Welker, Smith continue to shine
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Packers
So much for the Super Bowl hangover stigma. Rodgers had a career day, tossing for over 400 yards and accounting for six touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) in Green Bay’s dismantling of Denver on Sunday. Through four games, the Packer signal caller leads the NFL in completion percentage (73.0) and QB rating (124.6), and has 12 touchdowns versus two picks. While he’s been a top-eight fantasy contributor at his position since taking the reins as starter in 2008, Rodgers is displaying a serenity and coolness in the pocket stemming from his validation as the right man for the job after the exile of Brett Favre. With a complete comprehension of the Packer offense, as well as a loaded receiving corps, the best of Rodgers may have yet to be seen.
QB: Michael Vick, Eagles
Chaos may have ensued in the City of Brotherly Love following the team’s crushing 24-23 defeat against San Francisco, but Vick owners were pleased with the Philadelphia field general’s performance. Battling with an injured non-throwing hand, Vick threw for 416 yards and two touchdowns, adding 75 yards in the ground game on just eight carries. Vick did throw an interception, bringing his season total to three after turning the ball over a meager six times through the air in 2010. Yet with all the battering and bruising Vick has taken in the early going, the fact he’s still upright and submitting these types of games should assuage any apprehension concerning his fantasy prognosis for the rest of the season.
RB: Beanie Wells, Cardinals
Despite concerns surrounding a hamstring that kept him out of Week 3’s contest, Wells exploded for 138 yards and three touchdowns in Arizona’s heart-breaking and controversial loss to the New York Giants. Owners may want to see the former Buckeye back more involved in the Cardinals’ passing game, but after two forgettable seasons in the desert, Wells is displaying the dexterity that made him a first-round selection in the 2009 Draft. Kevin Kolb has been fairly pedestrian in the first quarter of the season, which should translate for continued opportunities for Wells.
RB: Matt Forte, Bears
Forte’s value usually derives from his participation in the passing attack, with Forte owning 22 receptions for 287 yards compared to just 199 rushing yards heading into Week 4’s matchup with Carolina. So it was apropos that Forte went berserk in the backfield on the Panthers’ defense (or lack thereof), accumulating 205 yards on the ground and a touchdown on 25 carries in Chicago’s 34-29 victory. Forte supplemented this terrain excursion with four catches and 23 yards.
RB: Arian Foster, Texans
That sound you hear is the collective sigh of relief from Foster owners. Granted a clean bill of health, skepticism abounded over Foster’s forecast in Week 4 thanks to a stout Steeler rushing opposition, as well as Foster’s abbreviated appearance in Week 2 upon his initial return from injury. Foster answered this uncertainty with vigor, rushing for 155 yards with a touchdown in Houston’s win over Pittsburgh. Although he hauled in only three catches, Foster was targeted five times. Expect that figure to rise with Andre Johnson out the next few weeks.
WR: Hakeem Nicks, Giants
Still hampered by knee issues, Nicks posted 10 receptions for 162 yards and a score in a Giants’ victory. Victor Cruz may be coming on for the G-Men, but Nicks remains Eli Manning’s No. 1 target.
WR: Wes Welker, Patriots
Welker continues to pump out monster outings, this time with nine receptions for 158 yards and a score in Oakland. On the season, the diminutive wideout has 40 catches, 616 yards and five touchdowns. The yardage accrual is a record for the first four games of a campaign, and Welker is on pace to shatter Marvin Harrison’s milestone of 143 receptions and Jerry Rice’s mark of 1,848 yards in a season. As absurd as that proposition may seem, if Tom Brady continues his proclivity of checking-down to Welker (14 targets on Sunday, 56 passes in his direction on the year), both achievements are in peril.
WR: Calvin Johnson, Lions
Yawn. Another game, another two-touchdown conquest from Megatron. Johnson not only leads the league with eight touchdowns (Welker and Rob Gronkowski are second with five), but Sunday’s feat tied Cris Carter’s record of four straight games with two receiving scores. Not bad for a man with a bum ankle.
WR: Steve Smith, Panthers
The Carolina Panthers may be losers in the standings, but they’re winners in the hearts of fantasy owners. (Well, save for proprietors of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.) Many downgraded the veteran Smith heading into the season, as the venerable receiver seemed disenchanted with the team’s direction, on top of dealing with the expected growing pains of a neophyte under center. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Newton-to-Smith has developed into one of the more potent passing duos in the league. After Smith hauled in eight catches for 181 yards, the two have hooked up for 24 receptions and 530 yards through the first four games (one which was marred by a monsoon in Week 3).
TE: Jimmy Graham, Saints
Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem were two fantasy entities whose value was expected to rise in the absence of Marques Colston, but Graham has emerged as Drew Brees’ favorite receiver. Graham submitted his second straight 100-yard game on Sunday with a whopping 10 receptions for 132 yards and a touchdown in New Orleans’ win over Jacksonville. Even with Colston returning to action, Graham’s willingness to go over the middle will continue to garner looks from Brees. On the season, Graham has 24 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns.
DEF: Baltimore Ravens
Scoring three times (two fumble returns and a pick-six) was certainly impressive. But just as inspiring was the Ravens’ resistance holding the Jets to just three points on offense, as a Joe McKnight kickoff return and David Harris interception accounted for New York’s two touchdowns.
K: Ryan Succop, Chiefs
It could be a long year in Arrowhead, but Succop provided a temporary bright spot for the maligned Chiefs, converting all five field goal attempts, including two 50-yarders, in Kansas City’s 22-17 win over Minnesota.
QB: Rex Grossman, Redskins
Now there’s the Rex Grossman we all know and love. After a stretch (going back to the end of 2010) in which Grossman tossed for 290 yards or more in four of five games, the Washington QB has submitted two straight stink-bombs. Against an atrocious St. Louis secondary, Grossman managed a feeble 51.7 completion percentage on 29 attempts with two interceptions. Perhaps it’s time to temper that fervor on Grossman as a capable fantasy contributor.
QB: Joe Flacco, Ravens
Last week I wrote that Flacco was a charter member of the Erratic Fantasy All-Stars. Judging by Sunday’s outing, Flacco may be the captain of that squad. A week after scorching the Rams for 389 yards and three touchdowns, Flacco hit just 32.3 percent of his intended targets and threw a pick-six in Sunday night’s showdown against the Jets. While Gang Green owns one of the better defensive units in the league, Flacco has to exhibit some semblance of consistency before owners can trust him as a weekly fantasy starter.
RB: Shonn Greene, Jets
In the (TV-censored) words of Luke Wilson from Anchorman, “This is getting re-gosh-darn-diculous!” In spite of a quarter of the season in the books, Greene has failed to cross the 60-yard barrier this season, with an uninspired 3.1 yards per attempt on 51 carries. True, the Jets were forced to attack from the air after an early deficit; alas, Greene finished with 23 yards on 10 carries and no receptions. For a team built on a mantra of “ground-and-pound,” New York has a major burden in their backfield.
RB: Thomas Jones, Chiefs
Jones has yet to take advantage of the extended opportunities in wake of Jamaal Charles’ season-ending injury. Since taking over as starter (three games), the former Pro Bowler has rushed for an insubstantial 108 yards on 37 carries, including 37 yards against Minnesota on Sunday. Expect Dexter McCluster and Jackie Battle to begin to syphon touches away from Jones.
RB: Tim Hightower, Redskins
Here’s an excerpt on why I didn’t like Hightower after Week 1 despite his respectable showing: “Add in the fact that Mike Shanahan will undoubtedly throw everyone off by inexplicably giving Roy Helu or Ryan Torain 20 touches at some point and I’m down on Hightower’s fantasy prospects.” Admittedly, I thought this juncture would arrive in late fall, not the first weekend of October. The lesson: Mike Shanahan hates fantasy football.
WR: Mario Manningham, Giants
Rough comeback for Manningham. Returning from a concussion, Manningham finished with one catch for 10 yards. Worse, the Michigan product was seemingly benched in favor of Cruz after running the wrong routes early in the ballgame. Monitor Manningham’s status throughout the week, as his worth is on the verge of plummeting.
WR: Hines Ward, Steelers
Antonio Brown was listed in last week's Fantasy Fever as a player who will begin to take away targets from Ward. From examination of the Steelers’ loss to Houston, this development is already underway. The Super Bowl MVP received just four balls in his direction, translating to one catch, while Brown received 10 targets for five receptions and 67 yards. Add in the uncertainty around Ben Roethlisberger’s health, and Ward’s fantasy projection is shaky at best.
WR: David Nelson, Bills
With three solid games under his belt, Nelson was due for a letdown at some point. That flop came to fruition on Sunday, as Nelson grabbed a scant two receptions for 18 yards. In his defense, the entire Bills’ offensive attack seemed stalled, but this week’s opponent (Philadelphia) does not pose as the greatest fantasy matchup for Nelson.
TE: Chris Cooley, Redskins
Amazing that three Redskins are listed in this column despite Washington’s win. It’s officially alright to drop Cooley from your fantasy squads. Showing brief signs of life against Dallas (four receptions for 41 yards), Cooley was a non-factor against St. Louis, hauling in one pass for four yards. Grossman certainly wasn’t helping matters, but with Fred Davis receiving six targets on Sunday, Cooley is the odd-man out in Washington’s double-tight end set.
DEF: Denver Broncos
On the bright side, the Broncos snagged two interceptions (one off of Matt Flynn) and rookie Von Miller notched two sacks. Unfortunately their accolades ended their, as the Packers had their way with the Broncos in a 49-23 win. Orange Crush they are not.
K: Alex Henery, Eagles
Henery botched two fourth-quarter field goal attempts in the Eagles’ 24-23 excruciating loss to San Francisco on Sunday. Don’t worry Alex, Philly fans are a tolerant and patient bunch. I’m sure you won’t catch any harassment at all.