From studs to duds, sleepers and more, NFL.com breaks down the biggest fantasy stories of the week.
1. Chris Johnson has become the main man in fantasy land. The most explosive back in the league, Johnson is on pace for 2,030 rushing yards, 2,457 scrimmage yards and 14 total touchdowns. He also leads all running backs in fantasy points on NFL.com, and that's despite scoring in single digits in four of his first five games. That's right, Johnson was actually a disappointment after five weeks. But Johnson has been hotter than a supernova since Vince Young took over the offense, averaging 27 points in those five games.
As we look ahead, there's no reason this explosive runner out of East Carolina can't continue to thrive. He'll face the Colts, Rams, Dolphins and Chargers in the final four weeks. Two of those teams are in the top 10 in fantasy points allowed to running backs this season. And let's face it. The 1985 Chicago Bears might have a tough time keeping Johnson down right now. If his success continues (and it should), I think we're looking at the No. 1 overall selection in 2010 fantasy football drafts. Yes, he's that good.
2. Injuries leave owners with decreased fantasy production. As we enter the late stages of the NFL's regular season, it's no surprise that injuries are becoming more and more of an issue. And if it wasn't bad enough that owners were without Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger, several more prominent players were hurt in Week 12. The biggest name was Michael Turner, who came back from an injured ankle only to aggravate it and leave Sunday's win over the Buccaneers. If the Burner is forced to miss Week 13, look for Jerious Norwood to take over the top spot on the depth chart and share the workload with Jason Snelling.
Norwood will be a hot name on the waiver wire. Turner's teammate, Matt Ryan, was also hurt. The young signal-caller injured his toe after the team's opening series and left countless owners with a goose egg in the process. Chris Redman replaced Ryan and performed well, throwing for 243 yards and two touchdowns. But that was against Tampa Bay. I'm not sure I'd trust Redman next week if he's forced into action against a much more formidable Eagles defense. In a best-case scenario, I'd consider Redman in a fantasy league that starts two quarterbacks if Ryan were out.
Speaking of the Eagles, they lost their top wide receiver, DeSean Jackson, in a win over the Redskins. The talented wideout suffered a concussion in the contest, and that could keep him out of action in Week 13. Concussions are being handled with more and more caution, as we've seen with the likes of Warner, Roethlisberger, Clinton Portis and Brian Westbrook in recent weeks. Jason Avant will be a very hot name in fantasy leagues if Jackson is out against the Falcons. He led the Eagles in receiving yards against Washington and will see more targets if Jackson is held out. Rookie Jeremy Maclin will also see a spike in targets and becomes a more attractive option. Maclin'a teammate, Brent Celek, also admitted that he's dealing with torn ligaments in one of his hands. That explains the multiple drops he had in the game. He's also dealing with a sprained thumb, so the upstart tight end could be a bit of a risk for owners down the stretch. Celek is currently fifth in fantasy points among tight ends on NFL.com.
3. Several big-name wideouts fail to meet expectations. It's time to face the facts. Two of the top three wide receivers back in the preseason, Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson, have been disappointments. Andre has averaged just 8.6 fantasy points since Week 7, and he's found the end zone just once since mid-October. Oh, and Johnson now has fewer fantasy points than Miles Austin! Then there's Megatron, who's transformed from a superstar into a fantasy headache this season. I know, knee and hand injuries have limited his production. But outside of a monster 22-point performance in Week 11, Johnson has zero double-digit performances since Week 5. Unfortunately, Andre and Calvin aren't the only big-name wideouts who have come up short in recent weeks.
Have you seen the numbers (or the lack there of) from Chad Ochocinco?
In his last four games, he's averaged 3.7 fantasy points on NFL.com. In that time, he's 62nd in points among wide receivers. That's right, 62nd! Brian Hartline and Maurice Stovall have had more points in that time! Other big-name wideouts like Roddy White, Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston have also done a Houdini act in recent weeks. With trade deadlines over and the waiver wire paper thin in most leagues, owners have to continue to start these players and hope for a reversal of fortunes. If these popular names don't turn things around, though, it could have major repercussions in 2010 drafts.
4. Was that Tony Dorsett ... or was it Justin Forsett? Yes, I'm a huge fan of the Dallas Cowboys, and I remember the days when Dorsett used to run through opposing defenses with his graceful and elusive running style. Forsett is a different type of running back, but his numbers sure have been Dorsett-like over the last two weeks. In that span, he's tied with Chris Johnson for the second-most fantasy points among running backs on NFL.com behind Ricky Williams. Forsett's best game came in Week 12, as he posted 130 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Rams. In his last three games, the Seahawks runner has 368 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns. As Larry David would say, that's pretty good. Pretty, pretty, pretty good. Forsett has proven that he's a nice fit for coach Jim Mora's zone-blocking scheme, but will he keep the starting job going forward?
That's the million dollar question on the minds of fantasy owners who landed Forsett off the waiver wire. Julius Jones appears close to returning to action, so Mora will have to make a decision. Should he stick with the more productive Forsett or go back to Jones, who's averaging 3.7 yards per carry? That decision will have ramifications in fantasy land, as Forsett would be as much as a No. 2 back if he retains the featured role. This is a situation that owners need to monitor throughout the week. As someone who has Forsett is a few leagues, I'm hoping Mora sticks with the hot hand. But in a league that's loaded with committees, a shared backfield in Seattle wouldn't shock me.
5. Larry Johnson comes back to make a fantasy impact. Remember when Johnson was a fantasy star? Well, he showed flashes of his past brilliance in Week 12 with 107 yards on 22 carries in a win over the Browns. Johnson saw more work after Bernard Scott injured his leg in the third quarter, and he made the most of it. After such a solid stat line, will Johnson now see more work going forward? More importantly, will he eat into the carries of Cedric Benson? Once Benson is back to 100 percent (and something tells me he'll be back in Week 13), I don't think he'll lose his featured role. After all, Benson has been an enormous part of the Bengals' revival. He was also a reliable option in fantasy circles, averaging 15 fantasy points on NFL.com in his first eight games. Once Benson returns to the backfield, I would start him with confidence.
However, there is still reason to consider adding Johnson off the waiver wire. With the Bengals in good position in the AFC North, coach Marvin Lewis could be in a spot to rest some of his star players in Weeks 16 and 17. Of course, Week 16 is the fantasy championship week in most leagues. And guess who the Bengals face that week? You guessed it, the Kansas City Chiefs. You know Johnson will want to stick it to his former team -- a team with a dreadful run defense -- so Johnson could have some value.
News and notes
» Bills coach Perry Fewell indicated after Sunday's win over the Miami Dolphins that RB Fred Jackson has a chance to keep the top spot on the depth chart over RB Marshawn Lynch. Jackson saw most of the backfield work in Week 12, seeing 20 touches and finding the end zone twice. Jackson, who was a solid fantasy option while Lynch was suspended, once again has starting value in all leagues. Check the waiver wire now to see if he's been dropped.
» The value of Panthers WR Steve Smith could be on the verge of a collapse. He was held to once catch for five yards and no fantasy points by Jets CB Darrelle Revis in Week 12, and three of his next four games come against the Patriots, Vikings and Giants. Smith might also have to play without QB Jake Delhomme, who broke a finger in his right hand. Coach John Fox said that Delhomme is day-to-day, and Matt Moore could be the starter in Carolina.
» Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson is on pace for just 773 rushing yards, and he's averaging a mere 3.4 yards per carry. But the one-time elite runner is still finding the end zone. In his last five games, Tomlinson has found the end zone seven times. Those touchdowns have made him much safer to use as a No. 2 fantasy back. Look for him to visit the end zone once again this week when the Chargers face the hapless and defenseless Cleveland Browns.
» According to reports, Giants QB Eli Manning has developed a stress reaction in his right foot that could lead to further injuries down the road. Manning, who has dealt with plantar fascitis since Week 4, has to be considered a risk for owners. Not only is he at less than 100 percent, but Manning also faces tough matchups against the Cowboys, Eagles, Redskins and Panthers over the next four weeks. Consider him no more than a No. 2 fantasy option.
» If you haven't noticed, Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles is putting up some solid numbers as the team's new featured back. Over the last two weeks, he's posted a combined 29 fantasy points on NFL.com. That's good for a tie for the fifth-most points among running backs. With games against the Bills and Browns in two of his next four games, Charles will be as much as a No. 2 fantasy back in most formats. He's also increasing his dynasty-league value.
» Rams RB Steven Jackson gutted out 116 scrimmage yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks, but he's still dealing with a sore back that could keep him out of practice this week. This is a scary situation for fantasy owners, because losing Jackson down the stretch would be a major blow to their championship aspirations. And with RBs Samkon Gado and Kenneth Darby behind him on the depth chart, well, let's hope Jackson continues to grind it out.
» Texans RB Steve Slaton might have earned back the top spot on the depth chart, but he's anything but a featured back. In fact, RB Chris Brown received more carries than Slaton in Week 12. Unless you're in a PPR league, this first-round fantasy bust is a major risk. Coach Gary Kubiak doesn't trust him as more than a between-the-20s back, and his fumbling issues make him a gamble in close games in the second half. Start him only as a flex player.
» Outside of TE Greg Olsen, there isn't much to like from a fantasy perspective in Chicago. QB Jay Cutler is turnover prone and doesn't appear confident, RB Matt Forte is the biggest bust in fantasy football, and WR Devin Hester has been invisible in recent weeks. On a positive note, though, the Bears do face the Rams in Week 13. So for at least one week, owners will be able to lean on this Windy City trio. Even the Bears defense will have value.