Bye weeks begin this week; add that to a spate of quarterback injuries and some underachievers and there’s a strong need for the position. So let’s kick off this week’s PUJ with the pretty boys.
Currently there are eight quarterbacks with starting jobs who are available in at least half of MFL leagues.
ONE NIGHT STANDS
Kirk Cousins, Redskins
Cousin’s yardage has increased each week, but he has yet to bust through the one-TD barrier and he’s thrown four INTs in two games. Cousins could get DeSean Jackson back as early as this week, and the last time he saw Philly—his Week 4 opponent—he threw for 427 and 3. Trips to Atlanta and New York to face the Falcons and Jets project as difficult matchups, as does a visit from the Buccaneers, so by the time Washington hits the bye in Week 8 Jay Gruden may be mulling a return to RG3. On the bright side, he’s an attractive one-and-done fantasy helper in Week 4.
Luke McCown, Saints
Drew Brees continues to be optimistic regarding his return, but he was optimistic last week… and also nowhere close to playing. His two toughest matchups over the next five weeks (Cowboys, Falcons) are both at home and prior to the season looked a whole lot better on paper than they do right now. Everything else is favorable, making McCown a viable short-term fill-in as long as Drew Brees is sidelined. His 81% completion rate and 310 yards against a good Carolina defense suggest he can be productive for you in that role as well.
MAKE IT A LONG WEEKEND
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jets
Of all the candidates on this list, Fitzpatrick has done the most so far this season. He’s delivered three two-TD games, and though his yardage has been subdued he flashed last week with 283 yards (on 58 attempts) against the Eagles. It’s another favorable-on-paper matchup this week against Miami, but then Fitz takes a week off for the Jets’ bye and returns with a toughie against the Redskins. Use him this week, kick him to the curb, then bring him back in Week 7 for a potential long-term relationship when his sked turns soft again with road trips to New England and Oakland.
Brandon Weeden, Cowboys
Dez Bryant and Tony Romo aren’t walking through that door any time soon, but that doesn’t mean the Cowboys will abandon the pass—especially if their defense keeps digging them holes. Just don’t expect big yardage from Weeden; he attempted only five passes beyond nine yards last week and completed just two of them. Instead, he’ll give you an Alex Smith-like dink-and-dunk stat line with a high completion rate and yardage commensurate with the volume of attempts. He’ll lean heavily on Lance Dunbar and Jason Witten. And he’ll benefit from favorable matchups with the Saints, Patriots and Giants sandwiched around the Cowboys’ Week 6 bye. Weeden’s not likely to help you a ton, but he’ll plug the hole until your injured or bye week regular returns.
IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU
Josh McCown, Browns
Took advantage of a very favorable matchup (home against Oakland), coupled with the Browns playing from behind—necessitating 49 pass attempts—to turn in 341 and 2. Those numbers suggest he won’t be giving way to Johnny Manziel any time soon, though banking on the Browns to make the logical decision is like counting on no traffic at rush hour. McCown’s next two are on the road (at San Diego, at Baltimore), and while the latter is on paper a favorable matchup neither inspires much confidence. Then it’s three more non-helpers (Denver, at St. Louis, Arizona), making McCown’s run the most difficult of any quarterback on this list. Let someone else fight that uphill battle. The upside here is that after a month of toughies there’s a good chance November brings us Johnny Football at the helm.
Ryan Mallett, Texans
A home date with the Bucs should have been a juicy matchup for Mallett, so his 228 and 1 was disappointing. Every week brings the Texans that much closer to Arian Foster’s return, which means far less throwing. Look no further than last week, when Houston threw a season-low 39 times as they received an unexpected strong showing from Alfred Blue on the ground. So even a favorable run against the Colts, Jaguars and Dolphins in Weeks 5 through 7 isn’t overly appealing with regards to Mallett’s fantasy prospects.
Jimmy Clausen, Bears
Has the most favorable immediate slate, and Jay Cutler is out at least another week, but after his 9-17-63 embarrassment last week you’d have to have a ton of faith in the matchup (home to Oakland) to put Clausen in your fantasy lineup.
Michael Vick, Steelers
We’ve seen no evidence he is anything close to vintage Vick; he’s rushed for negative yardage in both games this season (five kneel-downs), has only topped 20 rushing yards twice since Week 5 of 2013 (last year as a Jet, in Week 8 against the Bills and Week 10 against his current team), and hasn’t rushed for a touchdown in his last 16 games (54 carries). On paper the matchup with Baltimore looks cushy, but it’s a short week and Thursday games are always sloppy. Then it’s a pair of tough outings before his next two favorable-on-paper matchups, in Kansas City and home to the Bengals. Nothing here suggests big fantasy help, and the expectation is the Steelers will lean far more heavily on Le’Veon Bell and the ground game than they will Vick’s arm or legs. He’s a Band-Aid with little to indicate an upside.
DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH (COMES WITH INSURANCE)
Thomas Rawls, Seahawks
Remember all that love for Christine Michael, and the expectation that Marshawn Lynch was careening towards a physical breakdown? Only the name has changed, with Rawls replacing Michael in the role of critical handcuff. Sure enough. Lynch failed to answer the call in Week 3 and the undrafted free agent chipped in 16-104 against a bad Chicago defense. Next up for the Seahawks, a date with a Lions defense that just surrendered X yards to Adrian Peterson. Rawls isn’t Lynch, and he isn’t Peterson, but he is absolutely in position to be a fantasy factor this week if Lynch can’t go. And given Lynch’s assortment of nicks—the back, the calf, the hamstring—he’s a must-have for every Lynch owner with title aspirations.
DON’T GIVE UP ON ME, BABY (or SOMETHING TO SWAP FOR)
Justin Forsett, Ravens
No question, Forsett’s been awful. And it’s not going to get any better on a short week in Pittsburgh. You’ll be tempted to unload him, maybe even outright drop him; instead, the shrewder move would be to start figuring out how to trade for him. Here’s Forsett’s schedule starting in Week 5: Browns, Niners, Cardinals, Chargers, bye, Jaguars, Rams, Browns again. Of that run only the Cardinals offer any sort of resistance against the run. Digging out from an 0-3 hole, the Ravens will need to have the pedal to the floor—and that means heavier doses of Forsett, both on the ground and in the passing game where he’s contributed four catches a week. Ride Forsett hard through October and November, because all those tough matchups he’ll be dodging will come back to bite him in the butt in a December that includes the Seahawks, Chiefs, and Steelers.