Commentary

2010 fantasy football rankings update

Felix Jones, Marshawn Lynch, Roy Williams among biggest risers this week

Updated: October 20, 2010, 11:02 AM 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 7 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

• At this point it's absurd to question Ben Roethlisberger's top-10 status, after his performance seemed to improve with every passing minute of his 2010 debut. He's the leader of arguably the most balanced team in the NFL, and his numbers cement his elite, every-week status: In his past 42 regular-season games, he has thrown for multiple touchdowns 21 times and three or more 11 times, and he has thrown for 250-plus yards 17 times and 300-plus eight times.

• Even with my having explained the basis for these rankings in the season-opening edition -- you can read it again if you're interested -- it seems many readers don't fully grasp the concept of "year-to-end" ranks. We're ranking only for remaining games, folks, and to give a sense of what that entails, this week I composed a somewhat rudimentary spreadsheet to calculate strength of remaining schedule. It entailed totaling opponents' fantasy points per game allowed in each remaining matchup. Guess whose schedule ranks second-worst? (Matchups-proof Drew Brees was worst.) Matt Ryan, whose Atlanta Falcons face eight of the 13 best at limiting quarterback fantasy points (CIN, TB, BAL, @STL, @TB, @CAR, NO, CAR) and play only two more games against teams ranked the 19 most likely to allow them (GB, @SEA). In fact, his next five matchups are his worst: CIN (seventh-toughest), bye week, TB (13th), BAL (third), @STL (12th). Suddenly I'm not so convinced he's going to finish among the top 10 at his position.

Mark Sanchez's seven-point Week 6 serves as a painful reminder that he's still closer to the realm of fantasy-irrelevant than clear-cut fantasy starter. (Stress: Put those designations on either side of a scale and see which side the needle edges toward.) Not that I'm trying to knock his skills; the point is more that he's the victim of being a game-manager quarterback behind a run-based offense, at least at this stage of his career. For instance, the New York Jets are on pace for 515 rushing attempts this season after an NFL-high 607 last season, but only 477 passing attempts after an NFL-low 393 last season. There will be times when Sanchez steps up to win a fantasy matchup on his own, but when he's incapable of exploiting a soft secondary like Denver's, it's fair to question how much of a matchups play he really is. My ranking demonstrates his ability to be fantasy-backup material, but somehow I feel as though Kevin Kolb would be smarter bench fodder … if only we knew for sure Kolb was going to start for several more weeks.

• The Detroit Lions reportedly were thisclose to inserting inactive No. 3 quarterback Matthew Stafford (shoulder) into their Week 6 game after Shaun Hill had exited and Drew Stanton took a hard hit. That situation, coupled with Stafford having been in consideration to start the contest, is indication enough that he'll resume starter's duties once the team returns from bye in Week 8. Hill's broken forearm might firm up the Lions' quarterback picture and is almost entirely responsible for Stafford's two-spot bump, but I won't elevate him further until we get a clearer sense whether his shoulder injury might have lingering effects on his throwing.

• He's coming off arguably his best effort all year, and therefore there might be a bit of low-level buzz swirling around him, but Matt Cassel has yet to completely earn my confidence. Don't overlook that despite his matchup against perhaps the worst secondary in all of football in the Houston Texans, Cassel attempted only 29 passes to 38 rushing attempts by his Kansas City Chiefs, eight of those in the final three drives after the Texans had rallied back into the game. The Chiefs clearly don't trust him as a leading man and prefer him in a game-manager role, meaning his value is based in the pick-and-choose from rare, extremely favorable matchups. But Cassel did rise four spots in my rankings, and here's why: In my aforementioned "strength of schedule" exercise, he actually turned up No. 1. To break it down further: Six of Cassel's next seven matchups are against the 10 worst teams in terms of fantasy points per game allowed to opposing quarterbacks, and the seventh is against the Arizona Cardinals, who rank 13th. A thought: Consider him as a bye-week plug-in for the next month, then sell high before the Nov. 24 trade deadline in ESPN.com standard leagues. After all, you are not going to want to trust this guy during the fantasy playoffs; to that point, his schedule from Weeks 14-16 ranks dead last.

Top 60 running backs

• One of the challenges of the year-to-end rankings column is that news constantly changes in sports, and in this particular week, we have the trade deadline arriving at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, or several hours after we publish. (If anything big changes by then, don't worry, it'll be addressed.) For instance, you might have heard whispers that the Baltimore Ravens might trade Willis McGahee, after the veteran had nary a touch in Week 6, and the prevailing thought is that any McGahee deal would be a huge plus for Ray Rice's value. My reaction: Does McGahee's status matter all that much? Rice proved a week earlier that he had recaptured the goal-line role, and he has 55 carries and 67 touches the past two games combined, more than enough proof that the every-down gig is his. Your instinct might be to drop Rice a few spots after he managed a disappointing 11 fantasy points on Sunday, or an outside-the-top-10-running-backs number, but I think it's smarter to recognize he's a workhorse who still boasts top-five talent and rank him accordingly, whether McGahee is traded or not. One huge plus for Rice: His playoff-weeks (Weeks 14-16) schedule couldn't look tastier: @HOU, NO, @CLE.

• Speaking of horses, I present you Steven Jackson, a back so resilient I'm convinced he'd try to play through a broken leg if it was physically possible. Jackson has carried the football 20-plus times in each of the past three weeks and 76 times total during that span, and that's in light of a groin injury that by all accounts was supposed to shelve him in Week 3. I've heard all the anti-Jackson arguments -- he's injury-prone, he's on a bad team -- but the guy churns out double-digit fantasy games as efficiently as anyone. It'd take a lot for me to remove him from my top 10.

• Want to know who has the most favorable schedule among running backs the remainder of the season? It's new Seattle Seahawks starter Marshawn Lynch, who managed a respectable 44 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries in his debut with his new team. Lynch's schedule is overwhelmingly favorable the next seven weeks, with five of those matchups against teams that rank among the 10 most fantasy points allowed per game to the position. That could paint him as another sell-high candidate as the ESPN trade deadline approaches next month, but for now it means he's right on the fringe of No. 2/flex value.

• If there is any running back currently outside my top 25 who seems a logical candidate to make a Lynch-like jump into (or just outside of) the top 20 in future weeks, Felix Jones is it. The Dallas Cowboys have been preaching for weeks that they intended to increase Jones' workload, and sure enough, they did on Sunday, giving him a career-high 24 touches a week after he had set a new personal best in that same category (19). Part of that might be their distaste for Marion Barber, who looks like an older back than he is and hasn't adapted well to a more limited role, but let's credit Jones for his improvement in the receiving department. His 10 catches were a career high and actually represent more than 25 percent of his entire career total in the category.

Ryan Torain is another such candidate, but although he exploded for 100 yards and two scores in Week 6, remember that the matchup played completely into his hands. In a typical week, he might finish with two-thirds the yardage and be only a 50-50 bet to score, with his primary limitation that he's not quite as adept a blocker or pass-catcher as backup Keiland Williams. Williams will get his touches, and probably enough so that Torain doesn't quite rise to top-20 levels.

• A similar thing could be said for Chris Ivory, though there are two important differences: Ivory is a more explosive runner than Torain, and he has more competition for touches in the New Orleans Saints' backfield. Pierre Thomas (ankle) and Reggie Bush (leg) are on the mend, with both perhaps due back within the next two weeks, and that dilutes the backfield considerably. Ivory is a worthwhile pickup, but he's highly unlikely to gobble up two-thirds or more of the Saints' touches, at least not once one or both are back in action.

Top 60 wide receivers

• With word that DeSean Jackson will miss at least the Philadelphia Eagles' Week 7 contest and perhaps more time after their Week 8 bye, I'm dropping him from my top 10 and am tempted to slide him down several more spots. Both he and Jeremy Maclin, the man who benefits most during Jackson's absence, are comparable values accounting for Jackson's potential missed time, although the truth is that there's enough to go around in the Eagles' offense for Jackson to be a top-10 option, and Maclin a top-20 in his own right, when both are healthy.

• It's a similar decision between Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, who both rank in my 20s this week, although there's enough depth in the Indianapolis Colts' pass attack that either one could be a top-15 candidate … if we only knew one clearly would be the one more targeted. Unfortunately, Garcon did enough last season to warrant a substantial role in the offense, but Collie has impressed enough out of the slot this season that he's not about to be relegated to a little-used option. In Week 6, Collie had more targets (9 to 7), but Garcon had more fantasy points (16 to 11). It might be a lot like that in future weeks.

Roy E. Williams is back on the fantasy radar, and he can thank the presence of Dez Bryant, who deepens the Cowboys' aerial attack enough that he's finding his spots. Many of those have come in the red zone: He has four targets in those situations the past two weeks combined, three of those caught for touchdowns, and six in five games this season. Many fantasy owners gave up on Williams last season, but it's time to call him a useful starter in all but the shallowest leagues.

• Speaking of past notable names getting back on the radar, we present Robert Meachem, who finally had a meaningful fantasy game in Week 6, catching four passes for 71 yards and a score. You've heard it said: The Saints have been employing a more conservative game plan with their top running backs (most notably Bush, a huge cog in their pass attack) injured, but this past Sunday, Drew Brees finally looked comfortable taking deep shots, which is where Meachem shines. Bush is due back in the next couple of weeks, and once he's back, Meachem might yet find his openings against the league's weaker defenses.

• Uber-deep sleeper of the week: Danario Alexander, an undrafted receiver who was promoted to the Rams' active roster just more than a week ago, yet might have a legitimate claim to the No. 1 receiver role in short time. He led the team in everything receiving-related on Sunday and had a pretty, 38-yard diving catch of a touchdown, quickly capitalizing upon an opportunity to be Sam Bradford's top target in the wake of Mark Clayton's season-ending injury. It's not enough to make Alexander a fantasy starter, but certainly he belongs on weekly pickup lists.

Top 30 tight ends

• We'll wait to see how much Antonio Gates' toe injury affects him during the midweek practices, but most accounts -- including one by the San Diego Union-Tribune on Monday -- had him potentially available for the team's Week 7 contest. Even if Gates needs to miss a game or two, it's difficult to argue against his remaining the No. 1 name on this list because he still has a substantial lead over the No. 2 tight end in fantasy points, Dustin Keller; his 88 easily tops Keller's 61. Gates remains tops of the tight end class in all healthy weeks, and although there are some questions surrounding his health this week, in terms of year-to-end rankings, it's foolish to adjust for one week when there might be nine more healthy, peak-value performances remaining in his tank.

Jermichael Finley, meanwhile, drops off the list in light of his injured-reserve placement on Monday. The Green Bay Packers had considered keeping him on the roster in the hopes he might be ready come playoff (not fantasy playoff, playoff playoff) time, but a slew of injuries the past two weeks left them in a roster pinch. Finley can be safely dropped in all but deep keeper leagues, the only bright spot being that this is a season when tight end replacements are plentiful. I'd be happy enough with any of my current top 12 as my No. 1 option, and everyone through No. 20 (Benjamin Watson) is at least roster-worthy.

• Although Willis McGahee was the Week 6 oh-fer among the running backs, Visanthe Shiancoe earned that distinction among the tight ends, failing to generate a single target (or reception, as it follows). That means that in two games since the Randy Moss trade, Shiancoe has seven targets and two receptions, compared with 17 and 11 in his first three contests. Percy Harvin and Randy Moss, by comparison, each have 16 targets, and eight and nine receptions apiece, evidence that Brett Favre's focus has shifted deep in general. And in terms of red zone production -- which is where Shiancoe earned his draft-day price tag -- Greg Camarillo and Harvin each have one target, while Moss has been frequently targeted just outside that zone. This isn't a two-week cold spell; Shiancoe has dropped to fantasy-backup status.

• This might not be the ideal time to pounce, being that the Houston Texans are on bye in Week 7, but if you're in a competitive league in which being a week ahead of the curve is critical, hop aboard the Owen Daniels bandwagon. Still available in 43.0 percent of ESPN.com leagues, Daniels managed season highs in targets (7), receptions (5) and receiving yards (79) on Sunday and said after the game that his surgically repaired knee is just about back to full strength. The bye week's rest can only help him edge closer to 100 percent, and in an offense where the team's deep threats are also battling nagging bumps and bruises, Daniels might yet be leaned upon more in the season's second half. I'm not prepared to rank him as one yet, but he has the skills to be a top-10 fantasy option at his position.

Colt McCoy sure looked like a capable-enough NFL starter, didn't he? You know those crutch arguments people tend to use in fantasy, like this one: Young quarterbacks tend to throw to their tight ends more often. It's a foolish assumption to make across the board, but in McCoy's case, it's probably true, especially in light of the head injuries suffered by wideouts Mohamed Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs in Week 6. McCoy appeared completely comfortable looking to Benjamin Watson and, to a lesser degree, Evan Moore, and Watson for sure might be his preferred red zone target judging by the early returns. There might yet be a matchup for the onetime Patriot to be a worthwhile fantasy starter.

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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