1. Titus Young will Approach WR2 Production
Although an injury is never something to celebrate, there's at least a silver lining to Nate Burleson's season-ending leg injury, as his absence allows growth for Titus Young, who is by any account more talented than Burleson and has much more upside as a fantasy option.
With Burleson out of the lineup against Seattle on Sunday, Young wasted no time in proving those accounts correct. Even against the Seahawks' dominant press corners, Young burned up the field to the tune of nine catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns. That was after catching six passes for 81 yards against a similarly tough Chicago defense the week before.
His efficiency will almost certainly slow since he caught 15 of the last 17 passes that went his way, but it wouldn't be surprising if that were offset by an increase in Young's target count, too. With Calvin Johnson pulling double or triple teams almost every single play, Young presents a lower-risk option for quarterback Matthew Stafford, and his playmaking of late should give Stafford more confidence in throwing it to Young.
The arrival of Mike Thomas from Jacksonville isn't really a concern. Thomas consistently disappointed with the Jaguars, and if he does earn a noteworthy snap count with the Detroit offense, it's going to be at the expense of rookie Ryan Broyles rather than Young.
2. Cecil Shorts Should be Owned in Most Leagues
Thomas' trade from Jacksonville to Detroit could have a fantasy impact with Cecil Shorts' value with the Jaguars, however. Shorts has been an excellent playmaker for Jacksonville all year, even though he was largely forced into a third wideout role due to big contracts held by Thomas and Laurent Robinson, as well as Justin Blackmon's status as a high draft pick. With Thomas' targets up for grabs, Shorts could emerge as a WR3 in most formats.
Robinson will be a concern upon his return from a concussion, but he'll have an extremely difficult time displacing Shorts, who has 22 targets the last two weeks, with the result being 12 catches for 195 yards and a touchdown. Shorts has shown the ability to produce even with a marginal workload, in any case, averaging 20 yards per catch while totaling 400 yards on just 20 receptions through seven games.
With Thomas gone, though, workload shouldn't be a concern at all for Shorts. Thomas had 27 targets on the year, including 18 in the last three weeks alone. Even if Robinson gobbles up Thomas' target count by himself when he returns, Shorts should still have enough room to hover around double-digit targets each week.
3. Hankerson will Reward Patient Owners
Despite his propensity for ugly drops, Leonard Hankerson is still a player who is too good for Washington to bench or scale back on any rational basis, particularly given the lack of better options behind him on the depth chart. As a result, he should still serve as a solid WR4, and even a WR3/flex option when the matchup is favorable.
With Pierre Garcon (foot) out on a rather indefinite basis, the Redskins are down to Hankerson, Josh Morgan and Dezmon Briscoe when it comes to capable run blockers at outside receiver. The run blocking requirement seems to be of high priority to Washington, as it's really the only rationale for having a player like Morgan, who's clearly below average as a receiver by starter standards, playing more snaps than Santana Moss. Yet Moss had just 25 snaps against Pittsburgh on Sunday, while Morgan logged 42 and Hankerson led all Washington receivers with 46.
Moss, in fact, still seems to be the best pass-catching wideout for the Redskins with Garcon out, even at age 33. He has 11 catches for 134 yards and three touchdowns on 17 targets with Garcon out the last three weeks, while Hankerson has just nine catches for 109 yards on 15 targets and Morgan has 10 catches for 104 yards on 14 targets. But Moss' lack of size (5-foot-10, 189) appears to be a deal-breaker in the running game, and his recent production can only be sustained if he keeps receiving a disproportionate number of targets on his shaky snap count.
The safer bet is for Hankerson to emerge as the team's leading receiver, because he's more talented than Morgan and has shown more big-play ability this year (293 yards compared to 263 on the same number of catches). Also, Hankerson has shown an ability to earn big target counts when in the starting lineup, receiving seven or more targets three times while Morgan has done so just once.
4. Forsett is Worth a Bench Stash in 12-Team Formats
He's far from a must-add, but if you have an open spot on your bench and could use some improved upside at running back, Justin Forsett is a player to consider. Ben Tate, the top backup Houston running back, is dealing with injuries, and Arian Foster is one of the league's best bets among starting runners to miss time at some point this year.
Foster continues to carry a workload that isn't conducive to long-term health - he received 20 touches (19 carries, one catch) against Baltimore two weeks ago even though it was a blowout - and he's on pace for 384 carries and 27 catches despite possessing a fairly concerning injury history, most notably regarding knee issues going back to his college days at Tennessee. Meanwhile, Tate can't stay healthy as the No. 2 back in Houston, dealing with toe and hamstring issues that coach Gary Kubiak said Monday could keep him out "a while." Tate has been limited in practice this week despite coming off a bye.
Although Forsett is a mediocre, at best, talent by starting running back standards, he would still be at least a flex option in most or all leagues if Foster should suffer an injury while Tate is hobbled. He has fresh legs since he hasn't started a game since 2010, and the Houston's well-built offensive line would probably make him look better than he is.
5. Scott Chandler Should End his Slump Sunday
Scott Chandler's season looks quite similar to the way his 2011 season started - in both scenarios he began with four touchdowns in the first month, only to go on a three-game slump without a score. In that fourth game last year after the first month, though, Chandler caught two touchdown passes against the Redskins. Look for him to mirror that 2011 pattern Sunday and find the end zone against Houston.
When the Texans lost inside linebacker Brian Cushing for the year with a torn ACL in Week 5, it left Houston much more vulnerable over the middle of the field with Bradie James the team's top remaining inside linebacker. James has long been one of the league's favorite punching bags in coverage, and Chandler should take advantage this week.
Even before Cushing left the Houston defense, the Texans had quite a bit of trouble stopping opposing tight ends. After allowing just four catches for 23 yards against the weak, below-average tight-end lineups of Miami and Jacksonville, the Texans allowed a touchdown to tight ends in Weeks 3, 4 and 5. Then they allowed a fourth tight-end touchdown to the Packers in Week 6 before giving up six tight-end receptions to Baltimore in Week 7.
With C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson coming to town, the Texans will need to crash against the run especially hard, which will amplify the team's vulnerability over the middle, particularly on play-action passes. As all these variables align, Chandler will end up in position to produce Sunday.