Last season, Jerome Harrison was just another semi-anonymous football player, known to dedicated Browns fans and maybe alumni of his college (Washington State). He had a 121-yard game in Week 3 of 2009 but was virtually invisible from Weeks 4 to 13.
Then, in Week 14, he exploded, rushing for 286 yards and 3 touchdowns. He followed that up with 148- and 127-yard performances the next two weeks, scoring in each game. Harrison probably won a lot of people a lot of money in fantasy leagues last year.
Harrison, traded this season to Philadelphia for Mike Bell after the emergence of Peyton Hillis, isn't going to be a fantasy factor this season. (Not unless LeSean McCoy gets hurt.) But will there be a running back who comes out of nowhere to produce during fantasy playoff time this year?
It's now playoff time in almost every league. Working the waiver wire is still important in the playoffs; playing the matchups and going week-to-week with a kicker or defense is a definite possibility. Here are some options for Week 14, with a special attention paid to who these guys are facing the next three weeks.
You can rarely find a quarterback this late in the season; whoever you pick up now is probably someone who's been on the waiver wire for a few weeks. But that's not the end of the world. In a small league, there's bound to be someone available. Ryan Fitzpatrick (15-for-25, 168 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT on Sunday), for example, is still available in 48 percent of Yahoo! leagues and faces Cleveland and Miami the next two weeks. Those aren't out-of-sight matchups, but he should put up good numbers.
Tarvaris Jackson, Vikings (15-for-22, 187 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT in Week 13): Besides the interceptions, Jackson looked good in relief of Brett Favre on Sunday. But don't pick him up just yet, as Minnesota plays the Giants this week and Favre could return anyway. Only if you're completely stuck should you go with Jackson (or Favre, if he plays, for that matter). But if Favre's your starting fantasy QB you can't possibly have made the playoffs, can you?
People had big expectations for Brandon Jackson when Ryan Grant went down in Week 1, but he's been inconsistent; on Sunday, he carried just 4 times for 13 yards. (He did add four catches for 63 yards.)
Enter James Starks, a rookie from Buffalo who spent most of the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. In his NFL debut, Starks rushed for 73 cards on 18 carries. Mike McCarthy said he'd give the ball to him a lot again in Week 14. John Kuhn got the goal-line touchdown last week, but with the Packers going up against the Lions next, Starks could have another decent day. He's less useful in Week 15 (at New England) and 16 (vs. New York Giants).
Chris Ivory, Saints (15 carries, 117 yards, 2 TD): Amazingly, Ivory is available in almost 70 percent of Yahoo! leagues. That's a ton for a guy who has scored five touchdowns over the past three weeks. If you can get him in your league, do so. He doesn't have good matchups in Weeks 15 (at Baltimore) or 16 (at Atlanta) but next week he faces the Rams and could be in line for a big day.
Tashard Choice, Cowboys (19 carries, 100 yards, 1 TD): After Choice's breakout performance Sunday, Jerry Jones said the Cowboys wouldn't rush Marion Barber back. Even if Barber returns, look for Choice to get way more looks on Sunday against the Eagles. That's not a great matchup, but the Cowboys' opponents in Weeks 15 (vs. Washington) and 16 (at Arizona) are, so Choice could be valuable in the next two rounds of the playoffs.
Toby Gerhart, Vikings (12 carries, 54 yards; 1 catch, minus-2 yards): Adrian Peterson didn't seem injured as he got the majority of the work and scored three touchdowns in Week 13, but Gerhart looked solid in limited action. If you're a Peterson owner, make sure to have Gerhart as a handcuff just in case. He's not worth starting except in the largest leagues and is more for protection.
Rashad Jennings, Jaguars (10 carries, 44 yards, 1 TD; 2 carries, 10 yards): He has vultured some of the short-yardage carries from Maurice Jones-Drew and is an option for owners in really deep leagues. This late in the season, MJD owners should definitely have him as insurance in case Jones-Drew goes down. If you get Jennings, you're just hoping he scores, but in leagues that start, say, three running backs and a flex, that might be enough.
The Redskins have been horrible recently, but Anthony Armstrong continues to become a more of a favorite of Donovan McNabb almost each week. He caught six passes (on 10 targets) for 97 yards and a touchdown in the loss to the Giants on Sunday. The Redskins play a below-average pass defense in Week 14 (Tampa Bay), then two teams that are awful against the pass (at Dallas, at Jacksonville). Although the Redskins are spiraling out of control, Armstrong could still put up good numbers over the next three weeks.
Roy Williams, Cowboys (2 catches, 32 yards): Jon Kitna targeted Williams just twice on Sunday, but with Dez Bryant lost for the season with a fractured ankle, the former No. 1 pick should get more looks. With Dallas facing an average Eagles pass defense on Sunday, he could put up good numbers. The Cowboys then host Washington and play in Arizona, two more favorable matchups.
Lance Moore, Saints (6 catches, 36 yards) and Robert Meachem (3 catches, 106 yards): It's tough to start a Saints wide receiver because of how much Drew Brees spreads the ball around, but if you're looking for a second or third wide receiver for this week, either of these guys would work. Moore was targeted seven times, Meachem three. Sunday's stats aside, Moore is the better option, but Meachem is more likely to be available. They're each available in just under half of leagues.
Benjamin Watson has pretty much become Cleveland's top tight end. He had the Browns' first 100-yard game of the season Sunday with a 10-catch, 100-yard effort. Jake Delhomme targeted him 11 times. The Browns really don't have many other receiving options, so he's likely to continue to get lots of looks. The Browns have a favorable matchup Sunday (at Buffalo) before playing in Cincinnati and home against Baltimore.
Jimmy Graham, Saints (3 catches, 72 yards): With Jeremy Shockey not doing much (2 catches for 28 yards) in his return from injury on Sunday, Graham had his third straight game of three catches or more. In huge leagues, that might be enough for a tight end, even though he was just targeted the three times. Obviously, it's a longshot, but he could have a big game against the Rams this week.
Is Billy Cundiff available in your league? If so, he could be your playoff kicker. The Ravens have a tremendous opportunity for lots of points against Houston this week, followed up by passable matchups against New Orleans and Cleveland.
If you don't have a top defense, you should probably just go week-to-week for the playoffs. This week, the Denver Broncos play in Arizona. The Cardinals have several quarterbacks, none of them effective, and have been tremendously reliable at getting other teams' defenses high fantasy points. The Broncos just fired their head coach and that usually means better overall play in the short term. Go with Denver.