FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Free Agent Forecast: Week 5
Paul Sandy
October 2, 2012
 
SYMBOL LEGEND
Rockstar Rock Star Free Agent
Injury Injury Replacement
Grab & Stash Grab & Stash
1 Week Plug & Play 1 Week Plug & Play
Dumpster Dive Dumpster Dive
Free Agent Auction
Bid (FAAB) Scale
$ $0 - $5
$$ $6 - $15
$$$ $16 - $25
$$$$ $26 - $40
$$$$$ $41+
Based on $100 cap,
12-team league.

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.

QUARTERBACKS

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills
Rock StarIt’s hard to comprehend but Ryan Fitzpatrick leads all NFL QBs with 12 passing touchdowns. Chan Gailey’s air-it-out offense has made Fitzpatrick a very relevant part of the fantasy conversation. He passed for 350 yards and four touchdowns in Sunday’s loss to the Patriots. Fitzpatrick should be owned in all leagues at this point but before you get delusional, know that the Bills will be making two tough road trips to start October—at San Francisco and at Arizona. His numbers are certain to come down a bit.

Availability: Owned in ~71% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Add Fitzpatrick but consider him an iffy option against the 49ers.

Kevin Kolb, Cardinals
Rock StarWith the bye weeks in full swing beginning this week, playing the waiver wire takes on added importance. If your regular QB is on bye, take a look at Kevin Kolb, who has thrown multiple touchdowns in back-to-back weeks. In Week 4, he completed 29 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns. Up next, Kolb will face St. Louis. The Rams have shown marked improvments on defense this season, allowing just 213.3 yards per game through the air. Even so, look for Kolb to post serviceable numbers on Thursday night (230 yards and a touchdown or two). He’s a better option in Week 6 when the Cardinals host Buffalo.

Availability: Owned in ~17% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Kolb is worth adding as a backup QB based on his recent success.

Christian Ponder, Vikings
1 Week Plug & PlayPonder didn’t have the type of game the Forecast expected last week. He failed to record a touchdown pass as the Vikings offense went conservative after scoring two special teams touchdowns. He attempted just 26 passes, his lowest output of the season. Despite the down week, Ponder remains a viable option in Week 5. Minnesota will be at home against the Titans, who have struggled mightily against the pass. Tennessee owns the 27th-ranked pass defense in the NFL. They’re one of just three teams that have allowed ten or more passing scores this year.

Availability: Owned in ~51% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Spot start Ponder and look for at least two touchdowns.

Matt Hasselbeck, Titans
1 Week Plug & PlayAfter taking over for the injured Jake Locker (shoulder) in the first quarter on Sunday, Matt Hasselbeck threw two touchdowns against the Texans. It wasn’t the prettiest of performances (he also had a couple interceptions) but give the veteran the benefit of the doubt since he was coming off the bench cold. With a full week of first-team-offense reps this week, Hasselbeck should do okay against Minnesota. He’s worth a look if you’re in a two-QB league or you’re desperate for a bye-week replacement.

Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Add Hasselbeck in deep leagues and leagues that require you to start two QBs.

Tim Tebow, Jets
Grab & StashYou knew this was coming at some point. Jets QB Mark Sanchez failed to lead his team on a single scoring drive on Sunday against the 49ers. Although Rex Ryan gave Sanchez a vote of confidence in his post-game press conference, Tebow time is coming. Maybe not today. Maybe not this week. But soon and for the rest of the season. In deeper leagues, grab and stash Tebow now. Although playing him for fantasy can be an exercise in pure frustration—he typically only has 60 passing yards by halftime—in the end, he’ll do just enough to help your club.

Availability: Owned in ~12% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Don’t be surprised if Tebow sees extensive action in the second half Monday night against the Texans in what could be a blowout loss.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: Andy Dalton (90%) and Alex Smith (75%)

On the Radar: Josh Freeman (59%), Matt Cassel (31%) and Ryan Tannehill (10%)

RUNNING BACKS

Jackie Battle, Chargers
Rock Star1 Week Plug & PlayThe Forecast suggested stashing Battle a couple weeks ago. The thinking then was that Ryan Mathews has never been the running back of choice when the Chargers are at the goal line and Battle might earn that lucrative role. After Mathews coughed up a couple fumbles in Week 3, Battle not only got the goal line work in Week 4, he got the start and saw action all over the field. Battle carried the ball 15 times compared to 14 for Mathews. Although head coach Norv Turner indicated Mathews will get a chance to be the featured RB again, Battle probably isn’t going away entirely. He’s not a bad option to have on your roster. Give him a look this week against the Saints and expect at least 50-60 yards with a score very possible.

Availability: Owned in ~36% of leagues.
FAAB: $$-$$$
Forecast: Battle is worth adding and starting against the Saints (but right now is also a good time to buy low on Mathews).

Brandon Bolden, Patriots
Rock StarPatriots starting RB Stevan Ridley was fabulous on Sunday against the Bills, rushing for 106 yards and two touchdowns. However, he wasn’t the only New England ball carrier to get in on the action. Brandon Bolden made an out-of-nowhere impact accumulating 137 yards and a touchdown while Week 4 dumpster dive recommendation Danny Woodhead chipped in 23 receiving yards and a touchdown. New England’s entire offense seemed to find its rhythm in the second half of the game. Although it’s a little early to trust Bolden for this week’s tilt against the Broncos, he’s certainly worth a buy-and-hold pickup to see how the situation plays out.

Availability: Owned in ~0% of leagues.
FAAB: $$-$$$
Forecast: Bolden is a must-add in all leagues this week.

Kendall Hunter, 49ers
1 Week Plug & PlayHunter contributed 56 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s blowout win over the Jets. The Forecast likes his chances of another relevant performance at home against the woeful Bills run defense. New England ran roughshod over Buffalo in Week 4, amassing 247 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. That includes 137 yards and a touchdown by No. 2 RB Brandon Bolden. You can’t count on that level of production from Hunter but there’s a good chance he makes some boxscore noise with at least 60 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.

Availability: Owned in ~38% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Plug and play Hunter against a Bills defense that can’t stop anyone.

Joique Bell, Lions
Grab & StashBell, who was a dumpster-dive recommendation last week, is now the definitive second-string RB in Detroit. It’s probably safe to cut Kevin Smith. Bell made his mark as the Lions RB of choice in passing situations, which was the case most of the second half as Detroit was playing catch up. He caught six passes and led the team in receiving yardage with 72 yards. Bell is worth grabbing in all leagues but has more upside and potential in PPR formats. Detroit is on bye this week so stash him on your bench until the Lions take the field again in Week 6.

Availability: Owned in ~8% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Stash Bell on your bench in anticipation of his return in Week 6.

Bilal Powell, Jets
Grab & StashAnother week. Another disappointing effort for Shonn Greene. Greene managed just 34 yards on 11 carries against San Francisco. Sooner or later the Jets are going to get tired of Greene’s plodding ways and pull the plug. Backup Bilal Powell hasn’t exactly set the world on fire when he’s been on the field. However, he would no doubt be an upgrade over Greene, who runs like he’s wearing molasses shoes in a Crazy Glue factory. Add Powell and keep your eyes on the situation with this team. The Forecast sees an opportunity for a RB to bust out at some point—whether it’s Powell or hard-nosed rusher Jonathan Grimes, who the Jets picked up from Houston’s practice squad a couple weeks ago.

Availability: Owned in ~49% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Powell’s chance to be the Jets bell-cow back is coming; get him now.

Ronnie Hillman, Broncos
Grab & StashWeek 4 brought some clarity to Denver’s backfield. Rookie Ronnie Hillman has emerged as the definitive backup to Willis McGahee. Hillman carried the ball ten times for 31 yards and added two receptions for 32 yards. With Willis McGahee on the downside of his career, it’s worth opening up a speculative roster spot for Hillman, who has flashed impressive speed, elusiveness and versatility in spot duty. The Broncos face New England this week on the road so Hillman can’t be played with confidence just yet.

Availability: Owned in ~24% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Stash Hillman as a handcuff for McGahee or as a prospect.

Robert Turbin, Seahawks
1 Week Plug & PlayTurbin had the best performance of his young career in Week 4, totaling 58 yards on eight touches. The rookie clearly plays second fiddle to Marshawn Lynch so starting him is a huge gamble. That said, if you’re in a deep league and you’re desperate, the stars might be aligned for a breakout performance in Week 5. Seattle will face a Panthers defense that has struggled against thick, physical RBs like Turbin. Last week, Michael Turner bull-rushed them for 171 total yards and a touchdown. Before that Andre Brown (23-130-2) and Mark Ingram (16-53-1) gave Carolina trouble. Although you can’t count on more than a handful of touches from Turbin, there’s a good chance he makes whatever work he does get count.

Availability: Owned in ~30% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Turbin is worth a flier in deep leagues based on his favorable matchup.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: Rashard Mendenhall (87%) and Jacquizz Rodgers (70%)

On the Radar: Shaun Draughn (17%), Danny Woodhead (27%), LeGarrette Blount (44%) and James Casey (0%)

WIDE RECEIVERS

Brian Hartline, Dolphins
Rock StarHartline posted an epic stat line Sunday against the Cardinals: 12-253-1. It’s too bad not very many owners got to capitalize on his effort. He was started in just 5% of fantasy leagues. As the third-most targeted WR in football, Hartline needs to be owned in all leagues right now. If you’re in PPR league, consider him an elite-level player who’s worth pulling out all the stops to land. Miami’s offense seems to be completely geared toward getting the ball in Hartline’s and Reggie Bush’s hands. Add Hartline post-haste and elevate him to your starting lineup as needed.

Availability: Owned in ~33% of leagues.
FAAB: $$$
Forecast: Hartline should be the top pickup in most leagues this week.

Andre Roberts, Cardinals
Rock StarAfter failing in the No. 2 role for Arizona last season, Roberts is finally living up to his potential. He caught two touchdowns in Sunday’s slugfest against Miami and now has four scores on the year. That’s the more than any other receiver in the game. Kevin Kolb clearly likes throwing his way and with Larry Fitzgerald drawing coverage, Roberts has WR2 or WR3 legitimacy for fantasy. With a strong work ethic and fearless mentality, he has drawn comparisons to Hines Ward. The Cardinals have reasonable upcoming games against the Rams, Bills and Vikings so add Roberts and start him with confidence. 

Availability: Owned in ~12% of leagues.
FAAB: $$-$$$
Forecast: Consider Roberts a viable WR3 going forward.

James Jones, Packers
Rock StarInjury ReplacementJones received plug-and-play billing from the Forecast last week and came through with two touchdowns. Normally, it’s not a good idea to chase points from a No. 3 or 4 WR like Jones. However, Greg Jennings retweaked his groin in the game. Don’t be surprised if the Packers shut him down for a few weeks. The groin injury has been lingering since the preseason and clearly needs rest. If it plays out that way, Jones becomes a credible WR3. With upcoming games against the Colts, Texans Rams and Jaguars—all of which could be high-scoring affairs for the Packers—Jones has the potential to be a top 30 WR in October. 

Availability: Owned in ~12% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Many will discount Jones as a one-week wonder but the injury to Greg Jennings makes him worth adding.

Domenik Hixon, Giants
Rock StarInjury ReplacementAfter the Forecast prominently featured Ramses Barden last week, the Giants elevated Domenik Hixon, who was coming off a concussion, into the starting role opposite Victor Cruz. Hixon caught seven passes for 114 yards compared to Barden’s two catches for 36 yards. If you grabbed Barden last week, consider making a swap when your waiver wire reopens for service. Starter Hakeem Nicks continues to experience swelling in his knee and will likely miss another game or two. Hixon will be a nice WR3 against the Browns, who have the 28th-ranked pass defense in the NFL.

Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Hixon is worth grabbing in all leagues and is startable as long as Hakeem Nicks remains injured.

Jerome Simpson, Vikings
1 Week Plug & PlayAlthough Simpson didn’t have the game the Forecast predicted last week, his performance wasn’t a complete flop. He ended the day with four receptions for 50 yards in what proved to be a fairly conservative gameplan. Expect more fireworks from the speedster in the coming weeks. Minnesota has a soft schedule coming up with games against the Titans, Redskins and Buccaneers (with a game against Arizona sandwiched in between). He’s an excellent plug-and-play option in Week 4 versus a Tennessee outfit that has allowed ten passing touchdowns this year—second-most in the NFL.

Availability: Owned in ~48% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Trust Simpson for a spot start versus a poor Titans defense.

Davone Bess, Dolphins
1 Week Plug & PlayBrian Hartline is sure to generate the most waiver wire buzz this week but his counterpart Davone Bess shouldn’t be ignored. Bess has been targeted a minimum of six times in every game this season. In Week 4, he piled up 123 yards on seven catches. Up next, the Dolphins face a Bengals defense that is just okay against the pass (ranked 17th). The Forecast sees Cincinnati racing out to an early lead, which will force Miami to the air and give Bess enough looks to turn in another helpful stat line.

Availability: Owned in ~27% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Bess isn’t a bad option this week against a middling Bengals pass defense.

T. Y. Hilton, Colts
1 Week Plug & PlayIn their last three games, the Packers secondary has allowed five touchdown receptions of 20 yards or longer. Although this is a better Green Bay defense than the one we saw in 2011, the Packers still have trouble containing the big play. Fantasy owners looking for a lottery-ticket WR on the waiver wire should consider adding Indianapolis rookie T.Y. Hilton. Hilton is coming off a bye week and won’t get much attention from fantasy owners. But back in Week 3, he broke out with 113 yards and a touchdown. Andrew Luck threw his way eight times. The Forecast likes his chances of getting behind Green Bay’s defensive backs and making at least one explosive play.

Availability: Owned in ~13% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Hilton is a sneaky plug-in option this week and has some long-term appeal with Austin Collie out for the year.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: Justin Blackmon (74%), Nate Washington (86%) and Denarius Moore (86%)

On the Radar: Donald Jones (4%), Mike Williams (68%), Leonard Hankerson (17%), Eddie Royal (5%), Mario Manningham (40%), Michael Floyd (14%), Brandon Stokley (9%) and Jordan Norwood (0%)

TIGHT ENDS

Scott Chandler, Bills
Rock StarChandler caught two touchdown passes against the Patriots and already has four on the season. He’s starter-material in most leagues at this point. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has already thrown his way 23 times this season. If Chandler is able to sustain that level of activity, he could be a darkhorse candidate to sneak into the ranks of the top ten fantasy TEs by season’s end. A matchup this week against the 49ers looks discouraging on paper but San Francisco has already allowed four TE touchdowns this year. It’s worth noting that Chandler got his bell rung Sunday. Early signs point to him playing in Week 5. 

Availability: Owned in ~39% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Chandler should be owned in almost all TE-mandatory leagues.

Heath Miller, Steelers
Rock StarDespite playing in one fewer game than almost every other TE in the league, Heath Miller is the sixth-highest scoring player at his position. QB Ben Roethlisberger has tunnel vision for this guy in the redzone. If you typically start Jason Witten or Brandon Pettigrew and need a replacement, Miller is not a bad place to start. The Steelers face the Eagles in what will be a Pennsylvania grudge match. Miller probably won’t have more than four catches but there’s a good chance one of them counts for six points.

Availability: Owned in ~72% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: A carryover from last week, Miller should be owned in all leagues.

Joel Dreessen, Broncos
1 Week Plug & PlayTo say the Patriots have been generous to opposing TEs would be an understatement. In their four games this season, they have allowed Scott Chandler (4-62-2), Dennis Pitta (5-50-1), Todd Heap (5-62-0) and Jared Cook (4-64-0) to produce useful fantasy numbers against them. Exploit this apparent weakness by adding Denver’s Joel Dreessen or Jacob Tamme (83% owned). Tamme typically garners the most targets from Peyton Manning and is probably the safer play. However, Dreessen is no slouch and has scored in back-to-back games. He’s a better bet to score a touchdown at this point.

Availability: Owned in ~5% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Sneak Dreessen into your lineup for a favorable matchup against the Patriots.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: Jermaine Gresham (77%), Greg Olsen (72%) and Fred Davis (79%)

On the Radar: Marcedes Lewis (17%), Ben Watson (1%) and Craig Stevens (0%)

KICKERS

Greg Zuerlein, Rams
Rock StarWe’re four games into the season, and three rookie kickers rate inside the top ten for fantasy. Baltimore’s Justin Tucker is widely owned but you might be able to still get in on Greg Zuerlein or Blair Walsh. Both players have booming legs. On Sunday against the Seahawks, Zuerlein drilled a 58 yard field goal and followed it up with a 60 yarder. He ended the game with four field goals and an extra point. Zuerlein has booted multiple field goal kicks in every game this season. How’s that for consistency?

Availability: Owned in ~5% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: If your kicker has been averaging less than 7-8 points per game, consider trading up and putting in a claim fo Zuerlein.

Blair Walsh, Vikings
Rock StarWalsh was pegged here for spot duty last week against the Lions. He connected on two field goals and two extra points. The rookie has been rock solid from a fantasy standpoint in every game this season and gets the Free Agent Forecast’s stamp of approval as an every-week starter. Bank on his hot streak continuing into Week 5 when the Vikings host the Titans. Tennessee ranks dead last in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 37.8 points per game. Anything less than double-digit points for Walsh would be a surprise.

Availability: Owned in ~41% of leagues.
FAAB: $
Forecast: Walsh figures to be a top 12 kicker this week against a bad Titans defense.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: Matt Prater (68%)

On the Radar: Conner Barth (14%) and Nick Novak (2%)

DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS

Minnesota Vikings
1 Week Plug & PlayThe Purple are coming of a monster performance in Week 4 against the Lions in which they scored two special teams touchdowns to go along with five sacks and a fumble recovery. Trust them on Sunday when they play host to the Titans. In their most recent game, Tennessee ceded four sacks, three turnovers and one touchdown to the Texans. Matt Hasselbeck will get the start this week for the Titans. He’s less mobile than Jake Locker and Jared Allen and company should have little difficulty putting pressure on him.

Availability: Owned in ~14% of leagues.
FAAB: $-$$
Forecast: Roll with the Vikings defense this week when they host Tennessee.

Cincinnati Bengals
1 Week Plug & PlayThe Bengals are on a roll, having won three straight games. Give some credit to their defense, which has racked up 12 sacks and three turnovers in the last two outings alone. Although they’ve allowed big points in a few of their contests, the Bengals an excellent option in Week 5 at home against the Dolphins and rookie QB Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill has been a bit better than most thought he would be at this point in his career but he still has a tendency to make mistakes. Last week, he was sacked four times and picked off twice versus the Cardinals.

Availability: Owned in ~43% of leagues.
FAAB: $$
Forecast: Look for the sack-happy Bengals to chip in decent defensive numbers against the Dolphins.

Other Notables and No-Brainers: N/A

On the Radar: Chargers (28%) and Dolphins (10%)


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