Injuries, bye weeks should prompt Week 4 lineup shuffles
The injury bug whipped around the NFL in Week 3 as if it were contagious.
Andre Johnson re-injured his ankle and identified it as the much-dreaded high-ankle sprain in the postgame. Steven Jackson injured his groin in the second quarter and didn't return. Jahvid Best, the NFL touchdown leader after two weeks, injured his toe.
Deep breaths, everyone! We're not even close to being finished: Pierre Thomas went out (but returned). Ray Rice left with a sprained knee (doesn't appear serious). Fred Taylor hurt his toe (an injury that kept him limited in practice earlier last week). Visanthe Shiancoe injured his leg (but should be OK to return after the bye in Week 4).
The severity of these injuries vary: Johnson returned to the game Sunday, but departed once the Texans fell behind big. He's been dealing with the high ankle sprain for two weeks now and clearly can play through it; there's a chance it could bother him throughout the season. Taking fliers on one of Houston's other wide receivers -- Kevin Walter (16 catches, 207 yards, 3 TD) and Jacoby Jones (13 catcches, 133 yards, 1 TD this year) -- is a good idea if you're in need of a WR.
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said he was optimistic Jackson could play next week; backup Kenneth Darby (14 carries, 49 yards) did score a touchdown as Jackson's replacement Sunday and is worth a look in deeper leagues. (The team has also reportedly contacted Larry Johnson's agent; he's not worth picking up unless your league is located in 2006.)
Best has the, uh, greatest news of the three top injured players: His toe injury is not thought to be serious. He's listed as day-to-day; SI.com cannot be held responsible if you pick up a backup Lions running back.
After throwing for just 244 yards combined in his first two games, Matt Cassel had a 250-yard, 3-TD performance against the 49ers on Sunday. Cassel looked infinitely better than he did in the first two games of the season.
Is he a great fantasy option going forward? Not terribly. But the Chiefs have an easy schedule and some decent wideouts. Cassel could continue to improve and be a serviceable bye-week or injury replacement in the coming weeks.
Kyle Orton (37-for-57, 476 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT): Orton has thrown for 1,078 yards already this season and is still available in approximately 30 percent of leagues. Those with a need for a QB should grab him. Now.
With Jerome Harrison out Sunday, Peyton Hillis racked up 144 yards on 22 carries against a usually staunch Ravens defense. Hillis carried for just 41 and 35 yards in his first two games, but has still scored a touchdown in all three games this season.
The Browns' Harrison has fumble troubles, looked bad in Week 2 (16 carries for 33 yards) and is now dealing with a thigh injury. With Hillis putting up huge numbers against the Baltimore defense, it could be his job from here on out. After Week 2's low yardage totals, some owners might've even given up on Hillis; grab him if he's available.
Ryan Torain (7 rush, 44 yards): In leagues where Hillis is taken, Torain will be this week's hot pickup. Signed off the practice squad last week, Torain got the same number of carries as Clinton Portis. He had a nice first half in his first start for coach Mike Shanahan in Denver in 2008, until blowing out his knee. He hadn't played in a regular season game until Sunday. He might be worth a flier.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (16 carries, 98 yards; 1 catch, 6 yards): Who's the top guy in the Pats' backfield this week? It was Green-Ellis, who got plenty of carries even before Taylor's injury. (Jets castoff Danny Woodhead also scored his first career TD for the Patriots.) With Kevin Faulk out for the season and Taylor ailing, Green-Ellis is a pickup with a ton of upside.
LeGarrette Blount (6 carries, 27 yards, 1 TD): The Oregon product -- most famous for his postgame punch after the Boise State last year -- stole some carries from Cadillac Williams and looked pretty good in a limited role. Keep him in the back of your mind.
Roy Williams has been an extreme disappointment since coming over to the Cowboys in a midseason 2008 trade, but had the best day of his Dallas career Sunday with a 5-catch, 117-yard performance against the Texans. On the year, Williams has 12 catches for 191 yards and two scores; those aren't great numbers, but it's a promising stretch.
Williams has always had a lot of talent but could never seem to get in sync with Tony Romo. He certainly looks better so far this season. If he's the No. 2 option in Dallas behind Miles Austin (who the Texans keyed on), he could end up being a fantasy stud by the end of the season. It's just one game, but if there's extra space on the roster and you need a wideout, Williams should be the one to pick up.
Jabar Gaffney (12 rec, 140 yards): Brandon Lloyd scored the Broncos' touchdown on Sunday, but it was Gaffney who played the part of a fantasy stud all year. Kyle Orton targeted him an 14 times -- with eight coming in the first half. Pick up Gaffney, if you can get him.
Lance Moore (6 rec, 149 yards, 2 TD): Coming into the game with only three catches, Moore exploded in Week 3. Brees spreads the ball around, so Moore isn't an every-week starter at this point. Those with room on the bench may want to grab him.
The Raiders' offense is getting better, and with Bruce Gradkowski at quarterback, tight end Zach Miller is a viable pass-catching option. He only had seven catches the first two weeks and is available in roughly 30 percent of leagues, but he'll be snatched up in most leagues after a four-catch, 64-yard, 1 TD performance on Sunday. He's decent option going forward.
The Chiefs are owned in only 10 percent of leagues. They've only given up 38 points, play in a division that looks to be horrible and have five takeaways and eight sacks. If you're desperate, gamble on Kansas City continuing to look strong.
Garrett Hartley, a playoff hero last season in New Orleans, could be out of a job after he missed a 29-yarder in the Falcons' upset win over the Saints. The Saints will audition kickers, including veterans Matt Stover and John Carney, this week and could make a switch soon. Whoever kicks for the Saints will put up big numbers.