Engel Eye: Week 11
Every week in the Engel Eye, I'll take a look at some key performances from Sunday. We'll determine which players are ones to keep watching, and I'll pinpoint emerging trends.
Solid for the stretch run: He might not be glamorous, and he's 37 years old, but Jeff Garcia is fully capable of leading your team to a fantasy championship. Garcia continued his steady play on Sunday, throwing two touchdown passes for the third time in his past six games. He has thrown nine scoring passes during that span. After a matchup with the Redskins next week, Garcia finishes his schedule with the Saints, Texans, Falcons, 49ers and Panthers. Joey Galloway, who has scored in three consecutive games and four of the past five, turns 36 on Tuesday, but he has the open-field gears of a guy 10 years younger. Earnest Graham rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries Sunday, and the return of Michael Pittman will prevent him from getting overworked. Tampa Bay's best players may not be the at the forefront of your charge to the title, but they will complement your standout players perfectly in the crucial weeks ahead.
Hello, Larry: Larry Fitzgerald has scored three times in the past two games, and he is heating up just in time for the most important weeks of the fantasy season. The Cardinals cannot fully rely on their running game, and Anquan Boldin is still playing through a hip injury. He scored against Cincinnati, but Fitzgerald will certainly be more dependable for fantasy purposes. Look at his upcoming schedule, and you will see why Fitzgerald is a must-start from here on: San Francisco, Cleveland, Seattle, New Orleans, Atlanta and St. Louis. Fitzgerald has totaled 93 or more receiving yards in six of his past seven games, and the best is yet to come in the weeks ahead.
Where have you gone?: Plaxico Burress has disappeared recently, and you cannot attribute it solely to his nagging ankle problems. Burress is still risking his entire body on many balls thrown to him and trying hard to get open. Opposing defenses, however, have simply taken the deep ball away from Burress, and no one else on the Giants seems capable of stretching the field. Burress has not scored in four consecutive games and has totaled only 128 receiving yards during that span. Next week, the Giants face the Vikings, who have allowed an NFC-worst 288.4 passing yards per game. If Burress doesn't start to show signs of bouncing back next week, it will be time to start seriously considering putting him on your bench. Eli Manning needs to make big plays with other targets and use play-action passing more effectively to help Burress get open more consistently.
Where have you gone, Part II?: The Packers are flourishing, but Donald Driver isn't pitching in enough statistically. Driver still commands prime defensive attention, and his presence is allowing other players like Greg Jennings and Donald Lee to produce better than expected. Jennings has emerged as a must-start fantasy player, and Lee, who caught two touchdown passes on Sunday, is one of the most underrated and valuable tight ends in fantasy football right now. Driver, however, has not scored since Week 3 and has only one 100-yard game this season. It's time to start strongly considering him for your bench if you haven't done so already. Don't give up on him fully, though. As opponents begin to pay more respect to Jennings, Driver could re-emerge in the season's final weeks. He's statistically slumping, but he's not done.
Not good enough: Once again, I was mostly unimpressed by the performance of Priest Holmes, who rushed for 55 yards on 19 carries. Holmes still has good vision and is certainly not hesitant to engage in full-scale contact, but he is no longer elusive or explosive and can't make too many defenders miss. Many fantasy players view Holmes in a positive light just because of his great comeback story, but I don't want him in my lineup unless I am absolutely desperate. Kolby Smith totaled 51 yards on 11 touches against Indianapolis and deserves the chance to show more of what he can do. If he doesn't get the opportunity, the Kansas City running game will continue to be nothing better than mediocre. Keep Smith on your roster, because Holmes offers no upside and could also go down at any time.
Fine fill-in: Chester Taylor rushed for 164 yards and three touchdowns against Oakland, adding in 38 receiving yards while he carried a full load with stellar rookie Adrian Peterson sitting out. Much of the credit has gone to Minnesota's outstanding offensive line, the best run-blocking unit in the business. Taylor, however, can continue to excel while Peterson is out because he has fresh legs. Last season, Taylor struggled to stay healthy and produce consistently because he was overworked with little help. Sharing touches with Peterson during the first half of the season has kept Taylor in top physical form, and he can continue to play very well in the weeks ahead because he is not banged up like many other featured running backs. He should continue to be locked into your lineup while Peterson is out.
The need for Ricky: Sunday's latest loss showed why Miami can only benefit from a Ricky Williams return. Jesse Chatman continued to run hard, but was ultimately held to 72 rushing yards on 22 carries, including a 13-yard loss on a Philadelphia goal-line stand. Having another potential offensive threat like Williams can keep defenses off balance and prevent Chatman from being the sole focus of opposing game plans. Rookie John Beck looked lost without any dependable passing targets, but the Dolphins could move the ball more effectively with two quality running backs and Williams' presence can help Chatman continue to post good numbers down the stretch. He'll give Chatman more breathers and will challenge defenses with a different style of running. The Dolphins' offensive line has blocked well for the run this year, so Williams' impending return can keep the offense playing respectably even with Beck at the helm. Williams won't be too useful as anything more than a flex player in large leagues, but he should at least ensure that Chatman continues to operate well as a No. 2 fantasy running back.
Good timing: The return of David Garrard comes at a very crucial point of the season for fantasy players. After missing three games, Garrard returned on Sunday to throw a pair of touchdown passes. He now has eight total scoring passes for the season and has not thrown an interception yet. Like Garcia, he is solid, and although Garrard's not outstanding, he can certainly be the starting quarterback on a fantasy championship team. Garrard doesn't make mistakes and posts respectable numbers on a consistent basis. I'd rather depend on him than Jon Kitna, who has better wide receivers. Garrard makes much better decisions, and that translates into quality fantasy play on a regular basis.
Shout out to a fine colleague: We have a great all-star team of fantasy writers here at ESPN.com. It pays to absorb as much info as you can from all of them. Case in point: Nando Di Fino was the only one on the planet who saw Devard Darling's big day coming in his most recent edition of Hail Mary, a great weekly piece that helps owners find useful desperation options. Nando highlighted the relationship between Kyle Boller and Darling. "Boller has been practicing with the second team, of which Darling is a part. If he has any kind of rapport with him, the Browns are probably the team that will allow him to showcase it," Nando wrote. Darling caught four passes for 107 yards and a touchdown in the first quality outing of his career. Pay attention when a quarterback change is made, because the new passer may be comfortable with an unfamiliar guy whom he has worked with in practices. Also, pay attention to what Nando says.
Random reads: The return of both Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson can mean a resurgence for tight end Owen Daniels. He caught five passes for 74 yards, his best outing since Week 6. & Kellen Clemens showed signs of promise against Pittsburgh. Although he completed only 14 of 31 attempts, he often took what the defense gave him and challenged them enough to open up the running game. You will see improved production from the Jets' wide receivers and more consistent play from Thomas Jones in the weeks ahead. & Deion Branch was not fully phased back into the Seattle passing game Sunday, catching only four passes for 31 yards, but you can look for his role to become larger against the Rams next week. & The St. Louis offensive line didn't block quite as well as it did against the Saints in Week 10, but Steven Jackson battled hard for 92 rushing yards on 23 carries and will continue to earn good yardage totals now that he is healthy again.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.
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