At this point in the season, NFL roles are largely defined. Outside of the occasional Branden Oliver, there aren’t too many unknowns that are going to suddenly pop up on the waiver wire as viable options going forward. And if they do, you likely won’t be in position to claim them.
So if you think you need a boost to emerge from the muddle of 2-3 and 3-2 teams populating your league, it might be time to start scouring the benches of contenders and trying to orchestrate a trade. You could net a useful piece other owners don’t even realize are worth the effort.
Conversely, if you’ve recently been the beneficiary of a player logging career-best numbers with little to no signs of sustainability, it might be time to thank the fantasy gods, then trade him -- not drop him -- while he’s hot.
Texans RB Arian Foster
Foster’s destruction of the Cowboys defense (157 yards and two scores on 23 carries) wasn’t just his best performance this season -- it was his best in terms of fantasy points (28) since Week 10 in 2011.
If you own Foster, it’s pleasant to think that he could be headed for a dominant resurgence. However, it has to be noted that Dallas ranked 28th in the NFL with 5.1 yards per carry allowed coming into Sunday and was widely considered the worst defense in the league in the preseason. Future opponents are going to load the box as long as Ryan Fitzpatrick is under center for Houston.
We already know Foster isn’t happy about playing against Indianapolis Thursday night on a short week of rest, and there’s a good chance his owners won’t be ecstatic with the results, either.
The Colts have outscored the Texans 97-72 since Luck was drafted, winning three of four contests, and it wouldn’t be especially surprising if they jumped out to another big lead on Thursday. Foster’s balky hamstring adds risk to his situation.
Foster was a consensus first-round selection, so you’d rightfully have to be overwhelmed to trade him. But if you have a deep stable of backs and would prefer an elite quarterback or wideout, this is the right time to shop Foster.
The Patriots’ backfield
It was pretty shocking to see the seemingly dysfunctional Patriots offense run roughshod against the vaunted Bengals defense during New England’s 43-17 romp on Sunday night. But if you look deeper into the numbers, it really shouldn’t have been that unexpected.
Despite Cincinnati’s hard-nosed defensive reputation, the Bengals actually entered Sunday night ranked dead last against the run by Football Outsiders’ DVOA, which takes into account the strength of schedule of opponents.
So don’t fall too hard for the tandem of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, both of whom had been quite disappointing up until Sunday and are likely to step back into the shadow of Tom Brady soon. Together, they form a decent one-two punch for New England, but they aren’t that useful in fantasy on their own.
After gaining 90 yards on just nine carries against the Bengals, Vereen is ranked third among qualified rushers with 5.7 yards per carry. Sell your potential trade partners on that fact -- don’t mention that he only gets 7-8 carries per game, has just 10 touchdowns in 31 career games and has yet to unleash a 20-yard carry this season. His role in New England’s passing game is a bit overblown, too, with 17 receptions, 111 yards and no scores through five games.
Ridley averaged a pedestrian 4.2 yards per carry in totaling 113 yards with a touchdown Sunday, topping five fantasy points for just the second time this season. His average YPC (3.8) has continued its steady decline as a result of the Patriots’ makeshift offensive line, which is bad news considering the vaunted run defenses of the Bills and Jets are up next on the schedule.
Buffalo is the only team in the NFL that hasn’t yet allowed a rushing touchdown and is ranked second in both DVOA and opponents yards per carry (3.01). The Jets are once again an elite run defense, too, ranking fifth in opponents yards per carry (3.32) and sixth in yards per game (83.0).
Last week’s numbers are likely the best this pair is going to collectively put up this year, so if you can get a more consistent flex option in return for either of them, go ahead and pull the trigger.
Titans WR Kendall Wright
Wright had just about the quietest 90-plus reception, 1,000-yard season a receiver can have last year. That’s probably because he only had two touchdowns, which meant he averaged 7.5 points per week. That won’t get you a lot of attention while playing for the mediocre Titans.
This season, however, the speedy Wright has reached the end zone three times after a six-catch, two-score outing against Cleveland last week.
It might be tempting to hold onto Wright, but it needs to be said that Charlie Whitehurst and Jake Locker are quite possibly the least consistent quarterback duo this side of New York.
Locker is both injury-prone and unspectacular, with a 26-19 TD-INT ratio in 27 career games. And as the latest reminder that being a backup QB in the NFL is the best job in the world, last week was Whitehurst’s first game ever with two touchdown passes.
Even after last week’s promising final line, Wright still hasn’t topped 55 yards this season. His value will depend solely on how often he can score -- and with an offense featuring one of Locker and Whitehurst supported by Shonn Greene as a featured back, there’s no telling how often that’ll happen.
The smart play would be to hold onto Wright for one more week to let him feast on Jacksonville’s awful pass defense, then see how much you can get in return.
Jets RB Chris Ivory
Ivory was only started in 45.3 percent ESPN league games last week, so he can likely be had for the right price even though he’s been the No. 15 running back thus far with a healthy average of 9.6 points per game. Those are the numbers of a solid RB2, even after his four-point output against the Chargers on Sunday.
Ivory is averaging a career-best 5.4 yards per game, the sixth-best mark among running backs, ahead of names like DeMarco Murray and Le’Veon Bell. He’s also on pace to surpass his career-high of five touchdowns, which was really the only thing missing from his résumé.
San Diego’s 31-0 shellacking of the Jets was the first game this year in which Ivory didn’t get double-digit carries. That was mostly a byproduct of the Jets only possessing the ball for 21 minutes and playing from behind while relying on the arms of Geno Smith and Michael Vick. If offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg presents a pass-heavy gameplan to Rex Ryan this week, it’ll likely go over as well as if he suggested following the advice of the New York Daily News.
Truthfully, the Jets’ horrible offensive performance Sunday was one of those things that only happens once or twice a season -- it was, after all, the first shutout for any team in this NFL campaign. Every other loss the Jets has suffered featured a one-possession difference in the final score. That combined with the Jets’ dismal QB play bodes well for Ivory.
The former Saints’ back has been slowly wresting away carries from Chris Johnson and has outgained him in every game, which means, going forward, this is going to keep looking less and less like a running back by committee.
It might not immediately get much better for the Jets with Peyton Manning and the Broncos visiting the Meadowlands on Sunday, so you might want to wait one more week to send an offer. But if he could be had for cheap now, pounce. The Jets are set to face the Patriots (4.43 opponents YPC, 21st), Chiefs (4.79, 26th) and the Steelers (4.54, 23rd) all before their Week 11 bye.
Colts RB Ahmad Bradshaw
Bradshaw is in a similar situation as Ivory. He’s been outperforming his more recognizable teammate (Trent Richardson) the entire season and is primed to reap the benefits of that production.
On Sunday, Bradshaw got more carries than Richardson (15 to 9) for the first time this season and responded with 68 yards to Richardson’s 37. Bradshaw also had three red zone carries to Richardson’s two -- the only area where Richardson’s hulking frame could provide a notable advantage at this point.
Bradshaw didn’t reach paydirt through the passing game on Sunday as he had in his last three games, but he still drew two receiving targets within the 10-yard line. His continued presence as Andrew Luck’s preferred passing-down back coupled with his best YPC mark (5.1) since 2008 make Bradshaw a legitimate RB2 or flex play.
For some reason, Bradshaw is still not owned in 8.7 percent of ESPN leagues. If you’re in one of those leagues, do yourself a favor and put in a claim for him. If not, try and trade for him before his profile is raised in the primetime spotlight of Thursday Night Football this week against Houston.
If Luck utilizes Bradshaw as a safety outlet against the Texans’ J.J. Watt-led pass rush, great. If Luck, Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton can build up a big lead, clearing the way for Bradshaw to chew up clock, even better.
Either way, Bradshaw has earned starting status in all formats going forward, and he shouldn’t merit anything close to a king’s ransom in a trade. Back-hungry owners would be wise to reach out to Bradshaw’s current owners as soon as possible.
Giants WR Victor Cruz
Even if Cruz hasn’t been performing like a star, he’s still being treated like one in New York. Cruz has simply built up too much goodwill with Eli Manning over the past few years for his targets to drop too much after a couple subpar weeks.
Despite his overall substandard output, Cruz has averaged 7.3 targets per game this season, just about one less than his career average of 8.6. And he’s still producing when he gets the ball in his hands.
Only Steve Smith and Jordy Nelson have more yards after the catch than Cruz (164) this season. Cruz’s average of 64.2 receiving yards per contest is less than 10 yards below his career average and still projects to more than 1,000 yards in a season.
After Cruz posted six drops all of last season, it’s certainly frustrating for his owners to watch him lead the league with five drops so far. The real cause for his drop in fantasy value, however, has been a lack of touchdowns -- after notching 19 touchdowns in his first two seasons, he has just five since the beginning of the 2013 campaign.
Unless you think Larry Donnell -- who wasn’t thrown to once in the game against Atlanta on Sunday -- is a real threat to keep logging three-touchdown games, you have to assume Cruz will resume regularly salsa dancing in the near future. The Giants face Philadelphia (who have allowed a league-high 13 passing touchdowns) and Dallas (18th in opponents passing yards per game) in the next two weeks. Try and trade for him while his owners are still annoyed with him.