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Week 4 Sleepers

This article is a weekly look at players generally ranked outside the realm of every week starters. The players covered here usually fall into two categories: those with a good matchup or those who have an opportunity to start because of an injury to a teammate. On the other hand, sometimes a player may be considered if he is normally a starter, but has a bad matchup. Each position is covered in descending order beginning with the players who are better gambles and finishing with those who are certifiable reaches. Your mileage may vary, but the idea is to discuss these players and provide you with some analysis that might help you make those difficult lineup decisions a bit easier. Good luck and always keep in mind that your feedback and comments are welcome.


Prime Cut (Great matchup, strong sleeper)

QB Drew Bledsoe - DAL (at OAK)

For the second straight week, Bledsoe and the Cowboys travel to the Bay. Coincidentally, after three weeks the 49ers and Raiders are the two worst pass defenses in the league. Then again, Bledsoe had something to do with that ranking for the 49ers. He hopes to have a similar effect on the Raiders this week. Tom Brady, Trent Green and Donovan McNabb carved up Oakland in the first three games. Is Bledsoe next? If there is a silver lining to the Raiders’ very black cloud, maybe it’s that they have allowed only four passing TDs. Then again, they only have one interception and just two sacks. As long as Bledsoe has time to setup, he will be productive. Look for the Cowboys passing game to keep on rolling.

QB Eli Manning - NYG (vs STL)

The Rams defense is allowing opposing QBs to complete 66.7% of their passes for over 240 yds/gm. In the past two weeks, Steve McNair threw for 261 yds and Kurt Warner threw for 327 yards. Tim Rattay was a crisp 11-of-16 for 165 yards and two TDs against them. If this game were in St. Louis, Manning might be a bit risky even after watching him on Sunday night. At home, Eli should be able to handle the Rams pass rush and remain productive (especially knowing the Giants secondary is just as “QB friendly”).

QB Carson Palmer - CIN (vs HOU)

No sleeper here, just stating the obvious and giving everyone fair warning. For Palmer, this game should be the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. The downside is that Palmer may not get much action in the second half if the Bengals defense rattles David Carr the way it has Daunte Culpepper and Kyle Orton. The game is in Cincinnati and the Texans offense so far has been, well, offensive. The Bengals could jump out to an early led here, so Palmer may need to do his damage in the first half before this game boils down to Rudi Johnson running downhill 20+ times. The Texans allowed 170 yds and a TD to J.P. Losman and 254 yards and two TDs to Ben Roethlisberger – without an interception in either game.

Worth a Gamble (Good matchup, solid sleeper)

QB Drew Brees - SD (at NE)

Even without Rodney Harrison, the Patriots defense remains a tricky matchup, but the Patriots also have to overcome injuries to Duane Starks, Randall Gay and Tyrone Poole. Despite the mounting injuries, Brees is far from a slam-dunk sleeper pick. The Patriots have allowed five TDs and one INT in three games. They’ve also allowed QBs just a 44.1% completion rate and have seven sacks. Surely, those numbers were influenced to a degree by Harrison (and some of the others) being on the field. Brees will be challenged, but with talented targets like Antonio Gates, LT and Keenan McCardell, he should be just fine – especially without Harrison patrolling the middle of the field. For statistical purposes, the Patriots allowed 212 yds/gm, 1.7 TDs and 0.7 INTs per game. They did a standup job against Delhomme and the Panthers (154 yds, 0 TDs, 1 INT), but Ben Roethlisberger was effective last week despite completing only 12-of-28 passes. He still hung 216 yards and two TDs without an interception. Kerry Collins threw for 265 yards with three TDs and an INT. Brees might struggle with his efficiency, but should be productive enough to warrant consideration in deeper leagues or as a plug-in starter for the bye week.

QB Jake Delhomme - CAR (vs GB)

The Packers defense allowed 214 yds/gm with seven passing TDs and one to opposing QBs through the first three games. They rank ninth in fantasy pts allowed to QBs. If they can miraculously devise a plan to shut down Steve Smith, then they may have something here. Good luck with that. Smith abused Sam Madison regularly last week in Miami. This week, needless to say, Al Harris has his hands full. Delhomme downside seems to be that he’s overly focused on Smith. If Harris can even limit Smith’s targets, the Packers are halfway there. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done, especially on the road. It’s safe to say, Delhomme is in a good spot here and remains a good play for the second straight week against the Packers young, inexperienced defense that hasn’t figured out a way to stop anyone consistently or make big plays. At least the Packers can score points. That’s should help keep Delhomme in the game as long as the Packers can keep the score relatively close.

QB Brian Griese - TB (vs DET)

The Lions pass defense isn’t giving up the most yards in the league, but they’ve only played Chicago and Green Bay, so who really knows? Opponents have completed 63.6% of their passes against Detroit and Griese is typically an efficient passer (66.2% through three games). Don’t expect high yardage totals from Griese though. The Bucs defense should be able to keep this game under control. The Bucs defense and their success running the football mean that Griese is no longer a safe start each week. If the Lions aren’t able to muster any offense against the Bucs defense, Griese could be reduced to a first half fantasy QB. After that, he’ll be in the driver’s seat and riding the Cadillac to what might be an easy home win.

QB Byron Leftwich - JAX (vs DEN)

The Broncos defense isn’t necessarily a good matchup, but it could be a lot worse for Leftwich. Champ Bailey is taking it “day to day” after having an MRI on his bum shoulder. Whether he’s limited this week is probably a given, but his injury status is unclear at the time of this writing. The Broncos defense (with Champ) has been spotty. They were beaten soundly by an upstart Dolphins team on the road. Frerotte threw for 275 yards, two TDs and one interception. The last two home games were better. Drew Brees was kept out of the end zone while throwing for 175 yds and an interception. Trent Green fared slightly better, with 221 yards and a TD – most of which came while playing catch up. Leftwich is a tricky play. The Jaguars really want to run the ball effectively and protect Leftwich. The Broncos secondary will be tested if Bailey isn’t on top of his game, but Leftwich could go either way this week. The Broncos need to prove they are a solid road team, too.

Solid Reach (backup / situational player with upside)

QB Josh McCown - ARI (vs SF)

If there is ever going to be a spot where you should even consider doing a “pick up and play” with Josh McCown, this week’s matchup would be it. The 49ers defense, so far, hasn’t stopped anyone. The rub here is the 49ers pass rush. While they’ve allowed 369 passing yds/gm with nine TDs and three interceptions, they’re also near the league leaders with 11 sacks. Ok, so seven of those came against the shoddy pass protection of the Rams. Opponents are completing an amazing 68.4% of their passes against San Francisco. If Warner were starting, this would be a slam-dunk “start ‘em if you got ‘em” scenario, but he isn’t. McCown isn’t quite as awe-inspiring. Starting McCown is like getting excited about going to the movies with your girl to see The Bridges of Madison County. The numbers don’t lie, but McCown isn’t as accurate as Warner is and the Cardinals offensive line is woeful (trying to be nice here). Still, if you were counting on Warner as a bye week starter this week, McCown’s matchup might make sense if you feel like rolling the dice and sticking to your game plan. Both defenses are struggling and both offenses can throw the ball. That is usually a good sign for fantasy points on both sides. At least the Cardinals are at home this week, which should help McCown a little. In addition, Ahmed Plummer is out and Mike Rumph is moving back to corner while Mike Adams moves back to safety. It’s doubtful that will help the 49ers defense much, and if anything, Rumph will be like a giant moving target for McCown and the Cardinals to pick on all day long.

If you're desperate (worth a look in deeper leagues)

QB J.P. Losman - BUF (at NO)

Even the blind squirrel gathers a few nuts from time to time. For Losman, maybe this is the week he flashes a glimpse of his potential. It’s not like he’s lacking when it comes to having talented players to target. We certainly hope none of you is desperate enough to throw Losman to the wolves – even though the Saints defense is more like a cute little bunny with big ears. Losman hopes to play with that bunny, even knock it around some this week. The Saints have eight sacks, so they might get after Losman early and often, but that might also produce some decent rushing stats for Losman, too. The Saints have also intercepted only two passes in three games while allowing five TDs and an average of 226 yds/gm. That ranks them 11th in fantasy pts allowed to opposing QBs.

Running Back

Prime Cut (Great matchup, strong sleeper)

RB Kevan Barlow - SF (at ARI)

Cardinals allowed seven TDs in their first 3 games, 4.7 yds per attempt and 132 rushing yards per game (not to mention another 31 yds/gm receiving). The Cardinals are the #1 matchup for opposing RBs when it comes to fantasy pts allowed. Barlow came out of his shell a little last week and could be primed for his first “big” game in recent memory. Barlow obviously is not a back you start with a great deal of confidence, but if you have the guy on your roster, then this would be the week to put him to use if there is ever going to be one.

RB Chris Brown - TEN (vs IND)

Brown is a solid sleeper this week by virtue of opportunity more so than having a great matchup. Opposing RBs are averaging 21 carries for 87 yards, 4.7 catches and 31 yards with zero TDs in 3 games against the Colts. Not a great matchup as the Colts rank 27th in fantasy pts allowed to RBs, but on the other hand, the Colts have allowed four rushes of 20 yards or more (3rd most in the league). Brown can cover a lot of ground in a hurry when he’s on his game and he’s set to handle the lion’s share of the carries this week – providing he stays on the field. Travis Henry begins a four game suspension by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Brown’s problem certainly hasn’t been gaining yards, but staying healthy and actually finishing games. If he can pull that off this week, then he’s a solid bet as a #2 fantasy back even in a less than stellar matchup.

RB Warrick Dunn - ATL (vs MIN)

In the first three games, Dunn has been reasonably productive, but not so much from a fantasy point of view. It’s been a case where Dunn gains decent, but not good, enough yardage to be a solid starter, and T.J. Duckett gets all the touchdowns. The net effect is both RBs are “middled out” and neither one is particularly a good start from week to week. That said, the pendulum might swing in Dunn’s favor this week. The Vikings defense is run-friendly allowing 124.3 rushing yards per game to opposing RBs. Cadillac Williams, Rudi Johnson and Deuce McAllister all produced solid results against them. Dunn is overdue for a breakout game. Playing at home on the Falcons fast track should be just what the doctor order for Dunn’s owners this week.

RB Jamal Lewis - BAL (vs NYJ)

Ok, admittedly it’s a bit of a reach classifying Jamal Lewis as a sleeper in any week, but after two weeks there are a number of his owners second guessing themselves. For good reason, too, the Ravens offense has been nothing short of abysmal thus far. The Jets defense is better than average, too, but the good news for Jamal Lewis is the Jets are once again struggling against the run. Maybe they underestimated how much Jason Ferguson meant to their defensive line. It’s only three games, but so far they’re allowing 128 rushing yds/gm to opposing RBs with 4 TDs allowed. That makes them the 5th best matchup for opposing RBs. Lewis and the Ravens are coming off the bye, and with Pennington out, they smell blood. This game has the potential to get ugly on both sides, but more so for the Jets playing in B-More with a defense eager to show they still have “it”. Welcome back, Jamal. Lewis should be able to churn out 100+ yards and a TD or two this week.

RB Mewelde Moore - MIN (at ATL)

Anytime a Vikings back appears in this column, it’s almost a liability to proclaim them a sleeper without having a rock solid disclaimer along with it. That being said, keep in mind that Mike Tice is STILL the head coach for the Vikings. As such, anything that takes place on Sunday is bound to defy logic and deviate from any established pattern or statistical trend. Mewelde Moore is without question the RB that gives the Vikings offense the best chance to be productive. Against the Falcons defense, he should be able to build upon a solid start last week when he topped 100 yards rushing against the Saints. The Falcons rank 9th in fantasy pts allowed to RBs (24 carries, 119 rushing yds, 0.7 TDs, 4 catches, 30 yds and 0.3 TDs per game). Moore is the Vikings most consistent running threat and their best receiver out of the backfield. As long as Mike Tice doesn’t melt down on game day, Moore should continue to see the bulk of the touches in the Vikings backfield this week.

Worth a Gamble (Good matchup, solid sleeper)

RB T.J. Duckett - ATL (vs MIN)

See Warrick Dunn’s analysis. The Vikings are giving up big chunks of rushing yards to opponents in the first three weeks. The Falcons are at home and Duckett has scored a TD in every game so far this year. The matchup is good, but the key to starting Duckett hinges completely on his ability to cross the goal line. Otherwise, his yardage totals from week to week are spotty.

RB Marcel Shipp - ARI (vs SF)

With Josh McCown behind center and the Cardinals offensive line stinking up the desert, it’s awfully difficult expecting much production from Shipp any week. However, Shipp does have a particular niche that can be useful. For example, PPR leagues are a good spot to use Shipp as a RB2 for bye weeks, or as a flex player. The 49ers defense is ranked 7th in fantasy pts allowed to opposing RBs. Through three games, they allowed 26.3 carries, 101 rushing yards, one TD, 5.3 receptions, 35 yards and 0.3 TDs per game to RBs. J.J. Arrington struggles have allowed Shipp to regain the starting job, and this week, he should produce some decent combined yardage with a fair chance of getting into the end zone. However, don’t read too much into the matchup. Steven Jackson didn’t produce much in week one against the 49ers and Julius Jones (save for his two TDs) and the Cowboys only rushed for 90 yards.

Solid Reach (backup / situational player with upside)

RB Marshall Faulk - STL (at NYG)

Steven Jackson appears to be no worse for the wear after hurting his shoulder in last week’s game. Jackson was sidelines for a bit, but then returned to the game. Jackson doesn’t appear to be in danger of not playing this week, but the Rams are always willing to lighten his load and utilize future Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk as needed. With Mike Martz calling the shots, let’s just say, (like Mike Tice) that nothing would surprise us. The Giants allow 4.9 rushing yds/carry and enter this game as the 8th best matchup for opposing RBs. Granted, a huge chunk of that damage came from LT last Sunday night, because in the first two games they did a solid job containing the Cardinals (not too difficult) and Saints. Faulk is certainly a reach but knowing the Rams could utilize him in a multitude of ways makes him a better long shot than your typical backup RB.

RB Frank Gore - SF (at ARI)

See Kevan Barlow for the matchup numbers, or just trust me when I say the Cardinals defense is the #1 statistical matchup for opposing RBs. Normally, starting a backup RB on any NFL team is a risky proposition reserved only for specific scenarios like 14 or 16 team leagues, or PPR leagues. In this case, Gore might fight into either example. The 49ers keep trying to work Gore into the mix each week. They periodically go to him as a receiver, a few times downfield too, while giving him a decent workload as Barlow’s backup and as a change-of-pace runner. For his part, Gore is playing well, too. Against a soft defense that lost their top run stuffer (DT Russell Davis) and go to battle this week with an ailing LB corps, Gore might be worth a reach, albeit a desperate one in most leagues.

RB Michael Pittman - TB (vs DET)

The Lions allowed an average of 8 receptions and 53.5 receiving yards per game to opposing backs in the first two games. Obviously, Cadillac Williams is handling the bulk of the rushing duties, but Pittman is still involved as a receiver and sometimes lines up in the slot. The Lions LBs have long struggled containing backs and tight ends in the passing game, so Pittman could take advantage this week and possibly be of value in PPR leagues.

Wide Receiver

Prime Cut (Great matchup, strong sleeper)

WR Kevin Curtis - STL (at NYG)

Isaac Bruce is out this week. Kevin Curtis takes his place in the starting lineup opposite Torry Holt against a Giants defense that is allowing 15.3 receptions, 222.7 yards and 1.3 TDs per game to opposing receivers. What’s not to like here? Curtis is faster than Bruce is and was already productive enough to warrant a roster spot while playing in the slot. The Giants corners are vulnerable and haven’t been able to create any turnover or make big plays, but they’ve allowed 12 receptions of 20 yards or longer (2nd only to the 49ers). Curtis is not only a sleeper, but possibly a top 10 or top 20 fantasy receiver this week if Marc Bulger can disable his mental lock on Torry Holt even periodically.

WR Robert Ferguson - GB (at CAR)

From a technical standpoint, Ferguson shouldn’t really be considered a sleeper per se. After all, he’s starting for the Packers now and has Brett “I love a good post-game interview” Favre chucking him the pill. The game is on Monday Night Football, too. This isn’t a classic statistical matchup because the Panthers have a solid pair of corners and have been solid defending the pass (just 1 TD to opposing WRs so far). Ferguson is the team’s new found deep threat. He’s playing split end with Donald Driver at flanker (replacing Javon Walker). As such, Favre will look for Ferguson on a few deep patterns each week. The best thing the Packers WRs have going for them is that their defense is struggling. That means they will continue to have better opportunities than most receivers playing from behind more often with Favre throwing the ball a lot.

WR Brandon Jones - TEN (vs IND)

Don’t look now, but this Titans rookie is on the rise. He’s emerging as a solid starter in the Derrick Mason role and his targets are rising each week so far. The Titans are at home this week against their divisional rival Indianapolis Colts. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to extrapolate the increased opportunities that come with such a matchup. The Titans will almost certainly be throwing more than usual in this game, but don’t lose sight of the fact that the improved Colts defense has yet to allow a TD to an opposing WR. On the other hand, they allow an average of 13 catches and 152.7 yds to WRs. That means Jones is a solid gamble this week, primarily in PPR leagues. In TD-heavy or standard leagues, Jones is still a slight reach, but should be worthwhile this week.

WR Greg Lewis - PHI (at KC)

Ok, so Ashley Lelie didn’t quite “go off” on Monday night as we hoped against the Chiefs. The fact remains that Dexter McCleon is the most vulnerable player in the Chiefs secondary – and guess who will cover Greg Lewis? Hint: It won’t be Patrick Surtain with Terrell Owens left to run rampant. Lewis narrowly missed a TD last week and he’s been consistently targeted each week. McNabb trusts Lewis and he’s emerging as a solid, week in and week out receiver. If he breaks out this week, then it might be last appearance in this space. He’ll be ranked too highly.

WR Brandon Lloyd - SF (at ARI)

Ok, so Lloyd is now ranked among the top 15 or 20 in most fantasy leagues after a career game last week against the Cowboys. Most people still don’t consider him a slam-dunk starter, especially knowing that if/when Tim Rattay gets hurt or the 49ers decide to turn to rookie Alex Smith, then Lloyd’s value effectively goes out the window. That said, Lloyd is riding a white hot streak right now that takes him into this week’s posh matchup against a woeful Cardinals defense that was abused the past couple weeks by the Seahawks and Rams. Typically, both Lloyd and Arnaz Battle would be listed in this space. However, Battle might be slowed somewhat due to injury leaving Lloyd as a slightly better option. If you’ve been struggling to build up enough confidence to start Lloyd, then give him a shot this week. The matchup is great and both defenses stink. Last year, these two teams met and a track meet broke out. The same thing might happen again this week.

Worth a Gamble (Good matchup, solid sleeper)

WR Lee Evans - BUF (at NO)

We saw what Troy Williamson did to the Saints secondary last week. He scored his first NFL TD from 58 yards. This week, Evans (and Eric Moulds) hopes to get back on track with a productive game against the Saints. Of course, the problem with Evans has nothing to do with Evans himself. J.P. Losman has to get it done. It’s that simple. Otherwise, Evans and Eric Moulds are simply getting in a good workout every Sunday with no stats to show for their efforts. For their part, the Saints allowed 4 TDs receptions to opposing WRs in their first three game along with an average of 8.7 receptions for 162 yards. That makes them the 8th best matchup for WRs. Opponents have produced 10 receptions of 20 yards or longer against the Saints, too. Evans is a big play waiting to happen. After three weeks of waiting, Evans owners may be rewarded by sticking to their guns and riding Evans into week four. If it doesn’t happen this week, it’s time to be worried – REALLY worried – about the Bills receivers because Losman isn’t cutting the mustard.

WR Joey Galloway - TB (vs DET)

Picking Galloway to produce a worthwhile game for the second week in a row is like expecting lightning to strike twice in the same place. Then again, my father was struck by lightning twice in the same weekend. True story. Maybe Galloway has a chance after all. The Lions lost Fernando Bryant, which means Galloway could be lining up against Andre Goodman this week. Brian Griese sure seems to find Galloway in the red zone (aside from week 2), otherwise, this isn’t the typical good matchup play we look for statistically. It’s a gut feeling based on Bryant’s injury and Griese’s tendency to look for Galloway when it counts the most. Moreover, Michael Clayton’s going to get “his” eventually. In two games, the Lions allowed 9.5 receptions and 101.5 yds per game with just 1 TD.

WR David Givens - NE (vs SD)

Conventional wisdom says that Givens won’t see more than five targets this week. He was Brady’s guy last week. The Patriots seem to change gears every week, so maybe this week it’s Deion Branch or Ben Watson’s turn, maybe even Andre’ Davis - if he’s healthy enough to get back on the field. Givens came up big last week against a much tougher defense, so who knows. In their first three games, the Chargers allowed an average of 16 receptions, 208 yds and 1.7 TDs to opposing receivers. The Patriots defense is weaker without former Charger S Rodney Harrison. So, how does that affect Givens? The Patriots may have a difficult time putting teams away or sustain a leader without the leader of their secondary. The burden of leadership will fall more squarely on Tom Brady’s shoulders. It’s looking more and more like a career-year for Brady and it’s probably time to give the Patriots WRs a moderate bump for their projections moving forward.

WR Michael Jenkins - ATL (vs MIN)

The Vikings allowed 11 receptions and 177 yards per game with 2 TDs to opposing receivers in their first three games. The 13.1 yards per catch allowed is 4th highest in the league so far. Opposing QBs completed three passes for 40 yards or more and 9 for 20 yards or more. That might be the key statistic when it comes to evaluating Michael Jenkins. The Falcons offense isn’t exactly predicated on the short passing game. It’s more about pounding the football and unleashing Michael Vick to do his “thing”, which amounts to progressing through his reads, running around for a bit, then unloading his cannon downfield to Jenkins, Alge Crumpler or Brian Finneran (all super-sized targets). Jenkins is averaging 17.9 yds/catch with a TD. He’s been targeted 15 times resulting in 8 catches. The good news is that Vick is looking for him more and more – signaling that he might finally be progressing as a passer and not simply locking onto Alge Crumpler 90% of the time. Jenkins is an excellent sleeper this week. Keep in mind that he’s still not a highly targeted receiver yet. That’s partially due to the Falcons offensive tendencies and the fact that Jenkins is still learning the ropes with only three NFL starts under his belt.

WR Eric Parker - SD (at NE)

In three games, the Patriots pass defense allowed a big play for a TD in two of them. Randy Moss hit a home run in the season opener, then Hines Ward cracked off an 85-yarder for a score this last week. Parker isn’t a consistent option with LT, Gates and McCardell all healthy and playing well, but he is capable of getting open deep for big plays. Without Rodney Harrison patrolling the middle of the field and an assortment of injuries to several of the Patriots corners, Parker’s chances look better this week. As a bye-week starter, perhaps he’s the kind of “swing for the fence” play to plug into the lineup if that’s your style of management.

WR Jerry Porter - OAK (vs DAL)

Everyone who drafted Porter this year has been waiting rather impatiently for their just rewards. While the matchup against Dallas this week is extremely promising from a statistical perspective, there’s still reason to be skeptical when it comes to Porter. Consider this. The Cowboys allowed 7 TDs to opposing receivers. Of those seven TDs, six of them went to the opposing team’s #1 receiver. Keenan McCardell, Santana Moss and Brandon Lloyd did a TON of damage, while the opposing team’s production from their No. 2 receiver hasn’t been nearly as good. Arnaz Battle scored last week and produced a solid game. Before that, David Patten didn’t do much (1 catch for 12 yards) while Eric Parker caught five balls for 75 yards. What does this mean for Porter? Well, for starters, Randy Moss should freaking explode. So, will there be enough love to go around for Porter to also have significant value? It’s hard to say. Porter’s been targeted five, 11 and 11 times with just under a 50% completion rate (13 receptions, 156 yards, 0 TDs). Certainly, the matchup is good on paper, so maybe Porter breaks through this week. The Cowboys corners have already allowed three receptions of 40 yards or longer in as many games. Therefore, Moss, Porter and even Doug Gabriel look better than usual.

WR Amani Toomer - NYG (vs STL)

The Rams enter this game ranked 7th in fantasy pts allowed to opposing receivers. That means Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey figure to be productive, but it also means we should be on the lookout for another decent performance from Amani Toomer. After two games, Toomer was starting to appear on milk cartons. However, in San Diego on Sunday night, Toomer played well and Manning looked for him more frequently. Toomer caught four balls for 84 yards with 8 targets – compared to a combined 7 targets and 2 catches in the first two games. The Rams allowed 13 catches, 184 yards and 1 TD per game to WRs, so there might be enough stats here to spread around and make Toomer a decent reach, too.

Solid Reach (backup / situational player with upside)

WR Doug Gabriel - OAK (vs DAL)

See Jerry Porter. The Cowboys are giving up big plays left and right this year. Maybe they knew what they were getting when they inked Anthony Henry to a lucrative free agent contract. Yeh, he’s big and physical, but he’s also been victim to numerous big plays on his watch over the past couple years. Gabriel figures to matchup against Aaron Glenn, the Cowboys nickel corner, and Kerry Collins seems to like going to him, too. Gabriel scored from 27 yds last week in his first game as the Raiders No. 3 receiver replacing the injured Ronald Curry. He was only targeted three times and had just two catches, but in a matchup this soft, he’s liable to go the distance each time he catches the rock. If you’re in a TD-only league, or a deeper league, Gabriel might not be a terrible reach. In fact, he might be a solid gamble.

WR Chris Henry - CIN (vs HOU)

The Bengals talented rookie receiver is becoming a fixture in the Bengals offense. He’s emerged as the Bengals No. 3 receiver, but when he’s on the field, he’s lining up opposite Chad Johnson with T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the slot. Henry has the size, speed and talent to be a significant downfield threat, especially with a talented QB like Palmer chucking the rock. Henry was inactive in week one, but played the last two weeks catching four balls each game with a 36-yard TD last week. What’s particularly impressive is he’s 100% in terms of the receptions-to-targets ratio. This week, the Texans will be forced to put Dunta Robinson against Chad Johnson leaving the troubled and oft-beaten Philip Buchanon to fend off Houshmandzadeh and Henry. Henry has a significant size advantage over Buchanon. While he’s definitely a reach, Henry is worth a look because he could score for the second straight week.

If you're desperate (worth a look in deeper leagues)

WR Clarence Moore - BAL (vs NYJ)

Moore scored two TDs the last time these two teams met a year ago. He had a decided height advantage over anyone trying to cover him. Hey, this is a complete wild guess because the Ravens offense has been nothing short of abysmal thus far. The Jets could be better prepared this time for Moore and the Ravens have more weapons than last year, too. Do you want a good comparison? Look at Ernest Wilford last week. He took advantage of the Jets last week and he’s as close to a Clarence Moore clone as you’ll find in the league.

Tight End

Prime Cut (Great matchup, strong sleeper)

TE Erron Kinney - TEN (vs IND)

Through the first three games, Erron Kinney is shaping up to be a reasonably consistent, often targeted tight end worthy of consideration as a starter in most leagues. More realistically, he’s the #2 tight end for most owners, and they are reluctant to start him over the guy drafted higher knowing that Ben Troupe is stealing the red zone thunder and presumably taking on a larger role as the season progresses. That’s all fine and dandy, but consider this… The Colts allowed 6.3 receptions and 70.3 yards per game with 1 TD to opposing TEs in three games. On the flip side, Kinney has 15 targets to Troupe’s 10. He’s produced at least 5 catches and 50+ yards in two of the Titans three games so far.

TE Ben Troupe - TEN (vs IND)

See Erron Kinney. Troupe isn’t seeing as many targets as Kinney, but he’s targeted more frequently in the red zone and is only getting healthier and more productive with each passing week. The Titans will almost certainly be throwing the ball plenty in this game making all of their receivers and tight ends worth consideration.

Worth a Gamble (Good matchup, solid sleeper)

TE Courtney Anderson - OAK (vs DAL)

This is not a statistical matchup at all. In fact, the Cowboys are the toughest matchup for opposing TEs through three games, but there’s more to look at than numbers. For example, the Cowboys missed Antonio Gates in week 1. Next, they played Washington and San Francisco, and neither team features their TEs with Chris Cooley being the possible exception. The fact is the Cowboys pass defense is among the worst in the league so far. The fact that no TEs have done much damage may not have any relevance. If the Cowboys, like most defenses, double team Moss or give safety help towards Moss and Porter, then Anderson has the middle of the field to himself. Of course, there’s the looming presence of Roy Williams, but let’s not get too crazy. Anderson has two outstanding games out of three. The Cowboys pass defense – as a whole – portends itself to fantasy production.

TE Ben Watson - NE (vs SD)

Good luck guessing which weeks Ben Watson will be worthwhile and which ones he’ll be nothing more than a decoy. The Chargers allow an average of 3.3 receptions, 46.3 yards and 0 TDs to opposing TEs. Not great, but not bad either. Perhaps Bill Belichick will insert more plays that target Ben Watson over the middle of the field after watching Jeremy Shockey play the Chargers secondary like a fiddle. Obviously, Watson is a decided gamble anytime you start him. He’s just as likely to lay an egg as he is catching a TD or producing 50+ yards.

Solid Reach (backup / situational player with upside)

TE Alex Smith - TB (vs DET)

Smith’s production has fallen off significantly since he caught a pair of TDs in the season opener. That doesn’t necessarily mean we should discard him as a viable fantasy option this week. Smith could benefit from Cadillac Williams as the Lions will be forced to sell out against the run if they have any chance of stopping the Bucs on the road. They had a difficult time keeping the Bears and Thomas Jones from running right at the heart of their defense in week two. That’s right. Jones routinely gained solid yardage running right into the teeth of the Lions defense against Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson. Smith could be Johnny-on-the-spot in the red zone this week. Gruden loves the play-action dump to his tight ends near the goal-line and this might be the perfect spot. The Lions allowed 5 catches and 33 yards to Bubba Franks, but rank near the bottom of the league in TE production allowed. Attribute much of that to playing the Bears in week 2. Smith is worth a look particularly in TD-heavy leagues, but also as a bye week starter if you have to reach a bit.

If you're desperate (worth a look in deeper leagues)

TE Kris Mangum - CAR (vs GB)

The Packers rank as the fifth best fantasy matchup for TEs allowing 4.3 receptions, 58.3 yards and 1 TD per game. Marcus Pollard was wide open all day long for the Lions in the season opener while Steve Heiden produced several catches and a couple TDs against them in week two. Mangum is a steady tight end with consistent (but not fantasy worthy) production as a receiver. If the young Packers secondary over-commits to Steve Smith, then both Kris Mangum and Keary Colbert (are you freaking kidding me?) could be wide open and surprisingly productive if Delhomme can manage to target someone else besides Smith even occasionally.

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