Ladarius Green, TE, SD
As it turns out, itís really difficult to cover a tight end that runs a 4.53 at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds. The Chargers were a little slow to catch on, but better late than never. After receiving just 10 targets in the first nine games, totaling 148 yards in the process, Green saw 16 targets in San Diego's last three games. The result was a predictable breakout for the second-year player out of Louisiana-Lafayette, and now Green has nine catches for 206 yards and two touchdowns in his last three games. He's averaging 13.6 yards per target, and considering his play count was upped to 60 snaps against Cincinnati on Sunday Ė the same number of snaps as starting tight end Antonio Gates Ė thereís a very real possibility that Green might be San Diegoís second-most productive pass catcher behind wideout Keenan Allen in the remaining weeks of the season.
Doug Baldwin, WR, SEA
Baldwin is almost certainly one of the leagueís most underrated wideouts, or at least one of the most underutilized. Despite playing behind Sidney Rice and Golden Tate for most of the year -- and even Jermaine Kearse at times -- Baldwin still leads the Seahawks with 663 receiving yards, and his four receiving touchdowns are tied for the team lead. The hip aggravation Percy Harvin suffered in the week leading up to Mondayís blowout victory over the Saints figures to temporarily boost Baldwinís prominence in the Seattle passing game, giving fantasy owners the chance to further capitalize on a receiver quietly averaging 12.1 yards per target. Baldwin has 17 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns over the last four weeks.
Shane Vereen, RB, NE
It didnít take long for Vereen to reclaim a role in the New England offense after missing eight games due to a broken wrist. He is an absolute PPR monster at the very least, as he has 21 catches in his first three games since his return, giving him 28 catches in the four games he has been active for this season. Itís clear by now that Vereen is a standout fantasy running back on his own merits, but his value received another boost lately due to the fumbling issues of Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount. With those two seeing a drop in workload, Vereen is poised to establish himself as the workhorse running back in New England. Ridley was a healthy scratch against Houston on Sunday, leaving Vereen with 41 snaps, compared to 20 for Blount and nine for Brandon Bolden. Considering Vereen has 35 carries and 28 catches (38 targets) in four games, he should continue to receive heavy usage if he plays that many snaps.
Michael Crabtree, WR, SF
Although an Achilles tendon tear from May derailed his ascent following a breakout 2012 season in which he caught 85 passes for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns, Crabtree returned to action in Week 13 against the Rams. The 49ers didnít give him much time to shake off the rust, as his 42 snaps against the Rams were only slightly less than the 51 snaps Anquan Boldin played as the lead wideout. Crabtree finished with two catches for 68 yards on four targets, and while he didnít appear to be 100 percent, he should nonetheless see his target count rise steadily in the coming weeks.
Antone Smith, RB, ATL
The Falcons have refused to give Smith the ball on more than an occasional basis this year, so it might be overly optimistic to hope for reliable fantasy production from the former Florida State star, but he has been so exceptionally productive with his limited opportunities that the Falcons seem all but compelled to increase his workload. Smith has 137 yards and two touchdowns on just four carries over the last four weeks, good for an average of 34.3 yards per run. The Falcons arenít explosive enough on offense to have the privilege of leaving that sort of productivity on the bench for long.
Nate Burleson, WR, DET
After catching seven passes for 77 yards and a touchdown against Tampa Bay in Week 12, Burleson left his fantasy owners with an infuriating goose egg in what should have been a profitable matchup against the Packers on Thanksgiving. Whatís especially concerning was that there was absolutely no reason to expect the drop-off. He played 58 snaps, so it's not as if the Lions were giving him a rest day. It almost would have been reassuring if he hadnít played, because at least some sense could have been made of the disappearance in that scenario. Instead, Burlesonís owners have to move forward knowing heís a complete wild card and thereís really no data to turn to for hints of what happens next. He saw one target Thursday after receiving 10 the week before.
Stevan Ridley, RB, NE
As a player who was widely selected in the second round of drafts and almost universally was relied upon as at least an RB2, Ridley was one of fantasy footballís biggest disappointments in the first half of the year after coach Bill Belichick decided to cut back Ridleyís workload in response to a Week 1 fumble. Little did Ridley's owners know, come mid-November they'd be longing for the September days when Ridley received an average of 11.75 carries per game. Though still a steep tumble from the 18.1 carries per game Ridley averaged in 2012, it was better than the nothing Ridley provided as a healthy scratch against Houston on Sunday. A lost fumble in three straight games is what sent Ridley to the bench, and now itís fair to wonder whether heíll be a fantasy factor again in 2013. Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden all appear to be ahead of Ridley right now.
Darren McFadden, RB, OAK
When youíre a former fourth overall pick at running back and youíre getting outplayed by a low level free agent signing who averaged 2.8 yards per carry a year ago, itís probably time to face the fact that youíre just not very good. Constant injury issues may have drained McFadden of some of his talents, but regardless of the explanation, his career outlook is very bleak due to the fact that he is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry this year while Rashad Jennings averages 4.7 per rush. McFadden just isnít productive enough to provide fantasy value as the backup runner in Oakland, and it looks like thatís exactly what he will be as long as Jennings continues to outshine him.
Rishard Matthews, WR, MIA
A few weeks ago it appeared that Matthews might be able to provide some deep league and PPR utility during the final stretch of 2013, as he replaced the injured Brandon Gibson as Miamiís slot wide receiver, a position that quarterback Ryan Tannehill targeted often. He saw 20 targets against Tampa Bay and San Diego, totaling 15 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns in the process, but in the two games since he has just five catches for 23 yards on 10 targets. Matthews just doesnít seem to be very talented, and heís unlikely to earn the high number of targets necessary to make a fantasy impact in most formats.
Wes Welker, WR, DEN
As the second-most targeted receiver in Peyton Manningís offense, Welker is obviously still a valuable fantasy receiver, especially in PPR formats. However, his production in recent games has made clear that he doesnít have much upside, and the touchdown production he showed in the first half of the year was an anomaly. After catching nine touchdowns in the first eight weeks, Welker has failed to score in the four games since, and at no point this year has he made it to the 100-yard mark. Averaging just 7.1 yards per target, Welker simply isn't a downfield factor and is liable to disappoint outside of PPR formats if he doesn't reestablish himself as a red-zone threat.