Alex Smith, 49ers
Alex Smith was back in the saddle this week after Mike Singletary came to the realization that Troy Smith’s upside and leadership abilities weren’t going to help him secure his place as the team’s head coach in 2011. So in steps Smith for San Francisco’s home game against a Seahawks defense that struggles mightily against the pass. The 49ers quarterback didn’t disappoint, throwing for 255 yards and three touchdowns.
Kerry Collins, Titans
After a dismal Week 13 performance against a suspect Jaguars secondary in his first game back from a calf injury, Collins put up a solid game this Thursday night during the Titans’ 30-28 loss to the Colts. Despite not getting much production from his wide receivers (including Kenny Brit, who was back in action), Collins went 28 of 39 for 244 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. Up next are the Texans and their league-worst pass defense, followed by a Chiefs team that is struggling to slow down opposing quarterbacks.
Jason Campbell, Raiders
Campbell has had an up and down first season in a Raiders uniform, but this week against the Jaguars he put on a show, playing his best game of the season. With the running back duo of Michael Bush and Darren McFadden playing well (McFadden also chipped in with a 67-yard touchdown reception), the Raiders were able to effectively use play action against the Jaguars. At the end of the day, Campbell had 324 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Rodgers got the Moving Up designation last week due to his outstanding performance this season and because there weren’t any performances that warranted inclusion in that category. This week, he’s Moving Down due to the concussion he suffered in the Packers road loss to the Lions on Sunday. Rodgers went out in the second quarter, after being used as a human yo-yo by Lions defenders Landon Johnson and Amari Spievey. The concussion is his second of the season (the other came in Week 5 against the Redskins) and that increases the likelihood that he won’t start in Green Bay’s Week 15 game against the Patriots. No doubt that many of his owners lost this week due to his meager production, but those that survived may have to rely on their backup next week—and it’s safe to assume that most Rodgers owners didn’t invest heavily in an upper-tier backup.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
With his subpar performance this week against the Bengals (258 passing yards and no touchdowns), Roethlisberger has now been entirely average for three straight games. Over that span, he has thrown for a respectable 757 yards but has just one touchdown pass and hasn’t padded his fantasy point totals with much rushing production. Worse yet, those performances have come against the Bills, Ravens, and Bengals, a trio of mid-tier passing defenses.
Brodie Croyle, Chiefs
I warned you in my “Dave’s Take” column that he was 0-9 as a starter entering this week’s game against the Chargers. In case you missed that debacle, he’s now 0-10 as a starter, and if he gets the nod in a road contest against the Rams in Week 15, you can bet that will move to 0-11.
Ryan Torain, Redskins
It’s been my position ever since Torain stepped in for Clinton Portis that he is the best young pure running back on the team’s roster, and he proved it again this week. Sure, he can’t seem to stay healthy, which limits his upside in dynasty leagues, but he has been productive when in the lineup. This week he gashed the Bucs for 172 yards on 24 carries. That marks the third time that Torain has topped 100 rushing yards in the five games that he has started when he has played the entire game. The Redskins will enter the 2011 offseason with plenty of needs, and head coach Mike Shanahan has a history of using unheralded running backs, so Torain will likely enter next season atop the team’s depth chart at running back, with a mid- or lower-round draft pick looking to unseat him. With Dallas and Jacksonville up next, Torain has a chance to further entrench himself as the team’s starter and help his fantasy owners win some championships.
Brian Westbrook, 49ers
I figured Westbrook would get the majority of the work when Frank Gore was lost for the year, but the team has basically split the work between Westbrook and rookie sixth-round pick Anthony Dixon. No matter, as Westbrook apparently plays better when he can stay fresh. Both players had 15 touches this week, but Westbrook was the better performer, gaining 23 yards on the ground to go along with six receptions for 87 yards, which included a 62-yard scamper for a touchdown. Two factors are working in Westbrook’s favor. One, Alex Smith is in at quarterback, and he’s more of a check-down artist than Troy Smith, who likes to throw it down the field. Two, the 49ers remain in the playoff hunt, so there’s no reason for them to give Dixon more work.
Tim Hightower, Cardinals
Chris Wells was expected to be the man for the Cardinals this season, but injuries and ineffectiveness have prevented that from happening. While his owners keep expecting Wells to step to the forefront of the Cardinals backfield, it appears—if the last five weeks are any indication—Hightower will remain the team’s starter. Over that five-week span, Hightower has 69 touches to just 24 for Wells, and he had a solid game this week against Denver with 148 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns.
Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
Jacobs and Bradshaw both have three touchdowns and 200 or more rushing yards over their last two games. Let’s just say the Giants running game is rolling and both players are safe plays in your starting lineup.
Rashad Jennings, Jaguars
Jennings has exploded onto the scene over the last three weeks, moving from a handcuff with almost no value to a solid flex play. This week against Oakland, he had the first 100-yard game of his career and scored on a 74-yard touchdown run. He also had a 16-yard run where he was stopped just shy of the end zone. Jennings has now scored a touchdown in three straight games, hitting double-digit fantasy points in each contest.
Javarris James, Colts
Do I think he’s that good? No. Do I think he will start for the rest of the season? No. Basically, I don’t think much of him, but here are the numbers: six touchdowns in his last six games. If you use him as your flex and he scores, you’re smiling. If he doesn’t score, you’re kicking yourself. That’s where it’s at with James. Up next are the very average run defenses of the Jaguars (15th against the run and just gave up 209 total yards and three touchdowns to Darren McFadden) and the Raiders (21st against the run and just gave up 234 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground to the Jaguars).
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
I gave Lynch a lukewarm Moving Up last week, courtesy of his 83-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance against the Panthers. Sure enough, he had a stinker this week, gaining just 29 yards on ten carries against the 49ers. He did chip in seven receptions for 37 yards to come away with a respectable fantasy point total, but his lack of ability to make big plays has to be a concern for Seattle management. It remains to be seen whether Lynch has done enough to earn a starting role in 2011 and prevent Seattle from using a high draft pick on the position.
Chris Ivory, Saints
Ivory looked good against the Rams this week, gaining 47 yards on just seven carries before leaving the game with a hamstring injury. That injury coupled with Pierre Thomas’ return to the lineup significantly reduces Ivory’s value. While he had the potential to be a low-end RB2 with Thomas out, Ivory now rates as nothing better than a low-end flex option in leagues that employ the position. That is an unfortunate turn of events for an undrafted free agent who leads all rookie running backs in rushing yards, carries, and touchdowns.
Reggie Bush, Saints
Is it permissible to have two Saints players Moving Down at one time when their offense is rolling? We’ll find out. In his three games since returning from a broken fibula, Bush has been a disappointment. He has been used sparingly in both the running and the passing game, with just 15 carries for 66 yards and nine receptions for 34 yards. At this point, he’s a risky flex play at best.
Thomas Jones, Chiefs
Jones hasn’t found the end zone in three weeks, and with the Chiefs playing from behind early this week against the Chargers, he finished with three rushes for one yard. That was his fewest touches in a game this season. If Matt Cassel isn’t a go at quarterback, Jones could be in for a rough ride in this week’s road contest against the Rams, who have been solid against the run this season (12th overall).
Arrelious Benn, Buccaneers
With Mike Williams slowing down, Benn stepped to the forefront of the Buccaneers passing game, having easily his best game of the season this week against the Redskins. He caught all four of his targets for 122 yards, upping his yards-per-reception average to 16.4. That is an impressive figure considering that Benn has been used mostly on short throws and screens, and it appears as through Tampa Bay is ready to expand his role. Benn has questionable value over the remainder of 2010 but is a great prospect in dynasty leagues.
Steve Johnson and David Nelson, Bills
With Lee Evans likely out for the season with what may be a high ankle sprain, the Bills will move Nelson into the starting lineup. He caught a touchdown pass this week and has looked good when given an opportunity this season. Johnson has slowed down recently, failing to find the end zone in the last three weeks and gaining just 146 yards in those games. That begs the question: Will opposing defenses be able to shut Johnson down now that Evans isn’t starting across from him? I think that Johnson is good enough to remain productive, despite the added attention, and he should benefit from the extra touches.
Malcom Floyd, Chargers
It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride for Floyd since his return in Week 11 from a hamstring injury. He caught two passes and had a touchdown in his first game back, followed that up with a doughnut, and then caught four passes for 72 yards last week. This week against the Chiefs he snagged four balls for 51 yards and a pair of touchdowns and likely would have lit up the stat sheet had the Chargers not gotten out to such a big lead. With Vincent Jackson being used sparingly and Antonio Gates iffy, Floyd is Philip Rivers’ go-to guy, especially in the red zone. He’s a high-end WR2 from here on out.
Ruvell Martin, Seahawks
Ruvell who? Unless you’re an NFL diehard, Martin isn’t somebody you’ve heard of, and he’s not likely somebody you will here from in 2011. The Seahawks were without their top two receivers in Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu this week and then lost Deon Butler to a season-ending injury. So Martin stepped up, catching four passes for 73 yards and a touchdown. If you’re desperate, Martin is worth a look, particularly if Williams and Obomanu are out again this week.
Randy Moss, Titans
Benched. No targets. Fantasy value: zero.
Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
No receptions against the Broncos’ Champ Bailey is allowed. A single reception for three measly yards against the Chargers secondary isn’t. Bowe has always been a streaky receiver, and the odds of him being on the wrong side of that equation go way up if Brodie Croyle is under center again this week.
Terrell Owens, Bengals
T.O. has had a productive year with the Bengals, although his fantasy points belie his true value on the field. He and quarterback Carson Palmer haven’t been on the same page on several plays this season, and the two had a somewhat animated sideline conversation about just that this week. With the end of the season nearing and Owens having played well enough to justify a contract somewhere in 2011, he seems to have grown disinterested in Cincinnati and has put up just ten receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown over his last three games. Not exactly the type of production his fantasy owners were banking on.
Jason Witten, Cowboys
Witten has been a bit of a sleeping giant at tight end in recent years, posting solid yardage totals but having a tough time finding the end zone. He’s bucked that trend in 2010, especially over the last two weeks with three touchdowns. With six touchdowns on the year, he is one shy of matching a career-high set in 2008, and he appears a solid bet to get there. Over the last three games, Witten has caught all 22 of his targets—as well as 26 of his last 27. With Dez Bryant out and Roy Williams apparently not part of the game plan, Witten is in line for plenty of looks over the balance of the season.
Antonio Gates, Chargers
When he’s in, he’s great, but it’s nearly impossible to figure whether he’s actually going to play. This week, the Chargers play in the Thursday nighter, so the start/sit call is an easy one. In Weeks 16 and 17, when San Diego plays in the late afternoon, that’s going to be much tougher to figure out.