Jacksonville RB Jalen Parmele had a solid performance against Houston last week and could be a good sneaky play until Maurice Jones-Drew returns. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
It was another crazy week for fantasy football owners, who saw guys like Andre Johnson and Robert Griffin III explode, Matt Ryan and Jeremy Maclin implode, and Rob Gronkowski (forearm) and LeSean McCoy (concussion) suffer potentially serious injuries.
But through all the big developments involving big-time players, two names stood out to me: Marcel Reece and Jalen Parmele. Yup, two running backs who were nowhere near the fantasy radar in the preseason – or even three weeks ago.
Reece had another good day for Oakland, picking up 193 total yards while dominating the RB touches. Parmele was a surprise starter for Jacksonville, totaling 83 yards on 27 touches. Both backs figure to be the RB1's on their respective teams until Darren McFadden (ankle) and Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) return, which might not occur at all this season.
This happens every year. Guys like Reece and Parmele are starting in the fantasy playoffs, leading teams to championships. Last year featured Toby Gerhart and C.J. Spiller starting to take over around this time, then Kahlil Bell going nuts in Weeks 15 and 16. Rashad Jennings and Ryan Torain were big contributors down the stretch in 2010. And who could forget 2009, when Cleveland's Jerome Harrison (605 rushing yards, 5 TDs) and Kansas City's Jamaal Charles (714 rushing yards, 5 TDs) had two of the best December/January's ever?
We obviously don't know if Reece and Parmele will have that kind of impact, but you can bet some late-season waiver-wire addition will. Reece is likely already on fantasy rosters, but Parmele will be a hot pickup this week. As will Philadelphia's Bryce Brown, who figures to start as long as it takes for McCoy to get over his concussion. Maybe this year's late-season breakout will be an old face, like Arizona's Beanie Wells (toe), who's set to return in Week 12, or Green Bay's Cedric Benson (foot), who's aiming for a Week 15 return.
Every week from here on out will yield at least a few late-season breakout candidates. We don't know who it will be, but we know it's going to happen. It's the one certainty in fantasy football.
Let's look at some other players who improved or hurt their stock at each offensive position in Week 11.
Matt Schaub (47.08) and Griffin (40.40) each put up 40-point days in standard leagues, and Chad Henne (38.86) wasn't far behind. Henne, who relieved an injured Blaine Gabbert (elbow) early in Sunday's loss to Houston, figures to get more playing time after this performance, and he could be a sleeper down the stretch. Only one of Jacksonville's six remaining games would be categorized as unfavorable (vs. NYJ in Week 14). The rest should yield plenty of yards (vs. TEN, @BUF, @MIA, vs. NE, @TEN).
This might not mean much for Henne -- after all, most fantasy owners will have a better option than him on their roster – but he could be a nice fill-in if you lost Michael Vick or Ben Roethlisberger last week (maybe not as nice as Colin Kaepernick, but still useful). Even more important, Henne seems like he'll be better for Jacksonville's receivers, giving Justin Blackmon, Cecil Shorts and maybe even Laurent Robinson and Marcedes Lewis some value down the stretch.
Notable Riser: Andy Dalton, Bengals. After putting up 28.5 fantasy points last week against Kansas City, Dalton now sits as the No. 8 fantasy QB in standard leagues. He's really had just two bad games all season, and even more impressive, he's had 25-plus points in six games. That's the same amount of 25-point games as Aaron Rodgers and three more than Tom Brady. The road gets tougher after next week's game against Oakland, as Dalton faces the Chargers, Cowboys, Eagles and Steelers to close out the fantasy season, but he's played well enough this year to ride with through Week 16.
Notable Faller: Matthew Stafford, Lions. Consistency continues to elude Stafford. Just look at his fantasy-point totals from the past four games: 37.3, 11.2, 30.5, 11.8. Even in that 11.2-point performance against Jacksonville in Week 9, Stafford played well, but last week he struggled from the get-go, turning it over three times and missing a wide open Calvin Johnson on two would-be touchdowns. Even the touchdown he did throw was ugly – it literally went right through a Green Bay defender's hands. Stafford has as much upside as any quarterback every week, but he's tough to trust with your fantasy season on the line unless it's a majorly favorable matchup.
Remember what we were saying earlier about those unheralded running backs? Here are the top-three RB point scorers last week: Reece (19.3), LaRod Stephens-Howling (19.3) and Bilal Powell (18). Fantasy football is awesome, isn't it? Reece figures to continue having solid weeks while McFadden (ankle) is out, but Stephens-Howling should see a big drop in touches when Wells returns next week. Powell merely poached a couple touchdowns from Shonn Greene, who had seven more carries, but he's still a potential flex-play late in the season.
A few other committee situations worth keeping an eye on: James Starks (25-74) is clearly the lead back in Green Bay right now, even if he's not all that good. Likewise for Vick Ballard in Indianapolis (16-72; 12 more carries than Donald Brown), though he did get a short TD stolen by Delone Carter. New Orleans (12 carries for Mark Ingram, 8 for Chris Ivory and 5 for Pierre Thomas), Miami (12 carries for Daniel Thomas, 10 for Reggie Bush) and Pittsburgh (12 carries for Jonathan Dwyer; 11 for Rashard Mendenhall) continue to be messes, though Ingram, Thomas and Dwyer look like the best plays for now.
Notable Riser: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals. Green-Ellis might be the most boring starting running back in the NFL, but he's out there every week and manages to give fantasy owners at least a little something. Last week, he enjoyed his best game of the season, rushing 25 times for 101 yards and a score. Remarkably, it was only the first time since Week 1 that he managed at least four yards per carry. Green-Ellis is a volume producer, which means he loses a lot of value if Cincinnati falls behind early. But so far this year, he's plodded his way to the 20th-most fantasy points among RBs, and as long as he doesn't get hurt, he could easily finish as a top-15 back.
Notable Faller: Willis McGahee, Broncos. McGahee didn't play in the second half after injuring his right knee against the Chargers, and he's reportedly going to miss at least four-to-six weeks. Ronnie Hillman (12-43) didn't exactly impress in relief of McGahee, but he figures to see the bulk of the carries the rest of the year, with Lance Ball also getting some playing time. Like the backs we mentioned above, both could be late-season difference-makers.
Wide receiver is always the most volatile fantasy position, and it's where we often see some odd single-game stat lines. Last week was no exception, with
Stuff like that makes you appreciate guys like Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green, Roddy White and Randall Cobb, who have been among the most consistent receivers all season. With the exception of Green, each of the other four have had a few bad games, but they're still solid WR1s. Even Jordy Nelson's return didn't slow down Cobb (though it did seem to affect James Jones). Dez Bryant, who had another big game last Saturday, and Vincent Jackson, who saved his best for last with a TD and a two-point conversion with 12 seconds left against Carolina, have also been steady lately. Try your best to ignore fluky performances and instead focus on general consistency and matchups.
Notable Riser: Danario Alexander, Chargers. It seems to happen every year -- Alexander becomes a fantasy commodity for a couple weeks, then disappears, usually because of injury. After a 96-yard, two-touchdown performance last week, Alexander has probably peaked this year, but he's still worth having on rosters in all formats. Even if Alexander stays healthy, he has a brutal stretch of upcoming games (vs. BAL, vs. CIN, @PIT, vs. CAR, @NYJ) – all against teams in the bottom 12 in terms of fantasy points per game allowed to WRs. Relying on Alexander is going to be risky in the fantasy playoffs.
Notable Faller: Brandon Lloyd, Patriots. Lloyd played just over half of New England's offensive snaps last week, catching four-of-seven targets for 45 yards. He's only had a handful of good games this year, and it now looks like he's going to lose playing time to Julian Edelman. It's possible that Gronkowski's injury and Aaron Hernandez's ongoing ankle problems could lead to more playing time and targets for Lloyd, but right now he looks like he's going to be a low-percentage boom-or-bust play most weeks.
Four tight ends received double-digit targets last week, but none were guys you might expect. Dwayne Allen (11) and Dallas Clark (11) led the way, with Brandon Myers (10) and Tony Scheffler (10) right behind them. Myers is the best bet going forward from this bunch, though Allen also has upside while Coby Fleener (shoulder) is out. Clark, who scored a walk-off touchdown in overtime, is probably the least likely to be consistent, as he had just nine targets in the previous three games combined. He can be a boom-or-bust option while Josh Freeman is playing well, but he'll always be no higher than the fourth option in Tampa's receiving game.
Notable Riser: Jermichael Finley, Packers. Finley reportedly had a conversation with Rodgers this week about his role in the offense, and that might have helped him have his best game of the season (3-66, TD). It's hard to say whether this will be the start of a trend, but Finley has a pretty good slate of upcoming games (@NYG, vs. MIN, vs. DET, @CHI, vs. TEN), so he's at least back in play as a possible TE1.
Notable Faller: Owen Daniels, Texans. Marcedes Lewis, Benjamin Watson and Garrett Graham each caught two touchdowns last week, but Graham might get the most attention because he outperformed Daniels. Graham had two more catches and 25 more yards, but it's important to note that he and Daniels had the same number of targets (9). Daniels is still the better player, and he should be the much better fantasy performer going forward.
Texans at Lions
Stat to know: The Texans are the only team that hasn't allowed a rushing TD this year. Mikel LeShoure is averaging just four yards per carry this year, and he has just two catches for three yards in his past three games. If he doesn't score, he likely won't have much fantasy value, and that's going to be a tall order this week.
Stud: TE Owen Daniels (Lions allowing 8.9 FPPG to TEs, tied for sixth most).
Redskins at Cowboys
Stat to know: DeMarco Murray (foot) still might not be ready for Thursday's game against Washington, which would make Felix Jones the feature back once again. Jones has scored at least 10.9 fantasy points in each of the past three games, so he's a worthwhile RB2 against a decent Washington run defense.
Sleeper: Washington D/ST (Cowboys allowing fifth-most FPPG to D/STs).
Patriots at Jets
Stat to know: Jeremy Kerley (3 targets), Stephen Hill (2) and Dustin Keller (2) all disappointed last week, but it's a good bet that at least one will have a decent game against a Patriots defense that's allowing the fifth-most FPPG to WRs (26.5) and fourth-most FPPG to TEs (10). When these teams met in Week 7, both Kerley (120 yards) and Keller (93 yards and a TD) had big games.
Sleeper: RB Shane Vereen (Jets allowing seventh-most FPPG to RBs; Vereen been getting more playing time lately).
Matt Lutovsky is a fantasy football writer for Sporting News' Fantasy Source. You can read more of his work on the Fantasy Source football homepage.