RotoWire NFL Barometer

RISERS

Matt Ryan, QB, ATL – After recording a 137.3 QB rating in a
near flawless performance last week, Ryan has a 17:4 TD:INT ratio
over the past seven games, taking just eight sacks over that span.
He continues to play better at home and has hiked his YPA up, and
while the Falcons are rightfully underdogs Monday night against the
Saints, the over/under is 52.5, so it should be a high-scoring
affair that requires a lot of passing by Ryan. Meanwhile, Roddy
White has 38 catches for 537 yards and five touchdowns over the
past five games; there isn’t a hotter receiver in the league.

Reggie Bush, RB, MIA – Bush was given 25 carries in a game
Sunday for the first time in his career, and the result was 203
rushing yards (8.1 YPC). He has now run for at least 100 yards in
three straight games and has six touchdowns over his past seven
contests. Despite not getting 15 rushing attempts in a game until
Week 8 this season, Bush is on pace to finish with 1,421 yards from
scrimmage. Pro Football Focus rates Bush as the second worst
blocker among all running backs in the league this year, but he’s
clearly improved greatly as a runner inside the tackles. Who would
have thought he’d have more success on grass than turf?

C.J. Spiller, RB, BUF – Like Bush, Spiller was once thought
of as a draft bust. However, he had never shown even glimpses of
hope until recently, thanks mostly to Fred Jackson landing to the
IR. Spiller totaled 168 yards on just 21 touches Sunday, a number
that included nine receptions. He also added two touchdowns,
doubling his season mark in the process. He is up to 5.0 YPC on the
year and suddenly looks like an excellent start in PPR leagues as
the team’s new feature back. Things will get crowded next year once
Jackson returns to Buffalo’s backfield, but Spiller has got 3.0 YPC
after contact this season, which is tied for eighth best among
running backs.

Donald Brown, RB, IND – Brown ran for a career-high 161
yards last week, thanks largely to an 80-yard touchdown run in the
final minutes of the fourth quarter. The play highlighted Brown’s
breakaway speed, as he got to the corner and never looked back.
Brown entered the year averaging just 3.8 YPC over the first two
seasons of his career, but he’s all the way up to 5.1 in 2011. His
3.2 YPC after contact is tied for fourth among all backs in
football. Still just 24 years old, Brown might have quietly emerged
as Indy’s feature back of the future in an otherwise lost year for
the franchise.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, OAK – It’s been an up-and-down year
for Heyward-Bey, who averaged 96.3 receiving yards over a four-game
stretch from Weeks 4-7, only to average just 21.6 receiving yards
over the next five contests. He mysteriously disappeared from the
game plan coming off the team’s Week 8 bye and clearly struggled to
develop a rapport with new quarterback Carson Palmer. DHB also got
banged up physically. With the rest of Oakland’s receiving corps
ravaged by injuries, and Heyward-Bey back to health, the third-year
wideout has racked up 13 catches for 233 yards over the past two
contests, and he’s scored twice over the past three games.
Heyward-Bey has been targeted 36 times over the past month, so he’s
firmly back on the fantasy radar.

Aaron Hernandez, TE, NE – Hernandez caught nine balls on 11
targets for 129 yards and a score Sunday. One of those misfires
would have resulted in an easy second touchdown, but Tom Brady
missed him while wide open. He also had another play in the end
zone that could have easily been ruled a catch (still not sure why
Bill Belichick didn’t even challenge it), and was tackled inside
the one yard line on another, so Hernandez could have had a truly
monstrous day. Despite being overshadowed by teammate Rob
Gronkowski, and playing hobbled with a knee brace for most of the
season, Hernandez is still on pace to finish with 844 receiving
yards over 14 games played. He’s also been targeted 21 times in the
red zone, and there’s no reason to think two tight ends can’t be
plenty productive in New England’s passing attack, as he’s
typically split wide anyway. Hernandez leads all tight ends with 21
broken tackles this season. To put that in perspective, no other
tight end in the NFL has broken more than 10 this year.

FALLERS

LeGarrette Blount, RB, TB – Blount has picked up 21 total
yards or fewer in two of the past three games. He has really
suffered from Tampa Bay’s downfall since the offense has to play
catch-up all the time, and he does not play on passing downs. He
has also fumbled four times (losing three) over the past four
contests and offers nothing as a receiver. Blount remains a
tackle-breaking machine in the open field, but he must improve his
overall game to enter the fantasy elite.

Mike Williams, WR, TB – Williams was held without a catch in
Week 14, coming up small during a big week for most fantasy owners.
He has yet to reach 100 yards in a game this season and has scored
just three touchdowns after reaching the end zone 11 times as a
rookie last year. Williams’ eight dropped passes are tied for the
eighth most among wide receivers, and he’s also committed a
whopping six penalties on the year. He’s certainly been hurt by
Josh Freeman’s regression in 2011, but Williams has struggled to
gain separation. He is a risky fantasy start in Week 16, even
against a Carolina defense that has allowed an NFL-high 8.3 YPA
this season.

Anquan Boldin, WR, BAL – Boldin will soon have surgery to
repair a slight tear in his meniscus and is expected to be
sidelined for the next two weeks, which means he should be back for
the playoffs, but his regular season is finished. Boldin averaged
more yards per game during his second year in Baltimore (63.4) than
his first (52.3), but his touchdowns dropped from seven to three.
He’ll be 32 years old entering 2012 and has taken a lot of hits
throughout his career, so his fantasy stock is on the decline.

Caleb Hanie, QB, CHI – Hanie was dreadful Sunday, averaging
4.8 YPA while taking four sacks and throwing three picks. He has
now been intercepted three times in three of his four starts this
season. His impressive performance during the second half of last
year’s NFC Championship game clearly clouded the judgment of a
Chicago team that should have addressed the backup quarterback
position in the offseason. Chicago’s season is probably over, but
the team will turn to Josh McCown now at quarterback. McCown can’t
possibly be any worse, but he threw a pick during his two pass
attempts in relief last week, hasn’t played much since 2007 and
owns a career 6.2 YPA mark. And he will face the Packers coming off
their first loss of the season.

Johnny Knox, WR, CHI – Knox suffered a season-ending back
injury Sunday in what looked like one of the more gruesome hits of
the year, bending his body in a position that would be described as
anything but natural. The good news is that there should be no
long-term effects, which wasn’t initially clear when he left the
stadium in a gurney. Knox will likely be back next year with the
Bears, but the team should upgrade their receiving corps during the
offseason. Moreover, in the short-term, teammate Marion Barber is
losing plenty of touches to Khalil Bell, and in an offense that
struggles to reach the red zone, his fantasy value is minimal even
as the designated goalline back.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, PIT – Roethlisberger predictably
played though his ankle injury Monday night but was clearly
hampered by it, resulting in zero touchdowns and four turnovers. He
later said he didn’t do any further damage to his ankle, but it
sounds like there’s a real chance he sits out Week 15 in what
appears to be an easily winnable home game against the Rams.
Charlie Batch would get the start, but Roethlisberger’s absence
would also mean a downgrade for Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace.

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