by Jared Smola and Matt Schauf
BUY orders: These are players you could obtain through a reasonable trade given their relatively low perceived fantasy value.
BUY LeGarrette Blount, RB, Buccaneers
The Bucs hope to get Blount back from his MCL sprain in Week 9, after the bye. Current owners might be willing to sell though. Blount wasn’t exactly tearing it up before his injury. He sits just 24th in the league in rushing yards so far, immediately behind Mark Ingram, DeAngelo Williams, Rashard Mendenhall, and James Starks. That’s no quartet of 1st-half studs either. Blount’s usage stifled his early production, as the team ran him just 18 total times over the first 2 games. (He still managed a pair of TDs against Minnesota in Week 2.) After that, Blount drew 24 and 25 carries in his next 2 outings. He managed just 81 yards against an Atlanta D that’s giving only 3.9 yards per carry to RBs but broke out for 127 and a TD against Indy. Blount hurt his knee amid a tough matchup with the Niners. A Week 9 return would allow Blount to face a New Orleans D that yielded 109 rushing yards to Earnest Graham in Week 6. Then would come Houston, which is allowing 4.7 yards per RB rush this season. After that, it’s the Titans, who are still picking themselves out of the cleats of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Anyone who holds Blount through that stretch is bound to love him in Week 13 and Week 16 matchups with the Panthers. Carolina has allowed more total RB TDs so far than any other team, plus 5.1 yards per attempt.
BUY Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers
The first 6 games of his season have been sabotaged by injuries and shutdown corners. It started with an abdomen problem in Week 2. Then he tweaked his hamstring in Week 4. Jackson has played in every game, but the missed practice time has surely hurt his chemistry with QB Philip Rivers – especially after a lost offseason. V-Jax’s other problem has been matchups. He’s squared off against CBs Champ Bailey and Darrelle Revis the past 2 weeks. Those guys have combined to allow 18 receptions, 184 yards, and not a single TD all season. Jackson probably won’t face a tougher duo of corners in back-to-back games the rest of his career. That storm has passed though. Besides another matchup with Bailey in Week 12, V-Jax won’t face another shutdown CB this season. In fact, he doesn’t have any top-10 defenses against WRs left on the schedule. And 8 of his final 10 opponents rank in the bottom-half of the league in fantasy points allowed to wideouts. It’s an ultra-favorable schedule for a guy who is way too talented to not start producing big numbers. In his last 2 full seasons, Jackson has averaged 1,133 yards and 8 TDs. We’d still bet on him surpassing those numbers by the end of this year.
BUY Roddy White, WR, Falcons
He hasn't been horrible, but he also hasn't been the Roddy White we've come to know and love. After posting 3-straight top-6 seasons, he’s currently sitting 14th in standard-scoring fantasy leagues. But there are also reasons to believe his production will pick up over the 2nd half of the season. White has already seen 69 targets through 7 weeks – 2nd in the NFL. That has him on pace for 168 targets for the year. That’d actually be the 2nd-highest total of his career, so White isn’t lacking in the opportunity department. The problem has been his connection rate with QB Matt Ryan. White has hauled in just 56.5% of his targets through 7 games. That’s down considerably from his 59.5% average over the past 4 seasons. That rate should start working towards its mean, which would result in an uptick in receptions. But what’s really holding White’s fantasy value down right now is his lack of TD production. He has just 3 scores so far, after racking up 21 the past 2 seasons. But he’s tied for the league lead with 12 red zone targets. Those opportunities should start translating to TDs. The schedule should also work in White’s favor the rest of the way. He faces just one more team ranked among the top-8 in fantasy points allowed to WRs. 5 of his final 9 games come against teams in the bottom-11. With White struggling, and Atlanta on a bye this week, his trade value will never be lower. Pounce on a guy who should finish squarely inside the top-10 WRs in the season’s 2nd half.
BUY Brandon Lloyd, WR, Rams
Lloyd hauled in 6 balls for 74 yards in his Rams debut last Sunday. Not bad. Now just imagine what he’ll be able to do with a legit NFL QB under center. Lloyd was stuck catching balls from A.J. Feeley last weekend. He completed just 20 of 33 passes for 196 yards. Lloyd accounted for over one-third of that production. He also saw a team-high 12 targets as the clear focal point of this passing attack. QB Sam Bradford, recovering from a high-ankle sprain, should be back within the next couple weeks. He struggled early on, but enjoyed his best game of the season in Week 6. Getting more and more comfortable in OC Josh McDaniels’ offense, he should be much better in the 2nd half of the season – especially now that he has a true #1 WR to work with. Speaking of McDaniels’ offense, it was a big reason for Lloyd’s huge season in Denver last year. Lloyd set career-highs across the board in McDaniels' pass-heavy scheme, leading the NFL with 1,448 receiving yards and pulling in 11 TDs. Now he’s back in the same system and playing with a more talented QB. Lloyd has top-15 upside the rest of the way and could probably be had for half that price.
BUY Mario Manningham, WR, Giants
It’s been an ugly start to the season for Manningham. He’s failed to top 56 yards or score a TD in a game. He missed Week 3 with a concussion. And he was demoted out of 2-WR sets the following week. But Manningham moved back into the starting lineup and started to show signs of life. Over the last 2 games prior to his Week 7 bye, Manningham racked up 17 targets, 10 catches, and 112 yards. The targets and catches were both team-highs. That has us thinking that he's primed for a big 2nd half of the season. Remember that this guy was dynamite over the final 8 games of 2010, compiling 559 yards and 6 TDs on 35 catches. Only 4 WRs scored more fantasy points over that span. This is the same player in the same system. We’re not expecting top-5 production, but there’s no reason that Manningham can’t be a rock-solid WR2 the rest of the way. He’s currently ranked 82nd among WRs and just had a bye. It probably won’t take much to snag him away from his owner in your league.
BUY Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions
As dynamic as their offense has been this season, the Lions are really struggling to run the ball. They rank 27th in rushing yards per game (92.7) and 19th in yards per carry (4.1). Take out RB Jahvid Best’s 88-yarder against the Bears a few weeks ago and that average drops to 3.6. That’d rank 29th. Rather than trying to force a ground game that just isn’t there, the Lions have resorted to using short passes. More specifically, they’re using short passes to Pettigrew. Over the past 5 weeks, he’s seen 47 targets and caught 33 balls. Both marks rank 2nd among TEs behind only Jimmy Graham. A 13-target, 11-catch Week 3 outing inflated those numbers a bit, but Pettigrew has still averaged 8.5 targets and 5.5 catches per game since then. Even those numbers equate to a 136-target, 88-catch campaign. With Best out indefinitely with another concussion, this Lions running game isn’t improving anytime soon. That’ll mean plenty more chances for Pettigrew. He’s currently sitting 9th at TE in fantasy points, but that’s mostly because he’s only scored twice. Pettigrew has, however, seen 9 red zone targets – tied for 4th among TEs. More TDs are coming. And check out the schedule. After the Broncos and a bye these next 2 weeks, Pettigrew faces 3 straight teams ranked 26th or worse against TEs. And none of his final 5 opponents rank better than 13th. This guy will be a rock-solid fantasy starter the rest of the way – with top-5 upside to boot. But it doesn’t seem like he’s viewed that way by Fantasy Nation. See if you can still buy him on the cheap.
SELL orders: These are hot or big-name players that could net you more than they are actually worth.
SELL Josh Freeman, QB, Buccaneers
Most fantasy owners can easily overlook the 4 INTs Freeman tossed against the Bears in London, and you should see if a leaguemate is willing to. Point instead to the fact that he is coming off his only 2 multiple-TD games of the year. Freeman has also posted his 3 largest yardage numbers over the past 4 games. We pointed out in Fantasy Vision, though, that Freeman’s 303-yard outing against the Saints wasn’t particularly impressive. He got lucky on a number of throws, didn’t look comfy in the pocket, and continues to have trouble connecting with WR Mike Williams and TE Kellen Winslow. Freeman has completed less than 57% of his passes in 3 straight games. He also comes with a low fantasy ceiling. The 3rd-year passer topped 2 TDs in just 1 game all of last season. Of course, you might still have a tough time selling Freeman to anyone put off by his season stats. He’s sitting on a 7:10 TD:INT ratio. On the other hand, 109 yards and 2 TDs rushing work in his favor. The yardage ranks 4th among QBs and can present hidden value. Matt Stafford owners would be good targets, considering his ankle sprain and Week 9 bye. Cam Newton and the Panthers will also be sitting out Week 9.
SELL Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars
First things first: MJD has been an absolute monster this season. Playing on a completely anemic offense, he’s racked up 677 rushing yards – 2nd in the NFL behind only Adrian Peterson. But there are plenty of reasons to get rid of him now if you can get a hefty return. First, Jones-Drew has already carried an NFL-high 148 times. That’s over 21 totes per game, putting him on pace for a 338-carry season. MJD’s previous career-high is 312. The heavy workload is an even bigger concern after Jones-Drew underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee this offseason. Then again, it’s that consistent volume that is keeping Jones-Drew’s fantasy value afloat, so owners can’t complain. The bigger issues moving forward are his lack of use in the passing game, and his supporting cast. MJD has averaged 47 catches per season for his career. He’s on pace for just 27 this year. Why his passing game involvement has declined so drastically is unclear, but there’s no sign of it picking up anytime soon. Over the past 3 weeks, Jones-Drew has caught just 4 balls on 6 targets. The lack of receiving production is putting a damper on MJD’s total yardage output. But what’s worse is his inability to find the end zone. It’s hardly Jones-Drew’s fault that he’s hit pay dirt just twice this season. The entire Jaguars offense has scored just 6 TDs. They rank dead-last in total offense. That’s resulted in just 13 red zone rushes for MJD – 20th in the league. It’s tough to see his TD production improving the rest of the way. Throw in his lack of action in the passing game, and Jones-Drew’s on a slippery slope. If his rushing yardage hits a snag, he’ll start tumbling down the rankings.
SELL Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers
To say his production so far this season has been fluky might be a bit harsh. But at the very least, Nelson has been overachieving. He’s currently sitting 8th among WRs in standard-scoring leagues. Only 11 WRs have more receiving yards, and only 6 have more TDs. But Nelson has accomplished all that despite catching just 24 balls on 35 targets. To put that in perspective, the other top-10 receivers all have at least 29 catches and 48 targets. Now, you could take the glass-half-full outlook and say Nelson has simply been opportunistic while playing with one of the best QBs in the game. But we’ll take the more realistic approach. His current per-catch and per-target rates are unsustainable. A big chunk of his production – 42%, in fact – has come from TDs of 84 and 93 yards. As good as QB Aaron Rodgers is, and as explosive as this offense may be, you just can’t count on getting those monster plays. Nelson is currently averaging 13.3 yards per target and .11 TDs per target. Those marks rank 3rd and 6th, respectively, among WRs. And odds are that both will head south over the season’s final 10 weeks. If you believe Nelson’s targets will increase, he’s probably worth hanging on to. But there’s no evidence to suggest that’ll happen. In fact, there’s evidence to the contrary. WR James Jones’ role has grown in recent weeks at the expense of Nelson. After averaging 5.4 targets per game through 5 weeks, Nelson has seen just 3.5 per game the past 2. Even more concerning has been his decreased playing time. Nelson was on the field for a season-low 39.7% of Green Bay’s offensive snaps 2 weeks ago, and then played just 53.0% last week. He’s clearly still a rotational player. Maybe A-Rodg is so good that he can make a rotational player a top-10 WR. But the better bet is that Nelson will be more of a high-upside WR3 the rest of the way.
HOLD orders: These players might or might not be performing, but you should keep them rostered for now.
HOLD Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers
He’s graduated from a SELL in our 1st report to a HOLD in this one. But that’s mostly because his value is just too low to trade away at this point. Rivers has looked discombobulated all season. There are all sorts of potential reasons for his struggles. He lost RB Darren Sproles – an underrated fixture of the San Diego offense for the past 4 years. Rivers’ top-2 targets, WR Vincent Jackson and TE Antonio Gates, have been banged-up for most of the season. There are even rumors that Rivers is playing hurt. Whatever the reason, the guy just isn’t playing well. He’s completing 64.7% of his passes. Not bad – but that’d be his lowest mark since 2007. Rivers’ 7.9 yards per attempt would also be his worst since ’07. But it’s the TD:INT ratio that’s really killing him. Through 6 games, he’s tossed just 7 TDs vs. 9 INTs. That’s the most picks he’s ever thrown over a 6-game span. And you’d have to go back to the middle of 2007 to find the last time he threw fewer than 7 TDs in 6 games. Rivers is on pace for 19 TDs and 24 INTs. Those would both be his worst marks since taking over as San Diego’s starter in 2006. Watching him play, it doesn’t look like there’s a light at the end of this tunnel. But it’s tough to believe a guy who has topped 4,000 yards and 28 TDs in 3 straight seasons will continue to play this poorly. You’re better off gambling on a turnaround than selling Rivers on the cheap. The schedule the rest of the way should help. Only 2 teams face an easier slate of defenses against QBs. Rivers still gets 6 games against bottom-8 units, and only 1 against a top-10.
HOLD Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
Sunday night should have been the breakthrough all stubborn Ingram owners had been waiting for. The rookie dashed for 91 yards on 14 carries against the putrid Colts but hopped away with a bruised heel. Talk about horrible timing. The injury doesn’t appear serious but does seem likely to keep him out of another rosy matchup this weekend with the Rams. Still, it’s easy to envision Ingram scoring had he stayed in the Indy game. If he had, it would have been his 4th game in 5 weeks with a TD. Each of his 3 TDs so far came amid just 9 carries. His dinky workload is the thoroughly frustrating part. The scoring opportunities provided by his offense and his role as Saints goal line back are why you can’t give in to the frustration. There are only so many sure things at RB that you start every week. After that, standard-scoring owners are often inserting guys and then praying for a score. Ingram stands about as good a chance as most beyond the upper RB level. Only 4 RBs have scored 3+ TDs so far on fewer carries than Ingram. Meanwhile, 8 players have surpassed his 85 carries without matching his 3 scores. Ingram also stands a decent 23rd among RBs in total rushing yards. Just 3 players ahead of him have fewer carries, and each has at least 1 run of 40+ yards to his credit. (DeAngelo Williams was helped by a 69-yard TD and Jahvid Best an 88-yarder.) Ingram’s longest rush so far went for 20 yards. There’s still upside here.
HOLD Andre Johnson, WR, Texans
If you’ve hung on this long, then now is no time to quit on Johnson. HC Gary Kubiak hasn’t yet announced whether his star WR will play this weekend, but Johnson did return to practice on Wednesday. His coach called it a “huge step” and said Johnson looked good running routes. The player is trying to return, of course, from a hamstring injury so bad that it required surgery. Many a fantasy owner was spooked recently by news of a potential 6-week timetable for Johnson. That revelation seemed an announcement of the initial prognosis, however, rather than a setback in his recovery. All has gone positively for AJ, who now might be ready to face the Jaguars this weekend. Fantasy owners probably have to get him immediately back into the lineup, regardless of what the team states his role will be. Even if it turns out Johnson isn’t ready for Jacksonville, the Texans still have 2 more games after that before a Week 11 bye.
HOLD Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys
The Cowboys’ offense has been fairly disjointed so far this year, with injuries striking the pass and run areas. Bryant’s own quad injury limited him through the early weeks. Defensive attention has hurt at other times, like when the Patriots doubled him in the red zone in Week 6. A healthy Miles Austin makes it more difficult for opponents to follow such a plan though. Some might worry that Austin’s presence would cut into Bryant’s looks, but that hasn’t come to fruition. The 2 WRs have shared the field for 3 healthy games so far, and Bryant saw 8 targets in each. He scored in 2 of those, including 5 receptions for 90 yards and a TD against the Rams on Sunday. Despite disappointing catch totals, Bryant has also fallen short of 70 yards just twice and come up shy of 60 yards only once. His smallest yardage output – 37 against the Lions – also presented a couple 1st-half TDs. The bottom line here is that even when things aren’t quite stacking up in his favor, Bryant has too much upside to turn useless. Further, the Cowboys’ passing game seems to have upward mobility. The pass blocking has climbed to its highest level in a while. Tony Romo hasn’t had a terrific outing since cracking ribs in Week 2 at San Francisco. He’s getting healthy, though, saying this week that he might be done with the pain-killing shots. That can only help improve the productivity of a pass offense that Pro Football Focus rates 9th-best in the league so far.
HOLD Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers
Trading away as guy as talented as Finley usually isn’t a good idea. Trading that guy on the cheap is an even worse concept. Finley is just as dominant and uncoverable as ever. He’s there whenever QB Aaron Rodgers needs him, either running free down the seam or using his massive frame to box out defenders on shorter routes. Finley has caught 67.5% of his targets this season. He’s scoring once in every 6.5 receptions. Both those marks rank in the top-8 among TEs with at least 20 catches. On a per-target basis, only 2 TEs have more fantasy points. Opportunity has been Finley’s biggest issue. He’s sitting just 17th at the position with 37 targets. We’d bust on QB Aaron Rodgers for not getting such a dynamic talent more looks, but how can you blame a guy who’s on pace to set all sorts of passing records? A-Rodg is an equal opportunity passer – finding and hitting whoever’s open. With opposing defenses keying on Finley, the open guy has usually been Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson so far. With those 2 guys lighting up opposing defenses, Finley is sure to see more room to operate in coming weeks. Currently sitting 5th in fantasy points, he’s a good bet to at least hold steady, if not climb the ranks. That being said, we’re probably not going to get the league-leading production many were hoping for from Finley. There are simply too many weapons in Green Bay.