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Instant Replay: Austin does it again

10/25/2009

Every so often, the obvious one-hit wonder throws you a curve.

Great example: 3 Doors Down -- a band well-known to sports fans (or those who like to follow cavemen commercials) -- seemed destined for the label "one-hit wonder" with their 2000 song "Kryptonite." Oh, so catchy, oh, how overplayed during that fine summer, two traits that fit the very definition of the one-hit wonder. But a funny thing happened only a few short months later: 3 Doors Down released another single … then another … and today, if you really sat down to think about it, you could probably name a good half-dozen of their songs.

Miles Austin, apparently you are fantasy football's 3 Doors Down. Not a megastud, not a U2-caliber franchise, but a very respectable performer, and certainly a guy who fooled a bunch of people into (mistakenly) thinking you were a one-hit wonder. A 250-yard, two-touchdown performer for 37 fantasy points in Week 5, Austin repeated the effort Sunday, hauling in six passes for 171 yards and another two scores, earning himself a 29-point fantasy day.

I know what you're thinking: Could Austin be a two-hit wonder? A metaphorical Tone Loc of the fantasy football world?

Certainly it's possible. After all, he did capitalize upon a pair of favorable matchups, versus the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 5 and now an Atlanta Falcons defense that was missing cornerback Brian Williams. To count on Austin to single-handedly win your week even one more time all season would be foolish, but that said, there's a lot to like about him in the weeks ahead.

For one thing, Austin's performance the past two games has cemented his status as the Dallas Cowboys' starting flanker, an honor he officially earned during the team's Week 6 bye. For another, it's abundantly clear that in addition to Austin's newfound starter status, Tony Romo appears to have better chemistry with him than he has had with any other receiver in the team's first six games. To wit: With his eight targets Sunday, Austin now has 35 for the season, and that ranks him second on the team only to Jason Witten (40). Not bad for a newly crowned starter!

Amazingly, the guy remains available in 17.2 percent of ESPN leagues, but expect that number to drop quickly this week. With his skills, expanded role and chemistry with Romo, Austin at worst should be a No. 2 consideration looking forward.

Tristan's MVP

It's Carson Palmer, who matched Austin's output with 29 fantasy points thanks to five passing touchdowns, the second-most in any game in his career. Facing a Chicago Bears defense against whom he wasn't expected to do much, Palmer came out throwing early, and completed 20 of 24 passes for 233 yards on the day.

Most importantly, Palmer's performance underscored the "high-reward" portion of his typical high-risk, high-reward potential, showing his owners just what he is capable of at his best. Only one thing is a bummer about Palmer right now: His Cincinnati Bengals are entering their bye week, and then they face the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders in Weeks 9-11.

Four Up

Michael Crabtree: A five-catch, 56-yard, 5-fantasy-point day is hardly one to celebrate, but fantasy owners need to note Crabtree's extensive usage in what was his NFL debut. He earned the start at split end and played the vast majority of snaps at that spot and out of the slot, was targeted six times and clearly was regarded a significant part of the offense. To note (and there are differing reports out there on this): The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports he played 48 of the San Francisco 49ers' 54 offensive snaps, which is significantly up from the 10-15 that were hinted as the plan earlier in the week. Crabtree's level of experience and his team's focus on the run suggests he'll be more of a matchup consideration than a weekly No. 3 option, but his talent alone gives him a chance at the latter. Either way, he's well worth adding in the 65.9 percent of ESPN leagues in which he's available.

Owen Daniels: One of the biggest problems with owning Daniels in a traditional scoring league (read: non-point-per-reception) the past two seasons was that he seemingly wasn't much of a red zone consideration. This year, however, it's clear he's a trusted option for hot-starting Matt Schaub in those situations. With another red zone target in Week 7, he now has 10 on the season, which matches his entire 2008 season total and is one short of his number in 2007. Daniels also hauled in his fifth touchdown, a 42-yarder, matching his total in 2007-08 combined.

Ricky Williams: He's not just a Wildcat toy, apparently. Williams might have gotten only 11 touches Sunday, but oh, did he do a lot with them, totaling 92 yards and three touchdowns against a hot-starting New Orleans Saints defense. It's the fifth time in six games Williams has tallied double-digit fantasy points, and he and starter Ronnie Brown are shaping up as quite an unstoppable one-two punch. The Miami Dolphins' offseason offensive line upgrades have clearly helped the running game, and while Williams might not get the opportunities to match his 27-point fantasy output again all year, chances are he'll be a worthwhile enough flex play, especially during the remainder of the bye weeks.

Felix Jones: Speaking of backup running backs who improved their fantasy stock Sunday, Jones bounced back from his knee injury to total a surprising 10 touches, surprising particularly in comparison to Tashard Choice's one. Wait, wasn't Choice a candidate to be the Dallas Cowboys' primary ball carrier this week? Turns out Jones' knee was far less of a problem than it seemed coming into the week, as he dashed for 37 yards on eight carries and served as a useful caddy for starter Marion Barber. Health was really the only question with Jones; now seemingly back to 100 percent, he should see enough carries to help teams out of their flex spot, and with whispers that Barber might not be at 100 percent himself the remainder of the year, Jones has a lot of handcuff appeal, too.

Four Down

LaDainian Tomlinson: Among the more remarkable stats of Week 7 was that Tomlinson garnered eight goal-line carries (runs from within five yards of his opponent's end zone), and not once did he score (he did have a ninth goal-line carry that did result in a touchdown, but it was nullified by a penalty). He was stuffed on five of those occasions, which is partly to blame for his measly 3.1 yards-per-carry average, but even if you take them out of the equation, his number was 4.5, which isn't any great rate for solely a player's "between-the-20s" rushes. Tomlinson is looking every bit his 30 years of age, and while he's still capable enough of beating poor defenses on occasion, he's so much more name value than actual value.

Terrell Owens: How much worse could his season get? Targeted seven times Sunday, Owens caught just three passes for 27 yards, and most disconcerting of all was that fellow Buffalo Bills receiver Lee Evans clearly caught stand-in quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's eye more often, catching five balls on nine targets for 75 yards and a touchdown. Don't blame all of Owens' mediocre production on "Captain Checkdown" Trent Edwards, because this performance emphasizes how much of the blame belongs on his own shoulders. He's dropping too many passes and failing to break free frequently. With Edwards' status unknown, Owens' value shows no sign of improving soon.

Larry Johnson: It's time to give up on the guy, as if he can't even capitalize upon a matchup in which he faced the San Diego Chargers -- who had allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs entering the week -- what chance does he have facing any matchup? Not much, apparently, as he has now managed double-digit carries in each of his first seven games, failed to score a touchdown, never once managed better than a 3.6 yards-per-carry average and has a 2.7 ypc number for the season. It's nice to know he's capable of handling a starter's workload -- perhaps more a product of a lack of great alternatives than anything -- but it's not like he's helping you with it.

Roy E. Williams: This relates somewhat to my lead story of the week, as the aforementioned Miles Austin is obviously now Tony Romo's go-to deep target, no matter what the Cowboys' coaching staff might say otherwise. Williams had two costly drops Sunday, and for the fourth consecutive game fell short of double-digit fantasy points. To return to my previous note about the Cowboys' targets split, Williams now has 30 on the season, an average of 6.0 per game. Austin, by comparison, has averaged 5.8, and remember, four of Austin's six games were played out of the No. 3 wide receiver role. Williams' name value might make him a tough candidate to cut, and the fact that new No. 3 receiver Patrick Crayton has really looked no better this season does give Williams a chance to redeem himself, but it's not a crazy idea to let him go in shallow formats. As is, I'm skeptical he'll be helpful more often than not out of your starting lineup the rest of the year.

Injury report

For the latest injury updates, check back for Stephania Bell's analysis throughout the week and keep tabs on the Monday news conferences.

Jermichael Finley (knee): He left the game about 10 minutes into the first quarter, and left on crutches with his leg immobilized, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Spencer Havner took over as the Green Bay Packers' No. 2 tight end, catching two passes for 59 yards and one touchdown, while Donald Lee caught three balls for 39 yards. If Finley misses extended time -- which seems like a possibility, as the Journal-Sentinel hinted at "a couple weeks" pending an MRI exam -- expect some degree of timeshare between Lee and Havner.

Donald Brown (shoulder): He was sidelined in the second quarter, at which time he had two carries for 58 yards. Joseph Addai actually seemed to improve his performance after Brown's departure, including scoring a touchdown on the drive in which Brown departed, plus rushing for 42 yards on his final 11 carries. If Brown misses further time, Addai would see a boost to his workload, significant being that he had tallied 52.5 percent of the team's rushing attempts, compared to 37.3 percent for Brown, coming into Week 7. Chad Simpson would take over as the backup.

Andre Johnson (chest): He departed in the fourth quarter, with no further word on the specifics of his injury. Johnson was limited to two receptions for 62 yards on the day, held in check by a combination of Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer. If Johnson misses any more time, Kevin Walter and Andre Davis would benefit, but Matt Schaub has already demonstrated he's perfectly happy just leaning more on Owen Daniels and Steve Slaton if he must.

Leon Washington (leg): He was carted off the field in the first quarter after getting hurt on a running play, and coach Rex Ryan told the team's official Web site after the game that Washington broke his fibula. Washington will remain in Oakland for surgery in the early part of the week, and his season is over. It's a real shame; he had been getting a healthy number of touches in the early weeks.

It's safe to say that…

Not only should the San Francisco 49ers consider throwing a bit more often than they did in the season's early weeks; they probably also need to give Alex Smith a chance to start. Down 21-0 at halftime, at which point the team had 50 total yards, the 49ers turned over the quarterback reins to … their quarterback-of-the-future-of-the-past. All he did was complete 15 of 22 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns, nearly rallying his team to a comeback victory. Only a fourth-and-10 interception by Smith with 36 seconds on the clock stood out as a black mark on his day. He seemed poised and accurate and had plenty of zip on his throws.

But more importantly, it was Smith's favorite target who warranted fantasy headlines: Vernon Davis, who hauled in seven passes for 53 yards and all three of Smith's touchdowns. He was the intended target on eight of Smith's 22 pass attempts, including all three attempts from within 30 yards of the Houston Texans' end zone. It was like it was 2006 all over again, when Davis was a rookie and Smith a sophomore and the 49ers had dreams of riding the two to a championship. Smith and Davis have now connected for seven career touchdown passes and seem to have a good share of chemistry, something fantasy owners need to note.

Now that wasn't part of the game plan!

Smith wasn't the only backup quarterback to see action in Week 7; "relief quarterbacks" seemed to be a theme this week. Seven different backups came on in relief this week: Matt Flynn (Green Bay Packers), Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Bruce Gradkowski (Oakland Raiders), Matt Gutierrez (Kansas City Chiefs), Caleb Hanie (Chicago Bears), Brian Hoyer (New England Patriots) and Smith (San Francisco 49ers). That's to be expected in a week in which six games were decided by four or more touchdowns, as most of them came on during garbage time, particularly Hoyer, who appeared for the second straight week in a blowout. Freeman's appearance is the most notable -- he's a rookie the Buccaneers had hoped to get a look at in the coming weeks. The Bucs enter their bye in Week 8; Freeman might yet get a shot at starter's status the following week.

Go get 'em!

As you're preparing your waiver claims, keep these names in mind:

Shonn Greene: No doubt this name should top your list of waiver claims, at least as things stood entering Sunday night, and it relates to the news regarding Leon Washington. With Washington out for the season and a 31-year-old starter ahead of him on the depth chart (Thomas Jones), rookie Greene will be thrust immediately into a substantial role in the New York Jets' offense. It's not unthinkable he might see something comparable to the 11.8 rushing attempts per game Washington averaged in the season's first six weeks, and I noted many times in the preseason how much I liked Greene as a potential sleeper. Here's his chance.

Mike Wallace: I admit I'm a little late on the uptake here, but a guy who ranked 66th in receptions (18) entering the week understandably shouldn't be expected to be owned in much more than the 5.4 percent of ESPN leagues in which he is. But with his third double-digit fantasy performance in his past five games, not to mention his second touchdown in the past three weeks, Wallace is becoming more and more a fantasy consideration. Ben Roethlisberger and the up-tempo Pittsburgh Steelers' passing game mean plenty of opportunities for names like Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and this guy, who clearly has the speed to make a difference some weeks.

James Jones: Now the Green Bay Packers' No. 3 wide receiver after the injury to Jordy Nelson, who is expected to miss a few more weeks, Jones scored a touchdown for the second consecutive game Sunday. As the third in line to Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, Jones shouldn't see the number of targets needed to be of use in shallow formats, but in deeper leagues he's worth watching. He's as skilled a deep threat as Jennings, and the injury to Jermichael Finley, if serious, might help boost Jones' role in the offense.

Flash forward

A quick preview of what's in store for Week 8…

• It's another six-team bye week, as the Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins are off. Rough timing for Tom Brady's owners to lose him to the bye; he has 688 yards and nine touchdowns passing the past two weeks combined.

• The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers get a rematch of their Week 4 "Monday Night Football" contest, one won by the Vikings 30-23. But c'mon, the fact that it's a rematch isn't the top storyline -- obviously that honor goes to Brett Favre, who will be making his first trip back to Green Bay since departing the Packers after the 2007 season. Favre was the star in Week 4, passing for 271 yards and three touchdowns, and remember that he's as familiar with Lambeau Field as any visiting player in the stadium's history.

• In another high-profile rematch, the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, a pair of Week 5 combatants, battle at Giants Stadium. In their previous meeting, the Dolphins' Wildcat packages confounded the Jets' defense, totaling 413 yards and four touchdowns, including two by Ronnie Brown. On the Jets' side, Braylon Edwards dominated the Dolphins' pass defense for five receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown, particularly impressive in that it happened in his Jets debut within a week of his trade from the Cleveland Browns.

• Rematches, Part 3: The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans, who squared off previously in Week 4, tangle once more at Tennessee. Everyone knows by now how poor the Titans' pass defense is; it has allowed the most passing yards per game (310.7) and passing touchdowns (19) in the league. The Jaguars are certainly responsible for piling up those numbers, as David Garrard threw for 323 yards and three scores against them in Week 4, while Mike Sims-Walker had seven catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns (the latter a personal best).

• Rematches, Part … oh, you get the idea: The Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers, who played each other in Week 1, challenge each other again in San Diego. In the regular-season opener, LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for a touchdown, and that's in spite of having rolled his ankle in the first quarter of the game. That gave him 23 total touchdowns in 17 career games versus the Raiders. I guess doubts or not, I'll stick with LT2 for one more week!

Tristan H. Cockcroft is an FSWA award-winning fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.