From studs to duds, sleepers and more, NFL.com breaks down the biggest fantasy stories of the week.
1. Austin Miles does his best Jerry Rice impersonation. During my Sunday chat on NFL.com, I suggested that Austin was a viable sleeper candidate against the Chiefs with Roy Williams injured. Never in a million years did I think he would produce 10 catches, a Cowboys franchise-record 250 yards and two touchdowns. Austin, who was targeted 15 times by Tony Romo, led all players in fantasy points (37) on NFL.com. Unfortunately, he was started in just 14 percent of leagues, so the performance wasn't of much benefit.
After such a monster stat line, Austin should be a hot name on the fantasy waiver wire this week. But don't look for him to become some kind of elite wideout.
The Cowboys have a bye in Week 6 and don't get back on the field until October 25 when they host the Atlanta Falcons. With two additional weeks to heal, Williams is almost certain to be back. If the Cowboys are smart (which is questionable at times), they'll move Austin into the starting lineup opposite Williams and put Crayton into the slot. Austin has proven that he can be a playmaker, and the team's passing game needs all the help it can get. Fantasy owners also need to remember that Austin did put up these numbers against the Chiefs, who have one of the league's worst pass defenses. So while Austin is worth adding, he's not going to be consistent.
2. The Falcons have the latest version of the "triplets." Heading into Week 5, owners had some real concern about starting Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White against a 49ers defense that has looked stout in recent contests. Well, this trio proved that old fantasy adage -- you have to stick with your studs. Ryan completed 22-of-32 passes for 329 yards and posted three touchdowns in a 45-10 blowout. Like I said in the preseason when I listed him as a breakout candidate, Ryan is the real deal. He might not be on the same elite level as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, but he's on his way. Turner, whose fantasy owners had nightmares of Patrick Willis all week, rushed for 97 yards and scored three touchdowns. Had it not been for the lopsided score, Turner would have rushed for 100-plus yards. He is only on pace for 1,292 yards on the ground based on his current numbers (he had 1,699 last season), but he's still found the end zone five times in four games and remains a must-start.
White had the biggest performance of the Atlanta threesome, catching eight passes for 210 yards with two touchdowns. The UAB product had a slow start to the season, but fantasy owners who were patient (or those who bought low on him) were handsomely rewarded. This performance alone pushed him back into the top 10 in fantasy points at his position.
While the weekend was all roses for the Falcons, it had a Pepe Le Pew rank for the Niners. The defense was awful, Shaun Hill was a disappointment and none of their receivers scored more than seven fantasy points. Rookie Glen Coffee was a decent option with four catches, 66 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown, but it looks like his reign as the team's top back is over. With a bye coming up in Week 6, Frank Gore should be back in action when the Niners return to work on October 25 against the Texans.
3. Ray Rice has emerged as the Ravens' featured runner. Far be it for me to suggest that I know exactly what will happen with the Baltimore backfield from one week to the next, but right now it sure looks like that three-headed monster has lost two of it's heads. Rice had 14 carries, was targeted eight times (seven receptions) and put up 143 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in a loss to the Bengals. Willis McGahee had just one carry (minus-2 yards), while Le'Ron McClain had two attempts for six yards. Rice has now compiled a solid 295 yards from scrimmage in the last two weeks and has moved into the top 10 among running backs in fantasy points in standard leagues.
After the game, McGahee was clearly confused about his role in the offense. After seeing 32 carries and scoring six touchdowns in the first three weeks, McGahee has seen six attempts in the last two contests. "I don't know what's going on," McGahee told the Carroll County Times. "I didn't play much, so I really can't say too much about it. You have to talk to Cam [Cameron] about what's going on." If McGahee isn't clear about his role, how can fantasy owners trust him to produce on a weekly basis? Of course, owners who had any one of the Ravens' runners last season know that things can change at a moment's notice. But for now, Rice has become a must-start in most formats.
Speaking of must-start running backs, the Bengals' Cedric Benson is also reaching that status. Despite a tough matchup against the Ravens, Benson still rushed for 120 yards and scored a touchdown. He has now posted good numbers in all but one week this season, and that week's opponent (Cleveland) had the weakest run defense. In fact, Benson seems to thrive against the more formidable run defenses and is almost the anti-matchup runner. At his current rate, Benson will finish with 1,558 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Hopefully he takes full advantage of next week's game against the Texans, who are 26th in run defense and are allowing an average of 140.8 rushing yards per game this season.
4. Donovan McNabb returns from injury with a big bang. If you were worried about McNabb being a little rusty after missing a few weeks with an injured rib, consider the Eagles offense and a matchup against Tampa Bay a WD-40 combination. McNabb completed 76 percent of his passes, recorded 264 yards and three touchdowns in a 33-14 blowout win. Eagles quarterbacks (McNabb, Kevin Kolb) have now averaged 27.6 fantasy points on NFL.com in their last three games, and look who's next on the schedule -- the hapless Oakland Raiders. If McNabb can stay free of injuries, it will be hard to bench him down the stretch -- especially in good matchups.
One would think that if McNabb had a huge game, then naturally DeSean Jackson would put up strong numbers as well. That didn't happen. Instead, the second-year wideout had one catch for one yard and took a backseat to rookie Jeremy Maclin. The Missouri product exploded for six catches, 142 yards and two touchdowns and will now be one of the hottest names on the fantasy waiver wire (he's a free agent in 79 percent of leagues). Jackson is still the better fantasy wideout of the duo, but Maclin is now firmly on the radar. Even when veteran Kevin Curtis returns from injury, it will be hard for coach Andy Reid to take the explosive rookie out of the starting lineup the rest of the season.
5. Ahmad Bradshaw explodes against Oakland. Bradshaw, who was a top-10 sleeper candidate on NFL.com for Week 5, made good on that label with a solid 165 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in a blowout win over the Silver & Black. His success started in the first quarter after Brandon Jacobs failed to score on three straight runs from the Raiders' 1-yard line. The G-Men went for it on fourth and goal, replacing Jacobs with Bradshaw, who took it in for his first score of the afternoon. While Jacobs finished with more carries, Bradshaw was far and away the better fantasy back. This performance goes a long way in showing that while backfield committees are an absolute headache at times, starting the "second" back on a team's depth chart ahead of the starter is worth considering and can sometimes pay major dividends.
The Giants were also able to find success through the air, as Eli Manning posted 173 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. He would be pulled at halftime, however, as the coaches wanted him to rest his injured foot. Manning has been one of the hottest quarterbacks in fantasy football, so I'd sell him high right now. Whether it's the winds at the Meadowlands or some other unexplainable reason, Manning has always been a second-half swooner. It should also be noted that rookie Hakeem Nicks is back from injury and has scored in each of his first two NFL games. His presence has hurt the stock of Mario Mannigham, who averaged 9.3 targets from Week 2 to Week 4, but saw just three looks in Week 5. Mannigham also suffered a chest contusion and left the game against Oakland, but it's not considered serious and won't keep him out of action.
As for the Raiders, well, there's not much to say from a positive standpoint. JaMarcus Russell has been a disaster and warrants no consideration, and his wide receivers are all but invisible in the stat sheets. Michael Bush and Justin Fargas shared the backfield work in the absence of Darren McFadden, but neither made much of an impact. If you need a runner for depth purposes, however, Bush is worth a look. At least he'll see the goal-line work, as he did against the Giants. If the Raiders are helpful in any way from a fantasy perspective, it's that defenses that oppose them have starting value. Look for the Eagles to put up huge numbers against them in Week 6.
News and notes
» Eagles running back Brian Westbrook had just eight touches and 35 yards from scrimmage against Tampa Bay and is now sharing the workload with rookie LeSean McCoy. Coach Andy Reid said that was part of the plan to ease Westbrook back into the offense, but that plan isn't making fantasy owners very happy. The veteran appears to be joining LaDainian Tomlinson on the long list of 30-year-old running backs who's fantasy value has taken a tumble. Right now it's hard to start Westbrook as more than a No. 2 fantasy runner.
» Browns running back Jamal Lewis appears to have re-claimed the top spot on the depth chart. Despite the impressive numbers of Jerome Harrison in Week 4, Lewis still led the team with 31 carries in his first game back from an injured hamstring. While Lewis is far past his prime at age 30, any runner who looks like a featured player should be owned in most fantasy formats. He's a free agent in 39 percent of NFL.com leagues. As it stands, Harrison looks like little more than a handcuff for the veteran runner.
» One of the biggest stories of the weekend was that Jaguars receiver Mike Sims-Walker was declared inactive. It turns out he violated team rules during the team's road trip in Seattle and was disciplined. Unfortunately, Sims-Walker was left active in 93 percent of NFL.com leagues. He should be back in Week 6 when the Jaguars host the Rams, so be sure to get him back into your starting lineup. The Jaguars and fantasy owners alike will need him back -- the team was shutout in a 41-0 blowout loss.
» Calvin Johnson of the Lions suffered an knee injury in Sunday's 28-20 loss to the Steelers. He caught just one pass in the contest before the injury, leaving owners in standard leagues without a single point. Coach Jim Schwartz didn't offer much of an update on Johnson's status after the game, but it was clear that the knee was hurt badly enough that the wideout couldn't return. If Johnson is out for Week 6, owners should look to add veteran Dennis Northcutt off the waiver wire.
» After doing nothing for the first four weeks, Broncos receiver Eddie Royal finally made an impact for fantasy owners with 10 catches for 90 yards in a win over the Patriots. However, don't look at this as a sign of things to come. Coach Josh McDaniels didn't force Royal into the gameplan. Instead, the Patriots' coverage left the second-year wideout open more often. With Brandon Marshall now thriving in the offense, Royal is clearly no better than a second or third option in the offense.
» Despite his hot start to the season, Fred Jackson is once againt behind Marshawn Lynch on the Bills' depth chart. Lynch started against the Browns in Week 5, posting five catches and 125 yards from scrimmage. In fact, he led the team in carries, rushing yards, receptions and receving yards. Jackson did see 13 rushing attempts, but he looks to be settling back into the role he saw last season. Lynch should now be seen as the better fantasy option, though a matchup against the Jets makes him a risky choice in Week 6.
» Speaking of the Bills, it's officially time to bench Terrell Owens. He caught just four passes for 44 yards and was held without a touchdown against the Browns. He's now on pace to finish the season with 38 receptions, 646 yards and three touchdowns. Those would be his worst numbers since he was a rookie with the 49ers way back in 1996. At 35 and in an offense that lacks an identity, it's hard to use T.O. as more than a No. 3 fantasy wide receiver even against the weakest of opponents.
» Texans running back Steve Slaton had a decent weekend for fantasy owners in PPR leagues, catching six passes and posting 98 yards from scrimmaghe against the Cardinals. However, he did continue to lose carries near the goal line to Chris Brown. That situation has seriously hindered his overall fantasy value. Coach Gary Kubiak hinted that he might not force what has been an ineffective ground attack going forward, so Slaton could be more of a PPR option and less consistent in standard formats the rest of the season.