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NFL Barometer: Battleground

Dalton Del Don

Dalton Del Don

Dalton Del Don writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

RISERS

Tim Tebow, QB, DEN – After taking over for Kyle Orton on Sunday and being named the starter earlier this week, Tebow is the best option on the waiver wire entering Week 6. He has averaged 8.0 YPA during his brief career, which is almost certainly unsustainable unless he significantly improves his 48.9 percent completion percentage. Of course, fantasy owners care more about his ability to run than his poor mechanics and the unlikelihood that he will be an above average NFL quarterback. Tebow should get an extended opportunity to show what he can do, and his seven rushing touchdowns over 12 career games reveal quite a bit of fantasy upside. Brandon Lloyd and Eric Decker are quality receiving options, and Tebow now has a bye week to prepare for the starting role. The Broncos’ schedule also looks favorable moving forward, so Tebow should be considered a top-12 fantasy QB right now.

Jackie Battle, RB, KC – Battle entered last week as an undrafted 28-year-old back who had averaged just 3.0 YPC in his career, but he saw extended work for the first time in a while. Battle made the most of his newfound opportunity, totaling 140 yards on just 21 touches. The performance raised his career YPC average nearly a full yard (up to 3.9), which shows how little work he had seen before. Battle’s big game came against a Colts defense that has allowed the sixth most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season, but Thomas Jones looks done, and Dexter McCluster struggles to break tackles, so he should continue to get the majority of touches in Kansas City’s backfield. Battle isn’t a special talent, and there’s no telling how he’ll hold up physically, but he’s obviously a must-add in all fantasy leagues in his new role.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, OAK – Heyward-Bey has racked up 214 receiving yards and a touchdown over the past two games, and while he has shown promise before only to disappear shortly thereafter, it’s telling that he saw a whopping 19 targets over the last two weeks. Heyward-Bey was quite raw coming out of Maryland, so it’s no surprise it’s taken him a few years to get acclimated to the NFL. The Raiders are a run-heavy team, and there are still plenty of average receivers on the roster, but DHB is finally relevant in fantasy leagues. His upcoming schedule against a Browns secondary that could be without Joe Haden, followed by games against Kansas City and then Denver, looks rather enticing.

Pierre Garcon, WR, IND – Garcon has been the top fantasy wide receiver since Curtis Painter took over as Indy’s QB; and while Painter can’t be expected to continue averaging 9.1 YPA (with a 48.5 completion percentage!), it’s clear the two have a strong rapport. Garcon is simply the superior athlete to Reggie Wayne at this point, and precise route running doesn’t matter as much without Peyton Manning calling the shots. Given the team’s poor defense, the Colts will likely continue being forced to air it out. Garcon’s 11.8 YAC average currently leads all wide receivers by a wide margin, even second place Victor Cruz at 9.3.

Darren Sproles, RB, NO – There’s some concern Sproles will eventually wear down after his heavy usage early on, but he has actually averaged just 5.2 rushing attempts per game, and whether true or not, studies have shown receptions have less effect on the human body than run plays. Sproles may be only 5’ 6”, but he’s also 190 pounds, which isn’t exactly Dexter McCluster (170) territory. Sproles has always had a ton of talent as a third-down back, but he’s being utilized better than ever, and playing home games on turf highlights his quickness. Despite having just the 44th most rushing attempts among all backs, Sproles is on pace to finish with 1,437 yards from scrimmage, and he has been an absolute monster in PPR formats. I certainly didn’t expect him to be the most valuable of the three Saints running backs.

Victor Cruz, WR, NYG – Cruz has totaled 17 catches for 369 yards and three touchdowns over the past three games, none of which he has started. He has badly outplayed Mario Manningham early on, but the latter can’t be written off, and Hakeem Nicks remains the team’s top receiver. Some regression can safely be expected, considering no receiver can maintain that kind of pace no matter the situation. Cruz has obvious talent and will remain a major part of the Giants’ offense moving forward, although the targets may not be there on a consistent basis when everyone is healthy. Still, with New York struggling to both run the ball and defend the pass, the team’s passing attack will continue to be relied upon heavily, which can only mean good news for Cruz’s owners.

Willis McGahee, RB, DEN – McGahee improbably topped 100 rushing yards in three of the past four games, and averaged a remarkable 7.4 YPC mark over the last two. The designated goal-line back for Denver even before taking over as the team’s starter, McGahee has just one rushing score on the year (two total), a number that is unlikely to increase much with Tim Tebow taking over at quarterback. Still, a healthy Knowshon Moreno didn’t receive a single carry last week, and McGahee looks rejuvenated at soon-to-be age 30.

Steve Breaston, WR, KC – After a slow start to the season, Breaston picked up 141 receiving yards and two scores over the two games heading into Kansas City’s bye this week. Matt Cassel has picked up his play, and the Chiefs no longer look like a true doormat. Breaston could eventually be forced to battle first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin for looks, but he’s on the fantasy radar now.

FALLERS

Mike Williams, WR, TB – Williams has just 19 catches for 183 yards on the year, with as many fumbles lost as touchdowns (one). His 9.6 YPC average is downright anemic, as the entire Bucs’ passing attack has taken a major step back this season. I’ve preached patience with Williams, but it’s hard not to be concerned at this point, and those with viable alternatives can bench him for now. It’s hard not to think of the Michael Clayton comparison. Still, while it’s easy to point out that last year’s touchdown rate (65 receptions/11 touchdowns) was unsustainable, Williams was a beast in the red zone as a rookie and would have likely been a first-round pick if not for off-field issues – he’s clearly a talented player, fully capable of breaking out of this slump. Besides Williams, teammate LeGarrette Blount also deserves a downgrade because of his knee injury, making Earnest Graham a must-add.

Kevin Kolb, QB, ARIDonovan McNabb might not be the only quarterback Andy Reid sold high on in recent years. Kolb’s hot start with his new team in Arizona has quickly turned south. He has averaged 7.4 YPA - OK but not impressive in today’s NFL - with a 5:9 TD:TO ratio over five games. He has also taken 16 sacks and committed the most penalties among quarterbacks with four, all while having one of the NFL’s best receivers at his disposal. It’s certainly too early to call Kolb a bust, but the early signs aren’t encouraging.

David Nelson, WR, BUF – Nelson scored last week, but it was from just six yards out on his lone catch of the game, giving him only three receptions for 24 yards over his last two contests. The loss of Donald Jones (ankle) for 4-to-6 weeks could theoretically result in more targets, but in reality it moves Nelson from the slot (an important position in a Chan Gailey offense) to the outside, which might not be the best fit. Take a wait-and-see approach here.

Percy Harvin, WR, MIN – Harvin is be given more carries than any other receiver and his snaps are up since Week 1, but after a one-catch, 11-yard performance Sunday, his fantasy owners have to be fed up. In fact, Harvin is on pace to finish with just 58 catches for 586 yards and zero receiving scores. I wouldn’t recommend dropping Harvin by any means, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep betting on his talent to overcome his situation.

Dallas Clark, TE, IND – Clark has just six catches for 65 yards over his last three games, including three bad drops last week (he “leads” all tight ends with six this season). Remarkably, Pro Football Focus currently rates him as the least productive among the 57 tight ends that qualify. With Clark performing poorly and Peyton Manning not coming back soon, fantasy owners are in the unenviable spot of cutting a top pick early or hanging onto a player with almost no current fantasy value.

Matt Ryan, QB, ATL – Ryan has totaled more turnovers (nine) than touchdowns (seven) this season. Exciting rookie Julio Jones was supposed to help open up an already-talented offense, but Ryan’s 6.6 YPA mark ranks 25th in the NFL, behind the likes of Cincinnati rookie Andy Dalton. Ryan has maintained some fantasy value thanks to his 196 passing attempts – the second-most in football - but he is really struggling, and as a result, Atlanta looks like a long shot to contend with the Saints for the NFC South crown.