By Dalton Del Don
Matt Schaub - Back after missing four games with a knee injury, Schaub lit up a solid Green Bay secondary last week, throwing for 414 yards (9.9 YPA) with two touchdowns. It was especially encouraging since it came on the road, where Schaub has struggled during his brief career. His 12:9 TD:INT ratio this season isn't overly impressive, but his 8.1 YPA mark and 67.7 completion percentage reveals a potential star. Of course, he's been a big injury risk, so health remains a concern. The Texans' schedule isn't very favorable against the pass over the rest of the year, but Schaub's future looks bright.
Pierre Thomas - Thomas ran for 102 yards (6.4 YPC) with a score last week, and he's now totaled six touchdowns over the last four games. Reggie Bush (knee) is back and will get some of the carries, but he's best used as a receiver and primarily on outside runs, so Thomas should continue to be heavily involved in New Orleans' No. 1 ranked offense. Deuce McAllister has become irrelevant regardless of whether he gets suspended or not, and Thomas has averaged 4.9 YPC while also contributing in the passing game this season, so he's the team's best running back and New Orleans' long-term answer at the position.
Tatum Bell - Bell has done nothing but disappoint during his career, but all of a sudden he looks like Denver's No. 1 running back, making him relevant once again. After the impressive Peyton Hillis was lost for the season with a hamstring injury last week, Bell came in and ran for 52 yards on just 11 carries. He knows the system, so there's not much of a learning curve. Selvin Young may become a factor, but he's still dealing with a groin problem, and the Broncos have even turned to their practice squad for depth at an extremely thin position. Denver will most likely go pass-heavy, but Bell has quietly averaged 4.8 YPC during his career, and if he's given the majority of touches in Mike Shanahan's unpredictable backfield, he could make some noise over the season's final three games.
Antonio Bryant - Bryant was simply fantastic on Monday night, catching nine balls for 200 yards and two scores. His fourth quarter, 15-yard touchdown grab that he hauled in with one hand was one of the best of the season. No one has ever doubted Bryant's physical gifts, and now it seems his head is also on straight. Tampa Bay is a run-first team, but he's easily become the team's No. 1 receiver this year, and his 9.8 YPA mark is highly impressive. He should continue his strong play with favorable upcoming matchups against the Falcons and Chargers.
Tashard Choice - After getting 5.2 YPC while replacing Marion Barber on Thanksgiving, Choice got the start in Week 14, totaling 166 yards against the NFL's best defense in Pittsburgh. In fact, his 88 rushing yards were the most by any running back against the Steelers this season. Barber is expected to return in Week 15, but he's now dealing with a calf injury in addition to the painful dislocated toe, so he's far from a sure thing. Dallas' schedule remains difficult, but Choice has impressed since getting pushed into action. He's obviously a must-own for Barber owners, but he also possesses plenty of upside in his own right while playing for such a high-powered offense.
Tony Gonzalez - Tight end has been a down position across the NFL this season, but that certainly hasn't been the case with Gonzalez. He leads all tight ends in receiving yards (879), receptions (78) and touchdowns (seven). He's excelled especially since Tyler Thigpen has taken over quarterback duties, as the young signal caller often locks onto Gonzalez even to a fault. The Chiefs' new spread offense has been effective, and because the team's defense and running game have struggled, Kansas City has become pass-heavy. Expect continued success against the Chargers, Dolphins and Bengals to finish out the season.
Zach Miller - In an ugly season offensively, Miller has been Oakland's lone bright spot. The Raiders' incompetence has hurt his touchdown totals, but Miller is averaging a solid 62.8 receiving yards over the past four games, making numerous impressive catches in coverage in the process. Miller was an early second-round pick out of Arizona State in 2007, so he should be even better during his third year in the league next season. At 6-5, 255 pounds with soft hands and great route running ability, he needs to be targeted more in the red zone. Of course, the team needs to get their first, and poor quarterback play limits Miller's potential.
Joseph Addai - Playing at home against a soft Bengals front seven, Addai ran for just 26 yards on 10 carries last week, which was a microcosm for his disappointing season. Unsurprisingly, he left the game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return, continuing a frustrating trend with the injury-prone back. Addai has averaged an unacceptable 3.5 YPC on the year, exhibiting little burst or tackle breaking ability. He's expected to return to the lineup this week against the Lions, who have allowed an NFL-high 5.0 YPC and the most rushing touchdowns (23) this season, but Dominic Rhodes figures to remain in the mix, and Addai is making it increasingly difficult to be trusted.
Brandon Jacobs - Jacobs left Sunday's game after aggravating his knee injury. He insists it's not serious, and an MRI revealed no major damage, but this is a problem he's been dealing with for quite some time now and it's always a risk to knock him from any given game, as it's not going to completely heal until the offseason. The Giants don't have the No. 1 seed locked up yet, so the team still has incentive to play its best players, but with capable replacements in Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw, New York will likely be extra cautious with Jacobs with the playoffs in mind. As a result, Ward and even Bradshaw are must owns in fantasy leagues.
Antonio Gates - Gates was held without a catch while playing the Raiders last week, and he was largely ignored in the passing game entirely despite Philip Rivers throwing for three touchdowns with 9.7 YPA. Rivers did only complete 10 passes overall, but this has become a disturbing trend with Gates recently, as he has totaled just 65 yards over the past four games. Despite his claims to the contrary, clearly he's still not right physically; his 11.6 yards per catch mark is the lowest of his career, and he's on pace to finish with the fewest amount of receiving yards since his rookie campaign in 2003. He'd be hard to sit in a highly favorable matchup this week against the Chiefs, but Gates' 2008 season is going to go down as a big disappointment.
Peyton Hillis - Hillis was in the middle of another fantastic performance last week before suffering a season-ending hamstring injury, getting 7.3 YPC with his fifth rushing score over the last four games. The loss is big since he was playing so well, and Denver is so thin at the position. Hillis will certainly have a role with the team next season, but he's unlikely to ever again be the team's primary ballcarrier.
Matt Hasselbeck - Hasselbeck's back injury flared up once again last week, causing him to miss Seattle's game against the Patriots. The problem isn't going away anytime soon, and in fact, he only runs the risk of further damage by playing, so the Seahawks are likely to shut him down for the rest of the year with the team completely out of the playoff picture. If so, Hasselbeck finishes the season with a career-low 5.8 YPA mark and a 5:10 TD:INT ratio. The poor numbers can at least partially if not fully be blamed on his injuries, but the team has taken a major step back offensively as well. He'll enter 2009 as no longer an elite fantasy option.
Gus Frerotte - Frerotte suffered a lower back bruise in Sunday's win over Detroit and did not play in the second half. He had thrown two picks before departing against a Lions secondary that entered with just two interceptions total for the season. Meanwhile, Tarvaris Jackson played well in his place, getting 10.5 YPA while leading the team to a comeback win. While his status is still unclear, the Vikings are afraid that the damage to Frerotte's back may include a broken bone, so he's a question mark moving forward. He's likely the team's starter if health permits, but there's also a potential controversy brewing in Minnesota.
Warrick Dunn - Dunn averaged 4.9 YPC last week, but the big news here is Carnell Williams' return, which has really cut into Dunn's work at the goal line. He's also received fewer than 15 carries in two of the past three contests. Tampa Bay is a run-first team, and Dunn will remain plenty involved, but his 33-year-old body has tired over the second half of the season, and there's little touchdown potential when he's getting constantly replaced in short-yardage situations.
Larry Johnson - Despite a terrific matchup against a Denver defense that has allowed 4.9 YPC and 17 rushing scores this year, Johnson averaged a paltry 3.3 YPC while being held out of the end zone last week. Since returning to the Chiefs' lineup, Johnson has gotten 3.8 YPC or fewer in three of four games, and he has just nine receptions on the year in total. His career workload remains relatively low since he wasn't a starter immediately, but he's approaching 30 and has just never been the same since breaking the NFL record with 416 carries in 2006. He's a big question mark moving forward.
Article first appeared 12/9/08