Week 1 rankings reaction
So, you've had a day to digest our Week 1 rankings, and our experts have been chomping at the bit to point out each other's crazy calls. Heck, I know I am. Being a very lucky guy, I had an opportunity to sit down and chat with each of our four weekly rankers -- Matthew Berry, Christopher Harris, Erik Kuselias and Eric Karabell. We were able to shoot the breeze, talk fantasy football and down some wings. (OK, I ate most of the wings; they got mad; but hey, we had fun. Plus, it just made 'em more bloodthirsty in defending their picks!)
First up to chat: The man, the myth, the legend -- Matthew Berry!
Cockcroft: So, Matthew, I hear you're down on Drew Brees? A hunch: You're expecting another Brees-esque slow start. Or, are you just scheming to get me to bench Brees when we face off in the Verizon MVP league in Week 1? Nice try.
Berry: Nah, I don't need to help you to be stupid. You'll do that on your own. It's more a case of the slow start and a belief in Tampa Bay's pass defense that last year gave up the least amount of passing yards per game. Only four teams gave up fewer passing touchdowns.
Cockcroft: True, true. But Brees did rip the Bucs for three of those 18 scores they allowed in 2007. Of course, he had only one touchdown and seven picks in his first three games. Ouch. Now I've got a decision on my hands. Moving on, you sure seem to love Darren McFadden this year! Now, I'm pumping up both Oakland backs as starts this week, but clearly, you think there's just one guy to grab?
Berry: Denver can't stop the run and this is prime time. Both "Run-DMC" and the Raiders want to show what this kid can do. Big-time players step up on Monday Night Football and McFadden is big-time. [Justin] Fargas may get more touches, but he won't do nearly as much with them. The rest of my cohorts are idiots on this one. Remember, they also yelled at me when I had Francisco Liriano ranked high for the second half of baseball.
Cockcroft: The Twins sure took long enough to call Liriano up. Better hope the Raiders don't hold McFadden back, too. (They'd be nuts, though I also said that of the Twins.) By the way, I happen to agree on Joey Galloway at No. 14 despite his injury-plagued preseason and the fact that he's ancient. A little history lesson here?
Berry: Fact is, Galloway torches the Saints. Last six games against the Saints, Galloway has 614 yards and eight touchdowns.
Cockcroft: I hear Saints cornerback Jason David is still having nightmares about Galloway's two-touchdown Week 2 performance in 2007. Poor guy. Final question, and one near and dear to us: Redskins defense ranked ahead of Giants defense? C'mon, Matthew, I'm all about rampant homerism -- it makes the game fun -- but the Giants at No. 17? How do they get no love, or at least less love than Washington, coming off their dreadfully ugly preseason (defensively speaking)?
Berry: Is there anyone left on the Giants or are they all injured and retired? Until Eli proves he can play well at home, he and the defense facing him will be judged accordingly.
Cockcroft: Ouch. Justin Tuck, Antonio Pierce and Mathias Kiwanuka might have something to say about that, and in my book, Steve Spagnuolo is a 17th-level wizard when it comes to finagling a defense. No love for the Giants again this year, even after the Super Bowl. And that's just how they want it to be! (Note: The author promises only a small degree of homerism involved in the above evaluation.)
Next up, only the best strong safety in the state of Carolina, Christopher Harris! (Note to fans: Please, no autographs until after the game.)
Cockcroft: Quite a contrast we have on the Giants' defense for Week 1. Berry was down on them; you have no fear. Giants D at No. 4! Wow. I'm going to love that pick if you're right. But the realist in me has to ask: Are you nuts?
Harris: I wrote this in the Breakdown, but the Giants defense is still very accomplished. Justin Tuck is a beast, and I've liked Mathias Kiwanuka since Boston College. The defensive tackles are very good. Sam Madison doesn't have to start at corner, which is excellent. And I like Gerris Wilkinson on the weak side quite a bit. If you liked the Giants fantasy defense second- or third-best before Osi Umenyiora got hurt, are you really going to change your opinion dramatically because one guy is hurt? I'm not sold that Washington has the West Coast thing down quite yet, this will be an emotional night -- Super Bowl champs haven't lost in opening Thursday games since they've been having 'em -- and what's hurt most here is depth. Yeah, later in the year, after a few guys get injured and there's no one to step in, I can see dropping the Giants. But for now, I still think they're going to be good on defense.
Cockcroft: I think Tuck just added you to his Christmas card list. Next up, Marc Bulger -- hate that matchup, and you seem to as well. Still, if I thought I was down on the guy, boy, you sure seem to be, ranking him No. 20. Some interesting names you had ahead of him: Aaron Rodgers, Jeff Garcia, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco (kidding on that one).
Harris: The Rams haven't looked good, their interior offensive line is already banged up, they don't have a playmaker opposite Torry Holt and Philly's defense is underrated. Bulger also hangs onto the ball way too long, and Jim Johnson's defenses love to play against quarterbacks who do that. Do I like Bulger generically more than Garcia and Rodgers? Yes. But Rodgers faces Minnesota, the team that allowed the most yards per game via the air last year, and Garcia faces the Saints. I'd gladly start either over Bulger.
Cockcroft: You're tacking your name onto a lot of Christmas-card lists this week; I bet you're now on Karabell's, too! Let's go for the trifecta, putting the microscope on the Carolina backfield. You've got both backs slotted in as flex-spot considerations, a curious thought accounting for the Chargers matchup. Plus, DeAngelo Williams is a spot higher than the man you call "The Daily Show," Jonathan Stewart. Do you view that backfield as a "lite" Oakland -- which is in itself a "lite" Minnesota?
Harris: Um, yes. Sure, the Chargers have a good run defense, and I don't think either back will go crazy, but considering where you drafted them, I think they're both flex guys every week. No, I don't think you're looking at one back being the "first- and second-down guy" and one guy being the "passing situations" guy, à la Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor last year, which is why I think you're mislabeling Oakland as "Minnesota lite," 'cause I don't think that's the way things will break down for the Raiders, either. Instead, I expect the Panthers to split series, the way they did in the beginning of the past couple years between Williams and DeShaun Foster. Both of these backs looked terrific in the preseason, and each guy has it in him to barrel in a close score, if the opportunity arises.
Cockcroft: Well put though to be fair, those comparisons are more from a statistical angle than from a straight-role standpoint. I think that's what a lot of fantasy players fail to realize: Statistics compare nicely, but roles and player types often do not. That's what makes some of these guys -- the Petersons of the world -- such special talents.
OK folks, we better get to our next ranker, 'cause, look, he's just itching to do some trash talk. He's got his barb-slinging gloves on, so let's welcome Erik Kuselias!
Cockcroft: Erik, that Carolina backfield is a popular rankings debate for Week 1, and I see you're pretty big on Jonathan Stewart, whom you ranked 19th, compared to DeAngelo Williams at 44. Again, one of two things here: Either you're thinking John Fox's loyalty to the veterans is hogwash, or you have more blind faith in a Carolina rookie?
Kuselias: How dare you compare Stewart to DeAngelo Williams! And seeing how we are in an election year, I will drop the quote on you: "I know Jon Stewart, I scouted Jon Stewart, I've watched Jon Stewart play. DeAngelo Williams, you're no Jon Stewart!"
I know we aren't supposed to swear, but Jonathan Stewart is a [very family-unfriendly word] beast -- 6-foot, 235 lbs., 4.3 [his speed in the 40] and totally healthy! Plus, he is the unquestioned goal-line back. Carolina runs the football -- check the attempts per season under Fox -- and in the end, I think Stewart is the man, not DeAngelo Williams, who is very small. Wayne Gretzky once said what made him better than everyone else was that while others skated to where the puck is, he skated to where it was going. I've seen where the puck is going, and his name is Stewart. I'll be on him all year.
Cockcroft: True to the point, Carolina has averaged 28.7 rushing attempts per game since John Fox took over in 2002, which ranks 13th among the 32 NFL teams. But even if you're right on Fox's plans, surely you're off your rocker with Willis McGahee. No. 9 among running backs? Gotta say, that's either really bold, or entirely nuts.
Kuselias: Cincinnati sucks against the run; the team and the franchise appear in disarray. Meanwhile, the Ravens will look to take pressure off Flacco, a rookie making his first NFL start. Cam Cameron, the new offensive coordinator for Baltimore, loves to establish his running backs early -- see Ronnie Brown last season and LaDainian Tomlinson before that. Stephania Bell -- whom I'd trust to babysit my kids and order the wine for a dinner party as well as fill out my fantasy lineup -- says he should be good to go, and since I'm a medical moron, I've got to go with the expert. Soooo having this guy around No. 10 seems very reasonable.
Cockcroft: Be that as it may, a much-healthier McGahee totaled 181 yards and one score in two meetings with the Bengals last year, and he averaged 3.8 yards per carry. Yuck. If you're right on that one, I'll be the first coming back to pay the piper. I like the boldness, though. And speaking of bold, you're one of the few people these days who seems to be conservative on stunning sophomore Calvin Johnson. What's up with that?
Kuselias: Roy Williams went crazy against Atlanta the last time the teams met -- you can check the stats but it's somewhere around six-to-seven grabs for 100-plus yards and a touchdown. [Note: It was six catches for 138 yards and a score, in Week 9 of 2006.] He's a vet with better chemistry with Jon Kitna, at least right now. My rankings reflect that Roy-boy is still the No. 1 in Detroit, at least for now, and should be ahead of a guy playing his first game of Year 2, after he was banged up in Year 1.
Cockcroft: I dunno, Johnson's chemistry with Kitna was pretty darned good in the preseason, and what an opening-week matchup. But I guess it makes sense. Let's just say I might have a lot to answer to, come Week 2.
Last up, but certainly not least, my buddy and the man who supports my quest for a Triple Prime burger-eating contest (seriously, let's make it a week after Nathan's!): Eric Karabell!
Cockcroft: Eric, you were the lowest on Steven Jackson of our rankers. Tell me that's not Eagles homerism? Or is it merely hating the matchup? Or that he's starting slowly because of the holdout? Or is it a mix?
Karabell: I think a guy who held out most of the preseason and hasn't been hit in a while is tough to rank over some other running backs who just have to be more ready. Plus, I do expect the Eagles to start out fast and Marc Bulger to throw 40 times. Jackson will be fine; he remains the No. 5 running back for the season for me, but I think it will take him a week or so to get moving. Plus, as everyone knows, I am horribly biased. I drafted Hank Baskett with my first overall pick last week. (Joking.)
Cockcroft: Well, considering I think Jackson is the No. 1 back for each of my 17 teams, I've got to root against you. Go Rams! (Please?) But here's a note of encouragement: You've got Michael Turner No. 6 among running backs, and I routinely found him slipping into the flex-spot rounds of most of my drafts. You're that high on the guy?
Karabell: I've been on the "Burner Bandwagon" all summer long, and I still don't get why I'm alone on this one. Jerious Norwood stealing touches? He couldn't steal from Warrick Dunn "He Certainly Is" Dunn, and now he's going to hurt Turner's playing time? C'mon. Turner is going to have a huge season, and I love the matchup. And I'm never worried about where others rank players. None of us should be. We're way past preseason rankings time.
Cockcroft: I'm actually terrified that you ranked Larry Johnson 10th, since he's my No. 2 back in a keeper league and I wanted to sit him in Week 1. What a nasty matchup, at New England. What are you seeing in that matchup that I'm not?
Karabell: I don't think this Tom Brady foot thing is that big a deal, and it could be [Bill] Belichick posturing, but still, the only way the Chiefs are going to move the ball is to give it to LJ. Nothing against the Pats defense, but if you give a guy 30 carries, he should be able to gain 90 yards and score. I see something like that, and in the fourth quarter the game gets out of hand.
Cockcroft: Belichick posturing? Nah, he never does that. Two things: Does Brady yet own the record for most consecutive games played in which he was on the injury report? And is it just me, or does Belichick's smugness in postgame pressers bug everyone else, too? Let's get under his skin, as I see you're itching to do this week, Eric. Apparently you're pretty pro-Jets, with both Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles ranked higher than anyone else. Also, you've got Coles closest to Cotchery of the rankers (no one else has Coles less than eight spots behind Cotchery).
Karabell: J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets! Or shall I say, F-A-V-R-E, Favre, Favre, Favre! I'm on the Jets bandwagon. Favre is only part of the reason. The new-and-improved offensive line -- how couldn't it be better? -- is a big deal here. Plus, the Jets shouldn't have lost that many games in the first place. They were better than that. Anyway, I do not assume "LaColes" assumes the role of Donald Driver, catching a ton of passes but doesn't score, nor do I expect the Greg Jennings touchdown-only role to be played precisely by Jerricho Cotchery. These are two very good, capable, sure-handed and speedy wide receivers, two big weapons for Favre. I see them each playing well, and I don't really favor one over the other that much. I think fantasy owners have underrated LaColes!
Cockcroft: What, no love for Donald Driver? The guy has four consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons! I think Coles owners would be happy if he's "Driver" in this offense. Heck, I know I would, considering how late he hung in most drafts.
Wings downed, our experts spent, it's time for our Week 1 session to come to a close. Best of luck to you in your opening-week matchups; we'll see you next time!
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football, baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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