- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
I'm guessing few people are thinking about the Carolina Panthers this week, as the Cam Newton-led squad joins the Green Bay Packers on bye, but that's exactly why sneaky owners should be thinking about them. Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams is off and running to a terrific start. Entering Week 4, he was tied for 19th in standard scoring among running backs, but actually was third in rushing yards and tied for fourth in rushing attempts. As for scoring touchdowns, yeah, that is going to be a problem with Newton and Mike Tolbert around. Another potential problem: What happens when rookie Kenjon Barner and veteran Jonathan Stewart return from their injuries?
One might think Williams has more than proved himself as a capable starter, but think again. The Panthers have run a time share at running back for years, which would make now a wise time to peddle Williams, and deep-leaguers should think about Barner and Stewart. After all, through 12 weeks last season, Stewart had more rushing attempts and yards than Williams. Then an ankle injury shut Stewart down, and he continues his recovery. It wasn't until the final month of 2012 that Williams helped fantasy owners. In fairness, Stewart didn't really help many while he was active, either, but here in the Sneaky Pickups blog post, we're open to previously disappointing players playing better. Look at Williams, for example!
Stewart is eligible to return from the PUP list in Week 7. He's running and rehabbing, and the Panthers expect him to play a role immediately. That should surprise nobody. Perhaps you're tired of Stewart and want no part of this situation, and that's understandable. But in 2011, Stewart, who is only 26 years old, averaged 5.4 yards per rush and caught 47 passes on 61 targets. Williams, 30, played well in 2011, as well. Why wouldn't the Panthers play all of them if healthy? Barner, the speedy rookie from Oregon, also figures to play a role. Perhaps if he emerges, the team would consider moving on from one or both of its veterans in 2014. Regardless, in a 20-team league, Stewart and Barner are in play for October, so don't wait too long to consider the possibilities.
One more note on the Panthers: Ted Ginn has outscored Steve Smith through three weeks. It's not exactly a large sample size, and Smith has twice as many receptions (14 to 7), but each has 143 receiving yards, and Ginn has scored on 40- and 47-yard pass plays the past two games and is averaging better than 20 yards per reception. Smith has just the one touchdown. That doesn't mean you should trade Smith for Ginn, but one of them is 100 percent owned and the other has scored in consecutive games and is owned in 4.1 percent of leagues. Ginn, a longtime fantasy underachiever since being the No. 9 pick by the Miami Dolphins in 2007, is worth a deep-league look, especially noting Carolina's schedule. The Panthers don't face a top pass defense until November. It's not outrageous to think Ginn and Brandon LaFell, who caught two touchdown passes in Sunday's 38-0 demolition of the New York Giants, could matter.
Quarterback: Any starting quarterback is worth an add in a deep league. I've got a 20-team format in which my backup for Andrew Luck was benched this week, and there's nothing available. Not even Mike Glennon, Matt Flynn or Matt Cassel. Not even Kirk Cousins! Aim to avoid putting yourself in that position. At least Luck's bye is a ways off, but note there are four teams on bye in Week 5 (only two this week), so don't wait until next week to add depth. ... Of course, there's a possibility that out-of-favor Josh Freeman is playing by then, either for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or somewhere else via trade, so keep an eye on whether he's been dropped. ... As for the aforementioned fellows, I kind of like Glennon's chances of being relevant this week. Not so much with Flynn or Cassel, who will replace Christian Ponder. And don't cut Terrelle Pryor!
Running back: Trying to get some new names in here after mentioning Isaiah Pead, Lance Dunbar, Mikel Leshoure and Kendall Hunter last week, so how about Brandon Bolden, Khiry Robinson and Alex Green. Bolden broke a 46-yard run in Week 3. I'm still cautiously buying low on Stevan Ridley, but Bolden catches passes and seems relevant now. Robinson is the third-stringer on the New Orleans Saints, with Mark Ingram in the doghouse. Ingram could really use a fresh start somewhere else. Robinson is an undrafted free agent with speed, and he catches passes. If Darren Sproles is hiding an injury, who knows? And Green, the former Green Bay option, is backing up Bilal Powell with Chris Ivory on the shelf. The New York Jets are tied for sixth in the league in rushing yards. ... If you saw Thursday's game, in which the St. Louis Rams got shelled, they couldn't run at all. Daryl Richardson had his shot; Benny Cunningham did little; and a healthy Pead surprisingly was benched. I'd still take Pead moving ahead, but, in a 20-teamer, I'll add rookie Zac Stacy now, just in case.
Wide receiver: There are naturally more deep-league options here. Watch the Dallas Cowboys and the Buccaneers, where injuries are affecting starters. Miles Austin, no stranger to injury, could sit, with Terrance Williams and Dwayne Harris becoming relevant. In Tampa Bay, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are hobbling. Kevin Ogletree, the 2012 Week 1 hero when with Dallas, could see a larger role. ... I'm not a big Darrius Heyward-Bey fan, but the No. 3 WR on the Indianapolis Colts seems a bit underowned (4.4 percent). ... Everyone's talking about Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns, but former Dolphin Davone Bess has five, five and seven receptions the first three weeks, for those in PPR formats. ... I'm hoping Houston Texans champ Andre Johnson plays this week, but if he does not, DeVier Posey has upside.
Good luck the rest of Week 4 and beyond!
I'm guessing few people are thinking about the Carolina Panthers this week, as the Cam Newton-led squad joins the Green Bay Packers on bye, but that's exactly why sneaky owners should be thinking about them.