Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills
Every year, a couple of quarterbacks seemingly come out of nowhere and put together a career season and Fitzpatrick is in line for such a performance in 2011. He ain’t pretty, he’s just getting a lot of yards and wins for his team and for his fantasy owners. After three weeks, it’s high time for his owners to start thinking about riding him and moving whoever they acquired to be their fantasy starter in a trade to shore up their roster. Fitzpatrick has 841 passing yards and nine touchdowns for the season but his yardage total isn’t overly impressive because he was limited to 208 yards passing in a Week 1 blowout win over the Chiefs (offset by four touchdown passes). He looks starter worthy for the remainder of the season.
Mike Kafka, Eagles
I had him here last week. Just saying. With Michael Vick possibly out with a badly bruised right hand, Kafka has a chance to be under center in a Week 4 matchup against a 49er secondary that is generous to opposing offenses. He didn’t look as good this week as he did last (two interceptions in mop up duty) but he is worth a look if he plays and you are desperate for a starter this week.
Michael Vick, Eagles
He’s not Moving Down just because he’s hurt, although the evidence is mounting that the odds of him staying healthy for an extended period are extremely low. He’s also here because he hasn’t been that good… certainly nowhere near as productive as he was in 2010. Vick is averaging just over 200 yards passing per game despite facing a porous Rams secondary, the Falcons mid-tier passing defense and a banged up Giants secondary. What’s also hurting is that he hasn’t been able to pad his fantasy stats with rushing touchdowns, having failed to find the end zone on the ground in 2011 after having nine rushing touchdowns in 12 games last year.
Ryan Mathews, Chargers
It sure looked like a boy became a man this week as Mathews ran all over the Chiefs defense. With Mathews adding short yardage situations and receiving chores to his regular workload, he had his finest day as a pro, rushing for 98 yards and a pair of scores and catching four passes for 51 yards. Mike Tolbert played strictly as a backup and the question is whether that is his new role or whether his snaps were limited as a result of a calf injury. Given Mathews performance and Tolbert’s lackluster start to the season (2.6 yards per carry), look for Mathews to get a much bigger workload going forward.
LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets
Do you get the feeling the light’s never going to go on for Shonn Greene? Despite facing some mediocre run defenses (Cowboys, Jaguars, Raiders), he is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry on 41 rushes for 134 yards and a score. Meanwhile, Tomlinson is chipping in on passing downs and looking like he did over the early part of 2010. At this point, he has 30.9 fantasy points to 25.4 for Greene. If you buy the theory that the Jets aren’t going to be blowing anybody out, then LT should be getting a fair amount of work. He’s a decent flex option and that’s a step up from what was expected in the preseason.
Joseph Addai, Colts
It’s renaissance week on Moving Up, Moving Down. Next we present Joseph Addai, frequently injured, easily forgotten but highly productive this week against a stingy Steelers run defense. Rookie 4th round pick Delone Carter had just four touches while Addai carried the rock 17 times for 86 yards and a score. That’s impressive production against Pittsburgh. Maybe, just maybe the Colts have figured out that running the ball is preferable to having an aging Kerry Collins or an inexperienced Curtis Painter chucking it.
Kendall Hunter, 49ers
If there were any lingering doubts as to who Frank Gore’s handcuff was, they were answered this week when he went out with a right ankle sprain. Hunter stepped in and looked decent, gaining 26 yards on nine carries including a game winning seven-yard touchdown. Hunter had a solid training camp to wrestle the backup job away from Anthony Dixon and figures to get the start next week if Gore can’t go. That game is on the road against an Eagles run defense that looks absolutely horrible and is ranked 30th in the league. That makes Hunter worthy of a start if Gore is out.
Alfonso Smith, Cardinals
LaRod Stephens-Howling was supposed to Beanie Wells backup and then Chester Taylor was signed and he was supposed to be Wells’ backup. So much for that. With Wells out this week against the Seahawks, Smith stepped in and ran for 54 yards on 17 carries and caught three passes for 21 yards. Meanwhile, Taylor looked washed up, gaining just 20 yards on 8 carries while catching one pass for 12 yards. You can hardly say that Smith looked great but what you can say is that Beanie is one of the best in the league at finding a way out of the line up. This time, it was a hamstring and we all know how tricky they can be.
Chris Johnson, Titans
I gave him three weeks and it turns out that was one week too many. Against a Broncos run defense that has struggled since, oh say, the Karl Mecklenburg days, Johnson was abysmal, gaining just 21 yards on 13 carries. And you can’t blame the Titans passing attack for allowing opposing defenses to drop eight and nine man fronts on rushing downs since Matt Hasselbeck is looking like he’s 28, not 36. In fact, the passing game helped pad Johnson’s fantasy stats as he caught four passes for 54 yards. Expect better days ahead but maybe those days are further off than was expected after his lengthy holdout.
Tim Hightower, Redskins
I don’t own Hightower now, I never have and I never will. Why? He’s just not that good. If there’s a poster boy for Sell High, he is it. The Redskins turned up the O in the preseason and Hightower looked great. Then the season opened and with opposing defenses not going plan vanilla, Hightower’s true colors begin to show. This week against Dallas, he managed just 41 yards on 14 carries but his fantasy performance was saved with a touchdown pass at the goal line. For the season, he is averaging 3.5 yards per carry and the odds of head coach Mike Shanahan sticking with that kind of production with dynamic rookie 4th round pick Roy Helu and Ryan Torain (4.5 yards per carry in the same offense last season) in reserve are pretty low.
Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
Of all the running backs generally ranked in the top ten, Mendenhall generally been the one the most likely not to give his fantasy owners the warm fuzzies. Sure, he plays in a Steelers offense determined to get him the ball but their offensive line has had their issues over the past couple of season and this year is shaping up to be no different. The red lights should be flashing when a player of Mendenhall’s caliber can only manage 37 yards on 18 carries against a Colts run defense that is amongst the smallest in the league in the front seven. For the season, Mendenhall has is averaging a paltry 3.0 yards per carry with 148 yards on 49 carries despite two of those games being against the Colts and Seahawks. It’s one thing to get shut down by the Ravens (as happened in Week 1), it’s quite another to get shut down by these teams.
James Starks, Packers
Can you say yo-yo? Starks was Moving Up two weeks straight but this week, he’s moving down courtesy of a disheartening 11 carry, five yard performance against the Bears coupled with Ryan Grant’s 17 carry, 92 yard outing. With Grant questionable this week with a bruised kidney, Starks figures to get another shot against a suspect Denver run defense and he needs to make the most of it.
Torrey Smith, Ravens
Well, if Smith isn’t the top wide receiver Moving Up, then my credibility goes out the window (would only need to be one of those small basement windows). Smith saw one target over the Ravens first two games but got an opportunity this week with Lee Evans out of the line up and absolutely lit up the Rams secondary by catching five of his nine targets for 152 yards and three touchdowns. Smith did it with pure speed, blowing past Rams defenders repeatedly (quarterback Joe Flacco missed him an open deep route in the end zone). While Smith looked great and may have Wally Pipped Evans, it’s worth noting that most of his yardage came against Rams reserve cornerback Justin King, who was starting in place Ron Bartell, and 2nd year safety Darian Stewart who was making his first career start.
Nate Washington, Titans
Kenny Britt was Moving Up last week and it’s Washington’s turn courtesy of Britt’s season ending knee injury. Although Washington has never become the complete player the Titans envisioned when they signed him away from the Steelers after the 2008 season, he assumes the number one wide receiver role in Tennessee with Britt out and his performance over the first three games of the season indicate that he just might be able to perform as one for the first time in his career. Washington has caught 21 of his 27 targets this season (a nifty 77.8% completion percentage) for 258 yards and one touchdown. Consider him a low-end WR2 for the balance of the season.
Victor Cruz, Giants
Let’s be honest. Watching Cruz play, it’s easy to tell that he’s not the most talented wide receiver in the league (my wife remarked that he looked slow on his 74-yard touchdown reception). But there’s a big hole in a Giants offense that is desperate for a player to step up and take the place of the departed Steve Smith and Cruz made a huge claim to that role with his three reception, 110 yard, two touchdown performance this week. In addition to the long touchdown pass, Cruz outfought Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (you may have heard of him) for a 28-yard touchdown reception. More recommended for PPR leagues and those that employ a flex position but still worth adding in all formats considering Mario Manningham’s injury situation and history of inconsistent performances.
Michael Jenkins, Vikings
Honestly, this is as lukewarm an endorsement as you may ever see in Moving Up. He’s clearly not the Vikings most talented wide receiver but he seems to be the one who plays the most snaps. If you’ve given up on Bernard Berrian (and you should since the Vikings surely will once they see he has caught one of his ten targets), then Jenkins is the go to own outside of Harvin. Or maybe he’s the Vikings receiver to own since he has 20.3 fantasy points and Harvin has 20.4. He can certainly be had for less than it would cost to trade for Harvin. Sometimes it pays to look through the bargain bins.
Dane Sanzenbacher, Bears
Seven targets and a touchdown in each of his last two games. Let’s face it – Roy Williams isn’t the answer (no receptions on four targets this week with a drop), and they demoted Johnny Knox for Williams. Devin Hester runs screen and flys and Earl Bennett was out this week with a chest injury. For larger leagues only.
DeSean Jackson, Eagles
Jackson has put up decidedly mediocre numbers over the past two weeks after having a solid Week 1 outing against the Rams with six receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown. After watching Torrey Smith light up St. Louis, we’ll put an asterisk beside that one. The Falcons and Giants both gave Jackson a healthy dose of double coverage, limiting him to two receptions in each game and 51 total receiving yards. The blue print is out there. Jackson is clearly talented enough to beat double coverage but the odds of that happening with either an injured Vick or Mike Kafka under center are slim.
Mike Thomas, Jaguars
Should wide receivers who put up 11.5 fantasy points be Moving Down? In this case, you betcha. Thomas has some positives being the lead wide receiver on a team that figures to be behind early and often and he’s currently 8th in the league in targets with 29. However, he’s turned those targets into just 139 yards so at some point, the Jaguars are going to start dishing those out to somebody else. Amongst the top 30 wide receivers in targets, Thomas has the fewest yards, behind only Mike Williams of Tampa Bay who has 89 yards on 22 targets.
Bernard Berrian, Vikings
As noted above, one reception in ten targets doesn’t get you much of a spot in the game plan.
Owen Daniels, Texans
Admit it. You thought that was a typo and it was supposed to say James Casey. This is why it’s important to watch the games. While Casey had the third highest point total amongst tight ends with five receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown and 11 yards rushing on one carry, 62 of his receiving yards came on a blown coverage and the rushing yards were also a gift as the Saints were clearly not expecting him to get the ball. Basically, the Texans did a wonderful job of surprising the Saints by giving a healthy number of touches to Casey and that only works once. More exciting was seeing Daniels get nine targets and catching five of those for 76 yards and a touchdown. Wide receivers Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones are AWOL in the passing game (five combined targets this week although Walters scored on a fluke play) and that makes Daniels an enticing tight end to have.
Kellen Winslow, Bucs
A knee injury may have slowed Winslow this week and helped cause a 2 for 20 day but the bottom line is that the Bucs passing attack has been woeful and Winslow has not been able to find the end zone or make any big plays. For the season, he has just 12 receptions for 130 yards on 20 targets and there’s a disturbing trend developing. Winslow hasn’t had double-digit targets since Week 7 of last season and since that game he is averaging just 5.6 targets per game. Sell now.