Our sources around the NFC are hearing the following whispers:
• Bears WR Devin Hester has only one catch in the past three games and he had zero targets in each of the past two games. He's on pace for 35 receptions, which would be the fewest he has had in a season since 2007. Hester still has a role on offense, but it has become more limited in recent weeks, and, similar to what transpired toward the end of last season, it appears the Bears will have him focus on returning kicks more than making catches for the remainder of the season.
• The Vikings could be in line for a top-two draft pick, but the way-too-early word we hear is that they could be in line to trade down should they land that high of a choice. Quarterbacks once again could be the hot commodity in the 2012 draft, and the Vikings believe they are set at the position with Christian Ponder. Meanwhile, the team has several other needs and could benefit by adding multiple picks, especially with major changes to the roster on the horizon.
• Don't be surprised if Packers undrafted rookie RB Brandon Saine adds an unexpected boost down the stretch. Saine, who had 10 snaps against the Lions in Week 12, has proven to be a lot more physical than he was in college. Extremely smart with good hands out of the backfield, word is he could push Ryan Grant for touches in the coming weeks.
• The Lions have elected to place second-year RB Jahvid Best on injured reserve because of a concussion, the club announced Nov. 25. The move is expected to become official next week. The loss of Best, along with the ankle injury to Kevin Smith, who quickly emerged as the featured back after his return to the club in November, leaves the Lions again to potentially have to lean upon Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams for contributions in the running game if Smith were to miss any time. Best and rookie Mikel LeShoure were expected to be the Lions' RB tandem this season, but injuries dashed those plans. "From the outset, we have been appropriately cautious and have followed all medical protocol with respect to Jahvid's injury," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said in a statement issued by the club on Nov. 25. "We look forward to his continued improvement and eventual return to the field."
• The Cowboys might be without FB Tony Fiammetta, who did such a good job opening holes for RB DeMarco Murray, for the rest of the season. Fiammetta has been listed as having an "illness," but our sources believe Fiammetta could be suffering from concussion-like symptoms, which were a problem this August in camp with the Panthers. The Cowboys have used TE John Phillips as a replacement in the backfield at times for Fiammetta, so it's an area of concern.
• The fact that Brandon Hughes, claimed off the Giants' practice squad last month, stands ahead of Curtis Marsh, the team's third-round pick in April on the Eagles' CB depth chart is a bit eye-opening. The Eagles are not down on Marsh, who will be a contributor in the dime package with Nnamdi Asomugha out, to the point of being worried if he ever can play. But it does show how far he must come to be ready for regular duty.
• The Giants are very worried about their OL depth after OLT Will Beatty's retina surgery and with ORT Kareem McKenzie's back acting up. They might have to turn to Stacy Andrews and Kevin Boothe to fill starting roles, and if they have to go deeper than that it could turn ugly quickly.
• The Redskins haven't just elevated RB Evan Royster from the practice squad as a reward for his hard work — per our sources, they plan to use him. Royster was the team's sixth-round pick this year, and though he did not make the roster out of training camp, there were enough skills evident for the team to believe he was worth developing. Now, with the run game struggling, Royster should get a crack at getting some handoffs.
• TE Jimmy Graham has become Saints QB Drew Brees' go-to guy this season, but the player that led New Orleans in receiving four of the past five seasons, WR Marques Colston, is back to playing his very best after a rough start. Colston missed only two games after breaking his collarbone in Week One, making a quick recovery from the injury, but it took him another week or two to get his bearings. He's rounding into top form as the Saints get ready for the final stretch of the regular season and he prepares to become a free agent for the first time in his career.
• The Buccaneers gave C Jeff Faine, a team captain, assurances that he would be back with the team for the 2011 season after he missed half the 2010 season with injuries. The front office might have been tempted to go with a younger, cheaper option at center, like Jeremy Zuttah, who is the starting left guard this season, but we hear the Bucs are happy with Faine's performance this season. It will be more expensive to keep him around for another season, though. His salary is due to increase from $4.57 million this season to $5.93 million in 2012.
• The Falcons demoted ORG Garrett Reynolds after their bye in Week Eight, replacing him in the starting lineup with Joe Hawley, but we hear the Falcons have not given up on Reynolds. Hawley filled in at center when Todd McClure missed time early this season, and Hawley is the heir apparent to McClure, who will be a free agent after the season. Reynolds beat out Mike Johnson for the starting job at right guard in training camp and another battle between the two could play out next year if McClure doesn't return.
• With Dan Williams out for the rest of the season with a broken arm, the Cardinals will depend on the combination of veteran free-agent addition Nick Eason and sixth-round rookie David Carter to share the load at nose tackle. "Carter has been every bit as good as Williams this season when he's been in there," one daily team observer said. "He's smart and powerful and plays with good technique. He thinks he should have been drafted a lot earlier, and you really have to wonder why he didn't play more at UCLA."
• The consensus among our sources in St. Louis is that Mark LeVoir held his own pretty well at left tackle in place of the injured Rodger Saffold before straining a pectoral muscle that is expected to keep him out 2-4 weeks. As for Saffold, we hear he should be back to normal in 4-5 months after undergoing surgery on the pectoral muscle he tore lifting weights in practice the Friday before the Week 11 loss to the Seahawks.
• Our Niners sources tell us it's obvious to them that WR Braylon Edwards is still far from fully recovered from the torn meniscus he suffered against Dallas in Week Two.
• Ex-Packer Breno Giacomini earned very positive reviews from our Seahawks sources in his first start replacing the injured James Carpenter at right tackle in Week 11, but the same couldn't be said for ex-Raider Paul McQuistan, who struggled at right guard replacing the injured John Moffitt in the same game. "It's surprising because Breno hasn't played as much as McQuistan," one daily team observer said.