Aaron Rodgers, Packers
I’m loath to have a guy who was my preseason pick as the top fantasy quarterback Moving Up, but it’s an extremely dry week for solid performances by mid-tier players at the position, so Rodgers gets the nod. With 1,232 passing yards, 11 passing touchdowns, no interceptions, 152 rushing yards, and a touchdown in his last four games, Rodgers is peaking at just the right time for his fantasy owners.
Peyton Manning, Colts
In standard scoring leagues, Manning is running smoothly, collecting 83 fantasy points over his last three games. In leagues that penalize interceptions, it’s an entirely different story. Manning has thrown four interceptions in consecutive games and has 11 picks in his last three games, both firsts in his career. In leagues that deduct two points for interceptions, his totals for the last two weeks are 14 and 18.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills
After racking up a healthy 23.5 points per game over his first eight games, Fitzpatrick has fizzled out with 29 combined points in losses to the Steelers and the Vikings. The Minnesota game represented his second-worst fantasy performance of the season, and the state of the team’s offensive line reduces his chances of bouncing back. The Bills lost starting center Geoff Hangartner and backup Kraig Urbik this week. With both players likely out for the season, Buffalo will start Mansfield Wrotto, who was signed off the street in October, at right tackle.
Kyle Orton, Broncos
Orton is coming off his worst game of the season, and with head coach Josh McDaniels fired this week, the probability that Tim Tebow will get a start or two for the Broncos increases. McDaniels was fighting to return in 2011, so he was obligated to play Orton in order to secure as many wins as possible. Now that he has been replaced by former running backs coach Eric Studesville—and with the Broncos fans in a serious state of discontent—it won’t be a surprise to see Tebow inserted into the starting lineup to accomplish two things: appease the team’s fan base, and get Tebow some valuable playing time. I predict that Tebow starts in Week 16.
James Starks, Packers
Meet Green Bay’s new lead running back. Incumbent Brandon Jackson may continue to get the nod in the starting lineup, but—make no mistake about it—Starks will lead the team in carries over the remainder of the season, barring injuries or fumbling issues. Starks put up 73 yards on 19 carries in the Packers win over the 49ers, with Jackson getting only eight total touches in the backup and pass-receiving roles. Starks’ upside is limited somewhat with John Kuhn likely to continue getting the goal line work, but Starks is the Packers back to own in the fantasy playoffs. With Ryan Grant turning 28 before the start of next season, coming off an injured ankle, and due $5.75 million in the final year of his contract in 2011, Starks is an excellent prospect in dynasty leagues.
Tashard Choice and Felix Jones, Cowboys
With Marion Barber out against the Colts and their sad-sack run defense, Choice and Jones stepped up with their best games of the season. Choice had 19 carries for 100 yards and a score while Jones gained 83 yards on 22 carries, along with three receptions for eight yards. With Barber expected to be released after the season, these guys are the Cowboys’ running back duo of the future. And with the playoffs out of reach, there’s no need to bring Barber back into the picture. Up next are the Eagles (ranked 12th in run defense), the Redskins (26th), and the Cardinals (28th).
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
Lynch has been mostly atrocious since joining the Seahawks (273 rushing yards and two touchdowns through seven games before this week) but had his best game in a Seattle uniform this week against a Panthers run defense that has ranked near the bottom of the league for the entire season. Lynch ran it 22 times for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns and also chipped in 17 yards with a reception. If this sounds like a lukewarm endorsement, it is. But having the second-most fantasy points of the week at running back gets you Moving Up.
Chris Ivory, Saints
One week he’s losing touches to Julius Jones, the next week he goes off for 117 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Great flex option, but difficult to rely on as your RB2.
Ryan Mathews, Chargers
Mathews was healthy enough to play but never saw the field this week against the Raiders. The list of reasons for his lack of productivity is a lengthy one: injuries, poor pass protection, inadequate receiving skills, game situations dictating the use of Mike Tolbert or Darren Sproles. At this point, Tolbert is the guy running it and Sproles is the guy catching it. Mathews is the guy sitting on the bench.
LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets
For the first half of the season, LT was the feel-good story of the year because of his surprising production as the Jets’ lead running back. Since then, he’s fallen off and his fantasy owners are starting to wonder when he will find the end zone next. He has now gone six games without scoring, hasn’t topped 60 yards rushing in any of those games, and has hit double-digit fantasy points only twice during that span. Basically, he’s fallen to RB3 status.
Keiland Williams, Redskins
After two games as the Redskins’ lead runner, head coach Mike Shanahan ditched Williams in favor of the former Brown, James Davis. Williams is a serviceable pass catcher out of the backfield, but he’s not explosive in that capacity and he leaves plenty to be desired when running the ball. I doubt he even makes the team in 2011.
Mike Goodson, Panthers
Goodson was solid when given an opportunity. Jonathan Stewart was not. With both players healthy, who did head coach John Fox give the nod to last week? Stewart. Good luck figuring that one out.
Sidney Rice, Vikings
It looks like those of you who held on to Rice hoping he would be productive in the fantasy playoffs are about to be rewarded. He torched the Bills this week for 105 yards and a pair of scores on five receptions. He’s a startable commodity from here on in.
Roy Williams, Cowboys
Dez Bryant is out for the year with a broken ankle, so Williams will resume a more prominent role in the Cowboys passing attack. Williams has been mostly forgotten since Week 4, but prior to that he was productive. Over the first quarter of the season, he had 18 receptions for 278 yards and three touchdowns. That’s solid WR3 production, and there’s little reason to suggest he can’t post those types of numbers again with Bryant out.
Earl Bennett, Bears
When the Bears decided to cut back on Devin Hester’s snaps at receiver so he could concentrate on his return duties, Bennett’s opportunities increased. This week he took advantage of that to the tune of a career-best 104 yards and matched his career-high in receptions with seven. Last week, he had four receptions for 56 yards and a pair of touchdowns, so he is peaking at just the right time for his fantasy owners. He has caught 11 of his 13 targets over the past two weeks, so a bigger role might be in the offing.
Deion Branch, Patriots
In his first game back with the Patriots, Branch was solid in a win over the Ravens, but he followed that up with three stinkers. Since then, with Tom Brady on fire, Branch has had 71, 70, 113, and 74 yards, with two touchdowns in Week 12 and one this week against the Jets. That’s steady production and it means that Branch should be a reliable starter in the fantasy playoffs.
Mario Manningham, Giants
With Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks out of the lineup, Manningham was expected to be Eli Manning’s go-to guy at wide receiver. That hasn’t happened, and recently signed journeyman Derek Hagan got most of the looks during this week’s blowout win over the Redskins. Manningham has been a disappointment over the last three games, with just eight receptions for 121 yards and a score.
Steve Smith, Panthers
With a favorable matchup against the porous Seattle secondary, Smith caught just three of ten targets for 54 yards. That was just his second game in his last nine with more than 50 yards receiving, and he hasn’t found the end zone since Week 2. Smith will be 32 by the start of next season, and his yards per receptions went from 18.2 in 2008 to 14.8 last year to 12.8 this season. How much of that relates to Smith’s declining abilities and how much of it relates to poor play at quarterback is difficult to determine, but the bottom line is that he is no longer a big-play threat at wide receiver.
James Jones, Packers
Jones has been up and down like a yo-yo in 2010. With Donald Driver back to health this week, Jones surprisingly took a back seat, getting just four targets and catching two balls for eight measly yards. With his work this season, Jones shapes up as a solid prospect in dynasty leagues, but he’s a risky start for the remainder of 2010.
Brandon Pettigrew, Loins
Steady as she goes for Pettigrew. With five receptions for 36 yards this week, Pettigrew became the first tight end in Lions history to catch 60 passes in a season. He’s a dynamite prospect in all dynasty leagues but especially so in PPR formats. With 33 targets over his last four games, Pettigrew has emerged as a consistent receiving threat in a Lions passing offense that’s been surprisingly productive and should be even better in 2011.
Ed Dickson, Ravens
Todd Heap pulled a hamstring early in the Ravens’ loss to the Steelers, and after the game head coach John Harbaugh said the team’s young tight ends would have to step up. Dickson figures to take over for Heap, and he has the talent to make some plays in the passing game—although he has displayed questionable hands thus far in his rookie season. His seven targets after stepping in for Heap on Sunday night show that he will get an opportunity. Let’s see if he can take advantage of it.
Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings
It’s been four games since Shiancoe has found the end zone, and he has only 106 receiving yards during that stretch. With three targets in two of the last three games, he isn’t getting many opportunities, and that’s hurting his production.