1. DeAngelo Williams is a Good Dynasty Target
Between the Jonathan Stewart factor, Carolina's indifference toward running the ball and his own ineffectiveness at the moment, there probably isn't much reason to expect good things from DeAngelo Williams this year. But beyond this season his circumstances are likely to improve, perhaps to a great deal, and in multi-year formats that makes him a good buy-low investment.
The reason the circumstances are likely to improve is that Williams likely will be on another team in 2013. The Panthers are better off investing in Stewart, the younger and cheaper of the duo, and the new GM (and coaching staff, potentially) will more than likely lack the strange obsession with piling up costly, rarely used running backs of the previous regime. Be it by a cut or trade, Williams and his $4.75 million cap hit for next year are a good bet to be removed from the Carolina roster.
Once freed, Willliams figures to land in a significantly better situation. One possible spot is Denver, where the injury and fumble-prone Willis McGahee (who will be 32 next October) would surrender at least 10 carries per game to Williams under the watch of former Carolina coach John Fox. Atlanta, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Arizona and Pittsburgh could also use Williams as an upgrade over what they already have. Even if Williams lands in another running back committee, his value is low enough in Carolina (359 yards and three touchdowns) that he can probably be had for scraps in most leagues.
2. Mike Thomas Should be Owned in PPR
He was a major bust as a starter in Jacksonville and might continue to show unimpressive efficiency in Detroit, but as long as Mike Thomas is getting starter snaps for the Lions, the team's immensely pass-happy offense will make him a factor in PPR formats.
He didn't arrive there by the most glorious circumstances - it took a Ryan Broyles ACL tear and Titus Young acting like an immense bonehead (though the Lions claim it's a knee injury) for Thomas to wind up starting for Detroit - but this is a case where the system will produce with little regard for the talent level, so even an accidental starter like Thomas will have value.
Matt Stafford is throwing 44.5 passes per game. Calvin Johnson (12 targets per game) and Brandon Pettigrew (8.25 targets per game) add up to not even half of Stafford's average number of passes, and with Broyles and Young gone, there's a shortage of 88 targets in the offense. Thomas had 10 targets the last two weeks even with Broyles (13 targets) around for most of that span, so it appears likely that Thomas will push for about eight targets per game.
3. Brown is a 2013 Problem for McCoy Owners
The incumbent is too good (and well paid) to relinquish the majority of the touches to go around, but thie emergence of Bryce Brown in Philadelphia is nonetheless likely to do some damage to the fantasy value of LeSean McCoy, even when healthy. McCoy will remain a fantasy starter in nearly all formats, but he'll likely be no more than a mid or low-level RB1, which amounts to a significant drop from McCoy's 2011 level.
While McCoy has earned the right to remain Philadelphia's starter when he recovers from his concussion, it would take an Andy Reid firing along with the hiring of a replacement coach who models his offense after the one Gary Kubiak runs in Houston - where Arian Foster and Ben Tate both produced in 2011 - if McCoy is to remain a top-eight fantasy back in 2013. It's not out of the question, but it's generally not a good idea to bank on McCoy and Brown combining for 519 touches next year. Something in the 460 range is more likely - it's what they project to over 16 games for this year - and based on his 347-yard (8.1 YPC), four-touchdown outburst the last two weeks on the ground, Brown figures to earn a big chunk of that workload.
With Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Ray Rice and Marshawn Lynch established ahead of him and runners like Jamaal Charles, Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, C.J. Spiller and Stevan Ridley preparing to jump ahead, too, McCoy's set to head into 2013 with a late first-round grade after beginning this year as a consensus top-three back in most assessments.
4. Bernard Pierce Should be Handcuffed in 12-Team Leagues
With names like Willis McGahee (knee), Andre Brown (leg), Kendall Hunter (ankle), Jalen Parmele (groin), Ryan Williams (shoulder) and James Starks (knee) scratched off the list and LeSean McCoy (concussion), Jonathan Stewart (ankles) and Darren McFadden (ankle) hurting, the talent pool at running back is thinned to the point that Ravens rookie third-round pick Bernard Pierce should probably be owned as a handcuff in 12-team leagues.
Besides the fact that the process of elimination is in play, it is worth noting that starter Ray Rice has had a huge workload in his relatively young career, putting him statistically at risk for an injury despite his strong durability record At just 5-foot-8, 212, Rice has 947 touches (910 carries) from his college days and 1,456 touches (1,157 carries) at the NFL level.
Another reason why Pierce is worth gambling a bench spot on is that he's already seeing a noteworthy workload with the Ravens, especially in recent weeks. Pierce has 59 carries in 12 games this year, including 36 in the last five weeks. That sort of workload can make him a good backup in deeper leagues regardless of Rice's health.
5. Riley Cooper Should Stay Relevant in Deeper PPR
With DeSean Jackson out of the lineup it has been Riley Cooper - not Jason Avant - who has emerged as Philadelphia's second wideout behind Jeremy Maclin. Avant caught four passes for 79 yards against Dallas on Sunday, but he played 51 snaps compared to Cooper's team-leading 62.
Even with Foles' struggles, Cooper has been a decent deep league or PPR option the last four weeks, catching 10 passes for 122 yards and two scores. With his snap count increasing, that rate of production should increase. Cooper and Foles have logged a lot of work together since they began the year as backups while Maclin and Avant generally worked with the starters, and that should pay off a bit, too.
Cooper caught 13 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown in a three-game stint as a featured receiver for the Eagles last year, so he has a history of producing when given the snaps. With two of his next three games featuring two of the league's worst pass defenses - the Buccaneers allow 8.2 yards per pass while the Redskins give up 7.5 per pass - the conditions are generally favorable for Cooper to close out the year.