By Dalton Del Don
Philip Rivers - Facing a tough Tampa Bay secondary that plays particularly well at home last week, Rivers got 287 yards (9.3 YPA) with a 4:0 TD:INT ratio, amassing a 136.7 QB rating in the process. For the season, he leads the NFL in TD passes (32), YPA (8.3) and QB rating (104.0) - the last one by a significant margin. Despite San Diego sporting the 25th-ranked defense and playing alongside a slowing LaDainian Tomlinson, a hobbled Antonio Gates, an inefficient Chris Chambers and without the benefit of having a dome home stadium, Rivers still has the Chargers in position to make the playoffs, although an awful AFC West certainly has helped. He deserves the NFL's MVP award.
DeAngelo Williams - Williams shredded a stout Giants front seven last week, running for 108 yards with four touchdowns. Despite entering Week 5 with zero touchdowns, Williams leads the NFL with 20 scores on the year. His six touchdown runs of 30 or more yards this season are the second most in the history of the league. For ballcarriers with at least 200 carries this year, Williams' 5.4 YPC mark leads the NFL by a wide margin. He's been the unquestionable fantasy MVP for 2008. However, because he remains in a timeshare, there will be safer top-five picks in fantasy drafts next year.
Marques Colston - Just like last year, Colston has turned it on toward the end of the season, catching nine balls for 99 yards and two touchdowns last week. He's also topped 80 receiving yards in three of his past four games, averaging 11.3 targets over that span. Colston has become something of a health risk, but with Drew Brees and the Saints' possibly record-setting passing attack, he enters 2009 with significant upside.
Tarvaris Jackson - Jackson's passing stats were underwhelming last week (233 yards, 6.5 YPA), but he did throw two more touchdowns while finishing with a 98.5 QB rating. He now sports a 7:0 TD:INT ratio over the past three games, getting 8.0 YPA in the process. While he could still improve with his deep ball, Jackson deserves another chance as Minnesota's long-term answer at the quarterback position, as he's really shown improved decision making since replacing Gus Frerotte in Week 14. However, the big reason why Jackson gets the upgrade for the second week in a row isn't his arm but rather his legs, as his eight-carry, 76-yard rushing performance last Sunday revealed major fantasy upside. There isn't a faster quarterback in the league, and if he continues to exhibit that kind of rushing ability, he'll enter 2009 as a fantasy sleeper.
Dallas Clark - Over the last two weeks, Clark has grabbed 20 receptions for 247 receiving yards, and he's also scored a TD in three straight contests. He's fallen short of last year's gaudy touchdown total, but his 789 receiving yards are a career-high. Clark has never played a full 16-game schedule during his six-year career, so he's always something of an injury risk, but he's one of the most gifted receivers at the tight end position in the league. He gets a serious boost when Marvin Harrison (knee) is out of the lineup, evidenced by his 20 targets over the last two games. Since there's a good chance the Colts and Harrison part ways during the offseason, Clark could be in store for his best season yet in 2009.
Kevin Smith - Smith ran for 111 yards (4.6 YPC) and a touchdown last week, which is especially impressive considering the Lions lost 42-7. After Detroit mercifully ended its Rudi Johnson experiment earlier this year, Smith has totaled 696 yards over the last seven games and looks like the future in Detroit's backfield. While he doesn't possess great speed or explosiveness, Smith is a tough runner who has excelled in an otherwise hopeless situation on a winless Lions team. He is a capable receiver out of the backfield and should enter 2009 as the team's primary ballcarrier. In the long run, it's likely a good thing Detroit split his workload over the first half of the season, as Smith was coming off a year at UCF where he totaled a whopping 450 carries.
Fred Jackson - Marshawn Lynch is the undisputed starter in Buffalo, but that might make Jackson the best backup in football. Explosive yet also powerful, Jackson totaled 113 yards on just 13 carries when taking over backfield duties last week. He can be effective at the goal line while also posing a big threat as a receiver. Jackson should be considered more than just a handcuff for Lynch owners next year, as he has a ton of upside. If Lynch were to go down, Jackson would immediately become a top-15 fantasy back, at minimum.
Kurt Warner - Over the last four games, Warner has gotten just 6.0 YPA with a 5:5 TD:INT ratio. Moreover, after throwing for multiple touchdowns in eight straight games, he's done so in just one of his past six contests. The offense is completely one dimensional, and it's clear the 37-year-old is wearing down as the season progresses, highlighted by an awful performance in New England last week, where he got an abysmal 1.7 YPA. Poor weather conditions are hardly an excuse when you consider Matt Cassel threw for 345 yards (9.6 YPA) in the same game. Anquan Boldin has had an extremely disappointing finish to the season as well.
Brett Favre - During a must-win against a beatable secondary in Seattle last week, Favre got just 6.0 YPA with a 0:2 TD:INT ratio, finishing with a 48.7 QB rating. Terribly inaccurate on intermediate to deep throws, Favre has struggled mightily over the last four games, posting a 1:6 TD:INT ratio. The offensive line has regressed over that span, but considering the opponents (Denver, San Francisco, Buffalo, Seattle), the numbers look even more disappointing. Favre's 19 interceptions are three more than any other QB in the league, and he's also fumbled 10 times. The fact he made the Pro Bowl over Philip Rivers is a crime against humanity, and Favre's decision on retirement should be much easier this offseason.
Clinton Portis' workload - Over the first half of the season, Portis was rightfully in the middle of MVP discussions. However, an extremely high workload has predictably caught up to him since then, as he's averaged a microscopic 2.9 YPC over his last four games. He's a fantastic blocker and shows toughness by playing through numerous injuries, but Portis is a serious candidate to start really breaking down at this stage of his career. He'll still only be 28 years old entering next season, but no back has been worked harder over the past two years, and he's approaching 2,100 career carries, making him a health risk moving forward.
Roddy White - White has had a fantastic season and has a seriously bright future, but he couldn't have picked a worse time for two of his worst games of the season. He totaled just seven catches for 85 receiving yards with no touchdowns during Weeks 15 and 16 - the most crucial during the fantasy year. Still, his 1,334 receiving yards are the second most in the NFL, and with Matt Ryan a budding star, White's lousy finish can be forgiven, and he's likely only going to get better from here on out.
Dan Orlovsky - The flu can partially be blamed, but Orlovsky was horrible last week, throwing for just 125 yards with a 0:2 TD:INT ratio. He also finished with a 43.5 completion percentage and a 24.7 QB rating against a suspect New Orleans secondary. He's been the least worst of all Detroit quarterbacks this season, but that's hardly a compliment. The Lions must address the position during the offseason.
Lee Evans - Erratic quarterback play has certainly been the main culprit, but Evans has totaled only 64 receiving yards over the last three games. He also hasn't scored since Week 7 and has just three touchdowns on the year. Evans will never be a big PPR asset, but he still possesses elite skills as a deep threat, and he could appear in a Pro Bowl eventually. However, the Bills need much improved play at quarterback, and Evans' value is directly tied to whether that change can occur.
Roy Williams - Since getting traded to the Cowboys nine games ago, Williams has just 17 receptions for 194 yards and one touchdown. Some of it can be explained by Tony Romo missing action and Dallas spreading targets among plenty of offensive weapons, but 21.6 yards per game is ultimately inexcusable. Williams might be playing hurt, because he looks extremely slow and no longer exhibits any ability to get separation, despite defenses focusing on stopping Terrell Owens and Jason Witten first. Romo has gotten 7.9 YPA with 26 touchdowns over 12 games, so Williams' ineptitude is especially discouraging. The trade has done the unimaginable in that it's making Detroit look smart.
Kyle Orton - Before injuring his ankle Week 9, Orton had gotten 7.3 YPA with a 10:4 TD:INT ratio. Since then, he's gotten just 5.2 YPA with a 6:8 TD:INT ratio over six games, looking like his old and inconsistent self. He's thrown eight interceptions over the last four games, and at this point, it's hard to blame the injury on such poor play. It's clear Orton is an upgrade over Rex Grossman, but that doesn't mean he's the long-term answer at quarterback in Chicago, and the team would be best served to continue searching for help at the position.
Article first appeared 12/23/08