Fantasy football Risers/Sliders: Niners' Kaepernick a gem at QB
Colin Kaepernick's ability to run protects him from dismal performances
St. Louis' Steven Jackson has run for 321 yards over his past three games
Detroit's Ryan Broyles may be considered a fantasy draft steal next season
With the playoffs approaching, it's time for fantasy owners to fine-tune their rosters. Chances are, there are still a few available players who can have a hand in determining the champion in fantasy leagues nationwide. Likewise, there are some well-known names who are now nothing but a burden to their owners. We sort it out in this week's edition of Risers/Sliders.
Colin Kaepernick, 49ers -- While Alex Smith played well enough to keep the 49ers on the winning side of most games in 2011 and '12, he was a game manager, not an effective fantasy quarterback. Cue Kaepernick, who is what Tim Tebow strives to be: a poised, strong-armed pocket passer with the ability to scramble who runs the read option as well as anyone in the NFL. Kaepernick's multi-dimensional play makes it unlikely that he'll ever have a truly dismal fantasy output, something you can't say about most quarterbacks in the NFL, especially those still on the waiver wire at this late stage of the season.
Eli Manning, Giants -- We had a feeling that the bye week would prove to be a panacea for Manning, and in his first game back he torched the Packers for 249 yards and three touchdowns to end his streak without a scoring toss at 107 passes. Best of all: He was able to get his top receivers, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, involved and into the end zone.
Matt Schaub, Texans -- He struggled through the bulk of the season, but coming off of two spectacular games, and with the Titans, Patriots, Colts and Vikings lined up over the next four weeks, the red-hot Schaub and his favorite target, Andre Johnson, are well positioned to take teams into and through the fantasy playoffs.
Andy Dalton, Bengals -- The yardage hasn't been there, but with a nine-to-none touchdown-to-interception ratio over the last three games Dalton is hard to beat. Next up is a Chargers defense that made Joe Flacco feel right at home even on the road.
Sam Bradford, Rams -- One day the former first overall pick might become a can't-miss fantasy star, but for now he's nowhere near consistent enough to consider as a fantasy starter in what are must-win games from here on.
Andrew Luck, Colts -- The rookie phenom has thrown three touchdown passes and five picks in the last three contests against very forgiving defenses. He's bound to throw for a few scores against fellow top pick Matthew Stafford and the Lions this week, but if he doesn't there will be cause for concern.
Beanie Wells, Cardinals -- Last week he was a theory; this week he's a hot commodity after reaching the end zone twice against the Rams. The Cardinals' offense is in disarray, so he's not the best option in the league, but if you're pressed for a back who will be semi-productive he'll fit the bill.
Steven Jackson, Rams -- It had been a year since the Rams' feature back enjoyed a stretch as impressive as his 321 yards over the past three games. Don't be discouraged with the presence of the 49ers on the schedule next week either. Jackson ran for 101 yards and a touchdown three games ago in a 24-24 final at Candlestick.
Knowshon Moreno, Broncos -- Grabbing a page out of Chris Ivory's book, Moreno went from healthy scratch to starter status, in his case due to Willis McGahee's season-ending knee injury. While everyone believed that Ronnie Hillman or Lance Ball would take control of the Broncos' backfield, it was Moreno who separated himself during practice to earn the start. His 111 yards from scrimmage on 24 touches against the Chiefs puts him in line to be a useful cog in the fantasy (and real) playoffs.
Shane Vereen, Patriots -- Folks forget that in last year's draft it was Vereen taken in the second round and Stevan Ridley selected in the third by New England. And while their careers to this point have belied their draft positions, Vereen flashed why the order was so in the Pats' Thanksgiving destruction of the Jets. His 83-yard catch and run was the third-longest pass play in Tom Brady's tenure and displayed his blazing speed. He's been alternating series with Ridley of late, and as a member of the league's highest-scoring offense, is a quality flex option to have.
Michael Bush, Bears -- Depending on the severity of Matt Forte's ankle injury, Bush may or may not have tremendous upside, both in his reprised role of goal-line back as well as the Bears' primary runner. Keep an eye on the situation but for Forte owners, Bush is a must-add in leagues he's still available.
Andre Brown, Giants -- Tied for third in the league in rushing touchdowns with eight (but 32nd in rushing yards), Brown was a key component to the Giants' rushing attack until he suffered a broken left fibula against the Packers on Sunday night. Although not a major blow to fantasy owners, his absence will make Ahmad Bradshaw a must-use weekly starter and bring some value back to all-but-forgotten rookie David Wilson.
Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers -- Pittsburgh's entire offense is in shambles playing without Ben Roethlisberger, but it's not clear you can pin Mendenhall's poor performance on being without Big Ben. In the two games since he returned from an Achilles' injury, the Steelers' supposed top back has rushed 16 times for 39 yards, including four-for-six against the Browns. Perhaps the worst indictment of all is that Pittsburgh is 1-3 with him in the lineup and 5-2 without.
Mohamed Sanu, Bengals -- The rookie from Rutgers has taken a while to come into his own as a pro, but his two-touchdown day against the Raiders' sieve of a defense was a promising sign. Oakland was (rightfully so) terrified by the prospects of A.J. Green and his now defunct nine-game touchdown streak in the red zone, which opened up the chances for Sanu. He's not a great pickup but should be on your watch list for the 2013 drafting season.
Ryan Broyles, Lions -- Matthew Stafford is back on track and his non-Megatron receivers are valuable again. However, Titus Young found himself suspended for the Texans game, and Broyles picked up the slack with a career-best six catches for 126 yards. There's little doubt that Broyles, who fell to the Lions in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft, will be hailed as a draft steal and a major fantasy contributor as early as next season. In the meantime, he's a solid injury replacement, especially over the all-important next three weeks against the Colts, Packers and Cardinals.
Jarius Wright, Vikings -- There's nobody in the NFL who can replace the speed and versatility Percy Harvin brings to the table, but with the Vikings' second-best weapon sidelined, the rookie Wright has done a commendable job. He followed up his NFL debut against the Lions two weeks ago (Minnesota was on a bye in Week 11) with a seven-catch day against a tough Bears defense. Most of the grabs were for short yardage but his speed makes him a threat to do damage on just about any play in which he can get into space.
Cole Beasley, Cowboys -- Needing an offensive spark as well as a replacement for an injured Miles Austin, Jason Garrett inserted the diminutive rookie receiver into the slot against the Redskins on Thanksgiving and he immediately began to pay dividends. Tony Romo looked his way 13 times, converting on seven passes for 68 yards. The targets are the big news here as no Cowboys receiver not named Witten, Austin or Bryant has seen more action in any game in four years. He's still learning, but with the Cowboys about to move into development mode, he could turn into a PPR asset through the fantasy postseason.
Danny Amendola, Rams -- After spending most of the week in a walking boot with a foot injury, Amendola valiantly attempted to play against the Cardinals. He managed one 38-yard grab on his only target of the day but was basically ineffective in his limited snaps. This is the second debilitating injury of the year for Amendola, which makes him questionable at best in the upcoming weeks. He's a PPR machine when healthy but that's a very big qualifier right now.
Anquan Boldin, Ravens -- You'd like to chalk up some of Boldin's struggles to Joe Flacco's road woes but Baltimore's quarterback threw for 355 yards in a dramatic come-from-behind win in San Diego. Flacco's fault or not, the veteran receiver was targeted eight times but managed just two catches and 42 yards. This also marked the 10th consecutive game in which Boldin was held out of the end zone, the longest touchdown drought of his career.
Mike Wallace, Steelers -- Pittsburgh's backup quarterback situation was the most experienced in the league yet among the most troublesome with porcelain-fragile Byron Leftwich as Ben Roethlisberger's primary backup, and behind him, dinosaur Charlie Batch, whose career began with him handing off to Barry Sanders in a league where Steve Young, Dan Marino and John Elway still roamed. Now Steelers receivers such as Wallace, already having a sub-par season in Todd Haley's dump-off pass-centered offense, are left to suffer the consequences. Until Roethlisberger's return, Wallace has little chance to excel and should be tethered to fantasy benches.
Rob Housler, Cardinals -- Inexperienced passers usually equate to high percentage passing schemes. That was evident on Sunday in the desert as a harried Ryan Lindley repeatedly looked for his tight ends, finding the scarcely-used Housler and Jeff King a combined nine times on 12 attempts. Housler accounted for eight of the catches to equal the combined efforts of Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates, Aaron Hernandez and Jermichael Finley for the week. This isn't an endorsement of anyone involved in the Arizona passing game right now, but it's something to notice if you get hung out to dry by an injury.
Vernon Davis, 49ers -- One of the biggest Colin Kaepernick supporters on the 49ers, Davis was shutout by the Saints in Week 12, catching no balls for the second time in five weeks. Meanwhile, Delanie Walker was involved to the tune of three catches for 81 yards. It's disheartening to see someone who fantasy owners should be able to rely on struggle as mightily as Davis has, but just one week removed from a big output he's not someone to give up on just yet.
Visanthe Shiancoe, Patriots -- So much for the veteran being Rob Gronkowski's replacement. Shiancoe, one of four healthy tight ends on the Patriots roster, watched from the sidelines on 87 percent of New England's offensive snaps Thanksgiving night against the Jets, garnering no catches or targets. In fact, New England's tight end corps was targeted just five times with three catches total, two by Aaron Hernandez and one by Daniel Fells. Hernandez should be used. The others are nothing short of a shot in the dark.
Rob Bironas, Titans -- Byes are over, so if you haven't settled on a kicker already, now is probably the time to do so. That leads us to Bironas, the NFL's active field goal accuracy leader, who has averaged 10 points per game in November, up from 6.8 from September through October and the third most in the league.
Mason Crosby, Packers -- Green Bay scores a lot of points, so how is it that Crosby, one of fantasy football's most reliable kickers over the past few years ranks just 26th in fantasy points at his position? Duped by the idea of him, savvy owners are letting themselves be duped out of all-important points by showing their loyalty -- he's owned in 75 percent of leagues while better kickers like Blair Walsh, Justin Tucker and Phil Dawson are readily available.