The Big Rotowski: Marion Barber rises to No. 3 running back


(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: Well that's a relief, isn't it, LaDainian Tomlinson owners? Interesting question posed by fantasy editor Pete Becker, on Monday: if you had to draft right this moment, who'd be your first-overall pick? This was before LT's Monday night performance and amid all his toe woes, and I said Adrian Peterson, but I had to admit Marion Barber was mighty tempting. Brian Westbrook might not play in Week 4 because of a sprained ankle that he (maybe mistakenly) told reporters was a high-ankle sprain. If it is, he'd be out multiple weeks, and would drop on this list. Steven Jackson owners are happy to see their man take a tumble, but probably still miffed he's sniffing the top 10. What can I say? He's one of those guys you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. He's got too much individual talent and strong fantasy history to be ignored, and considering where you took him you can't drop him or trade him. But his team (and offensive line) is so awful, it's tough to see light at the end of the tunnel. I have to believe, though, that in one of these games, he'll break out. Unless you have outrageous running back depth, I think you have to keep starting him. I was the only ESPN fantasy ranker not to put Willie Parker amid the No. 1 fantasy running backs for the Eagles game last week. Any questions? Don't lose it over Michael Turner. Three words: Lions. And. Chiefs. Ronnie Brown probably won't account for five touchdowns the next time the Dolphins play (Week 5). But he's healthy, and I always said that if he's healthy, he's a fantasy starter. Darren McFadden played poorly against Buffalo, slipping all over the place on multiple runs. His toe apparently felt all right, but he hasn't wrestled that job away, and eventually Justin Fargas will be back. Willis McGahee owners have to be vexed about the three-headed committee brewing in Baltimore. Le'Ron McClain is using his homonymous status with the Republic presidential nominee to have a big 2008, and stole 17 carries (to McGahee's 15) in Week 3. Selvin Young has 26 carries in three games. Tomlinson got 26 on Monday night. There's word that Ahman Green will try to practice this week, but Steve Slaton ran wonderfully Sunday and has locked up the Houston starting gig for now. Rudi Johnson had 14 carries to Kevin Smith's three Sunday, despite the fact that at this point it doesn't appear anything was wrong with Smith. For the moment, Smith is the starter, and the Lions are on bye in Week 4. But this is a fluid situation.

Notes: If the Broncos are going to pretend they're the '07 Patriots (108 pass plays, 79 rush plays), it's hard not to like Jay Cutler as much if not more than every other quarterback in fantasy. Peyton Manning hasn't looked very good. The knee is more of an issue than we were led to believe, and while I'm sure he'll feel better as the season progresses (and while he's still the Mr. Clutch among quarterbacks circa 2008), I saw too many wobbly passes Sunday. Do you have any idea how hard it is to rank beyond the top five right quarterbacks now? Everyone beyond that point has at least one major wart. It doesn't sound to me like Ben Roethlisberger will miss action because of his injured hand, but if he does, he'd deserve to drop a couple spots. Kurt Warner hikes six spots despite just not playing all that consistently well against Washington. I guess I'm just convinced about him keeping the starting gig until his inevitable injury comes. Philip Rivers has put in three terrific games, which aren't quite enough to erase his mediocre '07, but they're a start. Here comes Carson Palmer's fantasy D-Day. If he does nothing against the Browns, it's time to bench him. Derek Anderson takes the week's biggest non-Tarvaris-related tumble: it sounds like he'll have a really short leash against the Bengals, and considering how poorly he's played, I'd be shocked if Brady Quinn doesn't get substantial minutes this year.

Notes: I was actually tempted to make Brandon Marshall (aka "Baby T.O.") the No. 1 guy, over the real Terrell Owens. I guess it's an academic point; the larger issue is that Marshall is a stud. If he can keep his head on straight off the field (a big if), he has a chance to be an All-Pro many times over. Greg Jennings made yet another spectacular catch Sunday against Dallas, and is obviously the No. 1 receiving option for the Packers. I have to admit I haven't watched the Browns/Ravens game yet, but I have it on very good authority that Braylon Edwards didn't even really get open that much in Week 3, as he'd done in the season's first two weeks (whereupon he'd dropped most of the passes thrown his way). That Browns/Bengals game Sunday is going to be a fantasy Waterloo for a lot of players. If Edwards does nothing, it'll be time to get him out of No. 1 fantasy wideout territory. It's hard to like what we've seen out of the Pittsburgh passing game lately, which really hurts Santonio Holmes's case. The Steelers have another tough one this week against the Ravens on Monday night. The Seahawks are off in Week 4, but it's time to go get Bobby Engram and Deion Branch. They should be ready to play against the Giants. JaMarcus Russell is such an aerial disaster (9-of-19 for 156 yards in Week 3, and 84 of those came on one play to Johnnie Lee Higgins), I can no longer justify having any Raiders receiver in my top 40, which explains Ronald Curry's decline. Kevin Curtis doesn't figure to get into either of the next couple games, but he's back and practicing with the Eagles. He should be added in most leagues.

Notes: Jeremy Shockey is out with sports hernia surgery. The Saints are now without both Marques Colston and Shockey, the two eye-popping fantasy weapons we were jazzed about before the season started. I actually don't think this hurts Drew Brees' value that much, because he'll still find people to throw to. The problem is that it's no longer possible to figure out who that'll be on a weekly basis. Anthony Fasano only had three targets against the Patriots, but he caught all three for 66 yards and a score. I'm not ready to make him a fantasy starter, because he was not targeted once in Week 2, but given Chad Pennington's dump-off proclivities, Fasano could get more interesting as the season progresses. Donald Lee is a big disappointment in the Packers' offense. While the game was still in question Sunday night, it seemed like Lee stayed in to block an awful lot. So all those who were so smitten with John Carlson last week: how does three targets and two catches for 38 yards and no scores sound? To me, it sounds like what you'll get many weeks from Carlson.

Notes: The Titans' defense can easily lay claim to the top fantasy defense, points-wise, so far in 2008. I still think the Giants are playing a little better at the moment, but it's hard to argue with all the sacks (11) and turnovers (12). If you looked only at Week 3, you'd be hard-pressed to put the Patriots in the top 25. That was a putrid effort. But remember how good they looked against the Jets? Because it's only happened once, I'm still willing to believe this was a momentary lapse of focus. But we'll see against the Niners in Week 5. The Packers have lost Al Harris for an extended period (
he reportedly ruptured his spleen
), so they take a bit of a tumble. I know the Chargers' D went off against the Jets and Brett Favre on Monday night, but they still gave up big plays and still had mental lapses. The positive sign was that Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer looked like their old athletic selves, and I grant you: a lot of the Jets' scoring came from big special-teams plays. Do it again against the Raiders next week, Chargers, and you'll get a bounce. If the Broncos' offense is New England circa 2007, what's their defense? Buccaneers circa 1976?

Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com.
You can e-mail him here.