Posted: Sunday November 21, 2010 8:32PM ; Updated: Monday November 22, 2010 10:32AM
Will Carroll
Will Carroll>INSIDE FANTASY

Roethlisberger, Johnson sharing Week 11 Fast Forward honors

Story Highlights

The Bills' Steve Johnson is the latest wide receiver who merits praise

Feel free to lower your expectations for Brett Favre and Darren McFadden

Vince Young, Austin Collie and Saints running backs head the injury watch

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steve-johnson-getty.jpg
The Bills' Steve Johnson (eight catches, 137 yards, three TDs) had a monster game against the Bengals.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Starter.

When I was in high school, that was a cool jacket. Today, not so much.

I think the term "starter" in football, especially fantasy football, needs to go the way of the dodo as well. It's been decades since we had iron men, and the specialization of the game is just increasing, which makes the de facto starter more about who comes out of the tunnel than it does about what's really important, which is the TOTS.

TOTS is an easy mnemonic device for the four factors which you should be paying attention to each week -- Touches, Opportunities, Targets, and Scoring. That's what counts. In fantasy football, we're given the opportunity to play the part of owner, GM and coach, but very few fantasy "coaches" go through their team the way a real coach would.

Imagine sitting down on Tuesday and writing out a game plan. How would you talk to your players? Who are you worried about? How can you exploit matchups? Who's feeling good or is coming off a hot week? Who's got the TOTS should be your first question to yourself as you start planning and the last question as you double-check your lineup minutes before kickoff. Now, let's fast forward around the league:

The Breakouts

There were a lot of performances Sunday that make it into the breakout category, including Ben Roethlisberger at +26 despite getting dropped by Richard Seymour. It could have been Mike Goodson (+9) establishing himself as a real option at RB and not just "next man up." Once again, however, it seems to be a WR establishing himself that draws Nik Bonaddio's praise this week. This time, it's Steve Johnson with a +23.

"It's hard not to be amazed by the Buffalo Bills. More than a few teams in their situation have folded up like origami, but instead the Bills are playing the kind of inspired football not seen since the days of Marv Levy. Much credit for this turnaround goes to the inspired play of Ryan Fitzpatrick, but let's take a moment to put Steve Johnson's season into perspective.

He has more catches than Antonio Gates, more yards than Chad Ochocinco, and more TDs than Roddy White. Somehow, he's still considered a sleeper! His Week 11 performance was especially notable due to Cincinnati's strong play against WR1 options (fifth in the league) and its generally strong play against WR (20.5 FP/gm, 15th). This could be taken either as a unique outlier from a frankly bizarre game, or an indicator that Johnson is for real and he deserves your attention as a top-15 wideout. The conservative statistician in me feels the former, but the evidence overwhelmingly supports the latter."

Be sure to check out Nik's projections each week at the amazing numberFire.

The Busts

Lowered expectations make it tough for some players to be busts, based on the way we see them from week to week. If we'd looked back to Week 1 and I'd told you that Brett Favre would be getting Sidney Rice back, you'd think "OK, that worked all the time in 2009. I'll take that risk. Oh wait, what happened to Sidney Rice?"

Between weeks 1 and 11, a lot of things happened and we learned a lot of lessons. Knowing that, seeing someone like Brett Favre come out underneath even those lower expectations is amazing. Favre has had some positive fantasy weeks, putting up big numbers in weeks when the Vikings were forced to throw more. No one believes that Favre is a QB1 any more, but for those forced to hope that he's got one or two of those weeks left in him, this week was a bitter pill to swallow.

The opposite is true for Darren McFadden. The teasing RB has had some great games, but against a tough Steelers defense, he didn't have as many opportunities. When he did get the ball, he couldn't do much. At -11 against McFadden's projected value, it would be tough to win with him in even the RB2 slot.

The Dew

When does someone get expectations? We come into each season expecting great things from Adrian Peterson, Tom Brady or Larry Fitzgerald, but down the list of fantasy scoring leaders, there are some guys we didn't expect to see. Mike Goodson had his second nice week for the Panthers, proving that maybe it's the system there or maybe just the complete lack of real options. Still, he's more along the lines of a Seyi Ajirotutu from a couple weeks back. Ajirotutu stepped up, had some nice weeks, got his comps and a bit of film for the scouts, and is now back to playing on special teams.

We do have some players who are emerging. Do we have expectations now for Peyton Hillis? The big man has been doing it week after week for the surprising Browns and if you'd been crazy and drafted him in the first two rounds, it wouldn't have been a bad pick. Of course, no one did this. Arian Foster was touted a bit more and has mostly lived up to expectations, something we certainly don't have for the Texans DST.

What about Ryan Fitzpatrick, who won the Bills job and seems to have figured out the NFL after several years of being a shaky backup? That's an odd mix and one where I could make arguments either way for Fitzpatrick over the next couple important fantasy weeks. For me, the Dew -- my theoretical trophy for the guy who did what was expected of him -- has to go to Aaron Rodgers. He controlled the ball in a key divisional matchup, perhaps ending the playing career of Brett Favre and the coaching career of Brad Childress while helping any fantasy team that drafted him to a win, just like the Packers.

Injury Watch

Vince Young had a real meltdown after being injured, but the word is that the thumb injury is serious enough that a trip to the IR seems quite likely for the Titans QB. It would be an ignominious exit for Young, but could well be the end of his time in Tennessee. ... Austin Collie looked good on the first series, but was being talked to by doctors as soon as the first offensive series was over. By the second quarter, Collie was out of the game. There will be a big debate about whether Collie was feeling recurrent symptoms or had a second concussion. It may seem like semantics, but is very important. I'm sure the Colts and the NFL will point out that Collie passed all his testing, but second concussions are even more dangerous than the first ones. ... Reggie Bush wasn't able to go, a last-minute inactive. With Pierre Thomas also aiming for Week 12, Bush might not have as big a window for fantasy relevance. ... Clinton Portis had some more issues with his strained groin, but it's unclear how serious the issue is. There are more injuries, like Early Doucet's concussion and the Cedric Benson eye injury, that we'll have to follow.

The Lesson

Remember what I said about doing your own version of a game plan? NFL coaches do it each and every week, so why do people continue to think that even with the best matchups, that teams won't do their best to adjust and stop that. It won't work all the time, but as Daniel Rathman said in this week's lesson, "Easy matchup for RBs doesn't always mean a lot, because other team can pack the box. (ex: Frank Gore vs. Bucs.)"

It's more than just the RBs, though Daniel's example here is a solid one. Packing the box against a RB is possible for even a bad team, as is double covering a WR, or disguising defenses. It doesn't always work, of course, but sometimes just not getting embarrassed is a small victory. That doesn't hold true in fantasy, where Lombardi would recognize that winning is the only thing.

Fact Check

Arian Foster had a nice day for the Texans, though it was ruined by the close loss and the lack of defense we're seeing from that team. I'm still waiting on final numbers, but Foster looks to be over 1,000 yards for the season ... in the 10th game.

While the 1,000-yard milestone is relatively meaningless, Foster's year so far is very indicative of some changes we're seeing. Foster is the only RB in the entire NFL who is averaging more than 100 yards per game. The only one -- not Adrian Peterson, not Maurice Jones Drew and not even Chris Johnson. Seem low to you? Last year, only one player -- Johnson -- rushed for more than 1,600 yards while two had more than 1,400. (If you can name Steven Jackson and Thomas Jones as those two guys, points to you.)

Yards can be deceiving however, so let's look at some advanced measures, such as the defense adjusted numbers from Football Outsiders. Using that measure, RBs have been less effective this year, with only four runners above the 15% mark. Last year, there were eight. We'll need a full season of data and a lot of time from the smart guys around football, but there does appear to be a loss of value from RBs this season.

The bottom line is that we're going to have to change how we think about success in the running game. Doing that now could help you get to the fantasy playoffs. Getting 80 yards, a touchdown and a couple catches is enough to make a RB good, if he can do it consistently.

You can read Will Carroll's Fast Forward every Sunday and Monday.

 
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