With four weeks of the NFL season nearly in the books, fantasy football owners everywhere are either exceedingly happy with their results to this point, looking to make wholesale changes to their rosters or somewhere in between. Week 5 is the first week of the season with four teams on a bye, as the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders are idle.
As always, when recommending players to pick up I will try to focus on players (or team defenses) I feel will have the best long-term impact for fantasy owners. With that, here are my “Waiver Wire Pickups” for Week 5 of the 2012 season.
Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals
Kolb went 29-for-48 for 324 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, and he now has five touchdown passes over the last two games. He seems to have a firm hold on the starting job under center for the Cardinals, though John Skelton’s continued ankle issue has played a role. A Week 5 matchup against the St. Louis Rams does not look incredibly favorable, but after that a more favorable matchup is on the slate for Week 6 against the Buffalo Bills before more challenging looking games in Week 7 against the Minnesota Vikings and Week 8 against the San Francisco 49ers. After that Week 9 brings a potentially favorable matchup against the Green Bay Packers, as Kolb is likely to have to throw the ball plenty in that game. With bye weeks starting to go in full force now, the fact the Cardinals do not have their week off until Week 10 makes Kolb a viable QB2 and bye week fill-in going forward. But do be aware that Skelton could take the starting job back once he is 100 percent.
Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
Weeden completed less than half of his passes (25-for-52) and did not throw a touchdown pass in Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens, but he threw for 320 yards in the game. That yardage total could have been even higher without multiple drops from wide receiver Greg Little, and Weeden has been up and down through his first four NFL games, meaning a dismal game could be in store for Week 5 against the New York Giants. That said, the Giants have been vulnerable in their secondary and some more favorable looking matchups are coming after that in Week 6-Week 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers. After that will come a rematch with the Ravens in Week 9, so the next few games are shaping up as a stretch where Weeden can be fantasy relevant. He is really only worth adding in leagues with 12 or more teams, but owners that find themselves looking for a QB2 can do worse than the rookie out of Oklahoma State.
Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Smith struggled against the New York Jets in Week 4, throwing for just 143 yards while completing 12 of his 21 pass attempts. The 49ers built a decisive lead in that game, limiting Smith’s pass attempts, but things stand to be much more competitive next week against the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo entered Week 4 in the bottom half of the league defending opposing quarterbacks (16 fantasy points per game, ESPN scoring) and allowed 340 passing yards and three touchdown to Tom Brady of the New England Patriots on Sunday. Another potentially nice matchup against the New York Giants is coming in Week 6 before a couple of tougher division matchups against the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals in Week 7 and 8 respectively. Smith’s fantasy ceiling is not high due to San Francisco’s offensive approach in most games, but he is a more than serviceable QB2 and is still available in half of Yahoo! leagues right now.
Jackie Battle, San Diego Chargers
Battle had 15 carries for 39 yards and a touchdown along with four catches for 42 yards and another score on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, as he had a few more touches than Ryan Mathews (16). At the very least, Battle appeared to be the favored option in the red zone and may continue to steal those looks from Mathews going forward. Chargers’ head coach Norv Turner said he still has confidence in Mathews and his fantasy upside is far greater than Battle’s. That said, Battle may continue to see some work and could move into a prominent weekly role if the nagging injuries that have plagued Mathews in his career come up again later this season. Given the relative dearth of capable running backs available in most leagues, Battle is well worth a speculative add for those that aren’t happy with their running back depth.
Leonard Hankerson, Washington Redskins
Hankerson had seven catches for 57 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4, and he was also targeted a team-high 11 times in the game. He has 11 receptions over the last two games, with a foot injury that has limited fellow wide receiver Pierre Garcon leading to an expanded role. Garcon does not look fully healthy at this point, so Hankerson’s budding rapport with quarterback Robert Griffin III has a chance to continue to grow. A tough matchup is coming against the Atlanta Falcons, but after that a stretch of favorable matchups are on the slate from Week 6-Week 9 against the Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers. Garcon’s return to full health at some point could dampen his fantasy prospects some, but the promise of a fairly significant role regardless of Garcon’s health makes Hankerson a worthy pickup in all leagues.
Brian Hartline, Miami Dolphins
Hartline had 12 receptions for a franchise record 253 yards and one touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, and he was also targeted an astronomical 19 times in the game. He now has 25 receptions on 48 total targets this season, with at least 50 receiving yards in three out of four games (including two 100-yard-plus games). Week 4′s production is obviously not sustainable down the road, but Hartline clearly has good vibes with Dolphins’ rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill right now and that bodes well going forward. Some favorable matchups are coming, starting next week against the Cincinnati Bengals, and each of the Dolphins next six opponents came into Week 4 allowing at least 18 fantasy points per game (ESPN scoring) to opposing wide receivers. The possibility of Miami having to throw the ball plenty in some games creates some upside potential for Hartline as well. It’s easy to overlook players on teams not expected to have a lot of success, but fantasy owners that need to add a wide receiver should take a long look at Hartline this week.
Andre Roberts, Arizona Cardinals
Roberts had six receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns against the Miami Dolphins in Week 4, and he now has four touchdown catches on the season. He has emerged as a threat opposite Larry Fitzgerald, and with how productive he has been there’s no reason he shouldn’t continue to have a significant role. Arizona does have depth in their wide receiver group, including 2012 first-round pick Michael Floyd, which creates some risk of Roberts falling down the pecking order in some games and significant downside potential if he doesn’t sustain somewhere close to his recent level of production. But all things considered he is a worthy addition in 12 and 14-team leagues for those who need to bolster their wide receiver depth right now.
Scott Chandler, Buffalo Bills
Chandler had four receptions for 62 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday against the New England Patriots, and four of his 12 catches to this point in the season have gone for touchdowns. He was removed from the game with a head injury, but it was reported to not be a major concern and he should be fine going forward. A favorable matchup is coming next week against the San Francisco 49ers, who have allowed at least five receptions to opposing tight ends in all four of their games this season along with four touchdowns to the position. After a not great matchup against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6 another great matchup will come against the Tennessee Titans in Week 7, as the Titans have allowed the most receptions (39), yards (366) and touchdowns (seven) to opposing tight ends so far this season. Even with how productive he has been thus far, Chandler is still available in 72 percent of Yahoo! leagues right now.
Joel Dreessen, Denver Broncos
Dreessen had just two catches for 17 yards against the Oakland Raiders in Week 4, but he did catch a touchdown for the second straight game. The presence of Jacob Tamme will keep a ceiling on his production indefinitely, but Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning may continue to look for him around the goal line regardless. Dreessen’s history of being a nice touchdown producer even in limited action, with 10 touchdowns on 64 catches in 2010 and 2011 combined, bodes well for his being able to maximize his opportunities. Fantasy owners looking for big weekly catch totals will be left disappointed by him, but those in touchdown-heavy formats should consider adding Dreessen as a TE2.
Tight Ends Watchlist- Ben Watson, Cleveland Browns; Anthony Fasano, Miami Dolphins; James Casey, Houston Texans
Blair Walsh, Minnesota Vikings
Walsh missed the first field goal of his rookie season on Sunday against the Detroit Lions, but he is 9-for-10 on field goals overall with five of his makes coming from 40 or more yards out. A very nice matchup is coming for him in Week 5, as the Tennessee Titans have allowed at least eight points to an opposing kicker in every game so far this season. After that the Vikings’ next three opponents, the Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, all came into Week 4 ranked in the bottom half of the league against opposing kickers. The Vikings’ offense should continue to give Walsh plenty of opportunities, and the fact he has a strong leg obviously creates the added potential for long-range field goal chances. He is still available in 82 percent of Yahoo! leagues at this point, and is a very worthy addition with the Vikings not having their bye until Week 11.
Greg Zuerlein, St. Louis Rams
Zuerlein went 4-for-4 on field goals against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 4, including makes from 58 and 60 yards out. He is now 12-for-12 on field goals this season with four makes from 50 yards out or more so far this season. He has a fair chance to continue his terrific start to the season over the next few weeks with matchups against the Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots on the slate. Two of those games are indoors at home and one is on the road in Miami, so October weather will not be a factor even with the Rams’ offense not being particularly explosive. Fantasy owners appear to be slow to catch on to this rookie kicker as well, as Zeurlein is available in close to 90 percent of Yahoo! leagues right now.
Kickers Watchlist- Connor Barth, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Nick Novak, San Diego Chargers; Steven Hauschka, Seattle Seahawks
Team Defense/Special Teams
The Panthers allowed 30 points and over 400 yards to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, but they did sack Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan seven times in the game while intercepting a pass as well. They have allowed at least 27 points in their last three games against the New Orleans Saints, New York Giants and the Falcons, as could be expected facing three of the league’s best offenses. But things will get a lot easier in the near future, starting in Week 5 against the Seattle Seahawks prior to their Week 6 bye. A tough matchup will come after their bye in Week 7 against the Dallas Cowboys, but after that the Panthers will get the Chicago Bears and their overmatched offensive line in Week 8 in what would be another favorable matchup. Fantasy owners in deep leagues that are looking for a bye week replacement for Week 5 or Week 8 and are willing to carry two defenses should consider grabbing the Carolina defense. Just be aware of their Week 6 bye.
Team Defenses Watchlist- Minnesota Vikings; New England Patriots; Miami Dolphins; St. Louis Rams