Minnesota TE Kyle Rudolph is emerging as a fantasy stud as the Vikings continue to feed him in the red zone. (Photo courtesy of AP Images)
Week 3 provided an argument both for and against the “Never Sit Your Stars” theory. On the “against” side, you had Adrian Peterson, Peyton Manning and Larry Fitzgerald. The latter two were coming off subpar games and, like Peterson, had very tough matchups. Plenty of owners wanted to bench all three; however, all three put up solid fantasy numbers.
On the “for” side, you had Chris Johnson, Michael Vick and Vincent Jackson. The latter two had tough matchups, while the former had done nothing all year. Plenty of fantasy owners wanted to bench all three; and, as it turns out, they would've been smart to do so.
Ultimately in these situations, the risk is usually worth the reward. Because we can't see the future (and if you can see the future, congratulations), we have to play the odds. Certain things make the odds go down, like a tough matchup or poor recent performance; other things make the odds go up, like a good matchup, talent, touches/targets/attempts, etc. In the case of star players, their odds are always up because of their talent, and they're almost certain to get a lot of opportunities, too. As we saw with Peterson, Manning and Fitzgerald, a star player can put up stats against anyone, which is why they're so tough to bench.
Of course, if we're talking about Johnson, throw the odds out the window. After yet another poor performance, the safest bet is to have him planted on your bench. Let's look at some more risers and fallers at each offensive position.
There were eight 300-yard passers in Week 3, down one from both Weeks 1 and 2. That in itself isn't a big deal, but it is interesting that three of Week 3's 300-yard passers – Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Mark Sanchez – had completion percentages of 50 percent or worse. Weeks 1 and 2 only featured two total QBs with sub-51-percent completion percentages.
If there's a lesson here, it's that big plays are even more prominent this season, which is good news for fantasy owners scrounging for QBs during the byes. There have been 171 pass plays of 25-plus yards so far this year, which is slightly ahead of last year's pace that was the highest on record. High-percentage passers are nice, but you can still strike it rich with big-play QBs or QBs going against defenses susceptible to long passes.
Notable Riser: Jake Locker, Titans. Locker had a career day against Detroit, throwing for 378 yards and two scores while adding another 35 yards on the ground. His dual-threat potential makes him a sleeper every week, but remember that Locker had two long TD passes against the Lions that were both a little fluky. He's far from a sure thing, but he's a high-upside backup who fits the mold of what we just talked about -- big-play passers who aren't necessarily that accurate. Andy Dalton and Ryan Fitzpatrick also fit that bill.
Notable Faller: Cam Newton, Panthers. Matthew Stafford tweaked his hamstring and could miss some time, but Newton fell flat on a national stage last Thursday, struggling in the passing game and running game. It's too early to say defenses have “figured out” Newton, but he hasn't flashed the same consistent spark as last season. If you hit on a high-quality backup (Robert Griffin III? Ben Roethlisberger?), it's at least worth checking out what Newton can fetch in a trade.
Just a week after praising both Reggie Bush and C.J. Spiller, it looks like both will be on fantasy benches for at least the next week or two. Bush suffered a knee injury, and Spiller injured his shoulder. Bush's injury appears to be more serious, but he should return at some point this season. Daniel Thomas figures to take over for Miami, while Tashard Choice will be the featured back in Buffalo while Spiller and Fred Jackson are out.
Thomas and Choice will be popular waiver-wire pickups this week, but owners shouldn't sleep on each team's new backup, Lamar Miller in Miami and Johnny White in Buffalo. Miller looked more impressive than Thomas last week, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him get the bulk of the RB touches as early as Week 5.
Notable Riser: Jamaal Charles, Chiefs. Charles looked like his old self against the Saints, running 33 times for 233 yards and a TD. The high workload was due in part to Peyton Hillis' early-game ankle injury, but Charles still impressed with 288 total yards, including a 91-yard TD run. After rushing just six times for three yards the week before, it's tough to know what to expect from Charles going forward, but he certainly looks like he'll be an RB1 in all fantasy formats.
Notable Faller: Kevin Smith, Lions. We knew Smith was going to lose touches to Mikel LeShoure, but we didn't expect a 30 to zero split in LeShoure's first game. Smith barely saw the field, and even in overtime when LeShoure was being held out for conditioning reasons, it was Joique Bell who took over at running back. LeShoure is far from a proven commodity, so Smith could eventually regain some value, but with the bye weeks coming up, he looks expendable. LeShoure, who totaled 133 yards and a TD in his NFL debut, is going to be a solid option going forward.
Week 3 was a nice breakout week for Wes Welker (8 catches, 142 yards), Antonio Brown (finally got in the end zone) and Torrey Smith (6-127, 2 TDs), but fantasy owners are probably wondering if two New York-based receivers, Ramses Barden (9-138) and Santonio Holmes (9-147), can build off their solid performances.
It's important to remember that both took advantage of favorable matchups, and Barden obviously benefited from the absence of Hakeem Nicks. While he's undoubtedly earned himself more playing time, he'll be tough to count on when Nicks is active. Holmes should continue to get plenty of targets, but considering last week was his first 100-yard game since Week 11 of 2010, his upside remains limited by the Jets' QB situation.
Notable Riser: Any No. 1 receiver facing the Jets. One of the NFL's few true “shutdown corners,” Darrelle Revis, suffered a torn left ACL on Sunday and will miss the rest of the season. That's huge for future Jets' opponents, as even the best receivers were often left stranded on “Revis Island.” We'll see the dividends pay off as early as next week, when Michael Crabtree is in play as a WR3.
Notable Faller: Marques Colston, Saints. Colston is no stranger to slow starts. Last year, he was injured in the season opener and missed the next two games; in 2010, he didn't score his first touchdown or have his first 100-yard game until Week 7. So, this season's 10-catch, 160-yard start isn't necessarily that worrisome on its own, but Colston has had several key drops around the goal line and was targeted just four times in last week's overtime game. It's possible that he's hurt more than he's letting on or that Drew Brees is starting to lose trust in him. Either way, Colston needs to improve. He's benchable in three-WR leagues right now.
Four tight ends received double-digit targets in Week 1, but Weeks 2 and 3 have each seen six TEs get at least 10 looks. Greg Olsen led the way last week with 14, with Tony Gonzalez (12), Brandon Pettigrew (12), Anthony Fasano (10), Jacob Tamme (10) and Heath Miller (10) joining him on the list. Fasano might be the flukiest addition, but the rest of that group should continue to get frequent targets and have even more value in PPR formats. Gonzalez looks like he's on the verge of one last huge season, while Miller is becoming more of a goal-line threat.
Notable Riser: Kyle Rudolph, Vikings. With just 71 yards combined the past two games, some might view Rudolph as a “boom-or-bust” guy, but after catching two more TDs last week, it's clear that he's a big part of the Vikings' offense, especially around the goal line. It will be interesting to see if he loses any target to Jerome Simpson, who's finished serving his three-game suspension and looms as a nice fantasy sleeper, but Rudolph has the tools to continue putting up yards or scores – or both.
Notable Faller: Jason Witten, Cowboys. It was a rough week for several star TEs, including Rob Gronkowski (2-21), Antonio Gates (3-22) and even Jimmy Graham (4-16), who managed to salvage his day with a TD, but Witten had the worst day, catching just two passes for eight yards while dropping a sure TD. Also problematic is the Cowboys' poor offensive line play, which might mean Witten will have to stay in and block more. With so many capable TE options, Witten owners should grab a backup just in case he keeps struggling.
Browns at Ravens
Stat to Know: The Browns are actually allowing fewer total yards (391.7) than the Ravens (401.3). That ultimately doesn't mean a ton -- you're still going to start the Ravens' D/ST at home against a rookie QB -- but it should serve as a reminder to keep Trent Richardson in your lineup. Baltimore is giving up 111.7 yards per game on the ground, and Richardson has proven to be a workhorse, getting at least 18 touches in all three games this year.
Sleeper: WR Anquan Boldin (No. 2 WRs have 204 yards and two TDs against Cleveland this year).
Matt Lutovsky is a fantasy football writer for Sporting News' Fantasy Source. You can read more of his work on the Fantasy Source football homepage at http://fantasysource.sportingnews.com/football/free?affiliate_code=sn_navigation