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Week 5 Watch List: Surprises poised to keep surprising in 2011


Everyone loves talking about their fantasy team, but they rarely do it if their players are performing like those we outlined in the disappointments column we posted last week. Not one e-mailer chimed in about how awful of a pick Arian Foster was, many of whom picked him No. 1 overall.

Then Foster went ahead and ran over, through and around that once-vaunted Steelers front seven (and eight) and the ol' e-mail box was chirping with hundreds of "I told you so's."

We will go ahead and be stubborn, even if Foster looked every bit like his 2010 form against a great run defense last week: If you can get Matt Forte or Ray Rice for Foster right now, particularly in a PPR league, do it.

Sell high. You should be thankful you no longer have to take the punch in the gut and sell low like you would have when he was doing zilch in the first three weeks of the season.

That is not to say Foster isn't going to have a productive year. He certainly can and certainly looks like he will now. It is just how much more can you gain by trading him than keeping him is the question.

When things are going great, that is often the perfect time to switch gears. Get ahead of the curve and capitalize.

With this in mind, we use this Weekend Watch List to outline the top five surprises by position (well, the important positions anyway). Last week we dealt with the negative returns on investment; this week is for those with the positive ROI.

Again, everyone is going to like this list a lot more -- until, of course, we pooh-pooh their first-quarter thoroughbred as more fit for glue.

1. Cam Newton, Panthers

The knock on Newton -- if there can be a knock on a No. 1 overall pick -- was passing inaccuracy. Well, it hasn't been an issue with the big plays Newton has made with Steve Smith down the field. Newton isn't just scoring those rushing touchdowns his drafters expected, he's piling up yardage, too. You have to expect the yardage pace to slow, but he has earned status as a regular starter for owners. Playing a last-place schedule should keep him productive.

Verdict: He's legit.

2. Matthew Stafford, Lions

The talent has been apparent since he arrived, now he has health, too. With arguably the No. 1 receiver in fantasy, Calvin Johnson, to throw to, Stafford has become part of one the NFL's most exciting dynamic duos. It should be interesting to watch him in a pivotal division game against the defending NFC North champs in prime time. A big performance will get him closer to being a household name, something Detroit hasn't had since Barry Sanders.

Verdict: He's on his way, but this Bears game should tell us just how quickly.

3. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills

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We already have seen Fitzpatrick at his worst last week, laying an egg against an underrated Bengals secondary. The question now: Did the real Fitzpatrick stand up and reveal himself? The easy answer is he is something in between the stud he was in the first three weeks and the dud he was last Sunday. But we don't like easy answers. Go big or go home. The schedule is getting to the impossible stage: Eagles, Giants, Redskins, Jets and then the Cowboys. Oh, there is also a zero for a bye week in there and the Chargers in Week 14 (the first week of the fantasy postseason) and that wintry Buffalo December weather the rest of the fantasy postseason.

Verdict: The worst is to come.

4. Matt Hasselbeck, Titans

The Seahawks sure miss Hasselbeck, whether they would admit to it or not. Letting him go was a mistake and he has made the Titans a legit contender again. Well, as much as a team can look like a contender through four weeks. Hasselbeck had done what he has without Chris Johnson really looking like himself yet.

Verdict: No Kenny Britt, no chance.

5. Jason Campbell, Raiders

This is a reach, because Campbell hasn't performed like a fantasy starter, but he has surprisingly held his own through four weeks. It helps having Darren McFadden leading the league in rushing (and drawing eight-man fronts). Campbell also hasn't had a full deck of healthy receivers yet this season. Still, he has made a rookie, Denarius Moore, and a bust, Darius Heyward-Bey, productive of late for fantasy owners.

Verdict: He still is one of the bottom five fantasy options at the position going forward.

1. Fred Jackson, Bills

As we said in the disappointments list last week, everything starts with the quarterback and trickles down from there. It is fantasy trickle-down economics. Jackson was an economical pick on draft day but he has performed at a blockbuster rate. Only Beanie Wells has more rushing touchdowns, and the Bills offensive line has surprisingly looked pretty good.

Verdict: Sell high if anyone is buying him as a 2012 first-rounder.

2. Matt Forte, Bears

Like Jackson, few were probably convinced Forte's Bears had a good enough line to make him a fantasy star. Instead, he looks like the modern-day Marshall Faulk -- mostly as a receiver out of the backfield. Mike Martz has a way to knowing how to get the ball to an offense's No. 1 weapon. Fantasy owners, particularly those in PPR leagues, are reaping huge rewards. The Bears opened with a brutal stretch against the Falcons, Saints and Packers to start the season. They have made it through that and now the schedule gets much more manageable.

Verdict: He just might this year's Arian Foster.

3. Ryan Mathews, Chargers

Everyone was high on Mathews as LaDainian Tomlinson's replacement a year ago. Mathews found it hard -- no, impossible -- to replace a Hall of Famer. Things are coming a lot easier to him now. He is benefiting from the Chargers' absence of Antonio Gates, and has become the second-best receiving back in football to Forte (in terms of yardage). Mathews is also doing this with Mike Tolbert having a breakthrough season, too.

Verdict: We're just scratching the surface.

4. Beanie Wells, Cardinals

Thanks to his career-best performance against the Giants with 138 yards and three touchdowns, Wells is looking like an elite fantasy option now. He has mostly been a bust to this point of his career, especially when you consider that the Cardinals liked him so much, they decided to spend a premium draft day pick on Ryan Williams in this year's draft. Only a season-ending injury to Williams made Wells a surefire starter. It also made Wells a back without a carries vulture. LaRod-Stephen Howlings does not qualify.

Verdict: Wells is promising but his schedule (Vikings, Steelers, Ravens, 49ers twice and Cowboys) is not.

5. Darren Sproles, Saints

A buddy of mine made arguably the quickest trade in fantasy history this week. Moments after a league message was passed out about an 0-4 team needing a running back (from another fantasy web site that shall remain nameless), my buddy struck a deal to get Percy Harvin and Denarius Moore for Sproles. It was a perfect deal of selling high and buying low. Harvin should be a lot better than Sproles.

Verdict: Receiving-only backs don't tend to be consistent over the course of a full season.

1. Wes Welker, Patriots

It is not a surprise Welker is faring well. It is a surprise he is outperforming every receiver by a wide margin. He was unlikely to be picked among the top 15 at his position, but he is even far ahead of Megatron through four weeks, and Megatron is on pace for a ridiculous 32 receiving touchdowns -- look out Jerry Rice and Randy Moss! All Welker is doing, though, is setting a 160-catch, 2,400-yard pace. Wowzers. Welker is bouncing back from a modest 2010, by his standards, because he is another year removed from a major knee injury. It was just too easy to forget he came back so soon from it last year.

Verdict: You picked a good year to buy low on Welker. Don't you dare deal it away.

2. Steve Smith, Panthers

It was just a year ago, too, that Smith looked washed up as a receiver, much less a fantasy star. It turns out, he was just a victim of bad quarterbacking -- or dumb quarterbacking. How did Jimmy Clausen and company not figure out their bread would be buttered by Smith? Newton had that down by the first quarter of Week 1.

Verdict: He's baaack!

3. Eric Decker, Broncos

This is a tough one to analyze, because some of Decker's production has to be explained by an early season injury to Brandon Lloyd, who was the No. 1 receiver in fantasy a year ago. Lloyd is healthy again and was productive last week, taking a chunk back out of Decker. With that said, Decker was a rising star in college who just went under the radar as a rookie last season. He is a legit prospect coming into his own. The question is whether Kyle Orton and the Broncos have enough to make for two underrated receiving stars.

Verdict: Decker is going to be good, but not great, all the way through.

4. Jordy Nelson, Packers

We saw a star in Nelson last postseason, but it's important to try not to be tricked by what we see at that time of the year. Crazy things happen. If you're old like this writer -- predating the mainstream fantasy football days -- Timmy Smith was once Super Bowl hero. He wound up being a regular-season zero. The Packers are banking on Nelson, though, literally. They locked him up to a long-term contract last month. Good thing, too. He might only get more expensive.

Verdict: He is legit. He is going to have a huge year as the running mate to Greg Jennings in the Aaron Rodgers aerial show.

5. Denarius Moore, Raiders

It isn't easy being a rookie receiver. Ask so many first-round busts of years past. It is especially difficult being a Raiders receiver in this modern era. There just hasn't been a quarterback worth a darn. Ask DH-B and his fantasy owners. Moore wasn't highly regarded enough to take in the early rounds of this past April's draft, but the Raiders raved about him in training camp and multiple injuries to all of the receivers above him on the depth chart allowed him to rise up and stand out.

Verdict: He is the real deal and a solid start in all formats week to week. Long term, a potential superstar.

1. Jimmy Graham, Saints

Ask all of the Graham owners right now. They will tell you how much they loved picking him in the latter rounds this fall. They were banking on this second-year tight end like he was the second coming of Jeremy Shockey. They had no idea he would be the first coming of Jimmy Graham, fantasy megastar. Graham is in a perfect situation: In a great passing offense and the primary target for one of the most accurate passers in NFL history. This offense just so happens to have a set of receivers with an identity crisis from week to week, too. You just never know who is going to be the target of choice. The Saints look like they have found it in Graham.

Verdict: Marques Colston's injury has helped reveal Graham. Colston's return can dim him some, but not enough to keep Graham from the elite of the TE position.

2. Dustin Keller, Jets

Many have waited years for Keller to perform at the pace he has played through the first four weeks of this season. In reality, what we have waited for is the maturation of Mark Sanchez. Sanchez and Keller were bad against the Ravens last weekend -- and Keller might even struggle this Sunday against the Pats -- but what you see is what you're going to get.

Verdict: He is on his way to a career year.

3. Greg Olsen, Panthers

There is just something about the University of Miami tight ends -- at least that school is doing something right for us. Olsen moved from the Bears and Jay Cutler to the Panthers and a rookie quarterback. It seemed like a move that could cost him a few years until Newton was up to speed. Instead, the Panthers built their attack around the tight end, including another U star, Shockey, and Newton is performing like one of the greatest rookie quarterbacks in fantasy history.

Verdict: Like Keller, in a great situation and headed for a career year.

4. Scott Chandler, Bills

His Week 1 short touchdowns had Red Zone Channel watchers flipping back to their fantasy mags. Tight ends have the tendency to do that. They catch short scores, post that quick six points and suddenly look like viable fantasy options. The rub here is you cannot guarantee one-yard touchdowns. They seem to be a function of circumstance and not true talent. Chandler has been wallowing around in NFL mediocrity -- at best -- for years, for a reason.

Verdict: Flash in the pan. Don't count on him.

5. Fred Davis, Redskins

The Redskins came out firing in Week 1, upsetting the Giants and showcasing Davis as a fantasy sleeper. Chris Cooley was limping around in that game and for the first few weeks after, so it was a great time for Davis to hawk his wares. Fantasy owners that jumped on early were hopeful they were getting a Graham-like breakthrough. They Cooley went ahead and looked a bit less worthless of late and Davis has taken a step back.

Verdict: Davis is more of a sure thing than Chandler, but Cooley's improving health makes him a marginal fantasy option.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for, including the Start 'em, Sit 'em, the Weekend Fantasy Watchlist and his Sunday night staple Fantasy Football Fast Forward. If you need a further clarification on lineups this week hit him up on Twitter. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy.