Updated Thursday, Nov. 29, 6:55 p.m. ET
The fantasy season has reached Week 13, and a starting lineup of Chad Henne, Bryce Brown, Knowshon Moreno, Cecil Shorts, Danario Alexander, Ryan Broyles and TE Brandon Myers could be competitive. We’re not playing fantasy football this year; we’re rooting for truffles. May the best snout win.
We’re right down to it, folks: one or two more weeks to get yourself into your league’s playoffs or to jockey for a better seed. Then on to the playoffs, where a single slipshod performance by any of your starters could cost you a pile of money and a championship that you’d always cherish. This isn’t the time to take ill-advised fliers with valuable lineup spots.
In recent weeks, we’ve had a lot of strange characters come into prominence within the fantasy galaxy. We’ve entered the “Star Wars” cantina, and the place is jumping. Most of these oddballs were either at the bottom of your draft rankings back in August or not listed at all. Now, they’re surprisingly intriguing lineup options. But can they be trusted in the most critical weeks of the season? Let’s put some of the Johnny-come-latelys under the microscope:
Chad Henne — Starting in place of the injured (and ineffective) Blaine Gabbert, Henne lit up a good Houston defense for 354 yards and four TDs in Week 11, then threw for 261 yards and two TDs last week. He’s bringing out the best in rookie WR Justin Blackmon, who was looking like a bust just a couple of weeks ago, while still keeping the emerging Cecil Shorts involved. It’s worth noting that while Henne is plus-5 in TD-INT ratio this season (seven TDs, two INTs), he’s still thrown more INTs than TD passes in his career. That’s because Henne isn’t shy about forcing throws downfield. That trait can lead to some nice numbers, but it also can put you in danger in leagues that penalize interceptions. No sane person would start Henne over an elite quarterback (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, RG3, et al.). But Henne could be an interesting matchup play if a starter like, say, Eli Manning, Andrew Luck or Tony Romo is up against a tough pass defense. Henne draws a shaky Buffalo defense this week, then a Jets defense that might have already checked out for the season. Henne’s final two games are against Miami and New England, which rank 26th and 29th, respectively, against the pass.
Colin Kaepernick — He throws a pretty ball, his running ability adds a great deal to his potential fantasy value, and the remainder of his schedule is pretty favorable, save for perhaps a Week 16 game against Seattle. But a couple of things would make me nervous about starting him in any given week. First, there’s no way of knowing how much job security Kaepernick has. I don’t trust Jim Harbaugh. He could quick-hook Kaepernick if he struggles early in a game. Or, he could give Alex Smith playing time simply to create doubt for future opponents about which quarterback they’ll face. Second, the 49ers like to run the ball, and they’re darn good at it. I think Harbaugh would be happy with Kaepernick throwing about 25 passes per game. That isn’t conducive to 300-yard passing days. You might not even get a 200-yard day out of Kappy in any given week.
Beanie Wells — Beanie is back … until his next injury, anyway. He’s going to get about 15 carries a week behind a bad offensive line, so he isn’t going to run off a streak of 100-yard rushing days, but if there are any goal-line situations for Arizona, Wells is going to get the ball. That gives Wells flex value, even though his schedule gets tough after this weekend’s matchup against a bad Jets run defense.
Bryce Brown — The Eagles’ rookie running back grabbed our attention by rushing for 178 yards and two TDs against the Panthers on Monday night, and with LeSean McCoy expected to miss a second consecutive game with a concussion, Brown will be in a lot of fantasy lineups this weekend, when Philly visits Dallas. But what happens when McCoy is back? Shady is way too good to be kicked to the curb, but Brown deserves carries, too. The situation seems destined to end up in a time-share, unless McCoy’s concussion is especially severe and he’s shut down for the season. Note that Brown has a couple of difficult matchups ahead: against the top-rated Tampa Bay run defense in Week 14, and against the No. 3-rated Washington defense in Week 16.
Marcel Reece — The injury to Darren McFadden boosted his value, particularly in PPR leagues, and he’s been reliably churning out good yardage numbers. But McFadden is about to return, perhaps as early as this week, and Mike Goodson should be back soon, too. Reece won’t be getting many carries, so his only value will come as a pass catcher. He’ll barely be useable, and probably only in PPR. (Of course, that would change if D-Mac reinjured himself.)
Jonathan Dwyer — He’s been anointed as the Steelers’ lead back, though it’s hard to tell what that means. The Steelers have been dividing carries based on a combination of health and merit all season, and that probably won’t change now. If Dwyer coughs up a couple of fumbles or gets stuffed repeatedly, Rashard Mendenhall or Isaac Redman will be in there, and those two are likely to get some carries anyway. Don’t start any Pittsburgh runner as long as Ben Roethlisberger is out. With the hapless Charlie Batch at quarterback, it’s just way too easy for opponents to focus on stopping the Steelers’ running game. But if Dwyer is still starting whenever Big Ben comes back, he at least has RB2 or flex value. His schedule isn’t bad at all down the stretch; there are no dreadful matchups ahead.
Knowshon Moreno — For now, he’s ahead of rookie Ronnie Hillman on the depth chart, but I’m not sure if that will last. It’s not that I’m convinced Hillman is a star in the making. No, but I’m pretty convinced that Moreno will never be a star. His matchup against the Buccaneers this week is a tough one. He then gets a favorable matchup against the Raiders, followed by neutral matchups against the Ravens (whose run defense has been improving) and the Browns). Be wary of Moreno the rest of the way. It’s worth playing him against the Raiders in Week 14 if he’s still starting for the Broncos. But otherwise … meh.
Cecil Shorts — I’m not just drinking the Cecil Shorts Kool-Aid; I’m opening up my own stand. Start him with confidence the rest of the way, at least as long as Chad Henne is quarterbacking the Jaguars. Shorts’ season isn’t a fluke. He simply gets open, catches the ball and makes yards after the catch.
Justin Blackmon — It’s Jaguar-mania! Well, not really. But after looking like a zombie for most of the season, Blackmon is finally producing not that Henne is helming the Jaguars’ offense. Blackmon has WR3 or flex value the rest of the way.
Danario Alexander — It's hard to argue with what Alexander has done for the Chargers over the past four weeks: 20 catches for 365 yards and three TDs. He has been more productive and targeted more often than teammates Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates over that span. If Alexander can stay healthy (an "if" that's bigger than our national deficit), he figures to be a decent WR3 or flex play down the stretch, though his prospects are dimmed a bit by the fact that all four of the Chargers' remaining opponents rank in the top 11 against the pass.
Ryan Broyles — A 100-yard receiving game in Week 12 might be creating unrealistic expectations for Broyles. The rookie had a nice game for the Lions last week after the team had banished temperamental WR Titus Young. It’s unclear whether Broyles will start this week now that Young has been allowed to come back. But regardless, Calvin Johnson is obviously Matthew Stafford’s top target, and Broyles will split leftovers with either Young or Mike Thomas, plus TEs Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. As pass-happy as the Lions are, I don’t see Broyles getting close to 12 targets every week. Be careful here.
Mohamed Sanu — The rookie’s role has been increasing, and he now has scored four TDs in his last three games. Touchdowns are attention-grabbers, but don’t ignore the fact that Sanu hasn’t had more than 47 receiving yards in a game. His elevated TD rate simply isn’t sustainable, and now the shifty Andrew Hawkins is coming back from injury to cut into Sanu’s workload. You simply can’t trust Sanu in a must-win fantasy game.
T.Y. Hilton — Like Sanu, Hilton has been making regular visits to the endzone lately. He has scored four TDs in his last four games. Hilton’s yardage numbers have been hit or miss. But Hilton has game-breaking speed, and there are a lot of balls to go around in the Colts’ passing game, even though Reggie Wayne takes a bunch of them. His matchups against Detroit this week, Tennessee next week and Kansas City in Week 16 are all promising. His only scheduling speed bump the rest of the way is a Week 15 matchup against Houston.
Brandon Myers — The unsung tight end has been involved in the Oakland offense all season, but his productivity has increased in recent weeks. Myers has 24 receptions and three TDs in his last four games. As bad as the Raiders can be, Myers looks like a pretty safe bet the rest of the way. A scoring eruption is unlikely, but Myers usually chips in a little something every week. His schedule the rest of the way is manageable.