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Stock Watch: Donald Driver up, Jets D down

12/7/2010

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his top wide receiver, Greg Jennings, are money in the bank; they either lead their respective positions in fantasy scoring or are close to it, depending on your scoring format. But in Week 13, another pair of Packers stepped up with interesting performances. One player is virtually forgotten, the other relatively unknown, but their performances are certainly worth noting for those in the fantasy playoffs.

Wily veteran receiver Donald Driver, long a fantasy asset, got off to a decent start in 2010, with touchdowns in three of four games. Then he hurt a quad and missed Weeks 7-10, and when he returned, he still ceded targets to James Jones. On Sunday, Driver scored on a 61-yard pass play from Rodgers, doing much of the work downfield to get into the end zone himself, and showing renewed speed and agility. Driver is no kid (he's 35), and his string of 1,000-yard seasons will end at six consecutive seasons, but he remains a worthy WR3 in the No. 20-25 rankings range among receivers. Hey, the Detroit Lions are the opponent this week!

At running back, time finally seemed to run out on the Brandon Jackson experience, as rookie James Starks made his debut -- season and career -- and ran with authority, gaining 73 yards on 18 carries. OK, so Arian Foster he wasn't, but the last time Jackson had that many rushing yards in a game was way back in Week 5. Jackson replaced Ryan Grant and made it into double digits in (standard) fantasy scoring three times. He wasn't particularly valuable, but he was usable and did his best work catching passes. Now it appears Starks, who spent months on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, becomes the main running back. He's clearly worth adding, as this is a prime NFL offense, and the wise fantasy owner knows surprises emerge at all times of a season, even in Week 13 and beyond. Plus, in case you weren't aware, it's cold in Green Bay, and that generally means more running opportunities. I'll rank Starks just outside my top 20 running backs this week.

Finally, let's give some credit to Rodgers and Jennings. Today it seems folly to note there was some apathy about these players early in the season, but it's true. Through eight weeks, Rodgers was not a top-5 fantasy quarterback in scoring, thanks in part to nine interceptions. He hasn't thrown a pick since Week 7, though, and is currently fantasy's No. 2 scorer overall, two points behind the Houston Texans' Foster, and he leads the No. 2 quarterback, Michael Vick, by 23 points. Drew Brees is 36 points back. Back in August, Brees was still getting chosen ahead of Rodgers in a majority of leagues ... how many seasons must Rodgers outscore him before the unofficial changing of the guard occurs?

Rising

Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks: I wouldn't assume Lynch is suddenly a safe play after his 27-point outburst in Week 13, because let's face it, those three touchdowns (two of them 1-yard plunges) came against the Carolina Panthers. Lynch had totaled 36 fantasy points in his first eight games with Seattle. He's on the rise, for sure, but also don't be surprised if he disappoints in Week 14.

Earl Bennett, WR, Chicago Bears: When one nice performance is followed by a second one, it's time to take notice. Bennett's Week 12 outing with a pair of touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles seemed aberrant, but he followed that up with 104 receiving yards and a season-best seven catches Sunday. I'd still take Johnny Knox over Bennett, but Bennett is at least a top-40 wide receiver now.

Benjamin Watson, TE, Cleveland Browns: Where did that come from? Watson caught 10 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, netting a season-best 16 fantasy points. Well, unbeknownst to many, Watson has had moments of productivity this season; he entered Week 13 tied with Vernon Davis for eighth in both tight end receptions and targets. An extra touchdown or two and he's a top-10 tight end.

Falling

Reggie Bush, RB, New Orleans Saints: Well, he did catch three passes in Sunday's game, but they went for zero yards. That doesn't mean they didn't happen, but from a fantasy aspect, well, they didn't. I don't know if Pierre Thomas will ever return, but there's little reason to activate Bush no matter what happens to the other Saints running backs.

Mario Manningham, WR, New York Giants: I think his owners expected a bit more with Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith out, and now the team's starting wide receivers are on the verge of returning. Manningham caught eight passes the past three weeks; Nicks and Smith are capable of that in any given game. Looks like Manningham is headed back to the 30-40 range in the wide receiver rankings.

New York Jets defense: That Monday night performance against Tom Brady & Co. was brutal. The truth is the Jets' defense, third in ownership in ESPN standard leagues at 98.4 percent, has underperformed from a fantasy aspect for months, save for one Week 12 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. It all culminated with Monday's humiliating 45-3 loss, worth a minus-4 in standard fantasy leagues (the Jets' D was active in 59.5 percent of leagues, seventh among defenses). I think the Jets can overcome the loss of safety Jim Leonhard, but if you've been blindly using this unit based on name value, note that the list of barely owned fantasy defenses with more season points includes the Patriots, Raiders, Browns and Seahawks. The Jets have an interception in just one game since Week 5.