Edwin Baker, RB, CLE
Baker is a well-built back with above average straight-line speed, two traits that convinced the Chargers to pick him in the seventh round of the 2012 despite the fact that Baker was mostly a bust as a hyped recruit at Michigan State. He followed up a 1,201-yard, 13-touchdown 2010 season on 5.8 yards per carry with 665 yards (3.9 YPC) and five touchdowns in 2011, his final year at Michigan State. Given that unimpressive college finish, it’s somewhat surprising that Baker posted promising numbers for the Browns the last two weeks. Cut from the San Diego roster in August, the Browns picked up Baker off the Houston practice squad Dec. 10, giving him eight carries for 38 yards and a touchdown against Chicago in Week 15 as he caught four passes for 46 yards. He had a second straight impressive effort against the Jets on Sunday, running for 64 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries against a defense allowing just 3.3 yards per carry on the year. Against a Steelers defense that allowed 18 rushing touchdowns in 15 games, Baker is a justifiable flex consideration in most formats this week. He’s probably worth a stash in many or most dynasty formats, too.
Jonathan Grimes, RB, HOU
In his second NFL season after going undrafted out of William & Mary, Grimes finds himself in the improbable position of starting at running back for the Texans as they take on a Titans defense that is generally quite friendly against the run. Grimes, however, is about as nondescript of a prospect as you could imagine. He’s not especially big at 5-foot-10, 209 pounds, and he doesn’t show much explosiveness or speed on tape. Grimes is only seeing the field Sunday because Arian Foster, Ben Tate and Deji Karim were all dealt season-ending injuries, while Dennis Johnson (hip) is questionable for Sunday’s game. Still, in deep and daily leagues he has a fair amount of intrigue due to Houston’s run-heavy offense as it takes on a Tennessee defense that allowed 20 rushing touchdowns through its first 15 games. Grimes ran for 23 yards on five carries against Denver on Sunday.
Julian Edelman, WR, NE
Even if Danny Amendola was the much more hyped New England wideout heading into this year, it’s clear that Edelman is better and the definite lead wideout for the Patriots. By catching seven passes for 77 yards against the Ravens on Sunday, Edelman is up to 96 catches for 991 yards and six touchdowns on the year. His usage has been ridiculously high in the last five weeks especially, turning 62 targets into 44 catches for 491 yards and four touchdowns. As long as the Patriots bring him back in the offseason – Edelman is a free agent after this year – he should be a real candidate to establish himself as an upper-tier WR2 in PPR leagues even with Rob Gronkowski back on the field.
Stedman Bailey, WR, STL
Even with Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Brian Quick posing significant long-term obstacles to his value, it’s worth noting Bailey’s recent ascent in the St. Louis offense. A third-round pick in the 2013 draft, close observers of college football will remember Bailey as the guy who outproduced Austin as a receiver at West Virginia, but went much later in the draft since he lacked Austin’s speed and rare run-after-the-catch skills. Bailey caught 114 passes for 1,622 yards and 25 touchdowns during his 2012 season with the Mountaineers, displaying a knack for deep separation and a rare motor for a wideout. The Rams decided to give Bailey a closer look in recent weeks, giving him 40 snaps against the Buccaneers on Sunday after granting him a total of 78 snaps over the three prior weeks. He responded with 11 catches for 162 yards on 17 targets, adding 33 yards and a touchdown on two carries. Averaging 9.7 yards per target this year, Bailey is definitely a player to keep in mind as a 2014 sleeper depending on how the St. Louis quarterback and wide receiver situations sort out leading up to then. He could very easily be the best of St. Louis’ wideouts.
Kyle Orton, QB, DAL
Deep and two-quarterback Week 17 leagues can probably find cheap quarterback help with Orton, who will almost certainly start for Dallas as the Cowboys attempt to defeat Philadelphia for the NFC East title. Tony Romo (herniated disk) hasn’t been publicly ruled out by Dallas’ coaching or management heading into the weekend, but there’s no telling how much bribery it would take to convince doctors to give Romo clearance, assuming Romo were crazy enough to try playing anyway. If Orton does suit up, he’ll inherit a home matchup against a Philadelphia squad that tempts opponents to attempt an average of 41.6 passes per game. When Dallas played Philadelphia earlier this year, Romo attempted 47 passes. If he throws at his unimpressive career average of 6.6 yards per attempt and career touchdown percentage of .037, Orton would still project to 275 yards and 1.5 touchdowns on Philadelphia’s year-long average of 41.6 attempts allowed.
Coby Fleener, TE, IND
It’s too early to entirely write off the 2012 second-round pick and former favorite pass catcher of Andrew Luck, but as Fleener’s second season concludes it at least seems as if it’s time to assign him low expectations going forward. Even with a huge void in the Indianapolis passing game in light of Reggie Wayne's ACL tear, Fleener has just 51 catches for 583 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games, averaging 7.0 yards per target. Teammate and fellow tight end is much less athletic than Fleener, yet it’s Allen who boasts a vastly superior career average of 8.0 yards per target compared to Fleener’s 6.6
Jay Cutler, QB, CHI
Cutler’s role in Chicago appears secure for the duration of the 2013 season, but it seems more and more as if he’s the lesser quarterback than Josh McCown, at least as far as coach Marc Trestman’s offense is concerned. By throwing for 487 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions over the last two weeks, averaging 7.4 yards per attempt, he's now up to 2,395 yards (7.2 YPA), 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on the year. McCown has 1,829 yards (8.2 YPA), 13 touchdowns and one interception. Both players are free agents after this year, but even if Cutler sticks around it seems as if he’ll rarely be more than average.
Steve Johnson, WR, BUF
Even if Johnson holds on to his role as Buffalo’s No. 1 wide receiver in 2014, it still seems like his value is set to decline slightly over the long term. That’s not necessarily due to Johnson’s skill set as much as it does the players around him, but it’s hard to see Johnson maintaining the level of production from 2010 through 2012 as young wideouts like Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and maybe T.J. Graham continue ascending. He's set to finish the year with 52 catches for 597 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per target. Meanwhile, Woods averaged 7.1 yards per target to this point in his rookie year, while Goodwin averaged 8.4 yards per target as the duo combined for 821 yards and six touchdowns.
Percy Harvin, WR, SEA
Not only is Harvin done for the regular season due to the hip aggravation he suffered some time after his Nov. 17 debut in Seattle, it appears that his condition deteriorated enough for him to miss Seattle’s playoff run. Hopefully Harvin’s apparently imminent deactivation would allow him ample time to get healthy for the 2014 season, but the lingering nature of his recovery seems to make it a situation worth monitoring in the offseason. Harvin has major fantasy potential in Russell Wilson’s offense if he can reach full health prior to the season’s start. He originally underwent surgery to repair a labrum tear August 1.
Jamaal Charles, RB, KC
Charles is on the falling list solely in reference to his Week 17 prospects. His long-term outlook could hardly be much brighter. In an Andy Reid offense that feeds him as a runner and receiver, Charles’ superb skill set will continue yielding elite fantasy numbers, perhaps as the No. 1 overall pick in many leagues next year. If we’re talking about the Chiefs’ matchup against the Chargers this week, though, Charles’ owners in Week 17 leagues figure to be penalized slightly for the overwhelming success he saw in the first 16 weeks. The Chiefs’ playoff seeding is set in stone by now, so it’s easy to argue that there’s no reason to give Charles and others Chiefs starters anything more than ceremonial reps in the final week. If Charles takes a seat, rookie third-round pick Knile Davis figures to get a lengthy audition as the feature back.