Editor's note: Eric Karabell is off this week. Tristan H. Cockcroft wrote the Four Downs (Sunday night) and flex rankings (Thursday) KaraBlog entries, KC Joyner wrote the year-to-end ranks KaraBlog entry (Tuesday) and AJ Mass wrote this "sneaky pickups" KaraBlog entry (Friday). Eric will return Sunday night (Nov. 20) with his Four Downs blog entry reacting to Week 11 games.
"Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times." -- Niccolo Machiavelli
"The times, they are a-changin'" -- Bob Dylan
By Week 11, there are no secrets left to be unearthed in the NFL. After all, this is football and not baseball, so there's no Stephen Strasburg-like phenom about to be sprung on unsuspecting defenses. Team rosters and playing time allocations are pretty much locked into place for the next few weeks, with one caveat, of course ... injuries.
Those are the game-changers, and savvy owners are sure to spring into action immediately when they occur, possibly even before the injured player in question has even been carted off the field. However, just because a player is "next in line" that doesn't mean he's going to become a permanent fixture.
Cases in point: Matt Cassel and Matt Schaub are both most likely done for the season, so their immediate replacements (in all probability) have already been snatched up in your league. But just because Tyler Palko and Matt Leinart are getting "first dibs" on the quarterback action, it doesn't mean that they're going to perform well enough to keep the jobs. Maybe the better pickup in the long run might be the new "guy in waiting" rather than the one rushed into service.
Ricky Stanzi, Kansas City Chiefs: The rookie fifth-round pick out of Iowa has spent his time running the scout team offense and hasn't even suited up for a game. However, the Chiefs have not gone out and signed a veteran to back up Palko, which indicates a pretty high level of confidence in Stanzi. And, as Todd Haley told reporters, "I think we're all very encouraged with Ricky, we really are. He's the type of guy you want playing quarterback." We wouldn't be surprised to see the rookie get a shot before the end of the season, and possibly sooner if the Chiefs lose three or four in row.
T.J Yates, Houston Texans: Another fifth-rounder who is now "one heartbeat away" from NFL action, Yates has definitely impressed coach Gary Kubiak. "He's progressed a great deal," Kubiak told the Houston Chronicle. "I think he's going to be a player in this league. He's going to be called upon quickly to get ready to play." Given Leinart's track record -- 14 career touchdown passes and 20 interceptions, and a 7-10 record in 17 starts -- would anyone be surprised to see the rookie get that call, especially if a playoff spot starts to slip away?
Dan Orlovsky, Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning's injury happened long ago, and since that time Curtis Painter has proved himself unable to lead the Colts to even a single victory. Maybe Orlovsky (who played with the 0-16 Detroit Lions) isn't the greatest passer in the league, but even so, in 10 games during that futile season he still managed to post better numbers (1,616 yards and eight TDs) than Painter has in 2011 (1,315 yards and five TDs).
Deeper cuts: Should Michael Vick, Matthew Stafford or Ben Roethlisberger find themselves exacerbating current injuries, be sure to keep Mike Kafka, Drew Stanton and Dennis Dixon on your radar for future sneaky pickup status.
If the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers lock things up early in terms of first-round byes, then there's a chance they rest their starting guys down the stretch. At quarterback, that may mean Matt Flynn and Colin Kaepernick seeing significant action just in time for your fantasy playoffs. It might not be a bad idea to stash them on your bench, just in case opportunity knocks.
The 49ers are also sure to play it safe with Frank Gore going forward, meaning Kendall Hunter (owned in just 25.2 percent of ESPN leagues) could be a crunch time all-star. Other running backs who could well see a late-season surge in production as the wear and tear gets to their teams' usual workhorses include: Deji Karim (2.1 percent), Jacquizz Rodgers (1.4 percent) and D. J. Ware (0.7 percent).
Finally, let's take a look at some sneaky wide receivers you might want to consider picking up for the stretch drive. Because teams frequently use as many as six receivers in rotation during most weeks, you may not immediately notice when one of the bit players in a receiving corps starts to get an uptick in targets. Here are a few names that just might be silently rising up the depth charts as their quarterbacks have started to seek them out a bit more often over the last few weeks:
Follow AJ Mass on Twitter: @AJMass