Commentary

2010 fantasy football rankings update

Michael Vick, Knowshon Moreno, Percy Harvin among biggest risers for rest of year

Updated: November 16, 2010, 12:21 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 11 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

• No one in football -- no one -- has averaged more fantasy points per game than Michael Vick (25.2). Not Philip Rivers, not Peyton Manning, not Aaron Rodgers. From that angle, Vick has a case for the No. 1 ranking among quarterbacks, except, as pointed out in this space in weeks past, the risk of re-injury. But here's an argument in his favor: The deeper we get into the season, the fewer opportunities to get hurt and the higher the stakes in fantasy leagues, meaning the greater the importance of taking shots on high-upside players. Besides, the Philadelphia Eagles' max-protection formations are shielding Vick like their patchwork offensive line never could, somewhat diminishing said injury risk, not to mention playing perfectly into his and his team's strengths. There's little question he's an every-week starter, and regarding the possibility that he might get hurt again -- well, that's why I always advise maximizing your bench spots. Back him up with a Matt Cassel, David Garrard or Vince Young, every one of them available in more than one-third of ESPN leagues, and keep your fingers crossed you'll never need it.

• While you'll notice that Tim Tebow finally cracks my top 40 quarterbacks, Kyle Orton's stock actually rose thanks to his stellar Week 10, and no, no truth to the rumors that I give anyone who gets under Todd Haley's skin a two-spot bump. (OK, OK, technically Josh McDaniels was the one who did, but Orton was the guy throwing fourth-quarter touchdown passes.) In all seriousness, it's Orton's fantasy-playoffs schedule that has him such an attractive option. Few quarterbacks' Weeks 14-16 opponents are worse than Orton's: The Arizona Cardinals (15.0), Oakland Raiders (13.4) and Houston Texans (21.0) combine for 49.4 points per game allowed to opposing quarterbacks, third-most in the NFL, and behind only Vince Young (50.2) and Jason Campbell/Bruce Gradkowski (49.9).

• I was amused by the groundswell of support for Josh Freeman following his leading my Sunday "Instant Replay," and while I might be slightly behind the curve hopping aboard his bandwagon, let's not overlook that he has been top-20 for three weeks now, so clear fantasy-backup material at the very least. At the same time, even the positives I see with Freeman aren't enough to make him top-10 -- therefore every-week-starter -- material. He lacks the skills of an Eli Manning and the weapons of a Kyle Orton, but once you get outside the clear-cut No. 1 options, then I'd be just as happy to have him as a Carson Palmer or Jay Cutler.

• Do Matt Cassel's career-high 53 pass attempts, and the gaudy numbers that resulted, mean that Todd Haley might finally unleash his quarterback in a game situation other than garbage time? Perhaps, but even as the rarely-throws version we saw in the season's early weeks, Cassel has enough matchups to make him a spot-start candidate. The Cardinals (Week 11), Seattle Seahawks (Week 12), Denver Broncos (Week 13) and Raiders (Week 17) matchups, in particular, stand out.

• Speaking of favorable schedules, no one's is better than Vince Young's: WAS, @HOU, JAC, IND, HOU, @KC, @IND. Two matchups with the Texans, one during the fantasy playoffs? Yes, please. Randy Moss' arrival makes Young a legitimate fantasy option when the matchup calls; remember that Young ranks fifth in the NFL in passer rating (97.6) and seventh in yards per attempt (7.8).

Top 60 running backs

• It took some patience, but Maurice Jones-Drew finally broke out in the rushing-touchdowns department, scoring twice on the ground for the first time all season. He has 25-plus touches in each of his past two games, 20-plus in six of his past seven and has averaged 4.6 yards per carry in his past two, right in line with both his 2009 and career rates (both 4.5). This might not be quite as rewarding a year as last, but his workload rivals anyone's, his performance has experienced an upward trend and his schedule during the fantasy playoffs is top-10: OAK, @IND, WAS. I stuck by him as a top-10 player all year, and I'm not changing my mind now.

• It's time to put Knowshon Moreno in the top 15, and that's in spite of Tim Tebow's presence as an unconventional goal-line vulture. If you watched Moreno run Sunday, you saw a back whose hamstring, which hampered him the first half of the season, presented few issues in a game fresh off the bye. Moreno has nothing but above-average to exceptional fantasy matchups remaining, unless you want to dispute that Week 12 game against the St. Louis Rams, which at least is at home. He's plenty capable of handling 15-20 carries weekly, and is valuable enough a receiver to be an impact player in the Broncos' pass-happy offense. Plus there's this: He has the best fantasy playoffs (Weeks 14-16) of any running back, facing the Cardinals (22.2 points per game allowed), Raiders (19.9) and Texans (18.0).

• Things get especially sketchy after No. 17 (Matt Forte), and even more so after No. 22 (Fred Jackson), meaning there isn't even enough to go around in a 12-team league for everyone to have two compelling weekly starters. Two of the players in the 17-22 range, in fact, have value on the downswing: Cedric Benson (18th) and LaDainian Tomlinson (20). If you're in the unfortunate position of owning only one player from above that range -- think Forte or above -- my advice would be to make a trade for another, if you possibly can.

Ryan Mathews' owners won't be pleased to hear that he didn't practice Monday due to his aggravated ankle injury, continuing the same pre-bye week pattern of missing a healthy chunk of early-week practices, setting himself up for an almost even timeshare with Mike Tolbert on Sundays. We're quickly running out of weeks for Mathews to prove his health, and I'm seriously wondering whether he's ever going to break out of this near-even split of the rushing chores. In fact, there's a very real chance he won't play in Week 11.

• Besides the painful loss the team suffered, the other takeaway for the Washington Redskins from Monday Night Football was that Ryan Torain's hamstring apparently isn't fully healed, a concern considering that Clinton Portis (groin) is also on the mend and third-stringer Keiland Williams performed adequately in their place. Torain was active for the game, but strained his hamstring during warm-ups, according to coach Mike Shanahan. If that qualifies as a setback, then Torain's No. 28 ranking is probably too high. But as I look at that Redskins backfield, I still see Torain as the most valuable fantasy asset of the bunch, even if the breakdown might be muddled beginning with Week 11. That Torain technically resides in "flex-ville" tells you all you need to know about the lack of depth at the position.

Top 60 wide receivers

• If you checked out early from that ugly Sunday Night Football performance by the Pittsburgh Steelers, unfortunately, you missed out on quite an impressive show by Mike Wallace, who with the effort really cemented his status as the newest top-shelf wide receiver in the league. Yes, many of his statistics came in garbage time, and matchups with the New England Patriots' secondary are easy for any wideout, but for Wallace to be able to haul in three long catches (19-plus yards for each) to help his Steelers march down the field in under a minute during the two-minute drill is an impressive feat. It shows how explosive a talent he can be when he and Ben Roethlisberger are really clicking, and it also helps ease any worry that he can be completely contained when Hines Ward, who suffered a concussion during the contest, is on the sidelines. I view Wallace as a top-10 talent looking forward, and a weekly play regardless of matchup.

• So much for Percy Harvin being held back by any of three things: his persistent migraines, the departure of Randy Moss making him the target of future opponents' defenses, and Brett Favre's miserable season limiting his statistical potential. Harvin caught yet another highlight-reel touchdown Sunday, and in two games since Moss was released, he has 13 catches on 18 targets for 190 yards and a score, leading the team (or tying for it) in every one of those categories. Plus, with Sidney Rice's return probably coming in Week 11, Harvin can stick in the slot, where he's more comfortable. I occasionally include a feature in my Sunday "Instant Replay" called "One play makes your day," which is somewhat self-explanatory but is often populated by big-play receivers; if I was to make a list of the top five to make that section weekly, Harvin would surely be among it.

• If you're not among the 68.6 percent of Dwayne Bowe's ESPN owners who are believers -- that's how many started him in Week 10 -- you need to get on that bandwagon, at least for the next two weeks when he faces Cardinals and Seahawks matchups that are cozy compared to the ones that led to his eight-touchdowns-in-five-games recent hot spell. You'll see that he's boosted in the rankings accordingly, because his hot play might be all Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley needs to see to begin trusting Matt Cassel as a 30-plus-throws-a-game passer, and more opportunity, obviously, will mean more results. But at the same time, I notice Bowe's fantasy-playoffs schedule -- @SD, @STL, TEN -- and have my worries about him cooling off. He might be an ideal sell-high candidate.

• Returning to the Randy Moss topic, how about the fact that he was a glorified decoy during his Tennessee Titans debut? Pretty expensive decoy, considering he's owed roughly $3.3 million by his new team. Keep tabs on the health of Vince Young's ankle, because it's the strength of Young's right arm that's the best case I can make for him sticking in my top 20. Opponents won't be able to shadow Moss like the Miami Dolphins just did, and if you look at the schedule, there are few friendlier than what he has left: WAS, @HOU, JAC, IND, HOU, @KC, @IND. You'll also notice I've bumped Nate Washington's stock significantly this week, albeit still outside true "No. 3 fantasy wide receiver" status. He'll benefit should Moss continue to be blanketed in coverage, though one week shouldn't make us assume he will.

Dez Bryant is developing into a fantasy superstar right before our eyes, and it's nice to see him bringing elite performances to the field even when a lot of his teammates haven't looked quite like their normal selves in weeks past. He has 23 catches on 31 targets for 328 yards and four touchdowns in the four games since Jon Kitna first toed the field, and in a way is making Kitna look like he has a prettier deep ball than he does. Bryant has clearly surpassed Roy E. Williams as the Dallas Cowboys' No. 2 wideout, and the case can be made that he's their true "No. 1," being that Miles Austin is drawing tighter coverage, not to mention committing too many drops. It's time to declare the rookie a clear weekly starter.

• Incidentally, Sidney Rice now belongs among the top 50 wide receivers, as his near-activation in Week 10 suggests he'll probably be back this week, and if not, definitely the next. Remember, he had a heck of a rapport with Brett Favre last season, and if there's any hope for a Favre rebound, Rice might very well be it. That said, Favre is still 41 years old and Rice is coming off hip surgery, so even his best-case scenario might be only 80 percent what he was in 2009.

Top 30 tight ends

• Twitter was abuzz during Sunday Night Football with complaints from angry Aaron Hernandez owners, displeased with his zero-catch stat line, and those same people aren't going to be any happier with this news: ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss reports that Hernandez played only 11 of 73 snaps, only two more than Sammy Morris, three more than Julian Edelman and barely more than a quarter of Alge Crumpler's 43. Reiss also notes that the low snap count apparently doesn't mean Hernandez is in coach Bill Belichick's "doghouse," but rather might have been a product of the team's rapidly changing game plan. What's distressing if that's the truth: That the three-wide receiver, one-tight end package in which Rob Gronkowski plays (and Hernandez does not) proved so successful might mean it's featured more often in the coming weeks, narrowing what was a wide value gap between the two tight ends. One week's worth of data shouldn't radically change your opinion of Hernandez, unless, of course, you somehow believed he was a certain top-five option guaranteed consistent production week after week.

• Meanwhile, Hernandez's owners would have been thrilled to have Kellen Winslow's stat line from Sunday, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end finally filled the touchdown column. A great line from the St. Petersburg Times, which encompasses Winslow's owners' frustrations: "Going by the schedule, it had been 65 quarters over 16 games [since he last scored a touchdown]. Going by the stat sheet, it had been 77 catches. Going by the calendar, it had been 372 days. Going by the game clocks, it had been 1,000 minutes and 54 seconds of playing time (16.67 hours)." While it's a positive for Winslow, and keeps his value from slipping into the pit of fantasy-backup oblivion, let's also not be too reactionary and declare him once again a top-eight tight end (which is what he was deemed on draft day). After all, he's still garnering more defensive attention this season, and getting less separation this season, as that 10.3 yards-per-catch average -- down from 11.5 last year -- demonstrates. In some ways, Winslow's performance stabilizes his value but doesn't restore it, which is why he's still outside my top 10.

• And what of Gronkowski? His snap count has been on the rise the past three weeks, going from 29 (Week 8) to 44 to a team-high 66 (Sunday), and it's clear that the Patriots like his size advantage when they're near the goal line; he was targeted twice in the red zone officially and a third time on a play negated by penalty. Chancing on Gronkowski is the proverbial roll of the dice for touchdowns, and that's a smarter approach during the bye weeks (which just concluded). But he's still a player to watch, especially if you've been one of the unlucky ones hurt by injuries to prominent names like Dallas Clark, Jermichael Finley and Zach Miller.

• I feel dirty putting Anthony Fasano anywhere near what could be classified a "starter's" ranking, but I'll throw these facts out there, because they do hint a possibility of top-20 value if Tyler Thigpen is truly the Dolphins' new long-term quarterback (and he probably is): Three of Thigpen's six throws in relief Sunday went in Fasano's direction, and Fasano caught all of them for 48 yards and a touchdown. In addition, in Thigpen's 11 starts with the Chiefs in 2008, 71 of his 230 completions (30.9 percent) and eight of his 18 touchdowns (44.4) went to his tight end, Tony Gonzalez. Now, maybe Gonzalez deserves 90 percent of the credit for those numbers, but what if the other 10 percent hints at a tendency for Thigpen to constantly look in the direction of his tight end?

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.

ALSO SEE