Week 4: five things to know
1. Leshoure is Already an RB2
In his regular-season debut against Tennessee on Sunday, roughly 14 months removed from an Achilles' tendon tear, Leshoure didn't show much rust, immediately making incumbent starter Kevin Smith an afterthought while taking 26 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown. He also showed the ability to make an impact as a receiver, making four catches for 34 yards.
Anyone familiar with Leshoure's days as an Illinois runner expected showings like this. Although he was drafted later than Mark Ingram, Ryan Williams and Shane Vereen in 2011, Leshoure was the best all-around athlete of the group. Leshoure's speed and quickness matched or rivaled each of those runners, but 15-25 pounds heavier than those backs, Leshoure offers much more power at about 230 pounds.
Although he tends to get written off as no more than a power back, Leshoure has an ability to plant and cut that's rarely seen in a player of his build, and thanks to his quick feet, Leshoure's power is explosive rather than plodding. And while his four catches from Sunday surprised some, Leshoure's skill as a receiver is nothing new - he showed plenty of ability to catch and run in college, serving as Illinois' third-leading receiver in 2010 as he totaled 196 yards and three scores on 17 catches (11.5 YPC) in an offense that ran the ball more than two-thirds of the time.
With his skill set in a Detroit offense that made him a workhorse in his first regular season game, Leshoure clearly has RB1 upside. For now, though, the prospect of residual Achilles' tendon issues probably keeps his value in the RB2 range. Still, Leshoure's owners should make their asking price very high if they consider selling Detroit's new top runner.
2. Cincinnati's Terrible Defense Keeps Andrew Hawkins in WR3 Territory
Slot receiver Andrew Hawkins could be hit-or-miss in some sense in the Cincinnati offense - he tends to only play in formations with three or more receivers with A.J. Green and Armon Binns ahead of him - but unlike most players on the WR3/WR4 radar, Hawkins is clearly the second-best receiver on his team, and he plays on a team that might have the league's worst defense.
Hawkins could very well be one of the five most explosive receivers in the league, and whenever the Bengals need to score points, they'll remember that. Considering the Bengals allowed 5.8 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per pass through three games, the Cincinnati playcalling figures to have Hawkins on speed dial quite a bit this year.
Particularly with defenses having no choice but to focus on A.J. Green and the vertical threat he poses, Hawkins figures to be efficient on short routes. Indeed, he's shown an impressive ability to both move the chains (eight catches for 86 yards against Baltimore) and burn the open field after the catch (50- and 59-yard touchdowns on short passes against Cleveland and Washington, respectively).
Moreover, after totaling 208 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 catches (16 targets) through three weeks, the Bengals are all but compelled to find more ways to get Hawkins the ball. Even if Cincinnati keeps giving Hawkins roughly just five targets per game, however, he should probably be owned in all leagues.
3. Britt will be a Bargain
Tennessee has a road matchup with what might be the league's best defense in Houston this week, so wait at least a week to get a return on your investment, but Kenny Britt is due to break out for the Titans.
If Britt is healthy, he will be a WR3 at worst in most leagues. Based on what happened in Tennessee's game against Detroit, the offseason knee issues that cast a cloud over Britt's value seemed to be a non-factor, as the Titans raised his snap count to 37 after playing 19 snaps in Week 2. He was very busy during those 37 plays Sunday, earning 11 targets and pulling in six for 55 yards.
Britt is only enigmatic as far as injuries and poor behavior. When he's on the field, his productivity is a constant. In the 13 full games he played in 2010 and 2011, Britt totaled 56 catches for 1,046 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The addition of first-round pick Kendall Wright might seem like a target and perhaps even snap-count obstacle to Britt, but the former is only slightly true, while the latter is not true. Britt's talent and effectiveness tower over that of the other Tennessee receivers, so if Wright threatens anyone, it would be Nate Washington rather than Britt. Britt provides WR1 upside at a WR3 price tag in many leagues.
4. You can Probably Find a Better Starter than Jason Witten
There's a good chance you already own one so long as you drafted two tight ends, but if you don't, recognize that it shouldn't be difficult to find an upgrade over Jason Witten in most leagues.
Although he's seeing a decent number of targets (19 in three games), Witten seems to be in the midst of decline and isn't a great bet to finish the year as a top-10 fantasy tight end. Age 30 might not seem that old, particularly when Tony Gonzalez is still doing great at 36, but Witten never was a great athlete at tight end, and 700-plus catches over 10 years really adds up when you make your living in the middle of the field.
Going back to Week 12 of last year, Witten has just 348 yards and no touchdowns over nine games. That's a long time for a slump - it might be closer to the new status quo.
5. Christian Ponder is a Rising QB2
After three weeks and a quarterback rating of 104.9, Christian Ponder has been convincing in his attempt to prove he's a franchise quarterback. He has established himself as a quality QB2 in the process and even has some spot-starting appeal with the right matchup.
He has 713 yards (7.4 YPA) and four touchdowns as a passer, adding 41 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The per-game rushing totals are likely to improve - he averaged 7.8 YPC as a rookie - and the passing numbers likely will get better with the arrival of vertical threat Jerome Simpson, who was suspended for the first three games. That, and he has favorable matchups with Detroit, Tennessee and Washington ahead.
His upside has been limited by a game-manager role to this point, but there's reason to believe that too will improve for Ponder. NFL teams almost always open their passing games as young quarterbacks show improvement, both in terms of attempt volume and aggressiveness in the playcalling. After having his best game as a pro against a dangerous San Francisco defense Sunday, scoring three touchdowns (two passing) with no turnovers, Ponder showed he's ready for more.
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