Commentary

2010 fantasy football rankings update

Michael Vick, LaDainian Tomlinson among biggest risers heading into Week 4

Updated: September 28, 2010, 12:28 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Listed below are updated rankings for the four major skill positions, defense/special teams and the top 100 players, accounting only for projected fantasy value from Week 4 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

• Is there a hotter name in football than Michael Vick? Vick's transition from out of football to trick-play No. 3 quarterback who attempted only 13 passes all of last season to Kevin Kolb's backup to clear-cut Philadelphia Eagles starter has been seamless. If you've watched him play, you've probably noticed he's no longer a run-first quarterback as much as he's become a comfortable pocket passer with the ability to make things happen with his legs. Vick has so many weapons in this offense, so couple that with a cannon arm, and he's capable of severely burning a defense at any moment. In short, the Eagles made the right decision sticking with him, and let's hope they continue sticking with him, even as the schedule stiffens up and his numbers drop closer to the pack. He's the toughest cookie to rank this week, so let's talk statistics: In his past 16 starts -- true starts, not "he got the first snap so that's technically a start" starts -- he has 275 fantasy points, a number that would have ranked him third at his position in 2009. In his most recent season as a full-time starter, in 2006, he had 248 fantasy points, which would have been barely top 10. There's a top-10 case to be made here, and that's why he cracks mine. In fact, I'd be tempted to declare him tops of the "outside the elite top seven" group, if I could guarantee he's going to start every one of the Eagles' 13 remaining games.

• My top three remain 1, 1A and 1B rankings, but Peyton Manning gets a slight edge over Drew Brees at No. 2 this week, from this angle: His defense is depleted enough to both force him into more passing situations as well as ensure that his Indianapolis Colts won't run away with the AFC South, meaning diminished rest risk in Weeks 16-17. Manning is on pace for 672 pass attempts; he has never attempted even 600 in any of his previous 12 seasons.

• In addition to finishing with a forgettable eight fantasy points against the Detroit Lions, Brett Favre took a few big hits from Lions defenders, and at one point suffered a stinger in his right arm. He continues to look a heck of a lot like a 40-year-old quarterback, and at this point it's time to declare him fantasy-backup material. There's matchups potential in him, yes, but that stinker against the Lions hardly supports his case as a strong matchups play.

• Back-to-back standout efforts by Mark Sanchez place him in the clear No. 2 quarterback class, and let's not overlook that he has some rather favorable matchups ahead on his schedule. The New York Jets are still a run-based offense, but Sanchez's development appears it might be ahead of schedule, and that means if you're trying to mix and match at the position, you shouldn't overlook him.

• I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the Detroit Lions' quarterbacks, considering the team is being tight-lipped about Matthew Stafford's recovery from a shoulder injury, not to mention it's clearly comfortable allowing Shaun Hill to air it out 40-plus times a game in Stafford's absence. There's a quantitative appeal with Hill, which is what vaults him into the top 30, but I'm still slotting Stafford a couple of spots ahead of him under the assumption he'll be back no later than right after the Week 7 bye. Boy, with his arm, Stafford could be a gem getting 40-plus passes per week.

Top 60 Running Backs

• We -- the fantasy football community -- need to give Rashard Mendenhall more credit than he's getting. Through three games he ranks eighth among running backs in fantasy points (45) and ninth among those with 30-plus attempts in yards per carry (5.2), and he has done so despite the absence of elite run blocker Willie Colon and while the Pittsburgh Steelers have employed a revolving door at quarterback awaiting the expiration of Ben Roethlisberger's suspension. After the clear top five, Mendenhall has the best combination of skills, opportunity and upside, and perhaps most importantly, his injury risk isn't quite as significant as that of the two men ranked behind him, Steven Jackson and Michael Turner.

• Time for your weekly Jamaal Charles update, as it appears I'm not the only one frustrated by the Kansas City Chiefs' inexplicable division of backfield labor. While Mendenhall might rank ninth in yards per carry, Charles leads the way (7.0), yet he trails Thomas Jones both in terms of carries (52-34) and total touches (54-39). The Chiefs, unfortunately, are rolling at 3-0 and sporting the league's most rushing yards (482), so there's little reason to expect a change in philosophy right now. So why Charles at 13? Simple: Every one of the next five running backs ranked behind him has a significant question. The Denver Broncos' pass attack is more potent than expected, diminishing somewhat Knowshon Moreno's appeal. Pierre Thomas is evidently not regarded a workhorse, 20-carries-a-game back by the New Orleans Saints. Jahvid Best plays for the Detroit Lions and could suffer some aftereffects of a Week 3 turf toe injury, though if there's a legitimate candidate for the top 10 between 14 and 20, it's him. Ahmad Bradshaw could still cede goal-line carries to Brandon Jacobs. And DeAngelo Williams -- heck, his entire team -- is off to a dreadful start. Given even two-thirds of the rushing work, Charles would be an unquestioned No. 6 running back overall. If he remains in his current situation (even split/slight back seat to Jones), he might barely crack the top 20.

• It took him three years, but Darren McFadden finally looks like a running back worthy of the No. 4 pick in the 2008 NFL draft. He already has two 100-yard rushing games, more than he had in his first two seasons combined (one, in Week 2 of 2008), he's averaging 4.7 yards per carry, significantly improved from his 3.9 of 2008 and 09, and he has two runs of 20-plus yards, after only five his first two years combined. The matchups have favored him, but having watched his progress thus far, it's time to declare him a weekly No. 2 option.

LaDainian Tomlinson apparently picked the right place to sign, as he looks rejuvenated running behind the Jets' offensive line, and while most -- myself included -- believed he'd be used to spell starter Shonn Greene this season, it's clear the reverse is the arrangement. Tomlinson is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, which coupled with his 197-carry pace would set a new NFL standard for running backs with 150-plus carries in a season begun after the age of 30. Those 197 carries seem entirely appropriate, and if the Jets are smart, they'll cap them around there, meaning there's a lack of upside with Tomlinson that wasn't present even as recently as two years ago. But even with 200 carries -- and presumably another 50 catches -- he could shape up as a borderline No. 2/flex.

• That Buffalo Bills backfield is a complete mess, with Marshawn Lynch the apparent starter and lead back, albeit an unproductive one, Fred Jackson a complete nonfactor in Week 3, and C.J. Spiller relegated to doing his damage on passing downs or in the return game. Spiller's exploits could earn him more carries in the weeks ahead, but the Bills seem like they can't decide whom they trust most, and their paper-thin offense limits the value of whoever gets picked to lead the way. I'm tempted to swap Lynch and Spiller, being that in a bad backfield, it's probably smartest to pick the upside play. That said, Lynch is the leading man right now, so it's the right move to barely give him the edge.

• Give Laurence Maroney a mulligan, being that he's still getting acclimated to life with the Broncos. That he got the start and three times as many carries (12) as Correll Buckhalter (four) demonstrates how highly coach Josh McDaniels regards him, and if you're a Moreno owner, he's the one you want as your handcuff.

• Backup/handcuff to watch: Ryan Torain, who snuck ahead of Keiland Williams to run seven times for 46 yards as the backup to aging, struggling, injury-prone Clinton Portis in Week 3. Portis is the kind of running back for whom you want a handcuff, and Torain, fresh off the practice squad, is apparently it.

Top 60 Wide Receivers

• Michael Vick's resurgence has done wonders for DeSean Jackson, who in Vick's two starts -- again, excluding the "he got the first snap" start in Week 1 -- has back-to-back games of 100-plus yards with a touchdown, and nine catches on 15 targets for 288 yards and two scores total. Jackson has been the team leader in targets in both games, but don't let that fool you into thinking future opponents will blanket him; the presence of fellow playmaking receiver Jeremy Maclin, not to mention sure-handed tight end Brent Celek, should prevent that. Vick's passing ability has never been this impressive at any prior stage in his career, and while it's asking too much for him to quite keep up this pace, he should keep Jackson a clear top-10 fantasy wide receiver for as long as he remains the starter.

Mike Sims-Walker continues to be a boom-or-bust fantasy receiver. Week 3 marked the second time in three games he was held to two receptions or fewer. In his other game, in Week 2, he had 10. Scroll back through Sims-Walker's 2009 game log and you'll notice this: He had six games of two catches or fewer, seven games of six catches or more and was held out another contest. Maybe it's because his Jacksonville Jaguars lack another reliable receiver to divert defensive attention, maybe it's because his quarterback can be wildly inconsistent, but Sims-Walker can be a maddening fantasy player to own. Plus, there's this: If David Garrard somehow loses his job, there's the worry of Sims-Walker's productivity plummeting, with Todd Bouman and Keith Null the only other alternatives at quarterback.

• Perhaps the San Francisco 49ers' switch from Jimmy Raye to Mike Johnson at offensive coordinator at least might present Michael Crabtree with an opportunity to redeem himself after three miserable weeks. Heck, it can't hurt, right? Crabtree has but six catches on 19 targets for 81 yards through three games, barely even being noticed by Alex Smith. Johnson was the team's quarterbacks coach; one would think he'll aim to address that problem area, and that might include more plays in which the team's most valuable deep threat is the intended target.

• There is still plenty to go around in the Denver passing game, especially while Knowshon Moreno remains on the sidelines, as four different Broncos wide receivers are on pace for at least 120 fantasy points for the season. The fact that Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Lloyd, Eddie Royal and Demaryius Thomas are each capable of breaking through from week to week on an almost rotating basis might ultimately prove frustrating to their fantasy owners, but as injuries and opportunities allow, any one might be able to help on a matchups basis. I tend to pick based on talent in such circumstances, which is why the quietest Week 3 receivers are my top two; I think Thomas and Royal have the most big-play potential of the bunch.

Louis Murphy has back-to-back double-digit fantasy performances working with new quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, and remember, three of his four touchdowns last season came in Gradkowski's four starts. A No. 46 ranking cements Murphy as a matchups consideration and certain pickup in all formats, and he might not be far off from being a weekly consideration in three-wideout leagues.

Dexter McCluster suffers a problem similar to teammate Jamaal Charles'. He has the skills to handle a greater role in the Chiefs' offense, but to date hasn't been granted the opportunity. McCluster's potential is immense; he's capable of breaking off a big play each week both as a receiver and return man. With time he might see more targets, so if you can stash him, it's probably worth it.

Top 30 Tight Ends

• Vick's presence appears to hurt one member of the Eagles' offense in particular: tight end Brent Celek. Celek stood out in Kevin Kolb's two starts in 2009 and the two were said to continue that chemistry throughout the offseason and preseason. In Vick's two starts this year, however, Celek has seven receptions on 11 targets for 69 yards, respectable but hardly top-10 numbers. Celek ranked third on the team in targets in both of those games, as Vick demonstrated he clearly prefers the deep ball. There's still top-10 upside here, but one more week of lackluster numbers and it might be time to officially drop him to fantasy backup status.

Dustin Keller's progress has been the most pleasant surprise of 2010, as he's the clear benefactor of Mark Sanchez's red-hot Weeks 2 and 3 performances. Sanchez has been looking for him early and often; Keller has paced the Jets in targets in each of those two games. With questions surrounding Braylon Edwards, and Santonio Holmes ineligible to return for another week, Keller has a prime opportunity to lock himself into the role of Sanchez's permanent No. 1 target. He's the tight end most likely to supplant Celek in the top 10 in coming weeks.

• It's time to declare Aaron Hernandez a trustworthy fantasy option, as in the wake of Kevin Faulk's season-ending injury, it's clear Hernandez has the most potential of the multitude of candidates to fill Faulk's shoes. The rookie continues to play starter's snaps, regularly is lined up as a wide receiver and seemed to most catch Tom Brady's eye in situations where Faulk might have in the past. Dallas Clark comparisons are already being passed around, and while I'm not about to put Hernandez in Clark's class, it might be open for discussion in the not-too-distant future. For now, scoop him up and use him in deeper leagues.

• Another rookie to scoop up: Tony Moeaki, who might very well be Matt Cassel's most trusted option in the Chiefs' passing game. That's actually more damning of Cassel's ability -- not to mention his lackluster set of wide receivers -- than it is an endorsement of Moeaki, but this is a position where opportunity matters. The rookie could draw 5-7 targets per week, and against thinner defenses, it might be enough for him to help on a matchups basis.

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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