Rashard Mendenhall, RB, PIT – After overcoming a hamstring injury, Mendenhall finally showed a pulse Sunday, rushing for 146 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Jacksonville isn’t any good, but its defense is the team’s strength, so the performance didn’t exactly come against an easy opponent. The opportunity to buy low has likely come and gone.
Aaron Hernandez, TE, NE – Hernandez hauled in eight catches for 68 yards and a touchdown Sunday, and while he also lost a fumble, his 14 targets tied Detroit’s Brandon Pettigrew for the most among tight ends in Week 6. Hernandez is on a 16-game pace of 108 receptions for 1,156 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s the No. 2 option in arguably the best passing attack in the NFL. Only Jimmy Graham should be ranked ahead of him among fantasy tight ends, and it’s not particularly close.
Greg Little, WR, CLE – Little took advantage of his promotion to the starting lineup Sunday, catching six passes for 72 yards. He could have had an even better day, but he lost a sure touchdown tripping over his own feet at the one-yard line with no defender near him. Little saw 12 targets, so he’ll likely be a big part of Cleveland’s offense moving forward and is now clearly the No. 1 option in the passing attack. Despite having just 20 receptions on the year, Little is tied for the NFL lead among wide receivers with seven broken tackles. The second-round pick looks like a WR3 in fantasy leagues going forward.
Carson Palmer, QB, OAK – Cincinnati owner Mike Brown is stubborn, but he’d also have to be crazy to turn down the trade offered him by the Raiders. Oakland traded a first-rounder, and a second-rounder that could become another first-rounder, in exchange for Palmer. While that’s obviously a steep price, especially considering how cost controlled those top picks are now, it’s nice to see a contending team be aggressive. The move was triggered by Jason Campbell’s collarbone injury and the team’s subsequent lack of faith in Kyle Boller to take over the starting job. It’s unclear what kind of shape Palmer is in, but at least he’s familiar with head coach Hue Jackson’s offense. The former No. 1 overall pick’s play had fallen off over the past few seasons, but he did produce 50 touchdowns over the last two years, and it’s easy to forget he’s still just 31 years old. The addition of Palmer is good news for Darren McFadden’s, and especially Darrius Heyward-Bey’s, fantasy owners.
Fred Davis, TE, WAS – Davis has been inconsistent this year, but in the three games in which Chris Cooley has seen little or no action, he has racked up 17 catches for 286 yards and a touchdown. Cooley is out indefinitely with a finger injury, and after he exited Sunday’s game, Davis was involved heavily, seeing 11 targets. Davis took responsibility for two of Rex Grossman’s four interceptions during the team’s Week 6 loss, but he’s physically gifted and will be given a ton of opportunities moving forward. Moreover, John Beck deserves an upgrade after replacing Rex Grossman at quarterback.
Michael Crabtree, WR, SF – Crabtree hauled in nine receptions for 77 yards Sunday; and while the 8.6 YPC average was weak, he played by far the most snaps in a game this season and was targeted an NFL-high 15 times in Week 6. He also came within inches of scoring a touchdown for the second time this year. The 49ers are decidedly run-first, and Braylon Edwards (knee) may return after the team’s Week 7 bye, but Crabtree looks as healthy as he’s been since joining the 49ers, and there’s still plenty of time for him to make an impact.
Jake Ballard, TE, NYG – While most pegged Travis Beckum as a sleeper after Kevin Boss left town, it has been Ballard who has since stepped up for the Giants. The undrafted rookie is now on the fantasy radar after totaling 186 yards and two touchdowns over the past three games. He caught all five of his targets in Week 6.
Jermichael Finley, TE, GB – Finley could explode at any moment and still needs to be viewed as a top-five fantasy tight end, but playing in a prolific offense has actually hampered his production. Aaron Rodgers continues to spread the wealth, and it appears Rodgers’ favorite receiver is the one he deems has the biggest mismatch on a given play – often Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson. Finley, who has finally been able to stay healthy, is on pace to finish with a modest 856 yards. While he has scored three times this season, all three of his touchdowns came in a Week 3 victory over the Bears.
Peyton Hillis, RB, CLE – Hillis managed just 14 yards on six carries before departing Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. He has had a poor year, dealing with injuries and illness while locked in a contract dispute with team management. He wasn’t traded before Tuesday’s deadline, but even before the pulled hamstring, Hillis’ production had dropped way off, evidenced by his current 3.5 YPC mark. It’s not great news that the latest injury required an MRI, but it’s also worth noting Montario Hardesty, his main competition for touches, has been graded as the second worst running back in the league this year by Pro Football Focus (Reggie Bush is last).
Felix Jones, RB, DAL – I admit I fell for the Jones preseason hype, but it should surprise no one that he is injured again, this time with a high ankle sprain that will cost him multiple weeks. Jones’ YPC average has fallen each year he has been in the league, bottoming out at 4.0 this season. He has reached 100 yards rushing in just two of his 41 career games played. DeMarco Murray is the obvious beneficiary while Jones is sidelined.
Jahvid Best, RB, DET – Best suffered a concussion Sunday, which is especially concerning considering his history of head issues. He suffered a major concussion back in college and yet another during this year’s preseason. The Lions figure to take a cautious approach, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Best is held out until after Detroit’s Week 9 bye. However, Jim Schwartz wouldn’t rule him out for this week’s game when questioned Tuesday. Best is quietly on pace to finish the year with 1,805 yards from scrimmage, so his absence would hurt the Lions and fantasy owners alike. If Best misses any time, Maurice Morris – and not Ronnie Brown, whose trade to Detroit was voided – would likely become the team’s top back.
Sam Bradford, QB, STL – Bradford reportedly suffered a high ankle sprain during Sunday’s loss to the Packers, but that diagnosis looks increasingly false since he has yet to be ruled out for Week 7. Bradford is in the midst of an extremely disappointing sophomore campaign and is currently dealing with the injury, so he obviously won’t help you much while sidelined. However, he could conceivably see a boost in value if he’s able to return sooner than expected - recent acquisition Brandon Lloyd led the NFL in receiving last year under current Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Donovan McNabb, QB, MIN – McNabb’s play has fallen way off since leaving Philly two years ago, but he isn’t the only problem in Minnesota. However, after the Vikings got off to a 1-5 start, McNabb became the scapegoat, fair or not. As a result, rookie Christian Ponder, who was deemed a reach with the 12th pick, will be the starter for the foreseeable future. Ponder looked incredibly unready for NFL action during the preseason, but he did a decent job after replacing McNabb in a Week 6 loss to the Bears. McNabb can safely be dropped in all fantasy leagues.