When the NFL released its schedule this offseason, it arrived with the usual buzz that accompanies it: notable games, reunions of players and coaches, stretches of difficult or easy games for a particular team. The whole nine yards. Perhaps a bit overlooked is that the NFL has reduced the window in which bye weeks occur. In 2016, the NFL bye weeks began in Week 4 and the final two teams had their open Sunday in Week 13.
This year? Week 5 kicks off the bye weeks and they conclude in Week 11.
What's the fantasy hook, you ask? Well, for those who might be looking for a Matt Ryan or Drew Brees fill-in -- they're both off in Week 5 -- you might be well-served to get ahead of the curve this week rather than risk someone else snagging your intended target in Week 5.
From bye week fill-ins to injury replacements to surprise performers, we've got you covered with the Week 4 free-agent finds.
Players available in less than 50 percent of leagues do not qualify for this column.
I don't have a good explanation for why Cohen remains eligible for this list, as he should have crossed the 50 percent threshold a while back. But what I do know is that his role in the Bears' offense isn't fading anytime soon. He chalked up a career-best 12 carries in Week 3 and continued to be a factor in the passing game with four catches. He has the skills and role to be a weekly fixture in the top 25 of PPR scoring for running backs.
Taylor is the most underrated player in fantasy football. He is, for some reason, overlooked again this season, though he continues to produce. He just posted a 17.8-point performance against the scariest defense on his schedule (Denver) and has multiple avenues to fantasy success. He has eight carries in each of the first three games this season, with a rushing role that won't go away. He won't ever be a high-volume passer, but he's careful with the football (just 13 picks since the start of 2015), and he finds a way. If you have Cam Newton, consider reading the past few sentences again.
For the second straight week, Carson is a priority waiver add. He had 11 rushes in Week 3 but further cemented his spot as the top back in Seattle. He chipped in with a receiving touchdown. He's the back to have in Seattle and there's no need to overthink any more of the analysis -- he should be picked up in all leagues.
The Panthers lost Kelvin Benjamin early in their defeat to the New Orleans Saints, their second top option lost in as many weeks. That means Funchess will be counted on to play an expanded role. He caught four of his 10 targets in Week 3. He's a terrific athlete who is still working to build a consistent rapport with Newton. For now, opportunity is knocking and he's a smart add in any league 12 teams or larger.
Following an injury to Darren Sproles, a devastating torn ACL and broken arm on the same play, the Eagles are without their best passing-game option out of the backfield. Smallwood led all Eagles back in snaps played in Week 3 (57 percent) and is their best pass-catcher with Sproles out for the year and Donnel Pumphrey on injured reserve. He's likely to have a defined role going forward. In 12-team or larger PPR leagues, Smallwood is on the radar.
While the production may have been a bit disappointing, the workload was not. He had 13 total touches for the Ravens and five catches -- the key to his value in points-per-reception scoring -- and has the steadiest role of any Baltimore back. Terrance West had just six carries to Allen's eight. Baltimore got shellacked on Sunday, but Allen still has value with upside of an RB2 in PPR scoring until Danny Woodhead returns.
Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints (11.1 percent)
Another week, another exciting performance for Kamara, who scored a rushing touchdown for the Saints in their surprising victory over the Panthers. I think the play with Kamara is this: He can be added and perhaps flexed in deep PPR leagues (think 16 teams), but he's an add for anyone in a smaller league (12 teams) that is curious about the upside. New Orleans loves him and he will continue to find ways to make an impact.
Another frequent visitor to this column, Sanu remains a steady option for anyone in a PPR league with 12 or more teams. He's going to find a home in your flex position, as he has established himself as the No. 2 receiver in a lethal passing game. He chipped in four more catches plus a touchdown and is now on pace for 80 catches and over 110 targets over the course of the season. He's such a steady player for Atlanta.
We talk so frequently about the importance of volume in fantasy football, something that Lee is certainly seeing plenty of. In the two full games since Allen Robinson suffered an ACL injury, Lee has seen a 28.4 percent target share for the Jaguars' offense with 19 total targets. He's likely to stay involved, albeit in a run-first offense. But in a 12-team or larger PPR league, Lee merits consideration.
Paul Richardson, WR, Seattle Seahawks (2.9 percent)
Doug Baldwin left the Seahawks' game against the Titans with a hamstring injury, so we'll keep an eye on his availability for Week 4. Should Baldwin miss the game, Richardson has a chance to step into a prominent role. He had seven targets in Week 3 plus a touchdown for the second straight game. He has terrific speed but has never been a primary weapon in this offense. He's an add for anyone with receiver depth concerns. There's intrigue here.
Charles Clay, TE, Buffalo Bills (7.1 percent)
The tight end position is so volatile. It's really hard to find consistent players at this spot and a litany of Week 2 injuries made that even more difficult in Week 3. Clay, however, continues to motor along as a major part of the Buffalo passing attack: He has scored in two of three games this season and five of seven dating back to 2016. If you need a tight end -- a common situation right now in fantasy football -- Clay should be on your radar.
Foreman is an intriguing player, as he may never emerge as the starter in Houston by unseating Lamar Miller, but it's clear they want him to be a part of their offense right away. Foreman has 22 combined touches over the past two games and will certainly get his opportunities. For someone looking to pad running back depth with a flexible bench spot, Foreman is a sensible add. We're not necessarily banking on him taking over the Houston RB job, but if for any reason he did, he would be a key cog in your lineup.
Just a heads up here in case Rob Kelley sits for yet another week, as Perine is the clear workhorse back as a rusher in Washington. He had 19 carries -- with a largely ineffective total output of just 49 yards and a fumble -- and volume matters in fantasy. He's a deeper league starter in non-PPR formats, though a late Week 3 hand injury bears monitoring.
The supply-and-demand issue of the tight end position should not be overlooked, as there are so few that you can rely on weekly. If you have one of the currently injured tight ends (Greg Olsen, Tyler Eifert, etc.) or have not yet seen significant production from your normal starter, Engram merits consideration. It's early, but he's on pace for nearly 70 catches and 800 receiving yards.
Deeper league considerations
These players should be considered if you play in a league with 14 or more teams.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans (10.1 percent)
Oh boy, am I intrigued by Watson. Let's not overlook some of the limitations, as he has strides to make as a thrower and an overall decision-maker, but his rushing ability gives him a higher floor than most rookie quarterbacks and certainly a higher ceiling. He threw for more than 300 yards against the Patriots -- an impressive performance, all things considered -- while adding 41 yards on the ground. According to ESPN Stats & Information tracking, he had 112 passing yards outside of the pocket, proof that his athleticism is helping him as a passer and a rusher. A fantasy manager should never be left frustrated with Watson at the helm, and he's an intriguing two-quarterback league add or a bye week fill-in to consider based on his matchup in a given week.
Has the competition been particularly stiff? No. Has Goff looked like an entirely different player compared to when he was a rookie? Yes. I'm a firm believer in head coach Sean McVay and his staff. Goff merits two-quarterback league consideration, or, like Watson, can be a bye week fill-in pending his matchup.
Robert Woods, WR, Los Angeles Rams (3.7 percent)
While Sammy Watkins is Goff's most talented wideout and Cooper Kupp has intriguing upside, Woods has carved out a near every-down role in this offense. He played all but four snaps in Week 3 and with Watkins in the concussion protocol, Woods should stay busy after a six-catch game.
Charles found the end zone for the first time since October 2016 in Week 3. He's up to 28 carries through three games and is staying involved in a run-dedicated offense. Charles is a smart depth add at running back.
Vernon Davis, TE, Washington Redskins (4.4 percent)
The best place to look for a Jordan Reed replacement might just be in Washington. Davis is still a capable fill-in, which he proved in Week 3, finding the end zone and hauling in five catches for 58 yards.
Sterling Shepard, WR, New York Giants (30.7 percent)
He has seven catches in two of three games this season. Shepard is clearly a talented player, but the Giants' offense is still largely stuck in the mud. If it gets on track, there's too much talent to ignore.
With Randall Cobb out, Allison played a virtual starting role for Green Bay, a team that plays plenty of snaps in three-receiver sets. He made good with six catches and 122 yards. If Cobb sits another week, Allison should continue to play plenty.
In his first game back from a two-game suspension, Seferian-Jenkins hauled in five catches on six targets. The Jets are bereft of passing-game options, but ASJ showed well in the extremely impressive win over the Dolphins in Week 3.