Darren McFadden, RB, OAK – McFadden was questionable for Week 7 with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Raiders’ previous two games, but he got the start and responded with 196 total yards and four touchdowns on just 18 touches. McFadden would have received more work had the game not been a blowout and is clearly the team’s lead back when healthy. No other RB has averaged as many total yards per game as McFadden this season (150.0 ypg), and his 5.5 YPC mark is tied for third best in the NFL. Finally the track star speed has translated onto the football field, and his newfound ability to break tackles has been a welcome sight. Put simply, McFadden looks like an entirely different running back than in years past and more like the runner that made him the fourth pick in the 2008 draft. His balky hamstrings will seemingly always be a worry, but while healthy, calling McFadden a top-10 fantasy player seems conservative.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, BUF – Playing in Baltimore on Sunday, Fitzpatrick completed 67.4 percent of his passes, averaged 8.7 YPA, and threw four touchdowns. The Ravens’ defense hasn’t been dominant this season, but their secondary entered the game having allowed just four TD passes over six games. Over his last five contests, Fitzpatrick has thrown a whopping 14 touchdowns. While that is obviously unsustainable, his 7.6 YPA mark suggests it is also not a fluke. These eye-opening numbers need to be taken seriously, especially since Fitzpatrick is hardly the first quarterback to come out of nowhere and have success (he entered the year with 23 career starts). Late-season weather is a concern since his home games are in Buffalo, and opposing defenses will eventually start to protect against the pass better, but it is also worth noting Fitzpatrick has averaged 29.0 rushing yards per game, which second in the league only to Michael Vick. With Buffalo’s defense allowing an NFL-high 33.0 points per game, the Bills are going to have to remain pass heavy. I currently have Fitzpatrick ranked around 10th among fantasy QBs – ahead of Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, and Joe Flacco. Steve Johnson, who has five touchdowns over the past four games, is also now a must-own in fantasy leagues.
Knowshon Moreno, RB, DEN – In just his second game back from a hamstring injury that sidelined him from Weeks 3-6, Moreno totaled 90 yards with two scores on 17 touches Sunday. Further removed from the injury, he looked back to full strength, and while his 3.3 YPC average remains pathetic, it’s important to note that he was the only running back on Denver’s roster to receive a carry in Week 7. Moreno is clearly the team’s workhorse, and since that means he will also get goal-line carries as well as contribute in the receiving game, Moreno can be plenty valuable in fantasy leagues even if he’s just an average back in real life.
Kenny Britt, WR, TEN – After a bar brawl resulted in Britt sitting out the first quarter Sunday, Britt responded by recording seven catches for 225 yards and three touchdowns. It was a remarkable performance, and Britt has now scored in five straight games. Further disciplinary action could occur once more information is released regarding Britt’s role in the fight, and Tennessee remains a run-heavy team, but Britt is clearly the team’s best offensive weapon after Chris Johnson. Let’s just hope Britt’s attitude can someday match his sizeable talent.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, TB – Blount is back on the fantasy scene after rushing for 72 yards on 11 carries Sunday, and he should be among the top waiver wire adds this week. Blount still has plenty of work to do in pass protection, so at a minimum, he will cede work to Carnell Williams on third downs and obvious passing situations. However, Williams is averaging just 2.5 YPC this season, and Blount showed good speed and burst for someone who is listed at 247 pounds, so he could start dominating early-down work as soon as this week. Blount is a massive upgrade as a ballcarrier.
Dez Bryant, WR, DAL – Bryant reached paydirt three times Monday, twice as a receiver and once on an impressive 93-yard punt return. The entire Dallas offense needs to be downgraded big time due to Tony Romo’s broken collarbone, but Bryant may finally be close to 100 percent healthy and it is clear he is very talented. Bryant should have little trouble pushing Roy Williams aside from here on out, and it sure seemed like Jon Kitna had a good rapport with the rookie wideout. At a minimum, Bryant should be a force inside the red zone.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, CAR – Stewart has been a huge disappointment so far this season, averaging just 3.0 YPC and essentially being totally useless for fantasy owners. However, DeAngelo Williams left last week’s game with a painful foot injury, and he sat out Wednesday’s practice thanks to the sprain. Williams is questionable to play in Week 8, and if he’s forced to sit, Stewart immediately becomes a viable RB2 option, especially against a Rams defense that has yielded 4.6 YPC this year. With Matt Moore back at QB and Steve Smith back from injury, Carolina’s offense is fast improving. David Gettis, who caught eight passes for 125 yards and two scores last week, is also on the fantasy radar.
Eli Manning, QB, NYG – Playing on the road against a stingy Dallas defense that was desperate for a win to save its season, Manning completed 71.4 percent of his passes, averaged 8.7 YPA, and tossed four touchdowns Monday night. He needs to protect the football better, having already thrown an NFL-high 11 interceptions, but his 14 TD passes also lead the league. Manning has taken just three sacks over the past three games, and he has thrown nine touchdowns over that span. With Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith, and Mario Manningham emerging as one of the best wide receiver groups in football, Manning has become an elite fantasy QB.
Tony Romo, QB, DAL – Romo will miss the next 6-to-8 weeks after suffering a broken collarbone Monday night, and with the 1-5 Cowboys now turning to Jon Kitna at quarterback, there’s a decent chance Romo is held out the rest of the year. Romo was in the midst of another nice season, although his 7.5 YPA mark was actually a career low. Romo’s loss is a crushing blow to a Dallas team that has been the most disappointing in football. Fantasy owners who lost Romo should be all over Ryan Fitzpatrick this week.
Ryan Mathews, RB, SD – No one should give up on Mathews, and there’s little reason trying to trade him now with his value so low, but fantasy owners who have kept starting him over the past four games are surely tired of hearing about his potential or his upside. Mathews has topped 65 yards rushing just once this season and has averaged 8.6 carries over five games since Week 1. He practiced fully Wednesday, which is a good sign he is finally getting close to 100 percent healthy, but San Diego’s offensive line has performed terribly this season and Mike Tolbert remains the team’s goal-line back. Mathews’ still has plenty of upside playing for the league’s No. 1 offense, but until he actually gets 20 touches in a game, the safe play is to keep him on the bench.
Jay Cutler, QB, CHI – Cutler got off to a nice start this season, but things have turned quite ugly lately. Over the last three games, he has produced one touchdown while committing seven turnovers. The 8.2 YPA mark is nice, and he should continue to put up nice yardage totals, but the TD production has been unacceptable, and with the NFL’s worst pass blocking unit (Cutler has been sacked 27 times over 5.5 games), he is a long shot to stay healthy over the rest of the year. At least Chicago has a bye week to try to fix its many problems.
Tony Gonzalez, TE, ATL – Gonzalez has topped 41 yards receiving just once over seven games this season, and his current 10.1 yards-per-catch mark is a career low. It’s not time to give up on Gonzalez, but on a run-first team that has a clear number one option in Roddy White, it’s pretty clear fantasy owners are going to be left disappointed. The 34-year-old is starting to show his age.
Alex Smith, QB, SF – Smith is expected to miss 2-to-3 weeks with a left shoulder sprain, but the real downgrade here is to Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis (and also Frank Gore, to a lesser extent). Smith is hardly any good, but the alternative is worse, and in this case, coach Mike Singletary has elected to go with Troy Smith instead of David Carr. While Troy Smith is a long shot to have much success, at least he’s an unknown – we are already well aware of how bad Carr is. Either way, Crabtree is probably not worth using in fantasy leagues, and Davis’ production could take a hit as well. Fortunately raw QBs often target their tight ends heavily, so Davis is still worth starting, of course.