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.
Dak Prescott – Dallas Cowboys
Matchup – Washington Redskins
You have to tip your hat to Tony Romo. The guy has always been a class act, and never more so than when he delivered a speech last week as he officially relinquished the starting job to Dak Prescott. You have to feel for the guy, but the rookie quarterback has simply played on such a high level. Dak has led the Cowboys to the best record in the NFL and is becoming a superstar before our very eyes. Not even Jerry Jones is crazy enough to shake things up with this team on such a roll. Many thought the matchup against the Ravens on Sunday would be one where Prescott would fall flat. The result was anything but that as the rookie had his best performance of his young career. Dak completed 27 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns against Baltimore and now has back to back games with more than 300 yards passing. I feel the term “matchup proof” is becoming a little overused, however, Dak Prescott is quickly venturing into that conversation. He should continue his success this week against a Redskins defense that has given up 20 or more points in all but one game this season.
Russell Wilson – Seattle Seahawks
Matchup – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Apparently this is the time of the year when the Seahawks start to put all of the pieces together. We saw it last season when Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin started clicking at an insanely high level. Wilson’s biggest issue this year has been injuries that have kept him limited from a mobility standpoint. From what we saw against the Eagles he seems to have recovered. He was shifty in the pocket and was able to escape pressure to avoid negative plays. He threw for 272 yards and a touchdown while adding another touchdown catch from Doug Baldwin. Wilson now has three straight games of over 24 fantasy points. Through the first eight weeks of the season he had only accomplished that feat once. Seattle will travel to the Sunshine State to face off against Tampa Bay this week, and I like Russell Wilson’s chances to keep his recent fantasy success alive.
Eli Manning – New York Giants
Matchup – Cleveland Browns
I’m not sure if you realize how much physical pain it causes me to write something positive about Eli Manning. My teeth are grinding at the thought of following through with this, but here we go. I’ll have to admit that Eli has played well over the last few weeks. Keep in mind I said well and not great. However, he’s strung together three straight games with over 20 fantasy points and has a pretty advantageous schedule over the next few weeks. He finished the day with 227 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears. He spread the ball around, and three players had five receptions while completing passes to seven different receivers. The other Manning faces the Browns, Steelers, and Lions over the next four weeks, which makes him a strong option if you’re in a playoff run. He has the weapons at his disposal to put up serviceable numbers to close the season.
Rashad Jennings – New York Giants
Matchup – Cleveland Browns
While we’re discussing Giants players I’ve mostly ignored this season, we may as well take a look at Rashad Jennings. Just a few short days ago we were discussing whether or not rookie Paul Perkins would end up stealing the starting job from Jennings this week. It seems Team Perkins was mistaken, and by all accounts this is still Jennings’ backfield. Rashad received a season high 21 carries that he turned into 85 yards and a touchdown against the Bears on Sunday, and Paul Perkins had only four rushing attempts. Unless there’s an injury, Jennings is the back to own in this offense. He’s racked up 172 rushing yards the last two weeks. In the other five games we’ve seen him play he’s only managed to gain 168 yards on the ground. Similar to Manning, Jennings has a few games coming up where he should be able to further reclaim his job as the starter. If you own him you have play him against the Browns this week.
Rob Kelley – Washington Redskins
Matchup – Dallas Cowboys
I had to take a player off my list as I’m writing this column to include Rob Kelley. The Redskins are feeding this kid as much as he can handle, and he now has over 20 carries in three straight games. His yardage totals haven’t been incredible, but he’s scored three touchdowns in three games and has accrued over 80 yards in each contest. As funny as it sounds, he reminds me a lot of Matt Jones if you took away the fumbling issues and added a little better vision out of the backfield. Fat Rob, as his teammates like to call him, has without a doubt entrenched himself as the number one running back in a very talented offense that wants to utilize the running game to open up the pass. Unfortunately, Kelley has some tough sledding ahead. He’ll face the Cowboys, Cardinals, Eagles, and Panthers over the next four weeks. However, judging by the huge game he had against one of the league’s best run defenses I’ll think he’ll be okay.
Thomas Rawls – Seattle Seahawks
Matchup – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If you were one of the people that bit the bullet and held on to Rawls all year, then I have a feeling you’re about to reap the rewards for your patience. CJ Prosise got the starting bid again this week and was productive with his opportunities. Unfortunately for the talented rookie, he suffered a shoulder injury against the Eagles and is expected to miss significant time. This opens the door for Thomas Rawls to immediately reclaim the starting job, and he should be a work horse moving forward. Rawls wasn’t particularly impressive in his first game back, but he ran the ball well and was involved in the passing game as well. He carried the ball 14 times for 57 yards and was able to haul in 3 catches for an additional 31 yards. Barring any setbacks, Rawls is a must own down the stretch. He has an especially juicy matchup against the Buccaneers this week, who have struggled to contain opposing running backs at times this season.
DeVante Parker – Miami Dolphins
Matchup – San Francisco 49ers
This very well could be one of the times where I put the effort in to give a guy some recognition only to watch him revert back to fantasy irrelevance the following week. DeVante Parker had a strong performance against the Rams as he caught eight passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. Over the last two weeks Parker has 13 receptions for 182 yards and seems to have gotten on the same page with Ryan Tannehill. His numbers the last two games are eerily similar to the back to back performances he had earlier in the season before he all but disappeared until recently. It’s hard to trust any player on the receiving end of Ryan Tannehill’s passes, but Jarvis Landry has struggled and someone needs to catch passes in this offense. The Dolphins have a great matchup this week against one of the worst teams in the league, the San Francisco 49ers. I think Parker is worth an add in your league if he’s available and you need the help.
Dez Bryant – Dallas Cowboys
Matchup – Washington Redskins
I’ll admit I’ve been down on Dez this season. I wasn’t very confident he would be able to overcome his nagging injuries and get on the same page with a rookie quarterback. I was absolutely wrong. Dez has 12 receptions for 196 yards and three touchdowns over the last two games and is undoubtedly clicking with Dak Prescott. The rookie’s development this season has come at a rapid pace, and he seems to have no problem throwing the ball down the field to his star receiver. Dallas has some pretty soft defenses down the stretch as they face the Redskins, Buccaneers, and Lions over the next five weeks. If you’re making a playoff run Dez could very well be a guy that will help carry your team to a championship.
Steve Smith – Baltimore Ravens
Matchup – Cincinnati Bengals
If you’re a fan of football it’s hard not to like Steve Smith. The ageless wonder will soon turn 38, and he still plays with the same fire and competitiveness we saw back in his early Carolina days. He is without a doubt the number one receiving option in the Ravens offense and was heavily involved against the Cowboys as he caught eight passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. He should actually be on track for a 1,000 yard season had he not missed two games due to injury. He’ll have another chance to show everyone age is simply a number this week against the Cincinnati Bengals, who have been proven to be vulnerable against the passing game this season.
Eric Ebron – Detroit Lions
Matchup – Minnesota Vikings
Eric Ebron has the potential to be one of the best tight ends in the National Football League. He simply can’t stay healthy long enough to string together one full season. He’s averaging over 64 yards in each game he’s played in the year. If we take that and apply it over a full 16 game season, Ebron would finish 2016 with 1,030 receiving yards. That’s borderline elite status as far as tight ends are concerned. He’s clearly developed into one of Matt Stafford’s favorite targets and is worth a start most weeks. Six weeks ago I would’ve told you to avoid Ebron like the plague against the Vikings, who he’ll face this week. However, we’ve seen teams put up points against Minnesota over the last several weeks. I don’t believe the matchup is as terrifying as it looks.
Zach Ertz – Philadelphia Eagles
Matchup – Green Bay Packers
After a four game stretch where I wasn’t sure Zach Ertz was even employed by the Eagles, he has come on and earned more attention from Carson Wentz over the last few weeks. He hadn’t had a game with more than five receptions for 50 yards since the first game of the season. Over the last three games, however, Ertz has 20 catches for 187 yards and just scored his first touchdown of the season last week against the Seahawks. Wentz has struggled mightily at times this year, but he does show the potential to be a solid NFL quarterback. Ertz’s recent success could be attributed to the rookie needing to spread the ball around and check down to his tight end more often. We’ll see if Ertz can keep up his recent success against a Green Bay defense that can’t seem to contain any opponent this season.
Cam Newton – Carolina Panthers
Matchup – Oakland Raiders
I know several people who invested a late first round draft pick in Cam Newton this season. Needless to say, those people are not happy with their decision. His performance was less than ideal against a porous Saints defense as he only managed to throw for 192 yards and a touchdown, which is the third time this season Cam has failed to pass for more than 200 yards. In fact, there have only been four games this season where the former MVP has had more than 250 yards passing in a single game. These are obviously not MVP-like numbers. Perhaps more concerning than the passing yardage is the fact that Cam has only thrown for multiple touchdowns in a game twice this year. No matter how you look at it, this has been a highly disappointing year for Cam Newton and fantasy owners alike. I want to say he should bounce back against the Raiders this week, but I simply don’t have the confidence in him to do so.
Matt Stafford – Detroit Lions
Matchup – Minnesota Vikings
Matt Stafford started of the season about as strong as any quarterback in the league. He threw for three or more touchdowns in four out of the first six games and looked primed to have a big year. Unfortunately, he’s cooled off quite a bit since then. I believe the lack of a running game has left Stafford with a workload on his shoulders that he simply is finding too difficult to manage. Since week six he only has one game in where he’s thrown for more than one touchdown and has only thrown for more than 250 yards twice. He’ll face a Minnesota defense that held him to 219 yards just a few short weeks ago. I don’t think Stafford will be terrible by any means, but I’m not sure how many more 300 yard games we’ll see this season.
Carson Palmer – Arizona Cardinals
Matchup – Atlanta Falcons
Carson Palmer was one of the best fantasy quarterbacks in the league last season. He was on the top of his game and finished 2015 as the fifth highest scoring player at his position. Fast forward to this year and he was ranked 20th heading into week 11, which is right between Joe Flacco and Ryan Tannehill. His performance on Sunday will do little to bump his ranking as he only threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns while adding two interceptions. This sort of production is right about where Palmer’s floor has been all season. When I look at his numbers I really only see three games that I would call good fantasy performances. He hasn’t scored more than 16 fantasy points in the other six games he’s been active for. It’s clear to me at this point in the season that we probably aren’t going to get to see the Carson Palmer from last year very much to finish the season. Hopefully at this point you’ve recognized and addressed the issue if you have any stock in him.
Spencer Ware – Kansas City Chiefs
Matchup – Denver Broncos
Ware has been a curious case this season. He’s not been bad by any means. However he certainly hasn’t been good, which is largely due to the fact that he’s only found the end zone twice this season. There have been a few games where Ware has had some nice performances, but I just don’t view him as a top tier option at this point in the season. When it was announced Jamaal Charles would be done for the rest of the season many people immediately touted Ware as a RB1, but that simply hasn’t been the case. His rushing totals are decent, and he’s averaging right around 70 yards on the ground in games he’s been the featured back. Without the touchdowns to compliment the yardage, however, he’s mostly a middle of the road running back. I don’t see that changing much against the Broncos this week, even though they have been uncharacteristically vulnerable to running backs this season.
Isiah Crowell – Cleveland Browns
Matchup – New York Giants
The Cleveland Browns are terrible, and it’s hard to find any bright spot within this offense outside of Terrelle Pryor. What I find hard to figure out is why the Browns have strayed so far from utilizing Isiah Crowell. In the six games where he carries the ball at least 12 times he is averaging 80 yards and has scored in four out of six games. In the weeks he sees less than 12 carries his yards per game drops to 16. You have to assume the Browns have their reasons, but Crowell seems all but phased out of this offense. He finished the day against an exploitable Steelers defense with eight carries and ten yards. He’s simply not been enough of a factor to warrant starting moving forward unless something changes in a hurry.
Jerick McKinnon – Minnesota Vikings
Matchup – Detroit Lions
If you’ve stuck with McKinnon this long you get props for perseverance. Unfortunately, you’re probably not doing very well in your fantasy league this season either. At this point in the season I think you can go ahead and drop this guy. He only has one touchdown since Adrian Peterson was lost for the season, and he’s only rushed for more than 45 yards in one game. In the last seven games where McKinnon has been active he’s accrued 277 yards on 94 carries. That averages out to a dreadful 2.9 yards per carry. Normally I would be a little more optimistic when looking at a player facing the Lions, but I just don’t see McKinnon getting anything going this season. I think he’s safe to drop and move on.
Kelvin Benjamin – Carolina Panthers
Matchup – Oakland Raiders
We already discussed Cam Newton’s performance this season, so it’s only natural that Kelvin Benjamin would be struggling as well. Benjamin started off the season with a bang as he racked up 13 catches for 199 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games this season. That has been by far the highlight to his season so far as he’s topped 80 yards receiving only twice since week two and has scored in one other game. Benjamin was a touchdown monster in his rookie season, and I honestly thought we would see him get back to being an elite NFL wide receiver. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. He’s got a shot to put up some solid numbers this week against the Raiders, but his success his directly correlated to Cam Newton’s performance.
Marvin Jones – Detroit Lions
Matchup – Minnesota Vikings
Two catches and twenty yards. That’s Marvin Jones’ production over the last two games. It’s officially time to hit the panic button for Jones owners. Through the first three games of the season the former Bengal had 408 yards and two touchdowns on 18 receptions. In the last seven games he has combined for a mere 268 yards and has scored two more times. Megatron reincarnated he is not. Jones was only targeted twice against the Jaguars, and his role in the Lions has rapidly diminished to a near nonexistent level. This week’s matchup against the Vikings doesn’t offer much of an opportunity to get back on track, and I don’t think there’s much owners can do at this point in the season besides drop or bench him.
Willie Snead – New Orleans Saints
Matchup – Las Angeles Rams
Snead was being selected as a high end WR2 in a lot of fantasy drafts to begin the season, and for good reason. He had earned the attention from Drew Brees last season and looked primed to take another step forward this year. And then the Saints drafted Michael Thomas. Sorry Snead owners, the rookie is clearly the second receiver on this team behind Brandin Cooks. Big Willie started the season strong scoring in the first two games and racking up a combined 226 yards. However, he gradually began to lose targets to Thomas as the season wore on. We’re now in week 12, and Snead just had his second biggest game two weeks ago against the Broncos when only 47 receiving yards but scored two touchdowns. What’s perhaps most surprising to me is the fact that Snead is still slightly higher owned in leagues than Michael Thomas is, but over are over the 80% mark. At this point in the season it’ll be tough finding someone on the waiver wire that’s worth dropping Willie Snead for. However, I simply don’t think he’s worth a start in fantasy due to his diminishing role within the offense.
Greg Olsen – Carolina Panthers
Matchup – Oakland Raiders
I realize there are a lot of Panthers players featured this week, but the numbers don’t lie. Similar to Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen’s struggles have had less to do with him and are more due to the fact that Cam Newton has taken a huge step backward this season. As far as tight ends are concerned, Olsen is still one of the elite players and his position and was ranked as the number one scoring tight end in standard leagues heading into week 11. If we take a deeper look into his numbers, however, we’ll see overwhelming inconsistency. Olsen has 745 receiving yards on the season. He put up 397 of those in three games, which means over 53% of his total yards this season have come in just 30% of the games he’s played. Olsen has games of 11, 39, and 33 yards in the last four games. Those are not numbers you’d expect from the top scoring fantasy tight end. If you own Olsen you’re likely rolling him out each week moving forward unless you somehow picked up someone on the waiver wire. I like his matchup against the Raiders, but once again it totally depends on the reliability of Cam Newton.
Martellus Bennett – New England Patriots
Matchup – New York Jets
Man, how disappointed were Martellus Bennett owners this week? The guy had all the opportunity in the world to put up big numbers with Gronk sitting out due to an injury. Instead people were treated to a two target, one catch performance that only accounted for 14 of Tom Brady’s 280 yards. One. Measly. Catch. Bennett has been a total boom or bust or bust option since Gronk made his way back from injury, and his inconsistency makes him a risky start each week. With Gronk out last week I was certain he’d have a solid day, though. If I have any stock in the former Bears tight end I’m likely shying away from him most weeks unless I don’t have another reliable option. He’s simply too streaky to trust each week.
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!