Andre Ellington, RB, ARZ
Coach Bruce Arians pretended not to be overly impressed with Ellington after he posted 154 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries against Atlanta on Sunday -- raising his rushing average on the year to 7.7 yards per carry -- but it becomes clearer each week that the rookie sixth-round pick out of Clemson is a huge upgrade over Rashard Mendenhall, who has 52 fewer rushing yards than Ellington on 49 more carries. Ellington has proven that he doesn’t need a big workload to make a sizable fantasy impact, so he should remain safely in flex territory even if the Cardinals give Mendenhall a noteworthy role after he returns from his toe injury. With that being said, Ellington will have real RB2 upside if the Cardinals continue to give him 12 or more carries per game. If Arizona has even a vague interest in winning games, then 12 carries should be the absolute minimum target for Ellington each week going forward.
Andre Brown, RB, NYG
The Giants remain without David Wilson (neck) on an indefinite basis, and the trio of Peyton Hillis, Brandon Jacobs and Michael Cox is thoroughly uninspiring. After spending the last eight weeks on Injured Reserve-Designated for Return due to a fractured left leg suffered in late August, Brown will likely return to the field in Week 10 following the Giants’ Week 9 bye. Brown has the talent to immediately serve as the Giants’ lead runner against the Raiders, and given that Hillis was given 38 carries after getting signed off the street two weeks ago, it could be big role that Brown inherits. He should probably be added in all or most formats in anticipation of Week 10.
Josh Gordon, WR, CLE
Gordon lands on the ‘Riser’ list due to the simple fact that his team is making a sensible, permanent switch from an obviously inferior incumbent to a value-boosting backup at quarterback. Although he’s obviously nothing special himself, Jason Campbell is a much better quarterback than Brandon Weeden – Campbell has a career average of 6.7 yards per attempt and a completion percentage of 60.8 to go along with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 1.5-to-1, whereas Weeden’s dwindling career YPA of 6.4 goes with a completion percentage of 56.2 and a TD:INT ratio of 0.83-to-1. Campbell has always thrown a decent deep ball, moreover, which is especially encouraging for the field-stretching Gordon, who is averaging 9.9 yards per target this year and has a reception of 33 or more yards in all but one of his six games. The switch from Brian Hoyer (knee) to Weeden threatened to really put a damper on Gordon’s value down the stretch, but Campbell should help solidify it.
Golden Tate, WR, SEA
Tate has seen his 2012 average of 10.3 yards per target drop to 8.1 per target in 2013, but he should pick up his production in the coming weeks with Sidney Rice (knee) out for the season. It doesn't hurt that Tate caught five passes for 93 yards and two scores against St. Louis on Monday, providing himself a confidence boost as well as boosting quarterback Russell Wilson's confidence in his receiver. Although Percy Harvin (hip) is the long-term favorite to emerge as Seattle’s top receiver, the short term is cloudy after Harvin aggravated his hip injury Thursday, and Harvin figures to start out with a limited play count anyway.
Kenny Stills, WR, NO
Stills’ role in the New Orleans offense is still less than prominent, and he might technically remain behind both Marques Colston and Lance Moore in the rotation, but his value is pointing sharply upward in dynasty leagues at the very least. Colston and Moore are both 30 years old, and Colston is averaging just 5.7 targets per game after receiving 8.1 per game in 2012. Moore, meanwhile, has missed three games this year and has played a full season just once since 2009. In contrast to Colston and Moore, Stills is an explosive young wideout who is posting excellent efficiency numbers as a rookie, snagging 13 of his 23 targets for 327 yards and three touchdowns. That's 14.2 yards per target. Drew Brees is clearly trusting Stills more and more each week, even in tight coverage, and Stills has yet to let him down.
Michael Vick, QB, PHI
After sitting out two games and most of a third due to a hamstring strain, Vick returned to the field against the Giants on Sunday – supposedly with a full practice workload under his belt – and was completely ineffective, completing 6-of-9 passes for 30 yards and an interception before leaving after aggravating the injury. Given that he had two weeks of rest prior to Sunday’s setback, it’s fair to wonder whether Vick is looking at more than a three-week timetable to fully recover from his setback. He has already been ruled out for this week’s game against Oakland, forcing the Eagles to turn back to Nick Foles, who will be returning after sitting out last week’s game with a concussion.
Austin Pettis, WR, STL
As the Rams become more intimately aware of just how lost their season is, and how unclear their future remains, a deeper evaluation of the team’s roster will occur in the upcoming weeks. One of the team’s deepest (yet unproven) positions is wide receiver, where Pettis has served as a top-three player in the team’s rotation despite clearly lacking the talent of guys lower than him on the depth chart like Brian Quick and Stedman Bailey. It might have made sense for the Rams to play Pettis ahead of those two when they were still playing to win – Pettis might be a bit more polished than Quick and Bailey since he’s more experienced – but St. Louis has every reason to develop and evaluate Quick and Bailey at this point. With five catches for 62 yards in the last three weeks, owners can let go of Pettis and the idea that he might regain the four-touchdown form he showed in the first five weeks.
Marques Colston, WR, NO
It seems as if Colston has to catch fire any minute now – he’s finished each of the last four years with at least 1,000 receiving yards and seven touchdowns – but after seven games it appears as if the Saints have cut back on Colston's workload. Colston has just 27 catches for 342 yards and one touchdown, and his 40 targets are less than one third of the 130 targets he posted over 16 games last year. It's not obvious why Colston's targets have been so infrequent – his average of 8.6 yards per target is only slightly less than the 8.9 he posted last year – but he has just six catches for 44 yards on 11 targets over the last three weeks.
Jason Witten, TE, DAL
With Dallas halfway through its schedule, Witten is on pace for his worst numbers since the 2006 season, when he caught 64 passes for 754 yards and one touchdown. Although his average of 7.2 yards per target is a slight improvement over the 7.0 figure he posted last year, Witten’s target rate has dropped from 9.3 per game to 7.0 per game as Tony Romo throws more passes toward Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and DeMarco Murray. Witten has just 13 targets over the last three weeks, and outside out of the 15 catches for 191 yards and three touchdowns he posted in games against the Giants and Broncos, Witten has only 22 catches for 212 yards in his other six games. Although he should remain in TE1 territory for the rest of the year, it seems that Witten’s decline has become evident at 31, his 11th year in the NFL.
LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI
McCoy was arguably the hottest runner in the NFL at the start of this year, bolting for 468 yards (6.0 YPC) and two touchdowns on the ground in the first month while adding seven catches for 140 yards. However, his numbers have fallen sharply in the four games since. McCoy had only 265 yards on the ground in that four-game span, and averaged just 3.4 yards per carry while scoring a single touchdown. A big reason why McCoy’s numbers have declined is that the Eagles have been without Michael Vick (hamstring) and the rushing threat he provides, making it easier for defenses to single out McCoy in the running game. Unless Nick Foles gets on track or Vick gets back to 100 percent, it is difficult to see how McCoy could regain the value he had at the start of the year.