Week 6: Player Upgrades
Player Upgrades is intended for fantasy football diehards. Each week when setting a lineup, a closer analysis is necessary to find out which players are destined for a great performance. Sometimes it is a favorable matchup or it can be as simple as an increased role due to an injury. Very few players are matchup-proof in this game. For every Aaron Rodgers or Ray Rice, there are a dozen players who could potentially be interchangable depending upon a number of factors.
This weekly article isolates your best options for a statistical breakout from Week 1 to Week 17. Let FFToolbox do the homework for you! Instead of scouring the waiver wire and opening up 20 tabs to compare and contrast players, let Player Upgrades be your guide. Each week, we will identify seven players (typically two QBs, two RBs, two WRs and one TE) that you should consider starting and we'll break each player down with some analysis.
Thanks to a defense that cannot inhibit the forward progress of a three-toed sloth, the Indianapolis Colts more often than not find themselves down early in football games. This has led Andrew Luck to throw the ball regularly with great results. After a shaky Week 1 game, Luck has really settled down. In his last three games, he's passed for nearly 300 yards and two TDs per game. Add some decent rushing totals (104 yards and a TD), and Luck is playing like a Top 10 fantasy QB. Luck still needs to play Tennessee twice, Buffalo, and Cleveland among other below-average defenses. Since you do not need him in Weeks 15 or 17 when he will go up against the Houston Texans, you will have a backup QB with a guaranteed number of high pass attempts backed by an unreliable running game.
Which quarterback leads the league in passer rating? Matt Ryan? No. Robert Griffin III? Nope. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers? Not even close. The correct answer is Alex Smith, ladies and gentlemen. Now I know passer rating is not correlated to fantasy success, but it does illustrate a certain consistency and reliability that the former No. 1 overall pick is providing to fantasy owners. Smith is on pace for his best season statistically and in Week 6, he will be facing the New York Giants. New York has allowed QBs to throw eight TDs and an average of 274 passing yards per game. Smith may not have the high ceiling of other quarterbacks and he is not going to throw for 400 yards and three TDs any time soon, but he is a steady performer that has outproduced guys like Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo, and Philip Rivers to name a few.
Given recent shifts in playing time, Bilal Powell has actually played more snaps in the last two weeks than Shonn Greene. While that has not translated into an increased workload, it does potentially suggest that the Jets are quickly losing confidence in their underachieving featured back. Powell is averaging a full yard more per carry (3.9) than Greene; even used in limited situations, Powell is the better pass catcher out of the backfield. Since New York is really struggling on offense, a change feels inevitable. If you are playing in a deeper format and can afford the roster spot, take a chance on Powell and hope that the Jets at least give him the opportunity.
Due to injuries to Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells, opportunity is now knocking on LaRod Stephens-Howling's door. Arizona hosts the Bills in Week 6 and Buffalo's defense has been exceptionally bad this season. In their last two games, Buffalo has given up 460 yards and five TDs to running backs. Even though LSH is not a starter-caliber player, this matchup is far too juicy to ignore. He may only be the starter a week or two before Wells returns, but Stephens-Howling is a great one-week play. Looking forward, the Cardinals face Minnesota and San Francisco in the following weeks so if he has a great game, trade him away before he plays two of the NFL's best run defenses. You will look like a fantasy savant.
Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers' run game can be considered formidable because of the return of Rashard Mendenhall, defenses will have to add another man to the box to account for the run. This should free up deep coverage for each of Pittsburgh's wide receivers. Antonio Brown is performing well in PPR leagues, yet in standard formats there is something to be desired. Brown doesn't face a tough pass defense for the next month with Tennessee, Cincinnati, Washington, New York (N), and Kansas City upcoming. The key for Brown is his pass targets. He is averaging nearly ten per game, roughly 25 percent more than his nearest teammate, Mike Wallace. This kind of discrepancy (if maintained throughout the season) is large enough to consider Brown Pittsburgh's true No. 1 receiver even if Wallace has scored more touchdowns in the short term.