Michael Vick, Eagles
After returning from injury, Vick appeared poised to finish 2010 as a top ten quarterback and perhaps a difference maker for his owners. That outlook rose dramatically this week after his blockbuster performance against Washington on Monday Night Football. With a great game plan laid out by Eagles head coach Andy Reid, Vick had the best fantasy performance of the season with 52 points. He did it with his arm (333 yards and four touchdowns) and with his legs (80 yards and two touchdowns). At this point, he is unstoppable. His running ability forces teams to employ a spy in the box, which leaves either DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin in single coverage. With Vick showing a deft touch on his long passes, the only thing that can slow down this Eagles offense is poor play along the offensive line. If they can avoid that, Vick will be the top-ranked fantasy quarterback over the balance of the season. And unlike in past years, he has been gold in leagues that punish interceptions—he has yet to throw a pick in 2010.
Kyle Orton, Broncos
There were plenty of solid performances at quarterback this week, and Orton’s 296-yard, four-touchdown outing against the Chiefs ranked near the top. Orton’s been doing it all year despite the naysayers (yours truly included) waiting for him to fall on his face. Likewise, Brandon Lloyd looks like he is a legit number one wide receiver (at least in 2010). Orton is on pace to finish with career highs in all every major passing statistic, and his upcoming schedule looks mighty attractive. After this week’s game against the Chargers, four of the Broncos’ next five opponents rank 18th or lower against the pass. The only exception is the Raiders, but they have allowed 16 touchdown passes and aren’t exactly a horrible matchup.
Matt Cassel, Chiefs
Cassel has been the quintessential matchup play at quarterback in 2010. In Week 9, he threw for 469 yards and four touchdowns against a Broncos secondary that was playing soft with a big lead. Against pass defenses ranked 14th or better, he has averaged 11.6 points per game. In his other matchups, he has 26.4 points per game. On tap are the Cardinals (26th), Seahawks (27th), Broncos (19th), Chargers (4th), Rams (18th), and Titans (24th). With the Chiefs struggling of late, Cassel is more likely to open it up in the passing game, which makes him less of a risk.
Chad Henne, Dolphins
Sure, he was benched and then he got hurt subbing for an injured Chad Pennington, so this is an easy call in redraft leagues. In dynasty leagues, as well, it may just be time to give up on Henne. His knock coming out of college was that he struggled with his accuracy, and if you’ve seen any Dolphins games this year, it’s easy to conclude that he hasn’t improved in that area. His 64.0 completion percentage is just as misleading as the fact that Pennington has the highest completion percentage in the history of the league: if an NFL quarterback is asked to dink and dunk, they should be well over 60%. Henne’s problem is that he can’t accurately hit the deep passes, and he struggles even on intermediate throws. Expect the Dolphins to look for a new quarterback in 2011.
Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
It looks like the hamstring problems that plagued Moreno in training camp and early in 2010 are a thing of the past. He has topped 20 fantasy points in two of the last three weeks, with a mediocre performance in London against the 49ers sandwiched between his two solid performances. Against the Chiefs in Week 9, he topped 100 rushing yards for the first time this season, and his schedule for the fantasy playoffs looks good. For Weeks 13 through 16, he gets the Chiefs, Cardinals, Raiders, and Texans. Of that group, only the Chiefs have played well against the run in 2010, yet they have somewhat struggled to stop the run in recent weeks.
Keiland Williams, Redskins
I’m a bit lukewarm on this one. While Williams had a nice outing on Monday night against the Eagles, he had a number of factors going for him. First off, both players ahead of him on the depth chart (Ryan Torain and Clinton Portis…yeah, that’s right, Torain ahead of Portis) were injured. Then the Eagles got out to a big lead, which further helped Williams’ cause. On the one hand, he put up solid fantasy production of 139 total yards and three touchdowns. On the other hand, I can’t say I’m all that impressed with his abilities. Torain certainly looks like a better pure runner, and Williams doesn’t seem to have much burst or ability to make tacklers miss. Then again, head coach Mike Shanahan has turned low-round draft picks and undrafted backs into solid players in the past, and he’s been known to shake up the depth chart at running back on a regular basis. I’m back and forth on this one, but there’s no quibbling that 31 fantasy points will get you Moving Up.
Fred Jackson, Bills
Jackson awoke this week from his season-long slumber to finally put up the type of numbers most expected of him (on a far more regular basis) in 2010. He entered this week’s game against the Lions with exactly one double-digit fantasy performance this season. Now he’s got two, courtesy of a 170-total yard, three-touchdown game. Better yet for Jackson owners, rookie first-round pick C.J. Spiller is out indefinitely with a hamstring injury, and the Bills’ upcoming schedule looks pretty decent, save for a Week 12 game at home against the Steelers.
Felix Jones, Cowboys
A few weeks ago, I checked out the Cowboys’ remaining schedule and decided to target Jones in two leagues. I couldn’t get a trade worked out in either case; I had enough at running back already, so I wasn’t willing to overpay, especially since Jones hadn’t put up a game to justify the move. But this week against the Giants he had that game, with 51 yards on 14 carries and three receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown. Up next for the resurgent Cowboys are the Lions (26th against the run), Saints (17th), Colts (29th), Eagles (12th), Redskins (25th), and Cardinals (28th). With it all but certain that Marion Barber will be jettisoned after the season, Jones figures to get plenty of work, so that the Cowboys can determine if they need to add depth at the position in the offseason.
Mike Goodson, Panthers
With both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart out with injuries, Goodson gained 100 rushing yards and 13 receiving yards against the Bucs. This week, the Panthers get the Ravens, who have been inconsistent stopping the run in 2010. If Williams and Stewart are both out, and if you’re desperate, Goodson is worth a look.
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
When the Seahawks acquired Lynch, I wasn’t exactly drooling over his fantasy prospects in Seattle as many others were. In five games with the Seahawks, Lynch is averaging only 7.6 fantasy points per game on just 259 total yards and five touchdowns. He’s also averaging a paltry 2.9 yards per carry. Justin Forsett is averaging 8.1 points per game over that same stretch.
LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets
I told you in my “Dave’s Take” column this week that the Jets planned to cut back on Tomlinson’s workload, and they followed through on that during this week’s overtime win against the Browns. LT had 18 touches to 23 for Shonn Greene, and he failed to find the end zone for the third consecutive game. New York is clearly concerned about overusing Tomlinson, and the plan seems to be to keep him fresh for the playoffs. That doesn’t bode well for his fantasy prospects the rest of the way.
Ray Rice, Ravens
Another ho-hum performance for Rice this week, with 102 total yards against the Falcons. Rice’s breakout year in 2009 was held back a bit by his inability to find the end zone in a major way (eight total touchdowns), and that has been a problem this season as well. In addition to that, he’s not racking up the total yards like he did in 2009, when he finished with over 2,000. This year, he is on pace to finish with just under 1,700 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns, not exactly the top-four performance his owners were expecting.
Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
Just the numbers, baby, just the numbers. He was averaging just a tad less than 17 fantasy points per game without Ben Roethlisberger starting. With Big Ben under center, Mendenhall is averaging less than 12 points per game. His schedule is favorable, with four solid matchups in the next six weeks. But that won’t matter much if the Steelers continue to drop Roethlisberger back to pass 49 times like he did against the Patriots.
Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
Bowe continued his recent string of solid performances with a blockbuster effort this week against the Broncos. He was targeted early and often (18 times total), catching 13 passes for 186 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He has scored in each of his last five games, has eight touchdowns during that span, and has double-digit fantasy points in four of those games while topping 20 points twice and 30 points once. With nine touchdown receptions, he’s tied with Hakeem Nicks and Calvin Johnson for the league lead, so it’s safe to say Bowe has put his early-season struggles behind him. And, as noted with Matt Cassel above, the Chiefs face some pretty average pass defenses in the coming weeks.
Mike Wallace, Steelers
With Hines Ward out with a concussion, Wallace stepped up big against the Patriots this week with the best game of his two-year career. He caught eight passes for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns, as he was featured throughout most of the game. Wallace has topped 100 yards in each of his last two games (246 yards in total) while scoring twice, and he has five touchdowns in his last five games. The Steelers face some tough pass defenses over the next six weeks (none ranked lower than 14th), and Ward is expected back this week, but Wallace figures to remain productive and may even emerge as Pittsburgh’s go-to receiver by season’s end.
Mario Manningham, Giants
Steve Smith is out with a torn pectoral muscle and Manningham will start in his place for at least two more games, and likely more. This week against Dallas, Manningham caught 10 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown on 16 targets. Expect that high number of targets to stay steady until Smith returns. With Smith out and Ramses Barden on injured reserve, the Giants don’t have a solid third wide receiver, and tight end Kevin Boss has been lightly used in the passing game this season.
Dez Bryant, Cowboys
Original:Jon Kitna’s main man in the passing game is Bryant, so he’s moving up again this week. He just had his first 100?receiving yard game against the Giants, snagging three passes for 104 yards and a score. He would have had an even bigger game if the Cowboys hadn’t jumped out to an early lead. Bryant is averaging 14.2 fantasy points per game over his last four games and has five touchdowns in his last five games. He is a must-start every week from here on out.
Danny Amendola, Rams
The little engine that could is the best way to describe Amendola. He’s not a big play threat, but he leads the Rams in targets with 75—and that isn’t about to change anytime soon. Although he has only 141 total yards in his last three games, he has scored in each game, which gives him 32 fantasy points over that stretch. That’s WR3 production that just might be sitting on your waiver wire or is possibly available for trade at a bargain-basement rate.
Brandon Marshall, Dolphins
One measly touchdown in 2010. I debated benching him this week for Johnny Knox. I wish I would have. Fantasy points in his last four games: 5, 6, 3, 3. Starting quarterback for the Dolphins’ next game: Tyler Thigpen. Chances of Marshall imploding this week: much higher than the chances of him finding the end zone.
Lee Evans, Bills
Evans has always been a streaky performer, but he hasn’t blown hot in 2010 as much as he has in prior seasons. Save for a pair of solid games in Weeks 5 and 7, Evans has been a fantasy abomination, with just 233 yards and no touchdowns across his other games. Over his last three games, he has just 139 receiving yards. So, the question is: should you rely on a player who has a 22% (two of out nine) chance of producing? Only if you have to.
Roy Williams, Cowboys
Williams was productive early in 2010, but with the emergence of Dez Bryant, he has seen his role severely curtailed over the last five weeks. Williams is averaging three targets per game over that stretch, with a measly 17.6 receiving yards per game.
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
The lesser-heralded of the Patriots’ rookie tight ends stepped to the forefront this week against the Steelers, having his best day as a pro with five receptions for 72 yards and three touchdowns. Aaron Hernandez has gotten most of the publicity due to his solid early-season performance, but over the last three weeks, Gronkowski has more targets with 16, topping the 14 that Hernandez has received. Maybe defenses are focusing more on Hernandez, or maybe Gronkowski has earned a bigger role. Either way, Gronkowski is worth grabbing as your backup tight end in larger leagues, and he is definitely worthy of a roster spot in dynasty leagues.
Anthony Fasano, Dolphins
Fasano is poised to have a career year in receiving yards, with 367 over the Dolphins’ first nine games. He had the best game of his career this week against the Titans, with five receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown. When Thigpen entered the game in the fourth quarter, he seemed to look Fasano’s way often, so Fasano could be in line for some additional targets over the second half of the season.
Brent Celek, Eagles
I had him Moving Down in Week 8 and he’s ready for another slap down. Vick simply doesn’t look Celek’s way often, and when he does, they don’t seem to be on the same page. The Eagles had an offensive explosion this week, but Celek wasn’t invited to the party, catching just two passes for eight yards. Over the past three games, he has caught four passes for 16 yards. At this point, Celek is the biggest bust among tight ends, and the competition’s not even close.