Tavon Austin had a breakout performance last week -- should owners consider him a starting receiver? Will Andre Brown elevate the Giants' offense for the weeks to come? Should Frank Gore owners be worried about Colin Kaepernick's struggles? Our fantasy experts Michael Beller, Brian Flood and Alessandro Miglio discuss that and more in this week's fantasy roundtable.
1. Tavon Austin finally showed up this season, totaling 137 receiving yards and three touchdowns. One-week fluke or sign of things to come?
Beller: I'm not sure if I've been more confident in any roundtable answer yet this season. This has "one-week fluke" written all over it. Austin made two big plays in the passing game, and one more as a returner. He still got just three targets, though. It just happens that the three this week resulted in a monster stat line. I'd be more encouraged if he had caught eight of 10 targets for 82 yards, or had some other somewhat-pedestrian looking stat line. That would give me confidence that he was taking on a larger role in the offense. Instead, I'm just even more convinced that the NFL is as random as ever and cannot be adequately explained in some circumstances.
Flood: Considered by many as the top playmaker in this season's rookie class, Austin disappointed fantasy owners through nine weeks. But in Week 10, the dynamic rookie threw himself a coming-out party, and the Rams would be silly not to feed him the ball going forward. Wide receivers that get selected in the Top 10 on draft day shouldn't be considered a "fluke" because of a breakout game. Receivers selected that early are supposed to be game changers. Austin clearly has the potential to be an elite option down the road. Fantasy owners would settle for consistent and steady down the stretch while the talented rookie adjusts to the NFL.
Miglio: I'm in line with Beller. This is most certainly a one-week fluke. Austin scored two touchdowns on two catches, a feat unto itself. Both touchdown receptions came on blown coverage, and his 98-yard punt return was a comical affair for the opposing special teams unit. If you happened to own Austin in redraft leagues, try to cash in on his breakout. Otherwise you might be in for some heartbreak chasing points with him in your lineup next week.
2. Andre Brown looked like the answer to the Giants' backfield woes on Sunday. What's your projection for him the rest of year? And can he be a boon to Eli Manning, Victor Cruz and the passing game?
Beller: Brown certainly brought an element to the Giants' offense that it had been lacking all season, running for 115 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. Remember, he was in for a large share of the touches out of the backfield before breaking his leg for the second straight year during the preseason. He was arguably the team's most effective runner last year, as he ran for 5.3 yards per carry and eight touchdowns in limited duty. Without a true threat to wrest away any touches from Brown, I think we're looking at a workhorse over the final seven weeks of the season. I'm confidently calling him an RB2 and would start him every remaining week.
Flood: Brown is a significant upgrade over Brandon Jacobs, Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox. Even before breaking his leg, Brown was taking carries away from David Wilson. Manning will take advantage if Brown can perform well enough to force safeties into the box for run support. The Giants didn't run well enough to threaten defenses without Brown, so perhaps Brown is the answer. Owners of Manning, Cruz and Nicks should be optimistic but we're talking about Andre Brown, not Adrian Peterson.
Miglio: Absolutely, Brown will be a boon to the pass game. Brown wasn't spectacular -- he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry on his big day -- but this wasn't unprecedented from him. He was quite good last season in limited duty, and it looks like he has the backfield all to himself at this point. David Wilson is on IR, and Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis combine powers to form Captain Plodder.
As for the Giants' passing game -- while Brown will inevitably improve the offense as a whole, I don't see it transforming Manning and company. After all, Manning threw for just 140 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders in what was the best game of Brown's career. Manning remains nothing more than a Plan B for fantasy owners. Cruz is a WR2, Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle are WR4s.
3. After another dreadful performance, it's safe to say that fantasy owners are no longer relying on Colin Kaepernick. But with the quarterback struggling and Vernon Davis dealing with a concussion, could there be a trickle-down effect on Frank Gore?
Beller: I'm not so sure Kaepernick's struggles will detract from what Gore is able to do. He still ran for 82 yards on 16 carries against the Panthers on Sunday, an impressive performance against one of the better defenses in the league. This team will continue to have a hard time putting points on the board if it cannot get the passing game in gear, a goal that will be made all the more challenging after Davis' concussion. While that could limit Gore's ceiling the rest of the year, check out San Francisco's remaining schedule. After visiting the Saints Week 11, the 49ers play Washington, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Atlanta through Week 16. There are four bad to very bad defenses in that group. Gore will be just fine.
Flood: Gore is doubted every season. Every year the fantasy football world assumes he's going to get injured or show his age, and yet he continues to produce. Gore has averaged at least 4.2 yards per carry since 2005, with a 4.6 career average. He's gaining 4.3 yards per attempt this season and could reach 10,000 career rushing yards with a big finish. The only thing that will slow Gore down is an injury, but snagging his talented backup Kendall Hunter should ease those concerns. The 49ers face Seattle in Week 15, which is the only game that should concern Gore owners. Roll with Gore as you normally would; he's as consistent as anyone in the NFL.
Miglio: That depends on the health of the offensive line more than anything. The Panthers have become one of the better defenses in the league, so Gore's struggles weren't entirely unexpected. That is, if you can consider 82 yards at a 5.1 YPC average a struggle.
4. Which handcuff running back could be the key to the fantasy playoffs?
Beller: Ray Rice has been terrible all year, running for fewer than three yards per carry. At some point, the Ravens may have no choice but to give Bernard Pierce a larger role in the offense. Rice's struggles may just be symptomatic of the Ravens' offense, and Pierce hasn't exactly lit it up this season, but Baltimore has had success in the past running both of them out there for double-digit touches per game. If Pierce can push up into that neighborhood over the final few weeks of the year, he could help you hoist that fantasy trophy in December.
Flood: Jamaal Charles has been an absolute stud in Andy Reid's offense, so Knile Davis hasn't had much of an opportunity to perform thus far. The undefeated Chiefs are bound for the postseason and they might not have anything left to play for when the fantasy playoffs roll around. Davis will be the primary beneficiary if Kansas City decides to rest its regulars, including Charles, for a playoff run. The rookie from Arkansas is talented enough to produce in Reid's system, and he's a good enough blocker to stay in the game on passing downs. The Chiefs host the Colts in Week 16, and Davis could become a household name in fantasy circles with a big performance.
Miglio: Rice hasn't exactly been effective this season, and the Ravens might give Pierce more run as the season progresses. It's not a good sign for your starter when your head coach implies your backup might get more playing time than you. Pierce, like Rice, isn't having a great year, but he did average 4.9 YPC as a rookie.
5. The fantasy playoffs are less than a month away. Is there an offense owners can exploit with streaming defenses down the stretch?
Beller: The Jaguars would be the obvious choice -- their impressive win yesterday notwithstanding -- but four of their remaining games are against the Texans, Browns and Titans, and there is a good chance that all three of those defenses are owned in your league. Train your eyes further south in Florida, however, and you will find an offense ripe for fantasy exploitation. The Dolphins have allowed 35 sacks and turned the ball over 15 times through eight games. Their 315.3 yards per game are fourth fewest in the league. Most importantly, two of their three opponents in the fantasy playoffs, Pittsburgh and Buffalo, are widely available in fantasy leagues. The third, New England, is out there in a select number of leagues. If you've got some roster space to play with right now, grabbing one or two of these defenses to play against the Dolphins in the playoffs could be quite the shrewd move.
Flood: The Texans, Bills and Titans aren't the sexiest fantasy defenses, but they all face the Jaguars during the fantasy football playoffs. Jacksonville simply doesn't have much talent. As an added bonus, Blaine Gabbert could take over at QB in an attempt to see if he's worth keeping around next season. Nobody screams, "use this fantasy defense" like an opponent of Gabbert.
Miglio: Since I originally misread this question and lost out on the Jaguars -- the obvious choice anyway -- how about a little outside-the-box thinking? The Packers are currently a ship without a captain, at least as long as Aaron Rodgers is sidelined with a cracked clavicle. That leaves journeyman Matt Flynn to come home, a prodigal son returned only with pockets full of money. Of course, if he had his way, Rodgers would be playing this week, so he could very well be back come fantasy playoff time. My next-best choice? One of Flynn's former teams -- the Raiders, who employ a hobbled Terrelle Pryor at this point. They get the Jets, Chiefs -- whose defense is likely unavailable -- and Chargers to close out the season.
MORE WEEK 11 FANTASY FOOTBALL CONTENT:
GONOS: Start 'Em Or Sit 'Em -- Chris Ivory looks to build off his recent effort
BELLER: Stat Projections -- Will Nick Foles surpass Peyton Manning's record?
SI STAFF: Player Rankings -- How do marquee games in Week 11 affect rankings?
EDHOLM, MIGLIO: Bold Strategies -- Cut your losses and drop Trent Richardson
SI STAFF: Roundtable -- Can Tavon Austin repeat his Week 10 performance?
FLOOD: Waiver Wire -- Buccaneers' backup running backs ready to step up
McQUADE: Risers, Sliders -- Riley Cooper, Alshon Jeffery continue to impress