We all knew coming into this season that the 49ers">49ers' defense would be a force, and after allowing a total of three points over its last two games (three to the Bills and zero to the Jets), that's clearly the case. But the 49ers didn't win those games 10-3 and 7-0; they were blowouts, 34-0 against New York and 45-3 versus Buffalo. That's a two-game differential of plus-76 points. Against the Bills, the 49ers also became the first team in NFL history to throw for and run for 300 yards in the same game. You heard that right. The first. Not bad for a team that coming into the season featured only two offensive players -- Frank Gore and Vernon Davis -- guaranteed to be weekly fantasy starters. Not surprisingly, some Niners are rising this week.
•Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants -- There was plenty to worry about Bradshaw prior to Sunday's meeting with the Browns. Cleveland had done a solid job of limiting Baltimore's running game a week before and had 10 days to game-plan for the Giants. Also, with Andre Brown in the mix, the split of touches was up in the air as well. Early in the Giants come-from-behind victory, though, all issues were settled when Brown suffered a concussion, leaving Bradshaw to carry the load. And what a load he carried, gaining 229 yards from scrimmage, 200 on the ground, both career highs. Also career highs were his 30 carries and 34 touches overall, a workload that would put him among the top five or six backs in the league if duplicated. Brown is subject to the league's head injury protocol, so his availability against the 49ers is in doubt. While Bradshaw would certainly have been a sit candidate versus the ferocious Niners in San Francisco next week, he's worth using as a flex.
•Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers -- For the first time all season, the Steelers had a back gain over 100 yards from scrimmage. It's no coincidence that the back was Mendenhall, who made his first appearance of the season in Week 5. Most of Mendenhall's damage came on hand-offs, on which he gained 81 yards on 14 carries -- of 5.9 yards per carry -- which is a heck of a lot better than the NFL-worst 2.6 yards-per-carry average Pittsburgh sported prior to their Keystone State kerfuffle with the Iggles. Skepticism about the offensive line still lingers, but responsibility for a running game's success is a two-way street. In any case, Mendenhall is someone not only to own, but to use Thursday against the Titans.
•Alex Green, Packers -- Cedric Benson suffered a foot injury against the Colts and was seen walking out of Lucas Oil Stadium in a boot, not a welcome sign for Benson owners nor Packers fans. When he went down, Green, a second-year runner from Hawaii, got his first real action of the year, picking up 55 yards on nine carries. While not recommended to use next week in Houston, Benson owners would be smart to pick up Green in the event that the starter's injury is more significant than originally believed.
•Stevan Ridley, Patriots -- The league's fourth-leading rusher (at least before Arian Foster gets a crack at the Jets Monday) is averaging 98 yards per game and his emergence just may be turning the pass-first Pats back into a ground-gobbling machine. Ridley's 490 yards are the fourth-best total in New England/Boston history through five games of a season, trailing only Curtis Martin (540) in 1997, Corey Dillon (522) in 2004, and Jim Nance (494) in 1967. Including his backfield mates, most notably Brandon Bolden, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen, the Patriots have run the ball 191 times (a league-leading 38.2 times per game) compared to 185 throws. That has made the Patriots just one of five teams that run more than throw. With three 100-yard games under his belt, Ridley has become a must-start player.
•BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals -- The Law Firm may have to file a motion to get back into the good graces of Bengals fans and coaches after putting up 14 yards on nine carries against the Dolphins, a game in which he found himself on the bench for a long stretch watching backup Bernard Scott. However, the Browns are up next for Cincy, and Scott may be out for the year with what is likely a torn ACL, meaning that his stock should rise again quickly.
•Chris Johnson, Titans -- We hate to say we told you so, but ... Johnson was back to his old self against the Vikings, gaining just 24 yards on 15 carries. Hopefully you were able to deal him during last week's small window of opportunity.
•C.J. Spiller, Bills -- Remember when he was the league's hottest player, leading everyone in yards and challenging for the lead in overall fantasy points? Well, Spiller not only has been slowed by injuries, he's proved to be at best a matchup player, with performance based on the defensive prowess of his opponent. Splitting time with Fred Jackson is also a value killer.
•Michael Crabtree, 49ers -- For the first time in his four-year career, Crabtree appears to be completely buying into the 49ers offense and is poised to finally become the receiver everyone predicted he would be when he was taken 10th overall in 2009. He has caught at least six balls in four of San Francisco's five games this season, and with the Giants on the horizon he's likely to continue that trend.
•Josh Gordon, Browns -- The rookie second-round supplemental pick who sat out all of 2011 following a reported failed marijuana test at Baylor is unpolished but also vastly skilled with excellent speed. That speed was on full display at MetLife Stadium, when he caught the first two touchdown passes of his professional career against the Giants. Inconsistency is a common thread among this crop of Browns receivers. But Gordon on Sunday became the first Browns receiver to catch two touchdowns in a game since Braylon Edwards in 2007. With Brandon Weeden's continued improvement as a passer, Gordon deserves fantasy consideration.
•Robert Meachem, Chargers -- Chances are Meachem's two-score return to New Orleans will be a short-lived resurgence against a very beatable defense, but it was still good to see that he has the ability to do something for his new team. Don't count on anything resembling this on a regular basis but he's not a bad choice if you're trying to fill a bye week receiver or flex spot, especially in Weeks 7 through 9.
•Chris Givens, Rams -- Sleeper alert: Danny Amendola's dislocated collarbone gives the rookie from Wake Forest a chance to see some serious playing time for the next two months at least. His 28-yards-per-catch average is noteworthy, even if it is in just four grabs.
•Mike Wallace, Steelers -- We'll give the former holdout a pass on his two-catch, 17-yard showing against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and the Eagles, but any more like this and we'll have to start recommending Antonio Brown instead (which we may do anyhow).
•Jerome Simpson, Vikings -- The king of the flying leap into the end zone has yet to land on his feet in the Vikings offense, surrendering touches to the more sure-handed Devin Aromashodu. Neither should be in your lineups in the coming weeks.
•Alex Smith, 49ers -- The Niners offense is clicking, and Smith is a main reason why. Although his 303-yard game against the Bills was an outlier, he's been throwing touchdown passes with regularity and is not the worst choice to face a vulnerable Giants secondary this Sunday.
•Andrew Luck, Colts -- The rookie played like a seasoned veteran in the Colts' emotionally-charged comeback win against the Packers. Thanks in large part to a career-day for future Hall of Famer Reggie Wayne, Luck reached 300 yards passing for the third time in four NFL starts, and has thrown at least one touchdown in each. Not only is he a good bye week replacement, he's becoming a solid alternative to struggling passers like Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo and ...
•Brady Quinn, Chiefs -- Matt Cassel has been an abject failure as starter of the Chiefs, so much so that the Arrowhead faithful, in an act of classlessness, cheered when he was injured in yesterday's loss to Baltimore. With Cassel unlikely to play this week due to his concussion, Quinn, the former Brown and Bronco gets his first start since 2009. With Dwayne Bowe, Jonathan Baldwin and Dexter McCluster to throw to, perhaps he can jump-start the Chiefs tepid passing game.
•Cam Newton, Panthers -- Not only did Newton lay an egg against the Seahawks Sunday but he's been making a habit of it. Over his last 17 games, dating back exactly one year, Newton has thrown for 300 yards exactly once. Over that span, 38 other quarterbacks have reached 300 yards a total of 122 times, including the likes of Dan Orlovsky, Rex Grossman. Kyle Orton and Vince Young. Yes, you're getting some rushing yards and scores from Newton, but he's just not scoring enough to be a starter. And worse, he looks bad trying.
•Michael Vick, Eagles -- The turnovers keep piling up, but until yesterday so did the wins, so there was no chance Vick would lose his job. Well, there's still no chance but given his notorious durability problems and inability to keep the ball with the good guys, he can't be trusted on a weekly basis with a clear conscience.
•Aaron Hernandez, Patriots -- After missing nearly four total games with a sprained ankle Hernandez is just about ready to make his return to the Patriots offense. Although Wes Welker is back in the good graces of his coaches and quarterback, we fully expect Hernandez to regain all of the value he had prior to the injury. If he was somehow dropped in your league, he should be priority No. 1 pickup this week.
•Joel Dreessen, Broncos -- Quietly Dreessen is becoming a reliable fantasy player. Tthe former Texan has a mere 11 catches for 96 yards but he's scored a touchdown in three straight games and has posted 9.7 PPR points in each. And since the start of 2012 he ranks eighth in the NFL in touchdown catches by a tight end with 13, ahead of the likes of Brent Celek, Jermichael Finley, Marcedes Lewis and Brandon Pettigrew.
•Jimmy Graham, Saints -- The league's most dangerous tight end suffered an ankle injury that limited him to just one catch for four yards on Drew Brees' record-breaking night. While it's possible he may return after the Saints' much-needed bye next weekend, it's also possible that he will be out through Week 7. If so, David Thomas would make a solid and available fill in.
•Jermichael Finley, Packers -- Finley has been plagued by drops the past few years, and although he pledges to play against the Texans next week after injuring his shoulder on the turf in Indy, his lack of productivity (39.6 yards per game, one touchdown through five games) tells us that he's better off being left on the bench.
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