Week 17 Heroes
By Jeff Tefertiller
July 21st, 2011

Have you ever noticed how some players come out of nowhere to have big games in week 17? This is a forgotten football week for many fantasy owners with Fantasy Super Bowls in week 16. It is interesting how some NFL clubs will use the normally unimportant game to take an extended look at some of their young players. Many teams are either locked into a specific playoff spot by then, or totally out of playoff contention. So, why not play the youngsters and see how they perform?

We will be looking just at the 2010 performances in week 17, even though some players received a longer shot in the spotlight. Before examining the 2010 late-season stars, let's look back to how the 2009 week 17 studs performed last year. Guess who the top running back was for the last game of the 2009 season. Jamaal Charles exploded with 259 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Denver Broncos. He sure built on that momentum for a strong 2010 campaign. Fred Jackson was RB3 that week and went on to surprise many with a strong 2010 season. The RB5 that week had almost half of his rookie rushing total. Any guesses? Unheralded rookie Arian Foster ran for 199 yards and two touchdowns, and added another 26 yards through the air. So, which players had outstanding week 17 performances that may make a big impact in 2011?

Tim Tebow ended his rookie season with three consecutive stellar games, saving the best for last against the San Diego Chargers in the final game of the year. He threw for 205 yards, and a matching pair of two touchdowns and two interceptions. That does not seem like much until you add in the 94 rushing yards and a score on the ground. Tebow is the favorite to begin the season under center for the Broncos. His rushing ability gives fantasy owners a huge boost.

Ryan Mathews emerged from his injury-plagued rookie season to have a monster outing in the final game. He lit up the sieve-like Denver Bronco defense for 120 rushing yards and three touchdowns with another 19 yards coming off of receptions. Mathews will need to remain healthy, but has a chance to displace Mike Tolbert for early-down carries. He is a good receiver out of the backfield and could be poised to explode against AFC West defenses.

Michael Bush has teased fantasy owners for a couple of years now. He tore up the Kansas City Chiefs for 171 total yards and a rushing touchdown in the last game of the 2010 season. Yes, Darren McFadden had a monster season in 2010, but can we really depend on his durability? Bush is a player who could take advantage of the situation if McFadden misses time. Coach Hue Jackson knows how to run the ball, making Bush a strong value play in fantasy leagues. He is expected back in Oakland after the lockout is over, but the issue of his free agency is not yet settled.

Joe McKnight is a player who might come from seemingly nowhere this year. After sharing time in the USC Trojan backfield, he languished behind LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene as a rookie. The aging Tomlinson wore down late in the season, opening the door for Greene to emerge as the starter. The coaches want Greene to be "the guy", but can he be productive carrying the load for an entire season? If not, the door may be ajar for McKnight to bust on to the scene. Against the Buffalo Bills in week 17, the rookie ran for 158 yards. Could it be a sign of things to come or was the big outing just a product of a great offensive line against a porous defense? Either way, McKnight makes a great player to stash and watch in preseason.

Jerome Simpson exploded for 123 yards on 12 receptions and a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in the final game of the year. The Cincinnati Bengals are now in rebuilding mode. Terrell Owens has departed and Chad Ochocinco could be gone as well. Simpson finally emerged after transitioning from tiny Coastal Carolina to the professional level. Can he build on the strong finish for a good 2011? Yes, and at a great value.

Chad Hall had the best game of his short career against the Dallas Cowboys in week 17. Hall is nothing more than a diminutive possession receiver. The second-year player from Air Force is someone many have never heard of but could be the solid sure-handed pass catcher Michael Vick and the Eagles need. He may never be a star but could become a PPR sleeper after the six catches for 86 and a score outburst versus the Cowboys.

Dezmon Briscoe is a raw, but gifted, wide receiver who finally latched on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after being a sixth round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals last year. Briscoe benefited from the injury to Arrelious Benn, but flashed enough to secure a WR3 or WR4 spot for the Buccaneers this season. He is big and fast ... and still very young. Briscoe will turn 22 years old in a few weeks. In a meaningful week 17 game for Tampa Bay against New Orleans, the rookie grabbed four balls for 65 yards and a touchdown. He could be in a good situation this coming year if something happens again to Benn.

Brandon LaFell may fall into a perfect opportunity. The Carolina Panthers are rebuilding into a young team. The only proven wide receiver, Steve Smith, has been rumored to be on the trade block for several months. LaFell is a big, athletic wide receiver who could grow into the WR1 role in Carolina. If we remember back to last season, the quarterback play was atrocious. Jimmy Clausen averaged a meager 120 passing yards a game. This is why the team selected Cam Newton in the Draft. Newton and Lafell are a pair of young, former SEC players who could bond quickly. The young wideout had his best game of the season against the Atlanta Falcons in the final game of the year. He caught four passes for 63 yards and added 60 more yards on the ground. LaFell is a player not to forget in the latter rounds of fantasy drafts. He could emerge into a viable fantasy option if Smith departs.

Brandon Tate has an advantage most other young players do not, he plays in the New England Patriot offense. Tom Brady works hard to get his young teammates up to speed. New England still misses a deep threat on offense with possession receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch lining up as starting wideouts. But, who will be the third receiver? It could be Tate, after his 82 receiving yards and a score against the Miami Dolphins, fellow second-year player Taylor Price, or a free agent brought in. Tate is nothing more than a flier with upside. He was thought to be the better pro prospect, over Hakeem Nicks, while at North Carolina, but will need to show some durability to go with the open-field, play-making ability that he was known for back in college.

Adrian Arrington has flashed potential during the preseason but has yet to do much in the regular season of his young career ... mainly due to injuries. Most fantasy owners forget that he was productive at Michigan and many experts thought he was the better wide receiver prospect over Mario Manningham. The New Orleans Saint offense always makes room for players who make plays. Arrington's seven catches for 79 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cannot hurt his chances. At this stage in his career, he is more of a possession receiver than a burner, but there is upside in the Saint offense. Plus, keep in mind that Lance Moore is a free agent.

Jared Cook will be the starting tight end in Tennessee this season. He is very athletic but has been slowed early in his career by the inability to pick up the offense and a lack of maturity. Bo Scaife is an unrestricted free agent and the Titans are hoping Cook can take a big step into a prominent role in the Tennessee offense. Against the Indianapolis Colts in week 17, Cook caught seven passes for 58 yards. While it may not look like much, the seven receptions are an indication that the team will want to use Cook's athleticism given the void at the wide receiver position. The uncertainty at the quarterback position may also be a factor.

With the preseason on the horizon, please feel free to email me at tefertiller@footballguys.com with any suggestions or comments. Also, I am on Twitter, so feel free to ask me questions there. I will also be active in the pinned "wannabee" thread in the assistant coach forum.

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