By A.J. Weinberg
With the fantasy season now at the halfway point for most leagues, making clutch pickups is more important than ever. There are several appealing options that can be had for nothing that could pay major dividends for your squad as you march your way towards the playoffs (and hopefully to the title). In this article, I will take a look at a few of the highlight performers from week 8, as well as mentioning two players soon to come off IR that could help your push towards fantasy glory.
Marvin Jones (Cincinnati Bengals, WR – 1.0%)
Surprised to see Jones on this list? Well, you shouldn’t be. Jones will be one of the most added players this week after his humongous four touchdown game against the Jets this past Sunday. The four scores pushes Jones touchdown total on the year to seven, with six of those coming in the past three weeks. While it’s obvious that Jones should cool off somewhat, as A.J. Green is still the alpha-dog in Cincy, Jones has clearly cemented himself as Andy Dalton’s number two receiving option. That job was expected to go to Mohamed Sanu, but the second year man out of Rutgers has been very quiet this season, allowing Jones to seize the job. With double digits points in each of the past three weeks, the picture is becoming increasingly clear that Jones is going to be heavily involved in the Bengals’ offenses. Jones is a must-add, with the potential to be a borderline fantasy WR2 or solid flex option from here on out.
Shane Vereen (New England Patriots, RB – 71.5%)
While Vereen is owned in more leagues than a player I would normally highlight, it’s crucial that the guys playing in the 28.5% of leagues where he is available add him right now (his percent-owned is also lower in non-ESPN leagues). Vereen is able to come off the IR for the Pats’ week 11 game, and it appears he will be healthy enough to do so. While Stevan Ridley has been playing better as of late and Brandon Bolden has stepped up, Vereen should be able to carve out a large role in the offense. In his only game this year, Vereen racked up 159 total yards (14 carries for 101 yards, 7 catches for 58 yards), flashing the dual-threat ability that none of the other Patriots running backs possess. With an offense struggling to move the ball, the Patriots have to be excited at the prospect of their dynamic running back returning. While Vereen will likely have to shake off some rust, as he will have missed over two months of game action by the time he is able to return, he should be able to get adjusted into the Pats’ offense quick enough to be a major player in the final weeks leading into the playoffs. Grab Vereen now, and reap the benefits come week 11.
Jonathan Stewart (Carolina Panthers, RB – 2.9%)
Stewart is the second, albeit much less enticing, running back soon to come off IR featured on this list. The Panther’s had high hopes for Stewart when they used a first round pick on him in 2008, but since his first two seasons in which he had 10 touchdowns in each, Stewart’s career has been pretty underwhelming. When he returns to action, which has a chance to do in week 9, Stewart will resume a timeshare with fellow Panther’s halfback Deangelo Williams. Stewart, however, should be able to take control of the goal line looks as he is bigger and stronger than Williams, and a better overall runner than fullback Mike Tolbert. Don’t expect Stewart to explode upon his return, but he should produce reasonably well as part of the timeshare, and could become a very valuable rusher if Williams were to go down with an injury (wood; knock on it).
Nate Washington (Tennessee Titans, WR – 37.4%)
Washington is perhaps the biggest benefactor in the Titans’ offense to Jake Locker’s return. Washington is clearly Locker’s favorite target, and in the games he played in, it seemed that Ryan Fitzpatrick’s go-to guy was…well…the ground. Over his past three games with Locker under center, Washington has a game average of 5 catches for 99 yards (with 2 touchdowns in those three games). Those numbers certainly make Washington a fantasy relevant receiver. Part of Washington’s increase in stats relative to last season can be attributed to Kenny Britt’s complete disappearance in play this year. While Britt has always been a major headcase, his complete lack of production was largely unforeseen (but is welcomed by Washington owners). Washington has some flex appeal assuming Locker keeps going his way. While he may not be the flashiest name around, Washington is well worth adding to your squad.
Montee Ball (Denver Broncos, RB – 77.3%)
Much like Shane Vereen, Ball is more highly owned than players I would normally look at (mostly due to him being a mid-round draft pick this year). But, once again, Ball is a guy that should not be available in all but the shallowest of leagues. When Ronnie “Fumbles” Hillman coughed up the ball at the goal line in week 7, he also coughed up his backup job (he was inactive for week 8). Enter: Ball. Ball surely did not make his fantasy owners happy when his inability to pass block effectively cost him the starting job. Now, having gained more familiarity with the Broncos complex blocking schemes, Ball has regained his role as the primary backup to Knowshon Moreno. Ball received nearly three times as many carries in week 8 than he had in the previous three weeks combined, and he ran with the opportunity, literally. Sure, 11 carries for 37 yards is not an eye popping stat line, but the highlight of Ball’s game came when he found pay dirt from four yards out. For a team around the goal line as much as the Broncos are, it is a fantastic indicator for Ball’s future fantasy value that Denver has enough faith in his to let him tote the rock in goal-to-go situations. Look for Ball to continue bleeding into Moreno’s touches, although a complete takeover of touches is almost certainly not going to happen. Think of Ball as a potentially solid RB3 who has a good chance to score a touchdown most weeks.
Kenny Stills (New Orleans Saints, WR – 1.1%)
Stills, a rookie fifth-rounder out of Oklahoma, has shown over his last two weeks the talent that had him labelled as a deep-sleeper before the season kicked off. He has only received 7 targets in the past two games, but has turned that into 193 yards and 3 touchdowns. His production will not stay that good, and he could be a pretty inconsistent player from here on out (as big-play dependent receivers often are). However, that does not mean Stills should be ignored. With Marques Colston looking like an afterthought in the Saints offense and Jimmy Graham being the main focus of any defense the Saints are matched up against, it does not seem unreasonable to think that Stills could sneak in several more big plays this seasons (he already has 2 60+ yard grabs in limited playing time). Drew Brees liked throwing his way in the preseason, and it seems some of that chemistry is carrying over into the regular season. Acknowledge that he will put up some goose eggs, but enjoy the days where his devastating big play ability gives your team a major boost. Stills will probably be all over the place points-wise, so I would not trust him as anything more than a high potential WR4 at this point.