Commentary

2010 fantasy football rankings update

Cutler, Best, Shiancoe on the rise; Flacco, Charles, Marshall take tumble

Updated: September 21, 2010, 3:15 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Listed below are updated rankings for the four major skills positions, defense/special teams and the top 100 players, accounting only for projected fantasy value from Week 3 forward. These rankings are published every Tuesday, meaning they won't always reflect news that breaks late in the week. For week-specific rankings to help you set your lineup, check back on Wednesday.

Quick click by position, for easy reference:
Top 40 Quarterbacks | Top 60 Running Backs | Top 60 Wide Receivers
Top 30 Tight Ends | Top 32 Defense/Special Teams | Top 100 Overall

Top 40 Quarterbacks

• I'd sure like to rank my quarterbacks Nos. 1, 1A and 1B, because the top three on my list are fairly interchangeable. Aaron Rodgers shoots up to No. 1, coming on the heels of a 255-yard, 2-touchdown Week 2 despite his attempting fewer than 30 pass attempts (29, to be exact). That's not a game plan the Green Bay Packers should employ most weeks. They averaged 35 throws per game, 10th in the league, last season, and that was with Ryan Grant, now out for the season, in the lineup.

• So far, so good, for the Jay Cutler-Mike Martz partnership through two weeks, as 2009's most mistake-prone quarterback has a 5 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio while serving as one of three passers to score at least 20 fantasy points in each of his first two games of 2010. Most impressive was the Chicago Bears' ability to adapt to the Dallas Cowboys' pass rush in their Week 2 upset, which bodes well for Cutler's chances at continued success. I mentioned in Sunday's "Instant Replay" that Cutler effectively begins a new value tier at the position -- noticeably, one beneath the one ahead of it -- but he's the clear class of that Nos. 8-15 group.

Brett Favre and Joe Flacco both tumble out of the top 10 this week, and deservedly so after combining for seven interceptions and a fumble in Week 2, but notice that neither one slipped to the point that he's a cut candidate. There's hope for both. For Favre, each week means another chance to shake the preseason rust, plus the prospect of a Vincent Jackson acquisition strengthens his underwhelming arsenal of receivers. For Flacco, his cannon arm makes him an unquestionably better choice to continue starting over backup Marc Bulger. Of course, there's a huge negative for each. For Favre, he's running out of weeks in which it's fair to use the "rust" excuse, plus a Jackson trade is no guarantee. For Flacco, he had questionable decision-making skills in his first two outings of 2010. In particular, it's that 11-15 range at quarterback that's most fluid right now, and it's for that reason this bunch isn't making waves in the top 100 overall.

Michael Vick is one of the three quarterbacks -- along with Cutler and Peyton Manning -- that had 20-plus fantasy points in each of the first two weeks, but you'll notice that he rises only three spots, while Kevin Kolb, the man he was substituting for, drops only one place in the rankings. Obviously, Kolb's starting status in Week 3 is the reason for that, but Vick's rank is another that is somewhat fluid, among lower-tier quarterbacks. I'm thinking if there's such a thing as a "quarterback platoon," the Philadelphia Eagles will employ it the next few weeks, and Kolb's leash won't be long. Vick probably hasn't made his final start of 2010, and his No. 25 ranking accounts more for the presence of two-quarterback leagues than his true value in standard ESPN formats. I think it's close, but if I'm speculating with a bench spot I'd probably prefer him to Chad Henne, Vince Young, Alex Smith and Josh Freeman in most cases.

• I'm prepared to be wrong on my preseason Man 2 Man debate, where I explained why I distinctly preferred Matthew Stafford to Mark Sanchez, among the big-name, second-year quarterbacks. (Stafford's injury obviously is not going to help my case.) That said, I'm wondering if I might have been wrong on Sanchez, and -- had Stafford remained healthy -- both could have made runs at top-15 fantasy seasons. Through two weeks, Sanchez has been quite the Jekyll and Hyde quarterback, and more Week 2 ("Jekyll") performances would stamp him a useful fantasy backup. He has that kind of potential. At the same time, let's not forget how ugly his "Hyde," which included five multi-interception games in 2009, can be.

• I called shotgun on the "never-trust-rookie-quarterbacks" bandwagon eons ago, but this might actually be a year in which fantasy owners will need to pull over for a proverbial pit stop, considering how shaky the position is after the top 10. Sam Bradford is one of only 14 quarterbacks to have thrown for eight or more fantasy points in each of the first two weeks, and if you've watched him play you've seen the seeds of a future fantasy stud. If your league penalizes harshly for turnovers, he's going to be a train wreck, but in the positive fantasy categories he has noticeably more upside than the aforementioned Henne, Young or Smith.

Top 60 Running Backs

• I'm backtracking a bit on Jamaal Charles because it's impossible to ignore that he carried the football 11 times in each of the first two weeks, a number Thomas Jones easily matched in each game. That doesn't mean I like it or think it's the right move for the Kansas City Chiefs, but if that's coach Todd Haley's strategy, so be it. We must adjust. Of course, at the same time I drop Charles four spots in the rankings, I would put him on par with anyone in the top eight based on sheer talent. But if he manages equal or lesser carries than Jones each week looking forward, he probably doesn't belong higher than 20th. My advice: Have faith that talent will win out in the end, but understand the opportunity is not there right now.

• With news of Reggie Bush's leg injury -- which by early reports could cost him at least six weeks -- Pierre Thomas' fantasy stock gets a boost, especially in light of the fact he was the New Orleans Saints Week 2 leader in both carries (18) and receptions (8). There isn't much else behind Thomas on the depth chart. DeShawn Wynn hasn't had a carry in either of the first two games and Chris Ivory, who beat Wynn for the No. 3 role during the preseason, is still recovering from an MCL sprain. Thomas versus Matt Forte is a fair debate, but I'll take Thomas because while the two had a similar number of targets (Forte 13, Thomas 11) and receptions (Forte 12, Thomas 11) the first two weeks, Thomas is the more talented runner.

• It appears everyone was on the wrong rookie bandwagon this preseason. Javhid Best has been the standout of this year's first-year class, with five touchdowns in his first two career games. Ryan Mathews has lost a fumble in each of his first two, and is now battling an ankle injury that limited him to seven touches on Sunday. Mathews hasn't lost his starting job, but the San Diego Chargers have other backs, like Darren Sproles and Mike Tolbert, which can take pressure off him in the role but are not not necessarily a plus for fantasy. Sproles is more suited for passing-down work and Tolbert for short-yardage (read: goal line) carries. That is enough of a split of the chores to keep Mathews from being the clear No. 2 fantasy running back almost everyone predicted in the preseason.

• Whether Brandon Jacobs has asked for a trade or not, there's no denying Ahmad Bradshaw is the better option to start for the New York Giants. He's averaging 4.6 yards per carry to Jacobs' 3.3, and the only thing preventing him from a boost into the teens in the rankings is the lack of clarity in the team's goal-line plans. As things stand, Jacobs appears the logical candidate, but coming off a down Week 2 that included a helmet-throwing incident, Jacobs could conceivably begin losing those touches. If you're a Bradshaw owner, now is not the time to shop him.

• Back-to-back strong performances have Darren McFadden back to flex-play/near-weekly No. 2 status, and with each passing week, Michael Bush's chances at cutting into McFadden's workload decrease. McFadden's improvements are most noticeable in two facets: His pass-catching skills (he's on pace for 64 receptions, which would blow away his previous career high of 29) and his ability to grind down opposing defenses (evidenced by his 5.3 yards-per-carry average in the second half, up from 4.9 in those spots his first two seasons). McFadden is sure looking the part of a reliable feature back. Some skepticism is understandable, but he hasn't given much reason to doubt him… yet.

Brandon Jackson remains mired in the mid-30s after a lackluster first game as the feature back in the wake of Ryan Grant's season-ending injury, but I'm worried that two weeks from now he might be back in the 40s (or worse). There are whispers of a Marshawn Lynch trade, though Lynch did nothing to impress in a game against Jackson's Green Bay Packers, but I view John Kuhn as more of a goal-line vulture in coming weeks. A back, who has averaged 3.9 yards per carry for his career (and 3.2 through two games this year), losing out on goal-line carries isn't an especially valuable fantasy asset. My advice would be, if you can fetch any greater value than that ranking, do it fast.

Top 60 Wide Receivers

Larry Fitzgerald and Brandon Marshall tumble a few spots, mostly based on concerns that their quarterbacks will keep them from being truly dominant fantasy plays at their position. In Fitzgerald's case, while he's second among wide receivers in targets (27), he has only 10 receptions, a damning reflection of Derek Anderson's limited skill set. Preseason knee questions also linger, and while those don't appear likely to cost Fitzgerald game action, they might have him playing at beneath 100 percent in a portion of the Arizona Cardinals schedule in which he might struggle to dominate opposing corners. I like his schedule down the stretch, but for the near future I'm thinking he's borderline top-10 material. (That's still pretty darned good.) Marshall, meanwhile, is 12-for-21 catching his targets, suffering a bit from Henne's inaccuracy the first two weeks. As the weeks roll on, the two might develop a bit more chemistry, but let's face it Henne's not about to turn into another Dan Marino.

• It's officially time to begin worrying about Michael Crabtree. After a miserable opening-week performance in which he managed just two catches for 12 yards and missed a key tackle on a pick-six, Crabtree was scarcely targeted on Monday night (three times, to be exact), giving him just three receptions for 44 yards through two games. Smith doesn't seem to look his way that often, and there are enough weapons in the San Francisco 49ers offense that it's silly to assume, "oh, talent will win out in the end." Crabtree should be more involved in future weeks, but talk of him possessing top-10 fantasy potential seems unfounded. That he slipped only to No. 24 is as much a criticism of the limited appeal of the players ranked directly beneath him as it is a sign that he's a worthwhile buy-low target. Treat Crabtree accordingly. He has No. 3 fantasy wide receiver value with No. 1/2 weekly upside, but it might be painfully difficult to pick which weeks those good games might come.

• There are whispers -- most notably a report by the Chicago Sun-Times -- that Devin Aromashodu's role has slipped to the point where he's beneath Earl Bennett on the Chicago Bears' depth chart, and a zero-target (not catch, zero-target) Week 2 does seem to agree with that. Aromashodu did endure a miserable Week 1. He had three drops and flashed lackluster blocking skills. That said, it's hard to imagine Bennett zooming past him on a permanent basis, which is why Aromashodu hasn't dropped from my rankings… yet. Consider this good news for Johnny Knox. Knox's Week 2 had some encouraging big plays, and it's hard to imagine that Devin Hester or Bennett could be the leader from the Bears' wide receiver corps.

Mike Williams -- the one on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- might not be a candidate to challenge for the league lead in targets, but as the primary deep threat on a team that might be forced to throw a great deal, he's got oodles of upside. I was a fan of his in the preseason and have seen plenty to like the first two weeks. Even in some of the more challenging matchups on his schedule (PIT, @CIN, NO in his next three alone), I think he's got the skills to break free with respectable numbers. Facing the softer defenses, he might yet offer you No. 2 receiver upside.

• The switch to Ryan Fitzpatrick is a positive for Lee Evans, though that's more of a criticism of Trent Edwards' constant checking down than it is an endorsement of Fitzpatrick as an NFL starter. Frankly, I would have lowered Evans further if Edwards appeared set to keep his job. Even with the switch, let's not go crazy. Evans had 19 catches for 292 yards and three touchdowns in the eight games Fitzpatrick started in 2009. He had 25 catches for 320 yards and four scores in the other eight. Hmmm.

• I'm not about to say "told you so" with Pierre Garcon, being that I predicted borderline top-20 fantasy potential from him even in outlining that his upside was capped, but so far it seems that Austin Collie is going to be a major factor in the Indianapolis Colts' offense working out of the slot. Collie has a touchdown in each game and has been targeted 16 times, third-most on the team and four more than Garcon (12). It's time to give up on Anthony Gonzalez (and I'd hope you had long ago), who was supposed to give Collie a run for his snaps at the position, but it's looking unpredictable as to wheather Collie or Garcon will have the better game from week to week. They might alternate as Peyton Manning's go-to No. 3 target, so while both are worth having on any fantasy roster, don't get overzealous expecting breakthrough, top-15 numbers from either.

Mark Clayton is one reason I'm a bit more pro-Bradford -- as detailed above -- than I was in the preseason. Clayton, the ex-Raven, sure has looks the part of a reliable deep threat for a rookie. In the chemistry department, there isn't a greater surprise between quarterback and wide receiver so far, and that St. Louis Rams schedule has some tasty fantasy matchups looking ahead.

Top 30 Tight Ends

• Remember all that talk during the preseason about Donovan McNabb's chemistry with Chris Cooley, which cooled in the latter stages when McNabb's ankle flared up? Turns out it was legit. Through two weeks, Cooley has nine catches for 144 yards and a score, putting him on pace for his first career 1,000-yard receiving season. McNabb has made fantasy successes out of his previous tight ends -- Brent Celek, Chad Lewis and L.J. Smith immediately come to mind -- and it sure looks like Cooley will be his pass catcher with Fred Davis the blocker.

Visanthe Shiancoe is the one thing Favre has going right for him. Shiancoe has averaged eight targets and 81 receiving yards in two weeks. At draft time, the odds against him being the efficient a red-zone option he was in 2009, but since then, while Shiancoe's touchdown potential remains shy of last year's, his yardage potential has increased. Even if a Vincent Jackson trade materializes, a top-10 season is within Shiancoe's reach.

• I guess I was wrong about Marcedes Lewis. A week after he scored touchdowns on both of his two targets (not just his receptions, his targets), he was targeted nine times and hauled in five passes for 70 yards. It's a little odd that it took him five years to do so, but he finally appears to be a trusted safety valve for David Garrard. Four years' data makes it tough for me to invest a top-15 ranking in Lewis, but he's getting awfully close to that status.

• The New England Patriots haven't had an especially meaningful -- think at least 500 yards and five scores -- fantasy tight end in more than a decade, so it's understandable that few people were excited by rookies Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez on draft day. But then there's this nugget, reported by ESPNBoston.com: 40 of the Patriots' 61 snaps in their Week 2 game against the New York Jets came with two or more tight ends on the field. While it's always possible that was a one-week matchups exploitation, it might be that the Patriots view Hernandez and Gronkowski as problematic for opposing linebackers. Hernandez is speedier and Gronkowski is more physical. That's not to say either one is a weekly fantasy play, but in the right matchup Hernandez might be worth your while, and at the pace he's on he might be helpful in several weeks.

Top 32 Defense/Special Teams

Top 100 Overall

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.

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