Vincent Jackson, WR, SD – While there is some risk involved using a player who has yet to play a single snap this year, Jackson’s situation is a bit different since he is not returning from an injury and will be extra motivated with eyes toward a huge contract in the offseason. With Malcom Floyd (hamstring), Antonio Gates (foot), and Patrick Crayton (wrist) all banged up, Jackson is immediately going to be a major part of San Diego’s offense. It’s a terrific situation to be in considering how Philip Rivers has played this season (9.0 YPA, 23 TDs). Jackson instantly becomes a must-start in fantasy leagues.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, JAC – Jones-Drew has averaged 164.0 yards and a touchdown over the past three games and looks much healthier than he was earlier in the season. David Garrard, who has thrown 13 touchdowns over the last five games he has finished, has improved Jacksonville’s passing attack, and Jones-Drew has benefitted. After a tough upcoming two-game stretch, the Jaguars’ schedule is highly favorable over Weeks 14-16 (OAK, @ IND, WAS). Jones-Drew isn’t going to live up to his preseason ADP as a top-three pick, but he could still finish with first round value.
Mike Wallace, WR, PIT – Over the last three weeks Wallace has racked up 16 catches for 362 receiving yards and four scores. At 6-0, 199 lbs, Wallace is far from an ideal red-zone target, but thanks to an NFL-high 23.0 yards per catch, his eight touchdowns are tied for the sixth most among wide receivers. Wallace has averaged 91.3 yards receiving (with six TDs) over six games since Ben Roethlisberger returned from his suspension, a pace that would leave him with 1,461 yards at the end of the season. This is just Wallace’s second year in the league, so the sky is the limit.
Keiland Williams, RB, WAS – Williams managed just 3.0 YPC in a tough matchup against Tennessee in Week 11; but thanks to his involvement as a receiver, he has totaled 234 yards (with three scores) over the past two games since taking over as Washington’s lead back. With Clinton Portis (groin) and Ryan Torain (hamstring) out indefinitely, the job could be Williams’ for the foreseeable future. James Davis is on the radar right now, but Williams should be a top-20 back the rest of the way.
Mike Tolbert, RB, SD – Tolbert took advantage of Ryan Mathews’ ankle problems and racked up 153 yards and a touchdown during the Chargers’ win over the Broncos on Monday night. Since Tolbert was already in line for goal-line carries, fantasy leaguers who own both should not be rooting for Mathews to return anytime soon. Tolbert might not be quite as explosive as the rookie, but he is surprisingly adept as a receiver for his size, and the aforementioned GL duties are huge. Tolbert should hang onto that role at least - Mathews has averaged 2.3 YPC after contact this season and broken nine tackles, but Tolbert has averaged 3.5 YPC after contact and has eluded 15 tackles.
Mike Goodson, RB, CAR – Goodson has totaled 264 yards over the last two games, and he was able to average 5.5 YPC against Baltimore last week despite having Brian St. Pierre as his quarterback. The team has always been high on the former fourth-round pick, but he has never gotten much of a chance behind two running backs who have arguably both been top-five talents in the league over the past two seasons. Goodson’s fantasy value hinges on the health of Jonathan Stewart, who returned to practice Wednesday. Whoever is Carolina’s starting RB in Weeks 14 and 15 (at home against Atlanta and Arizona) will be a strong start during the fantasy playoffs.
Chris Ivory, RB, NO – Ivory emerged from New Orleans’ bye as the team’s featured back, getting 23 carries compared to just four for Julius Jones. While Ivory is worthless in passing situations (he has just one catch on the year), he ran for 99 yards and a score against Seattle, and more importantly, Pierre Thomas (ankle) doesn’t appear close to returning to action. Ivory is hardly a guarantee since the Saints’ running back situation has been fluid all year, but if a workhorse were ever to emerge for this team, he would have top-10 upside.
Joel Dreessen, TE, HOU – Dreessen caught four balls for 106 yards and a touchdown last week against the Jets, and with Owen Daniels now battling a hamstring injury to go along with his recovering knee, he may see extended snaps this week. Dreesen is a TE1 if starting, so this is a situation worth keeping a close eye on moving forward.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, NYG – Nicks will miss at least three weeks after being diagnosed with compartment syndrome. It’s a massive blow to fantasy owners who will be without their top-three fantasy wide receiver during crunch time. The good news is the injury will lower Nicks’ price tag at draft tables in 2011, but he is still almost certain to be gone by the end of the second round.
Austin Collie, WR, IND – While it doesn’t sound like Collie suffered another concussion in Week 11, his previous symptoms returned and forced him to leave the game. Collie has already been ruled out for Week 12, so this is clearly not a minor issue. It would not be a shock if Collie does not play another snap this season, which is a shame since he has arguably been the Colts’ best receiver when healthy. The disappointing Pierre Garcon is going to have to step up.
Vince Young, QB, TEN – Young ‘s downgrade after going on IR with a thumb injury is obvious, but there are long-term ramifications after it became clear he and Jeff Fisher can’t coexist. Owner Bud Adams may have to decide between the two during the offseason, and right or wrong, don’t be surprised if he chooses the quarterback.
Jahvid Best, RB, DET – Best’s three-carry, two-yard performance in Week 11 may be the final nail in his 2010 fantasy coffin. It was worth questioning at the time whether the two turf toe injuries he suffered earlier this season would hinder him all year, and especially in hindsight, the result appears obvious. Best will be much cheaper in 2011 drafts as a result, and at least even the most patient owners no longer have to debate whether or not to use him. Still, Best’s injury issues leave owners without a potential major asset. Maurice Morris’ fantasy value is nowhere near Best’s.
Randy Moss, WR, TEN – Moss has one catch for 26 yards over two games with Tennessee; and if that’s not bad enough, Rusty Smith will be throwing him the ball for at least the next week or two. Moss entered his age 33 season averaging 77.8 receiving yards per game during his career, the second most in NFL history, but he has put up just 33.9 yards per game in 2010. Meanwhile, Terrell Owens, who will turn 37 years old in two weeks, has averaged 89.7 yards per game this season.
Tony Romo, QB, DAL – I added Romo in my home league last week, thinking that if Dallas hadn’t placed him on IR yet, there was a real possibility he would return to make an impact come fantasy playoff time. However, a recent X-ray revealed that Romo’s collarbone is still broken, and while that’s no shock, his return timetable has been pushed back to Week 16. Romo is no guarantee to play that week, and even if he does, it would take a huge leap of faith to start a guy in your league’s semifinals or championship that has not played since Week 7. Romo is safe to drop or leave on the waiver wire.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, NYG – After fumbling for the sixth time this season (and losing his fifth), Bradshaw has lost the starting running back job in New York to Brandon Jacobs. Fantasy owners should not panic, however, as even Jacobs has conceded he doesn’t expect the change to be permanent. As long as Bradshaw improves his ball security, it will be tough to keep him off the field; but Jacobs is suddenly back on the map.