|ESPN.com: 2011||[Print without images]|
• Are there any other questions about why I refused to bite on Mike Sims-Walker this season? I was a big proponent of MSW's skills back in his early Jacksonville days, but unfortunately his head seems never to have caught up with his body, and by the time he signed with the Rams, I was done with him. And now the Rams may be done with him, too. MSW was by most accounts a healthy scratch Sunday, removed from the starting lineup and deactivated altogether, as Danario Alexander and Brandon Gibson were Sam Bradford's starting wideouts. The big news in the Rams receiving corps, however, is that St. Louis has acquired Brandon Lloyd from the Broncos. I was ready to pronounce Alexander a terrific add in most leagues -- he did have six catches for 91 yards on 10 targets Sunday -- but the Lloyd acquisition muddies those waters. Lloyd will start for his old coach, Josh McDaniels, and it's unclear whether Alexander or Gibson will pair with him on the outside. Lloyd's value stays among the top 25 among fantasy receivers, and his upside probably gets a bit of a bump (provided Bradford can get enough time to hook up with him), while Alexander, Gibson and slot receiver Greg Salas must merely remain on fantasy watch lists until we see how this all shakes out. MSW should be dropped in all leagues.
• Upon injuring an ankle in the second quarter of Sunday's game, Felix Jones looked awfully frustrated sitting on the turf. Now we know why. Jerry Jones told reporters that Felix Jones suffered a high ankle sprain. This is a big blow to the Cowboys and their running game, and a tough break for Jones' fantasy owners. Crown Prince Felix was already a disappointment in the first month of 2011, averaging 82 yards from scrimmage per game with just a single Week 1 TD to his credit. Now it sounds as though we can expect him to miss multiple weeks of playing time. Considering Tashard Choice bit the Cowboys with a crucial first-quarter fumble on the Patriots' 21, you'd have to believe rookie DeMarco Murray is in line to start and lead Dallas in RB touches. More on him tomorrow in "Free-Agent Finds," but let's just note that Murray is owned in only 3.3 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
|Peyton Hillis' disappointing season continued Sunday in Oakland.|
• Peyton Hillis sure had a weird visit to Oakland. He ran it on five of the Browns' first seven plays, for a modest 9 yards. Then he had exactly one more carry the rest of the game. I was sitting in the War Room in Bristol, where my pal Jason Romano keeps track of NFL teams' official Twitter feeds (among many other tasks), and we saw that initially the Browns' PR feed proclaimed that Hillis was not injured, and yanking him from the game in favor of Montario Hardesty was a coaches decision. Later, the official word from the team was that Hillis had "tweaked" a hamstring. Weirdly, Hillis did return in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, but only to block on a few plays. Given the contract squabbles and controversy about Hillis possibly not playing with strep throat earlier this season on the advice of his agent, I think we'd all be remiss not to investigate whether this is more than a simple hammy pull. It's possible this is all simply miscommunication between the sidelines and the team's PR folks. But where there's smoke, there's often fire, y'know? And Hillis was shown multiple times standing, still in his equipment, looking bemused as his teammates played. At this point, would anyone be surprised if Hillis winds up traded before Tuesday's deadline? Not that Hardesty was great in relief (11 carries for 35 yards; two grabs for 18 yards), but he'd obviously be a must-add in such a scenario.
• In the end, the Redskins' use of quarterbacks was far more controversial than their use of running backs in Sunday's loss. Mike Shanahan stuck with Rex Grossman way too long and essentially killed any chances of a comeback victory; meanwhile, Ryan Torain was very obviously the lead rusher in D.C., as Tim Hightower was reportedly available only in an "emergency" role because of his injured shoulder. Of course, the Skins were losing big for most of the second half, so the running game went the way of the dodo anyway. The final tally? Torain had 10 carries for 22 yards, while Roy Helu had two carries for 6 yards. In other words, for one week at least this was much ado about nothing. Unfortunately, nobody can promise that Hightower won't get pronounced 100 percent healthy this week and jumble things up again. But it's fairly obvious that at the moment Torain is the guy you'd most like to be starting in fantasy leagues.
|Jason Campbell's injury could have a serious effect on Raiders skill-position players.|
• Jason Campbell suffered a likely-season-ending broken collarbone Sunday, and Kyle Boller entered the game to protect a big lead over Cleveland. It's a tough break for the entire Raiders offense, because Boller just isn't a winning starter in the NFL: He's jittery in the pocket and he's not an accurate thrower (as his career 56.7 percent completion rate attests). It's a shame, because Darrius Heyward-Bey is apparently on the verge of reliability. He's now got three straight games of at least 82 receiving yards, and is noticeably more confident both in his route running and especially after the catch. Until further notice, DHB is the best fantasy bet among Raiders receivers, but if Boller's under center, well, one wonders how much that's actually worth. Stay tuned to see if Oakland can pry Carson Palmer away from the Bengals, or if maybe the Raiders make a play for David Garrard.
• It took a matchup against a potentially frightening pass rush, but Mike Martz finally seems to be bending to the needs of his offense. The Vikings were among the league leaders with 16 sacks entering Sunday night's game, but they barely sniffed Jay Cutler, as Cutler was an impressive 21-of-31 for 267 yards, two TDs and zero picks, while being sacked just once. Let's not oversimplify things, but NBC's coverage made a point of emphasizing how many more times during the course of the game Martz kept multiple backs and/or tight ends home to block in order to keep Cutler clean. Did it happen on every play? No. But it happened enough that one must believe Martz is finally showing more consistent flexibility from his old "Greatest Show On Turf" play-calling ways, when he liked to put as many receivers into pass patterns as possible and let his QB get hit while making throws. I'm not here to tell you the Bears' offensive line woes are officially over. But this is a good sign that Cutler could regain some of his departed confidence.
• In that same game, Donovan McNabb continued his hopeless march to oblivion. The numbers (19-of-24 for 177 yards, zero TDs and zero picks) don't look nearly as ugly as McNabb's performance was. He took a needless safety rather than toughing his way out of the end zone, and was sacked five times overall. Plus, he hit alarmingly few receivers in stride, and had a few more of his patented bounce-the-ball-at-the-receiver's-feet moments. Christian Ponder entered the game in the fourth quarter and wasn't appreciably better, but at this point there's just no need for the Vikings to keep trundling out their beleaguered veteran. Certainly, there's absolutely no reason in the world any fantasy owner should hang onto McNabb. Is Ponder an option in two-QB leagues? I suppose it's possible. I'd be surprised if he's not starting Week 7 against the Packers.
|Drew Brees isn't spreading the ball around to his wide receivers as much as in previous years.|
• Drew Brees played poorly in the Saints' loss in Tampa, tossing three picks and looking more ragged in the pocket than usual. Of course, he did rack up 383 passing yards, so even a bad day from Brees is pretty impressive stats-wise, but it's becoming clearer (to stubborn me, at least) that the days of wine and roses for the entire New Orleans wideout corps may be over. Sure, a healthy Marques Colston is the No. 1 target in this offense and worth starting in all fantasy leagues: He had seven grabs for 118 yards and a score Sunday. And Jimmy Graham just tied an NFL record among tight ends with four straight 100-yard games; he's probably the No. 1 TE in fantasy right now. But for Robert Meachem and Lance Moore, life is (literally) going to be catch-as-catch-can for the foreseeable future. Meachem had a single grab on two targets Sunday, while Moore caught two passes on three targets. (Devery Henderson had one catch on two targets.) In a game in which Brees passed it 45 times, the fact his Nos. 2, 3 and 4 receivers had seven combined targets is alarming, to say the least. I'm not saying you have to drop Meachem and Moore, but I am saying their production looks like it'll be spottier on a weekly basis than I believed just a few days ago. Until defenses adjust to Graham and Darren Sproles as receiving targets, there's not as much reason to find Meachem and Moore down the field.
• Chris Cooley suffered a broken index finger Sunday, and will reportedly require surgery that will keep him out for multiple games. Cooley has been a fantasy disaster area, with eight catches for 65 yards in five games, and certainly this should be the impetus that causes him to be dropped in all leagues, no matter what the size. But this news also should solidify something that was already eminently obvious: Fred Davis is an every-week top-10 tight end. He had a team-high 11 targets Sunday against the Eagles, and logged another six catches for 95 yards. Going into Monday night's action, Davis is fourth in the NFL among TEs in receiving yards and in yards per reception. He's a dangerous downfield threat in an otherwise unimposing Redskins passing offense.
• The Cowboys have some 'splaining to do about Dez Bryant. Why won't they throw this guy the ball in the second half? It was a convenient excuse to say that Bryant was hobbled with an injured quad for most of September, but that's reportedly cleared up now that Dallas has rested through the Week 5 bye. Now, I definitely saw that the Patriots rolled a safety Bryant's way (and not toward Miles Austin) in most passing situations during Sunday afternoon's game. OK, yes, coverage is dictating that Tony Romo should look elsewhere. But you know what? I don't care. You have to get Bryant some targets in the second half. He's now been held catchless in three of five contests in the second half this season, and was shown very publicly expressing his displeasure on the sidelines late Sunday. On his ankle-breaking run in the second quarter, Bryant showed why he has to have the ball in his hands more. He's just an absolute maniac in the open field. It's time to stop letting coverage dictate where Romo throws the ball, and force it in there more to Bryant. One got the sense that if the Cowboys hadn't been so stubborn staying away from Dez late, they'd maybe have made enough plays to keep Tom Brady off the field, and win Sunday's tilt.
Christopher Harris is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.