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Newton, Vick continue to falter
Joe Flacco, Ravens
Once known in these parts as “Average Joe,” Flacco may be on the precipice of finally fulfilling his first-round potential. After torching the Patriots on Sunday night (28-for-39, 382 yards, three touchdowns), the Baltimore quarterback is averaging over 304 yards in the early going with six scores versus just two interceptions. More importantly, Flacco seems to grasp a better command of what opposing defenses are throwing his way, and the rapport with his receiving crew is exponentially enhanced compared to his previous tours of duty. Blessed with viable weapons for the first time in his career, as well as the Ravens’ new up-tempo attack, Flacco should facilitate fantasy fruition for owners throughout the 2012 campaign.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Granted, it was against an Oakland defense that surrendered 35 points to the Dolphins in Week 2 (in fact, trying to name a Raiders defender outside of Richard Seymour and Rolando McClain would probably stump The Schwab), yet I doubt Big Ben owners acted contrite over Roethlisberger’s 384 yards and four aerial excursions versus the Silver and Black. The Miami product now has eight touchdowns and 904 passing yards through three games, a derivative of the offensive philosophy from new coordinator Todd Haley. Once Rashard Mendenhall returns, the Steelers may return to a ground-first approach, but look for Pittsburgh to continue to attack from the air in the upcoming weeks.
Andre Brown, Giants
Not sure if I should commend the astute individuals that obtained Brown before his destruction against the Panthers (20 rushes, 113 yards, two touchdowns) or console those that handcuffed Ahmad Bradshaw with rookie David Wilson. Probably both.
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
Now there’s the Charles we all know and love. Following a forgettable showing in Buffalo last Sunday (six rushes, three yards) and reports of lingering soreness in his surgically-repaired knee, Charles proprietors began to have second thoughts on their gamble with the former All-Pro back. Yet Charles answered this uncertainty with vigor, busting off 288 yards of total offense, including a 91-yard scamper to pay dirt, in the Chiefs’ victory in New Orleans. Combined with his admirable feat in Week 1 (16 carries, 87 yards), possessors of Charles should rest assured of the running back’s worth for the rest of the season.
Torrey Smith, Ravens
Smith’s prime-time performance against the Patriots (six receptions, 127 yards, two touchdowns) is accreditation in itself to earn nomination on this list. That the Baltimore wideout posted such exploits one day after the unexpected death of his brother illustrates the magnitude of his attainment. Truly a gut-wrenching triumph.
Eric Decker, Broncos
On the heels of a two-touchdown conquest versus the 49ers in the preseason, Decker shot up the draft boards as a possible PPR beast. However, though Decker was getting his fair share of targets and wasn’t necessarily dreadful, much was left to be desired out of the third-year receiver after the first two weeks. Decker made amends with his production on Sunday, racking up eight receptions for 136 yards against one of the best passing defenses in the conference. Moreover, the 11 throws in his vicinity elucidate the trust that Peyton Manning has in Decker’s ability over the middle.
Heath Miller, Steelers
Miller has been a staple of the Steelers offense since entering the league in 2005, and while his receiving figures have been consistently sound, they have been far from impressive, making Miller mostly a backup or bye-week replacement in the fantasy forum. That classification could be nearing an end, as Miller’s output in Oakland (eight catches, 60 yards, two touchdowns) raises the tight end’s season harvest to 15 receptions and four end-zone ventures. The position flaunts a plethora of serviceable fantasy entities this year, but Miller, owned in just 30 percent of FOXSports.com leagues, is one of the more dependable assets still available.
Honorable Mention: Arizona defense
After Sunday’s annihilation of the Eagles, the Cards’ defensive unit owns a league-best 13.3 points-per-game mark. Throw in the fact that two of the three contests have come in opposition to Super Bowl aspirants and it highlights the appreciation one has for the upstart Arizona squad.
Cam Newton, Panthers
Initially I shrugged off Newton’s stumble out of the gate, as his flaws have stemmed from miscommunication with receivers and a Carolina line that has struggled to keep adversaries out of the backfield. Then I saw Newton’s now-infamous postgame press conference and thought, “Uh-oh.” Fanning these flames are multiple reports surfacing from Charlotte regarding the team’s trepidation with Newton’s mental makeup. The former Heisman winner was able to operate under the radar last season, yet with heightened expectations in the current campaign, it appears Newton is beginning to wilt. Don’t throw in the towel just yet, but definitely have an alternative arm waiting in the wings. Speaking of quarterback concerns…
Mike Vick, Eagles
Given his injury troubles in August, Vick owners would have been ecstatic if you mentioned Vick not only played in all of Philly’s first three games, but was averaging over 330 total yards in this span. Unfortunately, there’s a slight caveat to this synopsis, as Vick’s nine turnovers have led to rumbles of a change under center. Andy Reid didn’t give the greatest endorsement for Vick either, mentioning the position will be evaluated as the team progresses. He still has the ceiling to be an elite fantasy contributor, yet his irregularity makes one wonder if the juice is worth the squeeze in implanting Vick as a fantasy starter.
Kevin Smith, Lions
Despite the return of Mikel Leshoure, Smith persisted as the top man on the Detroit depth chart, taking most of the first-team reps in practice throughout the week. Keeping this in mind, along with Leshoure coming off hamstring and Achilles’ issues, Smith seemed like the practical play from the Lions backfield. So it was apropos that Leshoure stockpiled 134 total yards in his debut while Smith garnered a whopping ZERO touches against the Titans. Feel free to drop Smith in almost all formats.
Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
With two gems in the opening weeks, Thomas was bound for a letdown at some juncture, and Houston corner Johnathan Joseph makes many a receiver look pedestrian. Still, owners were hoping for more out of Thomas than three receptions for 34 yards. On the bright side, Thomas received 11 targets from Manning and has an exploitable matchup with the Raiders on tap for Week 4.
Justin Blackmon, Jaguars
In his defense, there’s only so much a wideout can do when Blaine Gabbert is at the helm. Alas, given the success first-round NFL Draft picks A.J. Green and Julio Jones experienced last season, Blackmon is not following in their footsteps, with a meager one catch in the past two weeks and just four receptions on the season. Blackmon did lead the team in targets on Sunday, but if Gabbert can’t get the pigskin in a workable window, the looks will do little for Blackmon’s outlook.
Jason Witten, Cowboys
I should be more empathetic to his cause, as Witten’s preseason injury is probably correlating to his epidemic of drops. However, as I started Witten in two leagues on Sunday over Kyle Rudolph, who went off for two touchdowns, perhaps you will understand if I’m somewhat apathetic to his plight. Like Thomas and Blackmon, Witten continues to see balls in his direction, so the tight end has the opportunities to turn it around. Yet with the depth at tight end this season, owners’ patience may not endure as long.
Dishonorable Mention: Pittsburgh defense
Having Pro Bowlers James Harrison and Troy Polamalu on the sideline hurts, yet Pittsburgh’s depth and formidable front seven should have negated some of this loss. Relinquishing over 30 points for the second time this season stresses this is not the case. With a bye week looming, the Steelers should return a healthier and intimidating unit to the gridiron in Week 5, but if things do not improve, they may not command a roster spot.