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The Ticker, Week 6: 'Fantasy football' can mean so many things

Journey with me as I run through the waiver wire, and as I learn that "fantasy sports" isn't the catch-all term I think it is.

Ramin Talaie

I met a girl this week, and over the course of talking, she asked what sort of stuff I'm into. I mentioned that I write about fantasy sports for a couple websites, and her verbatim response, and oh lord I wish I was making this up:

"Fantasy sports? Is that, like, football players and dragons?"

Sigh.

Anyway, no, there are no dragons in this week's Ticker. No, like a Puff of smoke, the Ticker appears, marching through your waiver wire to see who is worth a look. You might be in a good spot in your league through five weeks, but don't get Smaug and complacent, keep looking for ways to improve. Just sit back and eat your Mushu pork. If you're bald, you can buy a toupee and put Eragon. Think of it as learning How to Train Your roster.

Okay, screw that, I don't know nearly enough dragon names to make it work. Anyway, yeah, this is The Ticker for Week 6. There are stocks I'm buying and not buying, selling and not selling. There is the futures market, which is guys whose values may shoot up in due time, and hedges, which are guys who are or could be viable players if others get hurt or lose effectiveness. Other than those in the "selling" category, everyone here is 50 percent owned or below in Yahoo! leagues, as of Monday morning.

Anyway, this intro is slow; I'm really dragon. To The Ticker!

Stocks I'm buying

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Willis McGahee
, RB, CLE (47 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues)

Eight carries, 15 carries, 26 carries. Nine yards, 46 yards, 72 yards. Those are the (noticeably increasing) totals McGahee has had in his first three games in a Cleveland uniform (plus his first touchdown Sunday), as far into his season as most players are when they're sitting out second halves and learning new teammates' names. When the Browns had Brian Hoyer - a quarterback they clearly like - behind center, there was reason to worry they'd eschew the running game in favor of Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, etc. Now that Hoyer is out for the year and Brandon Weeden - a quarterback they clearly don't like - has the job back, I don't expect them to abandon the pass or anything, but I think McGahee plays a bigger role than he otherwise might have.

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Rueben Randle
, WR, NYG (37 percent)

Randle is a Ticker legacy, having appeared in the column's debut lo so many weeks ago. It's time to run it back. After a quiet few weeks, and amid a complete New York Giant meltdown, Randle exploded again Sunday, catching six passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns. There is a lot to hate with this Giants team, but the pass-catchers are strong. Victor Cruz drew the defense's focus Sunday, keeping his yards down, and Hakeem Nicks and Randle benefitted. After a tough matchup Thursday against the Bears, the Giants take on Minnesota, Philadelphia, and Oakland in their next three games (with a bye mixed in). That's delicious for owners of any of those guys, and Randle is worth just as much attention as Nicks.

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Austin Pettis
, WR, STL (10 percent)

Chris Givens is the Rams' distance guy, averaging 16.7 yards per catch but only three catches a game. Tavon Austin is the possession guy, with 6.8 yards per catch, but almost five catches per. Pettis, though, is the closest the team has to a mix. He has averaged 10.1 yards per catch through five games and only one fewer reception than Austin. Pettis has four touchdowns, while Austin has two and Givens has yet to score. As a person who started Tavon Austin over Alshon Jeffery, Rueben Randle, and T.Y. Hilton this week, I have looked long and hard for a reason to like him over Pettis. It doesn't exist. Basically, on the Rams, you want Austin as a first name, not a last.

Stocks I'm not buying

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Ronnie Hillman
, RB, DEN (26 percent)

I mean, I do think he's better - and more fantasy valuable - than Montee Ball. There is that. And, in all honesty, if I'm a Hillman owner, I think he probably has decent value this week, against Jacksonville, as the Broncos are probably going to have the game won by the end of the anthem and move to the run pretty early. But after Sunday, Hillman becomes incredibly hard to trust. It's a team that does most of its damage through the air, and Peyton Manning seems determined to give Knownshon Moreno the lion's share of the running-back attention. Hillman stands to be a better real football player than a fantasy one going forward, as I honestly don't know how to predict when he'll have numbers and when he won't.

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Greg Little
, WR, CLE (7 percent)

Little had easily his best game of the season Sunday, catching three of his five targets for 71 yards, including one completion for 47 yards. But that's a week after he had no targets at all against Cincinnati, and Little's stone hands are legendary; Sunday was also his first time catching more than 50 percent of his targets this season. The Browns have Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron relatively established as studs at this point, and Davone Bess is also a superior option to Little. It's hard to imagine Brandon Weeden (or whoever plays quarterback the rest of the season) has enough ability to open it up for four pass-catchers, and Little would pretty obviously be the odd man out in the long run.

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Kris Durham
, WR, DET (1 percent)

I mean, it's fairly obvious scored his first touchdown of the season primarily because Calvin Johnson was a late scratch. We all know that. But since Nate Burleson went down with injury, there's been a lot of question over who might develop as the Lions' next pass-catching option. Ryan Broyles and Durham are both options, as is newcomer Kevin Ogletree. But the most likely outcome, to me, is what the Lions have already been doing - throw it to the running backs. An offense of Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, and Johnson is sufficient for any team, meaning Broyles, Durham, Ogletree, even Brandon Pettigrew and Joe Fauria are complementary pieces, not integral parts.

Stocks I'm selling

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Trent Richardson
, RB, IND (100 percent)

Sure, maybe he's still getting acclimated to a new offense, and two touchdowns in three games is a fine, almost-11-touchdown pace over a full season. But Richardson has 151 rushing yards total with Indianapolis, and he's averaging less than three yards a carry there, even with Ahmad Bradshaw banged up. I still think Richardson as a fine addition for the Colts, at a fine cost, but for fantasy, it's hard to see huge upside from him, and you need huge upside to recoup the expense he cost on draft day. There doesn't appear to be much explosion to Richardson's game - he has twice as many under-3.0 YPC games in his two seasons as he does over-5.0, and he only has one play of more than 30 yards in his career. I'm not saying jump ship entirely, but if you can get anywhere close to draft-day value in a trade, I'm in favor.

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Mike Wallace
, WR, MIA (90 percent)

Five games with the Dolphins - two over 100 yards (including Sunday), three under 30. Only one touchdown. If Wallace is a WR3 or a flex, that's fantastic production. You don't need your WR3 to dominate every week, you just bask in the times it happens. But Wallace is a guy most fantasy owners are having to rely on for much more, at least WR2. And WR2s need to be more reliable than that and/or more able to find the end zone. Wallace just isn't that. (Also, I wrote "WR2s" a couple sentences ago, which seems like a Star Wars droid.

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Ryan Mathews
, RB, SD (88 percent)

Mathews literally hasn't had a rushing touchdown in more than a calendar year (his last came Oct. 7 of last season). He had a receiving score in Week 1, and that's nice, but since then, the Chargers have seen Danny Woodhead prove his place on that team's offense, and lord knows he'll get more opportunity to catch passes than Mathews will, considering his seven career receiving touchdowns to Mathews, whose lone career receiving score is that one I mentioned earlier. That was a ridiculous 59-word sentence, and I didn't even mention the concussion Mathews suffered in Sunday night's game. We'll see what happens with his medical situation going forward, but either way, I just don't get the appeal. He's barely startable, for me. There's nothing to like.

Stocks I'm not selling

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A.J. Green
, WR, CIN (100 percent)

Bengals fans and fantasy owners have to be disappointed; if the season had started in Week 2, it would be full on "Panic of A.J. Green" time, with 199 yards and only one score in that time. Lucky for everyone concerned, the season started when it did, so Green burst onto the scene with a 162-yard, two-touchdown season debut against a good Bears defense. His quarterback is irksome, as Andy Dalton simply hasn't progressed through his career, and at this point, any Cincinnati success has to be considered despite him, not because of him. On the other hand, this is A.J. Green, guys. We don't freak out when Mike Trout goes 0-for-8, we don't panic when Kevin Durant misses six straight shots, and we can relax when A.J. Green has a rough few weeks. If he were in a "Larry Fitzgerald in 2012" situation, with utterly worthless players throwing to him, he might be lost out there, but there's a wide chasm between John Skelton/Kevin Kolb and Dalton. Green is still a top-five-at-worst wide receiver.

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Cam Newton
, QB, CAR (99 percent)

Through four games last year, Newton's per-game averages were 253.25 pass yards, one touchdown pass, and 1.25 interceptions. From that point forward, he averaged slightly fewer passing yards, (238), but upped his touchdown passes to 1.25, dropped his interceptions to barely over a half (0.583). This year, those numbers are 221.25, 1.5, and 1.25 (again). Both early seasons featured a disaster game (0 touchdowns, three picks). So there's every reason to believe more than Newton's utter failure Sunday against Arizona was an aberration. In fact, the only thing his game is really missing this season is the rushing touchdowns that have so marked his career so far. The 14 he had in his rookie 2011 were way too high to be sustainable, but he still managed to run it in eight times a year ago, with little predictability - at one point, he scored in three straight games, only to be held without for three more in a row. He's stuck at one rushing touchdown so far this season, but that ought to be changing soon enough.

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Darren Sproles
, RB, NO (96 percent)

I spoke highly of Pierre Thomas here a few weeks ago, but that was because he'd be taking touches from Mark Ingram, not Sproles. Yet Sproles' six touches Sunday were his lowest since Week 13 last year, and he got only 41 total yards, while Thomas scored twice on passes. That almost has to be an aberration, as those two receiving touchdowns equal Thomas' total since the start of 2010. And all this after Sproles scored both a rushing and a receiving touchdown just a week earlier. No, this isn't a new New Orleans paradigm. The New Orleans running back ranking still has to be Sproles No. 1, Thomas No. 2, and Ingram No. 76.

Futures market

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Andre Brown
, RB, NYG (8 percent)

Brown cannot return from his leg fracture for another month, not eligible to play until Nov. 10. But with David Wilson playing poorly and hurt, Da'Rel Scott already cut once (and it might happen again, now that he's been resigned), and Brandon Jacobs being, well, Brandon Jacobs, that theoretical Nov. 10 return can't come soon enough for the reeling Giants team. Brown's rehab appears to be going well, perhaps even ahead of schedule. Assuming he comes back at full strength, things would have to change a lot between now and then for Brown not to be New York's top option. If you have the roster space now (which is a big if, with all the byes going on), Brown would make a heck of a stash.

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Kenjon Barner
, RB, CAR (1 percent)

Barner debuted Sunday, having missed Carolina's first three games with a sprained foot. He did essentially nothing, with no rushes and one reception in the game. Regardless, he easily could be a decent-sized part of the Panthers' offense moving forward. Starting running back DeAngelo Williams averaged the fourth-most carries in the NFL through the season's first four weeks, which is a heavier workload than he's had in recent years. Barner, a little guy with wheels and good hands, could very easily become a Darren Sproles-esque player for Carolina, spreading the offense. I don't know what value he'll have, but I know I'd rather own Barner in fantasy going forward than Jonathan Stewart, even if Stewart were to come back healthy right away.

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Jeff Maehl
, WR, PHI (0 percent)

DeSean Jackson can say he is good. No one else catching passes so far in Philadelphia can the same among themselves. Maehl has only caught two passes on the season - both against Denver in Week 4, with one touchdown - but his time has been increasing, playing 25 percent of the team's snaps Sunday, compared to seven percent in the first four weeks (per the Philadelphia Inquirer). Maehl was a favorite of head coach Chip Kelly in Oregon. Meanwhile, the best that can be said of wide receiver Riley Cooper is that he...isn't really a favorite of anyone. At this point, the team doesn't have anyone doing much through the air after Jackson. Maehl can't very well be less productive than Cooper and Jason Avant. Be ready to learn how to spell and pronounce his name, because he'll be getting involved.

Hedges

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Johnathan Franklin
, RB, GB (22 percent)

At this point, the Packers know what they have in James Starks, if he's ever healthy. He'll have flashes, and occasional big games, but if they had even an inkling that he could be a reliable week-to-week running back, they wouldn't have used two draft picks this year on replacements. Yeah, Eddie Lacy is the starter, and is more talented than Franklin, but basically making his NFL debut in Week 3, Franklin did have 126 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. The fumble that ultimately cost Green Bay the game against Cincinnati had to hurt his reputation, but "rookie fumbles" generally isn't enough to throw someone on the trash heap. If I'm a Lacy owner (which I'm not, in any league, but it's fun to play pretend), I'm more likely to own Franklin as my handcuff than I am to own Starks.

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Austin Collie
, WR, NE (5 percent)

I find it hard to imagine anyone rooting against Collie's success. Dude just wants to football, and his series of injuries have prevented him from footballing so many times. I was at a Colts-Jags game in 2010 when Collie was concussed, and even then there were sad fans shaking their heads and saying things like "career's over." It might be best for Collie's long-term health if he were done, but he's on the Patriots now, and if he can prove his health, the talent is definitely there. Of course, a lot of this could have been said about Collie in preseason, when the desperate-for-a-pass-catcher 49ers cut him, so it might all be a pipe dream, for fantasy owners and Collie alike. But it is definitely a situation that warrants monitoring.

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Deonte Thompson
, WR, BAL (0 percent)

I'm still amazed that a team that went into Sunday with Marlon Brown and Jacoby Jones both injured also cut Brandon Stokley, but maybe they figure they'll just throw the ball to Torrey Smith until he falls over dead. Read this list of players who were targeted with passes for the Ravens Sunday: Smith, Tandon Doss, Ed Dickson, Ray Rice, Thompson, Vontae Leach, Kyle Juszczyk. Dickson is a tight end; Rice is a running back; Leach is a fullback; Juszczyk is probably a fake name ESPN added to the box score to test me. That leaves Smith, Doss, and Thompson. If it were going to happen for Doss in Baltimore, it seems like it would have by now. More likely he's a space-filler. Thompson might be, too, but his upside has to be considered higher than Doss', if for no other reason than we don't yet know what he can't do.

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