Week 7 scouting report: Fantasy busts due for breakout games
Chris Johnson has struggled but should top 100 yards and score against Indy
Tony Romo and Felix Jones are must-starts against a poor Carolina defense
Others worth starting this week: Hakeem Nicks, Carson Palmer, Andre Brown
This qualifies as the toughest weekend to set lineups throughout the entire fantasy season. A season-high six teams are on byes and injuries are damaging the likes of DeMarco Murray (foot), Jimmy Graham (ankle), Greg Jennings (groin), Rashard Mendenhall (achilles/knee), Pierre Garcon (foot) and Donald Brown (knee).
On top of that, a lot of our regular studs have unfavorable matchups. Arian Foster and Ray Rice face good run defenses, while Cam Newton is facing the Cowboys' top-ranked pass defense and Robert Griffin III goes against a Giants defense that almost blanked the 49ers.
Who to trust? Where to turn?
Well, someone has to win this week. With that in mind, let's pass the torch, at least temporarily, to some of fantasy's biggest ne'er-do-wells. Here are 10 disappointing players you're going to be thankful you started this weekend:
1. RB Chris Johnson, Titans: Well, well, well, look who we have here: The biggest fantasy pariah of all. You likely started him out of the gate, only to watch him get blanked by the Pats, Chargers and Lions. Then, in frustration and with the advice of every fantasy analysts known to man, you sat him against the Texans, when he exploded for 141 yards. Since, he's gotten blanked by the Vikings and posted a respectable 91 rushing yards against the Steelers on short rest. He's an enigma.
With options so limited this week, however, it's easy to start Johnson. The Bills are the fifth-worst team in fantasy against running backs, and only the Colts have allowed as many touchdowns (eight) to backs thus far. Johnson will go off for 120 yards and a score and set up an ensuing great week of anticipation against the Colts in Week 8.
2/3. QB Tony Romo and RB Felix Jones, Cowboys: Romo, oh, Romo: Where art thou, Romo? He showed plenty of promise against the Ravens and now draws a Carolina Panthers defense that made a star out of the likes of Ramses Barden and Andre Brown. Romo will benefit from Jason Witten, who returned to fantasy prominence a week ago. Dez Bryant is iffy, but Miles Austin is as healthy as he has been in years.
Romo and the Cowboys are going to show they're not a wasteland this season. Romo, specifically, is going to remind everyone he threw for more than 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns (to just 10 picks) last season. Romo has a healthier supporting cast this year, too.
Even Jones, who showed well in relief of Murray last week against the Ravens, should be good for 80 combined yards and a score.
4/5. RBs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, Bills: They say youth is wasted on the young. Well, talent tends to be wasted on the Bills, as elite backs Spiller and Jackson are stuck in a timeshare. Both Spiller and Jackson will prove to be top 10 fantasy backs against a Titans defense that has been the sixth-most forgiving against running backs.
6. RB Jonathan Dwyer, Steelers: With Mendenhall and Isaac Redman (foot) ruled out, the onus of the running game falls on Dwyer, who should have been a go-to fantasy producer by now already. Dwyer finally gets his chance in prime time Sunday night against a Bengals' run defense that has been ninth-worst in fantasy versus running backs.
7. WR Hakeem Nicks, Giants: He was limping around last week against the 49ers and produced little, but he practiced more this week than he has all season and the Giants need him in a pivotal division game. The Giants are 0-2 in the division already and dropped both their games to the Redskins a year ago. They are going to use Nicks against a secondary that has been the most generous in fantasy versus WRs.
8. QB Carson Palmer, Raiders: He might not register much in terms of fantasy production right now, but he has been pretty steady and he gets the Jaguars at home. He also is getting his primary receivers healthier by the day. Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Brandon Myers are primed for their best day of the season.
9. WR Stephen Hill, Jets: This one might be a reach, but who saw the end of that Pats game in Seattle last week? That secondary looked as bad as these stats suggest: third-worst versus quarterbacks and sixth-worst versus receivers. Someone has to pick up garbage-time numbers as the Jets play catch-up in New England. If you don't like Hill, consider Dustin Keller (hammy is healing) or Jeremy Kerley.
10. Andre Brown, Giants: This is a real speculative pick. Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) didn't practice Friday and Brown was getting first-team reps over exciting rookie David Wilson in his own return from a concussion. Brown might be able to find the end zone if Bradshaw can't finish what he starts against the Redskins. Use Brown out of complete desperation.
Like we suggested above: Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Now, on to the rest of our weekly Scouting Report:
1. RB Felix Jones, Cowboys: He gets a rare second chance at fantasy viability this week. In fact, he's a must-start against the Panthers run defense. It might be short-lived with DeMarco Murray (foot) eager to make it back for Week 8 at home versus the Giants.
2. WR Josh Gordon, Browns: Greg Little's drops are Gordon's gains. The supplemental draft pick has become Brandon Weeden's go-to man and is making some huge plays, albeit with few targets. Gordon's status as a No. 1 target, with a quarterback improving at getting the ball down field every week, makes him a solid option through the bye season at least. He looks like he might be a star long term.
3. RB Montario Hardesty, Browns: There was some hope he would be the Browns' workhorse back against a Colts defense that allowed Shonn Greene to look like a Pro Bowler. But, the bet here is Trent Richardson plays, proves healthy and owns it at Indy. Hardesty is merely a handcuff and a low-end flex fill-in.
4. RB Daryl Richardson, Rams: The rookie is looking more and more the better back between himself and veteran Steven Jackson. Jackson remains the starter, though, and neither back is a great play against the Packers run defense.
5. D/ST Cleveland Browns: With six teams on bye, they are at least on the map because they are facing a rookie QB. But Andrew Luck has been great at home, so you're better off using a more elite defense in a bad matchup.
6. WR Brandon Gibson, Rams: He quietly is his team's No. 1 target and facing a Packers secondary that has been giving up a lot of points to wideouts the past two seasons. A big week can make him a must-own in any fantasy league.
7. WR Mike Williams, Buccaneers: Not only have he and Josh Freeman looked more like their 2010 form this season, but they are also facing a Saints defense that has looked like the worst in the NFL. Williams is a solid start this week -- particularly with Vincent Jackson a bit nicked up -- and Williams might even be regaining his status as an every-week starter.
8. K Robbie Gould, Bears: One of fantasy's elite kickers is coming off bye, so he should be owned in all leagues again. He's good enough to ride the rest of the season in lineups.
9. D/ST Oakland Raiders: Unlike the Browns, the Raiders' suspect defense is at home and facing a suspect quarterback. They are a much better streaming option for fantasy owners than jump from D/ST to D/ST every week.
10. K Phil Dawson, Browns: With or without Richardson healthy, the Browns' running game figures to get them into scoring position a lot this week. Dawson isn't necessarily a top 12 fantasy kicker for the long haul, but he is one when the matchup is right. This week might be his best of the season.
1. QB Kevin Kolb, Cardinals: This is going to sound cold, but that favorable matchup against the Bills showed everything we needed to see: Kolb doesn't belong on fantasy rosters, whether or not he's healthy and starting. John Skelton doesn't either.
2. K Matt Prater, Broncos: The only thing working against him this season is that Peyton Manning is still just so darn good. Those field goal attempts are becoming touchdowns more often than not.
3. D/ST Miami Dolphins: This has been a surprising unit, but we have to figure the wheels are going to fall off eventually. The saving grace is an elite run defense, which will come in handy on the winter road trips.
4. RB Jackie Battle, Chargers:- Ryan Mathews has very clearly stolen back feature back duties. The question will be whether Battle remains a goal-line back after the bye week. For Mathews' sake, let's hope not. Battle is hardly worth owning now.
5. K Matt Bryant, Falcons: Very rarely is a kicker the No. 1 most-added player. Bryant will likely be that next Wednesday morning.
6. RB Jahvid Best, Lions: His team might not have given up on him for this season, but we might as well. Even when he returns, it figures to be in a third-down back role initially. There will be time -- a week or a few -- before he gets enough opportunities to warrant picking up.
7. D/ST Philadelphia Eagles: The defensive coordinator's ouster was curious. He finally had this defense playing like it was capable. He should have been fired last year. Now, you have to wonder what it will be like post-bye. It could be ugly all over again. The Eagles face Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III though Week 11.
8. K Alex Henery, Eagles: The turnovers are the reason he has dramatically under-produced thus far. We have to figure the turnovers are going to slow and Henery is going to be a top-12 kicker the rest of the way.
9. RB Bilal Powell, Jets: Not only did he significantly injure his shoulder but he also had to watch Greene go off for a landmark day last Sunday. That was insult to injury. He is not worth owning right now.
10. TE Jacob Tamme, Broncos: Joel Dreessen has stolen some of his thunder and targets of late. Tamme just doesn't project to do enough to be worth holding through his bye week. Drop him for someone with upside.
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).