If there was any fantasy sanity left in the 2012 NFL season, it gave way to all measure of mental instability in Week 3. Owners of 49ers studs watched the Minnesota Vikings choke-chain them. Ryan Mathews believers watched his debut include a 44-yard effort and red zone fumble. Eagles’ fantasy standouts were reduced to ashes against the Cardinals, Rob Gronkowski owners were stupefied by a horrid outing, and Cam Newton’s mental toughness is in question. And this is still September.
But the true fantasy footballers persevere, knowing that eventually order will be restored. And here’s the top waiver wire pickups for Week 4 to get you started:
1. RB Mikel Leshoure. As dead as Lions RB Kevin Smith has become to fantasy owners the last two weeks, Leshoure is alive. The former Fightin’ Illini stud showed everyone his 2011 Achilles’ injury is a thing of the past as he rushed 26 times for 100 yards and a score in an OT loss at Tennessee. Detroit’s passing game hasn’t gotten in rhythm yet in 2012, and Matthew Stafford’s injury Sunday is further indication it may not be back for a while. The Lions are going to run the ball more with Leshoure back on his game.
2. RB Ryan Williams. One of the hidden nuggets in Arizona’s systematic dismantling of Philadelphia in Week 3 was that Williams appears to have overtaken Beanie Wells as the No. 1 running back for the Cardinals offense. Williams ran 13 times for 83 yards against the Eagles, as opposed to Wells’ meager eight carries for 18. The Cards are 3-0 for the first time in nearly 40 years, and Williams is directly in the mix.
3. TE Kyle Rudolph. If anyone was hiding Rudolph on their bench in your fantasy league until last Sunday, it was a Vikings fans. High preseason expectations for the second-year tight end had given way to sobering on-field results the first two weeks. But against the 49ers, Rudolph had a coming-out party with five catches for 36 yards and a pair of scores in a shocking Week 3 upset. If you’ve got high waiver priority in your league, and need tight end help, this is the week to pull the trigger and pick up Rudolph.
4. RB Daniel Thomas. Reggie Bush’s knee injury sounds like it’s going to cost him a solid handful of games, so Thomas is a natural pickup for handcuffed owners. Thomas stepped in for Bush against the Jets Sunday and produced well, netting 69 yards on a 19 carries. He also scored on a one-yard run and was targeted twice on pass plays.Others will say Lamar Miller is the Dolphins RB to pick up, but he got less than half the carries Thomas did. Also, Thomas has been in this place before in Miami, and in the NFL, experience counts.
5. RB Jacquizz Rodgers. The former Oregon State standout has been steadily increasing his playing time in Atlanta’s offense, and it appears he’s ready for launch. Rodgers opened the Falcons’ scoring in Sunday’s torching of the Chargers, and he finished with 67 total yards on 15 touches. Yes, Michael Turner played well and scored a touchdown too, but Rodgers is his heir apparent and his workload is only going to increase.
6. WR Damaris Johnson. Lost in the Eagles’ surrender parade in the desert in Week 3 was the play of Johnson. Standing in for the injured Jeremy Maclin, Johnson caught five passes for 84 yards and was targeted 11 times by Michael Vick. It was production more than twice that of DeSean Jackson (worrisome for Jackson owners), and if Maclin continues to miss time, Johnson is a must-have pickup.
7. WR T.Y. Hilton. Hilton turned fantasy heads Sunday after hauling in a 40-yard touchdown from Andrew Luck in the Colts’ loss to the Jaguars. But Hilton was an all-game factor, eight times, with four catches for 113 yards and the aforementioned score. It appears that 2012 just isn’t going to be Austin Collie’s year (knee), so expect Hilton to continue to be a part of the Colts’ game plan.
8. WR Ramses Barden. The Giants may be holding open trials for a “So You Think You Can Play Pro Football?” reality show, but let’s settle down. Andre Brown may happen one week, but Ahmad Bradshaw is set to return. And Barden may catch nine balls for 138 yards in front of the entire nation Thursday night the next week, but Hakeem Nicks will return. And when he does, Barden will return to the bench. Pick him up if you want, but realize he’s likely got the fantasy life span of a locust.
9. WR Brandon Stokley. Well, well. Suddenly, Peyton Manning’s ol’ buddy in Indianapolis revives his career in Denver. Stokley had six receptions for 73 yards and a 36-yard tally in the Broncos’ loss to Houston. But it’s a gamble to pick him up at this point. Manning had to throw a ton after his team fell into a deep hole. And he’s already got Demaryus Thomas, Eric Decker, Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreesen, and Willis McGahee to throw to. But Stokley’s worth a pickup if you’ve got Manning at QB, as the two know each other as well as Dan Fouts knew Kellen Winslow.
10. WR Jeremy Kerley. Most fantasy owners pass on the Jets wideout in favor of Santonio Holmes, and even Stephen Hill. But through three games Kerley’s got eight catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns, including a 66-yarder Sunday against the Dolphins. He’s averaging 23 yards a catch and with the Jets at home the next three games, he’s worthy of a waiver pickup.