I fully expected Week 9 to be that strange week where we see upset after upset and it's the one week when we wake up shocked Monday morning at Sunday's events. Not only did that not happen, the exact opposite occurred. In so many places where it seemed to be a potential upset (there were so many 3-4 point road favorites), the upsets never came. If you're still in any Survivor pool (such as I) it's starting to get annoying that there hasn't been any big losses in the last six weeks. Looking to this week, I turned my focus to one of the more unheralded rookie quarterbacks, backup running backs with potential and some familiar names at wide receiver making late-season comebacks.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA - Lost in the great story about Andew Luck breaking the rookie passing record and Chuck Pagano inspiring the Colts to a victory was that the rookie quarterback on the other team passes the eye test. David Garrard's early season injury could be a blessing in disguise as far as Tannehill's development, and division rivals Buffalo and New York have to be jealous of Tannehill given their options at the position. Tannehill finished Sunday 22-for-38 for 290 yards and a touchdown and appears over his quad injury. While everyone was noting that Luck broke Cam Newton's rookie passing record with 433 yards, Tannehill is third on that list with 431 yards. He only has five passing touchdowns, but he hasn't thrown an interception in four games now (one being an injury-shortened game). This week, Tannehill has a nice matchup at home against the Tennessee Titans, one of the worst defenses in the league. Consider: the Titans give up 273 passing yards per game, opposing quarterbacks have a 108 passer rating, their yards per attempt against is 8.0 and they allow opposing quarterbacks to complete 72.2 percent of their passes. The Titans also are missing Cortland Finnegan. Tannehill should be considered if you are looking for a bye-week replacement.
Mike Goodson, Marcel Reece, OAK - It's tough to handicap the Oakland backfield with both Goodson and Darren McFadden suffering sprained ankles during Sunday's contest. It appears Goodson's wasn't as bad as McFadden's, though a timetable for both has not been determined. After both were hurt, the Raiders were down by a wide margin so there were few runs called on offense. Enter Reece, who for his size is an extremely good pass-catching back and finished the game with eight catches for 95 yards and a score, showing his value in PPR formats. Most of his damage came on a down-out-and-go pattern for the touchdown and a dump-off on a blitz he took 26 yards. Before getting hurt, Goodson entered the game as one of the more effective backup running backs in the league, averaging 6.5 yards per carry and 12.4 yards per catch. Given that Goodson couldn't return to the game it shouldn't be surprising if neither he nor McFadden suits up this week, opening an opportunity for Reece. However, reports late Monday indicated McFadden could be back this week, so keep an eye on the backfield situation in Oakland.
Bernard Pierce, BAL - The next three running backs are purely speculative adds in case the starters in front of them endure an injury. Pierce found the end zone for the first time in his young career Sunday against the Browns, getting in on a 12-yard scamper. He had a season-high seven carries and now has 30 carries for 148 yards (a 4.9 yards per rush) this year. He looks like a strong running back with top-15 upside at the position if Rice gets hurt.
Evan Royster, WAS - While one can spend a long time trying to figure out how Mike Shanahan evaluates running backs, it's hard to knock his method given the success of Alfred Morris this season. Royster saw his most extensive action of the season for the Skins on Sunday and scored his first touchdown of the season late in the game. The all-time leading rusher at Penn State had success late last season but lost the starting job to Morris during preseason. Morris is still the main back, but Royster has shown the ability to carry the full workload if called upon.
Jalen Parmele, JAC - This is just a note for those in deeper leagues in case you are wondering who the handcuff is for Rashad Jennings. Parmele has seen minimal work, finishing with six touches for 23 yards Sunday. With Maurice Jones-Drew ruled out for Thursday's game and this being a short week, Parmele could see at least a similar work against the Colts.
T.Y. Hilton, IND - Despite Donnie Avery owning a better yardage total, I'd rather own Hilton than Avery at this point. Hilton had one of his two best games of the season against the Dolphins, finishing with six catches for 102 yards and a touchdown. What could potentially help Hilton's value even more is that Avery left the game with a hip injury and appeared to be in significant pain after an incompletion down the sideline. Hilton saw a season-best 11 targets Sunday, showing that he's earning the trust of Andrew Luck downfield. That trust was rewarded during the game when Hilton went up between two defenders in the end zone and came down with a 36-yard score. Look for Hilton to continue to develop as a rookie and get a nice fantasy boost if Avery misses time.
Emmanuel Sanders, PIT - Sanders had only two catches for 20 yards this week, but one was for a touchdown. With Antonio Brown leaving the game with an ankle sprain and in doubt for the upcoming week, Sanders is an interesting add for those looking for wide receiver help. He has a great matchup at home against the woeful Chiefs, who have all but seemingly given up on this season. Sanders' strengths lie in his ability to find soft spots in the defense and make defenders miss with his quickness after the catch. Keep an eye on the reports on Brown, though the Steelers may not release information until late since they have the Monday night game.
Jerome Simpson, MIN - I'll admit, it's hard to recommend or discuss a player who's received a whopping 10 targets his last three games, producing only four catches for 59 yards. However, with Percy Harvin calling himself a "long shot" to play Sunday against Detroit, Simpson should have an expanded role in the offense. Simpson's lack of production can largely be blamed on Christian Ponder's inability to throw downfield, where Simpson does most of his work. Simpson likely won't get the two carries per game Harvin will leave behind, but he should see some of his almost 10 targets per game.
Laurent Robinson, JAC - Much to the chagrin of Cecil Shorts' owners, Robinson finally returned Sunday and grabbed six catches for 41 yards. Most of that occurred in garbage time, but the good news is he came away from the game without any symptoms of his past concussion problems. His nine targets Sunday tied Justin Blackmon for the team-high (Shorts had only four), and it could be a matter of time before he reclaims his starting spot in the lineup. While Shorts has been productive with Robinson out, the team didn't give Robinson a $32.5 million contract to be on the sideline. Look for Robinson to work his way onto the field more and more as the weeks go on, provided he stays away from another concussion.
Danario Alexander, SD - It seems every year while Alexander was in St. Louis I convinced myself he was going to be a late-round sleeper as the roster typically lacked a wide receiver with Alexander's combination of size and speed. And every year I was disappointed as Alexander fought through a few injuries and was eventually released by the Rams. Like his former teammate Donnie Avery (who himself had injury issues) Alexander appears to have resurrected his career with another team. Alexander made his debut on Thursday Night Football in place of the injured Robert Meachem, leading the Chargers with three catches for 61 yards. The aforementioned Meachem has disappointed thus far with a 6.5 yards per target mark (he's never had less than 9.7 in any of his previous four seasons), and Norv Turner already said Alexander will have a role in the offense in the coming weeks.
Dwayne Allen, IND - I would have profiled Allen last week had the news on Coby Fleener and his injury come out earlier in the week. Even in light of the Fleener injury, I still find it odd the Colts used two early draft picks on tight ends, given some of their holes on defense. While Luck had a good rapport with Fleener from their days at Stanford, Allen has been targeted and used more as the season has progressed. Without Fleener in the lineup, Allen was targeted a season-high seven times, turning into six catches for 75 yards. Lost in the stat sheet was that he recovered an Andrew Luck fumble to help keep a scoring dive alive. Allen scored two touchdowns earlier this season and should have a lot of room to work over the middle with a trio of fast wide receivers stretching the field. And the next two matchups are good (Jacksonville, New England), especially while Fleener is sidelined.
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