A week ago at this time, the returning, big-name wide receiver fantasy owners were becoming excited about was Sidney Rice of the Minnesota Vikings. He made his debut in Week 11 and this week ESPN Fantasy has him projected for 63 yards and a touchdown. While San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson wasn't injured and his absence from the field probably has fantasy owners (and the Chargers!) a bit more bitter, we've got him projected for a similar performance. Fantasy owners should be intrigued.
It's the rare player that can possess nary a fantasy point yet be owned in more than half of ESPN's standard leagues as late as the week of Thanksgiving, but such is the case with Jackson (59.2 percent owned). Meanwhile, Rice, who scored five fantasy points in his 2010 debut, is owned in 43.2 percent of leagues. Regardless of actual ownership, these are impact wide receivers. A season ago, Rice finished eighth in standard wide receiver scoring with 169 fantasy points, while Jackson was a mere three points behind in a tie with Brandon Marshall for ninth. These guys are good, and they have opportunity. Personally, I would choose Jackson over Rice for the duration of this season, but I think it's clear both players should be owned even in 10-team standard leagues.
While I firmly believe the under-new-direction Vikings are going to react much like the Dallas Cowboys did upon their coaching change and it will show immediately with more scoring, the Chargers are already there. Philip Rivers enters Week 12 as fantasy's top scoring quarterback and on a pace to break the all-time passing yards mark. Rivers has achieved his lofty status despite an often uncertain corps of weapons.
The running game has been erratic. All-world tight end Antonio Gates hasn't been, but he couldn't play Monday night. I expected Malcom Floyd, out since Week 6 with a hamstring injury, to go nuts against the Denver Broncos, but he caught only two passes (one for a score). Rivers tossed touchdown passes to four different fellows, two of them running backs. Put simply, Rivers has been like Peyton Manning, making the best of what has been at his disposal. Getting Jackson back must seem like an early Christmas present.
I'm not going to rank Jackson as a sure-fire starter for shallow leagues, but he'll appear just outside my top 20 wide receivers. He has to be owned because the Chargers, as my colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft noted last week, have a favorable schedule the final six weeks. With Rice, he'll be a few spots behind Jackson. Either way, I think the news these fellows have made for the past months -- surgery, contracts, suspensions, PUP list -- will soon take a back seat to actual production.
Here are some other players seeing their fantasy stock fluctuate of late:
Jon Kitna, QB, Dallas Cowboys: At this point, the concerns I had a few weeks ago about Kitna are evaporating much like the chances Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher will be sending Vince Young a Christmas card. For one, Kitna has 50 fantasy points the past two weeks. Two, it doesn't look like Tony Romo is close to returning from a broken collarbone, and it wouldn't surprise me if the team ends speculation and shuts him down.
Mike Goodson, RB, Carolina Panthers: OK, so the first 100-yard rushing game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was nice, but to top it against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 11 was more surprising. I don't know what this team is planning to do at quarterback, and I've lost hope in wide receiver Steve Smith, but Goodson, still available in 90 percent of standard leagues, should be a useful flex option.
Mike Thomas, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: The Mike Sims-Walker owners who continue to whine about their underachiever should simply do what the Jaguars have done and turn their attention to the diminutive Thomas. He's the one with touchdowns in three consecutive games. Yes, I realize one of them came on a Hail Mary, but Thomas is becoming David Garrard's main wide receiver target, and he's going to help fantasy owners in Weeks 15-17 against the Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins and Houston Texans.
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, New York Jets: As quarterback Mark Sanchez continues to impress, the team's running game has suffered, with Tomlinson's stretch of fewer than 60 rushing yards reaching five consecutive games, and he hasn't scored since Week 6. Tomlinson is still getting touches but doing less with them. One of these weeks, Shonn Greene will break through.
Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams, RB, Miami Dolphins: Anyone else had enough? I remain perplexed at how this duo was given a mere three carries each last Thursday night, but I think we can agree the offense is a mess right now, regardless of the quarterback. Brown will not be in my top 30 running backs this week, and I'm thisclose to reducing Marshall to Randy Moss missing-in-action status.
Anquan Boldin, WR, Baltimore Ravens: Boldin's owners have surely noticed the two mediocre performances in the past three weeks. He's generally regarded as a safe top-20 wide receiver, but remove the 32-point outing in Week 3 and he's not even top 30. I can't ignore the pending Week 14 matchup with the Houston Texans, but otherwise the schedule isn't going to help him. Be careful you're not assuming this is a weekly starter based on name value. Own him, but don't start him over Steve Johnson or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Mike Williams.