By Dalton Del Don
Jerome Harrison, RB, CLE – While Cleveland coaches talked up Chris Jennings, he's an undrafted and uninspiring back who is now dealing with a shoulder injury, so Jerome Harrison is the favorite to act as the team's lead back from here on out. Harrison totaled 97 yards with two touchdowns on just 17 touches last week, and coach Eric Mangini even praised his pass protection, an area of Harrison's game previously viewed as a major weakness. He's averaged 4.7 YPC throughout his career and should also rack up receptions in the Browns' dink-and-dunk offense. Harrison could make for a legitimate flex start during Weeks 14 and 15, when Cleveland faces Kansas City and Oakland, respectively.
Robert Meachem, WR, N.O. – Meachem has scored seven touchdowns over the past five games and is also seeing an increase in targets (he got 10 Sunday) in a terrific offense. The former first round pick is finally living up to his pedigree, and over the past four games, he has just 10 fewer receiving yards than Marques Colston. Drew Brees still spreads the wealth, but Meachem has become a viable flex option in fantasy leagues.
Jermichael Finley, TE, G.B. – Finley hauled in seven catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns Monday night and looked unguardable while doing so. If he's truly over his knee injury (he briefly left Monday's game after getting hit on the knee), he could be a force down the stretch, especially with Green Bay's offensive line performing so much better (Finley won't have to block nearly as much). The former third round pick was hyped quite a bit during the preseason, and it just took a bit longer than expected for him to live up to it. With his size and speed and with Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback, Finley should be treated as a top-10 tight end right now.
Antonio Bryant, WR, T.B. – There are no guarantees Bryant's knee issues are truly behind him, but he's racked up 207 receiving yards over the past two weeks. The latest game came against a very good Panthers' secondary, and Bryant has averaged a remarkable 22.9 yards per catch over the past four contests, so his explosiveness has returned. Despite the interceptions, rookie Josh Freeman sure looks like a future star, and he's developing a nice rapport with Bryant. His reemergence means Kellen Winslow's value takes a hit, but Bryant is back to being fantasy relevant.
Devin Thomas, WR, WAS – Thomas broke out with seven catches, 100 yards and two touchdowns last week against a tough (albeit injured) Saints' secondary. Not only was it the first time he's reached the century mark in receiving yards during his career, it was the first time he had ever gotten 50 yards in a game during his two-year tenure in the league. The Redskins' offense has played much better of late, so while Thomas shouldn't suddenly be counted on in fantasy leagues, he's definitely worth watching. It would hardly be the first time a receiver took a couple of years before the light went on.
Quinton Ganther, RB, WAS – Ganther has been named the starting running back for Week 14, with Rock Cartwright moving to the bench. It remains unclear how many carries that will truly result in, but the former seventh round pick averaged 5.8 YPC during his work last week. It would be risky starting him in the fantasy playoffs with such an uncertain role, but those who are desperate might want to think about using Ganther against a Raiders' front seven that has allowed 4.6 YPC and an NFL-high 18 rushing scores on the year. Washington's offense has really improved recently too.
Louis Murphy, WR, OAK – Murphy went off for 128 receiving yards with two touchdowns last week in Pittsburgh, and while there was no Troy Polamalu (knee), it's still a tough Steelers' secondary. Murphy was placed in the starting lineup only because Darrius Heyward-Bey injured his foot in practice Friday, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Heyward-Bey has been a massive disappointment, and while it's understandable for a rookie WR to struggle, he has just nine receptions over 11 starts, which is truly awful. As a result, expect Murphy to see the field more moving forward, and it's apparent Bruce Gradkowski trusts him. The Raiders may very well have found a steal with their fourth round pick.
Steve Slaton, RB, HOU – Slaton's season is officially over after he was placed on IR Tuesday, as he's continuing to deal with numbness stemming from a neck/shoulder injury. The early prognosis suggests it's not career threatening, but it's clear the problem is far more serious than the team originally let on. It's a fitting end to a disappointing season by Slaton, and it's safe to assume Houston won't enter 2010 with him as their clear lead back. Slaton's fantasy value took a big hit this year.
Matt Cassel, QB, K.C. – Cassel played so terribly last week, he was benched for Brodie Croyle, who has a career YPA mark of 5.4. Cassel is still the Chiefs' starter, which is pretty much dictated by his huge contract if nothing else, but he's been a bust during his first season in Kansas City. Over the past four games, he's completed just 50.8 percent of his passes with a 3:4 TD:INT ratio and 63.4 QB rating. His 5.7 YPA mark on the season is simply unacceptable, and that number looks even worse when you consider Cassel has also taken a whopping 37 sacks over 11 games. A poor receiving corps and offensive line haven't helped, but it's clear New England's system had a lot to do with Cassel's success last year. His future as a starting NFL quarterback is in question.
Hines Ward, WR, PIT – Ward suffered a grade one hamstring tear Sunday and is highly questionable to play in Week 14, especially since Pittsburgh has a short week with Thursday's game against the Browns. Ward is as tough as they come, but it looks like he may have to miss a game. Mike Wallace deserves a look in fantasy leagues as a result.
Laurence Maroney, RB, N.E. – Maroney entered last week having scored eight touchdowns over the previous six games, but with Sammy Morris back in action, he saw his lowest amount of rushing attempts (13) since Week 5. Maroney did receive more carries than any other Patriots back, but that included just two total touches in the second half, and Morris could cut more into the action the further he's removed from injury. Moreover, Fred Taylor (ankle) is back practicing. Maroney has a very favorable matchup at home against the Panthers in Week 14, but with the uncertainty of how he'll be used, he's a risky fantasy start.
Justin Forsett, RB, SEA – Forsett picked a bad time to injure his quadriceps, as Julius Jones was immediately given 25 touches upon his return to the lineup. Forsett is no doubt the superior player, but he's less than 100 percent, and it figures Seattle is going to stick with the veteran Jones. Forsett's fantasy value has taken a big hit.
Matthew Stafford, QB, DET – Stafford (shoulder) has been ruled out for Week 14, which makes sense considering he's been playing through a lot of pain, and Detroit has to travel to face a physical Baltimore defense Sunday. Stafford has thrown eight interceptions over the past three games, and his season completion percentage (53.3) leaves a lot to be desired, but he's also shown flashes of promise, so the rookie QB can hardly be written off.
Mark Sanchez, QB, NYJ – Sanchez (knee) is going to miss Week 14, with Kellen Clemens getting the start instead. Sanchez might be able to return the week after, but his inability to slide is going to cost him at least one more game. Clemens will benefit from having a full week of practice with starter reps, and the matchup Sunday against the Bucs is highly favorable (7.7 YPA, 24 TDs allowed through the air), but Clemens is a huge downgrade for the Jets. He's posted a 5:11 TD:INT ratio over his career and has consistently looked bad when given the opportunity. Downgrade both Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery as a result.
Article first appeared 12/9/09