Danario Alexander pregame, assessing the Chargers season (Getty)
Entering Week 15, Chargers receiver Danario Alexander was looking like a must-start fantasy asset. He'd just roasted Pittsburgh, the NFL's top-ranked pass defense, for 88 yards and two TDs. Alexander was coming off a five-game stretch in which he'd delivered 30 catches for 494 receiving yards and five scores. There were few obvious reasons to doubt him.
But then Sunday happened.
DX put up a goose egg in a critical week — zero catches, zero yards, zero fantasy points. He was targeted just three times. He dropped the first throw that came his way (though it wouldn't have gained more than 3-4 yards), the second was well-defended, and the third "target" was actually a throwaway, a ball that Philip Rivers buried in the dirt to avoid a loss.
The closest Alexander came to a highlight was when he drew a PI flag, setting up San Diego's only touchdown. Aside from that play — which helped no one in fantasy — DX did nothin'. His ill-timed bagel knocked a few thousand fantasy owners from the playoffs.
But if you somehow survived that dud performance, you now have a tricky lineup decision to make in Championship Week. The Chargers will travel to face the Jets, the league's No. 2 pass D. Not so long ago, you weren't worried about match-ups with Danario. He was on the approved list. Today, you're probably wondering if you should cut him loose, as 4,506 Yahoo! managers did on Monday.
After watching the full tape of San Diego's loss to Carolina (not recommended), here's what I can say with certainty about Alexander: He never really had a chance in Week 15. His quarterback was terrible, as was his quarterback's protection. Rivers was harassed persistently (six sacks), plus he was a disaster when given time. Two of Rivers' four fumbles were actually drops -- like, he had the ball in his hand, then it was on the ground. No defender involved.
And then there was this play...
Rivers gives himself up, maybe a little early
...which might have been the most premature give-up slide in the history of tackle football. He came up limping, too, because he slid like it was his first day of tee-ball.
So Philip Rivers was basically a human blooper reel in Week 15. He finished with 121 passing yards and four fumbles (two lost). Most of his pass attempts went to running backs and tight ends; Alexander and Malcom Floyd combined for just five targets and two catches. Not a great day for the Bolts offense ... or the defense, or the coaching staff, or the fans.
Can Rivers and Alexander rebound? Well, sure, they can. It's possible. Danario had been reliably useful over multiple weeks, a fixture on the target leader board, vaulting into the early-round discussion for 2013 drafts. We've seen him excel in tough match-ups, too.
Still, I'm not all that eager to start any player tied to Rivers right now. He's the big worry for Alexander owners. (Well, him and the Jets defense. New York has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers this season. You're no doubt familiar with Antonio Cromartie's work). This week, I'll have DX in the high-20s in my ranks, alongside the WR3s. Can't say I'm with Cap'n Huevos on this one.
If you're a bit more bullish, please bring your spin to comments, after the usual target grid...
Target Leaders, Week 15 (2012)
• Just look at those numbers for Larry Fitzgerald over the past four weeks: 35 targets (good), nine catches (yikes), 78 yards (oof). And it gets no better if you go back another week: 42 targets, 10 catches, 89 yards. Fitz is good enough to thrive with even a league-average QB, but this current mess is hopeless.
• Kendall Wright suffered a cracked rib in Monday night's ugly win over the Jets, so he's no lock to play in Week 16. Nate Washington and Kenny Britt obviously get the value bumps. I'm not too interested in a third Tennessee receiver, unless it's Kendall.
• Don't look now, but Brandon Lloyd is begin—
No, I can't even pretend. I'm still not crazy about Lloyd. Sorry. He gave us a nice line on Sunday, sure. These things happen when Tom Brady puts the ball in the air 65 times. But I'm still not prepared to forgive 85 for Weeks 7-13.
• Nice to have you back in the game, Cecil Shorts. He returned from a concussion with yet another 100-yard effort, his fourth in his last seven games. Shorts is now up to 925 receiving yards and seven TDs on the year — not bad for a guy that none of us drafted. He'll face the Pats in Week 16, a defense that allows 270.4 passing yards per game. Use as needed.
• Danny Amendola returned with a double-digit target total, plus he managed to find the end zone against the Vikings. He gets the friendliest possible match-up in Championship Week (Tampa Bay), so there's no benching him now. Sam Bradford should again be a decent play, too, if you have a need at QB.