- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is viewed as the game's best receiver, and with the league's single-season receiving yards record now his, thanks to his Saturday night performance, he certainly has pleased his fantasy owners. However, Johnson will not enter Week 17 as fantasy's hottest wide receiver; that honor will belong to talented Dallas Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant. Once seen as an immature underachiever, Bryant dominated Sunday's matchup with the New Orleans Saints, scoring a Week 16-best 34 fantasy points, which continued his top-flight emergence.
Bryant registered 224 receiving yards and scored a pair of touchdowns, giving him 134 standard fantasy points over the past seven games, an average of 19.1 per, the most at the position. Yes, that's even more points than Johnson (128 points), and 30 more than No. 3 guy Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans has in that span since Week 10. While Calvin Johnson still holds the edge in standard season scoring, he'll enter Week 17 with a relatively disappointing five touchdowns. Bryant has scored touchdowns in seven consecutive games (10 in that span), features four multi-touchdown games this season, and willl enter the final week second only to Green Bay Packers scoring machine James Jones in receiving touchdowns.
Certainly any concerns fantasy owners had about Bryant's busted left index finger, which had him questionable for the final three games and will require offseason surgery, have been assuaged. Bryant scored on a pair of 58-yard plays in the second quarter Sunday, aiding those in formats that count longer plays. Incredibly, back in September, the Bryant stories were mainly negative, with off-field decision-making requiring the team assign him handlers off the field, and on the field he reached 100 receiving yards only once in his first 31 career games. He has reached that mark five times since October began, however, and there's every reason to believe another signature performance is pending in Week 17 as the NFC East title will be decided by the Cowboys-Washington Redskins game. The Redskins, by the way, entered Sunday as the second-easiest for opposing wide receivers to accrue fantasy points against.
Bryant will be ranked in the top 10 for sure for that critical contest, and probably deserves top-five status. The same can be said for his 2013 draft status. For now, Calvin Johnson must be regarded as the top wide receiver in part because of his years of excellence and consistency, but Bryant, still beaming with upside and thriving, enters the considerable class with Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas and Julio Jones, each worthy of second-round consideration. For now, I'd rank Bryant sixth for 2013, but the case can be made for higher.
Second down: Meanwhile, kudos to fellow Cowboys Tony Romo and Jason Witten. Romo, the oft-beleaguered quarterback, scored 32 fantasy points Sunday, and while those in the non-fantasy world continue to rip him for his lack of January success, Romo is consistently underrated from a fantasy aspect. Sunday was his second game with more than 400 passing yards just since Thanksgiving. Ironically for Romo's reputation, both came in losses, but fantasy owners aren't concerned with that. Romo has 13 touchdown passes over five games and likely will finish as a top-10 fantasy quarterback for the fifth time, though he's seldom regarded as such. Meanwhile, remember the draft-day discount on tight end Witten, who was questionable for the first few games because of a spleen injury and fell from a potential top-three slot to eighth, barely in the top 100 overall? Well, on Sunday, he broke the record for receptions in a season by a tight end (he's at 103), and stands just shy of topping 1,000 receiving yards for the fourth time. The Cowboys might miss the postseason yet again, but from a fantasy aspect, Bryant, Romo, Witten -- and to varying degrees wide receiver Miles Austin and running back DeMarco Murray -- have provided fantasy owners with plenty of love.
Third down: A few of the highest-scoring performers at running back Sunday were, like Bryant in the past, common targets of fantasy derision. For Reggie Bush, likely to end his Miami Dolphins career next week, 28 fantasy points were twice as many as he had registered in any game since Week 2. One might think Bush wasn't a popular play in fantasy, but only 12 running backs were active in more ESPN standard leagues. Bush should be ranked among the top 20 running backs in Week 17 at New England, but his 2013 status will depend on team and role. ... Also in Week 16, Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles led the position with 226 rushing yards, second only to his 233-yard explosion in Week 3, and is consistently a top-10 choice. He might be a bit overlooked in 2013, but not if we knew he'd see regular touches, which is a common complaint. ... And then there's Ryan Grant of the Packers, active in a mere 0.2 percent of leagues Sunday. His 23 standard fantasy points were the second-most of his career, and with Alex Green uncertain for Week 17, and the Packers playing for NFC seeding, Grant becomes a potential flex option.
Fourth down: Of course, not all was positive from the critical running back position. The heavyweight matchup between top choices Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings and Arian Foster of the Texans disappointed. Peterson provided only eight fantasy points, tying for a season low, but don't even consider doubting him in Week 17 against the Packers; Peterson skewered them for 210 rushing yards (28 fantasy points) in Week 13. Still, Peterson easily trumped Foster's zero. Fantasy's top 2012 draft pick in most leagues picked the absolute worst time to fail, in the fantasy title game for many, rushing 10 times for 15 yards, catching two passes for 14 yards, but erasing all the yards with a lost fumble before leaving early with an irregular heartbeat. Foster says he's fine and will play in Week 17 in a game the Texans do need for playoff seeding, and fantasy owners shouldn't doubt him, either. This was only his second fantasy game with fewer than 10 points all season.
Eric Karabell discusses the fantasy highlights (Dez Bryant, Reggie Bush, Jamaal Charles) and lowlights (Arian Foster ... Adrian Peterson?) from Sunday's games.