We're now a quarter of the way through the NFL season and we are starting to get an idea of who the studs and duds are, who the sleepers were, and who never woke up from their offseason nap.
It also doesn't help that high draft picks were wasted on guys like Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, and Robert Griffin III. But no matter what your excuse is for starting the season off slow, just know that you can turn it all around with one smart trade, or a few well-timed waiver wire moves. For instance, Mark Ingram is on pace to return following the Saints' week 6 bye. Ingram is owned in just 76.2 percent of NFL.com leagues, and 57 percent of Yahoo leagues. If you're smart you would stash him now and have yourself a RB2 off the waiver wire for free in week 7 and beyond.
I get an endless amount of questions regarding trades, and it is impossible to tell you here what to do in a trade because a decision depends on many factors: your roster, league size, eligible player positions, and even your opponents' rosters make a difference. With that said, here are a few guys I'd target:
Tony Romo – DeMarco Murray will either set NFL records for carries and yards, or he will get dinged up and the Cowboys will use Romo's arm more. I'm better on the latter of the two personally. Romo has weapons in Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Terrance Williams, and even Murray out of the backfield. It is only a matter of time before Romo makes those 3 TDs he threw in week 3 a normal occurrence.
Eddie Lacy – If there were a guy who had RB1 upside that could be had in a trade right now, I'd bet Lacy would be the guy. So far he has been a major disappointment, totaling 210 yards of offense with just one touchdown to show for it. The upside here is that the Packers have a high-octane offense that will get going at some point soon. And when it does, Lacy is going to put up points in bunches. I'd be talking to his owner right now to see just what his price is.
Andre Johnson – Not that I think he will go all Steve Smith and turn back the clock on his career, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is a good thing since he is a smart and accurate QB. His 34 targets are 9th in the NFL for WRs, and his 262 receiving yards actually tie him with Alshon Jeffery. The Texans are throwing his way 30 percent of the time, so it's only a matter of time before it pays off for those willing to put him in their lineup. If Jeffery is a must-start WR with the same yards and two less targets, why are people so down on Johnson?
Allen Hurns – The truth isn't always pretty, and that is the case when it comes to Cecil Shorts' hamstring. His latest issue is an aggravation of the same hamstring that kept him out of the first two games of the season. Add to that Marqise Lee being ruled out early each week with a hamstring problem of his own, and the needle is pointing north for Hurns' role and usage. There is some risk in his owner wanting you to buy high on him, but if the price is right then I would pull the trigger on a deal with Blake Bortles taking over as the starting QB.
Philip Rivers – Chargers: While it is true that the New York Jets have one of the more dominant run defenses in the NFL, it is equally true that they have one of the worst pass defenses in the league as shown by their 23.9 PPG allowed to fantasy QBs this season (4th most). It is that truth that I expect Rivers to exploit on Sunday with a Chargers passing attack that has exceeded expectations thus far.
Eli Manning – Giants: Anyone who has read my articles for any length of time should quickly know that I am not an Eli Manning fan. So, when I tell you to start him you should know that I came to this conclusion after CAREFUL consideration! The Falcons defense has more holes in it than Swiss cheese, which should allow Manning to keep things rolling after blowing the doors off fantasy football in week 4 with his 300-5-1 (Yds-TD-INT) line.
Khiry Robinson – Saints: This should be Robinson's last game as a starter with Mark Ingram set to return after the Saints week 6 bye, and it should be a good game for him to showcase his skills. The Bucs are struggling to figure out who they want at QB, and now WR Mike Evans is expected to miss 2-3 week with a groin injury. The Bucs problems mean the Saints should be able to play from ahead all game long, thus running Robinson enough to ensure that he has a season-high for yardage.
Ben Tate – Browns: Tate will be back this week with his knee problems hopefully behind him, but he may have lost his exclusive hold on the RB carries. Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell have filled in for him and have been solid enough for OC Kyle Shanahan to use a "hot-hand" approach at running back. Regardless, I expect Tater Tot to end up with RB2 stats (at worst barring an injury) against a Titans defense that currently allows 22.9 PPG to RBs, 9th-most in the NFL. If you stashed him or picked him up, put him in the flex and he should pay dividends.
Kelvin Benjamin – Panthers: Would it shock you to know that Benjamin is tied for 7th in the NFL for WRs with 36 targets? Would it surprise you to know that he has the 8th-most receiving yards for WRs at 334 yards? At 6'5" and 240 lbs. Benjamin is a massive red zone target, and is currently on pace to finish with 84 receptions, 1,316 yards, and 12 touchdowns. Benjamin is a legit WR1 this week going up against a Bears secondary that has more guys on the injury report than it has off it.
Steve Smith – Ravens: Speaking of WR targets, Steve Smith is currently ranked 3rd in both targets (42) and receiving yards (429), and tied for 3rd with 3 receiving TDs this season. Not bad for a guy that you probably got off the waiver wire for free! It's hard to imagine a guy turning back the hands of time at the age of 35, but that is just what Smith is doing in Baltimore this year. The truth is his skill set better fits Joe Flacco than that of Torrey Smith. I'd ride Smith as a WR2 with WR1 upside until someone in the NFL figures out how to stop him.
Larry Donnell – Giants: I have been on Donnell's bandwagon since week1, but I will admit that I didn't expect him to reel in 3 touchdowns in week 4 to go along with 7 receptions and 54 yards. Nevertheless, Donnell has [Eli] Manning's eye and the offense is perfect to make a TE look great. In case you were wondering if you should start Donnell this week after last week's explosion, the answer is simply yes. Ride the Manning/Donnell bandwagon until the wheels fall off!
San Diego Chargers defense: The Jets offense will get a little better as Eric Decker's health improves, but I don't see many defensive coordinators around the league truly worrying about Geno Smith beating them with his arm. The real threat comes from Chris Ivory on the ground, and the Chargers have allowed the 15th-most fantasy points to RBs this year with an average of 20.1 PPG. Nevertheless, I could see the Chargers focusing on stopping the run and forcing Smith to throw the ball, thus causing them to finish as a starting fantasy defense this week.
Tom Brady – Patriots: Did you know that Brady hasn't thrown for more than 250 yards in a game yet this season? Did you also know that he hasn't thrown multiple touchdowns in a game this season either? I'm sure he will have a good game at some point and his faithful bandwagon fans will come out and say "SEE, I told you he hadn't lost it!" The problem is he has clearly lost "it," and the WR that could make him look better than he is (Aaron Dobson) is sitting at home on game day because he "mouthed off" to Patriots OC Josh McDaniels. As long as Brady is throwing to Brandon LaFell and Kenbrell Thompkins, you can chalk that draft pick you burned on drafting Brady as a wasted pick!
Andy Dalton – Bengals: Ok, so Andy Dalton could either throw for 3 touchdowns and 300-plus yards, or the Patriots defense could shut him down and he could finish with 170 yards and a few INTs. Since the Patriots are allowing just 15.1 PPG to QBs this season (2nd-best in the NFL), I'm going to sit Dalton down on the bench this week to be on the safe side. I like that the Bengals get back Marvin Jones at WR, but he can't seem to catch a break as he "tweaked" his ankle and didn't participate in Wednesday's practice. It is going to take a few games before he is 100 percent and ready to supplant Mohamed Sanu.
Kirk Cousins – Redskins: Even if Cousins didn't go full Ryan Leaf on the Redskins in week 4, I'd still sit him here as the Redskins take on a Seahawks team coming off a bye. The Seahawks have the best defense in the NFL hands down; add on top of that a bye week to do nothing but watch film on Cousins and pick apart his weaknesses (which he showed all of them in week 4), and you have a recipe for disaster. Even in 2QB leagues I'd want no part of Cousins this week!
Alfred Morris – Redskins: For the same reasons I don't want to play Cousins, I'd find another option at RB this week. While Richard Sherman is busy just destroying the confidence of the QB, the D-line and LBs will be busy making sure Morris stays in check all game long. Since we don't often see teams go scoreless in a game, it would be fair to say someone will probably score for the Redskins on Monday night. The problem is that I'm not even sure if the Redskins know who it will be!
Jerick McKinnon – Vikings: I really like McKinnon over Matt Asiata if you are talking the course of this season. But after McKinnon put up 135 yards on the ground last week, people have already started throwing his name into the mix when asking who to start at RB. Remember, those 135 yards came against a Falcons defense that not one single football fan would call "good." McKinnon is probably going to overtake Asiata for lead back duties at some point, but that point hasn't arrived yet. McKinnon is going to be boom-or-bust against the Packers, on the road, in a short week.
Terrance Williams – Cowboys: Williams is someone I was high on heading into the fantasy draft because I believed the Cowboys offense would be much improved, and I haven't been wrong so far. Williams doesn't wow you with yards, but he does have 4 TDs in four games to go along with his 3.5 RPG (Receptions-Per-Game) and 44.8 YPG averages. The problem this week is the Texans allow just 21.8 PPG to WRs this season, and Williams can't possibly keep up the TD pace he has set early on. I could easily see him reverting back to his week 2 numbers where he finished with 2 catches for 20 yards and no endzone visits this week. Be aware and beware!
Brandon LaFell – Patriots: The worst part of my job is having to tell someone that the guy they just picked up off the waiver wire needs to go right back on it, but that is what I've had to do more than a few times the past few days with LaFell. Look, if you look up inconsistent in the dictionary, there will be a picture of LaFell next to it. The Bengals defense allows just 16.2 PPG to QBs this season, so would you bank on getting those few points, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, or Brandon LaFell? If you said LaFell I'm going to need you to back away from the computer slowly!
Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Buccaneers: Seferian-Jenkins is a TE on the rise in fantasy circles, just not in my circle this week. I will admit that his future looks promising after playing in all 71 offensive plays in week 4. However, the Saints are pretty darn good at shutting down TEs, allowing just 5.5 PPG to them this season. While the Bucs are likely to be playing from behind all game long (which means a lot of throwing), I wouldn't sit my regular TE to play a rookie who has a season high of 3 catches for 44 yards and still hasn't scored.
Carolina Panthers defense: And the most disappointing defense award so far this season goes to… the Carolina Panthers! Through the first four games of the season they have managed to score just 17.00 points in NFL.com's fantasy game. The last two weeks they have combined for a total of -7.00 points. That's right, they actually LOST 7.00 points for their owners! This week they get a Bears offense that has probably the best WR tandem in the NFL with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Oh, and they have that dual-threat RB Matt Forte, as well as my sleeper pick at TE in Martellus Bennett. As a matter of fact, the Panthers schedule is brutal until after their week 12 bye when they get the Vikings in week 13, the Bucs in week 15, and the Browns in week 16 (A.K.A. Fantasy Championship).