Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton wasn't on my list of fantasy football sleepers for this season, mainly because his arm seemed only average, he certainly didn't close his rookie season strongly and had a less than ideal schedule, facing the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in a quarter of his games. However, Dalton clearly looks better this season. The Steelers and Ravens aren't as formidable defensively, and with wide receiver A.J. Green becoming fantasy's best, well, I was willing to move Dalton into my top 10 for the Week 7 matchup against the Steelers.
Dalton comes off 381 yards passing with three touchdowns and three interceptions in a loss to the Cleveland Browns. Obviously, there are positives and negatives there. Dalton has been picked off in each game this season, with nine interceptions in all, but he also has nearly the same exact statistics as the New York Giants' Eli Manning, with these guys tied for eighth in all of fantasy, regardless of position, in standard scoring. Manning has one more completion in 10 more attempts, 46 more passing yards and one fewer touchdown pass, but Dalton has one rushing score. Manning consistently gets near-top-five quarterback treatment, and certainly he's more proven. Dalton struggled in Week 1, but since then has averaged 20 points per game -- a pace which, by the way, would easily top what Manning accomplished for the 2011 season.
The presence of the best wide receiver in the land as a colleague surely doesn't hurt, as Dalton and Green help each other. The quarterback doesn't need to be perfect to make plays, which is nice since he's not perfect. A year ago they became the first rookie teammates to top 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 receiving yards, and through six games they are on pace for 4,603 passing yards (with 32 touchdown passes) and 1,675 receiving yards (with 16 receiving scores) respectively. We've discussed elite QB/WR tandems in this blog space, exalting Manning and Victor Cruz, Matt Ryan with his options, and wondered what's been up with Detroit Lions underachiever Matthew Stafford and how it affects Calvin Johnson, but you don't hear Dalton's name bandied about as a top-10 option.
He's not quite yet there for end-of-season purposes, but he shouldn't be too scared of the Steelers, despite two pedestrian efforts last season. These banged-up Steelers are middle of the pack when it comes to allowing fantasy points to quarterbacks and wide receivers, but they haven't exactly faced the top teams, either, with the Jets, Raiders, Eagles (31st in the league in scoring) and Titans since Week 2. Green's performance is a given; his 15-point lead over No. 2 wide receiver Cruz of the Giants is the largest at any position in fantasy, except for the Chicago Bears defense. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been disappointing, and expectations should be modest for Week 7. For Dalton, I'll go out on a limb and say that they shouldn't be.
Quarterback: With six teams on bye, those in deep leagues might find the pickings slim if they didn't prepare ahead. In our Friday rankings update, a backup quarterback will have to be included (Tim Tebow!), because only 24 teams will be left on the schedule, and it won't be Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers, since his team plays Thursday. I liked Dalton, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub and Josh Freeman better than the staff average. I think Romo is better than his numbers; the Ravens run defense that was shredded by the Cowboys last week will overcompensate, opening the door for Schaub; and in Freeman's case, the matchup with the New Orleans Saints is similarly attractive. I also have Brandon Weeden four spots better than the average, as Josh Gordon is legit and the Indianapolis Colts defense isn't.
Running back: I sure hope Trent Richardson can play, because if Shonn Greene can score 34 fantasy points on the Colts, what can a healthy Richardson do? I did rank Browns backup Montario Hardesty better than ever (27th) because he should see touches as well. ... So Ahmad Bradshaw lit up the 49ers last week, in their place, and now Marshawn Lynch misses the top 10? Well, he made mine. ... I felt dirty ranking the average Felix Jones 16th, but clearly the group agreed. I might have underestimated teammate Phillip Tanner at 37. He ended up 33rd. ... The Buffalo Bills are fourth-easiest to compile running back points against, but how could I rank Chris Johnson top-10? I considered it, then he ended up 14. He's had nice matchups before, ya know.
Wide receiver: I ranked Hakeem Nicks top-10 on the theory that if he does play, he'll play well ... With Andre Johnson, he did see more targets in Week 6, but the Texans were getting blown out. He landed at 20 for me. He's averaging seven fantasy points per week. ... Based on what I thought was a modest rank on Devery Henderson versus others, I seem to like him. I don't think the pending Jimmy Graham return hurts Henderson much. ... None of us ranked Greg Jennings, but even though Randall Cobb has produced 24 fantasy points in the past fortnight, I couldn't justify a third Packers wide receiver top 30 against a St. Louis Rams defense that is tied with the New York Jets in fewest average fantasy points allowed to wide receivers.