||Rock Star Free Agent
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Welcome to another season of the Free Agent Forecast. This weekly column is published every Tuesday morning and aims to identify free agents who will improve your chances of hoisting your league’s trophy at year end.
Given the diverse scoring systems and sizes of fantasy leagues, producing a weekly list of free agents that satisfies the masses can be challenging. For the most part, the column will hone in on players who are available in at least 35% of all fantasy leagues. If you play in a small league (8 teams), chances are there may be better players to pick up than you see listed here. If you play in a large league (16 teams), the majority of the players highlighted may already be on a squad; however, expect to find hidden gems, as well.
In addition to scouting “rock star” free agents who had breakout performances in the previous week, the Forecast will dig deep to identify players who may be worth a spot start or a roster stash.
Andy Dalton, Bengals
Last week’s top recommended pickup was clutch, amassing 328 yards and three touchdowns en route to a top five fantasy performance for the week. It’s the second week in a row Dalton has tossed three touchdowns. The chemistry he has with A.J. Green makes him a borderline QB1 in 12-team leagues each week. But let’s be clear; it’s not just the Dalton-Green show. The Bengals passer also is starting to groove on TE Jermaine Gresham and young WRs Andrew Hawkins and Armon Binns. Grab Dalton in any league in which he’s still available.
Availability: Owned in ~70% of leagues.
Forecast: Dalton should be owned in all leagues.
Shaun Hill, Lions
Lions starter Matthew Stafford left Sunday’s wild game against the Titans with a hamstring injury. Since Detroit has a Week 5 bye, there’s a decent chance backup Shaun Hill gets the nod this Sunday against the Vikings, which would give Stafford a full three weeks to rest. Hill rallied the Lions and nearly pulled off an epic comeback win. He ended the game with 172 yards and two touchdowns. Stafford owners should be all over Hill on the waiver wire.
Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues.
Forecast: Given the weapons Detroit has, it’s safe to pencil Hill in for at least 250 yards and a pair of touchdown if he draws the start.
Christian Ponder, Vikings
Ponder opened some eyes on Sunday, leading Minnesota to an out-of-nowhere upset win over the 49ers. He posted a respectable 198 yards and two touchdowns through the air. The 33 yards and a touchdown he added on the ground were gravy. Although the Forecast isn’t ready to declare Ponder “lineup ready” every week, his matchup on Sunday against the Lions is enticing. Detroit is below average versus the pass and Ponder notched two touchdowns against them last year the only time he faced them. Take a look at him in deep leagues.
Availability: Owned in ~21% of leagues.
Forecast: Ponder is a safe bet for multiple TDs in Week 4.
Other Notables and No-Brainers: Matt Schaub (92%) and Carson Palmer (71%)
On the Radar: Jake Locker (44%), Ryan Fitzpatrick (64%) and Kevin Kolb (7%)
Ryan Williams, Cardinals
Since the start of the season, roughly 30% of owners who drafted Ryan Williams dumped the second-year RB. If the Williams owner in your league had an itchy trigger finger, it’s a smart idea to put in a waiver claim for him. Starter Beanie Wells suffered what is being termed “turf toe.” It’s a tough injury for RBs to play through and will likely push Williams to the top of the depth chart for the next month. Williams finally showed some burst on Sunday, carrying the ball 13 times for 83 yards. He’s not a recommended play in Week 4 versus a stingy Dolphins defense. However, the sledding gets much easier beginning in Week 5 when the Cards face the Rams followed by the Bills.
Availability: Owned in ~69% of leagues.
Forecast: Williams should be owned in all leagues.
Bilal Powell, Jets
The Jets backfield appears to be headed toward a full-blown timeshare. Plodding starter Shonn Greene has been a colossal disappointment, averaging a paltry 2.1 yards per rush. Meanwhile, second-year man Bilal Powell has injected life into New York’s ground game when given the opportunity. He’s averaging 4.5 yards per rush attempt. Although there might be free agent rushers on your wire who put up sexier stat lines in Week 3, Powell likely offers up the biggest long-term potential. If you didn’t heed the Forecast’s advice last week and passed on Powell, this might be your last best chance to get him on your roster.
Availability: Owned in ~8% of leagues.
Forecast: Powell will be the Jets starter by midseason; get him now.
Tashard Choice, Bills
Next man up for the Bills. Two weeks after losing Fred Jackson to a knee injury, C.J. Spiller sprained his shoulder. Third-string RB Tashard Choice got the call and churned out 91 yards rushing with a touchdown. Spiller appears unlikely to play this week against the Patriots but Fred Jackson (knee) is reportedly in line to return to action. He will slide back into the starting role; however, he might not be ready to carry the full load in Week 4. Expect Tashard Choice to get at least half the touches. He’s a decent flex option.
Availability: Owned in ~3% of leagues.
Forecast: Choice should put up passable numbers against the Pats if Fred Jackson and/or C.J. Spiller are out or limited.
Lance Ball and Ronnie Hillman, Broncos
Broncos starter Willis McGahee suffered a rib injury against the Texans. His status for Week 4 is up in the air. If he can’t go, Denver has a few other options including Ronnie Hillman, Lance Ball and Knowshon Moreno. It’s difficult to get a read on the situation this early in the week. However, here’s the Forecast’s take: Knowshon Moreno was a healthy scratch on Sunday and appears to be in the doghouse after a Week 2 fumble. Let other owners pursue him and go after either Hillman or Ball. Ball seems likely to see the most snaps since he’s much, much better in pass protection (obviously a concern with Peyton Manning under center). Ball will also likely get the goal line work. Hillman clearly has the most upside and the Forecast likes his chances of breaking a long run against the Raiders. He’s your guy if you’re hoping to catch lightning in a bottle and a long-term keeper/dynasty prospect.
Availability: Owned in ~1% and ~25% of leagues, respectively.
Forecast: If McGahee is out this week, Ball and Hillman have upside in deep leagues.
Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller, Dolphins
Miami RB Reggie Bush sustained a knee contusion midway through Sunday’s loss to the Jets. Early indications are he might miss a game. Backups Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller would split the work while Bush is out. Thomas paced the Dolphins with 19 carries for 69 yards and a touchdown. Miller rushed nine times for 48 yards. Expect the 2:1 ratio to carry forward should Bush sit. Thomas will be the safer play because of his volume of work and goal line responsibilities. However, Miller is the bigger threat to have an explosive play. With all that laid out on the table, neither player is particularly attractive against a Cardinals defense that’s strong in all facets.
Availability: Owned in ~31% and ~8% of leagues, respectively.
Forecast: Thomas or Miller is worth adding as insurance if you’re a Bush owner.
Shaun Draughn, Chiefs
Kansas City’s Peyton Hillis suffered an ankle injury in Sunday’s win over the Saints. Third-string RB Shaun Draughn will ascend the depth chart one spot until Hillis is healthy enough to take the field. Draughn has been a surprising contributor this season, getting work both in garbage time and to spell Jamaal Charles and Hillis. He figures to approach double-digit touches in Week 4 as a change of pace from Charles. He also could get the short-yardage and goal-line work. In deep leagues, that’s enough to propel him into relevance.
Availability: Owned in ~6% of leagues.
Forecast: Consider activating him as a flex in deep leagues and look for 50+ yards with a possible score.
Danny Woodhead, Patriots
Most Steven Ridley owners would probably like to take Danny Woodhead out to the woodshed. Woodhead carried the ball 15 times compared to 13 for Ridley. Neither player was effective against the Ravens; however, Woodhead managed to find the endzone. With his rushing attempts trending upward each week, it’s time for fantasy owners in deep leagues to entertain the idea of adding the versatile veteran RB to their bench. Woodhead is going to need to start catching more passes to have real value but based on his skill-set and history, those receptions should be coming.
Availability: Owned in ~14% of leagues.
Forecast: Woodhead is worth a looking leagues with 12 or more teams.
Joique Bell, Lions
In one of the bigger surprises of Week 3, Kevin Smith wasn’t on the field for a single snap against Tennessee. Second-year RB Mikel LeShoure started and got the lion’s share of the work. However, Joique Bell came on in relief of LeShoure throughout the game and got almost all the carries in overtime. LeShoure should obviously be owned in all leagues but Bell is worth a look, as well. He tallied 67 all-purpose yards versus the Titans. His versatility could make him useful in PPR leagues during the approaching bye weeks.
Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast: Bell looks like the handcuff to Mikel LeShoure in Detroit; he’s worth a look in most leagues.
Javon Ringer, Titans
Ringer has missed the first three weeks of the season with an elbow infection. He’s practicing now and will soon return to the field. The Titans desperately need some help in their running game since Chris Johnson is averaging just 1.4 yards per carry. How bad is it? The Titans and Lions combined for over 1,000 yards of offense on Sunday . . . Johnson accounted for just 29 of those yards. As much as Tennessee’s coaching staff says they’re fully in Johnson’s corner, fantasy owners can count on Ringer getting a decent amount of looks when he returns to action. Now is the time to stash him on your bench in anticipation of him slowly pecking away at Johnson’s job security.
Availability: Owned in ~8% of leagues.
Forecast: Add Ringer in a preemptive move because it’s starting to feel like when he gets healthy, he’ll split carries with Chris Johnson.
Other Notables and No-Brainers: Andre Brown (88%) Mikel Leshoure (80%) and Rashard Mendenhall (78%), Jacquizz Rodgers (69%)
On the Radar: Daryl Richardson (60%)
Ramses Barden, Giants
Don’t forget about Barden, who emerged last Thursday night as another target for Eli Manning. Barden caught nine passes for 138 yards filling in for the injured Hakeem Nicks. Although Nicks will likely return to the field this week against the Eagles, Barden won’t be rendered useless for fantasy. As Mario Manningham proved in 2011, New York’s No. 3 WR has a place on rosters. Now that Manning knows he can trust him, add Barden as a bench option you can use during the bye weeks. His upside should Nicks get injured again is through the roof.
Availability: Owned in ~3% of leagues.
Forecast: Barden will have some staying power this season and post a handful more good stat lines.
Andrew Hawkins, Bengals
Hawkins has turned in three quality stat lines to start the year. His ownership, which is currently less than 50%, is sure to spike above 75% this week. The speedster wideout caught an intermediate pass from QB Andy Dalton and took it 59 yards for a touchdown during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over Washington. The one concern with Hawkins at this point is a lack of targets. After seeing nine passes in the opener, he’s only been thrown to seven times total in the last two games. Even so, with his game-breaking abilities, Hawkins looks like a solid WR3 or WR4.
Availability: Owned in ~49% of leagues.
Forecast: Hawkins should be owned in the majority of leagues.
Nate Burleson, Lions
Burleson was heavily involved in Sunday’s game against the Titans, catching six passes for 69 yards and a touchdown. He was targeted 12 times—equal to that of Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew. It’s a good omen that Burleson was productive with both Matt Stafford and Shaun Hill under center. He should be a factor in Week 4 against Minnesota no matter who’s throwing the football. The Vikings will likely attempt to clamp down on Johnson this week, which should again give Burleson room to work.
Availability: Owned in ~25% of leagues.
Forecast: Add Burleson for depth or use him as a replacement option if you’re shorthanded at WR this week.
Julian Edelman, Patriots
After catching four passes for 27 yards and a touchdown in the first half of Sunday’s hotly contested battle in Baltimore, Edelman appeared to be on the verge of a breakout performance. Unfortunately, he didn’t take the field in the second half due to a hand injury. It’d be easy enough to look at the 27 yards and write off Edelman but savvy fantasy owners will recognize that his increasing role in the offense along with Aaron Hernandez’s injury give him legitimacy as a fantasy WR. Be sure to check Edelman’s status today. The Forecast could find zero information on his hand as of Monday night—no surprise with Bill Belichick running the show.
Availability: Owned in ~5% of leagues.
Forecast: If he’s healthy, Edelman isn’t a bad option against a Bills defense that has already ceded six passing scores, tied for sixth-most in the NFL.
Jerome Simpson, Vikings
Following a three-game suspension, Simpson will return to action this week against the Lions. He is expected to start opposite Percy Harvin. The ex-Bengals wideout is known for his downfield speed and playmaking abilities. Most owners will want to stash him for a week or two to see how he fits in the offense. It’s a good thought but the Forecast also likes his chances of making some noise right away. Detroit has allowed five passing scores this season—all five have come from beyond 20 yards. Add Simpson and roll the dice with him if you’re desperate for WR help.
Availability: Owned in ~5% of leagues.
Forecast: Stash or start Simpson in deep leagues and plan on him becoming a fantasy factor soon.
Leonard Hankerson, Redskins
According to head coach Mike Shanahan, Redskins WR Leonard Hankerson has earned a spot in the starting lineup. Although his numbers don’t jump out at you, Hankerson has been solid over the last two games, posting 124 yards and a touchdown. Owners in deep leagues should look to add the second-year WR in advance of Sunday’s contest against Tampa. The Bucs rank dead last in the NFL in pass defense, yielding 353.3 passing yards per game. Exploit the favorable matchup and use Hankerson as a WR3 or flex.
Availability: Owned in ~13% of leagues.
Forecast: If your WR corps is looking bleak this week, Hankerson is a sneaky option.
James Jones, Packers
After facing the 49ers, Bears and Seahawks—all of which have strong defenses—the Packers finally draw a favorable matchup in Week 4 when they play host to the Saints. Expect a coming out party for the entire offense. New Orleans allows the most yards per game (477.3) and the second-most points per game (34.0). In addition to the obvious choices (Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Cedric Benson), don’t be afraid to grab a waiver wire lottery ticket like James Jones or Donald Driver. Jones made some big catches on Monday night and appears to have regained the trust of Aaron Rodgers after a couple miscues in Week 2
Availability: Owned in ~40% of leagues.
Forecast: Plug and play Jones for Week 4 in what should be a shootout against the Saints.
Other Notables and No-Brainers: Nate Washington (81%), Brandon LaFell (75%) and Denarius Moore (75%)
On the Radar: Golden Tate (6%), Damaris Johnson (0%), T.Y. Hilton (3%), Cecil Shorts (4%), Jeremy Kerley (5%) and Brandon Stokley (4%)
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
Rudolph, a Forecast multitimer, chalked up two touchdowns versus the 49ers in Week 3. At this point, he’s Minnesota’s top option in the redzone. Rudolph will look to continue his hotstreak against a Lions defense that has been shredded by opposing TEs over the last two games. Two weeks ago Vernon Davis put up 73 yards and two touchdowns against them. Last week, Tennessee’s Jared Cook and Craig Stevens combined for 140 yards and a touchdown. Look for Rudolph to cement his place as an every week fantasy starter.
Availability: Owned in ~63% of leagues.
Forecast: Rudolph looks like a TD machine and is a must-grab in TE-mandatory leagues.
Greg Olsen, Panthers
Olsen got off to a slow start this season but his Week 3 performance against the Giants might prove to be the turning point. QB Cam Newton threw his way 14 times and Olsen ended up catching seven of those passes for 98 yards. The Panthers clearly want to get their athletic TE involved in the game plan so it wouldn’t be surprising if he started consistently performing like a top 12 fantasy TE. In Week 4, he’ll face an Atlanta club against which he posted 53 yards and a touchdown in their most recent meeting.
Availability: Owned in ~70% of leagues.
Forecast: Olsen is back in the good graces of fantasy owners and is worth owning in most leagues.
Heath Miller, Steelers
Miller has quietly posted four touchdowns in the first three games of the season. It’s time for fantasy owners to start taking note. His Week 3 performance against the Raiders was huge. He caught eight passes on ten targets for 60 yards and two scores. Although Miller has blipped on fantasy radars each year without establishing himself as a trustworthy target, there’s hope this time will be different. QB Ben Roethlisberger has stated he’d like to get Miller to the Pro Bowl this year. If he continues to target his TE in the redzone, that might be a realistic goal.
Availability: Owned in ~39% of leagues.
Forecast: Miller is on bye this week but is worth stashing base on his fast start.
Other Notables and No-Brainers: Martellus Bennett (89%), Dennis Pitta (80%), Owen Daniels (84%) Jermaine Gresham (75%) and Fred Davis (77%)
On the Radar: Joel Dreessen (5%) and Craig Stevens (0%)
Lawrence Tynes, Giants
Tynes has drilled an impressive nine field goals in the last two games. This includes five last week against the Panthers. With the Giants offense clicking, Tynes should continue to get plenty of kicking opportunities each week. He’s an excellent start against the rival Eagles. Philadelphia has allowed nine or more points to kickers in all three games this season. Go ahead and lock Tynes in as your every-week kicker if your regular guy has been a source of frustration.
Availability: Owned in ~39% of leagues.
Forecast: Look for Tynes to continue performing like a stud place kicker (if there is such a thing).
Blair Walsh, Vikings
If your league is like most, it probably awards bonus points for longer field goals. In such formats, Blair Walsh is money. He has kicked at least one field goal from 50+ yards in each of Minnesota’s first three games. The Vikings clearly have confidence in their strong-legged kicker and so should you this week against the Lions. Detroit is one of six NFL teams allowing 30+ points per game. Count on Walsh posting double-digit points come Sunday.
Availability: Owned in ~22% of leagues.
Forecast: Lock and load Walsh for this week’s tilt against the Lions.
Other Notables and No-Brainers: Jason Hanson (90%)
On the Radar: Ryan Succop (5%), Robbie Gould (66%) and Matt Prater (67%)
DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS
Last week’s top recommended defense is this week’s top recommended defense. The Cardinals are for real. They rate at or near the top of the league in all the key categories, including sacks, turnovers, points against and touchdowns scored. In Week 4, they play host to the Dolphins and rookie QB Ryan Tannehill. Although Tannehill has been better than expected, he’s still green and makes mistakes when defenses get in his grill. With Reggie Bush likely out, look for Arizona to record at least three sacks and two turnovers while holding the Dolphins to fewer than 14 points.
Availability: Owned in ~24% of leagues.
Forecast: On a down week for free agents, the Cardinals DST might be the pick of the litter.
The Forecast suggested grabbing Atlanta’s DST last week. They racked up four turnovers and a sack while holding the Chargers to just three points. The Falcons have now recorded at least three turnovers in every game this year. It’s those types of performances that can give your fantasy squad an easy edge each week. Expect more good things from the Dirty Birds in the weeks to come with favorable matchups against the Panthers, Redskins and Raiders.
Availability: Owned in ~56% of leagues.
Forecast: Keep riding the Falcons DST during this favorable stretch of schedule.
Other Notables and No-Brainers: Cowboys (82%)
On the Radar: Titans (10%), Redskins (22%) and Bengals (36%)