roster, you could do worse than pointing out the committee nature of the Steelers backfield and picking him up on the cheap. I’m not treating him like a starting fantasy back right now, but I’m not oblivious to the possibility that he could be.
WR Brian Hartline (MIA)
DOREY: You have to respect anyone that gains 253 yards in a game. That is more than merely a good afternoon. But I am not all that high on Hartline for the future because half of his games average two catches for 45 yards. As I see it, his game is entirely dependent on what the defense wants to do and who they want to limit. Reggie Bush has the biggest concern to the defense every week. What also bothers me is how OC Mike Sherman was saying that his offense did not need a #1 receiver which is why they allowed Brandon Marshall to leave and not replace him. I'll watch this situation, but I fully expect that Hartline will be highly inconsistent at best. But in a reception points league, Hartline is worth a start for now to see where this goes. He has two games with 11 and 19 catches respectively. But the other two were three and just one. He is worth owning to be sure. Where he goes? I'll be shocked if he ends up to be more than moderate fantasy starter overall.
TUVEY: My initial reaction to Hartline’s big game last week was “fluke”. My second reaction was comparing his status as the Dolphins’ top wideout to being the tallest jockey at the track; hey, somebody’s gotta win. But now I’m starting to warm up to Hartline a little bit. He’s getting a ton of targets, and Ryan Tannehill is flashing more than a little competence. It’s not a particularly favorable schedule stretched out in front of the Phins, but I’m cool with Hartline as a WR3/flex guy with WR2 upside, at least during the bye weeks that thin fantasy rosters.
RB Brandon Bolden (NE)
TUVEY: There was some buzz about Bolden in the preseason, but more of the “the Patriots may stash this guy on their practice squad, keep an eye on him” buzz—not “he’s going to blow up in Week 4” buzz. I’d like to think his 16-137-1 against Buffalo was a product of the Patriots’ offensive success, allowing them to give Bolden his most extensive NFL test drive. But as a Stevan Ridley owner in multiple leagues—already on the ledge thanks to the inexplicable workload of Danny Woodhead—I’m concerned. At minimum Bolden replaces Shane Vereen as the potential next man up in New England, and in leagues where I have Ridley and roster room I’m buying Bolden just in case. I’m not ready to plug him into a starting lineup yet, but because Bill Belichick can suddenly become a rich man’s Mike Shanahan, I’m losing sleep over what kind of touches Ridley will get going forward.
DOREY: The only thing that Brandon Bolden has really accomplished to me is making Shane Vereen nothing more than a footnote to the 2011 NFL draft. Cannot imagine ever being able to start him unless Stevan Ridley was injured. Bolden gets the cold leftovers whenever Ridley has too much on his plate and that meant big things in Buffalo. But same guy only had seven carries for 15 runs in the two games that he played and he did not have any work in week two. He's just another backup type to own and wait for an injury.
WR Jordan Norwood (CLE)
TUVEY: The Browns are so desperate for receiver help that when a guy shows up and gets 10 targets—on just 37 snaps, no less—it’s worth a look-see. Norwood operates mostly out of the slot, though at the rate Cleveland’s other receivers are dropping—Mohamed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin are still sidelined with hamstring injuries and Josh Cribbs’ family wants him to retire after suffering a concussion last week—there may be a starting role in his future. Greg Little is inconsistent, and the Browns steadfastly refuse to get Jordan Cameron involved so there’s at least a modicum of upside to Norwood. I’m not racing to the waiver wire to add him, but he’s a guy to keep in mind with bye weeks draining the free agent pool—especially with a reasonably favorable schedule (Giants, Bengals, Colts) on the immediate horizon.
DOREY: You look at a team like the Browns who have a rookie quarterback that has already thrown for over 300 yards twice and think - who is the guy getting it done here? And the answer is... well.. kind of nobody. I mean they all combine for the pass yardage of Brandon Weeden but individually they are way off the fantasy radar. As mentioned by John, Mohamed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin have hamstring injuries. Greg Little drops so many passes that you wonder if he comes from a volleyball background. Norwood finally played last week and was thrown 10 passes in his first game. Worth watching though probably nothing will come from it. The Browns still want Josh Gordon to pay back on his ridiculously high cost in the supplemental draft. They still want Greg Little just hang onto the ball. But someone has to step up in Cleveland and they have a quarterback there that needs the help and has the talent to make something happen. Be interesting to watch at least.