Posted: Sunday October 7, 2012 9:44PM ; Updated: Monday October 8, 2012 3:36PM
Eric Mack
Eric Mack>INSIDE FANTASY FOOTBALL

Mendenhall is back, RGIII is out, more Week 5 fantasy observations

Story Highlights

Rashard Mendenhall is a great option next week following a strong return Sunday

After suffering a concussion, Robert Griffin III could be a risk on fantasy teams

Cam Newton had a huge rookie year, but his sophomore season has been a mess

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Rashard Mendenhall
Rashard Mendenhall could clear up the Steelers' cluttered backfield and become a must-start in fantasy.
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Giants offense looks unstoppable again after routing the Browns, and the 49ers defense looks like we thought it would after a slow start, buffaloing the Bills. The two units meet next week, which should make for an interesting Week 6 matchup between last January's NFC finalists, and a potentially confusing one for fantasy owners.

For now, Ahmad Bradshaw owners are reveling in 200 yards rushing and a TD -- despite an early fumble. Victor Cruz owners are salsa dancing after three scores. And the 49ers' defense finally took advantage of a sub-par opponent -- albeit a hot one heading into the contest.

Then you have to figure which of the Giants' slew of big offensive performers this season can be used against that 49er' D. The 49ers have the best run defense in the NFL and the Giants clearly wanted to establish Bradshaw and the run against what was supposed to be a decent Browns run defense. Save for Eli Manning (259 yards, three TDs) and Victor Cruz there are no sure things in a matchup as tough as San Francisco on the road.

Ask the fantasy owners of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler if you don't believe me.

We review all of Sunday's game-changers in the Week 5 Fantasy Football Fast Forward:

The good: Rashard Mendenhall is back!

The Steelers have a running back to consider a must-start again as Mendenhall returned from his knee reconstruction with 81 yards rushing, 20 yards receiving and a TD. Consider him a great option against the Titans in Week 6.

Isaac Redman is no better than a low-end flex out of desperation, or a mere Mendenhall handcuff. Jonathan Dwyer is even less worthy of being owned now.

The bad: Robert Griffin III is ... out?

RGIII's fearless running cost him part of Week 5 and perhaps his health. The concussion was ruled "minor," although this doesn't sound like it: "When he wasn't really sure what the score was, what quarter it was, we knew he had a mild concussion," Mike Shanahan said.

About three hours after the game, Griffin tweeted: "I'm ok and I think after all the testing I will play next week."

So, start him against the Vikings in that event, but we might have to start considering RGIII more like a Michael Vick than a Cam Newton, because of the hits he might take -- or might not be able to take for that matter.

The ugly: Newton's apple, er egg

The greatest rookie QB in NFL history is becoming one of the most frustrating sophomore QBs in history. Newton was held to just 141 yards passing against a great Seahawks secondary and mustered just 42 rushing yards and no scores. Granted, that was a tough matchup, but first- or second-round picks are supposed to come through even in bad matchups.

You might consider finding a better starting QB in fantasy than Newton now. No one could have truly believed that would be the case after that rookie season he had; yet, it might not be entirely his fault as Steve Smith, 33, has shown his age and Brandon LaFell and Greg Olsen are merely serviceable secondary targets.

Trade Newton, if someone still values him, especially if you've fallen behind in the fantasy standings and need some victories. The Panthers are heading into their bye week and come out against tough secondaries of the Cowboys and Bears.

Week 5 observations

Quarterbacks

• Peyton Manning, Broncos -- We started the season viewing Manning as one of the starters in fantasy. After five weeks, we probably should view him as one of the top-five elite QBs in all of fantasy. Demaryius Thomas has become a top-five receiver and, because of Manning, any of your Broncos are solid options against the Chargers next week before their bye.

• Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers -- You might be worried Big Ben's poor fantasy performance was a function of a revived running game, but you shouldn't be. The Eagles merely have a great secondary. Big Ben, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown are through their bye and will be solid starts in all leagues, regardless of the matchups going forward.

• Joe Flacco, Ravens -- Two steps forward, one step back. That performance at Kansas City shows he's not ready to be an every-week fantasy starter, apparently. It wasn't a loss in football terms, but that was a loser performance in fantasy terms.

• Andrew Luck, Colts -- We should probably consider him a starter in any fantasy league when he is at home. That victory over the Packers was an impressive one for Luck's résumé.

• Alex Smith, 49ers -- He finally developed something with Michael Crabtree, throwing for 303 yards and three TDs. He should have another productive day against a suspect and banged-up Giants secondary next week.

• Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills -- The pixy dust has worn off. You cannot trust this guy against any defense going forward, much less the 49ers (Week 5) or Cardinals (Week 6). Look elsewhere.

• Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins -- He came back to normal this week, but that road victory was an impressive one for the future. Tannehill is catching on quickly. He just needs some weapons around him better than Brian Hartline, Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano.

• Matt Cassel, Chiefs -- He left with a head injury and played like he deserved to be benched anyway. That was the Ravens defense, but Cassel won't be a fantasy option at Tampa Bay next week either, if he even plays.

Running backs

• Ryan Mathews, Chargers -- This is exactly what he owners needed to see in a favorable matchup. The best part of his performance was his involvement in the passing game. The Chargers love to throw and love to use their backs, as their WRs are not great on the outside and Antonio Gates really showing his age. Mathews looks like he might finally breakthrough as a star for his fantasy owners, even putting Jackie Battle back in a more limited role.

• Mark Ingram, Saints -- He might be the most misused talent in football, and don't go blaming the Saints lack of running game. Ingram is better option for touches than Pierre Thomas, but the Saints still give Thomas more carries than he deserves. Ingram is still worth stashing on the back end of your bench, but there is no question his poor numbers and limited use make him a candidate to actually cut now if you need to stopgap someone during the bye season.

• Stevan Ridley, Patriots -- We have a new fantasy stud among RBs. The Pats are running a newfangled fast-break running game and Ridley abused a very good Broncos front for 151 yards and a TD. He is immune to the tough matchup that is at Seattle next week. He makes the Pats go almost as much as Tom Brady now.

• Jamaal Charles, Chiefs -- It is enlightening on the Chiefs part to give Charles another 30-carry game. Now, you might question whether they are going overboard the other way. It used to be Charles never saw enough touches. Now, he might be getting too many to the post he will be an injury risk again. Ride the wave right now with him in all lineups, regardless of the matchups.

• Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars -- Since you own him, you have to start him. You might want to deal him, though. This Jaguars team isn't good enough to support a run-only offense. They are going to fall behind too much. MJD is headed into his bye and coming out against a suspect Raiders run defense, so maybe it is a good time to sell.

• Fred Jackson, Bills -- You had to hate him against the 49ers defense, but you might not like him or C.J. Spiller much more against the Cardinals defense this week. You might be better served fielding offers for the promising but frustrating Bills backs.

• Chris Johnson, Titans -- Welcome back to fantasy oblivion. With the Steelers run defense on deck in a short week Thursday, CJNoK is the easiest sit in fantasy.

• Michael Bush, Bears -- Matt Forte is back carrying the load and third-stringer Armando Allen mopped up, leaving nothing for Bush this week, unfortunately. The Bears are heading into their bye and coming out of it against a desperate Lions team that should be more capable against the run than they have shown. It is time to deal Bush, or maybe even cut him, if you don't own Forte. Bush is just a goal line back when the Bears are healthy. You won't want to start Bush often going forward. The Jags might have been his best chance.

• BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals -- He was absolutely marginalized against an elite Dolphins run defense, but you might consider him a starter next week against a Browns defense that was shredded on the ground by the Giants.

• DeAngelo Williams, Panthers -- You are probably well aware how worthless Williams and Jonathan Stewart are in a Panthers offense that just doesn't focus enough on running their backs 15-20 times. Well, they are headed into their bye week and the Cowboys and Bears run defenses are stout thereafter.

• Cedric Benson, Packers -- There were reports of him in a walking boot after a leg injury. He will be a must-sit next week against the Texans, regardless. If Benson's injury is serious, Alex Green will be the most-added RB in waivers this week.

• Ryan Williams, Cardinals -- He was unimpressive, fumbled (again) and banged up his shoulder, but the good news he is all right and still a full-time feature back (hopefully). He should be much better at home against Buffalo in Week 6. That woeful defense might set records for points allowed.

• Daniel Thomas, Dolphins -- Reggie Bush hasn't really been slowed that much with his knee bruise, but Thomas is proving to be the goal-line back for an offense that is getting in the red zone more often than anticipated. Look for Thomas as a potential flex, or bye-week replacement, for his potential to score at home next week against the Rams.

• Brandon Bolden, Patriots -- He got a piece of the Pats fast-break running game, but Shane Vereen came in to vulture Bolden's goal line TD on Vereen's lone carry of the game. Bolden is worth owning in a now run-heavy Pats offense, but neither he nor Vereen, nor Danny Woodhead, should start in fantasy at Seattle. That run defense is real tough.

• Jacquizz Rodgers, Falcons -- He got just three rushes and one pass reception, while Michael Turner has looked great in a more limited role in a wide-open passing-first offense. Rodgers is not worth owning in fantasy unless you're stashing him as Turner's handcuff. Offer him to Turner's owner and use that roster spot on a player you can actually use during the bye season.

• Andre Brown, Giants -- He tweeted he was fine after leaving the game with a concussion. He is impossible to start in fantasy now and probably shouldn't be owned. What's worse: Talented rookie David Wilson broke a 40-yard TD run in mop-up duties. The Giants might consider trusting the burner more in the offense in lieu of Brown.

Wide receivers

• Robert Meachem, Chargers -- We probably shouldn't full believe he has turned the corner with Philip Rivers. He caught two touchdowns, but that came on just three catches and was in his return to New Orleans against his former team. Meachem is still more sleeper and stopgap than starter for fantasy owners.

• Devery Henderson, Saints -- He has historically been a frustrating player because of the spread of targets in New Orleans, but with the Saints certain to be in shootouts every week due to a terrible defense, you can consider Henderson a viable sleeper -- particularly if Lance Moore (hamstring) and Jimmy Graham (ankle) are out in future weeks.

• Julio Jones, Falcons -- Any questions? That hand injury is a non-factor.

• Reggie Wayne, Colts -- This performance shouldn't change anyone's mind, but Wayne is a beast with Luck and a must-start WR in all leagues.

• Wes Welker, Patriots -- The early season questions about Welker look silly now. What were the Pats thinking? With the running game running things, Brandon Lloyd just isn't more than a decent bye-week replacement right now.

• Jeremy Maclin, Eagles -- He proved healthy against a great defense, leading the Eagles with five catches. You should feel plenty comfortable using him, DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick and maybe even Brent Celek next week against the Lions.

• James Jones, Packers -- With Greg Jennings (groin) out, Jones has become Aaron Rodgers' leading red-zone target. Jordy Nelson has been a bit too inconsistent in that regard. Randle Cobb returns to the game plan, too, but he is far less of a sure thing against the Texans next week. Jones has to start for owners if Jennings is out.

• Sidney Rice, Seahawks -- It was Golden Tate getting in the end zone again, but Rice was the leading receiver with five catches for 67 yards. Rice is a solid start against the Pats next week. The Pats have been burned by WRs and the Seahawks figure to have to play catch-up with a fast-break offense.

• Kendall Wright, Titans -- Kenny Britt played, but it was Wright and not Britt or Nate Washington, who was Matt Hasselbeck's leading receiver. With the likelihood the Steelers blow out the Titans on Thursday, Wright might be a candidate for some garbage-time numbers. He's a last-resort starter option, though.

• Santana Moss, Redskins -- The long, lost veteran had a 77-yard TD from Kirk Cousins, but it should be reminded it was Cousins and not RGIII hooked up with him. Backup QBs tend to make big plays with backup WRs. Pierre Garcon, Fred Davis, Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson are still more favored targets over Moss. Don't jump on Moss on the waiver wire this week. Look for a more regularly targeted WR as a bye-week stopgap.

• Josh Gordon, Browns -- The rookie enjoyed a breakthrough with two TDs, while he and Jordan Norwood picked up great garbage-time numbers as the Browns fell behind big. Greg Little has just been fazed out of the offense right now. Trent Richardson is the only Browns fantasy option to trust against the Bengals in Week 6.

• Rueben Randle, Giants ----With Hakeem Nicks (foot, knee) and Ramses Barden (concussion) inactive the rookie was Manning's leading receiver in catches and yards. There is long-term talent here, but he is too far down the depth chart to be considered a real fantasy option right now.

Tight ends

• Jimmy Graham, Saints -- The ankle injury that knocked him out of Sunday night's game was frustrating, but the silver lining is it comes before the bye week. Graham will have 14 days to get healthy enough to play against the Bucs in Week 7. You had to stopgap your tight end replacement this week anyway.

• Rob Gronkowski, Patriots -- He has been one of the biggest busts in fantasy to date, but you cannot sell low on this talent. He apparently is getting the cold shoulder by the Pats -- perhaps for his non-football antics. Eventually he is going to be a larger part of the offense, regardless of Aaron Hernandez's (ankle) return. He's just too good.

• Kyle Rudolph, Vikings -- He didn't have a great game, but he found the end zone and Christian Ponder's development makes Rudolph one of the sure fantasy starters at the position on a weekly basis.

• Jermichael Finley, Packers -- He has been a huge disappointment this season, but he says his shoulder ailment is not to blame. Consider him a marginal option now, especially against the Texans defense next week.

• Martellus Bennett, Giants -- His hot start is a distant memory now. This quiet week was especially frustrating because the Giants were without two of their top three fantasy WRs. You cannot start Bennett against the 49ers next week and are fine even cutting him now.

• Jared Cook, Titans -- He picked up a garbage-time TD, a sign you might get some value out of him yet this season. Don't dare use him Thursday against the Steelers, though.

• Dwayne Allen, Colts -- He had another good week of outperforming fellow rookie Coby Fleener, but neither is one of the top 12 options at the TE position quite yet. They are merely emergency bye week replacements. Allen is the threat for TDs, while Fleener is the better option for targets and receptions for those in PPR formats. Their best asset in fantasy is Luck makes them his secondary option to the elite WR Wayne. The Colts don't have a great second WR (Donnie Avery or T.Y. Hilton don't qualify).

Kickers

• Blair Walsh, Vikings -- Because Adrian Peterson is just not getting the ball into the end zone, Walsh has to be considered one of the must-start kickers in fantasy. It has been quite a start to the rookie kicker's career.

Defense/Special teams

• Chicago Bears -- With the way they have played in recent weeks, you cannot dare leave this unit out of waivers through the bye week. They have been so good, if you don't have a bench spot available, you might want to start them even while they are on bye.

• Pittsburgh Steelers -- Reports of this defense's demise were greatly exaggerated. They shut down the Eagles and are a must-have, must-start against the Titans next week. The best news about the Steelers might not even be their improving health. They have already gotten past the bye week. You can pick them back up and just set them and forget them the rest of the season.

• San Francisco 49ers -- This unit isn't scoring great numbers in fantasy because they aren't getting touchdowns, but you shouldn't give up on them. Those scores should come.

• St. Louis Rams -- They have looked a lot better this season and might be a low-end streaming option at Miami next week, if your primary defense is on bye.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. Track his weekly starts and sits every Thursday, his Scouting Report on Friday and his Fantasy Fast Forward on Sunday nights. You find also him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice or challenging him to a head-to-head fantasy game @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).

 
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