by Byron Hamilton
It’s time to take our weekly look around the NFL to see which players have the potential to set your roster on fire and which ones seem to be cooling down. I’ll try to avoid the obvious candidates for the players that are heating up, in addition to focusing in on higher profile players that could leave your team on ice this week. I will also be taking a look at their performance from the previous week, as well as what the matchup holds for them heading into Sunday.
Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh Steelers
Matchup – Cleveland Browns
Over the last couple of games, you can tell Roethlisberger has been off. He was awful against Miami back in week six before getting injured, and there was definitely some rust that needed shaking off last Sunday against Baltimore. Fast forward to last week’s matchup against the Cowboys and Big Ben looks to be right back to where he belongs as one of fantasy football’s elite quarterbacks. He threw for 408 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday, which was the first time he threw for over 400 yards this season and the fifth game he’s thrown for three or more touchdowns. Big Ben spread the ball around to eight different receivers in the dramatic loss to Dallas and looks to be primed for a nice run down the stretch as long as he stays healthy. His opponents over the next couple of weeks are Cleveland and Indianapolis, so Roethlisberger should put up some pretty solid numbers once again.
Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
Matchup – Washington Redskins
This offense is finally clicking despite the Packers having difficulty finding wins this season. Fortunately for most of us, fantasy production is what we really care about and Rodgers has been providing plenty of that since coming out of his slump. He’s thrown for either three or more touchdowns or 370 yards in the last four games and is spreading the ball around to his playmakers. Eight different players caught passes last week, and three players had a touchdown or over 100 yards receiving. Win or lose this is a team that is going to be throwing the ball a ton with James Starks and Ty Montgomery being the main designated running backs. Rodgers draws Washington this week and should continue to find success against a defense that has allowed 20 or more points in all but one game this season.
Colin Kaepernick – San Francisco 49ers
Matchup – New England Patriots
Surprised? If I’m being honest with myself, I am too. Let me be straight here for a second. The 49ers are a bad football team. They’re not going to win many games this year, and there are very few players worth rostering from a fantasy perspective outside of Carlos Hyde. Except for MAYBE Colin Kaepernick. He failed to throw for over 200 yards in his first two starts against two beatable teams and had two turnovers to go with two touchdowns. However, the last two games have been completely different. Kaepernick had over 400 total yards against the Saints two weeks ago and finished the game on Sunday against the Cardinals with 210 yards passing to go along with another 55 rushing yards and two total touchdowns. That’s a pretty solid day against what many deem as one of the better defenses in the NFL. Kaepernick’s ability to gain additional yardage on the ground makes him a special player. I would temper my expectations this week against the Patriots, but the 49ers face the Dolphins, Bears, Jets, and Falcons over the next five weeks. Kaepernick could very well be a sneaky pickup that’ll add some versatility to your lineup down the playoff stretch.
Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers
Matchup – Cleveland Browns
I realize this isn’t an entirely original choice to include in a “Fire” column, but I’ve not had the luxury of writing about Bell much this season. If you were an owner that decided to take this guy with a late first/early second round pick, then you’re probably feeling pretty good about your decision. I understand the hesitation in not grabbing him this year. After all, four games seem like a lifetime in fantasy land. However, I think Le’Veon Bell could be the guy that’s going to lead a lot of teams to fantasy glory down the stretch. He’s an excellent runner with an almost unparalleled involvement in his team’s passing attack. The only other comparable running back would be David Johnson. In the six games, Bell has played he’s racked up 433 yards rushing and reeled in 360 receiving yards. That’s 793 yards in six games for an average of 132 yards per game. Imagine if he hadn’t missed the first four weeks. Phew.
James Starks – Green Bay Packers
Matchup – Washington Redskins
This isn’t so much of an “on fire” take as a go grab this player while you can take. After what I saw this week, Ty Montgomery is what we all feared he was when scrambled to pick him up. Which is an emergency fill in on a team that happened to have the only two running backs on the roster get hurt. James Starks is clearly the running back to own in this offense, and I use the term running back loosely considering Montgomery is really a wide receiver convert. Every bit of me hoped we would see Montgomery in the ultimate dual threat role, but that’s simply not going to be how this pans out. While Starks only saw four more carries than his counterpart, he did more with the opportunity and scored a touchdown as he was targeted two times more in the passing game. James Starks is less than 30% in ESPN leagues. Go grab him.
Doug Martin – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Matchup – Kansas City Chiefs
Similar to Starks, Doug Martin is a guy that I see heating up over the next few weeks. Tampa Bay was obviously cautious with their star running back in his first game back since week two. He did see 16 carries which he turned into 33 yards and a touchdown, but you could tell both the coaching staff and Martin himself were a little hesitant to overdue things in a blowout win against the Bears. The Muscle Hamster was a staple in this offense last season, and I think he gets rolling on his wheel over the next few games. If you’re in a league with a frustrated Doug Martin owner I would try to submit a trade for him. In the final four weeks of the fantasy season (for most leagues) Martin faces the Chargers and the Saints twice. He very well could be the key to winning you a championship if you can get him at a discount.
CJ Prosise – Seattle Seahawks
Matchup – Philadelphia Eagles
Sorry Christine Michael owners. You’re totally screwed. With Thomas Rawls coming back and CJ Prosise putting up more than serviceable numbers against the Patriots Sunday night, I think Michael’s resurgence tour may have come to an official screeching halt. CJ Prosise saw a starter’s workload Sunday night against the Patriots and racked up 66 yards on 17 carries and added another 87 yards on 7 receptions. The 153 total yards he accumulated was a season high for a Seattle running back, and it marks the second time in three games the rookie surpassed the 100 yard mark. While he hasn’t reached the end zone so far ghost season, Prosise simply looks like a more complete back than Christine Michael. I can’t imagine Seattle turning away from him moving forward. The Seahawks have a tough test in the Philadelphia Eagles this week, but the rookie running back should continue to be a serviceable fantasy option as long as the team continues to utilize him.
Jordy Nelson – Green Bay Packers
Matchup – Washington Redskins
Alright, Jordy Nelson owners. You can breathe now. Similar to Aaron Rodgers, people that invested an early draft pick in Nelson are now seeing the results. The veteran receiver was targeted a team-high 18 times and finished the day with 12 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown. That marked the third straight game where Nelson has gone for over 90 yards and scored a touchdown. He came into this week ranked second in the league with seven touchdowns on the season and should be tied for first with Mike Evans once all the games have been completed. With Green Bay lacking any reliable running game at the moment, Aaron Rodgers is going to be throwing the ball quite a bit for the foreseeable future. Jordy Nelson should continue to see plenty of passes come his way. The Packers will face a Redskins team that has a tendency to surrender a lot of points, so I look for the good times to keep rolling in Green Bay.
Tyrell Williams – San Diego Chargers
You have to feel for the Travis Benjamin owners out there. They thought they had struck gold after he exploded for 115 yards and two touchdowns just one week after the Chargers lost Keenan Allen for the season. Unfortunately, that was by far his best game of the season as Benjamin has only been able to pass the 100 yard just one other time this season. Nagging injuries have opened the door for Tyrell Williams, and he seems to have the number one receiving job locked up. Over the last six games, Sand Diego has had the unfortunate opportunity to face Denver twice, and Williams struggled in both contests. However, if we look at the other four games where he was not facing one of the league’s best defenses we see a receiver that should be started each week. Over those four games, Williams has 447 yards and three touchdowns on 23 receptions. He’ll face off against a beatable Houston defense after his bye week.
Delanie Walker – Tennessee Titans
Matchup – Indianapolis Colts
The Tennessee Titans are on a roll and look nothing like the dumpster fire we saw last season. Marcus Mariota has seemingly taken a big step forward in his development and is looking like an All-Pro quarterback. Delano Walker has certainly benefited greatly from his quarterback’s recent surge in production. He’s scored three touchdowns in the last four games and is one of the most targeted players in this offense. The 124 receiving yards Walker reeled in against Green Bay were a season high. He’ll look to keep up the momentum against a Colts defense that allowed seven catches for 84 yards and a touchdown to the veteran tight end back in week 7.
Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings
Matchup – Arizona Cardinals
This may be an obvious statement, but Kyle Rudolph’s success depends entirely on Sam Bradford’s performance each week. There are times where Bradford has the look of a serviceable NFL quarterback, but he also has a tendency to completely fall apart. As a result, Rudolph’s production has suffered over the last few weeks. His performance against Washington is more in line with what fantasy owners have come to expect after the tight end’s solid start to the season. He finished the day with five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown against the Redskins, which was his highest receiving total since week three against the Panthers. I’d expect this week’s matchup against the Cardinals will prove to me a tougher test, but he’ll be a must-start against the Lions in week 12.
Jay Cutler – Chicago Bears
Matchup – New York Giants
Man, Jay Cutler has to be on his way out in Chicago right? I simply don’t see how the Bears can build a successful team around this guy. Chicago was trounced by Tampa Bay, and Cutler threw for only 182 yards and a touchdown while turning the ball over three times. His lone touchdown came on an unlikely Hail Mary to end the first half, and the play was more indicative of the play Cameron Meredith made on the ball than anything Cutler did. The longtime Chicago quarterback has only thrown three touchdowns in the three full games he’s played to go along with six turnovers. I can say with a moderate degree of confidence that Cutler has little fantasy relevance moving forward, particularly against an improved Giants defense this week.
Carson Wentz – Philadelphia Eagles
Matchup – Seattle Seahawks
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you can go ahead and drop Carson Wentz unless you’re in a keeper or dynasty league. The first four games were fun and could have given us a glimpse of what the future holds for the rookie quarterback, but his play over the last five games doesn’t justify his almost 44% ownership rate. Wentz has only thrown two touchdowns over the last five games and is responsible for six turnovers in that same span. While I think there are a few games left on the schedule where the rookie could find success, I doubt that happens on the road this week in Seattle. The Seahawks held Tom Brady in check and didn’t allow him to throw a touchdown last week, so I don’t like Wentz’s chances to turn things around.
Ty Montgomery – Green Bay Packers
Matchup – Washington Redskins
Whelp, it was fun while it lasted. The hope was that Montgomery could impress enough to continue to see a starter’s workload after James Starks made it back from injury, but that was certainly not the case against the Titans on Sunday. What we saw out of Montgomery back in week seven against Chicago was an intriguing situation. The wide receiver turned running back rushed for 60 yards on nine carries and caught 10 passes for 66 yards. A duel threat like that was something to definitely keep an eye on. However, Montgomery has only ten carries for 62 yards over the last two weeks and has seemingly surrendered the bulk of the carries to James Starks. I think that’s all I need to see, and I don’t see him as a fantasy starter unless Starks goes down with another injury.
Devontae Freeman – Atlanta Falcons
Freeman was last season’s fantasy Cinderella. He was a stud waiver wire pickup in many leagues, and his performances led him to become a top ten running back selection in fantasy drafts this year. The presence of Tevin Coleman was worrisome to begin the season, but Freeman owners have had some cause for hope with his counterpart missing the last three games due to injury. While he hasn’t been “bad”, Freeman has lacked that spark we saw out of him early on last season when he broke out. The Falcons offense has greatly improved from last season, so they may not feel the need to lean on the running game as much this year. Either way, both of Freeman’s touchdowns as the primary running back came in week eight against the Packers. He’s averaging 63 yards per game over the last two contests, and Tevin Coleman is expected to return after the team’s bye week. I think Freeman still holds value, but his days as the breakout playmaker we saw last season may be in the rearview mirror.
Jonathan Stewart – Carolina Panthers
Matchup – New Orleans Saints
Players have a funny habit of either blowing up or laying an egg the week after being featured in this column, and I think Stewart could be the next in line to accomplish that feat. However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Stewart has completely fallen off the map over the last two games. The long time Carolina running back bounced back from injury in a big way as we racked up 180 yards and four touchdowns in his first two games back. However, over the last two game Stewart is averaging 40.5 yards, 14 carries, and has been held scoreless. The Panthers have struggled mightily on offense lately, so it’s not exactly Stewart has had his share of misfortune as well. The next two weeks offer up some great opportunities though as Carolina will play both New Orleans and Oakland in back to back games. While a bounce back seems likely, if he continues to struggle there will be a true cause for concern.
Alshon Jeffrey – Chicago Bears
This one may seem like a cop-out. However, I started working on this article before the news of Jeffrey’s suspension broke. I debated finding a replacement but thought better of it considering how lackluster he’s been most of the season. At this point in the year, I think you can go ahead and kick him to the curb. Which is incredibly unfortunate as this is the first year in what seems like a lifetime that Alshon Jeffrey has been healthy for a full season. He simply has had the type of season we expected mostly due to less than stellar quarterbacks play from both Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer. He’s only scored one touchdown on the season and has surpassed the century mark in receiving yards just one time. There will still be two weeks left in the fantasy playoffs once Jeffrey makes his return, but I just don’t see him making much of an impact when he comes back to help anyone out very much. Drop him.
Brandon Marshall – New York Jets
I love Brandon Marshall. I really do. But I just don’t know how much longer he can be subjected to this sort of quarterback play before he calls it a career. I sincerely hope that he gets traded to a Super Bowl caliber team in the offseason and gets a ring before he retires. The Jets will almost have to be in full rebuild mode after this season. Ryan Fitzpatrick is obviously not their quarterback for the future. Their starting running back is nearing 60 years old (in football years). Outside of Marshall, only Eric Decker and Quincy Enunwa remain as the main source of offensive talent on this team. The 15 yards and four catches Marshall had last Sunday were a season low, and I don’t see him turning things around against the Patriots after the Jets bye week. Especially if Bryce Petty remains the starter.
Gary Barnidge – Cleveland Browns
Matchup – Pittsburgh Steelers
Gary Barnidge was one of the feel-good stories from last season. He was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise terrible Cleveland offense, and many thought the good times would continue this season. That has not been the case at all, and I think Barnidge is droppable if you can find a suitable replacement on the waiver wire. The Browns played two different quarterbacks on Sunday and are essentially holding tryouts mid-season to see if they have any confidence in Kessler moving forward. They’ve got the number one draft pick next year all but locked up, and it wouldn’t shock me if they finished without a win this season. Barnidge hasn’t found the end zone once this season and only has two games with more than five catches. He’s simply not a big part of the offensive game plan and shouldn’t be trusted in your lineups.
Coby Fleener – New Orleans Saints
Matchup – Carolina Panthers
Fleener was a popular sleeper tight end candidate this season, and I can’t blame the optimism. He was moving to a new, high-powered New Orleans offense and wouldn’t have to contend with Dwayne Allen for targets. Sadly, Fleener is mostly an afterthought in this passing attack. Drew Brees has thrown for over 300 yards in six out of nine games this season. Fleener has only put up more than 70 receiving yards twice. Considering he’s losing snaps to Josh Hill, Fleener is another “drop ’em” candidate for me. He’s almost 76% owned, which is surprising to me considering his performance this season. While I would normally use this week’s matchup as a source of optimism, I simply don’t see Fleener making much of an impact in this offense to be relevant in fantasy football.
As always, please feel free to give us a shout on Twitter @No_HuddleFFB if you have any questions or concerns regarding your lineup or just want to chat about fantasy football. Best of luck this week!