“The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder… Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe. Unfortunately this Electric Monk had developed a fault, and had started to believe all kinds of things, more or less at random. It was even beginning to believe things they’d have difficulty believing in Salt Lake City.”
― Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
A week ago, you could forgive fantasy owners for believing players like Beanie Wells, Marshawn Lynch, and Willis McGahee had value. Now that those bubbles have burst, the list of viable running backs has shrunk to almost nothing. In a year nearly devoid of breakout players, only very specific rosters are returning value. It’s time to pull out all the stops to improve your team as the trading deadline nears in many leagues.
Rest of the Season Rankings
Players who saw a large increase in value this week are highlighted in green, fallers in red. Projected weekly point totals (PPR) are in parentheses. (In most cases, players are ranked in order of decreasing projected ppg. In a few cases where players are currently injured, they are projected to score more ppg when they return but have less total value due to the games they are likely to miss. In a couple of other cases, I rank a few sleepers higher than their projected value due to the slim chance that they become much more valuable at some point in the season.)
1. Aaron Rodgers (32)
2. Drew Brees (31) – With Meachem, Moore, and Henderson relegated to glorified decoy status, the three-headed monster of Colston/Graham/Sproles is free to run wild. Concerns that the Saints were going to be more run-based behind Ingram can be permanently put to rest. Brees’ playoff schedule is also much, much easier than the rest of the elites.
3. Tom Brady (28)
4. Cam Newton (27)
5. Michael Vick (26)
6. Tony Romo (25) – Lost in Murray’s evisceration of the Rams is the Cowboys continued inability to develop an identity. How do you struggle to throw the ball against St. Louis?
7. Matthew Stafford (25) – Between Burleson’s drops, Young’s bad routes, Stafford’s weird sidearm, falling away passes, the loss of Best as a checkdown, and the sprained ankle, the Detroit passer had a nightmare game against the previously scuffling Falcons.
8. Eli Manning (23)
9. Ben Roethlisberger (23) – Even with the horrid offensive line, this Steelers team is built to throw the ball. Roethlisberger owners hope this wasn’t a one-game mirage.
10. Philip Rivers (22) – Currently ranked 14th in ppg, Rivers appears to have lost his trademark deep accuracy. Like the one in Detroit, this situation could deteriorate quickly with VJax playing poorly, Floyd always hurt, and Gates unreliable.
11. Ryan Fitzpatrick (22)
12. Matt Schaub (21)
13. Jon Beck (21) – Washington will be very pass-heavy the rest of the way, and Beck is a perfect fit for the offense.
14. Tim Tebow (20) – Perhaps God really is in the miracle business. If the Broncos don’t recover that onside kick, the Broncos lose, Tebow disappoints his fantasy owners, and we have a full blown QB controversy again in Denver. I think all the sound-and-fury surrounding Tebow is as contrived as the annual Favre retirement watch. This isn’t some battle of good and evil between his believers and his doubters (should I capitalize the pronouns in that last sentence?). Outside of Denver fans, fantasy owners, and a horde of Floridians who nonetheless make up a very small percentage of actual NFL viewers, no one particularly cares. Hooked up to an fMRI machine, I think both proponents and detractors would admit to being stunned at the lack of progress he demonstrated a year-and-a-half into his pro career. I made a strong argument for Tebow as a fantasy starter last week and most of the technical points hold true. Owners need simply be aware that Tebow is a threat to be benched in any game he starts the rest of the way. The Broncos plan to go with someone else next year and really have nothing to gain from adding to his legend (especially since victories of that variety are unlikely to boost his trade value significantly). His play at times is so atrocious that he’ll offer the coaches some cover if they opt to go back to Orton.
15. Matt Ryan (19)
16. Jay Cutler (18)
17. Andy Dalton (18)
18. Sam Bradford (22) – It looks like he’ll miss Week 8 as well, but the Rams already looked sharper offensively with Lloyd in town. Spagnuolo and McDaniels are going to be in a hard core resume improvement drive over the season’s final month. If you can add Bradford to your bench for nothing, do it. He could put up some fireworks during the fantasy playoffs.
19. Matt Cassel (17)
20. Joe Flacco (17) – Like Mark Sanchez, Joe Flacco could easily be in the stretch run of his career. He may not be getting much help, but solid starters (much less franchise passers) simply do not have games like he had on Monday night.
21. Kevin Kolb (17)
22. Alex Smith (17) – While all sport slightly bigger names than their production warrants, the Crabtree/Edwards/Davis/Gore quadrangle gives Smith an opportunity to continue his subtle emergence.
23. Mark Sanchez (17)
24. Tarvaris Jackson (19)*
25. Christian Ponder (17) – Vikings fans approached the start of the Christian Ponder era with trepidation. After all, if it takes you a month and a half to beat out Donovan McNabb, just how bad must you look in practice? And then Ponder looked like the second coming of Joe Montana (should I have capitalized…). When you consider the Theater of the Absurd aspect of the Vikings receiving corps, you could put Ponder’s debut right up there with Newton’s.
26. Colt McCoy (17)
27. Carson Palmer (17) – This week it was Colt McCoy versus Carson Palmer in the Weakest Arm in NFL History Challenge. I feel for Palmer who did not know the offense, but the real concern for his late season value is this: Whether or not his reads were correct, when he threw the football it simply didn’t go anywhere. The Winner? Jeff Garcia, who now feels justified in telling friends, “Compared to those guys, I had a cannon.”
28. Josh Freeman (17) – Despite raves about his performance in his sophomore season, Freeman looks more and more like the guy who was overwhelmed at Kansas State. Freeman just barely missed landing on the historical comparisons list for Mark Sanchez, and no longer projects as a quality NFL starter.
29. Matt Hasselbeck (16)
30. Curtis Painter (15)
31. Blaine Gabbert (14) – Gabbert isn’t playing as poorly as his stats indicate. With Mike Thomas moving into a pure slot role and Marcedes Lewis impersonating SOA’s Chuck Marsten (you know, after he had his fingers removed; not so much the other thing), the Jags are sporting one of the worst receiving corps in NFL history.
32. Matt Moore (13)
1. LeSean McCoy (23)
2. Fred Jackson (22)
3. Ray Rice (22) – The profile for a back like Rice gives him a very high floor in PPR leagues. Unfortunately, the Ravens offense now seems to have a very low ceiling.
4. Arian Foster (21) - It was vintage 2010 Foster on Sunday. His explosion moved him past Ryan Mathews to No. 1 among RBs in yards per pass route run. Keep in mind, Foster still ranks a dismal 31st in PFF’s Elusive rating.
5. Adrian Peterson (20) – Ponder’s unexpected brilliance/competency completely changes the dynamic here. Some caution is still warranted. Even with a slew of breathtaking runs in Week 5 and Week 7, Purple Jesus ranks only 17th in Breakaway Percentage according to PFF.
6. Matt Forte (20)
7. Ryan Mathews (19) – Nagging injuries are curtailing Mathews’ breakout, but the poor play of Philip Rivers and Vincent Jackson is also a real concern. Part of the thesis for Mathews’ high ranking depends on the Chargers having an explosive offense.
8. Darren Sproles (18)
9. Darren McFadden (17) – The foot injury could turn out to be the least of his concerns. Jason Campbell has always been underrated. The same problems AP faced with McNabb at the helm now fall on McFadden with Palmer under center.
10. Ahmad Bradshaw (17)
11. Frank Gore (16)
12. Maurice Jones-Drew (14)
13. Michael Turner (14)
14. Chris Johnson (13)
15. Jahvid Best (17)*
16. Mike Tolbert (13)
17. Jonathan Stewart (12) – Stewart currently ranks 6th among RBs in EPA/P. He vanished from the passing game on Sunday, but scored a TD and just missed another.
18. Brandon Jacobs (11)
19. James Starks (11) – For 56 minutes on Sunday, Starks looked nothing like the back who gave the Pack a running game in last year’s playoffs. Then Green Bay gave him a chance to run out the clock, and he suddenly morphed into Jim Brown.
20. Pierre Thomas (11) – Despite being relegated to third string, he’s been the 9th most valuable back in the NFL on a per play basis. Thomas has been the 6th most Elusive. He averages more yards per catch and per route than Sproles. Thomas is a far better player than Mark Ingram and will be a Top 10 RB as long as Ingram is out.
21. C.J. Spiller (10) – Spiller scored 8.9 points in Week 6 despite averaging only 7.8 yards per reception. Like Jahvid Best or Jamaal Charles – and possibly even the ghost of CJ2K – Spiller has the potential to take it to the house on any play. He also has extreme upside in the case of a Jackson injury.
22. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (10)
23. Ben Tate (9) – A Foster injury away from being an elite option.
24. Roy Helu (9) – Not even startable over backs like Spiller and Bernard Scott this week, Helu has gigantic upside down the stretch. Helu played ahead of Torain for the first month of the season. If the Washington coaches were sold on Torain, he wouldn’t have surrendered the job to back to a plodding Hightower. Significantly more talented than Ingram and DeMarco Murray, the Nebraska product could be just what Briscoe County was looking for.
25. Rashard Mendenhall (9) – Mendenhall apologists are pointing to the Steelers’ game plan as an excuse for his disastrous performance against the Cardinals abysmal run defense (26th in DVOA). That would be fine if he hadn’t been so awful that the coaches felt more comfortable going with Isaac Redman and Mewelde Moore on their clock-killing drive. Mendenhall is slipping into a RBBC on a team that will be increasingly pass-heavy.
26. Peyton Hillis (8)
27. DeAngelo Williams (8)
28. DeMarco Murray (8) – Felix Jones fans remember when he used to turn in runs like that. Murray becomes a clear cut starter for the next week or two, but I’d sell if anybody’s buying. Remember how quickly Ryan Torain faded back into obscurity after appearing a man possessed against the Rams.
29. Knowshon Moreno (8)
30. Shonn Greene (10) – Loyal readers will know I don’t consider Greene an NFL caliber talent, but he looked fantastic on Sunday. Showing an explosive first step and delivering a powerful blow at the line, Greene looked like a completely different person. Of course, he still only scored 12.7 points, which explains why players with his profile will always be overvalued in fantasy drafts. With only 14 receptions and 2 TDs, Greene can really only aspire to low end RB2 status in the Jets offense.
31. Ryan Torain (7)
32. Jackie Battle (7)
33. Michael Bush (7)
34. Kendall Hunter (6) – It’s in a fairly limited sample, but Hunter ranks second among RBs in EPA/P.
35. Danny Woodhead (7)
36. Cedric Benson (9)
37. LaGarette Blount (7) – Blount will supposedly return after the Week 8 bye. Use that as an excuse to unload him for anything.
38. Felix Jones (7)
39. Bernard Scott (7) – I own Scott on a very high percentage of teams but am keeping expectations in check. He has a real opportunity to earn playing time with a big performance this weekend.
40. Reggie Bush (7)
41. Daniel Thomas (7)
43. Montario Hardesty (7) – 33 carries for 95 yards and a Chris Johnson-like 2.9 yards per carry.
44. Chris Wells (9) – A disaster in 2010 when playing through a knee injury, Wells is a low upside play in the Cardinals offense even when healthy. He’s virtually unplayable with a mysterious knee malady.
45. Kregg Lumpkin (7) - A sneaky add in very deep PPR leagues, Lumpkin could easily have more value than Blount going forward, even if it’s only catching the ball out of the backfield. Lumpkin and Blount both have identical -0.05 EPA/P numbers on the season, so the eventual battle for touches will be the RB equivalent of a football game between Seattle and Cleveland.
46. Stevan Ridley (6)
47. Mark Ingram (5) – You might really prefer Ivory at this point.
48. Willis McGahee (9)
49. Ryan Grant (5)
50. Alfonso Smith (5)
1. Wes Welker (23) – With Welker’s bye in the rear view, now would be the time to offer Megatron for him straight up.
2. Calvin Johnson (23)
3. Miles Austin (20)
4. Mike Wallace (20) – Lacks the targets to challenge the Top 2, but he leads WRs in per play value. Not surprisingly, he also leads the NFL with a 64% catch rate on passes more than 20 yards downfield.
5. Hakeem Nicks (19) – Nicks is averaging more routes per game and more yards per route this year than in his breakout 2010 campaign. Expect him to start finding the end zone.
6. Steve Smith (19)
7. Greg Jennings (18) – So far Jennings has managed incredible per route value despite sharing looks with Finley, Nelson, and Jones. Now pushing to be included in the discussion as the NFL’s best receiver, Jennings’ numbers are still unsustainable in this environment. The late season schedule is also a huge concern. This is the week to trade him for a similar star to an owner who thinks you’re impatient due to his bye.
8. Dwayne Bowe (18)
9. Dez Bryant (17) – Having Bryant return punts is a huge middle finger to Cowboys fans, Bryant fantasy owners, and those who believe in a rational universe. Very few things in this life are Kellen Winslow-riding-his-motorcycle-in-a-parking-lot stupid, but this is.
10. Marques Colston (17) – For anyone wondering if Mr. Microfracture could still be that much better than Robert Meachem and Lance Moore all things considering – and I admit to removing him from my draft board – the jury’s in.
11. Jeremy Maclin (16)
12. Larry Fitzgerald (16)
13. Stevie Johnson (15)
14. A.J. Green (15)
15. Roddy White (15)
16. Mario Manningham (14)
17. DeSean Jackson (14)
18. Andre Johnson (19)*
19. Brandon Marshall (14)
20. Brandon Lloyd (14)
21. Vincent Jackson (13) – VJax has only caught 3 of his 10 deep targets this season. His drop against the Jets landed in Darelle Revis’ arms and ultimately cost the Chargers the game.
22. Greg Little (12) – Currently 9th in the NFL in routes, Little’s massive upside is mitigated somewhat by Colt McCoy and a very difficult schedule.
23. Jerome Simpson (12) – The difference between A.J. Green and Simpson hasn’t been as great as you might think.
24. Julio Jones (14)*
25. Sidney Rice (12) – Anybody who thinks the Seahawks aren’t tanking should think again. BMW destroys the upside for the entire passing game.
26. Michael Crabtree (12)
27. Jordy Nelson (12)
28. Deion Branch (12)
29. Anquan Boldin (12)
30. Mike Williams (12) – If you’re a Williams owner and you know he’s run the most pass patterns of any WR in the NFL, does that make you feel better or worse about his future prospects?
31. Pierre Garcon (11) – Even after the Sunday night debacle, Garcon still ranks 17th in ppg. I don’t begrudge any True Believers who hope he’ll maintain relevance going forward. But when you’re not very good yourself (PFF rank 53) and play with a QB who could get benched any time for Dan Orlovsky, it’s a real concern.
32. Darrius Heyward-Bey (11) – It will be too bad if the Jason Campbell injury derails his breakout. Heyward-Bey is averaging more yards per pass route than Hakeem Nicks.
33. David Nelson (11)
34. Antonio Brown (10) – Electric. If I were the new Dean of Medicine at Princeton Plainsboro, I’d bench Hines Ward and tell Bruce Arians to unleash Ben Roethlisberger.
35. Santonio Holmes (10) – At this point in his career, Plaxico Burress may have the worst separation of any WR in NFL history. It’s a bad sign then when he leads Holmes in targets 45-43.
36. Reggie Wayne (10) – With Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian making decisions, you could see them simply forfeiting the rest of the season and explaining they’re saving for their healthy players for the 2012 postseason. After all, they’ve earned it.
37. Torrey Smith (9)
38. Nate Washington (9)
39. Eric Decker (9) – For at least one week, Decker took a backseat to Demaryius Thomas.
40. Steve Breaston (9)
41. Greg Salas (8)
42. Victor Cruz (8)
43. Michael Jenkins (9) – While clearly not an elite threat, PFF has always graded Jenkins very highly as an all around receiver. It’s starting to look like the problems in the Atlanta passing game had more to do with Ryan’s arm.
44. Jabar Gaffney (10)
45. James Jones (9)
46. Demaryius Thomas (8)
47. Lance Moore (8)
48. Doug Baldwin (8) – Baldwin’s route numbers plummeted to 17 last week. Occam’s Razor offers a solution.
49. Denarius Moore (6)
50. Early Doucet (8) – I don’t know how anyone could confidently start Doucet, especially now that he’s potentially injured again, but he continues to shine in the horrendous Arizona passing game.
1. Jimmy Graham (19) – Fantasy football is a team game, but one player can sometimes make all the difference. Money in the Banana Stand teams that own Graham are 40-9 on the season.
2. Aaron Hernandez (18) – As astonishing as Graham has been, Hernandez could actually have more rest of the season value. The Saints still have their bye, and Hernandez faces less competition for targets.
3. Jason Witten (16)
4. Rob Gronkowski (16) – If you want to know how dominant Gronkowski is as an overall TE, he sits easily atop the PFF run blocking ratings at the position. This can be a double-edged sword for fantasy. Through Week 3, Gronkowski owned a 120-80 edge in passing snaps over running snaps. In Weeks 4-6, the numbers were even at 94. The good news is that Gronkowski was held in to pass block at the same ratio during each of those two subsets, which suggests his lower target numbers the last three weeks were a fluke of the game plan, not a subtle change in role.
5. Jermichael Finley (13)
6. Vernon Davis (13)
7. Fred Davis (13) – On the season, only Jimmy Graham has both run more routes than Davis and averaged more yards per route. Gutsy owners could attempt to trade one of the elite TEs for Davis if they can upgrade at RB in the process.
8. Antonio Gates (13) – Gates played well on Sunday and reported only normal discomfort afterward. The encouraging news is somewhat offset by Rivers’ continued slide.
9. Brandon Pettigrew (12)
10. Jermaine Gresham (11) – Gresham’s peripherals are mostly discouraging, but he has the 6th best target percentage among TEs. He’s also caught 3 of his 4 deep targets, which speaks to the athleticism which made him a first round pick in 2010.
11. Owen Daniels (11)
12. Tony Gonzalez (11)
13. Jake Ballard (9)
14. Jared Cook (9)
15. Dustin Keller (9)
16. Kellen Winslow (9)
17. Visanthe Shiancoe (8)
18. Greg Olsen (8)
19. Heath Miller (8)
20. Dallas Clark (7)