Chicago transit authority (USAT)
Marc Trestman came to Chicago with a respected pedigree and a wealth of offensive knowledge. He's earned his offensive stripes in the NFL and the CFL. He's a smart, calculating, complicated guy.
But on the stat sheet, the Bears passing game is wonderfully simple and uncluttered. Let's take a second to appreciate that.
You'll only find five Chicago players in the team's receiving stats. Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett and Earl Bennett. That's it, that's the list. (Michael Bush has two targets, no catches, and Dante Rosario had a fruitless target in Week 5.)
If five sounds like a low number to you, you're right. The average team has 10 different pass-catchers on its 2013 ledger, and every other team is at eight or greater. Part of this speaks to a lack of injuries, but we also should accept no one simplifies the passing game (for our numbers racket) like the Bears.
Jeffery's breakout is no surprise to anyone - he was a hot pickup last week and he'll be cleaned up this week in the smaller leagues. You're not sneaking him through anymore, the explosion is there for everyone to see. But Chicago's gridlock-free passing tree is a reason to upgrade all of their pass catchers, at least a little bit (especially the four main guys). We don't have to worry about a fourth or fifth wideout stealing looks, or a fantasy-irrelevant fullback sneaking his way into the passing game.
Bottom line, I like Jeffery more than the average No. 2 wideout (he's a Top 20 option to me now) and I'll give Bennett a mild step forward because of the context here. Forte was a wonderful second-round pick in this year of running back quicksand; he's caught at least four passes in every game, providing a bankable floor each week (even if you're not in a PPR format). He's topped 90 total yards in each start.
Dwayne Bowe lives on the other side of this concept. Look at the muddled Kansas City box score from Week 5's victory at Tennessee - 11 different Chiefs drew a target. Andy Reid and Alex Smith aren't going to force the ball to Bowe if they don't have to. Bowe's targets by week: 6, 8, 3, 7 and 6.
And to make things even worse for No. 82, the Chiefs have a dynamic pass-catching back and a quarterback who likes to run. Bowe is at WR3, at best, in most formats going forward. I don't consider him an automatic starter by any means.
• Andre Ellington has turned into a fun player and a frustrating player at the same time. It's not hard to see his wonderful ability - 6.7 yards a run, 11.1 yards per reception. But the Cardinals are handling their 199-pound back with kid gloves. Here's the touch count by week: 1, 6, 6, 7, 11. Meanwhile, Rashard Mendenhall continues on a road to nowhere (69 carries, 3.2 a pop).
The Cardinals are off to a 3-2 start (and they've gone 3-1 in the games Ellington has been relevant in), which trips up our fantasy objective. Head coach Bruce Arians has no reason to change his running back usage patterns if he's winning with them. Arians might feel Ellington's effectiveness is in part tied to a modest workload, and of course there's the hovering injury risk.
To be fair, injury risk is a cloud that covers every NFL franchise, especially at this position. I did a rough back-of-envelope count and found 15 teams that have been significantly affected by running back injuries this year (and I wasn't counting Mark Ingram types). Running backs get hurt. It's a reason why your bench in any medium and deeper league is probably littered with a handful of non-starting runners who are one break away from making an impact. Most teams have a guy like this, from Ben Tate to Roy Helu to Michael Bush to the two backups in Seattle. Shane Vereen is a stash-and-hope. Denver's two backups. On and on it goes.
Maybe Ellington wouldn't have true featured status if Mendenhall were to get hurt - we can't answer that with any clarity now. But Ellington is getting enough run at the moment to make him a nifty flex option in deeper pools, a playable option right now. And I'm expecting double-digit touches to become the rule with him, body composition to the side.
• Everyone fantasy player on the same page with the Jacksonville quarterbacks - with Blaine Gabbert out indefinitely, the wideouts have a better chance with Chad Henne. This is the news you want to read if you're tied to Justin Blackmon or Cecil Shorts.
But I don't think everyone agrees with the Philly situation. Michael Vick's injury might concern the Eagles investors, but I think the Chip Kelly offense could be far more efficient if Nick Foles takes over.
Vick's still a highlight film waiting to happen, especially with his running ability, but he's never been a good decision maker in the red zone - where the windows are tighter and the throws aren't as open. Foles is still a work in progress in Year 2, of course, but I give this offense a better chance to stay consistent and on schedule if he's the long-term guy. Posting big numbers against the Giants might not mean much in 2013, but if I were tied to any Philly wideout or tight end, Foles is the starter I'd want to see.
Speed Round: If it were up to me, every Oakland home game would be played in the middle of the night. Who would be against this? . . . Ray Rice had a monster game through volume but he didn't look explosive at all. He still maintains a lofty fantasy rank for his defined role and versatility, but it might be a good time to quietly dangle him in trade, see what's out there . . . Role and context might save Trent Richardson's fantasy value, but when I pop in his tape I don't see anything special at all. It never feels like you're watching an elite runner, the No. 3 pick out of the 2012 draft class. I know Richardson has plenty of sympathizers in the fantasy industry, so if you disagree with me, you have plenty of company. But man, I don't see it . . . Knowshon Moreno's explosive start reminds us of how teams routinely misjudge (or at least underestimate) their own talent. If the Broncos knew Moreno were this good, they wouldn't have made Montee Ball a draft-day priority. The depth is still a key thing for the Broncos, of course, given Moreno's injury baggage. But Moreno is unlikely to lose his job to performance now; he's clearly the most talented player in this backfield (and far and away the most reliable pass blocker) . . . The Raiders and Chargers gave us some fun aerial stats in the Sunday night finale, in part because neither team can defend the pass at all. Keenan Allen is the San Diego wideout I like the most, a laterally-explosive player who's starting to get comfortable in the NFL. I don't dislike Vincent Brown (who posted handy numbers) but he still looks slow and ordinary to me; every time he catches a pass, I wonder how he managed to get open. Choosing between the two, I'd definitely pick Allen first . . . As for the Raiders, I tip the cap to their coaching staff for the job done with Terrelle Pryor. The Ohio State quarterback was a long-range prospect when he entered the league, but he looks like a future star now. Pryor also gets props for his work ethic and desire to improve. He might be a Top 12 fantasy QB the rest of the way.