Unfortunately, we could turn this weekly Stock Watch into Concussion Watch, because head injuries are playing a large role in football and thus fantasy football. Until recently, it was just a pair of NFC East running backs -- Brian Westbrook of the Philadelphia Eagles was joined on the sidelines by Clinton Portis of the Washington Redskins -- that owners were watching closely. It was pretty obvious those players would miss games, and fantasy owners had ample time to prepare for their absences.
However, the same can't be said about a pair of top-10 quarterbacks, as Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner practiced leading up to Sunday, and their fantasy owners didn't figure to be scrambling at the last minute. Instead, Roethlisberger's situation became more questionable Friday, during a holiday weekend, and he was announced as out Saturday. It was noteworthy that even Roethlisberger's Pittsburgh Steelers teammates questioned his absence. As for Warner, a full participant in the Arizona Cardinals' practices, he woke up Sunday morning feeling sick and was a surprise inactive for his afternoon game.
Let's just say fantasy owners were caught off guard -- Warner was the seventh most active quarterback in ESPN standard leagues, at 59.8 percent. He was active in more leagues than Brett Favre and Matt Schaub. Roethlisberger was still active in 24.2 percent of leagues. Both players remain in the top 10 among quarterbacks for fantasy scoring this season. But always have a backup quarterback on hand, just in case!
What can a fantasy footballer learn here? Don't get overconfident on Friday that your fantasy options are safe bets to play that week, especially when concussions are involved. Only two quarterbacks were among the top 25 on ESPN's most-added list for Week 12, and both Alex Smith and Vince Young proved to be far better options than using an inactive quarterback. Even Matt Leinart and Dennis Dixon would have been wise adds; Leinart provided eight fantasy points for the Cardinals, while Dixon produced two touchdowns and 15 fantasy points for the Steelers. Certainly we wouldn't have recommended either player, but they were better than what you got from Warner or Roethlisberger, which was nothing.
Concussions obviously are going to remain a hot topic in the NFL, and we'll do our best to prepare fantasy owners with the latest information about who will and won't play. If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's that the caution level when it comes to how NFL teams treat concussions is clearly rising.
Here are players whose stock is rising or falling heading into Week 13.
Terrell Owens: Congrats to new coach Perry Fewell, a defensive-minded fellow who by either luck or intent finally has made the team's big offseason pickup relevant again. Owens entered Week 10 with one receiving touchdown all season; since then, he has scored twice and totaled nearly 300 receiving yards. Is it Fewell's genius or the rocket arm of Ryan Fitzpatrick, or have the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins played brutal defense? Well, all that matters is Owens is a nice WR2 again.
Laurence Maroney: The only member of the New England Patriots who delivered a double-digit fantasy performance in Monday night's loss to the New Orleans Saints, Maroney really doesn't have anything more to prove to fantasy owners, yet he remains available in 10 percent of leagues and was active in fewer leagues in Week 12 than 21 other running backs. Maroney has scored eight touchdowns in six games.
Justin Forsett: I don't want to say for sure that Julius Jones will not regain the starting running back role for the Seattle Seahawks, because I'm not the coach. But Forsett ran for 123 yards and scored twice in Week 10, then rumbled for 130 yards and two touchdowns in Week 12. He has 59 fantasy points in three weeks; Jones can't do this. Somehow, Forsett remains available in half of ESPN leagues.
Cedric Benson: Obviously he's hurt, and of course fantasy owners shouldn't drop him. But the way the first-place Bengals are talking, it sure looks like when Benson returns, he will see a reduction in carries. Maybe he should; at the time he injured his hip, he was leading the league in carries by quite a few. Even now, after missing two full games and most of another, he's seventh in attempts. Look for Bernard Scott and the rejuvenated Larry Johnson to cut into his touches over the final month, lowering Benson's fantasy value.
Chicago Bears wide receivers: We've ripped Jay Cutler enough, but maybe if one of his wide receivers would step up and get open, the quarterback wouldn't be on pace for 23 interceptions. On the surface, Devin Hester has had a decent fantasy season, but he last scored in Week 7. Just watch the Bears play, and you'll see it's not all Cutler's fault. How about Earl Bennett and how his college relationship with Cutler would help him? He hasn't scored this season. Johnny Knox did score against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 12, but the 24-yarder was his lone catch. At this point, no Bears wide receivers are even worthy flex options.