1. Kyle Orton, Bears
Injuries and benchings have made identifying bye week pickups at the QB position a thorny exercise. Until they prove otherwise, guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Damon Huard aren’t usable. If you’re lucky, a player like Matt Schaub or David Garrard (both owned in over 70% of leagues) will be floating out there in the free agent pool—cast aside by an impatient owner. However, in most leagues the pickings are slimmer, which makes Chicago’s Kyle Orton an enticing option. He has thrown 30+ passes in three straight games and has earned the trust of Chicago’s coaching staff. Orton may never emerge as a consistent fantasy starter, but Chicago’s willingness to chuck the ball has made him a relevant part of the QB discussion. He passed for 199 yards and three scores against Philly, which happens to have one of the best defenses in the NFL. With Detroit on tap next, Orton is a smart pickup for fantasy owners whose regular QB is on bye. The Lions have given up an average of two passing scores per game this season.
Availability: Owned in ~17% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Orton is the top bye week rescue pickup this week and could be backup QB material going forward.
1. Le’Ron McClain, Ravens
Ravens starter Willis McGahee was helped off he field Monday night with what appeared to be a signficant chest inury. For some reason, McClain still seems to have his share of doubters. He’s only owned in 44% of fantasy leagues despite producing game in and game out. Maybe with McGahee’s injury, owners will finally consider McClain to be roster worthy. McClain also limped off the field with an apparent leg cramp, but should be good to go next week. Also consider adding rookie Ray Rice, who will likely split carries with McClain if McGahee misses time.
Availability: Owned in ~44% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: McClain should be owned in all leagues and is playable in Week 5 if McGahee sits.
2. Deuce McAllister, Saints
McAllister didn’t see much action over the first three weeks but was a huge part of the New Orleans gameplan in Week 4 against the 49ers. The veteran carried the ball 20 times for 73 yards and a touchdown. For a guy who’s had multiple knee surgeries, he showcased impressive power. On one play in particular, McAllister plowed into the defensive line and it looked like he’d be stopped for a two-yard gain. He refused to go down and a carried a scrum of defenders 4-5 more yards. It remains to be seen how the carries will be divided among McAllister, Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas going forward. The coaching staff has apparently moved beyond the cautious approach they were previously taking. McAllister is worth acquiring but until his role becomes more clearly defined, it’s best to keep him on your bench.
Availability: Owned in ~45% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: McAllister should be owned in all leagues.
3. Mewelde Moore, Steelers
With Willie Parker expected to miss next week’s game, Rashard Mendenhall out for the season, and third-stringer Carey Davis laboring with an ankle sprain, Mewelde Moore might get a chance to see significant action. The Steelers face the Jaguars. While that’s not a great matchup, the Jags have given up a RB score in every game. Two of those TDs have come on passes to RBs out of the backfield, which happens to be Moore’s specialty. Consider activating him if you’re in a pinch.
Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Moore is worth a start this week if it looks like he’ll get the bulk of the carries.
4. Derrick Ward, Giants
Ward turned in his best fantasy performance of the season in Week 3 prior to New York’s bye. Although he’s technically the backup to Brandon Jacobs, Ward has been getting enough touches (and doing enough with them) to merit consideration for a situational start. He’s averaging about eight rushes and two receptions per game. This week the Giants host the Seahawks—a team that has allowed 34 or more points in each of their last three road games. Consider Ward to be an adequate plug and play for Week 5 and realize that he has the upside to be a top 15 RB if Brandon Jacobs were to get hurt.
Availability: Owned in ~36% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Ward is worth a look this week if you need some bye week help.
5. Ryan Torain, Broncos
Broncos starter Selvin Young is averaging over six yards per carry this season, but head coach Mike Shanahan continues to give Young a sparse amount of carries. It’s a testament to the lack of faith Shanahan has in Young and it’s a good indication that when rookie Ryan Torain returns to action, he’ll have a good chance of taking over the starting gig. Torain broke his elbow and suffered ligament damage during training camp. Originally slated to miss up to eight weeks of action, he is on track to return to practice before the team’s Week 8 bye. Considering Shanahan compared him to Terrell Davis at one point during the preseason, Torain is certainly a player worth stashing if you have roster space. He could be huge over the second half of the season.
Availability: Owned in ~6% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: If you’re carrying dead weight on your roster, clear a spot for Torain, who could start for the Broncos after Week 8.
6. Maurice Morris, Seahawks
Morris sprained his knee back in Week 1. His replacement Julius Jones perfomed well in his absence and has earned the starting job. However, Morris will get some work when he returns this week and could eventually reclaim his role as Seattle’s top ball carrier. Jones posted monster stats against the 49ers and Rams but with stiffer competition on the horizon, including the Giants this week, he’ll likely get a swift reality check. Don’t be surprised if Seattle goes with a more equitable 50/50 timeshare as soon as Week 6. That wouldn’t make Morris a starter but it would make him a nice bench player.
Availability: Owned in ~29% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Morris is worth a look in leagues with 12+ teams.
7. Leon Washington, Jets
In what was a bit of a surprise move, Washington got the starting nod over Thomas Jones in Week 4. While the decision may just be a reflection of the plays the staff had in mind for the opening series, it’s a situation worth watching. Jones is averaging just 3.4 ypc. This follows a disappointing effort in 2007 in which he averaged 3.6 ypc. Although Jones ended the day with 18 carries (compared to seven for Washington), the move might signal a more equitable distribution in the future. The reality is when your team takes a 35-point lead into halftime, the starting RB is supposed to pound the rock in the second half and close out the game. Jones’ inability to do so is a disappointment.
Availability: Owned in ~28% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Washington is worth a flier and could make an impact if Thomas Jones continues to decline.
8. Fred Jackson, Bills
A couple weeks ago I called Jackson the poor man’s Reggie Bush. That may have been a stretch, but Jackson is a smaller guy with electric moves and the Bills use him in all sorts of ways. He put up 55 all-purpose yards and a touchdown against the Rams—his second solid fantasy effort in the last three weeks. Although Jackson is not a guy you’re going to want to use every week, if you’re shorthanded at the RB position, he’s a capable fill-in.
Availability: Owned in ~24% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Jackson is too inconsistent to be relied on each week but could be worth a bench spot in deep leagues and PPR leagues.
9. Brandon Jackson, Packers
Ryan Grant just isn’t getting it done in Green Bay right now. Last year’s free agent super-stud is averaging a paltry 3.4 yards per carry in 2008. With the Packers hovering at .500, the coaching staff might get impatient with Grant and feed more carries to Jackson. The former second-round pick has averaged 5.2 ypc in limited duty. If you’re in a deep league and have a roster spot you can dedicate to Jackson, he might be worth a look as a long-term project with upside.
Availability: Owned in ~42% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Jackson could get more touches as the Packers try to spark their running game, but is too risky to start.
1. Lance Moore and Robert Meachem, Saints
Moore and Meachem were touted as a bye week replacements here last week but came through with such huge performances that they merit long-term consideration, as well. Moore served as the possession target, recording seven receptions for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Meachem supplied the deep threat, hauling in two passes for 99 yards and a score. Given the injuries to Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey, Moore and Meachem should be solid starters for the next few weeks. We’ll see how things play out and re-evaluate once Colston is back in the lineup. Until then, consider Moore and Meachem to be playable.
Availability: Owned in ~12% and 58% of leagues respectively.
Forecast guidance: Moore and Jackson should be owned in all leagues and both are worth starting against the Vikings.
2. Kevin Walter, Texans
Predictably, Walter shows up in the Forecast when the bye weeks roll around. He’s a great player to have on your roster because he’s relatively consistent, but he’s also capable of exploding for a huge game. That’s exactly what happened in Week 4 against the Jaguars. Walter posted eight receptions for 76 yards and two touchdowns. He now has scored TDs in two of Houston’s first three games. Andre Johnson is struggling with a sudden bout of butterfingers, which has turned Walter into his team’s most reliable receiving target. With a favorable upcoming schedule that includes games against the Colts, Dolphins, Lions, Bengals and Vikings, Walter is a prime free agent target.
Availability: Owned in ~36% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Walter is a steady spot starter and a heady pickup for owners all leagues.
3. Bobby Engram and Deion Branch, Seahawks
Both players have been mentioned here previously. Both are still available in over 60% of fantasy leagues. If you have struggled at the WR position so far in 2008, Engram and Branch may provide a long-term solution. Engram was a steady contributor last season, posting quality stats week in and week out. Branch is an explosive player, who’s capable of putting up huge numbers on occasion. I favor Engram because Branch is coming off reconstructive knee surgery that could limit him but both are roster worthy.
Availability: Owned in ~39% and ~37 of leagues respectively.
Forecast guidance: This is the week to pick up Engram and/or Branch if they’re available in your league.
4. Reggie Brown, Eagles
With the emergence of rookie DeSean Jackson, Reggie Brown was a forgotten man for the first few weeks of the season. Brown missed time with a hamstring injury but had his first relevant fantasy performance of 2008, catching six passes for 79 yards. Now that Brown finally has a capable receiver on the opposite side of the field, perhaps he can fill the role he should have been filling all along—that of a #2 WR. Look for steady but unspectacular production from Brown going forward. I see him as a borderline starter in points per reception leagues and a bench player in standard performance leagues.
Availability: Owned in ~48% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Brown is back and merits roster consideration in all leagues.
5. Matt Jones, Jaguars
Jones has spent most of his first three years in the NFL in the doghouse. In this his fourth year, he seems to have figured things out. He has at least five receptions in each of Jacksonville’s first four games. This includes five catches for 71 yards and a touchdown in Week 4. With Reggie Williams and Jerry Porter still getting up to speed after hamstring issues, Jones has a head start on becoming QB David Garrard’s favorite target in 2008. The consistency Jones has showcased makes him roster worthy in all leagues and particularly valuable in PPR leagues.
Availability: Owned in ~41% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Jones is playable in all leagues at this point.
6. Muhsin Muhammad, Panthers
Muhammad exploited a weak Falcons pass defense in Week 4, catching eight passes for 147 yards and a touchdown. The enormous numbers prove Muhammad still has some gas in the tank. Don’t underestimate the chemistry Muhammad has with QB Jake Delhomme. The combo was one of the best QB-WR duos in the league a few seasons ago. And despite Muhammad’s age, he remains a rock-solid possession target. Consider him a capable spot starter who could emerge as an every-week contributor if the Panthers offense continues to progress.
Availability: Owned in ~48% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Muhammad provides good roster depth in all leagues but should only start when the matchup is right.
7. Steve Breaston, Cardinals
Anquan Boldin took a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit against the Jets that knocked him out cold. His status for Week 5 is uncertain but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him sit out in an effort to shake off the cobwebs. If he does, the Cardinals offense might not miss a beat. In Week 4, Breaston was targeted 13 times by Kurt Warner and he caught nine passes for 122 yards. The Cardinals host the Bills in Week 5. Monitor the news around Boldin this week. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt said his status is undetermined at this point. Buffalo has an above-average pass defense, but Breaston would be a viable starter if Boldin sits.
Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Pick up Breaston and don’t be afraid to use him if Anquan Boldin sits.
8. Miles Austin, Cowboys
Austin has scored in back-to-back games. Technically, he’s Dallas’ third wideout but right now he’s out-performing Patrick Crayton. The burner has proven he can turn just a few receptions per game in to a noteworthy fantasy performance. Good thing because at the rate Terrell Owens is shooting off his mouth and pleading for more receptions, there’s a good chance Austin won’t get many more looks. Still, consider him a decent prospect in deep leagues. If he leapfrogs Crayton on the depth chart, Austin could surprise.
Availability: Owned in ~15% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Miles is worth a look in deep leagues.
1. Anthony Fasano, Dolphins
The Chargers defense has surrendered an alarming five TDs to TEs in the first four games. If your regular TE is on a bye this week, see if Fasano is lurking on the waiver wire. The Dolphins TE posted substantial fantasy numbers in Weeks 1 and 3 but ended Week 2 with a goose egg. With an extra week of preparation, the Dolphins surely took note of San Diego’s vulnerabilities against the tight end position. Look for Fasano to turn in another fine fantasy performance in Week 5.
Availability: Owned in ~60% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Fasano has a nice matchup against the Chargers and is worth a spot start.
2. Greg Olsen, Bears
The Bears lost Brandon Lloyd, their top receiving threat, to a knee injury in Week 4. The injury will require the suddenly pass-happy Bears to find other options in the passing game. Look for TE Greg Olsen to surface as one of the team’s top receiving threats. In Week 3, QB Kyle Orton threw Olsen’s way seven times, connecting on four receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown. The combo faces a juicy game this week against the Lions. Consider starting Olsen if your regular TE is on bye.
Availability: Owned in ~40% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Olsen may emerge as an integral part of Chicago’s offense and can be started immediately against the Lions.
1. Lawrence Tynes, Giants
Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes is expected to regain his starting role this week against the Seahawks. Tynes missed the first three games with a knee injury. Veteran John Carney filled in and was one of the most productive fantasy kickers leading up to New York’s bye. He connected on nine of nine field goals. This week the Giants will face Seattle, a team that has allowed multiple field goal kicks in all three games they’ve played this season. Consider playing whichever New York kicker gets the start this week.
Availability: Owned in ~7% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Pick up and play Tynes if he’s activated this week against the Seahawks.
DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS
1. New Orleans Saints
Laugh if you want but the Saints defense hasn’t been too bad this season. They still have some vulnerability in the passing game, but the team has 10 sacks and four interceptions. Although they’re still searching for their first defensive touchdown, they did manage to return a punt on special teams. I like their chances against the Vikings this week. Minnesota hasn’t scored more than 20 points this season and they’re a much worse team on the road. Their QB will get some yardage on the Saints, but he’s prone to mistakes. The Vikings had four turnovers and gave up four sacks last week.
Availability: Owned in ~15% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: New Orleans is a sneaky pickup and play this week against Minnesota.
2. Carolina Panthers
I know, I know. I saw what the Chiefs did to the Broncos last week, but that was a rivalry game and a home game. They won’t repeat the performance on the road this week against the Panthers, who rank sixth best in points allowed. Carolina hasn’t been flashy on defense this year. So far they only have one interception and seven sacks. However, they have a defensive touchdown and had another called back because of a questionable penalty. Look for them to manhandle the Chiefs and turn in a decent stat line. They’re an adequate fill-in if you have bye issues.
Availability: Owned in ~67% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: The Panthers are worth a look for a spot start this week against the Chiefs.