Week 6: Player Upgrades
Some things never change, for example: the Chicago Cubs losing in the playoffs... again. Then some things like the fantasy football landscape change faster than the Oakland Raiders' head coaching position. This week's article features players who underperformed for the first couple of weeks of the season like Andre Johnson, Roddy White, Devin Hester, and DeAngelo Williams; after strong performances this past weekend, their stock is on the rise and they are worth acquiring. All three running backs featured in this week's article are rookies (Felix Jones, Steve Slaton, and Tim Hightower); and all three are having a huge fantasy impact, and will continue to see their fantasy stock rise as their roles in their teams' offenses expand.
Last week, on the FFToolbox Fantasy Football Radio Show, I stated that Larry Johnson was a definite sell high, and was proven right as LJ managed 2 yards on 7 carries against the Carolina Panthers. Along with Johnson, I'm dropping the following players as well: Calvin Johnson (who I haven't been high on the entire season; not because of him, but his QB or rather lack of a good QB), Eddie Royal (who I featured last week in this article, but was shut down by the Buccaneers and sprained his ankle), Chad Johnson, and J.T. O'Sullivan. My Sleeper of the Week last week on the podcast (which fantasy owners can subscribe to on iTunes) was Bobby Engram of the Seattle Seahawks. Engram returned and was the lone bright spot for Seattle catching 8 passes for 61 yards.
A couple of guys I am recommending fantasy owners pick up that I don't have room to go into detail about are Kevin Faulk (who I wrote about in the Week 2 edition), Kyle Orton, LeRon McClain, Sinorice Moss, Greg Camarillo, and Muhsin Muhammad. Remember to check out the FFToolbox Fantasy Football Show this Tuesday Night at 7:00, and best of luck to all fantasy owners in Week 6.
If you've been following the Player Upgrades article since the Training Camp edition, you know how much I love Tim Hightower. You also know why I do, because he hits pay dirt every single weekend as the Cardinals' goal-line back; the best part of all, this flex option is probably available in your league! I've said this before and I'll say it again: Tim Hightower may take over this job by the end of the 2008 season. Arizona has made getting him the ball a priority, especially in the red-zone, and I believe we are going to see Hightower become the next fantasy stud running back if Edgerrin James goes down at any point for the remainder of the season. The Arizona Cardinals blew out the 4-0 Buffalo Bills 41-17, with Hightower leading the way on the ground carrying the ball 7 times for 37 yards and 2 TD's; also adding 2 catches for 8 yards. Hightower shot outside of left tackle 17 yards for a score in the 2nd Quarter, and scored a 2 yard TD in the 4th Quarter. Kurt Warner played a turnover free game against the Bills coming off of a horrendous 6 turnover contest last weekend against the Jets. Arizona has two tough games versus Dallas and Carolina coming up with a bye week in between, so the next couple of games will be the time to acquire Arizona Cardinals for your fantasy team. After visiting Carolina, Arizona gets the St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers, and Seattle Seahawks in their next three games. Hightower will put up numbers against all three teams; go pick him up now if he's still available in your league.
After not receiving a single carry last weekend (and Marion Barber getting just 8), the talented duo scorched the porous Cincinnati Bengals defense for 180 yards on the ground in the Cowboys 31-22 win. On 4th and 4 Dallas pitched it to Jones, who turned the corner and took it 33 yards untouched down the sideline for a TD. Jones went on to rush for 96 yards on just 9 carries, also adding 1 catch for 7 yards. Jones' counterpart Marion Barber received 23 carries for 84 yards in the game. Marion Barber may be a top 5 stud RB, but there are enough carries to go around to make Felix Jones a great flex option if the matchup is right. I would have him in my lineup on any given week because of his skills as a returner much like Devin Hester, and DeSean Jackson (they can all break one at any time). In 5 games, Felix Jones has scored 4 TD's, and is a big play waiting to happen every time he gets the ball in space. Go grab this guy if he is available in your league.
If you haven't listened to any of the experts on this site telling you about this rookie wavier wire sensation then you probably missed out on him in the past couple of weeks. If you went and picked up Slaton and are wondering whether or not he is going to consistently perform the way he did this past weekend against the Indianapolis Colts, then your answer is: yes. What he lacks in size, Slaton makes up for in quickness and power. Similar to Brian Westbrook in the ability to make guys miss, and equally adept as a receiver out of the backfield, Slaton has seen his fantasy stock go through the roof through the first 5 games of his rookie season. Slaton burst onto the fantasy scene against the Titans in Week 3, rushing for 116 yards and 1 TD; following that up with 8 catches for 83 yards and a score against the Jaguars in Week 4. For an encore this past weekend Slaton took 16 carries for 93 yards and 1 TD against the Indianapolis Colts. Slaton does not have a favorable matchup next weekend versus the Miami Dolphins (who are on a roll right now and shut down LaDainian Tomlinson), but he should be in your lineup regardless. Slaton will have monster games the following two weeks when he faces the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals (who rank 30th and 29th in run defense respectively).
DeAngelo is no sub (at least in fantasy circles) for the remainder of the season. I have been hyping Jonathan Stewart ever since training camp, and told fantasy owners in this column last week that he was going to have his coming out party versus the Kansas City Chiefs. Stewart still managed a solid performance, but his teammate DeAngelo Williams erupted back onto the fantasy scene rushing for 123 yards and 2 TD's on 20 carries, and also scored a third time on a 25 yard TD catch in the 2nd Quarter. Carolina went on to beat the Chief's 34-0 and advance to 4-1 on the season. With both Williams and Stewart splitting carries, I wouldn't expect any more performances like the one Williams had this past weekend against the Chiefs for the remainder of the season; however I believe that unless they are facing an extremely tough defense (such as Tampa Bay) next weekend, they are both worth starting as appealing flex plays for the remainder of the season. Stewart has more value than Williams because he receives goal-line carries, but Williams' stock has risen higher than Stewart's after his performance this past weekend.
Every fantasy owner asked themselves this question when Devin Hester began playing wide receiver: Was he going to develop into a consistent fantasy caliber receiver or was he going to be merely a deep threat that could hit big plays? In 2008, Hester has developed into a smooth route runner with the ability to burn opposing secondaries with his moves after the catch, as well as his breakaway speed. Hester has developed the consistency to be a reliable option every week, so don't hesitate to throw him in your lineup next weekend against the Atlanta Falcons. If an owner dropped Hester after just 2 catches for 13 yards to open up the season, I would highly recommend picking him up off of the wavier wire. Hester caught 3 passes for 27 yards and 1 TD against the Eagles and followed that up with 5 catches for 66 yards and 1 TD against the Detroit Lions this past weekend.