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’ 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. LeGarrette Blount at New York Giants
Over the first half of the season it was something of a parlor game for fantasy owners to guess whether any particular Patriots game would be “a LeGarrette Blount game.” Now that New England has lost scatback extraordinaire Dion Lewis to a torn ACL, pretty much every game left on the Pats’ docket should be a LeGarrette Blount game. In the Pats’ first six contests, Blount took 13 or more handoffs four times and ran for at least 72 yards in each of those games, with four total TDs. But there were also two “Dion Lewis games” in which Blount had fewer than four carries.
Last Sunday, with the Patriots holding a comfortable lead against the Redskins all afternoon, and with Lewis going down in the third quarter, Blount had a season-high 29 rushing attempts and ran for 129 yards and a TD. The Patriots don’t have another running back on the roster good enough to get the volume of snaps that Lewis had been getting, so Blount figures to be a beast of burden the rest of the way. The 6'0", 250-pound Blount is a nonfactor in the passing game, but he can do a great deal of damage with 20 or more carries, and on Sunday the Giants’ defense will face the task of repeatedly trying to bring him down while also trying to bridle Tom Brady and the New England aerial attack. Lots of luck, fellas!
2. Chris Ivory vs. Buffalo Bills
Have you ever known someone who tried to mask body odor by dousing himself with cologne? The Jets’ running game has fallen into a fetid funk, and the two touchdowns Ivory scored against the Jaguars on Sunday were merely a splash of Drakkar Noir. Over his last three games, Ivory has run 55 times for 84 yards, an average of 1.5 yards per carry. The burly back has slammed into a brick wall after averaging 5.5 yards per carry and 115 rushing yards per game over the first four weeks of the season. What gives?
Ever the diplomat, Ivory blamed his offensive line a week ago, claiming that his blockers were guilty of “a lot of missed assignments” during his 17-yard rushing day against Oakland in Week 8 and suggesting that they had to “do a better job up front.” (Which reminds me: When you reach the end of this column and conclude that it was no good, please know that it was a terrific piece before my editors got hold of it.)
Ivory and his lackeys on the offensive line will face one of the better run defenses in the league Thursday night when the Jets host the Bills in the Rex Ryan Bowl. The Jets are expected to have the services of respected center Nick Mangold, who tried to come back from a neck injury last week but couldn’t make it through the first half.
3. Dorial Green-Beckham vs. Carolina Panthers
The list of coaching atrocities committed by Ken Whisenhunt during his year and a half in charge of the Titans could fill a Torah-sized scroll, but few of them were more puzzling than his unwillingness to give Green-Beckham meaningful playing time. The Whiz buried DGB on the depth chart behind the likes of Harry Douglas, a mediocre slot receiver, and Justin Hunter, whose hands are stonier than Roberto Duran’s. After Whisenhunt’s well-deserved ouster last week, interim head coach Mike Mularkey mercifully started to get Green-Beckham more involved in the offense.
Over his first six games, Green-Beckham played 23% of Tennessee’s offensive snaps. He was in on 64% of the Titans’ snaps in Weeks 7 and 8 combined, but that was largely because Douglas was hurt and didn’t play. Last Sunday, in Mularkey’s first game at the helm, DGB played 68% of the snaps and out-snapped Hunter for the first time this season, finishing with five catches for 77 yards on 10 targets. Green-Beckham is a 6'5", 237-pound specimen with good speed, soft hands and a catch radius the size of New Hampshire. With the sort of regular playing time he wasn’t able to get when Whisenhunt was calling the shots, Green-Beckham could be on the cusp of a breakout. But the 22-year-old rookie won’t have an easy time of it this weekend against the Panthers, who have one of the best pass defenses in the league. With Titans receiver Kendall Wright expected to be out for a second straight week with a sprained MCL, Carolina might elect to cover Green-Beckham with top corner Josh Norman, who’s been a human blanket this season.
4. Blake Bortles at Baltimore Ravens
Here’s a fascinating case study: Bortles ranks seventh among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game with an average of 18.94, and yet by some rate stats, he’s kind of a train wreck. Bortles’s completion percentage of 56.3% ranks 29th among starting QBs. His average of 7.05 yards per passing attempts ranks him 23rd amongst his peers. He’s also tied for fourth in the league in interceptions with 10.
Bortles is nonetheless averaging 274.1 passing yards and 2.1 TD passes per game, and his fantasy owners have no quibbles with those numbers whatsoever. Volume can mask some statistical shortcomings, and Bortles has been a human JUGS machine this year. He ranks fifth in passing attempts per game with 38.9. He’s hoisted 40 or more passes in half of his eight games, and he’s twice thrown 50 or more passes in a single contest. That sort of volume combined with a great matchup could make Bortles owners very happy this week when the Jaguars visit the Ravens, who are allowing 283.9 passing yards per game and an average of 8.4 yards per pass attempt.
5. Antonio Brown vs. Cleveland Browns
It might be hard to muster up any pity for Brown’s fantasy owners just days after Pittsburgh’s magnificent receiver erupted for 284 receiving yards, but those owners already endured one Brown-out when Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger missed four games with a sprained MCL earlier this season. Now Big Ben is dealing with a mid-foot sprain that will almost surely keep him out of Sunday’s game against the Browns and could conceivably force him to miss time beyond Pittsburgh’s Week 11 bye.
Brown’s franchise-record 17 catches against the Raiders on Sunday matched the number of receptions he had in the four games Roethlisberger missed. Brown didn’t score any touchdowns during that spell, but on the bright side, he had six catches for 124 yards in the last of those four games, when the Steelers finally benched the woefully ineffective Michael Vick and let Landry Jones start at quarterback. Jones and Brown also hooked up for a 59-yard completion Sunday that set up Pittsburgh’s game-winning field goal against Oakland, and Jones will start this week if Roethlisberger isn’t able to go.
6. Karlos Williams at New York Jets
What does Williams have in common with Joe Cribbs, Charlie Brown (the former Redskins receiver, not the Peanuts character) and Robert Edwards? They’re the only players in the Super Bowl era to have scored a touchdown in each of their first five NFL games. Williams averaged 7.8 yards per carry over the first three games of the season before sustaining a concussion that sidelined him for more than a month. Upon his return, he ran 18 times for 40 yards and also had three catches for 30 yards and a TD against the Giants. Last Sunday, he trampled the Dolphins for 110 rushing yards and two TDs on just nine carries.
LeSean McCoy injured his shoulder against Miami, and though Shady vowed to play against the Jets and is listed as probable, the Bills are unlikely to give him a heavy workload on short rest for a Thursday-night game. Williams is probably going to get 10 or more carries for Buffalo this week, but it could be a tough slog against a top-ranked Jets run defense that’s allowing 80.6 rushing yards per game and has given up a league-low two touchdowns on the ground.
7. Drew Brees at Washington Redskins
After throwing eight TD passes in his first six games of the season, Brees has tossed 10 touchdowns in his last two. He’s thrown for more than 300 yards in six of his eight starts, including a 505-yard performance against the Giants in Week 8 and a 387-yard day against the Titans in Week 9. He’s averaging 345.3 yards per game and is on pace for 5,526 yards, which would be the highest single-season yardage total of his 15-year career. So much for any notions that the 36-year-old Brees is in decline.
Throughout his career, however, Brees hasn’t been as effective in the fresh air as he has been in the confines of the Superdome, and the great indoorsman will have to venture outside Sunday when the Saints visit Washington. Over his career, Brees has averaged 307.9 yards and 2.33 TD passes in dome games, and 249.6 passing yards and 1.65 TDs in outdoor games.
8. Jordan Matthews vs. Miami Dolphins
Seemingly poised for stardom after an impressive rookie year, Matthews had been a fantasy disappointment through the first eight weeks of the season, with only one TD catch and just a single 100-yard game back in Week 1, not to mention a surfeit of drops. Going into the Eagles’ Week 9 game against the Cowboys, Matthews had produced fewer than 60 receiving yards in five consecutive contests. But the second-year man out of Vanderbilt turned in his finest game of the season Sunday night in Arlington, catching nine passes for 133 yards and securing an Eagles victory with a smooth 41-yard catch-and-run touchdown in overtime.
Though fantasy owners haven’t been entirely satisfied with his performance this year, Matthews is on pace for 96 catches, which would be a new Eagles record. He’s tied for 12th in the league in receptions and is 15th in targets. With his slump broken, J-Matt will face the Dolphins on Sunday and will likely be covered by Brent Grimes, a usually solid cornerback who allowed Sammy Watkins to go off for 168 yards and a TD last weekend.
9. Carson Palmer at Seattle Seahawks
Many fantasy owners face the dilemma of whether to start Palmer this week against a Seahawks defense that routinely smothers opposing passing attacks. Palmer has been terrific this year, averaging 298.2 yards per game, with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions. The Seahawks are yielding 186.4 passing yards per game, with only six TDs allowed in eight games. Palmer will have to bark out signals above the din created by a Seattle crowd that knows a win over the Cardinals would put the Seahawks back in the NFC West hunt.
How has Palmer fared in recent games against the Seahawks? Well, he was injured and didn’t play in either of Arizona’s two games against Seattle last year. In 2013, he had 436 passing yards, two TDs and six interceptions in two miserable games against the Seahawks. In fairness, though, the Cardinals’ aerial game was still a work in progress two years ago and has since become a well-oiled machine. Still, fantasy owners have to at least consider going with a backup this week rather than committing to Palmer in a brutal matchup.
10. Tyler Eifert vs. Houston Texans
In the 2014 season opener, Eifert appeared to be on his way to a big day, catching three passes for 37 yards in the opening minutes, but he dislocated his elbow late in the first quarter and went on injured reserve. That postponed the Eifert breakout by a year, but he’s certainly making up for lost time, isn’t he?
With three TD catches against the Browns last week, Eifert has nine touchdowns on the year, the second-highest total in the league behind only Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (11). Eifert has three multiple-TD games this season and is on pace for 74 catches and 868 yards. The third-year man from Notre Dame is making a valid case that he’s the second-best tight end in the league, and at the very least he fits snuggly into the tier below Gronk.