The NFL is becoming a passing league, and anyone who says otherwise did not watch a number of quarterbacks produce both career and NFL record-breaking numbers. This year’s fantasy drafts were unlike any other in history because quarterbacks were consistently picked in the top three. Any one, or a combination of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady could have gone in the top five, with many opting to select a QB with the top pick overall. This is a major difference from the years of running back dominance in the early-mid 2000s, when maybe only one QB was selected in the top ten.
At the start of the season, however, traditional NFL star quarterbacks failed to produce, both fantasy-wise and with on-the-field success. With the exception of Brees, the top quarterbacks selected at the top of the draft — including Brady, Rodgers, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford — failed to produce the same numbers they put forth last year. After week three, all four quarterbacks had a team record of 1-2, while Brees amassed a 0-3 record despite putting up quality numbers.
After weeks of owners fretting over their top quarterbacks’ slow starts, week four was a coming-out party for the best quarterbacks in the league. Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Stafford, Newton and Peyton Manning all had their biggest output of fantasy points in the year. If the quarterbacks can continue to improve and impress in the coming weeks, it will only reaffirm the already strong notion that quarterbacks are the future of the NFL and fantasy football.
While Peyton Manning may not be in the NFL much longer, or ever be the number one quarterback in the league, his recent performances show he is still a legitimate threat to any defense and a reliable fantasy starter. With the exception of his three interceptions in the first quarter against Atlanta and some struggles against Houston, Manning has been impressive. He is on pace for over 4,600 yards and 32 touchdowns, numbers equaled to his final six years in Indianapolis. If those numbers were good enough to get the Colts to the playoffs every year, the Broncos seem to be in good position for the postseason if Manning can replicate his accurate performances week after week. His arm may not be as strong, but he is just as smart and accurate of a quarterback as there is in the NFL. The return of Peyton is here.
Now onto this week’s fantasy steals and waiver pickups. With the bye-week stretch of the season upon us, fantasy players’ options have become much more limited. Players are in need of last-minute additions to their roster more than ever, so here is one fantasy option for each position, ranging from a mere bye-week add, to a legitimate fantasy contributor for the rest of the year.
Christian Ponder, Vikings: While Ponder may not be a viable starter for the season, he has a favorable matchup against a Titans’ defense that ranked dead last in fantasy points allowed against quarterbacks. Ponder has shown that he can be valuable both through the air and on the ground, especially in week two against the 49ers. If the Vikings don’t take away his chances with another two special teams touchdowns as they did in week four, Ponder should put up, at worst, average fantasy numbers this week. Start Ponder only if no other top-flight options remain, but for now, he should remain a backup.
If you are in a thin league: Kevin Kolb, Cardinals
Jackie Battle, Chargers: Battle is not going to get a ton of yardage but will have consistent opportunities to convert on goal-line chances. Last week, Battle received more carries than Ryan Mathews, bringing in both a rushing and receiving touchdown. Facing a New Orleans defense that gave up the most fantasy points to running backs in the first three weeks of the season, as long as Battle receives the consistent carries, he should produce. Plus, with a name like Battle on your fantasy roster, your team immediately sounds ten times more intimidating. Do not be afraid to start Battle if the bye week leaves you very limited at running back.
If you are in a thin league: Brandon Bolden, Patriots
Brian Hartline, Dolphins: The top fantasy receiver in week four has become rookie QB Ryan Tannehill’s favorite target. While Hartline may never post another 250-plus yard game in his career, he will still be targeted more than any other player on the Dolphins will. When the leading receiver in yardage is still available in over 70 percent of leagues, you pick him up now. You should add and start Hartline in all leagues immediately.
If you are in a thin league: Jeremy Kerley, Jets
Scott Chandler, Bills: Chandler makes his money in the red zone with four touchdown receptions in four games. While he will face against the best defense in the league in the 49ers next week, San Francisco ranked 28th throughout the first three weeks in fantasy points allowed against tight ends. If QB Ryan Fitzpatrick can find any room to move the ball down the field, Chandler may receive some open targets, as the Niners figure to key on WR Steve Johnson and RBs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Chandler will be an interesting start this week for any owner of a tight end on bye this week.
If you are in a thin league: Greg Olsen, Panthers
Greg Zuerlein, Rams: The rookie kicker is a perfect 12-12 on the year with a season long of 60 yards. After Sunday’s 4-4 performance, Zuerlein has made all three of his field goals over 50 yards. While he may receive fewer opportunities for extra points, the Rams’ offense is moving the ball well enough to give him a consistent two-or-three field goal opportunity a game. Owned in only 16 percent of standard ESPN leagues, Zuerlein is a valuable pickup for anyone in need of a kicker and a viable starter for the rest of the season.
If you are in a thin league: Shayne Graham, Texans
New York Giants: Sunday’s loss to the Eagles should have the G-Men fired up to face a Cleveland offense that has turned the ball over nine times in four games. If the talented Giants defensive line can pressure Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden into some hurried throws, New York should record a number of sacks and turnovers resulting in a strong fantasy week for owners. If you are an owner of a bye-week defense, show some faith in the Giants with a start.
If you are in a thin league: St. Louis Defense
Hope you all enjoyed my first column. If my picks help you win in fantasy, let me know. If they end up hurting you, stick around and maybe I will have some better advice next week. Best of luck with this upcoming week of fantasy football.