By Dalton Del Don
Shonn Greene, RB, NYJ With Leon Washington (leg) out for the season, Greene immediately became the No. 1 waiver priority in leagues he wasn't already owned this week. Greene's huge game last Sunday (144 rushing yards, two touchdowns) came against a soft Oakland defense, but the rookie has impressed whenever given the opportunity this season. Remember, the Jets traded basically the second half of their draft to move up to select Greene in the third round, so the coaching staff is very high on him. He won't be on the field during third downs, and Thomas Jones remains ahead of him in the pecking order, but this Jets team has ran for 634 yards over the past two games, so it's a productive ground game to say the least. Greene is a strong option at the goal line and will likely act as New York's "closer" in games they are playing with the lead. He can be a decent flex play immediately in the right matchup, and if Jones were to breakdown (he's 31 years old and approaching 2,100 career carries), Greene would have top-10, if not top-five, upside.
Miles Austin, WR, DAL During his two starts this year, Austin has totaled 16 catches for 421 yards and four touchdowns, so it's safe to say he's not returning to a bench role anytime soon. In fact, it's already abundantly clear he's Dallas' No. 1 wide receiver, so while this type of pace is obviously unsustainable, there's no reason why Austin can't remain a top-15 fantasy WR from here on out. He's 6-3, 214 lbs with breakaway speed, and it remains a mystery why the Cowboys' coaches were so slow to give him this opportunity (well, not that big of a mystery actually. Wade Phillips is clueless). Among wide receivers, only Wes Welker has more yards after the catch than Austin this season (256), and this was with him rarely even seeing the field until two games ago. With Tony Romo one of the most willing quarterbacks in the NFL to attack downfield, Austin is in a terrific situation, so this outburst is no fluke.
Jamaal Charles, RB, KC It's still not certain Larry Johnson will get cut, but his role with the Chiefs is tenuous at best after his recent tirade first through Twitter and then to the media. At this point, even Kansas City fans are calling for his release, and it's not like his performance merits putting up with an attitude (2.7 YPC on the year). As a result, Charles could be looking at a much bigger workload moving forward. Coach Todd Haley recently complimented the RB from Texas, and although he's struggled with fumbles in the past and is hardly built for 20-plus carriers each week, Charles has gotten 5.3 YPC throughout his career, and he's a major weapon as a receiver. In fact, his ability in the passing game is actually a better fit than Johnson in the Chiefs' spread attack. Moreover, Kansas City faces the Bills and Browns in two homes games during Weeks 14 and 15, so Charles could have an impact when it matters most in fantasy leagues.
Alex Smith, QB, SF Replacing an ineffective Shaun Hill during the second half of Sunday's loss last week, Smith responded by completing 68.2 percent of his passes while getting 9.4 YPA and throwing three touchdowns over just two quarters. The conditions were favorable, facing a soft Texans' secondary that was playing with a comfortable lead, but the outing was impressive nevertheless. Smith is a clear upgrade over Hill in regards to arm strength and mobility, but it remains to be seen if his past struggles with accuracy and decision-making have finally been solved. It's worth noting a healthy Smith was unable to beat out Hill in training camp, and it's important not to overreact to one half of football. Still, Smith was a former No. 1 overall pick and has the physical skills to at least make him interesting moving forward, and with Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Frank Gore at his disposal, he'll have more weapons to work with on offense than at any other time in his career.
Michael Crabtree, WR, SF Crabtree made a mental mistake during the first snap of his career last week, resulting in a sack. However, his play was nearly flawless afterward, and while five catches for 56 yards won't jump out at you, the performance was highly impressive for a rookie wide receiver who just signed two weeks ago. Crabtree was in for about 90 percent of San Francisco's snaps, and four of his five receptions went for first downs, most of them coming in crucial third-down situations. Again, it was just one game and against a beatable secondary, but sometimes it's immediately evident when a rookie gets it. To wit, Oakland's Darrius Heyward-Bey has been starting since the season opened, yet Crabtree, who hadn't even played football since last January, already has more catches on the year (five to four).
Jason Snelling, RB, ATL Snelling isn't a household name, but he got 68 rushing yards on just seven carries last week. Meanwhile, Michael Turner has gotten just 3.4 YPC this season, which is among the lowest of all qualified runners. Turner isn't going to lose his job anytime soon, but with Jerious Norwood (hip) out indefinitely, Snelling is worth stashing in deeper leagues. He's going to rack up receptions as the team's change-of-pace back and could see an increase in carries as well if Turner continues to struggle.
Chris Wells, RB, ARI Wells' performance Sunday night against the Giants was impressive (4.8 YPC), highlighted by a touchdown run that featured a vicious stiff-arm. More importantly, he received 14 rushing attempts compared to just four for starter Tim Hightower. Hightower will remain the nominal starter for the time being, and he's still the preferred option in passing situations, but Wells should start seeing the majority of carries in Arizona's backfield. Provided he can stay healthy, Wells has a bunch of upside from here on out, as Arizona has the easiest schedule (combined win-loss records of each team's remaining opponents) of any team in football over the rest of the year.
Barnard Berrian, WR, MIN Berrian left Sunday's game early with a hamstring injury, which helps explain his poor numbers (two catches, 18 yards). He hopes to return in Week 8, but the bigger problem for his fantasy outlook is Sidney Rice's emergence. Minnesota has a strong defense and running game, and with Rice and possibly even Percy Harvin ahead of Berrian in Brett Favre's reads in the passing game, Berrian isn't going to put up very big numbers, especially as such a weak option in the red zone.
Carnell Williams, RB, TB Williams has remained healthy and continues to run hard, but his teammates haven't done him any favors. Moreover, Derrick Ward actually got more carries last week (13) than Williams (11), so it looks like Tampa Bay's backfield is back to being a committee. With rookie Josh Freeman slated to start at QB when the team comes out of its bye, the offense doesn't figure to improve anytime soon, so it's going to be a long season in Tampa Bay, especially with such a difficult upcoming schedule.
Donald Brown, RB, IND Brown was off to a terrific start last week, gaining 58 rushing yards on his first two carries. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury knocked him out of the game, and while it hasn't been deemed serious, the problem could keep him out in the short-term. With Joseph Addai continuing to disappoint (3.3 YPC), there's an opportunity for Brown to get more action in Indy's backfield, but he needs to get healthy first.
Terrell Owens, WR, BUF Owens has failed to live up to expectations regardless of who is playing quarterback in Buffalo, but Ryan Fitzpatrick appears to really prefer Lee Evans. The Bills have won their last two games, but Owens has become a complete non-factor in the offense. He's on pace to finish the season with 41 catches, 553 yards and two touchdowns.
Tashard Choice, RB, DAL After impressing over the previous three games, Choice wasn't given a single carry during Dallas' win last week. With Marion Barber and Felix Jones back to health, Choice is the odd man out, at least for now. Both Barber and Jones are injury-prone, however, so Choice needs to be held onto in fantasy leagues if possible. He's always productive whenever given the opportunity.
Larry Johnson, RB, KC It's understandable for Chiefs players to be frustrated, but Johnson is a particularly dubious case; he currently ranks fourth in the NFL with 132 carries. He's gotten just 2.7 YPC and has lost more fumbles (one) than scored touchdowns (zero). Don't be surprised if he's played his last game in a Chiefs' uniform.
Chris Cooley, TE, WAS While it's good news that Cooley's broken ankle is unlikely to keep him out for the rest of the season as originally thought, it's still a massive blow to his fantasy owners. We're at the point of the season where it may not even be worth holding a roster spot for a second tight end who may or may not return for 1-3 games at the end. After Washington's bye, Fred Davis isn't a bad guy to add if you are desperate.
Article first appeared 10/28/09