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NFL Barometer: Branch Rediscovers Fantasy Value

Dalton Del Don

Dalton Del Don

Dalton Del Don writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

RISERS

Kevin Kolb, QB, PHI – After shredding the Falcons in Week 6, Kolb has completed a remarkable 73.3 percent of his passes, while averaging 9.7 YPA, over his past two starts while subbing for an injured Michael Vick (ribs) He also has a 4:1 TD:INT ratio in those games. It’s clear now why Andy Reid was willing to trade Donovan McNabb within the division – Kolb can flat out play. The loss of DeSean Jackson hurts, but Kolb has shown terrific chemistry with both Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek, and he’s an obvious QB1 with top-five upside as long as he is starting. It will be interesting to see what Reid does when Vick is back to full strength.

Deion Branch, WR, NE – Branch was quiet over the first three quarters with his new (and old) team before making a big impact in the fourth quarter and overtime Sunday, finishing with nine catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. Those nine receptions matched the total Randy Moss hauled in over his four games with the Pats this season. Branch isn’t a big-play guy, but he has always had a great rapport with Tom Brady (his 12 targets in Week 6 were tied for the fourth most in the NFL); and especially in PPR formats, he’s going to have plenty of value while in New England. Danny Woodhead also deserves an upgrade and should be added in all but shallow formats.

Mike Williams, WR, SEA – Williams entered Week 6 with 11 catches for 138 yards on the season, so his outburst against the Bears (10 catches, 123 yards) was quite unexpected. He was clearly a big part of Seattle’s game plan coming out of the team’s bye, and with Deion Branch traded away and no other strong WR options on the roster, this could be the sign of more big games to come. Williams was targeted 15 times Sunday – the second highest amount in the league in Week 6. He has yet to score this season, but at 6-5, 235, he’s actually an ideal red-zone guy, so expect that to change shortly. Williams is an enigma, and there is no guarantee he won’t disappear again, but playing for a Seahawks team that has been better than expected and is facing a soft upcoming schedule, he could be a major fantasy factor if he truly emerges as the No. 1 receiver.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, PIT – Roethlisberger wasted little time putting up impressive numbers in his first start back from his suspension. He averaged 9.5 YPA with three touchdowns while taking zero sacks Sunday. He gave his performance a “B-/C+,” and it did come against a weak Cleveland secondary, but it was impressive nevertheless. He should only get better with more reps, and while the stout Pitt D won’t get the Steelers into many shootouts and will limit Roethlisberger’s pass attempts, he is an elite quarterback who immediately becomes a viable QB1 in fantasy leagues. The loss of Santonio Holmes is offset by the emergence of Mike Wallace. Over his last four games, dating back to last year, Roethlisberger has averaged 9.3 YPA with a 10:2 TD:INT ratio.

Danario Alexander, WR, STL – After a quiet first three years at Missouri, Alexander led the NCAA in receiving yards during his senior year of 2009, finishing with 113 receptions for 1,781 yards and 14 touchdowns in 13 games. A mid-round prospect, Alexander went undrafted thanks to surgery on his left knee (his fourth operation on the same knee), but he was later signed to the Rams’ practice squad. He has been working himself back into game shape (he dealt with atrophy in his quad while recovering from surgery), and while there is still some soreness, Alexander was promoted last week to the team’s active roster. He impressed in his debut by totaling 72 receiving yards, most of which came on a 38-yard TD catch. Health remains an issue, and it’s important to remember he’s a rookie, but with Mardy Gilyard and Brandon Gibson underwhelming, the No. 1 WR role in St. Louis is wide open and Alexander appears to have the most upside of the group.

Ben Watson, TE, CLE – Somewhat quietly, Watson has racked up 22 catches for 240 yards with two touchdowns over the past four games. For the season, he has averaged 53.0 yards per game. To put that in perspective, Vernon Davis, who has the third most receiving yards among tight ends this season, has averaged 58.0 yards per game. Like most young starters, Colt McCoy looked to his tight end frequently during his first ever start last week, a theme that should continue moving forward. Watson has quickly become a viable TE1 option.

Marshawn Lynch, RB, SEA – Ten of Lynch’s 17 carries Sunday went for one yard or fewer, but that came against a Bears defense that has played the run well this season, and the more important news was that he got 20 touches during his Seattle debut. Justin Forsett was effective, but it’s clear he works best in a “change-of-pace” type role, and Lynch should get the majority of carries moving forward, including at the goal line. Lynch is suddenly a weekly option in fantasy leagues, and he might be worth trying to trade for before his value increases even further.

Earnest Graham, RB, TB – Graham left Sunday’s game after aggravating a hamstring injury, but he is on the radar thanks to Kareem Huggins’ season-ending knee injury and Carnell Williams’ continued ineptitude. LeGarrette Blount remains an intriguing prospect, but the Bucs’ coaching staff doesn’t trust him in pass protection, which is the main reason Williams continues to dominate the touches despite averaging a hideous 2.5 YPC (Kregg Lumpkin could be a factor too). Graham is no long-term solution at the position for Tampa Bay, but he can both pass protect and provide an upgrade as a ballcarrier (6.4 YPC in limited work this year), so there is no reason he shouldn’t get a bigger chance as long as he is healthy. He is worth stashing in deeper leagues.

FALLERS

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, JAC – Jones-Drew has managed just 3.9 YPC and has scored in just one of six games this season. Curiously, he is also on pace to record only 32 catches this year after totaling 115 receptions over the previous two campaigns. It’s nice to see him fight it out and play through numerous injuries, but his situation in Jacksonville has killed Jones-Drew’s fantasy value, at least compared to where he was taken in fantasy drafts. With the team possibly having to turn to Todd Bouman at quarterback, the offense could go from bad to worse. Jones-Drew will suffer as a result, as he is unlikely to see many scoring opportunities.

Dallas Clark, TE, IND – Clark (hand/wrist) is out indefinitely and plans to go for second and third opinions to determine how long he will be sidelined. If surgery is needed, its possible Clark could be lost for the season, which would obviously be devastating. Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon could benefit as a result.

DeSean Jackson, WR, PHI – Jackson suffered a severe concussion against the Falcons on Sunday and is highly unlikely to play in Week 7. It appears to be a multi week injury, so fantasy owners are happy to see Philadelphia have a bye in Week 8. Hopefully Jackson can return shortly thereafter, but the hit was vicious, so all bets are off. Jeremy Maclin would be a WR1 as long as Jackson is out.

Pierre Thomas, RB, NO – It’s now obvious the Saints were far from forthcoming with Thomas’ ankle injury, which is clearly more serious than we were originally led to believe. It’s been revealed that the initial timetable was 4-to-6 weeks, which means a return in Week 7 would put him on the short side of the estimate. Thomas recently suggested that it’s "starting to look like a normal ankle again," which is somewhat encouraging yet also suggests a return may not necessarily be imminent. Thomas needs to be considered injury-prone moving forward, and what’s worse, his usage when he does return may take a big hit with the emergence of Chris Ivory. Ivory isn’t used on passing downs, but he has averaged 6.3 YPC this season and looks legit. Ivory is going to remain a factor in New Orleans’ backfield over the rest of the season.

Malcom Floyd, WR, SD – Floyd exited Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury, and while no timetable has been issued, he is highly unlikely to play in Week 7. It’s too bad, as Floyd has been fantastic – he has the fourth most receiving yards in football despite getting just 15 yards before departing last week. With Antonio Gates (toe) also banged up, and Philip Rivers playing out of his mind, fantasy owners in need of WR help can take advantage of the situation by adding Legedu Naanee, Patrick Crayton and/or Craig Davis, although admittedly, it’s unclear which one will benefit the most.

Joseph Addai, RB, IND – Addai left Sunday’s game after once again reinjuring his banged up shoulder, and while he expects to return to action after the team’s Week 7 bye, it sounds like this injury could be an issue over the remainder of the season. Addai is in a contract year, so he will do everything he can to get on the field, and his current 4.4 YPC mark is actually the second highest of his career. Still, Donald Brown and even Mike Hart need to be stashed in fantasy leagues.