The Big Rotowski: Midseason fantasy rankings
(Editor's Note: These rankings are meant to capture fantasy value from today through the end of the NFL regular season. We'll publish them every Tuesday during the season to help you decide about trades and waiver-wire acquisitions; as such, this list won't always reflect news that comes out later in the week. And remember, every Wednesday you'll find week-specific rankings from all our fantasy football writers.)
Notes: To celebrate the NFL season's sort-of midway point (it's hard to divide 17 weeks in half), ESPN's fantasy experts did a re-draft, which we'll publish Wednesday. Not only were the diverging opinions on players eye-opening, but my own diverging opinions from myself were a wee bit shocking. It came time for me to draft a second quarterback, and with Brett Favre still on the board, I heard myself say, "Matt Ryan." Hence, Ryan is ranked higher here. Nothing like some on-the-ground action to sort out how you really feel. That said, my top five guys stayed the same, and I was ready to leave my top nine quarterbacks unchanged until Ben Roethlisberger came out of Monday night's game with a recurrence of his shoulder injury. Sure, you can quibble that Tony Romo should be higher, but as we'll see in a moment, I don't like his remaining schedule at all. Jake Delhomme makes a five-spot jump partly because he put up a couple of very nice games before Carolina's bye, and partly because a bunch of guys in the spots in front of him dropped like flies. Sage Rosenfels is the guy suddenly thrust into a starting role I'd feel most comfortable owning. He is a prototypical gunslinger who'll be auditioning for a 2009 starting job for at least a month in a powerful offense, because Matt Schaub is out with a torn MCL. Rosenfels should be owned in all leagues. Brady Quinn gets a short week but a sweet matchup against the Broncos on Thursday night, replacing the awful Derek Anderson. The Browns waited a week too long, but good for them for watching Sunday's game footage and realizing D.A. was done. Joe Flacco takes a nice rise, despite what I think will be a tougher second-half schedule. The scouts didn't lie: Flacco really does throw a pretty deep ball. Daunte Culpepper will probably start over Drew Stanton if Dan Orlovsky, who hurt his thumb Sunday, can't go. The thought around Detroit is that Culpepper might have played anyway if he had practiced well this week, because the Lions really, really don't want to go 0-16. Rex Grossman plays for Kyle Orton, who'll reportedly miss a month with a high-ankle sprain. Yeah, I'd probably still rather own Orton. The quarterbacks I see as having relatively favorable schedules from now through Week 16 (Week 17 usually isn't a fantasy-relevant week) are (in rough order of favorability): Peyton Manning (after next week against Pittsburgh, it's a total breeze), Aaron Rodgers, Roethlisberger (ditto after next week against Indy), Trent Edwards, Marc Bulger, Jay Cutler, Jeff Garcia and Chad Pennington. The quarterbacks with tougher schedules are (in rough order of toughness): Ryan Fitzpatrick, Flacco, Romo, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers.
|Running Back Rankings|
Notes: Spoiler alert: I had the No. 1 pick in our re-draft (again, it'll be published Wednesday), and I took Adrian Peterson. Yes, he's only the No. 12 fantasy scorer among running backs in our standard game, and his matchup in two weeks against Tampa stinks. But his three weeks of fantasy playoffs look like this: at Detroit, at Atlanta, versus Arizona. Are the Falcons and Cardinals total pushovers against the run? Not lately they haven't been, but I don't think they're elite either. And I still trust All Day. The only player who tempted me was Clinton Portis (who went third in the re-draft), but his schedule is much worse, plus I worry just a little about all those carries. Marion Barber owners had better hope Tony Romo gets back to full strength in Week 11. Ronnie Brown wasn't effective out of the Wildcat against Denver, and he hasn't eclipsed 3.1 yards per carry the past three games. But oh, that schedule. Provided he keeps Ricky Williams on the sidelines, Brown may have the most enticing schedule for any player in fantasy over the season's second half. Maurice Jones-Drew is verging on flex territory, and may be there already in certain matchups. His offensive line is a disaster. Tim Hightower went with the 25th overall pick in our re-draft. Good heavens. I mean, I like him fine now that he's supplanted Edgerrin James as Arizona's starter. And yes, he's probably a decent bet for double-digit touchdowns. But J.J. Arrington is going to play on third downs, and this is still the Cardinals, who wing it 40 or 50 times a game. A note about Larry Johnson, who's suspended for Week 10 (this time it's the NFL suspending him, not his team): I've ranked LJ as though his legal troubles will be over after this week, but that's by no means certain. He's got the first of multiple trial dates coming up, and the NFL has reserved the right to suspend him further if he gets convicted of something bad. The Chiefs have a nice schedule in the fantasy playoffs. It's just uncertain whether Johnson will be around to enjoy it. Jamaal Charles could jump higher in the next few weeks. Ray Rice has been scintillating two straight weeks, and has the Baltimore beat writers wondering whether Willis McGahee will be cut this offseason. McGahee couldn't play in Week 9, and while he's expected to go this week against Houston, Rice may lead the team in carries. The Broncos put Michael Pittman and Andre Hall on injured reserve, meaning only Selvin Young and Ryan Torain remain active (P.J. Pope may be promoted from the practice squad), and Young couldn't play in Week 9 because of a strained groin. Torain looks like he'll have first crack at winning the starting job. He needs to be added in all leagues. Fred Taylor hasn't gotten double-digit touches since Week 5, and is on pace for 556 rushing yards. Messy. In my opinion, the running backs with the best fantasy schedules the rest of the year are: Ronnie Brown, Larry Johnson (or Jamaal Charles) and Joseph Addai. The rushers with the most difficult fantasy schedules are: the Lions' duo of Kevin Smith and Rudi Johnson, Brandon Jacobs, Marion Barber, Cedric Benson and Ryan Grant.
|Wide Receiver Rankings|
|32||Roy E. Williams||Cowboys||27|
Notes: I also happened to select the first receiver overall in our re-draft this week, and as you'll see tomorrow, I took Andre Johnson with the first pick of the third round (in a 10-team draft). No, he didn't continue his ridiculous 120-yards-per-game minimum or 10-plus receptions, but he did score his third touchdown of the year against Minnesota. Terrell Owens at No. 10 takes one huuuuuuge leap of faith. T.O. and the rest of the Cowboys lick their wounds in Week 10 and then hopefully get Tony Romo back and their groove on again. Owens is still the 15th-highest-scoring receiver in fantasy right now, but his past four games embody ugliness: 16 catches, 136 yards and a score. If he gets back on track (and tops 89 yards receiving in a game for the first time this season), Owens could make an excellent buy-low opportunity. Plaxico Burress really disappointed against a depleted Dallas secondary. He could only manage three catches for 34 yards, mostly against the underwhelming Anthony Henry. I assume he's got a few more big games in him, but one wonders whether he's distracted by all his (shall we say) administrative shenanigans. Marvin Harrison did next to nothing against the Patriots, a team he's owned in the past: four catches for 50 yards. Since his two-score outburst against the Ravens, Harrison has seven catches in three games, though he's got 18 targets over that span, so it's not like the Colts aren't throwing it to him. But his vaunted chemistry with Peyton Manning seems gone, and his legs aren't the same. He's tough to start right now. Neither I nor Tristan Cockcroft has given up on Josh Morgan. (We have a running competition to see who can love the guy more.) Will the transition to Shaun Hill at quarterback for the 49ers benefit Morgan, or anyone else in particular? I still say if Morgan got healthy off the bye, he'll be heard from again in fantasy leagues, and soon. I'll at least give him Monday night to impress, and revisit after that. To my eyes, the best schedules for fantasy wideouts the rest of the way belong to: Reggie Wayne, Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, Donnie Avery, Dwayne Bowe and Greg Camarillo. The consistently shakiest schedules seem to belong to: T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson, Owens and Roy E. Williams, and Derrick Mason.
|Tight End Rankings|
Notes: Jason Witten didn't play well against the Giants, but a nation of fantasy owners breathed a sigh of relief, as it appears clear that Witten will be near full strength after Dallas' bye. Very quietly, Bo Scaife is seventh (tied with Dallas Clark) in targets among tight ends, with 44 in eight games. That leads all Titans receivers. He deserves to be a low-level starter in deeper leagues. Tony Scheffler couldn't play Sunday because of his bad groin, and one wonders whether he'll be able to go this week on short rest. Visanthe Shiancoe is the top-scoring tight end in fantasy the past three weeks, and that includes missing a week with a bye. He has four touchdowns on the year and should've caught at least one more but for a bad drop. Alex Smith hasn't topped three catches in a game this year and has Jerramy Stevens stealing looks, but he's got three scores on the season, and both he and Stevens are in the top 20 for targets to a tight end. Heath Miller isn't catching many balls, and came out of Monday night's game with an ankle problem that required X-rays. As of this writing, it was unclear if the injury was bad, but like Todd Heap, he hasn't been part of the passing game for a while now. Time to adjust his rank accordingly. For what it's worth (and it might not be much), the tight ends who've got the best schedules are: Alex Smith, Greg Olsen, Jeremy Shockey (or Billy Miller) and Marcedes Lewis. And on the flip side, the tight ends who'll play mostly against teams that do a better job defending the position include: L.J. Smith, John Carlson, Vernon Davis and Kevin Boss.
Notes: The Titans, Giants and Steelers have separated themselves from the crowd. I took the Giants second in our midseason re-draft, after the Titans. But I'd have been just as happy with Pittsburgh. The Ravens have trouble looming in their secondary, where they can't keep their corners healthy. When Samari Rolle is the savior you hope to get back next week, you could be in trouble. But they're still generating so much pressure with the front seven, it hasn't mattered much yet. The Jets put together a complete defensive effort Sunday in Buffalo, with a pass defense that finally matched what's been a solid run defense all year. Darrelle Revis, in particular, was impressive, staying with Lee Evans all over the field. The Cardinals' secondary continues to be a big problem, but again, you're talking about a front seven that can make fantasy-relevant plays. Arizona has a league-high 13 forced fumbles and also has 21 sacks, tied for seventh. They'll give up points, but they'll also make plays, especially at home. To my eyes, the defenses that go up against the weakest slate of offenses the rest of the year are: the Dolphins, Bills, Seahawks and (for what it's worth) 49ers. And the defenses I think have the toughest offenses to play against include: the Texans, Lions, (for what it's worth) Giants and Packers.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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