Scouting Notebook: Thomas enters elite class

Michael Salfino
Yahoo! Sports

Getting this out quick before Hurricane Sandy hits here in New Jersey. Best wishes to the millions in the mid-Atlantic who will battle this vicious storm this week. Please stay safe and check in on loved ones.

We start in Denver where Demaryius Thomas is the receiver I would take right now before any other for the rest of the season. The Broncos schedule is soft, Thomas is a freak, Peyton Manning is at the top of his game. What's not to love?
Robert Griffin III had his first really disappointing day against a Steelers defense that many, including me, thought was a shadow of its former self. Of course, RGIII is not blessed with elite receivers. Leonard Hankerson dropped a touchdown pass, but RGIII threw one later on that drive anyway. Still, the Redskins entered the game top 10 all time in average gain per play so expect him to continue to be productive, especially on the ground – where he was uncharacteristically quiet in Pittsburgh.
You would think that Jonathan Dwyer played himself into a timeshare with Rashard Mendenhall, but I do not think that the Steelers running game is good enough to support two ball carriers. So sell Dwyer. In the air, Antonio Brown is exactly the kind of little receiver that we've come to expect – lots of catches, few touchdowns. Remember, he's not explosive, either.
Man, was I wrong about Matthew Stafford. I would have bet big money that he'd be disappointing again against a very solid Seattle defense. So his performance forces a re-evaluation. If you held this long, why sell now? I wouldn't be a buyer, though, as his price will now be close to draft-day value and that was always too high.
Who would have thought that Calvin Johnson would have one touchdown as we enter the halfway mark of the season? Certainly not me. Perhaps the lesson Stafford learned was to use Johnson as a decoy, which will be bad news for Johnson owners. You never want to see a stud like Johnson have a sort of nothing day when the team really succeeds offensively because then there not only isn't any urgency to get him more involved going forward, there actually may be incentive against it.
Hat tip also to Marshawn Lynch against a Lions defense that's no longer a joke. He's a lot better than I thought he was this summer. Kudos to those who drafted him and held.
There was a lot to like about Cam Newton's performance against a Bears defense that probably is the best in football. But then it all fell apart in about five seconds. Newton showed some moxie by getting the Panthers back into field goal range. He did enough to win in a very tough spot. He also lost a touchdown to my eye on the fumble recovery in the end zone. I thought he crossed the goal first. But when the same team recovers, they're not going to review for us.
Steve Smith looked to be at the top of his game on Sunday. He came within a fingertip of a touchdown on the Panthers last scoring drive, too.
The Bears offense looked very bad most of the day. Jay Cutler was dumped six times and Chicago was forced to use some one-wide receiver patterns in order to max protect. Cutler is below the cut of being starting caliber in 12-team leagues. Michael Bush should be cut, too, unless you are afforded deep benches. He's just another backup.
Michael Vick should have been voted the NFL's most overrated player. But as @Chris_Liss pointed out, being on an overrated list is the best evidence that you are not overrated.
The Falcons are two of the three teams with a winning record from 2009-2011 despite being minus in net yards per pass attempt (including sack yards). That's YPA gained minus YPA allowed. And it's out of 47 teams with a minus-net-YPA to any degree. Of course, the Falcons entered Sunday 6-0 and in negative net-YPA territory again. But they really walloped the Eagles, 7.9 YPA to 4.3, so order is returned to the universe.
It's funny that the Colts beat the Titans in overtime on a pass to running back Vick Ballard. Indy entered play on Sunday last in the NFL with just 7.5 percent of completions to running backs. The Chargers, entering Week 8, led the NFL with 41 percent. Neither of those extremes are conducive to productive NFL offense. The median is about 21 percent. The lack of easy passes to backs is a factor in Andrew Luck's too-low completion percentage. Teams complete about 74 percent of all passes to backs. Ballard can give you cover to go get Donald Brown, who I still think is better and who was the real hero of the winning drive.
Mark Sanchez is now 18-for-40 this year on passes to running backs. That's a damning indictment of his accuracy, the Jets personnel, or both. The Jets should see if Greg McElroy, the former Alabama quarterback, has anything to offer. Maybe there are would-be Tom Bradys who never get a chance.
Lots of touts are throwing bouquets to Denarius Moore, but the Chiefs secondary is well over 8.0 YPA allowed for the year, which is beyond terrible. I would have Moore shipped by Tuesday if I owned him anywhere. Just send some press clippings your leaguemate's way and name your price.
The Giants gave up 434 yards on 83 plays – 5.23 per play. Big Blue entered the game at 6.42 for the year, four-thousandths of a yard better than the worst defense on a per-play basis in post-merger history for a full season – the 2008 Lions, who went 0-16. Note the Saints, though, are even worse than the Giants (and staying that way Sunday night).