Big Rotowski: Jackson, Thomas surge
(Editor's Note: These rankings are meant to capture fantasy value from today through the end of the NFL regular season. We'll publish them every Tuesday during the season to help you decide about trades and waiver-wire acquisitions; as such, this list won't always reflect news that comes out later in the week. And remember, every Wednesday you'll find week-specific rankings to help you set your lineup.)
RANK Name Team Last Week 1 Drew Brees Saints 1 2 Peyton Manning Colts 2 3 Philip Rivers Chargers 3 4 Matt Schaub Texans 6 5 Tom Brady Patriots 4 6 Matt Ryan Falcons 5 7 Tony Romo Cowboys 8 8 Aaron Rodgers Packers 7 9 Kurt Warner Cardinals 9 10 Jay Cutler Bears 10 11 Ben Roethlisberger Steelers 11 12 Carson Palmer Bengals 12 13 Donovan McNabb Eagles 14 14 Eli Manning Giants 13 15 Joe Flacco Ravens 15 16 Brett Favre Vikings 17 17 Matt Cassel Chiefs 16 18 David Garrard Jaguars 20 19 Kyle Orton Broncos 18 20 Trent Edwards Bills 19 21 Mark Sanchez Jets 23 22 Matt Hasselbeck Seahawks 22 23 Shaun Hill 49ers 24 24 Jake Delhomme Panthers 26 25 Jason Campbell Redskins 27 26 Kerry Collins Titans 28 27 Matthew Stafford Lions 29 28 Chad Henne Dolphins 39 29 Marc Bulger Rams 30 30 Josh Johnson Buccaneers NR 31 JaMarcus Russell Raiders 32 32 Derek Anderson Browns 34 33 Brady Quinn Browns 31 34 Seneca Wallace Seahawks 37 35 Kyle Boller Rams NR 36 Byron Leftwich Buccaneers 21 37 Matt Leinart Cardinals 33 38 Rex Grossman Texans 35 39 Kevin Kolb Eagles 36 40 Tarvaris Jackson Vikings 38
Notes: There isn't a whole ton of news at the top. Don't freak out over Drew Brees' day in Buffalo, don't send me hate mail for (perhaps temporarily) moving Matt Schaub ahead of Tom Brady, who got better offensive line play in Week 3 but still missed very hittable throws. Donovan McNabb should be back after the Eagles' Week 4 bye. David Garrard enhanced his value with a rushing touchdown Sunday, and having Mike Sims-Walker healthy and a viable threat on the outside helps. But Garrard still isn't accurate enough, and if the Jaguars have their way, they'll run the ball 31 times, as they did against the Texans. Of course, the Titans' run defense (Jacksonville's Week 4 opponent) is much better than Houston's. Brett Favre's heroics were nice, and I think he proved that whatever else is wrong with him, he can still fling a 50-yard pass on a rope when he needs to. He's still not a great bet to get through the season intact, of course, and 25-for-46 isn't the kind of completion rate that will get your fantasy team to the promised land. But as a No. 2 fantasy quarterback? As I've said all year, you could do worse. Mark Sanchez helped his fantasy day with a rushing touchdown, too, but the Jets would probably rather never see anything like it again. Kid got lit up. It would be fun to see what Sanchez could do with the reins taken off, and someday, his team will probably do just that. For now, though, as nice a story as he is, he's not really a fantasy option. Surprise! The Seahawks were stretching the truth when they said Matt Hasselbeck might play last week. This is the same team that's been telling us Walter Jones had a good chance of playing for three weeks in a row. I'm not ready to drop Hasselbeck, because he probably will be back in a couple of weeks. But Seattle's season is hanging by a thread because of injuries. Chad Pennington is out for the year with a torn capsule in his throwing shoulder, meaning Chad Henne inherits the job. Henne was awful in relief Sunday in San Diego, but he may just wind up being a fresh breath of something the Dolphins desperately need: arm strength. It would probably be foolish to claim that this turn of events makes Miami better, because Henne will make the big mistake Pennington usually doesn't. But Henne will be able to stretch the field if his coaches let him. That could be good news for Ted Ginn Jr. Marc Bulger appears to have avoided serious injury, but it was interesting to see Kyle Boller outplay him Sunday. Bulger may or may not play in Week 4. Regardless, you don't want any piece. And another one bites the dust: a week after I had to fend off hate mail about how I wasn't high enough on Byron Leftwich, Leftwich got benched. Josh Johnson is an intriguing prospect, a physically gifted kid who can run and make every throw, but he's also just a couple of years out of the University of San Diego, and isn't likely to be given much to do. I was happy he made the Bucs after there were rumors he'd get canned this summer. Now I'm worried they're going to ruin his career before it ever really gets going. The Browns will reportedly choose between Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson by Wednesday. Joy.
Running back rankings
RANK Name Team Last Week 1 Adrian Peterson Vikings 1 2 Maurice Jones-Drew Jaguars 2 3 Chris Johnson Titans 3 4 Steven Jackson Rams 4 5 Michael Turner Falcons 5 6 Matt Forte Bears 7 7 DeAngelo Williams Panthers 8 8 Brandon Jacobs Giants 11 9 Marion Barber Cowboys 9 10 LaDainian Tomlinson Chargers 15 11 Steve Slaton Texans 12 12 Frank Gore 49ers 6 13 Kevin Smith Lions 13 14 Ronnie Brown Dolphins 16 15 Cedric Benson Bengals 18 16 Brian Westbrook Eagles 10 17 Ryan Grant Packers 17 18 Clinton Portis Redskins 14 19 Pierre Thomas Saints 30 20 Marshawn Lynch Bills 24 21 Thomas Jones Jets 20 22 Leon Washington Jets 22 23 Willis McGahee Ravens 28 24 Ray Rice Ravens 25 25 Joseph Addai Colts 26 26 Darren Sproles Chargers 21 27 Jonathan Stewart Panthers 19 28 Darren McFadden Raiders 23 29 Fred Jackson Bills 27 30 Derrick Ward Buccaneers 29 31 Ahmad Bradshaw Giants 32 32 Tim Hightower Cardinals 35 33 Willie Parker Steelers 36 34 Donald Brown Colts 37 35 LenDale White Titans 31 36 Larry Johnson Chiefs 33 37 Julius Jones Seahawks 40 38 Fred Taylor Patriots 47 39 Knowshon Moreno Broncos 39 40 Felix Jones Cowboys 44 41 LeSean McCoy Eagles 50 42 Cadillac Williams Buccaneers 34 43 Michael Bush Raiders 38 44 Correll Buckhalter Broncos NR 45 Reggie Bush Saints 42 46 Beanie Wells Cardinals 43 47 Jamal Lewis Browns 41 48 Glen Coffee 49ers NR 49 Ricky Williams Dolphins NR 50 Mike Bell Saints 46
Notes: Let's just get this out of the way. In my running back ranks, I'm giving quite a lot of leeway to players who seem to have NFL backfields all to themselves. Face it, even with his 106 total yards Sunday, Matt Forte hasn't done anywhere near enough to deserve the No. 6 spot on this list. But I can't help it; I look at the options below him, and I see built-in inconsistency. I have to believe if Jay Cutler keeps playing well and Forte keeps getting 27 touches, as he did in Week 3, there'll be better days ahead. I still think he's a buy-low guy. All LaDainian Tomlinson had to do was sit out another week, and he climbed five spots. Hey, that's what happens when you're healing while half the guys in front of you are getting hurt. I still don't give LT much of a chance to stay fully healthy when he comes back, which could reportedly be this week, but for the time he's in there, he'll be valuable. The 49ers say Frank Gore has a strained ankle and sprained foot, and that he'll miss the team's next two games. The Niners have a bye in Week 6, and Gore may be able to return after that. Glen Coffee makes a pretty strong pickup against the Rams and Falcons the next two weeks, though he won't have much value after that if Gore can come back healthy. Kevin Smith hurt a shoulder and had to come out of Sunday's game, ceding a touchdown to Maurice Morris. Smith told reporters Monday he thinks he'll be able to play in Week 4, but the player is one of the worst judges of such things. The Lions will play it close to the vest concerning Smith's status, so prepare for some uncertainty. The Lions do have an early game, against the Bears. I don't think Morris, Aaron Brown or Jerome Felton is worth adding right now. Cedric Benson probably deserves better than 15th, and if his name was "Joe Smith," we'd all probably be rushing to put him in the top five. He's been terrific, including a yeoman's performance against the rough Steelers rush defense last week. But his name isn't Joe Smith, is it? Part of me (part of all of us) keeps waiting for the bottom to drop out. I don't mind selling high on Benson, provided you're selling really high. I have to admit, I was surprised Brian Westbrook didn't play in Week 3. In retrospect, though, it was clearly the right move. The Eagles didn't need him to beat the Chiefs, and now he gets an extra week off during Philly's bye. However, Westbrook's fantasy owners have to be worried about Andy Reid's statement Monday that LeSean McCoy has earned his way toward more regular touches even when Westy is active. I'd like to drop Clinton Portis even lower than 18th, for all the reasons I talked about last week, and for the fact the Redskins barely ran at all in the first half against the Lions. But at least Portis has first and second downs all to himself. He's kind of the last man standing among quasi-useful non-platoon backs. But he's no fun to own right now. Pierre Thomas missed the first half Sunday because he was dehydrated, then went crazy in the fourth quarter. It was good to see. Reggie Bush did get a lot of touches out of the backfield, of course, and Lynell Hamilton took a touchdown that should've been Thomas', but the real hurdle Thomas needs to jump is what happens when Mike Bell is healthy in a few weeks. Don't fall too deeply in love with Willis McGahee. He's been good, but he's also a sell (really) high candidate right now. If you could get Matt Forte for him? I'd do that. Realize that Ray Rice out-carried him in Week 3 11-7. That still looks like a pretty straight platoon to me, with McGahee obviously getting first crack at the touchdowns. No, I'm not biting on Julius Jones, not yet. He did some good work running the ball against the Bears on Sunday, I'll admit. Probably his best of the season. But the Seahawks are just crushed by injuries. I think there'll be some more down days for Julius.
Wide receiver rankings
RANK Name Team Last Week 1 Andre Johnson Texans 1 2 Larry Fitzgerald Cardinals 2 3 Reggie Wayne Colts 5 4 Calvin Johnson Lions 3 5 Randy Moss Patriots 4 6 Chad Ochocinco Bengals 6 7 Greg Jennings Packers 7 8 Anquan Boldin Cardinals 11 9 Vincent Jackson Chargers 15 10 DeSean Jackson Eagles 16 11 Steve Smith Panthers 8 12 Santonio Holmes Steelers 13 13 Marques Colston Saints 14 14 Roddy White Falcons 10 15 Dwayne Bowe Chiefs 9 16 Terrell Owens Bills 12 17 Hines Ward Steelers 17 18 Donald Driver Packers 22 19 Brandon Marshall Broncos 26 20 Jerricho Cotchery Jets 19 21 Roy E. Williams Cowboys 18 22 Steve Smith Giants 25 23 Braylon Edwards Browns 20 24 Kevin Walter Texans 36 25 Wes Welker Patriots 21 26 Santana Moss Redskins 31 27 Lee Evans Bills 23 28 Mario Manningham Giants 28 29 T.J. Houshmandzadeh Seahawks 24 30 Steve Breaston Cardinals 33 31 Eddie Royal Broncos 27 32 Derrick Mason Ravens 35 33 Patrick Crayton Cowboys 34 34 Devin Hester Bears 42 35 Bernard Berrian Vikings 30 36 Ted Ginn Jr. Dolphins 29 37 Antonio Bryant Buccaneers 32 38 Nate Burleson Seahawks 44 39 Mike Sims-Walker Jaguars 47 40 Percy Harvin Vikings NR 41 Earl Bennett Bears 49 42 Nate Washington Titans NR 43 Devery Henderson Saints 46 44 Johnny Knox Bears 48 45 Torry Holt Jaguars 37 46 Anthony Gonzalez Colts NR 47 Justin Gage Titans 38 48 Mark Clayton Ravens 39 49 Pierre Garcon Colts NR 50 Andre Caldwell Bengals NR
Notes: Vincent Jackson is a beast. On any other team, he might be a 12-plus touchdown guy, but of course, the Chargers have a lot of red zone weapons. Still, there might not be a better downfield threat, especially in the middle of the field, than Jackson right now. DeSean Jackson ain't bad, either, especially considering he needed a painkilling shot in his groin (yow) to suit up in Week 3. All he did was take a short pass to the house for a 64-yard score, then flip and land doing a split. Do you know how many painkilling shots to my groin I'd need to do that? No word yet on whether Dwayne Bowe's hamstring injury will keep him out additional weeks. The Chiefs have the Giants this week, so you probably don't want much to do with the Kansas City offense regardless. Those of you who had Week 3 in the Terrell Owens Sunglasses Doofus Press Conference Pool, step up and claim your prize. T.O. didn't cry in Sunday's postgame presser, but he did act like a moron. Kudos to Rodney Harrison for calling Owens a "straight-up clown" for his performance on TV. That was funny and cool. Of course, the Bills should be throwing deeper. But it's just not in Dick Jauron's nature. Kevin Walter takes a big step up as his hamstring was obviously healthy enough for him to grab seven passes for 96 yards and a score against the Jaguars on Sunday. Meanwhile, Wes Welker was another mystery scratch Sunday morning despite the fact he partook in a good portion of Friday's practice. We'll just have to keep guessing, and keep being glad that the Patriots play at 1 p.m. ET in Week 4. Alas, two 4 p.m. ET games are coming in Weeks 5 and 6. It didn't take long for T.J. Houshmandzadeh to get frustrated in Seattle. I called this one in the winter; not that Housh would be worthless, but that he'd take some time to adjust to the West Coast offense. The irony is that with Seneca Wallace at the helm Sunday, the Seahawks actually threw it downfield quite a bit more than they usually do, and yet Housh couldn't benefit. Nate Burleson was the man, getting 12 targets to Housh's nine. I still like Housh better for the season; he's a great red zone threat. But opposing defenses are clogging the middle of the field against the Seahawks, and that's making it hard on Housh, who just isn't open a lot. Devin Hester was impressive on his game-winning touchdown. It wasn't a bomb. It was a really nice slant-in that he caught in stride, exactly where he was supposed to be, and took it to the house. Hester's speed has never been in question, but his route running is often spotty. This was a good sign. Mike Sims-Walker is someone I've been touting for a year and a half. There's still very little likelihood he'll stay healthy all year, given the number of leg injuries he's suffered over the past four seasons. But he's the deep threat Torry Holt used to be, and he should benefit when David Garrard has to go long. Laurent Robinson is out for the season with a broken leg. It's hard to assign much fantasy value to any Rams receivers right now; Donnie Avery should have a chance to reassert himself. I'm relenting a bit on Percy Harvin. He got a career-high nine targets Sunday, which foils my complaint about him during his hot streak: under-use. Sure, several of those looks came during the frenetic final moments, but still. Nevertheless, I'm getting asked a lot if I consider Harvin an "automatic start." I do not. I have a hard time imagining him scoring too many more touchdowns this year. The moment he broke that kickoff return, I was like, "Oh, great. More e-mails."
Tight end rankings
RANK Name Team Last Week 1 Tony Gonzalez Falcons 1 2 Dallas Clark Colts 4 3 Jason Witten Cowboys 2 4 Antonio Gates Chargers 3 5 Owen Daniels Texans 5 6 Chris Cooley Redskins 6 7 Greg Olsen Bears 10 8 Brent Celek Eagles 13 9 Jeremy Shockey Saints 9 10 Kellen Winslow Buccaneers 7 11 Dustin Keller Jets 11 12 John Carlson Seahawks 8 13 Vernon Davis 49ers 17 14 Zach Miller Raiders 12 15 Todd Heap Ravens 14 16 Kevin Boss Giants 15 17 Visanthe Shiancoe Vikings 16 18 Heath Miller Steelers 19 19 Benjamin Watson Patriots 21 20 Marcedes Lewis Jaguars 23 21 Anthony Fasano Dolphins 18 22 Tony Scheffler Broncos 20 23 Jermichael Finley Packers 22 24 Robert Royal Browns 24 25 Bo Scaife Titans 25 26 Chris Baker Patriots NR 27 Jared Cook Titans 26 28 Martellus Bennett Cowboys 27 29 Jerramy Stevens Buccaneers 28 30 Shawn Nelson Bills 30
Team defense rankings
RANK Name Last Week 1 New York Giants 2 2 New York Jets 3 3 Philadelphia Eagles 4 4 Baltimore Ravens 5 5 Minnesota Vikings 6 6 Pittsburgh Steelers 1 7 Tennessee Titans 8 8 San Francisco 49ers 9 9 Green Bay Packers 10 10 Cincinnati Bengals 14 11 Chicago Bears 16 12 Indianapolis Colts 17 13 Dallas Cowboys 13 14 New England Patriots 11 15 Atlanta Falcons 15 16 San Diego Chargers 21 17 Arizona Cardinals 18 18 New Orleans Saints 24 19 Denver Broncos 25 20 Buffalo Bills 23 21 Miami Dolphins 7 22 Seattle Seahawks 19 23 Washington Redskins 12 24 Oakland Raiders 20 25 Carolina Panthers 22 26 Jacksonville Jaguars 26 27 Detroit Lions 32 28 Cleveland Browns 27 29 St. Louis Rams 29 30 Kansas City Chiefs 28 31 Houston Texans 30 32 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.
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