Either there’s been a glitch in the matrix, or the fantasy landscape is undergoing a fairly dramatic shift before our very eyes.
Along with the usual suspects from New England, Green Bay, New Orleans and Philadelphia, the upper echelons of the 2011 fantasy ranks are being invaded by “imposters” from Buffalo, Detroit and (gasp!) Carolina.
I mean, what kind of world are we living in where Cam Newton trails only Tom Brady among fantasy passers? Don’t Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson understand their place in the NFL hierarchy? Didn’t Steve Smith retire two years ago?
As for the emerging stars from Motown, how much can we really trust them? After all, Matt Stafford started just 13 games in his first two seasons. Jahvid Best flamed out three weeks into his rookie season thanks to a nagging turf toe injury. Calvin Johnson, one of the best wideouts in the game, is a virtual fixture on the weekly injury reports.
For now, the best approach is to ride the hot hands while you can. Each of the aforementioned interlopers has climbed into the rarefied air of the every-week starters, which is as refreshing as it is shocking. With all the injuries to key players incurred over the first two weekends, the new blood is arriving just in time.
FREE AGENT PICKS AND PANS
To win a fantasy championship, it helps to start with a great draft. But filling in your roster throughout the season with the right free agents is also important. Here's a look at players worth considering, and others who would look better in someone else's lineup.
Catch ‘em while you can
Dexter McCluster, WR/RB, Chiefs. With Jamaal Charles lost for the season, his owners will be scrambling to fill a gaping hole in their lineup. Thomas Jones is Charles’ immediate backup, but he is already widely owned and has clearly lost a step. McCluster is an intriguing pickup, since he is a dual threat you can play in a receiver spot. He’s especially valuable in point-per-reception leagues; and, unlike Jones, he should remain on the field well after the Chiefs have abandoned the run.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys. The rookie was expected to challenge Felix Jones for playing time later this season. But he could be called upon sooner, if Jones’ shoulder separation proves to be serious. Tashard Choice will likely share the backfield, but Murray’s ceiling is much higher.
Ben Tate, RB, Texans. I’m taking the rare step of recommending Tate in two consecutive columns, since he’s still unclaimed in more than a third of all leagues. While Arian Foster’s hamstring remains problematic, Tate should continue to account for the bulk of Houston’s rushing production.
Nate Burleson, WR, Lions. Along with Stafford’s emergence as one of the league’s most prolific young gunslingers, Burleson is quietly becoming fantasy-relevant again. Opposing defenses must focus their attention on Calvin Johnson, leaving the well-traveled veteran in single coverage. Stafford is finding him frequently.
Eric Decker, WR, Broncos. As Brandon Lloyd sat out and Eddie Royal left early with a groin injury, the second-year pro had a breakout game, reeling in five passes for 113 yards and two scores. Decker is known for his excellent hands and route-running ability, and he ran back a punt 90 yards for a score in Week 1, so you know he has wheels. He’s worth a spot on your bench.
Don’t be fooled
Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs. You know you’re in trouble when you can’t even put up garbage-time stats. Cassel’s offense has produced a total of 10 points in the first two weeks. Time to hit the eject button.
Rex Grossman, QB, Redskins. Good, bad or sexy, Grossman belongs nowhere near your roster. His starting job is tenuous at best, and he’s proven over a long career that he simply can’t be trusted in the real, or fantasy, world.
Denarius Moore, WR, Raiders. He’s a rookie receiver, drafted in the fifth round (strike one). He plays in Oakland (strike two). He’s still buried on the depth chart (strike three). On the other hand, the talent above Moore is mediocre at best, and injury-riddled. Still, that’s too many strikes for my taste, and I haven’t even mentioned his quarterback’s shortcomings. Maybe next year.
Kevin Ogletree, WR, Cowboys. If Miles Austin misses a week or more with a hamstring injury, Ogletree will be the next man up. But the fourth-year receiver is an unlikely fantasy hero, especially once Dez Bryant returns to the lineup. Look elsewhere for Austin’s replacement.
Mike Williams, WR, Seahawks. Over the past two weeks, with Sidney Rice (shoulder) inactive, Williams has collected a whopping five passes for 43 yards. Until Seattle upgrades its quarterback situation, no member of this receiving corps merits a roster spot.