Ten most intriguing players of Week Six

Posted Oct. 12, 2011 @ 5:16 p.m.
Posted By Pat Fitzmaurice

1. Ryan Torain — The Redskins-Eagles game will be of particular interest to those holding tickets to ride Mike Shanahan's Colossal Carousel of Running Backs. Just before the Redskins hit their Week Five bye, Torain emerged from the No. 3 spot on the depth chart to rush for 135 yards and a TD against the Rams. Tim Hightower's minor shoulder injury, sustained early in the game against St. Louis, was a factor in Torain finally getting playing time. But Hightower is expected to play this weekend, and we can't forget about rookie Roy Helu, who has looked good in spurts. Someone from this group figures to be in for a good day against the Eagles, who tackle like 4-year-olds chasing a puppy around the yard. The smart money is on Torain getting a majority of the carries, but let's face it: When it comes to Shanahan's RB usage, there is no such thing as "smart money."

2. Jimmy Graham — Wow. Just … wow. It's getting tough to come up with adequate superlatives for Graham, who, after his third consecutive 100-yard game is now on pace to exceed 100 receptions and 1,500 yards for the season. Drew Brees loves throwing to him, and defenses haven't figured out how to stop him. Now he gets to face the discombobulated Buccaneers, who yielded three TD catches to San Francisco tight ends last week (two to Vernon Davis, one to Delanie Walker). Does anyone think the Bucs will be the ones who come up with the formula for stopping the NFL's newest superstar?

3. Tony Romo — With the Cowboys' quarterback enduring an opening month that had more drama than a Mexican soap opera, let's hope Romo enjoyed a restful bye week. But is there any doubt that additional tumult is just around the corner? The Cowboys return to action with a high-profile matchup against the Patriots in New England, and Romo should be buoyed by the anticipated return of his favorite receiver, Miles Austin. Through all the turmoil, Romo is still putting up big numbers (1,273 passing yards and seven TD passes through four games). If forced into a shootout against Tom Brady, Romo could end up producing banner numbers for his fantasy owners.

4. Frank Gore — The 49ers and Lions are preparing to clash in an unexpectedly important mid-October game, and Gore figures to play a significant role in the proceedings. He ran for 125 yards and a TD last week in the 49ers' 48-3 beatdown of the Buccaneers, and Gore owners are hoping that his week-to-week numbers remain reasonably consistent now that the 49ers are no longer patsies. Gore has authored consecutive 100-yard rushing games, with a TD in each of those games, and even though the Niners are giving rookie Kendall Hunter a modest share of the workload, the team's new formula of a strong defense mixed with a ball-control offense is right up Gore's alley. San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh probably won't have much choice but to play ball control against the Lions, since he doesn't want to expose his all-too-easily-exposed quarterback, Alex Smith, to the fierce Detroit pass rush, and also since injuries to Braylon Edwards and Josh Morgan have left the Niners with a shortage of competent wide receivers.

5. A.J. Green — It's becoming clear that Green will soon be regarded as one of the 10 best receivers in the NFL. The question is how close to the top he can get … and how quickly he can get there. Despite the fact that he's a rookie receiver playing with a rookie quarterback, Green has 24 catches for 402 yards and three TDs, putting him on pace for nearly 1,300 yards and 10 TDs. Once he and QB Andy Dalton are completely settled in, might Green rank with Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson at the very top of the WR list? This week, Green gets to face a Colts defense that just gave up four TD passes to the Chiefs and somehow managed to make Matt Cassel look like Len Dawson.

6. Peyton Hillis — What's going on with the Madden cover boy? First, he missed the Browns' Week Three game with strep throat (not the sort of malady you'd expect to waylay a guy who picks safeties out of his teeth). Then, after returning in Week Four to rush for 46 yards against the Titans on only 10 carries, Hillis said he probably wouldn't have sat out in Week Three were it not for the advice of his agent. One has to wonder if his agent's advice had anything to do with the Browns' reluctance to pony up a contract extension. One also has to wonder if the events of the past few weeks might land Hillis, a Dawg Pound favorite, in the Dawg House. Let's just say it will be interesting to see how carries are divided between Hillis and Montario Hardesty this weekend when the Browns play the Raiders.

7. Eli Manning — Manning has been on a statistical tear lately, with 995 passing yards and nine TD passes over his last three games. But after going two games without an interception, Eli's chronic pick problem surfaced again last week, as he threw three interceptions in the Giants' embarrassing home loss to the Seahawks. In Manning's defense, the last of those interceptions, which came as Manning was trying to drive the Giants for a game-winning touchdown and resulted in a game-clinching pick-six for Seattle, was caused by Victor Cruz losing his footing and unintentionally deflecting the ball into a defender's arms. And with 420 passing yards and three TD passes in that game, Manning hardly deserves blame for the loss. Nor does Cruz, who's turned into a big-play machine and has teamed with Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham to give Manning a dangerous set of wide receivers. This week, Manning and the Giants face the 4-1 Bills in a game that has the makings of an entertaining shootout.

8. Steve Smith — As Smith enjoys what could prove to be the finest season of his 11-year pro career, you have to wonder what sort of numbers he could have put up the past few years had he not been stuck with an over-the-hill Jake Delhomme and then a green-as-grass Jimmy Clausen at quarterback. Smith already has more receiving yards (609) and TD catches (three) than he had in 14 games last season. And, yes, Smith is still feisty. Just ask the Saints' Malcom Jenkins, whom Smith dragged around by his facemask last week during a scuffle that followed Roman Harper's cheap shot on Smith after Smith had hauled in a 54-yard TD catch. Smith, who's gaining a gaudy 22.6 yards per reception, now faces a Falcons defense that continues to have problems against the pass, ranking 28th in the league in that category while allowing 294.2 passing yards per game.

9. BenJarvus Green-Ellis — Just when it looked as if the Patriots were headed toward a RB-by-committee situation in which rookie Stevan Ridley would be playing a prominent role, Green-Ellis toted the ball 27 times for 136 yards and two TDs in the Patriots' Week Five win over the Jets. But do BJGE owners trust that their man will get another full workload when the Patriots face the Cowboys this week? And even if he does, how much damage will Green-Ellis do against a Dallas defense that ranks No. 1 in the league against the run, allowing 61.8 rushing yards per game?

10. Josh Freeman — What on earth is going on with Freeman and the Bucs? They're 2-3, which isn't catastrophic, but they were just trucked by a score of 48-3 in San Francisco, and the Tampa offense has looked out of sync all season. Freeman's TD-INT ratio last season was 25-6. This season it's 3-6. Freeman is completing a respectable 64 percent of his passes, but he has gone from 7.3 yards per pass attempt last season to 6.5 this season. His best receiver, Mike Williams, is gaining 9.6 yards per catch and has only one touchdown after scoring 11 TDs as a rookie last season. Clearly, Freeman needs to start taking shots downfield and stop checking down so much. Few fantasy owners will be starting Freeman this weekend, but still, they're undoubtedly anxious to see vital signs from a guy who in 2010 seemed to be destined for stardom. It will be interesting (perhaps in a morbid-curiosity sort of way) if the Bucs dig themselves into an early hole against the Saints on Sunday and Freeman has to try to throw his way out of it.