Bobby Rainey, RB, TB
Rainey was merely a worthwhile speculative pickup a week ago, but he’s a must-own in almost any format in light of his breakout game Sunday. Rainey showed a lot of burst as he lit up the Atlanta defense for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries (5.4 YPC), adding a third touchdown as a receiver while catching two passes for four yards. Teammate Brian Leonard will remain active as a change-of-pace runner and passing down specialist for Tampa Bay, but Rainey could see his workload increased on passing downs, as well. He has untapped potential as a receiver – he caught 65 passes in his final 24 games at Western Kentucky.
Nate Burleson, WR, DET
It’s generally believed that Burleson will return to the Lions’ starting lineup Sunday as the Lions take on Tampa Bay. If he does suit up, it will be his first game since Week 3, when he caught six passes for 116 yards against the Redskins. Just over a day later, of course, Burleson broke his forearm in a pizza-related car accident. Burleson caught 19 passes for 239 yards in the three games he played this year, so there's a real chance that he could immediately regain his role as the team's second-most important receiver, though he technically does his work from the slot. Given how heavily his usage was pre-injury, Burleson is probably worth owning in 12-team leagues at the moment.
Marquise Goodwin, WR, BUF
Prior to the start of the regular season, the expectation with Buffalo was that Goodwin would serve as the team’s fourth receiver behind Steve Johnson, Robert Woods and T.J. Graham. The third-round pick out of Texas has exceeded expectations, though, and the Bills might need to rethink their plans as a result. Goodwin’s incomparable speed has proven to be a major asset, as he torched the Jets on Sunday for 81 yards and a touchdown on nine targets, and added 17 yards on the ground. He is now averaging 10.0 yards per target, totaling 16 catches for 261 yards and three touchdowns in seven games. Although Johnson (groin), who missed last week’s game, will likely return to the Bills’ lineup following this week’s bye, and Woods (ankle), who has missed the last two contests, might also return, the Bills clearly need to keep Goodwin involved. He is worth stashing in deeper formats.
Jarius Wright, WR, MIN
Minnesota’s decision to start Jerome Simpson ahead of Wright is looking pretty silly at this point. Even aside from his pattern of poor off-the-field decisions, Simpson can’t match the playmaking ability Wright provides, as Wright beats Simpson in both the catch rate (59.4 percent to 51.7 percent) and yards per target (8.3 to 6.6) categories over the last two years. Simpson hasn’t caught a touchdown pass in the last two years, either, whereas Wright has four on 38 receptions over that span. Wright's most impressive statement to this point in his career, of course, is the three catches he made against Seattle on Sunday for 69 yards and two touchdowns. Wright should be on the 14- and 16-team radars going forward, because it’s difficult to imagine the Minnesota coaches would continue to defy logic by playing Simpson at Wright’s expense.
Mychal Rivera, TE, OAK
Rivera is only worth starting in the absolute deepest of leagues, but he’s worth gambling on as tight end depth in some formats just in case Matt McGloin sticks as Oakland’s starting quarterback. McGloin is a better passer than Terrelle Pryor, who might not start against Tennessee on Sunday after McGloin completed 18-of-32 passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns on the road against Houston in his first NFL start. McGloin directed six of his 32 pass attempts towards Rivera on Sunday, and Rivera snagged five for 54 yards and one of McGloin’s three touchdowns. Rivera is a good athlete at tight end and has a near monopoly on the tight end targets in Oakland. McGloin completed 82 passes to tight ends in 12 games at Penn State last year.
Colin Kaepernick, QB, SF
Kaepernick’s struggles are more than anecdotal at this point. It’s clearly a theme by now for the third-year pro, who has conclusively shown that – for now, at least – he’s not capable of passing efficiently against a legitimate pass defense. Even in games where he does complete a high percentage of his throws, the 49ers might use the running game to hide him, limiting his pass attempt volume. Outside of two games against Green Bay and Arizona in which he totaled 664 yards, five touchdowns and one interception as a passer, Kaepernick has totaled just 1,138 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions in the other eight games. That includes just 608 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions against the stout pass defenses of Seattle, Indianapolis, Houston, Carolina and New Orleans.
Darren Sproles, RB, NO
Sproles still has fantasy utility in the New Orleans offense, especially in PPR leagues, but he’s increasingly making clear this year that he likely won’t be a source of reliable, predictable production in standard formats. He has been extremely hit-or-miss this year, totaling 230 yards and four touchdowns from scrimmage in two games, leaving just 379 yards and zero touchdowns for the other eight games. Two ankle injuries and a concussion had something to do with that, but the main theme here is that Sproles is losing a lot of work to Pierre Thomas, who already has more carries (107) and catches (51) in 10 games this year than he did in 15 games last year. Sproles’ latest ankle injury was suffered against San Francisco on Sunday, and he didn’t practice Tuesday, which bodes poorly for his availability against Atlanta on Thursday.
Brian Leonard, RB, TB
As Bobby Rainey’s stock ascends, so Leonard’s falls. The running back/fullback tweener, though a good receiver, is just a plodder when he has the ball, and he doesn't have the raw running skills of Rainey, whose production demands that he be fed as a workhorse runner for the Buccaneers. Although Leonard's production should swing upwards slightly in games where Tampa Bay throws the ball more often than they did in Sunday’s game, when Mike Glennon threw just 23 passes, his ceiling probably isn’t much higher than his four-carry, four-catch effort against the Falcons. The Buccaneers simply can’t keep the ball away from Rainey after he ran for 208 yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries (5.5 YPC) over the last two weeks.
Bernard Pierce, RB, BAL
The Ravens indicated prior to Sunday’s loss to Chicago that the Baltimore offense intended to implement a ‘hot hand’ approach with its running game, specifically referring to the workload split between Pierce and Ray Rice. That was never to imply that Rice and Pierce would be on equal footing – Rice is obviously the much better player – but it did seem to imply that Rice would be on a shortened leash as the team’s feature back. Rice’s strong numbers from Sunday might force Baltimore to rethink things, though, especially since Pierce faceplanted in the same game. Rice finally looked like his old self against the Bears, running for 131 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries (5.2 YPC), while Pierce finished with just 18 yards on 10 carries. Whatever leash is on Rice just got lengthened a bit, making Pierce more of a handcuff than a flex consideration in most formats.
Case Keenum, QB, HOU
Keenum should remain the Texans’ starting quarterback, because he is clearly better than Matt Schaub. The problem is that his coach, Gary Kubiak, has poor enough judgment to forget the second part of that last sentence, as he benched Keenum in Houston’s loss to Oakland after Keenum completed 13-of-24 passes for 170 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Considering Keenum had seven touchdowns and no interceptions heading into the game, you would think he had earned more lenience. Kubiak didn’t agree, though, and thought it would be better to turn to Schaub, who threw eight touchdowns and nine interceptions prior to Sunday and went on to complete just 12-of-25 passes for 155 yards (6.2 YPA) in the loss. Although Kubiak said Keenum will start going forward, the instability in Houston and his silly Sunday benching can’t be good for his confidence.