Commentary

2010 fantasy football rankings update

Steve Johnson, Vincent Jackson, Mike Goodson, Jacob Tamme surge

Updated: November 23, 2010, 12:19 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 for projected fantasy value only from Week 12 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

• Let's start with the quarterback who suffered the most devastating hit to his fantasy value in Week 11, coincidentally the one who would have faced the most favorable remaining schedule of anyone at his position: Vince Young of the Tennessee Titans. Young's season is over after he was placed on injured reserve on Monday; he might require surgery for a torn flexor tendon in his right thumb. Obviously, I've dropped Young out of my top 40, but I'm not nearly as optimistic that stand-in Rusty Smith can exploit this schedule. He'd need to be supremely productive against the Houston Texans in Week 12 -- Mark Sanchez's-Week 11 productive -- to be remotely trustworthy even as a No. 2 option in two-quarterback leagues for those great matchups against the Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 13) and the Texans the second time (Week 15). Frankly, I'd hope Kerry Collins is healthy enough to start either of those games.

• Although Michael Vick's 19-point fantasy performance against the New York Giants on "Sunday Night Football" dropped his NFL-leading per-game average to 24.3, let's pick out the positives: One, he stayed healthy for another week against a defense known for causing pain to opposing quarterbacks. Two, he got one more unsavory matchup off his schedule; only the Chicago Bears (Week 12) and the second meeting with the Giants (Week 15) beckon as truly unfavorable of what's left. Three, Vick's point total would've been noticeably better if not for his receivers' mistakes; did you see Jason Avant's drop on that oh-so-easy lob into the end zone? No one should be jumping off the Vick bandwagon, even as reactionary as so many fantasy owners are. Heck, I took heat for ranking him too low last week, and I have a hunch that some might think I now have him too high. I think I had him just right then and just right now. He's top-five here, and top-25 overall.

Hakeem Nicks' injury (compartment syndrome in his left leg) -- one that will cost him at least three weeks -- is a hit to Eli Manning's value, right at a time when he faces two of his most favorable matchups all season: Jaguars (Week 12) and Washington Redskins (Week 13). Remember, Steve Smith (pectoral) is out until at least the Redskins game and perhaps more likely the Week 14 game in Minnesota, so Manning might have to make do with a receiver corps of Mario Manningham, Derek Hagan, Kevin Boss, Travis Beckum and Duke Calhoun, probably in that order, for at least the next two games. In addition, Manning has been as erratic as ever this season, throwing interceptions 4.5 percent of the time; his 4.6 percent rate as a rookie was his only worse number. At the same time, however, Manning has his highest touchdown rate (6.0 percent of his attempts) and second-highest yards-per-attempt average (7.4), meaning he's as risk/reward -- on a per-throw basis -- as he's ever been. Nicks presented Manning's greatest "reward" potential, so understand that Manning's "risk" increases with the star receiver sidelined. Let's say this: It's a good thing his schedule lines up as it does.

• The Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks are tough to rank this week, especially with ESPNDallas.com's report that Tony Romo (broken collarbone) had a throwing session Sunday and that owner Jerry Jones still sees value in Romo playing in December even if the team is out of playoff contention. Romo could be ready to play by Week 15, in which case he'd be back right in time for favorable matchups against the Redskins and Arizona Cardinals. At the same time, that would diminish Jon Kitna's long-term appeal right when he has logged back-to-back three-touchdown performances. Ultimately, whoever starts for the Cowboys probably has top-15 weekly potential, but the chances that each gets only three more starts makes it difficult to invest in either higher than where he's ranked.

• Although Tom Cable said that Jason Campbell would remain his starter in Week 12, keep close tabs on the Oakland Raiders' brewing controversy, as Bruce Gradkowski looked like the team's stronger option when he got an opportunity earlier in the season. The Raiders have quite the favorable fantasy-playoffs schedule -- at Jaguars, versus Denver Broncos, versus Indianapolis Colts -- and if either gets hot before then, he could be a useful two-quarterback league option.

Top 60 running backs

Ahmad Bradshaw's fumbling problems -- he has five lost fumbles following one Sunday night -- has his role somewhat in question, as Giants coach Tom Coughlin was positive yet noncommittal in his postgame quotes. "You've got to be able to hang on to the football," Coughlin said. "He has certainly earned the right to be out there. He had some outstanding games and played very well for us and will continue to work at this. But he's obviously a guy that is very much a part of our offensive team." With a productive backup in Brandon Jacobs, Bradshaw might be only one more lost fumble from slipping into a straight time-share (or worse), and Jacobs might get every goal-line carry from this point forward. Bradshaw is still a solid No. 2 fantasy running back, but in no way is he a top-10 candidate anymore.

• Let's go against the schedule -- which includes stiff matchups against the Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 12) and New York Jets (Week 17) -- and declare Fred Jackson a bona fide weekly No. 2 fantasy running back. In four of his past five games, he has 20-plus carries, and in his past five, he has averaged 23 touches. His 67 receptions in 26 games between this and last season show he'll contribute enough as a receiver even if his team falls behind in its tougher matchups.

• It's time to give up hope of Ryan Mathews coming anywhere close to his No. 13 preseason average draft position among running backs. The last time he injured his ankle, in Week 2, he returned to average 10.3 carries and 6.5 fantasy points per game the next six weeks. Because this was an aggravation of a high-ankle sprain, there's a chance he might not be 100 percent again this season. Mike Tolbert, meanwhile, has averaged 4.2 yards per carry since Mathews got hurt, within range of Mathews' 4.5 average since Week 4, not to mention has scored a touchdown in six of his past seven games. Tolbert might lack the explosiveness of Mathews when the latter is healthy, but he's the healthier of the two right now and the one more suited for short-yardage/goal-line work. There's a good chance this might be a 60/40 arrangement after Mathews returns, with the rookie on the short end.

• After back-to-back 100-yard rushing efforts, Mike Goodson should have a stronghold on the Carolina Panthers' starting running back role, at least for the foreseeable future. Jonathan Stewart (concussion) has yet to be medically cleared, but considering he averaged only 3.0 yards per carry before getting hurt, does it really matter whether he returns to the field any time soon? Goodson is deceptively quick, and perhaps his performance as starter will earn him the Panthers' trust even in goal-line situations, one of the question marks he faced a week ago. (Remember Josh Vaughan?) But there's one area in which he needs to improve: ball control. Still, there's plenty here to make him a flex-play option.

Top 60 wide receivers

• I get a lot of questions about point-per-reception rankings, and to quickly address those, one of the reasons they're not included as a partner column is the time issue. Another is that it's actually not terribly difficult to adjust these using your knowledge of reception totals; guys who catch passes obviously move up a few rungs, and those with lower totals drop a few. A good rule of thumb: A wide receiver probably isn't going to move more than a tier or two -- think 10 spots -- because it's important to remember that reception totals (and more importantly target totals) are already heavily weighted in my rankings. But here's a quick rundown of some of the guys who would move up in a PPR league: Wes Welker (at least five spots), Mike Williams of the Seattle Seahawks (top-30 player for sure), Danny Woodhead (easily top-40), Steve Smith of the Giants (much more hope he can still be a top-40 player), Danny Amendola (into the top 50). Marques Colston, Brandon Marshall and Mike Thomas also would become stronger options. Who moves down: Mike Wallace (maybe not even top-10), Jeremy Maclin (closer to 20th), Malcom Floyd (barely top-30), Braylon Edwards (drop five-plus spots), Lee Evans (out of the top 40).

• What a bounce-back performance by Steve Johnson, who followed up a three-catch-on-eight-target, three-point fantasy Week 10 against the Detroit Lions with an eight-catch-on-11-target, 31-point fantasy explosion in Week 11 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Both favorable matchups, yes, and he does still have Steelers (Week 12) and Jets (Week 17) matchups remaining, but outside of that, Johnson's matchups support his case as a top-20 wide receiver you'll want active every week. He's the Buffalo Bills' No. 1 target, surpassing Lee Evans, and this is an offense in which Ryan Fitzpatrick will be forced to air it out.

• It's time to hop aboard the Vincent Jackson bandwagon, what with reports that he'll suit up for Week 12. I was actually tempted to go top-20 with his ranking, but let's be slightly conservative, shall we? After all, there's something different about the San Diego Chargers today than was the case in 2009: the emergence of Malcom Floyd. Both could be weekly fantasy starters, but for now I'm thinking No. 2/3 status, and don't worry about Seyi Ajirotutu's presence; Ajirotutu wasn't even targeted in his follow-up to his lights-out Week 9 (23 fantasy points). Patrick Crayton actually has more fantasy value than Ajirotutu at this point.

• The aforementioned Nicks drops 24 spots, and in case you were wondering why it's not more, consider this: If a top-10 wide receiver typically averages 12 fantasy points per game (nine are at that number or more, including Nicks), then if Nicks plays Weeks 15-17, he could be expected to total 36 fantasy points in the three games he might still play. That's six points per game for a wide receiver healthy for all six; that's about the amount a top-30 wide receiver will offer.

• I'm not involved in the Green Bay Packers' game planning, but I think it's safe to consider James Jones a No. 3 fantasy option most weeks. He has three games of double-digit fantasy points in his past four and did a good job filling in for the injured and unproductive Donald Driver in recent weeks. Jones' skill set might look somewhat redundant to Greg Jennings' -- the two have identical yards-per-catch averages -- but the two complement each other well, shifting Driver into a role on underneath routes, where he might be better suited at this stage of his career.

Top 30 tight ends

• It's amazing how much the talent gap has narrowed at the tight end position, and it might get even more so, what with whispers that Antonio Gates' foot might not be 100 percent the remainder of the season. Gates remains the head of his class, Jacob Tamme No. 2 and Vernon Davis No. 3, but the gap between No. 4 Marcedes Lewis and No. 14 Visanthe Shiancoe might be less than two fantasy points per week. In fact, in terms of fantasy points per game, the difference between No. 4 Zach Miller (7.3) and No. 19 Greg Olsen (5.0) is less than two-and-a-half points per game. In other words, if you've got a strong gut feeling for any of the players in that range, by all means feel free to go with it. In fact, much of the difference among those players, reflected in my rankings, comes down to which ones get the most targets.

• Tamme's six-point Week 11 might not sound like the kind of fantasy point total that's worthy of a three-spot bump to No. 2 overall, but it's all about the targets and his role in the Colts' injury-depleted offense. For the third consecutive week, he cracked double-digit targets and topped his position in the category, and in four weeks since taking over from Dallas Clark, he has 47 targets and 41 fantasy points. With Clark and slot receiver Anthony Gonzalez out for the season and Austin Collie battling a concussion, Tamme has been called upon to take on a huge load in the Colts' pass attack. I see no reason to expect much fewer than 10 targets per game from him the rest of the season, and that's plenty to keep him top-two.

• I took a lot of criticism for my No. 3 ranking of Dustin Keller last week, and it turns out my faith was ill-placed, as a two-catch, zero-point fantasy performance against the miserable Texans defense couldn't have been more disappointing. It was the sixth consecutive week that he was held in single digits, and during that stretch he had only 38 targets, trailing Braylon Edwards (45), Jerricho Cotchery (44) and LaDainian Tomlinson (39) and only one more than Santonio Holmes (37) on his own team. Mark Sanchez seems to be looking to Edwards and Holmes increasingly more, and the latter's snap count only continues to grow, dropping Keller from automatic to matchups status. Heck, I still might be too high on him, but again, there's only a slight difference between someone like him and, say, Kellen Winslow.

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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