1. Kyle Rudolph will be a top-10 fantasy TE in 2012
While Visanthe Shiancoe could stay with the Vikings in 2012, he probably won't return unless a demotion is involved.
The reason for that is the team's 2011 second-round pick, Kyle Rudolph, who has 234 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games this year. The Notre Dame product was selected by the Vikings with the 43rd overall pick, and he should be considered the heavy favorite to start for Minnesota in 2012.
According to 1500ESPN.com's Tom Pelissero, Rudolph has played more snaps than Schiancoe in each of Minnesota's last two games. Even if Rudolph came out of those games with four catches for 38 yards and a touchdown, a transition is clearly underway here, and Rudolph has the talent to produce as he grows into the new role.
Rudolph and Shiancoe combined to total 59 catches for 643 yards and six touchdowns entering Week 17 - numbers Rudolph should approach on his own in 2012. If you're looking for a low-cost investment in dynasty leagues that can pay off as a starting tight end next year, Rudolph is a top target.
2. Mario Manningham should produce against DAL
It would take some guts to start Manningham outside of deeper leagues in Week 17, but history says it should pay off for those who take the plunge.
Even with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks seizing most of the attention in the Giants passing game, Manningham has quietly maintained a steady role in the offense, injury issues aside. In the five full game Manningham played since the bye, he has 20 catches for 292 yards and four touchdowns. He dropped an easy fifth touchdown against Dallas, don't forget.
That dropped touchdown pass against the Cowboys leads to the main point here: Manningham almost always does well against Dallas. In his last five games against the Cowboys, Manningham has 26 catches for 353 yards and four touchdowns. Again, that should be five touchdowns.
There's no reason to think that Manningham's situation won't be just as favorable this Sunday. Despite Manningham's history against Dallas, the Cowboys have no choice but to devote their primary coverage resources to containing Cruz and Nicks. Dallas badly lacks depth at cornerback, so Manningham will almost certainly line up against players who just don't have the talent to keep up with him.
3. Brandon Lloyd presents good 2012 potential
Given their apparent (and belated) commitment to provide quarterback Sam Bradford with some competent receivers, it would seem safe to expect the Rams to make a serious effort to re-sign Brandon Lloyd for 2012. Between a 2012 draft that should have a good amount of wide receiver talent and the fact that Lloyd will be 31 by the time next year starts, Lloyd's price tag as a free agent should be something St. Louis can manage.
As long as he does return to St. Louis, Lloyd should at the very least present WR3 value in most leagues. Catch volume aside, Danny Amendola is not a starting wide receiver talent by most teams' standard, and youngsters like Greg Salas, Danario Alexander and Austin Pettis seem to be way off, too.
With the target percentage heavily in his favor, Lloyd should produce almost regardless of the condition of the St. Louis offense. Even with Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley playing far below league average, Lloyd totaled 37 catches for 512 yards and four touchdowns in the eight games he played with those two.
If he returns to St. Louis, Lloyd should be expected to reach 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns next year. Coming off a miserable two-game stretch with Kellen Clemens at quarterback, now might be a good time to invest in dynasty leagues.
4. Don't overvalue Laurent Robinson in multiyear leagues
Laurent Robinson probably propelled many fantasy teams into the playoffs this year and seems to have finally found himself as an NFL receiver, but don't expect him to duplicate his 2011 numbers in 2012.
Great as he has been, Robinson wouldn't have 50 catches for 797 yards and nine touchdowns if Miles Austin hadn't missed six games with hamstring issues. It's true that Robinson has remained involved in the Dallas offense even with Austin back in the lineup and will be worth owning in most 2012 leagues, but don't think for a minute that he's a threat to unseat Austin or Dez Bryant in the Dallas wideout rotation.
Not only that, but Robinson isn't guaranteed to be back in Dallas next year. He's playing on a one-year contract, and in an era where free-agent contracts seem more absurd every year, it would hardly be a surprise if Robinson's breakout performance prompted some team to cough up a contract that Dallas can't match. Robinson still would be considered waiver-wire fodder in NFL terms - and even less in fantasy terms - if he hadn't paired up with Tony Romo. A reject of the Chargers and, before that, a St. Louis team that had no wide receiver talent to speak of, Robinson is more likely a product of the Dallas system.
5. Kendall Hunter warrants a flex role in deeper formats
If Hunter can get 12 carries in a down-to-the-wire divisional matchup with a tough Seattle squad in Week 15, there's not much reason he shouldn't get a similar workload against a hopeless St. Louis team this week.
It's true that a first-round bye is on the line for San Francisco this week and the team will put forth a dead-serious gameplan, but there's no reason to think the Rams will pose much resistance. The worst-case scenario for the 49ers is probably a matchup with A.J. Feeley, and they might even get to face Kellen Clemens or Tom Brandstater. In the former case, the game should get out of hand. In the latter case, it should get out of hand very quickly.
Hunter only received five carries in his last game against St. Louis, but that was probably because he was coming off a two-game stretch in which he totaled just 41 yards on 15 carries (2.7 YPC). Hunter's carry totals have generally correlated to his effectiveness in previous weeks - in games he averaged 4.0 YPC or better, he received at least eight carries the following week in four of five cases. Considering he showed well last week (73 yards on 12 carries) against a Seattle defense that ranks fifth in the league by allowing 3.8 yards per carry, Hunter should be in line for a reward in Week 17, and a St. Louis defense allowing 4.9 yards per carry should allow him to capitalize.