To say that it’s been a rough season for running backs would be a gross understatement. Only 15 running backs have averaged more than 70 rushing yards per game. Six running backs have scored more than five rushing touchdowns (Cam Newton is tied for third in the NFL with seven). In the past, a player’s rise to the top of the depth chart had meaning in fantasyland. After watching the efforts of Chris Ogbannaya and other fill-ins this season, I don’t know that it holds the same impact any longer.
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Owners have shifted their attention to wide receivers and tight ends to make up for the lack of true workhorse options at the running back position. This past week, several new start-worthy options (and a longtime “Ninja” candidate in Chicago) emerged on the wire.
Those players roll into this week’s Lineup Calls.
Exclude: Steve Smith, Greg Jennings, Vincent Jackson, Calvin Johnson, Wes Welker, Dwayne Bowe, Roddy White, Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald
* For the purposes of this piece, we’ll add all Green Bay receivers and the New York combination of Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham to the expanded “Exclusion” list. Get them in there.
Santonio Holmes, NYJ vs. NE: Fantasy owners just wish that the pass interference penalties drawn by Holmes counted toward final point totals. Still, I can’t dismiss his recent spate of red zone opportunities from Mark Sanchez. Holmes has scored in three of the Jets’ past four games, including his four-reception, 60-yard game against the Patriots. He’s hardly been dominant, but this is a strong spot against the bottom-ranked, ever-changing New England secondary at home.
Julio Jones, ATL vs. NO: Jones returned to the field with a monster performance against the Colts, posting two long touchdown receptions before most fans had settled into their seats. I’m anticipating another big outing this week against the New Orleans secondary (246 receiving yards and 1.6 receiving touchdowns allowed per game). Jones has averaged nearly eight targets per game this season and he’ll be in line for a big role in this huge NFC South matchup.
Antonio Brown, PIT at CIN: Brown owners were robbed of a touchdown by teammate Mike Wallace in Week 9, but it’s hard to complain about his five-reception, 109-yard performance. In the past three weeks, Brown has amassed a total of 21 receptions. He’s a huge play this week as Wallace works against Leon Hall. The Bengals have been impressive to date, but this contest represents a sizable step up in class.
Brandon Lloyd, STL at CLE: Lloyd still represents a solid WR2 option this week against the Browns. I’m not advising you to bench him outright. However, Lloyd obviously has a difficult one-on-one matchup against Joe Haden on tap. By virtue of his high weekly target count (he had 13 against Arizona), Lloyd will catch several passes. This game will be won on the legs of Steven Jackson, but Bradford will take his shots downfield.
Percy Harvin, MIN at GB: Harvin’s weekly totals have been maddening, but he’s on the board as a plug-in play (nearly a “Ninja,” but I elevate him to this level) against the Packers. Christian Ponder impressed fans, scribes and fantasy owners in the Week 7 contest against the Packers. He did so without the services of Harvin for much of it, as Harvin had left the game because of an injury. Take your shots downfield in your WR3 slot against the Green Bay secondary.
Vincent Brown, SD vs. OAK: With Malcom Floyd expected to sit again because of his hip injury, rookie Vincent Brown steps into a nice opportunity against the Oakland secondary. Brown was targeted six times in the failed comeback attempt against the Packers and finished the game with four receptions for 79 yards.
Earl Bennett, CHI vs. DET: Bennett returned to the field with a vengeance and some fantastic orange kicks (Jay Cutler will reportedly pay his fine) against the Eagles. He caught five passes for 95 yards and scored in the road upset. Bennett is the best route-runner and Cutler’s security blanket. The fact that the Chicago offensive line has taken a big step forward since their last meeting leaves me intrigued. Bennett will see a high target count against the Detroit secondary.
Laurent Robinson, DAL vs. BUF: Robinson stepped into a prominent role following Miles Austin’s departure because of a hamstring injury in Week 9. He caught five passes for 32 yards and scored a touchdown, his second straight game with a touchdown reception (remember that he also topped 100 receiving yards in Week 8). Remember, Robinson also topped 100 yards in a start earlier this season with seven receptions against the Lions.
Robinson was one of the week’s top waiver pickups. He’s a stellar plug-in WR3 option against the Buffalo defense this week.
Plaxico Burress, NYJ vs. NE: Burress had a stat line for the ages as a red zone beast against the Chargers in Week 7. He worked through his back injury to post a strong five-reception, 79-yard effort against the Bills. I don’t anticipate a huge yardage output from Burress in this contest, but he’s been consistent in support of Mark Sanchez. He’s caught three or more passes in all but two games and knows how to operate in the low post.
Week 10 Wide Receiver Ninja Alerts
Mike Thomas, JAC at IND: I know. My inclusion of Thomas in this space indicates that I have some confidence that Blaine Gabbert can work the ball downfield. Coming out of the Bye week, I’m inclined to believe that the Jaguars work to get the ball into Thomas more involved on shorter routes to find some YAC potential. And, given his role in the offense (more than seven targets per game), I put Thomas up as a low-end WR3 against the terrible Indianapolis pass defense.
Torrey Smith, BAL at SEA: Smith made several mistakes against the Steelers, but he rallied to catch the game-winning pass in that 23-20 thriller. Smith has caught three or more passes in four games since the Ravens’ Week 5 Bye and we’re seeing Flacco take more frequent shots deep downfield.
Damian Williams, TEN at CAR: Williams has quietly strung together three games with at least four receptions in the past four weeks. He’s also logged three touchdown receptions in his past five games. Carolina ranks 12th against opposing receivers (236.9 yards allowed per game), but I suspect that Williams will have opportunities.
Jacoby Ford, OAK at SD: Ford reemerged as a deep threat in Week 9, producing five receptions on six targets for 105 yards with a touchdown. Ford ranks 32nd on my wideout list as the presumed leader in the clubhouse following Heyward-Bey’s disappearing act in Week 9. Denarius Moore creeps into the mix (43rd on my WR list for Week 10), but I look for a deep connection against the Chargers.
Week 10 Wide Receiver Flop Alerts
Stevie Johnson, BUF at DAL: Johnson “outperformed” last week with his total of 84 receiving yards against the Jets. He was quieted early before breaking free for a 52-yard reception against Darrelle Revis. Despite the big hit in that game, Johnson rates no better than a mid- to late-WR2 against the Cowboys. His total of 84 receiving yards in Week 9 represented his highest output since Week 3 and he’s scored one touchdown in the past five weeks.
Mike Williams, TB vs. HOU: Williams is on the injury report for this week because of a thigh injury. He returned to practice on Thursday, but that’s not enough to tip the scales for a dice roll in standard leagues. Williams remains a consideration for the WR3 slot in PPR leagues, but this matchup against Houston (199.7 yards allowed per game) is hardly enticing. Pass. There are better one-week plug-in options on the wire.
Pierre Garcon, IND vs. JAC: The Jacksonville defense found its stride ahead of its Week 9 Bye, and this unit has ascended to sixth in pass defense (201.7 yards and 1.4 touchdowns per game). The question is simple. Do you trust Curtis Painter to connect with his wide receivers at home? Is Garcon’s high weekly target count (8.3 per game) enough to put him in your lineup?
He posted back-to-back two-touchdown games against the Buccaneers and Chiefs in Weeks 4 and 5. He’s been limited to fewer than 40 receiving yards in four of his other seven starts (66 yards or fewer in six of them).