Jets TE Dustin Keller suffered an ankle sprain last week and may not return this season. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Colin Kaepernick has been the biggest fantasy story of the past several weeks, largely because of the upside we know mobile quarterbacks can have. But through three starts, we've seen both good and bad from Kaepernick, and it's fair to wonder if he's worth all the hype.
Many owners are probably out on Kaepernick after his touchdown-less performance against the Rams, but he still managed 14.7 fantasy points last week. In his previous two starts, he put up 22.7 and 21.9 points, respectively. That 19.8 average is still better than what Alex Smith averaged in his previous three full games before being injured and benched (13.7), but Kaepernick is only the 19th-ranked QB over the past four weeks. Though Kaepernick didn't start the first game of that stretch, he still managed 17.3 points in relief of Smith, so even if we give him the benefit of the doubt and tack on a few more points, he's still no more than a borderline starter.
As we'll talk about in a minute, it's OK to play matchups with quarterbacks this time of year if you don't have one of the elite signal-callers. Kaepernick has some favorable upcoming games (vs. MIA, at NE), but as with most things in fantasy football, his perceived value is going to continue to fluctuate from week-to-week. At this point, he looks like a decent starter, but he's not necessarily an automatic play.
Let's look at some other players who improved or hurt their stock at each offensive position in Week 13.
There was supposed to be a tropical storm in Oakland last Sunday with wind gusts up to 35 mph. Naturally, fantasy owners were worried about the quarterbacks, receivers and kickers in that game. As it turned out, both Carson Palmer (351 yards) and Brandon Weeden (364 yards) threw for over 300 yards. Likewise, bad weather in Buffalo was supposed to slow down Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chad Henne, but both accounted for multiple TDs.
Bad weather – or, perhaps more accurately, the threat of bad weather – is going to become more prevalent over the final several weeks, and no position will be more affected than quarterback. As we saw on Sunday, potentially bad weather doesn't necessarily preclude a quarterback from having a decent fantasy day, so we have to be careful about overreacting. Since none of the four quarterbacks who were supposed to be playing in less-than-ideal conditions last week would be considered “elite,” it was probably smart to play it safe and bench them. However, if someone like Drew Brees, Tom Brady or even Robert Griffin III are supposed to be playing in bad weather, it's best to keep them in your lineups.
Notable Riser: Russell Wilson, Seahawks. The big knock on Wilson this year has been that he hasn't produced on the road. Over the past two weeks, he's totaled at least 24.8 fantasy points in two road games, including 30.8 points against the vaunted Bears' defense last Sunday. Wilson has scored at least 20.3 points in each of his past five games, and it's no coincidence that's been much more accurate in that span, posting a league-leading 68.3 percent completion percentage. He's also been running more, with four of his best five rushing performances coming in his past four contests. He looks like a QB1 regardless of opposition right now.
Notable Faller: Matt Ryan, Falcons. After recording just 12.4 fantasy points against a poor Saints' defense last Thursday, Ryan has now turned in three straight games with fewer than 17.5 points. We know the upside is always there for more given the talent around him, but with a 2:7 TD-to-turnover ratio in that span, Ryan is clearly slipping. It's unlikely that you have a better option on your roster, but if someone like Wilson or Tim Tebow (assuming he's healthy and gets a starting job) is available to be your backup, it wouldn't be crazy to start thinking about playing matchups.
Philadelphia's Bryce Brown continued his quest to be this year's “late-season breakout star,” even if he did lose another costly fumble, but two other backs reminded us why it's risky to rely on “backups” this late in the season.
Oakland's Marcel Reece lost carries to backup Jeremy Stewart midway through last week's game, moving back to his more familiar fullback role. For Jacksonville, Rashad Jennings suffered a concussion early in the game and was replaced by Montell Owens. It looks like both Darren McFadden (ankle) and Mike Goodson (ankle) will be active for Oakland this Thursday, so Reece can safely be dropped, but the Jacksonville situation is going to ugly for the rest of the season. Owens is worth picking up, but don't bank on much production from him even if he does start.
Notable Riser: DeMarco Murray, Cowboys. Murray was supposedly going to be “eased” back into action on Sunday night, but after 27 touches, 102 total yards and a touchdown, it's safe to say he's ready for a full workload. The notoriously injury-prone Murray is always a candidate to suffer another ailment, but right now, he looks like a strong RB1. Murray fared better than another returning star, Matt Forte (96 total yards), but Forte stayed in one piece despite 24 touches, so he should be fine going forward, as well.
Notable Faller: Arian Foster, Texans. Foster scored on Sunday, giving him at least one touchdown in all but one game this year. While that's all well and good, we're including Foster in the “faller” category because of his season-low 14 carries – the same amount as backup Justin Forsett. This is the second straight week in which Foster has been rotated out more often, perhaps in an effort by the Texans to keep him fresh for the playoffs. Ultimately, he's still a must-start RB1 every week – especially this week in a big game against New England -- but it wouldn't be a shock to see his production slip a little down the stretch. This might prompt you to take more chances at other positions, as you simply can't “count on” 17-plus points from Foster like you seemingly could earlier in the season.
In-game injuries affected the fantasy performances of several wide receivers, including Brandon LaFell (foot), Stevie Johnson (hamstring), Ryan Broyles (right knee), Julian Edelman (foot) and Jordy Nelson (hamstring). At this point in the season, teams will be more careful with in-game injuries, but unfortunately, there's not much fantasy owners can do about that. The best we can do is quickly cast off injured players who likely won't be starting for us in the fantasy playoffs.
Among the group listed above, Edelman, Broyles and LaFell were already borderline starters, at best, and all three sound like they might miss more time (Broyles is out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL). Cutting them for guys getting more targets, like
Notable Riser: Josh Gordon, Browns. Gordon got in the end zone for the first time since Week 7 and recorded the first 100-yard game of his career last week, but it's not as if he hasn't been involved in the Browns' offense. Gordon has had seven targets in each of the past three games, and with QB Brandon Weeden playing better, Gordon should continue putting up WR3-caliber numbers. His next two games (vs. KC, vs. WAS) are favorable matchups, making Gordon a sleeper for the fantasy playoffs.
Notable Faller: Roddy White, Falcons. White managed just one catch for 20 yards against the Saints last Thursday, giving him just 77 yards in his past two games. We know White is one of the premier receivers in the NFL, but he hasn't scored since Week 6 despite an average of nine targets over the past six games. The high number of looks is most important when looking forward, though, so keep White in your lineups. The difference between him and Ryan is that it only takes one big play for White to have fantasy value.
Tight end continues to be a volatile position, with players like Brandon Myers (130 yards, TD last week), Jermaine Gresham (35 yards, TD), Heath Miller (97 yards, TD) and Dallas Clark (21 yards, TD) rising while Vernon Davis (15 yards) and Antonio Gates (49 yards) are falling.
As we've learned over the course of the season, nothing is guaranteed with these mid-tier TEs, but Myers and Gresham look like the safest bets going forward. Davis and Gates will continue to offer more upside than most, but it's getting tough to play them. Gates has been especially disappointing despite favorable matchups.
Notable Riser: Tony Scheffler, Lions. After Broyles' injury, Scheffler was being used as a wide receiver and caught three of five targets for 55 yards. He also missed some time because of a head injury but eventually returned. With Titus Young still serving a team-imposed suspension because of conduct detrimental to the team and Broyles out for the rest of the year, Scheffler is in line for plenty of targets on a team that throws more than anyone in football.
Notable Faller: Dustin Keller, Jets. Keller reportedly suffered a ankle sprain in Sunday's game against Arizona, which could sideline him for the rest of the season. Jeff Cumberland, who scored after Keller left the game, would replace him, but he's not a viable fantasy replacement. Someone like Coby Fleener, who caught a touchdown on one of his two targets against Detroit, Jacob Tamme, who caught nine of 13 targets against Tampa, or Jared Cook, who had 12 targets against Houston, are better long-shot options if you were counting on Keller.
Broncos at Raiders
Stat to know: The Broncos lit up the Raiders for 503 total yards and 37 points when these teams met back in Week 4. Not much has changed for either side, except this week it will be Knowshon Moreno getting the carries in place of Willis McGahee, who had 135 total yards and a TD in the first meeting. Start all your Broncos, even the slumping Eric Decker (7-79, TD in Week 4).
Stumbler: RB Darren McFadden (38 total yards against Denver in Week 4; Broncos allowing fifth-fewest FPPG to RBs).
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.