It would be unfair to label fantasy football owners and analysts as notably loathing older players, but certainly if there's an exciting young upside option on draft day -- think Doug Martin or Torrey Smith -- as opposed to a 33-year-old Reggie Wayne coming off his worst season, the kid wins most of the time. On Sunday, all Wayne did for the emotional Indianapolis Colts was dominate the Green Bay Packers for 13 receptions, 212 yards and the winning touchdown, amassing a cool 27 fantasy points.
Admittedly, I didn't rank Wayne well back in August. The staff didn't rank him well either, with the ESPN Fantasy write-up noting more than just his age and lack of surrounding talent, but also his lack of explosion during the 2011 season and, at times, disinterest. He sure looks explosive and interested now. He's toying with defenders. It's a credit not only to Wayne, who turns 34 in a few weeks, but also anything-but-raw first-year passer Andrew Luck, that this odd couple is among the most productive quarterback-wide receiver duos in the game today. Wayne saw 20 targets Sunday, giving him 60 in four games, and he caught six passes on the game-winning drive alone. The Packers had no answers despite knowing full well what was coming.
One moral of this story is this: The greatest draft-day bargains tend to be older, forgotten fellows seemingly well past their prime. I preach that across all fantasy sports. Think baseball's Lance Berkman, circa 2011. I didn't see Wayne having any games like Sunday -- his best games in 2011 featured eight catches, and he topped 100 receiving yards only three times with that motley crew of passers throwing to him -- but with a quarter of this season over, he's on pace for 144 receptions and 2,024 receiving yards. (Man, paces can be fun.) I think we can all agree this ninth-rounder, on average, in ESPN leagues has been an incredible steal.
Another moral is the one about rookie quarterbacks struggling, or holding their weapons back. Luck is throwing the ball so much -- and so well - that he's on pace for 708 attempts, which would break the record (set by Drew Bledsoe in 1994). Luck might not be a prime Peyton Manning, but he looks good enough for starter status in 12-team formats. Indy's lack of defense and inconsistent running game also aids this situation for Luck and Wayne.
Ultimately, Wayne is performing like the top-10 wide receiver he used to be, although there are probably 15 or so wide receivers deserving of such status these days. I can't make a good case to be concerned about Wayne's final 12 games, either. You know, 33 isn't that old. I ranked Wayne 15th for the rest of the season last Tuesday, but he'll surely pass underachieving Jordy Nelson, brittle Hakeem Nicks and perhaps former wide receiver champ Andre Johnson, who is a bit of both. No, that doesn't get him past Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Victor Cruz, Percy Harvin, Brandon Marshall, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Larry Fitzgerald, Demaryius Thomas or Wes Welker yet, but No. 11 has a nice ring to it, no? Anyone wanna bet against Wayne leapfrogging other young whippersnappers in the coming weeks?
Second down: Think for a moment about how people viewed the New York Giants' running game only two weeks ago. Upstart Andre Brown ran wild in Week 3 as Ahmad Bradshaw sat out with a neck injury. Brown became popular, and Bradshaw seemed "old" (there's that word again). But on Sunday, Bradshaw didn't look old or hurt or anything but spectacular thrashing the Cleveland Browns for 200 rushing yards on 30 carries. What's more surprising, the yards or the attempts? Each is easily a career best. Bradshaw is clearly healthy, and he helped exploit the Browns outside the tackles, something the Giants hadn't done well. Forget about any timeshare for the Giants. We can debate whether Brown, who left Sunday's game early because a head injury, is even ahead of rookie David Wilson for handcuff purposes at this point, after the latter scampered for a 40-yard touchdown. But there's a clear No. 1 regardless. Look for Bradshaw to return to top-20 relevance in my Week 6 rankings and Tuesday's end-of-season version, and if you own Brown, move on.
Third down: One Pittsburgh Steelers fantasy option topped 10 fantasy points Sunday, and it wasn't a member of the passing game or the team defense. It was running back Rashard Mendenhall, making an impressive recovery from tearing his knee only 10 months ago. He proved that Pittsburgh's sad September running game was more than salvageable by rushing 14 times for 81 yards and a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles. Steelers running backs, mostly Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, had averaged 2.6 yards per carry entering Week 5, and 2.9 yards per tote inside of the tackles. Mendenhall showed strength and burst in gaining 58 yards inside the tackles Sunday, while the team produced 99 such yards. Mendenhall, who I've touted as a good free-agent pickup in recent videos, remains available in roughly 17 percent of ESPN standard leagues, but he has always been a reliable touchdown-maker. He'll head back into my top 20 running backs for both Week 6 and the duration of the season. Remember, Mendenhall was top-10 in 2010, not an emerging superstar, but proven and reliable. He appears back to that level.
Fourth down: As for injuries to be concerned about, look no further than the concussion suffered by Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. Fantasy's top scorer entering the week left in the third quarter Sunday against Atlanta after a big sideline hit to the head. Griffin produced only three fantasy points, well below his average of 25 per game, but the concern is about the future. It's too early to know if Griffin will suit up for Week 6 against the Minnesota Vikings, and if he sits, we won't be recommending fellow rook Kirk Cousins. There is plenty of quarterback depth in standard fantasy leagues, but this guy had been the best. While selling high seemed the proper move weeks ago, and still does, it's not because athletic, running quarterbacks like Griffin, Cam Newton and especially Michael Vick aren't talented. It's because they worry us just a bit more with regard to injuries, with Sunday being a good example why.