Beanie Wells, RB, ARI – Wells erupted for a franchise-record 228 rushing yards and a touchdown on 28 carries in Week 12. He continues to wear a knee brace while playing at less than 100 percent and even briefly left Sunday’s game with what appeared to be a serious injury; however, he returned to the field and certainly looked more explosive than he did a month ago. Wells took advantage of a Rams defense giving up 5.1 YPC on the year, breaking off runs of 71 and 53 yards during his impressive outing. After scoring six touchdowns over his first four games this season, Wells has hit pay dirt just twice over seven games since, but the return of Kevin Kolb should help the Cardinals’ offense become more efficient. Wells’ schedule down the stretch isn’t exactly favorable, but at least he has a home matchup against the Browns in Week 15.
Roy Helu, RB, WAS – Helu racked up 162 yards and a touchdown on 30 touches during the Redskins’ win Sunday. He is now up to 4.8 YPC on the season and has become a weapon in the passing game as well. It’s obviously risky trusting a Mike Shanahan running back at this point, but the coach did declare Helu the team’s clear starter after his recent showing, a label Shanahan previously refused to hand out. Helu has fresh legs, and the Redskins offense has improved with Rex Grossman reclaiming the quarterback job from John Beck, so the rookie back could be a major difference maker down the stretch.
Percy Harvin, WR, MIN – Harvin has totaled 200 yards from scrimmage and scored twice over the last two games. His role in the offense clearly expands when Adrian Peterson is out, so he could be active again in Week 13 with Peterson unlikely to play. Harvin can be a frustrating fantasy player because he doesn’t see the full complement of snaps you’d expect from a receiver with his talent, and the touchdowns he scored over the past two weeks were his first of the season as a receiver, but his explosiveness is undeniable. He has averaged 7.1 YPC on 33 rushing attempts this year, and among wideouts with at least 30 catches, only Julio Jones has averaged more yards after the catch than Harvin’s 7.3 YAC this season. Harvin is a playmaker whose role should only continue to increase.
Peyton Hillis, RB, CLE – Hillis was questionable to play in Week 12, but after Montario Hardesty suffered a setback in pregame warmups, not only did Hillis see his first action in six weeks, he started and was given 21 touches. He certainly wasn’t overly impressive, gaining just 61 yards, but Cleveland’s playbook expands with him in the backfield, so as long as he doesn’t reinjure his hamstring he should be a workhorse from here on out. While that makes him a relevant fantasy option again, he’ll face a brutal schedule down the stretch – the Browns still face both the Ravens and Steelers twice.
Mike Williams, WR, TB – Williams has racked up 13 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns over the past two games, somewhat salvaging an otherwise disappointing fantasy campaign. He has seen at least 10 targets in four of the last six games and actually ranks seventh in that category among all wide receivers. He’s still searching for his first 100-yard game of the year, but it’s nice to see him back in the end zone after scoring just once over the first nine games of the year. As a rookie in 2010, Williams found the end zone 11 times.
Mark Ingram, RB, NO – Ingram gained 80 yards on 13 carries (6.2 YPC) and scored a touchdown Monday night, and coming off the bye, he looked fully recovered from his heel injury. Ingram has fantasy potential down the stretch as the primary goal-line option in an offense that has averaged 32.9 points per game this year, second only to the Packers. However, there’s still a full-blown committee in New Orleans’ backfield – Ingram has reached 15 carries just once this season – so his upside is capped.
Donald Brown, RB, IND – Despite Joseph Addai returning to action and starting Sunday’s game, it was Brown who dominated the work in Indy’s backfield. Brown totaled 97 yards and a touchdown on just 15 touches. It came in a plus matchup against a Carolina front seven that has allowed the most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season, but Brown is up to 4.7 YPC on the year and might not be a total bust after all. He’s noticeably quicker than Addai and rookie Delone Carter.
Kevin Smith, RB, DET – A huge Week 11 performance made Smith a riser last week, and he looked well on his way to another big game on Thanksgiving, racking up 57 yards in the first quarter. Unfortunately a non-contact injury ended his day prematurely, and those who went big on him with their waiver wire bid were left frustrated. It’s unclear if Smith suffered a worrisome high ankle sprain or just a normal one, but he has been unable to practice this week, leaving his availability for Week 13 very much in question. It’s too bad, because a true feature back in Detroit’s offense could have been a major fantasy force, and Smith is clearly a superior player to Maurice Morris.
Matt Leinart, QB, HOU – Making just his second start since 2007, Leinart didn’t even make it two quarters before suffering a season-ending broken collarbone in Sunday’s victory over the Jaguars. Leinart averaged just 4.4 YPA before departing, so Houston may not lose much with T.J. Yates, who is more athletic and seemingly more willing to throw downfield. Leinart’s disappointing pro career continues.
Sidney Rice, WR, SEA – Rice landed on injured reserve after suffering his second concussion in three weeks (and third in the last year), ending a frustrating debut season in Seattle. He also dealt with a torn labrum all year, and while his latest setback gives him a head start on offseason surgey to correct the shoulder problem, Rice has now missed 17 games over the last two years. He recorded four catches or fewer in seven of nine games this season, although in fairness he was playing hurt while dealing with a poor quarterback situation. Rice’s absence should boost to Doug Baldwin’s fantasy value from here on out.
DeSean Jackson, WR, PHI – After being suspended in Week 10, Jackson was benched in Week 12 after committing a couple ugly drops that would have resulted in scores. He hasn’t scored since Week 5 and has just two touchdowns all year, and he’s also averaging only 7.3 yards per punt return, which is easily a career low. Moreover, his nine drops are tied for fourth most among wide receivers in the NFL, and he has managed to break just one tackle all season. Fantasy owners shouldn’t give up on the frustrating Jackson, especially with Jeremy Maclin (hamstring) out. It wouldn’t be a shock if he had a big game in Week 13.
Jackie Battle, RB, KC – Battle has averaged only nine touches over the past three weeks, so it appears he has lost his chance to become the Chiefs’ feature back. Both Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster received a similar workload over the last three games, so it looks like the Chiefs are taking the committee approach in the backfield for the time being. The Chiefs’ running backs aren’t getting any favors from the passing game – Kyle Orton could make a difference when he takes over, but with Tyler Palko at quarterback, it might be the worst in the league.
Darren McFadden, RB, OAK – McFadden’s target return date from his sprained foot continues to be pushed back, and at this point, it wouldn’t be too wise to expect much more from him in 2011. The fantasy playoffs are rapidly approaching, and McFadden has yet to practice, even in a limited basis. It may now take him some time to get back into game shape, so he’d likely be limited for a game or two even if he were able to return to the field. Moreover, with Michael Bush proving to be a more-than-suitable replacement, the Raiders have no incentive to rush McFadden back, especially if they think he can get back to 100 percent for the playoffs. McFadden is one of the most productive running backs in fantasy football when on the field, but he also continues to be one of the more injury-prone backs in the league. He has never played more than 13 games in any of his four NFL seasons.
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