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Free Agent Focus - Week 2

By Jared Smola 6:08am EDT 9/17/12

Quarterback:

Sam Bradford, Rams (available in 50% of ESPN leagues)
Bradford's Week 2 stat line could very well go down as his best of the season. A potent Redskins offense, a leaky Redskins defense, and an injury to RB Steven Jackson created a perfect storm for fantasy production. The Rams were playing catch-up without their top rushing option for much of the day, resulting in 35 pass attempts for Bradford. But Bradford was also ultra-efficient in that expanded role. He completed 74% of his balls (mostly to WR Danny Amendola) for 310 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT. He got adequate protection from his o-line and looked comfortable in the pocket. Couldn't say either of those things last season, when the former #1 overall pick was sacked 36 times in 10 games and completed just 54% of his passes. But Bradford looks well on his way to a bounce-back campaign in 2012. Through 2 games, he's sitting on a 72% completion rate with 4 TDs and just 1 pick. We still can't recommend him as anything more than a bye-week fill-in though. HC Jeff Fisher wants to pound the ball on the ground, only using the pass to push defenders out of the box. Bradford only chucked it 25 times in a closely-contested Week 1 game. That run-first mentality limits Bradford's weekly upside. But a mediocre Rams team also figures to be playing from behind enough to give Bradford some more high-volume games this season. He proved this past Sunday that he can produce in those circumstances. If you're looking for a spot starter, Bradford could be your man. He has intriguing matchups in Week 6 (Miami), Week 7 (Green Bay), and Week 8 (New England).

 

Running Backs:

Mikel Leshoure, Lions (available in 80%)
Grab Leshoure now before he makes his NFL debut this coming weekend. Leshoure's 2011 campaign was derailed by a torn left Achilles. And he sat out the first 2 games of this season on suspension. But he'll take the field for Week 3 and is being counted on to make an immediate impact. “Get his pads on and give him the ball,” OC Scott Linehan said. Leshoure goes 6'0, 227 pounds and projects as a downhill, between-the-tackles runner that the Lions have been desperately searching for. Some Detroit beat writers even believe that Leshoure could take over as the lead back before long. We're not in that camp. RB Kevin Smith is a proven veteran and a perfect fit in the Lions' pass-happy offense. Leshoure, meanwhile, still has to prove he's regained pre-injury form after last summer's devastating injury. He managed only 2.2 yards per carry this preseason. If nothing else, though, Leshoure should see goal line action on a high-powered offense. A poor man's Mark Ingram, if you will. And there's definitely upside beyond that. Leshoure has a 2nd-round pedigree and a 1,700-yard, 17-TD collegiate season under his belt. And you know all about Kevin Smith's injury history. Leshoure is worth stashing in most fantasy leagues.

Andre Brown, Giants (available in 99%)
Brown entered Sunday's game with a career stat line of 2 carries for negative 1 yard. He erased that from the books with a 13-carry, 71-yard outing against Tampa. He popped in a game-winning 2 -yard TD run with just 31 seconds left in the game. RB Ahmad Bradshaw's neck injury opened the door for Brown, and he did a formidable job. “He ran hard,” LG Chris Snee said of Brown. “He found a hole and he hit it. There was no dancing. It was just an opportunity for a guy who wouldn’t normally get the carries. He took the most of it and took full advantage of it.” Brown has bounced around to 5 different teams over the past 3 years and spent 2011 on the Giants' practice squad. Simply put, he's a mediocre talent. And that may be generous. But the coaching staff trusts him -- something that can't be said for rookie David Wilson at this point. We'll have to see how serious Bradshaw's neck injury is. But with the G-Men taking on the Panthers Thursday night, he may struggle to be ready in time. That'd likely mean another busy day for Brown.

Daryl Richardson, Rams (available in 99%)
2nd-round rookie RB Isaiah Pead was hyped all offseason. We didn't hear a peep about Richardson. But the 7th-rounder out of Abilene Christian -- the same small school that produced Bernard Scott and Johnny Knox -- outplayed Pead in training camp. Ditto the preseason, when Richardson went for 4.5 yards per carry in the final 3 games. That earned him the #2 spot on the depth chart. And he did nothing to relinquish that spot on Sunday. With RB Steven Jackson exiting the game in the 2nd quarter with a groin injury, Richardson stepped in as the lead back. He carried 15 times for 83 yards -- good for a juicy 6.1 yards per carry average. (Pead didn't touch the ball a single time.) Richardson displayed serious giddy-up on a 53-yard jaunt down the right sideline in the 3rd quarter. He wasn't invited to this past February's Combine, but he did run a 4.47 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. Richardson will never be a tackle-buster like Steve Jax, but he can add a big-play dimension to the ground attack. The rookie isn't yet a threat to a healthy Jackson's workload. But we'll have to see what an MRI on that groin turns up. Steve Jax was never a great bet to make it through the entire season. He's played 16 games just twice in 8 years and has over 2,000 career carries to his name. If nothing else, Richardson is a must-have handcuff. And he may even be worth stashing as a potential standalone asset. HC Jeff Fisher would love nothing more than to run it 30+ times per game. He'd be wise to lighten Jackson's load by giving Richardson 8-12 of those.

Deep League Option:

Bilal Powell, Jets (available in 99%)
Starter Shonn Greene missed some snaps on Sunday with a head or neck injury. And when he was out there, he was completely ineffective, averaging just 2.1 yards per carry. That’s nothing new for Greene, who hasn’t averaged better than 4.2 yards since 2009. Powell, meanwhile, took 9 carries for 33 yards on Sunday. Based on the eye test, he looks like a better RB than Greene. Powell went for 1,405 yards and 11 TDs in his final season at Louisville before being drafted by the Jets in the 4th round of the 2011 draft. He possesses an intriguing blend of size (5'11, 207 pounds) and speed (4.51 40-time). He's no world-beater -- averaging just 2.6 yards on 25 NFL carries -- but neither is the guy in front of him on the depth chart. Don't be surprised if Powell starts to see a bigger role.

 

Wide Receivers:

Danny Amendola, Rams (available in 83%)
Amendola makes his 2nd-straight appearance on our Free Agent Focus. He'll garner a lot more attention on the waiver wire this week. After his fumble on St. Louis' first snap of the day was returned 30 yards the other way for a TD, Amendola was lights-out the rest of Sunday's game against the Redskins. He tied an NFL record with 12 first-half receptions and tied the Rams' franchise record with 15 total grabs. They went for 160 yards and a score. QB Sam Bradford targeted Amendola 16 times, making him his first read on seemingly every drop back. That's nothing new for Amendola, who reeled in 85 balls back in 2010. What is new is his expanded route tree. A pure short-range possession receiver during that 2010 campaign, Amendola is running more downfield routes this year. That's resulted in an 11.5 yards-per-catch average through 2 weeks -- over 3 yards higher than his career mark. Amendola also seems to be a bigger part of St. Louis' red zone offense. His score on Sunday came from 1 yard out. Once a viable fantasy option only in PPR formats, Amendola has emerged as a weekly starter across the board.

Brandon LaFell, Panthers (available in 75%)
LaFell almost didn't make this list because we figured he was already owned in the majority of leagues. He should be. But lo and behold, the guy is available in three-quarters of ESPN fantasy leagues. If he's available in yours, grab him. LaFell had observers predicting a breakout 2012 campaign all offseason. Through 2 weeks, he's well on his way to making those observers look real good. He opened the year with a 3-65-1 line. He was even better this past Sunday, hauling in a team-high 6 balls for 90 yards. He also took an end-around for 25 yards -- a sure sign that Carolina is looking to get the ball in this guy's hands. “Brandon is developing into a fine receiver,” HC Ron Rivera said. “He showed what he is capable of and those types of plays that he makes, the consistency by which he is making them, is really helping us. He really did a nice job.” LaFell has played virtually every offensive snap so far this season. He's a talented receiver with a significant role on an explosive passing attack. The guy has quickly ascended to every-week WR3 territory.

Donnie Avery, Colts (available in 99%)
Austin Collie seems to be heading down the Jahvid Best path. After multiple concussions, he just can't seem to get over the hump and get back on the field. He put in a full practice this past Wednesday but experienced concussion-like symptoms afterwards and has been sidelined since. There's no timetable for his return at this point. That's unfortunate for Collie. Fortune for Avery. The former Ram has taken advantage of Collie's absence and been impressive as Indy's #2 WR. Against the Vikings on Sunday, Avery led the team in targets (10), catches (9), and receiving yards (111). It was the 2nd 100-yard game of his career -- and his first since 2008. Avery's career has been derailed by an assortment of injuries. But he's healthy now. And it's showing. He's been on the field for 131 of the Colts' 136 offensive snaps so far this season. And he's 2nd on the team with a healthy 17 targets. As long as Collie is out, Avery looks like a viable WR3 for fantasy squads.

Deep League Option:

Brian Hartline, Dolphins (available in 99%)
Hartline entered the offseason looking like Miami's #1 receiver -- and a potential WR3 in fantasy. He may reach that status after all. After missing the majority of the offseason with a leg injury, Hartline is healthy now and has quickly moved back into the Dolphins' starting lineup. He was clearly QB Ryan Tannehill's preferred target against the Raiders on Sunday. Hartline caught 9 balls (on 12 targets) for 111 yards – all career highs. Each of his receptions was the result of soft defensive coverage, leading to relatively “easy” short-range completions on comeback and hook routes. It’s highly likely to amount to his best line of the season, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be useful in fantasy as the #1 WR on a team that figures to be playing from behind plenty.

 

Tight Ends:

Dennis Pitta, Ravens (available in 76%)
We knew Baltimore's new up-tempo, pass-first offense could create value at the TE position. What we didn't know was whether Pitta or Ed Dickson would emerge as the lead dog. The answer is clear after 2 weeks. Pitta went for a 5-73-1 line in the opener. He saw 7 targets and was on the field for 71% of the offensive snaps. He was even busier in Week 2. Once again serving as an every-down TE, Pitta racked up 8 catches on 15 targets for 65 yards. He led the team in all 3 of those categories. Big-time receiving numbers are nothing new for this guy. Pitta's 221 catches at BYU set the school record. He's a talented receiver who now finds himself in the situation to produce fantasy numbers. He's thrown his name into the mix as a low-end TE1.

Martellus Bennett, Giants (available in 64%)
Bennett got his fill in what was a fantasy points buffet for the Giants passing game on Sunday. Bennett was responsible for 72 of QB Eli Manning's 510 passing yards. He also scored a big 33-yard TD late in the 4th quarter. That was Bennett's 2nd score in as many games with the Giants. He's more than just a red zone threat though. His 10 targets were easily 3rd on the team on Sunday. Besides Victor Cruz (17) and Hakeem Nicks (15), no other Giant saw more than 2 looks. As the #3 option on a top-notch passing game, Bennett carries plenty of weekly upside. The presence of those 2 stud WRs outside is opening up tons of room for Bennett over the middle.

Deep League Option:

Scott Chandler, Bills (available in 82%)
Chandler knows where the end zone is. He scored a 10-yarder on Sunday, giving him 2 TDs this season and 8 in his last 16 games. But Chandler is also emerging as more of a threat between the 20s. He's playing almost every down this season (after being on the field for just 58% of the snaps in 2011) and has seen 11 targets through 2 games. Chandler received 6 looks in the opener and then 5 this past Sunday. Only 3 times all last year did he see 5+ targets. WR David Nelson's season-ending knee injury last week should mean an expanded role for Chandler. He'll still collect most of his fantasy value from TDs, but the increased targets should improve his week-to-week consistency.

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