One may question how a quarterback that came out on the business end of a 24-3 thumping merits this distinction, but the former Heisman winner showed signs of life for the first time this season. Although he failed to find the end zone, Bradford tossed for 321 yards and completed 63.6 percent of his passes in Sunday’s loss (the St. Louis signal caller’s previous best was a 56.7 conversion rate in Week 1.) With a manageable slate ahead (Dallas, New Orleans, Cleveland and two games against Arizona and Seattle), owners should feel safe starting Bradford.
QB: Josh Freeman, Buccaneers
Along with Bradford, Freeman was one of the most disappointing fantasy field generals in the early going, entering Sunday’s contest with more turnovers (six interceptions) than touchdowns (three passing, two rushing). Freeman alleviated some of this apprehension by submitting a 300-yard performance with two touchdowns in Tampa’s 26-20 victory over New Orleans. Freeman’s 56.1 completion percentage was underwhelming, but it was a step in the right track.
RB: Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
On the bright side, Mendenhall ended his statistical sabbatical by rushing for 146 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries for the Steelers. Granted, it was against a middling Jacksonville defense, but many thought Mendenhall would be limited on Sunday with a hamstring injury. Alas, more than 25 percent of FOXSports.com fantasy owners had Mendenhall on the bench this week, making his feat for naught. Count me as one of the knuckleheads that sat the Steeler back, although this blunder was offset by the implementation of the following rusher…
RB: Earnest Graham, Buccaneers
Graham performed admirably in the absence of LeGarrette Blount, accumulating 109 yards in the ground game on a modest 17 carries. As a bonus for those in PPR leagues, the Buccaneer back added two receptions for 22 yards. Blount is expected to miss this week’s game against Chicago as well, making Graham a must-start against a shaky Chicago rushing defense (121.8 yards per game, league-high 5.4 yards per carry).
WR: Marques Colston, Saints
In case Week 5’s solid outing against Carolina (five receptions, 69 yards) wasn’t enough evidence for his proprietors, Colston laid to rest any doubt that he’s hindered from a fractured collarbone, snagging seven receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown against Tampa Bay. Even more reassuring was the allotment of targets in the wide receiver’s direction (11 passes). Tight end Jimmy Graham may be Drew Brees’ new favorite target, but there’s enough love to go around in the passing game to enable Colston as a weekly fantasy starter.
WR: Jordy Nelson, Packers
I’ve been hesitant to employ Nelson all season, as there are too many viable weapons in the Packer passing game to rely on the Kansas State product. Yet after going for 104 yards and a score on St. Louis, Nelson has four commendable contests in six games in 2011. His lack of targets on the season (31) is somewhat disconcerting, but he’s making the most of his opportunities, as Nelson is on pace for over 1,100 and 11 touchdowns. He may submit a stinker or do, but with Donald Driver becoming less involved in the passing scheme, feel safe to start Nelson in the upcoming weeks.
WR: Michael Crabtree, 49ers
His stock may be slightly impeded once Braylon Edwards returns, but with Josh Morgan out for the season, Crabtree has the platform to finally validate his first-round Draft selection. Crabtree hauled in nine passes for 77 yards versus a formidable foe in Detroit on Sunday. The Niners are off next week, but have vulnerable upcoming opponents in Cleveland, Washington, New York (Giants) and Arizona. Look for Crabtree to benefit off this slate. (For the record, I respect and understand the perspectives of both coaches in Sunday’s squabble in the Motor City. Despite sitting at 4-1, few gave the 49ers a chance heading into battle against the 5-0 Lions. If you pulled that victory off with Alex freakin’ Smith as your quarterback, you would be fired up too. And Jim Harbaugh’s handshake wasn’t the issue, it was the pat on the back, which coincides with the double-handshake as one of the most insincere gestures in our society. Someone gives you that love tap on the back, that’s grounds for go-time. As for Jim Schwartz, you better believe he won over the guys in his locker room for that mad dash towards Harbaugh. Any form of disrespect is amplified in professional sports, and in the minds of many Lions, Schwartz was standing up to this perceived insolence. Also, Schwartz wasn’t doing it just for appearances; that man was ready to throw down. I just hope the gridiron gods give us a rematch of this epic standoff in the playoffs. And if it comes to fisticuffs, it’s no contest: Harbaugh may have been an NFL quarterback, but Schwartz was a linebacker at Georgetown.)
TE: Brandon Pettigrew, Lions
Aside from Graham, no one is hotter at the position than Pettigrew. The third-year tight end has 29 receptions, 257 yards and two touchdowns in the past month. But in spite of this production, Pettigrew was started in just 53 percent of leagues last week, and is still available in nearly 20 percent of all formats. Pick up Pettigrew if you have the chance.
DEF: Cincinnati Bengals
As ridiculous as this statement sounds, Curtis Painter has been fairly effective (at least in the world of fantasy) since taking the reins as the Indianapolis starter. Cincinnati’s ability to keep Painter and the Colts offense at bay for most of the afternoon shed further light on the unit’s competence as a fantasy defense. While they are far from what one would call opportunistic, the Bengals will provide consistent output for your fantasy team.
QB: Rex Grossman, Redskins
Grossman came out of the gate strong in 2011 (846 yards, five touchdowns in the first three games) but has turned in two abysmal efforts since, the latest a four-interception disaster against the Eagles. Don’t be surprised if John Beck is behind center when the team travels to Carolina on Sunday.
RB: Peyton Hillis, Browns
Thanks to a pulled hamstring, Hillis only had six carries for 14 yards against Oakland. First a missed game because of strep throat, then quarrels between Hillis and management over a new contract, and now this. Damn you, Madden Curse. Damn you!
RB: Ryan Torain, Redskins
Alright everybody, all together: DON’T START A WASHINGTON RUNNING BACK! Torain amassed a whopping 22 yards on 10 carries in defeat. In Torain’s defense, Grossman’s propensity to pass to the wrong team wasn’t helping matters, and Roy Helu received just four touches (two runs, two catches). Still, Torain did little to prove to owners he’s ready to become a full-fledged fantasy starter.
RB: Delone Carter, Colts
Carter got the opportunity to start with Joseph Addai nursing a hamstring issue, but was futile as the primary backfield option. Carter finished with 45 yards on 14 carries in the Colts’ loss to Cincy. The rookie out of Syracuse has 26 carries in the last two games for a meager 67 yards. With Addai set to return against New Orleans in Week 7, owners have little reason to retain Carter’s services.
WR: Roddy White, Falcons
Can someone please tell White to calm the hell down? Julio Jones was supposed to be a gift to White, someone who would open the field and take opposing attention off of the perennial Pro Bowler. Instead, White is furious after every contest. About what, I’m not sure, as only Wes Welker has received more targets in the NFL this season.
White’s emotions were evident against Carolina, finishing with a season-low two catches for 21 yards. Worse, White was flagged for a personal foul at a critical juncture in Sunday’s ball game, the second time that offense was levied in the last two weeks.
WR: Antonio Brown, Steelers
Perhaps Brown’s coronation as the new No. 2 receiver to Ben Roethlisberger was premature. Facing an exploitable Jacksonville secondary, Brown posted only one reception for 16 yards. The Steeler slot receiver brought in 13 balls for 209 yards in a three-game time span, but has followed that accomplishment with just three receptions in the last two games. If Brown can’t benefit from advantageous adversaries like Arizona and New England in the upcoming weeks, he no longer merits a roster spot.
TE: Jermichael Finley, Packers
Finley hasn’t done much since his explosion (seven catches, 85 yards, three touchdowns) against Chicago, exemplified by his lone catch for 20 yards in yesterday’s match against the Rams. In the past three weeks, Finley has a pedestrian eight receptions for 115 yards and no scores. The tight end is still getting looks (four targets on Sunday), but one has to wonder if too many available options in Green Bay’s scheme is starting to hamper Finley’s forecast.
TE: Vernon Davis, 49ers
On one hand, Davis did have two scores in San Fran’s blowout victory over Tampa last week. However, after Sunday’s disappointment (two catches for eight yards), Davis has a mediocre total of nine catches in the past three games. And aside from dropping 114 yards on Cincinnati in Week 3, the 49er tight end has failed to surpass 50 yards in five other outings. The most troubling stat: Davis has just 28 targets, which ranks 20th among tight ends. Who would have thought Alex Smith would find relative success without the help of his favorite bull’s eye?
DEF: Washington Redskins
Not so much condemnation on the Washington defense, but the offensive unit continues to put the defense in compromising situations. Until the ambiguity under center for Washington is solved, avoid the ‘Skins.