I'll begin this article by simply giving a quick heads up to all of you. Check your league rules and find out when your trade deadline is. You'd be shocked how many people have no idea when they must finalize trades. Now that you know when it is, get busy making arrangements for the stretch run. As we've discussed before, the rookie wall can be ugly for many a first-year player. If you can create a package involving a thriving rookie and get yourself an established veteran, especially one with a nice stretch of games Weeks 14-16, what are you waiting for?
The draft is only one aspect of winning championships. Take a look at your league's history and see what teams historically are the best. I'd be willing to bet it's the guy who's active in the trade market. No matter how good you are at drafting, situations change, injuries occur, great players fall off and young players break out. Don't be left holding your original cards if you can upgrade your hand.
Now on to the rookies.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Maybe I'm young and haven't seen enough. Maybe at 39, I'm too old to remember. In either case, I can't recall a rookie quarterback being this impressive. Ryan completed 17-of-22 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns. He's not just getting by with dinks and dunks, he's throwing a superb long ball, as well, and Roddy White and now Michael Jenkins are the beneficiaries. With a 9:5 touchdown to interception ratio, Ryan has made it possible to start a rookie quarterback in a fantasy league and not cringe. The Saints 25th-ranked pass defense in Week 10 makes Ryan a definite option.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
With 248 yards and two touchdowns in Week 9, Flacco showed vast improvement from his early season struggles. Whether it was a soft defense, finally having a rushing attack, or just a bit of luck, Flacco did a terrific job this past week. The soft Houston Texans are on the docket this week, so if you're desperate, Flacco might actually be worthy of a start.
Benjarvus Green-Ellis, New England Patriots
With 57 yards on 15 carries last week, Green-Ellis is carving out a role for himself in the Patriots offense. He was bursting through holes, and for the third straight week, found the end zone. He's a solid value in touchdown-only leagues and a useful bye week filler in other formats. A tilt against the Bills' 12th-ranked rushing defense is up next, but they've had their vulnerable moments this season. With Randy Moss and WesWelker on the outside, defenses still must respect the pass, even with Matt Cassel at the helm. You could do worse for a bye week player.
Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
Coming off a bye, Forte actually didn't look very good against Detroit. At least that was the case for three quarters. In the 4th, Forte and the Bears bullied the Lions and he finished with 126 yards. Forte is still averaging only 3.8 yards per carry, but he gets so many touches that he's racking up solid fantasy points. He's still the top rookie wall candidate. Sell high in redraft leagues.
Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
With 161 total yards and a touchdown agqainst the Packers, Johnson confirmed what we've said for weeks. He's an every-week starter. He even scored a goal-line touchdown. If he doesn't lose those to LenDale White, than the sky is the limit. Look for the Titans to use Johnson in the passing game often against Chicago. With turnover prone Rex Grossman back at the helm for the Bears, this one could be dominated by Tennessee. Johnson might just be that rookie you trade for a stud that we talked about in the intro. However, don't settle, shoot for the moon. Accept only one of the top runners in the league for Johnson and another player, otherwise, ride the wave.
Ryan Torain, Denver Broncos
Last week we talked about Torain's value being mostly tied to his future. Well, in a snap, things change in the NFL, and after a promising first half against the Browns, Torain tore his ACL and ended his season.
Steve Slaton, Houston Texans
Bingo. We nailed this one. Slaton struggled to find running room last week, gaining just 62 yards on 16 carries last week. However, he was a stud in the passing game, catching eight passes for another 56 yards. He faces another tough test against Baltimore this week but remains a must start in PPR formats. Standard league owners again might want to consider other options, but Slaton's use in the passing game could see him topping 100 total yards again.
Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
Limited practice, tough matchup, horrible offense. No thanks. Not even his new pair of shoes can change the outlook. Make McFadden show you something before using him again.
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
Stewart has clearly taken a back seat to DeAngelo Williams and now is suffering from a bruised heel. With an awful Oakland team on tap this week, a healthy Stewart could see plenty of action. However, the recent performance makes him an extremely risky play this week.
Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys
Jones probably won't return until Week 11.
Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions
As long as the Lions refuse to remove their head from their rear end and get rid of Rudi Johnson, Smith will be nothing more than a flex option. The rookie had 16 touches last week and achieved 53 yards and a touchdown. That's decent fantasy production, but not enough to truly lead you to victory. As long as Rudi is trudging along, Smith's value might be tied to 2009 and beyond.
Tim Hightower, Arizona Cardinals
Egg on the face is slimy and gross. We just finished telling you that Hightower is better served for the future, and then the Cardinals give Edgerrin James zero touches. Wow. The future is now in Arizona and it looks great. Hightower ran for 109 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries at St. Louis. Granted, it was St. Louis, but we always knew the talent was there. Opportunity is what was missing. Well, opportunity is knocking, so use Hightower with confidence. Arizona's high-powered offense makes it impossible for opposing defenses to key on the run. There should be plenty of holes for Hightower.
Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
Last week I said Rice is definitely worth a roster spot, and after rushing for 154 yards on 21 carries, he's worth more than that. The Ravens are starting to see their return on investment, and Willis McGahee is like the ow Jones at this point ... going down. Early reports have McGahee being ready for Week 10, but the Ravens might still lean heavily on Rice, especially on third down. Unless McGahee puts in a full practice this week, you can start Rice with confidence, especially in PPR leagues.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
Well, I guess the ankle sprain wasn't so bad after all. Charles ran 18 times for 106 yards against an extremely tough Tampa Bay defense. Kolby Smith is done for the year and Larry Johnson is suspended, so Charles is an intriguing option this week against the no longer stout Chargers defense. He's even got decent hands out of the backfield. Head coach Herm Edwards has reportedly softened his stance on Johnson and he could be back in Week 11. As a result, it might be a good time to sell high on Charles. If not, he's a decent bye filler or flex option this week.
Peyton Hillis, Denver Broncos
Those of you who've kept up with this column all year know how much we love to talk about one-week wonders. Hillis caught seven passes for 116 yards and a touchdown in Week 9. He's a fullback. He's a lead blocker. It's a fluke. Don't believe me? Check out the game logs for such fantasy stalwarts as Leonard Weaver and Patrick Cobbs.
Donnie Avery, St. Louis Rams
The roller coaster continues. Coming off a monster week, Avery was held to three catches for 26 yards. While Arizona's defense is underrated, this was a horrible line for Avery. The Jets are up next, and that could be a good thing, as they have the fourth-ranked rushing defense, and Kenneth Darby might be the Rams running back. That means the onus will be on Marc Bulger if the Rams have any chance. The only question is whether Darrelle Revis locks down on Torry Holt or Avery. Look for the Rams to try to exploit the Jets when the matchup is positive.
DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles
As we expected, there was not a lot of activity for Jackson this past week against Seattle. However, we previewed the fact that the Eagles have a primetime match up against the Giants this week. Jackson will most definitely be counted on heavily in this one. With the Giants fierce pass rush, Philadelphia will likely employ a lot of screens and quick slants. That's where Jackson will be able to use his speed and make the first defender miss. Corey Webster might be the Giants' most improved player, but he's vulnerable. Jackson is a good play this week.
Josh Morgan, San Francisco 49ers
Coming off the bye, Morgan will certainly improve upon his last performance. That shouldn't be tough since he had no catches. A thrilling Monday night contest between San Francisco and Arizona (yawn!) is actually a good thing for Morgan. Arizona should be able to score at will against San Francisco, so the 49ers will be airing it out playing catch up. Morgan is a sneaky WR3 play this week.
Eddie Royal, Denver Broncos
Jay Cutler did come out chucking and Royal received 10 targets. That's a great sign. An even better sign was the 164 yards he caught for against the Browns. The NFL's best rookie receiver, he's an every week starter on what always has the potential to be a high-powered offense. Denver's defense is decimated with injuries, so the offense is going to have to keep pace. That means a lot of Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Royal.
Chaz Schilens, Oakland Raiders
JaMarcus Russell completed six passes last week. Six. In a game where the Raiders got shut out and lost by 24, they had six completions. Are you kidding me? Is Russell the new Ryan Leaf?
Limas Sweed, Pittsburgh Steelers
Zero catches last week for Sweed, who's definitely more of a developmental project. If Ben Roethlisberger misses this week's game, Byron Leftwich might actually be a positive for Sweed, since they likely worked together often in the second team offense. Even still, risking Sweed is like praying for rain in the desert.
John Carlson, Seattle Seahawks
Let's make this one simple: Seneca Wallace is an absolutely abysmal NFL quarterback. Like we've said before, without the short miracle touchdown, you're just not going to get anything consistent from Carlson. There are entirely too many tight ends that are better, so go get one.
Dustin Keller, New York Jets
A matchup against a tough defense like Buffalo still didn't get Keller involved. Two catches for 19 yards isn't going to cut it. Surely there are better options out there.
Martellus Bennett, Dallas Cowboys
While three catches for 36 yards isn't a wonder, let's end any talk about Bennett's fantasy value. Jason Witten will be fine after the bye, and the Cowboys are never going to let him get away, but if you're counting on Bennett for future value, pray the Cowboys let him go.
Derek Fine, Buffalo Bills
Fine caught four passes for 43 yards and a touchdown last week. Those were the first receptions of his career. Fine has solid hands and could be part of the future in Buffalo, but Robert Royal is the top tight end right now, so Fine isn't a fine option.