Underrated/Overrated: Smith, Kolb verge from early expectations
Alex Smith has scored 13 or more fantasy points in four of first five weeks
Broncos' Jabar Gaffney has caught almost 70 percent of passes thrown to him
Mario Manningham has suffered most by emergence of Vicotr Cruz with Giants
There's an old cliché that states that the more things change the more things stay the same. Whoever first coined that -- and it sounds like a variation of the physical laws as described by Isaac Newton -- clearly wasn't a fan of the NFL. Remember when the Bills couldn't buy a win? Remember when the Bucs were an up-and-coming contender, vanquishing foes via a dazzling array of young superstars? Seems like forever ago, back when Hanson ruled the charts and some Hollywood exec thought UPN could become a viable broadcast network.
Of course, as S.E. Hinton and fans of ABC can tell you, that was then and this is now. The world of fantasy football is no place for wistful nostalgia, it's a place for tough decisions and even tougher talk. You don't need references to literary novels and faded glory 1980s-era New Romantic fops, you need answers and we're here to give them to you, leveraging the predictive algorithms we've built at numberFire.com.
Alex Smith, Niners, QB (16 percent owned)
The embodiment of West Coast disappointment is off to a hot start, but has yet to make a believer out of many people, a fact underscored by being owned in just 16 percent of leagues, a figure that is right up there with notable All-Pros like James Casey and Earnest Graham. Fear not: Smith has been extremely consistent this year, scoring 13 or more points in four out of his first five weeks. He also has been almost error free, boasting a 7:1 touchdown to interception ratio. In fact, his passing efficiency rating -- a proprietary statistic we calculate on numberFire -- is seventh in the league among starters. Remember, he was once the No. 1 overall pick; on the flip side, so was David Carr and we all know how that one turned out.
Michael Bush, Raiders, RB (51 percent owned)
Oakland is home to the league's best rushing offense, which makes sense, because if you're ever in Oakland, the one thing you should definitely do is run, in any direction you can. While Darren McFadden is the clear starter, Bush has quietly put up numbers as a change-of-pace and short-yardage backup, which is the first time a Bush has done yeoman's work as a backup since the Reagan Administration. Bush has contributed to an offense that has scored nine points more than expected on plays in which he was involved (11th in the league among RB). By comparison, Adrian Peterson has added 10 points above expectation to the Vikings offense.
Jabar Gaffney, Redskins, WR (19 percent owned)
While not much of a touchdown threat, Gaffney has been gobbling up targets like yours truly at a McRib opening. Gaffney has caught almost 70 percent of balls thrown his way and has put up at least six fantasy points in every game so far this season. If you are looking for a consistent last receiver or flex option, you may want to give Gaffney a chance.
Ben Watson, Browns, TE (18 percent owned)
Watson is a guy that many people slept on last year -- perhaps the literal definition of a sleeper -- though he was a crucial part of the Cleveland offense. Of course, being a crucial part of a Browns offense hasn't meant much in quite some time, but hey, someone's gotta score those points. While he only got into the end zone three times in 2010, he was fifth among tight ends in terms of receiving yards. This year, Watson has scored 10-plus points in half of his team's games, and only 5fiveer tight ends have done that: Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski, Tony Gonzalez, and Vernon Davis. He's a great sleeper that will allow you to trade your brand-name TE for quality roster depth.
Kevin Kolb, Cardinals, QB (75 percent owned)
Kolb started out hot when he was first playing with his new toy, Larry Fitzgerald. Defenses, however, have seemed to figure him out, which is to say they've realized that he's remarkably average. Kolb's fantasy performance has declined every week so far, to the point where he scored less than six points each of the last two weeks. Numbers like that are just unacceptable for a fantasy QB, unless you're Ryan Leaf circa 1997, in which case six points would be a career achievement.
Tim Hightower, Redskins, RB (85 percent owned)
Hightower was a sexy find early in the season with the success of the Redskins running game and the phoenix-like resurgence of Rex Grossman. Unfortunately, Shanahan is a fantasy running back owner's nightmare, as he just loves to roll out committees; remember Tatum Bell? In Week 4, Ryan Torain entered the mix and stole the show, putting up a ridiculous 63.16 percent success rate on his 19 rushes. This means that he performed above league average on 12 of his 19 rushes. Hightower, on the other hand, has a mundane 38.81 percent success rate. If it makes you feel better, that kind of success rate is great in baseball, Timmo!
Mario Manningham, Giants, WR (82 percent owned)
No one has suffered more from Victor Cruz's emergence than Manningham. Manningham has an abysmal 46.43 percent catch rate on his 28 targets, which is dangerously close to the Owens/Garcon Mendoza Line of targets. Cruz, who has now been targeted more than Manningham at 29, has caught 65.52 percent of balls thrown his way. Not-so-super Mario has yet to put up more than six fantasy points in a week. Which elevator do you want to be on: up or down?
Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers, TE (79 percent owned)
Winslow is just another victim of the Tampa Bay passing struggles. Averaging just over four fantasy points per week, Winslow has yet to find the end zone and yet to haul in 70 yards in a week. The Soldier scored five TDs each of the last two seasons, and is currently tied for the most Buccaneers' red zone targets with five. That being said, with the plethora of tight end options this season, it's about time to give up on him. He can take it -- he's a warrior.
Nik Bonaddio is the CEO of numberFire, a sports analytics platform that provides algorithmic modeling for fantasy sports. You can follow him @numberfire. Keith Goldner is the Chief Analysis at numberFire. You can follow him @keithgoldner.
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