The Fantasy Hit List

Can you believe we’re already five weeks into the NFL season?

No time for sentimental thoughts and feelings, we have work to do here at the NFP.

MBP Award (Most Beastly Performance)

Miles Austin Wide Receiver Dallas Cowboys

I won’t lie, I hate showing any kind of love to the Dallas Cowboys. But after Sunday’s performance, I can’t avoid giving credit where credit is due.

With much respect to Roddy White and Ahmad Bradshaw, Austin gets the nod this week for the MBP Award. The fourth-year veteran out of Monmouth (N.J.) University lit up the Kansas City Chiefs’ secondary in Week 5, catching 10 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 60-yard catch and run in overtime.

More important, Austin’s big day helped struggling quarterback Tony Romo post some serious fantasy numbers (20/34, 351 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) and sent the masses of fantasy die-hards to the waiver wire in the hopes of landing the next big steal of 2009.

It will be interesting to see what the Dallas coaching staff does when the high-priced Roy Williams returns to the lineup. Austin opened the season third on the depth chart (behind Williams and Patrick Crayton), but after Sunday’s outing, he just could be the big-play threat the Cowboys have been looking for.

Owners are advised to exercise some caution. While Austin’s performance was very impressive, the Chiefs rank 29th against the pass (270.0 yards per game) and missed several tackles that allowed Austin to pile up the yardage. Better secondaries will not allow similar performances to occur.

Their value is climbing

1. Matt Hasselbeck Quarterback Seattle Seahawks

Hasselbeck was one of our recommended “starts” in Friday’s edition of Enter the Red Zone, and he didn’t disappoint.

The veteran quarterback returned to the starting lineup on Sunday after suffering a cracked rib in Week 2 to complete 18 of 30 passes for 241 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-0 blowout win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Look for the big numbers to continue as Hasselbeck’s next four games come against some of the worst passing defenses in the league (Arizona, 32nd; Dallas, 28th; Detroit, 27th; Arizona, 32nd).

2. Denver Broncos Defense/Special Teams

Wow.

If you didn’t think these guys were for real heading into Week 5, you must be on the train by now.

The Broncos’ defense was outstanding Sunday, holding Tom Brady to just 215 yards passing in a 20-17 win that moved Denver to 5-0. What was more impressive was that after giving up 20 points in the first half, the defense made the necessary adjustments and didn’t allow the Patriots to score a single point over the game’s final two quarters plus overtime.

The Broncos rank first in the NFL in fewest points allowed (8.6 average), second in sacks (16) and second in total defense (252.8 yards per game), making now the perfect time to shop this defense on the open market.

Check out Denver’s next seven games:

at San Diego, BYE, at Baltimore, Pittsburgh, at Washington, San Diego, New York Giants

It’s very rare to trade a D/ST unit straight up, so target a big-name player who can help your team and offer this unit as part of a multi-team trade.

3. Cedric Benson Running Back Cincinnati Bengals

Benson became the first running back since Larry Johnson of the Kansas City Chiefs (Dec. 10, 2006) to rush for over 100 yards in a game against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Cincinnati running back is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and 14.0 fantasy points per week (standard scoring), forcing all of us who passed up on him in August (myself included) to kick ourselves for doubting the Bengals’ No. 1 workhorse.

Expect another big game this Sunday when the Bengals play host to the Houston Texans.

Three more who are climbing

1. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants: He’s carried the ball 42 fewer times than Brandon Jacobs but has rushed for 20 more yards and scored one more touchdown. Look for Bradshaw to continue getting a healthy dose of the workload in the Big Apple.

2. Austin Collie, Indianapolis Colts: Collie is likely to see a drop in value when Anthony Gonzalez returns to the lineup, but Sunday’s eight-reception, 97-yard, two-touchdown performance demonstrates that everyone on the field for the Colts gets some love.

3. Hines Ward, Pittsburgh Steelers: His seven catches in Week 5 give Ward a total of 33 receptions through five games. That puts him on pace to catch 105 passes this season.

Pick him up!

Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles: The rookie wide receiver pretty much cemented his role in the starting lineup by hauling in six passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Falling down the boards

1. Jerome Harrison Running Back Cleveland Browns

Running back Jamal Lewis returned from a hamstring injury Sunday and picked up right where he left off, averaging less than four yards per carry (3.8) and scoring no touchdowns.

This was a very interesting approach from head coach Eric Mangini, especially since Harrison stepped into the starting lineup in Week 4 against a tough Bengals defense and picked up 152 total yards while averaging 4.2 yards per carry.

In any event, it looks as if Harrison will resume the backup role while Lewis will handle the bulk of the carries.

2. The San Francisco 49ers Defense/Special Teams

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

After a red-hot start to the 2009 season, San Francisco was lit up in Week 5 by the high-octane Falcons offense for 45 points and 477 total yards of offense. Every fantasy-relevant player on Atlanta’s offense put up an impressive statistical performance.

Things won’t get any easier for the Niners’ defense as their upcoming schedule looks like this:

BYE, at Houston, at Indianapolis, Tennessee, Chicago, at Green Bay

Oh yeah, they also have games against the Seahawks, Cardinals and Eagles still on the schedule.

3. Terrell Owens & Lee Evans Wide Receivers Buffalo Bills

Words can’t even describe the disappointment these two have been this year. I’ll let the numbers do the talking:

Fantasy points per week: Owens (5.2), Evans (4.2)

Combined number of touchdowns: 2

Combined number of yards: 361

To put it in perspective, Miles Austin posted a 37-point fantasy day against the Chiefs (standard scoring). Evans and T.O. have COMBINED for a grand total of 48 fantasy points this season.

Three more who are falling

1. Derek Anderson, Cleveland Browns: It’s not like his value was that high heading into Week 5, but any time you complete just two of 17 passes against a team like the Buffalo Bills, you’re going to take some heat.

2. Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia Eagles: His eight touches on Sunday happened to be the same number that rookie running back LeSean McCoy had. Not a good sign for the aging running back.

3. Willis McGahee, Baltimore Ravens: He’s only had six total carries over the past two weeks and hasn’t found the end zone since Week 3. It looks like this stock is starting to tumble.

Get rid of him

Larry Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs: Another miserable outing for L.J. on Sunday as he carried the ball 21 times for an unimpressive 37 yards. He still has not found the end zone and is averaging 2.4 yards per carry on the season. Put this stock in the Enron/Bernie Madoff portfolio.

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