Less than a week after trading wide receiver Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings, the New England Patriots filled the spot, in theory, by reacquiring former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch from the Seattle Seahawks on Monday. While the world watched Moss catch four passes for 81 yards and a touchdown in the 29-20 loss to the New York Jets on Monday night, the Branch deal was being announced. Of course, this isn't 2005 anymore. Branch has had multiple knee surgeries just in the past two years, so fantasy owners shouldn't get too excited.
While Branch's stock has to rise just by virtue of leaving a messy Seahawks offense and joining a productive Tom Brady-led one, I have doubts that this is anything more than acquiring reasonable depth. Branch should increase production, but seeing as how he's tied for 60th in standard wide receiver scoring in fantasy right now, there's nowhere to go but up. His 13 receptions led Seahawks wide receivers, and his lone touchdown from Week 1 tied for the team lead, so it's faint praise. He'll get more opportunity in New England, and he should be on ESPN's most-added list this week. Branch is currently owned in 3.8 percent of ESPN standard leagues.
The Deion Branch the Patriots get back isn't likely to be as productive as the one who left before the 2006 season. That was five seasons ago, and Branch was never much of a fantasy factor with the Seahawks, whether due to declining skills or the team's oft-moribund passing offense. Then again, Branch wasn't such a fantasy bargain with the Patriots, either. Branch has never reached 1,000 receiving yards in a season (23 players did it last season, for example), nor has he caught more than five touchdowns in a season. His stock rises by default, but some of the explosiveness is surely gone. So if you rushed out to add second-year speedster Brandon Tate in the wake of the Moss trade, don't assume the Branch trade makes your recent pickup irrelevant.
As for the Seahawks, there are those who will assume that Notre Dame rookie Golden Tate automatically becomes a star now that Branch is gone. I'd think the Seahawks would try harder to establish the run, as recent acquisition Marshawn Lynch debuts Sunday and should be plenty busy, with Justin Forsett helping out on third down and in the passing game. Tate will vie for targets with Mike Williams and Deon Butler, and will eventually get more chances. The Branch trade does help Tate's stock, but I wouldn't call him ownable in a 10-team league just yet.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buffalo Bills: There's something to be said for constantly playing catch-up as a means to statistical prowess, and Fitzpatrick has managed consecutive 20-point fantasy weeks because his team is just so awful. Don't expect this to change anytime soon; after their bye this week, the Bills should trail in many other games as well. With an emerging Steve Johnson joining Lee Evans at wide receiver, Fitzpatrick is becoming a legitimate bye-week fill-in.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Indianapolis Colts: It's not that Austin Collie is going to disappear anytime soon, but let's not forget how productive Garcon was a season ago. He averaged 16.3 yards per catch and has star potential with Peyton Manning throwing the passes. While neither Garcon nor Collie is probably 100 percent healthy, it would be wise to scoop up Garcon before he officially pushes the slot man to the side. Ultimately, both of them likely will be productive enough to own and use as fantasy third receivers.
Nate Burleson, WR, Detroit Lions: One of my preseason sleepers, Burleson caught one pass in Week 1, did it again in Week 2 while suffering a high ankle sprain, and sat out Weeks 3 and 4 before returning to the lineup Sunday with four catches, 56 yards and a touchdown. Shaun Hill has helped the Lions score 70 points in two weeks, and with Calvin Johnson dealing with a shoulder injury, Burleson could be a lot busier in the matchup versus the New York Giants this week.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seattle Seahawks: Losing Branch isn't that big a deal, but the fact that Hasselbeck has seen a drop in standard scoring each week doesn't bode well for him holding on to his starting job. He's owned in a quarter of leagues but has more interceptions than touchdowns, and backup Charlie Whitehurst breathing down his neck.
Mike Tolbert, RB, San Diego Chargers: The lovefest for San Diego's fullback isn't dying down; he is now owned in more than 82 percent of ESPN's standard leagues. But Sunday's performance might have done more than affect how fantasy owners view him. It probably changed what the Chargers will do. Tolbert ran 12 times for 11 yards, and while he did score a touchdown, enticing rookie Ryan Mathews ran better, and he's the future at the position. Tolbert won't go away, but Mathews is the one you want.
Jason Snelling, RB, Atlanta Falcons: His Week 2 performance, with 129 yards, two touchdowns and 35 fantasy points, made him awfully popular, but there was never any question as to who Atlanta's top running back was. Michael Turner is not injury-prone, and he has run for more than 100 yards in two of the three games since. Snelling is a handcuff option with, predictably, 10 fantasy points in three weeks.