Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
In his first game back after serving a four-game suspension, Roethlisberger looked to be in midseason form. Playing at home against a weak Browns defense, he looked rusty early in the game but shook it off to finish 16 of 27 for 257 yards and three touchdowns with a single pick. Roethlisberger’s owners have to be excited by his early success, and after this week’s performance, he looks like he could be a top ten fantasy quarterback over the balance of the season.
Brett Favre, Vikings
After an up-and-down performance last week in his first game with Randy Moss replenishing the team’s depth chart at wide receiver, Favre fell back to earth this Sunday against the Cowboys. He finished the Vikings 24-21 win going 14 of 19 for 118 yards and a touchdown, throwing for less than 200 yards for the second time in five games. (He managed just 201 yards in one of those other three games.) It’s looking more and more like Favre—not just his receivers—could be a big part of the problem with the Vikings passing game.
Jason Campbell, Raiders
Just in case you were holding onto Campbell in hopes that he would win the starting job back from Bruce Gradowski and become productive, you can now safely move on. Subbing again for an injured Gradowski, Campbell went 8 for 21 with 83 yards and two picks against an average 49ers secondary. He has failed to top 200 yards passing in four games and is averaging just over 125 passing yards per game.
Ryan Torain, Redskins
Torain was impressive this week, topping 100 yards for the first time in his career. Playing against the soft Indy run defense, he had 104 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. He gets a tough Bears run defense next, followed by a pair of softies (Lions and Eagles) with the team’s bye in the middle. With Clinton Portis’s return not yet on the horizon, Torain is beginning to look like a low-end RB2.
Chris Ivory, Saints
Ivory clearly separated himself from the Saints’ other backup running backs this week with his first big performance of the season. He had a healthy 158 yards on just 15 carries and chipped in 17 receiving yards on his lone reception. Ladell Betts and Julius Jones looked pedestrian against the Bucs, and Pierre Thomas has yet to even test his injured ankle in practice, which means Ivory could be line for significant touches against a porous Browns defense.
Danny Woodhead, Patriots
It looks like Woodhead has assumed Kevin Faulk’s role in the Patriots offense and is getting plenty of playing time when the team runs its no-huddle. He is splitting time with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and is also being used on passing downs while Green-Ellis gets the short-yardage work. In the Patriots pass-heavy offense, Woodhead figures to get enough looks to be a solid flex option. He has 25 touches over the last two games and has turned that into 162 yards and a touchdown.
Willis McGahee, Ravens
McGahee was a decent flex play last season and was shaping up to be one again in 2010 in larger leagues. It might be time to change that line of thinking. This week against the Patriots, he failed to get on the field as the Ravens went exclusively with Ray Rice and LeRon McClain. Repeat after me: Not One Single Play. No plays means no touches, which means there’s no point in owning him.
Legedu Naanee and Patrick Crayton, Chargers
Injuries create opportunities and it looks like Naanee and Crayton are the two Chargers most likely to benefit from the injuries suffered by wide receiver Malcom Floyd and tight end Antonio Gates. Early reports indicate that Floyd will miss this coming game against the Patriots; Gates may be able to suit up. However, Gates is likely to see a reduced workload due to his injured ankle. Naanee is dealing with an injured hamstring but appears ready to return. Crayton has already taken advantage of his increased role, catching six of seven targets for 117 yards against the Rams.
Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant, Eagles
One player is here because of his production and the other is here because of his opportunity. After this week’s monster performance (seven receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns), Maclin now has six touchdowns in six games and is the fourth-ranked fantasy wide receiver. With DeSean Jackson expected to miss at least one game with a concussion (and possibly several more), Avant will step into the starting lineup—and he has produced when given an opportunity in the past. In 2009 he caught 41 of 58 targets for 587 yards and three touchdowns. He immediately becomes a decent bye-week starter as long as Jackson is out.
Johnny Knox, Bears
Okay, Devin Hester fans, it’s officially time to give up on his becoming the go-to wide receiver in the Bears offense. That role officially belongs to Johnny Knox. At a certain point, the numbers can’t lie. That point occurred during this week’s game against the Seahawks. Knox saw 11 targets to just three for Hester, and he turned those targets into five receptions for 120 yards. For the season, Knox has been targeted 34 times, catching 18 passes for an eye-opening 392 yards—an average of 21.8 yards per reception. While he hasn’t yet found the end zone, it’s safe to assume that those big plays will translate into touchdown production in the coming weeks. More on Hester below in the Moving Down section.
Michael Crabtree, 49ers
Since Michael Johnson took over as offensive coordinator in San Francisco three games ago, Crabtree has had 18 receptions for 220 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He is also averaging just under nine targets per game, which means he has regained quarterback Alex Smith’s trust. It’s gone from night to day since Jimmy Raye was fired. If Crabtree is languishing on another team’s bench, go get him.
Deion Branch, Patriots
I didn’t think Branch had much left to offer, but he certainly proved me wrong this week with nine receptions for 98 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens. With Brandon Tate not ready to assume a large part in the Patriots offense, and with defenses likely to clamp down on Wes Welker, Branch should be in line for plenty of single coverage in the coming weeks. There’s a bit of a qualifier with this one since the Ravens secondary played very poorly this week. Nonetheless, Branch proved that he can still beat mid-level corners. He looks like a WR3 going forward.
Mike Williams, Seahawks
Williams had been relatively silent since an encouraging Week 1 performance against the 49ers when he had four receptions for 64 yards. A shoulder injury suffered in Week 3 appeared to have slowed him down. But with Deion Branch traded, Williams was featured this week against the Bears and came through in a big way with 10 receptions for 123 yards on 15 targets. He shapes up as the Seahawks’ top wide receiver at the moment, but that figures to be a fluid situation, with Deon Butler and possibly Golden Tate getting some opportunities for big roles as well.
Devin Hester, Bears
Aside from a solid performance in Week 1 against the Cowboys, Hester has been a complete non-factor this season and is playing worse than he did in 2009. He is currently on pace to finish the year with 405 receiving yards, which would be his lowest production since being shifted to wide receiver on a full-time basis for the 2008 season. Here are his fantasy points per game: 1, 13, 1, 2, 1, 2. Here are his receiving yardage totals: 17, 77, 16, 16, 0, 26. There you have it. There is a one-in-six chance he will help your fantasy squad on any given week.
Kevin Walter, Texans
Looks like the target well has run dry for Walter in Houston. After his monster performance in Week 2, Walter has been held to under 35 receiving yards for three straight games and did not get a single target this week against the Chiefs. With Andre Johnson, Jacoby Jones, and Owen Daniels all healthy, it looks like Walter will be relegated to a minor role in the Texans offense.
Brandon Tate, Patriots
To be honest, I never felt like Tate was ready to take over for Randy Moss in New England, and he showed during this week’s win over the Ravens just how unprepared he is to become a major contributor in the team’s pass-heavy offense. Tate was targeted four times but failed to catch a single pass during a game in which Tom Brady attempted 44 passes.
Owen Daniels, Texans
Nothing spectacular from Daniels this week but, then again, we learned early in 2010 that he wasn’t going to duplicate his production from last year—at least not until he was fully recovered from the knee injury that prematurely ended his 2009 season. He had his first big game of the year this week against the Chiefs, catching five passes for 79 yards. While Daniels failed to find the end zone, his performance was still encouraging, given that his season-high for receiving yards had been 45 and he was averaging just 23 yards per game.
Ben Watson, Browns
After languishing in New England, Watson has clearly found a home in Cleveland. Always known for his superlative physical ability but a disappointment due to his inability to turn that into production, Watson has blossomed in Cleveland and is the ninth-ranked fantasy tight end after six weeks. This week, with six receptions for 88 yards and a score, he played his best game since Week 11 of the 2008 season. With the Browns struggling to get production from their wide receivers, Watson has been getting a steady number of targets and has topped 45 yards in five of six games in 2010.
Greg Olsen, Bears
Olsen had been surprisingly productive through four weeks, given the history of starting tight ends in a Mike Martz offense. However, the wheels have fallen off over the last two weeks, with Olsen failing to make even a dent in the stat column. And after two straight games without a single reception, Olsen should be nailed to your bench until he puts up a decent performance.