After a painful Week 6, for NFL coaches, here are three unheralded medal-earners (started in less than 30-percent of Y! leagues) projected to finish in fourth place who ended up setting the fantasy pace:
Josh Freeman, TB, QB
Y! Percent started: 30-percent
Very early in the Saints/Bucs clash Sunday, Sean Payton shattered his "tibia plateau" when tight end Jimmy Graham rolled into his leg on a fluke sideline collision. During the second-half, the coach, confined in the Saints locker-room, watched on TV as Josh Freeman dissected his team.
The physical and mental pain he experienced must have been unbearable.
Fanalysts who wrote Freeman off after last week's pathetic effort in San Francisco (187-0-2) likely also felt a great deal of discomfort.
Sunday's rather animated "Fantasy Football Live" was filled with a number of exchanges over the Tampa passer. Colleague Brandon Funston repeatedly argued against Freeman on grounds of inconsistency and general low upside. Meanwhile, yours truly and Chris Liss, cognizant of the potential shootout against the Saints, highly recommended the struggling commodity. For once, Liss and I didn't attack each other's jugulars over a topic. And, for once, we were right.
Freeman was terrific against his division rival finishing with 303 yards, two touchdowns and zero turnovers. The effort was the fourth-best of the week among QBs. It was also his first multi-TD passing performance in six games and only his second 300-yard game of his career.
Scoring mediocrity is the knock against Freeman. Averaging 19.3 points per game, normally a very useful output most years, he ranks only No. 18 among passers. But without LeGarrette Blount in uniform for at least the next week or two, he should be the focal point of the Bucs offense. Earnest Graham has excelled between the tackles, but his multi-dimensional contributions mesh beautifully with the signal caller's strengths.
Slated to face Chicago, and its giving secondary, next week in the Land of Crooked Teeth, The Fro is back in the circle of trust. Keep in mind the Bears have surrendered 7.4 yards per attempt, 292.5 passing yards and 1.5 passing touchdowns per game this season. Additional upcoming matchups against New Orleans, Houston and Green Bay are also favorable.
Over the next few weeks, expect Freeman to be a borderline QB1 in 12-team leagues.
Jerome Simpson, Cin, WR
Y! percent started: Six-percent
The last time Simpson was the central subject of an article law enforcement had just raided his stoner sanctuary in Kentucky. But Sunday against Indianapolis, the sticky-fingered wideout commanded owners' attention for a more appropriate reason.
The receiver, who easily outmaneuvered whipping boy Jacob Lacey, took his six loyal supporters on a magic carpet ride, grabbing a game-high six passes for 101 yards. It was the second time in five games he reached triple digits.
Despite Simpson's eye-catching effort, Bengals head honcho Marvin Lewis served the wideout a large slice of humble pie post-game. From Bengals.com:
Thoughts on how Jerome Simpson played today, getting 100 yards:
"He seemed to be inconsistent from my vantage point, because he had some drops. You can't drop the football."
If Simpson coats his gloves in pine tar, he has a fair amount of upside in challenging formats. A.J. Green is a Calvin Johnson-level talent who's dominated and demanded extra attention from the opposition. The added coverage he's drawn should continue to benefit everyone in the Cincy receiving corps. That combined with Andy Dalton's general competency suggest Simpson could be a serviceable WR3 over the next few weeks.
If he's wading on an inter-tube in your league's free agent pool, throw a few bucks ($8-$10) at him in FAAB bidding this week.
Jake Ballard, NYG, TE
Y! percent started: Three-percent
After his third consecutive top-10 effort, it's time to take Ballard seriously. Including Sunday's 5-81-0 line against intrastate foe Buffalo, the underappreciated tight end has caught 11 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns over his past three contests.
Based on his consistent production level, it's obvious, the Ohio State product has become the apple of Eli Manning's eye. Equipped with excellent hands and size, and a knack for finding soft spots in zone coverage, Ballard is an emerging, Owen Daniels-like weapon in a pass-heavy offense who should continue to produce solid numbers in the near future and beyond. Manning's confidence in him grows with every target. From ESPN New York:
"He's understanding the system. He doesn't have the great speed, but he just has a great feel for what to do," Manning said. "You can see it on a few of the plays today. It's not exactly how they were scripted, but he scrambles around. He has a feel for what's going on. He's catching the ball well and playing smart football."
Ahmad Bradshaw ran wild against the Bills, but, for the most part, the Giants ground game has remained in park for much of the season. As a result, Tom Coughlin has put increased faith in Eli's arm. With Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham on roster, any individual among the living would.
Averaging a career-best 9.1 yards per attempt, up from 7.4 last year, Manning is flourishing fantasy-wise. The QB's surging play combined with the attention the wide receivers normally draw should keep Ballard's place at the TE head table intact, especially over the next few weeks. After the bye, the Giants face Miami, New England and San Francisco, teams, from a defensive perspective, that are vertically challenged.
Owned in a mere 10-percent of Y! leagues, Ballard is a player to stash even in shallow formats.
Honorable Mentions: Cincinnati Bengals D/ST, Arrelious Benn, TB, WR, John Beck, QB, Was
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