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NFL Barometer: Rising Receivers

Dalton Del Don

Dalton Del Don

Dalton Del Don writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

RISERS

Tom Brady, QB, NE – No player in football is hotter than Brady, who has posted a 13:0 TD:INT ratio in his last four games. Over that span, Brady has also completed a remarkable 73.4 percent of his passes while averaging 9.7 YPA. Brady currently boasts a 27:4 TD:INT ratio and a 109.5 QB rating, putting him right around the top of the list in the MVP debate. Brady's numbers are even more impressive when you consider the unheralded group of weapons he has at his disposal.

James Starks, RB, GB – Starks made a big splash in his NFL debut Sunday, gaining 73 yards on 18 carries - the most by a Packers RB this season. Brandon Jackson received only four rushing attempts; and if this is a sign of things to come, Starks could be a difference maker in fantasy leagues from here on out. Starks would have been taken much higher in April’s draft if not for his injury history, so the Packers may have found a gem when they took him in the sixth round. Green Bay will likely go with the committee approach in the backfield, but Starks looked better than any other Packers back has this season, and head coach Mike McCarthy referred to him as an “every-down back.” Plus, he has fresh legs after spending most of the season on the PUP list. While it remains unclear just how much work Starks will see going forward, he is the Packers running back worth owning in fantasy leagues.

Sidney Rice, WR, MIN – Rice hauled in five receptions for 105 yards and two scores Sunday, and his 31-yard TD catch was highlight worthy. Rice benefited from playing a poor Buffalo defense and not having to battle Percy Harvin for targets; and though his schedule gets much tougher over the next three games, he looks healthy and ready to keep producing. Rice is a big red zone target and also a terrific downfield threat, so he should be worth using in fantasy leagues down the stretch.

Earl Bennett, WR, CHI – Bennett led the Bears with seven catches for 104 yards Sunday after scoring twice the week before. Johnny Knox is a superior downfield threat, but Jay Cutler is developing a nice rapport with his former college teammate, Bennett, who is quietly emerging as the team’s No. 1 option in the passing game. The Mike-Martz-led offense is not producing the gaudy passing stats many expected, but they have played well of late. Bennett will be an option for owners in deep leagues.

LeGarrette Blount, RB, TB – Blount ran for 103 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta, which was especially noteworthy since the Falcons have allowed the second fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. Blount has just two catches on the year, and there are rumblings he may lose his role as the team’s short-yardage back, but he has averaged 18.9 rushing attempts over the past six contests and has clearly emerged as Tampa Bay’s featured runner. Tampa faces the Redskins, Lions and Seahawks in the next three weeks – all teams that rank in the bottom eight in fantasy points allowed to running backs – so Blount could be a huge difference maker during fantasy crunch time.

Greg Jennings, WR, GB – Jennings has gotten really hot lately, totaling 393 yards and five touchdowns over the last three weeks. After averaging just 36.6 receiving yards over the season’s first five games, Jennings has topped 70 yards in every game since, and his 11 receiving touchdowns rank third in the NFL. Jennings scored 21 times over 29 games from 2007-2008, so last year’s total of four scores looks like quite an anomaly. There might not be a better fantasy option at receiver this week than Jennings against Detroit.

Ben Watson, TE, CLEJake Delhomme locked into Watson last week, but the tight end responded by catching 10 of his 11 targets and picking up 100 yards and a touchdown. Delhomme will get another start in Week 14, so expect Watson to once again be heavily involved in the passing attack. Moreover, Cleveland faces a Buffalo defense that has allowed a league-high eight touchdowns to tight ends this season, so it could be a good week to get Watson in the lineup.

LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI – Despite receiving 20 carries in only one game this season, McCoy is on pace to finish with 1,809 total yards and 12 touchdowns thanks to his activity in the passing game. In fact, he is on track to record a whopping 89 catches this year. McCoy has clearly established himself as Philadelphia’s franchise back for years to come, and while the Eagles skew toward the pass, it’s still a terrific situation to be in. McCoy is just 22 years old, so there’s plenty of room for further improvement. He will enter 2011 as a top-five fantasy running back.

FALLERS

Chris Johnson, RB, TEN – Johnson ran for just 53 yards Sunday against a mediocre Jacksonville defense, one week after being held to only five rushing yards in Houston. Johnson is on pace to finish with nearly 1,000 fewer yards from scrimmage than he racked up last season thanks to a YPC mark that has dropped from 5.6 to 4.3 and his lack of activity in the passing game. Johnson is still on pace to finish with 1,527 total yards and 12 touchdowns, and he is a top-five back in Week 14 against the Colts, but fantasy owners have to feel a bit let down. Pro Football Focus ranks the Titans as the third worst run blocking unit in the NFL (with only the Steelers and Buccaneers worse), which is a big step back from last year and certainly a big part of the problem.

Mario Manningham, WR, NYG – Manningham managed just two catches for 36 yards last week despite a plus matchup at home against the Redskins, who are severely depleted in their secondary. He has not had more than three receptions or topped 65 yards receiving in any of the past three games, so he hasn’t exactly taken advantage of his temporary standing as the Giants’ No. 1 wide receiver. With Steve Smith (pectoral) and Hakeem Nicks (leg) both due back soon, Manningham will again be pushed down the depth chart. His fantasy value is going the same direction.

Mike Goodson, RB, CAR – Goodson scored for the second straight week Sunday, but he finished with just three touches and later left with an injury to his shoulder. Fellow running back Jonathan Stewart received 22 touches and has taken control of Carolina’s backfield. Goodson is now only a handcuff for fantasy purposes and can’t be trusted in Week 14 against a Falcons defense that has been stingy against the run.

Chris Wells, RB, ARI – After fumbling a simple handoff in Week 11 - a problem he has had throughout his brief career – Wells was again in the doghouse after missing a blitz pickup Sunday. As a result, he received just three carries, giving him a total of 18 touches over the past four games. Wells has talent, and he’s tempting to use in Week 14 at home against a Denver defense that has allowed the second most fantasy points to running backs, but he is in a timeshare and has the disadvantage of playing on a team with the worst quarterback situation in the league.

Dez Bryant, WR, DAL – Bryant was lost for the season with a broken fibula, and after totaling just four catches for 22 yards over the final three games he appeared in, his year ended on a low note. However, it was still an encouraging rookie campaign to be sure, so Bryant will likely be a relatively high draft pick next year. Miles Austin and Roy Williams should see a bump in value as a result of Bryant’s injury.

Hines Ward, WR, PIT – Ward caught just one ball for 13 yards in Week 12 and has now been held to fewer than 30 receiving yards in five of his past six games. Ward is averaging just 43.6 yards per game this season, his lowest mark since 2000. At age 34, Ward is entering the decline phase of his career. He is quickly become an unreliable option in fantasy leagues.

Chad Henne, QB, MIA – After a strong game against Oakland in Week 11, Henne was downright awful Sunday, throwing three interceptions and averaging 5.4 YPA at home against the Browns. He completed just 50.0 percent of his passes and posted a 37.8 QB rating against a middling Browns secondary that entered having allowed 19 TD passes over 11 games. Henne now has a 12:15 TD:INT ratio on the season, and his status as Miami’s franchise quarterback has come into question. He has been picked off eight times over the past four games, and the money spent on Brandon Marshall has largely been wasted so far. According to Pro Football Focus, the Dolphins have been the best pass blocking team in football in 2010, making Henne’s poor play all that more discouraging.