First-round quarterbacks have always received the benefit of a long leash thanks to their mega contracts and the franchise’s deep investment. Times could be changing for the better, however, after the post-lockout CBA greatly reduced rookie contracts, allowing organizations to turn the page if the young quarterback is holding the offense hostage.
As it turns out, that’s exactly how it’s playing out in Jacksonville. The swing-and-miss on golden boy J.P. Losman eventually got Mike Mularkey canned in Buffalo. Faced with the same scenario nearly a decade later, Mularkey switched gears and sent GM Gene Smith’s No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 draft to the clipboard and visor in favor of journeyman Chad Henne.
With Henne under center, we saw plenty of evidence in a shootout at Houston that the Jaguars boast NFL-quality offensive talent at wide receiver and tight end. Fantasy's No. 5 receiver over the past five weeks, Cecil Shorts is now on pace for a 1,000-yard season. Fifth overall pick Justin Blackmon is now leading all rookies in receiving yards after trading blows with Andre Johnson in Week 11. Blackmon also appears to have emerged as Henne's favorite target.
Jalen Parmele leaves a lot to be desired in the instincts department, but he should be in line for a heavy workload against a Titans defense allowing the fourth-most fantasy points to backs. With Rob Gronkowski out and Heath Miller in third-string QB hell, Marcedes Lewis joins Brandon Myers, Dwayne Allen, and Dustin Keller as viable pick-ups this week. Lewis was fantasy's No. 4 tight end with David Garrard at QB in 2010. He scored more points last week with Henne than he did any of Gabbert's 24 starts.
Service Announcement: With bye weeks winding down last week, the top two running backs on this list should have already been rostered by the owners of Willis McGahee and LeSean McCoy. Now that bye weeks are over and done with, there’s no need to be carrying low-upside flex options such as Ronnie Brown, Peyton Hillis, Donald Jones, Andre Roberts, or Browns receivers.
In addition to Hillman and Brown, the following “handcuffs” should be added this week: Kendall Hunter, Toby Gerhart, Robert Turbin, Evan Royster, Shane Vereen, Bernard Pierce, Michael Bush, and Daryl Richardson. It’s a little fuzzier for timeshare handcuffs such as LeGarrette Blount, Jacquizz Rodgers, Montario Hardesty, and Cedric Peerman, but they can certainly be added in deeper formats.
On to the players. Here is how I rank the top players at each position as we head into Week 12. Full write-ups of each player are below.
Mark Ingram / Chris Ivory
Ryan Broyles / Mike Thomas
Colin Kaepernick, 49ers - Coach Jim Harbaugh passed up the opportunity to back Alex Smith as his starter after Kaepernick’s sterling performance in a blowout of the Bears. Stating that he tends to go with the hot hand, Harbaugh left the door wide open for Kaepernick to start against a Saints defense allowing the most fantasy points to quarterbacks. Although the decision won’t be made until later in the week, Kaepernick is worth picking up as a speculative addition. Of his 25 rushes this season, nine have gone for 10+ yards. Only RGIII, Michael Vick, and Cam Newton have more. As Evan Silva points out, the 49ers did not change their offense to suit a “run-first” QB Monday night, leaving their passing game more wide open than ever with Kaepernick under center. The coaching staff’s action tells us they believe Kaepernick is legit.
Recommendation: Worth a look in 12-team leagues.
Chad Henne, Jaguars - It turns out Blaine Gabbert was holding the offense hostage after all. Against a top-five NFL defense, the Jaguars proved that they have plenty of offensive talent, allowing Henne, Justin Blackmon, and Marcedes Lewis to finish as top-five fantasy performers at their respective positions (Cecil Shorts was 13th). With Blackmon and Shorts rolling and the running game struggling to get back on track, Henne could flirt with QB1 value in juicy matchups versus the Titans and Bills the next two weeks.
Recommendation: Worth a look in 12-team leagues.
Jake Locker, Titans - You could do worse for a plug-and-play against a Jacksonville defense that just surrendered the second-most passing yards in NFL history to Matt Schaub. The Locker-Henne showdown has a bizarre shootout feel courtesy of a pair of defenses in the bottom third in the league -- both allowing 325+ yards per game. For the season, the Jaguars have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks.
Recommendation: Worth a look as a matchup play.
Russell Wilson, Seahawks - As we mentioned in last week’s article, Wilson is on pace to join Peyton Manning as the only rookie QBs to pass for 24 touchdowns. Although he’s playing at a high level, his per-game fantasy average ranks just 17th over the past five weeks. Wilson remains a QB2 option for the next three games, two of which come against the top-five pass defenses (Bears, Cardinals).
Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues.
Mark Sanchez, Jets - Sanchez kept the Tebow chants at bay for another week with a strong 15-of-20 performance at St. Louis. The last time he faced the Patriots, Sanchez delivered 328 yards and a 68.3 completion percentage. New England is allowing the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Sanchez can implode in any given week, but at least the matchup is right.
Recommendation: Worth a look in two-quarterback leagues.
Watch List: Charlie Batch, Ryan Lindley
Batch hasn’t cleared 210 yards in a game since the 2007 season; he’s a caretaker and little else. … Coach Ken Whisenhunt is undecided on his Week 12 starter, though the Arizona Republic suspects it will be the rookie Lindley until Kevin Kolb returns. The Cardinals QB will be ranked 32nd of 32 fantasy options until Kolb is back on the field.
Cut Bait: Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, Blaine Gabbert, Matt Cassel, Byron Leftwich, Jason Campbell
Tannehill’s play has fallen off over the past three weeks. … Foles, Gabbert, Campbell, and Cassel are expected to head back to the bench this week. … Leftwich is expected to miss this week’s game.