The 2014 NFL season wrapped up its third week on Monday night. However, in fantasy football land, many players are still searching for productive solutions to cope with the absent star players. With the extended absences of star players such as Adrian Peterson, Robert Griffin III, Jamaal Charles and Josh Brown, sitting around and waiting for a possible return is not an option for a fantasy football owners. Peterson is suspended indefinitely from the Vikings team related activities, pending resolution for his upcoming child abuse case. Griffin III is expected to miss anywhere from 5-8 weeks for the Washington Redskins with a dislocated ankle. Brown was likely only picked up as a draft and stash option in most fantasy leagues, following the news that his original year-long suspension has been reduced to just 10 games by the league. Nonetheless, underwhelming fantasy busts and inactive stars can, at the very least, be substituted for players at the top of the fantasy football waiver wire. Week 4 games are slated to begin Thursday evening, so here is a list of some of the top positional pickups that may still be available in most fantasy football leagues.
Quarterback: For those in leagues that are not very deep, or simply late to the Kirk Cousin’s party in Washington, there is little doubt that RG3’s understudy has already begun to spark a quarterback controversy. If and when the injury-prone Griffin III returns, he may be in for a rude awakening. Cousins threw a costly interception at the end of the Redskins’ 37-34 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, but he also racked up 427 yards and three touchdowns. He also looked perfectly in-sync with former Eagle’s receiver DeSean Jackson on an 81 yard TD pass, as well as showing great chemistry with Pierre Garçon.
Another potential option could be backup Drew Stanton from the Arizona Cardinals. With Carlson Palmer still sidelined with a nerve issue in his shoulder, Stanton has been solid if unspectacular in his two games filling in for Palmer with 411 yards passing and two touchdowns. The most encouraging factor could be the fact that, while he has continued to struggle with his accuracy (51.6 percent), he has yet to throw an interception. If owners are desperate for a starting QB, Stanton, or the Saint Louis Rams third stringer, Austin Davis may be steady low-risk option. Owners should look to Davis or Stanton in favor of the more big name rookies scheduled to start in Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles.
Running Back: Jamaal Charles will return to practice Thursday after missing the Kansas City Chiefs last two games with a high ankle sprain. Charles practiced last week as well, but his status is up in the air for Monday’s game at Arrowhead against the Patriots. However, this could spell the end of high fantasy scoring lines from backup running back, Nile Davis. Davis posted 132 yards on 32 carries against the Miami Dolphins in Week 3 and had two touchdowns in Week 2. Based off the understudy’s productivity and Charles’ propensity to get injured if Davis is still available, fantasy football owners should not hesitate to pick him up as a solid replacement option.
While many fantasy football analysts are sold on San Diego Chargers backup Donald Brown as a hottest waiver wire pickup, there are other under-the-radar options that may prove to be more serviceable. Saints running back Khiry Robinson benefited from starter Mark Ingram’s absence to the tune of 18 carries and 63 yards last Sunday. Although he is still sharing some carries with Pierre Thomas, it looks as though the latter will be used more as a receiver with quarterback Drew Brees in the screen game. If fantasy owners feel they made a mistake of drafting Eddie Lacy or Trent Richardson, Indianapolis Colts backup Ahmad Bradshaw has out produced Richardson despite having fewer opportunities to touch the football. Bradshaw has averaged six yards per carry and has been a steadily targeted receiver out of the backfield. It is only a matter of time before the powerful back gets some more goal line opportunities to punch in a touchdown or two. He may still be available and is worth the look considering his fantasy football production.
Wide Receiver: In a league where large wide receivers are becoming the latest phenomenon, vertical passing has never been more of a threat in the NFL and fantasy football. With Cam Newton back for the Carolina Panthers and hopefully healthy, rookie Kelvin Benjamin is a massive target at 6’5″ 240 lbs. He may not have the blazing speed and chiseled physique of Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, but Benjamin has proven to be quite the pass catcher in his first three games as a Panther. The rookie wideout had an impressive 35 yard catch during the fourth quarter of the Panthers blowout loss to Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday. Benjamin caught 8 of his 11 targets and managed 115 yards in the game. However, the first rounder has enormous potential with incredible size and ball skills. He could be a bigger version of Larry Fitzgerald someday and owners looking for a breakout wide receiver should definitely bank on him. Benjamin is easily a waiver wire steal if he is available for an owner to pickup in their fantasy football league.
If the rookie is not available then, Rams number 1 receiver Brian Quick has emerged as a legit option in the passing attack. With a limited number of consistent deep threat receiving weapons, look for Quick, who posted 62 yards and a touchdown in a Week 3 loss against the Cowboys, to emerge as a solid flex receiver in your fantasy football Week 4 line up. Quick is a relative unknown, so the third year wideout is still not owned in most fantasy leagues and he should be targeted much more similarly to the nine attempts he had in the two previous contests. Miles Austin is having a resurgent season, despite the Cleveland Browns late game struggles. It appears that Austin is a preferred target of quarterback Brian Hoyer in red zone situations, and the veteran receiver has responded with two touchdown passes in as many weeks. While he may no longer be a WR-1/2 option in fantasy football, if you are looking for steady production out of a starter’s bye week or need a temporary filler Austin may be your man.
Tight End: Travis Kelce has seen an increased number of targets coming his way and last week he managed 81 yards and a touchdown for the Chiefs. Kelce plays more like a wide receiver and has emerged as a legitimate down field threat amongst a unaccomplished receiving corps, with the exception of Dwayne Bowe. Baltimore Ravens tight end Owen Daniels is a top end fantasy football waiver wire pickup going forward. With Dennis Pitta going on the IR list with a season-ending hip surgery, Daniels’ production should greatly improve. He showed flashes and caught 10 out of 12 targets and two touchdowns in limited action. Another option may be Niles Paul, who has been a favorite of Cousins, and with Jordan Reed still out, there is little reason to stymie his production in your fantasy lineup.
Commentary by Brandon Wright