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By Matt Schauf
Obviously, as the season wears on, it gets tougher to find good fantasy values on the wire … or at least it should. If you can run through the free agents and find a bunch of no-brainer pickups a quarter of the way into the season or more, you’re either playing with a bunch of noobs, not nearly enough roster spots or yourself (I won’t judge).
That said, there always will be a need for additions, especially as bye weeks meet with injuries. So here are some players that can be useful to leagues of varying depths.
Santonio Holmes, WR, N.Y. Jets
He was probably drafted in most leagues, but we fantasy players can get pretty impatient once the real games start happening. If someone got antsy and dropped Holmes for the latest Saints backup, then even those without a real need at receiver should enter a claim.
The Jets suddenly boast an improving — if not all-out “hot” — quarterback in Mark Sanchez, and yet the receiving corps is marinating in inconsistency. Jerricho Cotchery has topped three catches just once so far. Braylon Edwards made more than a third of his 12 receptions (five) in Week 2. Holmes, meanwhile, returns from suspension this week with even better downfield speed than Edwards and much more explosiveness than any of his wideout teammates. Don’t look for him to turn into an immediate fantasy starter, but there’s every chance that Holmes becomes an option by midseason.
Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee
The Titans’ 2009 first-round pick started this year in the doghouse but drew seven targets in each of the past two games. Only one other Tennessee player has reached that number this season, and Nate Washington did so back in Week 1 — before Britt had broken free of the chain.
No Titan receiver will regularly put up big numbers, because the team wants to rely on the running game and has Vince Young floating passes around when it does throw. Britt’s size and athletic ability make him attractive in scoring situations, though, where he has found himself utilized in three straight games. Britt caught a touchdown pass in each of the past two outings and hauled in a two-point conversion pass in the contest before that. He’s at least a bye-week filler candidate and could progress beyond that.
Ryan Torain, RB, Washington
This team looked good at the start running the ball against the Eagles, but it’s tough to believe that as a case of Washington actually being ready to succeed there rather than Philadelphia struggling on defense. Nevertheless, Clinton Portis added a late-game groin injury to an already-bothersome wrist and has been a veritable injury list himself the past couple of years.
Those who snuck Torain out of fantasy drafts back in the summer might have quit on him after Shanahan’s pet opened the year on the practice squad, but he’s suddenly looking like he could be the starting back as soon as Week 5. That would mean an unfavorable matchup with Green Bay, but Washington follows with a terrific rushing matchup against the Colts. Torain is well worth adding at a low cost now, where available.
Michael Bush, RB, Oakland
Speaking of familiar injury situations, Darren McFadden left Sunday’s game with a bad hamstring. It might well turn out to be no big deal, but we’ve seen far too much of McFadden on the bench to ignore any ailment.
Fortunately for Bush, this happened to match nicely with his return schedule, since Oakland’s other back has already had two games to get re-acclimated. Bush scored against Houston on Sunday and got a shot from the goal line amid few carries the week before as well. The unfortunate part is that a tough trio of matchups lies immediately ahead — San Diego, San Francisco, Denver — but a potential starting runner on a team that likes to run the ball is worth owning. If you’re willing to look way ahead, the Raiders get the Colts’ doormat of a run defense in Week 16.
Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis
Say you’re staring at a fantasy team that has Jay Cutler and Michael Vick as its two quarterbacks, thoroughly unsure of what your situation will be in Week 5 (let alone beyond) as we wait for their injuries to be fully figured out. I present to you the unlikely solution of a rookie passer.
Bradford has impressed pretty much anyone who has watched him so far, and the fantasy-relevant portion has been impressive, too. In the past three games, Bradford has twice finished with two touchdowns and never thrown more than one interception. He has finished three of four games with at least 235 passing yards and twice gone beyond 250. He gets Detroit in Week 5 and Tampa Bay two weeks after that. Many won’t have to be staring at a pair of injured passers to consider Bradford a starting option this week.
DEEPER – Brandon Stokley, WR, Seattle
Stokley is by no means an option that you can count on. He was on the field for just 30 percent of Seattle’s offensive plays Sunday, fourth among Seahawks wideouts. The veteran journeyman did, however, draw a team-high eight targets less than a week after signing. On a team with no clear reliable option, it wouldn’t be strange to see Stokley deliver some sneaky point-per-reception value going forward.
BUY -- Hines Ward, WR, Pittsburgh
You won’t find this guy residing on too many waiver wires, but Ward can probably be had at a cheap price in plenty of places following a slow start. In the three games in which Charlie Batch has appeared, Ward has not been targeted more than four times. That only happened to him twice all of last year. Ben Roethlisberger will be back when the team returns from its Week 5 bye.