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NFL Barometer: Witten Warms Way Up

Dalton Del Don

Dalton Del Don

Dalton Del Don writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

RISERS

Vincent Jackson, WR, SD – Jackson rewarded fantasy owners who gambled on him in Week 15, recording five catches for 112 yards and three touchdowns. His day could have been even better considering he was inches away from a fourth score and the Chargers did not throw too much after grabbing a 31-0 lead. Malcom Floyd (hamstring) will cut into Jackson’s targets if he returns in to the field; but that is hardly a given and, Antonio Gates (foot) remains highly questionable as well. Fantasy owners should start Jackson with confidence this week.

Ray Rice, RB, BAL – While hardly a bust, Rice has failed to live up to his preseason ADP; but he made it up to owners who were still alive in Week 15 by totaling 233 yards and two touchdowns. He reached 90 rushing yards for just the second time this season and has now racked up 417 receiving yards over the past seven games – a season’s pace of 953 yards. Rice doesn’t possess the scoring upside of other backs in the league, but like Brian Westbrook before him, he’s certainly capable of reaching the end zone 8-12 times in a given year. Rice will be someone to target late in the first round at 2011 draft tables.

Rex Grossman, QB, WAS – Making his first start since 2008, Grossman threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns against the Cowboys. Before getting too excited, keep in mind Dallas has allowed the second most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season. Additionally, Grossman committed three turnovers and produced most of his stats while coming back from a 20-point deficit. Still, he produced 30 points, a season-high for Washington and more points than the team has scored against the Cowboys during their last four meetings combined. Donovan McNabb is done in Washington, and while the team is almost certain to select a QB in the upcoming draft, Grossman is going to get a trial run. With Santana Moss, Chris Cooley, Ryan Torain and an emerging Anthony Armstrong to go along with an awful defense, Grossman is actually in a pretty good situation to put up stats. He’s a sneaky fantasy option in Week 16 against a Jacksonville secondary that has allowed an NFL-high 8.4 YPA this season.

Jason Witten, TE, DAL – Over the last four games Witten has racked up 32 catches for 350 yards and four touchdowns, making him a common denominator on a lot of winning fantasy teams. He has already tied a career-high with seven scores on the year and is also on pace to finish with 1,042 receiving yards, which would be the second most of his career. Witten has missed only one game over eight seasons, so he is also one of the most durable players in football. Witten has without question been the No. 1 fantasy tight end since Jon Kitna took over at quarterback.

Michael Vick, QB, PHI – Vick threw for 242 yards and three touchdowns last week while also rushing for 130 yards and another score. Put differently, that’s the equivalent of throwing for 240 yards and eight touchdowns in a single game, so most of Vick’s fantasy owners are likely still playing in Week 16. If you prorate Vick’s numbers from the 10 games he has finished this year, he produces a season’s pace of 4,330 passing yards, 32 passing TDs, 954 rushing yards and 13 rushing scores. That’s essentially the same as a non-running quarterback throwing for 6,238 yards and 52 touchdowns. I’m never one to take a quarterback within the first five rounds, and Vick offers plenty of risk with his style of play, but I really couldn’t fault anyone for making him the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 drafts.

Tim Tebow, QB, DEN – Tebow’s first NFL start came with mixed results. His 40-yard TD run and 33-yard TD pass to Brandon Lloyd were both impressive, but he also completed just 50 percent of his passes while implementing one of the most scaled back game plans you’ll ever see. Of course the conservative attack should come as no surprise for a rookie QB making his first career start, especially for a passer as raw as Tebow. He clearly has a ways to go before being an effective starter, but any quarterback with his rushing potential is noteworthy in fantasy leagues. With Tebow’s dominance at the goal line, 15 rushing scores isn’t out of the question if he becomes a full-time starter down the road.

FALLERS

Austin Collie, WR, IND – Making his first appearance since Week 11, Collie had racked up eight catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns in the first half Sunday before leaving with yet another concussion. This is turning into a scary and sad situation, considering it’s the third time since November Collie has departed a game with concussion symptoms. His season is over, and at this point, it’s safe to question his career as well. Collie scored eight touchdowns over the seven games he was able to finish this year, which would have put him on pace for 18 over an entire season. Hopefully Collie can make it back again and avoid any further hits to his head.

Michael Crabtree, WR, SF – Crabtree has totaled a paltry 10 receptions for 126 receiving yards over the past five games, making him one of the bigger fantasy busts of 2010. He has hauled in more than five catches and reached 65 receiving yards in just one game all season long. Crabtree really has to improve his route running, but it is still very surprising to see a pedestrian receiver like Josh Morgan put up better numbers. Crabtree has scored five times this year, and there remains plenty of untapped upside for the sophomore wideout, but he has some work to do to become a steady player, both in real life and fantasy.

Matt Hasselbeck, QB, SEA – Hasselbeck somehow put up only 71 passing yards and no touchdowns – while turning the ball over three times - at home against an Atlanta secondary that ranks in the bottom half of the league, posting an anemic 28.9 QB rating despite having his full receiving corps. Hasselbeck has committed a whopping 13 turnovers over the past four games, and considering he has posted a 6.8 YPA mark or lower in four of the past five seasons, the 35-year-old’s days as a starter appear to be coming to an end.

Miles Austin, WR, DAL – Since Jon Kitna took over the starting duties for an injured Tony Romo in Week 7, Austin has 28 receptions and 378 receiving yards over nine games. He has scored five touchdowns over that span, but the change at quarterback has mostly crushed his fantasy value. Austin averaged 6.6 catches and 97.2 receiving yards with Romo, but he is averaging just 3.1 catches and 42.0 receiving yards with Kitna. Austin deserves some blame since he is among the league-leaders in drops this season, but his lack of production has been especially discouraging considering the team has averaged 32.2 points over six games since Jason Garrett took over as head coach. Austin will be a guy to target in drafts next year since his production should rebound with Romo, but don’t be totally surprised if he takes a backseat to Dez Bryant in the passing game.

Knoshown Moreno, RB, DEN – Moreno left Sunday’s game with a rib injury after gaining just five rushing yards, which really hurt fantasy owners counting on his production. As one of the few backs in football who dominates his team’s carries – goal line included – and is also plenty active as a receiver, he offers a ton of fantasy potential, but there are still big question marks about his ability to stay healthy.

Anquan Boldin, WR, BAL – Over the last seven games Boldin has averaged just 3.1 receptions and 42.1 yards, with only two touchdowns over that span. He has been held to 50 yards or fewer in six of those seven contests despite Joe Flacco emerging as one of the better quarterbacks in the league. Boldin is now 30 years old and has taken a lot of physical punishment throughout his career, and his days as an elite fantasy option might be finished.

Adrian Peterson, RB, MIN – Peterson has had a fine season and has proved worthy of a top fantasy selection despite his team crumbling around him, but his surprise inactive last week was crushing, considering it came late on Monday night in a crucial playoff week. He also managed just 26 total yards the week before, so Peterson’s collapse couldn’t have come at a worse time. Surely one of your friends has a story about Peterson’s absence ending his fantasy season.