What a rough Week 4 that was.
Countless Eliminator players got the bump, fantasy studs like Marion Barber, Reggie Bush and Marshawn Lynch were out-and-out busts, and could anyone have honestly seen that Broncos-Chiefs outcome coming? Not I nor our four rankers, that's for sure.
But one rough week won't hold us back. Week 5 beckons, with comparably tough matchups to evaluate. There's a lot of varying opinion this week, so let's take a look at the thinking behind it
Cockcroft: First up, a man who almost assuredly has his ticket already for the midnight Friday showing of "Rachel Getting Married," it's Matthew Berry!
Matthew, I'm finding it an interesting little contrast between yourself and Christopher Harris in how you approach ranking Brian Westbrook, with all his health questions from last week and entering this. Christopher has Westbrook 31st, but you have him eighth. I get the feeling you're going under the assumption Westbrook will be a-OK, while he's playing it conservatively? No worries that Westbrook might be limited this week?
Berry: No, no worries. In Westbrook's past four games against the Redskins, he has 621 yards from scrimmage -- over 150 yards per game -- and this is a tough divisional game. The Eagles need this, and as Stephania Bell noted on our podcast, Westbrook came very close to playing last week. So yes, I believe he is healthy and will go full out.
Cockcroft: You've got Philip Rivers 14th, despite four consecutive double-digit performances and another good matchup at Miami. What's behind that one?
Berry: Well, this is what I wrote in my "Love/Hate" column: "I tend not to like teams traveling long distances, especially west coast to east coast. The Dolphins have allowed only seven touchdown passes in their past six home games. They held Brett Favre to under 200 yards and Kurt Warner to under 400. In Rivers' past 10 games on the road, he has had more than two touchdown passes only twice. I think he'll be OK if you're stuck, but I'm not feeling a big game here."
Cockcroft: I don't know "under 400" still means a pretty good game -- Warner did pass for 361 yards and three scores in that Week 2 contest. To be fair, Miami is at home this time. But I'd give Rivers a definite thumbs-up.
I'm giving Trent Edwards a thumbs-up again, too, as both you and I did a week ago when he played in St. Louis. Interestingly, while you had him sixth in Week 4, you've dropped him to 20th this week, which seems a little inconsistent to me, accounting for the matchups?
Berry: Another thing I addressed in "Love/Hate." Four games, four touchdowns. The Bills are a run-first team and there's just not a ton of upside there. If he couldn't bust out against St. Louis last week, I don't know when he does. I was high on him going into that game. But I watched that game, and now? Look, there's nothing wrong with 200 yards and a score. But you can find it on the waiver wire in most leagues.
And maybe he does go off on the Cardinals. We don't know whether safety Adrian Wilson will play -- he didn't practice Wednesday. And yeah, they sure didn't look good last week. Did you know that last year, Trent Edwards threw exactly zero -- count them, zero -- touchdowns on the road? This year, he has two touchdowns in two road games.
Going back to 2005, the Arizona Cardinals have given up more than two touchdowns at home only once -- once in three years and a game this season. Surely, there's some pride in the Cardinal secondary to step up. And remember, the Jets got the ball in great position a lot due to turnovers. Hopefully, the Arizona offense hangs onto the ball more.
Cockcroft: Might you be a little anti-Redskins -- a curious move for you -- with your No. 6 ranking of DeSean Jackson?
Berry: Well, he's the 11th-best fantasy wide receiver this season, so it's not that much of a stretch. Believe me, I wish I wasn't so high on him, but he's the No. 1 option on one of the best offenses in the NFL.
Cockcroft: Next up, it's Christopher Harris, and Christopher, I want to get right to the point to see if you've got some insider info here on the Patriots. You've bucked the trend by ranking Laurence Maroney (No. 27) ahead of Sammy Morris (42), and considerably so. I have a hard time picking either guy, frankly, because Bill Belichick is impossible to read. What's behind those rankings? Is there something you know that we don't?
Harris: Maroney isn't on the injury report, which is a pretty good sign. Morris absolutely might be the goal-line back, but I have a sense that they're going to give Maroney a shot to be the guy between the 20s, and I expect him to lead the team in rushing. The Sammy Morris Gold Rush was vastly overstated by some. Some fantasy experts may have fallen out of love with Maroney, but the Patriots haven't, at least not yet. Yes, it's a pain to figure out what New England will do, which is why I have no Pats back higher than 27th, despite the fact that everyone agrees they're going to try to play close to the vest. But I think Maroney leads the team in touches this week.
Cockcroft: I still feel like if he can stay healthy, Morris can be one of the game's most effective goal-line backs, and that kills Maroney's fantasy appeal. Most of it, at least.
Health, apparently, is a big concern of yours regarding Brian Westbrook. For the second consecutive week you're down on him in the Wednesday ranks, placing him 31st. That's the exact same ranking you had him at in Week 4, and you were absolutely right in your concerns he wouldn't play then. Will you be right again this week?
Harris: Yes, I don't think Westbrook is going to play. His brother, who just happens to be a practice-squad player for the Redskins, said as much in a Washington paper this week. I'll definitely re-evaluate if Westbrook has any sort of full participation in practice later this week, but right now, I think you can't count on him.
Cockcroft: Interesting that Brian might share that kind of information with brother Byron, under contract to his Week 5 opponent. Could it be a sibling-rivalry smoke screen? Hmmm. Off-topic, could their parents have been less creative with those names? What's next, they have a third son named Bryant Westbrook?
OK, so in last week's "Called Out!" one of the Conversation posters asked about how you approach ranking kickers. I see the point; you've got three of the consensus top 10 ranked 20 or worse, with two of those guys unranked. In this case: Mason Crosby 20th, Kris Brown and Neil Rackers unranked. What's your angle in ranking that position?
Harris: I think it's hilarious we even have something called "consensus kickers." It's random. Ran. Dumb. Which isn't to say I don't put some logic into it. Basically, my current theory is that it's impossible to project which kickers will be good before the season starts, so as the season progresses, I'm going to pretend I don't know anything about these guys' names or their teams. I'm going to look at their stats. My theory is that good kicker numbers snowball: guys who start well in the first quarter of the season will keep hitting it big, and guys who don't, won't. The default way to look at kickers is to put the names you're comfortable with higher, hence Adam Vinatieri continuing to be ranked really high despite failing to make a single kick over 40 yards last year. Crosby, Brown and Rackers have six, five and five field goals made, respectively, and have attempted 19 among the three of them. There are nine other kickers who have double digits themselves. I'm not saying I'm sure this is the right way to look at it, but I think it's better than remembering what a kicker did in a previous year.
Cockcroft: My strategy is to whittle the kicker pool down to as few names as possible -- usually five to eight on potent enough offenses -- then toss their names in a hat and draw 'em. The matchups are next-to-impossible to predict for kickers.
Harris: That was definitely meant to be a gutsy pick. Hampton being gone hurts, and so does Brett Keisel missing the game. That's two-thirds of the defensive line. Now, I know the Jags are missing their starting guards, and they didn't exactly look like world-beaters on the ground against a supposedly vulnerable Houston rush defense, which is what makes this a gutsy pick. But yes, while the Jags had their guards last year, the Steelers had their big men up front, and shall we take a trip down memory lane for that 2007 regular-season meeting? The Jags racked up 224 yards on the ground in that game. James Harrison is an insane beast. But I actually give the Jags a chance to run well.
Cockcroft: Very interesting game that one is shaking out to be. Neither team is close to what we saw on the field last season, that's for sure.
So here's my weekly tight end question: You've got Anthony Fasano 16th, despite the fact that the Chargers have allowed a touchdown to a tight end in every game, and more than 15 fantasy points per game to the position all season?
Harris: From "The Breakdown": "Pardon me if I don't salivate over Anthony Fasano's 12 targets in three games. (Heck, David Martin has 13.)" Also, don't forget that Stephen Cooper is back from his suspension, and he was the Chargers' leading tackler in 2007. Guess what position he plays? That's right: linebacker.
Cockcroft: OK, well, in 2007, the Chargers actually allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to tight ends (6.8) with Cooper healthy. One man does not a defensive turnaround make. Just saying, but I agree that it helps.
Next up -- and no truth to rumors he has been inked to back up Correll Buckhalter this week should Westbrook sit again -- it's Eric Karabell!
Wow, you've got Santonio Holmes 34th! Week 4 didn't convince you he's rebounding? He's gonna be great, really! OK, so I'm biased. I was huge on the guy in the preseason.
Karabell: Well, I probably didn't give Santonio a good enough rank, but I like the Jaguars' defense and proved that point by placing them seventh among defenses. I was consistent here. I gave Ben Roethlisberger a No. 17 ranking, and if you notice I wasn't kind to Hines Ward either, placing him at No. 30. I mean, Mewelde Moore? I guess he's a bit of a sleeper due to sheer volume of touches, but I see the Steelers' O-line struggling, and points tough to come by. Holmes has one game with more than three receptions, so I don't think he's close to being a top-10 wide receiver yet.
Cockcroft: The thing with Moore is that backup Carey Davis has a sprained ankle, Gary Russell is fresh off the practice squad and Najeh Davenport fresh off his couch -- metaphorically -- so I can't see Moore getting anything less than, say, 80 percent of the carries. Plus, it's not like the Jaguars, with all of their offensive problems, are going to run away with this one early and take the Pittsburgh running game out of the equation. But I'm in line with your No. 30 ranking for Moore. That's a flex play, seems fair.
Karabell: Actually I was under the impression Palmer would be playing this weekend, and ranked his weapons appropriately. If asked which Ohio team I think is closer to giving fantasy owners big stats, I think it's the Bengals. I see people cutting "Ocho Cinco" and that's crazy. If Palmer is out, I'll downgrade everyone. For now, I'll stick with the Bengals as a potential offensive sleeper, despite the fact they just signed Cedric Benson. I mean, c'mon, Shaun Alexander is available!
Cockcroft: When I hear that Palmer can't even resume throwing a football before Friday of a game week, I can't help but cringe. Three words that might strike fear in Palmer owners everywhere: Tommy John surgery. I absolutely think it's possible.
Regarding Benson, do the Bengals even run background checks on players anymore?
A guy who is definitively not the headache Cedric Benson is: Michael Turner. You're still riding that "Burner Bandwagon," with him at No. 5. Great player, no doubt, but I hear a lot of people talking that Turner is only capitalizing on the soft matchups and going pretty quiet the rest of the time. Does that concern you?
Karabell: I think it's too easy to label Turner as someone who can't run on good defenses. Don't most running backs have better games against the softies, and pile up the stats against the Lions of the world? OK, maybe not Adrian Peterson. But still, the Packers haven't looked like world-beaters defensively, and I see Turner topping 100 yards and hitting the end zone, breaking through and becoming more reliable. If you notice, I've been ranking Turner pretty well not only during the season, but back in July.
Cockcroft: True, checking back you did consistently have him ranked among your top 20 running backs dating back to March. Still rooting for fantasy footballers everywhere to begin assigning backup Jerious Norwood the nickname "Hooch"?
Karabell: We don't need no stinkin' Norwood! If we're sticking to the Tom Hanks theme, I'd like to see him "Save Private Ryan" -- Ryan Grant -- allow Brian Westbrook to do "That Thing He Does," get LT back to a "League of His Own" and "Cast Away" any chance of Norwood stealing touches. I tried, I really tried to get "Forrest Gump" in there, but "I've Got Mail."
Cockcroft: Actually, you might get mail over your Earnest Graham ranking, at No. 12. He's a top-10 guy for almost everyone. Why no higher?
Karabell: Fantasy owners have to be careful not to simply look at the box score and think they know how something happened. Ryan Grant, for example, ended up with 92 yards in Week 1 against the Vikings. One could look at this and say, "Wow, he's awesome!" Or someone could look at it and say, "Didn't 57 of those yards come on one broken play on Grant's final carry?" Why, yes, it did! We can look at this a number of ways for positive and negative, but I'm just saying, it's relevant to the statistics.
Graham is actually perfecting this style of making one big play sway the numbers. In three of his four games, he's broken a long one of at least 46 yards. Otherwise, he's been a bit of a plodder. In Week 4, his 47-yarder at the two-minute warning took him from 63 rushing yards to over 100. Hey, the long carries count, but I don't think someone like Graham can sustain this all season. Still, he's a borderline starter to me, so it's not like I ripped him.
Cockcroft: I think for me, it's that I can't ignore what Larry Johnson just did to that Denver defense. That team is horrendous up front.
Last, but certainly not least, a man who was dead on with his conservative rankings of Broncos running backs in Week 4, it's Erik Kuselias!
Erik, I'm pretty big on Steve Slaton versus the Colts this week, and I'm hardly alone; I see him in so many top-10s, including two of ours (Harris' and Karabell's). You've got him 15th, though. Is the matchups hype just all too much?
Kuselias: One of my favorite movies is "A Few Good Men." And while everyone from your annoying brother-in-law to Marge in Accounting knows the line "You can't handle the truth," the underrated part in that movie is Kevin Bacon and his opening argument at trial, when he starts by saying "These are the facts, and they are not in dispute."
Let's put Private Steve Slaton on trial:
• Last week he had a whole 10 lousy carries for a whopping 33 yards.
• This season he has hit the 50-yard mark exactly one time.
• He is small, and the Texans have yet to name him the goal-line back.
• The Texans are double-digit underdogs against the rested Colts.
These are the facts, and they are not in dispute. If you want to take Slaton and elevate him to elite No. 1-back status with LT, Peterson, Addai, LJ, Portis and the like, go ahead. To me he is a very solid No. 2 option.
Cockcroft: Wow, and you've never even met my brother-in-law! Though I imagine if you're a Mets fan, right now you'd probably find him annoying. He bleeds Phillies red.
Me, I bleed Giants blue, so I like it when I see my boy Eli Manning in your top 10. But get this: Not a single Giants receiver in your top 40, and Kevin Boss barely in your top 20 tight ends. Who the heck do you see Eli throwing to? I get the Eli rank, but I'm not sure why you weren't more generous with his receivers.
Kuselias: An insurance actuary's job is to know what will happen, despite not knowing who it will happen to. Example: He knows 17 percent of all men will get prostate cancer in 2011, but he can't give you the names of the people who will suffer.
Consider me the fantasy actuary. I know Eli will have a big day against Seattle, but will he throw it to Boss -- who hasn't caught a single pass in two of three games? Toomer? The "bad" Steve Smith? You can't be surprised if any Giants receiver gets skunked, which means you can't, in good conscience, recommend them as a starter.
Play Eli and Jacobs. The rest is too sketchy.
Cockcroft: I suppose I'd agree with that. I'm thinking Domenik Hixon might be a deep, deep sleeper for Week 5, though. Speaking of more obvious sleepers, I see you apparently regard Lance Moore as a No. 2 fantasy receiver?
Kuselias: Gee a guy who is the No. 1 target on the most pass-happy offense in football against a team that is death for running backs but couldn't cover Mike Golic if he was wearing combat boots (sorry, big guy) who has caught seven balls each of the last two weeks had over a hundred yards and two touchdowns last week and is owned in like 12 percent of all leagues.
And I'm being asked to defend ranking him as a No. 2 receiver? Am I a character in the "Seinfeld" bizarro fantasy episode?
Cockcroft: How fitting is it that the "bizarre" FedEx guy's name was Fargas? Of course, if you remember, that dude was huge, so he probably wouldn't have stayed healthy any longer than his Raiders namesake did this season.
Sticking with the receivers, Calvin Johnson at No. 10! And the group had him fifth. C'mon, that guy's turning into one of the best talents in the game! Nathan Vasher is out, and Charles Tillman is no lock to play, either. Might that be too conservative?
Kuselias: Here's what we know:
• Jon Kitna threw for 146 yards against the friggin' 49ers last time out!
• Calvin Johnson has scored in exactly one game this year.
• Roy Williams still gets a ton of looks and could be the better play in any given game.
• The Lions have given the keys to Rudi Johnson and expressed a commitment to running the ball more than they have in recent years.
• Guys named Marshall, Owens, Moss (pick one), Smith (the one who is a brawler and a baller), Fitzgerald, Jennings and Wayne have not simultaneously retired or gone on strike.
Cal is a No. 10.
Cockcroft: Sure he is, as in "10 on a scale of one to 10." Big-time play for this week, you just wait and see.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football, baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.