Here are my 10 most intriguing fantasy players of Week Six.
1. Darren McFadden — It seems reasonable to wonder at this point whether McFadden struck some sort of Faustian bargain whereby he traded some of his elusiveness, some of his game-breaking sizzle, for a season of good health. The oft-injured star has been fit as a fiddle this season, but his fantasy owners are still waiting for a full dose of McFadden magic. One theory holds that it’s just a matter of waiting for the Raiders’ new zone-blocking scheme to take root, and then we’ll see the old familiar Run DMC. Perhaps a Week Five bye provided extra time for McFadden and his blockers to figure out some of the nuances, and maybe McFadden, who has but one rushing touchdown and is averaging 3.5 yards per carry despite a career average of 4.6, can get the pistons firing this week in Atlanta. The Falcons, who are giving up 5.4 yards per carry, yielded 115 rushing yards to Washington’s Alfred Morris last week.
2. Michael Vick — Five weeks into the season, Vick has turnovers that would make your local baker jealous. Interceptions, fumbles, apple, cherry, blueberry ... you name ’em, Vick’s made ’em. Vick has seven TDs this season (six passing, one rushing) against 11 giveaways (six interceptions, five lost fumbles). And after opening the season with a pair of 300-yard passing games, Vick is averaging only 211 passing yards per game over his last three. But the Lions visit Philadelphia this weekend, and their suspect pass defense currently ranks 10th only because the quarterbacks they faced so far were Sam Bradford, Alex Smith, Jake Locker/Matt Hasselbeck and Christian Ponder. If Vick can resist the urge to produce another tray of baked goods, he could be in for a strong performance against Detroit.
3. Demaryius Thomas — Is it still too early to declare that Thomas has joined the ranks of the NFL’s elite wideouts? The big third-year receiver has caught 30 balls for 513 yards and two TDs. He’s had three 100-yard games this season and is coming off a 9-188-0 performance against the Patriots. Thomas appears to be fully in sync with his new quarterback, Peyton Manning, who’s been routinely hitting Thomas in stride on shorter routes and letting him wreak havoc after the catch. The 6-3, 229-pound Thomas might be the hardest receiver to tackle since Sterling Sharpe, and Thomas is much, much faster than Sharpe was. Thomas and the Broncos visit San Diego for a Monday-night matchup against the Chargers, who let another big receiver, the Saints’ Marques Colston, rack up 9-131-3 against them last week.
4. Tony Romo — When we last left our embattled protagonist, he had just chucked up five interceptions in the Cowboys’ embarrassing, nationally televised home loss to the Bears in Week Four. Romo and his teammates spent a bye week stewing over that fiasco, and now they have a troublesome road game against the 4-1 Ravens. Baltimore ranks 22nd against the pass but has allowed only two TD passes. For all the recent venom directed at Romo, he still shows signs of being a useful fantasy asset, at least in the moments when his offensive line isn’t forcing him to absorb tooth-rattling hits. Romo is averaging 287 passing yards per game and completing 66.9 percent of his throws. If his offensive line can buy him time (a tall order against the Ravens), Romo is capable of getting back on track this Sunday.
5. Calvin Johnson — It’s hard for Megatron owners to complain when their man is averaging better than 100 yards per game. But, um, about that TD total ... any chance you could bump it up a little, Mr. Calvin sir? Johnson has 29 catches for 423 yards over his first four games, with a single touchdown. He looked surprisingly mortal in his last appearance, catching five passes for 54 yards and dropping a couple of balls (including a sure TD) in Detroit’s Week Four home loss to Minnesota. The indomitable receiver is no doubt eager to get back to the business of taking names, but Nnamdi Asomugha’s name has always been a hard one to take, and Johnson figures to see a lot of Asomugha when the Lions visit the City of Brotherly Love on Sunday.
6. Ahmad Bradshaw — Just a few weeks ago, it was looking as if Bradshaw was destined to be locked into a time-share situation with Andre Brown after Brown went off against the Panthers in Week Three while Bradshaw sat out with a neck injury. But Bradshaw was back in the lead role the following week, and any doubts about his alpha-dog status in the Giants’ backfield were laid to rest after Bradshaw’s 30-carry, 200-yard rushing day against Cleveland in Week Five. (Brown sustained a concussion early in last week’s game.) The Giants travel to San Francisco this weekend, and the 49ers are significantly stingier against the run than the Browns are. The Niners are allowing 81.4 rushing yards per game and have given up only one rushing touchdown this season. But with Bradshaw healthy and the Giants’ offensive line quietly but efficiently destroying opponents in the running game, there’s reason to think Bradshaw can turn in quality numbers despite the stiffer opposition.
7. Andrew Luck — If the top pick in this year’s draft hasn’t fully established his QB1 fantasy cred, he’s at least getting close. Luck has thrown for more than 300 yards in three of his first four NFL games, and he’s thrown two TD passes in each of his last three. The rookie’s confidence has to be soaring after emerging victorious from last week’s duel against Aaron Rodgers, and Luck now gets to lead the plucky Colts into New Jersey for a date with the 2-3 Jets, who probably aren’t brimming with confidence these days.
8. Stevan Ridley — The good news is that Ridley has 490 rushing yards, four TDs, an average of 4.8 yards per carry and three 100-yard rushing games for the season, including two straight. The bad news for Ridley owners is that their guy is about to go up against a Seattle defense ranked third against the run, allowing 66.6 rushing yards per game. Ridley hasn’t caught a pass since Week Two, so if he can’t find creases in the Seahawks’ run defense, he probably won’t offer his fantasy owners much help. Here’s another reason for Ridley owners to be concerned: He’s fumbled in each of his last two games, with last week’s cough-up resulting in a turnover. Bill Belichick has little patience for fumblers, and with Brandon Bolden, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen all on deck, Ridley can’t afford many more spills.
9. A.J. Green — The young receiver has thus far provided a strong encore to an impressive rookie season. Through five games Green has 36 receptions for 493 yards, and he’s caught a TD pass in four straight. This week brings a promising matchup against the Browns and their 26th-ranked pass defense, which has allowed 12 TDs through the air. But Cleveland will be bolstered by the return of its best cover corner, Joe Haden, now back from a four-game suspension. Green faced the Browns in his first game as a professional and was held to one catch, though it was a 41-yard TD. In a late-November game against Cleveland, Green had three catches for 110 yards. If Haden has accumulated any rust during his month away, Green could be in for yet another big day.
10. Percy Harvin — Before last week, Harvin had done everything his fantasy owners had hoped for except find the endzone on offense. He finally checked that item off his to-do list with a pair of touchdowns against the Titans, one rushing, one receiving. The industrious Harvin is averaging better than 10 touches per game, with 38 catches for 407 yards and 13 carries for 62 yards. His fantasy owners are licking their chops over this weekend’s tantalizing matchup with the Redskins. Washington is allowing 328.6 passing yards per game and has given up 13 TD passes.