DeMarco Murray, RB, DAL – Murray became the 11th back in history to reach 250 rushing yards in a game Sunday; and his 10.1 yard average on 25 carries was the third best mark in those games. While it’s important not to get overly excited about one game (against weak competition), it’s even harder not to be thoroughly impressed with the type of performance that could lead to Murray being the Cowboys’ feature back from here on out. Felix Jones, even when healthy, has always been better in theory than reality; and while Murray still needing work as a blocker and receiver, he could finally be the running back that complements the weapons in the Cowboys’ passing game. Murray is a must-start this week in Philadelphia. His 3.6 YPC after contact this season ranks as the third-most in the NFL, so he could be a true difference maker down the stretch. There’s probably a 25 percent chance Murray is a top-12 fantasy back over the rest of the year.
Brandon Lloyd, WR, STL – Lloyd received 12 targets immediately upon joining the Rams, so he should see a nice boost in fantasy value down the stretch. He’ll no doubt be tougher to trade for now than he was 10 days ago, but there’s also a good chance his value will never be lower from this point forward, especially once Sam Bradford returns (not that he’s having a great season, but he’s better than A.J. Feeley).
Demaryius Thomas, WR, DEN – Thomas was easily Tim Tebow’s preferred wide receiver Sunday, receiving 10 targets. While he only hauled in three of those looks, one went for a touchdown. It was his first game since Week 11 of last year, so some rust could be expected. Tebow’s inaccuracy may be a problem, but if Thomas is the Broncos’ top receiver, he is certainly on the fantasy radar. Remember, the former first-round pick was actually taken ahead of Dez Bryant, though that probably says more about former coach Josh McDaniels’ inability to address personnel decisions than anything else.
Jabar Gaffney, WR, WAS – Gaffney is anything but a special player, but with Santana Moss out 5-to-7 weeks with a fractured left hand, he’ll likely inherit the team’s No. 1 wide receiver role (although TE Fred Davis may see more targets). Gaffney saw eight targets Sunday and immediately was Washington’s top receiver after Moss exited the game, so he’s a possible WR3 in fantasy leagues for the time being. He gets a Bills secondary in Week 8 that is in the bottom 10 as far as fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers.
Leon Washington, RB, SEA – Marshawn Lynch was a surprise scratch last week after aggravating a back injury that has apparently been a problem all year. You never would have known considering the coaching staff did not list him on the injury report once before this week. Washington managed just 49 total yards while splitting work with Justin Forsett, but he’d likely lead the team in touches as long as Lynch is out. He’s at least an option for desperate fantasy owners in deep leagues dealing with injuries and multiple byes.
Bernard Scott, RB, CIN – With Cedric Benson serving his one-game suspension in Week 8, Scott gets a short-term upgrade. However, he faces a Seattle front seven that has yielded an NFL-low 3.1 YPC on the year. Scott has averaged just 2.8 YPC this season with minimal production as a receiver, so he’s not a must-start in fantasy leagues. Still, he has impressed in the past, and his floor isn’t bad with him likely looking at 20 touches in Week 8.
Darren McFadden, RB, OAK – McFadden left Sunday’s game after just two carries with a foot sprain. Having a first-round fantasy pick leave with an injury is bad enough, but to have him do so early in the game is a double killer. While Oakland’s bye week comes at a perfect time, a foot sprain could potentially be worse than say a hamstring injury. Supposedly there is no “structural damage,” but it’s unclear if that includes the ligaments. The injury is a pretty big concern for someone who was easily a top-five fantasy asset. Michael Bush would be a top-10 fantasy back if McFadden misses any further action.
Tim Hightower, RB, WAS – Hightower inexplicably went from not having touched the ball since Week 4 to starting and dominating touches Sunday - up until he left with a season-ending torn ACL that is. The injury occurred with no contact, and it was an unfortunate way for his year to come to an end. Ryan Torain looks like the starter moving forward, but Roy Helu saw far more snaps in Week 7 (likely due to the Redskins being well behind). Both backs need to be owned, and while Mike Shanahan remains as frustrating and unpredictable as ever, if one of the two were to emerge as the feature ballcarrier, plenty of production would follow.
Chris Wells, RB, ARI – Wells left Sunday’s game with yet another knee injury, and while it sounds like he avoided a serious ligament tear, the exact nature remains unknown. Whether it’s a bone bruise or not, he’s dealing with some swelling and is unlikely to play in Week 8. While fantasy owners can likely withstand that loss (especially with a matchup in Baltimore), a longer absence (including a favorable matchup at home against the Rams in Week 9), will become a major problem as we enter the final stretch of the season before the fantasy playoffs. Alfonso Smith needs to be added for insurance.
Matthew Stafford, QB, DET – Stafford has a 16:4 TD:INT ratio on the year, but while he has not turned the ball over much recently, he has averaged just 5.8 YPA over the past two weeks, giving him a 7.1 mark on the season. That number isn’t terrible on the surface, but when you factor in the current passing numbers in today’s NFL (it comes in as 17th best right now), him playing six of seven games in a dome this year and having Calvin Johnson as a teammate, he hasn’t been all that great. In Stafford’s defense, the Lions might have the worst running game in the NFL. Still, the injury-prone quarterback is now dealing with an ankle sprain in “a weird spot” that has his availability for Week 8 in question. He’ll likely play, but it once again reminds us of his health concerns. Sunday’s matchup against a Denver secondary that has allowed the second most fantasy points to opposing QBs this season looks favorable, but there’s also a chance of snow in the forecast. Even with the weather concerns, Stafford owners could do worse than rolling with Shaun Hill if the starter is forced to sit out this week.
Willis McGahee, RB, DEN – McGahee had surgery Tuesday to repair a fractured hand, and his timetable to return has been estimated anywhere from one week to more than a month. McGahee, despite being 30 years old and generally considered a bust at the NFL level, had actually been quite productive this season, acting as a true feature back in a league that continually sees fewer of them with each passing season. His loss isn’t insignificant, although it gives a huge reprieve to Knowshon Moreno owners.
Chris Johnson, RB, TEN – Johnson, at least to me, is a true buy-low candidate, because I personally think it would take some guts to trade for him right now. He looks noticeably slower than ever, and while Tennessee’s run blocking has been bad, Javon Ringer looked superior whenever he entered the game last week. Johnson has averaged 1.9 YPC after contact this season, which ranks 53rd among running backs. But at least it hasn’t shaken his confidence: “Basically, if you are watching the game and you really can’t tell what is going on with the run game then I would say you really don’t know football,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t say I am the issue.” Either way, his fantasy owners aren’t happy. It’s worth noting if you are a believer in him bouncing back, now is clearly the time to pounce - Johnson faces an Indy defense at home this week that has allowed the most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season.
Earnest Graham, RB, TB – Just when he finally got a shot as the lead back with LeGarrette Blount sidelined, Graham suffered a season-ending Achilles’ tear Sunday, ending his season and putting the rest of his career in doubt as well. This is obviously a tough blow for everyone involved. Kregg Lumpkin can be added in deep leagues, but Blount is expected to return to action in Week 9 following a bye week.