- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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You're probably used to Tristan Cockcroft hosting in this forum, but you know what, he got called out for a much greater duty than discussing fantasy football and calling out the rankers. Congrats to Tristan and his wife on the birth of their second child. Meanwhile, we all welcomed in the birth of a new fantasy football season, and we couldn't be happier, healthier and bouncier with joy.
Well, you get the picture. Anyway, following in the grand footsteps of Mr. Cockcroft, who adopted a new style to this popular feature this season of a massive top-10 list, I'll follow suit. We're going list format again, top-10 style, and I'm calling out the individual rankings that surprised me the most in comparison with others, other than of course my own. And oh, the rankers other than me are Berry, Christopher Harris and Erik Kuselias.
OK, awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay we go!
10. Berry ranks JaMarcus Russell No. 16 at quarterback: A week ago Berry's favorite quarterback sleeper was Joe Flacco, as in "wacko for Flacco," which I'm sure is a line you're all using now at parties. Maybe the new Cockcroft kid will make those the first words he utters. Anyway, Flacco's matchup was against the woeful Kansas City Chiefs. Guess whom Russell is facing this week? I wondered if that meant Berry liked Russell as much as Flacco. I assume not, but one never knows. As for the ranking, ordinarily, seeing Russell at 16 wouldn't seem like much of a big deal, but what caught my attention more was the fact nobody else ranked the Oakland Raiders' signal-caller at all. OK, that stands out, but in a nutty way.
"No, Russell is not as good as Flacco," Berry says. "Not even close. But the Chiefs are still bad. And after looking at the tape from last Monday night, I'm guessing Kansas City decides to put eight in the box, try and stop the run and say, 'Go ahead, JaMarcus, you beat us.' Frankly, if Russell could have hit half of his wideouts last week, he'd have been a top-5 quarterback last week. I mean, guys were open all day. Last week, Russell completed only 40 percent of his passes. For his career, he's a 53 percent guy. Not great at all, but still significantly better than he was last week. He'll be better this week against a much worse defense than San Diego."
Of course, Matthew wasn't done speaking on the topic. "And by the way, even with Russell missing guys left and right, he still threw for over 200 yards last week and a score. And if Louis Murphy's catch at the end of the first half doesn't get overruled, it would have been two scores and a fantasy day of 12 points, tied for ... wait for it ... 15th, same as Philip Rivers. I'm not saying I love him, but there's no question he's a top-16 guy this week and it's nuts that no one else ranked him."
9. Kuselias has a Detroit Lions fixation: Not that I'm even close to giving up on Kevin Smith and Calvin Johnson, but I don't think a game against the Minnesota Vikings is a friendly matchup. Kuselias ranked Smith No. 12 at running back and Johnson was his second wide receiver. Now that surprised me. I did have Johnson seventh and Berry placed him ninth, but having him second is a statement. So what's the statement?
"Let's talk Lions," Kuselias says with glee. "They gave up six touchdown passes. If this were an MMA fight, the Lions would have tapped out in the first quarter. But let's not forget they also scored 27 points. And as we say, 'Garbage points still count.' I love Cal Johnson this week. He was targeted 13 times last week [only Reggie Wayne had more on Sunday] and that number will go up. He also was forced out inches short of the goal line on one of those catches. He'll score in this game. And although the Minnesota D is solid, it's a dome, and there will be garbage points to be had for Smith, Cal and the rest of the merry band from Detroit."
8. Berry leaves Maurice Jones-Drew out of the top 10 running backs: I ranked MJD second at running back, so obviously I'm a believer. Berry has him 11th. I don't think Jones-Drew needs to get any more touches than he did last week, but he's a productive player in a nice matchup. I was looking forward to reading Matthew's response, wondering what he sees that the rest of us do not.
"Jones-Drew always has a good game against the Colts," Berry says. "But to answer what others didn't see, they didn't see a Jacksonville Jaguars offense that really struggled in the passing game. I expect the Arizona Cardinals to concentrate on stopping the run, and they can do that. They held Frank Gore to just 30 yards last week on 22 carries. Now, Gore had two touchdowns so folks didn't care, but come on, 30 yards?! On 22 carries? I'll save you the math. That's 1.4 yards per carry. That's bru-tal! I don't think you can count on MJD getting two scores. It could happen, of course, but touchdowns are generally hard to predict. In fact, you have to go back 10 games, to last Thanksgiving against the Philadelphia Eagles, to find the last running back to get over 100 yards rushing against Arizona. I still have him as a fantasy starter because I agree, if they get close, they're giving it to him but based on what I saw out of Arizona's run defense and Jacksonville's passing game last week, I don't expect Jones-Drew to have a top-10 week."
7. Harris barely ranks Percy Harvin, placing him 50th among wide receivers: I admit I'm not quite sold on Harvin being a gift-wrapped star in the making, but the Vikings do face the Lions this week, and one would think this rookie will have chances against that defense. Even with Harris' 50, his staff rank was a strong 34. I wonder, did Harris consider leaving Harvin out of the rankings all together?
"I definitely did," Harris says. "Harvin got five touches on plays from scrimmage last week. Five. Sure, he scored on one of 'em, and there's no question he's dangerous. But with Bernard Berrian a week further removed from his hamstring injury and the Lions at least as vulnerable to the run as the Browns were, I really think people are buying into the hype machine way too much. In leagues that reward for return yardage, it might be a different story. But in leagues that don't, Harvin's going to be too hit-and-miss to use in fantasy leagues."
6. Karabell foolishly ranks ... wait a minute, this is my article! Hey, I can see that some of my rankings are quite a bit different than the others. Let's point out a few of them, shall we? At quarterback, if you switched my ranks on Matt Schaub and David Garrard, I was right in line with the others. Essentially, I didn't like Schaub's matchup at the Tennessee Titans, or the way he and his teammates played in Week 1, so I ranked him 21, which is considerably worse than the others. I think Garrard is underrated and will really bounce back against the Cardinals, so I put him at 11. At running back, I clearly don't like Jamal Lewis as much as the others, placing him at 41. That one surprised me. My concern with Lewis isn't about the yards, which he accumulated just fine Sunday. Will he score? Will the Browns get near the goal line and give him a chance to score touchdowns? I also was higher than other rankers on LaDainian Tomlinson and Pierre Thomas, obviously expecting each to play, and play well. At wide receiver, I'm not a fan of Roy E. Williams, so why did I rank him 11th? Good question, Eric! Marion Barber has not put up big numbers the past two seasons against the New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys' opponent this week. Terrell Owens, on the other hand, scored five touchdowns in four games against the Giants the past two seasons. Williams slips into that role, so I expect him to have a good day.
5. Berry goes all-in on Todd Heap! The consensus rank on the Baltimore Ravens' main tight end was 11, which means Berry's ranking Heap second really stands out. I agree he had a nice first game, but ...
"The question on Heap has never been talent," Berry says. "It's always been health. And I don't know if he's fully back, but yeah, I love him this week. My 'wacko for Flacco' love has been well documented and he's looking for Heap. Todd had two scores last week and now he gets San Diego, a team that was among the leaders in terms of points allowed to opposing tight ends. To that end, they gave up 96 yards to Zach Miller last week. Heap is a mortal lock to be top-10 this week and obviously, I believe his upside is much higher."
Of course, Mr. Harris has a different viewpoint, one which we must present.
Well, now that's a rebuttal.
4. Harris ranks Steven Jackson at No. 8: Of course the three rankers who didn't give the best player on the St. Louis Rams a top-10 rank haven't given up on him, but this team also didn't score a point in Week 1. I really want to trust Jackson, but the Rams looked so dreadful, across the board. I might have had Jackson at the spot Harris did if I didn't like other running backs more, but let's hear his thoughts.
"Jackson's problem last week was under-use," Harris notes. "He had just 16 carries and no catches. He wasn't a superstar running the ball, but a 4.2 yards-per-carry average isn't an embarrassment. Last time the Rams played against (and beat) the Washington Redskins, in Week 6 last year, Jackson had 22 carries for 79 yards and also had three catches for 32 yards. The Rams threw it to him just twice last week. (Granted, he dropped one of them.) That's not enough, and I think they know that. I grant you that this is a tough matchup, but I think the team sticks with Jackson for maybe double the number of touches he got in Seattle."
3. Berry ranks Thurman Thomas ... oh wait, that's Fred Jackson ... he's No. 6: Look, Jackson performed well in Week 1. No question about it. My question for Berry was whether he'd really play him over Maurice Jones-Drew and Brian Westbrook, among quite a few others he didn't give as strong a rank to. Also, what's Matthew's stance on the Buffalo Bills backfield when Marshawn Lynch returns?
"Fred Jackson is the Buffalo offense," Berry opines. "And playing at home, against a team [Tampa Bay Buccaneers] that gave up an average of 4.9 yards per carry to Dallas running backs last week, makes him another strong start in a week when Lynch will once again miss the game. As for after Lynch returns, Jackson should be thought of as a Leon Washington type. Good flex play in 12-team or deeper leagues or a decent No. 2 option in PPR leagues. Teams will continue to focus on Terrell Owens, which leaves the underneath passes [Jackson led the Bills in pass targets last week] for Fast Freddy, as only I call him."
2. Meanwhile, Berry continues with his anti-Terrell Owens campaign: T.O. at 35? Wow, that's certainly making a statement. Owens didn't have a great game against the New England Patriots, which we all could see, but Berry ranked Owens after Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Devin Hester. Hey, I thought I was a bit mean to rank Owens 15th. Harris and Kuselias have him seventh ... so, 35?
"The reason I am so high on Jackson is among the reasons I am so down on T.O.," Berry says. "Tampa Bay needs to correct a secondary that got torched by Dallas last week, which means more focus on Owens, who missed significant time in the preseason and did nothing to impress me Monday night. He doesn't have a connection with Trent Edwards, and Owens throwing Edwards under the bus this week in the press doesn't help. He had three targets last week. Three. He's not a significant part of this offense right now."
Just when I was formulating my stance on the ranking, Mr. Harris chimed in. I concur with it.
"Yeah, the T.O. ranking just doesn't make sense," Harris says. "The Bills will be home, and the Bucs just allowed 344 passing yards and aerial touchdowns of 42, 66 and 80 yards. Trent Edwards ain't Tony Romo, but Tampa's defense isn't New England's, either. Edwards will have more time, Owens will get open against mostly zone looks, and the team will be invested in seeing him succeed, because they know what happens when he doesn't."
1. Kuselias and Harris clearly disagree on Matt Hasselbeck: This is a good one, so we had to hear both sides of the argument. Kuselias placed the Seattle Seahawks quarterback fifth ... and Harris dumped him at 20. I thought my placement of Hasselbeck at No. 9 was a bit of a reach, but then I saw Kuselias and even Berry, who had him seventh, and realized that wasn't the case. Debate time!
"Hasselbeck is a throwin' fool," Kuselias notes. "It's like the old joke about the 80-year-old man who knocks on a strange door and says, 'I'm having relations with a woman half my age,' and the stranger says with a puzzled look, 'Good for you ... but why are you telling me?' and the old guy says 'Brother, with this kinda news ... I'm tellin' everybody!' That's how I feel about Seattle's commitment to the pass game."
OK, so I'm not really sure what any of that means, but Harris speaks out.
"Hasselbeck didn't play all that well in Week 1," Harris claims. "The overall numbers look good, but he threw two picks in his first nine passes against the Rams, something that could've crushed his team against a better opponent. More importantly, I thought the Niners D looked strong against what's supposed to be a dynamic Cardinals passing attack. Last week, I wrote that Shawntae Spencer, Michael Lewis and Dashon Goldson would be vulnerable in the secondary, but the Niners generated so much pressure on Kurt Warner with their front seven that it didn't matter. Walter Jones and Chris Spencer need to get healthy, and even if they play, they present question marks on the Seattle O-line. I wouldn't use Hasselbeck this week, no sir."
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. Check out his daily Baseball Today podcast at ESPN Podcenter. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.
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