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NFL Barometer: Fantasy Stretch Run Edition

Dave McKay

Dave McKay

Dave McKay is a former ESPN producer and currently the publisher of TheFantasySportsBrain.com. He is focused primarily on strategy in fantasy sports. Dave is from Baltimore and roots for the Ravens, Orioles, and the Detroit Pistons.

RotoWire welcomes Dave McKay to this space for the NFL stretch run, with Derek VanRiper currently at the MLB Winter Meetings and about to go into baseball magazine editorial beast mode.

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Russell Wilson QB, SEA Ė We judge all sorts of players for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes fairly, and sometimes unfairly. Wilson is a rookie, his receivers are below average, and heís only 5-11, which is obviously short for a quarterback. These are legitimate issues that he has had to deal with out of the gate. But dealt with them he has. Six of his last seven games have been for 15 or more fantasy points in most formats, with the only outlier coming in Week 7 against San Francisco and their fifth-best fantasy defense versus QBís. He has also recorded five straight games with multiple touchdown throws. Wilson is still only 19.8 percent owned in ESPN leagues and is absolutely worth a flier as a QB2, despite his tough matchup in Week 16ís rematch with San Francisco.

Brandon Myers TE, OAK Ė Savvy fantasy players can look past his garbage time production in Week 13 and see Myers for what he really is; a big target with sure hands and the confidence of his quarterback. Carson Palmer really needs Myers to produce and he has been looking for him plenty of late. Myers has five or more receptions in seven of his last eight games, including a whopping 14 last weekend. Still only 28.5 percent owned in ESPN leagues, Myers has quietly emerged as a reliable fantasy option and working in his favor this week, is that he faces the Broncos, who are the leagueís No. 31 defense against tight ends.

Mike Thomas WR, DET Ė The curious case of Mike Thomas continues. After a productive rookie season and an even better sophomore campaign in Jacksonville, Thomas appeared to be ready to for a third-year breakout in 2011. Unfortunately, the 5-8 receiver was either not ready to be a teamís No. 1 option or the impact of a brand new, rookie quarterback (and a poorly-performing one to boot) was too much to overcome. More likely, a combination of both factors (and more) was to blame. The Jaguars eventually cut ties with him on October 30, shipping him to Detroit for a draft pick. The Lions needed him as insurance at the time, since Nate Burleson had just been placed on IR and they knew they didnít trust Titus Young. Fast-forward to this week, and Ryan Broyles has been placed on IR due to a torn ACL and Young has been shuttled to IR as well. The bottom line here is that thereís an opportunity for profit. Detroit has a prolific quarterback in Matthew Stafford and the best receiver in the league in Calvin Johnson. With Johnson drawing double teams constantly, Thomas has a clear and immediate chance to step up as the teamís No. 2 wideout option.

Bryce Brown RB, PHI Ė Okay, we realize that what he has done the past two weeks filling in for LeSean McCoy is no secret, but Brown is an interesting case because there is a history (if you go back far enough) to tell us this is legit. He was the consensus No. 1 running back recruit coming out of high school a few years ago and was clocked as fast as 4.32 in the 40. In spite of a dazzling blend of speed and power, Brown had a lackluster college career and fell to the Eagles in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. With the Eagles at 3-9, we doubt McCoy will be rushed back, which figures to lead to an extended audition for Brown and his fresh legs.

Jets D/ST, NYJ ĖMaybe Iím going out on a limb here, but hear me out. Perhaps, like many people, you have been playing the match-ups at D/ST this year and you need to pick one up for the playoffs. If thatís you, then you could do worse than the Jets. Theyíve scored double-digit fantasy points in three of their four games since their bye week with the only stinker coming against the Patriots. Their next three match-ups are Jacksonville, Tennessee, and San Diego. Not too shabby for a pickup and play.

Montell Owens RB, JAC Ė Weíll have to see how good the unheralded back can be, but his stock is definitely way up, as a matter of necessity. With all of their top running backs injured, the Jaguars are poised to give Owens the start Sunday against the Jets. Opportunity knocks here and Owensí big chance comes at an opportune time for owners looking to pluck a late-season waiver-wire gem. That said, Owens has been a long-time special-teamer for a reason. He was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Maine in 2006 where he minored in Jazz Performance and heís going to need all of those improvisational abilities on the field this weekend against the Jets.

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Beanie Wells RB, ARI Ė His stock is down this week because there had been some hope he would return rejuvenated after missing multiple games with a toe issue. Unfortunately, all heís done since then is turn in 17 carries for 48 yards in Week 12 and then 15 for only 22 yards this past weekend. He did manage two scores in Week 12, but I am choosing not to factor those into future predictions and instead focus on his yards per carry. A 2.2 YPC isnít going to excite anyone, and now heís got to go on the road to face the Seahawks.

Philip Rivers QB, SD Ė Itís fairly well documented how mediocre Rivers has been this year, but Iím not sure everyone truly understands. Heís still 85.1 percent owned, which tells me plenty of fantasy players are holding out hope for him. Rivers was really, really good for a few years up to and including the 2010 season, but he fell off last year and hasnít regained anything in 2012. Did you know he is only the 20th-ranked QB in fantasy this year? His point total for the year is tied with Ben Roethlisberger, who has missed the past three and half games. Whatís worse, Rivers faces the Steelers in Pittsburgh this week. They just happen to be the No. 1 defense against opposing fantasy quarterbacks in 2012.

David Wilson RB, NYG Ė Wilsonís stock went up on speculation that he was in for an increased role due to Andre Brownís broken fibula. The rookieís stock has once again come crashing back down to earth due to actual observable fact. His line of four carries for nine yards last week was exactly what it sounds like. Few opportunities, which led to little production. Apparently, the Giantsí coaching staff just doesnít trust him in pass protection and he wonít likely get any goal line work. Thereís simply limited opportunity for Wilson right now, as long as Ahmad Bradshaw remains healthy. Itís a shame too, given the teamís favorable Week 14 match-up against the Saints (at home, too).

Antonio Gates TE, SD Ė Iíve already talked about his quarterback, so letís discuss Gates for a moment. He was actually pretty solid last week, especially in PPR formats. Six catches for 49 yards isnít terrible, but letís look a bit deeper. In Week 12 he had 13 receiving yards. In Week 11 he had only 17. In fact, for the season he has five or fewer fantasy points (in most formats) in nine out of 12 games, with two or less six times. That kind of production just kills you in the playoffs. You canít afford to keep rolling the dice on Gates. If you are in the playoffs, youíve gotten this far in spite of him and itís time to move on. This week he faces the Steelers, who are No. 1 in the league in least fantasy points allowed to tight ends, too.

Larry Fitzgerald WR, ARI Ė What a mess. Fitz is still owned in virtually every single league, but you are going to have to seriously consider sitting him if you own him. (And if you do, kudos if you made it to the playoffs.) It couldnít have been easy, since he has just five catches for 65 yards in three games since the Cardinalsí Week 10 bye. Letís count everything Fitzgerald has going against him: First of all, the team's QB situation is unstable. Second, there has been no running game of late to take the pressure off the passing game. Also, the offensive line doesnít give whoever the QB is enough time to find any receivers. Plus, there arenít really any other great pass-catching options on the field for the Cards, so Fitzgerald is always getting double-teamed. And, to top it all off, the Cards go to Seattle this week to face a Seahawks defense ranked No. 2 in the league against fantasy wide receivers.

Shane Vereen RB, NE Ė There seems to be a decent amount of support out there for Vereen, especially after he was able to find the end zone in Week 11 and then again in Week 12. However, we have to downgrade his value based on his performance last week, plus the quality of his next two match-ups. In Week 13, he only had three carries for 14 yards and zero receptions. Coming to town in the next two weeks are the Texans and the 49ers, both stellar defenses. Besides all of that, Vereenís workload is situational and hard to predict. Stevan Ridley is still the starting tailback and Danny Woodhead sees a lot of action in the passing game, which limits the second-year backís reliability.

James Starks, RB, GB ĖWith reports that he is likely to head to IR, Starksí brief stint of 2012 fantasy relevance has come to a close, which opens the door for Alex Green to get another crack at the Packersí top RB gig.