People magazine runs an annual feature on the 25 most intriguing people of the year. Barbara Walters hosts an annual special on the 10 most fascinating people of the year. Borrowing People’s adjective and Babs’s number, we offer you the 10 most intriguing fantasy football performers of the week. This is a subjective list, of course. It might not include some of the players most intriguing to you personally. But for one reason or another, a great many fantasy owners are anxious to see how these players fare in their upcoming games.
1. Charcandrick West at Minnesota:
Not only is West among the most intriguing players of Week 6, he might also have the NFL’s most intriguing first name. Jamaal Charles's season-ending knee injury on Sunday made West the most coveted waiver-wire commodity in fantasy football this week. Knile Davis was Charles’s primary backup the last two seasons, but West has jumped Davis on the depth chart, perhaps because West looked so good in the preseason, or perhaps because Davis has averaged 3.4 yards per carry over his career and has run for two yards or fewer on more than half of his rushing attempts.
West signed with the Chiefs last year as an undrafted free agent out of Abilene Christian, where he had 3,105 yards from scrimmage and 35 touchdowns in 39 career games. He appeared in six games for the Chiefs in 2014 but didn’t have any carries. So far this year, West has 12 carries for 48 yards. At 5'10", 205 pounds, West’s calling card is his speed: He ran a 4.27 in the 40 on his pro day, albeit with the wind at his back. West will make his first career start Sunday in Minnesota, facing a Vikings defense that’s giving up 4.7 yards per carry.
2. Antonio Brown vs. Arizona:
Brown’s fantasy owners are a disgruntled bunch these days. Everything was peachy for the prolific receiver until the Week 3 wrenching of Ben Roethlisberger’s knee. Since then, the temporary stewardship of Michael Vick has thrown a handful of sand into Pittsburgh’s well-oiled offense. With Big Ben running things, the Steelers had one of the league’s best aerial attacks. With Vick running things, converting on 3rd-and-7 seems harder than any of the seven labors of Hercules.
After catching 29 passes for 436 yards and two touchdowns in his first three games, Brown has produced just eight catches for 87 yards and no touchdown in two full games with Vick. As inconceivable as it might have been just a few weeks ago, some owners have entertained the idea of benching Brown. Doing so would seem like sacrilege, and in any given week Brown might manage to make lemonade while playing with a Cleo Lemon-esque quarterback. But it’s hard to blame Brown’s owners for considering a drastic move. Brown has a difficult matchup this week against a fine Arizona pass defense that features ace DBs Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu.
3. Gary Barnidge vs. Denver
Ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and the McCown-Barnidge Connection—these are the great unexplained phenomena of our time. UFOs have turned out to be weather balloons in some cases, and there have been Bigfoot hoaxes perpetrated by men in ape costumes. But millions of people have now witnessed the McCown-Barnidge Connection, and paranormal investigators are at a loss to explain it.
Entering 2015, the 30-year-old Barnidge had 603 career receiving yards over four NFL seasons, with no more than 13 catches in any year. He currently ranks third in fantasy scoring among tight ends, averaging better than 11 points per game in standard-scoring formats. In his last three games, Barnidge has hauled in 20 passes from 36-year-old journeyman QB Josh McCown for 319 yards and three touchdowns. The Ravens had been stingy to opposing tight ends this season, but Barnidge had eight catches for 139 yards and a touchdown against Baltimore on Sunday, with his touchdown coming on an absurd “Thighmaster” catch where he squeezed a McCown pass between his legs and rolled into the end zone. Barnidge has another tough matchup this week, facing a Denver defense that’s allowing 192.8 passing yards per game and has given up only three touchdown passes, but McCown-Barnidge skeptics run the risk of missing out on supernatural numbers.
4. Dion Lewis at Indianapolis
One of the early favorites for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award, Lewis has been a revelation. Through four games, Lewis has scored three TDs and has averaged 104.5 yards from scrimmage per game, with 180 rushing yards and 238 receiving yards. He’s averaging 5.0 yards per carry and 10.3 yards per catch. Against the Cowboys last week, Lewis scored on a play where he deftly hauled in an off-target dump-off pass from Tom Brady, put an ankle-breaking move on one Dallas defender, ducked another, then absorbed a big hit upon crossing the goal line.
It’s been an arduous trip to prominence for Lewis. A fifth-round draft pick of the Eagles in 2011, he spent two unremarkable seasons in Philadelphia before joining the Browns. Lewis missed the 2013 season after breaking his fibula in a preseason game. He was signed by the Colts early in the 2014 season but was cut a week later and didn’t appear in a game for a second straight year. The Patriots signed him to a reserve/future deal on Dec. 31, and with Lewis proving to be such a perfect fit in New England’s offense, the team rewarded him last week with a two-year, $3 million contract extension. Lewis figures to play a prominent role when the Patriots visit the Colts on Sunday night, with Tom Brady no doubt eager to take out any lingering Deflategate frustrations on the team that complained to the league office about the air pressure in footballs used in the AFC Championship Game.
5. Willie Snead vs. Atlanta
In the Dr. Seuss tale “The Lorax,” the tree-chopping Once-ler insisted that his product, the thneed, was “a fine something that everyone needs.” That claim was proven untrue. However, there’s mounting evidence that the Snead is a fine something that every fantasy owner needs. The Saints came into the season with a glaring shortage of proven pass catchers, so it was inevitable that someone would emerge from anonymity to become a prominent contributor. That someone, it appears, is Snead.
Signed by the Browns last year as an undrafted rookie, Snead was cut, then was signed to the Panthers’ practice squad, then joined the Saints’ practice squad last December. Snead made his first NFL start last week and had six catches for 141 yards on 11 targets. He’s been targeted 30 times in the last two weeks and has established himself alongside WR Brandin Cooks as one of Drew Brees’ few reliable pass catchers. Snead and the Saints host the Falcons Thursday night in a game that shapes up as a potential shootout.
6. Andy Dalton at Buffalo
It’s understandable that fantasy owners would be reluctant to embrace the oft-maligned Dalton even after a fast start that saw him throw for 1,187 yards and nine touchdowns over his first four games. But Dalton won over many of his doubters in Week 5 by lighting up the vaunted Seattle passing defense, completing 68.2% of his passes for 331 yards and two touchdowns. He even added his second rushing touchdown of the season for good measure.
Dalton now leads all players in fantasy scoring with 116.2 points, just ahead of Devonta Freeman and Aaron Rodgers. The difference for Dalton this year? Weapons. Tyler Eifert has been one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league this year after missing all but a few minutes of the 2014 season with an elbow injury. WR Marvin Jones missed the entire 2014 season with an ankle injury. Star WR A.J. Green missed three games with a toe injury last year and clearly wasn’t at full capacity in some of the games he played. Giovani Bernard, a fine pass-catching RB, missed three games. Not surprisingly, Dalton put up lousy fantasy stats in 2014. He has another challenging matchup this week in Buffalo. The Bills are allowing 274 passing yards per game and have yielded 10 touchdown passes, but opposing quarterbacks are averaging just 6.3 yards per pass attempt.
7. DeAndre Hopkins at Jacksonville
On Oct. 9, 2014, in a Thursday-night home game against the Colts, Hopkins had one catch for 12 yards and made one of the most shameful fumble-recovery efforts imaginable, alligator-arming a late spill by then-Texans QB Ryan Fitzpatrick that was recovered by the Colts to seal their 33–28 victory. Almost exactly a year later, in another Thursday-night home game against the Colts, Hopkins tore the Indianapolis secondary to ribbons, catching 11 passes for 169 yards. The difference between those two performances is symbolic of the leap Hopkins has made in his third NFL season.
Nearly uncoverable these days, Hopkins has joined the ranks of the elite wide receivers. He’s averaging 116.6 receiving yards per game this season and has gone over 100 yards in three straight. Hopkins already has 42 catches and has had eight or more receptions in four of his first five outings. The man nicknamed “Nuk” is seemingly immune to the Texans’ quarterback woes, but can you imagine what Hopkins might be able to do if he were catching passes from someone better than the likes of Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett?
8. Eli Manning at Eagles
Monday night’s important NFC East showdown between the Giants and Eagles would seem to set up well for Manning from a fantasy perspective, since it’s easier to attack the Eagles through the air than on the ground, and the Giants don’t have much of a running game anyway. Problem is, WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle both pulled up with hamstring injuries in the Giants’ Week 5 win over the 49ers. Beckham was able to play through his and vowed to be ready for Week 6, though an aggravation is an aggravating possibility. If neither Beckham nor Randle is available, Manning will have to make do with RB Shane Vereen, TE Larry Donnell, WR Dwayne Harris and assorted others.
Manning ranks seventh in QB fantasy scoring, averaging 283.4 passing yards per game with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. But the last time the Giants visited Philadelphia, in Week 6 of 2014, they were blanked 27–0, and Manning threw for a season-low 151 yards.
9. Andre Johnson vs. Patriots
Entering Week 5, Johnson had gone two straight games without a catch and had only seven receptions for 51 yards for the season. But in his return to Houston last week, the 34-year-old veteran had six catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns.
A one-week resurrection probably won’t convince many of Johnson’s fantasy owners to reinsert him in their lineups, but it raises hope that Johnson might still be a useful competitor while playing in what should be a top passing offense. Johnson’s big day came with Matt Hasselbeck subbing for the sore-shouldered Andrew Luck, who’s expected back this week. Luck and Johnson haven’t clicked yet, but Luck will need all hands on deck Sunday night when the undefeated Patriots visit Indianapolis, and it will be interesting to see what sort of role Johnson plays.
10. Eddie Lacy vs. Chargers
As well as things have gone for the Packers in their 5–0 start, it’s been a sluggish beginning for Lacy, who’s averaging 51.4 rushing yards per game and hasn’t recorded a touchdown since Week 1. The slow start is partially attributable to injury. Lacy sprained his ankle against Seattle in Week 2, so he was limited to three carries in that game and was used judiciously against the Chiefs the following week, taking only 10 handoffs.
It took Lacy several weeks to get going last year, too. Through four games he was averaging 52.5 yards from scrimmage and had scored one touchdown. By the end of the regular season, he had piled up 1,566 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns. This could be the week that Lacy kicks it into gear, with a home game against a San Diego defense that ranks 30th against the run and is giving up 5.1 yards per carry.