Called Out: Matt Schaub gets some love
That pleases me; I've been waiting for this stretch of his season for some time. The Dolphins, Lions and Bengals as opponents, and each at home? Yes, please.
Still, our readers might find it odd we're so optimistic about a guy who, through six weeks of the season, ranks 15th among quarterbacks in fantasy points (62). When our four experts submitted their rankings, the consensus placed Schaub fifth. Fifth!
And with that, I'd like to introduce our experts, and pose the question to them, sticking somewhat to the "town hall"-style format we used last week. Please welcome Matthew Berry, Christopher Harris, Erik Kuselias and Eric Karabell!
Cockcroft: Guys, is there such a thing as too much love for Matt Schaub? He's our consensus No. 5 quarterback, meaning the group considers him preferable to Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers.
Berry: Not when he threw for almost 400 yards last week. Not when he is at home, facing Detroit. Not when he has a healthy Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter. Not when Steve Slaton is keeping defenses honest. No, there is not. Why do you hate, Tristan? Let love in. See the positive, not the negative.
Cockcroft: Ohhhh, I'm certainly positive about Schaub. Check my Gridiron Challenge preview; that's pretty representative of my feelings.
Harris: I have Schaub at No. 5, but really, I don't get the obsession about whether a guy is No. 5 or No. 8. He should be in your fantasy lineup in a sweet matchup against Detroit. Now, Leigh Bodden played appreciably better in Week 6, that baloney pass-interference call at the end notwithstanding, so there's a chance Andre Johnson gets blanketed a little bit. But that still leaves lots of defenders who can't cover Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels, among others, and a pass rush that's mustered nine sacks in five games. I like Schaub as a fantasy starter if you own, say, Donovan McNabb.
Karabell: I prefer him over those guys as well. My issue with Schaub isn't ability. Just stay on the darn field. You have to love the matchup, too. I don't rank or activate players on name value. Well, I used to when Eric Hipple used to play, but that's a chapter of my life I cannot re-open. Eli is Eli, a fine Super Bowl-winning player, but Schaub can be better. It's not too much love. When Kyle Orton faces the Lions again, he might be in our top five. What does that say about the Lions?
Cockcroft: Matthew, I see you've got Ben Roethlisberger 15th -- or a non-start -- despite his matchup with the Bengals, against whom he had two passing scores in each meeting in 2007. You have even Kyle Orton a clear start ahead of him?
Berry: Orton now has scored at least 15 fantasy points in four straight weeks, has eight touchdowns in that time and only Kurt Warner and Drew Brees have more passing yards in that time frame. And, oh yeah, the way you beat the Vikings is through the air. Meanwhile, Ben faces Cincy, and the Bengals are fourth-best in the NFL against the pass, just shut down Brett Favre and are at home.
Cockcroft: How on earth do you see Matt Forte dominating against the Vikings, who have allowed 155 yards and no scores on the ground combined the past two weeks?
Berry: You just saw all the stuff on Kyle Orton, right? Well, guess who the leading receiver on the Bears is? I'll give you a hint. He's also the leading rusher.
Cockcroft: Touché, and you know, not a lot of people are talking that up. Sticking with receivers, who do you see stepping up in the Dallas secondary to hold Torry Holt to a No. 25 ranking at the position?
Berry: It's not so much who I see stepping up, because I like Holt a lot this week. And I'll probably move him up considering Terence Newman continues to be banged up. But I do think Steven Jackson gets a lot of touches and Donnie Avery will steal some passes. But I have him as a starter in leagues that play three.
Cockcroft: Finally, Matthew -- and I'm still standing behind my feeling that they're a vastly overrated defense -- Patriots at No. 8? I'd imagine this might have something to do with it being a home game against a western team, but I find it a little curious you think of Jay Cutler's opponent as a top-10 fantasy defense.
Berry: It's a lot of that. Team is at home against a west team traveling east. It's also a must-win for the Patriots and it's a Monday night game, where the Patriots have won four in a row. They're also 10-1 in October at home since '03, so yeah, it's a lot of a matchup game here. Plus, are you overrating the Denver offense a little? They haven't topped 20 points in three straight games and they're pretty banged up, you know?
Christopher, I'm putting down this soap box and requesting you stand on it, and declare why Gus Frerotte is worthy of a No. 8 ranking among quarterbacks in Week 7.
Harris: Frerotte is substantially higher in my list than you'd think, and I knew you'd ask me about him. I actually already did a video segment about this, too, for Fantasy Focus Football. First off, despite the fact that the Lions knocked Frerotte around quite a bit in Week 6, ol' Gussy-Gus still tossed it for 296 yards. He wasn't always accurate, but he flung it 33 times. The Vikings saw the tape of Atlanta/Chicago -- specifically Matt Ryan -- and they know they probably aren't going to run it all that well. But as of today, Chicago has exactly two healthy corners, and their names are Corey Graham and Marcus Hamilton, not Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher. I admit this is an out-on-a-limb pick, but there's space for that in these lean quarterback times. I think Frerotte makes for a surprisingly good fill-in this week, though obviously there's a lot of risk.
Cockcroft: Sticking with that "risk" theme, Christopher, you tend to be our most conservative ranker when it comes to players with a fair share of health risk entering a week. Case in point: Brian Westbrook. You routinely had him in the 30s in recent weeks when he has been banged up and limited in practice, but this week, by contrast, you have Kellen Winslow generously ranked sixth among tight ends. Let's not mince words here: Winslow had swollen testicles that cost him Week 6, though I do think he will play Sunday. Is there a reason you're so optimistic about Winslow's chances?
Harris: Well, here's the thing: I don't have a blanket policy for injured guys. In Westbrook's case, it was a badly sprained ankle and then broken ribs. In Winslow's case, it was in between those two. Wednesday morning, Romeo Crennel said he thought Winslow would play, and generally speaking, Romeo tends to be pretty truthful about that stuff -- he's sort of the anti-Belichick, ironically. Later in the day, he said he wasn't sure, and that was mostly because Winslow didn't practice. But at this point it's all about comfort, not a sprained something-something or a broken something-something. So I made the judgment that I felt pretty good -- Winslow isn't as high as I usually rate him -- about using him as a starter, as of midweek. But I also ranked Steve Heiden, which I wouldn't do if I were positive Winslow is going to play. So right now, put it at something like 75-25 that I think he'll play. And, of course, that's what Friday updates are for.
Harris: What am I going to say? That Dwayne Bowe is an ascendant talent who gets open no matter what coverages throw at him? That he's huge and can't really effectively be covered one-on-one? That despite all the quarterback madness in Kansas City, Bowe hasn't had fewer than nine targets in any of his five games, and he has three straight games with double-digit targets? That he's an insane leaper, which makes him a great red-zone threat? That returning quarterback Brodie Croyle considers him his own personal security blanket? That having Bowe on your team and failing to start him should be punishable by knuckle-rapping? Yeah. All that.
Cockcroft: Yeah, pretty much that. Eric, you've got the flipside in this debate, having ranked Bowe 41st. That's not even flex-worthy!
Karabell: I must have missed something on the Titans' defense. Did it get really bad over the bye week? I thought it was fantasy's top defense, and was allowing like 11 points per game. The Chiefs are horrid. Poor Bowe is going down with the ship. I can't fathom Bowe having a big game, no matter who plays quarterback. Maybe he'll skitter into my top 25 wide receivers for good matchups, but this ain't it.
Cockcroft: What about Thomas Jones, then? Christopher, you ranked him 10th. He's coming off a standout performance, and his matchup on paper is tremendous. Eric, interestingly, you're more conservative with your expectations, ranking him 25th.
Harris: I'm more interested in Karabell's angle. Jones scored three touchdowns last week and got 20 touches. Now, no, I don't think he's getting three touchdowns again, but I had Jones ranked 10th last week when he'd scored only once all year, so I ain't backing down now, not for this matchup. Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister dominated the Raiders last week, and overall Oakland has allowed the sixth-most points to opposing fantasy rushers this season. I know Jones is averaging only 3.8 yards per carry this year, and 3.9 for his career, but he's a matchups play, and this is a mighty fine matchup.
Karabell: I loved the three touchdowns for Jones in Week 6, but it seemed like the Jets were giving him a gift. He didn't earn the yards to go with them. The Raiders aren't special defensively, but I see that Favre fella going off, not Jones. He's a No. 2 running back at best, and ranking him in that area is about right.
Cockcroft: For the record -- and I did bring these stats up last week but will repeat them here -- Jones has rushed for 100-plus yards seven times in 12 tries in the first four games immediately coming out of the bye week from 2005-07. Of course, he fell short last week, but I don't think his fantasy owners were complaining.
Eric, I see you're huge on Philip Rivers this week in spite of it being an east coast game, three hours' time difference, and a road game against a decent defense. What makes you so confident? I know -- it's the Western omelette he'll eat beforehand, right?
Karabell: I might like him a bit too much, but he seems to get three passing touchdowns quite often, despite the failings of his weapons. Maybe it's because the San Diego defense is different now? Anyway, I don't think it's crazy to like him. He is, after all, fantasy's No. 2 scorer right now, behind only some Aaron Rodgers fella. Rivers is legit, and maybe that Buffalo defense we collectively ranked 16th isn't all that. I expect a 20-point fantasy game.
Cockcroft: I did notice you ranked Buffalo's defense 16th -- consistency is good! But, sticking with the consistency theme here, what's interesting is that you and Mr. Kuselias seem to disagree most on Marques Colston, and it makes sense, with him having missed so much time due to injury. Eric and Erik -- how confusing is that -- can you each give me your angle on Colston for Week 7?
Karabell: I'm assuming he plays, since he nearly did in Week 6. And if he plays, don't we know what he can do? He's a monster in a monster offense that has had to deal with No. 3 WR types. To me, if/when Colston plays, he goes to top-10 status and will provide huge return. Doesn't even matter the opponent.
Cockcroft: I'd agree with the top-10 status. Positively loved the guy in the preseason, still do today. But Erik, do you have concerns in the short term?
Kuselias: Colston is purely and unequivocally a health thing. If you remember in the preseason, I was the highest on Colston, Brees and the whole Saints offense. I think I ranked Archie Manning as well! In fact, I think I got an angry e-mail from Colston's mom saying, "Dude, I gave birth to him and even I don't like him that much." That being said, I wonder if he'll be 100 percent, assuming he plays. He could move up when we update the ranks Friday.
Cockcroft: Ouch, harsh words from Mrs. Colston! Talk about dysfunctional family. But I'm sensing a Saints theme here, so let's shift from the recovering Colston to the recovering Jeremy Shockey. Erik, while you're seemingly down on Colston in the health department, you seem more confident in Shockey, having ranked him eighth among tight ends. What makes his outlook any different?
Kuselias:Reading the local papers, looking at the injury and talking to injury experts, I think Shockey will play and immediately be a part of the offense. If he plays, he's clearly a better threat to have a big game and score than any of the other guys outside the top 10. He's a low-end No. 1 tight end when in the lineup. Heck, you would be a low-end No. 1 with Brees.
Cockcroft: I don't know, Erik, you've never seen me play. Last time I caught a touchdown pass it was at a Christmas-party flag football game in 2003. Though, hmmm, I guess that means I'm not far off Josh Reed status, come to think of it.
So how is it you're so anti-Jeff Garcia this week, ranking him 23rd?
Kuselias: To dust off an old line, I trust Jon Gruden like I trust day-old sushi. He throws it 62 times one week, then 15 the next. He runs Earnest Graham one week, then makes him a fullback the next. Alex Smith is a red-zone target, then gets playing time like he was late for meetings. Antonio Bryant has been as consistent as a drunken cook's gazpacho. At the end of the day, we have a guy coming back off injury, with no red-zone targets, a legit goal-line back (Graham) and a professional who ran for over a buck-10 last week (Dunn). Do you really want to go to war with Jeff Garcia? Me neither.
Cockcroft: But in war there are casualties, and in this particular week, there are quite a few casualties at the quarterback position. Heck, even Brad Johnson is getting a lot of consideration. Do you really like Johnson better than Garcia?
Kuselias: As far as Brad Johnson is concerned, when you look up "consummate professional" in the dictionary, it's Brad Johnson waving back at you. He has been around, knows the game plan, works well with Dallas O-coordinator Jason Garrett, has incredible weapons to throw to, a run game to rely on and help take the pressure off (Marion Barber), the greatest pass-catching TD machine of the last decade (T.O.) and plays on a perfect surface (dome) against a putrid opponent (Rams). I actually thought I might have to justify not having him any higher!
Cockcroft: Not to me. Your No. 15 ranking of him was plenty high to me. Or, more like just right. I need him to prove it first before going all in.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football, baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.