By Dalton Del Don
Peyton Manning - Manning entered Week 6 getting 6.7 YPA on the year, which was his lowest mark since his rookie season in 1998. Fortunately, he broke out in a big way, getting 9.7 YPA with a 3:0 TD:INT ratio against a Ravens secondary that had been the best in the league. The Colts recently acknowledged Manning had a second surgery on his knee before the season began, which can help explain his slow start. It's clear he's only going to continue improving the further he's removed from the procedure, so it's safe to expect vintage Manning moving forward.
Braylon Edwards - One of this year's biggest busts, Edwards had totaled just 95 receiving yards with numerous drops through the first four games of the season. He nearly tripled that total Monday night, when he recorded five catches for 154 yards while also hitting paydirt. His slow start can somewhat be excused because he missed a good chunk of the preseason with an injured foot, and clearly the Browns used their bye week to work on improving the passing attack. Most encouraging of all was quarterback Derek Anderson's renewed confidence, which bodes well for both of their futures.
Michael Pittman - Thanks partially to Selvin Young's (groin) absence, Pittman became the first Bronco running back to get 20 carries this season last week, resulting in 125 scrimmage yards and 5.5 YPC. Despite turning 33 years old in August, Pittman has impressed this year, getting 4.7 YPC with four touchdowns. He was looking at an increased workload even before Young's injury and was the only running back to receive a carry for Denver in Week 6. Pittman will eventually have Ryan Torain competing for touches, but he's clearly the current favorite for carries in Denver's backfield.
Bernard Berrian - After a sluggish start to the season, Berrian has flourished with his new team, averaging 99.5 receiving yards over the last four games. It's no surprise his breakout has coincided with Gus Frerotte's move to quarterback, as the veteran can attack downfield unlike Tarvaris Jackson. Berrian's 19.8 yards-per-catch mark ranks third in the NFL, as he's one of the best deep threats in the league. The Vikings will remain a run-first team, but Berrian has emerged as a legitimate option again in fantasy leagues.
Matt Ryan - Forget last week's late-game heroics, Ryan has impressed all season long. Over the last two weeks, he's completed 68 percent of his passes with a 3:1 TD:INT ratio while taking zero sacks. It's obviously still early, but any rookie quarterback capable of getting 7.2 YPA while taking few sacks through the first six games of his career is someone special, and it looks like Atlanta hit a home run with the third pick in the draft. Additionally, Roddy White has also developed into one of the league's true superstars at wide receiver.
Marques Colston - Originally feared to be out much longer, Colston's thumb injury has healed to the point that he nearly returned to the lineup last week. Facing an Oakland team that New Orleans was confident in beating, the team decided to play it safe and rest Colston one more week, but all signs point to him returning to the lineup Week 7 against the Panthers. It may take a little time for him to get acclimated into the offense, but with Drew Brees playing at such a high level (8.9 YPA), it's safe to assume Colston will once again return to elite status.
Larry Fitzgerald - Not that he wasn't already a star entering the year, but Fitzgerald's 2008 season has been nothing short of fantastic. After another strong game Sunday that included multiple highlight-reel catches, he's on pace to finish the season with 1,456 yards and 13 touchdowns. Fitzgerald is getting 9.6 YPA and his 14 targets in the red zone are tied for the most in the NFL. Twenty-seven of his catches have gone for a first down, which is the second most in the league. With Kurt Warner thriving, expect more of the same from Fitzgerald throughout the year.
Thomas Jones - After totaling 78 yards with three touchdowns last week, Jones deserves the upgrade, at least in the short-term. It's nice to see Jones score after last season's disaster at the goal line, but Sunday's matchup against Cincinnati was highly favorable, and the veteran is still getting just 3.8 YPC on the year, which ranks outside the top-30 for those who qualify. Still, his 19 rushing attempts inside the red zone are the seventh most in the league, so he'll get scoring opportunities playing in New York's improved offense. Just don't expect any explosiveness.
Tony Romo - Romo suffered a broken pinkie late in Sunday's loss to the Cardinals, an injury likely to shelve him for four weeks. Since that coincides with Dallas' bye, the hope is that Romo only has to miss three games, but it's a significant blow nevertheless. He's without question an elite quarterback, having thrown three touchdowns in each of his past three contests, but Romo has also committed a whopping 40 turnovers over his last 28 games.
Terrell Owens - With the news of Tony Romo's (pinkie) injury, Owens also deserves a downgrade. Even with Romo, Owens was off to a disappointing start to the season. He has recorded five touchdowns through six games, but his yardage totals are way down. In fact, Owens hasn't led the Cowboys is receiving yards in any single game all year long. He's complained about his role in the offense, but his 48 targets rank in the top-10 in football. After getting 9.6 YPA in 2007, he's only getting 7.6 this season. At age 34, it's possible Owens is slowing down, something that will only be exacerbated with weak-armed Brad Johnson taking over quarterback duties. Since Owens does most of his damage downfield, it's not a great sign that his new signal caller has been nicknamed "checkdown Johnson" by teammates.
Joseph Addai - Addai left Sunday's game in the first quarter with a hamstring injury and didn't return. He supposedly suffered the injury earlier in the week in practice, and naturally, Indy felt compelled to keep it a secret. Coach Tony Dungy said Addai is going to be "OK," but at this point, it's hard to tell what that means exactly. Addai will always be valuable playing in the Colts' high-powered offense, but he really is just an average running back, getting a paltry 3.5 YPC this season after last year's disappointing 4.1 mark. Moreover, he's seemingly constantly battling some sort of injury, so he officially deserves the injury-prone tag.
Julius Jones - Jones was a valuable asset during Week 2 and 3 this year, but it looks like he's already peaked with the return of Maurice Morris and the injury to Matt Hasselbeck. Morris looked like the favorite to start before going down with a knee injury, but he's back in action, and Jones has gotten just 3.6 YPC over the past two games, so Morris is looking at more carries in the future. Even more concerning are Hasselbeck's knee and back injuries, which will sideline him for at least Week 7 and possibly longer. Charlie Frye was so awful (3.6 YPA) as his replacement last week, so the team is now turning to Seneca Wallace, who has attempted just 34 passes over the last two years.
Chris Perry - A repeat offender on the downgrades list, Perry may have finally hit rock bottom, as he got just 1.3 YPC while dropping some crucial passes during the team's Week 6 loss to the Jets. Coach Marvin Lewis says changes are coming in the backfield, so it's safe to assume more touches for Cedric Benson and Kenny Watson from this point forward. Watson probably has the most upside of all.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh - Houshmandzadeh hasn't played poorly, but his value takes a hit with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm. It's looking more and more likely that Carson Palmer's elbow injury could sideline him long-term this season, which would be a major blow to the entire offense. Through two starts, Fitzpatrick has gotten just 4.5 YPA with a 1:5 TD:turnover ratio while taking eight sacks. During those same two games, Houshmandzadeh has mustered an anemic 7.6 yards-per-catch mark.
Ryan Grant - Despite a seemingly healthier hamstring, Grant once again disappointed last week, getting just 2.7 YPC against a struggling Seahawks defense. With Brandon Jackson (illness) unable to go, Grant was asked to carry the ball 33 times, but he responded with yet another subpar effort. It's especially disconcerting when you consider how well Aaron Rodgers has played (7.4 YPA, 11 touchdown passes), meaning Grant has been unable to excel despite playing in an ideal situation with opposing defenses focused on trying to stop a terrific passing attack. Grant's YPC has dropped from 5.1 last season to 3.4 this year, and he's gotten minus-four receiving yards on the year.
J.T. O'Sullivan - Because of Mike Martz, O'Sullivan can remain a valuable asset in the right matchup, but he's been extremely mistake prone recently, committing nine turnovers over the past three games. He's also completed just 53 percent of his passes while getting 5.6 YPA over the last two contests, so he's clearly regressing as opposing defenses get more game tape to prepare. San Francisco has been playing poorly on the defensive side of the ball, so O'Sullivan will have to throw a lot to compensate, but he's becoming an increasingly shaky option regardless.
Antonio Bryant - Bryant was targeted just twice last week and has averaged only 36.6 receiving yards with zero touchdowns over the past three games. With Joey Galloway's (foot) imminent return, it appears as though Bryant's fantasy value has all but vanished.
Article first appeared 10/14/08