Exhibit No. 1 for why fantasy football can be tough to predict can be found in Cincinnati.
It’s there that quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green are on the verge of fantasy stardom.
Green may already be there. He leads standard scoring ESPN leagues with 60 points in the first four games, thanks to 428 yards and three touchdowns. He’s scored touchdowns the last three weeks.
The bigger surprise is Dalton, the second-year quarterback out of TCU. He’s thrown for 890 yards and eight touchdowns in the last three weeks, putting up at least 20 points in each of those games. Dalton this week gets to face a Miami Dolphins’ defense that ranks 30th in the NFL against the pass.
If he’s not already, Dalton should be in fantasy starting lineups moving forward.
Here are a few other players who have exceeded their expectations heading into the 2012 season, and who you can start to trust in your starting lineup.
• Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington: He’s putting up a Cam Newton-like rookie season for the Redskins. Speaking of Newton, he produced 30 fantasy points against Atlanta last week, Griffin’s opponent Sunday. With 99 points, Griffin is the highest-scoring fantasy player through the first month of the season. Plus, he’s got a nickname that rolls off the tongue.
• Kevin Kolb, QB, Arizona: Considering he was a backup to start the season, Kolb might be the biggest fantasy surprise. Last week against Miami, he had 324 yards and three touchdowns. His fantasy points have increased in his last three starts. Kolb and the Cardinals played Thursday night against St. Louis, so they get more than a week to prepare for their next game, when Buffalo visits. He’s owned in only 16 percent of ESPN leagues, and is a good sleeper option for Week Six.
• Alfred Morris, RB, Washington: The rookie has earned the trust of coach Mike Shanahan, getting at least 16 carries in each of his first four games. He’s produced, too, with 376 yards and four touchdowns. That makes him the fifth-highest scoring fantasy back. Sunday’s opponent, the Falcons, rank 29th against the run, so keep riding the rookie.
• Jackie Battle, RB, San Diego: He’s owned in just 44 percent of leagues, but an important trend could force that number to go up soon. Battle has nine carries and three touchdowns from the 5-yard line or closer in three games this week. That’s pretty strong evidence he’s going to get those chances over fellow Chargers running back Ryan Mathews.
• Brian Hartline, WR, Miami: He’s got an NFL-leading 455 yards, thanks in large part to a 253-yard effort in Week Four against Arizona, but has shown to be more than a one-week wonder. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has targeted Hartline 48 times this season, the second-most in the NFL.
Analyzing the Bills
Is there a tougher call to make in fantasy than Ryan Fitzpatrick? The Bills’ quarterback is up to seventh in fantasy scoring at his position, but is almost impossible to trust. Against a dominant 49ers’ defense, I’d sit him.
The same goes for running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, who are each other’s own worst enemy when it comes to fantasy points. Coach Chan Gailey’s rotation also makes it harder for either player to get into a rhythm and have a big game.
Receiver Stevie Johnson was targeted 10 times by Fitzpatrick last week, but came up with only two catches. Those two haven’t seemed on the same page this season, and the numbers back that up. In his weekly ESPN column this week, Matthew Berry reported that among the 75 quarterback-wide receiver combinations with at least 20 targets this year, Fitzpatrick and Johnson have the lowest completion percentage.
I do like tight end Scott Chandler, who has four touchdown catches this year, especially if he can get matched up against former Bills safety Donte Whitner.
On the San Francisco side, tight end Vernon Davis is an elite must-start player every week.
Quarterback Alex Smith doesn’t do much to excite fantasy owners, while the 49ers also don’t have a wide receiver in the top 60 in fantasy scoring. If you’re desperate, though, Michael Crabtree would be the one to start.
At running back, Frank Gore owners should be celebrating. The Bills did give up 243 rushing yards last week. Gore is a must start, don’t worry about the presence of Brandon Jacobs, who’s expected to play.
Bye week: Dallas, Detroit, Oakland, Tampa Bay.