Instant Impressions: Week 12
• I spent the past couple of weeks telling Andre Johnson owners not to freak out. No, Matt Leinart was never going to be the passer Matt Schaub is, but AJ is so talented (I said) that even on a run-oriented team with a relatively unproven QB, he'd be worth starting in fantasy leagues. But after Leinart reportedly broke his collarbone Sunday, I'm wavering. Rookie T.J. Yates didn't "pull a Palko" in relief of Leinart, but he didn't do anything particularly special in his two-plus quarters of work, as the Houston Texans played with the lead and kept running and punting. Yates will reportedly be the Texans' starter going forward, while recently signed Kellen Clemens will be his backup (the team is evaluating other veteran talent to add to the depth chart, including the immortal Brodie Croyle). None of this is good news for Johnson or, for that matter, Arian Foster. The Texans figure to stay as run-oriented as any team in the NFL, but defenses will know this and Foster will be challenged. And as for AJ? He had two grabs for 22 yards Sunday, and even worse he had only three targets. I was jittery when Leinart was under center. With Yates, I'm downright shaky. Against the Atlanta Falcons next week, I'd imagine AJ will be outside my top 10 WRs.
• Just a few days after Mike Shanahan told reporters that Roy Helu "isn't ready" for full-time work as the Washington Redskins' running back, Shanny let Helu amass 23 carries and seven receptions while Ryan Torain didn't get a single touch and Helu's fellow rookie, Evan Royster, got one carry for three yards. Hm. At this point, with the Skins' season lost, don't you get the impression that Shanahan is simply messing with all of us? Was it Opposite Day? I liked Helu a ton entering the season (which corresponded with my major doubts about Torain and Tim Hightower), and it's heartening to see him perform well. But trusting Shanahan is a fool's pursuit. Helu is available in more than 65 percent of leagues and will be in my Free-Agent Finds column on Tuesday. He should be added. But good heavens, I don't know how you can feel great about starting him.
• Beanie Wells led all Sunday RBs in fantasy points with 26; he converted 27 carries into 228 yards against the hapless St. Louis Rams. Wells had to leave the game briefly with what looked like a potentially serious knee injury, but he returned soon after. I should note that Beanie could've had an even more spectacular day, as not once but twice he was pulled down from behind on a long run that a slightly faster (or healthier?) back would've taken the distance. This probably should've been a three-TD performance. Anyway, next week Wells gets the Dallas Cowboys at home and will be well-ensconced inside fantasy's top 20 RBs.
• I think what we learned about Chris Johnson on Sunday is pretty much what I said on Fantasy Football Now, which is that CJ1K still has the skills to take advantage of a soft matchup, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers definitely qualify as a soft matchup for opposing RBs. To be fair, from what I saw, Johnson had some nice moments of quickness, especially in the second half. But I also saw him get tracked down a few times when it looked like he had a seam to take it the distance. The long speed just isn't there. The good news for Johnson owners is that the Titans play against the Buffalo Bills next week, facing another run defense that's been putrid for a couple of months. Keep starting him.
• DeSean Jackson continued an embarrassing season that's probably costing him millions of dollars. Yes, he amassed 73 yards on four catches Sunday, but he dropped two would-be long TDs. The first saw him crumple in the end zone rather than take a hit to make a play, and the second was simply a drop on a bomb where he'd gotten behind the defense. By the fourth quarter, Andy Reid benched Jackson in the Philadelphia Eagles' blowout loss. With Philly 4-7 and obviously headed nowhere, you have to ask yourself whether Jackson is headed for a continued diminishing of playing time, especially if Jeremy Maclin can get healthy. Also worth asking is whether Vince Young might get another start Thursday against the Seattle Seahawks in order to let Michael Vick heal. VY wasn't great Sunday, but he did have 400 yards passing.
• Toby Gerhart mopped up after Percy Harvin was tackled at the Falcons' 1 in the third quarter yesterday, redeeming an afternoon in which Gerhart netted only 44 yards on 17 carries. Despite his unspectacular play in a horrible matchup, this is why you roster and start guys like Gerhart, because he'll get 15-plus touches and could accidentally fall into the end zone as a result. At this moment, if I had to guess, I would say Adrian Peterson does not play Week 13 vs. the Denver Broncos, which will again put Gerhart into a quasi-valuable role. The Broncos D is only slightly less frightening against the run than the Falcons D, so Gerhart isn't a top-20 option. But certainly, he should be rostered in all leagues right now. (Currently he's owned in only 21.3 percent of ESPN.com leagues.)
• The other substitute RB in a potentially valuable situation is the Buffalo Bills' C.J. Spiller, and the news was good and bad for him Sunday. The good news is that Spiller had 22 touches vs. the New York Jets, while Tashard Choice had two and Johnny White had one. For one week at least, it appears Chan Gailey is no Mike Shanahan and kept his word about using Spiller as his featured back. The bad news is that Spiller continues not to look very much like a featured back. Granted, it was a difficult matchup vs. the Jets, and Spiller did produce a couple of nice "quickness" plays where he got outside and past the defense's first two levels. But either because his offensive line is decimated or because he just doesn't have great rushing instincts, there were too many times where Spiller danced around trying to make the big play instead of pounding forward for positive yards. Spiller can certainly be owned in all leagues (he's available in about one-quarter), but I don't feel great about starting him right now.
• Surprise! Sidney Rice got hurt again. He smacked his head against the turf Sunday, likely suffering another concussion, his second this month. That's not good. Rice is almost limitlessly talented, but for two seasons now he's been an injury waiting to happen, and with this latest head trauma, it's not hard to imagine the moribund Seahawks sitting him for a good long while. I'm changing my tune on Rice: He needs to be nowhere near fantasy lineups right now (and might be droppable in a bunch of leagues, too).
• Conversely, another favorite of mine, Greg Little, is looking more ownable all the time. Little dropped a couple of passes Sunday, but the fact that the Cleveland Browns threw it to him 13 times (he caught five) speaks volumes about his place in the offense. Little isn't a great deep threat by any means, but that's cool because the Browns almost never throw it deep. Little is terrific in the open field and has surprisingly good ball skills for a former RB. Certainly, in a PPR league, he's someone you can start with confidence, and I don't hate owning him as a backup for your standard-league fantasy playoffs.
• Ryan Mathews finally showed back up on the fantasy scene Sunday with 142 total yards on 23 touches from scrimmage, his first double-digit fantasy-point day since Week 5. This came after San Diego Chargers beat reporters warned the world that Mathews' injured foot was bothering him, and he might only be a change-of-pace runner for Mike Tolbert. I guess it's good to know that he felt strong, but forgive me if I don't register Mathews -- who eclipsed 100 yards rushing for only the second time all season -- as a must-start in all leagues. I also should note that "Norvelous" Norv Turner continues to be one of the most vexing play-callers in the business, as the Chargers were on the fringe of winning field goal range in overtime after a sweet Mathews 14-yard gain, only to see Norv call three straight running plays -- two of which went to Tolbert instead of Mathews. Gah. Nick Novak missed a 53-yarder, Tim Tebow drove the Broncos down and Denver hit the game-winner. Norv is headed out the dorv.
• Johnny Knox made another wonderful downfield catch Sunday, his second in two weeks, plus found the end zone early in the Chicago Bears' loss in Oakland; for the day, that added up to four grabs for 145 yards. For some unknown reason, Knox still doesn't start. The useless Roy Williams gets that distinction. But there's little doubt who is Chicago's scariest receiving threat. Of course, this entire situation is limited by the fact that Caleb Hanie looked pretty bad (18-of-36, two TDs, three INTs). Most weeks, the Bears will strongly prefer not to have Hanie toss it 36 times. Knox is the best fantasy receiver the Bears have, but it's tough to start him outside of deep leagues.
• Add the Indianapolis Colts backfield to the NFL's list of impossible-to-decipher situations. On Friday, Joseph Addai told reporters his injured hamstring still didn't feel right, even after a week of rest. On Saturday, there was rampant speculation that even if Addai was healthy, he'd be the "emergency" RB at best. On Sunday morning, we were told that Addai was starting and, indeed, he played throughout the first quarter. And that's when Donald Brown came in and looked significantly better than Addai, and kept the starting gig most of the rest of the game, producing 97 yards on 15 touches. My instinct is to believe that this is Brown's job for the moment. But let's just say the Indy backfield situation is ... fluid. The good news here is that you most likely don't care that much. The reason this was relevant for Week 12 was that Indy was facing the Carolina Panthers' awful run defense. But the Colts get the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars the rest of the season. You don't need to be starting any Indy RB.
• Thanks for nothing, Montario Hardesty. All week, it sounded like Hardesty was due to start at RB for the Cleveland Browns, with Chris Ogbonnaya settling back into a third-down role. Then on Friday afternoon, reports surfaced that Peyton Hillis was a 50-50 shot to return from his hamstring injury. It sounded like a three-headed monster might be in order. But Hardesty's injured calf troubled him during warm-ups, and he wound up sitting out entirely. In his place, Hillis had 19 carries for 65 yards, while Ogbonnaya touched the ball four times for 20 yards. Apparently, Hillis is the starter once again, though the Browns get the Ravens next week, which doesn't portend great things.
Christopher Harris is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy. He is also the author of the newly published football novel "Slotback Rhapsody." Get information about this book at www.slotbackrhapsody.com.
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