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Four Downs: OT games, injuries and more

11/18/2012

Perhaps the proverbial changing of the guard occurred in Houston on Sunday, as a pair of talented wide receivers -- one on the "wrong" side of 30 years old and the other a fresh-faced rookie -- each managed to eclipse 200 receiving yards, just the second time two receivers have reached that mark in a single game. It sure was exciting watching longtime Houston Texans standout and fantasy stalwart Andre Johnson produce his best game of the season and previously disappointing Jacksonville Jaguars wideout Justin Blackmon do the same.

For Johnson, now 31 and past his prime (which included him being the top wide receiver in fantasy), his 14 receptions on 19 targets for 273 receiving yards validated his WR2 relevancy, which really hadn't left anyway. The ESPN Fantasy crew has been ranking Johnson in its top 20 regularly, yet this is the first time since Week 3 that Johnson topped 11 fantasy points. He scored 33 of them and nearly broke the league record for receiving yards in a game, which concluded with him turning an ordinary bubble-screen pass into an electrifying 48-yard touchdown in a 43-37 overtime victory.

While Johnson's fantasy numbers have been modest -- he entered Week 11 a mere 36th among wide receivers in standard scoring -- there's obvious upside for more, and he showed it in skewering the Jaguars. In reality, Johnson had given us harbingers of production recently, with 25 receptions and 279 receiving yards over a three-game span. Let's not call Johnson a safe top-10 fantasy wide receiver again, as the risk of injury and the team's general reliance on the running game remains. But there isn't a tough pass defense remaining on the Houston schedule, either. There's just no reason to sit a healthy Andre Johnson.

For Blackmon, he entered the game with 29 fantasy points on the season and scored 29 more Sunday, turning his seven receptions into 236 receiving yards and a touchdown. Going against the strong Texans defense and with a struggling Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, fantasy owners shouldn't feel bad about Blackmon being on the bench or even in free agency. While Johnson was active in 91.3 percent of ESPN standard leagues, Blackmon was active in just 5.1 percent, and both figures were reasonable.

The Oklahoma State product had done little this season, but he exploded with veteran Chad Henne relieving Gabbert. Was it really that simple? Blackmon, who brings a terrific combination of physical presence and speed, also has numerous friendly pass defenses on the schedule, but I can't imagine he'll approach my top 20 wide receivers in the rankings in the coming weeks without showing a little more week-to-week consistency. In dynasty/keeper leagues, of course, he already should have been well on your radar as a potential future star, should the team receive consistent quarterback production, which is far from assured. Sunday was indeed a glimpse of an enticing future.

Second down: Speaking of rookies, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III delivered a perfect passer rating against the beleaguered Philadelphia Eagles, going 14-of-15 for 200 yards and four touchdowns, and adding 84 rushing yards, giving him a tidy 32-point fantasy outing. Griffin has a trio of 30-point games this season -- Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees combined have done this just once -- and this outing cements his status as a must-start each and every week. Sure, Griffin hadn't played as well of late, and the Eagles have embarrassed themselves over the past four games (since changing defensive coordinators), but bottom line: If you have Griffin, he should be starting. The moribund Eagles, meanwhile, have permitted opposing quarterbacks to complete 78 percent of their passes for 901 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and nary an interception in four games. Honestly, the Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton is a near-lock for top-10 status against the Eagles in Week 12, and you'll want wide receiver Steve Smith active, as well.

Third down:The top running back scorers of the week (so far) are Marcel Reece, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Bilal Powell, with none of them reaching 20 fantasy points, and each of them facing competition issues that could keep them from similar production moving ahead. While the Arizona Cardinals' Stephens-Howling has scored in three of four contests and surprised the Atlanta Falcons with 127 rushing yards Sunday, the pending return of Beanie Wells (toe) will complicate matters. For the Oakland Raiders' underrated Reece, it's a similar predicament with Darren McFadden (ankle) on the mend, though the fullback brings size and pass-catching ability and shouldn't see his touches disappear. Powell scored his first two career touchdowns, but New York Jets starter Shonn Greene remains the No. 1. Of these Sunday surprises, pick up Reece and Stephens-Howling in all leagues, and in that order, with Powell a distant third.

Fourth down: The Falcons' Matt Ryan had one of the worst days of his career, tossing five interceptions (with three of them tipped) against the Cardinals. Ryan threw for 301 passing yards, but no touchdowns, and ended up with two fantasy points. Nevertheless, Ryan's fantasy owners shouldn't panic one bit, especially not with favorable pass defenses in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints lurking for the next two weeks. Call it one of those days, a really bad day, but consider that a week earlier Ryan provided 26 fantasy points, and he was No. 4 among all players for season scoring entering the weekend. If there's anything to worry about with this 9-1 team, other than the top NFC seed likely being clinched before Week 17, it's that talented wide receiver Julio Jones wasn't able to play through an ankle injury that had left him questionable in the first place, and it's no guarantee he plays at all in Week 12. A healthy Jones would surely make my top 10 among wide receivers for the next two games, but if he's a game-time decision or the team limits his snaps, then that complicates matters. Atlanta No. 3 wide receiver Harry Douglas becomes a deep-league pickup in case Jones misses time.

Fifth down (reserved for late-breaking news): The biggest injury of the day occurred late in the New England Patriots' blowout win over the Indianapolis Colts, as all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski reportedly broke his forearm and is expected to miss at least a month. While he should be ready for the real playoffs, in the fantasy world, the postseason starts far sooner. It's premature to simply release the best tight end in fantasy, as even if he returns in Week 15 or 16, he can still make a big difference, but his owners need to find a replacement fast. It's a shame, as Gronkowski scored 25 fantasy points Sunday, and had seven touchdowns the past four games. Patriots colleague Aaron Hernandez (ankle) is expected to be available for the Thanksgiving game against the Jets, and he becomes an even more attractive option if he can play, but it's worth noting that veteran Visanthe Shiancoe is active and also could play a role. As for replacements, Brandon Myers, Dwayne Allen, Marcedes Lewis and Dallas Clark are among those still available in at least 85 percent of ESPN standard leagues, and each was productive Sunday.