This week we take another look at the “Standout Fantasy Performers.” from NFL Week 10.
The theme is the same: we’re not necessarily looking at which players had the best week, although, if fitting you’ll see the top scorer at his respective position listed, but we’ll discuss players who had a good week despite going up against a tough defense, broke out of a slump, emerged as a sleeper or just plain overcame the odds. Before it’s all over, we’ll take a look at what each of these players can expect in Week 11 or beyond.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB
With Jake Locker placed on IR due to a dreaded Lisfranc injury, Ryan Fitzaptrick is once again thrust into a starting position and, let’s be honest, it could be much worse for the Titans. They could have Tebow after all – though some would argue a contrary position on that subject. Instead though, they have former Bills quarterback and Harvard graduate, Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had his best game of the season over the weekend. The sour note to this news is that, despite being the fourth highest scoring fantasy QB of week 10, the Titans still lost to the previously winless Jacksonville Jaguars. Aside from that, 264 yards for 3 TDs (1 rush TD) is a great stat line, especially for the inescapably mediocre Fitzpatrick.
Bottom Line: If only scoring a 48 on the Wonderlic meant you were guaranteed to have NFL greatness. Alas, it does not (see: Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, scores of 28). If it’s one thing that Fitzpatrick can do though, it’s surprise you. The problem with that is Fitzpatrick is like the guy you waste the good surprise on at a surprise party. He shows up but always at the wrong time for fantasy owners. Yeah, a good game against the Jaguars isn’t anything to boast about, but his last game of 20+ fantasy points was against the Kansas City Chiefs, one of the league’s top defenses. See what I mean? He’s got tricks up his sleeve. Tricks that gave him a 111 passer rating over the weekend. What’s really important here is whether or not you can trust him as a starter. The answer is this: only if you have to. Fitzpatrick will continue to be very up and down and there’s no telling when he’ll have a good game. However, if your quarterback goes down – which seems to be a common theme this year with any player – chances are Fitzpatrick could be your best option in the free agency, especially in leagues with more than 12 teams. The Titans host the Colts Thursday night who are surrendering around 17 fantasy points to opposing QBs. If Fitzpatrick could manage that, it would be a good night for him. However, if you don’t have to, don’t start the 30 year old QB in week 11.
New Orleans Saints Backfield, RB
Today I learned that Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles were among the top 5 fantasy RBs for week 10; in fact the trio holds positions 1, 3 and 5 respectively for the week. Turns out a Sunday night at home was just what the Saints backfield needed. Between the three of them, they amassed 36 carries for 244 yards, 16 receptions for 115 yards and 5 total TDs. You could’ve started any one of them and been guaranteed 18 points or more. Most impressive of the bunch has been Pierre Thomas whose 7 receptions tied Darren Sproles and Marques Colston for leading the team in receptions Sunday night.
Bottom Line: Realistically, out of this group, Mark Ingram should probably stay on benches. Yes, I know he averaged over 10 yards per carry with 145 yards and one touchdown, but the fact of the matter is this: he got hot, they were at home and they were in sync as a team. So much so that the Saints set an NFL record with 40 first downs in a single game whereas the Cowboys only had 45 offensive snaps. This inevitably led to the Saints twelfth consecutive primetime win at home. Needless to say, if the Saints are playing at home past 8pm EST, Christmas comes early.
This Sunday, the Saints play the 49ers in New Orleans and the matchup isn’t the best. However, Drew Brees will find a way to produce. He’s had multiple TDs every game except week 2 this year and should be able to involve both Sproles and Thomas quite a bit in the passing game (and it’s likely he’ll need to). Don’t expect any of the trio to put up the same numbers this week though, or even get close for that matter. Both Sproles and Thomas are likely good for 10 points apiece, but even though Ingram had a 100+ yard game on Sunday, he’s still the backup to Thomas and lacks the proven consistency to steal any more carries than his play awards him. None of the backs are a “must-start” for week 11 but Sproles and Thomas are definitely worth a FLEX option.
Tavon Austin, WR
I listed him as one of my biggest rookie disappointments this season and he must’ve heard me (or any of the other millions who said the same thing) because Tavon Austin showed up to play on Sunday by posting his best game of the season when his team wreaked havoc on the Indianapolis Colts in their own house. With 138 receiving yards, he nearly tripled his highest yardage of the season, which coincidentally was his only other game with double digit fantasy points. As if that wasn’t enough, he also broke away for a 98-yard punt return in the second quarter to give the Rams a 21-0 lead.
Bottom Line: Austin wowed us with over 100 receiving yards and 2 TDs and even got a single carry in the game which seems to be a trend with him. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. Austin got his 138 yards on a mere 2 receptions and 3 targets. While two big catches for touchdowns are great and all, it doesn’t bode well for his future. Austin is still not attracting very many targets, in fact he hasn’t had more than three in a game in the past three weeks. Anyone who was forced to start Austin out of desperation got a pleasant surprise on Sunday, but those same owners should temper their expectations this week as the Rams are on their bye. Even when they return in week 12, Austin is at best a WR4 against the Bears until he can prove himself as an emerging receiver. My guess is he won’t receive more than 5 targets, but his recent performance may have solidified himself into a Kenny Stills-like role as a deep threat going forward and his sheer talent as an athlete will make him a force in the return game.
John Carlson, TE
Outside of Julius Thomas and Jordan Reed, any of the tight ends in the top 10 this past weekend probably didn’t start on many fantasy teams. With that in mind, let’s talk about John Carlson. Here is a man taking advantage of an opportunity, which I love to commend whenever applicable. For the Vikings, the loss of a very talented player such as Kyle Rudolph is quite devastating, but Carlson must’ve had Rudolph in his ear last Thursday because he showed up with winning in mind. The Vikings backup had his breakout game of the season and led the team with 7 catches for 98 yards and a touchdown in their home win against the Redskins.
Bottom Line: Yes, Carlson led the league in week 10 among tight ends, but where did he come from? Leading up to last Thursday, Carlson hadn’t received more than 2 targets per game except for his week 9 game where he replaced the injured Kyle Rudolph. If we look back to his rookie year in 2008, Carlson led a broken Seattle Seahawks team with 55 receptions, 627 yards and 5 TDs. Carlson’s talent has always been there, but with the emergence of Rudolph last year he’s been stuck with the leftovers and it’s hard to make touchdowns out of cold pizza, especially if you’re a tight end. The most notable part of Carlson’s performance however is that he caught all 7 of the passes thrown his way. What more could you ask of your tight end?
This week, the Vikings play the Seahawks in Seattle which isn’t promising for fantasy owners. The Seahawks are allowing an average of 7 points to opposing fantasy tight ends, which wouldn’t be a bad day for Carlson if he could manage it. Chances are the Vikings will be checking down quite a bit, especially with a tough pass rush in their face all game. Expect a few catches from the backup tight end for low yardage, but if the Vikings make it to the redzone then Carlson should get a few more looks.
St. Louis Rams, D/ST
Tavon Austin’s three touchdowns weren’t the only reason the Rams eviscerated the Colts on Sunday. Their defense showed up with something to prove and I think they got their message across. Led by Chris Long’s fumble recovery for a TD in the first quarter, the Rams allotted 3 sacks, 4 interceptions and a punt return for a TD to add to the mayhem their offense caused on the Colts secondary. As a unit, the St. Louis D/ST scored 29 fantasy points, the most by far among defenses in week 10.
Bottom Line: The Rams have emerged as a surprising top 5 defense in fantasy this year and are definitely worth a week to week start at this point based solely on their ability to make plays outside of limiting offenses. The downside to this is that the Rams have a bye this week and return against a Bears team in week 12 that has a playoff spot to fight for. The Rams are still a good start against tough offenses as they are one of the only four defenses to break 100 fantasy points so far this season. They finish the season with the Cardinals, Titans and Buccaneers respectively which is a nice stretch for a fantasy playoff run.
Stephen Hauschka, K
Despite being one of two kickers in week 10 who even attempted 4 field goals, Hauschka was the only one to actually make them all, along with his 3 extra points. That was good enough to make him a standout fantasy performer yet again this week.
Bottom Line: Ever heard of a “trust fall”? Stephen Hauschka is like that guy the Seahawks can always trust to catch them. He’s leading the league among fantasy kickers and isn’t looking back. In all reality, he probably has no idea of that fact but he should pat himself on the back anyways. It’s needless to say that Hauschka is one of the few must-start kickers out there so it goes without saying that he should be solid against the Vikings on Sunday. However, he has a bye coming up in week 12 so you’ll want to check out your free agency and prepare for that ahead of time in case you’re vying for a fantasy playoff spot.
Riley Cooper, WR
Since living in Florida, I’ve been consistently subjected to obnoxious Florida Gators fans everywhere. The bragging was justified for a short while there when Tebow was the big man in town (sheesh, how did I manage to bring him up twice in one column?) but now that he’s gone the pride has died down a bit. While I’ve lived here, there was one player at UF outside of Percy Harvin that I remember sticking out in my mind, and that was Riley Cooper. Not because we have similar names of course, but because the first time I saw him snag a spectacularly overthrown Tim Tebow pass for a TD, I realized I had no idea who he was and that I needed to change that. Going on his fourth season in the NFL now, Cooper is finally coming to fruition as a threat in the passing game and it looks like a little off-field controversy is all he needed to wake up and smell the touchdowns. In just 10 games this season, he’s already scored more fantasy points than his first three years combined.
Bottom Line: The key to Cooper’s success is quarterback Nick Foles. In three of his last four games, Foles has connected with Cooper on 12 catches for 361 yards and 6 TDs. The former Florida Gator has become a reliable downfield receiver for the backup QB and doesn’t even draw that many targets either. While the lack of targets is worrisome, Cooper’s connection with Foles is not. The fourth year receiver has solidified himself as a solid FLEX option for fantasy teams going forward as long as Foles is under center. The Eagles face the Redskins in Philadelphia on Sunday and a defense that’s giving up the fourth most fantasy points to WRs. That’s a matchup that has TD written all over it. Week 12 has Cooper on a bye however, so you’ll want to have your ducks in a row before then. It seems as long as Foles is the starter, Cooper has a bright future in fantasy.
Sleeper To Watch:
Bobby Rainey, RB
While it seemed that Mike James was poised to have a huge game against the Miami Dolphins as he bruised them for 41 yards on 5 attempts, he fractured his ankle on an endzone dive and was promptly seated next to Doug Martin on the ominous injured reserve list. Of course, in came Brian Leonard to take over the lion’s share of the carries and collect 57 yards on 20 attempts. What many didn’t see coming next was Bobby Rainey’s change-of-pace running ability that got him 45 yards on 8 carries and a TD – the very first of his young career.
Bottom Line: If we take a look back in time to my Week 7 Injury Report, I made note of the Buccaneers signing Bobby Rainey off waivers from the Cleveland Browns. I also advised fantasy owners in deep leagues to stash him on their bench to see what develops. I obviously thought Rainey was going to see some playing time once Doug Martin went out with his torn labrum. I watched Rainey’s camp footage and it was impressive. He was spry in between the tackles and always fighting for more yards despite his 5’8” frame. Between a knee injury and underperforming in practice, Rainey was waived by both the Ravens and the Browns, but the Bucs? Well they’d take help from anyone. Now, after a 5.6 yards per carry game against Miami, Rainey is in line to become an official member of a split backfield. I’ll admit, this isn’t exactly how I thought Rainey would get this opportunity. I thought he would step up on the practice field and earn a bit of playing time, but unfortunately an injury is sometimes what is needed to give an unproven RB a chance.
Brian Leonard is expected to get the start and probably the majority of the carries this week, but despite his NFL experience, Leonard has always been a third-down type of back. He’s good for those three yards but beyond that is mostly a dream. Rainey, however, lacks proven consistency but makes up for it in talent. It’s my prediction going forward that even though Leonard may control the starting position, Rainey will receive an even split due to his playmaking ability over Leonard. This Sunday, the Bucs are at home against the Falcons who are giving up over 18 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. If you haven’t already, scoop up Rainey, especially if you’re one of the many who just lost Arian Foster. It’s hard to believe Rainey will become a stud in the Tampa backfield, but with the RB market becoming less than a fractured ankle deep (sorry Mike James) you don’t have much of a choice.
For more insight and analysis from Ryley Henry, follow him on Twitter: @ryleyhenryff