After a wacky Week 12, here are three unheralded medal-earners (started in less than 20-percent of Y! leagues) projected to finish in fourth place who ended up setting the fantasy pace:
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buf, QB
Y! Percent started: 16-percent
Over the past week possibly no offense faced more scrutiny than the Buffalo Bills. The ridicule was well-deserved. Earlier this season, Chan Gailey's ragtag group of reclamation projects executed at a high level. Over the first eight weeks, the Bills scored at least 23 points in every game. Bargain buys Fred Jackson and Ryan Fitzpatrick were lineup staples for many.
However, after Week 8, the stampede stopped.
From Weeks 9-11, Buffalo averaged just 8.7 points per game, a laughable performance that led to three consecutive losses. Most damning, Jackson, who comprised 40-percent of the club's offense, was placed on injured reserve with a leg injury just before Thanksgiving. As a result, owners and fanalysts alike placed the odds of a BUF rebound against the W-hungry Jets at 50:1, equal to Matt Leinart's chances of NOT sucking. Among the Y! Fantasy brass, no Bill was ranked as a starter Week 12 in 12-team leagues.
Though it didn't snap its losing skid, Buffalo regained the respect of the fantasy community — Fitzpatrick especially. The Ted Kaczynski lookalike delivered an explosive, 264-3-0-34 fantasy line, the second-best tally, so far, among Week 12 passers. If not for Stevie Johnson's banana hands, his day would've been even better (Sidebar: Kudos to Stevie for his Plaxico-inspired end-zone lampoonery. Brilliant. Well-executed. Hilarious.)
Believe or Make Believe? Believe. Because C.J. Spiller would probably bounce off a wall of whipped cream and due to the Bills' defensive woes, Gailey will undoubtedly lean on Fitzpatrick's arm the rest of the season, a situation reminiscent of what he did with Tyler Thigpen in '08. The QB's 39 attempts Sunday was his third-highest workload of the season and most logged since Week 3. Upcoming battles could yield similar results. With bye weeks no longer in play, he should crack starting lineups in deep leagues. A couple of top-10 performances could be on the horizon. Keep in mind his fantasy playoff schedule — San Diego (second-most points allowed to QBs since Week 8), Miami and Denver — is fairly user-friendly. Raise a pint.
Caleb Hanie, Chi, QB
Y! Percent started: 1-percent
Prior to Week 12, the only information those outside Halas Hall had on the Bears backup was tape from last year's NFC Championship game and a couple light scouting reports like the one below:
Hanie has adequate size and strength, and while he saw only limited action in 2010 he flashed the ability to read and get the ball out on short and intermediate passes versus the Packers in adverse conditions during the playoffs. He appears to be a good athlete and a player who can create out of the pocket. The jury is still out, though, and his playing time is likely to continue to be limited behind Jay Cutler.
In other words, adding the minimally-owned passer prior to Sunday was a complete dice roll. Surprisingly, those who gambled profited.
Hanie made mistakes (three interceptions) and completed just 18-of-36 attempts, but he flashed significant fantasy upside. Against a beatable Raiders secondary and playing with a watered-down playbook, he finished with 258 yards and two touchdowns. Most intriguing, he rushed for 50 yards, a stat that definitely raised an eyebrow of many.
Believe or Make Believe? Believe. As the breakdown above reads, Hanie is indeed an excellent athlete. He moves well when flushed out of the pocket, exhibiting above average burst for the position. That skill combined with his serviceable execution in the short-to-intermediate field bodes well for his statistical contribution over the next several weeks, especially with one of the best check-down receivers in the biz, Matt Forte, on roster. So does his schedule. With Seattle the exception, all of the Bears' remaining opponents — Kansas City, Denver and Green Bay — rank inside the top half in points-allowed to QBs on the season. Hanie, similar in style and substance as Christian Ponder, could deliver useful, borderline top-15 numbers down the homestretch.
Donald Brown, Ind, RB
Y! Percent started: 3-percent
To say it's been a miserable season in Indy would be the understatement of the century. Winless on the year, the Colts have performed like a low-level WAC team. But through the darkness, Brown has been the lone bright spot.
Once considered an up-and-comer in fantasy circles when the Colts selected him 27th overall two years ago, the UConn product has failed to measure up since. Timidity, fumble problems and nagging injuries wore off the luster long ago. Quietly, though, he's made steady improvements across the board this season. Including Sunday's standout 97-total yard, 1-TD showing against Carolina, he's averaged a stout 4.7 yards per carry. If Manning returns with the Colts next season, he could be a nice late-round sleeper. Addai, who'll be 29 next year, is has one misstep away from the glue factory. And Delone Carter will have to overcome his fumble-prone reputation to earn back trust from the coaching staff.
Believe or Make Believe? Make Believe. Credit to Brown for finally becoming a man, but what he accomplished in Week 12 was largely due to the dreadfulness of the Pansies, fantasy's friendliest run defense, than a coming of age moment. Yes, he'll likely continue to record roughly 14-16 touches per game down the stretch, regardless if Joseph Addai is the starter, but the Colts' overall futility, especially on defense, limits his ceiling. More discouraging, Indy's rest of season schedule isn't the kindest. Matchups with New England and Tennessee are somewhat appealing, but Baltimore and Houston, two teams that rank in the top-five in fewest points-allowed to RBs, certainly are not. At best, he's a flex option in Grand Canyon-deep leagues.
Follow Brad on Twitter @YahooNoise.
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