About the Author
Recent posts by Pat Fitzmaurice
Pat Fitzmaurice is addicted to competitive cooking shows ("Top Chef," "Chopped," Hell's Kitchen," etc.), and he also loves to eat. Since he isn't much of a cook, he's channeling his chef obsession into Fitz's Four-Course Fantasy Feast, a regular column featuring an appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert. Bon appétit.
Appetizer: Roasted new potatoes with blue cheese
This was supposed to be a good year for new (read: rookie) running backs, but it hasn't really worked out that way. Fantasy owners who took a chance on the running backs selected in the first round of the NFL draft have been feeling blue lately. Will these owners still be feeling that way a month from now?
Ryan Mathews appeared to be the safest play among this year's rookie runners, but he has yet to gain full traction with the Chargers. It was widely assumed that Mathews would (ahem) hit the ground running and be San Diego's workhorse right from the start. He had 20 carries for 78 yards in Week One but has carried only 35 times in his other four games.
The good news for Mathews owners is that his lack of productivity so far is largely circumstantial. He injured his ankle in Week Two after five carries. He missed Week Three, then returned and was used sparingly in a Week Four blowout of the Cardinals. In each of the last two weeks, the Chargers dug early holes for themselves and were forced to try to pass their way back into contention, so Mathews had only 21 combined carries in those games. Mathews is averaging 5.1 yards per carry, and San Diego's running game has been better this season. The Chargers are averaging 4.3 yards per carry, a big improvement on last year's NFL-worst 3.3 yards per carry. Mike Tolbert and Darren Sproles are useful backs but too one-dimensional to knock Mathews out of the picture. The Chargers play in a bad division and face a bunch of soft run defenses in the second half of the regular season. Mathews is an excellent buy-low opportunity.
Jahvid Best scored two TDs in his NFL debut and then exploded for three TDs and 232 yards from scrimmage in his second game, but he hasn't scored a TD or hit 100 yards from scrimmage in any of his last four games.
A turf-toe injury and a lousy offensive line are potential problems for Best owners. Turf toe can be a nagging malady, and the Lions' offensive line has been a nagging malady for years. (The fact that OLT Jeff Backus made his 150th consecutive start for Detroit last week is less a testament to Backus' longevity than a testament to a decade of front-office incompetence.) Best has toughed it out with the foot injury, and his shiftiness as a receiver out of the backfield helps make up for subpar run blocking. Don't expect many 100-yard rushing games out of him this season, but he should still pile up plenty of yardage, and you can expect him to find his way back into the endzone not long after the Lions return from their Week Seven bye.
C.J. Spiller ... (sigh). The first running back taken in this year's NFL draft has 19 carries in five games, and he hasn't had double-digit touches in a game since Week One.
The Buffalo Bills have become a Mickey Mouse organization. It's sad, because Bills fans deserve so much better. The team is going nowhere, and it's using the No. 9 overall pick in the draft — a pick that could have been used to plug gaping holes at any number of positions — primarily as a kick returner. Spiller has a ton of talent, and I'd love to be able to predict bigger and better things for him the rest of the way, but the Bills are so ham-handed that they can't be trusted to set this Spiller situation right.
Salad: Caesar salad
A true Caesar salad has to have anchovies. That slightly fishy taste makes all the difference.
Speaking of "fishy," I've been puzzled by the lack of playing time for a pair of running backs (and I'm not counting C.J. Spiller, discussed above). Are there things going on behind the scenes that we don't know about? Are these guys lazy in practice? Are they disliked in the locker room? Are they backups to coaches' pets? If their coaching staffs wise up, these two backs could quickly gain fantasy value:
Bernard Scott — Cedric Benson is a solid back, but he's a plodder. He was averaging 3.3 yards per carry before rolling up 144 rushing yards against the Buccaneers in Week Five. Scott is an exciting runner who could add some needed sizzle to the Cincinnati offense, but Scott has only 17 rushing attempts this season; Benson has 103. Scott has averaged 4.4 yards per carry during his brief career, but the Bengals have been strangely reluctant to turn him loose. It's hard to understand why Scott can't get, say, a 30 percent stake in the Bengals' running game.
Tashard Choice — Yes, Choice's costly fumble against the Redskins in Week One, returned for a TD on the final play of the first half, is perhaps the biggest gaffe of the NFL season so far (though it wasn't Choice who elected not to have Tony Romo take a knee even though Dallas appeared to be out of Hail Mary range). If that fumble is the reason why Choice remains in cold storage, it's a foolish one. Dallas hasn't been able to establish a consistent ground game. Marion Barber looks washed up, and Felix Jones looks like he's lost his quickness. Barber and Jones have combined for 103 carries; Choice has eight carries. With a career average of 5.1 yards a pop, Choice deserves a bigger role.
Entrée: Breaded pork tenderloin sandwich
This is a favorite comfort food in Indianapolis, and Colts fans could use a little comfort in light of the injury woes their team is dealing with. The latest blows are a shoulder injury for RB Joseph Addai (actually, shoulder injuries, plural, since both shoulders are ailing), a hand injury that will keep WR Austin Collie out indefinitely, and a hand/wrist injury for TE Dallas Clark. As of this writing, there were rumors that Clark's injury could be a season-ender, though he was reportedly seeking a third opinion. (Apparently he didn't care much for the first two.) The Colts' official position is that Clark will be out indefinitely, so a hasty return is a pipe dream.
With Clark on the shelf and Jermichael Finley out for the season, only one truly elite fantasy tight end is left standing: Antonio Gates. (And Gates, too, is hurting after injuring and then reinjuring a toe last week.) You know things have gotten dire at the TE position when multiple Cleveland Browns tight ends could end up starting in some fantasy leagues this week.
The Colts' depth chart lists Jacob Tamme as Clark's top backup, followed by Brody Eldridge, followed by Gijon Robinson. Tamme holds University of Kentucky records for catches and receiving yards by a tight end, but he has a grand total of six receptions in two-plus seasons with the Colts. Eldridge is a rookie who made more starts as an offensive lineman (five) than as a tight end (four) during his senior season at Oklahoma. He's caught three passes this season for 23 yards. Robinson was just re-signed after being waived earlier. He's had 28 catches in two seasons with the Colts, averaging 8.1 yards per reception.
Despite the sudden opportunity, it's far-fetched to think that even Peyton Manning can turn any of these guys into worthwhile fantasy commodities. Clark owners, you'd be best to look elsewhere for a replacement.
But those Clark receptions have to be distributed somewhere, and the Colts' wide receivers will no doubt take up a lot of the slack. Reggie Wayne was a must-start player anyway, and the Clark injury might mean even greater week-to-week consistency in Wayne's numbers. Pierre Garcon should gain some snaps, and if he can cash in on his obvious talents while minimizing occasional lapses in concentration, he just might be a top-10 receiver the rest of the way. The intriguing name in the mix: Anthony Gonzalez. The porcelain receiver has been out all season with an ankle injury, and he missed the entire 2009 season with a knee injury. When Gonzalez comes back — and that could happen shortly after the Colts' Week Seven bye — he could provide instant fantasy value in Clark's absence. Blair White will also see more action, but I can't recommend him as a fantasy contributor.
The Addai injury could give Donald Brown an audition as the Colts' featured back. The problem is that Brown himself has been dealing with a hamstring issue, and it's not clear if he'll be ready to roll in Week Eight. If you're a Brown owner, you want him in your lineup for any game he starts while Addai is out. Never mind that the second-year back has thus far failed to make a splash. Colts GM Bill Polian has a pretty good track record in judging RB talent (Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James), and Brown could blow up if given the chance. If Addai and Brown are both out, that leaves Mike Hart. I'm not terribly enthusiastic about Hart's NFL future, but any running back who makes a start in the Indy offense is bound to fall derriere over teakettle into some fantasy points.
One last guy to discuss: Peyton Manning. You'd think that Manning's value would have to take a small hit because of all these injuries. Maybe, but I'm not so sure. We all know what a sharp dude this guy is, and there's little doubt that while the Colts are on hiatus, Manning's brainpower will be harnessed to help the Colts' coaching staff hatch some contingency plans for the offense. Despite a shabby offensive line, Manning is quietly on pace for a 5,000-yard season, and his TD-INT ratio so far is 13-2. He'll be just fine. In fact, all these Colts injuries on both sides of the ball could end up benefitting Manning in a way: It's unlikely that the Colts will have the luxury of resting starters over the final weeks of the season, so Manning owners shouldn't have to worry about him being pulled from a game early during a fantasy playoff week.
Dessert: Carob-chip cookies
Carob is a reasonable substitute for chocolate, and it brings some health benefits to this dessert that you can eat with your hands. With some top wide receivers either injured or on bye this week, a lot of fantasy owners will be forced to insert substitute sets of hands.
The Colts, Texans, Lions and Jets are on bye this week, which means that Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes are among the unavailable receivers for Week Seven. DeSean Jackson is out with a concussion. The status of otherwise viable starting options Malcom Floyd (hamstring) and Eddie Royal (groin) is uncertain. If you play in a league with 12 or more teams, you might see some interesting names in starting WR slots this Sunday.
How slim is the WR position looking this week? Well, a pair of Bills wideouts (Lee Evans and Steve Johnson) crack the top 40 in my position rankings. Also cracking my top 40 this week are two San Diego receivers (Patrick Crayton and Buster Davis) who haven't started a single game between them this season. Danario Alexander, who played his first NFL game last week, is also in my top 40.
It's a make-do week at wide receiver, so I'll leave you with the names of three wideouts who might be able to help get you out of a jam:
Jason Avant. With D-Jax out, a lot of people are high on Jeremy Maclin's prospects against the Titans, particularly since Maclin has clicked with Kevin Kolb. But Maclin is bound to draw more defensive attention, and it wouldn't surprise me a bit if Avant, a smooth veteran, had the better day.
Deon Butler. Mike Williams is the hotter commodity after his big game against the Bears last week, but Butler had a TD catch in that game (his second of the season) and is in line for an expanded role with the Seahawks now that Deion Branch is out of the picture.
Devery Henderson. No catches last week, no TDs since Week One. Henderson is a home-run hitter, but he's been whiffing like Dave Kingman. Two words for you: He's due.