Rookie QBs on the rise
QB: Andy Dalton, Bengals
A matchup against defensive juggernaut Baltimore without the aid of primary target A.J. Green seemed like a fruitless endeavor for the Red Riffle. A quick glance at a box score would seem to validate this estimation, as Dalton tossed three picks in a Cincinnati 24-31 loss. However, those few crapshooters who started Dalton on Sunday (played in just 5.8 percent of FOXSports.com leagues over the weekend) were paid dividends thanks to a NFL-high of 373 yards on the day, in addition to a touchdown pass and 32 yards on the ground. This harvest could have been augmented by a nine-yard score from Jermaine Gresham that was controversially overturned in the fourth quarter.
The next three weeks won’t get any easier for Dalton with solid secondaries in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Houston on the docket. Yet for those in two-QB formats, the Cincinnati signal caller faces exploitable adversaries in St. Louis and Arizona during the fantasy postseason. Even if owners possess an elite QB, handcuffing Dalton as a backup could prove shrewd, as weather conditions or teams resting starters occasionally comes to fruition at that juncture of the season.
QB: Jake Locker, Titans
Taking over for an injured Matt Hasselbeck and his team down 23-3, the rookie out of Washington ignited some life into the stagnant offense, leading the team on two touchdown drives and nearly pulling the comeback in Atlanta. In just over a quarter’s worth of work, Locker went 9-for-19 for 140 yards and two scores. Coach Mike Munchak reiterated that Hasselbeck will remain the starter when healthy, but judging from the praise the Tennessee wideouts bestowed upon Locker after the game, as well as the thousand-yard stare from Hasselbeck during Locker’s performance, it will only be a matter of time before the first-round selection is under center in Nashville.
RB: Kevin Smith, Lions
On one hand, let’s pump our collective breaks over Smith’s conquest of Carolina. The Panthers have conceded the most rushing touchdowns in the league and only the Rams and Colts are surrendering more yards per contest. It was also Smith’s first 100-yard game since Week 3 of the 2009 season.
Still, one can’t totally disregard 200 total yards (140 rushing, 61 receiving). Jahvid Best is weeks away from a return, and Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams have been pedestrian in reserve duty. Detroit has Green Bay, New Orleans, Minnesota and Oakland in the next month, all teams that feature less than daunting rush resistances. As a flex option or low No. 2 RB, owners can do a lot worse than Smith.
RB: LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
True, most of Blount’s damage derived from his ridiculous 54-yard touchdown romp. Yet for frustrated fantasy proprietors of Blount, the end result was all that mattered, as the 107 yards and score facilitated his highest output since Week 4. Upcoming contests against susceptible rush defenses in Tennessee and Carolina should enable further success from the Oregon product. Speaking of frustrated, on behalf of James Starks owners, may I deliver a sincere F-You to Mike McCarthy. It’s bad enough I’m wasting a bench spot on the talented Starks thanks to your pass-happy offense, but on one of the few goal-line opportunities that Starks can actually capitalize on, you hand it off to B.J. FREAKIN’ RAJI?!?! Why? To prove that your offense is such a force of nature that it can empower a 337-pound mammoth into the end zone? Even Mike Vrabel thinks that shtick is lame.
WR: Torrey Smith, Ravens
Against a depleted and weakened Cincinnati secondary, Smith went bananas, hauling in six receptions for 165 yards, including a 38-yard excursion for pay dirt. Anquan Boldin remains as the primary benefactor of the Baltimore aerial attack, yet Smith is turning into a viable deep threat. At this moment, he’s far from must-start status. Nevertheless, depending on matchups, Smith can be a No. 2 receiver with enormous upside in the latter stages of the season.
WR: Jerome Simpson, Bengals
Entering Sunday’s battle with Baltimore, Simpson was the bane of Bengaldom, as the receiver owned the second-worst catch percentage in the league. The wideout may have alleviated some of that agitation by posting eight catches for 152 yards against a tough Ravens’ secondary. A.J. Green is projected to return this week, but if the rookie receiver is still slowed by a knee injury, Simpson has the raw talent and agility to submit another fine showing.
TE: Jared Cook, Titans
Ok, so maybe five receptions for 51 yards isn’t much to write home about. Yet with an opportunistic schedule (Tampa Bay, Buffalo, New Orleans, Indianapolis) and a possible new quarterback at the helm, Cook’s stock is on the rise. Locker’s game is predicated on shorter passes rather than the deep ball, qualifying Cook as someone to target on the waiver wire this week.
DEF: Philadelphia Eagles
Philly finally lived up to its’ preseason billing, holding the G-Men to 10 points while recording three sacks, an interception and fumble recovery. After New England in Week 12, the Eagles’ schedule is fairly manageable, making them a sneaky start in the postseason.
QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills
As a fellow facial hair aficionado, it pains me to put the Bearded Bomber on this list. Yet his box scores tell a perturbing truth: in his last five starts, Fitzpatrick has thrown to the wrong team 10 times, compared to just six scores. Worse, the Bills lost starter Donald Jones for at least three weeks, while Fred Jackson exited Sunday’s contest with a sore calf. After a blazing start, Fitzpatrick has come spiraling back to Earth, missing short, gimmie passes and displaying erratic tendencies in the pocket. As a fantasy owner, treat him as nothing more than an ample backup.
QB: Sam Bradford, Rams
Remember that debate surrounding St. Louis trading Andrew Luck if they were to theoretically “win” the No. 1 overall pick? Yeah, let’s go ahead and put that dispute to bed.
After an encouraging rookie season, Bradford has fallen into the infamous sophomore slump. Through eight games, the former Sooner owns a 54.4 completion percentage with a measly five touchdowns. Not helping matters is St. Louis’ battered offensive line, which rendered its’ ugly head with five sacks on Bradford yesterday. Only utilize in an emergency situation.
RB: Chris Johnson, Titans
To be fair, we did warn you to temper your expectations on Johnson’s production against an Atlanta rush defense that was suffocating opponents to 90.3 yards per game. Make that figure 85.4, with the Falcons overpowering the Tennessee offensive line. The result for Johnson holders? A whopping 13 yards from 12 carries. The good news is that Tampa Bay and their porous rush front head into Nashville this week. The bad? Chris Johnson, a man who amassed over 2,000 yards just two seasons ago, was held to 13 YARDS! I’m going out on a limb and saying Tennessee might be regretting that mega-deal they handed to Johnson in training camp.
RB: Chris Ogbonnaya, Browns
His feats against a stout Jacksonville squad (21 carries, 115 yards, touchdown; two receptions, 19 yards) give the Browns’ back his second commendable outing in as many weeks. Alas, Montario Hardesty will probably return in Week 12, and Cleveland faces formidable foes in Cincinnati, Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the next three ballgames. Hardesty’s iffy health history and a league-wide shortage of rushers warrant a roster spot for Ogbonnaya, just not deserving of a starter’s gig.
WR: Earl Bennett, Bears
No condemnation on Bennett, as he turned in another praiseworthy performance of 75 yards off three receptions. Rather, a regular season-ending injury to Jay Cutler severely impedes Bennett’s worth from rising, as the duo’s affinity has been illustrated in the last three weeks. Perhaps backup Caleb Hanie continues to feed Bennett an appropriate amount of targets, but for now assume the worst for Bennett and bench him against Oakland this Sunday.
WR: Denarius Moore/Oakland Raiders WRs
During the FOXSports.com fantasy football chats last week, owners met my skepticism of Moore’s prospects with ridicule and contempt, and I suppose their sentiment was justified: Moore had just torched the Chargers for 123 yards and two touchdowns, and had received a team-high 19 targets in the past two weeks. Still, with the Oakland offense still adjusting to Carson Palmer’s presence, as well as the WR corps extremely crowded, I wasn’t sold on Moore’s forecast. After yesterday’s matchup with Minnesota, I believe this approach should apply for the rest of the season, as Moore finished with one reception for 14 yards. There’s simply not enough love to go around in the Oakland air assault to assist consistent fantasy contributions from Raider receivers. Palmer endures as a safe play; unfortunately, the same can’t be said for his targets.
TE: Jermichael Finley, Packers
Similar to the Raider thesis, albeit somewhat bleaker. In four of his past five games, Finley has failed to surpass 44 yards receiving. His five touchdowns on the season appear respectable, except that three scores came from a Week 3 contest against Chicago. With just one catch against Tampa, your team may be best served with Finley on the bench.
DEF: Buffalo Bills
Granted, few owners had the Bills in their starting lineups in Week 11. But 35 points to Matt Moore? Ouch.