Desperation Rising

Up against the wall already in this young fantasy season? You'll have to be bold in Week 4 to get back in the game

Ryan Broyles (left) and Colin Kaepernick (center) haven't made a huge impact on this fantasy season so far, but that might change. For Gio Bernard, it's the exact opposite in Week 4. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports :: John Froschauer/AP :: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Ryan Broyles (left) and Colin Kaepernick (center) haven’t made a huge impact on this fantasy season so far, but that might change. For Gio Bernard, it’s the exact opposite in Week 4. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports :: John Froschauer/AP :: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

By Eric Edholm and Alessandro Miglio

You’ve no doubt been bludgeoned by the statistics of just how unlikely it is for NFL teams to make the playoffs following an 0-3 start. For fantasy owners, that panic is multiplied: With a shorter regular season (usually 13 or 14 weeks), the pressure to turn things around is often far more immediate.

That often means drastic measures. OK, maybe you’ve reacted and benched former fantasy greats such as Roddy White or Larry Fitzgerald. But more might be necessary.

That’s why we are here to provide guidance on those tough moves, the ones no one wants to make but ones you might have to. With that in mind, here are a few tough-love benchings and off-the-wall starts that could propel you back into the race for Week 4:

Sit: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Dissenting Opinion

Wait a minute here. Hold on. This is the same Vikings team that was just shredded by Brian F. Hoyer last week, right? Or was that Brett Favre in disguise?


Ben Roethlisberger just had a great fantasy week himself, against a pretty good Bears defense, no less. Maybe the trip to London will sap some of the offensive energies for both teams, but this could well turn into a shootout. It’s not like Roethlisberger is a top-flight option from week to week, but with Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers sitting out this week, you could do far worse than Roethlisberger in your lineup. —A.M.

Through three weeks of the season, a trend has emerged: The Vikings’ defense has been shockingly vulnerable to the pass. Matthew Stafford stung them for 357 yards in Week 1. Jay Cutler went for 292 in Week 2. And Brian Hoyer—he of the 96 career pass attempts entering Sunday—went for 321 in Week 3. Combined they have thrown eight TD passes.

So why not start Roethlisberger Sunday in London? A few reasons.

One, the Vikings at least have created turnovers. They have 10 forced, tied for second in the NFL. Roethlisberger has four interceptions, plus three fumbles. Based on most scoring systems, each turnover wipes out about 40 yards of passing, plus whatever yards the quarterback might have gotten had he not turned it over.

Two, the London Factor. Only finely tuned passing games seem to do well in games played there, as quarterbacks such as Sam Bradford (2012), Josh Freeman and Jay Cutler (2011) have struggled to get their mojo working. Roethlisberger has thrown for a respectable 848 yards in three games, but many of those are cosmetic yards; the total package offensively has been a mess.

You should be able to find a better option elsewhere. 

Start: Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers

Funny how fast things can change in the NFL. After Week 1, Kaepernick was the talk of the league. Now he has been reduced to favoriting complaining fans’ tweets as a source of motivation. The past two games have been ugly, and a short week has the 49ers on the road against a division foe in the Rams that played them tough twice last season.

So why do we expect a bounce-back game for Kaep? Well, the team knows the hole it faces at 1-2, and a series of events—Aldon Smith’s absence, Frank Gore and Jim Harbaugh having it out—likely will lead to Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman doing a little self-scouting this week and getting back to basics. Prior to last week, Harbaugh had never lost back-to-back games.

And beyond that, Kaepernick is a special player who should be able to do some damage against a Rams defense that has not been up to the challenge so far this season. Finding capable receivers to catch his passes has been tough for him this season, but Kaepernick should be able to do work with his legs, too. The Rams have not faced an athletic QB this season, and those types of players gave them issues last season at times. 

Benoit Says: “Defenses are committing to keeping Kaepernick in the pocket. We’ve seen that the last two weeks. With San Fran’s wideouts unable to shed man coverage and the running game so far not dominating the way it did last year, Kaepernick’s limitations as a progression passer from the pocket are being exposed. He’s incredibly gifted but still very raw.”

Sit: Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

The Browns have allowed one rush to a running back this season go longer than nine yards. Yes, they mostly have bottled up Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas, Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce and Adrian Peterson—allowing those five to combine for 198 rushing yards on 75 attempts (2.6 ypc). The three touchdowns they collected all were of the short, goal-to-go variety—the kinds that BenJarvus Green-Ellis typically gets, and not Bernard.

It’s brutal at this point to tell you to sit Bernard, especially after his fantasy stock has grown with each successive week. Of the backs listed above, his skill set probably most closely resembles that of Rice, who had a 14-yard run against these Browns but was held to a mere 22 yards rushing on his other 12 carries. Rice also only had nine receiving yards, too, on three catches, in case you’re wondering.

Overplaying matchups in fantasy can be tricky business, but in this case it might be a wise move to sit the rookie this week.

Benoit Says: “Bernard has a chance to revolutionize the Bengals offense. We all know he’s fast, and yet, watch the film and you’ll still be startled by his speed. He’s faster than fast, and he can maintain his speed in a multitude of directions, he’s not just a north/south runner.”

Start: Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets

Powell is reinforcing what the preseason told us: He, not Chris Ivory, is the Jets’ best option in the backfield. Everything is relative with the Jets, of course, but they seem to have found something here with Geno Smith, Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill and Powell exceeding expectations offensively. Marty Mornhinweg might not be known as a running back’s best friend, but he used Powell—27 rushes, 149 yards—as if he was in Week 3 vs. the Bills.

The Titans have won two of three games this season with solid defense, opportunistic offense and a sprinkling of luck. But what that has masked is that they have been fairly well gashed on the ground the past two games, with only the anemic Steelers unable to run against them. Powell has become something of an X-factor in this offense, and he figures to be a strong play again in Week 4 on the road.

Sit: Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans

It has come to this. You have to sit Johnson until further notice.

Injuries, including a concussion and a painful shin bruise, have rendered him increasingly mute with each passing week following a 12-catch, 146-yard opening game. And now, Seattle comes to town, and You Know Who. Richard Sherman lives for these matchups against “name” receivers, and he won’t take pity on the fact that Johnson is likely 80 percent healthy at best.

It’s possible that Johnson won’t be himself until after the Week 8 bye, but let’s take this thing one week at a time. Sit him Sunday and go from there.

Benoit Says: “Johnson has been hampered by injuries a bit and, now in his mid-30s, doesn’t show the same level of athleticism. He can still get separation, but with his age and Matt Schaub’s increasingly weak arm, defenses don’t have to defend him over the top as often, which could impact Johnson’s effectiveness on the deep digs and crossing patterns that he’s made a living on.”

Start: Ryan Broyles, WR, Detroit Lions

Nate Burleson suffered a broken arm in a bizarre, pizza-sliding accident, the kind of bodily harm that is usually reserved for Spinal Tap drummers. And just as you can’t really dust for vomit, you can’t play as a receiver with a broken arm.

Enter Broyles, the highly decorated college receiver whose career in the NFL has been derailed by injuries to this point. He made his 2013 debut last week, playing 17 snaps and catching three balls for 34 yards on three targets. Burleson was the team’s slot receiver when they went to three-WR sets, and now Broyles is expected to earn those snaps. He’s a risky play to be sure, but the Bears—for all their big plays on defense—have allowed 883 passing yards in three games.

Sit: Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

Poor Shorts. He had finally been hitting his stride the past two games with backup QB Chad Henne starting, and now the Jaguars have announced they’ll be going back to Blaine Gabbert in Week 4.

The Colts might have the reputation of being generous on defense, but for fantasy purposes they have defended wide receivers well through three games, allowing 396 yards (eighth best in the league, and only 73 yards more than league-leading Houston and Seattle) and two touchdown catches combined.

Start: Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, New England Patriots

With two touchdowns last week, Thompkins showed he can be a red-zone factor after dropping would-be scores in Weeks 1 and 2. Although he angered Tom Brady with his post-TD celebration, it’s clear the trust between quarterback and receiver is growing a bit. Still worrisome is the shockingly low connection rate between the two—only nine receptions on 28 targets—but the Week 4 opponent Falcons have allowed receivers to do damage against them.

With Rob Gronkowski a good shot to be back in the lineup Sunday night, the coverage likely will slant in his direction in key situations, especially in the red zone. That means Thompkins might have an easier time getting open. Plus, he has been good for a catch of 20 yards or longer in each of the first three games, so he’s doing work downfield as well.

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