We are five games into the season and it's not too early to make some moves in your league. Plan for the future, prepare for the postseason. There are a few waiver gems still out there, but for the most part the "start now" players are already scarfed up. Who should you be targeting for the stretch run? I'll give you some options at each position.
Matthew Stafford was benched last week in favor of Dan Orlovsky and the Lions are 0-5. In their defense they have have had a tough schedule to begin the season (at SD, at MIN, DEN, at SEA, ARI) and I believe there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Why should you target Stafford?
- He's cheap to acquire. You might even be able to find him on the waiver wire this week. He is on nobody's radar, which is the perfect opportunity for a proactive pick up or throw-in in a trade. Don't worry about the benching, because I don't see Detroit going with Dan Orlovsky as the starter. Stafford is the one who gives the Lions the best chance to win.
- The Lions schedule gets much easier the rest of the way with a game at STL in Week 14 as the only troublesome game that figures to be a tough match up for the passing game. Week 15 and 16 are at NO and vs. SF.
- The Lions running game is struggling to find itself, which is forcing Stafford to pass the ball more often than other teams. Passing the ball often isn't the best formula for football wins, but it is a key determining factor in fantasy success. The more you pass, the more potential yards you'll accumulate. Only Eli Manning (197) has more pass attempts than Stafford (195) this year.
Other quarterbacks to target
Philip Rivers - the Chargers don't have a difficult schedule against the pass. Even in games against Denver, I expect to see Rivers throw and keep throwing. Rivers is a good enough quarterback to be an effective passer when the run game isn't working and if the run is working, it sets up the pass. On the positive side, the road game at Denver is in Week 17, which won't affect leagues with a Week 16 Championship. Rivers has a good supporting cast with the return of Antonio Gates. His presence will help the offense that already includes Melvin Gordon, Danny Woodhead, Keenan Allen, Steve Johnson and Ladarius Green. San Diego plays at KC, MIA, at OAK in weeks 14-16 which is another reason to be high on Rivers for the stretch run.
Andrew Luck - Exactly when Luck hurt his shoulder is a mystery, but it is likely the reason for his early season struggles. The Colts have weapons that will come alive when Luck is fully healed, which helps his overall game. I have long thought that Luck is match-up proof, because he finds ways to make plays against all defenses. Looking at the Colts schedule, they don't have many tough games against the pass except at Carolina Week 8 and home vs. Denver in Week 9. When, not if Luck returns to form, you will want to have a piece of the Colts offense. My gut says we'll see a healthy Luck the next time he takes a snap under center.
Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard - The Bengals offense has been electric this year and with good offenses, generally comes a strong running game. That's exactly the case with Cincinnati. Both Hill and Bernard have found success despite the other being a big part of the offense. Hill's production has been sporadic but dominant, while Bernard has been fairly consistent. The two combine to make a formidable duo who can light it up any given week. So far, this team has been injury free, but if one is forced to miss time, the other will benefit. Both have value going forward, despite a tougher schedule. Hill has been efficient inside the 10, converting 5 of 9 rushes into touchdowns. If Cincinnati gets close to the end zone, Hill is their guy. Bernard has scored only once, but he has topped 80 total yards in four of the team's five games. I expect the Bengals to stay competitive, which should pay dividends to both backs. Hill could finish with 10 touchdowns and that alone makes him valuable. He's capable of taking over a game, if the game script dictates it. Don't be too concerned with Hill's inconsistent play. As long as he's scoring, he deserves to be started.
Frank Gore - This goes back to my thinking that the Colts will turn it around offensively once Andrew Luck returns to form. A healthy Colts offense means positive fantasy production from their running game and most importantly, Frank Gore. Gore has been one of the few bright spots in a dismal offense that has struggled to find a rhythm. He has three scores, but it could easily be four or even five. A healthy Andrew Luck will mean longer possessions and more red zone chances. This all points in a positive direction for Gore who has dominated carries (76 to 17) over Josh Robinson. The ingredients to a healthy Colts offense is simple - just add Luck.
Devonta Freeman - You already know how impressive Devonta Freeman has been in the early part of the season. I fully expect his strong play to continue. Atlanta has one of the easier schedules in the league and Freeman is quickly becoming a main staple of the offense, not just as a runner but also as a receiver. As a receiver alone, he has 21 receptions on 27 targets in the last four games which is second only to Julio Jones. Continue to ride Freeman, he has become one of the best backs in the league in short time. One item of note, Atlanta plays Carolina weeks 14 and 16 this year, which figures to be a tough match up against the run. Freeman's playoff schedule isn't great, but if the team continues to play well, it may not matter who their opponent is.
DeAndre Hopkins is the best wide receiver with a sub-par quarterback in the league. His production each week is remarkable considering the mediocre performance of the Houston quarterback position. Arian Foster's return will keep defenses honest, which only helps Hopkins' chances of increased numbers. If you have him, great. He should be a Top 5 wide receiver this year if his volume stays high.
Brandon LaFell - LaFell is currently on the PUP list for a foot injury, but he is expected to return after Week 6 once he's eligible. The Patriots have lacked a downfield threat all season and instead have turned to routes over the middle or outside the numbers. If LaFell proves to be 100%, he could immediately fill a void that would make the Patriots offense even more sharp than it already is. Check your league's waiver wire, you may have just found one of your starting wide receivers for the second half of the season.
Willie Snead - The Saints wide receiver corps has struggled this year, which has created an opportunity for Willie Snead to emerge as Drew Brees' favorite target. He has exceeded expectations in his limited time so far and has the most targets, receptions and receiving yards for the Saints over the last two games (17-12-230). He has yet to find the end zone, but if the volume of targets continues to come his way, he'll eventually reach pay dirt.
T.Y. Hilton - T.Y Hilton has 27 receptions in five games, despite suffering a knee injury in Week 1. He has yet to hit his stride, but he remains a key piece of the Colts offense. He's a Top 10 wide receiver when everything is clicking. It's only a matter of time before Andrew Luck returns to form (it could be this week), which should propel Hilton to greater heights. He's an excellent buy low candidate, especially if his owner is concerned about the Colts offense. The window to acquire him could slam shut if Luck is able to return and showcase his best receiver. Get Hilton before it's too late.
Here's a few emerging tight ends to target that you can likely get fairly cheap.
1. Gary Barnidge - You can probably get Barnidge for a WR3, especially if his owner has a productive tight end ahead of him on his roster. One of your bench WR3s with upside could probably get the deal inked. If you give him a player he can start in exchange for a Barnidge (a player likely on his bench) he should jump at the trade offer. A guy like Leonard Hankerson, Pierre Garcon or maybe even Steve Johnson could get the job done. As for Barnidge, the Browns have few playmaking receiving threats, which naturally gives Barnidge an opportunity to be a part of the offense. He has thrived so far and it doesn't look like it will let up. Ride Barnidge for as long as you can. If you need a tight end, he's someone to target.
2. Eric Ebron - The Lions are projected to be one of the top teams in pass attempts this year which is good news for all receivers. Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate stand to benefit, but Ebron has shown the ability to also get a piece of the Lions passing offense pie. He's recovering from a knee injury, but that shouldn't hold him back that long. He had two early touchdowns this year before the injury and figures to see increased targets once he returns, which could be this week.
3. Julius Thomas - The Jaguars have playmakers on offense with Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, but now they also have Thomas who can step in and be a threat for a rising passing game. Thomas saw limited action in his first game back (2 catches for 20 yards on 2 targets with 30 offensive snaps). I expect his involvement to increase in the coming weeks as he gets more comfortable with the offense. He has always been a red zone threat which should continue in Jacksonville. Chance are his owners have other tight ends on their roster who they have started in his absence. It may not take much to pry Thomas away with a trade offer.
4. Larry Donnell - The Giants receiving corps has been hit hard by injuries. Both Odell Beckham and Rueben Randle are dealing with hamstring injuries, plus Victor Cruz is still battling a calf injury that could keep him sidelined for a few more weeks. The unfortunate news of Daniel Fells and his foot injury (staph infection) opens the door for Donnell to be more involved as the team's primary tight end option. If the wide receiver injuries are still a factor, Donnell could see an elevated number of targets in what looks to be a pass-happy offense going forward.
5. Crockett Gillmore - The Ravens are looking for a receiver to step up in Steve Smith's absence to give the offense more firepower. Kamar Aiken has shown the ability to make some plays, but they need more to come through, especially if Justin Forsett (ankle) will miss games. Steve Smith may return this week, but there's definitely an opportunity for Crockett Gillmore to carve out a role for himself that will be a consistent force in the Ravens weekly offensive game plan.
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