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The Weekly Barometer - Week 5

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After the utter insanity of last week, the fantasy landscape of Week 4 looked much more like what we were expecting. The list of the week’s top receivers is largely populated with players who were actually drafted to be starters. Adrian Peterson was the top running back while first-round picks Arian Foster , Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch  hit the top-10. Peyton Manning , Tom Brady , Drew Brees and Matt Ryan  were all in the top-six among quarterbacks. Tony Gonzalez , Jimmy Graham  and Antonio Gates  topped the tight end charts.

Out of the nine largely unowned wide receivers who were in the top-20 at the position in Week 3, only one repeated that feat in Week 4. The moral of the story is an insultingly simple one that still bears repeating; start your starters. For every time you look really smart for benching Ryan Mathews in favor of Nate Washington, there will be five times that you look bad because the match-up and injury compelled you to bench Andre Johnson in favor of Santana Moss (somebody in my money league did this).

So let’s analyze this week’s outlier performances with this in mind; be boring. Making the right lineup calls with your non-studs and picking up the right free agents is a big part of winning championships, but so is letting your best players do what they do.

Quarterbacks

Matt Cassel (Week 4 vs. Pittsburgh: 248 yards, 2 TD)

NFL teams would rather punch a kitten than admit that a quarterback they drafted in the first round hasn’t panned out. The result is young quarterbacks who clearly aren’t the answer getting way more starts than they deserve (See also: Rex Grossman and Blaine Gabbert ). Despite that, Cassel’s largely mistake-free piloting of the Minnesota Vikings to their first win of the season made a compelling case for the benching of Christian Ponder . But still, with so many quality quarterbacks out there, the likelihood that Ponder will get another crack at the starting gig because he was drafted 12th overall and Cassel wasn’t, the quality of Vikings receivers, and Cassel’s own history, he’s impossible to recommend as a waiver add, but keep an eye on him.

Watch Closely

Michael Vick (Week 4 at Denver: 248 yards, 0 TDs, 41 yards rushing)

I know Denver has a good defense, but it’s disheartening to see Vick put up such a pedestrian 13 standard league fantasy points in a game between two warp speed offenses where he played from behind the whole time. The stars should have aligned for way more offense, including multiple touchdowns. This is a second straight disappointing performance after two huge fantasy days in Weeks 1 and 2, but if I have him I’m still starting him every week as long as he’s upright. He doesn’t have a single matchup for the rest of the year that comes close to Kansas City or Denver in terms of difficulty, and he still has as much weekly upside as anyone. Also, the 99 rushing yards in Week 3 and 41 in Week 4 show that even when he’s completely ineffective as a passer he will do just enough with his legs to keep himself from single-handedly making you lose.

Start With Confidence

Philip Rivers (Week 4 vs. Dallas: 401 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT)

Welcome back to the barometer! I’m officially buying here. In the preseason I strongly held onto my opinion that Rivers was too much of a physical liability, the offensive line was beyond repair, and the receivers were among the league’s bottom of the barrel. I had him pegged as hopeless and devoid of fantasy upside. Well, Rivers went into this game ranked fifth among quarterbacks, and he put up yet another dominant performance this week. Crow eaten. Rivers looks like he’s in 2010 mode, Antonio Gates is the healthiest he has been in years, the patchwork receiving corps is meshing very well with the quarterback, and coach Mike McCoy has rejuvenated this entire team by virtue of how not Norv Turner he is. The next four matchups are favorable, and I’m all-in on Rivers as a quality top-12 start in all of them.

Running Backs

Darren Sproles (Week 4 vs. Miami: 4 carries for 28 yards, 7 receptions for 114 yards, 2 TD, fumble lost)

Sproles broke out in a big way on Monday night after three disappointing weeks. At least they were disappointing in standard leagues. He was already a top-12 running backs in points per reception leagues and flew even farther up the charts on the wings of that performance. If you’re in a points per reception league I advise you to keep rolling with him, because he’s so grossly underrated in that format. Seriously, look at the numbers. He is about as valuable as a running back you drafted mid-to-late Round 1. In standard leagues I would try to sell high. He’ll be a reasonably consistent producer going forward, but his stock will never be this high again.

Sell High

Danny Woodhead (Week 4 vs. Dallas: 5 carries for 32 yards, 5 receptions for 54 yards, 2 TDs)

And now let’s take a look at the poor man’s Sproles. It’s really the same story here. In points per reception leagues he has put up fantasy totals over the first four weeks of three, 13, 13 and 25 points. Considering how dire some running backs situations are in the league, Woodhead is a clear every-week starter in points per reception leagues, and his continuously rising fantasy totals make him worthy of flex consideration in standard leagues. It looks like it’s becoming increasingly clear to coach Mike McCoy and quarterback Philip Rivers that with so much carnage among their offensive skill players, Woodhead is one of their best weapons, and putting the ball in his hands is conducive to winning.

Usable Flex Play

Maurice Jones-Drew (Week 4 vs. Indianapolis: 13 carries for 23 yards, 1 reception for 5 yards)

I don’t know why I’m so interested in talking about adorably short running backs today. This season just keeps getting worse for Jones-Drew and the Jacksonville Jaguars as a whole. Yes, they fell behind and had to abandon the run early, but their starting back only averaged 1.8 yards per carry before that. On a weekly basis his yards per carry has gone from 3.0 to 2.7 to 2.3 to 1.8. An entire column could be dedicated to comparing Jones-Drew’s stats negatively to other things, but I’ll forgo all that and say this: I don’t see a light at the end of this tunnel. The situation is hopeless, and there might still be an owner in your league who believes that he’ll get healthy, or Blaine Gabbert's inevitable benching and Justin Blackmon's return will fix this offense, or some sort of divine intervention will turn things around. If you own him and he fails to put up good numbers next week against the Rams, you may have missed your last chance to get something of value out of him.



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