I'd call the New England Patriots a smart organization, and when they make even the most minor of personnel moves, I admit to paying a bit more attention than when certain other teams do so. We've spent considerable time discussing a number of the Tom Brady receiving options this season, from the effect losing Aaron Hernandez would have on Rob Gronkowski and everyone else; why Wes Welker was seemingly being phased out; the slow start for Brandon Lloyd; the value of Julian Edelman; and now the oddly short tenure for unhappy Kellen Winslow.
What we haven't done is talk about the Deion Branch re-signing last week and its potential ramifications. OK, so it might mean little, because Branch is 33 and buried on the depth chart, but in this weekly Friday Sneaky Pickups edition of the blog, all angles must be explored. And I don't think the signing will mean little. Branch hardly has been a star fantasy option in the first place, as he's never reached 1,000 receiving yards or seven touchdowns in a season, but he was relevant in deeper formats with his 51 receptions for 702 yards and five scores a year ago, and just this Sunday night, in his season debut against the Baltimore Ravens, he was on the field for more than half of the team's snaps, catching two of his three targets.
A year ago, before Lloyd showed up, Branch was on the field for 76 percent of the Patriots' offensive plays, but what was more interesting to me was how much he was targeted by his ol' pal Brady deep in the red zone. In fact, the only wide receiver that saw more targets from inside the 10-yard line than Branch last season was Atlanta Falcons stud Roddy White. Brady certainly looks Branch's way, and who's to say that doesn't continue even with his myriad options? Plus, are these myriad options consistent? I did not initially rank Branch among my top 50 wide receivers for this week's tantalizing matchup in Buffalo, but with Winslow requesting and getting his release and Edelman dealing with a hand injury, don't rule out Branch becoming a factor for deep leagues.
Here are some other sneaky names to keep an eye on:
Seattle Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson finished off the Monday night madness with credit for a touchdown pass, but still hasn't reached as many as 160 passing yards in a game, and ESPN Fantasy doesn't project he will this week, either. Had the Seahawks lost Monday, would there have been calls for Matt Flynn? Just sayin', he could matter. ... Meanwhile, adding Shaun Hill even if Matthew Stafford does play Sunday isn't the worst idea, and another backup on the radar has to be Philly's Nick Foles. The New York Giants are salivating at all of the open hits they'll have on Michael Vick. ... By the way, Tim Tebow has yet to throw a pass. I'd still keep him rostered just in case.
I've been asked quite a bit this week about the Washington Redskins signing Ryan Grant. It doesn't change anything for Alfred Morris, but potential Shanahanigans still exist. I'm also interested to see if diminutive Brandon Banks gets more running back touches. ... In Arizona, everyone and their mother suddenly trust Ryan Williams now that Beanie Wells is done until Thanksgiving. Um, I like Williams, too, but I wouldn't call his continued ascension assured. William Powell impressed in August, and Alfonso Smith was signed this week. What about LaRod Stephens-Howling? How do you like 12 rushing attempts for one yard so far? ... It's tough to tell if Willis McGahee plays this week, and I think Lance Ball is next for carries, but I still think Knowshon Moreno factors in this season. ... The Pittsburgh Steelers are on bye this week. Sounds like a perfect time to add Rashard Mendenhall. He will matter soon.
I'm not too worried about Marques Colston, but certainly a few young New Orleans Saints could get chances the more the team loses. Joe Morgan is not the former Cincinnati Reds second baseman, and his dropped touchdown in Week 3 didn't help, but he was on the field a lot with Devery Henderson out. Courtney Roby should be watched as well. The Saints might not win much, but they will score. ... I don't see problems looming for Colts Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery, but T.Y. Hilton is interesting. Austin Collie is done for the year. ... Jacksonville's Cecil Shorts caught only one pass in Week 3, but it was a game-winning 80-yarder. This is not a good passing offense, but with Laurent Robinson potentially out with a concussion, Shorts would see more chances.
Best of luck to all in Week 4, and have a great weekend!