Commentary

Called Out: Can you really rely on Thigpen, Bradley?

Updated: November 14, 2008, 4:28 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Tyler Thigpen. Mark Bradley.

What in the name of Billy Volek is going on in Kansas City?!

If anyone had told me in the preseason -- heck, if anyone had told me a month ago -- that by Week 11, those two names would be relevant for fantasy football, I'd have called him nuts. But that's exactly what the experts are saying today; they're saying that both of those guys, to varying degrees, warrant starting for your team.

You know what? I agree with them.

Take a look at our Week 11 rankings and see where Thigpen and Bradley placed. You might not think so, but I'd call them appropriately ranked. Matthew Berry, Christopher Harris, Erik Kuselias and Eric Karabell, shall you be "Called Out" this week? Hardly.

But that's not to say you wouldn't call them out for such bold forecasts of this new dynamic duo. So for that reason, I'll play the part, I'll tear them to itty-bitty pieces. After all, that's what the column is here for, to present you the insight into what sort of crazy juice we've been sipping when doing the rankings.

Fellas, pass me a glass of that, please, because let's get started...

Tyler Thigpen
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesTyler Thigpen has won over some of our rankers with three straight games with at least 21 points.
Cockcroft: Matthew, I'll start with you, because you're evidently the biggest Thigpen backer, ranking him fourth. Fourth! Wow. You'd really play him ahead of Donovan McNabb and Jay Cutler?

Berry: Seriously, for how many weeks do I have to say I love Tyler Thigpen? Apparently at least once more! Over the past three weeks, only Kurt Warner has more fantasy points, and Warner is beating him by only one point. By the way, that's not all a result of just one huge game; Thigpen has been a top-five fantasy quarterback in every one of those weeks. Now he's at home against the Saints, who are top-10 in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. Specifically addressing the guys you asked about, I like McNabb and Cutler, but I have them slightly lower because McNabb is on the road at Cincinnati, I could see the Eagles running a lot and I see this as a big Brian Westbrook game. As for Cutler, he's also on the road against an underrated Falcons defense. They're going to be expecting the pass because Denver's run game is so decimated and, by the way, I don't know if anyone has noticed, but Cutler has been a turnover machine lately. In fact, only one team has more giveaways than the Denver Broncos.

Cockcroft: Christopher, by comparison, in your Big Rotowski this week, you wrote, "I want to be excited about guys like ... Tyler Thigpen." Really? Do you? Because you ranked him 18th, despite the Mike McKenzie-less Saints next up on his schedule.

Harris: Here's the full quote: "I want to be excited about guys like Joe Flacco and Tyler Thigpen; they've each played very well the past two weeks. I guess maybe as the fantasy regular season winds down, my ranking them this "low" (which of course isn't low at all considering where they began the year) is a warning not to get away from your best players when it matters most, no matter how tempting the shiny new guy is."

I simply don't fully believe yet. Yes, the Saints are a great matchup, and yes, their secondary is in disarray. But Larry Johnson is coming back this week, and I also worry at some point Thigpen is going to remember he's Tyler Thigpen. He didn't play that well in the San Diego game; the numbers look great, but he threw into some precarious situations. Eventually, I think that'll bite him. I'm going conservative on him, which means going low.

Cockcroft: On the topic of Bradley, Matthew, turning back to you, you ranked him an awfully generous No. 18. Now, I'd rank him higher than 45th, his next-highest spot by Harris, but really? Eighteenth? A solid second-tier receiver?

Berry: Well, the guy has double-digit fantasy points in each of the past three weeks, and you've already heard me talk about Thigpen. Also, Bradley has 28 targets over the past three weeks. To give you a level of comparison, over that same time frame, Tony Gonzalez has 30 and Dwayne Bowe has 26. So it's not like he has had one or two big plays; he's an integral part of that offense. Thigpen was looking for him, and in one game, Bradley was looking for Thigpen! With the Saints being a bad pass defense and my expectation that the attention is going to be placed on Bowe and Gonzalez, the fact that Thigpen is looking for him again means fantasy goodness for Mark Bradley.

By the way, Tristan, are you aware that Mark Bradley has two first names? And he's going against a cornerback -- Jason David -- whose two first names can't save him.

Cockcroft: OK, you beat me to the punch; the David matchup is the primary reason I'm tabbing Bradley a solid No. 3 fantasy receiver. There's a reason he lost his starting job this year, and it's that he was dreadful in coverage all last season.

Brandon Jacobs
Rich Kane/US PresswireBrandon Jacobs could have trouble getting through the Ravens defense.
Matthew, sticking with you, my man Brandon Jacobs will be held back from a 100-yard rushing game against the Ravens -- will -- but that defense can't hold him back at the goal line. What say you to that, as you had him a group-low 20th?

Berry: I put Jacobs there because I think you have to start him. In a standard ESPN 10-team league where you start two running backs, that's saying, "Look, you've got to start him." But it's also me saying to lower expectations for him. The Ravens have given up only one rushing touchdown all year, and an average of seven fantasy points on the ground. You know that Derrick Ward will take touches away as well, and the way you attack Baltimore is through that banged-up secondary.

Cockcroft: So I take it you're more of a believer in Plaxico Burress than I am?

Berry: Yes, and I have both Burress and Kevin Boss as "loves" in my Love/Hate this week. I think if the Giants are going to move the ball in a significant way this week, it's through the air, and obviously Jacobs isn't a big part of the passing offense.

Cockcroft: What do you see in Peyton Hillis for this week? He's a flex play by your ranks, at No. 31, though perhaps this is one of those things where you might have a change of heart with Tatum Bell on board?

Berry: I might lower Hillis a little bit on Friday because of Bell, but not a ton. I just think he's the guy who gets the majority of the work in the Denver backfield, and if there's a goal-line carry, I think he gets it. Denver running backs are always feast or famine. I do think Hillis, if you're desperate, could be a borderline flex play this week. I'm not crazy about him, but the one positive thing I could say about him is: He's not Tatum Bell!

Cockcroft: If reports are true that the Broncos put in a waiver claim on Michael Bennett, then apparently they agree with you on Bell.

Might you have been tricked by the Colts' 12 wins in 13 career meetings with the Texans in ranking the defense in your top 10, and therefore a fantasy start? I know they managed double-digit points against Houston in their previous meeting, but the last time Indy held Houston to fewer than 14 points in a game was Week 3 of the 2002 season. And in their past six meetings, Houston topped 20 points five times and 24 four times.

Berry: Do you know how fantasy defenses get points? Turnovers. Do you know who is a turnover machine? Sage Rosenfels. He has six in three starts, and the game is at Indianapolis. I bet Sage throws at least a pick or two and the Colts run one of them back.

Cockcroft: I miss Matt Schaub, my sleeper gone bad. Come back, Matt!

Christopher, we discussed Thigpen earlier, and I think one of the primary reasons your low ranking of him puzzled me so was that you have David Garrard at No. 9, or a clear start, in spite of his matchup against the Titans. Why not swap those two?

Harris: Well, the Jags aren't going to be able to run the ball on the Titans. And the fact is that Tennessee has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks over the past five weeks. Now, that's a skewed number, because it includes three rushing touchdowns. But it also includes 945 yards passing, which doesn't put the Titans in the top 10 in terms of pass defense over that time span. Garrard has scored 13 fantasy points or more in ESPN.com's standard game in five of his past six. I think he is on the verge of an every-week start -- he has scored the ninth-most points among fantasy quarterbacks -- and I don't think Jacksonville will bang their head against that defensive front with the run if it's not working.

Reggie Bush
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesReggie Bush would've been a good fantasy prospect this week, but he's been ruled out already with a knee injury.
Cockcroft: Christopher, you and Eric seem faithful that Reggie Bush will play and perform, each ranking him along the lines of a No. 2/flex option. The other two guys didn't rank him at all. What's your take on Bush for this week?

Harris: Yeah, I've pretty well ranked him as though he'll play. He reportedly was limited in Wednesday's practice, but the New Orleans papers continue to think he'll go, and if he practices without incident Thursday and/or Friday, I think the Saints can't afford to be without him. They have to start winning games. I probably won't raise him too much if he's a go; there's still a chance New Orleans eases him in a bit. I guess I might hike him a rung or two, but Kansas City did a nice job with Tomlinson last week. Of course you have to make sure he's active before you start him.

Cockcroft: Eric, what's your angle on Bush for Week 11?

Karabell: The rank I chose for Bush is predicated on him playing basically a full game, and playing it well. Because we know he's not a normal running back, and thus dependent on the whim of Drew Brees, he'd rarely be a top-12 running back for me anyway. I'm assuming he gets his 30 rushing yards, catches seven or so passes, and maybe he scores. Nothing too special.

(Editor's note: Bush did not practice on Friday and was ruled out for Sunday's game.)

Cockcroft: Eric, sticking with you, you seem to disagree quite a bit with Christopher on how to approach David Garrard. He ranked him in his top 10, and you didn't rank him at all -- or at least not within your top 25. Bad matchup, sure, but that's pretty pessimistic.

Karabell: The matchup does stink, and I don't think it's at all unreasonable to have Garrard as one of the seven starting quarterbacks who missed out on the top 25. The ESPN projections place him 31st among quarterbacks, with six points. That's what Garrard did against the Titans the first time around. It's possible Garrard finds his way to No. 24 or 25 for me, but those quarterbacks are Gus Frerotte, Matt Hasselbeck, even Sage Rosenfels, and I would trust them more this week. There are no more bye weeks, so there are more options. Look, Garrard didn't reach double digits against the Bengals in Week 9. He's going to do this against the Titans?

Cockcroft: Just promise me you won't rank Daunte Culpepper ahead of him? I know you didn't this week, but I mean ever.

Every week you seem to pick a defensive-team special, and this week, it's the San Francisco 49ers. I know, you had this whole "San Francisco" thing going the day after Tim Lincecum was named the Cy Young winner, right?

Karabell: Lincecum deserved the award, I just hope he didn't ruin his arm with those high pitch counts late in the season! Meanwhile, I think the Niners' defense can be another San Francisco treat this week based solely on the matchup. I saw way too much of the Jets stomping on the 49ers. Marc Bulger was horrible. Steven Jackson didn't play and might miss this week's game as well. I often pick a bad defense to rank well -- and the Niners are not particularly good -- based on the matchup, and this week here it is. I don't think it will be 47-3, but I would consider Shaun Hill a decent quarterback play, too.

Cockcroft: I'm warming up to Hill. But he's no Tyler Thigpen. He's no Ben Roethlisberger, either, and you must agree, ranking Big Ben fifth?

Karabell: It's all about the matchup, and while Roethlisberger owners can certainly complain about his 14 total fantasy points in three games, he wasn't facing easy defenses. The Chargers are ranked dead last against the pass, so other than a meeting with the Lions, this seems like an obvious shootout game to me, one in which Big Ben will want to return to health for. And by the way, Tyler Thigpen made my top 10 yet again, just like last week!

[+] EnlargeSteve Slaton
Paul Jasienski/Getty ImagesHas Steve Slaton hit the rookie wall, or did he just run into a tough opponent last week?
Cockcroft: Maybe I'm putting words in your mouth here, but I'd have to bet your No. 19 ranking of Steve Slaton is concern that the workload limits of Week 10 were very much for real looking forward? That's a cakewalk matchup otherwise.

Karabell: My concerns on Steve Slaton are based solely on one quote I saw from coach Gary Kubiak on Monday, detailing how worn down his rookie running back is, and how he struggled in practice. I disregarded the part where Kubiak said he expected Slaton to bounce back. Sure, he might have a decent week, and that is reflected in my ranking him as a No. 2 running back. But this is when rookie running backs begin to show the same signs Russell Martin does for the Dodgers every year -- boy, I miss baseball. They wear down. Separately, I think the reputation of the Colts having a weak run defense is overblown now that Bob Sanders is back. He does make that much of a difference. Mewelde Moore scored on a few short runs, but I wouldn't call his 57 yards on 24 carries a great game. I see Slaton doing OK, but his carries to be kept in relative check.

Cockcroft: Turning to Erik next, much as I have faith in the Giants overcoming the matchup this week, I can't see how Kevin Boss is going to earn his fantasy owners a top-10 performance among tight ends. What do you see there?

Kuselias: Defending Kevin Boss may be the easiest assignment this side of covering the Pro Bowl. He is 11th in points, two points from being out of the top 10. He has scored more often than Tom Brady at a singles dance. Actually, he has to move up as the week goes along!

Cockcroft: People cover the Pro Bowl? I'm thinking pitchers and catchers by then. Not an All-Star Game/Pro Bowl fan, though, I admit it. Exhibitions, eh.

Brian Urlacher
David Stluka/Getty ImagesBrian Urlacher could be ready to tee off on a slightly struggling Packers offense.
Does the matchup -- or the fact that they've disappointed fantasy-wise in back-to-back weeks facing better matchups -- trouble you at all with the Bears?

Kuselias: The Bears are a top-three defense in fantasy points, great against the run, and facing an injured quarterback in Aaron Rodgers who hasn't thrown for two touchdowns in any game in more than a month, and who had a whopping 142 yards passing last week. And yet I'm being asked to defend the Bears despite dropping them down two spots? Wow. Did Brian Urlacher steal the other guys' prom dates?

Cockcroft: Uhhh, just a sneaking suspicion here, but if Mr. Urlacher truly was challenging classmates to an "honor dew-ell" like the commercial says, I doubt he'd be stealing anyone's prom date. He probably brought his mom.

Bernard Berrian is coming off a zero-point, zero-catch, two-target Week 10, yet he still earns a generous No. 9 ranking by you. No love for Tampa Bay's defense?

Kuselias: Berrian is among the top 12 receivers in fantasy points. Plus, he missed a game, meaning he's in the top 10 in points per start. Plus, he has scored in four of the past five games -- and I like players who score touchdowns. Sure he took the collar last week, but I'm betting that was the fluke, as opposed to the two months of solid work leading up to last week.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football, baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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