By Dalton Del Don
Matt Cassel - Cassel was fantastic against the Jets last week, getting 7.8 YPA with a 3:0 TD:INT ratio while posting a 103.4 QB rating. A poor New York secondary combined with a big deficit helped Cassel compile the impressive stats, but he became the first player since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to total 400 passing yards while also running for 60 yards on the ground, so we can't totally discount this performance based on the situation. While New England likely stays run-heavy and will remain conservative in the passing attack, Cassel is clearly getting more comfortable within the offense and could become a viable QB1 option down the stretch.
Joseph Addai - Addai finally broke out last Sunday, totaling 153 yards with two scores. If not for a couple of egregious drops, his stats would have looked even better. The big game came against a soft Texans defense, but Indy's schedule remains highly favorable moving forward, with upcoming matchups against the Chargers, Browns, Bengals and Lions. He appears to finally be over his hamstring injury, and Peyton Manning has the passing game back on track as well, so Addai is in the right position to succeed from here on out.
Ryan Grant - Grant easily had the best game of his season last week, running for 145 yards and a touchdown against a Bears defense that had shut down the powerful Tennessee ground game the week before. Grant exhibited a previously lacking burst, getting an impressive 5.8 YPC. Over the last five games, he's averaged 25.0 carries, so he's clearly the team's workhorse. Grant adds little in the passing game, but opposing defenses are forced to concentrate on stopping Aaron Rodgers and company, so hopefully Sunday was a sign of things to come.
Dwayne Bowe - Tyler Thigpen is playing so well at quarterback, the entire Kansas City offense deserves an upgrade, none more so than Bowe. The emergence of Mark Bradley means defenses have fewer resources to stop Bowe, whose 106 targets are the third most in the league. He's frequently thrown to at the goal line, and while Bowe struggles with drops at times, he has the physical tools to be a top-10 NFL receiver for years to come.
Marion Barber - Tony Romo's return to Dallas' lineup is a big boost for Barber, who totaled 153 yards with a touchdown last week. In fact, Barber led the Cowboys in receiving, and this team is at its best when they rely on him to protect fourth quarter leads. The schedule gets rough down the stretch, but back to full strength, the Cowboys' offense can still be elite, and with Felix Jones still out with a significant hamstring injury, Barber has the backfield all to himself. A bruising runner with better tackle-breaking ability than any back in the league, Barber can be a top-five fantasy asset over the rest of the season.
Warrick Dunn - With news of Earnest Graham being out for the year with an ankle injury, Dunn is suddenly thrust into the role as feature back. After getting just 3.2 YPC last season, he's somehow managed to get 4.2 this year despite approaching 34 years old. He's slowed down as the season has progressed, but he's active in the passing game, and the Bucs are a run-first team, so he'll get plenty of opportunities moving forward.
Antonio Pittman - It's become clear Steven Jackson's quad injury isn't improving anytime soon. In fact, at this point, he shouldn't be counted on to return at all this season, which means Pittman becomes relevant. He's the clear-cut starter in St. Louis right now, and he ran for 95 yards while getting 6.8 YPC against the 49ers last Sunday. The Rams are no juggernaut, but during the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 14-16), the team faces the Cardinals, Seahawks and 49ers, so there should be room to run when it matters most.
Ahmad Bradshaw - Bradshaw is currently listed as third on the Giants' running back depth chart and is mostly unusable on a weekly basis in fantasy leagues. However, there remains significant upside, as New York's ground game is playing at a historically high level. The team is getting a remarkable 5.3 YPC while rushing for 172.7 yards per game this season. Brandon Jacobs has been fantastic, but he's been injury prone in the past and is currently dealing with a knee injury that may very well prove more serious than the team suggests. Derrick Ward hasn't exactly been a model of health in the past, and if either were to suffer a major injury, Bradshaw would immediately become a viable fantasy option. Even if he were in a committee, the Giants average 32.8 carries per game, and Bradshaw is explosive enough (7.2 YPC for his career) to do major damage with shared touches. If still available, he deserves the No. 1 waiver priority this week.
Tim Hightower - No player's value has fluctuated as much as Hightower's over the past three weeks. After a big game once named starter during Week 9, he's gotten just 57 yards on 24 carries (2.4 YPC) over the past two weeks against weak competition. Hightower has made some highly impressive runs this season, and he's an asset in the passing game, but the fact remains his current 3.1 YPC mark is a big problem, and that low number can't totally be blamed on all those short-yardage situations he was featured in. He still has nice touchdown potential playing in such a high-powered offense, but Arizona doesn't run block all that well, and the recent increase in touches for J.J. Arrington is definitely cause for concern.
Jake Delhomme - While it's typically best not to overreact to a small sample size, Delhomme has been brutal over the past two games, posting a 36.9 completion percentage, 3.7 YPA and a 2:4 TD:INT ratio despite facing weak competition. In fact, Delhomme's poor Week 11 was especially discouraging since it came against a Detroit secondary that had been the worst in football this season. Carolina has been able to get by with a fantastic ground game, and Delhomme is capable of righting the ship, but all of a sudden, his season totals look entirely average.
Donovan McNabb - Facing a suspect Bengals defense, McNabb only mustered 5.8 YPA and one touchdown last week. Moreover, he completed just 48.3 percent of his passes and committed four turnovers. Over his last four games, McNabb has gotten just 6.6 YPA while committing as many turnovers (seven) as touchdowns. Additionally, the Eagles as a team seem to be in complete disarray, and the fact McNabb was unaware that NFL games can end in a tie is a microcosm of Philadelphia's overall struggles in endgame situations and time management. The cries for the Kevin Kolb era to begin are starting to get louder.
Willis McGahee - McGahee's poor game last Sunday (nine carries, 18 yards) can be explained by the tough opponent in New York against the Giants, but the way Baltimore has been divvying out the carries is worrisome, as it's become unpredictable based on how coach John Harbaugh perceives the matchups. Ray Rice is going to be a big part of the offense moving forward, limiting McGahee's upside.
Deuce McAllister - Even with no Reggie Bush (knee) or Aaron Stecker (hamstring) last Sunday, McAllister still managed just 18 yards off eight carries. He did score a touchdown, but Pierre Thomas got twice as many carries and was much more active as a receiver out of the backfield. McAllister is averaging a paltry 3.8 YPC on the year, and all those surgeries appear to have completely sapped any explosiveness. With Bush likely returning soon, McAllister is worthless unless it's a TD-only league.
Earnest Graham - Graham suffered a serious ankle injury during the first series of last Sunday's game against the Vikings and is out for the season. He finishes 2008 as a solid yet unspectacular fantasy producer, and Tampa Bay's backfield is unclear entering 2009, but another committee approach is likely. It's nice to see Carnell Williams back practicing, but little should be expected of him this year.
Steven Jackson - Jackson was already ruled out for Week 12 on Monday, which is never a good sign for a long-term prognosis. That means he'll have missed four of the team's last five games, and it's apparent the injury simply isn't healing as planned. Jackson has seen numerous specialists, and while each agree it's just a sprain, it would not be out of the realm of possibility for the struggling team to take all precautions with their franchise player and sit him until fully healthy, which may not be until next year. Jackson has officially earned the injury-prone label, so tread with caution at the draft table next year.
Julius Jones - After an impressive game against the Dolphins the week before, Jones was stymied last Sunday, gaining just 1.9 YPC despite a cushy home matchup versus the Cardinals. His current 4.4 YPC mark is a career-high, but he's rarely used in the passing game, gets taken out at the goal line and is in a timeshare with Maurice Morris. Sure, Jones may have another fine game this season, but he simply can't be counted on from week-to-week, especially while playing for a middling Seattle offense.
Article first appeared 11/18/08