There has been a lot of talk about replacements this week, but luckily it appears that our long, national scab-referee nightmare is coming to an end. However, that doesn't mean the talk of replacements will end. That's because Week 4 marks the start of bye weeks in the NFL, making Flex Spending all the more important.
The first three weeks of the season have been a cakewalk. Anyone can field a competitive team when they have their entire roster at their disposal. Now that a handful of teams will be sitting every week, your depth will finally be tested. It also means the new faces -- the replacements, if you will -- could end up swinging games, making it absolutely necessary to stay up on who's coming and who's going at the flex position.
Mikel Leshoure, Lions -- Most expected Leshoure to play a big part for the Lions last week. Then on Sunday morning word broke he would start. OK, but Kevin Smith is still going to have a role in the offense, right? Wrong. Leshoure racked up 26 carries, gaining 100 yards and scoring the first touchdown of his career. It now appears he has a stranglehold on the job, and that should have him rocketing up the rest-of-season rankings. Even if you aren't a math major, you should be able to tell that the volume of carries was Leshoure's best friend last week, as he failed to notch four yards per carry. Still, he looks to be the big dog in Detroit's backfield, and that's enough to make him a weekly starter in nearly all leagues.
Brian Hartline, Dolphins -- Sure, Hartline may have followed up his nine-catch, 111-yard performance in Week 2 with just one reception last week, but the more important stat to look at is his nine targets. That increased his season total to 29, making him one of the most heavily targeted receivers in the league. Miami's passing game leaves plenty to be desired, but Ryan Tannehill clearly trusts Hartline and will continue slinging the ball in his direction. When given a chance, he has flashed an ability to make plays, and you can bet he'll be given that chance all season long. He's a reliable WR3 and a borderline flex play during the bye-week portion of the season.
Bilal Powell, Jets -- In the middle of another lackluster performance by Shonn Greene, the Jets turned to Powell, and he looked better than the starter in every respect. He finished the game with 45 yards on 10 carries and caught two passes for 24 yards. After the game, Rex Ryan said he'd like to get Powell or Joe McKnight more involved in the run game. Later in the week, the Jets announced they'd be shifting McKnight to cornerback to stand in for the injured Darrelle Revis, effective immediately. That leaves Powell as the only back to really challenge Greene for carries. Remember, Greene hasn't shown anything during his NFL career outside of a two-game run in the playoffs during his rookie season. Powell isn't an advisable flex play just yet, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him take over as the feature back at some point in the not-too-distant future. He's definitely worth adding if he's available in your league.
Danny Woodhead, Patriots -- After Week 1, Stevan Ridley was all the rage. Last week, Woodhead got 15 carries to Ridley's 13, and picked up the lion's share of the work at the goal line. I'm not writing off Ridley, not by a long shot. In fact, I've called him one of my favorite buy-low candidates. But you cannot ignore the role Woodhead played in New England's best offensive game of the season thus far. Like Powell, he isn't worthy of flex consideration just yet. However, the bye situation gets very dicey in the coming weeks, and if Woodhead can get the same sort of looks in the Patriots' offense he got last week, he could merit a start or two at the flex position in the coming weeks.
Kevin Smith, Lions -- This is sort of the inverse of the Mikel Leshoure section above. Smith had a huge Week 1, totaling 91 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns. He struggled against the 49ers in Week 2, but that's no sin. Then, inexplicably, he was completely absent from the game plan last week, making way for Leshoure. At this point, it's impossible to trust him in a starting fantasy role. I wouldn't advocate dropping him just yet. After all, Leshoure has played all of one game in the NFL. But if future weeks bring the same breakdown in terms of workload -- that is, 100 percent for Leshoure and 0 percent for Smith, he could end up on the chopping block.
Dez Bryant, Cowboys -- After failing to live up to his potential for two-plus seasons, it's finally time to seriously downgrade Bryant. He has 13 catches for 164 yards and zero touchdowns this season. What's more, he did most of his damage against a depleted Giants' secondary Week 1, catching four passes for 85 yards. In fact, "depleted" is a generous word to describe the state of the Giants' secondary by time that game ended. Bryant remains one of the league's best talents, he's got the reliable Tony Romo throwing him passes and Dallas' stable of weapons should keep teams from focusing on him. Despite his struggles, he's a good guy to target in trades right now if his owner is willing to sell at a discount. I just wouldn't advocate starting him until he shows us something, assuming you have other realistic options.
Chat with me on Twitter, @MBeller.