Fantasy football just added a degree of difficulty, as Week 4 is our first chance to deal with byes. The Cowboys, Chiefs, Vikings and Buccaneers are all off this weekend, so please remember to keep players from those teams on your bench. You never want to be the owner to absent-mindedly start bye-week players, because half the league will make fun of you, and the other half will hate you for giving your opponent an easy win. Put this reminder on your calendar now for Sunday morning: NO COWBOYS, CHIEFS, VIKINGS OR BUCS!!!
As noted previously, each position below will have a list of weekly “must starts” to go along with the usual recommendations. They’re players that warrant “no-think” fantasy status due to talent, workloads or both, regardless of opponent. The lists are subject to change, but additions and deletions will be made sparingly. Please consider it obvious that if one of the must-start players is injured or on a bye, his status can be temporarily ignored.
If you disagree with any of the selections, or want to offer some of your own, please post a comment at the bottom of the page. We’ll be here every Thursday until the end of your fantasy season.
Start him: Matt Ryan, Falcons
“Matty Ice” is showing signs of a rebound after his so-so sophomore season in 2009, averaging 235 yards per game and tossing five touchdowns against one interception so far. This week, the Falcons host the 49ers, who have given up 31 points apiece to the offensive non-juggernauts of Seattle and Kansas City. Ryan’s biggest obstacle is if his team blows out the Niners too early and starts to run on every down.
Sit him: Joe Flacco, Ravens
Flacco was in the “start him” space last week, and though he played well, it’s tough to recommend anyone against the Steelers right now. The Steel Curtain is giving up some yardage, but has allowed just one touchdown pass and 33 points through its first three games, and is holding opposing quarterbacks to a 68.1 rating – fifth-lowest in the league. With running back Ray Rice’s status uncertain due to a knee bruise, Flacco and the Ravens could be in for a long afternoon in Pittsburgh.
Pick him up: Shaun Hill, Lions
Hill is just keeping Matthew Stafford’s seat warm until Stafford returns from a shoulder injury in a few weeks, so don’t fall in love with him, or even in like. With that said, our assessment of Hill is the same as it was when he was the 49ers’ starter in 2008 and 2009: He’s not bad. Despite throwing the football like an Olympic shot putter, Hill averaged 286 yards in his Weeks 2 and 3 starts for the Lions, with three touchdowns against four interceptions. You’ll want to stay away from Hill this week at Green Bay, but against the Rams in Week 5 and maybe at the Giants in Week 6, he could be a decent bye-week fill-in.
Must starts (9): Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, Frank Gore, Michael Turner, Steven Jackson, Rashard Mendenhall, Cedric Benson, Arian Foster. (Note: Adrian Peterson is usually in this space, but he has a bye in Week 4. Also, watch the injury reports for news on Rice and Jackson, who have missed some practice time this week. Jackson looks less likely to play than Rice does.)
Added to list: Arian Foster
Making a case: Darren McFadden
Removed until further notice:DeAngelo Williams
Start him: Justin Forsett, Seahawks
After a couple of weeks in backfield committee purgatory, Forsett appeared to emerge as the Seahawks’ lead back in Week 3, with 17 carries for 63 yards against the Chargers. Forsett and the Seahawks head to St. Louis this week to play the Rams, who have allowed 401 yards on the ground at an average of 5.1 yards per carry in their first three games. Forsett had the biggest game of his career last November in – wait for it – St. Louis, carrying 22 times for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Who’s ready for a repeat?
Sit him: Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
Bradshaw is becoming the clear lead back for the Giants, with Brandon Jacobs (four carries in Week 3 to Bradshaw’s 15) on his way to becoming a 264-pound sideline Christmas tree ornament in a couple of months. Unfortunately, the Giants must brace for the Sunday night arrival of the Bears, who have been the NFL’s stingiest team against the run this season. Lovie Smith’s defense has allowed league lows of 39.7 rushing yards per game, and 2.1 yards per carry. Maybe those of us at Wide Write; headquarters are being too hard on our beleaguered, beloved Giants, but we’re not optimistic about this matchup. Or any matchup, for that matter.
Pick him up: LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
Everyone in the fantasy industry is going to tell you to pick up Ryan Torain of the Redskins this week. We don’t disagree, since Clinton Portis doesn’t seem to be head coach Mike Shanahan’s favorite person right now, and Shanahan has made a career of confusing fantasy owners with indecipherable backfield committees. However, we hate following the crowd, so…
You might remember Blount for having punched a Boise State player after a loss while he was at the University of Oregon in 2009. We’re not sure that Blount has turned into a Boy Scout just yet, but the Bucs activated him for the first time in Week 3, and he carried six times for 27 yards and a touchdown. Big deal, right? It was a blowout!
Not so fast. After the game and again on Monday, Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said Blount would have gotten the ball more if the game had been closer. Starter Cadillac Williams has an extensive injury history, and has averaged just 2.5 yards per carry so far this season. Blount isn’t a play-now kind of pickup – especially since his team is off this week – but as a speculative addition to your fantasy roster, his potential upside is huge.
Must starts (13): (WR – 8) Andre Johnson, Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wayne, Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, Brandon Marshall, DeSean Jackson (TE- 5) Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark, Vernon Davis, Jermichael Finley, Tony Gonzalez. (Note: Miles Austin and Jason Witten are usually in this space, but they have a bye in Week 4. Also, watch the injury reports for news on Andre Johnson, who has been bothered by an ankle injury.)
Added to list: DeSean Jackson
On thin ice: Calvin Johnson
Start him: Louis Murphy, Raiders
Our friend Mr. Murphy hasn’t had any bad days so far, with 15 receptions for 238 yards and a score in his first three games. He’s been targeted 23 times, putting him among the top 30 receivers in the league. Murphy is fast, and he has a quarterback (Bruce Gradkowski) who likes to throw downfield. We liked Murphy as a value pick before the season, and he’s living up to our expectations. Murphy is owned in just 24.9 percent of FOXSports.com leagues, and if you can still grab him, you should do so immediately. He’s a fine start at home this week against the Texans.
Sit him: Steve Smith, Panthers
Nothing against Smith, but rookie Jimmy Clausen had some major struggles against the Bengals on Sunday, going through periods when he couldn’t have hit a house while standing on the porch. The Panthers are almost certain to increase the number of passes thrown in Smith’s direction, but until Clausen proves he can do so accurately, you might want to look for other options at wide receiver.
Pick him up: Jabar Gaffney, Broncos
The whole world wants you to pick up Lance Moore of the Saints, who caught six passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns in Week 3. We like Moore a lot, but we also like the other 47 receivers on the Saints, and they can’t all catch six balls a week. Moore – along with Devery Henderson, Jeremy Shockey, Robert Meachem, etc. – will have good days and bad days.
Gaffney was a somewhat popular sleeper during draft season, but after catching just five passes for 49 yards in the first two games, some fantasy owners cut bait on him. Their loss is your gain, folks. Gaffney hauled in 12 passes for 140 yards against the Colts in Week 3, and is 15th in the NFL with 26 targets. We thought before the season that Gaffney would be Kyle Orton’s security blanket, and we haven’t changed our minds. Gaffney is available in nearly 80 percent of FOXSports.com leagues, and is a must-add if your league’s owners are ignoring him.
Good luck in Week 4!
John Halpin writes his “Wide Write” fantasy football column every week during the NFL season for FOXNews.com. He also writes fantasy columns and early-morning blogs four days a week at FOXSports.com/fantasy, and co-hosts a daily fantasy podcast. You can receive more fantasy news and contact John by following him on Twitter (@jhalpin37), or e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.