Matthew Stafford, QB, DET – Stafford has a 9:0 TD:INT ratio over the last three games; and while that’s come against admittedly weak competition, he has undeniably played extremely well. His 7.5 YPA mark for the season isn’t off the charts, and having Calvin Johnson is the single biggest advantage a quarterback can have right now, but Stafford is on pace to finish the season with 4,819 passing yards and 38 touchdowns. Most importantly, he has stayed healthy for the first time in his career; and with just 28 career starts under his belt, he really is just beginning to get comfortable as an NFL quarterback. Stafford has shown a willingness to remain tough in the pocket and might have the strongest arm in football, and he has been clutch for fantasy owners, throwing for 764 yards with seven touchdowns over Weeks 15 and 16. His price tag will be much higher at draft tables next year.
Kahlil Bell, RB, CHI – Bell racked up 159 yards on 27 touches Sunday night. He was highly impressive while doing so, exhibiting great patience and a strong ability to hit the hole. The undrafted back has averaged 4.9 YPC during his brief career and has totaled 14 catches for 105 yards receiving over the past three games, working as the feature back in only one of those contests. Bell broke a whopping five tackles against the Packers and has suddenly given Chicago a reason not to overpay Matt Forte during the offseason.
Evan Royster, RB, WAS – Royster was thrust into the feature back role Saturday with Roy Helu inactive. He was very impressive, totaling 147 yards on 21 touches against a solid Vikings run defense and averaging 3.6 yards after contact. To put that into perspective, only two running backs (Darren Sproles and Fred Jackson) have put up a better mark over the course of the season. For all that has gone wrong in Washington in 2011, at least it looks like they have found two backs in Royster and Helu that can carry the load next year. Both are young and cheap, although Mike Shanahan’s tendency to rotate his running backs will likely result in a headache for fantasy owners.
Joe Webb, QB, MIN – Webb somehow produced three touchdowns while attempting just five passes in relief last week, creating somewhat of a quarterback controversy in Minnesota in the process. At minimum, the 25-year-old sure is a nice insurance policy as a backup – Webb is the fastest quarterback in the league and also has a 103.7 quarterback rating this season.
Julio Jones, WR, ATL – Jones racked up eight catches for 128 yards and a touchdown Monday. He now has four scores over the last three games, averaging a ridiculous 19.8 yards per catch over that span. He has battled injuries during his rookie campaign, but he has also looked like a superstar when on the field. In fact, his 7.8 YAC/reception mark ranks first among all wide receivers with a minimum 35 catches. Jones has the upside to be a top-five fantasy receiver in 2012.
Jared Cook, TE, TEN – A popular sleeper pick entering the season, Cook struggled for most of the campaign. However, he has woken up late in the year with 17 catches for 272 yards and a touchdown over his last two games. He has seen 581 snaps this year, which ranks 30th among all tight ends, yet his eight broken tackles are eighth most at the position, which reveals plenty of upside moving forward. Cook is physically gifted and entering his fourth year in the league, so he will be a major breakout candidate again in 2012.
Adrian Peterson, RB, MIN – What a devastating injury to Peterson, in a meaningless game no less, when he in no way had to be playing at less than 100 percent. After tearing both his MCL and ACL, as well as doing damage to his meniscus, I can’t see Peterson going before the third round in fantasy drafts next year – and even that might be optimistic. There’s a real chance Peterson opens the 2012 season on the PUP list.
Tony Romo, QB, DAL – Romo left Saturday’s contest early after hurting his hand, and when swelling occurred, the team elected to keep him out in what amounted to a meaningless game thanks to the Giants’ victory earlier in the day. The injury was an absolute killer to Romo’s fantasy owners, and it also didn’t help any of his receivers (or Dan Bailey, for that matter). What a terrible outcome for those relying on Romo and other Cowboys in their Week 16 championship games. While he put up a goose egg last week, if you are still alive in your league, Romo should be healthy this week for Sunday night’s big matchup with the Giants.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, TB – Although a lost fumble at the beginning of last week’s game was officially credited to Josh Freeman, head coach Raheem Morris put the blame on Blount and benched him for most of the day – Blount played a total of just seven more snaps after the blunder. Blount continues to be a huge disappointment in the little aspects of the running back position, such as ball security and pass blocking, and he doesn’t see much action on passing downs, making him tough to trust on a team that has to throw a lot while often behind on the scoreboard. He has totaled 21 yards or fewer in three of his last four games.
Michael Turner, RB, ATL – Turner has run for 280 yards over his past five games, averaging 3.3 YPC with just one touchdown. He actually leads the NFL with 53 broken tackles this season, and he even hauled in four receptions for 36 yards last week, so maybe it’s premature to totally write him off. Still, Turner will be on the wrong side of 30 in 2012 and has shown real signs of decline recently. He would be an awfully risky first-round fantasy pick next year.
Mark Sanchez, QB, NYJ – Sanchez has accounted for 30 touchdowns this year, but his YPA has dropped for the second straight season, sitting at an ugly 6.4 in a time when passing numbers are the highest in league history. His career completion percentage of 55.1 is glaringly low, and he has already lost eight fumbles in 2011. It’s too early to write off the former No. 5 overall pick, but Jets fans also have every right to be concerned. Pro Football Focus ranks Sanchez 37th among 39 quarterbacks this season; and although that’s a bit misleading since it’s not a rate stat – quarterbacks like Tyler Palko and Curtis Painter would grade worse if they played an equal amount of snaps – it’s also not exactly encouraging.
Braylon Edwards, WR, FA – The 49ers released Edwards this week, which was a bit curious since the team is thin at wide receiver with both Ted Ginn and Kyle Williams banged up. Edwards’ tenure in San Francisco was nothing short of disastrous, as he totaled just 15 catches for 181 yards over nine games while dealing with both knee and shoulder injuries. He cleared waivers, but it’s going to take an offseason before he is back at 100 percent physically. Edwards may have to accept another one-year deal in 2012, and it may be for just the league minimum.
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