Nine weeks in the books, and you’re either stacking your roster for the postseason or battling to make the playoffs. Either way, the Pickup Joint is your place to find a happy ending. Let’s address those with the need for immediate gratification first.
GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE
Michael Vick, QB, Eagles
It’s not just the hamstring, it’s not just the NFL-record seven touchdowns Nick Foles threw for in Week 9… but it sure is a combination of the two. After watching Vick leave your fantasy team hanging by exiting early twice this season, there’s no way you can trust him in your lineup. And there’s also a very good possibility Chip Kelly needs an extended look at Foles to see if he’s the team’s quarterback of the future. Neither scenario has Vick piling up fantasy points for your squad.
Chris Ivory, RB, Jets
Wait a second: Ivory finally delivers on the preseason promise… and you’re supposed to kick him to the curb? Forget for a moment how volatile Ivory’s workload has been the past month, or that Ivory is only slightly more durable than wet tissue; take a look at what he’ll be dealing with over the next few critical games. For starters, he’ll get you a big fat zero this week with the Jets on the bye; then, he’ll return to road dates at Buffalo (don’t laugh, they’re tough on the run at home) and Baltimore. By the time a favorable matchup shows up on Ivory’s docket you may be on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
Cecil Shorts, WR, Jaguars
Conventional wisdom suggests that with Justin Blackmon suspended for the rest of the season, you should be buying Shorts in anticipation of the uptick in targets. Unfortunately, that optimism is negated—nay, flat-out squashed—by a schedule that features consecutive matchups with teams ranked 1, 6, 4, 8, and 4 again in fewest fantasy points allowed to the wide receiver position. If you’re looking for a tie-breaker, consider the Jaguars’ quarterbacking.
Case Keenum, QB, Texans
Keenum’s strong showing in prime time secures his hold on the starting gig, at least for the short term—and with a playoff spot at stake, that’s all you’re concerned with. His next three matchups are with defenses that rank 12th or better in fantasy points served up to quarterbacks, and with Houston’s running backs all kinds of banged up the passing game will have to carry the load. Hey, he knows where to find Andre Johnson and in Houston that’s half the battle.
Jake Locker, QB, Titans
Locker’s running ability gives him a built-in floor; even if he doesn’t throw a touchdown—like last week—he’s a threat to pick up points via a rushing score. Locker also faces the most fantasy-friendly schedule for quarterbacks the rest of the way, with bookend dates against the Jaguars in Weeks 10 and 16. Locker is the one-night stand you might just want to fly off to Vegas with, then bring home to meet the parents.
Trent Richardson, RB, Colts
It’s easy--not to mention extremely popular--to hate on Richardson; the consensus first-round pick ranks 35th amongst running backs in fantasy points, 40th if you adjust the rankings to a per-game basis. He hasn’t scored in a month or topped 60 yards this season, and his 10 touches last week matched a career low. While everyone else is sticking a fork in Richardson, however, you could buy low and eyeball a schedule that pits Indy against three bottom-feeding run defenses over the next month. Given the favorable slate Richardson might actually live up to some of those preseason expectations; at least it’s worth a shot.
Rashad Jennings, RB, Raiders
Jennings has been in this situation before, stepping into the lineup for a more proven, more highly regarded back, and he’s been largely hit-or-miss in that role. Last week, however, he blew up the Eagles for 176 combo yards and a touchdown as Darren McFadden shockingly went down with yet another injury. It looks as if Run DMC might be sidelined for a while—at least long enough for Jennings to feast on a schedule that isn’t necessarily creampuff but doesn’t include any stoppers over the next month. Maybe by that time McFadden is back—but hopefully you’ll have ridden Jennings into the playoffs and it won’t much matter.
Kendall Wright, WR, Titans
Wright hasn’t scored since Week 2, but he’s delivered at least 69 yards each of the past four games and is staring down the barrel of a very fantasy-friendly schedule—the same one that makes Jake Locker such a great play. With Wright emerging as Locker’s most trusted target, it only makes sense that he can help your fantasy bottom line in the same fashion.
Pierre Garçon, WR, Redskins
Garçon won’t be an easy get, coming off a 172-yard effort in Week 9. But no receiver has it better over the next couple of weeks, as Lucky Pierre faces a depleted Vikings secondary and a thoroughly overmatched Eagles defense. The rest of the Redskins’ slate isn’t particularly tough, either, but Garçon is looking at the very real possibility of adding a nitro burst of fantasy production to your lineup.
If you’re among those fortunate enough to be cruising towards the fantasy playoffs, here are a few players who may not provide an immediate impact but could be key cogs in your championship drive a month or so down the road.
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears
Josh McCown played well enough Monday night that the Bears won’t need to rush Cutler back, even though he’s indicated he intends to play this week against the Lions. You won’t need to sweat that decision until the fantasy playoffs, when Cutler matches up with the Cowboys in Week 14 and Philly in Week 16—both of whom are easy marks for opposing quarterbacks.
E.J. Manuel, QB, Bills
Manuel has been down for a while, forcing the Bills to cycle through the likes of Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel. Like Cutler, he intends to be back this week—and, like Cutler, you don’t need to worry about how game-ready he might be until the fantasy playoffs. At that point Manual gets to feast on the Bucs and Jaguars, who rank seventh and eight in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks.
Shane Vereen, RB, Patriots
Vereen is on pace to return to the lineup after the Patriots’ Week 10 bye; in other words, you have one more week to buy low. Vereen then has two weeks to work himself back into the role that saw him blow up in Week 1, at which point you can plug him into your fantasy lineup against the soft run defenses of Cleveland and Miami.
Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals
Ellington spent last week on the bye, and this week’s matchup with Houston is no creampuff. If you can secure his services now, you’ll get the benefit not only of a Week 11 game against Jacksonville but also super-soft matchups in Weeks 14 (Rams) and 15 (Titans) to kick-start your title drive.
Torrey Smith, WR, Ravens
Smith just got shut down by Joe Haden, and now he’ll run into defenses that at least carry solid reputations (if not stat lines) in Cincy and the Bears. Pay WR2 prices to acquire a guy who’ll deliver like a WR1 in your fantasy playoffs thanks to matchups with the Vikings, Lions, and Patriots.
Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers
If the Allen owner in your league is convinced he or she is selling high on the Bolts’ WR1, take them up on the offer. He has yet to peak, and with a fantasy playoff slate that matches him against the Giants, Broncos, and Raiders he’ll be working with a significantly reduced degree of difficulty as well.