Week 5: Player Upgrades
Besides Calvin Johnson, is there a better wide receiver in the NFL right now than Wes Welker? It is a legitimate question. Welker, the Patriots' 5-foot-9, 185 pound slot machine has been a perennial point-per-reception beast, but this season he's evolved into something more -- the best wide receiver in fantasy football.
Welker is on an historic pace. So far through four games, Welker has recorded 40 catches for 616 yards and five touchdowns. If Welker's current statistics are extrapolated over a full season, he would finish with an NFL-record 160 catches for 2,464 yards and career-high 20 touchdowns. Do I think Welker will put up those numbers? Absolutely not, but barring injury, he will set new career-highs across the board without question this season.
The catches have always been there with Welker, but the receiving yards and touchdowns have increased dramatically this season. If this were fantasy baseball, Welker would essentially be the equivalent of one of the league leaders in batting average (think Ichiro in his prime) who all of a sudden started hitting home runs and driving in runs, something they never did before in their career, at an historic rate. So what has changed for Welker and how should we as fantasy owners react?
One possible explanation for Welker's success this season is that he is finally fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered in the final regular season game back in 2009. Welker seems to have finally regained his trademark combination of speed, shiftiness and jitterbug agility that makes him nearly impossible to cover and bring down after the catch. Another possible explanation: The emergence of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Even with Hernandez injured, defenses have to account for the tight ends and other wide receivers (Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco) at all times, which leaves Welker one-on-one with overmatched defenders.
At this point, the only wide receiver that I would take over Welker in all of fantasy football would be Johnson because of his ability to singlehandedly take over a game like he did this past weekend. Welker and Johnson are polar opposites in terms of physical size and style of play, but both are the clear cut elites at the position so far this season. Welker is legitimate, fantasy owners should adjust accordingly (and do whatever it takes to acquire him in a trade).
This Week 5 edition of Player Upgrades takes a look at seven players whose fantasy stock is on the rise and should be targeted by fantasy owners either off the wavier wire or via trade. Fantasy owners should be sure to check out all of the excellent strategy articles here on FFToolbox.com (yes, I am a company man) as well as download the FFToolbox.com Weekly Podcast available on Itunes.
LeGarrette Blount, the biggest goat in all of fantasy football after Week 1 (5 carries, 15 yards), has seen his fantasy stock rise exponentially due to an significant increase in carries. Blount rushed for 81 yards on 24 carries in Week 3 versus the Atlanta Falcons and followed it up with a season-high 127 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries on Monday Night against the Indianapolis Colts. Week 5 will be the true test for Blount, who will be going up against the San Francisco 49ers who boast the fourth best run defense in the NFL this season. The Niners are allowing just 74 yards per game and are the only defense in the league that has not given up a rushing touchdown this season.
With a tough match-up on tap for this weekend, Blount is a perfect trade target, especially for fantasy owners looking to make an impact deal that will shore up their hole at the running back position. As long a Blount continues to get at least 15-20 carries per game, he should produce at a high level. Blount is an ideal trade target if his current owner doesn't believe that his stock will continue to rise.
Those predicting that the fantasy demise of Frank Gore was upon us may have been a bit premature. Gore may never again be an elite fantasy running back, but he is without question the best option in San Francisco right now. Kendall Hunter may be the future, but this is still Gore's job to lose. After failing to rush for more than 60 yards (despite getting at least 17 carries) in each of the Niners' first three games and then suffering an ankle injury, it appeared as though Gore wouldn't be much of a factor this past weekend. Gore came off the bench and received a team-high 15 carries for 127 yards, including the game-winning touchdown.
After his early season struggles, Gore's rebound performance has his fantasy stock on the rise. Despite being banged up, Gore has received at least 15 carries per game through the first quarter of the season. As long as Gore can stay healthy enough to be on the field, he will continue to dominate the carries in the San Francisco backfield and continue to be a viable starting running back in all fantasy leagues. Fantasy owners looking to upgrade at the running back position should target Gore in a trade, especially if his current owner isn't buying his resurgence.
Stevan Ridley was one of the 12 players "who will help you win your league" featured in the Week 1 edition of Player Upgrades. Ridley was featured for several reasons. The most important one being that BenJarvus Green-Ellis is in a contract year and there is a reason why Bill Belichick invested a pair of early round picks on running backs (Ridley and Shane Vereen). Ridley received just eight carries in the first three games of the season, but broke out this past weekend against the Oakland Raiders with 10 carries for 97 yards and his first career touchdown.
Fantasy owners should be targeting Ridley on the wavier wire or via trade for one simple reason: Ridley has the potential to be (and could wind up as) the Patriots' starting running back by the end of the season. Green-Ellis will still be a factor and Danny Woodhead will still play a role in the backfield committee, but at the end of the day, Ridley might be the most talented all-around back that the Patriots have and a player worth owning in all fantasy leagues going forward.
I can say with great confidence that I have never been a fan of Beanie Wells. He is oft-injured and a major pain to deal with on a week-to-week basis because of that characteristic. Wells sat out Week 3 because of a hamstring injury but returned in Week 4 with a vengeance, rushing for 138 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries. Wells has rushed for at least 90 yards and scored a touchdown in every single game he has played in this season.
Wells has several important factors in his favor right now. He has little to no competition for carries in the Cardinals backfield, and as long as he stays healthy (cross your fingers) he remains a very productive player who appears to have put it all together. Fantasy owners who aren't afraid of Wells' injury concerns should be targeting him in a trade. Wells is quietly emerging as one of the best running backs in all of fantasy football this season, as long as he can stay on the field.
Eric Decker has been a pleasant surprise for both the Denver Broncos and fantasy football owners this season. The former Minnesota Golden Gopher standout continued his stellar sophomore season with five catches for 56 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Week 4 against the Green Bay Packers. Quarterback Kyle Orton continues to look Decker's way more and more each week and Decker has quickly emerged as the second-best wide receiver in Denver behind Brandon Lloyd.
This past weekend, Decker received 10 targets -- the second-most on the team trailing only Lloyd, who got 11. Decker's stock continues to rise with each passing week, but it may not be too late for fantasy owners to acquire him in a trade. One of the biggest reasons fantasy owners should be targeting Decker is because of his extremely favorable schedule during the fantasy playoffs. Denver faces New England, Buffalo and Kansas City (who rank 32nd, 24th and 17th against the pass this season).