By Dalton Del Don
Laurence Maroney, RB, NE – Few players have been bigger fantasy disappointments over the past two seasons than Maroney, but with Fred Taylor (ankle) and Sammy Morris (knee) down, he's the closest thing to a workhorse in New England's backfield. He made the most of it last week, gaining 123 rushing yards on just 16 carries against a Titians' front seven that had been defending the run well all season long. Maroney remains an injury risk, and there's no guarantee coach Bill Belichick turns to him as the lone feature back, but if he's truly turned a corner (i.e., stopped dancing behind the line of scrimmage), there is a lot of upside here. Just two years ago, Maroney totaled 647 yards with seven touchdowns over the final six games.
Ray Rice, RB, BAL – Rice isn't going to get 20-plus carries a game, but that doesn't mean he still can't be a top-five fantasy running back, mainly because he's so involved as a receiver. He's averaging 6.0 YPC and has already racked up 33 catches for 325 receiving yards on the year. Baltimore has been playing mostly from behind over its past three games, so it's also safe to expect more rushing attempts moving forward, as Rice has averaged just 10.8 carries over the last five contests. Despite that, he's on pace to finish the season with 2,043 total yards and 11 touchdowns.
Sidney Rice, WR, MIN – With six receptions for 176 yards Sunday, Rice is fast developing into Brett Favre's favorite target. His upside remains somewhat limited since Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe are around to steal targets, but Rice has the physical ability to be a star. With Favre looking rejuvenated, Rice has emerged as a viable WR3, although it will be tough matching last week's performance without more looks (he saw seven targets in Week 6). Still, he possesses good size and speed, so he's a deep threat as well as a strong option around the goal line.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, NYG – Nicks has scored a touchdown in three straight weeks, as the rookie has steadily been more involved in the offense week-to-week. He's still the third wide receiver on the depth chart, and inconsistency is inevitable from the rookie, but it's clear he possesses quite a bit of talent. Don't be surprised if he's starting over the second half of the season, and with Eli Manning in the midst of the best season of his career, Nicks could be a difference maker.
Heath Miller, TE, PIT – One of the premier blockers in football, Miller has also been utilized more in the passing game this year than ever before. In fact, he's on pace to finish the season with 91 catches, 840 yards and 11 touchdowns. Pittsburgh is throwing far more frequently than in years past, and Miller is an excellent target in the red zone. He's a TE1 who can safely be started every week moving forward.
Justin Fargas, RB, OAK – The best (and typically only) compliment Fargas receives is that he runs hard, which translates into him not being all that talented. Still, with Darren McFadden (knee) out, and Michael Bush (head) banged up, Fargas looks like the Raiders' current feature back, and coach Tom Cable seems to love him. Fargas isn't a great goal-line option and is rarely involved as a receiver, so his upside is rather limited playing for a Raiders' team that struggles on offense. Still, he's probably in line for 20-plus carries this week.
Mohamed Massaquoi, WR, CLE – Massaquoi was dropped in some leagues after he followed up his Week 4 breakout with a one-catch performance, but he responded with a nice effort (five receptions, 83 yards) against a tough Steelers' secondary last week. Massaquoi has clearly emerged as Cleveland's No. 1 wide receiver, as he saw 10 more targets Sunday. He's a viable WR3 moving forward.
Mike Bell, RB, N.O. – Pierre Thomas should continue to act as New Orleans' feature back, but Bell, who is now back healthy after dealing with a knee injury, is clearly the team's preferred short-yardage option. It's not ideal relying on a goal-line score week-to-week, so Bell isn't a great fantasy option right now, but there's strong TD potential playing for such a potent Saints' offense, and if Thomas were to suffer another injury, Bell would immediately become a top-10 fantasy running back.
Steve Smith, WR, CAR – Don't overreact to Smith's slow start, but at some point, some panic is acceptable. Smith managed just one catch for four yards against a Tampa Bay secondary that had been getting burned all season last week, and he's still looking for his first touchdown on the year. The revitalization of Carolina's running game should help in the future, and Smith is bound to improve, but Jake Delhomme's struggles have really taken a toll on Smith's stats.
Matt Forte, RB, CHI – Forte's disappointing season continued last week, when he managed just 23 yards on 15 carries (1.5 YPC) against a Falcons' front seven that has yielded 4.7 YPC this season. Forte remains involved in the passing game, but he also had two costly fumbles on back-to-back plays at the goal line last week. Despite Jay Cutler upgrading the passing attack, Forte is averaging just 3.4 YPC on the year. There isn't a threat on Chicago's roster to take away touches, so he'll remain valuable if only because of the sure volume of attempts he gets in the offense, but it's starting to look like Forte is a very average football player. He's unlikely to be a consensus top-five pick once again next season.
Mark Sanchez, QB, NYJ – Of course, rough patches shouldn't come as a surprise with the rookie signal caller, but last week's five-interception, zero-touchdown performance was especially brutal. Over his last three games, Sanchez has posted a 1:9 TD:turnover ratio, so clearly opposing defenses have adjusted with more game tape. Remember, Sanchez was raw coming out of USC, so his long-term stock shouldn't be differed, but it's at least worth noting just how much the former Southern Cal QB struggled with the weather conditions last week.
Reggie Bush, RB, N.O. – Bush is healthy, playing on possibly the best offense in football and coming off a training camp in which everyone raved he was in store for the best season of his career. Unfortunately, he's since been almost completely ignored in the Saints' offense, on pace to finish the year with only 528 rushing yards. More disconcerting, however, is his lack of a role as a receiver. After totaling 213 receptions over the first 38 games of his career, Bush has just 15 catches for 128 receiving yards a third of the way through this season.
Willie Parker, RB, PIT – Parker is back to health, but he gets the downgrade with the official proclamation of Rashard Mendenhall as Pittsburgh's starter. It will take an injury for Parker to be fantasy relevant once again, and his future with the organization is cloudy at best.
Trent Edwards, QB, BUF – Edwards was off to a fine start last week before suffering yet another concussion. Since he has a history of head injuries, this is serious, so don't be surprised if his absence is an extended one. Edwards had been a disappointment so far in 2009, but Ryan Fitzpatrick figures to only be worse, as he got just 5.1 YPA in Cincinnati last year. Both Lee Evans and Terrell Owens are borderline unusable in fantasy leagues right now.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, SEA – Hasselbeck's outlook shouldn't be downgraded too much after just one bad game, but the bigger issue is just how decimated Seattle's offensive line is. He wasn't allowed to look downfield at all last week, and if Hasselbeck doesn't start getting better protection, he's a candidate to breakdown physically over the second half of the season.
Josh Morgan, WR, SF – Morgan entered the year on a lot of sleeper lists, but he's failed to live up to the hype. Still, he scored a TD in Week 4 and got 78 yards receiving in Week 5 before the team's bye, so he was showing signs of life. Unfortunately, the newly signed Michael Crabtree has already unseated Morgan in the starting lineup, and while it's nice to see Morgan being the good soldier and helping the rookie learn the playbook, it's a big blow to any value Morgan had in fantasy leagues. He's safe to drop even in deep formats.
Article first appeared 10/21/09