The Gut Check No.279 - Week 4: The Quarter Pole

Leave at the curb? Wait a few more miles? Ride or die? Which call should you make with these worrisome players? Matt Waldman scouts the fantasy football landscape at the season's quarter pole. 

Stranded With Bramel: A true Story

This week's Gut Check begins with a true story (except for one name change - and it's not the car) that may not seem like it has anything to do with fantasy football, but I promise it does. Stay with me here. It will all be clear soon enough. 

Whether it's a new destination or an old familiar place, there's nothing more fun than a road trip with friends. Even a familiar journey can present the unexpected. Sometimes these unforeseen events will force its traveler's to make difficult choices. Take this year's Senior Bowl trip with Jene Bramel. 

Last January was the good doctor's second trip to Mobile, Alabama to cover the all-star game's practices with me and Cecil Lammey for the New York Times, the Rookie Scouting Portfolio, and Lammey's ESPN affiliate. Usually, I pick up everyone at the Atlanta airport and I drive the team to Mobile. Lammey had to make other plans this year so it was Jene and I making the drive.

I've been chauffeuring the crew to Mobile and around town for the past five years. Despite odd stories like late-night scavenger hunts for reliable wireless that once led us to an empty Hooter's parking lot after hours just to file those New York Times practice reports, it has always been an easy gig to be the driver. Even so I had the feeling I should consider renting an SUV last year.

The reason is that I bought a used Prius six months earlier. It works great around town and I even drove it to Memphis without issue on a summer trip with Alicia. However, it's the Tashard Choice of cars: It's small, it lacks acceleration, and no one's really comfortable with the idea of having it carry the offense.

My particular Prius also has two quirks. One is that it has a name. Alicia likes to name machines. I think it's a backwoods way of respecting the tools you're fortunate to acquire. We call him Pete.

Pete's other quirk is his gas gauge. While it's cool that he gets me 46-50 miles to the gallon on a routine basis, Pete's gauge doesn't make a gradual drop from full to empty as you drive him. Instead, Pete will act like he still has a full tank for at least 500 miles. Then with 3-5 miles of gas left in the tank, he drops the gauge to one square above empty. 

Imagine Tashard Choice getting 20 touches, looking like he's capable of 25 more, and at touch number 22 he has a narcoleptic episode just as the ball arrives during the exchange on a toss sweep. While I knew Pete's gauge wasn't reliable, I track the odometer well enough to hit the gas station with at least 25-30 miles to spare. But on this Sunday afternoon in the middle of Alabama countryside, Pete conked out on Bamel and me two miles from the nearest exit.

Lot's of decisions to make at this point: Call USAA? Call a wrecker? Walk to the exit? Go together?

My decision? Leave the northern guy in the deep south on the side of the road (sorry, Jen) to watch the car while I take off running for the exit. A quarter-mile down the road, a car with a trailer pulls to the shoulder waiting for me, windows open, blaring Styx's "Renegade"

Countryside. Car out of gas. Stranger offering ride in vehicle blaring song about impending death. It's a cliche moment of a horror flick.

"I saw your car by the side of the road do you need a ride?" shouts the man over the music. He's no more than five years older than I am, fit, weekend stubble, looks a little nervous as he's also sizing me up. Good sign. Another good sign? A sudden wave of panic registers across his face when he realizes that not only is the radio still on, but he's about to offer a ride to a stranger with Hangman coming down from the gallows and I don't have very long blasting from his speakers. 

"Yep. Ran out of gas. I just need to get to the next exit. What's your name?" I ask as he tells me his name is Rick. My brain is saying this isn't a good idea, but my gut is telling me everything's cool. Still my brain needs a hedge. "Yeah, we're on assignment with the New York Times for the Senior Bowl in Mobile. They're expecting us to meet the rest of the team and file a report tonight. What do you do, Rick?" 

Rick's face softens a bit and he looks more relaxed. Meanwhile my cell phone is buzzing in my pocket. 

"The Senior Bowl, huh? Good deal. I'm an ER nurse," Rick says, explaining that it's his day off and he's getting ready to do some work on the house. "Was just coming back from Lowe's when I spotted your car and your friend on the side of the road." 

I get in the car and five minutes later we're at the only gas station in a 10-15 mile radius and they don't have a gas canister. I buy two large jugs of distilled water, empty them in front of the gas pump, fill them with fuel in front of the state trooper who does nothing, and we head back for the car. However, we have to drive another three miles past the car because his trailer won't navigate the median on a U-Turn.

This of course elicits another round of cell phone buzzing as we pass Bramel sitting in the sun with his iPad in the grass as he watches us pass him. We make it to Pete. I introduce the doc to the nurse, they talk shop as I fill the car and make sure it starts, we thank Rick, and we're on our way. 

In the car and on our way, Bramel and I have a few realizations. First, I'm an idiot. Not only do I leave Bramel stranded roadside without a key to the car when we have a chance to call USAA and perhaps have to wait a half-hour longer for a ride to the gas station, but I risk never being seen again after entering a car that's too far away for Bramel to make out. 

Second, I at least had some shred of common sense to invoke our affiliation with the world's most recognized newspaper so our driver is on notice that we'll be missed if we go missing. Third, I luck out that the driver is a good guy; an ER nurse who was equally unsure about offering a ride to a 40-something dude with a five days of scruff and sporting sunglasses and a Beast Mode t-shirt. 

What does this have to do with worrisome players? First, most of you have at least one player making you feel like an idiot after the first three weeks of the season. Second, you at least have some shred of common sense or intuition about how to handle it. Third, you lucked out that I'm not playing Renegade as I write this article. 

Fourth, you need to figure out if each player in this week's Gut Check is someone you should leave at the curb, hang in there for a few more miles, or decide you're going to ride or die with them. I'm stating my case for each but remember I'm the same guy ran out of gas in a Prius, left Jene Bramel stranded, didn't answer my cell phone, and took a ride from a stranger.

Of course, I'm here to tell you about it which should tell you I'm either good or I'm lucky. At this point, does it matter which one it is? I didn't think so. Let's get started.

Leave At the Curb: Too Risky

RB Stevan RidleyIt's not the 3.4 yards per carry or the ball security issues that have me worried about Ridley. He's still a tough runner with burst. It's the one reception for eight yards in three games versus Brandon Bolden's five catches in one week. The Patriots don't use him in the passing game. Bolden's 49 yards on 5 receptions is just 2 yards and 1 reception fewer than Ridley's 2012 receiving total.

Granted, Ridley was the No.10 fantasy runner last year with that paltry total. However, Bolden ate into Ridley's time when he was healthy last year and Vereen also battled health issues. While LeGarrette Blount only had 11 carries for 26 yards heading into Week 3, his 14-65 box score against his old team is something to monitor. I realize this was Blount facing his old team and 10 of those 14 carries came in the fourth quarter with a solid lead.

If you look beyond the odd, but compelling notion that this was Bill Belichick using the motivation of a player facing his old team to his advantage then you also have the fact that Blount is a big back, who holds onto the ball, and can demoralize a tired defense in the fourth quarter. Then there's the fact that Tom Brady is struggling with his new receiving corps and, as strange as it still sounds, shutting down the run and letting Brady throw the ball is a better option for opposing defenses. 

Even when Rob Gronkowski returns, I have doubts that the 12 personnel (two tight end) sets will be as troubling for defenses without Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, and/or Shane Vereen moving around, creating mismatches, and forcing defenses to align in as many run-friendly positions. At best, I think Ridley is in a three-way split until Vereen returns and he's unfortunately looking more and more like the Mark Ingram II of this committee with Bolden playing the productive version of Pierre Thomas

My advice, unroll the rear window while on the highway and let that road map fly free. Pull to the shoulder, ask Ridley to run and grab it from the grass, and by the time he wonders why you needed a map to Idaho when y'all are in South Carolina, burn rubber. 

RB Ray RiceThis one pains me. The yards per carry may say so, but it's not that Rice looks bad. It's Bernard Pierce. Rice is shiftier. He's also a better receiver and blocker. But Pierce bounces off more hits and his legs seem fresher.

Over the next three weeks I think the schedule will be favorable for Rice to increase his value, but I'd sell as high as you can get his rebound value in October. While Detroit's defense looks like a nice team for Rice to face in Week 15, the Bengals, Browns, Jets, and Bears represent a pre-playoff stretch run that isn't as encouraging - especially if Pierce continues to see as much of a split into Rice's attempts as we've seen the first two weeks of the season.      

RB C.J. SpillerFred Jackson is the least of Spiller owners' problems. The real issue is Spiller, who is reverting to his rookie tendencies of bouncing plays outside and lacking patience with his inside options. Sure, Spiller still has 1-3 nice plays each game that have somewhat compensated for getting stuffed and strung out on the majority of his carries, but it's not helping fantasy owners enough.

Jackson is still the more mature runner of the duo. He has the right blend of patience and decisiveness and he runs with more power than Spiller and just enough shiftiness to reach the second level with a better downhill mentality. Spiller is trying too hard to hit the big play and when things are working well for him he appears to try even harder to hit the big play.

Baltimore, Cleveland, and Cincinnati are up next and none of them are hospital rest stops for the likes of Spiller. If you can sell owners on his playoff schedule that includes Jacksonville and Miami and the fact that Jackson hasn't stayed healthy for more than 10 games since 2010, then you might get enough value to make it worthwhile to deal Spiller. If not, fortify by other means and hope Spiller comes around by season's end. 

RB Lamar MillerWeek 1, the Dolphins use zone blocking schemes against a pretty good Browns defense and Miller disappoints. Week 2, Miami runs gap plays against the Colts and Miller looks like the promising youngster he is. But against the Falcons in Week 3, Miami reverts to the zone scheme and Miller looks like his Cleveland performance save one 49-yard gash early in the contest that accounts for most of his 62 yards. 

While the Chargers, Bills, and Eagles all offer enticing opportunities for Miller owners, there's also Baltimore, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, and Carolina. If you can ride this boom-bust roller coaster, Miller has value. However, I'm think I'd sneak out of the convenience store after the Bills' game after introducing Miller to another owner. 

There are some road trips where a friend brings his friend along and about halfway through the trek you all realize it was a regrettable decision. Miller is that friend and Daniel Thomas is that friend of the friend. This dynamic unfortunately makes it impossible for a clean getaway. You'll need to pair Miller with someone equally enticing.

Who do you target for Miller? Giovani Bernard, Eddie Lacy, or even Le'Veon Bell and Fred Jackson are possibilities. All four are likely to remain in committee situations, but I think their upside for either earning the majority of carries or at least making the most of them make them solid targets. As for Bell and Jackson, I'd ask for something additional in return that you can use, which means you may have to package a player of even greater value than Miller than what you'd pakcage for Benard and Lacy. 

I have a feeling Bernard won't come cheap, either but I also don't think BenJarvus Green-Ellis is morphing into a backup anytime soon. I know our recaps say otherwise, but Bernard is not a power runner. The rookie is effective between the tackles, but his tackle-breaking is more of a slippery kind where he avoids direct angles. It's not the kind of power that Green-Ellis has and I think it will be the reason Marvin Lewis and Jay Gruden will leave Bernard's fantasy owners frustrated if they are expecting him to become a fantasy RB1 this year. Think Ahmad Bradshaw-Brandon Jacobs figures for both from a few years ago.

WR Miles Austin: The  recent hamstring injury isn't as severe as the ones that killed his fantasy value, but this one comes at a time where the schedule looks favorable for some quality games. San Diego, Denver, Washington, and Philadelphia are a quartet of match ups where Austin can do a lot of damage if healthy enough.

I'm also concerned about the opportunities we'll see form Dwayne Harris and Terrence Williams. Both players are seeing enough playing time in the starting lineup that they could make a significant dent in Austin's production during the next month while he's recovering. Then there's the two-tight end sets that are helping the running game.

The problem with ditching Austin is that you're not going to get even decent value from him in most leagues unless he has a big game this week or next. If he does, send him packing as a sweetener to a deal with a more central figure. Hopefully your trading partner has a palette for sweet and sour.

QB Sam Bradford: He's the No.8 quarterback with a healthy 62.4 completion percentage and 6 touchdowns to 2 interceptions in an offense designed to make the most of his skills. Design and function are two different concepts and right now, I think the blueprints look better than the construction.

Bradford's 6.32 yards per attempt is only higher than Tom Brady, Joe Flacco, Josh Freeman, Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer, and Chad Henne
and only two of these quarterbacks are proven starters. I've seen the games and the offensive line isn't giving Bradford enough protection and when they do, his receivers are dropping passes.

I also think Brian Schottenheimer's offense is designed to deliver shorter passes and allow Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, and Jared Cook to earn yards after the catch. This is not happening as consistently as the design relies on it to happen. While Bradford and the Rams will undoubtedly have good weeks, I'm not a believer that he's going to maintain QB1 production versus the likes of Tony Romo, Russell Wilson, or Jay Cutler. Even Tom Brady and Andy Dalton are guys I'd buy low in exchange for Bradford and expect a potential deal sweetener in return.

QB Colin Kaepernick: Speaking of Brady, this is the perfect quarterback to compare. Both appear to be in similar situations: Their defenses are playing well; there's a questionable committee at running back; and the passing games are dealing with injuries and inexperience. While most may opt for the mobile Kapernick over Brady, I'm not one of them. 

Yes, I was skeptical of Kaepernick this spring and then convinced myself that he would be in good shape to continue producing like he did during the 2012 stretch run. St. Louis, Houston, Tennessee, Arizona, and Jacksonville certainly look enticing for the next five weeks, but a lot will depend on the health of Vernon Davis.

Hamstring injuries make me nervous. Kaepernick's difficulty finding an open man and hesitancy to make quick decisions to run also bother me. His first three weeks against the Packers, Seahawks, and Colts may tell you to be patient, but I want off this ride and I think you'll be able to swing a deal for Kaepernick with someone too passionate about him to see straight.

TE Jared Cook: The Rams tight end was fantastic Week 1, but drops and disappearances for stretches during the past two weeks aren't making a compelling argument that he'll be a junior Jermichael Finley at Finley's best. I'd rather have Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, or Martellus Bennett;
players who might have comparable value right now and you might get a worthwhile sweetener in return when making a deal.

With San Francisco, Jacksonville, Houston, Carolina, and Seattle up next, I'd try to make this deal within the next two weeks. Gates would be my primary target. However, if you can snare a player like Reggie Wayne, Torrey Smith, Marques Colston, do it. I'd also take a player like Denarius Moore, Nate Washington, and Stephen Hill with a second player added to the mix.  I'd also buy-low on Golden Tate, Robert Woods, and Roddy White if you can fashion a creative, but workable deal for them as part of the mix.

TE Coby Fleener: I must admit that I have some some irrational bias against Fleener as a fantasy option. I think it stems from the fact that I think Dwayne Allen is just a better all-around player and I think Fleener is a bit stiff as an athlete and decision-maker when I've watched him. For some reason it offends my sensibilities that Allen even has to share time with Fleener.

Plus I just don't like his name. It has a nasal quality when you say it and I think of some pungent chemical as I enunciate it. All stupid reasons not like Fleener as a fantasy prospect. However, He's had two weeks to show that he can be a big factor in this Colts offense and he's half the producer that this year's No.8 fantasy TE Owen Daniels is.

The Colts have weapons that offer better mismatches when they use three-receiver sets. I'm beginning to see the light with Darrius Heyward-Bey. He's a good fit for a team that uses him on crossing routes and slants rather than 50/50 balls on the perimeter. T.Y. Hilton isn't lighting it up yet, but I'm a believer it's only a matter of time. And Reggie Wayne is going to get his.

Plus the ground game is looking pretty good with Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson appeared more decisive in the system even if the creases weren't there for him against San Francisco. I'd ditch the Stanford Project with the chemical smell for something more organic. Make him a throw-in as part of a larger deal to get him off your hands - and make sure to wash them before you eat.

Eagles Tight Ends: This is an easier decision than the banker and his trophy family bypassing the diner in the middle of nowhere with a parking lot loaded with hogs and leather. He or she may secretly fantasize about riding or dying with this crew, but there's too much to give up to make that kind of commitment. Drop them for now, I have few doubts that three weeks from now you'll be just confused about who is the tight end to have in Philadelphia as I am about Cecil Lammey and his biker chaps.

Laugh or cry? I don't know. Maybe it's laugh and then cry?

Wait A Few More Miles: The Gut Says You can Wait and see, but not too long

TE Tyler Eifert: The Bengals' tight end has 12 targets, 9 receptions, and 120 yards in three games. Last week was a putrid two-target, one-catch, seven-yard week and the more I watch Jermaine Gresham, the less enthusiastic I feel about Eifert taking over marquee billing this year the way we're expecting Giovani Benard at running back. 

Gresham is playing physical, reliable football right now. He's a better blocker than Eifert and I think Sanu and Marvin Jones Jr continue to make compelling reasons for the Bengals to employ three-receiver sets as much as it uses two tight ends. In deep-roster re-draft leagues, I'd make Eifert a player available for trade when you're negotiating with your competitors in and see if they bite.

QB Robert Griffin: If this was the Robert Griffin we saw last year I would have placed him behind Ryan Tannehill as the fourth-best quarterback prospect in the 2012 class in terms of future upside. His athleticism pre-injury was so explosive that teams had to cheat a defender to account for Griffin breaking the pocket. Post-injury, he's still mobile but that explosive burst and third gear are missing. 

Jake Locker is a fine athlete, but versus a healthy Robert Griffin he's a good rung below the Washington quarterback. Right now, Locker is a solid run above Griffin when he tucks and runs. This added element of speed may return for Griffin next year. To some extent it did for the likes of Frank Gore and Jamal Lewis early in their careers.

This also raises an interesting question for dynasty owners about Griffin's future upside. Could this season help him become a better pocket passer and be the best thing that ever happened for his career or will the speed return and he doesn't focus on his pocket game as much as he should? I have always compared Griffin on the spectrum of Steve Young and Aaron Rodgers, so I'm really interested to see how this develops. But that's for another time.

Last year's success was predicated more on his threat as a runner. The big plays aren't there for Griffin on the ground or through the air with the same ease because he is now merely a pocket quarterback with some mobility rather than a killer in the open field with a big arm. The combination of the Redskins' woeful defensive performances and Griffin's injury means he might remain more of a garbage-time producer in 2013. It might be good enough for QB1 production this year and with Kansas City, Atlanta, and Dallas as the fantasy playoff trio for his fantasy owners, I'd make sure I'd get a quality backup for Week 13 before looking forward to these strong match ups with the Falcons and Cowboys. 

RB Bilal PowellMike Goodson is returning in two weeks and I think he's a more talented player than Powell. In fact, I was wrong about my fundamental pre-draft evaluation of Powell. I thought his speed and power would project a little more to the NFL than they have.

There are people saying that Powell looks better than he has at anytime during his NFL career, but I think they should be saying it more about the Jets' offensive line. Powell looks the same to me. He has always been a patient back with slippery power, determination, and the skill to set up defenders once he gets into a rhythm.

The Jets have been giving Powell the chance to get into a rhythm by necessity - Goodson is serving a suspension and Chris Ivory can't stay healthy. The hope is that the Jets see that Powell is at his best when they feed him the ball enough to give him that rhythm, but I think Ivory and Goodson will stand in the way of this long-term.

I'd exploit the Tennessee and Atlanta match ups, but I'd also be looking for a hedge right now because there may be a committee on the horizon and the match ups with PIttsburgh, New England, and Cincinnati will be tougher. Also, the fantasy playoffs include Cleveland and Carolina. If you get a great offer for Powell, I'd take it. If not, see if you can use some depth elsewhere to get a third back like Bernard, Lacy, or Fred Jackson at a reasonable price.

RB DeAngelo Williams: I get frustrated when I hear people characterize Williams as an average back. Apparently the NFL either feels similar or Williams' salary was too prohibitive to make a deal for him - I haven't studied the financials to tell you. What I do know is that despite his scatback dimensions, Williams is not a scatback. 

Watch Carolina last week and it's clear that Williams was at his best when the team used him in the I-formation and it wasn't just last week. Williams is a patient runner with the quickness to do good work on the perimeter on designed plays off tackle or around the end. The best shotgun plays Carolina used with Williams as the beneficiary are option pitches.

I'd limit the cute stuff and commence with the downhill running. With Arizona, Minnesota, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay next, it's a mixed bag for Williams and company. If he can produce against the Rams and Bucs and the Panthers continue to limit the shotgun running in favor of the I-formation, fantasy owners will have something with Williams. However, if offensive coordinator Mike Shula reverts to more shotgun runs, Williams is dispensable. 

RB Eddie Lacy: James Starks and Bilal Powell provided me two of the greater lessons I've learned in the past eight years when it comes to studying running backs. Both are more than capable of starter production, but they are the type of players that need an above average line, offensive balance, and enough carries to do it. Starks and Lacy have both had moments early on and I expect Lacy to return to an offense where he'll earn at least 15 touches per game.

I'd hedge with Johnathan Franklin or Starks if you pursue a deal for Lacy. While Pittsburgh - at this time - presents a tough Week 16 match up, Atlanta and Dallas as Week 14-15 options are enticing for the Green Bay ground game. So are the Eagles, Gaints, Vikings, and Lions during the stretch run for the fantasy playoffs. Green Bay is a volatile fantasy situation for running backs due to the injuries and improvement of the offensive line, but if you have a chance to buy Lacy low and hedge with either Franklin or Starks, odds are good that you'll draw a winner.

WR Hakeem NicksHis first target last week in Carolina came in the fourth quarter with 3:14 remaining. Then there's the fact that Eli Manning took five sacks in the first four series of the game. This offensive line may get a double dose of Philadelphia soon, but Kansas City is next, Chicago and Dallas are on the horizon, and Seattle is the Giants' Week 15 match up.

The offensive line is supposed to get healthier and I'm ready to ride or die with David Wilson (see below), but without a respectable play-action game Nicks isn't going to produce as a consistent vertical threat. Nicks is another amusement park ride designed to mess with your insides. If you can get top-dollar with the promise of Philadelphia twice on the horizon, I'd consider dealing him.

WR Cecil Shorts: I'm a believer that talent wins out long-term. However, in re-draft leagues this is not always the case. Shorts is a garbage-time option at this point and if you got him as a WR3 and benefited from depth, I'd keep him because the match ups with the Chargers and Titans in the coming weeks might up his stock enough for you to sell him at a reasonable cost.

But before you do, see what kind of targets he earns when Justin Blackmon returns. If he's seeing multiple intermediate and deep targets, especially up the seam, repeatedly in games when Blackmon is back, he's worth keeping. Otherwise set him free.

WR Eddie Royal: Royal is benefiting from drawing single coverage match ups, but the NFL is notoriously four weeks behind when it comes to scouting players. The next two weeks will be pivotal towards determining of defenses will find a consistent answer to limit Royal. If they do, I'd be talking up that sweet Jacksonville matchup in Week 7 as a selling point for a trade. 

WR Kenbrell Thompkins/WR Aaron Dobson: Yes, there have been dropped passes - more from Dobson than Thompkins. And yes, there have been route mix-ups - more from Thompkins than Dobson. But last week, Tom Brady was the bigger problem.

The Patriots quarterback continues to demonstrate below-average ball placement or miss wide-open receivers during his reads. However, I see progress each week with both Brady and the receivers. While some folks believe the return of Rob Gronkowski will limit opportunities for the receivers, I think it will do the opposite. 

Defenses will have to put their best cover defenders on Gronkowski and Edelman, which will also allow the Patriots to move Thompkins and Dobson into more optimal match ups. I still think Thompkins has a chance this season to develop into a big-play/red zone threat with WR3 value. The defensive match ups may look tougher than average with Cincinnati, the Jets, Pittsburgh, and Carolina in the next six weeks, but now that neither rookie will have to be the focal points of the opponent, they should thrive as they continue to grow with a fine quarterback who has had no choice but to be patient with them - even if television shows like to talk about his sideline demeanor for ratings. 

WR Vincent Brown: Brown's production has been a disappointment. My apologies to those of you who I convinced that Brown would be my version of Joique Bell-Giovani Bernard-DeAngelo Williams like values at wide receiver. While I got one of the Brown's (Antonio) right thus far, the Chargers' Brown is not helping his fantasy owners.

I have watched the games and Brown has three problems. First, he's often facing the opposing teams' best cover corner. Second, the Chargers system has been able to exploit Eddie Royal in situations where he's coming wide open and making plays. Third, when Brown has been open, the windows have been tight and Rivers has not delivered the ball with accuracy. Fourth, I also expected Brown to see more time in the slot and run hard-breaking routes that are his strength rather than vertical routes that are his weakness.

Brown has made some nice plays in tough situations but the targets haven't been optimal. The Rivers of old would have given Brown the opportunity to win the ball in coverage. This year, Rivers is making less of these throws. Your options with Brown are limited: drop him; hang on and see if he earns more targets in the coming weeks against the likes of the Cowboys, Raiders, Colts, and Jaguars; or if you don't own him, get him as a minor throw-in on a deal for a more central player.

The owner giving Brown away gets some relief and a little patience on your part might pay off. As I mentioned about Royal, defenses may catch up with the way the Chargers are using him and Brown becomes a more necessary target for the Chargers passing game. If not, he's easily droppable.

TE Tony Gonzalez: This all depends on the progression of Roddy White's ankle. Gonzalez benefits most from White's presence because the veteran receiver's route running forces the best cover corner on the receiver. This opens the deep game for Julio Jones and Matt Ryan and then stretches the shallow and intermediate zones fr Gonzalez.

Right now, the absence of White is compressing the field and Gonzalez has to make tight catches for short gains. While he's doing it as well as ever, the big gains aren't coming due to defenses having the freedom to tighten the vice that they don't have when White is healthy. This is a situation I'd ride out unless you can exchange Gonzalez for a player like Antonio Gates, who I think looks a lot more like the Gates of old.

QB Tom Brady: Brady's completion percentage is a direct result of growing pains with his receivers and the absence of Rob Gronkowski. However, Gronkowski will be back soon, the receivers are getting more reliable, and I think we'll be seeing a rise in Brady's production - especially against Atlanta, New Orleans, and Miami. The late season schedule with Denver, Houston, Cleveland, Miami, and Baltimore is a tough one. So before you get too confident in a huge rebound, I'd hope to sell high or hedge your bets by November. 

Ride or Die: It might look bad (or too Good to be true), but patience will reward

QB Jay Cutler: The production might not be explosive, but Cincinnati and Pittsburgh as two of Cutler's first three match ups was a telling indicator that brighter fantasy weeks are ahead for the Bears' quarterback. Cutler is getting rid of the ball fast, he's spreading it around, and the match ups of Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago, and Washington make for a fine October. With Philadephia as a Week 16 playoff game, I'm not giving up on the Bears passing game. Ride or die, baby. 

QB Russell Wilson/WR Golden Tate: I know, I know, the Jaguars are a mess, so placing weight on a four-touchdown game as reason to stick with Wilson is shaky. But a playoff schedule with the Giants and Cardinals is nice. So is the fact that Carolina and San Francisco are pretty strong defneses and Wilson was solid against them.

"Solid" includes a sterling average of 9.10 yards per attempt after three games and a 64.4 completion percentage. I also expect bigger weeks ahead against the Colts, Titans, Cardinals, Rams, and Saints. I wouldn't be too disappointed about the No.16 beginning after the quarter pole, Wilson's top-five fantasy production at his position last year didn't begin until the halfway mark of the season. I wouldn't be surprised if there aren't some shootouts in the making that force the Seahawks to throw the ball more than you think.

Tate looks like a more explosive player in the Hines Ward mold every time I see him. As the Seahawks' schedule gets easier, I expect see even more of Tate. The prospect of Percy Harvin returning in Week 11 looms, but if you can get Tate as a throw-in right now I'd go after him. I believe the red zone touchdowns will be coming soon.  

RB David Wilson: The stats have been horrific, but I'm even more encouraged that Wilson will turn things around that I was two weeks ago. Some of his runs against Carolina's front seven on Sunday looked like abbreviated versions of that classic Walter Payton run against the Chiefs for a minimal gain. Wilson's balance, burst, and agility are borderline special and like what I've seen from his ball security.

The Giants are a mess right now, but the line should get healthier as the season progresses and Wilson had more than one nice run nullified by a penalty. The Chiefs are a difficult match up, but the Eagles twice next month with the Bears (sans Henry Melton) and Vikings in between are opportunities for Wilson to shine.

There also remains the concern that Andre Brown will return and steal carries. This is a true possibility, but so is the likelihood that Brown gets hurt yet again. I'm also optimistic that the offensive line will solidify and Wilson will be the primary option with RB2 production on a consistent basis by Week 8. With Philadelphia, Oakland, Green Bay, Washington, and San Diego and Detroit as part of the stretch-playoff run, I'd rather go down with Wilson than give him up.

RB Arian Foster: Foster looks better every week. He isn't breaking the runs of 20-40 yards that highlight the early phase of his fantastic career, but he was just a grab of the ankles away on several runs last week. Seattle, San Francisco, and Kansas City before the buy are brutal, but Indianapolis (twice), Arizona, Oakland, Jacksonville (twice), and New England down the stretch is a sweet schedule.

As good as DeAndre Hopkins has looked, the Texans seem content to only target this ascending option when Andre Johnson gets dinged. This has happened multiple times, but it's an indication that Houston is a conservative offense that believes in pounding the ball and grinding through the game. Considering that they'd rather keep Foster and draft another back for development than keep Ben Tate next year is also telling. 

Foster looks like he's 95 percent back to full health. If you can buy low over the next three weeks, do it. If you have him, strap yourself in for a rough October, but a beautiful stretch run. 

WR Santonio Holmes: Holmes finally looks healthy and combine his return to form with an improved offensive line, a steady running game, and a promising quarterback, and I think the Jets star might be back. I joked with Sigmund Bloom this morning that Holmes just might be the Rex Ryan regime's career voodoo doll. 

When pins got stuck in Holmes, the team faltered and things went nutty in the over-the-top, New York fashion we're accustomed to seeing in the media capital of the world. However, when Holmes is healthy and in sync with his quarterback, he's a strong fantasy WR2 capable of elite production that you saw last week.

Then there's Geno Smith. The two most impressive young quarterbacks I've seen as first-year starters in 2013 have easily been Smith and Terelle Pryor. Smith is aggressive down field, and demonstrates good placement on the football. He maneuvers the pocket well and he doesn't let the game get away from him the way it does for some rookies. 

I don't know if Smith will ever be a great NFL quarterback, but I think the high end of his talent spectrum is Tony Romo. Pretty darned good if you ask me. I'm grabbing Holmes where I can, because I think there's 2-3 good years left in him.

WR Antonio Brown: I told you in the preseason that Brown could be a WR1. Thus far he's the No.4 WR in fantasy football. Other than Heath Miller, who is still trying to return to form from his ACL tear, Brown is the player most in sync with Roethlisberger. The Steelers ground game is still a question mark and while the defense is playing well enough, stretch-run match ups like the Lions, Bengals, and Packers could make for good garbage-time production for Brown. The only reason I can see parting with Brown is if you don't believe the offensive line can keep Ben Roethlisberger healthy and you can earn WR1 payment in a deal. 

WR Roddy White: White looked better this week, but I'm betting it will be another three weeks before he's back to his old self. Once he is, the Falcons will begin using him on the precision routes that he's famous for executing with Matt Ryan off play action. Then the games with 8-10 catches, 80-120 yards, and a touchdown will manifest on fantasy box scores.

If you can buy-low on White, I'd do it. If you're waiting on White to produce, I'd keep him and try to fortify my WR depth chart until then. It might be a rough October, but I truly believe Ryan and White have the best QB-WR rapport in the league today and I'm willing to be patient for it if all signs look good by Week 7.

TE Antonio Gates: Ladarius Green is looking good in a limited role, but the most impressive tight end I've seen after Jimmy Graham has been Antonio Gates. I know Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas have earned more fantasy production but Gates has made far more impressive catches in tight coverage and his ball carrying after the catch is also experiencing a renaissance since his spate of foot injuries.

I think Gates is back and I fully expect him to remain a top-five tight end this year. Just look at the 15.2 yards per catch average. He hasn't been this efficient since 2010 when he was the No.2 tight end in fantasy football. The only difference between Gates now and Gates of old is that he's dropping a pass each game in difficult situations that he would often snare. But it's a minor issue. Ride or die, baby. Ride or die.

 


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