It happens every year. No, not me writing a column with this lede, although that happens every year, too. I'm talking about a running back who comes from out of nowhere late in the season and is starting in the fantasy playoffs.
After Tampa's Bobby Rainey went for 163 yards and three TDs against Atlanta last week, it looks like he's that guy. Back on draft day, did you think you'd be asking, “Ray Rice or Bobby Rainey?” with your season on the line?
Of course not, but that's how fantasy football works. It really does happen every year; yet, no matter how much you try to prepare, it's always a surprise. Sure, some owners scooped up Rainey after his impressive fourth quarter last Monday night against Miami, but they obviously didn't anticipate this kind of immediate return. Not from Bobby Rainey – an undrafted free agent from Western Kentucky who's already on his third team this season. Whether Rainey lasts until Week 16 remains to be seen, but if it's not him, rest assured it will be someone else. Keep working the wire, and keep stockpiling running backs.
Let's look at more risers and fallers at each offensive position after Week 11.
Also, don't forget to send your questions in for the Fantasy Football mailbag. Every Friday during the season, we'll tackle the best fantasy questions of the week and help you with roster, trade and strategy decisions. You can submit your questions by 5:00 p.m. CT every Thursday. Please specify players with common last names (e.g. Davis, Jackson, etc.) and include the relevant scoring parameters of your league (e.g. PPR, passing TDs worth 4 points, etc.).
Fantasy owners were justifiably worried about some of the weather forecasts around the league last week, but as if often the case on those types of days, it didn't affect everyone. For as much as the Bears and Ravens struggled in their respective passing games, things were just fine for the Lions and Steelers despite an equally wet and sloppy field. Both Matthew Stafford and Ben Roethlisberger had monster fantasy days, and it was partially due to defensive backs slipping while trying to make tackles and chase receivers.
Bad weather might affect defensive backs more than any other position, which is obviously a plus for quarterbacks and receivers. If wind and precipitation are heavy enough for a quarterback to have major trouble gripping or throwing the ball, things will probably be delayed until the weather lightens up, which happened in the Ravens-Bears game. Good quarterbacks can still put up numbers in bad conditions. It's something to remember as we head toward the final month of the season.
Notable Riser: It took Robert Griffin III a few quarters last week, but when he got going, he put up points in a hurry. Despite completing just four passes in the first half, RGIII finished with 26.96 fantasy points, most of which came in the fourth quarter. It's tough to know how to assess that type of performance, as much of his production came in quasi-garbage time, but Griffin has at least looked good lately and put up big numbers in the past two contests. Consistency is always a worry, but Griffin still has to be considered just as good as fellow dual-threats Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick -- and possibly as good as Cam Newton.
Notable Faller: Fantasy owners were enamored with Case Keenum's past couple games, but he was benched in the second half last week, presumably for poor performance. Keenum hadn't been that bad -- and Matt Schaub wasn't any better in his stead -- so Keenum will be under center next week. Regardless, there's a lesson here for fantasy owners. Playing a “flavor of the week” at RB isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's much riskier with QBs. Nick Foles has continued playing well after his hot start, but Keenum and Jason Campbell killed owners last week. Rookies Geno Smith (who was also benched last week), Mike Glennon and EJ Manuel have been up and down. Sometimes, safety is best.
Fantasy owners are likely clamoring for Donald Brown to officially replace Trent Richardson as Indianapolis' starting/every-down back after his 80-yard, two-TD effort last week. Richardson once again struggled, but ironically, he started playing more on passing downs, hauling in five passes for 31 yards. The Colts are hesitant to strip Richardson of his starting duties, but Brown is clearly the back to own right now, especially since he's getting carries near the goal line.
On the flip side you have the Ravens, who stuck with their veteran, Ray Rice, and were rewarded with Rice's best rushing game of the season. Fantasy owners shouldn't completely put their trust back in Rice -- after all, he ran all over the Bears' porous run defense -- but he'll keep getting the majority of carries over Bernard Pierce, who struggled against Chicago.
Notable Riser: Sticking with the running-back-by-committee theme, Chris Ivory (10 more carries than Bilal Powell) seems to have established himself as the preferred choice for the Jets. Ivory has received the bulk of the carries two weeks in a row and has put up big numbers in three of the past four games. He's a solid RB2 going forward. The same is true of Pierre Thomas, who continues to get the bulk of the touches (and production) in New Orleans' offense. Darren Sproles left Sunday's game briefly due to a leg injury, but even when he was on the field, he was ineffective. Thomas didn't have an amazing day (84 total yards), but he was still a net positive.
Notable Faller: Speaking of two-back systems fantasy owners hate, Andre Ellington took a big step backward in Arizona's backfield. Despite a favorable matchup against Jacksonville, Ellington managed just three yards on eight carries. He's been extremely inconsistent this year and more mediocre than good overall. He has major upside, but Ellington is a risky play almost every week, especially with Rashard Mendenhall getting goal-line carries. Giovani Bernard is in a similar situation, but he's at least getting equal touches with BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Bernard is a fairly safe flex most weeks.
A.J. Green was held to just seven yards last week. You can make plenty of excuses – the weather was bad, Andy Dalton struggled -- but still, seven yards for arguably the game's second-best receiver? It's tough to justify, but Green's not the first big-name WR to be shut down by Cleveland's Joe Haden. Calvin Johnson (2.5 fantasy points), Stevie Johnson (1.9), Mike Wallace (1.5) and Dwayne Bowe (0.7) are some of the other No. 1s who have been stymied (though, to be fair, Jonson was banged up). The only No. 1 receiver with double-digit fantasy points against Haden is Jordy Nelson, who managed 10.2 in Week 7. Torrey Smith is next with 8.5 points back in Week 2. We still don't recommend sitting studs like Green against him, but “mediocre” No. 1's, like Wallace or Bowe, can be benched. Also, No. 2 receivers should get a small bump against Cleveland since QBs will be looking their ways more often.
Darrelle Revis is also back to shutting down WR1s now that he's playing man coverage again. Roddy White got in the end zone last week, but it was toward the end of a blowout loss. Prior to garbage time, White had one catch for 16 yards. Revis will get the ultimate test next week against Calvin Johnson, who, of course, remains a must-start.
Notable Riser: Michael Floyd had a career day against Jacksonville, catching six passes for 193 yards. Even without his 91-yard TD (in which he broke several tackles), it still would've been another solid game for Floyd, who's quietly become a fairly reliable WR3. The upside for days like last Sunday is always there, and Floyd has proved adept at taking advantage of even tough defenses who focus on stopping Larry Fitzgerald. Floyd has at least 8.1 fantasy points in five of the past seven games -- not monster numbers, but consistent numbers that can help you win. Pittsburgh's Jerricho Cotchery is also quietly entering that territory. He has at least 9.1 fantasy points in three straight games, and Emmanuel Sanders' foot injury might pave the way for more playing time. Cotchery is worth a pickup.
Notable Faller: Mike Wallace had a great matchup against San Diego's 28th-ranked pass defense, but he mustered just 39 yards on four catches. It's not all his fault -- Ryan Tannehill has trouble getting him the ball, possibly because Miami's leaky line is giving him less time in the pocket -- but either way, fantasy owners are getting sick of waiting for Wallace to have a big game. He'll have an 80-yard TD catch sooner or later, but it will likely come on owners' benches. That was likely the case with Dwayne Bowe last week, who finally had a good game despite six straight disappointing performances.
Neither Garrett Graham nor Charles Clay had topped 6.7 fantasy points since Week 5, but both had at least 90 yards and a touchdown last week. Meanwhile, fantasy's Nos. 1 and 3 TEs, Jimmy Graham and Jordan Cameron, were both held below 42 yards. We say this every week, but tight end remains as unpredictable as any fantasy position.
The best strategy for fantasy owners is to continue playing established veterans if you have them; otherwise, play matchups. Studs like Graham and Cameron sometimes disappoint, but they still have higher upside than the average TE. Vernon Davis is a good example from last week. He was “questionable” and facing a tough defense, but he finished with 33 yards and a TD. Stick with Davis if he's active.
Notable Riser: Tennessee's Delanie Walker has had 18 targets the past two weeks, catching 14 for 153 yards and two scores. Those are impressive numbers, but it's worth noting that much of that production, including both touchdowns, has come during garbage time. Obviously, Walker is still getting a lot of looks, which is a plus, but the Titans might need to get down by two scores for him to really have fantasy value.
Notable Faller: Washington's Jordan Reed had been one of the hottest TEs in fantasy, averaging 11.5 fantasy points in Weeks 7-10. But he suffered a concussion in the third quarter against Philadelphia last week and didn't return. Reed only had one target before his injury, but the Redskins weren't passing much in the first half. Reed should be a safe starter once he returns from injury. If he's out this week, Fred Davis might get another chance in the starting lineup.
Saints at Falcons
Stat to know: The Falcons rank 30th in run defense (132.7 yards per game), so Pierre Thomas remains a must-start. But after Mark Ingram had just six carries last week and Darren Sproles had just 35 total yards, it's tough to feel good about starting either of them.
Stumbler: QB Matt Ryan (Saints allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to QBs.)