Green Bay WR Randall Cobb is becoming a top fantasy performer on a weekly basis. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Midway through the NFL season, it's customary for fantasy football owners to think back to their draft and lament some of the picks they made or did not make.
After watching his 182-yard, two-touchdown performance against Seattle last week, anyone who passed on Adrian Peterson in the first or second round has to be kicking themselves for not drafting him.
Peterson leads the NFL in rushing by 76 yards just 10-and-a-half months after tearing an ACL. He was on the same field as the No. 2 rusher, Marshawn Lynch, and even though Lynch also had a good game, Peterson looked like he belonged in a different class. His recovery and running brilliance should be appreciated by all, even those owners who didn't gamble on him on draft day.
Contrast that with DeMarco Murray (missed the past three games because of a foot injury) and even Darren McFadden, who suffered an ankle sprain last week. It's a long season and plenty could still happen, but right now, Peterson has outlasted and outperformed both of them.
Peterson notwithstanding, the recent rash of injuries to guys like McFadden, Murray, Darren Sproles, Donald Brown, Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Dwyer should remind owners that they can never be too comfortable with their backs. Handcuffing your starters with their backups is a good move now that most teams have had their byes. This week, you can bet Oakland's Taiwan Jones and New Orleans' Christopher Ivory will be popular pickups with both McFadden and Mike Goodson suffering ankle injuries and Sproles expected to miss at least one more game because of a hand injury.
Be proactive if you have an open spot on your roster and grab guys like Bryce Brown (Philadelphia's backup) or Evan Royster (Washington's backup) if they're available. And, yes, even grab Toby Gerhart. As great as Peterson is, you never know when he'll suffer another injury.
Let's look at some more players who improved or hurt their stock at each offensive position in Week 9.
Several of the quarterbacks we highlighted last week had nice bounce-back games, including Cam Newton (23.74 fantasy points), Jay Cutler (26.36) and Philip Rivers (18.6). However, Robert Griffin III had another subpar performance (13.90), and there's reason to believe that defenses are starting to figure out the Redskins' gimmicky offense. Still, like most things in fantasy football, matchups are an important part of the equation. Newton (Washington), Cutler (Tennessee) and Rivers (Kansas City) were facing three of the top six teams in terms of fantasy points allowed per game to QBs. Griffin (Carolina) was facing the No. 22 team. Not only that, but of all the teams in the NFL, Carolina is probably best equipped to to contain Griffin since its defense sees a similar offense in practice every week.
The lack of receiving talent in Washington is a legit concern, but Griffin is still one of the league's best playmakers and should be fine going forward. As for the other guys, expect more inconsistency, though Newton is the best bet for sustained excellence.
Notable Riser: Tony Romo, Cowboys. Plenty of quarterbacks, like Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Josh Freeman and Andrew Luck, seem to be getting a lot of notice for their inspired play lately, but few are talking about Romo, who's averaged 19.73 FPPG over his past four contests. That's not an earth-shattering number, but it's certainly better than the 14.25 points he averaged in his first four games. For all the flack Romo gets about turnovers, he's had one or fewer in three of his past four games. It's no coincidence that he's been sacked one or fewer times in three of those four games, too. Romo made some plays out of the pocket on Sunday night, and if his line can continue protecting him, he has QB1 potential going forward.
Notable Faller: Eli Manning, Giants. Manning turned in his second straight game with fewer than seven fantasy points last week, and over his past four contests, he's averaging just 9.6 points per game. It's a remarkable fall from grace for someone who's normally as consistent as they come. As we said before, matchups are partly to blame, as Manning has faced off with the 49ers, Cowboys and Falcons in that span -- three teams in the bottom nine in FPPG allowed to QBs. Manning's struggles aren't as big of a worry as Joe Flacco's, who's been average-at-best over the past four games, but it would be nice to see him get back on track soon.
Doug Martin's incredible performance in Oakland was obviously the story of the week, but Chris Johnson's resurgence is also worth talking about. Despite losing two fumbles against the Bears, Johnson finished with 16.5 fantasy points, thanks mostly to an 80-yard TD run late in the game. Johnson has had at least 11.4 points in each of his past four contests and five of his past six. His workload and breakaway speed have made him a must-start again.
Michael Turner, who had 102 yards and a TD last week, is similar to Johnson in the sense that fantasy owners are rarely excited about starting him, but more often than not, he gets the job done. He's had at least 10.2 fantasy points in five of eight games and will continue to get ample scoring chances in the Falcons' high-powered offense.
Notable Riser: Mikel LeShoure, Lions. LeShoure's three touchdowns against Jacksonville raised his fantasy profile, but some owners might be leery of the fact that teammate Joique Bell had three more rushing yards and a touchdown of his own. There's little reason to worry, though, as almost half of Bell's yards and his score came on Detroit's last possession in a blowout win. LeShoure, who's averaged at least 4.4 yards per carry in his each of his past four contests, is still Detroit's featured back. This isn't a situation like we're seeing in Green Bay, where it looks like James Starks (17 carries, 61 yards last week) is supplanting Alex Green (11-53) as the top running option, nor is it a situation like in Buffalo where C.J. Spiller (102 total yards on 11 touches) is being held down by Fred Jackson (35 total yards on 11 touches).
Notable Faller: Ryan Mathews, Chargers. Plenty of backs had worse weeks than Mathews, including his counterpart in Thursday's game, Jamaal Charles. In fact, Mathews 72 total yards were respectable, and his 5.2 yards-per-carry average was solid. But Mathews, who's only scored once this year and is yet to top 95 rushing yards in a game, hasn't lived up to his preseason billing. Mathews is still a steady RB2, but guys like Lynch, Trent Richardson and even Ahmad Bradshaw, who's had a couple down games of his own, have probably jumped him on the RB hierarchy.
Roddy White and Julio Jones finally both had big games in the same week, but, once again, the team that best took care of both of its “star” receivers was Tampa Bay. For the fourth time this season, both Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams scored double-digit fantasy points in the same contest. Matchups have certainly played a part, but with Freeman playing better, both Jackson and Williams are must-starts.
Things aren't quite as easy in Detroit, where Calvin Johnson (7-129) played through an injury and had another big game, but Titus Young (2-20) regressed. Ryan Broyles (6-52) caught all six of his targets and remains a legit PPR threat -- as well as a threat to Young's production. Things also aren't as easy in Dallas, where Kevin Ogletree resurfaced, scoring on what amounted to a broken play, and Miles Austin (9 targets) and Jason Witten (8) both doubled Dez Bryant's looks (4). It's tough to bench any of these players, but if you're ever in doubt, check to see who's been getting more targets recently. They're usually the best bets.
Notable Riser: Randall Cobb, Packers. After catching two TDs against the Cardinals, Cobb now has five in his past three contests. The absence of Jordy Nelson, who tweaked his ankle on Sunday in addition to having a sore hamstring, has certainly helped, but Cobb has averaged 8.5 targets over his past four games. Teammate James Jones, who also had a nice game against Arizona, has seen just one fewer total targets in that span. For now, both Cobb and Jones are solid starting options, but Cobb's big-play ability and versatility give him an edge when guys like Nelson and Greg Jennings (groin) eventually return.
Notable Faller: Antonio Brown, Steelers. Brown suffered an ankle injury early in last week's game, though there have been conflicting reports as to whether it was a high-ankle sprain or a regular sprain. Either way, Brown failed to produce more than 3.9 fantasy points for the third time in his past four games. It's not for lack of opportunities -- even after last week's abbreviated performance, Brown is tied for 22nd in WR targets. Brown, like Bryant, Young and even Hakeem Nicks, is simply playing second fiddle right now. All four play for teams with good passing attacks, so things should eventually even out, but it's tough to predict when these slumps will end, especially when there's an injury involved.
Antonio Gates finally found the end zone again, but another AFC West tight end, Oakland's Brandon Myers, made more noise by finding the end zone for the first time. In fact, he found it twice against the Bucs, helping him top 8.6 fantasy points for the first time all season. Myers is the 11th-most targeted TE this season (50), and his 442 yards are good for fifth. The only thing standing between him and every-week starter status is touchdowns, and if he can continue to build off this past week, he could be a nice sleeper down the stretch.
Notable Riser: Dwayne Allen, Colts. With Coby Fleener (shoulder) out for at least another week, Allen will continue to get chances in the Colts' offense. He made the most of them last week, catching six of seven targets for 75 yards. Allen, like Arizona's Rob Housler (5-55 on 9 targets last week), has quietly seen more looks like lately, and both have the athletic ability to make something happen once they get passes thrown their way. There are plenty of more proven tight ends, but if you're looking for some relatively young guys with upside, Allen and Housler could make some noise in the fantasy playoffs.
Notable Faller: Tony Gonzalez, Falcons. After Sunday night's four-catch, 36-yard performance, Gonzalez has now turned in three straight games with fewer than 4.3 fantasy points. It's one thing to have a few mediocre games, but his dwindling target numbers (5.7 in his past three games) are the real concern. Gonzalez is still a TE1 thanks to his upside and the relative lack of stability at the TE position, but if his owners have another decent option, it might be time to start playing matchups.
Colts at Jaguars
Stat to know: Both Jacksonville and Indianapolis rank in the top six in FPPG allowed to RBs. Expect a lot of runs in this game, though with Donald Brown's latest injury (hip), he likely won't be involved. Both Rashad Jennings and Vick Ballard are potential RB2's.
Sleeper: WR Justin Blackmon (9 targets last week; Colts allowing fifth-most FPPG to WRs).
Matt Lutovsky is a fantasy football writer for Sporting News' Fantasy Source. You can read more of his work on the Fantasy Source football homepage.